Into the Unknown

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Yesterday, I journeyed to a place I’ve never been to. Alone. I’m not a fan of drives like that. It couldn’t be helped and so I was able to let God be my main focus the whole 9 hours. I needed it.

So, after a battle with anxiety, hard rain, and dragons I made it to Pawleys Island. I was welcomed in the 3DM offices and then treated to Mexican food. The conversations have been awesome and I’ve only been here about 14 hours.

Today will be a nice long day getting plugged into the Pawleys community and seeing the rhythms of the leaders before a big week at camp.

I think I miss my community in Tuscaloosa. That’s why I’m writing this. To try to stay connected. We’ll see if I’m able to write again!

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The Gift of Sincerity by Matt Estes

Because of the nature of this blog, I feel I can be a bit more serious and possibly a bit deeper than usual here. This place seems to be made up of non-controversial and mature people, so I don’t really feel a need to dumb anything down or make Justin Beiber jokes. Being an avid reader of Expecting Kairos, there is one thing I can say above all else. It is mission oriented.

Now I don’t claim to be a foreign missionary. I oh so admire those who can devote their entire lives to reaching the darkest corners of the world for God’s glory. They are made of the highest grade of awesome. What I do claim is to have some experience in being a missionary here, in America. This, much like adapting to a foreign culture, takes work.

I worry that many times, much of that work comes in the form of circumventing this Christian religious culture we hold so very dearly. Nonetheless, learning how to glorify God and point others to Jesus is work.

We spend years and years and years studying the Bible, many of us not very well, only to go out and make a fool ourselves spouting off incomprehensible Christianese. This, in my opinion, is unacceptable. You want the key to getting out there and reaching people in school and work and even in random places like on Facebook or at the mall? It’s really simple. Be yourself. Be that wonderful example of a human being that God himself made.

Study the Bible, yes. Pray like there’s no tomorrow. Be in church; that’s fine. But let those elements of a strong Christian manifest themselves in who you are. Don’t try to be somebody you are not by being all consumed in the religious procedures that Satan has done a terrific job developing for the past 2000 years.

As with anything in life, trying too hard almost inevitably results in failure. Don’t make that same mistake when it comes to your witness.

I regret saying this, but I feel I can find Christians in exactly two places in the world. One place is backslidden and confused; the ones who make no contributions to the Kingdom of God and I can usually locate by looking for broken homes and lives without joy. The other location is out in the mission field. These I can find overseas dying for their faith, or behind a pulpit desperately trying to snatch people out of Hell.

Why can’t I find any Christians in the middle ground? Where can I find the student going into computers that really wants to be a witness by his words and work ethic? Why don’t I see shining examples of Christians when I walk into Starbucks? Why does true, passionate witnessing requires such an extreme division?

I don’t have to look very far to see people who are hurting; people who have an unquenchable thirst for something or someone genuine in their life. I expect you, as a Christian, weather in your backyard or halfway around the world, to be some indication of that genuineness.

It does not require a special training course in Christian jargon. It DOES require you to be confident in yourself and the type of person God has carefully crafted since the day you were born. It requires the ability to not hide behind a mask of religious language. It requires the gift of sincerity.

You do that, and no matter where you are, you can be made of the highest grade of awesomeness as well.

We can do this…

 

Matt Estes is an old and good friend of mine from the little town of Eclectic. I’ve known him for nearly a decade and has to be one of the most knowledgeable people I know. His knowledge of the Gospel out does his knowledge for computers (and that’s saying A LOT). He runs a blog here and rumor has it that you’ll see me post over there in the near future. 

Chains of Freedom – guest post by John Colburn

“Freedom ain’t free.”

“Ain’t” that an American phrase? I know, I know… ‘Merica! I’m convinced, though, that this far truer than your run-of-the-mill patriot realizes. I’m not referring to the lives lost to protect it (though those bear their own weight – broken wives, fatherless sons), but rather to the fact that the biggest secret of “Freedom” is that you have to chain yourself to it.

