Check in with Your “Strong” Friends

We know who they are and know why we rely upon them. They are the cornerstones, the pillars, the anchors, the structural supports, and the baseboards. They are our strong friends. For one reason or another, they seem to weather any and all waves that are hurled in their direction through life and seem to remain standing as though nothing phases them. You know exactly who that person or persons are in your life and can probably list off many occasions when you’ve gone to them for advice, for support, or for encouragement. You’ve gone to them frequently, but when is the last time you’ve stopped to check in on them?

Strength manifests itself through a variety of means, and is marked with very specific characteristics. Your “strong” friends can likely be described through the same manner, and are identified by those very specific characteristics. Consistency, integrity, character, authority, and honesty are just a handful of descriptors that we commonly use in reference to our “strong” friends (particularly within Christian circles). Strong friends carry themselves in a particular manner, not as though they are trying to present themselves off as something they are not or as to mischaracterize themselves, but that is a result of their life experiences. Our perception of our strong friends is the beginning of a larger issue, because we overlook or forget that they are going through life just like you and I are. Chances are, your strong friend is exhausted. Chances are, you strong friend feels defeated. Chances are, your strong friend is teetering on the precipice of hopelessness. Chances are, your strong friend is being weighed down by a burdensome dilemma. Remember to check in with you strong friends!

Ultimately, let there be no illusion, each and everyone of us faces our own battles. The war against sin does not simply go away purely on strength or willpower. If that were the case, then why would we need a savior? Jesus Christ came, not to be a remedy or a treatment for temporary illness, as the ultimate cure for a curse that had no cure. In Jesus, sin’s perfect record for death was broken. Liberation came on the cross and hope flooded across the face of the Earth. However, in the midst of life, we all experiences seasons of abundance and seasons of drought. We stand triumphantly on top of the mountain and at other times trudging through the muck and the mire, all the while our eyes stand on the things of the Lord. We may not be without hope, but that does not mean that we’re struggling.

We were designed for community. When God first created Man, He created a helper from Man’s rib. Together, they formed the first community with God in the garden of Eden. Before that, God was in community with Himself as apart of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Spirit were in community with one another! We are no different in the fact that we are not solitary creatures. Your “strong” friends are apart of that community, and they may even be the one’s cultivating an environment in which community may flourish. In doing so, you might not even realize that they’re doing just that or that there may be things lying just under the surface. Your “strong” friends rely on you just as much as you rely upon them. That is the essence of Christian community, that we carry one another’s burdens, that we encourage one another, that we serve one another, and that we edify one another with dignity, honor, and grace.

None of us are meant to go about life alone. We may be put down our individual paths, but God created us to share in life with those He has placed around us. So, as you go about life, remember your strong friends need you too. Ask them how they’re doing. Offer them a word of affirmation. Listen to what they’re facing, and steward the fellowship and community that God created for us.

The Burning, Consuming Fire

In the four years that I have been consistently writing to this website, through it’s various iterations, I feel as though I’ve written exclusively on being frustrated. My life, looking back, has been chocked full of frustration. I was frustrated because I couldn’t understand why I was being picked on in middle school. Frustrated because I was angry all the time. Frustrated because nobody seemed to understand me. Frustrated because I never felt like I fit in anywhere. Frustrated because I couldn’t afford to get into college. Frustrated because nothing ever seems to work in my favor. Even now, as I sit hear banging my head upon my desk, I am frustrated because of some disconnect between my thoughts and my ability to construct them into structured sentences. I’m frustrated with life and with God.

As I’ve gone about writing, I’ve strived to be transparent about myself as to not present myself falsely or to give airs/impressions that I have everything together. I don’t. I’m falling apart, broken to pieces, suffering. I would be wrong to think that only I am alone in suffering in this way. For those of you who know me personally likely do not associate me with adjectives like broken, weak, frail, angst, etc. In fact, some of you have described me quite differently. I lament that none of you are capable understanding me more fully by having first hand insight into my emotions, thoughts, and experiences. None of us are ever truly capable of knowing somebody fully. We may know somebody intimately, know their tendencies, their idiosyncrasies, and their demeanor, but we cannot be present in their consciousness. Nevertheless, I strive to portray myself accurately and as unbiasedly as I may.

I’ve not had the typical ‘college experience’ as some would describe it. I spent two years working at a dead end job on minimum wage after high school before starting school somewhere that I was not too thrilled about studying something that I honestly had little interest in learning more about. Years have since passed since I started school, and I’m still not done yet (but I’m very close to the finish line) which is not what I wanted to still be doing this close to being thirty. I didn’t think that I would be living with my parents at my age. I did not think that I’d still be single after all this time. I did not think that I’d be working in the jobs that I did. Through most of twenties, I’ve definitely been very discontent with everything God chose to give me. The majority of my frustrations in this stage of life came from my refusal to budge from my plans. Even though I was a stubborn child, God worked in my life and changed my perspective. As I looked inward trying to get a better understanding of why I am the way that I am, I realized that I tend to be an idealistic individual. For what it’s worth, I score as an INFP on the Myers Briggs Personality Test and as a 2w1 on the enneagram personality test. I don’t put a lot of stock in these personality tests, but they offer some insight into my logical and emotional tendencies.

