Trust the Process

Living the dream. I just returned from a week of chaos, the Fourth of July, a friend’s surprise party, my first classes at Liberty University, and then leading at a student camp. I went into camp excited yet hesitant. I doubted my ability to leader, doubted God’s purpose for my being there, and what the future held for me. Through and through, I had reservations. The speaker for the week, took us on a study of Jospeh and how God used him in ways far beyond his expectations.  I was surprised, taken aback really, by how much this message impacted by our students and us, the leaders.


 

God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever

imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!

-Ephesians 3:20


 

I was shaken to my core by this camp and God made sure that I got the message loud and clear. This camp was pivotal in so many regards and it took me back to where I was over ten years ago as a freshman in high school. The first summer camp I attended after returning to the church was quite influential in my life that would set me down the path that I now walk. The focus of that camp was on being transformed. What would our lives look like if we embraced what we claimed to believe and sacrificed our lived to Christ? So this exploration of the life of Jospeh has presented itself as a springboard into this very topic once again. Now that I have an understanding and appreciation of the bigger and greater plans God has for my life. Recognizing that God’s plans are far better and bigger than our own, submitting ourselves to His work brings us to Romans 12.


 

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

-Romans 12:1-2


 

When I was getting ready to graduate from high school I thought that I would be going into education to become a teacher. When that did not work out I had no idea what was going to do. Through my experience just after I graduated and began seeking out where God was taking me, I felt my heart being tugged toward ministry, specifically toward student ministry. At the time I had no idea what that would look like or what it entailed. When I began to study at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary this became more clear and I began to serve alongside the students at my local church. During this camp, God really reaffirmed my calling to the ministry and that my doubts were unfounded. I felt or heard, like a faint whisper, ‘trust the process.’

I was convicted because I was not trusting God with my life and kept trying to force my way into things that I am/was not prepared for. My plans were on a different timeline than that of God’s and I was full of discontentment because they did not align with my desires. Anything area that God pointed out to me is that I still have work to do on myself. To hone my abilities and to be flexible, bendable in how I approach leading students. To be loving and gracious in how I engage with my students. I want to learn and to grow so that I may be a better leader to these students. I am still rough around the edges and have need of seeking out guidance and teachers of my own.

I know my calling is in ministry and God has only made it more and more clear to me. Trust the process. Recognize that He has something far greater and better planned that I do and that His timing is perfect. So, if I can impart anything to y’all through my experience, is to trust the process. Trust God with your life.

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

Insecurities, Uncertainties, and the Nature of Doubt

The week before last, I house sat for my parents while they took a trip to Amish country. The course of the week went as normal between work, rehearsal, and church all while battling a sinus infection. However, on a fateful Thursday, thing unravelled quickly. Earlier that day I had left work early because I was not well and came home to find the hallway covered in a shallow puddle of water emanating from under the bathroom wall. Yikes! In the process of going up to the attic to examine the air conditioning unit and water lines, I slipped off the wooden 2x4s that allow passage throughout the attic and my foot went through the ceiling of a closet. Ouch. I called my mother regarding this additional issue and got into a spat with my father. To say that I was furious is an understatement. To say I was livid does not begin to cover the breadth of my anger and disdain. Throughout the course of the next few hours, I had exchanged messages with my mother expressing both my anger and my hurt. I was wrong and I went too far. I crossed a line. In this happenstance, however, I knew immediately what had triggered my anger.

My dad, through this occurrence and unbeknownst to him, had stuck into some insecurities that I have regarding my life. This year, I will be far closer to thirty than I am to twenty. I have not completed my undergraduate degree, I still work in fast food, I still live at home, and have not had much luck getting a leg up in life. I’m, seemingly, still living the same life that I was just after high school. The majority of my peers average in between 19-22 which is not that far from my own age, but does place them in a different stage of life than my own. Not necessarily suggesting that they are immature or incapable of sharing some of the same intrinsic properties that are universal to our way of living here in America, but where I was at 18, 19, 20, and so on were vastly different from each other. Despite growing and taking on more responsibilities, more opportunities, I have not been able to overcome the plateau to be able to fully take care of myself free from the ties to my parents. I’m independent, yes, but I’m dependent on my parents none the less. Couple this with people my age who are getting married, starting families, buying homes, and so forth, where does that suggest about myself? What do they know that I don’t? Obviously, nothing. Their lives are not mine nor is their path my own. Being of both a retrospective and philosophic mind, I understand the principal differences in my path and the paths of others. Yet, I still seem to be contained to the contrived timeline of millennials as suggested by media.

I have a love hate relationship with social media and I constantly find myself at odds with it. In many ways, it is a great communication tool and I have legitimate needs for it. However, social media is a lie. A curated, mathematical, algerithmic display of what a company thinks I want to see. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, etc all use algorithms to experiment and tweak our emotions. Movies, books, music all have this same issue. They are not true representations of life. They are stylized, romanticized, idealized representations of life. One of my favorite movies of recent is La La Land which the entire premise steams from setting up traditional expectations before subverting them. The tag for the movie, “Here’s to the fools who dream” reveals the subversion to the romanticized Hollywood representation of reality. Yet, even in its attempt of subverting our expectation, the movie is still dramatized, romanticized, and fictional. Yet, like La La Land, we are influenced by our entertainment. Having worked in a book store, I am not surprised by the sheer volume of trashy, poorly written romance novels targeted to women. They are in their essence entirely romanticized, sometimes erotic, works meant to sate our internal, often unexpressed desires. Thus I find myself at odds with myself. I have desires that extend beyond my current circumstances.

I am insecure about my future, about my prospects. These insecurities are fed by comparison, often conscious but regularly unconscious, to societies expectations. Do I meet up with the societal expectation that I should be established by this point? No. Am I living freely, selfishly with no regard to the status quo? No. Am I disinterested and disengaged? No. Yet, if we’re going by arbitrary status marks of success, then I do not match the norm. Have I completed a degree? No. Do I have a house/apartment? No. Do I have a sustainable job? No, not really. My point being that I’ve progressed personally, spiritually but I have not progressed in life. If that makes any sense. For example, there was a headline going around about a 30 year old who was evicted by his parents in upstate New York, while comical, it is a situation far too close to home for me. While I am not free loading and unproductive, I am still living at home. This person from the headline has been the butt of a good many jokes, but is a situation far from my own. The circumstances are very different and as such I do not compare myself to it. The reason I bring this up is to address that fact that I am, indeed, insecure about the future.

