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.

Uninvited

Pulling out of the driveway of a rented beach house on a beautiful Saturday evening, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of loneliness and separation. There, within the confines of my vehicle, I felt as though I were a million miles away from the rest of the world and from myself. In the heaviest of traffic, I was seized and wretched by this unseen force with tears dammed just beneath the surface ready to breech. In an instant, the bottom dropped out and my heart plummeted into a depths of the abyss. How could this be? Where did this come from? Why do I feel so numb to everything? My world was flipped in one instantaneous moment and has continued to linger since.

My weekend leading up to this moment had been one of the best experiences I’ve had with my friends in a long time. Thursday night we packed into a theater ready to experience all that was Avengers: End Game. The following day was met with one of my favorite pastimes, baseball. Myself and three of my most favorite friends loaded up my car to head to the stadium. We had the most lovely of times watching the game, sharing in laughs over the heckler sitting a row behind us, and the well orchestrated fireworks that followed the game! We truly did have a wonderful evening together. Saturday brought with it a crawfish boil where even more of my friends gathered together to share in fellowship and fun. Yet, just mere hours later, I was struck by the cold, numb feeling of loneliness.

Loneliness is defined as “being without company, cut off from others, not frequented by human beings, sad from being alone, and producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation” by Merriam-Webster. Britannica states that loneliness “occurs when a person’s social relationships are perceived by that person to be less in quantity, and especially in quality, than desired” and highlights the highly subjective nature of loneliness. One may be alone, but not feel lonely whereas one may be surrounded by others and feel lonely. At this time, I fall in the second camp as I’m surrounded by many incredible people who I have strong relationships with, but I feel lonely. Outwardly, I may not appear as though I am hurting but that couldn’t be further from reality. I am not putting up a front or trying to hide my pain, which is, perhaps, why being under this particular mood or temperament is so difficult for me.

Pain comes in many forms, but, unlike physical pain, loneliness hurts without anything inflicting a wound. Loneliness attacks the heart and it’s fragile brokenness is only exaggerated by the spotlight that is isolation. The best way I can describe it for myself is an overarching feeling as if I am just a bystander to other people’s lives and successes. An inconsequential, obscure blur as the world passes by like the trees on the side of the road as your stare out of the car window. The reality is that loneliness hurts unlike any other pain one experiences, and is difficult to describe beyond general abstractions like the definitions given above. In my case, I am not without company, or cut off from others. I am frequently around human beings, and I am not sad from being alone. I may be down, I may feel sad, but my sadness does not stem from being away from others.

Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston seats 41,168 people, which is incredible considering the stadium does not feel as though it is as large as it actually is. Then again that’s what good stadium design is suppose to do. All things considered, being one face in a massive crowd reveals one of the more frustrating aspects of loneliness — just because you’re around people does not mean that you’re not lonely. You may feel fine and know that you’re on good terms with your circle of friends, but you can still feel distant and cold. For myself, I become frustrated by this because I am waging war between what is real and how I currently feel. Bemoaning the difficult navigation that I must take in order to remain rooted during such times of intense loneliness. However, this too shall pass.

The mind is a curious thing, and is not impervious from the affects of sin. We must be graceful and cautious in our approach to addressing these matters. While we may be well-intentioned in our words and actions, we may inadvertently provide ill-informed advice and care to those who are hurting. As someone who has, off and on, experienced loneliness and depression, I can speak to the illogical thoughts and feelings that appear when experiencing such matters. While we may know that the thoughts of loneliness and sadness are not true or unfounded, we are burdened by the weight the circumstances we find ourselves in. Loneliness and depression can go hand-in-hand with one another, and oft times come in relationship to one another. For myself, loneliness came first and then the mild depression. As I write this now, both have passed and been removed from their residences in my life. As unwelcome of guests as they may be, I have had to reflect upon myself and the tendencies I have in how I respond to changes in my emotional and mental well-being.

I have, without a shadow of a doubt, been called into ministry. Looking back through life, I see the path and opportunities God placed before me to bring me to where I am today. He has sought my heart and obedience so that I may want His will over my will. However, as I’ve gone deeper and deeper into this process, I have learned from my peers and friends who are in ministry of the dangers of this calling. One fact that I have seen in my life and in others, is that those who are called into ministry are attacked through different means. One of the more quiet, less visible means by which they are attacked is loneliness. In leading others, in serving others, and in creating a space for people to flourish, the illusion may appear that ministers/pastors/leaders are without suffering. Do not be fooled! We can easily forget that we are all broken, because of the way in which people carry themselves. Not that people are putting up a front or trying to wear a mask, but we carry ourselves in a manner based on who God says that we are. Our hope and trust in God dictates how we conduct ourselves in spite of whatever trial we may be facing.

