The Distance of A Smile

I have never enjoyed running distance.

I have always favored sprinting. Quick, sharp, concise movements. Immediate gratification. Immediate results. Fine-tuning my reaction time and response has always been far more appealing to me than building up my endurance and stamina pounding miles away on the pavement.

In addition, my body is built for power. I am woven together with tight, compact muscle fibers that thrive as they coil and release in short bursts of explosive energy. I am dense and I am thick. Goalkeeping, kicking, and explosive weight training have always come easily to me–and I have excelled in maximizing those natural strengths.

However, as my college career drew to a close and my days of competitive soccer, football training, and Olympic power lifting slowly faded past, I found myself at a crossroads.  I wanted to maintain my level of fitness, but I also wanted to lean out, lose some muscle density, and shed some of my explosive bulk.  After all, I wanted to maintain my athletic figure, but my days of maxing out and practically receiving protein shakes through a round-the-clock IV drip were done. I explored a variety of different exercise options, but ultimately was reminded time and time again that the most accessible, most affordable, and most consistent means of achieving and maintaining my ideal body goal was through running distance.

Crap.

There was no way around it. I had to embrace the logic and talk myself into dragging my dense body out onto the street, throwing on a pair of tennis shoes, and taking off. I charted out a jogging course and began forcing myself to run a few days a week. I despised it–every step. My ankles hurt, my knees hurt, my back hurt.  My muscles were tired, my body was out of whack, and every stride was dull and painful. I took off each day with the mentality of “This is awful. I don’t want to do this. I don’t like to do this. I hate that this is the best thing for me, because I’m tired, I’m sore, and I’m bored.” I ran with an exasperated look on my face–my brow furrowed, my jaw tight, my nose scrunched. I was miserable and there wasn’t a car that passed that wasn’t fully aware of how much I despised that time of day.

I finally became so fed-up with just running distance that I decided to start swimming, as well.  I figured that would at least provide some variety to my workouts. And if I had a miserable, annoyed, and painful expression on my face, at least my big head would be hidden under water. I visited the aquatic center a few times and fit in going through the motions and pretending I was Michael Phelps, though I probably looked more like a drunken seal flopping through the lane. But just as I became content in the idea that miserably going through the motions with these runs and these swims was my best bet at staying in shape, God stepped in–as He always seems to do–and put my heart through a humbling workout.

I had just pulled myself out of the pool and was sitting on the edge cleaning out my goggles when I looked up and saw a young man walking to the shallow pool. His face was so handsome. He had soft, defined features and dark eyes.  His smile stretched from ear to ear and his hair was wet and combed.  His face was so attractive that I expected to see a fine, sculpted body with toned muscles and dark features to match. But when I looked down I was shocked to see that his body was very disproportionate. He was a good bit overweight and, in looking at him, you would have assumed his head had been plopped onto a stranger’s body. There was a lack of consistency in his form and I started to notice he was walking with a slight limp. It is hard to describe, but it just did not seem like he was intended to be that heavy. It was not a natural body-type for his build and you could tell by his face that he was likely meant to be a much leaner man. But as confused as I was at the sight, my eyes kept drifting back to his contagious smile. He wore such joy.

Shrugging off my confusion about his appearance, I simply thought, “Handsome guy, but what a shame that he’s let himself go. Well, at least he’s working out…” and went back about my business.  It wasn’t until I looked up again that I found myself in a state of utter shock. As he turned his back to me to climb into the pool, I noticed a thick, dark scar that stretched from the top of the man’s neck, all the way down his spine, and disappeared into the line of his shorts. I was stunned. I watched him slowly step down into the pool, balancing the disproportionate body his searing scar had trapped him in.  But as he waded through the water and stretched his heavy limbs, I could not help but stare–at his beautiful smile.

I watched that man rehabilitate for 45 minutes.  At times he would wince, at times he would struggle, but at no point did his graceful smile ever fade.

You see, that man was bound by a body he did not grow up with.  He was bound by a scar he did not ask for.  He was bound in his mobility, his activity, his life. Yet his graceful smile never left his face.  He was bound by adversity, but he was liberated by joy as he entered that pool.  He was happy to be able to do as much as tread water–no matter how badly it hurt him. He was happy to be able to move, no matter how many people stared. He was grateful and he simply smiled.

I woke up the next morning with a smile of my own slung across my face. I had fallen asleep the night before dizzied in thought about the man at the pool, and my walk as a Christian. And the sunrise meant it was time to run.

I laced up my shoes and set off just as the sun was peeking over the Atlanta skyline.  As I put one foot in front of the other, I focused on relaxing the muscles in my forehead, slowly unclenching my jaw, and allowing the corners of my mouth to curve up in surrender. I was smiling. And I was going to smile the entire run.

Stride. Stride. Stride. Stride.

I replaced the thoughts of, “This is awful.” with “Thank you, Lord, for this day.”

