Wednesday, November 17, 2010
That's the only word that can describe the last couple weeks. Within the last couple weeks, I have seen God take plans I had made for years ahead and completely wreck them. I still know that I'm called to ministry and strongly feel the call to missions, but my perception of "missions" has been turned upside down. Either way, within the next year I will be immersed in a mission field where I live among those I am serving. At one point I was sure of where that was and what that looked like, but now God seems to be really pushing me elsewhere. God has given me a heart for the poor and oppressed in this city that I didn't think was possible. I pray with all my heart that God does something real and powerful in Conway. For far too long the ghettos and slums and trailer parks have been ignored, simply places we drive by on Sunday on the way to church, secretly praising God we don't live there. Even those of us who do frequent these places tend to find ourselves in the place of thanking God we aren't like "them." I have been guilty of that. However, among "them" I have found community and family and the living, breathing, church that is the bride of Jesus Christ in a way that I have never seen anywhere else. So badly do I want God to use me to continue the great and powerful work He has started in Conway. So badly do I want my future wife to come alongside me as we bring a revolution spurred not by things like attendance numbers, bigger buildings, higher salaries, fancy signs, etc... but one spurred by love that is only capable because of the One who loves us. That is the revolution that I want. Within the darkness of prostitution, alcoholism, drug addiction, broken homes, abusive relationships, and violent crimes there is hope. I see hope when I am in Oakwood. I see the gospel of Jesus Christ changing hearts and transforming lives daily. I see the beauty that comes with being the hands and feet of Jesus. I guess the evidence of grace within all of this is that God has completely broken my heart for a people I once despised and looked down upon. He has shown me the true beauty in the depravity and darkness. He has shown me hope. What else am I to do but proclaim this hope?
Saturday, October 23, 2010
I have been struggling with certain sins in my life for a while now. It has been a situation of the occasional slip-up that gradually gets worse and worse each slip-up. A few days ago, the slip-up turned into a full-fledged plummet. It was very scary to see myself completely lose control in a situation and not care about it in the moment. I liken it to climbing a rocky trail in the mountains, with each slip-up being myself stepping on a patch of loose gravel or a slick rock and losing a little bit of ground, but catching myself on surrounding trees or rocks so as not to fall too far back. The plummet, however, came from grabbing onto a tree that wasn't deeply rooted in the soil, so the roots were pulled up and caused me to free-fall, nearly reaching the bottom. The soil in my own life had turned from good soil to thorny, weed-ridden soil that was choking me to death. I was convicted after the fact, but the next day and the day after that I also fell into the same sin, this time with an expectancy of how far I was going to fall. The Holy Spirit was crying out to me all of the depravity in me, but the human, fleshly desires in my raged even louder. So far, all this has been about struggle and failure. Death and hopelessness reigned. Earlier today, I was at a point where I was struggling with a decision to choose death over life. I was struggling to decide whether I wanted the sin to evolve from a struggle I want freedom from to a lifestyle I would live in. My mindset was so screwed up and it scared me to death. I felt like Paul in the first part of Romans 7:24 "What a wretched man I am!" In my mind, I acknowledged the place I was at and knew the decision that had to be made. If I knowingly chose death, I could no longer sit in a place of feeling honest conviction and the want for repentance. By knowingly acting in disobedience to God and denying the urges of the Holy Spirit that dwells within, I would have been choosing to deny everything that I am.
So far, this has been a horrible story to tell. So much pain, struggle, shame and death. Much like Christ on the cross. However, my story doesn't stop there. I experienced the life and resurrection fulfilled by Christ and promised to all believers in the Word. When it came time to make the decision, God gave me the strength to choose Him. I can never remember being in such a place of temptation and in that place being able to take into account all of the spiritual factors and acknowledge the correct decision with a level-headed demeanor. Instead of making a rash decision and succumbing to the temptation of the moment, I realized this is a lifestyle decision I am making, a lifestyle of denying the Word, which is denying Christ my Savior. Though I know I will continue to struggle, I am at a place where I can begin to climb that mountain to get out of the valley. Only this time, when I begin to slip I can grasp onto the solid rock that is the proclamation of Jesus Christ as the son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16-18) and onto the trees of faith that are deeply rooted within the good soil. I desire to see the crop that is promised in the word of thirty-fold, sixty-fold, even one hundred-fold. There is an amount of death and sacrifice that must come for this to happen. I must take up my cross daily, deny myself, and follow Christ. I must crucify my sinful nature and desires in order to experience true life and resurrection. It won't be easy and would appreciate all the prayer I can get, but I have hope and joy in the trial and struggle. By the blood of the Christ nothing can separate me from my Father God. I can be more than a conqueror, as Paul speaks of in Romans 8:35-39. God is good.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Number one evidence of grace over the last couple weeks. God loves me enough to push me and stretch me in ways that I never thought possible. God loves me enough to put challenges in my life that I am completely helpless to overcome so that I have to come back to Him. God loves me enough to completely overwhelm me with burdens and trials, only so I can turn around and give them right back to Him. God loves me enough to allow me to take up His yoke and His burden and rest in Him (Matthew 11:28-30). Though I am completely unworthy of being challenged by God and having my faith stretched and matured, God somehow has found me worthy. I realize that it is nothing of my own doing that brings about this work, but Christ in me. However, I empathize with Paul in the highest degree. The things I do I don't want to do, but the things I want to do I don't do. What a wretched man I am? Who could possibly rescue me from this body of death? Jesus (Romans 7:15-25). No matter what else is going on in my life, whether I am in a place of promised land blessing or desert struggle, it all comes back to Jesus. Jesus and His sacrifice are the manifestation of the greatest Love of all. Love from the One who IS Love. The holy, almighty, perfect, majestic, powerful God of the universe loves me and calls me His son. He has called me to share the inheritance of Christ (Romans 8:17). We are fortunate and blessed enough to share in Christ's sufferings, so that somehow we can share in his eternal glory and life (Philippians 3:10-11) (Romans 6:4-11). If that isn't evidence of grace, I don't know what is.
