Fasting as Worship

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There was a time in my life when a friend of mine jokingly told me “you should do a fast from fasting.” He meant well. I was in a season where I had several times of fasting right after another. What’s worse is I tend to be a perfectionist, “rule follower” type personality. So, although I may resist a fast at first, when I get into I get REALLY into it. Something about me loves the challenge of restrictions. Yeah, it’s weird.

But after some time away from the discipline, I have once again jumped in during our church-wide Daniel fast for the next couple weeks. Once again I’m struck by the way that “following the rules” isn’t really the hardest part (and isn’t even the point). The difficult part is really the internal wrestling that I go through, not so much making the choices to eat differently. I’m surprised (although I shouldn’t be) at how much of a whiner and complainer my flesh really is. “Gimme, gimme, gimme” is all I seem to hear.

Fasting is a very valuable spiritual discipline. It is a mechanism by which we let go of some distractions in order to reach out for more of Jesus. It can reveal just how entrenched we are in our habits and comforts, relying on them instead of relying on God to sustain us. The slide into idolatry is a slow creep, and it’s helpful every now and then to push the “reset” button and declare once again with the Apostle Paul, “’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12).

Because it wars against our tendencies to be idol-worshipers, fasting is really an act of worship. Fasting helps us to broaden our perspective of what worship really is (not just singing, not just something we do when we go to church). In worship we honor God for who he is and what he has done, and we say a deeper “yes” to Him in our lives. By saying “no” to things that distract us, we make room for his voice to speak louder to our hearts. We clear the way for the searching light of the Holy Spirit to shine on our hearts and show us where Jesus isn’t before all things, and make the adjustments so that he is first. As a friend of mine says, “worship is really about the first-ness of God.” He’s right.

Fasting is a lot like going to the dentist. For many of us, the very idea is appalling. We resist it because we think we don’t need it. But, like so many other things in life, we can’t experience the benefit of the discipline just by thinking our way through it (“Hey, I’m doing pretty good therefore I don’t need to fast”).  We have to walk through the self-imposed trial in order to see our true need for Christ.

I’d encourage you to take a step and set aside some time to fast. It doesn’t have to be anything radical. A fast from anything you rely on, no matter how small, will help you see yourself and God more clearly, and God will be faithful to guide you deeper into relationship with him.

Remembering John Berlin

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It’s hard to summarize a life, especially one that meant so much to you. But my friend John Berlin had a life worth celebrating and I want to tell you why.

I could go on for days about John’s childhood and the thousands of stories he told about swimming, canoeing, fist fights and car wrecks; I could tell you all about his struggles with alcohol and drugs, or his experiences in Viet Nam, his failed marriages (yes plural), or his many corporate careers; I could tell you about how he found recovery, found Jesus, and found a woman he would be crazy in love with right to the end; I could tell you about the stacks of poems, stories and novels he wrote and was constantly sharing with those who would listen. He had one of the most interesting lives of anyone I’ve ever known.

But his unique experiences aren’t the most important thing about him. To be sure, I had the benefit of hearing many of the stories and gleaning wisdom from those experiences, but John was one of my dearest friends, and just knowing him was its own kind of gift. He was wise and discerning, hilariously sarcastic, but most of all he loved people deeply.

I’ve known John for over half my life. My first real memory of John is from when I was about twelve. John and Audrey came over to take a family picture (Audrey is a gifted photographer), and I remember that we all could barely stand up because John had us laughing so hard (holding a tin-foil covered sheet pan to reflect light in our faces).

John and his wife Audrey have been a constant source of joy and blessing to my family for about as long as I can remember. He was my mentor, spiritual father, and dear friend, the kind of person you call when you’re stuck and you don’t know what else to do.

John gave me more gifts than I can count, but three stand out to me: the gift of wisdom, the gift of belief, and the gift of love.

The Gift of Wisdom. I think I was fifteen when I asked John to be my mentor. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I knew I needed one. He asked me to help him pull carpet at a rental property he owned, but in reality we sat on two folding chairs and talked about life. I told him my life story (which wouldn’t have been that long), and he told me a little about his own life (although I would find out much more in the years to come). We had a connection because of a similar wiring, and John had an uncanny ability to tell you all about yourself. He taught me the power of just being with a person–he’d invite me to tag along on seemingly random errands, which always turned into quality time and great conversation. I could ask John anything about anything, and I knew I would get a straight answer.

