Southeast Asia Travel Diary: Day One

16,000 kilometers. 9,941 miles. Ten and a half timezones. Three planes. Two buses. Over 40 people. Sometimes, numbers can be both incredibly revealing and quite dulling. Once a certain threshold has been reached, numbers become abstractions. Try to picture every star in the night sky or ever grain of sand on the beach. You may be able to fathom such immense detail for a time, but a point comes when generalities become far more practical for our minds to comprehend. We can easily comprehend what a stadium of 43,000 people looks like, but we cannot fully appreciate the unique detail given to each individual. In writing this summary of my recent vacation to Southeast Asia, I do not want the sheer amount of detail to be lost on you, because each number shared here is representative of someone like you or I. Each uniquely created, uniquely gifted, with a story to go along with them! Even I do not know the full story of each person I interacted with during my brief time on the other ends fo the globe. I wish to dispel the cynicism that can easily overtake us when we are told large numbers or what could be considered cliche. Frankly, nothing that occurred during my time in Southeast Asia could be considered cliche or simplistic. What follows is an account of the work God, the almighty creator of the universe, is doing in the other-most reaches of the world.

I am convinced that the closest thing to time travel that we have is air travel. Travel to the East, and your 24 hour day becomes 15. Travel to the West, and your 24 hour day becomes 36 hours long. You can see the sun rise in the morning in one airport, land at another at noon, leave on another flight, and land at your final destination just a mere 4 hours later. What kind of magic is this? Time. In order to arrive in Southeast Asia, henceforth shortened to SEA, I had to endure three different flights with various layovers over the course of three days. I’ve learned over the years the best way to overcome the rigorous demands of travel is to drink as much water as you can, as often as you can. The pressurized cabins of airplanes are notorious for causing dehydration and because your ability to move is greatly restricted, the desire to hydrate is diminished. I was determined to be attentive, alert, and fully present once we arrived at our destination. Upon meeting up with the rest of the team, I was energized. I was ready to go! There is work to be done!

However, before the work could begin, we had to take a long bus ride to the compound that we could call home for the week. While this should have taken roughly four hours by all logical reasoning, our trek turned into six hours because traffic works differently in this part of the world. As we would learn, we are on SEA time and that means we arrive when we arrive. All things considered, we were on an adventure! The bus we rode in was unlike any other I had been on. You could sleep in a bed that resided over the standard seats below. Think about the Night Bus in Harry Potter and you’ve got a good start.

We chugged along at whatever speed we were presently able to go, with intermittent stops, and even a portion of time where we were reversing against oncoming traffic! All the while, I talked with my friends, L., B., and H. about what they had been up to before I made my rendezvous with them. We laughed about the craziness of our rather eclectic bus, watched the incredible landscapes against the sun zoom by, and laughed at random stories and jokes and memes. I, being someone who is rather fond of quality time, really enjoyed being with my friends and sharing in the experience of our journey. We finally arrived at our compound in a bustling little city in the heart of the jungle and we settled in for the night by finding our bunk mates and preparing for dinner.

So technically, our first day in SEA was entirely dedicated to travel… but there is so much to tell! In fact, at the time of our arrival, there was a wedding being hosted in our compound which meant that the night was going to be full of partying and fireworks! B. had already told us about how she had crashed one wedding in her time in SEA and as we wrapped up dinner we decided to go outside to see what all the commotion was about. Our curiosity was short lived, however, and I headed off for bed.

The morning came quickly for me, as I was wide awake at three in morning (which became a common occurrence for those in our compound during our stay) and I tossed and turned until I finally decided it was late enough to justify being out and about. I got dressed and stepped out into the very warm morning. The sound of tennis balls being plopped back across the net filled the city’s symphony. A cacophony of car and motorcycle horns constantly punctuated the soundscape. I was at home! I went downstairs and awaited breakfast.

Breakfast and dinner were communal affairs, which I sorely miss, as the entire team sat down to share a meal together over pleasant conversation. Toast with butter and jelly were served to us with omelettes with a masala twist, and to top off such a fine meal, chai tea! I cannot explain or describe how this spiced tea differentiated from what we call chai in America, but I can only tell you that it is so much better than what we drink! One of our local leaders told me to savor it as much as I could because I would not be able to recreate it back home. They were correct, I couldn’t!

After breakfast, we moved on to orientation where we gave introductions to everyone who was with our group. Basically, we shared our name, what we do, etc. You know, the simple basic questions. However, when it got to my turn, I was given some additional questions that nobody else was given. Was I single. Yes. And if I was searching. Also yes. Apparently, our designated leaders like to also play matchmakers. Who needs Christian Mingle after all? Jokes aside, it was here in orientation that our teams were developed. Breaking into teams of three, which had been assigned prior to our departures, we began to get a sense of what roles we were going to take for this first day. Some would lead introductions, others would share stories, and others, still, would lead prayer.

Due to my circumstances, I was the odd man out. A man without a team. However, I sat back and awaited my instructions as I would be team hopping each day. Many factors played into my role during the week, but I was excited for any and every opportunity that God had in store of us. So while the teams found their rhythms, I went through my pack and doubled checked my gear. If you did not already know, I am a photographer and will take photos where I am with whatever I have. It just so happened that I had a ton of gear to use this time around and wanted to make sure it was in tip top shape for the day ahead.

Once everything began to wind down, we packed up and headed for the cars to leave the compound. As I walked through the entrance of the compound I was told to head out with my first of many teams. I joined B. S. and L. and our local leader and translator in our tiny vehicle and drove out of the city and into the jungle. I somehow managed to get my 25lbs bag into my lap and into the front seat. If I had known now what I didn’t then, I would have packed my gear differently. Fortunately, tomorrow is a new day! We drove for roughly 40 minutes away from the compound into the fields and forests which rural farmers worked. Each village we passed was more colorful and poor than the last, and the cows wandered the roads like stray dogs. If one did not know any better, they very well would have been asking themselves about how peculiar everything they were seeing was.