By the way, anyone reading this blog should read Phillip Fletcher's blog. Phillip is my pastor at Church in Oakwood and always has amazing and honest insight on the Christian life. You will get a blessing out of it.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Haven't been on in a while, it's been a crazy busy last 2 weeks. At the moment I am really conflicted. In some ways I am more grateful for Christ's grace than I have ever been in my whole life, but life does always have its problems. I added this sentence after having written the whole thing and I realize that I'm not really that conflicted, because in all of my anxiety and worries of life, I am joyful and I'm excited to see that reflected in the following stuff.
I am completely surrounded by evidences of grace. After participating in Poverty Immersion, which consists of living a weekend in extreme poverty and homelessness, every day that I wake up in my warm bed, get up and eat breakfast, go out to my car, eat lunch, and never worry about my next meal or whether I have money in my bank account or not is a good day. God has blessed me with so much comfort and support in my life. Though I have never REALLY been homeless, to even spend a weekend in such a state really changed my mindset regarding the impoverished and homeless. Any preconceived notions or judgments I had were completely shattered.
As far as future plans go, things are really starting to pick up and God is starting to open some doors. Within the last month, God has revealed a lot of stuff to me. This coming summer, God has called me back to Africa, and this time for an extended stay. The extended stay, which could be anywhere from 6 months to a year, will be an excellent opportunity to depend and focus wholly on God while doing the work I have been called to do, which is evangelize to unreached people groups. Though the prospect of leaving behind everything in America, especially my girlfriend, family, and friends is very scary and unappealing, I know God will do great things through that. Within a couple weeks, there is a very good chance I will have some definite plans for next summer as far as location and length of stay. I am really nervous, but also really excited to begin stepping into the calling God has on my life.
The conflicted part is in my personal life. I have been excited my whole life to find that one person God has for me in this world and to be the spiritual leader in that relationship. God has definitely brought that person in my girlfriend Jennica. She is an amazing woman of God and I am blessed to be with her. Though I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world, the role of spiritual authority in a relationship has its tough times. I don't want to go as far as calling it a burden, but it is definitely a heavy responsibility. It carries a lot of weight and I don't take it lightly. Many times I don't feel up to the challenge. However, God spoke to me Monday night at Chi Alpha. The word of the night was identity. For a long time, I had allowed Satan to speak the identity of a "worthless leader" in my relationship. That no matter how hard I tried, I could never be the spiritual leader God calls me to be in my relationship because of my own personal sins and struggles. Since I'm not perfect, every time I would screw up in any way (which happens every day and often) in my mind I was continuing to confirm that false identity. However, Christ didn't die for us to live in false identities the world has spoken over us, but to be more than conquerors. Romans 8:37 "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
When we allow ourselves to be controlled by false identities in our lives, we are separating ourselves from our true identities as children of God, co-heirs with Christ, one with Christ. As soon as that separation happens and we quit walking in the true identity God has for us, we quit hearing His voice and walking in the purposes and plans that He has for us. We lose the peace that surpasses all understanding and quit living the the Sabbath rest that is promised in Hebrews.
God is so good and as always, the greatest evidence of grace is the redemption of all man by Jesus Christ.
Monday, September 20, 2010
When I started this blog around a week ago, I assumed it was going to be about a once a week thing, but I've quickly realized that there is way too many evidences of grace (yes, I just threw my blog title into one of my posts. I know it's awesome.) in my life to limit it to once a week.
