My friend Rachel gave me a film camera the other day. She knew I was wanting to get into film photography and blessed me that day. I love taking pictures. It captures a memory, freezes a moment in time, and creates a reflection of life. I wanted to take a moment here and reflect, to look at my life and the things God has been showing me. Life has been moving in a flash recently. New job, new opportunities, and new fears that come with that. I guess that’s true with any calling, the closer you are to stepping into God’s plan, Satan tries his hardest to stop you. I’ve been feeling that a lot, the push back. The voices in my head telling me I can’t do it. Feeling inadequate and looked over by the people around me. It sucks. There’s no better way of saying it, but it also causes me to focus on the only one who truly loves and calls me. The one who opens the doors and tells me I can do it. The one who called me for more.
Wow, it’s been one incredible year! Today I turn 23, my Michael Jordan year, hopefully no Looney Tunes need my help to play basketball. It’s not gonna end well for them (Shouts out to “Space Jam”). This isn’t like one of my normal posts, I simply wanted to reflect on some of the amazing things from this year. God has done incredible works in my life and the lives to the people who are close to me. This past year I basically graduated from UNCG (wrote a post about the one class I have to complete), which was an awesome picture of how God helped me through my studies. That was always a stumbling block for me, and can you believe it, I even want to get a master in divinity over the next couple of years!
This past week has been amazing. I was able to go on my second mission trip after my adventures with camp KidJam (See previous weeks’ post), and spend time with some amazing high schoolers. I’m actually starting to write this post on the van ride back because I can barely contain the way God spoke to me. Throughout the trip, the Holy Spirit spoke to me in one of the most visceral ways, so close I tasted it, it infected every fiber of my being. I love the next generation. If you’ve been reading for a while you know this and if you’ve ever met me you might be annoyed by how passionate I am about it. It’s all I think about. It’s the thing I pray for. It’s the reason I am pursuing this life of full time ministry to empower leaders and lead the next generation to the awakening that is on the cusp of exploding into our world. I had a picture of what and where God wants me to be, and I am confident in the Spirit’s anointing on my life. I was called to a city I wanted to leave and a place where I never expected to build. Maybe I’m talking too much or maybe I shouldn’t share, but I am confident in this anointing and I am confident in the way that the Holy Spirit pursued my heart.
Well, it’s finally here. This past Thursday I officially graduated from UNCG! It was an awesome experience to say the least, and to be honest, never really sunk in until I was standing there waiting for my name to be called to walk across the stage for my department graduation. I was able to walk and feel like the last four years were worth it, that I had accomplished what I had set my mind towards. Today I’m doing a bit of a different post than I normally do. My typical format (for those of you who may be new readers, welcome!), is I will have a topic, a scripture, and break down to three-ish core principles that God has shown me through it. I like to break form here and there to share my heart from time to time. You see I don’t have all of the answers, I know I know, shouldn’t I be some kind of all-knowing guru? Yeah not really. Life at the moment went from being normal and sort of have a flow to it, to again being shaken up. I hope today that through some personal stories that interconnect, you will be able to look at the shifting in your own life and know you’re not alone. That’s the biggest reason I write at all anyways, I never want anyone to feel alone for any reason.
Last week I talked about making a very important choice, a choice that will affect the rest of your life, but what happens afterwards? How do I go about living my life? So often we are able to make the choice, but we continue to live our lives as they were. This isn’t me saying we should all become hermit people only reading the bible every moment of the day, not a bad thing just basically impossible if you have to drive and interact with people, what I am saying is that we become changed people. A relationship with God isn’t some checklist to complete, that isn’t a relationship. We are in relationship with so many people, friends, family, co-workers; but the most important relationship we have is with our creator. When we spend time with these people in our life, we make an effort to connect with them, that’s what God wants for us. When we make the effort to connect with him, our outlook is altered.