Years went on and we would stay connected through meals, phone calls (when I was living in other states) and emails. Later we worked together for a few years in one of John’s little companies. He would tell me things like “You can’t think your way into good living, you have to LIVE your way into good thinking,” that were drilled into my head by repetition.

Regardless of what project we were working on he would ask, “Jonathan, what is our job?” And I knew the answer was not “we fix glass,” or “we build beautiful windows,” but the answer was “we are problem solvers.” John taught me the power of staying in the solution instead of staying in the problem, a lesson I think about almost constantly. He had a spiritual gift of discernment, and could see into situations in crazy ways. He not only passed on this gift to me by osmosis, but would pray that God would give me wisdom and discernment as well.

The Gift of Belief. John was a musician, and music was something we had in common. He loved classical music and would often be “blasting Bach” the way teens would jam to their favorite rock band. He played guitar and led worship so worship was a great subject of conversation in our times together. If I led worship somewhere, he would often come to that church if for no other reason than to support me.

One of the most precious memories I have is of our “art nights” that the Berlins would host at their home. We would have dinner and talk and then everyone would share something beautiful that was meaningful to them. John would read a story or a poem, others might share things that meant a lot to them, but eventually there was music. The music was always special.

We would sing songs that we loved by James Taylor or Van Morrison, but eventually we would worship together. It was always a sweet time of worship together in the living room or the porch.

I think it was on one of those occasions that John brought out his 1965 Gibson acoustic guitar for me to play. I was playing a pretty crummy guitar that someone had given me (long story), and playing his guitar was an incredible difference. The guitar has amazing tone (as old guitars do) and it plays like a dream.

I played a song or two on it and John said “Jonathan, I want you to have that guitar.” I was speechless. I didn’t understand why he would give me such a gift. He went on, “I’m giving you this guitar because I believe in you. You have a gift. When you sing, I can hear your heart’s hunger for God. So I want to give you this guitar as an investment in that gift. Don’t ever lose that when you sing in front of people.”

The only thing he made me promise is that I would never sell the guitar. No worries there, it has priceless sentimental value.

The Gift of Love. Of all the things John gave me, the most precious gift was love. Throughout all of our experiences, I knew that John loved me and was for me.

He demonstrated love in his marriage and set an example that I always wanted to follow. He loved me enough to tell me the truth about myself, even when it wasn’t pleasant to hear it. When I would call, he loved me enough to tell me he loved me, and thought about me all the time. He helped me get ready for being married, and gave the best (and most genuine) advice for loving well.

I will miss having John in my life, but I have great peace knowing that he is with the Lord. John went through so many incredibly difficult health scares that I often worried that we would lose him. But I’m not worried now, nor do I have any regrets. I decided a long time ago that I would take every chance I could to tell him how much he meant to me, and how much his impact on my lives on in how I lead others. I told him that many times, that he made a huge difference in my life and I’ll be forever grateful for him. I know without a doubt that he knew how much he meant to me. He has left a beautiful legacy that lives on in those he loved.

John went to be with Jesus on Thursday night, but I know I will see him again. And I know he’s cheering for me and for all of us who loved him, as we press on toward the goal of the prize he has now attained. He lived long and loved well, and I’m proud to have been his friend. We’ll sing together again someday soon. As the song says, “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be.”

The Dangerous Invitation of Authenticity

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When I was about thirteen years old, I was at a theme park with the youth group from my church. Now you should know that I’m not much of a “thrill seeker” type, but when the group goes on these trips you go along to hang with friends…even if you’re miserable the whole time.

One of the guys in the group was one of those “prankster” types who definitely had a promising future with the guys from Jack*ss. Normally I would have distanced myself from this sort of behavior, flown under the radar, and made it out of there without incident. But not this time. Jack*ss guy was coming for me.