Over the weekend we went to Chi Alpha's Fall Retreat and God affirmed some stuff for me. The number one thing God showed me was that the majority of my adult life will not be spent in America, but most likely in Africa. Paul and Marionette, married missionaries who live in Zambia, were the guests at Fall Retreat and Paul was the guest speaker. Honestly, looking at them was God showing me a foggy mirror of what my life is going to be. The basic outlines and shapes are all the same, preaching the gospel with my family in Africa to unreached people groups, but the details, such as where and when, are different. This is very exciting but also very scary, because it means giving up comforts and everything I have ever known in my current stage in life. But I have also known what it is like to hold an orphan who is HIV-positive and was orphaned by the same disease that is killing him. I have known what it is to present the gospel to a person who has know knowledge of Christ. Those things are far greater than any luxuries or comforts that my current life has to offer. The biggest evidence of grace from the weekend is that God somehow wants to use me, a flawed, broken, undeserving, unworthy man, to further His kingdom and spread Truth.He wants me to spend my life glorifying Him and making His name famous. Overwhelming and scary, but at the same time so exciting.
Another huge evidence of grace in that was how the weekend affected my beautiful girlfriend Jennica. Her latest blog post details her reactions to the weekend. I want everyone to read it so I won't tell all of it, but to make a poor attempt at summarizing it she also saw this weekend as an overwhelming but beautiful glimpse into what our future can look like. I am so blessed that God has led me to someone who is willing to sacrifice everything that the world tells us is important and special for God. Honestly, everything about Jennica and I, from events that happened years before we met and all of the things we have experienced together, seem to be preparing us for a life of hardships and trials for the name of Christ. What a joyful life that will be! Because through all of the hardships we will see God's power and love in ways some never experience. Also, if it is God's will, we will be able to raise our children in such a way that the presence and love of God is more real and evident to them than I ever knew.
My final evidence of grace I can think of at the moment is the realization that when God gives you answers it often opens up even more questions. For example, now that I have a basic outline of how God wants to use me I now have a million questions. It's mainly logistics and details that I don't need to know and that I know God will take care of, but they are there nonetheless. I find this great and full of grace because it allows God to build in me a greater dependence on Him and by doing that to prepare me even further for what He has in store for me, in this life and in eternity. God, I love you so much!
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Again, God continues to show me how much He truly loves me. Yesterday was a very tough day, but also an amazing one. Jennica and I have been struggling the past few days or so with sexual temptation in our relationship. It got to a point yesterday where it went too far. We didn't have sex, but something God has been really revealing to me and convicting me about is that it is all about the heart in the situation. As Christ says in Matthew 5:27-28, anyone who looks upon a person lustfully has already committed adultery in their heart. It is was a very shameful thing to admit to, that I let my lustful desires get in the way and be a stumbling block for my amazing, beautiful girlfriend. Most of all, I consciously ignored the commands of my God and grieved Him by my sin and rebellion against Him. However, God's grace was so evident in her reaction to it, as she graciously accepted an apology that she said was unnecessary. Just another reason why I love her so much. Also, we have been doing a Bible study together once a week and are going through 1 John this week. Through my studying of it this morning, God spoke a lot of things over me concerning self-condemnation and guilt. I really feel free from those feelings. So, our relationship took another amazing step toward God, which is ultimately our goal.
Another evidence of grace was how amazing D-group was last night. God has been so evident in everything about it. After the events of the day and my failures in it, I was pretty messed up about being a leader of other believers if I couldn't even get my crap together. But God just spoke to me and reassured me that I will never have it all together and that by leading from a place of brokenness, I can step aside and truly allow Him to lead. As John the Baptist said in John 3:30, "He must become greater; I must become less." Last night, by stepping aside and allowing God to become greater, I saw Him begin a great work that I know he promises to continue to completion. (Philippians 1:6). I saw guys who didn't know each other open up about their pasts, things and addictions they have struggled with. We talked about our backgrounds, questions our doubts we may have about our faith. We laid hands and prayed over a guy who has had some medical problems (more on that guy in a minute). All of this was on the very first D-group, which was supposed to be a simple meet-and-greet!
There's John. John is from Nigeria and he grew up Catholic. He expressed some doubts and questions he had about his faith and is really exploring and hungry to know God. There's Aaron, who grew up the son of an AG preacher, yet struggled with partying, alcohol, and the like in high school. He only came to d-group because it was the only night he could make it, but by the end of the night expressed that he knew this is where God led him to be. Aaron is really wanting to build lasting relationships with fellow brothers in Christ. Taylor, who was in my d-group last year, is a caring, compassionate, intelligent guy who wants to be involved in a brotherhood of believers. Then there's Keaton. Keaton has been dating my sister for the past month or so and when I found out he was living in Conway I felt the strong urge to invite him to Chi Alpha and D-group. I was pleasantly surprised to see him not only come Monday night, but come to D-group. Keaton has had multiple strokes in the last few years, the most recent one being around a month ago. We had the opportunity to lay hands on him and pray God to heal him. It was so powerful and I'm excited to see what God does in his life this year.
