Dress Your Heart

There are many occasions in which we are free to dress down to the studs. From first dates to business proposals, from interviews to weddings, we often dress to match the circumstances or the social expectations. Rightfully so, as some occasions we ought to put more thought and effort into how we look or conduct ourselves. How off-putting would it be if you showed up to a first date without showering, hair unkempt, teeth unbrushed, no deodorant, and in the most tattered, nasty clothes you owned? Obviously, I shouldn’t have to explain this to most anybody… well, maybe junior high students… but I digress. Yet, this is precisely how we approach God when we come to worship him! We dress up to attend service in our Sunday finest, but fail to dress our hearts before lifting our nasty, sin riddled hands to him in worship!

Our God is king of kings, lord of lords, Yahweh, Jahova, Elohim; he is our creator, our keeper, and the one worthy of our upmost! As we are welcomed into the court of God, before the glorious, heavenly throne of God we must assume a proper posture, one of reverence and humility. Should we approach God out of pride and selfishness, we have already presented ourselves as foolish. Our attention is not on God or His work, but rather on ourselves. We come before God with a list of grievances, complaints, and requests before giving a second thought to what God has done, what he has provided, or for life in general. Who are we to approach God in this manner? Who are we to complain about what God has given to us and about what he has not given? Yet, do not do just that?


“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on thing and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.”

-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


We cannot hide anything from God, no matter how nicely we dress ourselves God still knows our hearts. Thus, as we come before His throne kicking and screaming, He welcomes us with open arms just as we are. We may try our best to dress in our bests, to put up a facade, but God sees through our efforts to mask our brokenness. God is not impressed by fancy clothes, designer brands, or our attempts to pass ourselves off as something that we’re not. However, God calls us to approach Him confidently, to dwell before Him, and to seek refuge in Him! God, also, is there to care for us as we act like children.

In the midst of our selfish tantrums before God, He lovingly whispers to us ‘check your heart.’ A gentle reminder that we may be acting our of selfish intent or a reminder that He has something better in store. God nudges us and prods up to take up a proper posture as we move through the various stages of faith. God teaches us what it means to be humble, what it means to live a life of fulfillment, and what it means to be content. As we come to learn and build a relationship with God, the way in which we come to God changes. We begin to look up at what is before us through the lens of a Heaven and look beyond the circumstances around us.

Through this process, we begin to stop at the stoop of God’s domain and reflect upon our life for a moment to prepare ourselves. We check our hearts before going before God. We make sure that we are prepared to listen to God, to seek forgiveness, and to be taught! We have to prepare ourselves because we can be easily distracted, we can have selfish desires, or questionable wants. Thus, as we come to God through tears, in fear, with doubt, or in anger we have made it a practice to pause for a moment to prepare ourselves to listen! God is going to speak. God is going to comfort. God is going to teach. He’s going forgive. God is prepared to meet our needs, as He knows them before we do. He’s working and moving for our good, He’s set us on a path that is far better than our wildest dreams. God wishes for us to rely on Him at all time and for all our needs. God seeks a relationship with us the likes of which we’ve never experienced in life! God welcomes us as we are, but He does not expect us to stay the way we are. Hence the need for us to dress our hearts! Our relationship with God isn’t a first date where we dress our best and hide our insecurities. Our relationship with God is one of constant growth, one of intimacy! A bond unlike any other! So we ought not dress for the first date or the interview, but for the wedding!

Choosing Joy, Peace, and Love

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

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

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

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


tenor


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

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

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


 

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

-Terren-It-Up

Why Me?

Little more than a month has passed since that last time I sat down to write something here. Well, that’s not entirely true… I’ve attempted to write on four or five topics but have been stumped by writers block at every turn. I’ve been able to get words onto the page but they failed to communicate what I was attempting to say and were not up to par with my own standards. I trip over my own words as I often trip over my own tongue and awkwardly fumble from one interaction to another. I’m sort of a mess… So I’m not going to write anything today. At least, I’m setting aside the Bible scholar hat and writing something personal and likely as informal as they come. Here goes something.


