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!

Saying Yes: Being Faithful in the Small Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

Spring Cleaning: Renewal

Today marks the first day of Spring. With the symbolic move from the death of winter to the renewal of Spring come the need to spring clean. Both literally and figuratively. I spent the day cleaning out the untouched books from the shelf in my closet, gathering unworn clothes, and bagging them up for donation. Throughout the day, I’ve been frustrated as I’ve been home alone going through the motions of my day to day life. Getting up and going to work, going to school, going to church, then rinse and repeat. Every week feels the same, if I’m not at work, school or church, I’m at home feeling as if I’m doing nothing. Over the last year, I’ve wrestled with my situation. The sense of stagnation, purposelessness had and continues to linger, but recently I’ve come to a new realization. While we take the time to clean our houses and our closets, we do not always take the time to clean our spiritual lives. Today, I’ve had a lot of time to think and reflect while I cleaned out and simplified things that needed to go.

Over the last year, as I’ve discussed numerous times now, have been restless and frustrated with my situation. As I did chores today, I was sitting on two thoughts. First came from a line from the new Star Wars movie. In The Last Jedi, the main antagonist, Kylo Ren speaks to anther character about leaving behind the past. “Let the past die,” as the character speaks in a metaphoric change in the direction Star Wars is taking. This line has some philosophic value behind it that extends to you and I. Y’all, we far too often get hung up on the past. We get focused in on the things that we’ve done wrong, the times that we think we’re better or simpler, and we look backward instead of looking forward.

The past can weigh us down, and hold us back from taking steps to move forward. The other second thought came from C.S. Lewis who said, “I have found a desire within myself that no experience in this world can satisfy; the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Y’all, if you are truly a follow of Jesus then this life is just temporary. We get hung up worrying about today, tomorrow, our social status, and seeing how our lives compare to others when in reality we ought to be focused on the life ahead. I, we, have our priorities out of whack! We have placed emphasis on the immediate and not on the kingdom of God.

So why am I tripping? Why am I so hung up on the here and now? As I’ve gotten older, the more I’ve come to agree with Lewis. Unfortunately, I’ve been looking down in the moment instead of keeping my eyes on Jesus. Y’all, God can and will use you where you are. The strife and struggle to keep up with the ever changing, fleeting standards of society are not for our pursuit. We are to pursue the furthering of the Kingdom. We were designed to walk with God in the flesh and to worship Him. Just as Adam and Eve walked in creation with God, so too, we’re we intended to!

I’ll be honest, today I was frustrated with my life. I’m tired of feeling like what I’m doing has no merits or meaning. I want to have a life of meaning, of purpose. I want to be able to do more for God’s kingdom! So while I am here, where I’m at, it may be difficult to see all the ways in which God is currently using me, but I’m not stagnantly waiting for something greater. I may be in the same place, but God is using me where I am. And y’all, God’s using you too! So don’t loose sight of God and the things to come! Trust him and his sovereign plan for your life!

So here we are at the end of the day. It’s the beginning of Spring and we have an opportunity before us to reflect and look at our lives and do some tendering to our spiritual gardens!

Grace and Peace, Y’all,

Terren-It-Up

Finding Love: The Valentines Day Post

Today is Valentines Day, a day dedicated to love! Cupid is aflutter shooting his arrows into people. Love is in the air! At work today, random people would wish me a happy valentines day without knowing my circumstances or predicament on this particular day. For me, Valentines day is nothing special. It is just another day on the calendar and no more meaningful than any other given day. I’m not offended or put off by their wishing that I’d have a good day, but I found it perplexing none the less. I’d describe Valentines day as a celebration of the romantic love, which is a uniquely specific kind of love. While some celebrate in different ways, such as the popular Galentines day or in sharing the occasion with mothers and fathers, I do not find my stock in it. Yet, a celebration of love is a curious thing. Of the many forms or displays of love, I am keenly interested in the love between friends.