Insecurity in men is hardly addressed as compared to women. Going back to entertainment media, women’s insecurities are often played for jokes or for laughs. One example that comes to mind is the movie Mean Girls which features of myriad of jokes at the expense of women. Just as there a cultural expectations, societal expectations placed upon women, so too are expectations placed upon men. While I am no expert, looking at how men are portrayed in media over the last few decades reveal what society values in men. The 80’s were heavily set on macho men of action movies with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and so forth. The 00’s swung the other way with men who embraced their more sensual side taking the forefront. Currently, men are represented in a war between both sides of the spectrum as culture seemingly debates what role men are too take. Setting aside conservative and liberal political agenda and perspectives, what am I to do? Who am I?

In this spat with my father, I broke down in tears that afternoon. Why? I cannot really explain. I do not believe that my tears were from anger, nor do I believe that them stemmed from sadness. I believe that they stemmed from defeat at the hands of insecurity. I sent my mother a text that conveyed, albeit in a much more hostile and explosive manner, some of the sentiments expressed here. These sentiments reveal some of my heart and my depravity and doubt in God. I also believe that the enemy, Satan, capitalized on my foot going through the ceiling and my father’s response to take my attention, my focus away from God. One statement that I made, which I will not repeat here because of my failings as a follower of Christ, expressed my displeasure for the life that I had been dealt. To paraphrase, I did not ask for this life. I did not ask for the things that life has dealt me, the trails and tribulations God has allowed so that I may rely on Him more. This statement, I believe, reveals my sinfulness because I, in that moment, rejected God and His sovereignty. I rejected God’s plan for my life because I thought that I knew better and deserved better. What I fool am I! Woe to me for my foolishness! Honestly, I doubted God and what for? He has provided plentifully and abundantly. By any approximation, my life has been good and is going great! Yet, in my broken heart, insecurity of the future has been harbored.

Therefore I find myself sitting here wrestling with my doubts of my doubts. Sometimes, I believe myself not good enough, handsome enough, kind enough. I doubt that I am worthy being loved. I doubt being able to finish school. To move out. To have an ‘adult’ job. To get married. To have a ministry. I doubt God. Honestly… and my heart and eyes are heavy writing this, I question how much faith I really have in God’s plan for my life. Why? Because I cannot see it. I am uncertain. Granted, I am not suggesting that I do not have faith in God or salvation through faith, but that if I had total control of every circumstance in my life that I would have done things very differently. I would choose the ideal path and not the necessary path. What does that say about me? What does that say about God? I really do trust God, in complete genuine faith, but at the very same time have doubts. How can this be?! How can I with one hand be fully vested in God’s will but with the other pick out specifics of where God is not meeting my expectations? Baffling does not begin to address this thought of comprehension. Who am I to tell God what is best for me? Who am I to be unsatisfied with what has been given?

I do not write this article, as difficult as it has been to express, for your sympathy or pity. Those I needn’t want or have. Yet, I am wise enough to realize that in my moment of brokenness that my anger and lashing out originated from my doubts, uncertainty, and insecurity. We all have doubts, insecurities about ourselves, our lives, and our futures. They are infinitely numerous among us all and they do, despite how much we might surprise them, affect the way in which we view our lives and how we seek to navigate them. Our insecurities, our fears cripple us if not kept in check. They seize us up and keep us from taking necessary risks, from putting ourselves out there, and are made of compromise.

I recognize that this post is vastly different from my many others and focuses in more on what may be seen as negatives. I write this because the Christian life is one of both positive and negatives. Of successes and of failures. The Christian walk is not easy and it is full of trials that we will navigate. Do know that all is well with me and that my life is one of good things on a good path. I have wonderful friends whom I consider family who keep me on the right path. I have mentors who challenge me to improve. I have challenges to overcome and brokenness that I need to address. While I do not have a solution to the matter addressed here, I write this because it is vitally important for believers to not mask or hide the struggles we face in our day to day lives. Sanctification is a process just as life is. The pursuit of righteousness, of holiness requires addressing the brokenness within us and understanding our total need for a savior who is Jesus Christ.

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

Being Loved: Affirmation

Y’all, it has been a busy month. After nearly three months of writing at least one post a week, I’ve been away from this website for nearly four weeks. To quote perpetual troublemaker Farris Bueller, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I’ve not written for lack of topics or ideas, but rather because I’ve been elsewhere. At work, serving at church, attending rehearsals, having game nights, spending a week sick with a sinus infection, etc. Life has been full of things vying for my attention. However, I am back with something to write about. Allowing people to love on myself and to build me up.

I love loving on people! Words of affirmation are one of the ways in which I love on people, however… I’m not very good at allowing people to love on me in the same way. A friend of mine paid me a compliment at lunch yesterday with some peers, and I did not accept it properly. It’s odd to try to explain, but I definitely did not fully allow this person to love on me. Why? I don’t know. I’m awkward sometimes. Anyway, I was thinking about it after I got home from lunch and felt convicted. I had robbed someone the joy of building me up. Of speaking into my life. I felt bad, because I enjoy loving people. Weirdly.

Before I stepped up and took on my faith as my own, I despised people. I hated them. I had no love for anyone. Myself included. God, in His sometimes ironic ways, changed my life and set me on a new path. One of the ways in which God changed me was by instilling within me a desire to love people. To genuinely love them. To speak life into others and to build them up. So when I poorly received somebody else’s love, I felt foolish. I was wrong, even though I did not outright wrong someone. I was wrong for not being willing to allow someone to build me up.