 

Why me, God? Why have you made me like I am? Why do I feel the way that I do? Why do I yearn for that which I do not have? Why do you continue to bless me while I am entirely underserving? I feel as if I am stumbling forward in life. None of it makes sense to me, God! I am abrasive. Rough around the edges. I do not deserve all that You have blessed me with! Why do You love me like You do? I do not understand…

I am not equipped for what You have presented to me. I am not worthy of what You gifted me. I amount to nothing yet You say that I am beyond measure. Why? I have not done anything to be worthy of Your gaze. I lack in qualifications, but You have presented me with opportunity. I do not deserve love, but You pour yourself out for me. I am irredeemable and still You redeemed me.

I overthink. My heart wanders. I am awkward. I have trouble speaking clearly. I am a mess. How could You ever deem me worthy of Your mercy? How could I ever be worthy of being adopted by You? I doubt You. I run from You. I hurt You. Yet You are always there waiting for me. You always forgive me. You always encourage me. You point me in the right direction. Why? Why are You for me when You should be against me? I should be Your enemy but You call me friend.

Teach me to doubt my doubts. Teach me how to love You more. Lead me to where I belong. Show me my place in this world. I ask You to give me heart for the things of You. To break me down and build me up. I beg that You wear down my edges and mold me into the man that I should be. Let me see the things of You and teach my heart to sing Your praises! Build my life according to Your will. Keep me. Bless me as only You do! Show me how to love like You and to forgive like You. I need You! I am lost without You! God, You are so infinitely good to me and I do not understand. I cannot wrap my mind around it. Why? Why me? Why are you so good to me?

Insecurities, Uncertainties, and the Nature of Doubt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

Fleeing Discouragement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and peace,

Terren-It-Up

Infinite Interruption: A Spiritual War

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

The Single Life: Developing Good Habits

Over the last couple months I’ve been working through Ben Stuart’s book, Single, Dating, Engaged, Married, which has been added to my ever growing collection on the topic of relationships. I’d assume that the majority of people, myself included with them, have a desire to get married at some point in their lives. Statistically, a large majority of them will get married. So there is hope, however the rules and ways in which relationships develop have changed. The process of courtship has become something far more casual and far more murky. These changes in how we engage in relationships have resulted in the need to have a solid foundation before navigating through romantic relationships. This is especially compounded for the follower of Christ. So in the second of an indefinite number of writings on the topic we shall take a deeper examination of the purpose of singleness.

In my first writing, we established that the purpose of singleness is to devote ourselves to the will of God. In pursuing God and being intentional to devoting ourselves to Him we begin to have a well-centered, unshakable foundation in which we can navigate life. Ben Stuart highlights eight things in singleness by studying 2 Timothy 4:9-22 that we’ll break down and see how they apply in singleness and couplings. They are: Resolve to Never Stop, Invest in the Next Generations, Cultivate Deep Friendships, Keep Learning, Make Enemies, Forgive, Be Courageous, and Rest. Each of these have some intrinsic qualities that benefit in assisting our walks through life.


Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. -2 Timothy 4:9-22 ESV


Resolve to Never Stop:

The passage from 2 Timothy reveals a lot about Paul’s character. At the time of writing this letter to Timothy, Paul was in prison. He was literally unable to leave the confines of his imprisonment and yet he was actively engaged and coordinating a ministry across the world! Paul sent Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia, Luke is with Paul, and asked Titus to get Mark on his way back to meet him. How amazing is that? That from a prison cell or a house arrest Paul was able to further the kingdom of God without letting the obstacle of immobility stand in his way! This shows us that throughout life we have a need to be continually active and engaged. There will always be some job needing completion, some deadline approaching, a chore needing doing, or a need being attended to. While there is a need for rest, which we will examine later, we will have to be intentionally engaged throughout life.

This also applies to when we begin dating, or for my old fashioned self in courtship, we cannot get so comfortable that we stop trying. I have seen idleness creep up into the lives of some of my peers growing up where their relationships begin to get strained because they’ve gotten so comfortable with their situation that they no longer put in effort that they did at the beginning. This can be seen in many situational comedies in which relational drama about long time romantic interests are tired of waiting for their significant others to step up and propose. Resolving to never stop is a practice that is vital to our participation in the work of Christ and in developing deeper relationships with our friends and significant others. Our relationships with one another, especially in ministry, are in need of constant cultivating. Like a garden, love and care must be put into our relationships. Becoming idle can lead to suffocation and with it comes the withering of the bonds of any relationship, plutonic or romantic.

