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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Trapped in the Bathroom

Can I just say that I am never taking a bath without my cell phone within reach again?

I had decided to draw a bath in order to relax a little because

I think I need to completely abstain from caffeine and sugar.

Anyway, I had started to get comfortable when I heard some loud crashes and rummaging and heavy thundering in the hall. My first thought was, “Oh God, I don’t have any way out and there is nothing in here to defend myself with.” I am freaking at this point, so I get out of the tub, dry off, and proceed to head for the window. The window only goes up so far; and it is not far enough for me to get out of…
Now I am really freaking.

My heart is racing now and suddenly I find myself praying for my survival; I don’t want to kill anyone; but I also don’t want to just watch as someone hacks up my family (or myself). If I could get out I could get help, but since I could not, the only way for me to survive was to make a break for it. So I grabbed what I could get a hold of: a pair of thin scissors and a can of Lysol (improvised mace) and proceeded to run out of the bathroom to my room. All was clear in the hall; it was dark toward the other side of the house. So, I ran into the room and grabbed one of dad’s softball bats and headed for Mom’s room (Dad is at work) ready to find anything at this point. I called out, “Mom, mom!?”

And there she was; safe and sound on the bed looking at me like I had lost my mind. I sank down to my knees and rested my head on the bat; my adrenaline roaring in my ears. I wanted to cry; I still want to cry but as of yet I have not calmed down enough to do it.

Thank God, my mom had just made more noise than usual rummaging through the kitchen; no one was dead and I did not have to hurt anyone.

But now as I sit down and write this; I wonder to myself would I had actually killed someone if they had broken in. Many would see plenty of justification in my action; it would be a simply matter of self defense. But I do not seek to justify myself; because violence, even violence done for a just or heroic cause, is still wrong, especially if someone dies. You can say all you want to say about how we need to defend our loved ones (and there may be some truth to that) but there is a price to be paid when we take someone’s life. Ask a soldier who has come home from war; many of them drink the memories away or get on antidepressants trying not to relive the horror.

There is just something about taking someone’s life that goes against the new age of the kingdom, against the message Jesus proclaimed. I (and even my family) should be willing to die if that means that our killers go on to perhaps here the truth of the Gospel, maybe even from us as we die. We should be praying for them desperately as they kill us; not ourselves for we go to meet the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is it.

We talk about how we must defend the lives of our families; but if we know our families have been at least a chance to repent and trust the Gospel; then we can embrace death because it brings us into the presence of Jesus. Yes, I still want time to let God have more of my life; to experience the fruits of grace through faith first hand. But there is nothing more glorious than what awaits me in the New Jerusalem.

Do I believe that? Does my family believe that? Or are we convinced that we must do whatever it takes to hold onto this life as long as we can?

The world lives to survive; but we are to die to ourselves.

These are my thoughts as I sit here; too nervous and shaken to go to sleep…do with them what you will.

Grace and Peace

Thoughts on Orthodoxy v. Heterodoxy v. Atheism

After reading the forum discussion on Obama’s Faith Interview, I wrote the following sentiments:

What we have here on this forum is a discussion and clash over absolute v. subjective truth. Christianity (orthodox, but not necessarily fundamentalist) has historically claimed what we see in I Corinthians 15:3-8. Now the implications of what that means theologically have been worked out through various theologians (some authentic believers and others not) for thousands of years. But orthodoxy has traditionally been found in one's belief in the exclusivity of the Gospel. Now, you can make various accusations about events in church history and choose to be skeptical; that is your right as a person.

However, it is absurd that any of you would be angry with someone for absolute beliefs in an age where any belief is permitted. People’s beliefs are based on their social conditioning; therefore it fails logic to be angry with people who have grown up with absolute beliefs. Now, there are no wrong beliefs; we have only begun to explore the dark corridor of what it means to be human; the infusion of power and control we have over our lives and the destinies of others. Nothing is certain; everything is perhaps permissible. You can argue societal ethics all you want, but at the end of the day, society is as fickle as a politician.

Can you blame people for wanting certainty in a world where suddenly no certainty exists? When all is chaos and without meaning, except by the meaning we give it, why then do you begrudge those who have decided to find meaning in absolute truth? Can we say that Muslims who turn to violent jihad are unjustified in their faith in eternal paradise if they endure pain for only a second? Does life not bring enough pain in of itself to make the act worth giving everything for? Who is to say that we should not eliminate a group of us who are lagging behind in the evolutionary cycle; maybe perhaps we need to be rid of the religious people for good...rid the world of their filth? We would have a golden utopia if all of us would just give ourselves over to the wisdom of Eastern Mysticism; harnessing the power of our "spirit" inside of us to attain peace and oneness with the natural universe. If there is no certainty; why could not any path lead to God...but is that a God worth pursuing? Shall we find love for a God who will let anyone and everyone into his presence and in his favor? Is there truly righteousness where there is not justice? Shall we all just be allowed to walk in having done what was only in our biological programming to do? Perhaps it is God who is to blame? Perhaps, we would be better off without him/her/it then...maybe we are alone.

Maybe all that matters is power; history is after all determined by the victors and not the vanquished. Shall I take what is my neighbor’s since it will give me greater dominion over him? What, how can this be wrong? There is no wrong; we have escaped the archaic notions of good and evil; we have determined that we are all there is, and our survival is more important than anything else. But it is not just about survival anymore; it’s about dominance. Love is reserved for those whom I can use to my advantage and even this I can use as a tool to dominate my fellow man. Depravity? What depravity exists, when I have become god and do whatever I please. Oh, society will stop me? Well, then I will raise up another society and my society will crush yours...then who is to tell me what is depraved? Civilization is built by those who are willing to transcend reality; they are the ones who define what is real to everyone else. What is reality but what we make it? If those who believe in absolute truth wish to assert their reality, then the only logical and I will daresay, necessary way to deal with them is extermination. They shall not ruin our chance to make "heavens and the earth" in our image and fulfill our every desire. When are we going to decide to rise up and finally fight these men and women who still live in the world of the 1st century rather than the 21st? Shall we always be under their dominion; under their hate for freedom and tolerance? Everyone is justified to believe what they wish, but at the end of the day the one with bigger weapons wins; might has always and will always define right. So, stop arguing with these fanatics and destroy them once and for all...our world is at stake. I do not blame them for their beliefs; but at the end of the day they stand in the way of our future...and they will be punished for it.

Or maybe that is all wrong; maybe there is something to what these people are saying. Maybe there is a reason they believe that Jesus Christ is the only way; maybe he is the only one who can really save us. Maybe there is something to the belief of this sect of Judaism, that claims Jesus Christ is alive. That the only way to be reunited and reconciled to God is through him; that all other religions point in half truth/half error at something that was lost after the Fall; after we made the choice to pursue freedom without love. Perhaps the Creation is paying a heavy price for the sin of ape-related creatures God decided to place his image upon. Maybe God has been trying to communicate to us throughout the years since that time but all that we have been able to hear is static, because we are broken. God knew this, so he orchestrated everything so that he could come down and tell us himself; in the form of Jesus Christ. Maybe this same Christ lived the sinless; love enraptured existence completely connected to God that our ancestors failed to do. This allowed him, the God-man, to take the responsibility for the freedom he gave us and pay the necessary price to redeem us from our disgusting state. What if God, actually turned his wrath, his gun, upon himself; so that anyone who would believe in him; would be restored both here and when the world is renewed. What if he did rise from the dead; as the martyrs went to their graves testifying, some dying as grizzly a death as being fed to lions for sport? They still die today, all around the blackened, rebellious earth...

