I know in the end, all of this will have been worth it… Everything in this process will have been worth it, because You are in it… I know that, while I do not understand, I am secure in Your hands. You have got me. The depths of my soul are secure in You… You called me. Equipped me. Changed me. You transformed me for something greater.
It has always been You.
You taught me how to love. How to care. How to serve. How to be patient. How to persevere. You lit the spark that set my life ablaze for Your glory.
It has always been You!
It will always be You, God!
You have always been there. Lifting my head to see the things beyond. Placing a song of praise in my heart in the midst of devastating heartbreak. You are the one that has set my feet upon solid ground when everything else gave way. God, You alone, are the one thing. That one constant thing that has sustained me when nothing else would. You are my saving grace.
You are mighty. You are holy. You are worthy of more praise than I’ll ever be able to express to You. You are God, alone. My savior. My protector. My sustainer. My friend…
You are for me. You are my God. In You, I place my hope and trust.
Yesterday, I got out of the house for a little while. I packed my bag and drove over to my favorite local coffee shop and ordered a chai tea before driving some ways away to sit in the shade of a tree on a bench with my Bible and journal in hand. I had no real purpose in being there and really had nothing to say to God before I feverishly began laying things out in my journal. Social distancing, quarantine, and isolation have only amplified the waves of my emotional ocean and the words began pouring out. “I feel adrift,” I wrote. “Aimless. Stuck in a cycle of repetition. Lost in the failings of my broken mind. Trapped by the circumstances You’ve allowed. What are You doing? What have You done? What purpose do these afflictions serve?” The novelty of COVID-19 is wearing off and prolonged emotional distress is beginning to manifest for many of us.
As some of you know, there’s been ongoing hardships in and around my life. Most of these have been minor stressors, while others have been major rifts in life. The disruption of the coronavirus is only the latest addition to college deadlines, increased productions at work, and the depths of my soul during this season of unrest. Isolation has been the vice in which I’ve been bound. Weighty deadlines pressing down upon me as I try to hold the overflowing plate steady. These factors darkened by the shadow of depression that looms just overhead. What does one do when the walls start closing in and the world begins to fall away? Desperation sets in and despair cries out from the depths of our souls. The mental toll of coronavirus is just beginning to set in for many of us.
I sat there on a bench in the warm spring breeze, and had no purpose in being there. After letting my thoughts flow from my hand, I set my journal down. There is so much that I do not know. When I try and wrap my mind around the things God has allowed in my life, the blessings He’s provided, the joys taken away, the fulfillment of desires withheld. I’m left going, ‘I have no idea what’s going on. Why have You done this? Why me? What’s next?’ I picked up my Bible and thumbed through the pages mindlessly. I had no intention of really getting into the Word, but I held my Bible. The weight of it’s truth hung around my neck. The shifting winds seized the pages of my Bible and opened to Ecclesiastes 3. I glanced down at my hands and was met with the subheading: A Time for Everything.
I very selfishly did not want to get into it. I’m weary. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. Drained by the circumstances around all of us in the moment. Yet, before me, reality became abundantly clear. Everything that you and I experience in life has its place. If thing have their place then they must have order, and if they have order they must also have purpose. Purpose, then, suggests that things have reason and meaning. I do not believe I or any of us truly understand purpose and the subsequent meaning in the moment, but only in reflection upon that which has happened. Still, our sinful nature has limited our understanding, I have given up the attempt to rationalize the event of my life and their relationship to God’s sovereignty. I am given glimpses at the larger plan God has, and must trust that there is more than the pieces that I hold from my vision. I will not never know the full extent while I am on this side of Heaven. As I try to rationalize the afflictions I’ve been given over to, I have found that my answers are unsatisfactory. My conclusions differ from the truth of who I know God to be. Therefore, my understanding of the circumstances at hand must be incomplete. There’s got to be more…
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
Many of us are hurting under the weight of the sudden changes to our daily lives. We miss our friends. We miss what was. We long for the days when life was less complicated and far easier to navigate. I have yearned to be near my closest friends. To hear their sweet voices once again. To see their faces and embrace once more. Yet, today is not yet that time. We shall have to wait a little while longer. However, there is a God who reigns sovereign over creation. I would be remised if I did not tell you that God is in control and that He has not been caught off guard by COVID-19. We may find comfort in Solomon’s recognition of God’s control over creation, as nothing that has happened to you or I has been beyond the knowledge of our precious God. He has allowed this affliction to seize the world, just as He has allowed tremendous blessings to be poured out to all people. He is here and He is working through this time for a greater glory than we may fathom.
