A Tough Farewell

Mom and Dad came up to Raleigh with me the day after Christmas to help move me into my new apartment. I very much love that pair. It still baffles me at how I once thought they were demons sent here to give me chores. And now, we’re best of friends. It’s amazing how, as I get older, my eyes begin to open more to what my parents were doing – the bigger picture of their love for me and for my brothers.

Saying goodbye to family is always tough. This time, in particular, had a much larger meaning to me. I am not going off to college, still being in need of their assistance. This time I am starting my own life, far away from home. A new, professional career. An opportunity to make a wide range of mistakes and stumbles that will hurt me momentarily, while simultaneously growing me. After they finished helping me move in they got ready to head back to Atlanta (the goodbyes were in order). The goodbye to my mother was definitely more difficult.

You always hear of “father-daughter” relationships being awesome. “Mother-son” can be just as awesome. As we were hugging, I realized I did not want to let go at all. Letting go would somewhat symbolize that I am no longer that dependent child of hers that I once was. That “momma’s boy,” per se. I can only imagine what she was going through. In many ways, she was losing her first child. The first child she dreamt about having long before marriage. The first child she prayed for when her and my father saw a dim light of being able to even have children. The first child she held after giving birth. The first child that she had to potty-train. The first child she watched as he went to his first day of kindergarten & college. Her first child that she loved. She had to say goodbye now.

Please do not hear me wrong now, by no means will our relationship end here. Since that Wednesday I’ve spoken on the phone to my parents constantly. Lord willing, that will continue for a long time, with many many visits in between. I’ll probably even move closer to them eventually. The underlying point to all of this is something that I am continually learning and growing in:

There is nothing nothing nothing on this earth (or “under the sun” as King Solomon says) that can and will completely fulfill me or fulfill anyone else. I love my parents dearly, but I have to now be my own man and grow in my life and not rely on them to save me. If I place my parents as “ultimate” in my life, that leaves me no room for me to grow. Conversely, if my parents put me on an ultimate pedestal and think that I’m going to fulfill them, then they are drastically losing that battle right now and should be depressed because I am now 7 hours away and beginning my own life. And it goes on and on. If a girl places her boyfriend as ultimate in her life then she has doomed her boyfriend. He was not meant to bring her complete joy and he will disappoint her. Not only that, he will feel the weight she’s putting on him and will begin to pull away. Girlfriends too. Athletes can’t put their sport as ultimate either because they WILL get older, weaker, and slower. My beautiful MacBook Pro that I love will eventually be in a junkyard or garage sale one day. Neither can i place myself as ultimate. I can jog and eat healthy all I want, but I will still age. In my health and youth, I can still get cancer. There is some enjoyment in the many things we do and receive, but it is temporary and not eternal. It will always leave us wanting more. #DiminshingReturns

The Bible screams for us to hear this truth. Not only does the Bible do this, but so does the secular world. Every magazine has articles of “how to better our love life” or “stay looking young”. There are numerous self-help books on how to keep our family close, how to improve your workout plan, or improve your cooking. This occurs everywhere and in everything because at our innermost being we know that we are not fulfilled by anything on this earth. But we keep trying to fix it on our own. And each time we do so we fall short. There is never an answer for this issue besides the one, single answer that the Bible gives.

The book of Ecclesiastes, for example, constantly reiterates that we must look beyond the sun for lasting fulfillment. Jesus Christ is the only thing that will solve the issues that we have. Doing it our own way leads to death (Romans 8). What leads to life and peace is life in the Spirit. My new job will not heal me or complete me. My parents, whom I love dearly, will never fulfill me. I need something that will transcend my weaknesses. From Genesis to Revelations….Jesus is saying “I’ve got it. Trust me. Come to me. I’ve got what you need.” This is where our joy lies. The Bible teaches that God sent me to Clemson and now into Raleigh at this appointed time so that I would seek him further. For (1) the praise of His is glorious grace and (2) that I may find full joy in Him (Acts 17:24-27, Isaiah 46:8-11).

‘Oh the depths of your love God. May you continue to cloud me with your presence wherever I go and in whatever I do.’

