The Purpose Behind Suffering- Thoughts on Psalm 119:71

June 30, 2008

“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” -Psalm 119:71

In reflecting back on my testimony which I have shared here over the last two weeks, one recurring theme seems to jump out to me. It is the same idea being expressed here by the psalmist, that all that has happened to me, self-inflicted or not, has served to turn me more and more to the Word of God. Every major frustration or struggle in my life so far has seen as its eventual end a thrusting of myself closer and closer to God. Beginning with my parents divorce, through my multiple bad relationships, and even into the the recent depression at being removed from the comforts of home, every time God has seen me afflicted he has used that as occasion to bring me nearer.

I recall that this thought provided great comfort to me as a child, knowing that if my parents had not split then my mother would not have dated that guy, and I would not have gone with his son to the church camp where God granted my salvation. To see the anger and embarrassment and turmoil of my parents divorce and how God used this to redeem me for eternity, it truly embodies for me Genesis 50:20 where Joseph tells his brothers “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Satan meant it for evil that I would be devastated in heart and spirit by the disintegration of my family, yet God used it for good that I may be saved. And so truly today I can proclaim that it has been good for me that I was afflicted!

Resolved!- The Resolutions of a God-Centered Man

June 29, 2008

“Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can
avoid it.”
-Resolution #4

“Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don’t hinder.” -Resolution #11

“Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.” -Resolution #21

“Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.” -Resolution #56

Jonathan Edwards is quickly becoming a favorite pastor of mine. Though he lived nearly 300 hundred years ago, the writings and thoughts of Edwards continue to carry some of the most provoking ideas of any Christian forefather. Most notably known to the masses for his hellfire and brimstone sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Edwards was also a philosophical mind of great repute. Reading recently his work The End for Which God Created the World, I was struck by the balanced manner in which he considered reason and religion, arguing that apologetics based on reason should serve “to satisfy us that what the word of God says of the matter is not unreasonable.” (This being a line of thinking which many teachers today deny, considering philosophy to be the enemy of Christianity instead of a friend). He also composed many classics such as Religious Affections, which deals with the proper state of the heart in relation to God’s goodness, and The Freedom of the Will, a treatise on the nature of man’s will and God’s influence over it.

However, there is one writing of Edwards’ in particular which would I like to share with you. This piece is a list of 70 resolutions which Edwards composed in order that he may best live his life, as he says, “for Christ’s sake,” by constantly meditating on them and keeping them close at heart. So, in order that you may begin to look into the life of a man who lived, per Resolution #4, according to all that “tends to the glory of God,” I have attached his list of resolutions below. I have also listed some of my favorite resolutions above, and would like to include here a full list of the ones I found most interesting: #4, 6, 11, 17, 21, 24, 43, 56, 67, 69. Enjoy!

Edwards’ Resolutions

My Testimony- Called Away, Age 22-23

June 28, 2008

(This is the eighth and final post in a series detailing my testimony as I trace the faithfulness of God from my birth until the present day)

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28

Two days before my wedding I received notification from a government agency that they would like me to send them transcripts and letters of recommendation so that they may begin to consider me for employment. I had applied to this agency earlier in the year as a potential outlet for my mathematical skills, but having not heard from them in a number of months I had assumed they were not interested. Yet, here they were, contacting me to begin interviewing for a job that I would be thrilled to have. The only catch was that this job was in Baltimore.

Moving would not be a problem for me. For my new wife, however, it was a different story. She was extremely close to her family, and even while we were dating, the knowledge that we would one day likely be moving away from our home town was something that she was not too fond of. Of course, I knew that she was always willing to do whatever was necessary for our family, but this would certainly not be a decision she would jump at having to make. She was very encouraging though, and stood strong by my side as I eagerly proceeded through each step of the interview process.

As the months went on I got further and further in, eventually traveling to Baltimore myself for several days of face-to-face contact with the agency. Then, in February, 6 months after the whole thing began, I received notice from the mathematics department of the agency that they were planning on hiring me pending financial approval from the higher ups. I was ecstatic about this, assuming that after all I had been through that this final step would be merely a formality. However, on the final day of the month I received notice that they would no longer be able to consider me for hire due to a lack of appropriate funding for employment. Upon reading this email I was crushed. I called my wife on the phone to tell her. She consoled me for a moment, knowing how dejected I was, but then she said the oddest thing; she suggested that I transfer schools! We had become so accustomed to the idea of moving to Baltimore, combined with the fact that I was not too satisfied with my current graduate program, and so she suggested that I look for a new school to attend in the fall and we would move there so that I could finish my PhD.

I was shocked that she would suggest this given her typical stance on leaving home, but I was not about to say no to this idea. Thus, I rapidly located several schools that I would like to attend, and within a matter of two weeks I had contacted them and applied for enrollment in the fall. All five of the programs I applied to accepted me, and so with March drawing to a close it was up to me to decide where we would be heading in a few months. After much debate between New York and Florida, I eventually settled on the University of Florida. From here we began making plans and in August 2007, one day after our one year wedding anniversary, my wife, our daughter and I packed up our belongings and moved 10 hours away from home to Gainesville, Florida.