I replaced the thoughts of, “I don’t want to do this.” with “I am so blessed to be able to put one foot in front of the other.”

Stride. Stride. Stride. Stride.

I replaced the thoughts of, “I don’t like to do this.” with “Thank you, God, for a healthy body and the energy to burn.”

I replaced the thoughts of, “I hate that this is the best thing for me, because I’m tired, I’m sore, and I’m bored.” with “Look at the beautiful sights of this city. Listen to the sound of passing traffic. Breath in the scent of the autumn air. What a blessing that I can run.”

Stride. Stride. Stride. Stride.

I smiled. As my ankles hurt, my knees hurt, my back hurt…I smiled. Though my muscles were tired, my body was out of whack, and every stride was dull and painful…I smiled. And soon I found that I felt those angst no more.

Stride. Stride. Stride. Stride.

I smiled.

I finished my run that day having run my farthest distance, my fastest pace, and my longest time.  My body was fatigued, but my heart was energized. My soul was overwhelmed. All because I never let a smile leave my face or gratitude leave my heart.

Every day that I run now, I smile. As I jogged to the end of my run today, I looked down at my monitor and continued to smile. 68 miles run since the day I started smiling, and I have energy and endurance to burn.

I do not simply want to be a Christian that is comfortable sprinting.  What comes easily for us may be powerful, and it may provide quick results, but I do not want to become complacent in my natural talents. I want to run distance in my faith.

You see, I am wired to function one way. Many of us are. It is easy to lean on the foundations and the teachings we grew up under and feel like once we have those fundamentals mastered, we are in great shape.  Once we’re familiar with the Word, once we’re familiar with what it means to love and serve, once we’re familiar with what it “looks like” to live as a Christian, then we are fit and prepared and can react quickly in life’s circumstances.

But a well-rounded and enduring faith requires pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones and expanding ourselves to persevere for the long-haul. We must be distance runners in our faith.  We must be willing to push ourselves, strain ourselves, and grow fatigued for the Gospel.  That cannot be done by resting on the sprinted fundamentals of Christianity.  It must be acquired through the constant and grueling process of building and maintaining endurance through hope. One day at a time. One foot in front of the other. Choice by choice by choice. Stride by stride by stride.

And while that is not easy work, while it will hurt and ache and wear you down, it CAN be done with joy and willingness. Smile. Find joy in the beauty of what’s around you.  Find appreciation in the fact that you are rising each new day. Find happiness in the simplest of wonders. Find beauty in everything small.  When you are headed up hill and your mind says to stop…smile. When you feel like you can’t face another obstacle or adversity…smile.  When you lose patience and grow weary…smile. Rewire your thoughts to find joy in your days. Choose happiness. Consciously choose to smile. You will be amazed at the difference it makes, and you will be amazed as you come to the end of the road after a long journey of life’s hardships and you find that your emotions are fatigued, but your heart is overjoyed. You’ll be energized and encouraged and alive–all because you chose to smile.

I want to be a Christian who smiles.  As I fight battles and face hardship and grieve and mourn and struggle, I want to smile.  I want to wade into the waters of life knowing, though the hardships of my life leave a scar from the top of my neck to the base of my spine, I can smile.  And though I find myself trapped in circumstances and situations that are disproportionate to what I feel I “deserve” or what I feel is “fair” in life, I can smile. Because I am the child of a King who boasts scars, as well.  I am the child of a King who endured scars for me as He took the cross so that I could live freely and smile. I am the child of a King who assures us that, though the journey will be long, He has great plans for us. He gives us hope and He gives us a future. How grateful we should be to smile.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” –Hebrews 12:1

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Christmas Alphabet

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” –Matthew 1:23

A Amazing absolution! A
B beloved baby’s birth.
C Christ carefully created,
D delivered despite dearth.
E Emmanuel! Emmanuel! Ever
F faithful, freeing Father.
G God’s greatest gift graced
H heathen hands, healing
I immoral idolaters.
J Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Justly
K kindhearted King.
L Limitless lover, life-giving leader,
M merciful Majesty!
N Nazarene, new Nazarene,
O our omnipotent offering.
P Prophecies’ pure proof, passionate Prince of Peace!
Q Quietly, quite quietly,
R rains righteous Redeemer’s reign.
S Simple Son saves sinners’ souls
T through trust, Truth truly trains.
U Unimaginable, uncontainable, unfailing
V vested voice,
W willingly walked with a wounded world
X x-tending x-cited choice. 🙂
Y Yahweh! Yahweh! Yahweh!
Z Zest the Christmas zeal!

And know your Christmas alphabet
so you will know God’s love is real!

Merry Christmas!

“Sexual Healing”

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”–Matthew 11:28

 

I was blessed to stumble across this amazing piece of poetry today. In my “Kissless ‘Till Next Christmas” ministry, you have only had the opportunity to hear from my female perspective. Jeff Bethke does an amazing job of articulating my same message from a male perspective. Please take the time to listen and watch.

