Cleaning out the Closet
If you expected this post to be about the Eminem classic, let me apologize firsthand. But I hope that does not deter you from reading further. I promise, at least I hope, that it will not disappoint.
I recently bought a copy of The Message, the contemporary English translation of the Bible. I have always loved this version of Gods’ Word. I have always been fascinated and intrigued by words, and Jesus’ words have been some of the most intriguing words we’ve ever seen over the last two thousand years. I especially like how different translations of the Bible can provide different angles of interpretation and reading.
As I was flipping through the pages upon first opening it, I stopped on Isaiah 54. The subtitle of the chapter: “Spread out! Think Big!” caught my attention. As I read through verses 1-6, it reads “clear lots of ground for your tents! Make your tents large! Spread out! Think big!” How often do we clutter our lives and have no clear space to pitch our tents?
At the time of this writing, as I sit at my computer, I am just about five or six weeks out from leaving for South America. I feel that in order to step foot in Ecuador with success, I need to create room in my life for God to prepare me and work in my heart prior to my departure. How often do we fill up our lives with secondary things that interfere from us pursuing the primary thing? Maybe it’s a relationship that needs to end, or desires that need to change, or beliefs that need to be strengthened with truth, or bitterness or forgiveness that needs to be let loose, or habits that need to be broken. Whatever it may be for you, for me, I think we have to clear lots of ground so that when the time comes for us to pitch our tents, to build and/or create something, we will have the necessary space in our lives and in our hearts to do so.
As I count down the days to my departure for the middle of the world, I have been focusing on needs and wants in my life, and the ever constant battle to keep them in check; to begin determining exactly what I need in my life to survive. I often tell myself that if I can get to a place in my life where I can fit everything I own, everything I need, into two duffel bags and my car, then I will be happy. In just under two months, I will be forced to do this for my life, at least for seven months, during my time in Ecuador. We often spend so much time collecting stuff that we cannot take with us to heaven that we miss the One who created all things at the beginning of time.
I urge you, as much as I urge myself, to take stock of your life, to determine what areas of your ground you can clear, to free up space for God to begin building something great in your life. We cannot expect to see God creating anything in our lives if we cannot even see the ground we are standing on. So “create lots of ground for your tents.” Don’t just eliminate a couple of things that are covering your ground, but “spread out, think big.” Clean the ground, or in the case of this post, clean out your closets.
Everyone Has Their Octagon
As I was listening to Lecrae’s new mixtape, Church Clothes 2, this afternoon, I noticed a line where he references a training camp. This wasn’t the first time I had heard a reference like this pertaining to Christianity and our journey with Christ, but it made me think hard, about faith and where I am headed.
For the last few years, I have been a fan of the UFC and MMA. Now before you judge or criticize a Christian for being a fan of fighting, watch Vitor Belforts’ “I Am Second” video and you’ll likely reconsider. Anyways, the concept of pre-fight training camps have always interested me. In these camps, fighters will train for month and month leading up to a fight, preparing themselves for the 15 or 25 minute fight with their opponent. Just think, all that time for something will last less than a half hour, sometimes not even one minute. Now I am not a fighter, at least not in this sense of the word. But I am in a training camp on my own.
In two months, I will be leaving my comfortable home in the United States for the city of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. During these couple of months leading up to my departure, I feel as though God is putting me through a training camp. I am constantly praying that He would, to prepare me for the “fight” to come in Ecuador. From the research I have heard and done myself, the enemy is having his way in that city. I am constantly trying to prepare myself in ways that would sync up with Gods’ ways in preparation for this coming fight.
In Belforts’ “I Am Second” video, he says that everyone is a fighter; that we all have things we fight for and/or against. We all have seasons, too, where we find God preparing us for something He has for us down the road. That is where I am now. I am in a training camp of my own, preparing myself in mind, body, and spirit for the battles that are to come. I am not saying that my time in Ecuador will be a struggle, like that of a fight. But in combating Satan, it is never fun. It is for those difficult moments I am seeking God to prepare me. I cannot do it on my own. But it is when we acknowledge that we cannot do it alone that God most intercedes on our behalf, because that is exactly where He wants us.
How often in our lives do we focus our attention to things that are not of nearly as much importance as we make them out to be? How much do we give of our resources to lesser things than we should be? I will admittedly be the first to share that I often make more of things than I should be; that I place things in higher positions than I should be. It is one thing for us as people to do this on a personal level. But when this becomes the perspective of those in leadership who have authority of people and places is when we may have to notice that a change needs to take place.