I immediately became enamored with my new program. The department at UF was far and away better when compared to my first graduate program, and the new opportunities here invigorated an excitement in me for my subject which I had not experienced in many years. The classes, professors and seminars all allowed me to immerse myself in mathematics in a whole new way.

Outside of the university, however, things weren’t so great. The move to Florida was hard on all of us, most noticeably in my wife and daughter, but on me as well. Being separated from our family and friends was difficult. Getting acclimated to a new environment where we didn’t know anybody or have anyone to turn to for support was extra tough when considering the abundance of people we had back home to care for us. My wife’s job was stressful and caused her much frustration over those first few months. And, to top it off, we were having trouble getting plugged in to a church home. This was very trying as the church we had left was such a bedrock for who we were. My wife and I had met and our relationship grew around that church. We were actively involved in leadership and Bible studies there and our daughter had many little friends she had to leave behind. It was an extremely comforting place for us, and to not have that any longer was difficult.

As a result of not being tied in to a strong church, my personal relationship with God began to suffer. For so many years I had had people around me who encouraged me to stay active in devotional time and pursuing God’s Word, but here in Florida I was on my own, and as such I failed. I did not do my daily quiet times or spend time in prayer to God over my day. I was not very attentive to God’s will or seeking him actively, even when I was at church. I had not slipped into any behaviors which the world would look at as sinful, yet I knew that my life was not focused around the power of God in the way that it needed to be and that showed in my attitude and my interactions with my family. I was spiritually depressed and I seemed in no hurry to snap out of it.

Then one day I got an idea to download a podcast sermon from John Piper. I had never done this before. In fact, I had often times made fun of my friends who sat at their computers and listened to sermons. I had enough trouble staying attentive to the message on Sundays, much less wanting to spend my free time listening to someone teach on the Bible on the internet. Yet this is what I did. I loaded the sermon onto my iPod and listened to it on my way to school in the morning. Immediately I got in the habit of this, and this behavior wound up leading me to be return to my personal Bible study.

I could tell from the start that something was changing. I wasn’t just being pulled back to where I had been, but instead God was changing everything about me. My passion to study his Word and to seek after spiritual enlightenment was growing far beyond what I had ever done. I longed to soak in as much knowledge from books and sermons and the Bible as I possibly could.

Then the most interesting thing happened. For many years I had watched the guys around me being called into the full-time ministry, either as pastors or worship leaders or church planters, all the while resting on the knowledge that I had that God was not calling me out with them. When I first became a Christian I had sought this information from God, if he wanted me to have a career in Christian vocations or not, and I was convinced from that time on that his answer was no. However, among this renewal of passion to learn from God I also received a new passion, one that I had yet to experience. It was a passion to teach. In all of my convictions that I was not called into ministry I always stood firm to the fact that I wasn’t supposed to teach, but here I was, desiring to do that thing which I had never felt led to do.

Finally, to really surprise me, I listened to a sermon by John Piper one afternoon in which he shared with the congregation that each year his wife and him sat down and prayed over whether or not God was calling them into the mission field. This struck me as odd, that a pastor and theologian as established as John Piper would feel the need annually to go to God and ask him if he was being called somewhere else. This was extremely convicting on me, someone who had rested on their 10 year old decision about service, and so I began to seek God’s guidance here again.

This process took me about 6 months, a time in which I devoured hundreds of sermons and read Christian books at about one per week. Also during this time we got plugged in to a solid church in our area and God began using us right away. He opened up several opportunities for me to teach Bible studies and Sunday School, and allowed me plenty of time to interact with the pastors of our church. Finally, after the Spring semester had drawn to a close, I sat down with my wife and shared with her where I felt God leading me, that being into the pastoral ministry. Together we talked and prayed over this for a couple of days, until finally my heart was convinced that this was his call; that the boy had been so sure from age 10 that he wasn’t supposed to be a pastor was now being called into ministry.

So that is where I am at today. After 23 years of seeing God move faithfully throughout my life, I sit here on the threshold of a new adventure, of a life to be spent in vocational service to the Lord, shepherding his people and teaching them his ways. I still have a long way to go, but if what I’ve been through so far is any indication then I know that God will see me through whatever may come and that even when I am weak he will still have a plan and will carry me through it to the glory of his name.

My Testimony- Love Changes Everything, Age 19-21

June 27, 2008

(This is the seventh in a series of posts detailing my testimony as I trace the faithfulness of God from my birth until the present day)

“Go eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” -Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

Finally after several months of false starts and waning impatience, the Lord was faithful to provide what he had shown me all along, as I started dating the woman who would shortly become my wife. And once we started dating it was as if we had been together forever. With both of us in school and working, we often only had late evenings available to us, but still we got together every night to snuggle up on her couch, talk, and watch the Food Network together, often times until 2 or 3 in the morning.

