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

Fear Not: The Reason for Our Hope

We find ourselves in one of the most unconventional periods of recent history. Schools are closed, grocery store shelves are barren, travel has experienced severe whiplash, and the stock market is tanking. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has dominated headlines as the world has come to a dead standstill. I believe it would be accurate to say that people are concerned, if not outright panicked by this sweeping virus. For those who are not cynically posting COVID-19 related memes on social media, you may have legitimate concerns for how your life is about to unfold. I wish to remind you that this is not the first time in history that we’ve faced unprecedented circumstances. The 2008 housing market crash sent the United States into a recession. The terrorist attacks of September 11th stopped life in America. The Cold War pitted Capitalism and Communism against one another through espionage. The world changed forever when Hitler’s Nazi party brought the nations to the brink of despair. Each of these historic, landmark events presented unprecedented challenges to everyday people. Fears and panic were stoked as uncertainty loomed over the horizon.

I want you to know that concern is a warranted state of mind to have in this moment, but not panic. I want you to know that you ought to be informed about this virus so that you may make wise decisions, but not worried. I want you to know that there is hope for tomorrow, even when the headlines keep lighting up our notifications. If you are a follower of Christ, you have no cause for inflammatory, reactionary alarm. Yes, churches are closing their doors and telling their congregations to worship at home via the internet. Yes, your small groups are postponed for the time being. Yes, it’s not really all that great that you don’t get to see your friend group three times a week as you normally would. This is hardly what anyone wanted. Yet, in this unconventional season we find ourselves in, an opportunity is clearly before you and I to display who Christ is to a world looking for peace.

Do not be afraid, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God…

Isaiah 41:10

During this time, you have an opportunity unlike most others. To be a person of peace and stability to your neighbors who may be terrified of what is transpiring. The world, unknowingly, is looking for security where it may find it. For most, that security is in ludicrous amounts of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but even those won’t last forever. When God spoke through the prophets to Israel, their nation had faced ever increasing bondage from its surrounding nations. Under captivity of Assyria, God foretold Israel that something was about to happen. He was at work. Carrying out His sovereign will over His creation. In the moment, Israel did not understand or listen to the prophet’s as they foretold of what God was doing. For 400 years, God remained silent. No new revelation. Nothing but silence. During those 400 years, Israel would be a puppet state to the Greek Empire then later the Roman Empire. Jewish culture continued under their Greek and Roman captivity, but was also shaped and molded by the influence of their parent states. Yet, beyond the scope of Israel’s awareness, God was at work to bring His creation back under His fold.

Right now, God is still at work. The Holy Spirit is moving. COVID-19 has not caught God off guard. He is not surprised but the incredible speed in which it has disrupted our lives. Nor is God hindered by its presence on our Earth. This is not the first time either that the Church has faced pandemics or disasters, nor will it be the last. If you are a follower of Christ, I want you to know that you have a unique opportunity before you to remember who your God is and to tell other of who He is!

for God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7

As we face ever changing circumstances, we have to chose our response! We may respond in faith and trust that God is good and that He will continue to sustain His church. We may hope in the face of despair and dismay. We may hope in the face of danger. We may trust in the midst of persecution. Through it all, we may see how God is at work to bring more and more people to salvation. No greater evidence do we have of God working to bring hope to the hopeless than what He did 400 years after the prophets.

For 400 years, God was quiet. Seemingly separated from His chosen people, God was preparing something incredible. Just as COVID-19 has separated many of us from our closest peers and family, sin separated you and I from God. Our disobedience to God diametrically kept us from being in relationship from God. Take a moment to think about that. If you are like at me in this moment, I long to spend time with my friends once again. Texting, social media, and FaceTime don’t do justice to true gathering and fellowship with one another. The immense longing you have to be ’round your peers is just a measure of the longing God had to be in relationship with you. In order to bring you and I back into relationship with Him, sin had to be atoned for by a sacrifice of infinite magnitude. True love displayed through the grotesqueness of sacrifice. That sacrifice was Jesus Christ.