The words of Solomon were not words that I was looking for, nor did they sufficiently explain the every why of the events of my life. However, I received an answer that is far more fragrant and potent than anything this world has to offer. There is more and it has a place in both space and time with specific purposes that may not be revealed to me immediately or ever for that matter. This conclusion is not the waving of a wand and the dismissal of the suffering I’ve experienced of my afflictions. Nor is this a sleight of hand technique to distract you from the realities of pain, suffering, grief, or despair. The truth of the matter is that you’re going to hurt. Things will weigh upon your soul. Your heart will be broken. Situation will unravel before you. Circumstances will be beyond your control. You will have breakdowns. You will be squeezed and pressed, but you will not be overcome. God is above all of these things and is actively present with you through them.
You see, I don’t know if you know it, but God has placed a calling upon your life. A calling that is completely unique to you and you alone for the purpose of bringing glory and honor and recognition to God! Levi Lusko put it this way, “There is a calling on your life. A great, big, God-sized calling. God has plans for you and has been dreaming about them since before you were even born. You are destined for impact... As long as there is breath in your lungs, you have a microphone in your hands. There are things God intends for you to accomplish that no one else has been chosen for. Words he wants you to speak. Actions that speak louder than words. And through it all, he wants you to leave a mark, to put a dent in the universe (Through the Eyes of a Lion).” As a follower of Christ, I will tell you that being called also means that you will be pressed.
Life is difficult. There is no way around that reality. Sin’s corruption of God’s design means that things will not be fair. There will be injustice. There will be things that happen in your life that you cannot explain. Your hope, joy, and peace will all be challenged. You will be beaten down, seized by suffering, and faced with a relentlessly broken world. Things will not always be very pleasant and, in fact, life can be very ugly. So where do we begin? The deck seems stacked against us. The task too daunting to fathom. I tell you, you’re not alone in the fight. You have an ally who has tread the realities of life before you, and who will walk with you through them once again. His name is Jesus.
You may feel as though you are alone in your journey through life. That nobody knows what you’re feeling or aware of the battles that are waging around you, but you are not alone! I want you to hear me: you are not alone! The weight of your afflictions are a burden that Jesus has held. The suffering that you are experiencing is the very reason Jesus came to earth, so that He may lift that burden from you. Jesus knows your pain, because He’s faced the same pains that you are experiencing. Jesus was betrayed, rejected, beaten, mocked, cursed at, and murdered. Jesus experienced the most despicable, revolting cruelty that humanity has to offer, and yet, in the midst of it all, Jesus cried out to the Father, “forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).” Jesus was put to death for a crime that He did not commit.
Christ understood the purpose in which He was sent to fulfill. Do you understand the purpose God is calling you to? If you’re like me, there are aspects of your calling that you know without a shadow of a doubt, while there are other areas that remain unclear. Questions may remain, but one thing is certain: God has you placed in this specific time with a specific reason for a particular calling. You are here, not by accident or coincidence, because God is using you to carry forth a mission. You, if you have laid your faith in Christ, are a messenger! Moreover, you understand the burden that comes with this mission. You know the weight Christ endured to bring about reconciliation between God and Mankind. Christ was fully aware from the beginning that the vile, ugly, torturous cross was the reason He came to earth in flesh and bone. Even still, being aware of the death that awaited Him, Christ wholeheartedly pursued the will of God. Death did not frighten Jesus. Rejection did not deter Jesus. Persecution did not dissuade Jesus. Every affliction that Jesus faced only strengthened His reliance upon the Father. Jesus came to die on the cross for you, so that you may be redeemed from the wages of sin. In Jesus, you may come to know God as Lord. Jesus understood the purpose the Father had given Him, and He pursued that purpose with steadfastness.