One of the biggest questions I think everyone has asked themselves at some point is, do I even matter? It’s kind of a frightening question to ask oneself. Do we actually matter to the landscape of the world we find ourselves in? The answer, in our own eyes, varies all over the place. Success is subjective in the eyes of the person trying to obtain it. Success in the world may be fame, fortune, and glory; but if this is the standard for if we matter, most of us will fail. I know for me I’m a broke college student who is trying to figure out how I get to the place God has called me to. I don’t exactly meet the fame, fortune, and glory type of success. There has to be something more, right? I believe that God’s idea of success is so much more powerful than we could ever imagine, and it is so much greater than our worldly desires. Psalm 1:1-3 says, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither- whatever they do prospers.” This verse I believe answers that question of why we matter.
I hope you all are staying warm and safe from the icy roads! I am currently in a hotel in Lillington after spending a day visiting a friend. It was very crazy having my dad call me to tell me that the roads were too dangerous for me to try and make it, so I made reservations at the hotel. It’s currently raining and freezing from outside a coffee shop here in the town, and this situation, as well as what I’ve been learning throughout this week has lead me to one central idea. Trust. Trust is something that is hard for me, the word itself means to have a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. That’s a pretty big role to fill, yet God wants us to put our complete trust in him alone. For me, it’s hard to trust things and people, because all of us are sinners, people who are not perfect. If we expect imperfect people to be perfect, we will be disappointed. I often make that mistake, I really do mean often. I look to other people to trust in, because I can tangibly hear and see them, but I make them into a higher position than God himself. This is a dangerous way to live, Jesus called out the religious leaders of his time because they similarly put their trust in the law, while missing the son of God who was in front of them. I think that’s the danger of putting trust into someone or something until it turns into faith, and that’s something hard to admit.
I think we have lost something. Lost something that brings us closer to God. Something that is a necessity of life. Prayer seems to be put on the back burner of most of our lives. I know for me, I often don’t think about the importance of prayer, so I’ll get caught up in serving others and pursuing God’s vision and I forget to come to him first! It’s such a silly thing, I’m running after what God wants for me, yet I forget to come to him first in all things. I think that is a trait that has been happening to many believers, we are running after the vision, but we forget to come humbly to God in prayer first. Now I know some of you may be thinking, I haven’t lost prayer, I pray in the mornings and before I eat a meal! This is good and is vital to our walk, but I think there is more to prayer than just once in the morning and before I eat. There is a power that comes with stepping into the presence of God. Prayer is direct communication with God, it’s the way we are able to cultivate that relationship with him, and it is the main way to prepare our hearts for what he wants to bring us. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, I feel myself getting set in a routine and trying to check it off my checklist. Pray in the morning, check. Read my bible, check. I am so focused on checking things off, that I miss what God wants to teach and reveal to me for that day. I meet with my dad each week and we started talking about this very idea. It was interesting to see that he felt the same way, that prayer has become a routine, when it should be a necessity to living life! That’s what I want to focus on today, how we as believers need to reclaim the power of prayer, because it will change and shape our life for greater things to come.
This week begins another phase in my life. My classes at the university start back, and that marks the beginning of a new semester in my life. Life will start to be more chaotic and my time will be filled with more work and studies, which isn’t always a bad thing. The girl I’m dating heads back to school herself which is hard, but will make the time together even more meaningful when we do see each other. My close friends start a new phase in their lives as well, so getting together is more of a challenge to stay in touch. I will take on new responsibilities within my serving at the church, I’m taking on the task of what it looks like to write a book, and I’m having to make the most with the time I’m given. All of this is good, and I’m excited for what the future will bring, but I’m terrified. This always seems to happen when big things are coming. The fear starts to creep in, I start hearing the whispers telling me I will fail, or that I’m not skilled enough to chase my dreams. I’m so scared that all the things God has made me for, I’ll screw it up or miss my chance to achieve it. I think a lot of you might feel the same. You may feel like your dream is so big, that there’s no way you could make it happen. Maybe you feel scared like me, and you know what? It’s okay.
