Learning to Seek First the Kingdom Everywhere

Pond in Back Yard

Pond in Back Yard

I’ve been living in this phrase, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” found in various places in scripture, trying to determine it’s sway and meaning for me personally. Ever since I wrote this post about my idea of what 2013 would look like, I’ve been asking myself the question, how… and where? It’s easier to look at my back yard and see the fog rising off the pond at sunrise and say, there He is, but seeking the kingdom above all else requires looking in those places of darkness where he is the only light that shines, and it’s not nearly as bright as it is above.

Realistically I’ve been walking down this path of making, what seemed like, several small and moderate lifestyle changes, really for years now. Over time of course they are more significant than perhaps they seem in the moment of the decision. In fact, collectively, they clear a path to allow more of God in and less of those things that distract and tend to pull us in the opposite direction. I still love reading about the drastic and dramatic though, like Paul Miller’s story, Paul Miller returns to the internet after a year away, where he took an entire year fast from the Internet only to find his demons (my words) followed him offline. The more I live in this phrase Jesus spoke the more I’m finding what I once thought was dramatic and impossible is now possible, and dramatic only to those who have ears but refuse to hear.

Right now I’m pouring over Jeff Shinabarger’s new book, More or Less, and I can’t wait to do a full review on this book. His book basically tries to answer the question, “What is enough?” For some reason it keeps reminding me of this scene from Wall Street when Bud Fox asks Gordon Gekko “how much is enough?” a question we get confronted with every day. Jeff has taken this to a new level, and is at the same time helping me understand new ways to “seek first the kingdom,” some of which I’m looking forward to sharing when I finish his book.

Fall in the Face of a Child and His Parents

The Brian Johnson Family

Last week I did a photo shoot with this little guy and his family. I love his countless expressions, his pure innocent adoration of his father, and the love he has for his mother. Here are a few shots from that day on one of the last warm days for a while. We just barely have enough leaves on the ground to make it somewhat fall like, but being the first of November, fall is finally here.

The Brian Johnson Family

The Brian Johnson Family

The Brian Johnson Family

The Brian Johnson Family

The Brian Johnson Family

The Brian Johnson Family

The Brian Johnson Family

The Brian Johnson Family

The Brian Johnson Family

Malone Kaak Senior Photo Shoot for 2013

Malone Kaak Senior Photo Shoot for 2013

I’d like you to meet one of our local seniors, Malone Kaak, who came out to our farm a few weeks ago for his senior photos. As I mentioned on a previous senior photo shoot post I don’t normally do senior photos, but this was my other exception for the year. Malone was a great sport and put up with everything we threw his way, I’m sure for his mama’s sake, since moms are really the point of doing senior photos anyway, right. There is one thing I know, moms love photos of their kids. I love the last shot of the two of them sitting on the swing together, that ended up being one of my favorites of the afternoon.

To me one of the many great lines written in the book of Psalms is this four line poem from Psalm 139.16:

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

All of our stories are different, individually crafted by God, but Malone has a great story of perseverance in a world of uncertainty. A story I have related to well over the last few years. If you want to read more about Malone just head over to his mom’s blog and start back a few years into the archives. God has an exact plan for each of us, down to the exact day, and on this day, it was for us to share the afternoon with Malone.

Makayla Massey Senior Photo Shoot for 2013

Makayla Massey Senior Photo Shoot

I so rarely do senior photo shoots, but somehow I ended up doing two within two weeks of each other this summer. This is the first one with Makayla who is entering her senior year next week. Even though I don’t get to do many of these shoots, I love the personal attention and time you get to spend with the parents and the student. It is nice to get to know people a little better than just the normal setting. On this occasion, Deborah and Cindy (Makayla’s mom), got to walk out into the deep thick grass of the pasture in 100*F weather while we did the shoot. Thank goodness you can’t tell that everyone except Makayla is sweating to death. Makayla did super, hope she has a wonderful senior year this year.

Below are a few of my favorites from the shoot that evening. You can see a few more over on my Flickr site as well.

From Denver to Auburn for a Summer Visit

Project 365 [Day 225] Fillmer Family on the Farm in Alabama

Bryan, Sara, Luke, and William Fillmer on the Tree Swing

This week our family from out in Colorado came out to see us. We had my son (Bryan) and his wife (Sara), her mother (Karen), and their two previous kids (yes, our grandkids), who are 9 months (Luke) and 6 years old (William), out from Denver to visit with us. It was a short visit, but we had enough time yesterday in the sweltering heat to do some family photography out on the tree swing. This is just a small sampling of photos, but enough to see who the joker is, and who likes sitting in the grass. We haven’t seen Luke since he was born back in September when he looked like this, and they haven’t been to the property since July, when Luke looked like this. It’s amazing to see how much he has grown since then. Tomorrow they fly back to Denver where the air is thin and dry, but Nana and Popo were very excited to get to see the grandkids again for a quick summer visit.

Project 365 [Day 170] Retreating into the Safety of Our Shell

Project 365 [Day 170] Turtle Waiting to Be Released

I captured this big guy crossing the road over by our house on the way home from work yesterday, and while he was sitting in my truck I took this shot with my iPhone. My intentions were to keep him from getting run over by picking him up, putting him in the trunk, and bringing him over to a new greener pasture (literally) and a nice pond already stocked with his friends. He was quite heavy and as soon as I picked him up his nails pushed my hand off his shell and I dropped him in the grass. Luckily he was only about a foot off the ground, but as one of my little nephews pointed out, his leg was bleeding. It wasn’t bad, but the turtle was startled for sure, and spent the better part of 30 minutes in his shell, refusing to come out even when he was put in the water.