 

“My King is the King of your king”

 

“My King is the King of your king”

By: Mo Isom, 2011

 

My King is the King of your king,

my King gave your king life.

My hope hopes that your hope will learn to hope,

in all that is True and Right.

 

My faith has faith that you’ll find faith,

when faith seems all but lost.

My heart has a heart for your heart and knows

your heart was bought at a cost.

 

My trust trusts that you’ll learn to trust

in a Trust that you cannot see.

My mind keeps in mind that all that’s Divine

minds only that your mind believes.

 

My dream is a dream that you’ll one day dream

of an answer to dreams in your mind.

My conviction’s convicted that you’ll be convicted

that the Answer is not hard to find.

 

My life has lived life in this lifeless world,

and lived empty, lifeless and cold.

But I feel that you feel what I felt and now feel

and you yearn for a life that is whole.

 

My purpose finds purpose in showing you Purpose

of a life lived in Purpose and Grace.

My soul’s sole intention is solely to mention

The Savior whose soul Saved your place.

 

Why do I know the things I know,

and what makes me so sure?

Because I know a man who lived in this world,

and lived nothing less than pure.

 

I know a man who gave His life

so that you could be set free.

And though you owe Him nothing for it,

you owe Him everything.

 

Check the history books, check the facts and figures,

He was real, He lived and He died.

Then He rose from the dead to prove He was King

and to give you eternal life.

 

You’re now left at a crossroad with two paths to choose,

the choice here is black and white.

Pray the King of all Kings may enter your heart,

or keep living a life void of Light.

 

If you chose the first option your life’s bound to change,

you’ll come to know faith, hope and peace.

But if you choose to ignore, if you close off the door,

you’ll keep living a life incomplete.

 

When it comes the day that your days draw close,

I hope you know where your spirit will land.

But if you’re unsure, and your hearts’ still impure

take this moment to hold His scarred hand.

 

My King is the King of your king,

my King gave your king life.

My hope hopes that your hope will learn to hope,

in all that is True and Right.

 

“Madly In Love With You”

 

 

A musical letter from God to you…

Listen from the perspective of God singing each word to your heart.

 

 

 

 

“Madly In Love With You”

By: Sean McConnell

See you down there everyday
Trying to find a different way
To build some kind of ladder to the sky

Trying to find some way to see
Secrets of eternity, and they don’t come all at once
And you don’t know why

Well how do you think it feels to hear you screaming out my name
While all the while I’m trying to open up your heart
See you when you cry yourself to sleep
It’s tearing me apart

I know you wish you could see me
That’s the way it has to be
Someday you’ll understand,
don’t you lose your faith in me

I know you wish you could hear me
Sometimes it’s so hard to do
But every morning sunrise it says
I’m madly in love with you
Yes I’m madly in love with you
Yes I’m madly in love with you
Yes I’m madly in love with you

I know that you’re waiting for,
A chance to come in from the war
If only a moment, if only a day

A place where you feel safe and warm
A sanctuary from the storm
Until all of these questions fade away

But I cannot count on all the signs
You’ve passed away as mere coincidence
And im running out of ways to break through
Like a lonely lover, Waiting by the ocean
Ill never give up on you

I know you wish you could see me
That’s the way it has to be
Someday you’ll understand,
Don’t you lose your faith in me

I know you wish you could hear me
Sometimes it’s so hard to do
But every morning sunrise it says
I’m madly in love with you
Yes I’m madly in love with you
Yes I’m madly in love with you…

Lost In the “In-Between”

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  –Jeremiah 29:11

Have you ever found yourself at a place in life where you are stuck in transition? Maybe you are there now. In between two phases of life: the time between college graduation and the start of a career–the time between two jobs after a layoff–the time between relationships–the time between two decisions. No matter the circumstance, it’s a state of “in-between”, an adjustment period, that we often find ourselves resting in.  A movement away from the familiar and the known–a movement into change and uncertainty.  While the lucky handful can move through these transitions quickly, we often find that this phase is the toughest, most confusing time.  Not only is there uncertainty moving forward, but there is also a lack of passion and drive.  When you’re not sure which direction the “light at the end of the tunnel” is coming from, how do you know which way to look?

Lately, this “phase” of in-between has been a recurring theme amongst so many of my friends, as well as amongst some of the individuals I disciple.  And while everyone’s individual scenarios are different and unique, the general theme of discontent has remained constant. In listening to each of them share their hearts, I began to realize a few key things: #1. We are all so human. No matter where we are in our walks as believers, we are all so deeply human–struggling with the same emotions, insecurities, conflicts, and self-serving mentalities. #2. As humans, it is so easy to get tripped up and tangled in these mentalities.  It is our nature to allow ourselves to become fixated–whether it be on positive triggers or negative triggers.  We are creatures of habit. #3. Thank goodness we serve a fantastic King that has immeasurable patience and loves us so passionately. Because… #4. So many of us get lost in the “in-between”. (Myself definitely included!)