Having said all that I have, I recognize that I have some areas which may feed these uninvited guests. Firstly, I tend to put other’s needs above my own. I favor lifting others up over speaking up that I am hurting. Secondly, I can fall into the trap of belief that because others do not show the same level or awareness of compassion that I do, that must mean that others do not care. We are all gifted very different and have different skill sets suited for different tasks. I happen to be called to and gifted in counseling which has very specific methods of execution. Much of my expectations in being cared for stem from my own background, which is not how most people are going to operate. Finally, I carry/conduct myself very particularly and as a leader among my church family, the perception seems to be that I have life figured out and that life is easy. None of us, in reality, believe that anyone else’s lives are perfect or easy or without their struggle. We do, however, sometimes forget that reality for any number of reasons. I’m guilty of this too.

As I finish writing this post, these feeling have since subsided and been subdued. Loneliness and depression are uninvited guests who can linger for some time or pass quickly. Fortunately, both have moved on quickly in realization that I am not going to wallow in self-pity and self-doubt. I have a community that is focused on transparency and accountability who I can rely upon to walk with me through whatever season I find myself in. I wish to encourage you, whomever may be reading this, to seek out a community who will serve you, love you, and walk through every season with you! If you are hurting and in despair, lean in to those around you! Surround yourself with other who love you and care for you and be willing to speak up about the difficult parts of your life. Be willing to let go of the bondage of loneliness, depression, and sin and find hope, freedom, and mercy in the hands of God! Be brave, not matter the fear or doubt you may have, to speak up when you are hurting. Rely upon those God has placed in your life and trust in His purposeful placement of those around you!

The Single Life: A Season of Life

Over the last couple of months I have been working through Ben Stuart’s book Single, Dating, Engaged, Married and as it so happens I’ve yet to finish. Coincidentally, both my college Bible study and the students ministry I serve in are concurrently going through series on relationships which has me in a place where I wish to share my perspective and understanding on the topic. This means that I am about to lock myself into a multi-issue series on relationships, so I better see this one through to completion. Which is likely as this topic is one that I, and statistically for most, is one of great interest. Why? Because we all long for companionship. We all long to feel wanted and loved. Which take vastly different forms! Yet the focus tends to bend toward romantic relationships and as such brings us to the first section of this multipart examination of relationships. Singleness.

While I’d like to claim that everything in this post is of my own intellectual power, a large portion stems from the various accounts and examination of others. I am fortunate to be able to stand on the shoulders of great theologians, thinkers, and people to share my observations and opinions on the nature of relationships. I shall make every effort to properly cite where the ideas stem from, as to not misguide anyone whom may come across this as to thinking that these are my own ideas and summations. They’re likely not. In fact, I’ve had little to no experience in the realm of romantic relationships. I am hardly an expert or the most reliable source. However, I’ve taken the time to explore this topic and have need to share and discuss the many factors that go into our relationships. I am a content single pringle, as a friend of mine described me once, solely seeking to explore this topic.

Statistically, a large majority people want to be married. Pew Research indicates that nearly 80% of people want to be married. The median age of people getting married today is 29 for men and 27 for women respectively. Pew Research Center’s research into peoples reasoning to married are as follow: 88% for love, 81% for a lifelong commitment,  76% for companionship, 49% for having children, 30% for a religiously recognized relationship in a religious ceremony, 28% for financial stability, and 23% for legal rights and benefits (8 Fact about Love and Marriage in America). These statistics reveal a great deal about the majority of people. According to a 2016 study, half of people aged 18 and older were married (however, the means in which this is worded is slightly deceiving and misleading as 18 and up included a very large swath of people of different ages.). Additionally, the number of people cohabitation, people who are not married but are living together, has been on the rise in recent years. Finally, the number of people looking to find love online has increased considerably. What these numbers indicate is that people are looking for love. However, for the Christian, the dating world has become more murky and unclear.