Just before He was betrayed, Jesus took the disciples to a placed called Gethsemane. He instructed His disciples to wait while He went further ahead to pray. Jesus asked Peter and two sons of Zebedee to accompany Him to where He was to pray. Matthew 26:38 says that Jesus “began to be sorrowful and troubled.” The weight of Christ’s calling pressed upon Him… The weight of reality pressing upon His humanness, Jesus turned to Peter and the sons of Zebedee saying, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” Knowing what was about to occur, Jesus felt the emotional toll of His calling. You and I may be dismissive of Jesus’ emotional disposition as He is fully God, but we ought to take notice that Jesus was also fully Man. If Jesus did not feel every human emotion, He certainly had the capacity to. We may readily affirm that Jesus felt joy, anticipation, expectation, friendship, and beyond. To what extent did Jesus felt like you and me, I couldn’t answer. Yet, my understanding of this stems from Jesus’ own words throughout the Gospels and in how the disciples describe Jesus’ ability to understand our human condition. The author of Hebrews states, “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (4:15-16).“ While Jesus may not have experienced every human emotion as you or I have, He is certainly capable of feeling those very things. In my understanding of Jesus’ character, according to the quoted scripture above, He most certainly sympathizes with us throughout our experiences. He celebrates with us in our victories, and He mourns with us in our grief. He lifts us up through difficulties, and He wipes our tears away in the trenches. While He may not have felt hopeless or despair, He knows the pain and suffering they bring. He felt the physical burden of pain and suffering, and He endured them to see the death of sin defeated. Jesus was pressed, twisted, and wrung through as He pursued the calling the Father had given Him. So too, will you be pressed in following God’s calling upon your life.
Gethsemane, a garden that resided at the base of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, has an important name. In Hebrew Gethsemane (גת שמנים) translates to oil press, which is rather fitting for the topic that we are discussing today. The process of extracting oil from olives is an intensive task. Olives, when harvested, are not soft as we often think of them being, but rather hard. In the first century, olives would be pulverized by a giant stone turning them and their pits into a paste. This paste would then be gathering into baskets and transported to the olive press. Ten to fifteen baskets of olive paste would be put into a vice to be squeezed as oil is collected. Take a look at this video demonstrating the first century technique of extracting olive oil:
As we know from scripture, oil is a precious commodity. It’s worth derived from the process of extracting such small quantities from immeasurable amounts of olives. The process requires not one grueling crushing, but two. As we observe Jesus as He enters the garden with His disciples the immense pressure that enclosed Him in those final hours. He knew exactly what was awaiting Him. The betrayal. The rejection. The torment. The physical pain. The suffering. The ugliest, most vile treatment of fallen man, but He also knew what would come after. The reconciliation of a fallen creation being brought back into relationship with its Creator. Salvation. For this, to see the Father’s will fulfilled, Jesus endured the pressing. He sought out the will of the Father to bring Him through to the end, even as it meant facing death. Jesus paid the debt sin amounted, and He brought forth liberation. Freedom for those who lay their faith in Him, and are born again.
As you follow God in faith, you will find yourself being pressed. That calling that God has bestowed upon you has an incredibly precious value that comes with it. You and you alone have been given your specific calling. Some may have a similar calling with a similar purpose, but only you have the one given to you by God. That calling is going to crush you over and over again… God allows this for one singular purpose above all others: so that our lives may reflect more and more of Christ. We read in Romans 8, “for I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain freedom of glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole of creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience…” Our suffering. Our affliction is not meaningless or vain. They are purposeful for the necessity of God’s people to become more like Christ! To love unconditionally. To extend compassion to the lowly. To know both the goodness of God and the pains beyond words. Our experiences amplify the testimony we carry upon our hearts as we wrap with those who mourn, we rejoice with those who celebrate, as we reflect the sacrifice Christ made upon that ugly cross.
Your calling will crush you, but God has not placed you here alone. No, He’s surrounded you with others who also have unique callings placed upon them. Where one olive may not yield much oil, from many olives oil flows. You and I have been surrounded by others who carry unique callings. Together, God is allowing us to be tested and tried so that our oil may flow. You’re calling, your oil, is not cheap. You are precious to God who seeks His will brought to fruition in your life! If you’re hurting in the season, grieved with the pains of affliction, know that God is not unaware of your circumstances. We may trust that God is working through our sufferings and He sympathizes with us as He’s walked this path before. Jesus, crying out in the garden of Gethsemane, asks of the Father, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Beseech God in your crushing. Lean into Him in your suffering. Seek out His will for your life as you are crushed for your calling. In this, may we echo Jesus’ words to the Father, “if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”
There is a time for everything and in everything there is purpose. No matter where you find yourself today in your walk with Christ, whether you’re on the mountain peaks or the deepest trenches, God is working to see His will fulfilled in your life. Are you willing to answer to that call? Are you willing to endure the crushing to see that calling fulfilled to the glory of God? Within the last month, I’ve written a statement in the front of my Bible to remind me of these various season that says, “for this, I have Him.” For my grief, I have God. For when I praise, I have Him. For my weakness, I have Him. For hope, love, joy, peace, I have God. For my despair, I have God. For my failures, I have God. Whatever the ‘this’ is in your life, my friends, turn to God.