We were all standing around in one of the quintessential “youth-group-outing huddles” (the ones where you talk for twenty minutes about whether or not we want to eat next, go home, or ride more rides then eat and go home), when the aforementioned “funny guy” came up behind me and gave a swift and terrible tug to my cargo shorts. Yep, the fear of adolescents everywhere: I was “pantsed.”

Now, to be fair, it didn’t turn into one of those “everyone was pointing at me and laughing hysterically” moments (like the scenario in the classic “I showed up to work and forgot to wear pants” dreams), but I was pretty embarrassed. What early teen wants to reveal their taste in undergarments (boxer briefs if you’re curious) to the surrounding strangers, friends and enemies (specifically girls)? Not me.

Who knows what kind of deep psychological impact that event had on me, but I would guess that it’s events like this that make being vulnerable later in life so difficult. We learn from an early age to hide who we are because if people see it they may reject us. Before we know better how to handle it, things happen to us that expose our awkward and flawed selves, and we spend much time and energy trying to avoid more painful exposure.

But here’s the problem: we aren’t meant to live fake lives. God made us exactly who we are for a reason and he gets glory when we live fully embracing who he made us to be. This idea has really challenged me lately.

One of the staff values at our church is authenticity, and it isn’t one of those “honorary” values that people say but really don’t care about. It’s real. I keep getting told over and over “just be you,” and it has taken a while to sink in. It’s a godly value that is truly upheld and valued.

But old habits die hard. When you’ve spent your entire life trying to adjust your behavior to the expectations of people around you (think “social norms”), how do suddenly find a way to just “be you”? How do you dig deep and find where the real you begins and the fake you ends?

“Be you” means you have to first “see you” and be ok with it. This is probably the hardest part. For me the challenge is trying to understand the why behind the way I am. I want to know why I do what I do and why the heck God decided to make that thing a part of me.

Some of it seems pointless, like “Really God? Couldn’t you give that ‘quality’ to someone else??” But there is power in the acceptance of who God made you to be. When you believe he loves you as you are, you can begin to love others for who they are, instead of rejecting them for being different or liking the people who are like you (or even worse trying to change people to be just like you!).

I don’t have all the answers, and I can tell you that the process isn’t easy and it isn’t quick. When you start to look for them, there are all kinds of opportunities to go a little deeper in your answer, opinion, or encouragement. There will probably always be a slight sense of hesitation when confronted with the invitation to be authentic and vulnerable. The fear is deep-rooted.

But I have found incredible freedom in the invitation of authenticity. Just as I want to really know others, others want to really know me. If God makes each person unique, we miss out on an aspect of God when we fail to know and be known.

If you’re up for a challenge, try inching your way toward letting people see the real you. Or better yet, ask God to help you see yourself and receive his love. It will be the first step in helping you love yourself and others better. It’s an invitation to a better life and richer, deeper relationships.

Put Your Shoes Out

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These days it seems like everyone is busy. Ask anyone how they are and you’ll probably get something like, “Man…things are good but crazy!” We spend our days busy trying to get all of our work done and, if possible, not take our work home with us. We’re busy with family events, sports, parties, church, trips, you name it. Even our days off are busy.

I’ll admit it, most of the time I feel pretty busy too. I have to fight to stay sane in the middle of lots of activity. It’s hard to prioritize family with a busy schedule. Even though I have to be at rehearsals, events, and special services from time to time, I try really hard to be home for dinner and bedtime as much as possible. I’ve got a long list of people I’m waiting to hang out with (if you’re one of them I’m sorry). Ever feel like you should schedule social events three months in advance? Yeah, me too.

In the midst of all of this, I am making an effort to be as consistent as possible with hitting the gym. It’s easy when you’re busy to make excuses about why you can’t exercise, but staying in good shape is crucial to your short and long term survival.

Without trying to toot my own horn, I would say I’ve been pretty successful with consistent exercise over the past few months. Most of the time I get up around 4:30 and head to the gym so I’m back home before the family gets up. Going early gets my day going and I don’t miss out on the quality morning time before I have to head off to work. Yes, getting up that early can be tough, but I’ve discovered a little trick that helps me win the daily struggle with the snooze button:

I put my gym shoes and shorts out in the living room before I go to bed. 