So this evening at rehearsal, I apologized to this person because I was in the wrong. They totally understood and made sure to let me know that I had nothing to apologize for. Through this conversation, we noted how odd it can be to accept someone else’s affirmation when we’re accustomed to being to one giving out affirmation. Honestly y’all, it really is odd. Like when you’re the person people come to for advice and how you feel like an alien when you’re having to ask others for advice. It feels like something isn’t fitting properly. Like a glove too big or small for your hand or a shoe that is too small. It’s awkward! Throughout the course of the night however, as this rehearsal continued, I could only thing about how much I love all of the people around me. The community God has placed me within.

From the people that I’ve known for years, to the strangers walking in the door for the first time. I love each and every one of them for different reasons. Sometimes for reasons I do not know, but still feel nonetheless. There are some I know intimately, whose company is vital in keeping me inline, and those who I am still attempting to get to know on a deeper level. Some I hardly know at all, but I seek ways to love them irregardless. Whether through a game of four square with invisible lines at the front of the auditorium, laughter over a game of cucumber at IHOP, over serious discussions in small groups, and so forth I seek to love people. But what I need to improve at, is allowing people to love me. To not have my guard so high up that I keep people out. To not steal the joy from others who are sharing God’s love with me.

Some lessons have to be learned through reflection. From seeing where we are in the wrong. I’m thankful that I can see that I need to improve here, and am willing to work on it. I hope this post makes some sense, as I’m really rambling here. Having abstract thoughts make writing a tad difficult, but I’m writing anyway. Thank you for reading, and as always:

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

Fleeing Discouragement

This evening has been a struggle, a battle really. The enemy has tried his best to drum up every bit of doubt and discouragement that he can muster within me. While I am not unaccustomed to going through periods of sadness or depression, this is something different. The last couple of months have been the precursor to change. This past weekend, my mother graduated with her Master’s degree in Theological Studies, we celebrated the Dean of my school’s resignation, and I’ve gone through the process of transferring schools. Seasons of change are inherently prone to uncertainty. I am not surprised that the enemy has taken this opportunity to attack me. God has been affirming me and working on my behalf to put things in order.

God has done a great deal of work in my life over the last year in order to further my growth and devotion to Him. I very recently became a co-leader of my college small group, I made preparations to finish my undergraduate degree, and have begun setting better habits in my spiritual walk. Through all of this, God has been providing and encouraging me. I just registered for a couple summer classes at Liberty so I may continue making progress. I still have no idea how I am going to pay for my education. While not much more expensive than my previous school, I am having to cover much, much more of it. Enter the enemy, who has spent much of this afternoon trying to stir up discouragement, uncertainty. Doubt.

He’s whispering every lie possible to turn my gaze away from God. You’re never going to finish school, Terren. You can’t afford it. Nobody is going to help cover the cost of your education. You’ll never get out of your parents house. You’ll never have a fulfilling life. You’ll never meet someone, have love, or whatnot. Lies that are entirely bogus, but not out of the realm of impossibility. The enemy is speaking through my insecurity, the areas where I have some second thoughts. Speaking through things that I am not entirely certain about. For what purpose? To distract me from the truth that God provides abundantly.

I bought a hammock last week with the purpose of using it to relax, but also to retreat into God’s creation and spend time with Him. While I spend a marginal amount of time at my house during the week when I’m not sleeping, the enemy likes to attack when I’m away from people. I have begun to take full advantage of being amongst God’s creation as creation speaks of the God who created it all. Away from my television, my computer, my phone, my gaming consoles, I am among the structured universe and the God who created it. This has been greatly beneficial for me, because I have to be purposeful in setting my tent up between the trees and then clearing my mind of every thought and idea that shoot endlessly between neurons. I am quite the over-thinker, and I have to discipline myself not to think. This has resulted in having conversations with God in a very different means than I am accustomed.

Instead of presenting a petition, I’ve just told God, “Hey, I’m going to just sit here and if You’d like to speak, then I’ll listen. But for now, I’m just going to sit here with you.” I can’t begin to explain to y’all the wave of peace that crashed over me. After some time, I’ll then begin to converse with God about some of the things that are in my mind. I don’t want to say that it is a casual conversation, but rather spoken like you would with a friend with whom you speak slowly and intimately and fully listen before response is had. As I’ve made purposeful, intentional efforts to deepen my relationship with the Father, I am not surprised that the enemy is attempting to disrupt that.

This evening I went and set up my hammock and shortly thereafter my mother came out to check on me, as it was apparent that something was amiss. Instead of stewing in the lies the enemy was spewing, I fled to where I would not be able to sit in it. I went and prayed. I went out and went to God to thank Him for all the He has provided. My heart poured out in overwhelming thanksgiving because God’s hand has been on my life for so so long and I have not always appreciated it. I have not been overtaken and the Father has set my life on a path of which He will use to bring glory back to Himself. I know that this path is far, far better than any one that I have imagined.

So if there is a lesson to be taken away from this, flee from sin. Flee from the enemy. Enter into the presence of God, sit and bask in His might and glory! Trust in His provision and know that He is for you, not against you.

Grace and peace,

Terren-It-Up

Dating: An Evaluation

The purpose in dating has changed dramatically in recent memory and has given rise to a minefield of potential problem areas if not navigated cautiously. The rules of engagement when it pertains to dating have also become lacking in clarity. Where one would have to go to the person of their affection’s home to state their intentions and ask for permission has now been replaced by the swiping through of images on dating apps based on basic, superficial indicators. Additionally, the rise of casual sex and the hookup culture present additional hurdles in the consideration of the dating relationship. This brave new world of dating presents Christians with a plethora of obstacles and dangers to navigate as they step into the season of relationships. What is the purpose of dating and how what does it reveal about God’s character and blessing?


I, as I have previously made clear, have never dated. I’ve been single my whole life, which is absolutely fine by me. I bring this up for transparency’s sake. I do not claim to be an expert on the topic nor do I have any experience in this area. However, I have learned under both great authors and Biblical thinkers as well as gained insight from mentors and friends as they have gone through this season. Thus, while I stand on the shoulders of people like Ben Stuart, Solomon, and other pastors, I hope to present an accurate summation of this season of life from the perspective of the Christian life. Furthermore, this is also not a guide to how to date or how to get a date. I don’t know how to get a date… Soooooooooo… if you will allow me, let us begin Y’all.


