Trials and Tribulations

I still feel terrible for my childhood friends who would invite me to sleep over, because I routinely would wake up in the middle of the night requesting to go home. Time after time, my mother would arrive to pick me up, apologize for the disruption, and take me home. I never intended to leave their homes in the middle of the night as I truly delighted in their company and friendship. I would have a good time with my friends and enjoyed the games played, time spent exploring the neighborhood, and the like… but I was uncomfortable. I was not home.

Since I joined the world of adulthood, I’ve only grown more aware of the fact that I am not truly home. In those quiet times of exhaustion and disillusionment, I’ve cried out to God for being handed over to seemingly insurmountable trials and tribulations. If I’m being honest with you, I have felt as though every blessing that has come from God has been met with a curse. I have felt that every bit of effort to take care of the endless parade of fires has gotten me nowhere, like a dog chasing its tail. This nagging feeling has plagued me for the better part of a decade and has only been exasperated in the last year by the passing of someone that I loved deeply. In the following year, as we find ourselves in the middle of the most unsettling, divisive year in my lifetime, I see how God has done a work in my life to address the brokenness within me and to open my eyes to that which is not so easily seen.

This past weekend I was given some important news that was an answered prayer. A blessing that ends nearly two years of uncertainty that has weighed heavily upon myself and my family, but this blessing reveals that there are going to be difficult days ahead. There are going to be serious struggles ahead in life that will continue to weigh heavily upon me. God has given an answer to a prolonged need, and has given insight into what is to come. A year ago, I would not be so thrilled by this news. I would be dreading the misfortunate that lay around the preverbal corner that would most certainly follow such a blessing. God, at times (in my brutal honesty of my thoughts and perspectives), was a bully. Toying with me. Teasing me by getting my hopes up, and then yanking away whatever it was that He was seemingly providing. God is not how my emotions perceive. God is not my feelings. He is so much bigger and more perfect than that.

I had one of those moments that things just clicked in my mind. I know that God is good and that He is just. I also know that things are not going to be fair in this life. I know that God is not toying, bullying me, or teasing me with false hopes. That’s not His nature or character. When God blesses us, He’s answering a prayer that we’ve been praying or providing for something that we did not know we needed in the moment. Those blessings are also necessary tools to equip us for the hardships of life. The trials and tribulations that shake at the foundations of our lives. When I received the news of God’s provision over the weekend, I immediate recognized the dual nature of what it meant. To put it into a phrase, God said, ‘I’ve got you in this moment, and I’m showing you where to prepare.’ This is not a message that’s unheard of to any follower of Christ. The Old Testament is filled with passages of God speaking directly to His people of what He is doing and what is about to unfold. At times, Israel failed to understand just what that entailed. Which brings us to one of the most popular verses of scripture. Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

This verse is often taken out of context, but that is primarily because we only focus on the immediacy of the words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah. This foretelling comes at a pivotal time in the life of Israel. God is about to do something completely unprecedented. He’s condemning Israel for their failure to live up to the purpose God had called them to. Their idolatrous, lustful, unfaithfulness hindered their capability to be a light unto the surrounding nations of who God is, and so God changed the game, so to speak. God used the prophets to condemn Israel and to speak encouragement to them for what was going to come later. God blessed them time and time again while also allowing for greater and greater trail and tribulation upon Israel. When Jeremiah proclaims the word of the Lord to Israel, God is telling Israel that something drastic is about to occur, but that this plan is for their welfare and not harm. For their future and for their hope.

For the first time since He created all things, God separated Himself from Israel. After sending the prophets to condemn Israel’s sinful nature and prophesying of the hope to come, God was silent for 400 years. When you turn the page between the last page of the Old Testament and begin reading the Gospel of Matthew, 400 years have passed in which God was silent. The world was not outside of His sovereign reign, but He did not speak to His people. He was at work preparing something far more grand than any of us could have ever imagined. He was preparing the way for Jesus. The hope and future that God is speaking of in Jeremiah 29:11 is the Messiah. The one who would make a way where there was no other way. The one to bring both a hope for and a future in life! God’s greatest blessing was in response to a need and was given with an encouragement for those receiving that blessing to prepare themselves for what was to come.

God is at work, friends! For every follower of Christ, we know and can trust that God’s blessings are good things that have the purpose of both meeting our needs and to prepare us for what is to come. These trials and tribulations can be the heaviest, most difficult things we’ve ever faced, but they all pale when compared to the eternal weight of glory that is to come. These trials and tribulations can bring about some of our greatest suffering. Still, in the presence of such difficult realities, God is at work to bring about something greater!

“every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing
a peculiar glory you will get because of that suffering.”