The more we drove, the more I was reminded of my time in the Middle East. The homes built in similar ways, traffic behaving in similar ways, the nature of small, dense villages brought back many memories. The biggest difference being in where there would have been sand, there were now trees and fields. We pulled aside on a dirt road, in front of a red temple for some god, and crossed the street to a homestead made of five units. Our local leader escorted us to the first home where we promptly removed our sandals and greeted an older gentleman and his son. With a small bow, the pressing of our hands together as though we were praying (called “giving honor” mudra), and a warm “namaskar” or “I bow to you with respect.” I was given the only plastic chair to sit in just inside the doorframe, and others were quickly gathered from adjacent homes when word spread of our arrival. Our team each had a seat and L. began making introductions by thanking the family for receiving us in their home and telling them that we had come from a far away place just to meet them!

As we made small talk through our translator, more villagers gathered just outside the doorstep. Women sat tightly together in whatever available space was present, and men sat on the stoop as B. shared a story with them from the Bible. I do not recall which story specifically B. shared with them, but he was very animated and full of passion as he recounted scripture. My head, naturally on a swivel, panned around as I took in every detail of the people who sat with us, those passing by, the details of the way in which the people lived. I was never taken aback or hit with extreme culture shock, nor had I held any preconceived notions or expectations coming into SEA. We, then, shared stories and extended an invitation for those who had been listening to respond to the glory and power of Jesus Christ. They accepted!

Having shared a story, a testimony, and greeting, we moved on to the next home as some of the villagers followed closely behind. We kicked off our sandals and greeted the people living there as our translator pointed out the many idols that were littered across the entry way, showed us the shrine that they had made to worship their idols. Thus, as we settled into out seats, I felt a tug on my soul. A single name was pressed upon my lips, and as my teammates and I looked at one another pondering what story we should share, I just said “Elisha.” One man, a prophet of the one true God, against 400 prophets of the false god Baal. Such an incredible scale and opposition would speak directly to the true, mighty power of the almighty God! So, as L. made introductions, I turned into scripture and skimmed through the passage to gather the more important bits that would resonate with what we had been presented with.

When my time came, I stood up and introduced the story that told of God’s power and majesty. There came a time when the people of God had turned away from Him, and they followed many false gods. One day the people approached Elisha, a man who remained faithful to the one true God. They questioned who followed the true god. Them or Elisha. So Elisha posed a challenge to the 400 prophets of the false gods, let us build an altar to our respective gods and let us ask them to answer with fire. For days, the 400 prophets of Baal cried out to their god. Cutting themselves, performing sacrifices, and anything else they could think of to spur their god to act. Elisha, watching this unfold over many days mocked the people, cried out to the prophets to yell louder for their god is surely asleep and can’t hear them or perhaps he is relieving himself. Finally, after the prophets of Baal had exhausted themselves, Elisha called for a trench to be dug around his altar and to have jar after jar of water poured out over the altar until the trench was full. Elisha prayed to God and asked Him to respond with His holy fire, and fire fell from the heavens consuming the drenched altar, the trench full of water, and the people were awestruck. Who is this God they asked. Elisha beckoned to those who believed in the true God to turn from their wicked ways.Having completed the story, I began to unpack the passage. To preach and explain the significance of what happened and who God is to us, why He sent us to America to these people, and why He wants them to turn from their sinful ways. We offered an invitation and even more came to be saved! Praise the Lord! Serious, God is so good! My words here do no do justice to the work God is doing in the nations. I wish to give you some insight to what I did, what I saw, and what I saw the Holy Spirit doing! God is doing so much more and there is far more to share than I can reasonably fit into this post. So much happened during our short time in SEA and I am eagerly looking forward to going back! So, for now, I will leave you here with some of what happened on my first day and will return soon with another look into our time in SEA!

Grace and peace to you,

Terren

Take Initiative

American culture is marked by capitalism and consumerism. The free market enterprise enables competition and diversity among businesses, products, and utilities. Just think about the cereal aisle of your local HEB or Kroger’s which undoubtedly has over 5o types of cereal from five or six different brands with many variations on the same style of cereal. Such diversity reveals the inherent ability we as consumers have in making decisions. We have the ability to choose that which alines most with ourselves and our preferences. Additionally, we have the ability to communicate, with our wallets, where we prefer to get the things we want. The immense amount of choice Americans have is very different from the majority of the world, which is historically marked by imperialism.

Unlike our colonial parent, Americans have far more flexibility in the social hierarchy as we revolted against the monarchy. In this sense, the “American dream” rings true. Americans get to pick and choose how to proceed through their lives, and can take steps to better themselves. I speak historically, and while it is highly unlikely there exists the chance that I could become president. While it would be impossible for the majority of Britons to become King or Queen without being in direct succession of the royal bloodline. Now, this article is not on colonial politics or empires of old or even the American dream, but rather the invasive and destructive nature consumerism within the Church.

I recently had a conversation with a friend and disciple of mine who commented how, to use their wording, “popular” I am among within our ministry, which sparked this basis of this post. This person did not mean popular in the sense in which the word is mainly used, as I am not popular in the slightest. I am tolerated or respected, sure, but I am hardly popular. My friend’s observations stemmed from a desire to increase their circle of friends and to know people more fully, and they had taken notice of my interactions with others and how I seemed to know everyone and they knew me. My response to my friend was simple, I asked, “When is the last time you initiated something with someone?” There was a pause in the conversation and then a look of understanding from my friend.

My interaction with my friend here only presented one of many ways in which consumerism within the Church rears it’s head. We bemoan that Churches are too large and that nobody cares to reach out. We lament that the children’s ministry isn’t up to snuff. The preacher is too charismatic or too conservative. The music is too loud, too contemporary, too boring, and so forth. We lay out all sorts of grievances and complaints, but when do we ever do something about it? When is the last time you stood up and took action when something didn’t go as you liked? As it pertains to making friends or getting invested within a congregation, when is the last time you initiated? Most likely you didn’t and you sat around idly waiting for something to happen. What happened next? Most likely nothing, and you responded in exasperation and vowed never to return to this church or that church.

Physics can help us in understanding intuitive. A rock that sits precariously on the edge of a cliff contains within it’s state a lot of potential energy. Key word is potential! As it sits on the cliff, unmoved yet having the potential to move, it will do nothing until the stone is acted upon. A small breeze may have an effect upon the boulder, but it is not enough to overcome its resting energy. However, let’s say someone comes up to the boulder and gives it a firm shove which causes the stone to shift just enough for gravity to do the rest. The boulder begins cascading down the mountainside while quickly gaining more momentum. What happened? Something acted upon the stone, and the stone responded. You are the stone that sits on the precipice and you have a great deal of potential within you. What are you going to do with that potential?

