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.

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

Look at Your Life Through Heaven’s Eyes

Pause for just a moment, with me, and clear your mind of anything that is vying for your attention and focus. Take a deep breath and let the stresses of the day roll off your shoulders for a few moments while you and I take this time to reflect upon God’s incredible handiwork! If you will, take a second to look about your surroundings and notice the sheer amount of detail that went into making things. I look around and see the precise stitching on a baseball, the textured patterns of woodgrain that house studio monitors, the texture of graphite upon paper, and the tiny switches that enable keyboards to make that satisfying click. Now, if you will, look at the image below and marvel at God’s handiwork!

If you click on the full size image, you’ll notice the superb details and textures of the Earth’s surface, the shadows being cast by the clouds, and the changes in the sea floors as it plummets deeper into the ocean! God made all of that, you know? Every grain of sand, every droplet of water, every leaf, and every cloud. God shaped and molded and placed exquisite detail into every part of the universe that I cannot help but marvel at His awesome power! But I ask, why do you believe that God did not put just as much, if not more, detail into creating you?

I ask this question of you, because I know that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. I know that God has instilled within you a purpose and that He has gifted you with many talents and skills unlike anyone else! You have been uniquely created by the God of the universe with a life unlike any other! No two snowflakes, supposedly, are identical in their makeup just as no two people are completely identical in their makeup! God has a very specific plan for you and your life that is set apart from others. Sure, some will follow in similar trails and paths but no one is walking your life exactly as you are. So why do we try to force ourselves and others through the same cookie cutter mold as if we’re all going along the same path?

You and I have our own agendas, our own timelines, and our own expectations for our lives which greatly influence the way in which we operate through life. We, unfortunately, become beholden to, slaves of, our own expectations from which we cannot see beyond. I’ve got to get good grades in high school so I can attend this college, I’ve got to be married by 23, have kids by 30, have 6 puppies, and a house on 50 archers of land. We’ve got to do this to get to that. We’ve get this job or do this job. These agendas serve as a gauge in which we measure ourselves to that which we perceive as being most beneficial for ourselves, but another measure lies waiting just beyond our attention. Comparison.

Unfortunately, when life does not meet our expectations we wonder where we went wrong and why we’re not seeing the same successes as others in our immediate area. Why are all of my friends getting married, but I cannot seem to even get into a relationship? All of my friends are beginning their master’s degrees, but I cannot even seem to graduate with my undergrad. People my age are buying new homes and cars, but I cannot afford to move out of my parent’s home. This girl is so pretty. He’s so handsome. This. That. The greatest villain to our perception of ourselves is comparison! We perceive, without a full understanding, what others have that we lack yet want, and get discouraged. We make attempts to have what others have to no avail, and wonder why we’re not seeing the same results. Both of these gauges fail to truly reveal the higher purpose we have been designed with.

Thus, I raise the question back to you again. Why do you believe that the God who put extraordinary detail into every facet of the universe put less detail and attention into making you? Now, I’ll be honest, I have doubted God. I have had a faulty perspective on life because I used the two gauges above to measure my life. By all accounts, my early adulthood has been anything but ordinary. I’ve come to learn that life is no walk in the park, nor should my expectations lie in my own hands. I never truly had the ‘college experience.’ I’ve never experienced what being in a relationship is like. I’ve not experienced life on my own. I’ve struggled with my place in this world. I’ve struggled to see beyond myself. I was wrong. This is why I do not ever want to give the impression that I have life figured out or that I have everything together. My life is messy, chaotic, and not what I would have ideally planned. I’ve not met any of the arbitrary timelines that I had for myself. Even now, entering into my 6th year of college, I’ve given up on holding to something that was never mine to begin with.

God has a plan for you! He has made that clear! He created you specifically, purposefully, and willingly! You and I are no accidents or random occurrences. Our lives, as disciples of Christ, are not our own. We live not for ourselves but for God as we carry out His will in obedience. Therefore, as I’ve come to learn, we ought to look at life not through the lens of this earth or our expectations but from God’s point of view. One of the more underrated animated movies, Prince of Egypt, has a wonderful moment of transition when Moses begins to have his perspective shift. You may watch the scene here, but the lyrics say:

A single thread in a tapestry
And though its color brightly shines.
Can never see its purpose
In the pattern of the grand design.