C.S. Lewis describes the different forms that love takes in his aptly named book The Four Loves. Exploring the different forms of love that we experience in life, the majority of the book focuses on the love between friends. The Philia: The Friend Love. You see, I did not really begin to follow Jesus until the end of my freshman year of high school. I had been saved as a child at a vacation bible school some many, many years earlier, but had not taken steps to pursue God until I was pulled back into the church in high school. For a good chunk of time I was not attending church. I was not involved and I was a troubled, angry person. The circumstances of life, being bullied and other things, had driven me to be a bitter, resentful individual. I despised people. I wanted nothing to do with them. I was mean and cruel and directed my anger toward those closest to me. Fortunately, I do not remember most of the time from that part of my life, but I remember the path that I walked which brought me to where I am today.

Even after bring drawn back into the church by my youth paster, a Godly man who poured into my life and was my mentor, I was on a process of undoing and unlearning the ways in which I viewed others. Learning to love others took some time and even moving through my sophomore year, I still had yet to master it. Sarcasm was my weapon, a means of hiding my distain. A mask, though shallow, to cause others to guess whether I was serious or if I was being funny. I wasn’t, usually. Y’all, I was a broken person hurting people. I cannot say that I am shameful of the past, but I recognize where I was, and where I am now.

Throughout this time, I was apart of a group of people that became a sort of family. We got along, mostly. We went of mission trips, summer camps, and grew deeper together. My high school youth group was a pivotal component in developing me as a person. However, when I graduated, I was dropped off from the youth. Why? Well, a new stage of life. For a time, I tried to reconcile the change by serving and volunteering, but I now lacked something that I needed. I tried a newly singles group at the same church where I attended youth. However, I didn’t fit with these thirty somethings and married couples. I was suddenly disengaged from an oasis that I had found during high school. The years passed and I had yet to find a place of connection. I moved to a new church home and began serving. A couple years passed from then, and a spark of something was on the horizon.

Our church was looking at creating a college bible study, and had brought on someone to create and lead this group. It was here where the seeds of community where planted. I’ve gushed about the blessing God bestowed upon me with this ministry many, many times before! Y’all best believe that I’m about to do so again! The class started off small, with ten or so people. Most where younger than myself and I once again had to learn how to interact and engage with the people. However, as we grew deeper as a ministry, so too did we mature and blossom into the men and women that we are today.

I met a few people, a couple in fact, who changed my life in many ways. After jump starting the ministry a new pastor was brought on to further grow the ministry. For a time, this person had been the student ministry intern/worship leader. He and his wife, during his time as the student ministry intern, had started a bible study out of their home. It was through this home group where I found a new family. As he and his wife transitioned into his new role as college pastor, they had developed myself and my friends into leaders. As the years went on, more and more people were added to the family.

I adore these people! They hold a very deep and meaningful place within my heart! They have shown me so much love and have challenged me to be a better man. Our relationship to one another is unique as we are, in the truest sense of the word, a family. They are examples of Philia. Their love is pure and genuine. Their love seeks out goodness in others, to speak to their insecurities and to encourage them. When I think about what it means to love people, I think about them. The example that was set by the couple which took it upon themselves to love us in such a meaningful way. We all came from different backgrounds, we have different convictions, and we walk different paths. Yet, we love the Lord and we pursue his will for our lives. We were brought together, not out of happenstance or chance, but through a purposeful design.

I do not find it a surprising that this person, who was the college pastor, is one of my closest friends and mentors. I do not find it surprising that his wife has molded myself and the other men of this family of friends to think beyond ourselves. They have led by example and have shaped the lives of so many people! While we see everyone constantly throughout the year, we gather every year for a gathering of thanksgiving, a Friendsgiving, to celebrate and express gratitude of God bringing us together. We share in life together. We are a family, as real as any other, and I love all of them dearly!


friendsgiving-4


So on a day like today, a day of love, a Valentines day, I can’t help but think about this group of people. They are the expression of Philia and Agape! You see, I found love in this group. They love Jesus and are the embodiment of the his love! I found a home and a family! I do not believe that as the years go by that we’ll not remain deeply rooted together. We may go to the ends of the earth, but we’ll always be a family! So happy Valentines Day to you, in whatever form that takes! Do not take the people closest to you for granted, for they might just be the best thing to ever happen to you.