We want to be free. It’s undeniable that one of the most heart stirring phrases in our cultural vernacular is freedom. Does it mean what we think it does? Growing up my understanding of freedom was that I could make any choice I desired, starting simply and increasing in complexity as I grew older. Anecdote time: I remember vividly a fall festival in my church gym. I was the most uncomfortable scarecrow since the my more famous counterpart had been informed that he didn’t have a brain. My flannel shirt was stuffed full of hay, my face was covered in so much makeup it felt like a mask, and I had yet to figure out how to pee when wearing overalls. However, all that was forgotten when I won the cake walk. Suddenly I was rushed over to a table covered in delectable homemade treats: cookies, brownies, cupcakes, regular cakes, pies, and one wonderful double chocolate fudge cake. I had never had so many choices before and spent some time making up my mind, but I knew nothing could possibly be as glorious, as delicious, as “mine!” as that cake. So I told the lady, “I want number 15!” while dancing my little “I have to pee” jig. I’ll never forget what came next. She told me, “Oh honey, someone’s already claimed that one. You’ll have to pick something else.” My world collapsed. I think I got some pumpkin sugar cookies, I don’t remember, but I never forgave Ms. Angela. That’s for sure.

All that to say, being able to choose from seemingly infinite different life plans, decisions, pleasures, goals, ambitions, relationships, or desserts doesn’t make you free. Freedom is being able to choose the one thing that is worth the choice, even if you didn’t know that thing was it. Satan (not pitchfork and pointy-tail, but deceiver and fallen angel) has always distracted humanity with hiding the one pearl of greatest price in a gumball machine.

In order to truly be free you need three things:

1. The ability to recognize the best choice.
2. The ability to actually choose the best choice.
3. And finally, the ability to enjoy that choice to its fullest potential.

Don’t let this get lost in this logic: God is the best choice. American freedom has granted us part two easily. “You can believe what you want and have what you want!”, but has obscured part 1 and drowned part 3. It has made us focus on the quantity of things we can choose rather than the quality of things we choose. It shouts at us that the infinite yes’s of the world far outweigh the one Yes of God. Himself in his Son. On fall retreat, Joel Brooks spoke about our inheritance being God plus nothing, when will we begin trust that it is worth far more than infinite somethings. The amount of yes’s is insignificant only the value of the one Yes matters.

I believe only the indwelling Spirit of God can grant us true freedom, encapsulating parts 1, 2, and 3. Feel free to follow along on this blog as Christ continues to break my shackles where I have chained myself to a false freedom, and rejoice with me in him, not just now but forever.

John Colburn is an extraordinary articulate co-minister in reconciliation and a good friend of mine. Currently resting from school, he is speaking words of life into his Freshmen Life Group at Calvary Tuscaloosa. For more from the mind of John, see his blog here.

Depression, Anxiety, and the Gospel

Let’s just go ahead and get this out there: Christians suffer from depression, anxiety, and other various mental illnesses. It does not mean that they are corrupt or have done something awful to deserve this. There are literally thousands of ways to end up struggling with these illnesses. For those struggling with their depression, it may be that their view of hope is challenged and changed by disease and pain. Those suffering from anxiety may have their hope obscured by fear. Yet, the hope is still there. Christ isn’t ineffective in their lives, so it is fact that hope is still there.

 

“I hate people.”

That phrase resonates in my mind over and over. I used to feel that way. I indeed used both my depression and social anxiety to cop out of social events. I truly believed that I was a lone wolf and I felt better when I could sit alone and do whatever I want. Yes, counseling helped but there was only treatment and no progression. I was constantly neglecting the Gospel and the importance of community. I felt better with my depression and anxiety under control but I still believed I didn’t have to interact with people. No progression in that area. However, this is life, I want to be a counselor, and there are people everywhere… I’m going to have to deal with them eventually.

Note: I know the severity of these illnesses and how sometimes certain situations can be detrimental to one’s health. However, I believe there needs to be progression in finding where your comfort (or un-comfort) lies.

My challenge is this stop using the guise of depression and anxiety to justify your comfort in being alone. Why? I firmly believe that we aren’t meant to find comfort in being alone away from the social context of community. I also believe the Word makes that clear as well. In my experience I found that when I felt comfortable avoiding people to be alone that I was also comfortable neglecting the Good News.