After a few months of dating, knowing that we intended to get married, we began actually making plans about such. We discussed how long we should wait to tie the knot and what an appropriate time to get engaged would be. At a point when a lot of people still thought it surprising that my girlfriend was even dating me, we had already set out the course for the rest of our lives.

We got even deeper into it when we began looking for engagement rings for the first time, this being at Tiffany’s on 5th Avenue in New York City! Until now I don’t think I had heard much of the cliched girly enthusiasm out of my wife concerning our engagement, but surrounded by a room full of rings carrying the price tags of luxury cars, her eyes became fixated on all of the sparkles. Needless to say, we did not buy anything there, but soon after returning home from that trip we went to the local jewelry store and she found a set that she wanted. About a month later, 6 months after we had started dating, I bought her ring.

Then, following 10 and 1/2 months of dating, the time was right for me to take the plunge. I called my girlfriend’s dad and met him for lunch in order to ask for his blessing. This was nerve racking, not because I was nervous around her dad, since actually I feel very at ease talking with him, but because, as I have often told my wife, I wasn’t quite sure what to say since this is not the kind of thing that you want to have a lot of experience with. All went well though, and I left that day with full permission to ask for my girlfriend’s hand officially. Going into the appointed night I wasn’t quite set on my plan, which was okay since every attempt I made got foiled by her anyways. Eventually, after a night full of missed opportunities, we found ourselves standing in her room hugging. As we stood there she said one of her favorite refrains at the time: “I can’t wait till we get married.” Seeing this as the opening I had been looking for all night, I dropped to my knee, fumbled the box out of my pocket, and proposed to her in the middle of her floor. Of course she said yes.

All of the marriage preparation was exciting, but the real question for us in getting married would be her interactions with my daughter. Luckily this really wasn’t an issue either, since the two of them had bonded seemingly before she had even connected with me. From the beginning there was no doubt in my mind that she would be the mommy that my little girl had always needed. My daughter confirmed this herself, as before too long she began calling my fiancee ‘Mom,’ being fully aware that this one wasn’t going to leave. Once we were married my wife adopted our little girl, and today, unless you were told, you would never know that this little girl had not been both of ours all along. This is one of our daughter’s favorite stories, that unlike most babies who just come to there mommy’s and daddy’s, my wife actually got to pick her little girl.

Running alongside this relationship and everything going on in it, my fiancee and I were also still in school. She had just started in the Physical Therapy program while I was preparing to graduate and trying to decide what to do next. After weighing the options of law school and graduate school for math, I chose to head to grad school in the fall. Looking back, this seems like an interesting choice for someone who almost didn’t go to college, to love it so much once he got there that he wanted to keep going after graduation, and, if I completed my PhD, to be there for the rest of my life. But so was the love that God had given me for the academic world.

Using this love for college and the college environment, God also saw fit to move us into getting involved with a new project at our church. It began as a simple ministry of prayer walking on campus, but after some thought by our pastor and encouragement through the Spirit, it was decided to start a church plant at the university. God worked to call out a pastor and, along with a few other volunteers, we found ourselves getting involved with the initial core leadership team. This was an exciting venture for me, as I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the beginnings of starting a church. Even though this wasn’t the hardest plant ever, it was certainly a nice way to be introduced to the world of planting and to be able to get more involved with the work of God in service in the church. This presented a lot of good challenges for me in learning to work with people in ministry and follow the leadership of a pastor, and I could not be more thankful for the way God grew me through this experience.

As time passed on, our wedding came and went, and in just under two years I had gone from the skirt-chasing terror of my churches college ministry to being a very happy, very settled husband. I had a cute little townhouse and a beautiful wife, a growing little girl and a church that we loved serving in, around people that we enjoyed being with. Professionally, my studies were very successful and I was well on my way to earning a PhD and going into the comfortable life of academe. After so many years of stress and anger and chaos, God had brought me to a nice, comfortable life. Not comfortable as in possessions, but comfortable in that he had provided me with all that my heart could desire and in giving me a peace in inside like I had never quite felt before. However, now that I had had some time to dwell in the peace of the comfort he had allotted, God began to work again to stretch my trust in him, this time by causing me to reconsider everything about the future I had envisioned in my head.

My Testimony- My Love Story, Age 19

June 24, 2008

(This is the sixth in a series of posts detailing my testimony as I trace the faithfulness of God from my birth until the present day)

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” -1 Corinthians 13:4-7

“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. . . . Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” -Proverbs 31:10, 30

Smack in the middle of my first venture into serial dating, God hit me with the death blow (though I was soon to find out that this was the most welcome death blow imaginable). As I have said prior, my reputation as a skirt-chaser at this point had kept me from being able to actually date any of the girls from my church that I should be pursuing. Yet, as my second year of college came to a close, I found myself suddenly enamored with one of these girls anyways. She was a little older than me, very mature in her walk with the Lord, and yet completely down to earth. We had quickly become friends, even though my early attempts at conversation had been met with more trepidation than openness, and she was certainly someone I knew I could connect with on a deeper level than anyone else in the group.

