Unending Faithfulness: God Provides

Today, I took my final steps down the staircase leading into Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For four years, I’ve made weekly trips to the campus to learn under incredible men who serve as both educators and pastors. I’ve spent countless hours engaged with learning about God, history, and practical ministry in a place that is unlike any other classroom environment. I have gained immeasurable insight and wisdom when it comes to the ministerial vocation and have gain a greater appreciation for the wholeness of Scripture. God has brought me through many difficult seasons and has given me a place full of friends who have helped to shape me into who I am today. God has also provided. About a month ago, it was revealed to me that there were going to be some changes occurring with the school. Despite being over two-thirds of the way through my Bachelors of Science in Biblical Studies, the path the school is headed in would require me to take another four more years to complete my 125 hour degree plan. While taking eight years to complete my undergraduate degree is not nearly a terrible thing; it is quite illogical and not responsible. So last month, I inquired with Liberty University about transferring to their School of Divinity to complete my degree with their Biblical and Theological Studies. Throughout all of my time in college, God has been faith and has provided in amazing ways for myself and my family, and now as I pursue a new course God has already begun to show His unwavering faithfulness and provision!

When I graduated high school many, many years ago… like more than five but less than fifteen… I had no means of going to college. I had applied to ever major university across Texas. Sam Houston State, University of Houston, Texas State, Texas A&M, etc. When it came time at the end of my senior year to make a decision, I was left with no means of moving forward. At that time I had no idea how I was going to make things work. The obvious choice would be to go to community college, but even at 40 hour work weeks at minimum wage this was not very feasible. Two years passed before God would answer the need for further educated. My mom lost her job! Yeah, through my mother losing her job I was able to go back to school. How? She got hired by the school which enabled myself and my siblings, who had all graduated by this point, to go to school. God really meets us in unexpected ways and is faithful to give us exactly what we need when it is most appropriate. At the time I started school, I had no desire to study theology. I viewed it as more of a history degree rather than a religious study. I also had no choice in what I studied as I had limited options. Yet, a degree is better than no degree, so I began to slowly get back into the process of education. I was in for far, far more than I anticipated!

For the first couple semesters, I worked full-time and took classes part-time. From the get go, my professors were incredible! I quickly made connections with a handful of them outside of the classroom and learned that professors are people too who sometimes keep up with pop culture. I also discovered the treasure trove, an immense wealth of wisdom these professors had and were willing to impart upon myself and my classmates. I have some very fond memories from spending hours in the woods practicing orienteering with one professor in east Texas. I also recall accidentally hiking into posted territory my first semester during the middle of deer season. Oops! I recall all the laughter and stories shared with my peers. I remember watching my peers move through various seasons of life. From new jobs, to discovering marriage, and every thing in between. Things were mostly well as I worked through my season as well. I moved from one job to a new one. I got promoted at the new job, and I took on more course work. I got plugged even further to my ministry and watched my college ministry begin to blossom. God has definitely blessed me in this time.

About a year ago, the first signs of changes appeared. The scholarship I had was taken away. The school’s financial troubles meant that they were, supposedly, trimming the budget which meant I was left having to once again figure out how to pay for my education. Baffling how something that was freely given can be taken away with little recourse, and yet that’s what happened. Again, where there was a need God swooped in to provide. I was gifted another scholarship that allowed me to continue up until today where I had my final class at SWBTS. The last year gave more evidence that changes were coming and that I needed to adapt. One of the biggest changes being that the dean of my campus was resigning and the school was relocating. Not a big deal, except for my personal connection to both the school and the growing concern on the way in which the school was being operated and overseen. I’ll not lie that bitterness was growing within me toward the ones in charge of the school and their neglect of the campus I attended. Bitterness and discontentment can greatly hinder our ability to appreciate God’s providence and sovereignty. So as I began to inquire into other avenues, God began putting the pieces together.

A month ago, I had no clue how God would lead and I still do not know where He is taking me. I decided to but my entire trust onto Him and be faithful to follow where He leads. So I began throwing pieces out into the ether and let God put them in order. My first step was in seeking information from Liberty University. The next step came when I applied and sent in my transcript. While Liberty may take up to 90 credits for transfer students; they are not guaranteed to accepted them all. I had 89 credits and was currently taking a three credit hour class on contemporary evangelism. To my surprise, Liberty accepted all of my 89 credits which placed me as a senior in their system and placed me at having 57% of their degree plan completed! Ok God, I see what you’re doing! The whole process was very brisk and even as I sit here writing this post it has not entirely sunk in yet. I have no doubt that it was the work of the Lord and when the next hurdle came I would be surprised yet again! Despite being considerably older than the last time I went through the financial aid process, I was almost certain that I would be yet again left with loans as my sole ‘aid’ (if you can even call it that… debt is dumb, cash is king!). I received my financial aid offer via email and nearly scoffed knowing that it would be only loans. Yes, the majority were in fact loans, but I had also received some of the Pell Grant! What?!? God, this isn’t suppose to be going so smoothly!

