The Path That Lies Ahead: Leaving the Ideal Behind

This past weekend, I was a leader for a discipleship weekend for students in our student ministry. During the weekend, somehow we got onto the topic of relationships and what not. One of my students began seeking some advice and wisdom on this topic, and the room went silent in disbelief when I told my students that I had no experience in that area. Yes, it is true. I’ve never ventured into the realm of romantic relationships. Up until a few years ago, I never saw any purpose in it. During high school, I definitely did not see any need for that kind of unnecessary pressure. My life at that time would not have allowed for any kind of beneficial gains from that pursuit. Why? I was not as wise or as smart as I thought of myself. Secondly, I would have stumbled and ultimately have fumbled through the minefield that is romantic relationships. That was then and this is now. Still, into my mid-twenties, I have not dated. I am not ashamed of this, rather I am grateful. Grateful to have been able to watch other’s as a spectator, to learn from other’s mistakes and to learn from people’s successes. To watch Godly people come together in a union that points back to the goodness of God. To have mentors who live by example to myself and the many people they’ve taken under their wings. Even now, while I expectantly wait for God’s infallible timing, I look to those who pour themselves out onto others. So what am I getting at? Well, Y’all, I’ll tell you.

In the last couple years, I’ve grown restless. I’ve been discontent with my circumstances and have tried to force my hand and my will into places where it is either not needed or not the right time. I’ve relied on my own power, I’ve existed in a place where I’ve not seen what God’s been doing around me or in me. I’ve blinded myself from seeing the bigger picture. I am not resentful for my situation, and in fact, my singleness is only a small fraction of my life. I do not have remorse for not having dated or married. Yet, I see where I’ve failed to live up to the standard that Christ has called me to. Y’all, let’s be honest for a moment. I’m quite the idealist. Ideally, I would have been done with college by this point in time. I would have my own home. I’d have my own ministry to lead. I’d have my life together. Ideally. The problem is that my idea of what is ideal is flawed. Lacking the clarity found when examining the bigger picture. My perception of my life is singularly through my own lens. I’ve not had the sight that Christ has, nor the intuition to look beyond my circumstances.

I was continuing to read Ben Stuart’s Single. Dating. Engaged. Married. of which I’ve only managed to get a handful of more pages into before being convicted by the Holy Spirit (again). Y’all, this hurts in the right kind of why. While I have sought what I have found to be the ideal, I’ve not truly learned to value that which has the upmost importance and significance. I’ve not learned to fully trust God with my life and to find myself accepting the fullness and extent of his love. In an ideal world, Adam would have stopped Eve from eating of the fruit. In an ideal world, we would not know sickness or death. We would live in harmony with God in his creation. We would not feel the depravity of sin. We would not experience shame or guilt. We would be lacking nothing. However, because Adam stood by and did nothing as Eve was deceived by the snake, we have fallen into an unideal world. We experience pain, hurt, sickness, and death. We feel isolation, separation, and desperation. Why? Because we lack God. We’ve separated ourselves from the purpose of creation. By now, y’all are probably asking where my singleness comes into correlation with the ideal world. Well, I’m not entirely sure. Yet, I know that I’m lacking in so much.

My shortsightedness in regards to my life have put me into the perspective of comparison, at least in the recent past. The majority of people I graduated high school with have already completed college. A good handful have already completed their master’s degree. Some have married and have children. Others have bought homes. Some have started businesses. Others I have no idea. Yet, here I am. Still living in the same town, in the same house, staring at the same four walls. I’ve been restlessly trying to claw myself out of a pit that only I see. Only I feel that I’ve lagged behind the pack. That I’ve wasted time or lost opportunity. The truth is that I have not lost anything. I’ve just not learned to trust God. To see the things the way he does. What’s my hurry? Why am I so dedicated to make my life out to be the way I want? Why do I neglect my God who is so full of love and grace and mercy and incomprehensible?

The reason for my singleness, the reason for my circumstances at this stage of life is not, and hear my words carefully y’all, to punish me. God is not denying me something or holding something back. God is not toying with me or teasing me. God is not malicious. God wants me to value and appreciate what is best for me. That means trusting that what he has in store for my life is greater than what I have envisioned. Frankly, God’s plans are always far, far better than you or I could ever imagine. If I’m going to be honest, God’s given me a great many things that have assisted in forming me into a better and better man. I have a community of college students who pour into my life, who share in life together. I have a ministry of students whom I lead and serve. I have not one, but many job opportunities. From Chick-fil-A to my media contracting to the various odd and ends. I have an abundance of opportunity. I have an education that has not only given me a thorough understanding of theology but also a desire to apply scripture to my life. I have been blessed in countless ways, and I am not always grateful. So in the moment, the things we want and desire may not be what are best for us. They may not be beneficial. However, the things God has in store for us are always the best. Why? Because God has a plan and a purpose for our lives. He knows what is best for us. His best is exceedingly better than what ever idealistic, romanticized version of my life that I can come up with.

