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I turned 43 today. As I sit here and reflect on this day, I feel very fortunate to be alive and writing this post, since I skipped last year. I haven’t been posting on here as of late, but with the way social media has been heading, now seems to be a good time to once again curate my own space on the world wide web.

Over the past year, I’ve started a new career as a middle school social studies teacher. It certainly wasn’t where I thought I would be, but after I found myself without a job during this pandemic, the nudging of some close people in my life led to that door opening. It’s been difficult to teach in this particular environment, but I must say that I am enjoying what I am doing, and have seen this more of a calling as of late.

Life has been pretty hectic at the moment. I’ve been dealing with some personal issues and some health issues, and they seem to interconnect with one another. It’s been difficult to plan in this environment, but lately I’ve been trying to think more about long-term goals rather than short-term gratification. One think I hope to do is to turn this space into a hub for projects I want to achieve over the next year or two.

So here’s to mending broken relationships, dreaming new dreams, daring to try something new, not being afraid to fail, and seeing where God leads from here.

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Gardner-Webb going to the Big Dance!

Today, Gardner-Webb defeated Radford in the finals of the Big South Conference Tournament to earn their first ever NCAA tournament berth. It’s one thing to be at a school that seems to go every year, but it’s something special to watch your school get there for the first time. Seeing this moment above made me weep tears of joy. I’m looking forward to Selection Sunday next week.

It seems lately when I browse through Facebook, a friend of mine posts something politically polarizing that just makes me shake my head. I’ve tried to stay away from political posts, considering that my friends vary all across the political (and theological spectrum). I did make a post that I didn’t intend to be political, but because it involved an incident in the political world, the discussion went off the rails in a hurry and I was left with regret for posting it.

That said, when I see all these politically-charged posts, it makes me consider leaving Facebook. The thought only lasts a few minutes until I remember that I’ve done and do quite a bit of pastoral care via Facebook. So now, when the politically-charged posts begin to be too much, I just click the button to close the browser window. Setting limits and not posting can be the best thing to do. As coach Herm Edwards once said, “Don’t press send.”

Despite the well-known challenges, it is self-defeating for pastors in particular to declare their moral superiority to everyone else and walk away from social media. We may not like the present reality of how people communicate, but it is the present reality. When we opt out, we remove our voices from the conversation and fail to be informed about what others are doing and saying.

A new study from New York University and Stanford University has reported that people who deactivated their Facebook accounts for a month felt less politically polarized but were demonstrably less informed.

Source: Why ministers shouldn’t walk away from social media

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I mentioned in my blog post for last year that I was going to be more intentional about “creating margin” over the next year. In some ways, it happened, due to some intentional steps, but also some unexpected unintentional steps. Having this margin allowed for some time to reflect on my life, realizing that I had spent way too much time living in some type of “organized chaos” without any real focus on much of anything. Some recent time off work after Christmas helped me to gain some focus again in order to be more proactive instead of reactive.

Probably the biggest achievement over the past year professionally has been the research and implementation of live-broadcasting the worship services at my church on a relatively low budget, along with updating the look of the website within the confines of a template. Neither are where I want them to be, but I dare say that both are probably the best quality compared to others in the area. All that said, now that I’ve got past a couple of major projects over the past couple of years, I feel the need to get back to some basics of ministry, to focus more on people instead of tasks, and to be more pastoral.

Healthwise, despite currently being on “injured reserve” due to a pinched nerve resulting from a recent car accident, I feel that I’m in the best shape I’ve been over the past 20 years. I decided a few months ago to plan my workouts over the course of two-week intervals and became part of a group of guys who play basketball in the pool at the local YMCA three mornings as week. We play 21. The games can get intense, but the result is a great cardio workout. My A1C level has been the lowest it’s been since I became a Type-2 diabetic, and I’ve been able to come off two of the four medications over the past year I’ve been taking.

Recently, I came across the phrase mens sana in corpore sano, which is translated from Latin to mean, “a healthy mind in a healthy body.” I’ve done a lot to get what I feel is a healthy body, and I want to work more on the healthy mind. I’ve incorporated meditation into a regular practice, using the app Oak by Kevin Rose. I also want to focus on creating healthy habits in order to alleviate the stress that life brings, including a focused devotional time and journaling.

If you haven’t noticed by now, my theme for the upcoming year is focus. I felt over the past year that I just allowed life to happen and in some ways just ended up surviving a lot of days. Now, I want to be more of a “captain and commander” of my time, as David Allen puts it. So more intention will be put in to the day-to-day operations of life. I want to read more, to write more (since obviously the last post in from a year ago), and to continue to work on the work-life balance and mind-body balance. Now that I’m in my early-forties, I’m excited to see where all of this will take me.

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My mother called me this morning and as she wished me a happy birthday, she reminded me that 40 years ago, it was snowing heavily outside the hospital as I was being born. This seems quite unusual, but it seems to snow on significant birthdays… 13, 16 (which I was not happy about since I had to wait an additional week to get my driver’s license), 21 (fun times at Gardner-Webb), 30 and as I’m typing up this blog post reflecting on my 40th birthday, it’s snowing outside.