Jesus was fully God and fully man. 400 years after going silent, God announced to the world that He was working when the angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherd who were working in a field and announced, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people (Luke 2:10 ESV).” Before Christ spoke His first words, God was telling the world to not be afraid! God announced, after centuries of silence, that He is here. He is working. Christ lived a life without sin. He was tempted, as you and I to disobey God, but He did not sin. Jesus attested to the work God was doing and the purpose for His presence on Earth with us. As Jesus taught of God’s purpose, the people did not understand. Even Jesus’ own disciples did not understand His teachings, and He would have to come back and explain what He was teaching to them so that they may understand. Jesus’ testimony of the Father made the religious leaders angry, because Jesus revealed the brokenness of their ways. Therefore, the religious leaders bore false witness against Jesus and had Him arrested for blasphemy. When the high priest asked Jesus if He was the Christ, Jesus answered “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:62).” Tearing his robe, the high priest rejected Christ and failed to see God’s sovereign plan in action before them. Their own agenda was their own downfall. The religious leadership stood against God and brought condemnation upon themselves.

Jesus was then taken before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, to be judged. Pilate asked Jesus the same question as the religious leaders, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus responded simply, “You have said so.” Pilate made a decision to give the people of Jerusalem the choice, Jesus or a known murderer. Even Pilate suspected that the religious leaders had subjected Jesus to him out of envy, and yet Pilate sought to satisfy the Jewish people. The religious leaders stirred up the crowd to choose the murderer of Jesus and have Him crucified. Jesus was whipped, beaten, and nailed to a crude cross. Mocking Him, he had a crown of thrones shoved onto His head. I wish I could describe to you the brutality and utter grotesqueness of the cruxifixction. Israel had forsaken Jesus and chose to put Him on the cross to die. Yet, as He suffocated upon the cross, Jesus prayed to God, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).” In their condemnation of Jesus, Israel forsake the one who came to save them. Jesus died upon the cross as a sacrifice to bring Israel and the rest of creation back into reconciliation with God!

As Jesus died upon the cross, one of the centurion who watched over Him observed, “surely this man was the Son of God (Mark 15:39).” Just as the first tellings of Christ’s arrival on earth, so too is the first observation of who Christ is came at the moment God’s purposeful work was unfolding. Three days after Jesus died, He rose from the grave. Having been placed in a tomb, sealed with a heavy stone, and watched under guard of Roman soldiers, Christ had been resurrected. He folded the ceremonial cloth that had been wrapped over His body. The stone was rolled away, and the Son of God was alive. Those who came to mourn Jesus, noticed the stone had been rolled away and entered the tomb. The angel of the Lord met them as they entered the tomb and said, “don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here (Mark 16:6)…” Death could not hold Jesus. He who was without sin, defeated death. Jesus is the living sacrifice that made a way for you and I to be reunited with God!

Jesus brought hope to the hopeless. He loved those who did not deserve love. He revealed the purposeful work of God. During those 400 years of silence, God was not passive. He was actively working to prepare the way for Jesus to come and fulfill God’s sovereign will. God is in control and is working despite the brokenness of the world. Despite evil’s best efforts, God has won. Sin and death has been defeated by Christ’s sacrifice upon that ugly cross. My friends, if you have placed your faith in Christ, remember who God is during this season of fear and uncertainty. Remember that you are a vessel for the good news that we were told about! Do not be afraid of what may come, for God is reigning over all of creation. May we, the Church, take the testimony of Jesus’ life and sacrifice to the world that is desperately needing peace. At this moment, we have an opportunity to make God’s love, grace, and mercy known throughout our communities. How we respond COVID-19 is a direct reflection of our walks with Christ. May our faith be a spark that brings repentance to brokenness. May God spur us on to be even more bold messengers and witnesses of His majesty!

May we respond to times of crisis with steadfast faith. May our hope shine into the darkness. There is hope in tomorrow, for Jesus is our hope and stay!

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.’

Southeast Asia Travel Diary: Day One

16,000 kilometers. 9,941 miles. Ten and a half timezones. Three planes. Two buses. Over 40 people. Sometimes, numbers can be both incredibly revealing and quite dulling. Once a certain threshold has been reached, numbers become abstractions. Try to picture every star in the night sky or ever grain of sand on the beach. You may be able to fathom such immense detail for a time, but a point comes when generalities become far more practical for our minds to comprehend. We can easily comprehend what a stadium of 43,000 people looks like, but we cannot fully appreciate the unique detail given to each individual. In writing this summary of my recent vacation to Southeast Asia, I do not want the sheer amount of detail to be lost on you, because each number shared here is representative of someone like you or I. Each uniquely created, uniquely gifted, with a story to go along with them! Even I do not know the full story of each person I interacted with during my brief time on the other ends fo the globe. I wish to dispel the cynicism that can easily overtake us when we are told large numbers or what could be considered cliche. Frankly, nothing that occurred during my time in Southeast Asia could be considered cliche or simplistic. What follows is an account of the work God, the almighty creator of the universe, is doing in the other-most reaches of the world.