And the stone that sits up on the very top
Of the mountain’s mighty face.
Does it think that it’s more important,
Than the stones that forms the base?

So how can you see what your life is worth,
Or where your value lies?
Oh, you can never see through the eyes of man.
You must look at your life
Look at your life through heaven’s eyes!

A lake of gold in the desert sand,
Is less than a cool fresh spring.
And to one lost sheep, a shepherd boy,
Is greater than the richest king!

Should a man lose everything he owns,
Has he truly lost his worth?
Or is it the beginning,
Of a new and brighter birth?

So how do you measure the worth of a man?
In wealth or strength or size,
In how much he gained or how much he gave?

The answer will come to him who tries,
To look at his life through heaven’s eyes.

Through Heaven’s Eyes – Prince of Egypt

I find encouragement within the premise of this song as it serves as a reminder that so much of what we perceive about life stems from our limited perspective. Our humanly tendency is to elevate others based on many factors like success, wealth, power, influence, social status. The same is true when we evaluate our own sinfulness. My gossiping is not the same as murdering someone. My anger is not the same as stealing. The lies I tell are not nearly as bad as those who use other’s for their pleasure. We like to quantify and justify our actions based on worldly standard when all sins are equal in the eyes of God. We are all fallen and sinful. None of us are free from death that comes from sin. Comparison comes to rob us of joy, of peace, and of perspective.

We must shift our focus away from our humanly perspective and seek understanding from God. You see, God values you. Treasures you more accurately. He created you and knew you before you knew of yourself. He has plans for you. He wants to use you and your life for something far bigger than your plans or your expectations. God wants to use you to reach those who have not yet come to know God. To speak life into the void, to be a beacon of hope in the darkness. You, your life, are a vessel! When we shift our perspective toward God’s view, we get a glimpse at the bigger picture! As the scope of our focus widens and we are able to see more, the details remain. The stone at the top of the mountain is just as much apart of the mountain as the stone that rests at the heart of the mountain. The leaf that rests atop the highest tree is just as much tree as the root that holds the plant to the Earth’s surface. You are just as much part of God’s design as everything else!

Earlier, I mentioned how we attempt to filter everybody through the same mold. Our experiences, relationships, paths through life, and more must seemingly fit through the same mold when that is so far from the truth. We make an echo chamber out of one another as we fail to address one another without pretense or expectation. Let’s face it, not only do we have expectations for ourselves, we have expectations for those around us. Who we want them to end up with. How they should behave. What we would like them to become. What we hope their lives blossom into. This fact reveals the fundamental flaw in our internal systems. Our own biases. You’re biased! Congratulations! Now, in recognizing that your biases, you may work against them in yourself and toward others!

I ask that you take a moment to pause once again, and re-examine yourself. Where is God leading you? Where is God calling you? Where is God attempting to work in your life? Are you resisting against him? Are you wrestling with what God is asking you to step out in faith in? Have you undervalued yourself because you’ve lost sight of the intrinsic value God bestowed upon you? Look at your life through God’s eyes. Who does He say that you are? Who does He want you to become? Where is He leading? There is peace with God. There is hope with God.

I know that I have caused myself so much additional stress and strife because my life did not reflect what I thought life was suppose to be. I did not meet my own timeline or society’s timeline, but I have learned that none of us are walking identical paths through life. I have come to appreciate God’s wisdom and timing because I’m in a far better place than even I would have imagined. I’ve also come to see some faulty reasoning in my personality in regards to my appreciation of idealism and efficiency. Ultimately, I had to take a step back from my life and pause from my headlong charge forward. What is it that I’m really pursuing? My own ends or God’s will? Why am I trying to rip open doors that God has stated that it not yet time? You and I forget to pause, especially in our society where news becomes old in a matter of minutes, for reflection. God has detailed, incredible plans for you and your life! God designed you with a purpose! God knows you better than any other person on this Earth ever could! Believe that He is working in your life for the better! God did not create you aimlessly. God did not just make you detailed for thoroughness’ sake! But, until we stop and examine our lives through Scripture, through God, we will never truly learn of the greater possibilities of what may come of our lives! So pause, look through Heaven’s eyes and see life according the Creator of the universe!