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

Helplessness: The Need of Someone Greater than Myself

Being in a situation where you are powerless, helpless is something none of us wish to experience. The inability to control the circumstances of our lives strikes fear and anxiety in some, and over the past week myself. While there are a great many things in the universe that we have no power over, like black holes or lightning bolts, there are things that we do have control over that betray us. This past week, my body decided to revolt by getting very ill. I spent the last week with some lingering illness that stole my energy and appetite. I have lived on water, Sprite, and electrolytes. I’ve not eaten much, and only today have I gone back to ‘normal’ food. Being sick is never pleasant, ever. I am fortunate that I do not fall ill very often and the last time I needed to see a doctor for some illness was in 2015. However, the torturous frustration that mounted with this lingering illness is that I began to feel better halfway through last week only to then get sick again. I truly felt helpless… I didn’t feel fear or anxiety, but as time went on I grew more and more frustrated. I would feel better only to then get sick again and again and again! Ugh!

Yet, in falling ill and having some new founded energy, I look back upon that sense of helplessness and see how in life I and so many others have been helpless. Y’all, life is hard! Being an adult is like being a toddler that is just learning to walk. We bump into things and stumble through the world around us hoping just to stay on our feet. Fortunately, for toddlers at least, there are usually parents around to catch them and keep the child removed from any serious dangers. Falling is not something to fear, for we can just get back. It comes when we fall into something, like a table or the stone mantle of the fireplace where things become a little more serious. Unlike the toddler, we, as adults, do not always have our parents around to be a safety net. Independence has given way to an ever encroaching sense of helplessness. What job do I take? Who do I date? How do I make ends meet? How am I going to afford this and that? This sense of helplessness is largely apparent in the millennial generation. Why? Well, a shift in some political focus has driven many, not all, to seek governmental intervention in perceived injustice. The appeal for governmental assistance in healthcare, wages, and many other areas are, at least in my eyes, an appeal by people who feel helpless in their situation. They, in their helplessness, have sought the aid of the government. Their appeal is to a higher power, to an entity that is perceived to have more power then they currently have. Now, I am not inherently making any assessment on political views, as my views are my own. Yet, I am making an observation of the power dynamics at hand. An observation.

I lost all of last week to the illness that had befallen me. It, as I previously said, was lingering. It would not leave me! Being able to recognize that I was not getting better meant that I needed to seek a higher authority than my senses, which meant seeking out my doctor. So too, in the life of the believer, have we had to seek a higher authority. The Christian life is one of reflection, as I’ve mentioned in many previous posts. As I have had time to recount over my troubles of the last week, I have come to draw a connection between my life before Christ and my life after Christ. Y’all, before becoming a follower of Christ, I was like the toddler. I stumbled through life. I was helpless. I did not have a purpose, I did not have clarity. I was sinner. See, sin is like the illness that I had. It lingers within us, and it, unlike my illness, is not curable. There is nothing you or I could ever do to fix or remove sin from our lives. Sin has corrupted us, like a virus corrupts the cells of our bodies, and has resulted in our selfishness, our wickedness. There is no antibiotic for sin, nor is there any medication that eases the pain of sin. Sin weighs us down, wears us down until we feel total depravity. Total helplessness. Once we can recognize the helplessness of our fight against sin, can we then seek the one whose sacrifice may atone for sin. The atonement of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross.

