All posts by Kevin Howell

The Lost Art of Being Real

Back in the day, “Keeping it real” was a popular phrase used in hip-hop culture. It was about being genuine to who you are and The Lost Art of Being Realwhere you’re from. Keeping it real wasn’t always the best etiquette and tact at times, but it beat the dreaded alternative: being phony.

Unfortunately, it seems keeping it real is a thing of the past in today’s society, largely due to virtual profiles we create via social media.

With the hundreds, if not thousands, of social media networks out there, we dive deeper and deeper into creating profiles, posts, and fake images of ourselves. It’s not that what we post for public consumption isn’t true, it’s just incomplete.

I was conversing with a friend recently about how Facebook posts present false images. People only post the best things about their lives: cool vacations, new outfits, new cars, cute kids, and delicious-looking meals. They leave out the photos and statuses of when they are sitting at home alone, can no longer fit into those jeans, when the car breaks down, when the kids are driving them crazy, and when they burned the meatloaf.

The truth is, the latter happens more than we let on. And that’s just reality. But we don’t keep it real anymore. We want our lives perceived as perfect.

This causes a few problems, but primarily it tickles our tendency to compare ourselves with others. We look at the selfies, vacation photos, and plates full of food and think we’re missing something in life. We think our lives are not as great as those on our friends list. But as Pastor Steven Furtick once said, we should never “compare our behind the scenes footage to other people’s highlight reels.”

Essentially, we tend to compare those perfect things people post to the most imperfect things in our lives. The things that most people wouldn’t dare to post, but we are all experience.

Debt.

Family conflict.

Marriage problems.

Work stress.

Health issues.

Loneliness.

Insecurity.

Nobody’s posting an Instagram photo of that rash on their leg. Nobody’s taking a selfie when their hair is jacked up. Nobody’s tweeting when their spouse won’t sleep in the bed with them.Lost Art of Keeping it real

Now, I’m not saying that we should publish all the negative, private, and frustrating things about our lives (because honestly, some of us need to chill on sharing all our drama with the world). I just believe we shouldn’t be focused on creating a flawless public image of ourselves.

The reality is, we have plenty of issues. And when we’re brave enough to open up and admit it, we realize others are experiencing the same problems and have the same imperfections.

The most tragic thing is that practice of putting only the best image forward plays out not just virtually, but in public, particularly in the place where people should be most free to keep it real – the church.

Unfortunately, in the place we need refuge and should be able to openly share our weaknesses, we find ourselves being more fake than ever. God forbid someone in our congregation finds out we struggle with self-confidence, fear, lust, doubt, insecurity, pride, etc. It’s not like 99% of the people, including the pastors, aren’t dealing with or haven’t dealt with the same issues. And that’s just my personal list of issues. I’m sure you could add your own.

It’s time for a reality check. What type of image are you portraying? Is it authentic, or are you just trying to make your life look awesome to others? The whole you is much more beautiful and much more admirable than just the “best” you. Let’s go back to keeping it real.

 

“Authenticity is a collection of choices we make every day. It’s the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” – Brene Brown

 

 

 

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Life is Unpredictable, Embrace the Journey

Life is full of uncertainties. We don’t know what’s going to happen next week, let alone tomorrow. In many ways, that’s scary. I know it is for me because I like to be in control. I’m not rigid in my schedule, but I do like to have a handle on what’s going on day to day and what to expect.Life is Unpredictable, Embrace the Journey

But the concept of us having any semblance of control or knowing what to expect is ludicrous. Despite the seemingly mundanity of our routines, we never know what’s going to happen.

Though that can be a frightening thought, I’ve learned to embrace the unexpected. Instead of worrying about uncertainties, I see them as exciting. It’s actually fun to be surprised. It’s like reading a good story or watching a thrilling movie that has you on the edge of your seat waiting to see what will happen next. That’s how our lives should be. Honestly, that’s how our lives actually are, but most of us don’t see them that way.

You’re probably thinking that your life isn’t that exciting. You go to work, sit in a cubicle, stare at the computer, waste time on Facebook and Instagram, then go home to workout, watch TV…and spend more time on Facebook and Instagram.