As I prayed and prayed over the matter, I dug into the Word and was immediately humbled by such a familiar verse.  A verse that we often list off, but may not fully understand at times.  As we’ve discussed before, the Bible is the living, breathing Word of God.  In every circumstance, a passage can take on new light, new meaning.  It is up to us to drown ourselves in the dialog of our King and open our hearts to His truth and His will.  It is up to us to nourish ourselves with the Word so that, at a moments notice, we can pour His truth into others with conviction and love. Jeremiah 29:11 carries such beauty and truth.

When caught in an “in-between” in life, it’s easy to stand stagnant in our faith.  After all, with so much else to figure out and take in, it seems harmless to put our pursuit of Christ on the back-burner for a while. He understands, right? There is too much else going on.  Too much that needs to be organized, too much that needs to be sorted out, too many other decisions to be made.  Once we are comfortable again with life’s circumstances, we can pick back up where we left off in our faith…right?

If you were dating someone who you were really serious about and truly wanted to build a relationship with, that would consume a great deal of your time and attention, yes? Text messages, calls, dates, conversations, meals together, activities together–you would genuinely enjoy that person’s company and work to maintain a healthy relationship with them. Now let’s say you’ve been getting more and more serious with them and they have been reciprocating the affection and love. They have been doting over you, loyal to you, fun, communicating well…all signs point to this being a fantastic relationship. Then one day everything stops. They don’t call, they don’t text, they don’t come over.  They won’t return your messages, they won’t respond to you on facebook, they won’t even make eye contact when you see them.  When you go over to their house to try to talk, they don’t answer the door, they don’t let you in.  You are left completely in the dark.  When you finally do hear from them, all you get is an “I’m busy.” “I’ve got more important things to do.” “I’ve got too much going on.” 2 months pass–haven’t heard from them. 4 months pass–haven’t heard from them. 6 months pass and all of a sudden the phone rings. Your text message inbox fills up, your facebook status feed blows up, that person is back at your door with a smile on their face, prepared to pick right back up where you left off. Is that relationship going to be the same immediately?–No.  They haven’t invested an ounce of time or attention or interest in you for half a year. They haven’t loved you–they deserted you–too wrapped up in the stress and worry of their own lives to even care to acknowledge you.  And while we are BLESSED to serve a God that infinitely loves us, patiently waits for us, and instantly forgives us–the point of the matter is that if we ignore him when He’s inconvenient for us, we lose time to learn more about Him and grow in our love for Him.  He knows us inside and out, but we cheat ourselves of time to know Him better and love Him more. And if we are cheating while He is loyal, how is that a healthy relationship?

God never brings us to a place to “shelf us” for a while, until He needs us again. He never places us in storage or abandons us.  Every single circumstance and every single phase we find ourselves in, throughout our lives, is perfectly constructed by God to be used for His glory.  Our greatest growth often occurs through our greatest struggles. Imagine the growth we could achieve in our relationship with Christ if we remained faithful to Him during the most uncertain times. Are our relationships amongst one another not strengthened in the same way? Faithfulness, devotion, trust, support, attention, love.  These are all qualities that build solid relationships amongst people–so what is any different when it comes to building a solid, loving relationship with Christ? I think it is easy to get caught up in the “here and now” of daily life. Especially when we hit awkward seasons–phases of transition, phases of uncertainty, phases of confusion, phases of “in-between”.  But newsflash: in those times, who can offer you greater faithfulness, devotion, trust, support, attention, and love than the perfect, magnificent God that created every inch of you?!

I think it is normal to take loved ones for granted at times. I know I have. I have done it since I was young. It wasn’t until about 3 years ago that I really started noticing that my behavioral patterns with my family weren’t ideal. You see, when I am in public or around friends and acquaintances, I always strive to put my best foot forward. I strive to wear a smile and keep a positive energy and a positive attitude. To be totally honest, that can get a little draining. I’m not trying to insinuate that I’m “fake” when I’m out and about, I just genuinely enjoy bringing positivity with me and seeing people smile…nothing makes me happier than hearing laughter. I’ve never been a fan of drama, so I make an effort to let those around me experience the best of me–you never know whose life you may be touching. With all of that said, it’s hard to run on a full tank 24/7. So when do I shut down and recharge? Either in my alone time or when I’m with family. After all, they are the ones who know me best–they know my heart, they know how I tick, they know my intentions. The only problem with that is that when I shut down, I get grumpy. I get snide and a stubborn and bossy. I’m human too after all, and I admittedly can be quite  the handful sometimes.  I need to vent. I need to reboot, I need to let loose some pent-up tension.  So who bears the brunt of my darker side?–the people I love the most. Do they tolerate me with patience and grace–every time. Do they love me unconditionally–without a doubt. Do they always selflessly support me–without fail. But is that fair to them–absolutely not. Is that loving–not at all. Is that nourishing to our relationships–no way. So why then, did I always pick those times to reboot and to let out my frustration? BECAUSE I KNEW THEY WOULD LOVE ME NO MATTER WHAT.