So, as I wait, I am expectant. Expectant that God will do big things. That he will use me to further his kingdom. That he will use my circumstances to bring other’s into his flock. That my life will be of engaged and intentional purpose. That he will exceed my wants and desires in such a way that it points back to his grace and mercy and goodness. So my singleness or lack of experience is not a detriment. It is not something of shame. It is not something being denied or held from me. Rather, it is a time for me to be exceedingly intentional in pursuing God. For him to be my sole focus, my sole desire. That I may not want or worry about what lies around the bend in the river, the fork in the road. But that my faithfulness would increasing abundantly. That my trust in him would be so blind that when he say go, that I would go without hesitation. My singleness, then, is not so single. My singleness is being bonded to God, pursuing his will. He and he alone is my source of life so that I may be a source of life to another. So whatever God in store for my life, whether it is here where I am or halfway around the world. I will be faithful. I will be trusting. I will go without question. I will go without hesitation. The path that lies ahead is one that I do not know, but is one that I will walk with blind trust.

Perhaps, when God says the time is right, I will meet the woman who will exceed my flawed perceptions but will be the one God intended all along. Perhaps, when God says the time is right, I will finish school and begin to follow God into the next stage of life. Perhaps, when God says the time is right, I will have a job that is not a job, but is a ministry. In the meanwhile, I can only be expectant of God to do big things. Both in my life and in this world. I must have faith. I must have trust. I must remind myself that what I want in the moment may not be what is best or appropriate, but rather a hindrance and a distraction. May you and you along, God, be the eyes in which I see life.

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

The Life of Obedience: A Wake Up Call

So I was originally going to write this post from a very different context. I just finished a weekend event at church with our student ministry on discipleship. While I lead a house full of freshmen, I also was asked to be the event’s videographer, so I’ve spent the better part of a day rendering media out and turning huge files into usable pieces. To pass the time as my computer rendered out about a terabyte of footage, I decided to do a little reading. Have you ever given someone advice on something, but only to then have to swallow your own medicine cause you’re not doing what you just advised someone to do? That was me, just a few minutes ago. Thanks God, for the correction and the conviction!

Anyway, back in January I attended Passion in Atlanta, Georgia with a group of friends and some of our high school seniors. While I was there, I bought Ben Stuart’s book Single, Dating, Engaged, Married as I have enjoyed Stuart from his time as the lead pastor/teacher at Texas A&M’s Breakaway Ministries. In 2015, I was able to hear Stuart speak at Passion and I’ve been listening to his sermons from Passion City Church D.C. via podcasts. Y’all, Stuart doesn’t hold his punches back, nor does the Holy Spirit lessen it’s lessons. You see, for my small group during this past weekend the focus was on truth. For more than a handful of the young men in my group said that they were at this weekend event to grow closer to God. Well, through the course of the weekend it was evident that they were not spending time with God. And honestly, neither have I.

In my college small group, for many weeks now we’ve been going back to a point that was brought up at Passion in January. The enemy, sin, has power over us because we are unable to identify where the temptation, the whispers, the lies are coming from. We do not know truth! Frankly, looking at my generation and the generations coming behind me, it’s painfully apparent that they don’t know truth either! The point is, is that lies look freaking stupid when held up against the truth! The lies look foolish! We all know those people growing up. You know who I’m describing. The people who try so hard to be something that they’re not. They stick out like a sore thumb. They’re fake. And while they may look the part, the moment they open their mouths to speak, the illusion is broken. How can we know truth from the lies? From the fake news, not to get political. Y’all, while fake news and misguided information is spread everywhere from our social media pages to the evening news, the devil is the most consistent source of fake news!

Long story short, while I was waiting for my media to finish rendering I was reading Ben Stuart’s book. One thing I’ve been focusing on and truly seeking from the Lord is ways to love people better. To share the love that God has for them through a word, a look, and/or a touch. To make an impact on the lives of those around me, and while I’ve been able to do some of that… I had a hard pill to swallow tonight. I’m not even half way through the first chapter and the Holy Spirit slapped me across the face. Y’all, I’ve been kind of idle. I’ve not been reading the Word, I’ve not been praying much. I’ve just been going through the motions. I’ve been fake. I was the very thing I was warning my students about being. Just as we have to know the truth in order to weaken the power of the lies, so too do we need to have a source of life to be a source of life to another. I’ll quote Stuart as his words are far more potent than mine.