I recently heard how a section of the greenway trail here in Raleigh cost $34 million dollars. I couldn’t help but think of how that money could’ve been spent in better ways; put to use in areas of our city that desperately need it. I sometimes drive aimlessly around this city with my Nikon, and it is not hard to notice neighborhoods and people who are in desperate need of aid. How different would this city look if those in office had decided to put that money in other areas? To single moms who can’t work enough hours in a day to provide for her children. To the homeless man who can’t beg enough to get dinner or a blanket in the winter months. The addict who is in his thirties but can’t afford his own apartment, let alone treatment. The high school student who so desperately wants to go to college and escape the streets they were raised on.
What I think I am trying to get at is that we as people, as human beings, need to begin to focus on greater things in this world. We need to start recognizing the needs of where we are and determining how we can use what we have in order to meet those needs. One person cannot do everything, but as we gather and come together and create a force that cannot be ignored, it is my hope that wherever you find yourself, you would advocate and speak out for the greater things that you see in your city, and the needs that you see need to be met.
Jesus said in John 14:12 “very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” Jesus says that will do greater things. I want to begin to stop simply reading about the greater things Jesus wants me to do and start doing them and living a life that reflects those greater things. That is what I want you to contemplate. Are you ready to do greater things and advocate for greater things than simply seeing them and passing them by?
Many Future Chapters
It has been some time since I have found myself here. But somehow I cannot help feeling the need to put something down on paper, or in this case, a computer screen. Today has been a fantastic day. The good far outweighed the bad.
I had the honor of spending some time with my good friends at Elevation High Point. Let me say that it is a blessing any time I get to share Church with them. But Church, just as much as it is a place of healing and restoration, is often a place of pain and despair as well. Not more than ten minutes after arriving, I heard of a roommate who tried to take her life this morning. I was with this roommates’ friend, who was in obvious pain, and this pain quickly transferred to those who surrounded her in prayer. I had the honor of closing a prayer for her and for her roommate. But that did not mean that her situation instantly was resolved, as she left to be with her friend at the hospital shortly after. Having been a part of numerous conversations and moments over the years where this issue was at the center, I knew the weight of what was happening. But that did not mean I could do anything to make it easier. In fact, outside of closing that prayer, I did not say a word otherwise. Partly because I did not have any words to share with her to ease her anxiety over what her friend was experiencing. I could just pray. That’s all any of us could do.
As I write this, I am sitting on my couch, a re-run of Big Bang Theory on tv after a great night of friendship around a bonfire. I am one hour away from my 23rd birthday. And I cannot but help contemplate the idea that as I enter into a new year of life, someone I do not know yet am connected to through prayer and friendship is struggling to find meaning and hope in her life. I cannot help but wonder also at how often we, I, take moments in life for granted. As I sat on the tailgate of a truck in front of a roaring fire, I thought about moments like these, and how in just over two months, I will be on another continent, unable to recreate these memories, but able to make new ones.
Life is precious. But it is painful. Even though our lives may often seem easy and bearable, we cannot lose knowledge of the fact that others may be close to giving up everything in order to escape the life they are currently in. I have been constantly asking God to break my heart for what breaks His. And this is something that breaks my heart.
If you or someone you know is hurting and does not know what to do or where to turn, please find help. You can find a list of resources here. Surround yourself with people who love you and care about you. My friends at To Write Love on Her Arms recently released a new shirt, titled People Need Other People. I believe the truth in this statement. Please do not fall victim to the lie that you are alone in this life. If you feel alone where you are, take it from someone who has, and still does often, feel alone: it’s not how we are supposed to live. We are created relational beings for a reason, because God does not want us to walk this life in isolation.
If you find yourself in the same spot as the troubled roommate, or her friend, that I prayed for this morning, I pray your heart would be opened and healed and filled with hope, joy, peace, and love. Your life is valuable. It is worth something. Your story matters. It does not have to end here. Many future chapters are left to be written. This is only the beginning.
Listen When They Speak to You
I am sitting on my couch watching opening night of the NBA season and trying to figure out just how to put into words what I want the rest of this post to be about. Something was said to me this past Sunday night during a conference call with some people, who after two hours of talking, I consider dear friends. I think the majority of this post will be born out of those conversations. Here it goes.
During a conference call for my upcoming journey to Ecuador, I was able to speak to leaders and future (well, I guess you could now call them current) team members. After a brief introduction from founders Greg and Christa, the conversation became open for questions and comments. At that moment, I spoke up. What was said next blew my mind.
I asked a question. It sounded simple in my mind but came out much more elaborate and expanded than I thought it would. I asked Greg and Christa this: “In what specific ways can I be praying that God would prepare me; what experiences can I pray for that God would prepare me for?” Christa spoke up, and shared a story of how she had prayed to God “break my heart for what breaks Yours” and how that looked in her life during a missions trip some time ago. She said I should pray that. What she didn’t know, at least until I told her, was that I had been praying that prayer for some time now. Funny right?