Man, talk about a sad mentality.  I’m almost ashamed to admit that I fall victim to that mindset at times. But then again, don’t we all? And haven’t we ALL when it comes to our relationship with God?  It is easy to take for granted the things that we know are constant and unfailing in our lives.  “It’s no big deal, God will love me anyways.” “I know this is the wrong decision, but God will forgive me.” “God will understand if I focus on this issue for a while instead of focusing on Him first.” It’s so sad because it’s so true. We rationalize all the time. Especially when we are stuck in “in-between” phases in life. But those times are the times God longs for us the most.  Those times are the times that He wants to use us. Those times are the time He wants to teach us and to challenge us and to help us grow!

So step back and take a look at where you are right now. Are you lost in the “in-between”? Are you working to figure things out on your own the best you can and forgetting that God wants nothing more than to reveal to you all the answers? Stop. Put God First. Pursue God now. Run towards Him as fast as you can. Take a look at Jeremiah 29:11. He is promising you that He wants you to prosper and that He plans to give you hope and a future. It may not come in the exact package you ordered. It may look very different from what you expected.  But put your faith in Him, put your trust in Him.Don’t take God’s love for granted, don’t cheat Him. Love Him now like you love Him when everything is going well. Seek His face–seek His guidance. He longs to love you NOW.

There is no “in-between”. There is here and now. And there is God, always.

What Does It Look Like?: Godly Men (part 5)

Wow…that may have been the longest span yet that I have gone without posting. I am deeply sorry. I FINALLY have internet set up at my new place, but these past few weeks have been a whirl-wind. Now that I am settled in, you can expect more posts to start flooding in. I want to get back on a daily schedule of writing, and I have no excuse not to. I have missed you all! So let’s pick up where we left off. If you are just joining, it might help to read part 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this series before reading this portion. A continuation of 1 Timothy 3:1-7…detailing what it looks like to be a Godly man.)

“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to but one wife, temperate…

self-controlled…

Self-control.  In the past, every time I read through this verse, I subconsciously lumped together the neighboring terms, “temperate” and “self-controlled”. Afterall, from the surface definitions I knew of them, they were virtually the same term, and applied to the same principles.  However, as I’ve grown in my walk, I’ve learned more about the magnitude of the written Word.  The Bible does not repeat itself unnecessarily.  Its pages aren’t filled with synonyms in order to add density and depth.  Each word has been recorded with purpose and magnitude. My greatest growth in the Word has occurred when I have taken the time to break down verses piece-by-piece, and truly learn the complexity of the image that the words are painting. Each and every word can take on countless forms–that is the beauty in the living, breathing Word of God.

So, then, what does self-control mean with respect to how a Godly man is called to properly lead?  I think the first words that typically flood our minds when we hear that term are: restraint, discipline, and words synonymous with reigning ourselves in and holding back.  While there is some truth in those definitions, self-control is a much broader topic of character. When I think of self-control, the first word that comes to my mind is maturity. Think about it–from the moment we are born we are constantly, consciously and subconsciously, learning traits of self-control.  For example, we start in diapers, progress to pull-ups, and eventually underwear–that is learned self-control of our bodily functions. We begin life unable to hold our own heads up, eventually learn hand-eye coordination, and work to the point of exercise, training, and complete cognitive awareness of our bodies at all times–that is learned bodily control.  We begin life with emotional outbursts, progress to becoming aware of our feelings and triggers, and eventually grow to the point of being able to monitor, communicate, and alter our emotions–that is learned emotional control.  We begin making incoherent sounds, progress to learning written and spoken words and structures, and eventually progress to being capable of writing novels, speaking to groups, and communicating effectively–that is learned language control.

If you look at these four examples, there are similarities amongst all of them.  Primarily, there is a clear coddling period at the beginning of each cycle.  There is a time where we are fully reliant on the care of others.  We are unable to care for ourselves and constantly require the nurturing of another.  Secondarily, there is a phase where we are learning large sums of information and making significant strides in development.  This phase, too, is impacted by others.  We are taught by example, experience, and interaction.  The information is engrained in us by those who are further in their journey and more self-controlled.  And in the final phase of each cycle, there is refinement and progress still being made, but we are largely self-controlled, aware, and matured.  There is that word again–mature.  As we mature, in life, we gain discernment, judgement, discipline, and wisdom. So often the term “self-control” carries a negatively slanted connotation.  As if self-control specifically and independently applies to the ability to reign oneself back or inhibit oneself from doing something.  But in actuality, that term applies to a well-rounded definition of maturity, development, and awareness.  So how does this relate to being a Godly man? Here goes…