We aren’t even called to be comfortable in the first place. I would rather you and I be uncomfortable in investing and being invested in the social context of community than comfortable being alone away from it.

What if I’m wrong and you claim to hate people but you’re really using that as an excuse and reason to falsely analyze someone and develop passive aggressive tendencies? Guilty. I am actively trying to correct that right now. I’m leaning into it. There was no point. I did it to mask my insecurities and my depravity. That is very bad habit. I suggest that you lean into that as well. It is a process but we’re flooded by God’s love and grace every second. For me, I became vulnerable in the uncomfortable place of community. Since that has happened, I’ve been in process not only with God’s love and grace but with earthly friends going along with me.

I was on the verge of finishing this post when Blake Jenkins, an associate college pastor I’m under while here at the UofA, delivered an awesome point this last Wednesday. It shifted the direction of this post only slightly. He talked about 1 Thessalonians 2:8 which the ESV reads:

“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selvesbecause you had become very dear to us.”

Blake’s challenging point was that Paul wasn’t content with just sharing the gospel. He needed to share himself. He needed to interact with people! Why? They were very dear to him. In fact that’s why I’m delivering this to you now. You are dear to me. I fully believe that God appoints someone to walk through the valley with Him, come out, and go back to the beginning of the valley to walk through it again but this time with a friend. So, if you aren’t struggling with this now but have in the past and you know someone who is, go back to the beginning of the valley. Even if this isn’t what you’ve struggled with, you know what the valley and the leaning in process looks like. Be together!

I hope this doesn’t offend or point fingers at the readers but simply challenge them. I, too, believe that the wound from a friend is much greater than the kiss of the enemy.

Please, don’t be content with just sharing the gospel. Share yourself. Start becoming an individual in community not independent from it. Our life in community is the manifestation of the mind of Christ. If you are involved in the context of community, have compassion for everyone because: they are dear to you and you are dear to them.

Something about community.

This is me being transparent. You’ll read and discover what community is to me. Enjoy this short post!

I was going to write this extremely long post about what community looks like in my life (your average college student). I was going to write about the situations, events, and relationships that I partake in that show how the love of Christ is working and how this thing called “community” is important. Maybe I’ll write that post someday. Community is always evolving; same principle but a different form. Hopefully in a year from now I will reflect on the community I experienced while in college. For now this is a summary of that post:

I see community in my wholesome close friendships that’ll last 20 years or more ( those also showing signs of discipleship). Those are were I am most vulnerable and available. However, some of that carries over into my life group and a cloud of friends. Then I experience it in the larger body of active agents of redemption that is The Well UA and the college ministry at Calvary Tuscaloosa. The chain ends with Calvary Tuscaloosa. Though “end” might not be the right word; for this community is always reaching out and serving. (I really want to expand on this… and I will… I hope)

However, I couldn’t grasp what I really wanted to write about until a few weeks ago. I found myself wanting to share what I was getting out of community not just the sources of it in my life. I have discovered that I am currently finding healing through Christ’s love in the context of community. Community gives me a way to relate to others. In this community, we aren’t calling our brokenness failure, we’re celebrating God’s grace and His power being made perfect in our weaknesses.

(Note: this is coming from an introvert!)

I now actively seek out community. I want to be with my brothers and sisters. Though in large gatherings I’ll still be silent and that’s something I’m trying to understand and work with. However, I’ve learned when and where is the proper place to unleash my feelings, thoughts, and sources of weakness and I find that when I do this: I’m not alone. I wasn’t ever alone. I don’t exactly know why I thought that. I thank God for that. Being able to relate to the brokenness in others makes this introvert able to develop awesome friendships and make the process of healing easier. Brokenness comes in many ways – but I’ve decided to lean into it with community. With that, I’ve found healing.

Instead of breaking down the sources of community in my life and what I gain from each and every part; I want you to know that right now Christ’s love for me is being made evident in the context of community and that it is where I am currently finding healing. I wish I could elaborate on how it’s actually happening but I can’t. I don’t understand it. That’s OK, right? Just know that God has provided this way for me to find healing and because of that I’m finding out that I really love community and spending time with my brothers and sisters. For an introvert, I think I’m making progress.