I continued at the same pace as before, dating whoever I could find on a Friday night, though as time went on my affections for this girl grew and grew. I would stop by her workplace just to see her for a few minutes. We would hangout with everyone out to dinner, and then afterwards the two of us would linger on, talking and sharing more intimate aspects of our person with one another. Yet, through all of this, she appeared to show no particular feelings for me.

Finally, after months of waiting, and much searching through prayer, I made the decision that I should take the risk and let her know that I liked her. The next day I spoke with one of my friends and asked for him to pray for me in this venture as well. Then suddenly, opposition. I received a phone call from one of the girls I was close to outside of church. She sounded depressed and proceeded to inform me that her boyfriend of the past eight months had dumped her. Uh-oh. This was a girl I had had a crush on for years, and though she wasn’t a Christian, there was always a part of me that wanted to date her. So, against my better judgment, that night I went over to her house to console her.

The next 45 days were insane. I began to see my friend from school casually, going to movies and talking on the phone, while still inside I was burning with affection for the girl at church. Everyday felt like a tightrope, walking between the present reality of a girl I had always wanted but wasn’t the right one or the chance of a future reality with a girl who I had recently become enamored with and who was much more in line with God’s desires. Finally, one night, after going to the movies (with a guy for a change), I realized what I must do. Driving away from the theater I called my friend and told her that I couldn’t be with her anymore. I explained that I really liked her, had always liked her, but that I knew that it was God’s will for me to be with someone else. With that decision, for the first time denying myself an easy relationship in favor of the one God wanted, I set a collision course with destiny.

The next weekend I went to see the same movie at the same theater, only this time a larger group went with me; a group which contained the girl from church. We sat next to each other, though nothing really implied there, and after the movie we did our usual thing of lingering around at the cars long after everyone had left. Only this night I went for it. I told her how I felt about her, that I would like to date her, and asked her how she felt. Her response, however, was less than I had imagined. She said that she was not interested at this point, though she really enjoyed me as a friend, she was not looking to go any further right now. This hurt.

A little sad at being rejected, I headed home. However, something inside me told me not to give up. So, once I got home, I wrote her a letter telling her how I was willing to wait for her if that’s what it took and that I wanted to keep our friendship going, regardless of where we were at relationship-wise. I then put this note on her car window the next day while she was at work. Apparently it was worth it as the following morning at church she expressed to me how much hearing this meant and that she was glad that her rejection of me would not get in the way of our intimacy as friends.

For a month we continued in this way, growing closer and closer, spending more and more time together, until finally one night it boiled over. Sitting, then standing in her living room one evening after a movie night with the people from church, we shared our first kiss. A few days later this led to even more kisses as we snuggled close to each other, standing beside her car for 4 hours outside of a Wendy’s. We hadn’t decided to date yet, but we made plans to get together for a movie later that week to further see where we were at. But, two days later, she crushed me again, this time having me meet her at a McDonald’s on campus in order to tell me that she was still not ready to be in a relationship. Injured once more, I found the resolve in my spirit to stay the course, fully sold out to the fact that this was the direction God was taking me.

Another month went by and once again my impatience started to creep in. This time it was with another girl from church that I began spending time with, even though my heart still belonged solely to the first one. Nothing really ever developed here, but after about a week, something clicked in the original girl, and she called me one afternoon saying she wanted to get together to talk. That we did, and for the next couple of days we moved around in a sort of limbo, unsure what was going to happen.

Then it was Halloween. Following another evening of going out to eat with our friends, me, her, and another guy from church all headed back to my house to watch TV. This we did for a while and then we talked in the darkened living room, until finally, around 3am, people started dozing off. Sitting on the opposite end of the couch from me the girl fell asleep first, followed by the guy laying in the floor. About half an hour later though, the girl woke up and snuggled up next to me on the couch. We whispered to each other, hugged, and eventually started kissing. After a few minutes of this I looked her in the eyes and said what I knew God had shown me through all of this: “You’re going to marry me.” “Probably” was her response, and a few days later we finally began dating, knowing exactly where we would end up.

My Testimony- Controlled Chaos, Age 17-19

June 23, 2008

(This is the fifth in a series of posts detailing my testimony as I trace the faithfulness of God from my birth until the present day)

“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:18

My last week of high school, though the end of a truly transformational period of my life, was actually the beginning of something even better. This was the week of the first court hearing over custody of my daughter. Though the court was a little harsh on my motivations as a father (in what I came to realize was the typical posture of courts to be more lenient towards moms than dads) I still left the courthouse that day with an equal share in all rights as they pertained to my little girl.