But each day, week, and month, little surprises – small plot twists – in the story of our lives await us. Sometimes we’re so caught up in our routines that we hardly notice them. But they are happening.

How do I know? Because God is directing our lives. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Him, He’s full of excitement, adventure, challenges, tests, and tokens of love.

One thing that has resonated with me lately is the idea that God goes before me. It’s a simple idea, but it has revolutionized how I think about my circumstances, challenges, and future. I realize that if I’m in the middle of a problem or in a frustrating time of life, God has already gone before me. He’s already provided a way out, set up blessings along the path I’ve yet to walk. Essentially, He’s paved the way, I just don’t know what the road looks like yet, or what’s on the other side. But the fact that He’s been there already, and He has planned for my good, it’s exciting to see what lies ahead.

Even if your life seems a bit mundane now, I assure you, exciting things are happening. When we live by faith, we live in expectation of the adventure God is mapping out for us.

There will be challenges and unsettling things along the way, but those are just opportunities to embrace the great Adventurer. To lean on Him, learn in the midst of the circumstances, and anticipate the wonderful things He has ahead for you. Remember, He goes before you.

Living by faith is far from mundane. If you are following God, you’re living the most exciting life possible. The uncertainties in life are just opportunities to anticipate the good things God has waiting for you.

 

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You Have All You Need

The older I get, the more I understand the importance of relationships and the more I learn to appreciate them. Plain and simple: we need each other.

It seems like an obvious concept, but putting it into practice isn’t friendshipeasy because we often take people for granted. We take the time we have with people for granted. We take the bonds we have – whether in marriage, family, friendship, church fellowship, or work – for granted. I don’t believe it’s because we’re horrible people who don’t give a damn about others. It’s because we are constantly drawn away from community in our culture.

Every day we are bombarded with marketing messages that push us toward self-gratification and indulgence. We’re told that you deserve this or that. Or this is how you get ahead (everything is a competition it seems). Or your life will be miserable and incomplete unless you get this car, this smartphone, or try this diet.

It’s easy to get caught up in the mind-set that we need things to satisfy us. We feel if we just get the promotion…if we just get into that university…if we just get that home…or if we can move to that city…if we just get a different job, then life will be great. We are driven and programmed to think that way because we are constantly lied to, both by the media and Satan, that we are not happy. That we don’t have enough.

The truth is we have everything we need. I saw a Facebook post from Joel Osteen the other day that spoke to this:

“Psalm 34 says, ‘Those who trust in the Lord will never lack any good thing.’ This means if you don’t have it right now, you don’t need it right now. Our attitude should be: ‘I’m equipped, empowered and anointed for this moment. I am not lacking, shortchanged or inadequate. I have what I need for today.'”

Obviously the Word is quite different from the messages we hear and see each day.

So what does this have to do with relationships? I believe how God equips us for each moment, season, and challenge in life is with each other. We are the answer to each other’s’ prayers. While the culture and media push us toward things, God pushes us toward each other.

I think of Jesus’ life. Obviously He wasn’t caught up in things, but He was obsessed with people. He always was teaching, eating, conversing, walking, and talking with people. Even when He isolated Himself, it was to spend intimate prayer time with His Father.

We are made for community. A couple of weeks ago, I spent quality time with friends on a retreat. It was so refreshing – yes, to get away from my regular routine – but mainly because of the people I was with.

Time with friends and family is golden.

As seasons in our lives end – whether we move to a new city, change jobs, graduate college, or get to the end of life – we don’t miss the car we drove, the house we lived in, the place we worked, or the area we lived so much. We miss the people we experienced life with. We miss the bonds we had.

So while you may feel you’re lacking in an area of life – whether it’s because you’re single, unemployed, unhappily employed, or just experiencing general discontent – I challenge to look around you, not at things but at the people in your life. Even if your true friends are few, you have all you need for this moment in life. Enjoy it. Enjoy them.