Y’all, as we look through these eight things I hope that you begin to see where each of these carry over from our single life into our dating lives. The foundation we set now, while we’re single, will carry through to the next stage of life. For those who proclaim to be believers, this foundation is rooted in our devotion to God!

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lordand on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. -Psalm 1:1-3 ESV


Invest in the Next Generation:

One benefit of being single is having time to use toward the kingdom! The generations that come after us will face the same challenges, if not more challenges, than your or my generation did! Some things will change, but others have remained the same since the time Christ walked on this earth. Paul served with his disciples to further the mission of Christ! Paul poured out wisdom upon these men, some of who were younger than himself, from his experience and understanding of God. We have a need to engage in generational discipleship! While we like to gather with people who are like ourselves or close to our stage of life, we need to wisdom of the generation above us just as the generation behind us could benefit from our wisdom. Why? Because they are navigating through life with the same struggles as we have.

I know that I have benefitted from the lessons my high school small group guy have presented me, even though they do not know that they are challenging me to be a better leader. I have also found endless joy in seeing God working in and through their lives! In my short time with them, I’ve seen God work to liberate them from sins, to grow them up as leaders, and to get them thinking about what the Christian life means and how to live it! In my first post, I shared a photo of my peer from a discipleship weekend spent with the next generation, and just how much joy seeing my peers pouring out brings me! Sure, this is anecdotal but there is fundamental truth in sharing in the work of Christ. God has blessed me immensely ever since I began serving with our student ministry nearly 3 years ago now. I do not know how much of an impact that I’ve had on the students, I do not need to know, but I am grateful for the opportunity to invest in the next generation. Stuart poses a nice question for us all, “When you think about your plans for the future, do they include the men and women you will invest in?”

I was given some perspective last year from my friend and mentor regarding this topic in connection with marriage. I know that God’s calling on my life is in ministry and that means that if I am to marry, then that person would need to be supportive of my ministry. This is not to suggest that my ministry is more important than her, but that we would be partners in ministry together. Serving the next generations together. While we are single, while we are dating, and while we are pursuing marriage, we have a plethora of opportunity to share in ministry. While we have more time while we are single, Christians have a command to pour out onto the next generations.


Cultivate Deep Friendships:

As single people, we are not without love and companionship. We are surrounded by people who love us and care for us. They are our friends and they also serve as council to us as we approach many different situations in life. Cultivating deep, meaningful friendships also serves to give us insight into our lives through the perspective of those who know us best. Taking the time while we are single to cultivate these kinds of friendships allows them to share in our dating lives. They see where we have blinders, they express concerns when our pursuits are not glorifying God, they celebrate the relationships that do glorify God, and they keep us accountable. Having friends who know our lives well assists in that foundation in which we can navigate life. Plus what joy is it to share life with those closest to us?

I have a strong family of friend who have poured out into my life for nearly four years now. Having started as a small bible study at the home of our now student pastor, we have and continue to share in one another’s ministries. We seek wisdom and council from one another, and we celebrate each other’s wins, and the work God is doing in our lives. They are also not afraid to have the difficult conversations when we’re going astray or being stupid or sitting in sin. Because they know us well, they’re not afraid to call us out. Paul had a friend in Luke who shared in his ministry and in his life. The book of Acts recounts the time Luke and Paul shared on their missionary journey around the Near East. They understood the purpose in sharing in one another’s lives. Deep friendships offer something that our coworkers and acquaintances cannot and that is insight into our lives that stems from a proper heart. God’s heart. We know who those people are in our lives, and, if you are like myself, you cherish the unquantifiable value they are on your life.


Make Enemies:

This is not saying that we need to be antagonistic or purposeful in making enemies. Rather, by living our the commandments of God and sharing the good news with all we come across. By living faithfully, according to the commands of God, we will make enemies. We will run into people who are hostile to the things of God and will be hostile to us. Paul mentions a wrongdoing Alexander the coppersmith paid him, and how God would justly deal with Alexander. Paul did not take vengeance against Alexander, but rather placed the duty of carrying our justice on God. Throughout life, we will face opposition at nearly every turn. People who are against us personally, who are against our relationships, our ministries, our work. We cannot control those people, but we can live faithfully according to God’s will. So do not seek out to make enemies, but live faithfully.