Whenever these feelings creep in, I’m reminded of Joshua. No, that’s not a humble brag about me thinking about myself and being totally cool (Cue the sweet putting on of sunglasses). I’m talking about Joshua in the bible. I think many of us feel like Joshua. He was a slave that followed Moses out of bondage, because he had true faith in the one true God. He was eager, he was young, and he had a desire to be close to God. I know for me I feel this way, and many of you do as well. We have a drive to be all that we can be, we are young in our faith, and we want nothing but what God has for us. Joshua was so devoted, he was right by Moses to help him in any way that he could. There was one instance where Moses had a tent and told the Israelites that the spirit was in it for any to come be in his presence. No one went in, except for Joshua, and not only that, but when Moses left the tent, Joshua stayed and kept worshiping. So, when Moses passed away, the Lord appointed Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. No big deal right? Actually yes, it was probably the biggest thing any of us could face. Joshua reacted like me, he was terrified. He didn’t run away from the challenge, but he was scared. I mean think about it, this was hundreds of people, people that would wander away like sheep without a leader. But God is way more awesome and bigger than we often make him out to be. You see, God isn’t a get out-of-jail free card or a nice guy, he is an all-powerful and all-knowing savior. He is on your side. When you look at chapter 1 of the book of Joshua, God reassures Joshua by simply saying, be strong and courageous. Today I want to encourage you, because this has encouraged me. I am terrified, but I have a God who is bigger than my fears, a God that simply says to be strong and courageous because he has a plan for you. When we look at Joshua, we see simple truths that each of us can hold onto, three little ideas that combat our fear, because we get scared, and that’s okay because God is with you.
God has designed you with purpose.
Sometimes it feels like I say this over and over, but it will always be true. One of my biggest fears that has come at me over my life, is the fear that I have no purpose. I know this is a fear for you, it’s one of the biggest questions people ask; why am I here? Many of us spend our lives seeking purpose in things that don’t last, maybe you’re seeking the perfect career, looking for a relationship to fill the void, or turning to the consumeristic pleasures to fulfill you. God made us for so much more. Yes, it’s nice to find a job that you love, a spouse to share life with, and enjoy the simple pleasures of life; but they are so small in comparison to what God has designed you for. God designed Joshua to be a leader, his purpose was to lead the lost into freedom, literally and figuratively. Your purpose isn’t a test grade that defines you, or being in the best job that fits all that you want, your purpose is what God calls you to. What is God asking of you? Maybe you are a leader who has a passion for small groups and helping people find true life. Maybe you have a desire to help those whom are less fortunate than you. Maybe you desire to lead the next generation to be the best they can be, and not see the world put them down as a lazy generation. Your purpose doesn’t have a set path, you have to try things and figure it out on the way. In high school, one of my small group leaders who we called, “Mike D,” taught me this. He was a real estate agent by career, but that wasn’t his purpose. He used his influence and the opportunities to be around people to lead them into the kingdom. He showed love, listened to their problems, and cared for them. He did the type of things you see Jesus do in the bible, and he was just a simple real estate agent. That’s a picture of living into your calling, and that’s what God has designed us to do.
God will be with you, no matter what.
This is the most comforting part about being strong and courageous, God never just simply leaves you. It may feel like he isn’t as close, or feel like he is letting bad things happen in your life, but he never leaves you. Once you make a choice to have that relationship with him, he is always with you. The Holy Spirit is the third part of the trinity that doesn’t get a lot of attention, but he is vital. He is the one that is in you, the voice that helps guide your choices, and the one that convicts you in your wrong doing. The Holy Spirit walks with you in the good and the bad, he is there to listen and wants to be with you. The choice is, will we seek after him or not? Like any relationship, the only way we grow closer is by communicating. God tells Joshua to not let the word of the Lord depart from his mouth, what he is saying to Joshua, is that he needs to actively seek the Lord and be in the scripture to truly grow. The same is true for us. In the moments when we are terrified of what happens next, or when we are given more responsibility, we need to seek out the Lord. God is with us no matter what, but in order to hear him, we must pursue him. When you love someone, you pursue them, you understand that you have a deep connection and you will do anything to grow closer and care for that person. The same is true of our God. We need to pursue him in the calm and in the fear, we need to actively grow closer to him, so that when the fear comes, he will speak to us.