When I would stay at someone else’s home as a child, I was never in harms way. I was never in danger. Everything was pretty normal as things go, and yet I was not comfortable. I wasn’t in my bed that I knew so well surrounded by the walls of my home that were so familiar. I was outside of the known and that in and of itself was terrifying. I, eventually, got to the point where I would stay over all night, but I often times did not sleep at all. I would get lay on the sofa or wherever I was placed and would lay there throughout the night with nothing but my imagination. This was a time before smart phones and ubiquitous internet connections. Even though I would remain at my friend’s house overnight, I was not any more comfortable. Such is the nature of trials and tribulations. They stretch us and draw us out beyond our comfort zones for the purpose of growth and exemplification of the hope that is found within us. We are not handed over to tribulation without purpose. That purpose is always so that we may be made more perfect in Christ (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, James 1:2-4).

We can trust God through our affliction. At times we may feel as though God is against us… I know I have certainly felt this way toward God. In the midst of the greatest suffering and affliction I’ve ever experiences (see Deep Calls to Deep), something in the depths of my soul clung to the truth of God’s goodness and faithfulness. I was on the bring of hopelessness and despair, but all I had was God. There, in my brokenness, God began to restore me in ways I could not have predicted a year ago. This moment, the here and now, where I have seen God bless beyond measure, is speaking to the challenges that are yet to come. I may choose to hope for that which He is going to continue to do in my life to prepare me for the trials yet to come. I may choose to know that He will see me through. As uncomfortable and difficult as they may be. Whatever it cost me is nothing to that which it cost Him to see me sanctified in His death and resurrection.

In Him, I am made new. Day after day, He is my everything. My one desire. I have a home in who God is.

Terren

The Coconut Story

Have you every asked for something from God? It didn’t need to be something super spiritual or serious, but it could have been. Perhaps you asked God to give you more patience. Maybe you’ve asked for more discipline. Shoot, you may have asked God to deliver you from some affliction. But, I must ask you, have you ever asked God for a coconut? Seems silly, right? Why would anyone ask God for a coconut, that seems unnecessary? Perhaps, in asking God for a coconut, He took the opportunity to remind you that He hears you and your requests. What you are about to read is an actual, true event that I witnessed last summer while I was in Southeast Asia.

I woke up early on my second to last day in Southeast Asia to the sound of bustling streets, howling monkeys, and the constant stream of vehicles honking. Even with the window mounted air conditioner cranked as low as I could get it the room was humid and warm. I lay, ceiling fan revved like an airplane prop, waking in the darkness. My bunkmate was still asleep as I stirred. Today was the second to last day of an incredibly productive week in the jungles and mountains. I had witnessed God move in mighty ways, and use my fellow laborers in very specific ways to reach the people. Still, something was different this morning. I set my feet off the side of the bed as I rubbed my eyes in the stuffy room. As my mental prowess matched my awakening state, I realized that it was too early for breakfast. I had a couple of options: stay in bed or step out into the courtyard of our hostel. Slipping my sandals on, I walked down to the steamy morning sun.

As I came outside, my friend Hayley sat on the end of a concrete bench having some personal time with the Lord. I quietly waved as I stepped into the courtyard, as my presence was noticed. I apparently arrived at the end of her study, as she invited me over. Part of my role on this trip was to document the work that was taking place, which meant that I was hopping between teams throughout the week between job sites. Thus far I had not been sent out to her team’s location, so I struck up conversation by asking her how she had been doing and what she had encounter during her time. At some point in our conversation, we turned to the topic of, I think, unexpected things that had made an impression upon us during our time in the field.

On my first day, we arrived in a tiny village that welcomed us warmly. I was taken aback by the people’s hospitality as the local villagers climbed up a palm tree to cut down some coconuts for us to enjoy. The team that I was with were seated on plastic chairs before the community in the afternoon sun. Monkeys hopping from colorful home to colorful home. I’ve travelled to many places across the globe. I’ve slept in the desserts of the Middle East, backpacked across Ireland, been the typical tourist in London, and more. I’ve been to places where I’ve been a tourist, places where I would been considered poor by comparison, and to places like Southeast Asia where whole families live in poverty. One of the most impactful things that I think we can learn from our neighbors is hospitality.

In sharing this rather small and inconsequential part of an otherwise huge, God-led week, my friend shared that she had not yet experienced this form of hospitality. She had been shown hospitality in other ways, but she longed to drink from a coconut. She chuckled as she confessed that she had prayed the night prior for God to provide a coconut for her enjoyment. — It’s important for you to understand the arrangement of things for what is about to happen next. I sat across from Hayley on a concrete bench, my back to one wing of the hostel. Hayley sat with her back to a small garden that was lined with palm trees. — As she laughs at how silly it appears to be asking God to provide her with a… THUMP!