The Cost of Disobedience [Updated]

I am not sure if I’ve shared this story from my life with people before. As with most memories, especially ones from long ago, which fade into the back of our consciousness and are prone to loss or misidentified details. These memories lay dormant in our minds until something rips them back to the surface and brings back the great deal of sights, sounds, and smells that were experienced all those years ago… Within the last week or so, I had a memory ripped from the depths of my mind and I was filled with remembrance of an event which began like most…

I was four years old when my parents decided to move across the state. Texas, for all three of you who do not know, is huge! Given it’s immense size, you could travel through at least four European countries in the time it takes you to drive from Texas’ northern boarder to the Gulf of Mexico. Everything seems bigger when you’re four years old! Your school was huge, your imagination was vivid, and your energy was limitless! If you were to walk down the hallways of your elementary or primary school now, as an adult, you’ll almost be guaranteed to have an overwhelming sense that it somehow shrunk over the years. Our outlook toward life and existence shrinks as we grow older; more jaded or cynical (but that’s a topic for another day).

Sometime later, after settling into the house that we were renting at that time, my mother took myself and my siblings to go swimming at a friend’s house. I don’t remember exactly what time of year it was, I believe closer to Spring than to Summer… but what do I know? I also remember being an overcast day, like so many of my memories are, though it was just as likely to have been sunny. I’m sure a mathematician could work out the probability of the number of sunny days we experience versus the number of cloudy days and come up with something close to fifty/fifty (I assume). All things considered it was just a day to swim!

When we arrived, I’m sure my mother made us all put sunscreen on and I’m absolutely positive that I had ‘floaties’ on my arms to help me swim, though I remember being a fairly decent swimmer at four years old (I’m sure my parents could dispute the details of this event as I’m looking back through two decades of time which has since come to pass…). The pool was huge! Blue water against a white stone boarder which backed up to a wooded creek! Talk about scenic and tucked away! After getting lathered up with sunscreen and putting goggles on, I dove in! Soon everybody was in the pool and we had a lovely afternoon swimming! The end… Not really.

During our time I discovered some sinking pool toys which you throw into the deep end of the pool and swim to retrieve them from the bottom [Editors note: I have been informed by my mother that I was, in fact, not as good at swimming as I remember]. I don’t remember if they were rings or sticks or both, but I remember standing on the steps of the shallow end of the pool and throwing them to the deep. I recall swimming from one end to the other, taking the deepest breath my little lungs could, diving to the deepest part of the pool, gathering the toys, and racing back to the surface for air! With a large gasp and splash, I returned to the steps of the shallow end and started this process all over again.

This process repeated several times and for what I remember to be several hours. Remember how I described everything as being bigger when you’re a tiny adolescent child? Yeah, there’s also things children don’t realize either… like how much your parents do for you, why things are not fair, or your own strength. I would throw the pool toys as far as I could because to me the pool was way bigger than it really was. Expectation and reality were not matched up at all. The best way in which I could describe would be that I thought this backyard pool was about the size of an Olympic swimming pool. So… absolutely massive! What ended up happening was that I would over shoot the pool and the toys would bounce off of the hard concrete deck. This happened over and over and over and over again.

My mother warned me to not throw the toys out of the pool, which I would not miss for another few minutes. Over time, however, my accuracy diminished and I’d receive another warning from my mother. I do not remember that I was being willful or outright disobedient (she may disagree, but I’m not inherently the best witness to my own actions) but I eventually annoyed her or upset her enough that I was placed into ‘timeout’ and had to go sit on a bench next to the house. My punishment didn’t last too much longer after that, but long enough to get me in a huff and puff [Editor’s Note: I’ve been informed that I was being willful, and was jealous that nobody was paying attention to me at the time]. Timeouts also seem to take forever when you’re young… however, at long last I was let out of timeout to resume swimming with another strong warning to not throw the toys out of the pool. I wish I could say that I learned my lesson.