Ben Stuart introduces his book by explaining a tradition of Texas A&M university where they, being students of A&M which I am not, would go to Kyle Field at midnight to practice the cheers and chants for the football game the next day. However, once they would finish rehearsing, the lights would go out and, at least according to Stuart, they would makeout with the person they brought with them. If you didn’t bring anyone, then you’d hold up a lighter (old school, I know) and someone would come and find you. Secondly, Stuart continues by discussing his time as the leader of Breakaway Ministries through which he and his team asked their students who wanted to release the burden of guilt and shame to write down some of their secrets on cards. Going through them, Stuart was surprised by the amount of people expressing hurt and heartbreak that accompanied romantic relationships that had gone wrong. Which is where I begin, beginning with the season of singleness.


IMG_5331.jpg


I absolutely adore the photo above, it serves as my computer’s wallpaper. Taken just a few months ago when myself and many of my friends served in a Discipleship Now weekend at our church. I love this picture for many reasons and it brings a smile to my face every time I look at it. These people, each and every one of them are my family! I love all of them for their many traits, personalities, skills, and willingness to put up with my endless awkwardness. Also, we were not suppose to be on top of the tomb… but I didn’t know that when I set up the camera… oops. I am blessed beyond all measure to have a community of believers who love me, each other, and love God! I rely on them to keep me accountable, to share in life, and to grow deeper in our walks with God together. On the few weeks where we are unable to gather together for worship, fellowship, and study I suffocate a little. Why? Because they are a source of life to me. All of us need a source of life and where a source of life is lacking desperation sets in. Ben Stuart emphasizes this point early on stating:

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

Y’all, we far too easily find our sense of validation in superficial things. We cling to money, sex, entertainment to fill our sense of worth and validation. Yet, for the believer, our sense of validation comes not from this world but from God! Why? Because Christ is our source of life! Without Christ, without His sacrifice on the cross, we would be spiritually dead where we walk! No person, no thing can every fill that God-sized need in our lives! As followers of Jesus we must cling to him because he is our source of life and it is through him that we have a purpose, a reason for existing! He, Christ, is sufficient for our ever need! Do you trust that Christ loves you endlessly? Do you honestly believe it? Christ said that you were worth dying for! I’ll admit that at times it is difficult for me to believe. What did I do to deserve such perfect, true love? Nothing. When I do elevate things above God, I forget just how much I am loved and consequentially I reel back from the pain of sinning against the God who loves me beyond measure!

Through Christ we see some characteristics of love as Stuart notes:  Love Sends, Love Sacrifices, and Love Stays. John gives a dense synopsis of love which speaks volumes to the extent and reach of God’s love for us!

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. -1 John 4:7-21 ESV

We know that love send because God sent his son to die on the cross for our sins. We know that love sacrifices because Christ sacrificed himself for our wrongdoing, and we know love stays because God sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. We know love because we know God and God is love! It is because of God that we can love one another. That we can find a family of people who are not related to us by blood like the people pictured above. God’s love is unconditional and fortunately for us it is poured out in abundance! God ought to be our source of life because God is perfect in his love, perfect in his ways, and he seeks us out! Without God, we would be so incredibly lost and hopeless in all things! There is nothing better than God, and, not to slight anyone, there is no person in this would who will ever be better than God! Y’all, we cannot get our relationship right without first getting our relationship with God right! This is the purpose of singleness: a devotion to God!

Y’all, we don’t know what the heck we want. Our desires are fleeting and changing at every moment. We do not know what is best for us nor do we fully value and appreciate the things that have already been given to us. Putting us in a season of singleness is not God trying to choke us out and it is not to hold us back or hurt us as Stuart notes. Rather singleness is, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:35 (NASB), “to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.” Overall, all of us have some concept of appropriateness. Something is appropriate if it is proper given the context of the circumstances and situation. Something is inappropriate if it does not fit within the context of the circumstances. It’s the snickering of students at the inopportune moment in a sermon when everyone falls silent. It’s breaking social norms like wearing a swimsuit to a black tie event. Inappropriate things stick out because they do not fit with everything else. So what is the appropriateness of singleness? Well, Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 asserts correctly that “singleness, dating, and marriage, while important, are not the main story line of [our live].” The bigger story is one that we have a very brief moment in, God’s story! “The story line of the Bible is that God is on the move, and in the midst of the darkness, God broke in with a new kingdom.”

