Trials and Tribulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terren

True Love

Last October, I wrote an article upon the nature of grief after unexpectedly losing a beloved friend two months prior. Everything in my life was shaken and trembled as a result of many difficult challenges, trials, and circumstances that afflicted me throughout last year. I continue to find difficulty in labelling 2019 as a terrible, dreadful year, because there were so many incredible things that took place throughout the year, but those wonderful things are marred by the realities of the tragedies, struggles, and tribulations that were ever present. My life came to a halt in August, and the subsequent months continued to see my life tossed about by the storm of grief and despair. Life as I knew it continued on, but I was still nursing a wound that cleaved my heart in two. I hobbled forward with a limp through life toward new challenges that would bring new tribulations and deeper hurting. My life has never been the same, but, as I sit writing, something is different. Different about my life, different about my perspective, different about myself.

When I got up this morning, my heart was heavy (and remains heavy even now). A deep groaning that cannot be put to words bellowed from the depths of me. A yearning to go back to when things were different. A longing to draw near to that beloved friend. Grief had come to visit me today. I am not surprised by the timing as the days creep closer to that one year mark. This most unwelcome, unrelenting guest has become an occasional traveling partner. A year ago, I cried out to God from the depths of pain and suffering. Uttering my grievances, shaking my fist at God, and making my anger known to Him from the depths of my affliction. A pain that is incomprehensible. The brokenness and frailty of my human nature on full display as I wanted to hurt God as He had hurt me…

The ugliness of death permeates beyond the physical world. Death – grief – sin, tear at the very fabric of God’s design. We were not designed to die. We were not created with the capacity to understand grief. Sin’s corruption opened the door for our suffering, affliction, and our despair. The way our bodies and mind react to death are completely unnatural. When we are being subjected to the waves of emotions brought upon us by grief, we have difficulty explaining them to others who ask of us, “how are you doing” or “are you okay?” The words are never sufficient to describe the breadth and weight of grief. Even with the most refinement, I could not ever truly describe the excuriating pain that I was experiencing. Grief is one of those things you never fully understand until it comes to visit you…

The physical pain of grief has largely subsided, though this morning I could not hold back the tears that burned as they flowed as fire from my eyes.. I have found that it’s the quietest, stillest moments of my life that my mind settles upon my beloved friend. A longing for this person who is missing from my life. A fleeting desire, from the depths of my soul, for things to have been different. The thoughts come unexpectedly, without warning, and it has become bittersweet. I have a more difficult time with ‘happily ever after’ at the end of movies, books, and music now than I did a year ago. The realities of the Christian life tells us that ‘happily ever after’ is not found exclusively here on Earth, but in the presence with our Creator. My heart twists, somewhat selfishly, because I would much rather have my beloved friend here with me today… Yet, my heart and soul rejoice because I know that they are in the presence of God! My friend is made whole again, set free from the suffering of sin’s corruption! Those memories and thoughts bring about wonderful, joyous sentimentality of this wonderful person, and they bring a tinge of sorrow for their absence from this earth.

“Grief is like a bomber circling round and dropping its bombs each time the circle brings it overhead; physical pain is like the steady barrage on a trench in World War One, hours of it with no let-up for a moment. Thought is never static; pain often is.”

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Although we were not designed to experience grief, I am a better man as a result. I am a better man because God deemed it necessary to bring my beloved friend into my life. I am better because God began to draw our hearts together. I am a better person because God has walked by my side every step of this long, agonizing path. Something within me is different, vastly different, and I can feel it. I am not the man I was, nor am I fully who God has intended me to be — yet. I recognize that that was a strange sentence to read, but by virtue, the fact that I am writing this now is evidence that God still has plans for me and my life. The transformative, sanctification process is not yet complete in my life. He continues to draw me toward greater repentance and Christlikeness.

Navigating grief is hardly an easy task. Grief is a violent storm. A raging war. Grief shakes at the foundations of our faith to reveal where we’ve placed our hope. The longer I’ve walked through this process, I have become more aware of how helplessly vulnerable my heart is to the afflictions of this life. However, in the same way, my heart is vulnerable to the work God is seeking to do in my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a cynic. Everybody and everything is motivated by their own self-interest. Selfishness. This perspective toward life is highly pessimistic (and problematic). My outlook on life was rigidly negative because, by its nature, cynicism looks for the worst in people. The cynic expects people act on their own self-interest, and cynics are rarely caught of guard because of it. The trap of the cynic’s worldview is in their hardness of heart. A snare that sniffles and suffocates the heart from seeing things from God’s perspective of grace and mercy. Grief would be my undoing.

