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!

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.

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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.