I know what you’re most likely thinking right now. I’m making this up. There’s no way this actually happened. This is all plot convenience for the sake of this blog post. Well, I can tell you that it’s certainly one of those things that just seem to happen while on mission trips. Yes, a coconut had fallen from one of the palm trees in our hostel’s courtyard. Yes. God provided a coconut. I wish I could describe the complex sequence of micro-expressions that occurred as Hayley realized what just happened. She smiled as she asked me, “was that a coconut?” She turned to see a fresh coconut lying in the grass behind her. God had provided! Shortly thereafter, as we and the rest of our crew gathered for breakfast, we ate fresh coconut that had been given to us.

You may think that what you’re asking for from God is silly or unrealistic. Whatever it may be. Whatever you’ve been asking for. He hears you! He knows your request. Your petition does not fall on deaf ears. He knows the depths of your soul. Those desires that you express only in the most private of companies. Those secret wants that you only divulge to your closest of friends. All of it, He knows! There is nothing that is hidden from Him, and He answers those requests according to His purpose. Sometimes, we have these seemingly silly requests, but God is willing to answer them so that we may be reminded that He is listening. He cares about you, even in the simplest of ways.

This very true story is a great encouragement to you and I as we navigate life. Yet, this story also reveals another truth of reality. Sometimes God’s kindest answer to our requests is no. I know, that’s not what you may want to hear, but the truth is that sometimes our requests are outside God’s will for our lives. This past weekend, I took part in the Heart of Dating conference, and one of the sessions centered upon this very truth. Sometimes, God is going to deny us what we want. We may be denied that certain job, that specific opportunity. We may long for the companionship of marriage, and be denied. None of us truly know what life has in store for us, but God knows where He is leading. Coming to terms and swallowing this truth is not pleasant nor easy, but God’s denial does not diminish our value or purpose according to His will.

God may deny us of the desires of our lives, but He knows and hears them the same. Sometimes our desires are not met because we never invite God into the process. We do not go to Him and ask for them. When is the last time you asked God for that one specific, deeply longed for desire? Some of you may be screaming at me because you’ve asked repeatedly day after day for that thing, and God has not answered you yet. Some of you may realize that you’ve held that desire at the center of your being, but have never relinquished your desire to God. My encouragement to you, no matter where you fall on the matter, is to remember that God knows. He knows you. He knows what you long for. He knows your pain. The longing. He knows and He is going to provide for you in such a way that it serves you and His kingdom best. We may not always recognize that by denying us what we ask for, God is giving us a greater blessing.

Equally, we ought to be turning to God with our requests. Big or small. Whether you’re asking for marriage or a coconut, ask it of Him. Surrender the desire to God, and trust that He has His best for you even if it means that your desire is answered with a loving ‘no.’ God is working, friends. He is not unaware of you, your wants, your struggles, your strengths, or where He is leading you. Take courage in your identity in His son, the purpose He’s bestowed upon you, and to where He is leading you. No matter where you are in this moment, God is near. He is moving. Working. He is in control. He will not forsake you.

Terren

The Chaotic Mixed Bag of Life

Y’all, I’m beyond exhausted. The coronavirus has sent my already turbulent life into chaos. The country shut down and I continued to work. States began reopening, and now they’re shutting down once again. Everything that was level is now suddenly upside-down again. How do you aim at a target when the ground is shaking, the target ever moving, and your feet are increasingly unsteady beneath you? Life as I knew it changed forever a year ago, and now COVID-19 is the icing on the cake. My social life has been suffocated by, well, distance. Day to day workload has increased, changed, morphed, grown, and multiplied by the unending pandemic. Relaxation has been limited to what I can do at home, behind a screen, and through the internet. I do not feel as though I am living, but fighting a current that pulls me farther and farther away from the shore. As an essential employee, the effects of coronavirus were being felt by it was different. My daily schedule changed a little bit, but it was still relatively normal. Now, I’m busier than ever and I yearn for a break.

I’m feeling discouraged in this moment. It’s very easy for me to latch onto everything that’s going wrong or not going how I would like it to be and to complain. There is a place to grieve that which we are not having currently… I don’t know how to describe what it feels like, but there’s something different that is stirring within me. I sense that some of what I’m feeling stems from the lessons I’ve learned walking through grief over the past 10 months. There’s a softened stance toward things that seems to be working against me. Since or just before the pandemic swept over America, I’ve: been promoted at work to an incredible position full of possibilities, found a beautiful home to rent, moved in with two Godly friends, and have continued to have a job throughout this whole ugly pandemic. God has provided for me throughout this season. I cannot deny that. Yet, even with these awesome things, I am weary. I am tired. I am spread thin.