I love God so much and he continues to love me despite of me. One verse that really hit home for me today. 1 John 4:18. If anyone who reads this has an encouraging Scripture or comment or needs prayer, hit me up.
In Christ's love
Sunday, September 12, 2010
I've followed multiple blogs on here for some time, but I finally caved and decided it would be fun to start a blog of my own. Though I hope someone else decides to read this, it is as much a therapeutic device for me as anything.
Far too many times in my life, I take for granted all of the blessings God has given me. That is why I decided to call this blog "Evidences of Grace." Anytime I get stressed, overwhelmed, or basically pouting and whining like a little kid, I want to be able to reflect on all of the amazing things my King has done for me. I'll try not to ramble too much, but I'm really good at it, so we'll see what happens.
The number one evidence of grace, above anything else, is my Lord Jesus Christ and His love. My Savior, my Rock, my Messiah. Without Christ and his blood, I would be lost, a sinner condemned for eternity. I would have no purpose in this life at all. I can't imagine how someone can go through life with its trials, tribulations, hardships, responsibilities, disappointments, etc...without the relationship with God that Christ's sacrifice has afforded us. If that were the only blessing I ever received in my life, it would be way more than I ever deserve.
Another amazing blessing from God is my beautiful, awesome, amazing girlfriend, Jennica Ford. God has blessed with someone in this world who loves me and understands me and is willing to look past all of my weakness and failures and love me in spite of them. Her blog, http://jennicagayle.blogspot.com/, is an excellent read and I encourage whoever may read this to go check it out. She is such an amazing woman of God who pushes me and challenges me in my walk with Him everyday. She is so open and honest and has already helped me to learn how to open up. It details the crazy and amazing way God brought us together, took us apart for a while, but then ultimately brought us back together. Though I am secure in how I feel about her, God constantly reminds me about how she really is the girl who completes me. Recently, I was having a really stressful day and not dealing with responsibility or anything in general very well. Though she watched me get more and more frustrated and listened to me rant and rave, she stood by my side and encouraged me and helped support me. It's those times that truly make me realize how lucky I am. I am so excited God has led me to her and I'm so excited to see what live is like serving my Father alongside her. Just in case you were wondering, Jenn will probably make an appearance in nearly every one of my entries.
On top of that, God has truly blessed me with the opportunity to participate in Chi Alpha Campus Ministries at UCA. It is a campus ministry where I have seen God transform my life and change me in ways I never imagined. In the last couple years, I went from practicing a religion to living a relationship with God, and Chi Alpha was instrumental in that. I have brothers and sisters in Christ who truly love me and build me up and support me in prayer or whatever else I may need. Through Chi Alpha, I was able to go to Africa, where God changed my heart and gave me a passion for a people I barely know. I am so excited to go back, but if I start talking about Lesotho I may never quit typing.
I'm also involved with the City of Hope Outreach (CoHO), a Christian non-profit that works in Oakwood trailer park in Conway. I am so blessed to have an opportunity to go and serve a people that houses those who God has a heart for: the poor and the oppressed. Oakwood is very poor and crime-ridden, but in the CoHO's last couple years, God has already changed so many lives and transformed the community into a better place. I am confident this change will continue to happen and I am so blessed to be a part of it and to see it happen.
My family is another thing I am thankful for. God blessed me with a stable, loving home growing up. I could not have asked for a better set of parents. My mom and my dad love me and care about me and take care of me in a way that is so selfless and pure that it will definitely impact the way I care for my children. My sister, who is four years older than me, is one of my closest friends. She is an amazing Christian woman, a true rock of the faith. Watching her live and walk in her faith is awe-inspiring at times. Her strength and love are so evident in everything she does. She exudes the fruits of the Spirit on a constant basis and is constantly challenging me. She is so wise and always is willing to talk, or more like listen, when I have a problem.
Back to the number one evidence of grace, it's that Christ takes my flawed, filthy, human self and transforms it through his beautiful blood and somehow brings glory to His name. The fact that he even chose me for this honor floors me and humbles me. God has called me to some form of ministry, to make it my life to make His name famous in the most literal of ways. I don't know what that is going to look like at all, but I am just so humbled, scared, excited, overwhelmed, and pretty much every other emotion possible that God saw me fit to labor and struggle for Him. I am not worthy of this honor at all and without Christ I have nothing to offer God. It's only because of Him that I am able to serve, worship, and love Him.