This past year has been good, although it’s been full of challenges. I’m thankful that God’s strength and stability through the trying times over the past year, which have kept me sane in times of chaos. Professionally, I’ve been challenged by working through two significant renovation projects (they don’t teach you this in divinity school) which are almost completed. I’ve been blessed by the teenagers of my church, who are more mission-minded than anything else, and it showed during our mission trip to Washington, DC this past summer. My role has changed slightly as I will be responsible for the education ministry of the church, so I’m looking forward to putting some focus into that side of ministry this year.

Personally, I’ve been focusing more on my health. I joined the local YMCA on a whim a few months ago, and have been trying to work out three days a week when I can. I can tell that it’s helping, because I feel the best I’ve felt in a long time. I’m also working on my cooking skills more and hoping to expand my repertoire in 2018. In following up from last year’s post, I’m still wanting to focus more on gaining experiences instead of stuff and wanting to simplify things. “Creating margin” is my phrase for this year, and I’ve taken some steps over the past few weeks to begin that process.

I’ll probably write some more about this another time, but I can certainly say that the first forty years have been an exhilarating ride, and I’m looking forward to what the next 40-50 bring.

One more thing… leading up to today, I kept thinking about this rant by Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy. I hope you enjoy.

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I was 16 when I began my first job working at Lowe’s Foods in my hometown of Wilkesboro, and one thing I have always done almost every year for my birthday is take the day off. The only times when that hasn’t happen is when my birthday falls on a Sunday (like it did last year). So today, I’m out of the office just enjoying the day to myself until I have a nice dinner with my wife and daughter.

In reflecting on this past year, I’ve had several ups and downs. With a change of diet and the help of medication, I’ve been able to drastically improve my A1C levels and get my Type 2 Diabetesunder control. Unfortunately, I’ve had to switch medications twice due to the awful side effects that my first two medicines caused. Here’s hoping the third time is the charm. One thing I hope to do is exercise more in the hope that perhaps someday I can remove some of the medicines I’m on.

This year also provided two big trips. The first was in July when I went to Montreal / Chateauguay, Quebec, Canada on a mission trip with JHBCYouth. It was my second trip to Canada, but it was a different cultural experience being in the French speaking side of the country. Our group did a lot of good work there and I hope to go back there again soon. The second was right after Christmas when we took MJ to Disney World. It was such a delight to be able to experience everything through her eyes, as she was excited about every princess and character that she met.

This year, I want to find more balance, mostly because I stink at it. I’ve been thinking about this over the past few days after hearing that a mentor of mine passed away unexpectedly. One of the things he taught me as I began in ministry sixteen years ago was to “savor the moments”. I confess, I haven’t done that very well because I’ve spent way too much time doing and not enough time being. I hope to change that this year.

I also want to read more, write more (since I haven’t written a blog post in a while), and focus more on experiences rather than the accumulation of stuff. So here’s to 2017 and cleaning out the clutter in preparation of celebrating when the next birthday changes two digits instead of one.

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Thinking Theologically About My Health

The following was my article for the October issue of The Announcer, the monthly newsletter of Jonesboro Heights Baptist Church in Sanford, where I serve as Associate Pastor.

For my article this month, I want to take the opportunity to say thank you to all of you who have been praying for me concerning my recent health issues. For those of you who don’t know what happened or what is going on, allow me to share.

I went for my annual physical back in early August. Through routine testing, it was discovered that my blood sugar level was abnormally high. Subsequent testing over the following three weeks revealed that I have Type 2 Diabetes. As word has got around, the general reaction I’ve received from people is shock (I can relate… I was pretty shocked myself). The second most popular response has been, “How??? You’re young… You’re thin… (thank you!)” Honestly, I don’t know what caused it. It could stem from genetics. It could have been the result of 30+ years of drinking multiple glasses of Dr. Pepper / Pepsi / Coke or sweet tea per day. For all I know, it could be revenge for all those times I made fun of those Wilford Brimley commercials. At this point, how I got it isn’t so much as important as where do I go from here.

What got me the most was a statistic I read about the severe increase of heart disease that diabetes causes. As someone who has a family history of it, that statistic alone was enough to realize that some changes needed to be made.

In thinking theologically about all of this, I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 which says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” This passage can be interpreted a number of ways, but one way that hits home right now is that I need to do more to take care of this temple that is my body. It means that I need to eat healthier, exercise more, and focus on doing the things that help my body instead of hurt it. When we do this, we honor God with our bodies and fulfill the practice of loving the Lord our God with all our strength (Deuteronomy 6:4).

So from all of this, I want to encourage you to practice loving God with all your strength and take care of the temple of the Holy Spirit that is your body. I don’t know what that might look like for you, but you do. So this month, take some time to examine your habits as far as eating, working and exercising are concerned. Are there any changes that need to be made? If so, do them, so that you may honor God with your body.

As an update, since I’ve started making changes to my eating and exercise habits, I’ve lost approximately nine pounds and I feel a lot more energized. I didn’t realize how bad I felt, especially over the summer, until I started feeling better.