Keep Learning:

We all have something to learn. Even the biggest biblical scholars have something to learn about God. Just as we ought to strive to not be idle, we should seek to always be learning something new! Head knowledge is good and social skills are beneficial. Scripture has an amazing tendency to spur us toward being well rounded people. While we can know a lot about God, we can also know God very little. As a seminary student, I can attest first hand to the dangers of knowing a lot about God without having a personal relationship with Him. Fortunately, God has presented opportunities to share my knowledge of history, scripture, and God in appropriate ways without being a know-it-all or a pedantic encyclopedia. Continuing to learn about God only helps to further strengthen and widen our foundations. Being rooted and founded with God places us in a position where we can weather any turmoil that comes our way We can be secure in the winds of change.

We also should strive to learn more about the people around us. Tying into cultivating deep friendships (hint, hint). In learning about others, we learn about their needs and where they need truth and life. We can be a source of life to those people. We may not know what needs they have, but in pursuing to learn more about people we can be the hands and feet of Jesus to them. The pursuit of learning can be exhausting, especially as we move through the college age where fatigue can set in quickly. However, we may find immense joy in continued growth in knowledge and wisdom.


Be Courageous:

We will face opposition in life, this has been made clear. We must stand firm. Paul was alone when he faced trial for his missionary work. No one came to his defense, and yet, as he stood firm in full assurance in God’s sovereignty, he was brought through it stronger. Let this be an encouragement to us! Trust God in all things! Have faith that God will bring you through whatever situation you face. Have faith that God will speak through your words as you share the gospel with those who need it. Have faith that God will work through you to bring other’s into His kingdom. Do no be afraid to pursue the mission of Christ! Be bold! Be courageous! Be encouraged throughout your life that God has a plan for you and your life! Do not hesitate when God tells you to go or when to stay! Step into any situation in full assurance that God will use you and take care of your needs!


Forgive:

This is perhaps the largest and most difficult thing of these points. Forgiveness. We’ve all experienced pain and hurt from people. We’ve all been slighted or torn down. The reality is that hurt people hurt people. Frankly, I’ve been that person. Holding onto the pains suffered at the hands of others keeps us down. It keeps us from fully embracing the love and freedom in God. Frankly, for followers of Christ, forgiving people is not optional! It’s also not an easy process either. If we’re unwilling to forgive those who have hurt us, what does that say about our perspective on Christ? What does that say about our claim to faith? In denying forgiveness to those who have wounded us, scarred us, and beaten us down, we are in essence denying the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. He died for the sins of you and me and He did so without question! Are you holding onto a grudge? Do you resent someone for causing you deep pain?

The willingness to forgive is entirely necessary in the Christian life. As we step into dating and marriage we must be willing to forgive our partners. There will be arguments, there will be misunderstandings, there will be misgivings, but for the believer in a relationship we must be willing to forgive and not hold grudges. Being petty is not glorifying to God nor does it bear fruit. Petty grudges and stubbornness breeds discontentment and it kills love. We must check ourselves at the door when we come to conflict of any kind. There is a need for humility and dying to ourselves at every part of our lives. Grace and mercy have been shown to us time and time again thanks to the sacrifice of Christ and the blood that he shed! Who are we do deny someone grace when we have experienced grace?

Sometimes, in order to forgive, we must first approach God before engaging with someone who has hurt us. Entering with a level head also allows for us to be good stewards of the life we claim in Christ. Again, this comes back to being a source of life to those we come into contact with. While forgiving someone may not be easy, we may be Christ to those who need Him most!


Rest:

Finally, we come to rest and the need for pause. Life is busy, Y’all! We need down time to recuperate and reset ourselves. Taking time to rest also enables us to get back into the will of God. In our American society, we can forget the need for rest as we work three jobs to make it through college. We can also fill every moment of our days with things that serve as distractions rather than recuperation. Take some time to rest and center yourself with the will of God! Life only gets busier and as we move toward relationships that only compounds as you’re working to schedule two people’s schedules in places of your own. So my friends, do not forget to rest!

 

Friends, I hope that you see where these things will appear in your relationships. I hope you see where they are beneficial in having a foundation in which to navigate through life. While this is just a small portion of the Christian life, I pray that they are beneficial to you! So as you go through the remainder of this week and into next week, go out in peace!

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up