As much as we value our lives and are deeply concerned with the immediacy of our lives they are very much just brief moments in the larger scheme of things. God’s story is one of love, of redemption, of blessing. I’ll admit that I’m quite the romantic and I love a good story. As it so happens, The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies and one that contains every campy romantic fairytale trope. By this point everyone should know about the epic tale of Princess Buttercup and the modest Wesley and their love for one another! A love that knows no ends to defy death, to defeat evil, and to restore the kingdom of Florin! God’s story is so much better than any story that can be put to paper, to film, or to legend. Thankfully, God’s story is extended to us and it reveals the lengths that God has gone to reconcile our sinful, wandering ways back to himself! That is true love! A love that doesn’t quit, it doesn’t run away. So in our singleness, that time is for us to pursue God. To experience his endless love. Our singleness gives us access to so much more without having to jump through hoops or schedules. It is in our singleness that we can most freely serve the Lord! Singleness offers freedom!

If God calls you on a mission trip to the farthest place from where you currently are, then nothing is stopping you from going. If God calls you to pursue an opportunity across the country then you are free to go without having to consider somebody else. Singleness offers freedom of time as well! To be free from distractions on the pursuit of undivided devotion to God! You are free to spend time with others, pouring out into the lives of those in need. Singleness has a purpose and we are to seize it! Singleness does not mean that we do not need to desire marriage or companionship, but rather that we are free to move when the Lord commands it. Singleness gives us opportunity to be attentive to God’s word and to his work! Between our personal time and our in the world, we have every reason to grow deeper with God and to take our knowledge and impart it onto others in need of it. How great is that? We are free in so many ways that we overlook because we’re focused on the next stage of life! God is moving here and now! He is calling us to respond with obedience in this season.


I have no idea what the Lord has in store for my life. I’ve been single every minute of it thus far. It was not until recently, meaning within the last five years or so, that I’ve had a growing desire of marriage. I’m not at that place yet. In this season of longing for someone to share in ministry with, I’ve felt the pangs of want and the fogginess of infatuation. In this time, I’ve come to understand that I am not alone and that I am surrounded by people who love me. I have a family, as pictured above, that pour out into my life and challenge me to be a more Godly individual. I have a mentor who wants nothing but good things for me and serves to challenge me not to settle. This is companionship. C.S. Lewis, the incredibly thoughtful theologian, made a case for brotherly love or Philia.

We have affection for one another outside of romantic interests perhaps expressed better as fondness or friendship. Lewis makes an interesting observation which I think helps to illustrate the path in which single people such as myself head. “Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest” (The Four Loves). Friends never talk about their friendship, it just sort of blossoms over time and grows stronger as they move through life. See, friendship or companionship in this sense is sharing in life without bounds. Like the people pictured above, we are friends walking side-by-side through life toward God. Which is where the focus ought to be, on God!

See, one of the things that can easily happen in romantic relationship, which I can at least attest to through observation, is getting absorbed in infatuation for one another to the point that neither is moving toward God, but rather entirely enraptured with the other person. Their world goes from being the pursuit of God to being whomever this person they’re infatuated with. This will come up again when we begin to examine the season of dating and what its purpose is. Yet companionship is highly necessary in our lives though, as Lewis noted, we can live without it. “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival. (The Four Loves).

I believe that my culture put far too much emphasis on romantic relationships that we look past the value of proper friendships. I know that I deeply appreciate everybody who crosses my path at my Bible study and that I greatly need their presence in my life. I believe that this is in part due to the calling that God has placed on my life to facilitate a place where all are welcome and freely given love. God has put a desire within me to just love on people. To those who need love, to those who have love, to those who do not want to be loved, those who are afraid of love. I have written about that here if you are interested in that. Thus that is part of my purpose in singleness. To love other and to devote my entirety to glorifying God! I am secure in God’s promise and blessing. I have no cause to strife and stress over who I am going to end up with. God has given me a community of people to love on, to encourage, to pursue him with, and to share in this life with! I have friendship which gives value to this life. I know that I have this God-sized need in my life and that no person or persons are going to be able to fill it apart from Christ. So I have no desire to waste my efforts in pursuing any woman that I come across, but rather trust that when the time is right that God will reveal her to me and that I will be able to give her my heart free from baggage and heartbreak.

I am so grateful for the community that I am apart of, because I can share God’s love with them. I can cultivate a place where all feel welcome and have a home. I do not know how to put it to words, but I love each and every person in the family of believers, pictured above, so deeply. They mean the world to me. They give value to this life as we move toward becoming more like Christ! There is no length that I would not go to meet a need that they may have, why? Because God has called us to share in this life together. To spur one another toward good works. To glorify him in everything. This is love: Not that we love, but that God loved us first. It is in God that we can love one another and it is only through God that we can ever experience true love without condition. Thus singleness is not a season without love, but a season where we must learn where love originates and cling to it with every bit of strength we can muster! This life is hardly about the pursuit of marriage or sex, but rather the pursuit of God! He is our source of life! Let us cling to him!