However it may appear, I am grateful for the path God has set me down! In fact, I do not wish that life had gone about any other way. Ultimately, I fell in love with theology and Biblical studies and God had already been drawing in that direction. God called me into ministry and has provided ample opportunities to love on and pour into the college, high school, and junior high students. God broke me down, allowed me to experience my own shortcomings, and build me back up with a great appreciation and understanding of the work He is doing in my life! Which is why it is, ironically, funny that I am equally frustrated with God while expectantly rejoicing what God is preparing. This peculiar dynamic makes for quite the internal storm that rages within the depths of my soul. I am wholly at peace while also being wholly in turmoil (if that even makes the slightest bit of logical sense) through this season.

For some time now, I have had an ever increasing desire to be in a relationship, to move toward marriage, and to, eventually, have a family of my own! This is a very natural desire to have as God commanded His creation to be fruitful and to multiply (Genesis 1:28), and the majority of believers will see this desire come to fruition. Marriage is a very intentional and specific gift given to humanity by God as a reflection of His relationship between Himself and His creation. Christian’s hold the covenant of marriage, rightfully, in high regard. But for the young twenty year old believer, marriage can appear as a destination and that singleness is an obstacle to be overcome. This could not be further from the truth. We have been afforded great opportunities to be used by God for greater things than ourselves! Singleness offers a great deal of more freedom to serve God without extra considerations, and yet, for myself and others in similar places in life, marriage is a consideration we’re looking toward.

Among my peers, I am toward the oldest side of the spectrum and I’ve watched from the proverbial sidelines as my friends have come together and moved through the stages of dating, engagement, and into marriage. I’ll go ahead and admit that it can be quite discouraging to see your friends partnering up and getting married while you’re not quite there yet. You’re super excited for them and you want to celebrate their relationship, but part of you also yearns for something similar as well. This is only compounded exponentially the more of your friends move through this process at the same time. I’m no mathematician and cannot quantify the mathematical statistics to back up this claim, but you get the idea.

For myself, I have grown more frustrated with God because I do not see where to move forward. I’ve taken notice of qualities and character traits that I find desirable, and I’ve investigated who people are. Yet, something holds me back from even considering pursing anything further. There is definitely a chasm, a schism, a disconnect between the heart and the mind which further complicates matters. Scripture speaks very clearly that the heart is deceitful and that it wanders toward whatever will immediate satisfy the itch. Christians are warned to guard their hearts for good reason, both from external and internal sources. I’ve written before about being quite ‘head-y’ meaning that I get caught up within my own mental prowess. I am an over-thinker and internal feeler. I’m not entirely sure what I am to do with emotions and states of being like infatuation and attraction. I’m a babbling idiot for all intents and purposes. Through all of this, I am frustrated with God because I don’t get it. He placed this desire on my heart, He is the cause, the source… and yet I do not see where He has provided or even if He is going to provide.

Am I inadequate? Am I undeserving? Am I interested in the wrong women? Am I not patient? Am I unworthy? I’d be lying if I said that I did not suffer in the waves of self-doubt that crash over me. I honestly do not understand, and I straight up tell God that. I don’t understand what you’re doing! As I’ve walked through this area of life, seeking counsel from my closest friends and family, I’ve heard a great variety of things. I’ve also had to navigate around and through their expectations for me and also embrace the reality that my expectations, too, may need calibrating. I’m not discouraged however! I am hopeful! God is preparing something, just as He has in every other facet of my life. I’ve been encouraged by my peers in knowing that I am going about the process properly! So what do I have to fear?

Lauren Chandler wrote an article for Desiring God that I read this morning that resonated me to my core, which is exerted below:

“…it doesn’t feel like your faith is being tested. You still believe God is able to do anything; he’s just choosing not to do the things you want him to do for you. It feels like punishment. It feels unfair and confusing. You didn’t ask for these desires, but here they are. There’s nothing wrong or sinful about them. So what are you to do with them? In your mind, you assume there are two choices: either he gives you what you want the way you want it, or he takes the desires away.

Beloved, there is so much more.

Here’s what he’s doing. He is burning away the fluff. He is pulling out every false prop on which you’ve built your trust. He is frustrating your plans so that you turn your eyes from those around you and the lack you find inside you to see and love him for who he is and not merely what he can do for you. There is no more vital work than that. He loves you too much to give you what you want too soon.”