You see it really does come down to belief. It comes down to what or rather who you put your trust in. An empiricist will have great difficulty accepting any religious belief whatsoever. A skeptic and an inclusive will always have a hard time finding truth amongst so many viable options. But has that really changed from the 1st century? Were there not options then too? Were they not debating the same things? Have we really progressed as much as our pride would have us to believe? Is orthodoxy absurd? Yes, or course it is! But so is pluralism; so is atheism; so is just about any idea or vision that has ever lighted up the human eyes. At the end of the day it’s not about evidence; because there are valiant apologists on all sides. It isn't really about dominance either because all groups have had their share violence done to them. At the end of the day, what it is really is about is faith and believe; it is a choice based on conviction. It is what one perceives as true. Could I be wrong? Yes, we all could be wrong. Is that any reason to refuse to stand for orthodoxy or heterodoxy if we so choose? Is God happy with our lukewarmness...would he not rather we believe or go home?

Tolerance is wonderful; if we have the humility to listen to the intolerant. Tolerance benefits a society as long as we forgo our judgments about one another; because we are all human and if I am correct, made in the image of God. Tolerance turns ugly when we are allowed to hold nothing tightly from the idea that somehow this keeps us from being absurd. We will always be absurd; we will always have ideas and visions that are not right. Be courageous and be willing to look for truth wherever it is found; continue to talk and continue to disagree. Else our society, the great Enlightenment experiment, will fail and might/the majority will make right.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sports god

My friend and youth/college pastor at Clements Baptist Church wrote an excellent blog today on the dangers of being more obsessed by the pigskin than by Jesus Christ. I wrote some affirming comments and went on, even though this has been a topic heavy on my heart, I have been reticent to talk about it. It is almost like a golden calf in the South; an idol everyone worships but no one wants admit it. Why? The sports god is what gets a lot of these kids into college; the sports god is what fuels a lot of the pride we have in the regions we were born. The sports god gives a legitimate reason, in some cases, to hate another human being or group of human beings. The sports god is a substitute for the war god because in civilized society we don’t just gather armies and take over people’s land and stuff, right?

Sure we don’t.

The sports god has idols across the board and in every sport; if it is a competitive sport where someone wins and the other person loses, there you find the sports god. Now, I am not saying that everyone who plays a competitive sport worships the sports god; that would be like saying someone who practices on the saxophone often worships the music god. What I am saying is that the sports god demands unquestionable loyalty, even at the price of the spirituality of some of our kids. And it is not just the kids playing the sports, it is the people watching those sports. How many times have we gone to church and the first thing that comes out of our mouths is praise to the sports god?

I hate to say this, because I have been way guilty of this in the past, but here it is:

We are committing spiritual adultery, idolatry, every time we prefer the sports god to the Lord God.
Every time we sing the praise of our favorite sports team without even mentioning the work of God in our lives, we are worshiping the sports god. Every time we get so emotionally vested in a game that we get belligerent with people, we are worshiping the sports god. Every time our team losing ruins our entire evening, we are worshiping the sports god. Every time we start a ridiculous fight over team supremacy with someone else, we are worshiping the sports god. Every time we obsessively buy our teams merchandise rather than invest in the kingdom God, we are worshiping the sports god. Every time we chose our kids academic future, through sports, over their spiritual future, we are worshiping the sports god.

Every time sports are chosen over Christ; it is idolatry. Period.

Now you may object that sports are harmless fun and there is nothing in the Bible that prohibits us from partaking and enjoying them. You then may want to rush me with all of the verses you found (likely out of context) to justify your behavior and your choices. But my thing is not that sports are evil in of themselves. My point is that for us, sports are good things we pervert and turn into worship, and any time we do that, we are sinning against God and each other. What is the world going to believe, that you love the God you never say a word about or the god that you are always giving all of your words, money, and time to? Are we really kidding ourselves when we say we love God, but the first thing that comes out of our mouths is a score for some game?

Lord, please help us.

What if we were to do something radical? What if we picked our favorite sport (there are lots of them) and we decided that next season we were going to completely fast for that sport? For me that would mean going a whole fall without even looking at the scores for football; for one fall…could I do it? You may be thinking that this is extreme, but my question Is why do you think that? We are addicted to what we make excuses for so that we do not have to give it up. If you are currently thinking all of the reasons why you should notdo this, then perhaps you are addicted to sports and are constantly bringing your best to the altar of the sports god. I urge you, be zealous and repent, demonstrate your faith by doing something radical that shows your allegiance to Christ.

But if you are like me, you may be feeling a call of God to make a statement, a definitive statement that you serve the Lord Jesus Christ and not the sports god (or any god for that matter). If that is you, I want you to join me in something amazing. Whenever your favorite sports team’s season begins here is what you do:

1) Do not watch any of the games, do not even keep track of the scores and stats.

2) Instead, spend that time doing something that helps others and that advances the Gospel and the kingdom.

3) Do not buy any of your teams merchandise or tickets.

4) Instead, spend that money on things and people who advance the Gospel and the kingdom.

5) Do not talk about sports at church, school, or work.

6) Instead, talk about things that matter, especially your faith in a way that is natural and not confrontational.

I will have to wait until next football season to do this, but I am looking forward to making a statement about who is really the One worthy of my worship.

Grace and Peace

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Embracing Biblical Singleness- Pt. 2

Part II

1Th 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;
1Th 4:4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,
1Th 4:5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;
1Th 4:6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.
1Th 4:7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.
1Th 4:8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

I. Abstain from sexual immorality

This sounds puritanical and for many people it is simply unobtainable. I know that one of my greatest struggles as a male, living in our society is to stay sexually pure. There are so many avenues of temptation and sin that it is not surprising that most of the men in the church are addicted to pornography or at least engaged in masturbation. If you think this is too much for a public blog, I will challenge your thinking. We need to stop acting like sexual failure is the Christian equivalent of first degree murder.

I am not proud of my own sexual history; I have been addicted on and off to pornography since the
6thgrace (before Christ) and have used sexual release as means to take care of tension. I have for the most part let my lust run wild and it does not really matter who gets burned in the process. Actually, the only one who really gets burned is me and ones that I love dearly. I cannot tell you how much I regret my indulgences in sexual immorality and how it has affected and influenced my decisions in many of my dating and prospectively dating relationships.

To abstain means to voluntarily dismiss; when you abstain from sexual immorality you are dismissing it. But is that how we approach sexual temptation? No, we like to keep pushing and pushing; by the time we are being scorched by lust, it is too late. As the Casting Crowns song goes, “a price will be paid when you give yourself away.” So don’t; don’t give yourself away. You need to decide today that you are going to push any thoughts of sexual immorality and it’s “pleasures” to the foot of the cross and leave them there. If you ever want to be biblically single, you must abstain for sexual immorality.

II. Control your body in holiness and honor

If you are like me; discipline is not your cup o’ tea. People may not think that when they see that I am a planner and a diligent worker who likes routine. However, I do not like discipline because I do not endureand soon my routine changes because of my dissatisfaction with it. I got through college bit by bit (you don’t eat elephant whole, I know…cliché) and if it were not for the semester progress I would have probably quit because it seemed so far away.

So, whenever the Bible talks about discipline and self-control, my heart sinks because it is one my biggest weaknesses. The word “control” evokes for me all sorts of bad images, but notice that Paul is telling us to control our bodies. We are the ones who must pull in the reins; we are the ones that must bring the flaming lust train to a halt. This involves two areas. We are to exert control over our bodies in holiness and honor.

When we think of holiness, a lot of us think of all things bad, or if we don’t think it is bad, then it is out of reach. “Well, it is great that Origen can castrate himself for the kingdom of God, but I am not sure I can make that leap…” Well, the good news is 1) God does not want you to castrate yourself and 2) that holiness is all wrapped up in love. God is love but God is also holy; he is goodness and justice put together. When we seek to be holy (which means set apart) we are seeking to be filled with the love of God, because what makes God holy is his love, which is unlike anything we could ever fathom. Paul tells us we are to control our bodies so that they practice holiness, which means so that they are filled and motivated by love. When one is motivated by love, then one does not seek to take from someone in lust.