God wants us to obey.
Whenever I think of the word “obey,” I think of a parent and their child. Working in next gen ministry has shown me this. You have the kids who run around like crazy people, and their parent walks up, says their name sternly (and if it’s really bad, you hear the middle name), and they tell their child to stop and listen to them. I think that is a picture of how God feels with us. We are like crazy children running around with scissors trying to live the way we want to, and God just needs us to stop and listen. The parent is always right, even though the child may think jumping off the playground is good or that eating off the floor is totally fine, the parent knows what is best for their child. God knows what’s best for us. We need to stop and listen to what God is showing us. It may not be easy, it may mean giving up something you want. You may need to give up work and spend time with your family. It may mean to live authentically, rather than wearing a mask. It may mean putting boundaries in place for your relationship. And it may mean making choices to living in Christ rather than your own desire. Simply put, when we are scared, God wants us to stop and listen to his voice; “be strong and courageous.”
I don’t know what your life looks like, and I don’t know what you are going through. All I know is that it’s okay that you’re terrified, because I am too, but I will not live that way. God tells us to be strong and courageous. So when I go to class today, or when I sit and write my book, and even when I miss the people whom I love; I will be strong and courageous. It’s like I am a ship on the sea. The storms will come, I may have to navigate rocky waters, but I will trust the wind to guide where I’m headed. I choose to be strong and courageous with everything, I will trust my God because he has designed me with purpose, he is with me, and I will obey his wise guidance. I choose to be like Joshua, to desire God and follow him no matter what. This year will be unknown and exciting, and I am terrified, but it’s okay. God is bigger and I will trust him.
Be strong and courageous.
This is always an exciting time for me. I get a chance to reflect on the good and the bad, but I get to move forward with a new vision of the year to come. A new year brings with it new chances to learn, new memories to make, and new adventures to undertake. This post may seem a bit different from my usual style, but I’m writing it this way to try and help you look at the year gone by and how you will take on the New Year that is to come. You see, this past year was filled with what seems like a roller coaster of emotions and experiences. It wasn’t easy, but then again, God never promised us easy lives. I saw friends pass away, friends that were like brothers to me, friends that showed me that I had value and loved me. I saw my brother-in-law (whom I call a brother) struggle with the dangers of addiction. I experienced the passing of my two grandmothers and the effect it had on my family. There was stress with college classes, responsibilities I have, feelings of doubt in my own talents, and watching other friends close to me suffer similar losses. But guess what? Even in all the hurt and pain, I found joy. I had a chance to remember the fun times I had with my two friends who had passed, I was able to reflect on how their lives shaped my own. My brother is now getting help for the addictions he battles, and God is truly working in and through him even in the midst of the pain. I saw my family grow close together in the loss and discover the value in time together. In the stress I learned so much in my classes on how to communicate, to make organizations function well, and present myself in a way that is respectful and wise. I learned that no one can take away what God has given me, because God designed me this way. My friends that were hurting, God let me be there for them, and I will always be there for them in the hurting. So much more happened as well, I met an incredible girl that I love spending time with; I’ve been able to see students in my small group step into their passions for poetry, music, and art; and I myself have discovered a desire to help others in their own walks of life. It was a hard year, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
Over the past three years or so, every New Year I decide to take a character trait and apply it for the New Year. This is something that is similar to the My One Word system, but because I like to be a rebel sometimes, I’ve morphed it into a trait I want to live into. It is a trait that I view life through, because I believe it will guide me and teach me to not only follow God in a deeper way, but to make myself better. In 2013, I chose to be a servant, one who looks at the needs of others and helps them in whatever way they can. In 2014, I chose to be a hero, one who sacrifices their own life and desires for that of a greater cause. And in 2015, I chose to be an adventurer, one who takes on new challenges and experiences, and thrives. Last year truly was filled with challenge and experiences that made me stronger, and in that I was able to gain the reward that God used to teach me. This year, I spent a while in my devotions and quiet times really praying over what I want to live into this year. The catch with claiming what trait you will live into in the year, is that most of the time, it becomes true. I experienced the way it feels to serve others, to sacrifice my own wants, and to be thrown into an adventure. I always love a challenge, because people will tell you it’s impossible to achieve, and then when you achieve it, those same people will look up to you. This year I chose something that encompasses what I want to do, something that I will use to help as many people as possible, and something that God wants of me.