If that isn’t me at this very moment… Even in the midst of that is going on in life, I know that God is preparing me for so much more. There are two instances involving fire in Scripture that I have been drawn to recently, one being in the Old Testament and one in the New. God has a penchant for creating incredibly vibrant and awe-inspiring displays of majesty. We have much that we can learn from God.

When God first appeared to Moses, He did so in a burning bush. What is awesome about this moment is that the bush was, while it was engulf in flames, that is was not consumed! Fire consumes. When all the usable fuel is expended, only ash remains. That is not the case for God. God provides infinitely! God does not require anything to produce something. He gives freely and abundantly and works all things together according to His will! We may find encouragement in God’s provision. As I’ve written about before, God has blessed myself and my family on more occasions than I could ever begin to list. God has provided divinely to meet needs that I could hardly have anticipated!

Secondly, Jesus as the true vine. John 15 reads as follows:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

For the follower of Christ, we are constantly being pruned, molded, and drawn toward God. There are areas in our lives, branches that are not bearing fruit, that need to be removed. Misconceptions, doubts, fears, and sins that have need of corrected. This process is not ideal or pleasant. Sin feels good, let’s be honest. We enjoy sinning, which is why we turn to it every change we get. Christ calls his disciples, meaning His Church, to abide in Him. We must be willing to let go of those things which are not necessary, the fluff, the false props, our inferior plans for ourselves, and to adopt a posture that is more inline with God’s will. Christ’s words here in John 15 offer reassurance for those, like me, who teeter between the extreme of peace and frustration.

This is what I know: God is working in my life. Preparing me for something bigger than myself, than my plans, than my expectations. Furthermore, as I’ve come to better understand, God is the originator of the true desires of my life, and as I linger closer and closer to God, His desires become my desires. I have faith that God will keep His promise to me just as He did for all those throughout the Old Testament and through His son. Whatever it may be, He will provide abundantly and appropriately. God loves me far too greatly to allow me to rush into something, to enable me to engage in foolishness. I am hopeful and eager to see what God is presently preparing to do in my life, and I know that He understands my frustration. He understands me far greater and fully than any other person on this Earth ever could! God is not withholding a relationship from me to stymie me or to deject me, but to prepare me. I must trust in Him, to ask for an ever increasing faithfulness, and to be willing to be corrected. Pruned.

-Terren

Dress Your Heart

There are many occasions in which we are free to dress down to the studs. From first dates to business proposals, from interviews to weddings, we often dress to match the circumstances or the social expectations. Rightfully so, as some occasions we ought to put more thought and effort into how we look or conduct ourselves. How off-putting would it be if you showed up to a first date without showering, hair unkempt, teeth unbrushed, no deodorant, and in the most tattered, nasty clothes you owned? Obviously, I shouldn’t have to explain this to most anybody… well, maybe junior high students… but I digress. Yet, this is precisely how we approach God when we come to worship him! We dress up to attend service in our Sunday finest, but fail to dress our hearts before lifting our nasty, sin riddled hands to him in worship!

Our God is king of kings, lord of lords, Yahweh, Jahova, Elohim; he is our creator, our keeper, and the one worthy of our upmost! As we are welcomed into the court of God, before the glorious, heavenly throne of God we must assume a proper posture, one of reverence and humility. Should we approach God out of pride and selfishness, we have already presented ourselves as foolish. Our attention is not on God or His work, but rather on ourselves. We come before God with a list of grievances, complaints, and requests before giving a second thought to what God has done, what he has provided, or for life in general. Who are we to approach God in this manner? Who are we to complain about what God has given to us and about what he has not given? Yet, do not do just that?


“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on thing and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.”

-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


We cannot hide anything from God, no matter how nicely we dress ourselves God still knows our hearts. Thus, as we come before His throne kicking and screaming, He welcomes us with open arms just as we are. We may try our best to dress in our bests, to put up a facade, but God sees through our efforts to mask our brokenness. God is not impressed by fancy clothes, designer brands, or our attempts to pass ourselves off as something that we’re not. However, God calls us to approach Him confidently, to dwell before Him, and to seek refuge in Him! God, also, is there to care for us as we act like children.

In the midst of our selfish tantrums before God, He lovingly whispers to us ‘check your heart.’ A gentle reminder that we may be acting our of selfish intent or a reminder that He has something better in store. God nudges us and prods up to take up a proper posture as we move through the various stages of faith. God teaches us what it means to be humble, what it means to live a life of fulfillment, and what it means to be content. As we come to learn and build a relationship with God, the way in which we come to God changes. We begin to look up at what is before us through the lens of a Heaven and look beyond the circumstances around us.