Love is all about giving and sacrificing; not about taking and demanding.

Honor is a word that is still big here in the South; it means that one can be trusted to do what is right; it is your word. When Paul tells us to control our bodies in honor, he is telling us to make our bodies do the right thing. This is fundamentally impossible without the Holy Spirit, because if your body is like mine, you always want to do the most expedient thing, not the right thing. In the past when I have been intimate physically with a girl, I have wanted to push as far as I can without going over; that is not doing the honorable thing. But it is more than honoring our sisters and brothers; it is honoring the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who lives inside of us.

So, you may be thinking that biblical singleness is a great idea, but it is not necessarily something you have to do. Why do we have to be so strict about our definition of singleness? Well, keep reading the verses…

To Be Continued…Next Time: Embracing Biblical Singleness Pt. III


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Four Years

I have never really chronicled my life for the last four years...I think it is important because so much has happened in those four much that I am grateful for even though a lot of it makes me blush with embarrassment.

I finished a year of community college in the Spring of '06; it was the first time I had been in school since graduating from high school in '03. What happened in those three years is done with and over; there is just too much pain and regret to revisit all that happened during that time. Aside from the period right before Christ came and found me in '98, this was truly the darkest and loneliest time of my life. Anyway, after finishing two semesters my parents could no longer afford to send me to community college and so I had to either borrow and go to school or complete give up on school. Since I believed I was called to ministry, giving up school would ensure that I never got to minister anywhere aside from supernatural intervention. I was young, 22 and way more cocky than I am now. Since I needed to go to school I narrowed down my choices to three Christian colleges Liberty University, Carson-Newman College, and The University of Mobile.

My first choice was Liberty University, I had visited there several times and I knew that it offered somewhat challenging academics. However, when going to visit the school I sensed that it was not the place for me and I was turned off in its formalism. So, I went to Suffolk to pray about it some more and soon it became clear; God said, "Go to Mobile." Now mind you, I had never seen UM and I did not have overly fond feelings about the Deep South and so finding myself stuck down there with no one to help me but relatives I had been alienated from just about all of my life, was not at all comforting. Still by the Spring of '06 I knew my place was at the University of Mobile in the Fall and I prepared to make the trip to Alabama.
I wish I could say I fell in love with the place the first time I saw it; I didn't. In fact, my initial reaction was one of betrayal. I had clung to God for three years after having the deal with traumatic church experiments and dramatic Christians and that was how God rewarded me? I was furious and for the first month (as my former roommate Shaun Wilkerson will testify) I never left the dorm room. I missed Hope Haven especially (before college these were my closest friends that I worked with each summer) and I missed home and I was stuck and often miserable. My RA was a nice guy named Josh McCoy who was always being berated by my RC Josh Weatherford for not doing his job (I don't think we ever had room checks) and being too loud with the 3am Halo II contests. My roommate Shaun was a quiet guy who loved to play the guitar, talk about the female gender, and discuss theology past midnight. There would be many weekends where Shaun and I would just hangout all day, only pausing to eat. I still remember the Red v. Blue, Smallville, and other marathons we would sit and enjoy.

After a month a met my first group of friends and I met a girl named Jordan, who is now married. Jordan was my first girlfriend and everything I guy could do wrong with his first girlfriend we did (except having sex). It was a poorly timed and purely emotionally driven relationship. We began to talk about serious things way too fast and soon became clear to me about a month in that I was not making the best of choices. Well, she made a very poorly chosen comment about how she could manipulate me (bad idea btw) and I ended the relationship and told her that she was not mature enough to handle an adult relationship; and to be honest, she really wasn't.

After that, I went to my first UM Campus Ministry event, Urban Plunge. Even though Campus Ministries and I have always had our ups and downs (because I tried see campus ministries like a church and isn't) but I loved Urban Plunge. It was my first time driving in a major city (yes, you saw right...I drove for Campus Ministries) and my first visit to the city that still holds my heart: the city of New Orleans. Any fear and trepidation I had from people trying to discourage me was erased when I saw the broken, battered, but still vibrant and alive city just a year after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. It was here that I would make a lot of new friendships (three of my closest friends came from this group) and that God would begin to burden me with the city and stir in my heart dreams of connecting UM with New Orleans.

The trip itself was actually a dismal failure (nothing planned happened) but it was more about what happened through the trip than the events of trip itself. The people in my van made sure that they were straight with Jesus because my driving nearly killed them on several occasions; by the end of the trip, people were sitting on the floor of the other vans to avoid my van: hilarious.

The first year was a humbling year because I was a very arrogant young man. I would try to start debates and arguments, many times not knowing what I was talking about. God gave me some pretty decent friends and even acquaintances to help me come to terms with how little I knew. I especially credit the then Megan Dean and Tara Volnoff (now Desko and Frasier respectively) for their continuous joy in reducing me to bite size pieces of mush. A turning point for me was Megan pretty much telling me to I was an obnoxious, arrogant twit and that she seriously did not want to have another uninformed debate with me. Yeah, I really needed to hear that. After that, I did not try so hard to get my opinion across and I began to learn, study, and think; thanks Megan, it has made all the difference for me.

The rest of the year went on without incident and I began to have a feelings for someone my age; her name was Neesha and even today she is my best friend; there is no one who understand me and can talk to me like she does. If the day comes when I meet the woman who will marry me (poor, poor woman) then I will make sure she has long conversations with Neesha and I am sure Neesha will be glad to help her to understand me. Neesha and I think similarly and we went through tough spiritual moments together; we would spend hours just talking about church and our longing for deeper communion we managed to share with each other. You know it is pretty amazing how our relationship has changed in various ways, but yet she and I have not lost our closeness. Well, we navigated our relationship and feelings for about six months, but in the end God told Neesha that it was not what he intended for us.

I don't think I have ever been as upset as I was on that day. After that something changed; I don't know if it was actually love of the real sort...even today there are times when I think still would not be happier, but all I know is that my music changed, my sleeping habits changed, my attitude toward women changed, amongst so many subtle changes. I went home to Virginia heartbroken, but before then I went two other really awesome experiences.

One was the Bridge and it was relatively cheap back then because we drove up rather than bought plain tickets. We went to Chicago and it was there that I discovered how little I prayed. The young missionary there, Cody, was always telling us to pray; every spare moment was filled with prayer. It eventually began to annoy us that this demanding guy was constantly pushing us to pray. However, we began to see what God did in answer to prayer when we went and witnessed at the largest community college in the world. We also began to understand just how religiously lost Chicago was (we visited a mosque and the largest Hindu temple outside of India). It was here that I was introduced to chai tea and have loved it ever since. It is at the only ministry reaching Muslim in Chicago, the South Asian Friendship Center, that we learned that there 2 million Muslims in Chicago and the number was rapidly growing, that soon most churches (which had retreated the the suburbs) would be mosques. It was a humbling trip that God used to challenge me on prayer and my belief that he could reach anyone with the Gospel. I also made some new friends on this trip as well.

The other was called "Displace Me" and it was sponsored by Invisible Children and it was held on the University of Tulane grounds. We ate rations and slept in our decorated cardboard tents and woke up sticky, smelly, and really kind of gross. Then we decided to take our gross selves to eat lunch at the Hard Rock where we got talk about what we were doing and why we were doing it; it was pretty awesome. The whole event was to raise awareness for Ugandan refugees who were caught between rebels and the Ugandan government. These refugees were subjected to frequent attacks from both sides where various forms of violence were inflicted up the villages. It was here that I met some more friends and solidified my relationships with others.