I got back in the pool, gathered the toys once more, and… immediately proceeded to throw one beyond the boundary of the pool and into a flowerbed… Oops… I was sternly ordered to go fetch said toy and so with the splashing, sloshing pitter patter of my wet feet running across the deck I took one step into the flower bed and pain shot through my body straight from my foot to my head. A sharp, electric pain that instantaneously registered in my head as bad! I jumped back and yelled out to my mother ‘SNAKE!’

I ran over to my mother, my face red as tears flooded down my face. She didn’t believe me, why would she? Why would a four year old know that it was a snake that had bitten him? She examined my foot. Lo and behold, three tiny droplets of blood revealed where I had been bitten by something. So rushes to the phone and (I assume) calls my dad first. I’m sitting on the edge the pool, foot above the water, crying. Next thing I remember is her being on the phone with the Center for Disease Control asking what she needed to do. Mind you, this was a time before cell phones were as pervasive and prominent as they are today. My mother gets some basic information and the next thing I know, I’m in the backseat of our car and she’s rushing home to back her bags. I guess she was advised that she could stop long enough to get clothes for herself and I because I sat in the back of the car while she ran into our rental house.

I guess my dad had met us at the house or had been at home because I recall him driving me to the hospital with my mom in the passenger seat. I’m still bawling my eyes out, mind you, as the evening sun beamed in my face as we sped down the freeway. Now, we all know and have seen those people who go way too fast on the highways. Speeding closer to 100 mph than the legal speed limit, zipping in and out and around traffic, being a tad reckless. This was my dad that day. He had his emergency lights on, sped around traffic, and (I may be mistaken here) eventually got pulled over for the reckless driving… which I think (again, I could be entirely off base here) then got us a police escort to the medical center in downtown [Editor’s Note: This part did not happen… I was four… forgive me].

Eventually, I don’t recall how quickly or if I even had to wait, I was in the hospital, meeting with doctors and nurses, and describing exactly what it was I experienced and witnessed. So a few things here: First, I saw the snake that bit me. I was able to describe what it looked like, where it was, and etc. I had even told my mother where it was when we were at the swimming pool, but she was unable to locate it herself. All things considered, I was a fairly smart four year old. I think that I’ve mentioned here on this blog before, but I have always been am inquisitive child, now adult. I was always asking my parents why? Why things work, how things work, what makes things things? Secondly, being that I live and am from Texas, you would think that snake bites are fairly common. You’d be wrong! Snake bites are very uncommon! It was determined that I was bitten by either a copperhead or a water moccasin snake and that it was likely to have been a juvenile snake at that. See, I wasn’t bitten once, but twice!

Adult snakes have the ability to control their venom sacks and how they dispense it to their prey. They use their venom judiciously for attacking and self preservation. Juvenile snakes, however, will, upon biting, completely empty their venom sacks which makes them somewhat more dangerous than their adult counterparts. Juvenile snakes usually have what is known as a dry bite first. They bite but don’t inject their venom into their prey, which is when the second bite occurs. I was, if my memory serves, bitten twice in the span a few milliseconds! In the time my neurological system registered the electrical data which travelled from my foot to my head, I had been bitten twice!

By the time that I would get out of the hospital, I spent four sleepless, painful night and three days of exhaustion. I was put on anti-venom which is, as I was told, more painful than the venom I received from the snake. I remember my mother staying with me the entire time I was in the hospital, refusing to leave my side. Being that snake bites are so uncommon, I was one of the most popular patients in the hospital because every nurse [Editor’s Note: I learned from my mother today that my main nurse had a phobia of snakes and could hardly work with me… She apparently had to conquer her fear of snakes with me] and doctor would come by to see, learn, and examine my injury. This was also the only time in my life that I could honestly describe myself as being popular. Yeah, it wasn’t worth it. One more anecdote about my time in the hospital, my nurses were told to measure, hourly I believe, how far the venom was creeping up my leg. I guess something was lost in translation because the doctor meant in the records, but here I was, every hour on the hour, with a nurse taking a Sharpie to my leg and thigh drawing lines, numbers, initials, and so on. I wish I had pictures to show you, because it was very comical now that I look back on it. It’s also the closest I will ever come to having a tattoo!