UPDATE:

I realized I may have worded a part of this a little funny. I don’t seek out community for the healing of my personal wounds but I find this healing amongst others. Community doesn’t allow me to focus primarily on me. I’m no longer an individual in community so I longer view myself as one.As the writers of Compassion put it, “…we’re no longer a mass of helpless individuals but transformed into one people of God”. Therefore, my focus is on the entire Body and witnessing God’s love through it.

Time-lapse fasting.

(note: Last week we were given the challenge to participate in a corporate fast. This fast would last 24 hours and we were asked to give up food and social media. I did this last year and it was amazing. It made us rely more on God’s strength and peace. It also brought the church together and we all experienced community a whole different way: breaking bread after a fast.)

To keep away from social media for the 24hrs I’ve decided to just write. This is just to give you a glimpse of what an average college student does during this 24hr social media and food fast.

8:55pm

I officially stopped all social media surfing and eating. Here comes the water chugging (not).

9:05pm

Not long since last entry. I drank a huge cup of water. Craig is here and is working on slides. Community makes fasting easier. I think 12am will be my next major update. Unless I find something interesting before then.

12:00am

It has only been 3 hours so it hasn’t been too tough. Thankfully I will be able to sleep for 8 more hours. My mission for tomorrow is to stay away from the Ferguson center. Mainly just food in general. I’m off to bed now. I know I will be waking up pretty hungry tomorrow morning. I’ll be fine. I hope.

9:35am

I don’t feel that bad. Normally I don’t eat breakfast anyways so I know this feeling. When 11:00 comes around though… It’ll be rough. Digging into the Word now! I have class at 11 and then probably the Episcopal Church’s Ash Wednesday service.

12:35pm

The professor that Craig and I have made us late for the Ash Wednesday service so we didn’t go in but instead headed back to Calvary’s chapel. About to commence my 1 hour alone time with God. While I miss social media, He misses me. Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.

3:00pm

Six hours left. I’ve been praying for strength. The talk of food makes my stomach growl. However, I just spent 1 hour with my heavenly Father and then 2 hours with my mentors and great friends. Tonight should be amazing. I hope I don’t get a headache.

5:00pm-

Right now I’m watching tv. Trying to pass some time. I have a headache but I’ll pull through. I’ve been praying for the students who are fasting with me and the college ministry staff. May God provide them with strength. Chris and the rest of the staff will each be doing something tonight at The Well. It’ll be different for those that haven’t been exposed to this type of service. It’s shower time!

7:00pm-

I’m about to head to The Well. I’m not that hungry anymore.

9:05pm-

The 24hr fast is officially over. I’ve let every social networking site know. I’m not hungry at all. The night of prayer gave me a peace I’ve never felt before. I hope this continues into tomorrow and the next day and the next.

10:00pm

I picked up Hungry Howie’s pizza with some really great friends and sat down to break the fast with them. It’s been a wonderful 24 hours.

This concludes the journal entries for this day of fasting. Things I’ve learned: praying constantly produced a state of pure Joy I’ve never experienced, I want less food and more God, the Church is beautiful, and I’m blessed with an awesome college ministry team. I’m so thankful.

Beauty from brokenness

Note: this post is directed towards the youth in multiple youth ministries I was part of (and others). I was recently asked to share something that illustrated beauty from brokenness so that maybe someone could understand with the help of a true life story. However, the subject stretches beyond the teens and younger adults. I’m still broken but I’m in process. I find the Gospel being revealed even more so in my brokenness. It definitely moves me and I’m happy to present this true life experience that explains beauty from brokenness easily (well to me at least).

Background story: My parents own a good bit of land on the lake. By a good bit I mean 17 acres. I know I know it doesn’t compare to Jacobi’s family’s 1,000,000 acre ranch (exaggerated) but for the location it is a lot! Most of it is a forest. When we moved there we had a huge front and back yard. They were pretty much fields and as time went by the small pine trees grew into larger pine trees, crazy I know. My dad then decided he wanted to take back the land that was lost to the ravenous pine tree army. However, before we could attempt to chop them down my dad had to clear the underlying brush and vines-o-death. What’s the best way to do that? Fire.