Through this process, we begin to stop at the stoop of God’s domain and reflect upon our life for a moment to prepare ourselves. We check our hearts before going before God. We make sure that we are prepared to listen to God, to seek forgiveness, and to be taught! We have to prepare ourselves because we can be easily distracted, we can have selfish desires, or questionable wants. Thus, as we come to God through tears, in fear, with doubt, or in anger we have made it a practice to pause for a moment to prepare ourselves to listen! God is going to speak. God is going to comfort. God is going to teach. He’s going forgive. God is prepared to meet our needs, as He knows them before we do. He’s working and moving for our good, He’s set us on a path that is far better than our wildest dreams. God wishes for us to rely on Him at all time and for all our needs. God seeks a relationship with us the likes of which we’ve never experienced in life! God welcomes us as we are, but He does not expect us to stay the way we are. Hence the need for us to dress our hearts! Our relationship with God isn’t a first date where we dress our best and hide our insecurities. Our relationship with God is one of constant growth, one of intimacy! A bond unlike any other! So we ought not dress for the first date or the interview, but for the wedding!

Raging Storm & Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With grace and peace,

Terren-It-Up

Who You Say I Am

For as long as I can remember, I have relied solely upon my own intuition. My perspective has been centered on my wants, my desires, my willpower. I have wrestled with God for years over my life and His timing. I have tried to force my will into fruition to no avail and I have seen God work despite my shortcoming and stubborn refusal to wait. I lament that I am so incapable of letting go and fully surrendering my life to Him. I have been having what you might call an identity crisis and have had to step back from what I thought I knew. I wrestle with the shifting perspectives of my life. How I view my life and how God sees my life. Who am I? It is a question that I’ve asked myself on many occasions. Why am I the way that I am? Why am I where I am? Why has God withheld things from me? Who am I suppose to be? Why am I not there yet? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Who am I?

In the sake of honesty and transparency, I am terrible at relying on God. I hold onto my burdens and refuse to let them go. I rely on my own strength, my own mind, and my own abilities when God has asked me repeatedly to trust Him and to rest in who He is. I have known for many years now that my life was on a trajectory that was headed toward vocational ministry and God has recently provided the opportunity to step into that ministry. I am blown away and I am somewhat grieved because I have not believed that He would provide. Despite the numerous times that God has provided great things in my life I still doubt Him. I refuse to believe that God is good and that He has promised great things for me. Why am I so stubborn? Why am I such a failure? Honestly, I do not understand (though I do know and understand) why God is so good to me? I do not deserve anything. I am a mess and yet He still pursues me.

God views my life very differently than I have. I have not been able to glimpse what that is because I have refused to let go of what I have known. What am I to do? I am not lost, but I do not understand. At this time, I exist in a state of flux. I fight for what I want but then remember that I am not my own. I am convicted that I have become so attached to what expectations I have for my life that I have missed out on God’s blessings. I have had to ask God to tell me who I am.



You see, I am not done being molded. There are still areas of my life that need to disappear. I have habits that originate from a time when I was bullied, depressed, and hopeless. Typically they rear their head under the guise of self-deprecating humor but the truth hides within humor. I do not know why I do this or why it manifests in the way that it does. I guess that some pain and self-doubt is rooted in my life and that I doubt myself on nearly every occasion. I am thankful that a dear friend of mine has seen through this and that they are willing to call me out on it. Perhaps I am just scared to surrender. Scared to let people in. To let God in.

I am scared. I am uncertain. I see what God is doing in the lives of those around me and wish that I had what they do. I wish to have what God has not said not yet to. Why can I not be a more devoted follower? Why am I so scared to take risks? To put myself out there? Why am I scared to be used by God? I grieve for my inadequacies and that I am so unworthy of what God has done. As cliched as it may be, I’m letting go. I’m tired, y’all. Tired of fighting against God. Tired of the strive and struggle. I’m tired of resisting. It is so exhausting trying to make my will be done. That is not what God wishes for my life. Or your life for that matter. My identify is totally founded in God. He sent His Son to die on a tree of His own creation to be a sacrifice for my sins. He has invited you and I to join Him and has made a place for us to sit with Him. How amazing is that?

I must doubt my doubts and ask God to help my unbelief. He has done so much for my life and I am at fault for not recognizing it. God has invited me into His home and He calls me by name. What more could I ever need? What more could I ever know? God has told me who I am. I just need to be obedient. God has been so unbelievably good to me and I am grateful! Grateful for friends who call me out, who encourage me, who are hopeful for my future, who share in this time with me. I don’t deserve them, but God has surrounded me with them. He has a reason for our gathering. He has gathered us for a purpose. How can I not be grateful for that? So I take a step back and look at who God says that I am and seek His council. May I trust more fully and be devoted to Him greater.

Being Loved: Affirmation

Y’all, it has been a busy month. After nearly three months of writing at least one post a week, I’ve been away from this website for nearly four weeks. To quote perpetual troublemaker Farris Bueller, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I’ve not written for lack of topics or ideas, but rather because I’ve been elsewhere. At work, serving at church, attending rehearsals, having game nights, spending a week sick with a sinus infection, etc. Life has been full of things vying for my attention. However, I am back with something to write about. Allowing people to love on myself and to build me up.