But as I said, I went home heartbroken.

Summer was always boring till Hope Haven. I would spend long hours in the coffee shop reading/writing; it is during this time that I began to appreciate such atmosphere and I enjoyed the peace and quiet. During this time I began to have regular correspondence with yet another female, Lacy. During my time at Hope Haven (which unknown to me at the time, would be my last) I sent letters and texted Lacy back and forth. In the last letter I wrote to her I asked her to go out with me and she said yes and I was like seriously excited because I really began to like her over the course of the summer...but it was not be for several reasons.

During the Summer of '07 I became very sick; so sick that I was not completely over the sickness till Labor Day ish. From the early part of July till the very beginning of September I was sick with a severe sinus infection...and I would not rest. If there is a lesson to be learned it is this, God does not need us for anything; I could have gone home and recovered my health and everything would have been fine...but instead I worked on because it was my first summer on staff and I wanted to make a difference in those workers lives. I kept pressing and pressing and I even thought I was finally getting better until I got on the plane to go back to Mobile.

That night it went all over my body; what had begun to clear up, flared up and all of sudden I was sick, again. I used to carry around the bag of medicines that the doctor(s) prescribed for me. By the time the next summer came around I was sick of medicines and doctors. Anyway, being in one my relatives house that was at 86 degrees the whole time did not help any. I just got worse until move in day when I had to leave my incoming-RA party (yes, I had become an RA...forgot that detail) to go to the hospital. It was not a fun experience and for the first semester of my sophomore year I was constantly either at the doctor or in the bed. I am amazed at how well my hall did considering that most of time I was not able to be a part of it. The first semester was spent try to figure out the weird disorder that came upon my wrecked body as a result of me not taking a few days to rest.

Life would never be the same.

I love being an RA; I loved being with the guys on my hall. I even loved working the lobbies. It was my ideal job and I had no intention of quitting it. However, as time went on I became desperate to get over whatever was troubling my body...I was even afraid at many points that I was dying and that there was something seriously wrong with me. This was a tough year; I had to drop a class because it was too much for me to hold up and I had to ask for an extension on a final paper because I simply could not concentrate. I began to do things in preparation to die and I cannot remember a time where I missed my family more. The school was concerned for me, and Brian Boyle sent me home for Fall Break on the school's dime.
My relationship with Lacy lasted a month and she ended it when it became clear that I was emotionally compromised. It hurt, but at the same time I understand how Lacy needed to have someone who was not falling apart. It is during this semester that I really began to become good friends with Matt Turner, who became like my example of Jesus Christ. Matt was a great guy, who would give you anything if you needed it. He was a man who spent tireless hours talking to everyone, listening to problems, and just serving you to best of his ability. This would often lead periods where Matt was just worn out from all of the work. I went to church with, hung out with, and enjoyed Matt's company. Matt left all of our lives after Sophomore year; it was hard everyone but it was especially hard on me; other than a few words here and there Matt fell in love, got engaged, and forgot all of the rest us. I wish him and Michelle a good life.

I met a lot of people my Sophomore year; and it was in the Spring of Sophomore year that God pushed me to implement what he had placed on my heart for a year: The New Orleans Project. I had went to Catalyst before Fall break and had purchased the Mark Batterson book, In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day, on the way home I read that book and God whispered to me: I want you to take a risk and do what is on your heart. This was huge considering my health was a mess, I did not know enough people to really make a difference, and I had never led anything before. It was a huge calculated risk.

Let me say that I was going to a church at the time, though I did not have a place to serve. Church would be a perennial problem till I left college; most of things I felt called to do where things a lot churches simply could not afford to do or had interest in doing. Rather than jump on a soapbox, I would like to urge churches to support people who do ministries that are out of the box. When you do that, you open a door of creativity and increase your witness beyond your doors.

For the next few months, till I resigned as leader, TNOP would be all I thought about. There are a lot of things I learned about God and myself from TNOP. There were a lot of friends that I have because they decided to be a part of TNOP in some way. It was a privilege trying to lead these people who gave time, money, and energy to make God's vision happen and for awhile, it did. It was not always the best of times and there were many times were personal differences, personality quirks, and other matters came in, but I will always be grateful to Sarah Kebrdle, Jared Carter, Hayes Parnell, Jessica Pike, Josh Pepper, Jessica McLean, Charity Williamson, and Alicia Conn for being the first to lead this venture with me; you guys are my heroes and you inspired your class of students to stand up and try make a difference school wide. 

Leadership is contagious and you certainly were viral.

So we started TNOP in the Spring of '08 and by the time we got to the Fall we added people to our leadership team; Alan Ostrzycki, Jenna Sasser, Craig Ferguson, Katie Handley, Brandy Wood, and Josh Hembree all joined our leadership team the following year and they are the ones who made TNOP do so well that Fall where we exposed so many people to the poverty and need in New Orleans. All of you guys did terrific jobs as well.

During the Spring I was a constant ball of stress between TNOP, sickness, classes, and other smaller issues. My parents moved to Athens, AL in the Spring and I was wondering what life was going to be like in Northern Alabama. It was toward the end of the semester when I met James Byrd and with him everyone else who would become my dearest friends for the rest of school (actually not true; Adam and Danyelle [Amanda Leonard maybe too?] in North Hall lobby while they were watching a football game. Thomas I met through Amanda Seales). Little did I know that James and I would become roommates for all of the next year and half of the following year.

Other random things about Sophomore year...I almost killed Eric Roberts for not cleaning up his crap and he was like a great friend but the worst roommate ever...he just was a mess. When I moved into a different room in the Spring, my roommate, Guy, said three things to me and then moved out one day while I was in class...had the rest of the semester to myself.

Willie Mac became who he is today Junior Year. That summer I had a serious crush on another girl named Aja, that never really went anywhere. I think though a lot of it had to do with my loneliness at being up in Athens. At the time, I was not going to church that much and when I did it was just that: to church. That was the summer where I seriously thought God had lost his mind. I had hoped that moving to Alabama would move me closer to peeps I knew, but it did no such thing. It was hard one me and blogged a lot of ugly things about this town and I have had to take responsibility for them. I was bored to death that summer not being at Hope Haven and basically spent the Summer on video games and Facebook.
James e-mailed me over the summer asking me to be his roommate and I consented. I was so ready to be back at UM. I absolutely loved Junior year; if there were a year I could play back over and over again; it would be Junior year.

Nothing bonds people together like being in a car packed slap full of people and stuff...that is what we dealt with twice as we fled from two natural "disasters." James Byrd, Thomas Fletcher, Adam Morris, Jake Smith, and I all ran to Thomas' house in Birmingham where James was prepared and to sleep in the nude in Thomas' living room to which after moments of disbelief he responded, "I am not ok with this!" I was not ok with Jake at the time, he really creeped me out, but I loved the trip we got to spend with each other (minus the giant bugs in Thomas' garage) and then Adam, Thomas, James, and I ended up going to James' place in Albany, GA where James' dad came in the house took one look at us and we forever had that image emblazoned in our minds. This is when I knew that they guys were going to be my friends for the rest of school; they were ridiculous, annoying, and I loved every minute of it.

I don't remember much about the classes that year because there was not much to remember. I began to abandon all hope being cured and just began to accept my illness; it helped. I continued to be involved with TNOP (though I had to resign from being the head leader prematurely). Another thing I learned is that you cannot manipulate God and you should not use God's ministry to advance yourself; it fails miserably and you may even see a dream go down in flames. At the leadership retreat in December, I said goodbye to TNOP for good and never went on another trip with them to New Orleans.