When we think of dating in the Christian culture, one of a few scenarios come to mind:

The Forever Alone,

Waiting to Find the Equally Yoked Phase:

Equally Yoked

Or…

The Forms of Christian Dating:

Christian Dating


Memes asides, Christian dating may be a slightly awkward stage to be in. Thankfully scripture gives us some valuable wisdom when it comes to our relationships, romantic or not. However, before determining the purpose of dating within the Christian life we must first examine the human nature. We are selfish, sinful creatures. Period. We have a need to fill that bottomless, God-sized hole in our lives which we will turn to a myriad of things to temporarily fill. As Ben Stuart made emphatically clear “where there is scarcity, desperation will set in.” Stuart’s point is that when we are without a source of life, we will use whatever we can get our sense of fulfill out of to temporarily sate our desires. Be it sex, drugs, money, things, people, etc. If we lack a source of life, we will, in desperation, find our fulfillment wherever we can get it. This extends to our approach to dating. If we approach it in the wrong state of mind, we will use and exploit people to fill our selfish desires. So let’s get one thing absolutely clear, Y’all. There is no single person who can ever fill the God-sized hole in your life. Period. Apart from Jesus, nobody will give you everything you are lacking. If you place that expectation on your friends, the person you are dating, or the person you’re looking to marry, then you are placing a weight upon that person that they cannot even attempt to carry! So let us be absolutely clear, no singular person will ever meet your every need, so do not place that sort of expectation on your relationships. When this occurs, then your relationships are set forth on a path of destruction and injury.

So what purpose does dating serve within the Christian life? Evaluation. Who is him or her? Does he or she love Jesus? Does their life reflect the change evident of someone who has given their live over to God? Do they serve others? Do they honor their parents? Do they encourage others? Who are they? That is the purpose in dating, to evaluate whether or not this person is someone with whom you are willing to join in a covenantal relationship before God with. Song of Songs (Solomon) gives use a fairly clear understanding of what this looks like. Song of Songs begins with the initial attraction between King Solomon and his beloved and moves through their evaluation of one another and ends in their marriage. Throughout the poetic language used throughout the book are tidbits of information that reveal a bit about culture and relationships. So let us imagine that you are interested in someone, you’re curiosity has been peeked. Is this person someone who wanders in search of things to fill their live with a sense of meaning, or do they wait upon God to give them what they need? Are they a wanderer or a waiter? Song of Songs gives us some insight into what this looks like.

“Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon; for why should I be like one who veils herself beside the flocks of your companions?” -Song of Songs 1:7 ESV

Timothy Ateek (T.A.), former director of Vertical Ministries at Baylor University and current director of Breakaway Ministries at Texas A&M, makes note that historically at the time that Song of Songs was written that prostitutes would veil themselves and go out and wander around waiting for a man to give her an invitation (Vertical Ministries Podcast). The woman in Song of Songs asks why should she be like those who wander around looking for the attention and affection for other men? She understands the value of waiting for Solomon instead of seeking out the approval of these other men. For Christians, we want our prospective significant others to wait for the Lord to tell them when to move. This is important as it reveals a willingness to be patient given whatever situation is before them. Why? Because when we wander and seek out our own ends it reveals our doubt in God’s ability to address the matter. If we are unwilling to be patient as the Lord sets a path before us, we reveal that our trust resides in our own abilities.

We also see that she wants to be where Solomon is, the attraction between the two is mutual. Matt Chandler highlights in his book The Mingling of Souls, “She wants to hang out in a more meaningful way. And of course, it’s quite natural for a relationship to grow in this way. We can call this the dating stage.” She wants to get to know Solomon better and see where this relationship is headed. We get to see how Solomon responds:

“If you do not know, O most beautiful among women, follow in the tracks of the flock, and pasture your young goats beside the shepherds’ tents. I compare you, my love, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots. Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels.” -Song of Songs 1:8-10 ESV

Solomon tells her where she may find him and also affirms her through his compliment to her. This reveals to us the clear communication between the two. While they are not playing games with one another. He is not hiding from her to tease her, nor is he flirting meaninglessly. He affirms his attraction for her as well! We ought to be clear in our intentions and our communication with one another. This has the benefit of, first, keeping our actions from being questioned, and, secondly, from leaving room for misunderstanding. One of the issues with dating today is the vague nature in which we talk to potential dates. Do we call them? Do we text them? When we do ask them out do we call it a date? Do we just ask them to hang out? What does it all mean? Men, do not beat around the bush when stating your intentions. If you’re looking to ask a girl out, be a man and call it what it is. A date. Why? Because you do not leave her on a wire to guess what the purpose and intention you have. Is she getting ready to hang out with you and your friends or are y’all about to go to dinner and a movie? Does she need to call her best friends over to help her get ready for you, or does she need to show up casually? This extends even further after you do have a date. If you had a good time, then make sure to tell her and if you’re interested in a second date be sure to make it known before the date is over. Proverbs offers some wisdom in this:

“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” -Proverbs 15:28 ESV

Communicating clearly has great benefit to us in keeping us free from presenting ourselves falsely. Therefore we must think about how we’re going to talk to not only the person we’re pursuing but also those whom we come into contact with. No matter the circumstances or situation, our words must be carefully chosen so that we may not be taken out of context and may be free from distortion. This also applied when things are no going well. If it is clear that you and your date are not in the same vein then it is vital that it is communicated.

Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” -Proverbs 27:5 ESV

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” -Proverbs 16:24 ESV

Even when things are not ideal and we must make the hard choice to break things off, we are capable of speaking in love and affirming one another. Even when a relationship comes to an end, we as believers are capable and ought to build up one another. Unfortunately, as can be seen in Hollywood films which play up the drama, breakups can be quite the ordeal. When we mingle together and give parts of ourselves away before we should which results in a period of hurt from separation. Not unlike the feelings of withdrawal experienced when we remove caffeine or sugar from our diets. The last thing we as believers want is to give our hearts out in pieces. While we are healed, redeemed, and made new through the blood and sacrifice of Christ Jesus the pains of giving away of our hearts to those who do not deserve it can be lingering. Amanda Cook and Steffany Gretzinger of Bethel Music have a hauntingly moving song called Pieces which details the differences and shortcomings of human love versus God’s faithful, pure love for us.