I love loving on people! Words of affirmation are one of the ways in which I love on people, however… I’m not very good at allowing people to love on me in the same way. A friend of mine paid me a compliment at lunch yesterday with some peers, and I did not accept it properly. It’s odd to try to explain, but I definitely did not fully allow this person to love on me. Why? I don’t know. I’m awkward sometimes. Anyway, I was thinking about it after I got home from lunch and felt convicted. I had robbed someone the joy of building me up. Of speaking into my life. I felt bad, because I enjoy loving people. Weirdly.

Before I stepped up and took on my faith as my own, I despised people. I hated them. I had no love for anyone. Myself included. God, in His sometimes ironic ways, changed my life and set me on a new path. One of the ways in which God changed me was by instilling within me a desire to love people. To genuinely love them. To speak life into others and to build them up. So when I poorly received somebody else’s love, I felt foolish. I was wrong, even though I did not outright wrong someone. I was wrong for not being willing to allow someone to build me up.

So this evening at rehearsal, I apologized to this person because I was in the wrong. They totally understood and made sure to let me know that I had nothing to apologize for. Through this conversation, we noted how odd it can be to accept someone else’s affirmation when we’re accustomed to being to one giving out affirmation. Honestly y’all, it really is odd. Like when you’re the person people come to for advice and how you feel like an alien when you’re having to ask others for advice. It feels like something isn’t fitting properly. Like a glove too big or small for your hand or a shoe that is too small. It’s awkward! Throughout the course of the night however, as this rehearsal continued, I could only thing about how much I love all of the people around me. The community God has placed me within.

From the people that I’ve known for years, to the strangers walking in the door for the first time. I love each and every one of them for different reasons. Sometimes for reasons I do not know, but still feel nonetheless. There are some I know intimately, whose company is vital in keeping me inline, and those who I am still attempting to get to know on a deeper level. Some I hardly know at all, but I seek ways to love them irregardless. Whether through a game of four square with invisible lines at the front of the auditorium, laughter over a game of cucumber at IHOP, over serious discussions in small groups, and so forth I seek to love people. But what I need to improve at, is allowing people to love me. To not have my guard so high up that I keep people out. To not steal the joy from others who are sharing God’s love with me.

Some lessons have to be learned through reflection. From seeing where we are in the wrong. I’m thankful that I can see that I need to improve here, and am willing to work on it. I hope this post makes some sense, as I’m really rambling here. Having abstract thoughts make writing a tad difficult, but I’m writing anyway. Thank you for reading, and as always:

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

Dating: An Evaluation

The purpose in dating has changed dramatically in recent memory and has given rise to a minefield of potential problem areas if not navigated cautiously. The rules of engagement when it pertains to dating have also become lacking in clarity. Where one would have to go to the person of their affection’s home to state their intentions and ask for permission has now been replaced by the swiping through of images on dating apps based on basic, superficial indicators. Additionally, the rise of casual sex and the hookup culture present additional hurdles in the consideration of the dating relationship. This brave new world of dating presents Christians with a plethora of obstacles and dangers to navigate as they step into the season of relationships. What is the purpose of dating and how what does it reveal about God’s character and blessing?


I, as I have previously made clear, have never dated. I’ve been single my whole life, which is absolutely fine by me. I bring this up for transparency’s sake. I do not claim to be an expert on the topic nor do I have any experience in this area. However, I have learned under both great authors and Biblical thinkers as well as gained insight from mentors and friends as they have gone through this season. Thus, while I stand on the shoulders of people like Ben Stuart, Solomon, and other pastors, I hope to present an accurate summation of this season of life from the perspective of the Christian life. Furthermore, this is also not a guide to how to date or how to get a date. I don’t know how to get a date… Soooooooooo… if you will allow me, let us begin Y’all.


When we think of dating in the Christian culture, one of a few scenarios come to mind:

The Forever Alone,

Waiting to Find the Equally Yoked Phase:

Equally Yoked

Or…

The Forms of Christian Dating:

Christian Dating


Memes asides, Christian dating may be a slightly awkward stage to be in. Thankfully scripture gives us some valuable wisdom when it comes to our relationships, romantic or not. However, before determining the purpose of dating within the Christian life we must first examine the human nature. We are selfish, sinful creatures. Period. We have a need to fill that bottomless, God-sized hole in our lives which we will turn to a myriad of things to temporarily fill. As Ben Stuart made emphatically clear “where there is scarcity, desperation will set in.” Stuart’s point is that when we are without a source of life, we will use whatever we can get our sense of fulfill out of to temporarily sate our desires. Be it sex, drugs, money, things, people, etc. If we lack a source of life, we will, in desperation, find our fulfillment wherever we can get it. This extends to our approach to dating. If we approach it in the wrong state of mind, we will use and exploit people to fill our selfish desires. So let’s get one thing absolutely clear, Y’all. There is no single person who can ever fill the God-sized hole in your life. Period. Apart from Jesus, nobody will give you everything you are lacking. If you place that expectation on your friends, the person you are dating, or the person you’re looking to marry, then you are placing a weight upon that person that they cannot even attempt to carry! So let us be absolutely clear, no singular person will ever meet your every need, so do not place that sort of expectation on your relationships. When this occurs, then your relationships are set forth on a path of destruction and injury.