Initiative can be loosely defined as the ability to assess things and to them take action or as the opportunity to act and to take charge. Returning to my disciple, I pointed out to them that the social engagement that they had been witnessing was the result of many years of intentionality and purposefulness. What wasn’t seen were the many nights of shed tears, the feelings of loneliness, of not being understood, the frustrations that stemmed from cliches, and so forth. My “popularity” or more accurately my standing with people took many years to form and develop. What would have happened if I did nothing or I waited for other’s to change? Would I be where I am today? Probably not, I’d likely be much worse for wear. I took initiative to engage with others and the community which assisted in changing things for the better. Now to be clear, I was not alone in doing this and what our ministry looks like today has been the result of God and many other people who were purposeful in their actions.

Those who changed the world, people like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Gandhi, etc., took ownership of something and used their potential to overcome it. What’s the difference between them and us? Nothing! They are and were people just like you or I! Their circumstances may have been different, their upbringing different, and abilities may have been different, but the one thing that they have in common is that they took initiative. They took ownership of what was before them, and they changed the world. The smart phone may have looked very differently had Steve Jobs not created the iPhone. The revitalization and privatization of space exploration would likely not have happened had Elon Musk not attempted all that SpaceX is currently doing to innovate shuttle launches. The majority of people who have found success today were not born into it, but rather they worked their way there through years of trial and tribulation. They did not stand by and complain about this or that without having skin in the game.

This brings us back around to Church consumerism. Where do you stand currently? Are you sitting in the pew complaining without taking action or are you putting skin into the game? Are you making an effort to change that which is not working or pointing out issues without offering a solution? You may gripe, complain, and bemoan many things, but you’ll never experience change until you take ownership and take initiative. Want to have a thriving college ministry? Start one! Want to find the community within the Church, invite others to be apart of something! What to make friends, then be a friend and go out for boardgames and coffee! Do not be disillusioned, no singular congregation of people is perfect. Every church is flawed and full of hypocrites like you and I! You can hop around from church to church to church and will always find something that isn’t working properly, and you can complain about it all day and night… but what are you going to do to change that?

The Church is not a set of buildings with different names or corporate sponsorships, the Church is God’s people. One thing that I’ve learned throughout my time in life is that investing in people hardly, if ever, yields no returns. The people who change lives and the world are not the ones sitting idly. They are the ones who are doing, who are stepping up to do something about the very things you dislike. They are the ones who are putting to action that which God commanded. On this side of heaven, we will never know of perfection in its completest sense. However, we can strive to be and create environments which closely mirror the likeness of God’s design for the Church. The catch is that you have to overcome yourself and to seize the opportunities places before you. Most people are unlikely to realize the potential impact and influence they possess in leading in the Church. Most people are going to sit back and be passive, laissez faire, and be shoppers instead of being innovators. Scripture tells us in Galatians 6:7 that “… for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” What you get out of Church, community, worship, and all of life for that matter, is what you invest into it. Take initiative! Seize the opportunities to invest in yourself and into others! How can iron sharpen iron, if all the iron is doing is going out of its way to complain that its not being sharpened? Did the iron consider taking itself to the anvil and being forged? Obviously, you and I are the iron in this metaphor. You must overcome yourself and our sinful tendencies to complain, to wait for others to do, and to criticize the very things that we had no part in developing!

There’s a quote that everyone and their grandmother knows from The Empire Strikes Back: “Do or do not, there is no try.” Either you are doing something to make a change or you are not. Attempting to do is not actually doing. You can talk about what you are going to do all day long, but until you put any actionable effort toward what you are talking about it is nothing. You are doing nothing. Don’t just talk about it, but actually do what you are talking about! If you want to bring worship close toward discipleship, then join the worship team and begin putting that into action. If you want to grow more deeply with friends, then make a conscientious effort to initiate gatherings! Go! Do! Make! Don’t just sit around and wait! The world was never changed by someone doing nothing. The world will never change for someone who isn’t acting to make the world a better place.

The Cost of Disobedience [Updated]

I am not sure if I’ve shared this story from my life with people before. As with most memories, especially ones from long ago, which fade into the back of our consciousness and are prone to loss or misidentified details. These memories lay dormant in our minds until something rips them back to the surface and brings back the great deal of sights, sounds, and smells that were experienced all those years ago… Within the last week or so, I had a memory ripped from the depths of my mind and I was filled with remembrance of an event which began like most…

I was four years old when my parents decided to move across the state. Texas, for all three of you who do not know, is huge! Given it’s immense size, you could travel through at least four European countries in the time it takes you to drive from Texas’ northern boarder to the Gulf of Mexico. Everything seems bigger when you’re four years old! Your school was huge, your imagination was vivid, and your energy was limitless! If you were to walk down the hallways of your elementary or primary school now, as an adult, you’ll almost be guaranteed to have an overwhelming sense that it somehow shrunk over the years. Our outlook toward life and existence shrinks as we grow older; more jaded or cynical (but that’s a topic for another day).

Sometime later, after settling into the house that we were renting at that time, my mother took myself and my siblings to go swimming at a friend’s house. I don’t remember exactly what time of year it was, I believe closer to Spring than to Summer… but what do I know? I also remember being an overcast day, like so many of my memories are, though it was just as likely to have been sunny. I’m sure a mathematician could work out the probability of the number of sunny days we experience versus the number of cloudy days and come up with something close to fifty/fifty (I assume). All things considered it was just a day to swim!

When we arrived, I’m sure my mother made us all put sunscreen on and I’m absolutely positive that I had ‘floaties’ on my arms to help me swim, though I remember being a fairly decent swimmer at four years old (I’m sure my parents could dispute the details of this event as I’m looking back through two decades of time which has since come to pass…). The pool was huge! Blue water against a white stone boarder which backed up to a wooded creek! Talk about scenic and tucked away! After getting lathered up with sunscreen and putting goggles on, I dove in! Soon everybody was in the pool and we had a lovely afternoon swimming! The end… Not really.