Y’all, Christ died on the cross after living a perfect life! He was tempted just as we are, and yet he did not sin. He did no wrong, and yet he was killed on a cross for the sin of the world. For you and I! It was only in my helplessness that I could see that Christ was the only means of being taken out of my helplessness. You see, I’ve always been an inquisitive individual. I never (hardly) take what I’m told at face value. I must come to a conclusion on my own before I accept something as truth. You could tell me that the sky is blue, and I would be agreeable to your assertion, but I would not accept it until I have completed my research. The same thing is true of my path to becoming a follower of Christ. I had to seek God out, I had to do my research. Ultimately, I found that there was no other means by which I could be taken out of my helplessness except through Christ. Why is this? I had to appeal to a higher power, a higher authority. Why? Cause I do not know what is best for my life. I am like that toddler that is stumbling through the living room. I need someone to guide me and to show me the way. I have support, not a safety net. Nothing is promised to me, and yet I am promised security in Christ. I am no longer helpless.

While this may not be my most well thought out piece, nor is it my most polished work, it is a small glimpse into my reflection. I am thankful to be slowly feeling more and more normal. I am thankful that I am not helpless. While I hardly become ill, this previous week has been an important reminder that I cannot alway rely on myself and my wits to secure my healing.

 

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

The Selfish Heart: A Lesson on Thanksgiving

Since I graduated from high school, I’ve made constant stints from one food establishment to another. I started off making coffee in a book store, then moved on to a real coffee shop, then I began my own business venture as a media contractor, then I made a very brief stint as a food runner at a movie theater chain, and then went unemployed for a period of time. Through all this time and many years gone by, I’ve learned quite a bit about myself, about people, and about work. All of which has helped shape me into the person I am today. Now, last year, I started a new job at Chick-fil-A. It is not the ideal job I wish for myself, nor is it what I see myself doing for the rest of my life (but what do I know, Lord?). I must say, being a team member at Chick-fil-A is one of the least stressful, most fulfilling jobs I’ve held. I’ve been blessed with better pay as a starting position than any of the management positions I’ve held previously, I work with talented people with many various passions, traits, and skills. Furthermore, I’ve got a purpose and things I want to achieve.

During my time at Starbucks, I wanted to get promoted. I spent a year working hard and seeking betterment for myself and my team. I did eventually get promoted and then spent another year honing my skills and abilities as a leader and as an individual. During that time, I also sought to become what is known as a Coffee Master. A Coffee Master is a specialized employee (or Partner as Starbucks calls them) who has spent time to learn and study the craft of coffee. They are familiar with the process of growing, roasting, and packaging coffee. They know the ins and outs of how different regions and altitudes and levels of roasting affect the flavor of coffee. They know how to pair coffee to different kinds of pastries to bring out different flavors of the coffee and/or dessert. Have you ever wondered why chocolate pairs well with coffee? Well, semi-sweet chocolate helps high light the cocoa notes of the very popular Central America sources beans! Try it for yourself, try drinking a black, and it needs to be black, cup of Central American dark roast with a chocolate chip cookie! Anyway, a group of my partners and myself went through this process and were awarded with knowledge and a special black apron which signified our knowledge of coffee.

34.jpg

Now, at Chick-fil-A I seek to continue to become a better leader and a more well rounded person. I truly have been blessed and as my signature welcome goes, better than I deserve (thanks Dave Ramsey!). So how does this relate to the title of this post? Well, over the last year I’ve been rather discontent with my situation overall. Being a middle twenties college student who still lives at home and work in fast food is not quite what I had planned for myself. Not to say that my plans were grandiose or unrealistic, but they were not inline with reality. Thus, last night I was laying in bed, as you do, when I was struck with some deep conviction… I’ve not been thankful for what God has given me. Y’all, we are far too easily for focused on what we don’t have, that we lose sight of the bigger blessings that we were not looking for. We’re not thankful enough for what God is doing, and what he’s doing in our lives! We’re blinded by own own selfishness that we make ourselves blind to the blessing God has poured out upon us! I find it scary to realize the extent in which my selfishness affects my being!

Our selfishness breeds discontentment. Nothing is ever enough! Nothing we’ve been given can satisfy the endless desires of our wandering heart, each new item that it covets temporarily fills some void that refuses to say enough! Fortunately, Christ’s death upon the cross was sufficient for salvation and to allow us to say enough is enough. Christ’s sufficiency that was displayed on that cross was and is the ultimate means by which we can experience blessing! Who am I to take part in enjoying that blessing? Who am I with my endlessly selfish and coveting heart to be among the court of Christ? Fortunately, it lies within this sacrifice that I am able to be thankful. I can identify the blessings that God has extended toward me and I am able to count them with all joy.