So what purpose does dating serve within the Christian life? Evaluation. Who is him or her? Does he or she love Jesus? Does their life reflect the change evident of someone who has given their live over to God? Do they serve others? Do they honor their parents? Do they encourage others? Who are they? That is the purpose in dating, to evaluate whether or not this person is someone with whom you are willing to join in a covenantal relationship before God with. Song of Songs (Solomon) gives use a fairly clear understanding of what this looks like. Song of Songs begins with the initial attraction between King Solomon and his beloved and moves through their evaluation of one another and ends in their marriage. Throughout the poetic language used throughout the book are tidbits of information that reveal a bit about culture and relationships. So let us imagine that you are interested in someone, you’re curiosity has been peeked. Is this person someone who wanders in search of things to fill their live with a sense of meaning, or do they wait upon God to give them what they need? Are they a wanderer or a waiter? Song of Songs gives us some insight into what this looks like.

“Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon; for why should I be like one who veils herself beside the flocks of your companions?” -Song of Songs 1:7 ESV

Timothy Ateek (T.A.), former director of Vertical Ministries at Baylor University and current director of Breakaway Ministries at Texas A&M, makes note that historically at the time that Song of Songs was written that prostitutes would veil themselves and go out and wander around waiting for a man to give her an invitation (Vertical Ministries Podcast). The woman in Song of Songs asks why should she be like those who wander around looking for the attention and affection for other men? She understands the value of waiting for Solomon instead of seeking out the approval of these other men. For Christians, we want our prospective significant others to wait for the Lord to tell them when to move. This is important as it reveals a willingness to be patient given whatever situation is before them. Why? Because when we wander and seek out our own ends it reveals our doubt in God’s ability to address the matter. If we are unwilling to be patient as the Lord sets a path before us, we reveal that our trust resides in our own abilities.

We also see that she wants to be where Solomon is, the attraction between the two is mutual. Matt Chandler highlights in his book The Mingling of Souls, “She wants to hang out in a more meaningful way. And of course, it’s quite natural for a relationship to grow in this way. We can call this the dating stage.” She wants to get to know Solomon better and see where this relationship is headed. We get to see how Solomon responds:

“If you do not know, O most beautiful among women, follow in the tracks of the flock, and pasture your young goats beside the shepherds’ tents. I compare you, my love, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots. Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels.” -Song of Songs 1:8-10 ESV

Solomon tells her where she may find him and also affirms her through his compliment to her. This reveals to us the clear communication between the two. While they are not playing games with one another. He is not hiding from her to tease her, nor is he flirting meaninglessly. He affirms his attraction for her as well! We ought to be clear in our intentions and our communication with one another. This has the benefit of, first, keeping our actions from being questioned, and, secondly, from leaving room for misunderstanding. One of the issues with dating today is the vague nature in which we talk to potential dates. Do we call them? Do we text them? When we do ask them out do we call it a date? Do we just ask them to hang out? What does it all mean? Men, do not beat around the bush when stating your intentions. If you’re looking to ask a girl out, be a man and call it what it is. A date. Why? Because you do not leave her on a wire to guess what the purpose and intention you have. Is she getting ready to hang out with you and your friends or are y’all about to go to dinner and a movie? Does she need to call her best friends over to help her get ready for you, or does she need to show up casually? This extends even further after you do have a date. If you had a good time, then make sure to tell her and if you’re interested in a second date be sure to make it known before the date is over. Proverbs offers some wisdom in this:

“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” -Proverbs 15:28 ESV

Communicating clearly has great benefit to us in keeping us free from presenting ourselves falsely. Therefore we must think about how we’re going to talk to not only the person we’re pursuing but also those whom we come into contact with. No matter the circumstances or situation, our words must be carefully chosen so that we may not be taken out of context and may be free from distortion. This also applied when things are no going well. If it is clear that you and your date are not in the same vein then it is vital that it is communicated.

Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” -Proverbs 27:5 ESV

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” -Proverbs 16:24 ESV

Even when things are not ideal and we must make the hard choice to break things off, we are capable of speaking in love and affirming one another. Even when a relationship comes to an end, we as believers are capable and ought to build up one another. Unfortunately, as can be seen in Hollywood films which play up the drama, breakups can be quite the ordeal. When we mingle together and give parts of ourselves away before we should which results in a period of hurt from separation. Not unlike the feelings of withdrawal experienced when we remove caffeine or sugar from our diets. The last thing we as believers want is to give our hearts out in pieces. While we are healed, redeemed, and made new through the blood and sacrifice of Christ Jesus the pains of giving away of our hearts to those who do not deserve it can be lingering. Amanda Cook and Steffany Gretzinger of Bethel Music have a hauntingly moving song called Pieces which details the differences and shortcomings of human love versus God’s faithful, pure love for us.