I am keenly aware of the means by which they describe the relationships we experience between one another, particularly in a romantic sense. Phrases like love not being shy hints at people who closet their relationships and minimize the nature of their relationships. Stanzas of love being afraid to be seen with the significant other allude to hurts experienced at the hands of someone else. Then someone hiding themselves away to tease the recipient of someone’s affections makes it clear that there have been questions in the intentions of that person who ghosted them. Unfortunately, this is not a problem exclusive to any one sex.

As we pursue dating, we must have boundaries and expectations set and agreed upon to keep one another away from anything that would hurt or call one another’s character into question. In all honesty, by setting boundaries and keeping one another above reproach, you may effectively evaluate the potential in the relationship moving forward without placing one another in compromising situations. This is not to suggest that there will not be temptations or trials, especially as the relationship moves to be more and more serious. Fortunately, by doing so we are respecting the integrity and wellbeing of the other person. In the process of dating the result, whether moving toward marriage or in separating, ought to be glorifying to God and respecting the inherent priceless value His creation. This is what Paul asserts when he writes to Timothy giving instruction to the church at Ephesus:

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

-1 Timothy 5:1-2 ESV

Why ought we treat women as mothers and sisters? Because they are made in the image of God and He has given them a value beyond what we could ever pay. I am not suggesting that women have monetary value, but rather the God has imbued value because they are His creation. Who are we to disrespect God’s creation? Who are we not to treat the people around us with dignity and respect especially in the pursuit of dating? We, as followers of Jesus, have a prerogative to assure that our romantic endeavors are honoring of God and that we are not compromising in character. We have no room to have a reputation of compromise. This is not the kind of compromise where we’re reaching common ground in a argument or in the decision of where to eat lunch. This kind of compromise is the kind that calls ours or their characters into question. We must live lives that are above reproach.

See, dating is not entirely about evaluating the person you’re looking to pursue, but a large portion of dating is self-evaluation. Are you tendering to your own garden? Are you allow God to prune away what is not necessary or dead? Your life is your garden, and while you’re not going to have a perfectly tendered garden are you allowing Jesus to come in an work in it? Are you willing to let the one who died for your sins to come in are show you where you’re falling short? We are very capable of looking at other people’s lives and making judgements upon them. We can look and compare our gardens to one another’s but that does not mean that because theirs is in a less well kept state that your’s is superior. By tending to our own gardens and faithfully allowing God to work within us, we may be able to be above reproach and evaluate where we stand. So where do you stand? Is your garden a mess? Does it need to be weeded so that what is beneficial may breathe and grow? Let me make note of this now while we are on this topic: You may of the mindset that you need to wait until your life is in perfect order before you should start dating. You may think that it is best to start dating once you’ve gotten your degree, gotten that adult job, gotten a house, and are financially stable. The issue is the false sense of security that comes with the appearance of having things in order. Let me caution y’all that nothing is ever guaranteed apart from the salvation that is found in Jesus. Life can flip in an instant and everything that you have put stock into like a job, a degree, a house, and so forth can disappear without warning. So I would not suggest that you make worldly milestones as your gauge as to when to pursue a relationship. Rather I recommend leaning upon God to tell you when the time is right. Even now, implying that you are single as I am, ask God to partner with you in this endeavor! Ask God to walk with you as you move from singleness into dating and then ask God to partner with you in your relationship! If we’re going to step into a season of life where two broken people are looking to move to becoming one, what better step is there to take than one with God?

For Christians, I believe that there is immense wisdom in asking God to partner with us in all of our relationships both romantic or plutonic. Let us not forget that God was the one who first made relationship with Adam and then relationship between Adam and Eve. Who knows more than God who is in constant relationship with Himself? Meaning that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (The Trinity) are in relationship with one another. Always in communication with each office and working with one another. You may have trouble wrapping your mind around that one and the theological implications thereof, but know that God is in relationship with Himself just as you are with your friends and family. Additionally, in keeping ourselves above reproach and accountable, surround yourself with friends who know you well enough to be invested in your relationships! Friends who are not afraid to confront you when you are in the wrong or in a relationship that is going no where. Friend who live out what we see in Proverbs 27:5 (seen above). Surround yourself with people who know you intimately enough to know when you are slipping and be willing to listen when they come to you with concerns. You may be surprised when they come to you in total support of your relationship! A sign that you are moving in the right direction!

This is what dating is for, to evaluate yourself and the person you’re looking to engage with. Are they following Jesus? Does their life reflect the change that comes from surrendering your life to Jesus? Does your life reflect Jesus? Are you pursuing God? Are you growing deeper? Are you standing idle? I do not know where you stand, but I know that we must first evaluate where we stand with God before we even consider a relationship beyond that with God. Why? Because we must first get our relationship with God right before we will ever get relationships with others right. This is abundantly clear when John expounds in 1 John 4:

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. -1 John 4:13-21 ESV

We can only know what love is because God loved us first. God did not blindly create us, He crafted us. The act of forming us within our mother’s wombs is in itself an act of love! God sending His son, Jesus, to live among us, to be made flesh, and reveal to us what God has done and to die on the cross for the sins of all, is an act of love! Only through God can we know love and only through God can we know how to love others! We love because God first loved us. A simple statement bursting with encouragement for the follower of Christ. God is so, so good, Y’all! Do y’all know that? Do y’all believe that? Do you trust that God loves you? This is why it is vital that we get our relationship with God right before considering any other relationship! Because apart from God we are nothing. We are dead in sin set on a path of self destructiveness. As Ben Stuart illustrated to be a source of life, you must have a source of life. To be a source of life every relationship you find yourself in, you must first have a source of life found in God.