I very actively try to use my platform(s) as accurate representations of reality. I do not try to portray my life as being something that it’s not on social media. I try to be very transparent through this website. I try to learn and share from my experiences. Yet, with that being said, there are things that are going on that have etched away at me. Burdens that weigh heavily upon me. Trials that have been excruciatingly unpleasant. How does one handle these things when you’ve been trapped by COVID-19? I’ve certainly felt trapped. Trapped by grief creeping in as anniversaries approach. Trapped in my helplessness from things that are beyond my ability. Trapped in the missed deadlines of an unrelenting education. My life is madness. Chaos.

Still, even as I feel and write this, I hope… I hope for many things. I hope for rest. For companionship. For finished goals. For relief from my afflictions. Above all, I hope that the Lord would shine His face upon His people. To remind myself and us that He has a reason for allowing this madness. I wish I could say I knew what that purpose was on an individualistic perspective, but I know at the end it is to make us more Christ-like. I wish I knew what the purpose and reason is for most of everything that’s occurred over the last twelve months. Alas, it is not for my to know on this side of heaven. Yet, still, this pandemic has increased my appreciation for the people God has placed in my life.

We’ve been all over the place. Distanced. Hanging out via Zoom. Moving forward in life. Celebrating anniversaries. Yet, we’ve grown closer together. I look forward to the day that we can do things normally once again. Where game night is not limited to our separate homes but packed around the kitchen table. I miss the laughter, the hugs, the simplicity of just being in the same room as people. With the way Texas is presently, it appears as though it will be some more time before that’s going to be possible. Still, God’s placed these wonderful people in my life, I am grateful.

Honestly, life has been hard. A mixed bag. I’m up and down. Tossed left and right. Optimistic and skeptical. Praising God and questioning what’s coming next. I am not doubled minded, but torn between the world I inhabit and the one I was designed for. The brokenness of sin being put on full display through this pandemic. As I learn more through the wisdom that comes with life experience, I realize more my need for God’s provision. I cannot do it with Him. He is the reason I get up each morning. The source of my hope. The one who’s given me a purpose to love others deeply, fully, and unconditionally. It’s not about me or what I bring to the table, but how I can love other how God has loved me. I don’t have a teachable lesson or deep meaningful insights to the Christian life, but just where I am currently. The good, bad, and ugly. Life’s not perfect, but there’s a reason to hope in God through it all!

Terren

A Time for Everything

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.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-9

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.

For my calling, I have Him.

Thoughts & Reflections

Hello friends, it’s so good to see you again! I’ve had many topics in which I’ve thought about writing about, and every time I sit down to write this annoyingly small creature perches upon my shoulder called writer’s block. Like every other block in my life it’s… um… frustrating! I’m not exactly sure what I have to say or how coherent or structured this piece is going to be, but I just want to share what’s been going on and be transparent about things. I ask that you take what you read with a grain of salt, because what I share is not necessarily the reality of things… rather what I am feeling.

If you do not know me, there’s a couple of things you should know about me that may help you have insight into what follows from here. I am a deeply internal processor. I feel things deeply. My emotions are felt strongly. I relate to the world based on how I feel. At the same time, I am a very literal and cerebral thinker. I process everything through the lens of what makes most logical sense. What is most effective or efficient. Thus, I have this (admittedly troublesome) ability to over-think things. In seeking efficiency, I tend to make things WAY more complicated than they need to be. I am, undoubtedly, my own worst enemy.

Moreover, I am also my biggest critic. The hubris of humility (at least as I analyze myself) is that I am completely unremarkable. I’m not the best writer, my photography is okay, I can come off too strong. Again, take what you read with a grain of salt… what I feel is not what is true. Perception is not always reality, especially when I know that my thoughts often betray me. At times, I feel relegated to my eleven foot by ten foot corner of the universe as though it’s a storage unit for me to reside in until a task requires my technical abilities rather than my presence actually being wanted. As if I’m known for what I do and less for who I am. I feel as though people depend on me to be strong, even though I feel as though I’m crumbling to pieces…

I have a hard time admitting these things to others. I have difficulty finding the right words, in the moment, to describe where I am at. It frustrates me to no end, because I know (although do not always recognize) that none of these things are inherently true in their nature. So why am I so insecure? What is it that these ideas seemingly reoccur time and time again when things are going so well? I have been and continue to be so undeserving of the blessings God has bestowed upon me in this life, and yet every blessing seems to be met with an ever increasing attack from the enemy. I do not always fall to the attacks of the enemy, but it has lingering heaviness upon my soul in the process nonetheless.