As believers, we begin our journey in raw form.  I don’t care if you have been attending church your whole life, or if you had never heard the Word of God and experienced a miraculous “coming to Jesus” moment that changed your life radically.  The moment that it “clicks”…the moment we are saved…the moment we accept Jesus Christ into our hearts…the moment we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are in raw form.  You see, there is nothing more powerful than the Holy Spirit, and there is nothing more powerful and capable than our King, but we, as humans, are weak. It goes back to the “Position .V. Condition in Christ” study that we did.  We are filled, but we still wear a heavy, fleshy coat that weighs us down with things of this world.  And when we are saved, we are born again; with rebirth–we are raw.  In that time, we are completely and whole-heartedly, dependent on the grace of God alone.  We are incapable of understanding even a hint of the magnitude of His power, and we are raw forms in His hands.  But He is the most fantastic nurturer.  He gives, abundantly–forgives, unceasingly–and loves, unconditionally.

As we grow in our walks, we begin to understand the tiniest hints of His grace with both our heads and our hearts.  We begin to study the Bible, learn of His Word, and change the way we live our lives.  In this time, we begin to make fantastic strides and progressions in our journey as believers.  We begin to speak with clarity and knowledge and we learn how to communicate the hope that we have with others.  We experience fellowship with other believers, we experience and witness the power of prayer, and we become increasingly aware of His presence around us and in this world.  We gain a sense of humility, discernment, conviction, and thankfulness.  This is such a fantastic period in our walks, because our eyes are truly opened, our hearts are powerfully changed, and we begin to learn that light we feel inside is starting to be noticed by others.

Then, as we progress and grow and strive for sanctification, we develop true spiritual maturity.  Now, don’t be mistaken, our walks with Christ are ever-growing, ever-humbling, and ever-changing.  It is not as if we reach a point where we finally “get it” all and have no progress left to make. HA! That would be an impossibility.  However, as we strive towards sanctification as Godly men and Godly women, we begin to notice true maturity in our walks.  This is often defined by unshakable conviction, startling humility, and pure, organic hope and joy in the Holy Spirit. Through adversity, through successes, through everything–there is an unshakable comfort.  Spiritual maturity is often marked by an abundant and faithful prayer life. An absolute faith. An overwhelming desire to continue to learn and grow.  We evolve into disciples.  Disciples who strive to live by the Word of God in its most literal form. Disciples who love, unconditionally, and teach, effortlessly, through their actions, their faith, and their purity.

Is there a time frame to this progression? Is there a specific age where we hit these points? Are there clear, discerning characteristics? Absolutely not.  No, no, and no.  Many would argue, in fact, that as we learn more and age, we lose a sense of childlike faith.  Faith untouched by the ways of this world. Faith unbridled by social norms.  But there is a great difference between literal knowledge and understanding, and true peace in our hearts and the understanding that we will never understand it all, but we strive to know and love Him more. In fact, 1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.” Spiritual maturity is not defined by age, it is defined by faith.

Self-control, in the sense of being a Godly man and a Godly leader, is defined by spiritual maturity.  Not simply by the ability to restrain oneself, but by the ability to control what you can control, and rest faith in all that you cannot.  The ability to lead others towards an unfaltering faith.  The ability to teach others and disciple in a way that is effective and hospitable.  The ability to show others the light of Christ through your actions, your words, your temperament, your decisions, and your values.  The ability to exercise humility, silence self-pride, and live simply.  The ability to exercise integrity and to step outside of you and live for God–whether you are comfortable in doing so or not.  The ability to live for Him, and be prepared to be steered the direction He leads you.  The ability to lead others with you, if need be.  Self-control truly means the exact opposite of what it says–because, in a Biblical sense, self-control is death to self and unshakable life in Him.

(to be continued…)

What is Salvation? (part 3–Our Savior)

Here we go! We discussed the original sin. We discussed our condition as humans because of that. We discussed the only way to “fix” that–a human’s sacrifice to repay a human’s sin. A man for a man–to save ALL men! So here comes the most beautiful part of the whole equation–our Savior.

Let’s face it, we were all doomed to spend eternity in hell. (If you don’t get what I mean when I say that, read back to “What Is Salvation?” parts 1 and 2.)  By no fault of our own, we were all damned.  Why? Because we are human beings! We are inherently flawed. We are imperfect. We are dumb, selfish, lustful, greedy, hateful, jealous…we just aren’t as cool as we seem to think. Haha. Trust me, I’m the worst of these. I, too, am as human and as flawed as they come! If I were alive in the time of the Old Testament, I would have stood no chance. No chance at heaven…no chance at hope. We all would have been screwed.