Sometimes the most difficult step toward any kind of progress is the first one. But I’ve learned that if you can remove even the smallest obstacle it can make a world of difference.

When the gym clothes are out the night before I have already set an expectation for myself when the alarm goes off. When the sounds of “cascading rain” come crashing into my dreams in the wee hours of the morning, I don’t have the luxury of “well I don’t want to rummage around for my clothes” as an excuse. I’ve set myself up for success. When my plan for the morning is mapped out in 15 minute increments, I know that any delay will start a chain reaction that puts me in catch up mode for the rest of the day.

Turns out this strategy can be applied in many other areas of life. If you don’t want to eat all of the potato chips in one sitting, try dosing them out into ziplock bags before you go for a snack. Portion control is real. Try putting only a few cans of that beverage or soft drink in the fridge at a time and see if it helps prevent you from going for another one. If you don’t want to waste your whole night watching TV, decide a specific limit to your view time (or better yet, don’t turn it on in the first place).

Small victories go a long way. If we focus on “going to the gym for a year,” or “getting in shape,” or “saving for retirement,” we won’t get far. I don’t have to do everything to “get in shape” today, but as long as I lace up my shoes and get in the gym I have won half the battle. If I can do that, I’ll be in good shape.

 

Where I Am Right Now (a life journey update)

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Thanks to Jared Anderson for that phrase, “Where I Am Right Now.” His song by that same title blesses me. It’s all about trusting God where you are instead of looking ahead to someplace you aren’t:

“I’m called to be where I am right now,
In the middle of a storm but I have no doubt
That you are here with me.”

I’m guilty of that, living with an obsessively future-oriented outlook. The truth is, HERE is all we have. I’m not waiting for some future place to “arrive,” I’m not afraid of missing my “big chance,” I want to live content, trusting, and abiding in peace.

It occurred to me recently (as most things do – thanks to my wife) that many of you (my blog-following friends out there) might not know about some of the crazy stuff that has happened in the Vinke’s world in the past year or so. If you don’t really care, you can stop reading now. For those of you with a soul (and some patience – this is a long one), here’s a little update on “the big three” major events of this season of life that have rocked our world (in a good way).

IMG_0654New baby. We welcomed our son Levi Emil to the family on January eighth of this year. We didn’t have as tough a time as many friends, but it was quite a ride getting him here! He has been very healthy and very happy and we are very thankful to God for the precious gift!

New homeIMG_0655We are homeowners! After lots of looking (the Jacksonville market is HOT!), God secured for us a perfect home in a perfect spot for us. Even in the midst of struggle and challenge, he cleared the way for us to get into our own home and we are loving it!


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This is the big one…so a little backstory is required. In July of 2014, we stepped out in faith and moved from Atlanta to Jacksonville to work at a great church on the southeast side of town. The move was a result of a lot of stirring and searching, and was big jump to say the least. We left family, friends, and really the place we called home for most of our lives in order to step out in search of what God has for us.

As you probably know, any move to a new city brings challenges. We didn’t know many people, we didn’t know the area, and the church was…VERY different than we were used to. We were welcomed and loved from the start but the learning curve was steep. The denomination and style of the church were at the opposite end of the spectrum from where we had been in the past.

In my theoretical/theological brain, I could see lots of value to the tradition and preferences that were priorities in this tradition; my wife, who wired quite different, struggled quite a bit. To say we had a lot of “discussions” about this would be an understatement. We wrestled through a lot together and are better as a couple because of the experience. I worked hard to bring positive change in the church and add as much value as I could. Even so, after about fourteen months we knew it wasn’t the right fit for our family.

It’s hard to accurately (or briefly) summarize what our life was like in that season. It was multifaceted and complex as life often is. There were so many blessings that are hard to quantify. You won’t find a more generous, loving and hospitable group of people; I was given an incredible amount of opportunity to learn, grow and express my gifts (for which I’m forever grateful); we formed some new friendships that, Lord willing, will be lifelong. It was a gift!

In the midst of all of this blessing, there were some undeniable and inescapable realities that I had to face. The culture just wasn’t a fit for our family long term. As hard as my wife worked to get “into it,” the priorities of that particular style of worship just weren’t resonating with her. We needed room to run fast, be really challenged, and be around like-minded people. It was a hard and painful decision, as transition decisions almost always are. But I knew the right thing to do.