I am keenly aware of the means by which they describe the relationships we experience between one another, particularly in a romantic sense. Phrases like love not being shy hints at people who closet their relationships and minimize the nature of their relationships. Stanzas of love being afraid to be seen with the significant other allude to hurts experienced at the hands of someone else. Then someone hiding themselves away to tease the recipient of someone’s affections makes it clear that there have been questions in the intentions of that person who ghosted them. Unfortunately, this is not a problem exclusive to any one sex.

As we pursue dating, we must have boundaries and expectations set and agreed upon to keep one another away from anything that would hurt or call one another’s character into question. In all honesty, by setting boundaries and keeping one another above reproach, you may effectively evaluate the potential in the relationship moving forward without placing one another in compromising situations. This is not to suggest that there will not be temptations or trials, especially as the relationship moves to be more and more serious. Fortunately, by doing so we are respecting the integrity and wellbeing of the other person. In the process of dating the result, whether moving toward marriage or in separating, ought to be glorifying to God and respecting the inherent priceless value His creation. This is what Paul asserts when he writes to Timothy giving instruction to the church at Ephesus:

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

-1 Timothy 5:1-2 ESV

Why ought we treat women as mothers and sisters? Because they are made in the image of God and He has given them a value beyond what we could ever pay. I am not suggesting that women have monetary value, but rather the God has imbued value because they are His creation. Who are we to disrespect God’s creation? Who are we not to treat the people around us with dignity and respect especially in the pursuit of dating? We, as followers of Jesus, have a prerogative to assure that our romantic endeavors are honoring of God and that we are not compromising in character. We have no room to have a reputation of compromise. This is not the kind of compromise where we’re reaching common ground in a argument or in the decision of where to eat lunch. This kind of compromise is the kind that calls ours or their characters into question. We must live lives that are above reproach.

See, dating is not entirely about evaluating the person you’re looking to pursue, but a large portion of dating is self-evaluation. Are you tendering to your own garden? Are you allow God to prune away what is not necessary or dead? Your life is your garden, and while you’re not going to have a perfectly tendered garden are you allowing Jesus to come in an work in it? Are you willing to let the one who died for your sins to come in are show you where you’re falling short? We are very capable of looking at other people’s lives and making judgements upon them. We can look and compare our gardens to one another’s but that does not mean that because theirs is in a less well kept state that your’s is superior. By tending to our own gardens and faithfully allowing God to work within us, we may be able to be above reproach and evaluate where we stand. So where do you stand? Is your garden a mess? Does it need to be weeded so that what is beneficial may breathe and grow? Let me make note of this now while we are on this topic: You may of the mindset that you need to wait until your life is in perfect order before you should start dating. You may think that it is best to start dating once you’ve gotten your degree, gotten that adult job, gotten a house, and are financially stable. The issue is the false sense of security that comes with the appearance of having things in order. Let me caution y’all that nothing is ever guaranteed apart from the salvation that is found in Jesus. Life can flip in an instant and everything that you have put stock into like a job, a degree, a house, and so forth can disappear without warning. So I would not suggest that you make worldly milestones as your gauge as to when to pursue a relationship. Rather I recommend leaning upon God to tell you when the time is right. Even now, implying that you are single as I am, ask God to partner with you in this endeavor! Ask God to walk with you as you move from singleness into dating and then ask God to partner with you in your relationship! If we’re going to step into a season of life where two broken people are looking to move to becoming one, what better step is there to take than one with God?

For Christians, I believe that there is immense wisdom in asking God to partner with us in all of our relationships both romantic or plutonic. Let us not forget that God was the one who first made relationship with Adam and then relationship between Adam and Eve. Who knows more than God who is in constant relationship with Himself? Meaning that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (The Trinity) are in relationship with one another. Always in communication with each office and working with one another. You may have trouble wrapping your mind around that one and the theological implications thereof, but know that God is in relationship with Himself just as you are with your friends and family. Additionally, in keeping ourselves above reproach and accountable, surround yourself with friends who know you well enough to be invested in your relationships! Friends who are not afraid to confront you when you are in the wrong or in a relationship that is going no where. Friend who live out what we see in Proverbs 27:5 (seen above). Surround yourself with people who know you intimately enough to know when you are slipping and be willing to listen when they come to you with concerns. You may be surprised when they come to you in total support of your relationship! A sign that you are moving in the right direction!