A couple months ago, I wrote about how difficult it is for me to pray for my own needs while incredibly easy to pray for others. I’m still working on that because I’m stubborn… but something that I’ve had to face recently goes back to the paraphrase of James 4:2-3. You have not, because you ask not. Apart from my pleading to God to take up the weight of my grief, I cannot remember the last time I told God what I wanted. Not as some petulant, obstinate, selfish child, but shared with God the deepest, intimate, sincerest desire of my heart. Who better to share with great confidence than God the desires of our hearts and souls?

Last year, when I was in Southeast Asia I was sitting outside of our hotel with a friend of mine. We had been talking for a little bit about our time over there, and how hospitable the people had been to us. One of the things that I got to experience was drinking coconut water straight from the coconut, but she had not. She confided to me, that she had prayed for a coconut as silly as that may be. I kid you not, the moment that she shared her prayer with me, we heard a dull thunk on the ground a few meter away. A coconut had fallen out a tree. You guys should have seen her smile as her request had been heard and met. As simple as it may seem, God is faithful to provide. He hears our requests and encourages our souls by His simple reminders.

Each of those things that I’ve described above appear when certain topics or desires begin pressing upon my heart. I probably would not describe myself as insecure, but as I lay all of these things out there… perhaps there are some deeply rooted insecurities that I need to address in my life. Self-doubt. Self-deprecation. There is always a hint of the truth behind humor, especially when it comes at our own expense. Ye

Normally, I try to have some teachable lesson from my experiences that may help others. Yet, in this instance, I believe (somewhat ironically) that greater self-reflection is necessary in order to really lay down these things at the feet of Jesus. Even more so, letting my closest peers in to help me work through some of these things. Learning to just speak plainly about the insecurity, doubt, and fears of my life. Beyond that, I do not know how to end this post apart from leaving it open-ended. A topic to revisit at some later date for writing and discussion.

The Heart of Selfishness

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.

Ephesians 1:17-23

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.

James 5:13-16

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.

Hebrews 4:14-16

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.

-Terren

This Beautiful Broken Life

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.

Deep Calls to Deep: What I’ve Learned Through Grief and Despair

No matter where the arms of a clock may land, there is never an ideal time to receive bad news. No amount of sugarcoating makes being told that you’re losing your job, that you’re not going to be able to attend you’re dream college, that you’ve got an illness that has no cure, that your significant other is leaving you, that you have cancer, or that your loved one has passed away any more bearable. Even if you’re braced for it — you’re still blindsided. Shell-shocked. Left with a pit in your stomach, your heart in free fall, and ringing in your ears. Suddenly, the world seems to flip. What was up is now down. Left has become right. You’re tossed around by wave after wave after wave of emotional and spiritual distress. Darkness descends upon you as the storm of grief, an ugly tempest, unexpectedly arrives at your door. Where do you go when the darkness closes in? What do you do when you find yourself sitting among the broken pieces of your heart? What are you to do?

Honestly, I do not know what to write. I have tried time and time again to make something coherent of my restless thoughts. I find that this is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever attempted to write. Honestly, this is more than I am able to process. A burden far beyond my ability to carry. A path that I am not able to navigate. I am at the end of myself. I have nothing left in me. Frankly, I do not know why I am writing this in the first place… For the last two months, grief has been my constant companion. the most bitter of fruits, an unexpected quest who’s outstayed its welcome. This season, utterly unbearable and quite insufferable, has left my heart rend, cleaved in two, and ground to dust. I continue to lose the words to say, and in the quiet moments, with stinging tears streaming down my face, I find myself crying out to God, “Why?”

Why would you do this, God? Why? Why? Why? I don’t understand! Help me! Help me understand, because I don’t! In my distress, I’ve cried out to God in worship with songs that speak to my present sorrows and to remind my weary, defeated soul that God is still good. Never, not for a moment, have I doubted God’s goodness, but I don’t feel it. I know, from the depths of my soul, that God is working in this season, but I don’t see it. Day after day, I have to preach God’s word to myself. I have to remind myself, and my broken heart, that God remains faithful no matter what I feel. In spite of what I see, God remains true. Yet, I continue to find myself asking God, pleading really, did it really have to be this way?