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My Latest Fear (A Spiritual Warfare Tale)

Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

2 Corinthians 10:3,4  For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

Scripture similar to these two verses have been resonating in my mind over and over for the past week now. The mystery and wonder of spiritual warfare is something that is plainly & naturally spoken of throughout the Bible. I’ve been in Raleigh for two weeks now and currently have a temporary roommate. He’s a real cool guy, just not a believer. We talk about sports, movies, our hometowns, share life stories, etc. A few minutes into meeting him, I called him a hippie and said he should propose to his girlfriend. His face kinda turned red, haha. It was enjoyable.

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For the past week I have been wrestling with why I have yet to talk to him about Jesus Christ. I’ve been to 3 different churches and 2 different small groups, but have yet to invite him to either. The fear overcomes me every time. It’s so odd. On the other hand, I can talk to him about anything else and even direct the conversation wherever I want it to go and however deep I want it to go, without any fear…..unless it has to do with the God. How the heck is this possible???? Why do I get nervous anytime I speak to an unbeliever??

Now those of you who know me, know that “fear of people” is NOT a part of my make-up. When I was born, I did not get that gene. I’ve said some random, spontaneous, outlandish & nonsensical things to people (i.e people I just meet, family, other Christians, friends, professors, bosses, random elderly people, etc..). Without regret. As a side-note, it is never anything bad or demeaning.

Here’s my point, the root cause of this fear in me  in proclaiming the Gospel truth to my new friend is spiritual warfare. It is not chemicals in my body that have evolved from natural selection, as some atheists would say. Neither is it my insecurity (unless I’m talking to a girl that I believe is terribly cute, but that’s an entirely different type of nervousness).Image In 2 months I may never see him again, so no need for insecurity, right.

In the moments I spend thinking about talking to a certain unbeliever about Jesus, can mentally/emotionally feel a pull within myself that causes me to sometimes give up on the matter. There ARE “rulers and authorities and cosmic powers” not of this world that give me this fear and the Holy Spirit in me is fighting against them. If my flesh were to try to do what the Spirit is actually doing, my flesh would loose the war, in some form or fashion, every time. My roommate knows I’m a Christian. And I’m sure I’ve set a good example for him. And I can speak theology and say “God saves and does his will despite the failures and insecurities of man.” But that would be a cop-out for me right now. To simply put it, I care deeply for the guy already. There is a duty to be done. At the end of the day God has a call on me that is to Himself & for Himself for the building of the body of Christ…which will be for my good, my spiritual growth, and my friend’s eternal joy. Obedience is tough though. But with more and more practice, it becomes easier. It then creates a lifestyle in us that automatically becomes more missional in all that we do. With more obedience comes more freedom.

I’ll end with a personal story I experienced this year.

By far the scariest, most horrific night of my life was one that occurred late last Spring Semester. It was around 12:45am on a Saturday night, the weekend before the new Avengers movie came out. I was in my bed listening to the snippet of a Matt Chandler sermon. My roommates, Ed and Matt, were out of town and my other roommate Jon had just gotten back. My door was closed shut. I turned my lights & laptop off and laid down for bed with my head sideways on my pillow. With only about 30 seconds of trying to sleep, I feel…..I repeat, I feel a hand press down on my face and slowly drag itself towards my ear. I can still vividly remember how his hand was positioned. I intimately felt the texture & pressure of it. It was not a pleasant, angel-like feeling. It was cold and felt dark. This Imageoccurred for about 3 long seconds. The 3 seconds after that, the following thoughts quickly went through my head:

1) What the crap is Matt doing in my room playing around? Wait Matt wouldn’t do this at this time of night. Wait…Matt’s not even here.

2) Ed is out of town….

3) Jon, with his personality, would never do this to me.

4) Wait, my door has been closed and it’s pitch dark still. I heard no one enter my room.

At this point I leaped up and THREW the covers completely off the bed. I pleaded ‘who is it.’  I began yelling ‘what are you doing’ and hoping someone would just answer. I expected a random dude or burglar to attack me so I positioned for a fight. I still couldn’t see anything with it being totally dark. But after 6 long seconds I got no answer and frantically ran out my bedroom door and started banging on Jon’s door. His light was on so I knew he was still awake. But I was frickin’ banging the bolts off of his door and yelling for him to come out. He opened it and he immediately saw something was wrong. I was so out of breath. I told him someone is in my room. Without thinking, he pulls a shotgun out of his room (the dude is from Sumter, SC….nuff said) and we quickly went back to my room.