We find ourselves in one of the most unconventional periods of recent history. Schools are closed, grocery store shelves are barren, travel has experienced severe whiplash, and the stock market is tanking. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has dominated headlines as the world has come to a dead standstill. I believe it would be accurate to say that people are concerned, if not outright panicked by this sweeping virus. For those who are not cynically posting COVID-19 related memes on social media, you may have legitimate concerns for how your life is about to unfold. I wish to remind you that this is not the first time in history that we’ve faced unprecedented circumstances. The 2008 housing market crash sent the United States into a recession. The terrorist attacks of September 11th stopped life in America. The Cold War pitted Capitalism and Communism against one another through espionage. The world changed forever when Hitler’s Nazi party brought the nations to the brink of despair. Each of these historic, landmark events presented unprecedented challenges to everyday people. Fears and panic were stoked as uncertainty loomed over the horizon.
I want you to know that concern is a warranted state of mind to have in this moment, but not panic. I want you to know that you ought to be informed about this virus so that you may make wise decisions, but not worried. I want you to know that there is hope for tomorrow, even when the headlines keep lighting up our notifications. If you are a follower of Christ, you have no cause for inflammatory, reactionary alarm. Yes, churches are closing their doors and telling their congregations to worship at home via the internet. Yes, your small groups are postponed for the time being. Yes, it’s not really all that great that you don’t get to see your friend group three times a week as you normally would. This is hardly what anyone wanted. Yet, in this unconventional season we find ourselves in, an opportunity is clearly before you and I to display who Christ is to a world looking for peace.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God…
During this time, you have an opportunity unlike most others. To be a person of peace and stability to your neighbors who may be terrified of what is transpiring. The world, unknowingly, is looking for security where it may find it. For most, that security is in ludicrous amounts of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but even those won’t last forever. When God spoke through the prophets to Israel, their nation had faced ever increasing bondage from its surrounding nations. Under captivity of Assyria, God foretold Israel that something was about to happen. He was at work. Carrying out His sovereign will over His creation. In the moment, Israel did not understand or listen to the prophet’s as they foretold of what God was doing. For 400 years, God remained silent. No new revelation. Nothing but silence. During those 400 years, Israel would be a puppet state to the Greek Empire then later the Roman Empire. Jewish culture continued under their Greek and Roman captivity, but was also shaped and molded by the influence of their parent states. Yet, beyond the scope of Israel’s awareness, God was at work to bring His creation back under His fold.
Right now, God is still at work. The Holy Spirit is moving. COVID-19 has not caught God off guard. He is not surprised but the incredible speed in which it has disrupted our lives. Nor is God hindered by its presence on our Earth. This is not the first time either that the Church has faced pandemics or disasters, nor will it be the last. If you are a follower of Christ, I want you to know that you have a unique opportunity before you to remember who your God is and to tell other of who He is!
for God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7
As we face ever changing circumstances, we have to chose our response! We may respond in faith and trust that God is good and that He will continue to sustain His church. We may hope in the face of despair and dismay. We may hope in the face of danger. We may trust in the midst of persecution. Through it all, we may see how God is at work to bring more and more people to salvation. No greater evidence do we have of God working to bring hope to the hopeless than what He did 400 years after the prophets.
For 400 years, God was quiet. Seemingly separated from His chosen people, God was preparing something incredible. Just as COVID-19 has separated many of us from our closest peers and family, sin separated you and I from God. Our disobedience to God diametrically kept us from being in relationship from God. Take a moment to think about that. If you are like at me in this moment, I long to spend time with my friends once again. Texting, social media, and FaceTime don’t do justice to true gathering and fellowship with one another. The immense longing you have to be ’round your peers is just a measure of the longing God had to be in relationship with you. In order to bring you and I back into relationship with Him, sin had to be atoned for by a sacrifice of infinite magnitude. True love displayed through the grotesqueness of sacrifice. That sacrifice was Jesus Christ.