As I’ve searched through the scriptures, seeking anything that would comfort my anxious heart, I’ve found myself repeatedly in the psalms. Here, among the songs of psalmists, I have found that grief and despair exist simultaneously with joy and peace. I have chewed, day after day, on the vivid imagery and deep meaningful expressions of the psalmist in Psalm 42:

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

-Psalm 42 (ESV)

Here, within the words of the psalm, the psalmist is despairing. His heart hurting beyond measure, weighed down with an a burden seemingly unable to be carried. Yet, in the midst of such anguish, the psalmist is reminding himself that God is bigger than his pain. Hope in God; for I shall again praise him. In the moment of despair, the psalmist looked toward God and the hope that would come again. The psalmist writes as though he does not feel as though God is near to him and that he cannot see God in the midst of this present struggle. Hope is hard to come by as his heart and soul are overcome with grief. As I reflect upon my present anguish, I cannot help but see my life echoed in this psalm. How long must I keep going before I’m no longer over taken by the waves of grief? How long until my heart finds solid footing in God once again? Why are you cast down, my soul?

I feel so weak, so weary. At times, I feel like a broken record skipping and repeating as wave after wave crashes over me. Suddenly up and then suddenly down. Every day, I seem to learn something new about God’s mercies and the deep wounds of grief. I’ve come to learn that I’m not alone in my suffering. Somewhere, through my sobbing, I heard, as if a whisper, God tell me that it wasn’t suppose to be this way.

Losing my beloved friend has been the single greatest struggle of my life. This affliction has been and continues to be insufferable, unbearable, and has wounded me deeply. Death is not part of the natural order of life, because death was not apart of God’s original design. You and I are not equipped to process death! We should not know what grief feels like, to know what it feels like to be dying, or to have somebody that we love pass away. Our flesh, our minds do not know how to respond to these things because they were never intended to experience these things. When God created all things, placed Adam and Even in the garden, and gave them dominion, death was not apart of the equation. Death is the side effect of sin, and when sin entered the world all of creation groaned out. Deep calls to deep. All of creation, with Heaven, with God cries out in anguish because it’s design has been corrupted! Death has tarnished that which God has created.

This world, broken by sin, cries out to its creator. Bemoaning it’s fallen state. It’s cries echoed back from Heaven in an deafening roar of God’s glory and majesty! The psalmist is (metaphorically) caught in a sea that is churned up by restless winds, thrown about by massive waves that leave him desperate to catch his breath, as he’s deafened by roaring cries of his brokenness. His words back to God are not of desolation and destitution, but of lament. Where has God gone? Why has God forgotten me here as I stand among my brokenness? The psalmist is not doubting God’s presence or reality, but rather lamenting the lacking of feeling! The great disparity of what the psalmist knows in his heart and what he’s presently perceiving. This disconnect is perhaps best illustrated through attempting to walk when your leg is completely numb. Your mind knows that your leg is there and how to operate it, but you can’t really feel it. Thus, you either stumble along with your hand on any surface to help steady you or you stand and wait until you’re no longer incapacitated. Grief hinders our connection to God with its stormy interference.

Heaven roars back into the deep, the maelstrom, in recognition of the disparity that lay between it and the rest of creation. As though creation, in it’s anguish, is reaching up to Heaven seeking deliverance. Heaven reaching down to bring creation back across the fold with compassion. Our grief extends beyond just the immediate causes in this life. Grief, as incomprehensible and ill-equipped as we are, is the manifestation of the separation we have from God! Sin separated us from God. Sin brought death. Sin brought grief. The overwhelming brokenness I am feeling is an echo the brokenness I feel because I am, presently though saved by grace, separated from God. Moreover than the inexplicable, excruciating anguish that is ravaging my heart and my soul — God is angry that I am experiencing this!

Make no mistake about it, God is not taking any pleasure in our suffering! Even though we cannot see God through the storm. When we cannot hear His voice through the raging torrent. God is present with us in the chaos. God is among our brokenness! God is feeling heartache, just as you and I are, because He knows the depths of our souls! God did not create death. Death is not apart of His design. Death is part of the opposition of God’s plans. Thus, when death entered the world, God did something radical. Something that would upheave the new, unnatural order of life. God used death to give life!

Jesus knew that it wasn’t suppose to be this way. Death should have never had a place in creation, yet Jesus found himself grieved after learning that his beloved friend Lazarus has died. John 11:33 tell us that Jesus was “deeply moved in his spirit and was greatly troubled.” Even knowing what he was about to do next, Jesus felt the weight of loss. John MacArthur notes that Jesus may have been angered because he was indignant at the pain and sorrow in death that sin brought into the human condition. Jesus then wept (Jn 11:35). Weeping for the unbelief of those grieving at the tomb. Weeping for the unfairness that death instituted in creation. Whatever cause for Jesus’ weeping, we see, abundantly, that Christ felt as we feel. Paul, later, would write to the church at Thessaloniki to remind them that for those whose hope is found in Christ do not grieve as if they have no hope. We do not mourn as if this is the final stop. We have hope in tomorrow because of Christ. Jesus would go on to resurrect Lazarus in demonstration of his divine authority over creation. Even though he was resurrected by Jesus, Lazarus would go on to die again. The inevitable was delayed, as God continued to prepare the way for something greater.