But deep inside of me I knew I had lied to him. I knew no physical person was in there. It was practically impossible. But I thought if I convinced Jon there was, then hopefully there actually was. Jon and I checked everywhere in my room and called for the guy to come out. I was still bending over out of breath. I can’t remember who admitted it first, but we soon knew it had been a demon. I’d heard many stories about demons but never experienced it, which made me a skeptic. We prayed and prayed and prayed that in Jesus’ name it would leave. I could barely think straight. Everything of our physical world that I’ve always known of became drastically small. It was crumbling down before my eyes within a 3-mintue time frame. I became aware, firsthand, to the realities of the spiritual world. Not just some verses we skip over in the Bible.

Quite frankly, I felt helpless. Sleeping that night was the hardest I’ve ever had it. I felt the weight (mental, physical, emotional) on myself. The only thing that helped was the fact that I kept thinking if the spiritual world were true, then that makes Christ even more true. All things are mine according to scripture because I am on Christ and Christ is of God. And my faith was strengthened and was growing by the second. What the Satan’s buddies intended for bad, God used for good. The demonic-world aspect of spiritual warfare is a very rampant occurrence in places like Africa, China, and many 3rd-world countries where Christianity tires to flourish. It’s not really in America because we have Youtube, iPads, Lindsay Lohan, the prosperity gospel, and football games that can take our focus away from Christ. The devil just loves that; makes his life a breeze.

Even as YOU read this very very true story I just told….of course, there is a part of you that does not want to believe it. If you keen in on that feeling, you’ll realize that that same wrestling feeling you’re having within yourself is just like mine with my roommate. It’s all a wrestle. The powers of darkness do not want you to have faith. Period.

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So we’re going to need the Holy Spirit’s power in this or we’ll fall short every time. He does not practice witchcraft. He is God and luckily we’ve got Him (The Spirit) within us. So proclaim the gospel and live it well around nonbelievers. There is no need to be nervous because the war is not between us and people, but with spirits not of this world. The Triune God is contending FOR us. And God wins, as always.

 1 Peter 5:8,9  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

Pure, Unadulterated Joy Seen in a Simple Surprise.

Confession: Some late nights I like to get on youtube and watch video clips of soldiers coming home & surprising their loved ones with a visit. Most times they hadn’t seen them in over 8 months.

The tears. The smiles. The hugs. It is contagious to watch. It’s weird, I do not know these people by any means…..but still, their emotion is so genuine that my heart resonates with them every time. Like clock-work. This clip happens to be one of my current favorites. There is no measuring the amount of love a mother has for her child.

When Christ returns and makes all things new again….I’m going to sprint towards him, most likely with this teary and emotional reaction.

Hmmm, where the heck was God’s “soverignty” during crazy events like the African Slave Trade???

A very lovable friend of mine has recently said that he’s having serious doubts about the existence of God. It is to the point where he does not believe anymore. His reason:

“If there is a God, then why would he allow so much destruction and violence to take place in this world?”

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17It’s a great question. My favorite atheist by far is Christopher Hitchens and, sadly, that’s one of his main points. However, an opposing question that’s rarely ever asked is:

“If there is a God, what is the deeper meaning of what he is doing in allowing some tremendously bad things to take place in this world?”

9-11-firefighters-flagI’m not saying that God directly causes cancer in people. I’m not saying he flew a plane on 9/11 into the twin towers or that he directly ordered the numerous genocides in Africa. But he most definitely could have stopped all those things from happening. There are numerous places in the Bible where he outright stops sin from taking place. The concept of God ordaining and being in control of everything is one of the toughest, most complex and controversial concepts of The Bible.  But it is true and is very real. At the end of the day, he is trustworthy and has a much different perspective than you and I. {And lets remember that people are the ones fighting the wars and causing destruction. If there is no God and people are sooo awesome, then why is there so much destruction and violence in the world?}

One thing I am constantly learning about God is that he is more for my joy than I am. He loves me more than I do and knows me better than I know myself. I graduated college in August and it took 4 months to find a job. Whereas if I were to write my own life-script, I would’ve gotten a job within 2 weeks after graduation.