During our time I discovered some sinking pool toys which you throw into the deep end of the pool and swim to retrieve them from the bottom [Editors note: I have been informed by my mother that I was, in fact, not as good at swimming as I remember]. I don’t remember if they were rings or sticks or both, but I remember standing on the steps of the shallow end of the pool and throwing them to the deep. I recall swimming from one end to the other, taking the deepest breath my little lungs could, diving to the deepest part of the pool, gathering the toys, and racing back to the surface for air! With a large gasp and splash, I returned to the steps of the shallow end and started this process all over again.

This process repeated several times and for what I remember to be several hours. Remember how I described everything as being bigger when you’re a tiny adolescent child? Yeah, there’s also things children don’t realize either… like how much your parents do for you, why things are not fair, or your own strength. I would throw the pool toys as far as I could because to me the pool was way bigger than it really was. Expectation and reality were not matched up at all. The best way in which I could describe would be that I thought this backyard pool was about the size of an Olympic swimming pool. So… absolutely massive! What ended up happening was that I would over shoot the pool and the toys would bounce off of the hard concrete deck. This happened over and over and over and over again.

My mother warned me to not throw the toys out of the pool, which I would not miss for another few minutes. Over time, however, my accuracy diminished and I’d receive another warning from my mother. I do not remember that I was being willful or outright disobedient (she may disagree, but I’m not inherently the best witness to my own actions) but I eventually annoyed her or upset her enough that I was placed into ‘timeout’ and had to go sit on a bench next to the house. My punishment didn’t last too much longer after that, but long enough to get me in a huff and puff [Editor’s Note: I’ve been informed that I was being willful, and was jealous that nobody was paying attention to me at the time]. Timeouts also seem to take forever when you’re young… however, at long last I was let out of timeout to resume swimming with another strong warning to not throw the toys out of the pool. I wish I could say that I learned my lesson.

I got back in the pool, gathered the toys once more, and… immediately proceeded to throw one beyond the boundary of the pool and into a flowerbed… Oops… I was sternly ordered to go fetch said toy and so with the splashing, sloshing pitter patter of my wet feet running across the deck I took one step into the flower bed and pain shot through my body straight from my foot to my head. A sharp, electric pain that instantaneously registered in my head as bad! I jumped back and yelled out to my mother ‘SNAKE!’

I ran over to my mother, my face red as tears flooded down my face. She didn’t believe me, why would she? Why would a four year old know that it was a snake that had bitten him? She examined my foot. Lo and behold, three tiny droplets of blood revealed where I had been bitten by something. So rushes to the phone and (I assume) calls my dad first. I’m sitting on the edge the pool, foot above the water, crying. Next thing I remember is her being on the phone with the Center for Disease Control asking what she needed to do. Mind you, this was a time before cell phones were as pervasive and prominent as they are today. My mother gets some basic information and the next thing I know, I’m in the backseat of our car and she’s rushing home to back her bags. I guess she was advised that she could stop long enough to get clothes for herself and I because I sat in the back of the car while she ran into our rental house.

I guess my dad had met us at the house or had been at home because I recall him driving me to the hospital with my mom in the passenger seat. I’m still bawling my eyes out, mind you, as the evening sun beamed in my face as we sped down the freeway. Now, we all know and have seen those people who go way too fast on the highways. Speeding closer to 100 mph than the legal speed limit, zipping in and out and around traffic, being a tad reckless. This was my dad that day. He had his emergency lights on, sped around traffic, and (I may be mistaken here) eventually got pulled over for the reckless driving… which I think (again, I could be entirely off base here) then got us a police escort to the medical center in downtown [Editor’s Note: This part did not happen… I was four… forgive me].

Eventually, I don’t recall how quickly or if I even had to wait, I was in the hospital, meeting with doctors and nurses, and describing exactly what it was I experienced and witnessed. So a few things here: First, I saw the snake that bit me. I was able to describe what it looked like, where it was, and etc. I had even told my mother where it was when we were at the swimming pool, but she was unable to locate it herself. All things considered, I was a fairly smart four year old. I think that I’ve mentioned here on this blog before, but I have always been am inquisitive child, now adult. I was always asking my parents why? Why things work, how things work, what makes things things? Secondly, being that I live and am from Texas, you would think that snake bites are fairly common. You’d be wrong! Snake bites are very uncommon! It was determined that I was bitten by either a copperhead or a water moccasin snake and that it was likely to have been a juvenile snake at that. See, I wasn’t bitten once, but twice!

Adult snakes have the ability to control their venom sacks and how they dispense it to their prey. They use their venom judiciously for attacking and self preservation. Juvenile snakes, however, will, upon biting, completely empty their venom sacks which makes them somewhat more dangerous than their adult counterparts. Juvenile snakes usually have what is known as a dry bite first. They bite but don’t inject their venom into their prey, which is when the second bite occurs. I was, if my memory serves, bitten twice in the span a few milliseconds! In the time my neurological system registered the electrical data which travelled from my foot to my head, I had been bitten twice!

By the time that I would get out of the hospital, I spent four sleepless, painful night and three days of exhaustion. I was put on anti-venom which is, as I was told, more painful than the venom I received from the snake. I remember my mother staying with me the entire time I was in the hospital, refusing to leave my side. Being that snake bites are so uncommon, I was one of the most popular patients in the hospital because every nurse [Editor’s Note: I learned from my mother today that my main nurse had a phobia of snakes and could hardly work with me… She apparently had to conquer her fear of snakes with me] and doctor would come by to see, learn, and examine my injury. This was also the only time in my life that I could honestly describe myself as being popular. Yeah, it wasn’t worth it. One more anecdote about my time in the hospital, my nurses were told to measure, hourly I believe, how far the venom was creeping up my leg. I guess something was lost in translation because the doctor meant in the records, but here I was, every hour on the hour, with a nurse taking a Sharpie to my leg and thigh drawing lines, numbers, initials, and so on. I wish I had pictures to show you, because it was very comical now that I look back on it. It’s also the closest I will ever come to having a tattoo!