I went to Catalyst that year with Robert and Madison Copeland and Ryan Ogborn. These guys are a riot together; seriously. I even got a chance to break out my prosperity gloves and started preaching the finer points of the prosperity gospel. Anyway, I got to see for the first how the Copelands were not just really strange twins who were always wearing matching outfits, but also how amazing they were as people. These guys still remain one the most godliest men that I know, so godly they get on your nerves when they shine to brightly (and that happened many times). That was fun and I will never forget that.

Right before Christmas I started dating a girl named Jen who while having a conversation on Facebook, told me I was "the one." I have not admitted this out loud before, because it is one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. Anyway, we were never really physical but the emotional roller coaster was absolutely devastating. She was always down and I was always supposed to pick her up. Plus, whenever I wanted to talk with her, she did not want to talk; when we got back to school she did not want to spend any time with me. I figured out why, she was cheating on me. My good friend, Thomas, told me that he had heard this from reliable source, but I refused to believe him...I went to back for her and she lied to me...then she broke up with me because I could not trust her.

It was horrible. And for the rest of the semester I was kind of numb and in shock over what had occurred. I had always been proud of my reason and I discovered that my reason was disregarded...I had always been careful and the moment I abandoned myself was the moment I was destroyed. It took me awhile to consider anyone else.

That semester I went with my friends Natalie Jones and Jake to their hometown of Decatur, IL. I enjoyed that trip as well and it was one the last times I saw the two together; they broke up not far after that. Jake did not come back the next semester and Natalie moved on. But it was a good experience being able to a long for the ride and see what life was like for some of my friends.

The rest of that semester was a blur and it was then that I began to realize that life at UM was coming to an end. I had already sensed that the winds were changing and I really had idea just how much that was true. I spent another boring summer in Athens and then I went back to UM for the last time.

Senior year was a defining year; so much happened in that brief span of time. It was in the Fall when I started really questioning my beliefs about organizational church and it was in the Fall that I mailed a letter out to twelve different pastors asking for wisdom and counsel; I received nothing back. It was then that I decided to abandon the professional ministry and instead decided that I was going to be a professor. This was an interesting decision on my part and was far from what God wanted. I began to panic about a lot things and that led me to make a lot of dumb decisions.

I was always in the room the first semester, because I was always reading and appears that I took all of the reading/writing intensive classes I could take. Mind you, I could have dropped one and had been fine but I was determined to make it through that semester; I did but it was not fun. I would come in about 1 or 2 and would read till about 8 or was miserable. Here it was the last year of college and like an idiot I had decided to spend it in books.

That summer I had began to talk to a girl named Carri, we never dated, but we became close. It was during this summer that God intervened and blessed me with wisdom. I had strong feelings for her and I wanted see if they were just feelings; so God separated us from contact for 30 days. What that did was ultimately break the spell and revealed that she was not crazy about me as I was about her. We were not a good match anyway and God spared us both the pain.

I rarely had time for anyone the first semester and what I did have was spent on the friends I would miss the most. I spent more time with Aja in the Fall than in the Spring and I began studying Greek and getting to know Jenna Sasser who God used me to help improve her writing organization. I also tried to spend as much time with guys as possible. Near the end the room became mold infested and aggravated James and I's shared sickness. So, after our parents complained, we were moved out to a house in the back of campus where we remained for the final two weeks.

The last semester was wild; that is all there is too it. Angelique came back into my life after a year and half hiatus and we restored our neglected friendship. I really got to know and enjoy Callie Chandler as well and the two of them helped to save my life later in the semester. As I knew the end was coming up, I became more and more sullen and I was prone to get angry with friends. I spent lots of time with everyone I could; it was crazy how much time I try to spend with everyone...which to be honest was not the best idea. Though I had hung out with her a couple of times in our group, Amanda Leonard did not really warm up to me till the last semester, but in that short time I grew to appreciate her for who she is and what she goes through.

I was becoming more and more afraid, aggravated and fearful. I was not looking forward to leaving all of them behind. I was not looking forward to not having life in Athens. The stress was too much for me and I mid semester I had Campus Affairs make me sign a paper saying I would not kill myself and asking me to go to counseling. I self-destructed...that is the only way I can put it and when I did I hurt my friends a lot, even though they were faithful to me, I totally and viciously lashed out at them. It was at that moment when I experienced God's love anew, when all of my friends decided to forgive and forget; they were going to be my friends even beyond college.

It was hard to tell everyone good bye. Especially after through adversity, we had become so close...but it was necessary for my growth. Starting Junior year I had begun to drift away from a serious relationship with God; it did not help that I became so enamored with my friends. God and I were pretty close during Sophomore year because of my illness and I guess once I figured out that I was not dying...I kind of left him behind. So, it became clear to me that when I left UM it just be God and I. After two years of neglect, the prospect of being alone with a stranger, even if it was God.

Goodbye was hard; there was not enough time to see and say goodbye to everyone. There simply was not enough time to spend with everyone. There was even some drama the last week we were there. It tore me up to have to say farewell; I spent most of the day Saturday and Sunday in pieces. I acted like everyone had died, but in reality everyone was just moving on; I was moving on. What made it worse it that I had to linger for a week after; till my trip to the Cayman Islands.

Yeah, that was a nice graduation present from God; a very discipleship/missions trip to the Cayman Islands. I loved the trip and God used the trip to minister to me and he used us to help bring revival to Cayman-Brac, which was awesome. I went with the Copelands, Ryan, and a guy named Josh Driscoll. I also met Pastor Randy Von Kannel and his wife Cindy as well as his niece Leah Smith and Beth Lawyer. On Cayman-Brac I met the Tibbets family and all the wonderful folks at Fellowship and Ebenezer Baptist church who took care of us all with AMAZING hospitality. They still pray for us and I thank God for the time we were able to spend with them.

The Caymans showed me that God was up to something and through many of the experiences I had there I was able to rest in him for whatever was next, even though to be honest, he was a stranger to me still. So, when I returned to Athens I came with a heavy optimism sure that all the plans that I had been devising would become true and that I would quickly acquire work and then get a vehicle and the prepare for seminary in the Spring. I had an interview the week I returned and life was moving foward.


The interview turned out to be a complete sham; they told me I had the job and then well, I didn't. After that I searched extensively for weeks and weeks and nothing came up. I began to become depressed and angry...God who was my comfort before Junior year was alien and strange to me. I hated being stuck in Athens and I hated not having anyone to talk to our be around. I struggled most of the summer to adjust to my new life and I grew angrier and more frustrated with not being able to find a job and not being able to connect with people at church. It became so frustrating that I just wanted to give up on the whole walk.
Then, I walked into my pastor's office and the rest is history. God has restored my hope and confidence. God is calling back to himself, bringing me back into his church, and just working on me as a person. Let me say that I am still pretty messed up. I struggle like most guys, with lust, which means it is hard for me to be biblically singe and somewhat frustrating. I still have pride and vanity issue; I still am prejudiced against the Deep South as a whole. I am still learning to be a part of Clements Baptist church and ignore preference and just submit myself to be led. It still don't have a job, a car, or a way to seminary. There is a lot in my life that I wish would change but God has done so much and I am grateful to him for it!

Grace and Peace

Hell: A vaild motivation for evangelism? - Pt. I

Part I
There is not a touchier subject to discuss, even among Christians, than the subject of hell. If there were a way to dispense with certain doctrines of Scripture, hell would rank above election and genocide. Hell is, to be quite a honest, a downer; it is an unpleasant thought that one does not discuss among friends, especially one’s pagan friends.

Randy Alcorn in his book, Heaven, first begins with the subject of hell:
I am addressing this issue (hell) now because throughout this book I will talk about being with Jesus in Heaven…The great danger is that readers will assume they are headed for Heaven…But Jesus made it clear that most people are not going to heaven…
He then goes on to quote Jesus’ words from Matthew 7:13-14,

13"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.

14For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. 