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

Spring Break: Let’s Celebrate

This week was Spring break and y’all know what means. Beach! Not really, no. Instead of partying up at the beach, I was driving a 15 passenger van full of students to serve their community. Heading into the week, I was nervous for many reasons. Namely due to the huge responsibility of driving students around town. Now, Texas is not full of excellent drivers and that makes life interesting. In fact, there are whole YouTube channels dedicated to showing off the bad drivers of the state. Throw me and a van with huge blind spots definitely had me nervous. Yet, as soon as we departed those fears were calmed. The week went off without an issue and God really showed how he’s moving in the next generations of students!

The beginning of the week, the students went out into the inner city to work in neighborhoods that have a bad reputation. Breaking out into groups, we mowed lawn, weeded lots, cleaned out trash, played with the young children of the neighborhood. I was amazed by how our students stepped up! I mostly did not have much to do other than love on the students and encourage them in their work. Why? Because they stepped up and took on the task! These junior high and high school students took time out of their break to give back to their community and to be the hands and feet of Jesus. The next day was even more awe!

We went to a local food bank to sort food and package meals! For four hours, our students managed to have fun together while serving the community. By the end of the shift, they had managed to process 5,346 pounds of food and make 4,455 meals! Wow y’all! God is really doing a work in the next generations! Afterward, the students took part in some evangelism training to prepare for the final day.

Finally, we broke out into groups and let the students share with people across the city, supervised of course. The students really stepped it up here, especially the younger ones who were not taken back by rejection! Watching the students engage people with the gospel was a blessing beyond imagine! And I am so grateful that I was able to serve along side them! Thus, we ought to celebrate the work the Lord is doing through the next generation of believers! They consistently exceed my expectations and challenge me to be stronger in my faith! I am beyond grateful for God placing me among them!

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

A Study of Job: Chapter 2: Integrity

Today we continue our study of the book of Job. Yesterday, we looked at chapter one and the nature of Character. Today, we continue looking at character but through the lens of Integrity. Below you will find Chapter 2 of the book of Job:

Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. And the Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

-Job 2 ESV

Once again, we see Satan coming to God in an attempt to show that there is no one on earth who is righteous. Having failed to get Job to curse God, to sin against God, by taking his property, children, and servants, Satan seeks permission to harm Job physically. God gives him permission, but that Satan must spare Job’s life. So Satan inflicts Job with sores from head to toe. To soothe the discomfort caused by these sores, Job takes a piece of pottery, likely clay, to scratch his skin. During all of this, Job’s wife turns on him and God saying “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” Hearing this, Job recognizes the foolishness of her words. “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”

In the midst of his affliction, Job identified the lies being cast from the lips of his wife and replies back with truth. Job knew and understood that all good things come from the Lord, and that the Lord does not give out evil. Here Job continues to hold fast to the truth, that he refuses to let the trials and temptation separate him from the truth found in God. Y’all, Job remained the same before the trial, through loss, and now through pain and suffering. Job was a man of integrity, something that is far too often lost on us today. We’re like the leaves that blow down the street, blown about in every which way, without structure or fortitude. When life gets difficult we run for whatever brings comfort.

However, to be people of character, we must have integrity. Integrity means that we are the same when times are good, when times are bad. When we’re comfortable, when we’re in need. When we have plenty, and when we have nothing. We are not phased by the circumstances of life. To be someone of integrity, we must have consistency. We conduct ourselves the same no matter who’s watching. If I act one way at church, a different way away from believers, a different way at home, and differently at work, then I’m deceiving others. If I have a different mask for whatever situation I’m in, then I lack integrity. Why? Because I’m not who I claim to be. I’m whatever suits my needs, wants. Being a follower of Christ requires that I hold to my convictions and that I am the same no matter the situation. We all know someone who is a person of integrity, they’re reputation proceeds before them, and they can be held up to the reputation that they have.

We, also, all know someone who’s lacking in integrity. They weasel their way through life, saying whatever it takes to get them out of the situation they find themselves. They’re like Job’s wife, spewing lies and encouraging others to turn from what they know is true. They take whatever form it necessary to get their will done. They lack consistency in character. The difference between one of integrity and one without is nearly polar opposites and the disparity between them can easily be seen and assessed. The person lacking integrity also lacks responsibility, and we see something encouraging in the friends of Job. Hearing of his time of suffering, they come to him and they share in his suffering.