Growing up, as I would tell my peers about this story they would not believe me. They doubted that I had really been bitten by a venomous snake, but I had. I have medical bills to prove it! However, more so than telling a story, I believe that there is a lesson to be learned in everything. We are the products of our experiences, the things that have shaped us into who we are today. Obviously, I am writing this post and I obviously survived and went on to live another healthy twenty years. Spoiler alert for anyone who did not get that by this point. Hi, I’m alive and writing this to you! *waves*

I never set out on that day to get bitten by a snake. I never set out to be disobedient to my mother or to cause anyone harm. In fact, my actions were very innocuous! My throwing of the pool toys never harmed anyone in and of itself (mother you may correct me if I am remember this differently than it occurred). Yes, I may have annoyed my mother but I was not hurting anyone. Why, then, did it matter whether or not I was stronger than I knew and was missing the pool? Well, because I was told to stop missing the mark. Because I kept missing the pool, I eventually got myself in a whole lot more trouble due to my actions. If I hadn’t thrown the toy out of the pool, then it is very likely that I would have never been bitten by a snake. As the old idiom goes, if you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.

Unfortunately, for many of us, that is exactly how we treat the sins in our lives. We think that they are innocuous, trivial, insubstantial because they are so tiny or seemingly limited to ourselves. We jump back into those sins over and over again because we don’t get caught or they feel comfortable. We justify our sins because they do not affect others directly, and yet they eventually consume us because they grow in secret. Another idiom which seems to line up with my story is don’t bit the hand that feeds you, but thats exactly what sin does.

Sin resides within the depths of our heart, often in secret, where we feed them and give them a safe place to grow and take root. Eventually, those innocuous sins bite back and our lives take a hard turn because they are either exposed or we are caught in a compromising position. My compromising position was the moment when I disobeyed my mother again, took one step into the flowerbed with my hand reaching for the toy. In one instantaneous moment, everything that day changed! Little things matter and they can have monumental effects upon our lives. When we belittle sin and treat it like a puppy instead of the wild beast that it is, we are quickly blindsided by something that we never honestly expected.

My sin was not that I threw the pool toy and God was not punishing me for that. My sin was that I did not obey my mother’s words. I threw the pool toy too far/hard again, and that time, after many, many times before that, resulted in me coming face to face with a snake. Jonah’s actions, initially, did not harm anyone other than himself. Jonah ran from God’s call on his life out of fear. Jonah fled from God and drug other into his mess with him. When the storm came, the people Jonah brought into his sins tossed him overboard in an attempt to save themselves. We all know how the Bible story goes, though much less Disney-like than what you and I learned in our childhoods, and Jonah continued to be disobedient to God. Jonah was contemptuous to the people God called him to speak to, and Jonah eventually had to face God over his anger and disobedience.

Now, my story is not exactly the same as what we find in scripture. Nor should it be. Mine is not inspired by the Holy Spirit or maintained by God. My story is my experience which I think has something teachable contained within it. Each of us has areas in our lives where sin resides. Areas where we cover to keep God and others from touching. We fear that people will reject us, mock us, and think less of us because of our sins. As Matt Chandler so bluntly put it at Passion 2019, to be 99% known is to be unknown. Either we are known by God or we are not. And guess what, God wants to come into that 1% that you are holding on to. To take away that sin and shame, so that you may be free. God knows exactly what is going to happen to that sin if it’s not addressed. It will escalate, grow, and multiply until you are consumed by it. Not with it, but by it! When we give sin a stronghold in which to reside, it has a place from which to attack us at all times.

There have been so many examples of Godly people falling to sin because they kept it secret. They let what they thought was innocent, little, and harmless have a place to stay and it would eventually be their downfall. Their undoing. There are an infinite number of what ifs we could trace if we wanted to. What if I had obeyed? Would I have been bitten by a snake then? What if I didn’t have any pool toys to begin with? What if? I have for so long be stuck on the what ifs, and I have learned that they do not matter. I can dwell on them all day and night and still get no where! What matters is not what may happen but what is happening. You and I are aware of the sins in our lives and what we need to do with them. We need a savior! We need someone who is appropriately qualified to deal with sin. We need Jesus!

When Jesus first began his ministry, he ate with the lowest of the low. The people that other despised and rejected. The Pharisees, the religious elite, complained and questioned Christ on why he would spend so much time with those they had deemed as unworthy and unclean. Luke 5 gives us a clear resounding answer, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” The only person qualified to meet the need in your life is Jesus! He came not for those who were healthy, for who truly is healthy? Christ came for sinner because they knew of nothing else! Christ offers freedom from sin so that we may be made whole once again! Christ asks that we step from being 99% known to 100% known by standing in the light where darkness cannot reside! There is no such thing as a harmless sin, and we would be fools to believe so! But we have a great savior who came to liberate us from the wages of sin!

Two-Thousand Eighteen: A Reflection

When we think about how much we change over time, our memories typically fall on the monumental, tentpole events which rocked our tiny lives in the sea of life. For better or worse, these notable events oft time result in immediate action to be taken. We are forced to make changes because the environment around us has changed. Our circumstances have changed. We are forced to adapt to the seemingly ever-changing world around us. However most of the changes in our lives occur slowly over time. They are small, almost unremarkable things which go unnoticed or outright overlooked. We are the results of our choices and habits that we have formed. Thus, when I look back through my social media at the places I’ve been and the people around me, I cannot help but see where I’ve gone and where I’ve grown!

I started the year off in Atlanta, Georgia with 50 of my closest peers for a conference! I experienced, for a native Texan, the very arctic like eleven degree temperatures. I was able to visit Stone Mountain Park and watch my friends go “snow” tubing down an artificial hill. I was able to worship and learn with fifty thousand plus college students at the Passion conference. I experienced what usually happens on church trips: buses breaking down and extended hours of time on the side of the road. Honestly, these are some of the best memories because the focus is not on the situation but the people you spent it with.

I took part in many church events from discipleship groups, to camps, to lock-ins. I also left my job at Chick-fil-A and began working in ministry vocationally! I transferred from Seminary to Liberty University to finish up my undergraduate. I’ve made many new friends and have grown away from others as well. I’ve been humbled and been built up. I started getting into photography, and I adopted a husky for a week. I had two very close friends get married, and had others get engaged! I’ve seen God do many, many incredible things in my life and my friend’s lives! Now, I’m settling into my new job and preparing to go back to Passion in the next week or so.