So, Jesus says that most people, not even a lot of people are going to hell? Even the optimistic NT Wright in his book, Surprised by Hope, believes that there is a hell:
My suggestion is that it is possible for human beings to so continue down this road…that after death they become at last, by their own effective choice, beings that once were human but now are not, creatures that ceased to bear the divine image at all. With the death of the body in which they inhabited in God’s good world…they pass simultaneously not only beyond hope but beyond pity.
The Bishop of Durham nor Randy Alcorn speaks of hell fondly; when they do, it is with much reticence and care; both men are willing to trust God’s judgment on the matter.

Hell is a sticky subject because there is a disagreement about 1) whether it exists and 2) if it does, who goes there and why. There are some common misconceptions about hell and the subject of hell that need to be spelled out first:

1) When speaking of hell, Jesus normally is speaking to or about the religious leaders

This is a bit unsettling and for good reason. Jesus had lots to say about the coming judgment (whether this implies the place of hell is debated). What is not debated is who the majority of these conversations were directed at: the religious people. In fact, these conversations were directed at the best of the religious people. What does this mean? It means the same thing it meant in Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “Revelation,” it means that we who claim to know God need to be more careful and alert than anyone else, lest our “virtues be burnt up. “We are much more likely to be deceived by comparison or bookkeeping than the prostitute or the tax collector. The Apostle Peter admonishes us in 2 Peter 1:10, to make your calling and election sure. In the same verse, Peter uses the Greek word σπουδασατε (spoudasate) meaning “with diligence and labor,” to describe how intense we should be at the assurance process. Those who are religious are much more susceptible to believe a lie about their righteousness before God and its proper source. Jesus made sure that the religious were warned because they were more lost than anyone else.

2) No one is destined for hell; as long as temporal life lasts everyone can be saved.

Contrary to the implications of certain Reformed views, hell is not a place man was predestined to go. Hell is “prepared for the devil and his angels,” (Mt 25:41) and is not someplace that even fallen humanity was supposed to end up. In fact, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, (Rom 5:8) and he is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. “ (2 Pet 3:9). Christ died so that no man or woman would have to endure the fires of hell. The idea that people are predestined to damnation is rejected by most (but not all) modern day Calvinists and is absolutely reprehensible considering the great mercy, patience, and compassion of God. When you, as a Christian, tell someone to “go to hell,” or “God damn you,” you are taking power into your hands that you do not have and you are attempting to use that in an act of hatred, not love, toward your neighbor. Every time we write someone off as beyond hope, we are spitting in the face of the very Gospel, and the very Christ who somehow managed to save our wretched souls. No one is destined for hell and we need to live like this is the case.
More to come next time.

To Be Continued…Next Time: Hell: A valid motivation for evangelism? Part II.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Bearing One Another's Burdens

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2

I am going to be honest with everyone; I do not bear burdens well. I am one of those individuals that God has given the ability to sense pain and feel broken over it. I have had people tell me things, some of their deepest hurts and regrets, and afterwards they seem uplifted and I am just crushed. I will listen to anyone; friend or foe alike, I like to understand people because then it helps me better to communicate and connect with them. However, it takes a heavy toll on me, especially if there are multiple problems.

For instance:

I had a friend this week tell me that they made a really poor sexual choice while at college; I choice that I had guessed but had not been certain. Even though they have dealt with it and now are living in the love and grace of Christ, I am hearing about it for the first time; I am devastated for them. I see what this has done to their lives; I see what kind of pain and anguish they have had to experience because of it. It makes me mourn that much more.

I have another friend who admitted to me not to long ago that they are tired of giving themselves to people and getting nothing in return. They are tired of pouring their lives into people who they honestly have no more to pour into. In desperation, this friend asked me what to do. I directed them to God as the source of all love and wisdom. Even though they are better, they still are not able to find the relational connections to satisfy them.

Then there is the friend who never stops working, hoping that It will mean their big break.

Then there is the friend who does not want to live at home one more second than they have to because their dad is a tyrant.

Then there is the friend who is battling depression and longing, because they are here and they think they should be where their comrades are.

Then there is the friend who is having issues with the consequences of showing love; they are being taken advantaged of and stressed out.

Finally, there is the friend who is standing for Jesus Christ and as a result they may lose custody rights to their kid.

My friends from all walks of life are hurting and for the last few days, while battling sickness, I have been hurting with them. I have been bearing the burden of praying for them and even when I am not making direct petition, their face is in my head and their pain in my heart. I have always been a really selfish pray-er; so I praise God that he has granted me the sensitivity and privilege to love and serve my friends as I have been able to do.

To my friends, I love you all…you are in my prayers. If there were some way to alleviate your hurts, I would. Since there is not much I can do; I will continue to thank God for you and ask him to hold you, on your behalf.

Grace and Peace

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Embracing Biblical Singleness - Pt. I

What is singleness? How does one define being single?
I guess it depends on who is being single; I would appeal to Webster but in our postmodern, relativistic age, he simply does not matter. Most people would define singleness as not being in a relationship; as long as you are dating someone you are single. You could be doing all sorts of sexual acts and could even be sleeping around and still be considered single.

But what about for Christians; or at least Christians that care about purity in relationships? What is the definition for us?

Well, if you ask some it would that singleness involves not going all the way. I have known too many Christian couples (still considering themselves to be single) who were all over each other even before they declared themselves to be dating. For them, singleness is in the turning of a Facebook status rather than any sort of relational commitment. Others, would define singleness as being without a boyfriend or girlfriend; I am single so long as I do not have someone who puts lovey-dovey things about me up on Facebook (which btw, pet peeve of mine).

But I am inclined to follow the Scriptures about singleness…what better example than Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in chapter 7:

1Co 7:1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman."
1Co 7:2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
1Co 7:6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this.
1Co 7:7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.
1Co 7:8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.
1Co 7:9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Just from reading these verses I am struck by the following: that it is good not have sex, that if you should only do so because of sexual immorality and/or in the confines of marriage, and that each person is called to one way of life or the other and that they are BOTH good.

But here is the question: what is the default state of the Christian? Is it marriage or singleness? If you listen to a lot of the American church the answer is almost definitively marriage; if you are not married you are kind of marginalized and pitied. I cannot tell you how many times that, even though well meaning, people I go to church with have wounded me by lamenting how deprived I was because I did not have a girlfriend. It so affected me that when I got to college I began this relentless pursuit of anyone and everyone because I did not want to continue to feel the shame of not being engaged. I don’t think that the church means to do it, I just think that the way our Christian/Church culture is designed is so family-centric that we just don’t have any room for those God has called to either extended or even permanent singleness, or in the very least we are uncomfortable and not sure what to do. Now, some churches are starting to realize this and we are making big gains, but singles still are viewed with almost disdain by many local churches.

I would argue though that the default is singleness and the only reason that you should rush to marriage is if you cannot control yourself, which is not a get-out-of-lust free card but rather a frank admission that you don’t trust God enough to control those inclinations in your life. I believe that many more are called to eventual marriage than singleness, don’t get me wrong, but I believe most rushed marriages In Christendom are because men/women cannot harness their sexual desires into something useful for the kingdom and that glorifies God. It is to your shame then, that you rush into marriage unprepared and only desiring to fulfill your lusts rather than to be perfected in holiness and purity in Christ Jesus.
This is not to lambast you; this is to be real with you. Paul’s exception was not an escape hatch from controlling one’s lust; it was a last resort for quitters. Again, marriage is good and many of us (maybe even myself) will get married; but let us get married because God has moved that way not because we cannot keep our pants zipped.

Besides, lust and sexual immorality is not just a “single” issue; married couples deal with these same problems and the consequences become dire. If you are addicted to pornography, if you are addicted to the “second look”, if all you think about when you are with a brother or sister in Christ is their physical physique; then you need to put that aside before you get married. If not, it will come back to bite you and your wife and maybe ever your children. Being married is not an assurance that you will not have to deal with and fight sexual immorality; in fact, it almost assures that you will.