“When you have a source of life, you are a source of life. But where there is scarcity, desperation will set in. And desperation can easily become exploitation of others. If you are disconnected from a source of life, your “oxygen tank,” then you will attempt to suck life out of someone else. You will be tempted to use people to try and get your sense of self validated.” –Single, Dating, Engaged, Married. Page 4.

Ouch. Y’all… I hate to admit it, but I’m not going to let shame have any hold over me. I’ve not been clinging to my source of life. Rather, I’ve just been going through the motions. As a leader, as someone who has people who are seeking that source of life, I’ve been letting them down. I’ve been failing myself, and failing them. You see, I haven’t been obedient in the pursuit of God. I’ve formed a habit of not doing that. While I do not believe that I’ve sucking the life out of others, nor do I believe that I’ve been exploiting people for my own gain. I do see where selfishness has crept up into my life and taken hidden roots. My desires, frustrations, and motivations have been slowly leeched by selfishness and disobedience. My ability to be a source of life to others has been corrupted, but not extinguished.

For a book that is geared toward relationships… it does not stumble from making it perfectly clear that before we can even consider pursuing someone we must first pursue God. Like a mirror, I had to read the medicine that I was giving out with some remorse. I had to evaluate where I’ve been lingering and take a look around to see the signs of structural instability and get out of there. My heart sunk realizing that I’ve put myself in this situation, the realization that I’ve been unfaithful to God. That I’ve cast aside the truth in favor of lies and selfishness. Fortunately, God sent us a helper in the Holy Spirit to convict us of our wrong doing and to place back onto a path of restoration. Anyway, I’m going to end this here, y’all.

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

 

New Beginnings: Searching, Seeking, & Seeing

As the sleet and snow descend upon Texas, and I sit down with a cup of green tea steeping for maximum enjoyment I find myself looking forward to the year ahead. 2017 was a tough year full of its own struggles and difficulties. From the stresses of start at Chick-fil-A, the endless hours of school, a devastating hurricane, and changes to life and habits presented a challenge unlike most. I questioned what was I suppose to be learning through this season that I was walking, and I still have yet to really see where the lesson lies. By no means was 2017 a bad year, and in fact was one that was full of memories and experience that are unforgettable. The new year presents a metaphoric yet quite un-ironic opportunity for change. Reflecting back on the previous year and where I am now I’ve see where I’ve been drawn to leave behind some of what needs to be outgrown and a strong desire to gain some more skills that will benefit me as I continue to progress through life.

There is some importance in setting goals for ourselves as they assist in providing motivation, spurring commitment, and brings about a sense of fulfillment upon completion. So what is it that I’m seeking to accomplish, well, first of all the one each and every one of us need, a deeper relationship with God. The second is to learn how to cook, which is not only a vital life skill, but is a bonus when it comes to hosting others! Thirdly, I wish to be able to love on others better, or more effectively. This goes hand in hand with my desire to be a leader. A leader being someone who takes the initiative, who’s goal is not performance or achievement but rather the development and building up of others! These goals purely benefit in helping to make in being a more well-rounded person. So what do each of these goals entail and how am I seeking to achieve these?


Let’s begin at the end and work our way back to the beginning. What does it mean to be an effective communicator? What does it mean to love people? How does one go about accomplishing that? These are, despite the meta-quasi-author posed hypotheticals, valid questions that must be asked if for the sole purpose of providing narrative and outline. I recently sat down to read the Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, while this book is swayed in the direction of (romantic) relationships it provides insight into the means in which people, both in romantic and plutonic relationships, experience love and the role it has in stirring something within them that results in what C.S. Lewis describes as Phillia (Greek) or the Friend Bond and/or Agape (Greek) or the Unconditional “God” love. Each of these types of ‘loves’ have a purpose and a means by which they are experienced.

For myself, my love language is words of affirmation, followed by both quality time and physical touch. Each of these means by which love is expressed are vital to loving others. So what do I mean by wanting to love people better? Well, specifically within the workplace, I seek to build others up. To develop a sincere, genuine appreciation of what they accomplish as individuals, as members of a team, and as members of God’s creation. Therefore, I seek to find ways in which to best express a friendly form of love to each individual member of my coworkers. Knowing best how I prefer to experience love from others, this places myself in position to see and understand how others experience love or appreciation. In many ways, this really has less to do with making myself greater or the better than others and more to do with loving others in the way in which God has communicated his love for us. Consequently, this leads us to the second aspect of loving people better, and that is being more like Christ.