To my constant surprise, during those sometimes boring, sometimes lonely, sometimes stressful 4 months God did an overwhelming amount of beautiful things that, in the end, were for my good and for His ultimate glory. I am so thankful for it all and would not write the script differently.

Now let’s go bigger. Let’s go global. The African Slave trade, for one example, was a tragic time in world history. We look back at the degradation and consumerism of those innocent human lives with shame.

If there was a God, why would he allow the African Slave Trade to take place?? What happened to God disciplining those who murder and steal?? Is this Almighty God not sovereign anymore? Ummm, if there was a God that hated sin, was he asleep during all of this????

slave-ship01sNo one in their right mind would argue that the African Slave trade was evil and filled with wrong intentions. But throughout the sinfulness of man during that era, God continued to do what he always does; reconciling all things to himself.

Here’s a fact. In the 1800s, there were less than 9 million believers in Africa. Today there are 516 million believers there. The most dramatic advance in all of Christian history. #MindBlown

Before explaining God’s sovereignty over Africa, it’s best if we can first see a quick biblical example.

The Old Testament repeatedly pointed towards a Kingdom of God coming to to the earth. When Jesus was on Earth he would constantly talk about the Kingdom of God. He describes the kingdom as a tiny seed that is planted, sprouts up, and grows. Right before he ascends into heaven he says to 500 believers, “go into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, & to the ends of the earth.”  The church start doing big things baby. They grew to about 3000 people….but they still remained within Jerusalem, even after Jesus specifically told them other locations. So God, in his sovereign power, basically allows/destines Stephen to be stoned to death. After this happens, a large persecution takes place against the Church by the Sanhedrin and the Christians are forced into Judea, Samaria. (Mark 4:26, Acts 1:8, Acts 2:41, Acts 7) Coincidence?

So while Stephen and other people get persecuted….God’s plan is spreading out further and further, like he inteded. Christians are now preaching the Gospel in Judea and Samaria. And we can go on and on to Rome, European history, the Americas, yadda yadda yadda. Sometimes God ordains tremendously beautiful movements of revivals or just natural church growth that spur on Christianity to the ends of the earth. But sometimes he uses the not-so beautiful. Either way, God wins. There are times in scripture where sorrow, pain, and frustration are given to men as a gift by God to save them (other times it is a result of our sin or dark spiritual warfare). Sometimes a loving grandmother suddenly passes away, but then her wayward children and their families find the Lord because of it.

an-african-churchFrom the time of Acts until the early 1800s, Christianity never really takes off in Africa at all. The Catholic Church was the only form of Christianity there but it had no lasting results. The Catholic Church, missionaries, and anything else was outdone by the overbearing Islamic presence there. But things changed when the African Slave trade arrived. Two British-Protestant Christians who loved the Lord, took part in the largest influence in the history of Africa. Thomas Fowell Buxton sought to put an end to the slave trade by encouraging local commercial and agricultural initiatives in its place. Henry Venn was responsible for laying down the principles of more “temporary” missionaries to Africa. This also led to better schools and education, principles that gave Africa a foundation that they never had. Over the next 200 years, the Gospel spread within their culture and language, becoming the largest Christian population on the planet. 380 million believers.

And we don’t even have to go to the Bible for reflection, we can just look at history….what the heck would the world look like in the African Slave trade never happened? 180 degrees of difference.

The Kingdom of God is a seed that is planted. It sprouts and it continually grows. This is unlike any fairy tale or theory, but it is happening right now before our very eyes. united-church-of-god-celebrate-feast-of-tabernacles-kingdom-of-god.jpg.crop_display

If we have the end in mind, patience increases and anger decreases.

The things of this world occur so that men would seek him, even though God is not far from each of us. He is intimately aware of each of us, and does whatever he pleases in order that he is glorified and that we may have full and eternal joy in Him (Acts 17:24-27, Psalm 115:3, Psalm 139:13-16, Daniel 4:35). Those are very “unpolitically correct” and unpopular verses; but when they are dwelt on properly a huge weight is taken off our shoulders and we love him even more dearly with more joy to live with.