Having said all of this, I once again make clear that I have not dated before. I have no experience in this area. I stand on the shoulders of scripture and great theological minds and pastors who have made an effort to address the heartbreak that stems from romantic relationships that have gone wrong and to affirm the perfect love that comes from God. Despite my inexperience, I know what I look for when considering a relationship, and I’d like to present a few of them here. Why? Because they’re important questions to have raised and they also reflect back on myself. So if I’ve going to consider pursuing somebody’s heart I must consider a few of these things.

Firstly, does she love Jesus? Is she submitting to the authority of God and living a life that reveals Christ to others? As I stated, these questions also apply to myself. Do I love Jesus? Am I submitting to the authority of God and conducting my life so that others see Christ through me?

Secondly, who is she around her friends? Who is she around authority figures? Who is she when she thinks nobody is looking? Who is she when times are going well? When times are going poorly? Is there consistency? Does her character waiver from different scenarios or is she consistent throughout? Does she rely upon God when things are difficult? Does she worship when things are beyond what was expected? Am I the same around my friends as I am around my mentors? Am I the same when life is tough as when life is easy? Do I rely upon God when things are poor and do I give thanks and worship God for the blessing He pours out on me?

Thirdly, is she encouraging to others? Does she build other’s up? Do I seek out to build up others and encourage them in their walks with Christ?

Fourth, how does she handle gossip? Does she put an end to it? Does she stand up for what’s right? Do I reject gossip and seek to defend whomever the gossip is about?

Fifth, is she patient? Does she wait for God or does she wander? Where does jump to conclusions or wait until she has an understanding before acting? How do I handle patience? Do I flee to what will provide instant gratification or do I wait for God to reward my faithfulness? Do I wait while God puts things in order and am I faithful to follow when God says to move?

Sixth, is she hospitable? Does she reach out to others? Does she go out of her way to meet people where they are at and make an effort to include them? Does she serve others? Do I meet people where they are at? Do I make an effort to make them feel welcome and included? Am I willing to serve them?

These are just a few things that yield very important implications when evaluating not only a prospective date but ourselves. Why? Because they reveal character. They reveal where we are with God. Are we faithful followers who are consistent throughout every season of life or are we wandering freely and changing as quickly as the seasons do. If it is the former, then there is evidence of the work of Christ in them. If it is the later, then there is evidence of something lacking. Why is this important? Because consistency now gives evidence of how they will be should you get married. Let’s think about the traditional wedding vows. For better or worse. Are you and this person going to be consistent when life is tough and unbearable as when life is going well and prosperous? In sickness and in health. Are you and this person going to be consistent when time goes by and illness sets in as when you’re free from disease? For richer or poorer. Are you and this person going to be consistent when there is some monetary security as when there is none? To love and cherish. Are you and this person going to be consistent in loving one another when the effects of age and gravity have taken hold and the outward appearance moves away from its youthfulness? Are you going to cherish them for who they are when the physical aspects are no longer what they were. Till death do us part. Are you going to commit yourselves to consistency in the commitment to one another? This last one is the biggest question that lingers beyond vow exchanged in a wedding ceremony. It is a question that needs to be answered near the time of engagement. Why? Because the vow being made here at the end till death do us part is a commitment of bonding together until death separates us. Not life, not money, not sickness, not beauty, not strength will separate us. Only death. This is the convenient of marriage. A union that bonds two people into one in the eyes of God. This is why when we are dating, we must be evaluating who we are and who the other person is. That is the purpose in dating. Not for a good time. Not for companionship. Not for exploitation. Not for satisfaction. To evaluate the prospects of a lifelong commitment.

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

Infinite Interruption: A Spiritual War

I went out with my friends last night after bible study to go see the first movie of the summer movie season, Avengers Infinity War. By all accounts the experience ought to have been the intense culmination of a decade long build up to this movie. However, what would transpire would greatly affect the way I viewed the film and would spark the inspiration of this post. Firstly, I am a huge nerd and film buff. From the moment we took our seats it was apparent that something was off with the picture quality of the projector. As someone who works in the media field, I noticed a stark lacking in the reds and greens. Ok, I can live with it. Yet, about two thirds of the way through the film, the projector decided that it had had enough and blew up. The sound died, the picture faded into the darkness, and an uproar began. Now, I’ve had projectors go out on me before in the middle of a showing so this was nothing odd. The theater did what they could to accommodate us for our troubles and did give us passes to see the movie again if we so wanted. So myself and my friends sat in the 3/4ths full theater for roughly forty-five minutes while they worked on the projector. The movie returned and as I left the theater I was struck by the stark lacking in feeling toward the movie and it was entirely due to the stark interruption of the projector going out! Why? Because for two hours the film had begun to build up tension and anticipation, expectation and excitement. When the movie was interrupted all those internal feelings had time to fade away and changed the way in which the movie impacted me. All in all, by the time I had left the theater I had been up for twenty-two hours and I was struck with one thought… For the follower of Christ, our outlook is based on the narrative we’ve planned for ourselves and when something comes along to interrupt and disrupt that path we lose our sense of understanding.

We all have plans for ourselves and very little do we foresee the challenges and obstacles that we will face in those plans. God, too, has plans for you and I and He works to place us upon the better path. Sometimes God is included in our plans, other times we try to place Him off to the side as if we know better than the one who created everything. In the Christian walk we will face obstacles and we have one of two ways of responding: acceleration and stagnation. Our basis of judging our walks with Christ is largely based on emotional, anecdotal evidences. We compare ourselves with those around us and their walks with Christ and try to measure up. You are not on the same walk that I am on, we may be heading in the same direction, toward the same God, but you and I are not the same persons with the same struggles. Comparison is just one of many hurdles that we must overcome as we move through life. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize just how little my expectations match reality. Even as someone who has been walking with God for the better part of my life, I see that my plans are nowhere near where God’s are. I’ve also struggled with reconciling the differences between what I plan and want versus what God has given and ordained. So what does this have to do with a movie and a projector blowing up? When life does not meet our expectations, when an obstacle stands in our path, we must respond in turn. How is it that we choose to respond to such crisis?