This year, I choose to be a doctor.
Now before you jump to conclusions, I’m not going to start med school, nor do I plan on doing back alley creep surgeries. No need to worry about me becoming the guy from Re-Animator and making a zombie. What I mean by I choose to be a doctor, is I choose to encompass what a doctor does. A doctor is one who heals the sick, one who takes in the broken and brings them back from the brink of death. I don’t have the power to keep people from dying, or heal people from physical disease. What I can do is be there for the people who are hurting, the ones who face the chasm of despair, the ones who feel alone; I can be a doctor for them. This trait is a promise to myself. That no matter what happens, I will never be cruel or cowardly. I will never give up, nor will I ever give in. A doctor comforts those who are hurting, and seeks out the solutions for the ailment one faces. I want to be like a doctor, when I see my family hurt, when I experience the sting of death, or when those close to me feel alone; I want to be there for them, and I want to seek out the solution for their struggles. The best part is, I know the solution, and the solution is Jesus. Because Jesus is in me, I can do all things through him. I can be a voice of comfort, one that uses his words for life and never to tear anyone down, even in joking. I can use my gifts and abilities to reach people who are wandering and are lost. I can help those who are hurting, because I have experienced hurt. For a long time I felt like I was worthless, but with the voice of people speaking life around me, I was able to know my worth. I choose to be a doctor because I think more people need to know that they are worth it.
Big things are coming.
Along with my trait of being a doctor, this year I want to be intentional with everything I do. Some of my goals (basically a better word for resolutions, because whoever keeps those?) for the coming year are big. They are big because I have a big God. My first goal is to continue to make this blog more effective. That means making it a place where you can come and be fed from the word and have resources to grow in your own walk. This means sharing it with people (it really does help me) not for my own sake, I don’t want that, I want people to come because God is guiding me as I write and I want more people to have that. I have created a new tab thingy that has some essential books that have helped me in my walk, as well as the books that I read throughout this year so you can have recommendations from me. My second goal, and this is the big one, is to write a book. Yup, a book. I have been praying and God has shown me that this is something I can do, so this year I will be writing what is tentatively titled, “Coffee Shop Thoughts.” It will be going through the fruits of the spirit, and how to live a life of freedom through them. I’ve never written a book before, so why not start now! I will most likely use an ebook format through Amazon, and I can’t wait to figure all that out! My intent is for the book to be a simple devotional as well as be material used in a small group format. My plan is to have it done and produced by summer, and in the fall, have a small group based on it at Daystar Church. My third and final goal is to never lose sight of Jesus. No matter what happens, I want to focus on the one who even made it possible for me to do anything at all. Jesus is the one that brought me out of the depths and saved me, so I want to run and never stop running towards him.
So what does this year look like for you? You’ve been able to see my heart over the past few paragraphs, but what does this year look like for you. Think about what you truly want out of this New Year, what character trait do you want to have that will grow you and push you to be all that you can be? If you feel like no one is in your corner on this one, know that I’m with you. I may know you, or I may never know you. What I do know is that you were made by an amazing artist and one who built the universe. God made you. So this year, set goals, find a trait that you will latch onto, and choose to have joy in all of it. I’ve learned that we are not guaranteed anything, so make the most of every minute you have been given.
Make memories, take on new adventures, and love life.