But, low and behold, God knows this. And He loves us. He yearns to spend eternity with us. We are His children. We are literally His creations. He is proud of us…He is jealous for us. He desires our hearts. And that is why He sent His Son–just as the prophets had declared time and time again in the Old Testament (check out Acts 4:26-28; Ephesians 1:3-6; Revelation 13:8) Like we have discussed so many times before, He grants us free will. He grants us the right to choose.  He honors us with freedom. He desired for us to have the opportunity to exercise this power…and He recognized that the only way for our sins to be forgiven was through the actions of another human being. Since the actions of the first human being (Adam), had introduced sin into the world, the actions of another human being (Jesus), had to rectify that failure.  That was the only way we, as people, could tangibly see and feel and experience God’s love, and be taught of His grace and His mercy.  It had to be done through a man.

So God sent the Messiah. A human being that was 100% human, and 100% God at the same time. Imagine that! This man was perfect. PERFECT. Like we have talked about before, and like we will continue to study in more detail throughout the year, this man lived flawlessly. He taught of God’s love, He exhibited healing, He performed miracles, He saved hearts.  He walked perfectly in accordance to God’s will and achieved feats outside of human comprehension. Feats of humility, magnificence, and truth. Now, let me remind you, this was a real man.  This is not some made up story. All historians, both believers and non-believer, alike, recognize that Jesus Christ was a real man who walked this earth. And boy, oh boy, did He stir up some attention. 🙂

This man acted, daily, in accordance to God’s desires.  He stirred nations.  He baffled Kings. He literally changed history.  And no life was left unchanged throughout the history of Jesus’ existence.  All the while, He told the people of the nations who He was–the Son of God.  He preached it time and time again.  He proved it time and time again. And He consistently lived out His Word.  This man NEVER faltered. All that He taught of came to fruition.  All that He spoke came to existence.  Jesus Christ was an extraordinary man.  A man who taught us EXACTLY what it looks like to live a righteous life.  A man who healed the sick, fed the hungry, comforted widows, clothed the poor. His life was a testament of sacrifice.  He was the most humble of individuals. He solicited no publicity, sought no treasures…He simply lived. And He lived magnificently for God.

He faced adversity, He faced hatred, He faced condemnation. He was criticized, He was tormented, He was falsified…and, ultimately, He was crucified. Want to know the most amazing part, He knew He would be.  Jesus Christ knew that He would be hung from a cross and murdered at the hands of sinners. He told his disciples time and time again that He would face this pain.  BUT, He assured them not to be dismayed.  You see, Jesus knew exactly what He was getting himself into.  He knew the fate he faced.

This man WILLINGLY and HUMBLY, took the burden of every single human being onto his shoulders.  Every tear, every scream, every cry, every pain, every scar, every insecurity, every lie, every failure…everything…He gladly accepted the weight of our sins and our misery. He was beaten within an inch of His life. Tormented, dishonored, and nailed to a cross. And all the while, He had peace in His heart. Knowing that His death would mean life for all of us. Imagine the most pain you have ever been in…the deepest your heart has hurt, the saddest and most desperate you have ever been. Jesus felt that for you. He carried that agony. He hung with it on the cross.

The kicker? The whole time Jesus was like, “Don’t worry guys, they are going to kill me, but I’m going to come back to life. Just wait and see, I’m going to prove it to all of them–I’m going to prove that I’m the Son of God.” People judged Him, that laughed at Him, they doubted Him…and then He rose. 🙂 Jesus Christ literally rose from the dead. It is a documented, historical, unbelievable, beautiful FACT. This man rose! He lives! He did it! All the haters, all the doubters, all the sinners literally stood there with their mouths hung open and were like, “Ooooooh man. This looks really bad on us.” Haha. Jesus Christ stuck it to the man! He PROVED that He was the Son of God by doing exactly what He said He was going to do…HE ROSE!

Wow. Wow. Wow. AND THIS IS THE SUPER ABBREVIATED VERSION!! Haha, God is SO GOOD! It’s so tough to put it all into words. Jesus Christ did it! And BECAUSE He did it, we are offered salvation. We are redeemed! We can now join God in heaven! We can now attend THAT party for all of eternity rather than agonizing in hell. HE SAVED US! Holy cow, He saved us. What a magnificent God we serve. A God that sacrificed His SON so that I, a sinner and a liar and a gross human being, could have a second chance! I, the lowest of the low, the grossest of the gross, have a second chance. All it takes is for me to believe in what Jesus Christ did for our hearts.

Unreal. We serve a God of second chances!…Do you need one?

“What Love Really Means”

“I will love you for you. Not for what you have done or what you will become. I will love you for you. I will give you the love that you never knew…”            –God

I was recently introduced to this song and absolutely fell in love with it.  What a beautiful message. Listen to each and every word….