See, you and I can both be making progress in our spiritual walks. Life is good, we’re feeling it. We’re raising both hands up in worship at service cause we’re just totally engrossed with the things of God at the moment, but then something happens the next day that shakes up the groove you’ve been in and it throws everything off. A coworker is gossiping about you for some reason or other, your car gets towed, college is swamping you with work, a close friend betrayed your confidence, etc. Things happen all the time! Far too quickly does our focus shift from God to whatever this obstacle is and we stop. We shut down! Our focus is drawn onto the issue and we wallow in it, we live in it. We are consumed by the problem. When this happens, we begin to lose feeling toward the things of God. Why? Because we put God on the back burner until we’ve gotten around, under, or over the problem. My friend Alex sent me a message on Instagram, since I posted about the projector imploding, that read, “They gotta make the war last an infinity somehow.” Her comment was in reference to the movie, but it spoke straight to me regarding this topic. We are the they in that statement. We gotta make whatever disruption is vying for our attention last as long as possible. Why? Because the enemy wants our attention away from God! Y’all, spiritual warfare is a very real thing and I say this not to alarm you, because of you are a believer then you know this already.

Whether the enemy attacks in our plans by interrupting the direction we were heading, or by filling our minds with doubt, self-consciousness, fear, insecurity. The enemy, Satan, will do whatever he can to shift our focus away from God. Like the projector going out and disrupting the movie, the enemy attempts to throw off our sense of progress and connection to God. The momentum that we felt as we were walking with God, praying endlessly, rejoicing freely, worshiping thankfully becomes immediately more difficult and far off. Like taking three steps forward and four steps back. The irony is that Satan will throw something small and petty out there in front of us knowing that we will make a mountain out of a pebble and we will stray away from the path God has set us. See the projector going off and sitting in the theater for an extra forty-five minutes was not a big deal. Yes, it was inconvenient, but not that big of a deal. It was minor annoyance but one that allowed for laugher to be shared. I enjoyed the movie in spite of the inconvenience. So why do we become some hindered by pebbles? Why do we allow the obstacle to “last an infinity?”

Now, there are huge, big, enormous obstacles that we will face in life and those will take time for us to navigate and summit. Yet most obstacles we face and make convoluted ordeals out of are just pebbles that we could easily hurdle and propel further in our spiritual walks. Fortunately, God never leaves us even when we stagnate and focus in on the small things when we should be looking beyond them. Frankly, we can see over the pebbles without much concern as we hurdle over them and begin to measure us to the mountains that we will face. Along the way as we keep focus on the bigger issues, God is preparing us for the more pressing of matters. We must have faith in the training God has and is giving us as we overcome the issues in life. I’m not much of an athlete but I excel in a few areas. One area that I do not thrive in is running/cross country/etc. But I think of a sprinter running 100 meters with hurdles. How odd would it be if they stopped at each hurdle and contemplated every aspect of  the matter instead of leaping over it? They wouldn’t gain much momentum in that process. However, if they were to leap over each hurdle they would indeed gain momentum and let’s say that the last hurdle is far taller than all the rest. Which sprinter would have the momentum to properly clear the final, taller hurdle? Definitely not the one who took 15 minutes at each hurdle and tried to think their way around its existence. Yet we can be that person, sitting in the issue before us no matter how easy we could overcome it and we just lost momentum.

The Christian life does not need to be a stop go affair like traffic on I-35. We willingly make it that way. So when God, the enemy, or life throws us for a loop we can have the discipline to adapt on the fly and maintain the momentum to keep moving forward no matter the trial that stands before us. Nothing can stand in our way because God has already won and has already given us what we need to succeed! We do not need to even glance down at the petty pebbles Satan tries to catch our attention with, we just need to dedicate and devote ourselves to God!


So that is how one movie going experience sparked my mind and the thinks of God. I know it is unorthodox, but you never know when inspiration will spark. Sometimes it comes in the form of a projector dying and a friend making a playful remark about a Marvel movie.

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

Unending Faithfulness: God Provides

Today, I took my final steps down the staircase leading into Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For four years, I’ve made weekly trips to the campus to learn under incredible men who serve as both educators and pastors. I’ve spent countless hours engaged with learning about God, history, and practical ministry in a place that is unlike any other classroom environment. I have gained immeasurable insight and wisdom when it comes to the ministerial vocation and have gain a greater appreciation for the wholeness of Scripture. God has brought me through many difficult seasons and has given me a place full of friends who have helped to shape me into who I am today. God has also provided. About a month ago, it was revealed to me that there were going to be some changes occurring with the school. Despite being over two-thirds of the way through my Bachelors of Science in Biblical Studies, the path the school is headed in would require me to take another four more years to complete my 125 hour degree plan. While taking eight years to complete my undergraduate degree is not nearly a terrible thing; it is quite illogical and not responsible. So last month, I inquired with Liberty University about transferring to their School of Divinity to complete my degree with their Biblical and Theological Studies. Throughout all of my time in college, God has been faith and has provided in amazing ways for myself and my family, and now as I pursue a new course God has already begun to show His unwavering faithfulness and provision!

When I graduated high school many, many years ago… like more than five but less than fifteen… I had no means of going to college. I had applied to ever major university across Texas. Sam Houston State, University of Houston, Texas State, Texas A&M, etc. When it came time at the end of my senior year to make a decision, I was left with no means of moving forward. At that time I had no idea how I was going to make things work. The obvious choice would be to go to community college, but even at 40 hour work weeks at minimum wage this was not very feasible. Two years passed before God would answer the need for further educated. My mom lost her job! Yeah, through my mother losing her job I was able to go back to school. How? She got hired by the school which enabled myself and my siblings, who had all graduated by this point, to go to school. God really meets us in unexpected ways and is faithful to give us exactly what we need when it is most appropriate. At the time I started school, I had no desire to study theology. I viewed it as more of a history degree rather than a religious study. I also had no choice in what I studied as I had limited options. Yet, a degree is better than no degree, so I began to slowly get back into the process of education. I was in for far, far more than I anticipated!