Upon seeing Job, his friends shred their robes and sit with him for a week. They knew that his suffering was great, and, at this time, they did not know why or for what purpose. Still, they came along side Job and joined his suffering. Being a person of integrity means that we share in life with others. We welcome correction, we welcome responsibility for our actions. That means that we allow others to hold us accountable. At the time of this section of Job, his friends had no cause to correct Job, for they did not know the cause or reason for his suffering, but instead came to have sympathy and share in Job’s burden.


Why is integrity such a difficult thing for us to master? Why are we lacking in consistency? We are able to make a habit of getting coffee on the way to work every morning. We are able to make a habit of hitting the snooze button five times every morning. We are able to make a habit of going to church. Yet we are unable to make a habit of having a daily quiet time. We are unable to make a habit of encouraging others. We are unable to make a habit of sharing the Gospel with others. We lack consistency. I, myself, too, lack consistency. I am no immune from faltering and failing. I far too often are like the leaves that blow down the street on a windy day. Why? Because I’ve not set roots deep. I’ve not taken refuge from the winds and waves of life.

However, y’all, there is hope! God is consistent through everything. He is unchanging. He is forever the foundation on which my life is set! He is a strong tower that is unaffected by this life. Jesus, much in the same way as Job, had lies spoken to him and in turn replied with truth back to Satan. Jesus lived a life of consistency, of integrity. Christ is the example of what it means to be a person of character. To have a reputation of goodness. To have integrity. Christ set the example of what we are to strive for! And y’all, we can do it! We can fight to be like Jesus! In the times of good, in the times of bad, we can consistently cling to the truth lest we forget and fall into the lies. Y’all, let us worship God through it all. Through everything, let our hearts and our voices rejoice in the goodness that comes from God and God alone! Let us remember that no evil comes from God! Let us walk in integrity!

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

The Life of Obedience: A Wake Up Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

 

Finding Love: The Valentines Day Post

Today is Valentines Day, a day dedicated to love! Cupid is aflutter shooting his arrows into people. Love is in the air! At work today, random people would wish me a happy valentines day without knowing my circumstances or predicament on this particular day. For me, Valentines day is nothing special. It is just another day on the calendar and no more meaningful than any other given day. I’m not offended or put off by their wishing that I’d have a good day, but I found it perplexing none the less. I’d describe Valentines day as a celebration of the romantic love, which is a uniquely specific kind of love. While some celebrate in different ways, such as the popular Galentines day or in sharing the occasion with mothers and fathers, I do not find my stock in it. Yet, a celebration of love is a curious thing. Of the many forms or displays of love, I am keenly interested in the love between friends.

C.S. Lewis describes the different forms that love takes in his aptly named book The Four Loves. Exploring the different forms of love that we experience in life, the majority of the book focuses on the love between friends. The Philia: The Friend Love. You see, I did not really begin to follow Jesus until the end of my freshman year of high school. I had been saved as a child at a vacation bible school some many, many years earlier, but had not taken steps to pursue God until I was pulled back into the church in high school. For a good chunk of time I was not attending church. I was not involved and I was a troubled, angry person. The circumstances of life, being bullied and other things, had driven me to be a bitter, resentful individual. I despised people. I wanted nothing to do with them. I was mean and cruel and directed my anger toward those closest to me. Fortunately, I do not remember most of the time from that part of my life, but I remember the path that I walked which brought me to where I am today.

Even after bring drawn back into the church by my youth paster, a Godly man who poured into my life and was my mentor, I was on a process of undoing and unlearning the ways in which I viewed others. Learning to love others took some time and even moving through my sophomore year, I still had yet to master it. Sarcasm was my weapon, a means of hiding my distain. A mask, though shallow, to cause others to guess whether I was serious or if I was being funny. I wasn’t, usually. Y’all, I was a broken person hurting people. I cannot say that I am shameful of the past, but I recognize where I was, and where I am now.

Throughout this time, I was apart of a group of people that became a sort of family. We got along, mostly. We went of mission trips, summer camps, and grew deeper together. My high school youth group was a pivotal component in developing me as a person. However, when I graduated, I was dropped off from the youth. Why? Well, a new stage of life. For a time, I tried to reconcile the change by serving and volunteering, but I now lacked something that I needed. I tried a newly singles group at the same church where I attended youth. However, I didn’t fit with these thirty somethings and married couples. I was suddenly disengaged from an oasis that I had found during high school. The years passed and I had yet to find a place of connection. I moved to a new church home and began serving. A couple years passed from then, and a spark of something was on the horizon.