Growing up, as I would tell my peers about this story they would not believe me. They doubted that I had really been bitten by a venomous snake, but I had. I have medical bills to prove it! However, more so than telling a story, I believe that there is a lesson to be learned in everything. We are the products of our experiences, the things that have shaped us into who we are today. Obviously, I am writing this post and I obviously survived and went on to live another healthy twenty years. Spoiler alert for anyone who did not get that by this point. Hi, I’m alive and writing this to you! *waves*

I never set out on that day to get bitten by a snake. I never set out to be disobedient to my mother or to cause anyone harm. In fact, my actions were very innocuous! My throwing of the pool toys never harmed anyone in and of itself (mother you may correct me if I am remember this differently than it occurred). Yes, I may have annoyed my mother but I was not hurting anyone. Why, then, did it matter whether or not I was stronger than I knew and was missing the pool? Well, because I was told to stop missing the mark. Because I kept missing the pool, I eventually got myself in a whole lot more trouble due to my actions. If I hadn’t thrown the toy out of the pool, then it is very likely that I would have never been bitten by a snake. As the old idiom goes, if you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.

Unfortunately, for many of us, that is exactly how we treat the sins in our lives. We think that they are innocuous, trivial, insubstantial because they are so tiny or seemingly limited to ourselves. We jump back into those sins over and over again because we don’t get caught or they feel comfortable. We justify our sins because they do not affect others directly, and yet they eventually consume us because they grow in secret. Another idiom which seems to line up with my story is don’t bit the hand that feeds you, but thats exactly what sin does.

Sin resides within the depths of our heart, often in secret, where we feed them and give them a safe place to grow and take root. Eventually, those innocuous sins bite back and our lives take a hard turn because they are either exposed or we are caught in a compromising position. My compromising position was the moment when I disobeyed my mother again, took one step into the flowerbed with my hand reaching for the toy. In one instantaneous moment, everything that day changed! Little things matter and they can have monumental effects upon our lives. When we belittle sin and treat it like a puppy instead of the wild beast that it is, we are quickly blindsided by something that we never honestly expected.

My sin was not that I threw the pool toy and God was not punishing me for that. My sin was that I did not obey my mother’s words. I threw the pool toy too far/hard again, and that time, after many, many times before that, resulted in me coming face to face with a snake. Jonah’s actions, initially, did not harm anyone other than himself. Jonah ran from God’s call on his life out of fear. Jonah fled from God and drug other into his mess with him. When the storm came, the people Jonah brought into his sins tossed him overboard in an attempt to save themselves. We all know how the Bible story goes, though much less Disney-like than what you and I learned in our childhoods, and Jonah continued to be disobedient to God. Jonah was contemptuous to the people God called him to speak to, and Jonah eventually had to face God over his anger and disobedience.

Now, my story is not exactly the same as what we find in scripture. Nor should it be. Mine is not inspired by the Holy Spirit or maintained by God. My story is my experience which I think has something teachable contained within it. Each of us has areas in our lives where sin resides. Areas where we cover to keep God and others from touching. We fear that people will reject us, mock us, and think less of us because of our sins. As Matt Chandler so bluntly put it at Passion 2019, to be 99% known is to be unknown. Either we are known by God or we are not. And guess what, God wants to come into that 1% that you are holding on to. To take away that sin and shame, so that you may be free. God knows exactly what is going to happen to that sin if it’s not addressed. It will escalate, grow, and multiply until you are consumed by it. Not with it, but by it! When we give sin a stronghold in which to reside, it has a place from which to attack us at all times.

There have been so many examples of Godly people falling to sin because they kept it secret. They let what they thought was innocent, little, and harmless have a place to stay and it would eventually be their downfall. Their undoing. There are an infinite number of what ifs we could trace if we wanted to. What if I had obeyed? Would I have been bitten by a snake then? What if I didn’t have any pool toys to begin with? What if? I have for so long be stuck on the what ifs, and I have learned that they do not matter. I can dwell on them all day and night and still get no where! What matters is not what may happen but what is happening. You and I are aware of the sins in our lives and what we need to do with them. We need a savior! We need someone who is appropriately qualified to deal with sin. We need Jesus!