I am still amazed to have gotten to the point that I have and I plan of beginning classes at Liberty in the fall semester. The rest of the path is not clear yet. Here’s the thing y’all, where there is a genuine need God will provide! God has and will always be the great provisioner of our needs! Do you truth Him to provide for your life? Do you honestly believe that God is big enough, powerful enough, trustworthy enough to provide whatever you are in need of? Y’all, far too often we doubt what God can do in our lives. And as one of the seniors in the student ministry I serve in said to me, “I have to learn to doubt my doubt!” The doubts that God cannot provide, that He will not provide. The doubts that God cannot use me to achieve some purpose, the doubts of God being able to take away what we are afraid to let go of. The doubts that God does not love us. We got to doubt our doubts y’all! I have doubted what God can do and what He has done for myself and my family. Ironically, every place where I have doubted God’s provision He’s delivered! Trusting God is not as easy as it is said. Trusting God is something of a challenge for us in our American culture. Do y’all trust God? Do y’all believe in what He has and will do for you?  I have no excuse to doubt God any more.

At every turn of my life, in every change, every upset, every reversal, every plot twist, God has been present and has been faithful to show me a way through. God is endlessly faithful to us! Can’t our faith look like that? Can we remain endlessly faithful and devoted to God? Can we trust in His plans for our lives and believe that whatever He has in store is far, far better than what we could imagine? When God closes doors and opens new opportunities we must trust in Him and be faithful to go. We must be faithful to move when God commands it! Y’all, we must also give thanks when God provides! Praise God, for He is the one who sustains all of creation and gives in abundance! What we lack, God gives freely! Time and time again I am reminded that we are not what we should be, what we were created to be! What I lack, I can ask for and God will provide! I am reminded of the prophet Isaiah responding to God’s call. Here I am, Isaiah said, send me (Isaiah 6:8, Author paraphrase). I am reminded of the disciples panicked by a sudden storm while Jesus slept undisturbed. Christ calmed that storm and asking why they were of so little faith (Mark 4:35-41, Author paraphrase). I am reminded of the promises God made to Abraham, to Moses, to David. The covenants that God would use them and sustain them. I am reminded of the New Covenant and the promise of Christ’s coming and the atoning sacrifice on the cross for my sins!

If God has done all these thing and then some while maintaining His creation, can He not sustain you and I? Will He not take care of our genuine needs? Let us have faith in God’s promises, Y’all! Let us celebrate God’s provision! Thankfully, God has provided a means for me to continue school. To continue in ministry. To respond in boundless faith to move when He commands it! I will praise Him because with God, I am nothing! I will praise Him for He provides!  I will praise Him because His blessings are beyond comprehension! God is so, so good, Y’all! My words will never be able to encapsulate just how great and mighty and awesome our God is! He is infinitely faithful to the promises He has made and He is committed to fulfilling them! I do not know what season you are in, or where God is working in your life. But I wish to encourage you to trust Him with your life! I wish to encourage you to doubt your doubts about God! He will sustain you, all you need to do is surrender to Him. So as you go about your week, think about what you’ve asked from God and write it down. If and when God responds and provides for whatever need you have, come back to what you have written down and give thanks for it!

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

Saying Yes: Being Faithful in the Small Decisions

Making decisions can be a relatively difficult task. Especially in light of bigger obstacles that seem to loom on the horizon. I have recently been made aware of things coming down the road that will have a significant impact on my life. The type of things that require decisions to be made and tough choices to be weighed. I can pivot and take a new path. I can do nothing and continue as I am. I could change everything entirely and try something new. Even now, as I sit here, these thoughts are on the back of my mind as they sit heavily in the realm of uncertainty. The unknown is scary and frustrating. The uncertain aspects of life challenge our sense of security and cause us to go into a place where we either flee or dig in. Ready to outrun or fight off whatever change seeks to come. What are we do to? How are we suppose to come to a conclusion? How are we to know what step to take next? These questions can and do go on indefinitely. For myself, a deep inward thinker and feeler, these types of situations cause lots of overthinking. 

The extent of my overthinking comes from the exploration of every possible path. There is some wisdom at looking where my actions may go and what impact they may have on myself and others. Seeing beyond the immediate also assists with seeing where potential trouble lies ahead. However, I can get hung up on exploring these paths entirely in my head till I reach a place of inaction. I’m stuck unable to come to a conclusion because all the pieces of the puzzle are not yet in place, or the time is not opportune. Like, should I take this job, should I ask that girl out, should I seek other areas of ministry, should I change schools, majors? Some of these questions are mundane in nature, but carry bigger implications. For instance, it’s easy to spend money on a video game when you’re not having to worry about gas, insurance, food, etc. Yet it is much harder when you’re justifying spending extra money when you’re thinking about dating, insurance, school fees, etc. Overthinking, at least in my case, is not anxiety or nervousness. My overthinking is an attempt to find the most ideal course of action. This in turn is also how I curate the way in which I may be perceived. I’m very careful of the images I like on Instagram, or the way I present myself on Facebook, or how I conduct myself at work. My character and reputation mean a great deal to me, and I take great care to maintain it. Like Paul, I seek to live above reproach and that requires examining how others my perceive me. So what am I to do?

