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!

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

Raging Storm & Sea

Life is full of unpredictable, unexpected circumstances. Things that we could not have foreseen in our wildest dreams. Our lives are marked by times of peace and still before being rapidly replaced by chaos. These storms are trials that we must face and opportunities to choose how we will respond. The sparks of anger, downturns in wellbeing, depression, drama, and so forth are examples of storms that we may face throughout our lives. In this life, there’s always a stormy day ahead.

How do we respond when trouble comes our way? When we are surrounded by a sudden storm on an otherwise peaceful sea? Frequently, we respond in panic and frantic angst. We worry and fret and make rash decisions. Why? Because our life has been shaken up. We lose sight of the horizon and scramble to make adrenaline fueled decisions that are less than ideal. This is in our nature to panic. When faced with conflict we experience our fight or flight which causes us to grind our feet into the ground and muscle through the storm or run away as quickly as our legs will take us. We as Christians, followers of Christ, can forget that God is here and present even when He is laying on the bow of the boat. The disciples experienced this.

On that day, when evening had come, he (Jesus) said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they (the disciples) woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” -Mark 4:35-41

By this point in Christ’s ministry, the disciples had throw aside their professions to follow Jesus. They had witness Christ do many miracles and rebuke the Pharisees for their improper execution of the law. However, they did not fully realize who Christ was. So when a storm rolled in and threatened their wellbeing they panicked. Christ, who was seemingly unaware in his sleep, acts completely counter to what would be seemingly appropriate. The disciples were worried about their lives, fearing their death at sea. This is clear when they question Christ on whether or not he cares that they are perishing! This may appear overly dramatic, and yet how many of us would respond to God in this way when we’re facing a raging sea in life?

Oh God, do you not care that I am perishing from loneliness? Do you not care that people gossip about me? Do you not care that I am depressed? Do you not care that I am growing in sin? Spoiler alert, God does. However, in the heat of the moment, when we’re experiencing pain, hurt, grief, and sadness we can forget that God is sitting before us and that he is in absolute control. Who is this that even the wind and seas obey? Who is this that knows our lives, knows our pain, and knows how much we long for something so much more? God! It’s God! The God who sent his son to live among his creation, to live without sin, and to die on a cross for the purpose of reconciling us back into relationship with him! Scripture is God’s written testimony of how he has wanted to reconcile our relationship. To restore the connection that we once had with him.

We were not designed to experience the pains of sin. We were not designed to know shame or guilt. We were designed to worship without the burden of sin! We were made for so much more! Far more that we could imagine! How amazing is it that God wants us to have share in a relationship with him? That when there was no possible way for us to do so he made one? I find it humbling! God loves us so much that we have no way of fully processing exactly what it means! Amazing!

Thus, when Christ died on the cross and rose again three days later, his blood was sufficient to cover our sins, to disperse the storms, and to bring us back into his flock. There is no circumstance that can overtake us. There is no person, no words, no storm that will overcome us. Why? Because the one who came to make a way, made a way. He has the power to calm the storm and still the sea. To calm the rage within us and to set us on a path of forgiveness and reconciliation to others. To teach us to love when we knew no love. To show us how to forgive when we knew not how. Christ came to abolish the old ways and to instill a new way. Do you believe that? Do you believe that Christ came for you? To love you? To show you what peace is?

Suffering is a form of worship and as followers of Christ we will suffer. We will experience storms and will have choose how we will respond. We must remember that even in the midst of raging seas and storms that God is with us and that we will not be overtaken. We will still face being hurt, feeling lonely, dealing with drama, and more, but none of that can undo what Christ has done already. While we walk this earth we can suffer well and be an example of the work Christ has done for us and in us. So no matter what you are facing at this time, Christ is bigger! Know that God remains in control even when it is difficult to see. Trust him and know that he is in control.

With grace and peace,

Terren-It-Up

Spring Break: Let’s Celebrate

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

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

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

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

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up