Now for the event (and I promise this gets good and ties into the message):

It was a Wednesday in my sophomore year of high school. I had to leave early for church (a habit that’s stuck around) so I didn’t have time to sit down and eat dinner with my family. I knew my dad was planning on clearing out some brush that evening after he had eaten so that we could start cutting some trees down the next day. I said before I left, “Don’t burn it all down!’ and he replied “I’ll try not too. Have fun at church!”. I left and had a jolly good time at church.

So then I pull up in the driveway after church and began noticing something was off… It was late summer or early fall and the sun hadn’t set all the way. There was just enough light left to see that our back yard/forest was darker than normal. I immediately ran inside to ask my dad how the fire went. I see him in his chair with a smirk on his face. I knew something hilarious happened. I immediately asked “What’d you do?!” and his reply was, “Well, I used diesel fuel to start the fire and I had everything under control but then I realized that there was a wind. That wind had blown diesel particles a little farther than I had expected. Next thing I know the woods were on fire and I couldn’t control it”. I find out that the fire department had to come out and extinguish this massive fire and how hard it was to reach. It took longer than expected to put out. So, what we were left with for a few weeks was this rather large dark area. Something very unattractive and barren. Something you wouldn’t expect to ever look decent again. A broken area.

A few years after the event I realized that’s how areas of my life looked. I was broken and I wanted to give up on them. I wasn’t letting God take control. I had a mindset of doing it myself because I put myself there. I didn’t realize that God loved me so much and he wanted to help! Oh, I prayed continuously but for the wrong reasons. I wanted God to get rid of the brokenness completely. I didn’t want to deal with it. I wanted it completely gone. The Great Teacher had other plans.

Flashback: A few weeks later after the fire, the area was still black and grim. My dad wouldn’t let me go out there because I’d get my shoes dirty and drag the soot through the house. However, I was tired of seeing this empty dark area and I think my dad was as well. What did we do? Planted fruit trees, blueberry bushes, and pecan trees. Some small plants and grass seeds were then spread around the area. Fun fact: plants grow better after a fire.

There then came a time when I had to give in. I had grown tired of the brokenness and I couldn’t rid myself of it. I gave in and boldly prayed for God’s intervention. Relating this to actively asking my earthly father to change the appearance of this dark area with plants. I had to ask my heavenly Father to break into the brokenness and change it (kairos)! Immediately I began to see His story influencing mine. However, it’s appearance didn’t change overnight. Just like the peach trees and blueberry bushes didn’t grow and produce awesome fruit the next day. I struggled with that. I wanted a rapid change but I failed to realize that where I see time He see timing. He would strategically place great learning experiences along the way. It was a process.

Another flashback: The plants grew and were very green. This green was way more intense because the area was still dark from the fire (and it stayed dark for a while). But they eventually produced fruit and it was delicious. However, the plants needed help. I was given the task to water them. The most important part was the placement of pine straw before winter. This would help them survive the harsh conditions and help keep weeds from growing.

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The pine straw in my brokenness: community. God threw people into my life that were compelled by Christ’s love to help me out in my brokenness. Most of these people were dealing or had dealt with brokenness and understood that community is important for healing. We loved one another and shared with one another. I wasn’t alone on this earth. There were people all around me. We were in process together. And just like the young trees that were very green and eventually produced fruit in the burned area, there were people and relationships that were intense because of brokenness. God brought the beauty out from the brokenness. I thought that beauty couldn’t come from it. I was wrong. I never knew I would meet the people I did and minister to them the way I did because of the brokenness we shared. They thought the same way about their brokenness. They never thought they could reach and invest in my life the way they did.

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Now I always reflect on the cross. That Broken Body became beauty. He conquered death so we can have beauty from our brokenness. I found that actively pursuing the love of Christ in the context of community and loads of prayer helped and still helps my process (obviously studying and understanding the Word helped as well). Intentionally having friendships and conversations with other broken people not only helped me but them. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and don’t be afraid to be intentional.

Like I’ve said, I’m in process. There is still brokenness in my life. However, there is beauty. I’m trusting God a lot more. I’m letting the Great Healer and Teacher guide my life. I’m constantly in community. In community I’m constantly seeing Christ’s love. That is beauty. My brokenness, something unattractive and barren, is actually beautiful.