Jesus was fully God and fully man. 400 years after going silent, God announced to the world that He was working when the angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherd who were working in a field and announced, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people (Luke 2:10 ESV).” Before Christ spoke His first words, God was telling the world to not be afraid! God announced, after centuries of silence, that He is here. He is working. Christ lived a life without sin. He was tempted, as you and I to disobey God, but He did not sin. Jesus attested to the work God was doing and the purpose for His presence on Earth with us. As Jesus taught of God’s purpose, the people did not understand. Even Jesus’ own disciples did not understand His teachings, and He would have to come back and explain what He was teaching to them so that they may understand. Jesus’ testimony of the Father made the religious leaders angry, because Jesus revealed the brokenness of their ways. Therefore, the religious leaders bore false witness against Jesus and had Him arrested for blasphemy. When the high priest asked Jesus if He was the Christ, Jesus answered “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:62).” Tearing his robe, the high priest rejected Christ and failed to see God’s sovereign plan in action before them. Their own agenda was their own downfall. The religious leadership stood against God and brought condemnation upon themselves.
Jesus was then taken before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, to be judged. Pilate asked Jesus the same question as the religious leaders, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus responded simply, “You have said so.” Pilate made a decision to give the people of Jerusalem the choice, Jesus or a known murderer. Even Pilate suspected that the religious leaders had subjected Jesus to him out of envy, and yet Pilate sought to satisfy the Jewish people. The religious leaders stirred up the crowd to choose the murderer of Jesus and have Him crucified. Jesus was whipped, beaten, and nailed to a crude cross. Mocking Him, he had a crown of thrones shoved onto His head. I wish I could describe to you the brutality and utter grotesqueness of the cruxifixction. Israel had forsaken Jesus and chose to put Him on the cross to die. Yet, as He suffocated upon the cross, Jesus prayed to God, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).” In their condemnation of Jesus, Israel forsake the one who came to save them. Jesus died upon the cross as a sacrifice to bring Israel and the rest of creation back into reconciliation with God!
As Jesus died upon the cross, one of the centurion who watched over Him observed, “surely this man was the Son of God (Mark 15:39).” Just as the first tellings of Christ’s arrival on earth, so too is the first observation of who Christ is came at the moment God’s purposeful work was unfolding. Three days after Jesus died, He rose from the grave. Having been placed in a tomb, sealed with a heavy stone, and watched under guard of Roman soldiers, Christ had been resurrected. He folded the ceremonial cloth that had been wrapped over His body. The stone was rolled away, and the Son of God was alive. Those who came to mourn Jesus, noticed the stone had been rolled away and entered the tomb. The angel of the Lord met them as they entered the tomb and said, “don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here (Mark 16:6)…” Death could not hold Jesus. He who was without sin, defeated death. Jesus is the living sacrifice that made a way for you and I to be reunited with God!
Jesus brought hope to the hopeless. He loved those who did not deserve love. He revealed the purposeful work of God. During those 400 years of silence, God was not passive. He was actively working to prepare the way for Jesus to come and fulfill God’s sovereign will. God is in control and is working despite the brokenness of the world. Despite evil’s best efforts, God has won. Sin and death has been defeated by Christ’s sacrifice upon that ugly cross. My friends, if you have placed your faith in Christ, remember who God is during this season of fear and uncertainty. Remember that you are a vessel for the good news that we were told about! Do not be afraid of what may come, for God is reigning over all of creation. May we, the Church, take the testimony of Jesus’ life and sacrifice to the world that is desperately needing peace. At this moment, we have an opportunity to make God’s love, grace, and mercy known throughout our communities. How we respond COVID-19 is a direct reflection of our walks with Christ. May our faith be a spark that brings repentance to brokenness. May God spur us on to be even more bold messengers and witnesses of His majesty!
May we respond to times of crisis with steadfast faith. May our hope shine into the darkness. There is hope in tomorrow, for Jesus is our hope and stay!