I am convinced that the closest thing to time travel that we have is air travel. Travel to the East, and your 24 hour day becomes 15. Travel to the West, and your 24 hour day becomes 36 hours long. You can see the sun rise in the morning in one airport, land at another at noon, leave on another flight, and land at your final destination just a mere 4 hours later. What kind of magic is this? Time. In order to arrive in Southeast Asia, henceforth shortened to SEA, I had to endure three different flights with various layovers over the course of three days. I’ve learned over the years the best way to overcome the rigorous demands of travel is to drink as much water as you can, as often as you can. The pressurized cabins of airplanes are notorious for causing dehydration and because your ability to move is greatly restricted, the desire to hydrate is diminished. I was determined to be attentive, alert, and fully present once we arrived at our destination. Upon meeting up with the rest of the team, I was energized. I was ready to go! There is work to be done!

However, before the work could begin, we had to take a long bus ride to the compound that we could call home for the week. While this should have taken roughly four hours by all logical reasoning, our trek turned into six hours because traffic works differently in this part of the world. As we would learn, we are on SEA time and that means we arrive when we arrive. All things considered, we were on an adventure! The bus we rode in was unlike any other I had been on. You could sleep in a bed that resided over the standard seats below. Think about the Night Bus in Harry Potter and you’ve got a good start.

We chugged along at whatever speed we were presently able to go, with intermittent stops, and even a portion of time where we were reversing against oncoming traffic! All the while, I talked with my friends, L., B., and H. about what they had been up to before I made my rendezvous with them. We laughed about the craziness of our rather eclectic bus, watched the incredible landscapes against the sun zoom by, and laughed at random stories and jokes and memes. I, being someone who is rather fond of quality time, really enjoyed being with my friends and sharing in the experience of our journey. We finally arrived at our compound in a bustling little city in the heart of the jungle and we settled in for the night by finding our bunk mates and preparing for dinner.

So technically, our first day in SEA was entirely dedicated to travel… but there is so much to tell! In fact, at the time of our arrival, there was a wedding being hosted in our compound which meant that the night was going to be full of partying and fireworks! B. had already told us about how she had crashed one wedding in her time in SEA and as we wrapped up dinner we decided to go outside to see what all the commotion was about. Our curiosity was short lived, however, and I headed off for bed.

The morning came quickly for me, as I was wide awake at three in morning (which became a common occurrence for those in our compound during our stay) and I tossed and turned until I finally decided it was late enough to justify being out and about. I got dressed and stepped out into the very warm morning. The sound of tennis balls being plopped back across the net filled the city’s symphony. A cacophony of car and motorcycle horns constantly punctuated the soundscape. I was at home! I went downstairs and awaited breakfast.

Breakfast and dinner were communal affairs, which I sorely miss, as the entire team sat down to share a meal together over pleasant conversation. Toast with butter and jelly were served to us with omelettes with a masala twist, and to top off such a fine meal, chai tea! I cannot explain or describe how this spiced tea differentiated from what we call chai in America, but I can only tell you that it is so much better than what we drink! One of our local leaders told me to savor it as much as I could because I would not be able to recreate it back home. They were correct, I couldn’t!

After breakfast, we moved on to orientation where we gave introductions to everyone who was with our group. Basically, we shared our name, what we do, etc. You know, the simple basic questions. However, when it got to my turn, I was given some additional questions that nobody else was given. Was I single. Yes. And if I was searching. Also yes. Apparently, our designated leaders like to also play matchmakers. Who needs Christian Mingle after all? Jokes aside, it was here in orientation that our teams were developed. Breaking into teams of three, which had been assigned prior to our departures, we began to get a sense of what roles we were going to take for this first day. Some would lead introductions, others would share stories, and others, still, would lead prayer.

Due to my circumstances, I was the odd man out. A man without a team. However, I sat back and awaited my instructions as I would be team hopping each day. Many factors played into my role during the week, but I was excited for any and every opportunity that God had in store of us. So while the teams found their rhythms, I went through my pack and doubled checked my gear. If you did not already know, I am a photographer and will take photos where I am with whatever I have. It just so happened that I had a ton of gear to use this time around and wanted to make sure it was in tip top shape for the day ahead.