Christ loved the sinner and the saint, he ate with those who were despised, and with those who were adored, he corrected the religious elite and taught the everyman. The life of Christ was God living in the flesh and displaying to all who encountered him what love looks like. Everything in Christ’s life was a display of love that was fully culminated on the cross where he was hung as a sinner to be, like the sacrifices of the time, an atonement for sin. Having knowledge of who Christ, who God is causes within us a reaction. A dismissal of God or a yearning to seek answers. Being a follower of Christ, being a disciple, I am called to live a life that bears evidence of the work of Christ in myself. Therefore, how can I reflect the love that God has for me to those around me? How can I be a living testimony to the testimony of God who loved us first, from the beginning of creation, through the fall, through the period of reconciliation, and through the ends of eternity? How can I, even in the smallest fraction, share the love of God to those around me?

This is a huge question, one that is not so easily answered or experienced. The goal, as I’ve said, is not to bring attention to myself but to point back to the source that has freed me from the chains of sin that weigh me down. To cause others to be drawn to God for the love and freedom that has been given to me for absolutely nothing, yet costing everything of Christ. The nature of this desire to be a better disciple,  to be faithful to the calling that God has placed upon all of his children. Thus, as I continue to pursue the calling of ministry that God has placed before me, how can I better love the students in our youth ministry? How can I better love my peers in our college ministry? How can I better love those whom I work with? The answer is simple, and that is by devoting myself discipline. To further build and grow my relationship with God, which is the first goal that I listed and will be addressing later on.


The second goal I have for myself is one that is rather simple, but has a greater importance than it probably should, which is to learn how to cook. At the moment, I am fairly proficient in using the microwave. I make a mean quesadilla, and can patiently wait for the perfectly golden grilled cheese. Not to brag, but those are the few culinary achievements that I’ve been given (by myself). However, over the last year I’ve sought to be more adult, which was largely formed out of discontentment in my current stage of life. My perspective was largely decided by what achievements or checkmarks of life I had accomplished versus my peers. This was inherently wrong and decidedly influenced my perspective, which caused quite a bit of discontent over the last year. Yet, despite my own faulted perspective, I’ve come to a place where I understand that life isn’t a game of checkmarks, accomplishments, or keeping up with what society states as being the norm. And for myself, I’ve come to a place recently where I’ve accepted my spot in life and seek to own it. Perhaps my sense of confidence is higher because I’ve behind a computer, yet I am excitedly seeking to pursue life without comparison to others.

So why learn to cook? Cause why not? Really, the idea is really take on more responsibility and to, again, be more well rounded as a person. I understand that the premise of cooking is not difficult, if you can read you should be able to cook. Well, I know how to basic half decently and should be able to transfer some of those skills to cooking. Anyway, its a basic goal, but it has real world reward and fulfillment.


Finally, I wish to better develop and strengthen my relationship with the Lord. As I’ve gotten older, the more I’ve realized the innate need I have for God. He brings not only peace, but joy, and understanding, and fulfillment! All of these, and more, are vital to life and my sense of purpose. Like hunger and thirst, I have need of sustenance which spurs in my subconscious a response telling me that my systems are out of sync. Furthermore, growth only occurs when we purposefully and intentional practice something and are disciplined in some skill or trait. Therefore, spending time with God and engaging in study if his laws and dominion ought to be easy. And it is, yet it is perhaps the most neglected thing in my, somewhat busy, life. Admittedly, there are plenty of other things I’d rathe do or that are more entertaining. Yet those things are not life-giving nor are they beneficial to my overall wellbeing. This, then, is indicative my own selfish tendencies and a reflection of my outlook toward both God and spirituality. I see a problem with that, and I’m intent on addressing it. Though I am with many fault and deficiencies, I am capable and determined to address my own shortcomings. Fortunately, I am not alone in this. From friends to family, I have people to keep me accountable for these things. Like the rest of life, this is a process. It’s not something that we busy and apply once for immediate results. Its not like a steroid which instantaneously effects the body. No, this is a process which requires both dedication and energy to complete. Yet the results of such discipline award results which only reveal the inherent goodness that is only found in God.