All of these events mark different points in my life over the last year. Places, people, and times. But I’ve changed. Who I was at the beginning of this year is not too different than I am currently. But I am different. I less rough around the edges. I’m less critical of myself. I’m not resisting God’s calling on my life or am I trying to make it happen. My desires have grown more strong and my opportunities have gotten more substantial. I’m more aware of other’s feelings and emotions. I am able to more effectively use my knowledge of scripture in a way that others may be able to understand. I’m less hardheaded. I have friends who know me far better than they did and have learned that we are more similar to one another that we knew. I have people to call me out and to encourage me. To rebuke me and to offer wisdom. Something is different about me, something’s changed. My dependance on God has only grown more and more. My perspective is less cynical. I am less of who I once was.

I can attribute all of these things to God who has orchestrated everything together. I do not find it a coincidence that I’m surrounded by the friends that I have or the ministry we are apart of. I am not surprised by the challenges I’ve faced or the crazy life changes that have occurred. All that I have has been given to me by God’s blessing! My job, my family, my health, my friends, my ministry, etc. has call come by God’s hand and timing! I must admit that I am grateful for all that God has done in my life because I am so incredibly different to who I was not too long ago. My life has been entirely transformed because of God and I am free! I am more fulfilled in life because of God! I am satisfied through God because He has provided exactly what I need and I trust that He will continue to provide and lead my life. I also trust and know that the desires that God has placed on my heart will come to pass in His timing! All I have to do is to move when He says move and to wait while He says to wait.

If I can leave this at this, I have been saved by God! I have been changed by God. He started a work in me and I will follow Him all the days of my life.

My dear friends,

I want you to know just how thankful I am for you. For how much you’ve impacted my life and have been a blessing to me. All the encouragement you’ve given me this year, the high fives, the hugs, the laughter, and the shared meals. You mean a great deal to me, so much so that I cannot find the words to express my love and affection for you. Y’all have had such a positive impact on my life, and I know that God brought us all together so that we may be a beacon of light in the darkness! Thank you for sharing in ministry with me, ministering to me, and for loving me! This year has been incredible for no particular reason other than that God is so good! I love y’all all so, so much! I honestly wouldn’t know what to do without y’all! Thank you for being part of my life!

Sincerely,
Terren

One Piece at a Time

Legos were one of my absolute most favorite toys growing up. The nearly infinite combinations and arrangements and assortments of the vastly varied pieces lent to great creativity. I, also, grew up during the resurgence of the Lego Company during a time in which they licensed popular entertainment properties to make in their now famous sets. When you buy a new Lego set, they come readily packaged in numbered plastic pouches and with a handy, but easily lost booklet of assembly instructions. A step-by-step guide to building a completed masterpiece and, sometimes, creative projects that can be made from the same parts found in the set. 

The fun of Legos are that you have a completed project to work on. I would spend countless hours assembling sets, staging epic battles, and getting lost into my imagination. However, Legos also take up a great deal of space while assembled and so they had to be torn apart for storage. Even now, I have boxes upon boxes of thousands upon thousands of Lego bricks just thrown together. What I no longer have is the instructions to reassemble all the parts of the sets that I have. With enough time and sorting I may be able to assemble most of what I had… granted that the vacuum has more than likely claimed more parts than it would like to admit. The fun of Lego comes in the construction and the inevitable destruction. Part of the fun was building massive towers out of all the assorted bricks until it would reach the point of no return. Hundreds of bricks go flying everywhere with a loud, plastic-y crash and I’m left with a gleeful smile! 

The thing about Legos was that I never had to think about how to put something together. I always had the instruction manual close at hand to help guide me through the process until I was left with the finished product. Unlike Legos, we are not given a step-by-step instruction manual for life. Life is not packaged in conveniently sorted packages for each stage we inhabit. We do not all share one path in which we progress through life. Life is more akin to the box of assorted bricks, a smorgasbord of randomly, colorfully mixed parts. We each have a foundation in which to work with, but the end products end up looking vastly different from one another.

God has created very purposefully and intentionally. He knows exactly how He wants to assemble us, but God didn’t give us an instruction manual which tells us how to get a job, how to be a husband, to be a productive adult. Why? Because God has set each of us down different paths. For some of us, we are walking down similar paths. but they’re not carbon copies of the others. Some of us walk a rather isolated path in which we rub shoulders with few headed the same way. God did not give us a step-by-step guide on how to walk through life, but rather a book on how we should live! The Bible tells us who God is, why He created us, why He works the way that He does, and how we should strive to conduct ourselves.

Life is full of unexpected changes. Challenges that seem unachievable. Times of great success and of great difficulty. Through this God is not looking for us to have a plan on how to get through it but that we would be faithful to lean on Him for direction and instruction. Proverbs 16:9 states, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” We are very much free to plan our way through life but many of us are rigidly locked into our own perspective toward life. We, very arrogantly, go through life in a mindset of doing things our way. What inevitably happens is that we go head strong in the direction our hearts yearn for, and we reach the tipping point… and have no idea what to do. We stand on the precipice after pursuing what our hearts wish for in fear. 

Why is this a problem? Because the heart wanders and yearns for many things. It is constantly distracted by the superfluous. The heart focuses on what the best of what it wants while minimizing the issues. What the verse above reveals about us, is that we’re terrible at knowing what we want. If you’re like me (single, late twenties, etc.) then you’ll understand how you start wanting something that you don’t have, especially as your close friends are seemingly getting into relationships, getting engaged, and eventually married and you ask yourself why its not happening to you. In your heart, you desire to be in a relationship, but you aren’t seeing the full picture… but God is. The other half of the verse reveals something to us about God. That He is the one working in us and around us, guiding our steps, providing opportunities to be faithful to Him while we are where we are at.

God is the one laying bricks, constructing each of our paths. He is actively working around us (I’m hesitant to mention the flashing orange lights, orange “construction zone” signs, and orange safety vest…) preparing us for life. God is not asking us to do anything more than to be faithful to go where He leads. God is not interested in our own works, even our best Lego creations are rubbish to His work, but rather our hearts. Our attitudes.

So often in life, when things do not go as we please or had hoped for, we question God in frustration and exasperation. We, very selfishly, tell God that if He loved us, He’d do as we wanted. But God has told us, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand (John 13:7).” In the moment, as we’re looking at the half assembled parts of our lives, we doubt God. We question God. We are not satisfied with where we are at. We do not have the full picture. Obviously, we do not understand in the moment. We look in the mirror and cannot fully grasp what God is doing in our lives, but God reminds us that we will know later. 