This was wonderful. Working, preparing for college in the fall, I now had the legal standing to spend time with and care for my daughter equally alongside (and unfortunately, often times opposed to) her mother. I began being able to spend days at a time with her, getting to know her, raise her, and incorporate her into all of my life. By God’s wonderful grace I was now in a situation where I had the support of my family to help me in making sure my daughter had the best possible life. And, further by God’s grace, I was able to have a majority of the time that summer with her, while in the other home her mother slipped farther and farther down a road of elicit behaviors. At this point she was pregnant with the child of another man who had started to live with her.

In the fall I began college, and to my surprise, I loved it. Immediately I was hooked into the academic atmosphere of college life. The ability to take whatever classes I wanted, to learn whatever interested me. It was amazing. The apathy towards school which I had cultivated during high school was gone and I had become completely sold out to my scholastic pursuits. This truly was a testament to God, who through his providence had brought me here, when I was prepared to make a decision which would have sent me the total opposite direction.

However, my love for school and my acknowledgment of God’s bringing me there, as well as his wonderful guidance in the situation with my daughter, still did not keep me from pursuing certain sinful activities. At this time I was completely overcome with lust. Between my uncontrollably flirtatious behavior towards the girls at school and at work, my continuing physical relationship with my girlfriend, and my constant succumbing to the temptations of pornography, my life was certainly not adhering to the cry of Paul to “flee from sexual immorality.” As well I was dealing with continual temptations towards greed and materialism, as for the first time in my life I found my self with a sufficient amount of money to spend on most anything I wanted. Though I always saw myself as being far removed from the actions of a few years prior, this was still a dark period of spiritual famine in my life.

Back in the custody hearings, things had started to work my way, though it was not always a very comfortable thing to endure. Through a series of missteps and neglects, including seeing my ex-girlfriend have her second child taken away by the State and the constant fear of what might happen to my daughter while being in that house, the Lord answered my prayer. From the beginning I had prayed that God would either see to it that my ex-girlfriend played a beneficial role in our daughter’s life in cooperation with me or that she would be taken completely out of the picture. And, though it was aided by her deepened depravity, of which to this day I don’t know that I have ever been broken about in the manner I should be, the Lord answered by making it so my little girl’s mother was removed permanently from her life. This result was as a great burden being lifted from my life, giving me the freedom now to raise my daughter without the fear of losing control of her to someone else.

As the next fall rolled around I found myself in a position which I had not been in for two and a half years: I was single. Once again, accompanying this singleness I found myself being recommitted to following Christ deeper than I had been before. This time it was through my getting involved with the college group at my church. God was truly at work in this group, specifically as can be evidenced now through the number of people there who he has called out into full-time vocational ministry. Here I began to really deepen my relationship with God for the first time, being challenged by the people around me to study and evangelize in a way that I had never experienced. They also provided something which I had missed in churches prior, that being a total acceptance of my daughter. She became just as much a part of the group as I was, both of us going out to eat with everybody each Sunday and Wednesday night following church. It would be inconceivable for me to underestimate the impact that this period has had on my life (as will become apparent later).

This was also a time of great chaos in my life. I was all over the place. Not in a bad way, just in a way that I was constantly on the go, taking more and more on, trying to feed the intense appetites I had at the time. I was in the stride of my college career, taking 20+ hours each semester, heading quickly towards my eventual end of graduating in three years with two degrees and 150 hours of accumulated credit. Plus, most every night, with my daughter asleep and my grandmother at home with her, I would go out. Either to the bookstore or to a movie or just to hang out with friends. Of course, though things were much better on the sexual immorality front, I still had a strong desire for flirting and female companionship, and because of this I found myself bouncing around, going out on dates with about any girl who would show interest. After a total of almost 4 years spent between two relationships, I was ready to just date without making any serious attachments. This worked well as it kept me away from the temptations of doing things physically which I knew were contrary God’s design (promiscuity was never an issue for me), but it also garnered for me a reputation of “chasing any thing with a skirt” (as my wife so poignantly reminds me). Because of this I had trouble getting any of the girls at church, the ones I should have been trying to date, to actually give me a chance, and so most of the ladies I went out with were not girls that I should have even been wasting my time on. Nevertheless, following my testosterone driven desires outside of what I knew I should be pursuing, I continued serial dating throughout my second year of college.

Then, as that year drew to an end, a girl at church caught my eye. I don’t recall why, as she never really showed any particular interest in me herself outside of just being my friend, but whatever it was that started it, I was quickly going under in my desire to date her. Little did I know at the time that that desire would lead me to things much further than I had yet experienced and would completely change the course of my life.