I want to let you know that you are loved! Not generally, but specifically loved! When death separated us from God bringing darkness and despair with it, God did not stand by to leave creation as it was. God immediately began to work against death. God made moves to create a way for you and I to be reunited with Him once again! He did this because He loves you! Yes, you! Specifically you! God defeated death by dying! How amazing is that? That God loved you so much that He defeated death so that He could reconcile the relationship with you! The creator of the universe, El Shaddai, wanted a relationship with you so greatly, that He faced death in order to reconnect to you! Nothing can stand against God’s love for you! No amount of fear, despair, brokenness — nothing — can stand against His mighty love for you!

Jesus knew his purpose. He knew, exactly and entirely, what his mission was as he walked the earth. He healed people’s illnesses, raised people from the dead, showed compassion to the least of the least, and he revealed his true purpose by meeting people’s spiritual needs. Jesus came to conquer the very thing which had changed the natural order. Jesus came to defeat sin. With it, defeating death. Everything Jesus taught pointed to the plan God had for redemption. Jesus’ life demonstrated everything you and I could ever need. Trust in the Lord, your God. With your heart, with your needs, with your life!

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

-Matthew 6:25-27 (ESV)

Far too often, we get so caught up in our immediate circumstances that we lose sight of the bigger picture. We lose sight of God’s plan. We work ourselves up into a frenzy as we try so desperately to control our situations by our own power. We must surrender the need for control. God isn’t seeking to see us get stronger by our own sheer will, but moreover by our reliance upon Him for our strength. As believers, we lean into God’s power through prayer, through seeking His will, by laying our selfish desires aside, and taking up God’s will for our lives. Jesus understood his purpose, and even he went before God to ask for strength and to surrender to His will.

Hours before he would be seized, Jesus entered into Gethsemane to pray and I, in this present season, resonate with Christ’s words as he separates from his disciples: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death… (Mt. 26:38).” Anguish was building within Jesus’ soul. He did not fear the physical torment that he was about to endure, but rather Jesus was sorrowful because of the bitter cup he was about to be given. There, Jesus fell to his face and cried out to God, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as your will.” The cup, a symbol of divine wrath against sin throughout the Old Testament, was about to be given to Jesus. Upon the cross, Jesus would bear the sins of you and I and of all creation as the divine wrath against sin would fall upon him. All the anguish, the pain, the suffering was bore on the cross by Jesus. Jesus cries out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus died upon that cross. His fulfilling cry out to God, at this moment, was Christ experiencing the abandonment and despair that resulted from the cup being poured out upon him. He, Jesus, was the sin-bearer for you! Jesus paid the atoning price so that you and I could be reconciled back to God. Jesus died to defeat death. To defeat sin! God changed everything when He sent Jesus to die on the cross! Where sin had corrupted God’s original design, God had turned death against itself! When we lay out faith in Jesus, something radical happens. We are covered by the blood of Christ, the ultimate sacrifice, which nullifies the punishment for sin in our lives. We are able to have a relationship with God once again!

In your time of grief, of despair, you are not alone. God knows and feels the depravity of what you’re experiencing. He does not delight in it, but He calls out to you because this is not the end. For those whose faith is found in Christ, there is hope for tomorrow. Hope in God’s awesome, mighty, sovereignty! Jesus felt every bit of the pain and sorrow that you are inundated with. Knowing that this was what he came to earth to do, Jesus submitted himself to God’s will. His prayer to God, “not as I will, but as you will,” reveals how Christ’s humanity voluntarily surrendered to the will of the Father in all things so that there would be no conflict between the divine will and his desires. Jesus submitted himself to the will of the Father so that we may not grieve as those who have no hope. Jesus died so that we may have hope that defies all logic and understanding. Jesus died so that we may be able to weather through the tempest of grief in our times of crisis.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus prepared the way in which we should follow. Exemplifying laying our trust and our faith in God, and living that out in every facet of his life. At times, his disciples were baffled by Christ’s words and actions and Jesus, giving the most poignant of responses told them, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand (Jn 13:7).” Grief can breed many different responses. Consistently, I have found that grief obscures our ability to see God at work in the midst of our lives. Only through purposeful reflection, somewhere down the road, are we, then, able to more clearly see how God had been preparing the way. In the moment, we have great difficulty seeing beyond the brambles of our present suffering. Looking back, we can see how God was working to clear away the path He set us upon. Does this make trails and tribulations more bearable? Perhaps not. However, we may be grateful that God was there with us, working through our lives, to assist us as we continue down the trail set before us. Time and time again, I find myself crying out to God seeking “why?” Why did it have to be this way? The only answer that I have found is that I do not understand now, but one day I will. This has not eased my pain or my sorrow or my suffering, but it has eased my anxiousness. I can keep taking steps forward, though small and tepid at the moment, deeper in faith. This path, while presently twisted and choked out with thorns and thistles, is mine to tread. I am not alone on this path, however. God is with me, feeling as I feel. Picking me back up when the burden becomes too great to bear. Wading through the raging sea of pain and grief with me.