I know that I can reflect back on my life and see where I’ve been disappointed by my circumstances. Where in the moment I was not given support to attend the colleges that I wanted out of high school, that I was not getting the degree that I wanted, that I was did not have a community to be apart of, that I was not progressing further in life… But I now have the benefit of looking back and seeing how God was moving for me good. Afterward, I understood. When the state colleges could only offer me loans for school, God provided a scholarship to attend an accredited Biblical college getting a degree in something that I had little to no interest in which is now something that I am passionately in love with! Being apart of a ministry that is both my home and mission field! God has provided much more than I could imagine. He’s building something far more extraordinary! 

I would be would be in the wrong if I did not recognize just how blessed I have been by God. Where my sense of timing seems right, God has provided when it was most needed, when I could no longer rely on myself and my own ability but on Him and Him alone! God isn’t seeking a carbon copy, molded people. He did not design us in the same way that Ikea cranks out its furniture. God created us uniquely and has a unique path for our lives. God is more interested in the state of our heart, our souls, and our minds than the state of our assembly process. 

That is why God gave us scripture. To reveal to us, not, how to get by in life, but how we ought to approach life. T0change the attitude of our hearts to match that of God’s! As we pursue God fully, meaning that we’ve laid our lives down at His feet and been born again, covered in the blood of Christ, we have a greater preparation for the road ahead. Our perspective changes from our here and now to that of God. We look at life through the lens of God through Scripture and prepare our hearts to respond accordingly. Once again, I will quote C.S. Lewis who said “Nothing you have not given away will ever really be yours (Mere Christianity).” God does not want part of us… He doesn’t just want our sin, our good deed, our church attendance, our love, our ideas, our hearts, our money… No, God wants every part of our being! It is only when we’ve laid down and given over every part of our lives to God that we understand the process that we’re going through.

I look back and see that I am no longer who I once was. My life looks less like it once had, and looks more and more like Jesus. My life has been transformed by God! The self-destructive, angry, resentful, hateful path I was once upon changed forever when I found Christ again at the end of my freshman year of high school! I was surrounded by people, whom God intended, to pour into my life, to walk alongside me as the abrasive, rough scales fell away, and to teach me the heart of Christ. I am truly, as I live and breathe, no longer the person that I was. I have been made new!

“Do you understand what I have done to you (John 13:12),” asked Christ to His disciples after washing their feet. He had made clear what His intentions were, though the disciples did not understand fully. Christ was preparing to die on the cross, to be a living sacrifice for the sins of you and I. Christ did cleanse us from the bondage and death of sin when He died on that cross and when He rose triumphantly from the grave! 

So as I stand amidst the scattered pieces of my life, the Lego bricks, I know that I do not need to fret. I have no need to worry, because God has a place for me. I do not need to worry about what piece goes where next, because God has already shown me that I can trust that He will take care of that. I just have to be faithful to follow where He leads. God is, piece by piece, building my life into what it ought to be. Removing that which is not needed and shaping, molding my heart to be more like His. Better yet, when the table starts to shake and the tower of plastic bricks start to tremble, I know that I have a solid foundation on which God has built my life. There will be no tearing down that which had already needed to go. I stand solidly upon God’s love!

Choosing Joy, Peace, and Love

I have a strong distaste for pointless or meaningless small talk particularly with people whom I have a relatively founded relationship with. The dutiful exchange of ‘how are you?’ and ‘I’m good/fine/ok’ is done in such a way that it is apparent that nobody really cares and that they are performing their social obligation. The dull pleasantries that are exchanged in this manner do not yield fruit nor do they provide opportunity to further grow and develop the relationship. It is simply small talk that fades into the aether as soon as the moment passes. Thus I despise small talk. However, the question of ‘how are you’ does not have to be a pointless introductory question and there are some who are genuinely interested and concerned about how we are doing in life and are hoping for an honest answer.

I constantly ask the students in our youth group how their week has been, followed with how they are doing. Most of the time, you’ll get nearly identical answers from them (almost verbatim) which I find humorous because I already expect the ‘I’m fine’ answer. Using ‘I’m fine’ is typically the phrased used to save face or to hide what is actually going on. I do not pry, but you can tell that it’s not a honest response. However, I follow up with some variation of ‘What is one good thing God has provided you with this week’ or ‘Where has God given you joy this week.’ I am tickled because the question stumps them for a moment as they search through their recollection to find anything that matches the posed question. No matter what they had previously said or how their carried themselves, a smile breaks across their face as they remember something that brought them joy, happiness, or peace during the week. Some answers include but are not limited to ‘I took a nap’ or ‘I have Taco Bell’ or ‘my dog did this really funny thing.’ What I have observed is that we, myself included, are very much focused on what goes wrong during the week or what what did not go our way that we forget what good happened. Which what a testament is that to our fallen nature!

When God has done something incredible, miraculous scripture shows how easily mankind turns away forgetting what has just happened minutes, days, weeks before. For example, God empowered Moses to split the sea as the Israelites fled from Egypt and just days laters as Moses ascended Mount Sinai the Israelites decide to build a golden calf to worship as their god! After Christ performed many miracles and displayed his divinity to the Jewish people, they were given the choice of taking back Jesus or the murderer Barabbas and they choose Barabbas! The point being is that we are so prone to wander even when we’ve seen God move and do incredible things! For followers of Christ, we’ve seen firsthand how God has transformed our lives and we have experienced the peace and joy that is only found in God. So why do we still have such difficulty finding joy? Finding peace? Finding love? Why is our first instinct to hone in on negative things?

Choice. Who made the first decision in history? Who set all of life into motion? Who decide what would be and what would come? God did. Before time, matter, everything it was just God. God always was, always is, and always will be. God decided to create all thing. God chose to create the heavens and the earth. To populate the world with animals and the sky with stars. To separate the land with water. To create Mankind and to create women from the man. God decided. Thus God put into motion everything that we now know. God gave Adam the choice to name each of the animals, plants, and things. God placed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and let them live as they were designed. They were capable of making their own decisions, able to move about freely, to do as they wished. However God gave them one warning, one command. Do not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil for they would surely die. Adam and Eve had one simple command to follow and even they chose… poorly.


tenor


Sure, the serpent tempted them but why would God give them the ability to choose whether or not disobey him? Because we’re not mindless, personality-less creatures. We were made with expression, with uniqueness, with purpose to worship God! Thus we had to be able to choose to worship God and we have the capability to disobey God. So this is where we ended up. Broken. Sinful. Separated from God. Yet God was not done working. God chose to make a way where there was no way. God chose to come to be a living sacrifice for the redemption of His creation. In doing so, God gave us even greater ability to choose. When Christ died on the cross for the sins of all of humanity He made a way where there was no possible way for man to choose between life and death. Just as God chose to be the ultimate example of selfless love, we can choose to die to ourselves and find joy, peace, and salvation in Christ!