Once everything began to wind down, we packed up and headed for the cars to leave the compound. As I walked through the entrance of the compound I was told to head out with my first of many teams. I joined B. S. and L. and our local leader and translator in our tiny vehicle and drove out of the city and into the jungle. I somehow managed to get my 25lbs bag into my lap and into the front seat. If I had known now what I didn’t then, I would have packed my gear differently. Fortunately, tomorrow is a new day! We drove for roughly 40 minutes away from the compound into the fields and forests which rural farmers worked. Each village we passed was more colorful and poor than the last, and the cows wandered the roads like stray dogs. If one did not know any better, they very well would have been asking themselves about how peculiar everything they were seeing was.

The more we drove, the more I was reminded of my time in the Middle East. The homes built in similar ways, traffic behaving in similar ways, the nature of small, dense villages brought back many memories. The biggest difference being in where there would have been sand, there were now trees and fields. We pulled aside on a dirt road, in front of a red temple for some god, and crossed the street to a homestead made of five units. Our local leader escorted us to the first home where we promptly removed our sandals and greeted an older gentleman and his son. With a small bow, the pressing of our hands together as though we were praying (called “giving honor” mudra), and a warm “namaskar” or “I bow to you with respect.” I was given the only plastic chair to sit in just inside the doorframe, and others were quickly gathered from adjacent homes when word spread of our arrival. Our team each had a seat and L. began making introductions by thanking the family for receiving us in their home and telling them that we had come from a far away place just to meet them!

As we made small talk through our translator, more villagers gathered just outside the doorstep. Women sat tightly together in whatever available space was present, and men sat on the stoop as B. shared a story with them from the Bible. I do not recall which story specifically B. shared with them, but he was very animated and full of passion as he recounted scripture. My head, naturally on a swivel, panned around as I took in every detail of the people who sat with us, those passing by, the details of the way in which the people lived. I was never taken aback or hit with extreme culture shock, nor had I held any preconceived notions or expectations coming into SEA. We, then, shared stories and extended an invitation for those who had been listening to respond to the glory and power of Jesus Christ. They accepted!

Having shared a story, a testimony, and greeting, we moved on to the next home as some of the villagers followed closely behind. We kicked off our sandals and greeted the people living there as our translator pointed out the many idols that were littered across the entry way, showed us the shrine that they had made to worship their idols. Thus, as we settled into out seats, I felt a tug on my soul. A single name was pressed upon my lips, and as my teammates and I looked at one another pondering what story we should share, I just said “Elisha.” One man, a prophet of the one true God, against 400 prophets of the false god Baal. Such an incredible scale and opposition would speak directly to the true, mighty power of the almighty God! So, as L. made introductions, I turned into scripture and skimmed through the passage to gather the more important bits that would resonate with what we had been presented with.

When my time came, I stood up and introduced the story that told of God’s power and majesty. There came a time when the people of God had turned away from Him, and they followed many false gods. One day the people approached Elisha, a man who remained faithful to the one true God. They questioned who followed the true god. Them or Elisha. So Elisha posed a challenge to the 400 prophets of the false gods, let us build an altar to our respective gods and let us ask them to answer with fire. For days, the 400 prophets of Baal cried out to their god. Cutting themselves, performing sacrifices, and anything else they could think of to spur their god to act. Elisha, watching this unfold over many days mocked the people, cried out to the prophets to yell louder for their god is surely asleep and can’t hear them or perhaps he is relieving himself. Finally, after the prophets of Baal had exhausted themselves, Elisha called for a trench to be dug around his altar and to have jar after jar of water poured out over the altar until the trench was full. Elisha prayed to God and asked Him to respond with His holy fire, and fire fell from the heavens consuming the drenched altar, the trench full of water, and the people were awestruck. Who is this God they asked. Elisha beckoned to those who believed in the true God to turn from their wicked ways.Having completed the story, I began to unpack the passage. To preach and explain the significance of what happened and who God is to us, why He sent us to America to these people, and why He wants them to turn from their sinful ways. We offered an invitation and even more came to be saved! Praise the Lord! Serious, God is so good! My words here do no do justice to the work God is doing in the nations. I wish to give you some insight to what I did, what I saw, and what I saw the Holy Spirit doing! God is doing so much more and there is far more to share than I can reasonably fit into this post. So much happened during our short time in SEA and I am eagerly looking forward to going back! So, for now, I will leave you here with some of what happened on my first day and will return soon with another look into our time in SEA!

Grace and peace to you,

Terren

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.