Later in the call, Greg told us that something we needed to be mindful of. He said that a mark of a good leader is one who knows not to check out of one season before entering another; that in order to enter a new season well, one must first end the current season well. This too was something I had been praying for for some time as well. Needless to say, I was floating on a spiritual cloud nine for some time after that conversation.
I guess my point of this post is this: God can and will often use people in our lives to confirm to us what He wants us to be praying for. As I continuously asked God to prepare me in every way possible for seven months overseas, He used others around me to confirm to me what I already thought I knew.
If you find yourself in a place in your life right now where you don’t know what to pray for, or maybe even what to say to God, look for ways God could be speaking to you through those around you what He wants you to pray. God can get our attention through any outlet he wants, so don’t discount the relationships around you who are speaking into your life. Something someone speaks from their mouth could be coming from the heart of God.
You Don’t See It Yet
I’m still recovering from Hillsong Conference NYC several weeks ago, in more ways than one. I’ve re-read all eight pages of notes on more than one occasion, especially those from Christine Caine’s message. Between the “oohs” and “ahhs” and “that’s good” from those in attendance, I furiously did my best to scribble down as many notes as possible, finally ending up with three pages. Of all the gems of spiritual nuggets of wisdom, one idea connected with me more than all others.
Both Christine Caine and Carl Lentz shared a similar point: that you never know when something will happen; what tomorrow holds for you. I’ve heard this before. This wasn’t the first time. But this time was different. Something clicked that didn’t before. Kind of like in the movie Click with Adam Sandler when he goes into the future by pressing the fast forward button towards the end of the movie, where he’s laying in the middle of the street in the pouring rain and he’s like 60 years old. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this movie. Don’t stop reading now just because some of my details may be a bit off. But there’s something about not knowing your future.
If I knew my future today, right now, in this moment, I would want that future now. I would want to bypass the now and the coming up to get to the down the road. I guess what I’m trying to get across to you is that you don’t know what will happen tomorrow. What you have been praying for for a day, a week, a month, a year could happen tomorrow. Or it could happen 10 years down the road. Nothing about tomorrow is determined.
This is especially comforting to me. For more than one reason. I often pray for things that I want, some are especially significant, while some are trivial and would make you laugh. Like as of right now, I am praying the Jets will beat the Patriots as I attempt to write and watch the football game at the same time. But I often pray for bigger things, like a relationship, or God’s provision, or healing on behalf of friends and family members. But here’s the deal: all that could come to fulfillment tomorrow. It could come to fulfillment right now, as I sit at my desk in front of my computer. You just don’t know.
So I want to leave you with something. Something that I hope may change how you see things. All your hopes, fears, joy, dreams, they may come true tomorrow. Or they may never happen. None of us know. I don’t know and I won’t try to convince you of anything. But you never know. It’s cliche. I know. But nothing is decided in God’s timing. Pray on. Keep moving forward. Push back and press on. Your world could change for the best tomorrow. If you are stuck standing in the middle of a busy street wondering if the path will fade for a way across, keep praying. Because tomorrow is not here yet. Keep pounding until the victory is secured.
They Used to Be Songs
They used to be just songs. Now they are not. Now they are thought provoking and memory jarring reminders. If you are a fan of good music, you must listen to the second volume of Punk Goes Acoustic. There you will find songs that have meaning, that have emotion. Now I am not a fan of all the songs, but there are two that certainly have brought meaning in my life.
‘Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been’ is a reminder about the past. It’s saying that who I have become is not happy with who I was. I think this is true for everyone. No one can claim perfection. If we are honest, we can say that we have all done things that we wish could’ve happened differently or didn’t happen altogether. While it is true we have to move past our past, and while it is also true that in Christ, we are forgiven and our pasts are forgotten by God, it does not mean we will automatically forget our past. But it does move us closer to another question: if God is able, actually wanting, to forgive our pasts, why do we have such a hard time forgiving ourselves? ‘Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been’ is an honest statement. And it is the overall theme for another song from that album, “Bruised” by Jacks Mannequin.
Because of our pasts, we are often left bruised in life. This is something that cannot be avoided and something that must be embraced. Pastor and author Jarrid Wilson says that we should not hide our scars, but wear them as proof that God heals. Whatever our bruises are from, does it do any good to keep them covered by a sweatshirt or makeup? Something liberating is the idea that in Christ, we are free to be honest and transparent about our bruises and afflictions. We have the privilege of wearing them as proof that God can heal no matter the situation.
My friend and student pastor shared his story tonight. It was different though because of the detail and thought that he spoke with. He mentioned the song ‘Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been’ and how, shortly after he began to walk with Jesus, could not drive because of tears in his eyes from listening to it during a three-hour road trip. I wonder how many of us have cried because of our pasts, how many of us hate who we used to be, how many of us, who if had the chance, would either change our past or embrace it and learn from it. These are all necessary questions. And these are questions that require honest answers. I think I will leave you with those tonight.