Our church was looking at creating a college bible study, and had brought on someone to create and lead this group. It was here where the seeds of community where planted. I’ve gushed about the blessing God bestowed upon me with this ministry many, many times before! Y’all best believe that I’m about to do so again! The class started off small, with ten or so people. Most where younger than myself and I once again had to learn how to interact and engage with the people. However, as we grew deeper as a ministry, so too did we mature and blossom into the men and women that we are today.

I met a few people, a couple in fact, who changed my life in many ways. After jump starting the ministry a new pastor was brought on to further grow the ministry. For a time, this person had been the student ministry intern/worship leader. He and his wife, during his time as the student ministry intern, had started a bible study out of their home. It was through this home group where I found a new family. As he and his wife transitioned into his new role as college pastor, they had developed myself and my friends into leaders. As the years went on, more and more people were added to the family.

I adore these people! They hold a very deep and meaningful place within my heart! They have shown me so much love and have challenged me to be a better man. Our relationship to one another is unique as we are, in the truest sense of the word, a family. They are examples of Philia. Their love is pure and genuine. Their love seeks out goodness in others, to speak to their insecurities and to encourage them. When I think about what it means to love people, I think about them. The example that was set by the couple which took it upon themselves to love us in such a meaningful way. We all came from different backgrounds, we have different convictions, and we walk different paths. Yet, we love the Lord and we pursue his will for our lives. We were brought together, not out of happenstance or chance, but through a purposeful design.

I do not find it a surprising that this person, who was the college pastor, is one of my closest friends and mentors. I do not find it surprising that his wife has molded myself and the other men of this family of friends to think beyond ourselves. They have led by example and have shaped the lives of so many people! While we see everyone constantly throughout the year, we gather every year for a gathering of thanksgiving, a Friendsgiving, to celebrate and express gratitude of God bringing us together. We share in life together. We are a family, as real as any other, and I love all of them dearly!


friendsgiving-4


So on a day like today, a day of love, a Valentines day, I can’t help but think about this group of people. They are the expression of Philia and Agape! You see, I found love in this group. They love Jesus and are the embodiment of the his love! I found a home and a family! I do not believe that as the years go by that we’ll not remain deeply rooted together. We may go to the ends of the earth, but we’ll always be a family! So happy Valentines Day to you, in whatever form that takes! Do not take the people closest to you for granted, for they might just be the best thing to ever happen to you.

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

The Unengaged Life: Finding Purpose

Last week, I wrote about a conversation I had with a friend of mine regarding the excitement she had in God answering her prayer for opportunity to share the gospel with her coworkers. In examining the nature of shame and confidence, I began to think about the nature of living fearlessly, as Paul described in Ephesians. In the same fashion that shame steals our confidence, so too does sin lead us to a place of isolation and of inaction. However, God did not design us to stagnant or isolated creatures. We were designed to be social creatures who lived a life in community with himself and with others. So, too, were we designed to be laborers of both the physical and the spiritual worlds. Why, then, is our generation so isolated and disengaged? What has driven us to a place of inaction?

To begin, let us look at God’s intentional design. Genesis presents the creation account of the universe and mankind. He created man with a purpose and a design which is laid out in Genesis 1:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground… God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground — everything that has the breath of life in it — I give you every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good…

-Genesis 1:26; 28-31 NIV

This passage reveals a few things about creation and about mankind. Firstly, God created a system by which life behaves. All the animals, plants fall under the dominion of Man. They are created for a particular reason, such as food, and as such have a purpose in existence. Secondly, Man has an authority over the creation God assigned. Subdue it, God commands Adam and Eve, and multiply in it. As God finished creating the world, he brought all the animals to Adam and told him to name them. During this time, God observed that Adam had no one to assist him. So, to bring about God’s purpose for man, created a helper for Adam out of his flesh. God created woman, for she taken out of man, and she was to be a helper to Adam. Genesis 2 gives the account of the first marriage, the unbreakable bond between man and woman. They were charged with what is known as the Dominion Mandate, in which mankind is charged with ruling over the earth, and to fill it with more of their kind. Thus, with the creation of Eve, Adam was no longer alone and they, Adam and Eve, existed in creation with God. They were in community with one another and with God.