A position of gratitude is not one that is not always pleasant. Especially when stepping into the presence of God and having to admit that what I had or what I was seeking was not up to the standard of what God ultimately gave in the end. A thankful heart is one of gratitude and of humility. When we say that what God gives us is not enough or not good enough, we reject God’s supreme authority. We essentially tell God that we’re better than what he has given and that we’re more knowledgable of what is best for us. Who are we to speak to God like that? Who are we to say that our path is better than the one God placed before us? We’d be foolish to denounce God’s direction and seek our own. Yet our selfish hearts put us onto that path. Our selfishness rejected God before we were saved, denounced the supremacy of God. We were walking blindly through life, seeking anything to satisfy the unsatisfiable. I, for one, am tired of chasing what cannot be satisfied. I’m tired of this game of running after the things that God has said would not be beneficial to me. I tired, and its time to count my blessings.


I find it amusing when I sit down for a meal, at home or out with friends, and someone suggests that we ‘bless the food.’ One, the food was created by God for the nourishment of our bodies. Secondly, the food was already blessed because God provided it. A small qualm on my part, yet the idea of asking God to imbue divine favor (which is what the word bless is defined as) upon his creation is strange. I understand the sentiment, but we’re really giving thanks for the provision and not for God to divinely turn junk food into good calories. Well… I’m not sure what the health gurus do… you do you. It is here, where selfishness and thanksgiving collide is where I find myself. I’ve not been thankful. Or at least, I’ve not expressed my gratitude to God for his provision. Thanksgiving is demonstrated time and time again throughout the Bible. Expressed in a multitude of ways and means, thanksgiving is a celebration of provision that was freely given and/or met a need. Paul, throughout his letters (epistles), constantly begins with a statement of thanksgiving. Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians all begin with a passage where Paul thanks God for the work being done in and through these church congregations! Then throughout the letters, continues to thank God! Time and time again, Paul expresses his thanksgiving in a meaningful way.

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.”

-Romans 1:8

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge.”

-1 Corinthians 1:4-5

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saint, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.”

-Ephesians 1:15-17

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy.”

-Philippians 1:3-4

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel.”

-Colossians 1:3-5

“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”

-2 Thessalonians 1:3

Paul expresses a very real and a very genuine gratitude, even in the midst of his own plights. He is thankful for the numerous churches who were faithful to God and faithful to the gospel and were carrying on the commands of Christ. Thanksgiving wasn’t some passing moment of a couple sentences spread over a meal, but rather a continued lifestyle that was evidenced through Paul’s letters. Paul’s attitude is revealing of the work God did in him. Paul was humble and confident. Grateful and meek. He understood that what God would provide was better than whatever situation he found himself. This idea is plainly seen in Philippians 4:

“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

-Philippians 3:10-13

Paul understood how God was working through him, and he was faithful to go where he led. I, over the last year or so, have not been. I desired things, good things, but the time was and is not yet right. I rushed God for things he has promised, before they are due to me. How foolish am I! Y’all, even now as I write this I’m still looking back and coming to make sense of the season of old. Of things I did not fully understand then, as I do now. There is much to be thankful for, and much to rejoice in. I’ve come to find that I’m not nearly as smart as I think I am, nor am I as holy as I think I am. Yet, I trust the Lord.

Being at the stage of life I am, I have desires which are appropriate but not yet at hand. I want to be married, to have a family, to have my ministry, to have independence, to have security. All of these are good things, but only in the time which they are appointed. I’m not ready yet.