We can choose to be joyful. We can choose to seek out the things that bring the heart of God joy in the midst of trials. We can find peace in the chaos. We can trust when we can so no possibility before us. We can choose to follow God when there’s temptation in front of us. There is freedom in Christ! There is freedom in the Cross! There is freedom in God! When we take on the heart of Christ, when we look through the lens of Heaven, then our outlook on Earth is completely different! Life is worth living! No matter how dark life may be, the light pierces through it! There is no power on Earth that can defeat God! So we can seek out positivity in our day to day lives. We can find things that God has put before us and celebrate that God is faithful, that God is good!

We are, of course, capable of conducting ourselves through life with a great deal of unwillingness. What I mean is that we can be grumpy and agitated by life as we walk through it. We can choose to be bothered by what God has done or by what God has withheld all while conducting ourselves in a begrudging manner. This is what I mean by an unwilling willingness. Frankly, I believe that a great many of us who call ourselves Christians (followers of Christ), have or are conducting ourselves in this manner. We have chosen to be resentful rather than joyful toward the life that God has placed us in. Thus we have the difficult choice of being intentional on what we set our focus on. All in all, we can choose to be of a despite myself mindset. We can chose to die to ourselves and rejoice in God’s plans. Let us not forget that we have hope because God created a way where there was not one. We can hope because we had no hope at one time. Choose joy, my friends as you go about your daily lives.


 

It is my sincerest hope that this website of benefit to you and that you might find hope, peace, and encouragement through these words. God is doing a great work in this world and He is moving ceaselessly! Take heart that God is faithful to love, faithful to provide for your every need! Rest in Him and be a source of life to those around you! Thank you for reading my blog!

-Terren-It-Up

I AM

Just about once a month, I am brought down and told lies about my life. I’m told that I’m not worthy of being loved or finding loved. Told that I am not wanted, that I do not belong, that the people who I call friends only tolerate me and would rather be free of my presence… Lie after lie spoken to me in my own voice with words that are not my own. Even though I know that these words are false, I am weighed down and my spirit crushed. The enemy attacks very specifically, tactfully and I always know that it’s coming. The thing that makes all of this worse, is that I am dying on the inside and yet nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care (false).

I am partly to blame for people not realizing that I am suffering. I have a tendency to carry myself as if nothing is wrong and that I am well despite being suffocating. A few of my closer friends have begun to take notice and call me out when they can sense that I’m masking my struggle (thanks Madison!). I’ve also been more intentional of speaking up when I’m faltering. I’ve also come to learn that I am not alone in being attacked in this way. I and some of the other leaders of my college ministry are also attacked in this very similar way. Why? What is it that the enemy is seeking to do? Why does he seek to sow discord among us and our peers? I am baffled as to why we’re being attacked in very similar circumstances with almost identical statements of isolation. Yet my God is bigger. His word is clear.


After Moses killed a man and fled into the wilderness, he dwelled in Midian where he was met by God through a burning bush. “Moses, Moses,” God called out to him, “here I am… I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” God makes it clear that Moses known who He is and proceeds to give Moses a seemingly impossible task: to lead Israel out of the land of Egypt. Moses, like many of us questions God, asking, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out Egypt?” In this moment, Moses doubted his capability to overcome what appears to be an insurmountable mission and God responds with, “I will be with you.” Moses again questions God how should he answer should the Israelites ask the name of God who has sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt. “I AM WHO I AM. Say to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.”


God is immutably clear when He approaches us. He leaves no room for question or doubt. I am who I am. The God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob. God states the relationship He has had with people with whom Moses as well as Israel would be familiar with. In doing this, God establishes a trustworthiness and gives Moses a reason to trust that God is going to work through Moses to fulfill His will. Moses’ encounter with God spurs a level of confidence that I find difficult to relate to. I do not know why I am so lacking. Why am I not confident in my faith? Why am I so timid about sharing my faith? Why do I find it so hard to believe that God is going to provide?

When my life becomes difficult, as it currently is, and lies are being spoke about me God is clear. Here I am. I am. God is present all the time and is speaking against the enemy! He is making His presence known. Here I am. Furthermore, God wants to be the center of our lives! He wants us to be secure in His will and to know that He is our God. How can I give any credence to the lies that are drowning out reality and God could barely speak in a whisper and put the lies to silence? God has a purpose of my life and He wants me to trust Him. Who am I to doubt God? Who am I to question His timing?

Honestly, I don’t know where I’m going with this post. I lost. Wandering life in circles. I don’t get it… I’m conflicted because I know God and yet I do not blindly trust Him. I know He is leading me and yet I want to flee. I know God loves me but I question Him. I know God has a purpose for me and yet I do not believe it. Why am I so broken? Why am I failing? What is it that is keeping me from being fully invested in the work of God? Why do I believe the lies? Why do I speak negatively of myself? Why do I compare myself to others?

One thing is clear. My God is bigger than my shortcoming. My God is bigger than my doubts. My God is louder than the lies. My God loves me even when I don’t. My God has gone before me to prepare a way. My God has established why I can trust Him. My God has shown me why I can love Him. Why I can worship Him. Why I can know that He is who He is.

My God made a nation from Abraham, my God delivered His people out of the hands of Egypt, my God gave Israel a king in David, God made a new covenant through Christ. God fulfilled every promise He made. My God has followed through in every covenant He made. My God is alive and He is living in me! My God has told me who I am. Now I have to believe that I am who God says I am.

God has made a place for me in this life. God has given me a family to love. My God has given me friends to share in life with. My God has given me a savior who died for me. No matter the lies, the doubt, the fear, the rejection, My God is bigger! His word is clear! I can be bold. I can trust that I am His. I am God’s child and I have no need in fear. I have no need in doubt. I can. I am because of who I AM is.