The Burning, Consuming Fire

In the four years that I have been consistently writing to this website, through it’s various iterations, I feel as though I’ve written exclusively on being frustrated. My life, looking back, has been chocked full of frustration. I was frustrated because I couldn’t understand why I was being picked on in middle school. Frustrated because I was angry all the time. Frustrated because nobody seemed to understand me. Frustrated because I never felt like I fit in anywhere. Frustrated because I couldn’t afford to get into college. Frustrated because nothing ever seems to work in my favor. Even now, as I sit hear banging my head upon my desk, I am frustrated because of some disconnect between my thoughts and my ability to construct them into structured sentences. I’m frustrated with life and with God.

As I’ve gone about writing, I’ve strived to be transparent about myself as to not present myself falsely or to give airs/impressions that I have everything together. I don’t. I’m falling apart, broken to pieces, suffering. I would be wrong to think that only I am alone in suffering in this way. For those of you who know me personally likely do not associate me with adjectives like broken, weak, frail, angst, etc. In fact, some of you have described me quite differently. I lament that none of you are capable understanding me more fully by having first hand insight into my emotions, thoughts, and experiences. None of us are ever truly capable of knowing somebody fully. We may know somebody intimately, know their tendencies, their idiosyncrasies, and their demeanor, but we cannot be present in their consciousness. Nevertheless, I strive to portray myself accurately and as unbiasedly as I may.

I’ve not had the typical ‘college experience’ as some would describe it. I spent two years working at a dead end job on minimum wage after high school before starting school somewhere that I was not too thrilled about studying something that I honestly had little interest in learning more about. Years have since passed since I started school, and I’m still not done yet (but I’m very close to the finish line) which is not what I wanted to still be doing this close to being thirty. I didn’t think that I would be living with my parents at my age. I did not think that I’d still be single after all this time. I did not think that I’d be working in the jobs that I did. Through most of twenties, I’ve definitely been very discontent with everything God chose to give me. The majority of my frustrations in this stage of life came from my refusal to budge from my plans. Even though I was a stubborn child, God worked in my life and changed my perspective. As I looked inward trying to get a better understanding of why I am the way that I am, I realized that I tend to be an idealistic individual. For what it’s worth, I score as an INFP on the Myers Briggs Personality Test and as a 2w1 on the enneagram personality test. I don’t put a lot of stock in these personality tests, but they offer some insight into my logical and emotional tendencies.

However it may appear, I am grateful for the path God has set me down! In fact, I do not wish that life had gone about any other way. Ultimately, I fell in love with theology and Biblical studies and God had already been drawing in that direction. God called me into ministry and has provided ample opportunities to love on and pour into the college, high school, and junior high students. God broke me down, allowed me to experience my own shortcomings, and build me back up with a great appreciation and understanding of the work He is doing in my life! Which is why it is, ironically, funny that I am equally frustrated with God while expectantly rejoicing what God is preparing. This peculiar dynamic makes for quite the internal storm that rages within the depths of my soul. I am wholly at peace while also being wholly in turmoil (if that even makes the slightest bit of logical sense) through this season.

For some time now, I have had an ever increasing desire to be in a relationship, to move toward marriage, and to, eventually, have a family of my own! This is a very natural desire to have as God commanded His creation to be fruitful and to multiply (Genesis 1:28), and the majority of believers will see this desire come to fruition. Marriage is a very intentional and specific gift given to humanity by God as a reflection of His relationship between Himself and His creation. Christian’s hold the covenant of marriage, rightfully, in high regard. But for the young twenty year old believer, marriage can appear as a destination and that singleness is an obstacle to be overcome. This could not be further from the truth. We have been afforded great opportunities to be used by God for greater things than ourselves! Singleness offers a great deal of more freedom to serve God without extra considerations, and yet, for myself and others in similar places in life, marriage is a consideration we’re looking toward.

Among my peers, I am toward the oldest side of the spectrum and I’ve watched from the proverbial sidelines as my friends have come together and moved through the stages of dating, engagement, and into marriage. I’ll go ahead and admit that it can be quite discouraging to see your friends partnering up and getting married while you’re not quite there yet. You’re super excited for them and you want to celebrate their relationship, but part of you also yearns for something similar as well. This is only compounded exponentially the more of your friends move through this process at the same time. I’m no mathematician and cannot quantify the mathematical statistics to back up this claim, but you get the idea.