Tonight, I was at our youth ministry where I serve. We were speaking on some things, a few topics, when we came to the very topic I now write. Anyway, this friend just made their relationship ‘Facebook official’ and we, as peers, have been celebrating it. I shared some of my experience over the last year or so, when they said something along the lines of ‘she’s coming.’ I smiled and replied, ‘and I’m waiting.’ You see, I’ve learned that it is far better to wait on God’s timing than my own. I could chase a relationship right now that would fulfill my desire of that kind of relationship. But it would not be the best of what God could provide. I could search restlessly for that someone fruitlessly, pushing God to make the time now, when I’m surely not ready. So too with the other aspect of my life, God will provide a means and a way when the time is right, and not when I want it to be.

There is so much to be thankful for, and I am thankful for the wait. God is not delaying or is he holding something back. Rather, he is growing me, challenging me, and calling me to something bigger, something better. And I am thankful for the lessons I’ve had to learn as I’ve gotten older about waiting patiently. I am thankful of the opportunities at work, to be poured into by my leaders, to be a leader myself, for the purpose and fulfillment that comes from work for God, for the ability to carry the gospel into a place where someone may need it. I am thankful for the ministry of people who surround me, who care for me, who seek to grow deeper in their faith. I am grateful for the second family that I’ve gain, who love me endlessly, challenge me to be more than I am, who instill in me qualities that make me Christ-like. I am grateful that I am able to see where I am lacking and can make attempts at addressing those areas. So, as I continue to grow older and I am continually blessed beyond imagine, I will be grateful and I will give thanks.

Grace and peace,

-Terren-It-Up


P.S. To my future wife, if you’re reading this, I pray for you now. That you’ll be held in the arms of God, that your heart is protected. I pray for your community, that they challenge you to be the faithful, Godly woman Christ has called you to be! Know that God cherishes you more than you could imagine! Trust in his timing, and find your refuge in him.

-T.

The Unengaged Life: Finding Purpose

Last week, I wrote about a conversation I had with a friend of mine regarding the excitement she had in God answering her prayer for opportunity to share the gospel with her coworkers. In examining the nature of shame and confidence, I began to think about the nature of living fearlessly, as Paul described in Ephesians. In the same fashion that shame steals our confidence, so too does sin lead us to a place of isolation and of inaction. However, God did not design us to stagnant or isolated creatures. We were designed to be social creatures who lived a life in community with himself and with others. So, too, were we designed to be laborers of both the physical and the spiritual worlds. Why, then, is our generation so isolated and disengaged? What has driven us to a place of inaction?

To begin, let us look at God’s intentional design. Genesis presents the creation account of the universe and mankind. He created man with a purpose and a design which is laid out in Genesis 1:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground… God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground — everything that has the breath of life in it — I give you every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good…

-Genesis 1:26; 28-31 NIV

This passage reveals a few things about creation and about mankind. Firstly, God created a system by which life behaves. All the animals, plants fall under the dominion of Man. They are created for a particular reason, such as food, and as such have a purpose in existence. Secondly, Man has an authority over the creation God assigned. Subdue it, God commands Adam and Eve, and multiply in it. As God finished creating the world, he brought all the animals to Adam and told him to name them. During this time, God observed that Adam had no one to assist him. So, to bring about God’s purpose for man, created a helper for Adam out of his flesh. God created woman, for she taken out of man, and she was to be a helper to Adam. Genesis 2 gives the account of the first marriage, the unbreakable bond between man and woman. They were charged with what is known as the Dominion Mandate, in which mankind is charged with ruling over the earth, and to fill it with more of their kind. Thus, with the creation of Eve, Adam was no longer alone and they, Adam and Eve, existed in creation with God. They were in community with one another and with God.