My problem lies in my poor prayer life. Like many things in life, I have seasons where prayer is easy and times when its difficult. Part of my issue is my own stubbornness. Having the mindset, as a man, that I can take on any issue or situation by my own strength and determination is faulty. Why? Cause I’m poorly equipped to wage war on sin. I am loosely fastened for the loops and twists of life. My attention is pulled in too many directions, and my heart is not set in God. If I were judging my own life, I’d call myself a failure. I’m hopelessly, grossly failing at everything. Fortunately, I am not the judge of my life and I know that without God I cannot do anything. I recognize my deficiencies, I see my shortcomings. While I do not always address them immediate, as I rightfully should, I feel the necessity to do so. Inaction leads to nothing, and inaction with sin leads to more death. Additionally, not including God in my plans is like getting into a car without a steering wheel while going around a sharp turn at high speeds. It’s foolishness! I’m guilty of doing just that, trying to go through life without God leading my every decision. This is not to say that I do no make choices with God and righteousness at the forefront of my decision making, but rather that I neglect to make a concerted effort to seek God out.

Currently, my curiosity has been peeked by somebody and as I sit here weighing possibilities, which none of which have transpired yet, I feel foolish. Why? Because I hardly know where to begin. I’m weighing possibilities of changes in my college education, but as I wait for forms to be processed and financial aid potential to be offered, I laugh at myself. Why? Because nothing is happening today and I have no need to fill my mind with the potential possibilities of outcomes. I need to be praying to God, that if it is in His will that doors will be opened, that opportunities will be made available. That I may be faithful to follow when He leads. Some decisions are so mundane that God’s presence is not inherently needed, and yet I am whole needing of God’s blessing and permission to move forward in life. God is the one who guides my steps and calls me to a place of righteousness! To trust that His plans for my life are far, far better than the ones I’ve imagined for myself! And today, as I’ve mulled over a research paper that I was presenting today, I found solace in the fact that I need to surrender every part of my life back to God. See, when I was saved as a child, I did not wholly understand the implications of what that meant. When I actually stepped into my faith after living like a sinner for a good chunk my formative years (5th-9th grade) and began the process of sanctification I had not fully surrendered my life. I gave up most of it, but I continue to cling on to parts of my life that I want control over. Holding onto sin that I loved far too much than I trusted God to address. That was then, and this is now.

I’m reclaiming my life, reclaiming God as my refuge! Y’all, I need to tender my garden and at this point in my life I’m willing to hand my life off to Christ to weed and trim back the parts that are dead and not necessary. I’m willing to let God dictate how I am to live. Over the weekend, I was once again listening to a sermon from Breakaway at Texas A&M on the nature of purpose over position. In such Timothy Ateek (T.A.) explored the life of Nehemiah who saw a need and took it upon himself to rebuild Jerusalem after the years of captivity the two kingdoms endured. For Nehemiah, who was faithful to his king and to God, the need was clear. He would take it upon himself to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Due to his faithfulness to serve his king and his faithfulness to God in his actions, Nehemiah was given the approval of the king to go. Y’all, Nehemiah was faithful in every decision he made. No matter how big or small. It’s an important lesson for me to learn. Why? Because I know God’s calling on my life is to lead and teach high school and college students. To facilitate a place where all are welcome and that all make an effort to reach out to one another. Currently, I serve as a ninth grade small group leader, I serve as a media volunteer for my college ministry. I actively seek to get to know every new person that walk in our doors for college. I seek to make every effort to make everyone feel wanted and welcome to our home. While I do wish that I could work in the ministry as a staff member at my church, I recognize that I do not need a position to do so. I can lead where I am at. I also recognize that God is trying to teach me many things about ministry through my place as it stands, to prepare me for the future. Whether it be in marriage, in ministry, on the mission field, with money, with faithfulness! Y’all, God is trying to teach you something where you are placed and all He asks is for you to be faithful! To trust His timing, His perfect plan for you. I’ll admit that I fail to realize this all the time. I fail all the time. You see, no matter how deeply I think about things, how many possibilities I consider, and how many different outcomes I see, God’s plan is sufficient for my life. I accept that. I accept that God’s plan is more than sufficient and is far better in my favor than my own plans. So let me approach Him with all my needs, all my concerns, with all my hope! Let me ask of Him that if it is in His will, that it will be so! If it is appropriate by Him, that I will pursue whatever opportunity He places before me! To love every person whom He places in my life! To be faithful to every choice I make!

So instead of trying to make every logical leap and conclusion, instead of reasoning my life and choice out, I’ll hand it to God and let Him reveal what will be best for me. To place the entirety of my trust, hope, and faith on God! No matter how big or small the choice, I will rely upon my God! My hope, my strength, my refuge! So I ask y’all, where is God calling you to change? What is God attempting to take from your burden? Are you allowing Him to do so? Are you still clinging to some parts of your life and are afraid to hand it over to God? Let me encourage you, that even in my mere twenty-some-odd years on this earth, I still struggle to give things up to God. But let me also encourage you that dying to yourself everyday and trusting God will free you from the burden of overthinking. That God wants you to be faithful in all things! Trust God!

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