For myself, I have grown more frustrated with God because I do not see where to move forward. I’ve taken notice of qualities and character traits that I find desirable, and I’ve investigated who people are. Yet, something holds me back from even considering pursing anything further. There is definitely a chasm, a schism, a disconnect between the heart and the mind which further complicates matters. Scripture speaks very clearly that the heart is deceitful and that it wanders toward whatever will immediate satisfy the itch. Christians are warned to guard their hearts for good reason, both from external and internal sources. I’ve written before about being quite ‘head-y’ meaning that I get caught up within my own mental prowess. I am an over-thinker and internal feeler. I’m not entirely sure what I am to do with emotions and states of being like infatuation and attraction. I’m a babbling idiot for all intents and purposes. Through all of this, I am frustrated with God because I don’t get it. He placed this desire on my heart, He is the cause, the source… and yet I do not see where He has provided or even if He is going to provide.

Am I inadequate? Am I undeserving? Am I interested in the wrong women? Am I not patient? Am I unworthy? I’d be lying if I said that I did not suffer in the waves of self-doubt that crash over me. I honestly do not understand, and I straight up tell God that. I don’t understand what you’re doing! As I’ve walked through this area of life, seeking counsel from my closest friends and family, I’ve heard a great variety of things. I’ve also had to navigate around and through their expectations for me and also embrace the reality that my expectations, too, may need calibrating. I’m not discouraged however! I am hopeful! God is preparing something, just as He has in every other facet of my life. I’ve been encouraged by my peers in knowing that I am going about the process properly! So what do I have to fear?

Lauren Chandler wrote an article for Desiring God that I read this morning that resonated me to my core, which is exerted below:

“…it doesn’t feel like your faith is being tested. You still believe God is able to do anything; he’s just choosing not to do the things you want him to do for you. It feels like punishment. It feels unfair and confusing. You didn’t ask for these desires, but here they are. There’s nothing wrong or sinful about them. So what are you to do with them? In your mind, you assume there are two choices: either he gives you what you want the way you want it, or he takes the desires away.

Beloved, there is so much more.

Here’s what he’s doing. He is burning away the fluff. He is pulling out every false prop on which you’ve built your trust. He is frustrating your plans so that you turn your eyes from those around you and the lack you find inside you to see and love him for who he is and not merely what he can do for you. There is no more vital work than that. He loves you too much to give you what you want too soon.”

If that isn’t me at this very moment… Even in the midst of that is going on in life, I know that God is preparing me for so much more. There are two instances involving fire in Scripture that I have been drawn to recently, one being in the Old Testament and one in the New. God has a penchant for creating incredibly vibrant and awe-inspiring displays of majesty. We have much that we can learn from God.

When God first appeared to Moses, He did so in a burning bush. What is awesome about this moment is that the bush was, while it was engulf in flames, that is was not consumed! Fire consumes. When all the usable fuel is expended, only ash remains. That is not the case for God. God provides infinitely! God does not require anything to produce something. He gives freely and abundantly and works all things together according to His will! We may find encouragement in God’s provision. As I’ve written about before, God has blessed myself and my family on more occasions than I could ever begin to list. God has provided divinely to meet needs that I could hardly have anticipated!

Secondly, Jesus as the true vine. John 15 reads as follows:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

For the follower of Christ, we are constantly being pruned, molded, and drawn toward God. There are areas in our lives, branches that are not bearing fruit, that need to be removed. Misconceptions, doubts, fears, and sins that have need of corrected. This process is not ideal or pleasant. Sin feels good, let’s be honest. We enjoy sinning, which is why we turn to it every change we get. Christ calls his disciples, meaning His Church, to abide in Him. We must be willing to let go of those things which are not necessary, the fluff, the false props, our inferior plans for ourselves, and to adopt a posture that is more inline with God’s will. Christ’s words here in John 15 offer reassurance for those, like me, who teeter between the extreme of peace and frustration.

This is what I know: God is working in my life. Preparing me for something bigger than myself, than my plans, than my expectations. Furthermore, as I’ve come to better understand, God is the originator of the true desires of my life, and as I linger closer and closer to God, His desires become my desires. I have faith that God will keep His promise to me just as He did for all those throughout the Old Testament and through His son. Whatever it may be, He will provide abundantly and appropriately. God loves me far too greatly to allow me to rush into something, to enable me to engage in foolishness. I am hopeful and eager to see what God is presently preparing to do in my life, and I know that He understands my frustration. He understands me far greater and fully than any other person on this Earth ever could! God is not withholding a relationship from me to stymie me or to deject me, but to prepare me. I must trust in Him, to ask for an ever increasing faithfulness, and to be willing to be corrected. Pruned.

-Terren