I have been on a path of unlearning since high school. My self-preservation, coping mechanisms, of cynicism, sarcasm, and skepticism were deeply rooted in the facets of my life as I began down the path toward sanctification. I am a deeply flawed man. I fail (frequently). My hard heart has been one of my greatest hinderances in growing toward Christlikeness… A friend asked me some months back in the (what as at that time) height of coronavirus quarantine what I thought God was trying to teach me through my experience with loss and grief. I’ve honestly given up trying to come up with some rational answer to that question because every conclusion I come to is contrary to the character of God. If God took my friend away to teach me a lesson, then their life was more about me than it was His and that can’t be right. If God took them away because I was not holy or righteous enough, then God’s is cruel which is not true in the slightest. Still my friend’s question has lingered with me as I’ve mulled over my life with introspection. Instead of rationalizing this time of my life, I’ve instead searched the scriptures. Seeking to understand the nature of grief, of death, of God, and of grace. How can I learn from this time, and help those who are experiencing grief? What can we learn about God through our grieving? Scripture speaks directly to our frail, broken hearts. God whispers into our sufferings, and bellows into our lives with hopeful expectation.

I am nowhere near the end of the grieving process (though admittedly, I do not believe that it ever truly has an end on this side of Heaven). The process has changed, and I can see God’s hand at work in my life through this process. I have become more compassionate toward things that I was once cynical about. My outlook on life and on others has begun to swing toward something more optimistic. My hard heart is softening as God stirs in my inequity and works through my brokenness. God is good! He is awesome, powerful, and mighty! He is good, gracious, and merciful! I dearly love my beloved friend. From that very first encounter with them, something was different. As I spent time with them, the more I was drawn to them, and from the very depths of my soul all I wanted was to see God’s best for their life. True love. Not infatuation marketed as ‘true love’ by Hollywood, but the genuine expression of love. God is at the center of the very essence of what we know as love. He is, after all, the one from which we begin to understand love. Thus, as I’ve come to realize through this undoing, I cannot love anyone truly if I am hard of heart. My cynical view toward life has been contrary to the very essence of God’s grace and mercy.

God speaks, even in our suffering. Our afflictions are not purposeless. God may teach us through these difficult and often painful experiences, but that does not inherently mean that God allowed them solely for that purpose. That purpose is beyond our ability to comprehend. However, I rest knowing that there is a ‘happily ever after’ for those who lay their faith in Jesus. There is hope! We, as believers, may hope expectantly for that happily ever after because God is at work! We may share that hope with others by striving to love those around us genuinely. Free of our self-interest and gain. Our hope is for the work God is doing, even now, in the midst of difficult seasons. We hope to see God’s best fulfilled in the lives of others. Even from our suffering, we may hope! Hope for deliverance. Hope for new perspective. For God’s transformative work to be done in our lives. Hope for our lives to be leveraged in such a way that we may serve others as examples of true love!

Teren

The Chaotic Mixed Bag of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terren

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!

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.’

Trust the Process

Living the dream. I just returned from a week of chaos, the Fourth of July, a friend’s surprise party, my first classes at Liberty University, and then leading at a student camp. I went into camp excited yet hesitant. I doubted my ability to leader, doubted God’s purpose for my being there, and what the future held for me. Through and through, I had reservations. The speaker for the week, took us on a study of Jospeh and how God used him in ways far beyond his expectations.  I was surprised, taken aback really, by how much this message impacted by our students and us, the leaders.


 

God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever

imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!

-Ephesians 3:20


 

I was shaken to my core by this camp and God made sure that I got the message loud and clear. This camp was pivotal in so many regards and it took me back to where I was over ten years ago as a freshman in high school. The first summer camp I attended after returning to the church was quite influential in my life that would set me down the path that I now walk. The focus of that camp was on being transformed. What would our lives look like if we embraced what we claimed to believe and sacrificed our lived to Christ? So this exploration of the life of Jospeh has presented itself as a springboard into this very topic once again. Now that I have an understanding and appreciation of the bigger and greater plans God has for my life. Recognizing that God’s plans are far better and bigger than our own, submitting ourselves to His work brings us to Romans 12.


 

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

-Romans 12:1-2


 

When I was getting ready to graduate from high school I thought that I would be going into education to become a teacher. When that did not work out I had no idea what was going to do. Through my experience just after I graduated and began seeking out where God was taking me, I felt my heart being tugged toward ministry, specifically toward student ministry. At the time I had no idea what that would look like or what it entailed. When I began to study at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary this became more clear and I began to serve alongside the students at my local church. During this camp, God really reaffirmed my calling to the ministry and that my doubts were unfounded. I felt or heard, like a faint whisper, ‘trust the process.’

I was convicted because I was not trusting God with my life and kept trying to force my way into things that I am/was not prepared for. My plans were on a different timeline than that of God’s and I was full of discontentment because they did not align with my desires. Anything area that God pointed out to me is that I still have work to do on myself. To hone my abilities and to be flexible, bendable in how I approach leading students. To be loving and gracious in how I engage with my students. I want to learn and to grow so that I may be a better leader to these students. I am still rough around the edges and have need of seeking out guidance and teachers of my own.

I know my calling is in ministry and God has only made it more and more clear to me. Trust the process. Recognize that He has something far greater and better planned that I do and that His timing is perfect. So, if I can impart anything to y’all through my experience, is to trust the process. Trust God with your life.

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up