 

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Press Re-set on 2015

So we’re almost a third of the way through 2015, and if you live in the northeast like me, you’re thanking God that it’s finally spring after the longest, coldest winter since Washington hunkered down at Valley Forge.Press Re-set on 2015

While we can celebrate by finally wearing short-sleeves and chilling outside, it’s also time to reflect on how our year is going and if we’re living the theme or goals we proclaimed back in January.

Hopefully you’re on track to reach the goals, but even if your life has gotten off track, there’s still time. That’s right, who says starting over is relegated to the turn of the calendar? Every day is a day that never happened before—ever. Each day is a fresh start, sort of like the new year.

We don’t think of it that way because we get caught up in the routine where one day seems no different than the last. Even the start of a new week feels static.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You don’t have to let a calendar dictate your progress. You can have a fresh start now. You can set new goals and a new vision starting today.

Maybe the year hasn’t gone as you hoped it would. Maybe you’ve experienced heartbreak, a setback in your health or finances, loss of a loved one, or disappointment. Maybe those goals you set at the beginning of the year appear impossible now.

Sure, the first few months of the year haven’t gotten off to a good start, but today is a new day…and so is tomorrow.

Each new day offers an abundance of possibilities. An abundance of opportunities. It’s all in how you look at it.

Sure, your circumstances may still be the same, but your mind-set and attitude can be completely different. And how you think determines how you feel.

I’ve come to realize our thoughts and decisions can determine our mood. As a friend once told me, “Being in a good mood is a choice.” Circumstances don’t control your thoughts, you do. They can influence them, but you determine how much influence they have.

So today can be different. You can start your year over today. Inject new hope, new life, and new optimism into your life.

Today is nothing like yesterday. It’s completely different. It’s your new year. So pop some Champagne, forget the past few months, and look ahead with hope and happiness. You can press re-set on 2015.

 “…one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.” – Phil. 3:13

 

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Finding the Good in Your Dark Days

As the years go by and I get older in life and in my faith, I grow more in love with Easter.Finding the Good in Your Dark Days

The entire week leading up to it is a good time to reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus. As much as I love the celebration — yet loathe the flamboyant suits and hats in church — of Easter, I cherish Good Friday.

Historically, that was the bad day. That was when Jesus and His followers took the loss. It was a dark day in Jerusalem 33 A.D.

When I watch movies like Passion of the Christ, it’s heartbreaking seeing the crucifixion. Even though I know what will happen Sunday, I still am hurt by my Lord taking the beating on Good Friday.

But regardless of how it looked then, that Friday was good.

The term “Good” in the title denotes pious or holy. Yet the day is good in our common English sense of the word too.

Interestingly, by definition “good” means “approved of” or “having the qualities required of a particular role.” When we think about it that is so fitting for Good Friday. As horrible as that day seemed, it was “approved of” by God. And Jesus had “the qualities required of the particular role” of enduring the cross for our sins to establish the New Covenant.

Another definition of good is “a benefit to someone.” How great of a benefit was Good Friday to us?

So Good Friday is appropriately named.

Beyond that, Good Friday reminds me of what can come from a seemingly horrible situation. In 33 A.D., there was nothing good about that day. It sucked. Peter and all the other disciples who scattered were scared and confused. Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Mary Magdalene were in unimaginable pain and grief. They would have never thought, in the middle of the chaos and horror, that that day could ever be considered good.

But it is.

Regardless of what it looked like to everyone around, God knew that the end result would be good. And in hindsight, we see how good it was. We realize how it was to our benefit.

I can look back at my life and recall some days, moments and seasons that were dark. When I was in the middle of them, I couldn’t possibly see what good could come from it.

But the same God who turned the execution of His Son into the greatest miracle ever, also turned my worst experiences into my greatest areas of growth and maturity.

Can I look back on my trials and call them good? Well, by the aforementioned definitions, yes. Obviously I had the qualities required to endure those times. And now, I can see how they benefited me.

That’s not to say our trials don’t sting. It’s not to say we should welcome them. There is no pleasure or desire in suffering. But there is growth. There is a benefit to them.

So if you are in the middle of a trying, painful and frustrating situation and you see no light, remember that thousands of years ago there was a dark and depressing day in Jerusalem that we now call Good. One day, you’ll be able to say the same about your dark day.

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