When Jesus first began his ministry, he ate with the lowest of the low. The people that other despised and rejected. The Pharisees, the religious elite, complained and questioned Christ on why he would spend so much time with those they had deemed as unworthy and unclean. Luke 5 gives us a clear resounding answer, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” The only person qualified to meet the need in your life is Jesus! He came not for those who were healthy, for who truly is healthy? Christ came for sinner because they knew of nothing else! Christ offers freedom from sin so that we may be made whole once again! Christ asks that we step from being 99% known to 100% known by standing in the light where darkness cannot reside! There is no such thing as a harmless sin, and we would be fools to believe so! But we have a great savior who came to liberate us from the wages of sin!

One Piece at a Time

Legos were one of my absolute most favorite toys growing up. The nearly infinite combinations and arrangements and assortments of the vastly varied pieces lent to great creativity. I, also, grew up during the resurgence of the Lego Company during a time in which they licensed popular entertainment properties to make in their now famous sets. When you buy a new Lego set, they come readily packaged in numbered plastic pouches and with a handy, but easily lost booklet of assembly instructions. A step-by-step guide to building a completed masterpiece and, sometimes, creative projects that can be made from the same parts found in the set. 

The fun of Legos are that you have a completed project to work on. I would spend countless hours assembling sets, staging epic battles, and getting lost into my imagination. However, Legos also take up a great deal of space while assembled and so they had to be torn apart for storage. Even now, I have boxes upon boxes of thousands upon thousands of Lego bricks just thrown together. What I no longer have is the instructions to reassemble all the parts of the sets that I have. With enough time and sorting I may be able to assemble most of what I had… granted that the vacuum has more than likely claimed more parts than it would like to admit. The fun of Lego comes in the construction and the inevitable destruction. Part of the fun was building massive towers out of all the assorted bricks until it would reach the point of no return. Hundreds of bricks go flying everywhere with a loud, plastic-y crash and I’m left with a gleeful smile! 

The thing about Legos was that I never had to think about how to put something together. I always had the instruction manual close at hand to help guide me through the process until I was left with the finished product. Unlike Legos, we are not given a step-by-step instruction manual for life. Life is not packaged in conveniently sorted packages for each stage we inhabit. We do not all share one path in which we progress through life. Life is more akin to the box of assorted bricks, a smorgasbord of randomly, colorfully mixed parts. We each have a foundation in which to work with, but the end products end up looking vastly different from one another.

God has created very purposefully and intentionally. He knows exactly how He wants to assemble us, but God didn’t give us an instruction manual which tells us how to get a job, how to be a husband, to be a productive adult. Why? Because God has set each of us down different paths. For some of us, we are walking down similar paths. but they’re not carbon copies of the others. Some of us walk a rather isolated path in which we rub shoulders with few headed the same way. God did not give us a step-by-step guide on how to walk through life, but rather a book on how we should live! The Bible tells us who God is, why He created us, why He works the way that He does, and how we should strive to conduct ourselves.

Life is full of unexpected changes. Challenges that seem unachievable. Times of great success and of great difficulty. Through this God is not looking for us to have a plan on how to get through it but that we would be faithful to lean on Him for direction and instruction. Proverbs 16:9 states, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” We are very much free to plan our way through life but many of us are rigidly locked into our own perspective toward life. We, very arrogantly, go through life in a mindset of doing things our way. What inevitably happens is that we go head strong in the direction our hearts yearn for, and we reach the tipping point… and have no idea what to do. We stand on the precipice after pursuing what our hearts wish for in fear. 

Why is this a problem? Because the heart wanders and yearns for many things. It is constantly distracted by the superfluous. The heart focuses on what the best of what it wants while minimizing the issues. What the verse above reveals about us, is that we’re terrible at knowing what we want. If you’re like me (single, late twenties, etc.) then you’ll understand how you start wanting something that you don’t have, especially as your close friends are seemingly getting into relationships, getting engaged, and eventually married and you ask yourself why its not happening to you. In your heart, you desire to be in a relationship, but you aren’t seeing the full picture… but God is. The other half of the verse reveals something to us about God. That He is the one working in us and around us, guiding our steps, providing opportunities to be faithful to Him while we are where we are at.