So from the beginning, mankind was designed for community. To be in the presence with others, to care for, to help, to build up one another, and as Proverbs would later say, to sharpen one another. When we isolate ourselves, we starve ourselves of the much needed correspondence that only come from others who are invested in our lives. We are separated from correction, form assistance, and from being a partner in the purpose God gave us. God called us into a place where we are interacting with others, to share in the lives of others. As believers, we are not to isolate ourselves, but to go out into the world and be examples of God’s love. Just as God charged mankind with dominion over creation, Jesus, too, commanded us to:

…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

– Matthew 28:19-20 NIV

Jesus charged us with a purpose, that like Adam and Eve, to continue the work that was presented to us. To make disciples. If and when we isolate ourselves, when we remove ourselves from others from the myriad of reasons that we seek to remove ourselves from people, we’re disobeying God. We’re rejecting the God given community that we’re designed to be apart of. Additionally, when we remove ourselves from society, we’re effectively denying the calling Christ gave us. Thanks to the fall, which is documented in Genesis 3, sin makes us seek isolation. Makes us seek a place to hide. Much like Adam and Eve, who before eating of the fruit we not ashamed to be naked (they did not know that they were naked), were ashamed to learn that they were naked and fled to clothe themselves.

Sin lies to us. Sin deceives us from finding community. Sin wants us to give it a place to find safe harbor. When we’re in community, specifically among other believers, sin seeks to make us uncomfortable. Sin attempts to silence our voices for when sin is revealed, its power and sway over us is weakened. This is why we must be engaged with others. Being an idol believer, we’re rejecting God. We’re disobeying the commands given to us. We’re selfishly hoarding the truth that we know to be true, and/or are harboring deep rooted sin that we’re unwilling to give up. It causes us to hide ourselves away, to denounce the important need of others, to reject correction, and to leads us to apathy.

The other aspect of the unengaged life is laziness. Laziness stirs within us and decouples ourselves from responsibilities. We don’t want to do anything. We don’t want to see anyone. And we don’t want to bear the breadth of responsibilities that are placed upon us. We sit idly by as the world continues to turn. Here, in this place of apathy, growth is stunted. Here responsibility is soured. Here we suffocate ourselves.

We were not designed to be lazy. We were made to rest. Rest that comes at the end of work. A time to recharge and be renewed for the days to come. However, laziness does not bring about a return to work. Laziness spins itself into a cycle of putting things off, delusions of things taking care of their own needs. God did not create us like that. Yet in this current age, there is more and more things to occupy our time for inconsequential, trivial laziness. We binge episode after episode of entertainment day after day after day. Whole weekends disappear with nothing being completed. Laziness breeds a lacking motivation. It removes the need to stir ourselves up into action. God designed us to need rest, but he gave us a responsibility to work.

The unengaged Christian is spiritually lazy. They don’t seek out God, they don’t seek out the Word, and they don’t seek to speak truth into the lives of others. I know I’ve been this kind of Christian in my life. I can attest to the destructive path this lifestyle takes. Yet I know that God sends people into our lives to spur us out of such patterns and calls us to do the work he called for us.

You see, when we’re not sure what our purpose is, we begin to slow down and wait. We wait until we’re somewhat interested in something before taking action. The truth, however, is that we have already been given a purpose. We’re to live a life in an worthy manner. A manner that reflects the perfect life of Christ. We’re to be a beacon on a hill to everyone around us that God had done something for us that the world will never be able to fill. We’ve been charged with making disciples, to work and labor for God’s people. To bring share his love with everyone that crosses our path. How can we do that if we’re not engaged? If we’re not actively seeking it?

There is much to be done, and we ought to run the race diligently, purposefully. We must, as believers, be actively engaged in pursuing the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth. We must seek community that challenges us, spurs us out of sin, pushes us to be faithful servants, and builds a community that makes disciples. The engaged Christian life reflects the life of Christ and the disciples that wholeheartedly sought to spread the good news to the ends of the earth. Their zeal was challenged along the way, but no obstacles kept them from proclaiming truth to all that crossed their path.

I wonder how this generation would be different if every believer was boldly confident, as I wrote of last week, fearlessly proclaiming the gospel, and was actively in pursuit of God’s charge. How would the world look? How could our communities, colleges, and cities look if Christians stood up and fought for the expansion of the gospel like the disciples did? I believe the world would be a much better place, and that more people would find peace that can only be found in the arms of Christ!

Grace and peace, -Terren-It-Up