So from the beginning, mankind was designed for community. To be in the presence with others, to care for, to help, to build up one another, and as Proverbs would later say, to sharpen one another. When we isolate ourselves, we starve ourselves of the much needed correspondence that only come from others who are invested in our lives. We are separated from correction, form assistance, and from being a partner in the purpose God gave us. God called us into a place where we are interacting with others, to share in the lives of others. As believers, we are not to isolate ourselves, but to go out into the world and be examples of God’s love. Just as God charged mankind with dominion over creation, Jesus, too, commanded us to:

…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

– Matthew 28:19-20 NIV

Jesus charged us with a purpose, that like Adam and Eve, to continue the work that was presented to us. To make disciples. If and when we isolate ourselves, when we remove ourselves from others from the myriad of reasons that we seek to remove ourselves from people, we’re disobeying God. We’re rejecting the God given community that we’re designed to be apart of. Additionally, when we remove ourselves from society, we’re effectively denying the calling Christ gave us. Thanks to the fall, which is documented in Genesis 3, sin makes us seek isolation. Makes us seek a place to hide. Much like Adam and Eve, who before eating of the fruit we not ashamed to be naked (they did not know that they were naked), were ashamed to learn that they were naked and fled to clothe themselves.

Sin lies to us. Sin deceives us from finding community. Sin wants us to give it a place to find safe harbor. When we’re in community, specifically among other believers, sin seeks to make us uncomfortable. Sin attempts to silence our voices for when sin is revealed, its power and sway over us is weakened. This is why we must be engaged with others. Being an idol believer, we’re rejecting God. We’re disobeying the commands given to us. We’re selfishly hoarding the truth that we know to be true, and/or are harboring deep rooted sin that we’re unwilling to give up. It causes us to hide ourselves away, to denounce the important need of others, to reject correction, and to leads us to apathy.

The other aspect of the unengaged life is laziness. Laziness stirs within us and decouples ourselves from responsibilities. We don’t want to do anything. We don’t want to see anyone. And we don’t want to bear the breadth of responsibilities that are placed upon us. We sit idly by as the world continues to turn. Here, in this place of apathy, growth is stunted. Here responsibility is soured. Here we suffocate ourselves.

We were not designed to be lazy. We were made to rest. Rest that comes at the end of work. A time to recharge and be renewed for the days to come. However, laziness does not bring about a return to work. Laziness spins itself into a cycle of putting things off, delusions of things taking care of their own needs. God did not create us like that. Yet in this current age, there is more and more things to occupy our time for inconsequential, trivial laziness. We binge episode after episode of entertainment day after day after day. Whole weekends disappear with nothing being completed. Laziness breeds a lacking motivation. It removes the need to stir ourselves up into action. God designed us to need rest, but he gave us a responsibility to work.

The unengaged Christian is spiritually lazy. They don’t seek out God, they don’t seek out the Word, and they don’t seek to speak truth into the lives of others. I know I’ve been this kind of Christian in my life. I can attest to the destructive path this lifestyle takes. Yet I know that God sends people into our lives to spur us out of such patterns and calls us to do the work he called for us.

You see, when we’re not sure what our purpose is, we begin to slow down and wait. We wait until we’re somewhat interested in something before taking action. The truth, however, is that we have already been given a purpose. We’re to live a life in an worthy manner. A manner that reflects the perfect life of Christ. We’re to be a beacon on a hill to everyone around us that God had done something for us that the world will never be able to fill. We’ve been charged with making disciples, to work and labor for God’s people. To bring share his love with everyone that crosses our path. How can we do that if we’re not engaged? If we’re not actively seeking it?

There is much to be done, and we ought to run the race diligently, purposefully. We must, as believers, be actively engaged in pursuing the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth. We must seek community that challenges us, spurs us out of sin, pushes us to be faithful servants, and builds a community that makes disciples. The engaged Christian life reflects the life of Christ and the disciples that wholeheartedly sought to spread the good news to the ends of the earth. Their zeal was challenged along the way, but no obstacles kept them from proclaiming truth to all that crossed their path.

I wonder how this generation would be different if every believer was boldly confident, as I wrote of last week, fearlessly proclaiming the gospel, and was actively in pursuit of God’s charge. How would the world look? How could our communities, colleges, and cities look if Christians stood up and fought for the expansion of the gospel like the disciples did? I believe the world would be a much better place, and that more people would find peace that can only be found in the arms of Christ!

Grace and peace, -Terren-It-Up