Have you experienced that moment when your heart is suddenly rend as you have a realization that you’re not okay? Staring into the vivid reflection of your life after it has snapped into focus before you. The numb aching of acceptance is set upon you by the yoke of the Holy Spirit as it brings conviction. As the warm evening lights of passing cars and street lights streaked over my vehicle, I became aware of an ever-present reality of my life. I am incredibly selfish in one particular area of my life. An intrinsic reservation that I have continued to harbor for quite sometime. Prayer.
One tool that has been quite, admittedly anecdotally, useful in illuminating how I view and relate to the world has been the enneagram. This word brings great excitement to some and intense trepidation to others within Christian circles. To some, the enneagram is a beneficial tool in exploring their personalities and how God has uniquely gifted them. For others, the enneagram is something to be avoided at all cost as it touts Christian origins but lacks sufficient evidence to be considered inspired by God. To dispel much of these concerns, I will tell you that the enneagram is not biblical in its origins or in its claims. Merely a tool, like other personality assessments, the enneagram may be beneficial to others as they begin the process of self-reflection. Along with the proper application of scripture, one may find deeper answers of their own self, which is where I find myself tonight.
If you know, you know. I score as a two on the enneagram, which is known as the supportive advisor (though I also strongly relate to sixes). Twos “are people who see the world through relationships and define themselves through their service to others. They may be selfless, loving, and giving; or dependent, prideful, and manipulative (learn more at Your Enneagram Coach).” I find it very easy to love people deeply, to serve freely. I do not think twice about giving my time to others if it means that I can help them or be, well, supportive. Honestly, I have very little consideration to give before springing into action… but where I fail most, is taking care of my own needs. Ouch… At times, I feel completely blind to what I need most or feel as though other’s should just know what I need at any given time. It’s almost like I am an enigma to myself in coming to terms with seeking help from others. I do not want to be a burden or an inconvenience to others, even though I really need help or care or love.
As I was driving home tonight, the warm glow of headlights and streetlights streaking over the windshield, I felt my heart twist. Among my usual moments of reflection, one thought came to the surface. Why is it so easy for you to go to God with someone else’s needs, and yet so difficult for you to approach God with your own? You are so selfish because you refuse to spend time with God regarding your own wellbeing. Why can’t I seem to go before God with my concerns? My fears? Doubts? Desires? Like a child clutching a precious item in their hand, stomping their feet, refusing to share before their own parent, I have refused to go before God to hand over these things. I will, without question, suit up and wage war for my loved one’s needs in prayer, but hoard my own needs from God. How does that make any sense at all?
If God is who I believe Him to be, a loving caring father who has my best interests at the center of His heart, then why do I have such a hard time coming to Him? When I need help, I sit in silence. When I need love, I stay silent. When I need forgiveness, I stay silent. When I feel completely alone in this world, why do I not go to Him for comfort? When I feel Him tugging at my heart, why do I shun His advances? When I need direction, why do I choose to run in circles instead of going to Him? My selfish heart. My incessantly selfish heart. I’ll go to Him with everyone else’s needs, but not my own. He’s worthy of meeting everyone else’s needs, but He’s not worthy of my own! The problem is me. Myself. I. I am broken, faulty, and sinful…
The truth is that God is worthy of my prayer. He is worthy to hear my needs, and He is willing to meet them. He is working my life together for a greater glory that can only be found in Him. The issue lies within me. I do not lack understanding, nor do I lack discipline, but I lack faith. If I’m being honest, I lack faith… Truthfully, my faith has been radically shaken throughout this last year. This is not a bad thing. My foundation is firm and my life has been built upon that foundation, and yet remain things which need to fade away. Faulty facades that need to be replaced with structurally sound reinforcements. I need to learn to not be selfish with my prayers to God.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him…
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
1 John 5:13-15, 20-21
I know that God is good, for He has made Himself known to me time and time and time again throughout my life. He has cared for me, provided for me, and gone above and beyond for me. Even as a petulant little child who holds his needs so tightly clutched within my grasp of selfishness, God still cares for me and beckons me to share with Him those very things that I need to let go of. So that I may know…
that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
A common thread throughout scripture regarding prayer is the notion that it is so that we may know who God is. He is faithful to hear us and is faithful to respond to our petitions. Our requests (literally what the word prayer means) do not fall on deaf ears, but are heard and listened to. We may know because our prayers are responded to. Our natural posture, as believers of Christ, is to be bowed before our high priest who is faithful to make Himself known to us. In order to become more gracious and loving to myself (which is something I need to learn how to do), I must be willing to take my needs and concerns, my wants and desires before the Lord so that He may hear them and so that I may know Him more fully.