Grace and Peace be Upon you,

Terren It Up

Out from the Valley: The Road to Passion

This year has been one of the toughest years on record, and that has only transpired since Hurricane Harvey. Now, while I was not directly affected by the hurricane in the terms of damage, though so many others were,  I was met with the difficulties of adjusting school schedules, time away from work, and just the stresses that come from such a storm. In March, I started at a new job as a full time employee, I’ve expanded my personal business as well, and I’ve been attending school full time for a couple years now. I have been, and at the moment, burning the candle at both ends. I’ll be honest, it’s been slowly wearing me down for months. I’ve not been depressed, but rather just tired. Not exhausted, but just tired. Over the last couple months, I’ve been scraping to reclaim any spare moment of time where I could remove myself from the world for a couple hours here and there just to recharge. Unfortunately, I’ve been been claiming some of that time from places that I probably should not have.

Every Sunday, I assist with the audio-visual media for the youth service of the congregation that I attend, then I co-lead a small group of ninth grade students from the youth group after their message, before going to my college Bible study class where I again assist with the audio-visual component of our displaced classroom. Lately, I’ve fulfilled my duties with the youth, and then going to my class to check their media needs before leaving just after the class begins. I slip out the door at the back of the classroom and head home to nap, play video game, and just rest. While this behavior is not inherently detrimental, especially due to rest being a necessity for our wellbeing, I’ve kind of just been idle for over a month. Here, in this idleness, this apathy, I’ve fallen into the trap of removing myself from community, a much needed community that I so fondly appreciate! So what did I do? Well, I took the week of Thanksgiving off from work. I spent a couple days catching up on some school work before spending the rest of the week resting and spending time with my family.

Come the next Sunday, I was recharged and found myself returning to a place where I was stepping back into proper reverence for my God! My mentality toward service returned to a place of opportunity, not a job. I had spent two months in a valley of darkness, a place of depravity where my soul lingered and was subsequently drained. Only to take one first step out into the incline of the mountain and once again stood into the light ready to linger in the presence of the Lord! Luckily for me, there are things to look forward to!

 


 

We all go through seasons of difficulty and seasons of success. The ups and down of life are both areas in which growth occurs. For me, during this time, I could not and still do not see where it is I am being grown and stretched. Yet, I know that the Lord is working and stirring within me for the benefit of His kingdom. Despite my limited, human view, I am faithful that this season is for my growth and greater dependance upon the Lord. Trust in the Lord is easy at time, while also being more difficult at times. So what makes entering into a place where you go idle is the lacking of perspective and understanding. It makes you question where your strength and energy originates. It makes you question where you are headed. I must admit that had I not had the perspective of where I was within the valley, it more than likely would not have been headed into a good direction.

Too, do I have exceptional friends, Jesus Family, that transcend blood and distance to keep me accountable. I’ve been blessed to have people reach out and pull me through this time, to talk, to listen, and to share in life. Being a student at a seminary working toward a degree in Biblical studies makes it difficult, for myself at the least, to find a way to work what you know and twist it around on yourself. Being a know-it-all is the easiest path to use the knowledge that you learn along the way, which is why I am so appreciative of my friends who are able to correct me and call me back to a place to recognize my faults, my sins. Looking back through this time, I believe this has been a season of preparation, to grow up, as things loom on the horizon.

In 2015, I attended my first Passion Conference at the Toyota Center in Houston. I attended the conference with my new college minister and the small core of our college ministry at that time. While I enjoyed my time, it was difficult to turn off my seminary mind and criticism of those speaking at the conference. Setting aside what I found to be poor interpretation and execution of Scripture, I was too hard of heart to let the Spirit speak to me through those there to speak to us. Well, in January, I will be going to Atlanta, Georgia to attend Passion 2018 with my college ministry which has grown larger in number and deeper in Spirit. I am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to be receptive to what I have to be taught by the Spirit. I earnestly ask to be broken down, knocked down a couple pegs, as someone who has need to be more compassionate, more personal in my application of Scripture.

Looking back, I see the path I’ve travelled and the walls of the valley which surrounded me, just for a season, and see where I could have done better. I look ahead, and see opportunity to be better, to mature, and to hold fast to the truth which I know. God has placed me on a path that I cannot explain, nor can I hope for myself. I am far better off along the path set before me than the one I tread myself. So if there is anything I can ask of the Lord at this time, anything that I am lacking, it is joy! Joy! Let me rejoice in the Lord, may I celebrate the work He continues to do in the lives of those around me. May I cheer on others who’s hearts the Lord is stirring. May I love others deeper, may my attitude reflect the endless, ceaseless grace that has been bestowed that I do not deserve!

This is the first piece that I plan to write in the next few weeks leading up to the Passion Conference. I appreciate that you took the time to read this post and visit my new blog. I hope that I will be able to continue to write in such a way that I may share my thoughts, experiences, and life with you as I move toward being a more faithful servant to the Lord.

Grace and peace be upon you,

-Terren