My Testimony- Growing and Gaining Direction, Age 15-17

June 20, 2008

(This is the fourth in a series of posts detailing my testimony as I trace the faithfulness of God from my birth until the present day)

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28

To pick up where we left off last, I was in my junior year of high school, 5 months into my recommittal to Christ, when all of a sudden I am hit with the announcement that the girlfriend I had put away so thoroughly a half a year ago is pregnant with my child. But, as I said, through the power of Christ I was resolved to go at this new challenge full strength.

The child was born, February 2, 2001, a little girl, and at this point it was necessary for us to go into legal issues of paternity which I will deal with later. Elsewhere in my life, however, I was starting to get back into dating, this time with a freshman girl I had met through Campus Life. This turned out to be more difficult to start than I expected, since my reputation among the teachers coupled with her mother working in the school system resulted in a number of precautionary emails warning her mother that I was trouble. Thankfully her parents were more trusting of their experience with me than other peoples opinions and we began a relationship which lasted for 2 and 1/2 years.

Things started out well for us, but within a few months we began pushing boundaries physically that we should have avoided. We never got to the point of having sex, but that doesn’t mean that we were fleeing from sexual immorality the way we should have been, nor was I very restrained in my own personal lusts either, all of this leading to a life under the surface which was still less sanctified than it appeared.

Outside of the physical issues though, this relationship provided me with something which I desperately needed at the time, that being acceptance. I had burned a lot of bridges in the previous year, so to have a new relationship with a girl whose family invited me in so warmly was a welcome feeling. At that point I was struggling especially with my youth group where the leadership took issue with my likely-newfound fatherhood and made things very uncomfortable for me being there. Thus, I decided to leave that church, and, searching alongside my girlfriend’s family, I eventually made my way to Porter Memorial Baptist Church. Of all the things that I can look back on from that relationship, the fact that God used it to bring me to Porter is probably the most life-changing.

Going into my senior year of high school I had a lot of expectations. I had marching band and wrestling, both of which I was legitimately chasing state championships in, along with the necessary decision of what would come next after graduating. Then it happened. September 11th. I didn’t lose anyone in the tragedies, nevertheless, this event had a major effect on my life. The fear of terrorism awakened that day still finds its way into my dreams occasionally. But more than that, my patriotism, which had always been a virtue I had treasured, was excited higher than ever and I began looking into entering the Armed Forces. This pursuit led to the eventual presence of the Army recruiters at my kitchen table the night I turned 17, talking with my parents and seeking permission for me to join the Army while still a minor. From here I went up to the entrance processing to take a physical and sign up officially. But while there, the weirdest thing happened. I passed all of the actual physical parts of the examination, but, for the first time in my life, my blood pressure measured high. Real high. Higher than the Army could allow for me to sign up with, it turns out. This wasn’t the end however, as all I had to do was go home, have normal readings recorded for 10 days by my doctor, and send the waiver back to MEPS to allow my certification to be complete. This I did and I was prepared to head back and sign on, but first, and fatefully, I was leaving for a week at Cocoa Beach on Spring Break. Looking back now, I know that this was all part of God’s providence in my life.

In the time between the start of my senior year and going to enlist I had received the results which showed conclusively that I was indeed the father of my ex-girlfriend’s child. Following this I moved into an agreement to pay child support, began spending regular time with my daughter, and started the process of trying to get some level of legal custody over my daughter. I had also, almost compulsively, applied to college at the University of Kentucky, which I learned I was accepted to on the same day I met with the military. Taking all of this with me to Cocoa Beach that week, God began to work on my heart and plans. Finally, after spending several hours in prayer, standing knee-deep in the ocean one night, I came to the understanding that God was leading me to stay home, go to college instead of the army, and raise my daughter. So, arriving back in town the next week, I called the recruiters and told them my decision. They tried to convince me otherwise, but when it was over I stood to my conviction and began heading down the road to get custody of my little girl and start college, both of which God blessed me in far beyond what I could have expected at that moment.

One other thing happened that year worth noting, that being the death of my papaw. As I have already mentioned, my papaw was the man who most influenced my life growing up, and I truly loved him as much as any person I have ever known. In stories he had always been described to me as a man of great strength, who did all that he could to protect his integrity and to provide for his family. Personally, I got to spend countless hours with him, playing cards, watching Westerns, and learning from the years of experience he had accumulated. He was far from perfect, but he was certainly a model of true manhood that was seriously lacking in my own father and step dad, and as such was the model to me of what a father is supposed to be.

Yet, with that said, through the irony that often strikes great men, I watched him spend the last years of his life handicapped and increasingly dependent on the care of others. But being in that house, watching him fade away, struck me with a certain conviction on my life. Standing by his bed, holding his hand and praying as he passed on, God conveyed to me that it was my turn now. That from that moment I needed to be the man who people could turn to. To be the man who would care for his wife and children and family and be a picture of strength for them to look to. I can’t say as I have perfected this, particularly with my own parents and siblings, but I have known ever since that day that I needed to be a man, God’s man, who would stand as the rock for others, pointing them to Christ through my love and faith and commitment. And this is part of the challenge on my life everyday.