He eventually stuck his head above water to take a breath, and then finally stretched out his legs and swam away into the big open expanse. It got me thinking about how often we shrink back into the safety of our shells when someone is trying to help us, even if the help sometimes hurts. Well, he should be making new friends now, and he also made my Project 365 photo of the day (gallery), hopefully he will stay off the roads now.

Project 365 [Day 158] Tree Swing on the Farm at Sunset

Project 365 [Day 158] Tree Swing on the Farm at Sunset

This is one of my favorite places in our backyard, and of course if you have been around this site for a while you will recognize the tree swing, but I keep finding unique ways to shoot it. I’m working on getting all the photos on my site of this swing to be searchable through “my swing” but they aren’t all up there quite yet. Yesterday afternoon I was cutting the grass and noticed the sun setting right behind the tree and actually took this shot while I was on the tractor, mowing. I later stopped and tried to setup a better shot with Deborah in the swing but none turned out as this one did with the sun right in my face. Today it was my Project 365 photo for Day 158.

A Good Friday Feet on the Farm with John Deere

Friday Feet on the John Deere Tractor

This is a very late version of Friday Feet today, but it’s technically still Friday. This late post is because We had an incredible, very humbling, Good Friday service today-tonight, (a post which will have to wait until tomorrow when I can get to the images). After finishing up a book review for Liberty this morning, my Friday-day-off became a mow as much grass as can be mowed in one afternoon. That’s not as bad as it sounds, I actually like getting out on the tractor, it gives me an escape of sorts to be able to listen to a book or something like that.

I know many people who do their thinking while they run, or ride, but I do mine while I’m on the tractor. It takes just about as long (that’s a good thing) to ride 30-40 miles, or run 10-15 miles, as it does to mow acres of grass. All that and I have less of a chance to get run over by a passing car too. It’s hard not to think about Holy Week, and the significance of it all, but I’ll elaborate on tonight’s service in the next post.

For now, the grass is green and growing fast, and the garden is about to be washed in purple. Our purple Iris’ (photo below), are about to bloom surrounding our red Double Knockout Roses. You may not look for the symbolic among creation, but I do, and I love the fact that we have purple flowers about to bloom, the day before Easter, surrounding blood red roses… royalty of a King, surrounded by the blood shed for me and you, all displayed in a tiny little flower garden in south Alabama. The larger version taking place on Auburn’s campus is seen just below, but then again, all of creation proclaims the Glory of God (Romans 1:20 and others).

Purple Iris About to Bloom

Azaleas on Auburn University Campus

Cutting the Pasture on the John Deere Tractor

Ministering to the Church At the Expense of the Family

This is an old topic, but one that never goes away, for good reason. Below is basically an excerpt from an assignment in one of my evangelism classes on Servant-Leadership and innovations in the Church, and also serves as a very short review of the book InnovateChurch by Jonathan Falwell. In a three part discussion on leadership, this was topic number one, learning how to minister to the church, but not at the expense of your family.

There are four non-negotiable commitments presented by Jonathan Falwell in InnovateChurch that pastors (and I would add church staff) need to make to themselves, and to God, for effective leadership in the church. As an administrative staff member I will admit, the one I found most difficult to keep is number two: I will not minister to my church at the expense of my family. On the surface, this probably sounds like an easy one to keep, and when I entered into ministry work in 2008 I was committed to this very statement right from the start.

In fact, if your ministry is to be more successful, however that is quantified, it must start with managing your household well. (1 Tim 3.5) There are a few basic things that have kept me focused on the proper balance, or margin if you will. It doesn’t always work in ministry as something, or someone, can always quickly pull you right back in with an “important” issue, or something that needs to be completed right away if you are not diligent.

  1. It is important to make our priorities line up properly, as stated in InnovateChurch
  2. God should be first, our family second, and our ministry third.[1] Saying or writing this isn’t good enough. This actually has to be lived out, and as such, will be proof of its importance in our lives.  How are we making God our first priority? How are we managing our household well, and where do we need to change or improve what we are doing day by day.

  3. We have to learn how to manage our time well
  4. This means learning how to say no without feeling guilty about saying no, even if it is something important. Often times in church ministry, everything is of the utmost importance, mainly because it is most important to the person asking. We cannot get into the habit of allowing our schedule or calendar to control our life in idol-like fashion.

  5. We have to learn how to focus on a few things we do well, and let the others go

This means learning how to delegate without looking back. Learning how to give tasks away is hard, especially if they will not be done as well as if we did them ourselves. This includes learning how to enlist volunteers, and building teams of people who can accomplish what we can’t simply because we can’t work 24 hours a day. Rarely is one person only gifted with the ability to do only one task, but God has gifted us with the ability to do a few things very well. This strikes in the face of our multi-tasking 21st century culture, but delegating allows us to focus on those things we can do very well, or are at least our highest priority.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means of course. I do know that when I have built in margin, giving time to my family, I am more productive, and better focused as a staff member. Sometimes that means the most important place I can be, especially in the evening, is in that chair next to Deborah (and Ebby) in our living room.


[1] Jonathan Falwell, ed., Innovate Church, ed. Jonathan Falwell (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2008), 14.