This is what dating is for, to evaluate yourself and the person you’re looking to engage with. Are they following Jesus? Does their life reflect the change that comes from surrendering your life to Jesus? Does your life reflect Jesus? Are you pursuing God? Are you growing deeper? Are you standing idle? I do not know where you stand, but I know that we must first evaluate where we stand with God before we even consider a relationship beyond that with God. Why? Because we must first get our relationship with God right before we will ever get relationships with others right. This is abundantly clear when John expounds in 1 John 4:

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. -1 John 4:13-21 ESV

We can only know what love is because God loved us first. God did not blindly create us, He crafted us. The act of forming us within our mother’s wombs is in itself an act of love! God sending His son, Jesus, to live among us, to be made flesh, and reveal to us what God has done and to die on the cross for the sins of all, is an act of love! Only through God can we know love and only through God can we know how to love others! We love because God first loved us. A simple statement bursting with encouragement for the follower of Christ. God is so, so good, Y’all! Do y’all know that? Do y’all believe that? Do you trust that God loves you? This is why it is vital that we get our relationship with God right before considering any other relationship! Because apart from God we are nothing. We are dead in sin set on a path of self destructiveness. As Ben Stuart illustrated to be a source of life, you must have a source of life. To be a source of life every relationship you find yourself in, you must first have a source of life found in God.


Having said all of this, I once again make clear that I have not dated before. I have no experience in this area. I stand on the shoulders of scripture and great theological minds and pastors who have made an effort to address the heartbreak that stems from romantic relationships that have gone wrong and to affirm the perfect love that comes from God. Despite my inexperience, I know what I look for when considering a relationship, and I’d like to present a few of them here. Why? Because they’re important questions to have raised and they also reflect back on myself. So if I’ve going to consider pursuing somebody’s heart I must consider a few of these things.

Firstly, does she love Jesus? Is she submitting to the authority of God and living a life that reveals Christ to others? As I stated, these questions also apply to myself. Do I love Jesus? Am I submitting to the authority of God and conducting my life so that others see Christ through me?

Secondly, who is she around her friends? Who is she around authority figures? Who is she when she thinks nobody is looking? Who is she when times are going well? When times are going poorly? Is there consistency? Does her character waiver from different scenarios or is she consistent throughout? Does she rely upon God when things are difficult? Does she worship when things are beyond what was expected? Am I the same around my friends as I am around my mentors? Am I the same when life is tough as when life is easy? Do I rely upon God when things are poor and do I give thanks and worship God for the blessing He pours out on me?

Thirdly, is she encouraging to others? Does she build other’s up? Do I seek out to build up others and encourage them in their walks with Christ?

Fourth, how does she handle gossip? Does she put an end to it? Does she stand up for what’s right? Do I reject gossip and seek to defend whomever the gossip is about?

Fifth, is she patient? Does she wait for God or does she wander? Where does jump to conclusions or wait until she has an understanding before acting? How do I handle patience? Do I flee to what will provide instant gratification or do I wait for God to reward my faithfulness? Do I wait while God puts things in order and am I faithful to follow when God says to move?

Sixth, is she hospitable? Does she reach out to others? Does she go out of her way to meet people where they are at and make an effort to include them? Does she serve others? Do I meet people where they are at? Do I make an effort to make them feel welcome and included? Am I willing to serve them?

These are just a few things that yield very important implications when evaluating not only a prospective date but ourselves. Why? Because they reveal character. They reveal where we are with God. Are we faithful followers who are consistent throughout every season of life or are we wandering freely and changing as quickly as the seasons do. If it is the former, then there is evidence of the work of Christ in them. If it is the later, then there is evidence of something lacking. Why is this important? Because consistency now gives evidence of how they will be should you get married. Let’s think about the traditional wedding vows. For better or worse. Are you and this person going to be consistent when life is tough and unbearable as when life is going well and prosperous? In sickness and in health. Are you and this person going to be consistent when time goes by and illness sets in as when you’re free from disease? For richer or poorer. Are you and this person going to be consistent when there is some monetary security as when there is none? To love and cherish. Are you and this person going to be consistent in loving one another when the effects of age and gravity have taken hold and the outward appearance moves away from its youthfulness? Are you going to cherish them for who they are when the physical aspects are no longer what they were. Till death do us part. Are you going to commit yourselves to consistency in the commitment to one another? This last one is the biggest question that lingers beyond vow exchanged in a wedding ceremony. It is a question that needs to be answered near the time of engagement. Why? Because the vow being made here at the end till death do us part is a commitment of bonding together until death separates us. Not life, not money, not sickness, not beauty, not strength will separate us. Only death. This is the convenient of marriage. A union that bonds two people into one in the eyes of God. This is why when we are dating, we must be evaluating who we are and who the other person is. That is the purpose in dating. Not for a good time. Not for companionship. Not for exploitation. Not for satisfaction. To evaluate the prospects of a lifelong commitment.

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up