Why is This World Accursed?- A Sermon by John Piper

June 19, 2008

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” -Romans 8:18-25

Last week at the Resolved 2008 conference, John Piper gave an excellent message on why it is that there are so many disasters, natural and not, that occur in our world. He also touches the ever so controversial issue of human suffering. Dr. Piper has such an amazing heart and his passion for pursuing and preaching the things of God is so evident in all of his messages. This one is no exception and is especially pertinent for us to observe in the wake of this weeks flooding in the Midwest. I encourage you guys to take a few moments and spend time in listening to John Piper’s words for us in this never-ending world of suffering. Enjoy!

John Piper- The Echo and the Insufficiency of Hell

My Testimony- A Year of Sin, Age 14-15

June 18, 2008

(This is the third in a series of posts detailing my testimony as I trace the faithfulness of God from my birth until the present day)

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” -Luke 15:4-7

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” -John 6:44

I left off last time at what could easily be marked as the turning point for my whole life. Running from my most recent fight with my mom and step dad, I headed up to the neighborhood park. As I approached the small pool that has since been closed down, a girl I had not talked to since kindergarten turned and greeted me. For 9 years we had lived only about a quarter mile from each other and yet it was not until this day that we had actually interacted, but with her dried off and wrapped in a towel and me now walking my bike alongside us, we talked. And as we talked we moved towards her house, a house with no parents there. At this point I had a choice to make: go in or go home? Of course I went in.

The consequences of this choice still ring in my life. As that night wore on we kissed and began fooling around, exploring areas I had only imagined or seen on my computer. I was completely lost in all that was going on until, at 10:30 that night, there was a knock on the door. It was my parents, angry at me for staying out, angrier at me for being in this house alone with a girl. And so I went home, but not until after the seed had been planted for my rapid self-destruction.

A week later I lost my virginity. Aided by her father’s late night work shift and my parents early morning departure, I began sneaking out of the house at 4am and meeting up with her. Then, I had a brilliant idea, and worked a plan which tricked both my parents and allowed me to spend the night at my girlfriends house. Amazed at how well it worked I tried it again the next week. This time however I was caught and ended up being escorted home in the back of a police car.

Then, one month to the day after I met the girl, my mother decided she’d had enough and sent me to live with my dad. This wasn’t much better though, as the deceit and sneaking around and debauchery continued, and again, exactly three months later, things exploded at my dad’s and I was out of a home once more. This time I wound up at my grandparents.

My grandparents, my Nana and Papaw, are certainly one of the greatest blessings God has ever given me. My Papaw, though at that point paralyzed from the waist down, was the strong patriarch of our family, and certainly the man who has influenced me most in my life. My Nana was the diligent caretaker of both my Papaw and of me. Together they took me in and cared for me with the patience which my parents had been unable to muster. Of course, this patience did not immediately pay off as I continued my exploits, my lying and doing whatever I wanted along with my girlfriend. There were even a couple of nights that I spent sleeping on my backpack under the park shelter because my grandmother had locked me out for coming home too late. But in all, my grandparents exercised the love which eventually helped me to get out of this situation with any semblance of a life left.

Over that time I had let everything else in my life fall apart. Besides the strain with my parents I had also quit band and had barely put forth any effort in wrestling. My grades were struggling, the first and only time in my life where I carried below a B average. And worst of all, my anger was at all-time highs. At one point, following a big argument with my parents the night before, I got into an argument with my dad at a wrestling meet and just lost it. Enraged and cussing, I went into the locker room of the gym and began smashing things. Lockers, trashcans, doors. Eventually I calmed down, but in the aftermath of this event I had to began seeking professional counseling and went months without speaking to either of my parents.

Then, in March of 2000, God started doing something. Some way, I still do not quite remember how, my girlfriend got invited to church by one of my classmates (her and I did not attend the same school) and she decided to go. Afterwards she wanted to return. So she did, and I went along. Our lives didn’t change at that point, we did not quit doing anything that we were doing, but for some reason we began going to this church regularly. Over time, I felt something. Distance grew between my girlfriend and me, I got involved with coaching little league and going to youth group. I would go out roller blading around town alone. And during that time alone I could feel him calling, pulling me away from everything that I had thrown myself into, and drawing me into the light.

Finally, on July 3rd, 2000, I met my girlfriend in the park and told her it was over. I turned my back on all that we had been doing and ran. She fought and the temptation was there, but God provided the strength I needed to be firm and I was able to disconnect myself completely from that life. I could no longer have that girl in my life or be involved in the lifestyle we had led. Everything was different now because God had brought me back to him.