For the first couple semesters, I worked full-time and took classes part-time. From the get go, my professors were incredible! I quickly made connections with a handful of them outside of the classroom and learned that professors are people too who sometimes keep up with pop culture. I also discovered the treasure trove, an immense wealth of wisdom these professors had and were willing to impart upon myself and my classmates. I have some very fond memories from spending hours in the woods practicing orienteering with one professor in east Texas. I also recall accidentally hiking into posted territory my first semester during the middle of deer season. Oops! I recall all the laughter and stories shared with my peers. I remember watching my peers move through various seasons of life. From new jobs, to discovering marriage, and every thing in between. Things were mostly well as I worked through my season as well. I moved from one job to a new one. I got promoted at the new job, and I took on more course work. I got plugged even further to my ministry and watched my college ministry begin to blossom. God has definitely blessed me in this time.

About a year ago, the first signs of changes appeared. The scholarship I had was taken away. The school’s financial troubles meant that they were, supposedly, trimming the budget which meant I was left having to once again figure out how to pay for my education. Baffling how something that was freely given can be taken away with little recourse, and yet that’s what happened. Again, where there was a need God swooped in to provide. I was gifted another scholarship that allowed me to continue up until today where I had my final class at SWBTS. The last year gave more evidence that changes were coming and that I needed to adapt. One of the biggest changes being that the dean of my campus was resigning and the school was relocating. Not a big deal, except for my personal connection to both the school and the growing concern on the way in which the school was being operated and overseen. I’ll not lie that bitterness was growing within me toward the ones in charge of the school and their neglect of the campus I attended. Bitterness and discontentment can greatly hinder our ability to appreciate God’s providence and sovereignty. So as I began to inquire into other avenues, God began putting the pieces together.

A month ago, I had no clue how God would lead and I still do not know where He is taking me. I decided to but my entire trust onto Him and be faithful to follow where He leads. So I began throwing pieces out into the ether and let God put them in order. My first step was in seeking information from Liberty University. The next step came when I applied and sent in my transcript. While Liberty may take up to 90 credits for transfer students; they are not guaranteed to accepted them all. I had 89 credits and was currently taking a three credit hour class on contemporary evangelism. To my surprise, Liberty accepted all of my 89 credits which placed me as a senior in their system and placed me at having 57% of their degree plan completed! Ok God, I see what you’re doing! The whole process was very brisk and even as I sit here writing this post it has not entirely sunk in yet. I have no doubt that it was the work of the Lord and when the next hurdle came I would be surprised yet again! Despite being considerably older than the last time I went through the financial aid process, I was almost certain that I would be yet again left with loans as my sole ‘aid’ (if you can even call it that… debt is dumb, cash is king!). I received my financial aid offer via email and nearly scoffed knowing that it would be only loans. Yes, the majority were in fact loans, but I had also received some of the Pell Grant! What?!? God, this isn’t suppose to be going so smoothly!

I am still amazed to have gotten to the point that I have and I plan of beginning classes at Liberty in the fall semester. The rest of the path is not clear yet. Here’s the thing y’all, where there is a genuine need God will provide! God has and will always be the great provisioner of our needs! Do you truth Him to provide for your life? Do you honestly believe that God is big enough, powerful enough, trustworthy enough to provide whatever you are in need of? Y’all, far too often we doubt what God can do in our lives. And as one of the seniors in the student ministry I serve in said to me, “I have to learn to doubt my doubt!” The doubts that God cannot provide, that He will not provide. The doubts that God cannot use me to achieve some purpose, the doubts of God being able to take away what we are afraid to let go of. The doubts that God does not love us. We got to doubt our doubts y’all! I have doubted what God can do and what He has done for myself and my family. Ironically, every place where I have doubted God’s provision He’s delivered! Trusting God is not as easy as it is said. Trusting God is something of a challenge for us in our American culture. Do y’all trust God? Do y’all believe in what He has and will do for you?  I have no excuse to doubt God any more.

At every turn of my life, in every change, every upset, every reversal, every plot twist, God has been present and has been faithful to show me a way through. God is endlessly faithful to us! Can’t our faith look like that? Can we remain endlessly faithful and devoted to God? Can we trust in His plans for our lives and believe that whatever He has in store is far, far better than what we could imagine? When God closes doors and opens new opportunities we must trust in Him and be faithful to go. We must be faithful to move when God commands it! Y’all, we must also give thanks when God provides! Praise God, for He is the one who sustains all of creation and gives in abundance! What we lack, God gives freely! Time and time again I am reminded that we are not what we should be, what we were created to be! What I lack, I can ask for and God will provide! I am reminded of the prophet Isaiah responding to God’s call. Here I am, Isaiah said, send me (Isaiah 6:8, Author paraphrase). I am reminded of the disciples panicked by a sudden storm while Jesus slept undisturbed. Christ calmed that storm and asking why they were of so little faith (Mark 4:35-41, Author paraphrase). I am reminded of the promises God made to Abraham, to Moses, to David. The covenants that God would use them and sustain them. I am reminded of the New Covenant and the promise of Christ’s coming and the atoning sacrifice on the cross for my sins!

If God has done all these thing and then some while maintaining His creation, can He not sustain you and I? Will He not take care of our genuine needs? Let us have faith in God’s promises, Y’all! Let us celebrate God’s provision! Thankfully, God has provided a means for me to continue school. To continue in ministry. To respond in boundless faith to move when He commands it! I will praise Him because with God, I am nothing! I will praise Him for He provides!  I will praise Him because His blessings are beyond comprehension! God is so, so good, Y’all! My words will never be able to encapsulate just how great and mighty and awesome our God is! He is infinitely faithful to the promises He has made and He is committed to fulfilling them! I do not know what season you are in, or where God is working in your life. But I wish to encourage you to trust Him with your life! I wish to encourage you to doubt your doubts about God! He will sustain you, all you need to do is surrender to Him. So as you go about your week, think about what you’ve asked from God and write it down. If and when God responds and provides for whatever need you have, come back to what you have written down and give thanks for it!

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up