So what is biblical singleness? When one embraces the attitude of this passage:

1Th 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;
1Th 4:4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,
1Th 4:5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;
1Th 4:6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.
1Th 4:7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.
1Th 4:8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

All of this falls under the umbrella of “sanctification” which means to be given holiness or to be made holy. It is something we receive from God in Christ and we should be adamantly pursuing it. What are the things that will lead us to be sanctified and thus biblically single?

We will explore this next time.

To Be Continued…Next Time: Embracing Biblical Singleness Pt. II


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

You Must First Be Led - Pt. I

And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23 ESV

Very few people like to be led; everyone wants to call the shots.

Notice I did not say, “Everyone wants to lead,” because leading and “calling the shots” can be two fundamentally different things. There many people out there who can bark orders and assign tasks, but how many people are truly leading?

I will contend that leaders are being led; they are following someone else. Someone else is leading them and they are in hot, passionate pursuit. This is not necessarily a Christian idea (though it can be most definitely attributed to the example of Jesus Christ, as we shall see) and I believe that whatever your discipline or way of life, that there is no avoiding it. If you are not led by someone, then you are not a leader. A great boss or manager, perhaps; but you are definitely not a leader.

But this leads to a very thought provoking question: What does it mean to be led?

Though I am sure many, many answers can be given (and feel free to write some of them in the comments section if I missed a glaring one) but I sat down and thought over all the lessons and experiences I have had with leadership, plus considered my personal knowledge of Scripture and came up with seven ideas that I think typify what it means to follow; what it means to be lead.

1. To be led means to submit one ’s self to be taught and disciplined.

Submission is often an ugly word in the English language; it conjures up images of doormats and mindless slavery. The Church tells wives to submit to their husbands (often neglecting the husband submitting to their wives AND children) in order to establish more of a social order rather than to demonstrate the relationship between Christ and his Church. What is the line of submission; when do I say, “no?” These are questions that do not have easy answers and anyone who offers them is lying. So, there is definitely merit to some people’s hesitancy to submit. However, I do believe if one is going to be a true leader, then one must learn how to be a leader from someone else and must open one’s self to be disciplined in one’s leadership.

Teaching is highly commended in Scripture; every church leadership gift comes with the prerequisite “able to teach.” Why is this? Well, teaching involves the transmission of ideas, values, and doctrines down to the next generation of hearers (and hopefully doers). A church leader must be able to teach in order to ensure that God’s message continues to be accurately handled and applied. We see this in the Old Testament where the Israelites were commanded through Moses to always keep the Law literally in front of their eyes. They were to be constantly learning from the Law of God in order to teach it to their children. When Jesus came, he did not end this practice and instead took it upon himself to listen to teaching as a child (Luke 2:46-47). Jesus would continue, as a human being, to learn from the Father and model what Father desired to his disciples, who in turn, were to model it to the rest of Israel and eventually the rest of the world. Paul repeatedly admonishes his readers to keep to the teaching that he and the rest of the church leaders had passed down, as a trust in the future of the Gospel. One of the signs of the Last Days is that men will cease to learn and will instead desire for their ears to be tickled and their appetites appeased.

Don’t limit who you learn from either; that could mean the difference between success and failure. As I have written before, much to my shame, one of the hardest groups of people for me to learn from is Southern, Conservative Christians (Baptist or not). I have, until recently read, and listened to everyone but these individuals. By doing this I have limited my leadership, especially considering my relationships in the local church involve those individuals. I have had to eat a lot of crow and have really been challenged by my pastor to work through my prejudice in this manner in order to get to the point where I am simply willing to learn. I am not going to say I am going to be perfect at doing this; I will likely screw up eventually…however, I want to learn from these men (and women) because they truly love and seek to serve Jesus Christ through his Church. Be open to learn from even groups of people you don’t understand or are slightly prejudice against and they may surprise you.
Part of the “becoming teachable” process involved me going to the pastor and asking for opportunities to minister, knowing that these issues would come up. I had to literally humble myself and take some heat in order to see the truth about my rebellion and my unwillingness to submit. This lead to me give up my right to guide my life in whatever way I pleased, but instead to give it over to the discipline of these godly leaders.

What do I mean by “discipline?” I mean that I have submitted myself for everything II Timothy 3:16 talks about, “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” I have not lost my free will or my free thinking, but I have chosen to embrace and for the time being incorporate the ideas, philosophies, and methods of someone else into my own life and service. I have literally given myself to be kept accountable and to be lovingly chastened and strengthen to be the man of God, the leader that God has called me to be.

I have given permission to my leader(s) to call me aside, to discipline me in truth and love, and to give valuable input and direction into my life. I am opening myself up not be controlled by others, but rather to be guided by them to the most godly and glorious life that they desire for me in Christ Jesus. I cannot do this if I am always bucking the system, making stupid, insensitive remarks, or being gloomy and negative. God has called me to so much more and he has the same calling for you, my friends.
This does not even take into account the self teaching and discipline involved in being led. I am constantly evaluating how I am leading and whether I am being led. I am constantly reading books, blogs, tweets, etc to learn and grow not just as leader but as a person. This requires the disciplines of study and contemplation; disciplines which most American Christians have difficulties. I must be willing to learn, make changes (I.e. sacrifice), adapt, and grow in my own walk with the Lord as I seek outside lessons and discipline. If I am to be in a position to be led; I must be learning and disciplining myself.

Here is the take away:

In order to be led you must give up your independence but not your individuality; you must be willing to learn whatever from whomever, wherever, whenever, and you must do so willingly and humbly.

To Be Continued…Next Time: “To be led means to connect one’s self to someone who will help to determine at least your immediate, if not your distant, future.”


Monday, October 18, 2010

Executive Order 16661: 7:10 am

That was a big mistake Lia...

I don't normally act like a college student; going out, getting smashed, and then ending up in bed with a strange boy. It had not been a good week; I needed to escape and not be me for a night. He was the perfect opportunity to do something reckless and somewhat crazy; I took advantage of him and I hoped he saw his way out. I had been called in that morning much to my dislike and so I had to leave him in my bed and hope that he was not a thief who would rob me or a pervert who would riffle through my lingerie.

I hope he heeds my note; he has no idea who he is dealing with...I killed a man.

That Friday I had killed a man; it was in self defense and it was legitimate, but the guy was still dead. He had a family; a wife and three kids with another on the way. My partner, Ian, had corroborated my story and there was not going to be any disciplinary action used against me, but there was still a guy in a coffin, with loved ones grieving, who was never going to draw breath again. It sucked, man did it suck. He had come up from the side, weapon raised, and I pivoted and attempted to shoot him between the eyes, but I missed and hit him in the jugular.

Blood sprayed everywhere.

I had tried unsuccessfully to sleep that night; all I could see was his face. So, instead I lay awake going through all the justifications for what I did; even though I would be acquitted in any local or federal court, there was this sinking feeling that there was a court where my actions would always be declared guilty. There were many times where I was tempted to go to church or at least to dig out my Bible from under my bed. It had comforted me during my college years to read about God and his love, but once I joined the Bureau and I began to advance in my career, I had just neglected God completely; I was not even sure he loved me anymore. My parents had repeatedly called and urged me to go back to church; every conversation ended up being an argument where I told them to keep their religion to themselves.

I was a believer; I just had my own life.

I had called my parents Saturday to tell them what had happened and to ask for prayer, just for prayer.

My dad, however, once again insisted that I go talk to a pastor; he recommended one that his pastor knew. I lost it.

"I really think you should go talk to a pastor about this, honey. You have been out of a church now for ten years; don't you think it is time to go back?"