I kept going to that church (she didn’t any longer after we broke up) and I became active in youth leadership and experienced God more deeply than I ever had before. I got back into marching band and I rededicated myself to being in shape for wrestling. I built back my old friendships which I had torn down over the previous year. I wasn’t perfect, I still struggled with lust and pornography and with pride, but one of the biggest demons in my life, my anger, was now under control better than it had been in many years. My tongue was restrained and graciously I began to reconcile with my family.

I did not realize how important these quick turnarounds would be until one night in December, 5 months removed from walking away from my girlfriend and the life I lived associated with her, her father appeared at our front door with news that she was pregnant. Though this was a major announcement, taking it in stride with the renewed focus and strength which God had granted me, I was resolved and had faith that in his hands everything would be alright.

My Testimony- Depression and Anger, Age 9-14

June 17, 2008

(This is the second in a series of posts detailing my testimony as I trace the faithfulness of God from my birth until the present day)

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” -James 1:19-21

“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” -1 Corinthians 6:18

Returning home from church camp, it was now time for me to begin living out my newfound Christian life. I began reading my Bible and attempting to attend church as often as possible (usually by going with our neighbor, though later on with my dad on his appointed weekends). Still, while being wrapped in the environment of my parent’s divorce, their new dating relationships, and my own stubborn attempts to be the grown-up, I failed miserably at sanctification. Instead, I started getting into fights at school, being aggressive then violent then weeping all with a hare trigger between them. I secluded myself in my room all evening, watching TV and despising my parents (my dad in particular). It even got to the point one day where after upsetting a school friend of mine, riddled with the guilt of that failure piled on top of all the other stresses in my life, I openly expressed that I felt it would be better if I were just dead. Though this was a low point it wasn’t a turning point, just a first step onto a plateau in a valley.

Over the next several years it was emotionally much the same as the physical world around me changed drastically again. Both of my parents remarried soon after their divorce was finalized. My father was still largely absent, though now it was from the Tuesday night visitations and the every other weekend pickups. And when he was there I spent many hours lashing out against him and berating him for not having been there before. I rejected him and the new life he had with my step mom and step brother, and I let my anger boil over frequently with little or no provocation. Meanwhile, at my mother’s house, a constant battle rolled on through the years over my step dad’s alcohol use and the secrets which both he and my mom kept, causing much tension and turmoil for me as I often, sometimes willingly, sometimes not, became involved in the conflict myself. For years I dreaded arriving home from school, unsure of what mood I would find my mom in and what type of fights would be had that day.

It was during this time that I began getting into something which would play a large role in my stumblings for many years to follow: sex. My slow descent began with magazines, videos and internet porn which I indulged myself in prior to being involved in any relationships which actually led to these ends themselves. I would spend hours in front of the computer on weekends at my dad’s house, and quickly allowed my ideas of acceptable thoughts and behavior to fly wide open as it pertained to sexual wants. This gross sinful behavior lay underneath a lot of my personal struggles for nearly a decade to come.

Also during this time though, God started revealing himself in my life more and more. He situated Christian friends around me at the right times who were able to offer a shoulder and an ear when I needed to let things out. He showed me the wonders of being able to witness to someone and see that witness used towards bringing them into a saving relationship. He constantly stayed with me, and even though my obedience was often lacking and my emotions were often extreme, there was never a time where I felt that his presence had left me. Through all of the trials I never felt any hiccups in my faith that God was there, though I didn’t always come to him as much as I should have. He truly was faithful.

When I was 13 I began high school and my family and social situations started to change. Throughout middle school I had been moderately involved in activities such as youth group, band, and baseball, but there had never really been anything that got me out of the house for any great deal of time. In high school however, I found a number of ways to escape the frustrations which I had encountered for so long at home. Even before school began I was involved in marching band, an activity which ate up half of every weekday evening, as well as a number of weekends during the fall. In this I started developing friendships with older band members, ones that had cars, and would often find ways to stay out with them instead of coming home. I never engaged in anything immoral or even questionable, I just sat around, talking and wasting time, avoiding the one place I surely did not want to be. This newfound freedom, though liberating for me, was infuriating to my mother. In its wake, lectures began about being home with my family and doing things around the house. All of this fell on deaf ears though, as I was invigorated by the life which I was developing outside of my mom’s four walls.

Following marching band there was wrestling team, and then after that I got involved with Campus Life. However, eventually summer rolled around and I was stuck back at home again. What’s more, the already long standing tensions had raised even higher as my step dad’s drinking issues and substance abuse were openly acknowledged following a DUI arrest during the spring of that year. Using my newly awakened freedoms as well as this sore spot as a foothold, I fought hard against my mom and step dad all through the summer.

Then, one evening, July 15th, 1999 to be exact, my life took its sharpest downward turn yet. Heading out to blow off steam after the latest argument at my house, I was riding my bike through the neighborhood, when I came across a girl I had vaguely known from way back in kindergarten. We began talking and as one thing leads to another, by the end of the night I found myself stepping into the reality of many of the sinful fantasies I had waded in mentally for years.