I have shed so many tears as I’ve written this article. Tasting the bitterness of my brokenness, and having my heart rend because I’ve had to preach these things to myself over and over and over again. I have a burden far beyond my ability to carry, and even as I set it down at the feet of Christ, I feel as though I’m only given more. I find it unbearable. The honest truth is that God will allow us to experience things that are so wildly, unbelievably beyond our abilities to carry, to process, and to experience on our own. His purpose being that we’re not intended to carry these burdens apart from Him. I wish that I could say that things have gotten easier, but they haven’t. My heart is pierced repeatedly by the very things that had once been sources of hope and delight that are now, suddenly, daggers of sorrow. At times, I feel so selfish because I wish for nothing more than for things to have been different. Reconciling what I would have hoped for and what God’s will has been, has been my greatest trial. Here, as I sit among the broken pieces of my heart and my life, I know that God is with me. He is putting things back together in a way unlike anything else. This process is not easy or comfortable or quick. But as the storm continues to rage around me and the tempest only grows more turbulent, I hear God whispering through it all, ‘I’m not finished yet.’ I reply, ‘not my will, but your will.’

Take Initiative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check in with Your “Strong” Friends

We know who they are and know why we rely upon them. They are the cornerstones, the pillars, the anchors, the structural supports, and the baseboards. They are our strong friends. For one reason or another, they seem to weather any and all waves that are hurled in their direction through life and seem to remain standing as though nothing phases them. You know exactly who that person or persons are in your life and can probably list off many occasions when you’ve gone to them for advice, for support, or for encouragement. You’ve gone to them frequently, but when is the last time you’ve stopped to check in on them?

Strength manifests itself through a variety of means, and is marked with very specific characteristics. Your “strong” friends can likely be described through the same manner, and are identified by those very specific characteristics. Consistency, integrity, character, authority, and honesty are just a handful of descriptors that we commonly use in reference to our “strong” friends (particularly within Christian circles). Strong friends carry themselves in a particular manner, not as though they are trying to present themselves off as something they are not or as to mischaracterize themselves, but that is a result of their life experiences. Our perception of our strong friends is the beginning of a larger issue, because we overlook or forget that they are going through life just like you and I are. Chances are, your strong friend is exhausted. Chances are, you strong friend feels defeated. Chances are, your strong friend is teetering on the precipice of hopelessness. Chances are, your strong friend is being weighed down by a burdensome dilemma. Remember to check in with you strong friends!

Ultimately, let there be no illusion, each and everyone of us faces our own battles. The war against sin does not simply go away purely on strength or willpower. If that were the case, then why would we need a savior? Jesus Christ came, not to be a remedy or a treatment for temporary illness, as the ultimate cure for a curse that had no cure. In Jesus, sin’s perfect record for death was broken. Liberation came on the cross and hope flooded across the face of the Earth. However, in the midst of life, we all experiences seasons of abundance and seasons of drought. We stand triumphantly on top of the mountain and at other times trudging through the muck and the mire, all the while our eyes stand on the things of the Lord. We may not be without hope, but that does not mean that we’re struggling.

We were designed for community. When God first created Man, He created a helper from Man’s rib. Together, they formed the first community with God in the garden of Eden. Before that, God was in community with Himself as apart of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Spirit were in community with one another! We are no different in the fact that we are not solitary creatures. Your “strong” friends are apart of that community, and they may even be the one’s cultivating an environment in which community may flourish. In doing so, you might not even realize that they’re doing just that or that there may be things lying just under the surface. Your “strong” friends rely on you just as much as you rely upon them. That is the essence of Christian community, that we carry one another’s burdens, that we encourage one another, that we serve one another, and that we edify one another with dignity, honor, and grace.

None of us are meant to go about life alone. We may be put down our individual paths, but God created us to share in life with those He has placed around us. So, as you go about life, remember your strong friends need you too. Ask them how they’re doing. Offer them a word of affirmation. Listen to what they’re facing, and steward the fellowship and community that God created for us.