"Dad, did you not hear me? I shot a man; he is dead...his wife has no husband; his kids will never say
'Daddy,' again...and all you can do is tell me to go back to church?" I was now crying; tears blurring my vision.

"I am telling you, Lia, that God may be using this to get your attention. He is telling you to repent and turn to him! He can take care of this..."

"Dad, could you just pray for me! For once could you keep your guilt to yourself? I called you for help, and you used it as an opportunity to preach to me. I don't have time for this."

After that conversation, I threw any return to God temporarily out the window. I had received several phone calls from concerned colleagues who were making sure I was not about to jump off of a bridge or something else suicidal. There concern was justified; I had at one point attempted to take a whole bottle of muscle relaxers in order to end my misery. Yeah, it was back in college, but when you join the Bureau they want to make sure you are no longer about two seconds from ending your life. I assured them that I was not suicidal and that I just needed some time to sort things through. They told me about a get together they were having down at the local Irish pub and at first I was not going to go. However, the more I tried to sit and zone out the more I thought about that man’s neck exploding.

So, I went.

It was real fun at first but then I began to get more drunk than normal and somehow floated away from my peers who were similarly hammered. I was approached by this cute, young guy who had a really nice smile and I really nice…well you know. Anyway, we started talking and I am sure that I made no sense because I don’t remember anything of particular importance in what we discussed. I do remember laughing a lot and somehow inviting him to my place (not quite sure how I managed to give him directions or how managed to get me home).

Drunk. He took me home drunk.

Anyway, by the grace of God (maybe I should not say that because God really frowns on this sort of thing) we made it back to my place where one thing led to another and we ended up sleeping together. It was a complete one night stand; it meant absolutely nothing and felt so good while it lasted. I do not know if he used a condom or not; so I made sure to take some of the birth control pills that I had kept in my drawer from my previous relationship nightmare, I dressed quickly, disgusted with myself; making a quick and sure vow that I would never tell my parents about this. Even though they knew I was sleeping with the previous guy, at least it was some sort of relationship not a hit and run.

I would never hear the end of it if they found out, they will send the pastor after me or something, maybe try to exorcise some sort of demon.

I wanted to deal with him personally, man it is bad that I can’t remember his name, but I got called in so quickly that I was unable to even speak to him. It is not normal for me to get called into the office on a Sunday morning so I was just a tad bit curious as to what was going on. I pulled up into the office and was surprised to see quite a few people in the parking lot. What the hell is going on here? I parked the car quickly and meandered into the office noticing the Chase Bank clock read 7:31. So, so early on a Sunday. I opened the door said hello, the receptionist and headed toward the back.

“Nobles, Quincy is gathering everyone in the conference room in five minutes. All of our field agents have been called in…this place is restless.”

The voice was that of my partner Ian Vance or “IV” as we liked to call him. This was ironic too because you could not get him to donate even a drop of blood; he hated needles with a passion. I had been Vance’s partner for going on three years; we even came close to dating once and then he almost got killed. It was just too much for me to be romantically involved with someone who could reliably drop out of my life at any moment. We still remained close friends and there is not a man in the world I would trust more than Ian Vance; which is why it truly sucked that his new girlfriend was uber-protective and jealous.

“Do you have any idea what it could be about?” sometimes if I prodded, Ian would give up info.

“No, actually nobody does but it has to be something really serious to call us all in.”

“Agreed; I am definitely not accustomed to a Sunday morning wake up call.”

“I wonder if it is something I heard about from my cousin Carlos this morning,” the voice came from
Agent Victor Cabrera who had joined us walking down the hall, “Carlos told me that his mother’s pastor had received some sort of warning via text message; I ignored it completely till I got the call to come in…now my curiosity is piqued.” Cabrera was a good guy; the kind with a wife with three kids who was civically involved in everything from coaching little league to serving meals at the homeless shelter. He had once been a practicing Catholic but had left the Church disgusted with what he considered too much preaching and not enough serving. He was a model husband, father, and gentleman and we were always glad to be able to work with him.

“That is strange; but doesn’t Carlos live across the country? Why would it be something we would worry about here?” My curiosity was also now piqued.

“Well, Nobles, if it is some sort of terrorist threat it could be a nationwide thing.” Piped in Vance.

“But that is just the thing,” interrupted Cabrera, “It was not a threat over the text message; it was a
warning. Whoever was sending the text was trying to warn the pastor about something.”

“Well, it could be just some kid pulling a prank,” I was not convinced of this, something in me said that it wasn’t, “and if so it would not be too difficult to send some sort of mass text if they were able to get a large list of pastors.”

“Yeah, it is certainly possible.” Conceded Cabrera

We all entered the large conference room where Quincy had gathered what appeared to be everyone in the whole division; all the seats were taken so we stood near the back.

Quincy looked kind of annoyed at our tardiness but did not address us:

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I know that you are all wondering why you here this morning, and I am going to be quite honest with you, I don’t know why. What I do know is that we have received word that several thousand churches have been contacted by someone whom we are considering to be whistleblower at this point…”

So it is about the church text message. My thoughts began to wonder off, trying to imagine what kind of terrorism could be unleashed on several thousand churches. “…the person who sent text message did so from a blocked number which we have been unable to trace. However, we do not believe that this individual has any sort malicious intent. We do not know what exactly the extent of the threat is and that is why I am deploying all of your to various churches in our district.”

“Sir, what did the text message say?” Cabrera opened the questioning.

“Good question, agent Cabrera. The message was as follows: Executive Order 16661 has been issued. Do not go to church this morning; if you do they will have you.

Silence descended upon the room.

Cabrera spoke again, “But sir that says that an Executive Order was given? Wouldn’t that come from the President? And who is “they?”

“I agree, agent Cabrera, this a very confusing text. However, we checked with the White House and they say nothing of the sort has been issued. We can only assume then that it is some sort of code for whatever the operation is that this group is going to carry out.”

“Sir,” an agent spoke up, “are there any commonalities shared between the churches?”

Quincy nodded, “Yes, I was just about to get to that agent Covington. These churches seem to have almost nothing in common except one thing; they all signed the Church Transformation Pact a couple of weeks ago. Every church that has been notified has been a church who signed this pact.”

“Sir,” another agent at the table inquired, “couldn’t we just have an inside prank? If someone worked at the convention where this pact was signed then they could have obtained the list of churches and decided to be funny.” If it was a prank, no one was laughing; it was clear that no one was thrilled with giving up their Sunday, even the ones scheduled to be working were not thrilled with the idea of chasing some phantom prankster who was terrorizing churches.

“That is what we are hoping agent Hendricks, but we cannot take any chances on a threat this large. I have here a listing of the churches in our area that signed the CTP. I am going to assign each of you to a church; unfortunately we have too many churches to cover so I can only send you in teams of two, so King and Loxley you have…”

I listened as Quincy doled out the assignments, still not quite sure what to think when I realized something that caused my heart to screech to a halt: my parents’ church signed that pact. My mind lolled and all of my recent anguish with my father was replaced by deepening concern. Oh God, I have to warn them about this.Everything was bright and suddenly the room was spinning…”Nobles and Vance you will take…” I heard the church but my world was reeling.

“Nobles? Nobles? Hey, Lia; are you alright?” Vance was making sure I was ok and I definitely was not.
“Ian, I am going to need to call my parents will quick, my God, they go to one of those churches!” I was panicking; breath was not coming easy.

“Ok, sure Lia, hey don’t worry about it. I will be in the car; you take your time.” Vance gave me reassuring shoulder rub as Quincy dismissed us all to our assignments. I got up quickly, startling a few people as I ran out the door; I grabbed my cell phone and hit the auto dial. The clock read 7:53.


C’mon dad, please, please pick up the phone!