We all need to be reminded from time to time who God is. Even the most seasoned, knowledgable, and wise among us need to be reminded of the goodness of God. Conviction does not come to bring condemnation by guilt, but to make us aware of the very areas of life in which we need to become more disciplined in. While not always pleasant or enjoyable for us in the moment, what joy may be found when we realize that we already have a savior who knows and sympathizes with our weakness! He beckons us to draw near to Him with confidence and genuine desire to be with Him. Admittedly I am a hopeless romantic, and what is more romantic than the fact that God has a desire for us? His creation, that has been separated from Him by our own sinfulness, is being pursued for reconciliation. Our broken relationship with Him is being mended by the purifying blood that was poured out as a sacrifice by Jesus. God has done all of this, so that we may know.
Once upon a time, as most stories begin, harkens back to times of old when life was simpler and times were better. Nostalgia has long since influenced these sepia tinted reflections of life by fading away the realities of those times. Our memories, being slightly faulty, have been affected by time. We do not remember every bad day. We forget each misgiving. Our displeasures fade away int0 the recesses of our memory. By design, our minds lessen the emphasis of these memories and reinforces our recollections of our preferred days. We may long for yesteryear and the preferential memories of when life was better, easier, or lighter. We can long for the days of yore, but, truthfully, life is not inherently like the movies.
Two Thousand Nineteen has not been my year. I’ve been thrown into the wringer. Tossed to the wolves; left to be devoured. Marked at every turn by ever increasing adversity that continues to be overwhelming. I find it difficult to not be discouraged by my circumstances and have, as of late, found it ever more difficult to trust God’s goodness and grace even though I can see how He is being faithful to me. At more than one occasion, I have found myself wishing to go back to times in life when things were simpler. When the world was not as cold and dismal. However, if I am going to be transparent, the majority of my adult life has been constantly filled with adversity. I have not had it easy. God has absolutely blessed me, but every blessing has seemingly been met with curse. Finding stability remains ever elusive. Just when life stills long enough for me to catch my breath, another wave of unexpected chaos comes crashing over me. This year, more than any previous year, has tested my faith. I’ve been shaken and given over to turmoil.
I did not know how easily tear could suddenly flow from my eyes. I did not know what true heartbreak felt like. I did not know how great the disconnect between my mind and my heart could be. All of these experiences I’ve had the displeasure of gaining this year, I wish I could give back to God. Grief has continued to linger with me this year. My constant companion that rears its ugly face at the most impractical and unpredictable of times. I, at all times, am aware of that which is missing as if part of me is missing. The greatest grievance being that I know God is good and that these afflictions that have been heaped upon me are for my benefit, intended to make me more Christ-like, but in my heart it feels as though God is picking on me. That I’ve been singled out for despair… misery. The great disconnect.
I do not wish to portray my life as one of only suffering, because God has continued to bestow blessings and grace upon me. He continues to speak through other people, even though He remains largely silent to me. Thus, I know that there is goodness yet to come. In my darkest hours, I know that Christ is returning. As much as I wish that I could give up and disappear into the wilderness, I keep pressing forward in spite of my circumstances. I do not know what toward, and I continue to ask God for answers to questions that remain unanswered…
I wish that this year would have turned out differently. I long for moments that I look back on with great fondness and joy, but also with a longing sorrow now. I am broken. My faith is shaken. I hurt. All the while, I know and trust that God is good and faithful. I just wish that my heart felt it. That is perhaps the beauty of my brokenness, that God is good no matter what I feel at any given time. He is glorified in my brokenness because He is good and He is kind. Grace is given abundantly, especially to the brokenhearted. Grace is given freely to those who will receive it. Tomorrow is a new day, but also a day that remains the same. Typically, I have some cohesive, overarching theme in which I form my writings around, but this time I do not feel as though I have anything cohesive. The scattered musings of my mind. This has been a hard year for me, but it has also been the single greatest year of my life. I loved, I saw God at work among the nations, I forged new roads, I faced new challenges. God is good, in spite of what I feel or experience. The beauty of life is not in what I deem it to be, but in God’s handiwork in me.
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!
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.
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… absolutelymassive! 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!
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!
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!