Image-1In the fall of last year, I had no idea what God was going to do. We knew we needed to step out once again and felt pretty open to going just about anywhere.  But God had other plans. In a way that only God can do, I got a “random” call from a friend I about a church here in Jacksonville called the Church of Eleven22. I reluctantly agreed to have lunch and hear about God was doing.

To say I was skeptical is a slight understatement; at every step, I thought, “there’s no way this is going to work out.” But (easy to see now) it did work out. Every meeting with every leader was encouraging, intriguing, and led me to take another step forward. It was like the door just swung wide open, and the timing was perfect. Perfect timing…that sounds like someone I know…

It’s hard to describe the sweetness of stepping into a season that feels as natural as a birthday. After you are ten, you turn eleven. That’s just the way it goes. I love it when God takes us into seasons like that, when we get to see that every step we have taken before has led us to this point. Like finding random keys in your garage over a series of years, only to find that they open the door to the house down the street you didn’t know was yours.

In case you haven’t noticed, those three events are top of the list of big-time stresses on people–and we experienced all three within a period of six months! We need your prayers!

But God has been so good. I’m so grateful for his hand on our lives, that he cares enough to lead us through every season with such great care. He is lovingly preparing us for each next step, even in the midst of seasons where the greatest thing we can do is be ok with where we are. I want to be the kind of person who can say,

“I am yours and you are mine,
You can move me any time,
I’m resting in your perfect peace,
Where I am right now.”

 

To Be Hunted

260f7c21241f149e84fc30fc8087e844I’m pretty much a nerd. At best I’m an old soul. I guess that’s why I really enjoy watching the BBC’s many fantastic documentary series’ on animals and nature. Planet Earth and The Human Planet were both incredibly beautiful. Most recently I’ve been watching Life Story, a series focusing on the different phases of life within the animal kingdom.

In one of the episodes, an unsuspecting impala is stalked by two young cheetahs. The impala is exhausted after the weeks of fighting that precede mating season and seeks a moment of repose in a stunningly beautiful patch of trees (imagine the dramatic music starting to build).

In the quintessential stalking scene (which are of course the favorites in nature documentaries) the stealthy cheetahs creep steadily closer to the grazing animal. He picks his head up once or twice to look around but doesn’t seem terribly bothered, not knowing he is in his final moments of life. The cheetahs strike and…well, you know the rest.

I love these shows because they move me to worship. For example, did you know that meerkat colonies have a leadership structure based on those with more wisdom and experience? Or that hermit crabs line up by size and do a “house trade” for bigger shells when a new one washes on the shore? How about an octopus that can use an abandoned coconut shell as a shield against predators? I watch all of these creatures with their complex patterns of survival, leadership and courtship and think “Wow…God designed all that!”

As I was watching the poor impala in his imminent demise, I couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking. He may just be a creature of pure instinct, but I wonder if there was a thought in there somewhere. Did he know he was being hunted? Did he think about the danger that was lurking? Does an animal’s life flash before his eyes in that dramatic chase?

As modern Americans, most of us don’t face the daily reality that we may be killed by hostile predators. It’s hard to imagine what that would be like physically, but the Bible does tell us that we are being hunted by a powerful enemy. 1 Peter 5:8 says “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” I don’t know about you, but don’t often live like that is real.

There are seasons, however, when the reality of the prowling lion comes piercing through. You know the lion is real when you’re running for your life. Recently I have felt that spiritual weight in some ordinary situations and some (painfully) unusual ones. To be a Christian is to be hunted. Signing up for God’s work means you have a target on your back.

The good news is twofold: (1) we know we have an enemy so we, unlike an instinct-bound animal, are able to discern when we are being stalked and take the appropriate action; (2) we have a victorious Savior who has already decisively and finally defeated our enemy. Thus we can fight (or sometimes flee) without fear of being completely destroyed.

I guess you never know where God might speak to you, even in a nature documentary. So don’t forget you’re in a fight. Take shelter in the only Hope you have for survival.