God is the one laying bricks, constructing each of our paths. He is actively working around us (I’m hesitant to mention the flashing orange lights, orange “construction zone” signs, and orange safety vest…) preparing us for life. God is not asking us to do anything more than to be faithful to go where He leads. God is not interested in our own works, even our best Lego creations are rubbish to His work, but rather our hearts. Our attitudes.

So often in life, when things do not go as we please or had hoped for, we question God in frustration and exasperation. We, very selfishly, tell God that if He loved us, He’d do as we wanted. But God has told us, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand (John 13:7).” In the moment, as we’re looking at the half assembled parts of our lives, we doubt God. We question God. We are not satisfied with where we are at. We do not have the full picture. Obviously, we do not understand in the moment. We look in the mirror and cannot fully grasp what God is doing in our lives, but God reminds us that we will know later. 

I know that I can reflect back on my life and see where I’ve been disappointed by my circumstances. Where in the moment I was not given support to attend the colleges that I wanted out of high school, that I was not getting the degree that I wanted, that I was did not have a community to be apart of, that I was not progressing further in life… But I now have the benefit of looking back and seeing how God was moving for me good. Afterward, I understood. When the state colleges could only offer me loans for school, God provided a scholarship to attend an accredited Biblical college getting a degree in something that I had little to no interest in which is now something that I am passionately in love with! Being apart of a ministry that is both my home and mission field! God has provided much more than I could imagine. He’s building something far more extraordinary! 

I would be would be in the wrong if I did not recognize just how blessed I have been by God. Where my sense of timing seems right, God has provided when it was most needed, when I could no longer rely on myself and my own ability but on Him and Him alone! God isn’t seeking a carbon copy, molded people. He did not design us in the same way that Ikea cranks out its furniture. God created us uniquely and has a unique path for our lives. God is more interested in the state of our heart, our souls, and our minds than the state of our assembly process. 

That is why God gave us scripture. To reveal to us, not, how to get by in life, but how we ought to approach life. T0change the attitude of our hearts to match that of God’s! As we pursue God fully, meaning that we’ve laid our lives down at His feet and been born again, covered in the blood of Christ, we have a greater preparation for the road ahead. Our perspective changes from our here and now to that of God. We look at life through the lens of God through Scripture and prepare our hearts to respond accordingly. Once again, I will quote C.S. Lewis who said “Nothing you have not given away will ever really be yours (Mere Christianity).” God does not want part of us… He doesn’t just want our sin, our good deed, our church attendance, our love, our ideas, our hearts, our money… No, God wants every part of our being! It is only when we’ve laid down and given over every part of our lives to God that we understand the process that we’re going through.

I look back and see that I am no longer who I once was. My life looks less like it once had, and looks more and more like Jesus. My life has been transformed by God! The self-destructive, angry, resentful, hateful path I was once upon changed forever when I found Christ again at the end of my freshman year of high school! I was surrounded by people, whom God intended, to pour into my life, to walk alongside me as the abrasive, rough scales fell away, and to teach me the heart of Christ. I am truly, as I live and breathe, no longer the person that I was. I have been made new!

“Do you understand what I have done to you (John 13:12),” asked Christ to His disciples after washing their feet. He had made clear what His intentions were, though the disciples did not understand fully. Christ was preparing to die on the cross, to be a living sacrifice for the sins of you and I. Christ did cleanse us from the bondage and death of sin when He died on that cross and when He rose triumphantly from the grave! 

So as I stand amidst the scattered pieces of my life, the Lego bricks, I know that I do not need to fret. I have no need to worry, because God has a place for me. I do not need to worry about what piece goes where next, because God has already shown me that I can trust that He will take care of that. I just have to be faithful to follow where He leads. God is, piece by piece, building my life into what it ought to be. Removing that which is not needed and shaping, molding my heart to be more like His. Better yet, when the table starts to shake and the tower of plastic bricks start to tremble, I know that I have a solid foundation on which God has built my life. There will be no tearing down that which had already needed to go. I stand solidly upon God’s love!