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgGUKWiw7Wk

 

“What Love Really Means”

By: JJ Heller

He cries in the corner where nobody sees
He’s the kid with the story no one would believe
He prays every night, “Dear God won’t you please
Could you send someone here who will love me?”

Who will love me for me
Not for what I have done or what I will become
Who will love me for me
‘Cause nobody has shown me what love
What love really means

Her office is shrinking a little each day
She’s the woman whose husband has run away
She’ll go to the gym after working today
Maybe if she was thinner
Then he would’ve stayed
And she says…

Who will love me for me?
Not for what I have done or what I will become
Who will love me for me?
‘Cause nobody has shown me what love, what love really means

He’s waiting to die as he sits all alone
He’s a man in a cell who regrets what he’s done
He utters a cry from the depths of his soul
“Oh Lord, forgive me, I want to go home”

Then he heard a voice somewhere deep inside
And it said “I know you’ve murdered and I know you’ve lied
I have watched you suffer all of your life
And now that you’ll listen, I’ll tell you that I…”

I will love you for you
Not for what you have done or what you will become
I will love you for you
I will give you the love
The love that you never knew

My Story (part 3)

“Because of my chains…[I] have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” Philippians 1:14

Looking back on the winter break of 2009, my memories form a collage of  imagery. A collage of simple moments that have been frozen in form. Some of beauty, some of the deepest anguish.  But all of purpose.  Those individuals that are familiar with the details of this portion of my story are only those closest to myself and my family–those whose lives were shattered along with ours, those who have continued to pick up the pieces these last few years.   However, 1 Peter 3:15 instructs, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…”   Therefore, I am fearless in sharing this darkest moment, for I recognize the greater purpose that it serves.

Returning to Georgia, I was still riding high from the successes of the season.  I was happy to be surrounded by the nostalgia of home and, in my blissful ignorance, unaware of any changes or tensions that existed outside of my own sense of norm.  I remember my dad calling me into his room a few days after I had returned. As I crawled up into his bed, I noticed a hint of fatigue in his eyes. A dimming of the twinkle that was so familiar.  Nevertheless, that sparkle was quickly renewed in his excitement to show me the reason for which he had called me in, so I thought nothing of my initial observation.  On his bedside table stereo, he played the radio broadcast that was recorded during my 90-yard goal and beamed with joy. For what must have been 10 straight minutes, we laughed together, replayed the sound clip, and bounced on his bed–seemingly drunken with pride and excitement. I will never forget the joy of that moment…nor will I forget the single tear I saw him wipe from his cheek when he thought I wasn’t looking.

In the days that followed, life was every bit as normal as it had been in my youth.  Our family exchanged stories, visited friends, shared laughs.  Christmas was just like every other Isom Christmas–emotional, chaotic, dizzying. But comfortable.  Throughout that time, my dad began opening up to me about deep, personal things that we had never discussed before. Thoughts of his childhood, details of his relationships. Looking back, my daddy was different. He made himself so vulnerable, yet so inaccessible at the same time. He seemed weakened, humbled by a greater force. Tired.  But I attributed this new-found vulnerability to circumstance. We had missed each other, we were both growing older, we were both growing closer.  I cherished these moments…

New Years came and went in a matter of four, riveting quarters.  My family shared fantastic memories at the Peach Bowl where LSU (my team) pommelled Georgia Tech (my sister’s team) in the Georgia Dome.  With unbelievable seats and friends in town to entertain, I was oblivious to the drastic shift in emotions that took place that day.  I recognized that my mom seemed out of character–discontent, terrified, resentful. However, the energy of the evening prevented me from asking questions. I dismissed the situation and figured it was none of my business. My rational convinced me that God would care for our family.  Whatever the problem was, God would sort it out. I was faithful to Him, so He would in turn be faithful to us. That’s how it worked, right?

January 2 was the day that everything came to a crashing halt.  I remember, so vividly, standing at work that morning when my cell phone rang. My dad and I talked on the phone an average of 15 times a day, so when I looked at the caller ID and saw his name, I couldn’t help but smile. He knew I was at work, he knew I couldn’t talk. But best friends have no problem breaking the rules, and we were most certainly the best of friends.  Our conversation was every bit as normal as usual.  He asked me how my day was going, what I was up to at work, when I would be home. We made small talk for about 10 minutes until a wave of customers came in and I finally convinced him that I had to go.

The next thing that happened is so burnt into my memory, that the scars spell out the etchings of his words. Per usual before hanging up the phone, I casually said “Love ya!” and lowered the phone from my ear. But this time I heard his voice call out on the other end of the line.  I quickly lifted the receiver back to my ear and heard, what seemed like, the voice of a different man. In a tone so eerily calm, so genuine, so saddened, my daddy said, “I love you so much, Morlan.” I stood for a moment, curious and unsettled, then replied in as stoic and truthful a tone as he, “I love you too, Dad. More than anything.” Click.

Little did I know, that was the last time I would ever speak to my father…