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“Food taste better when you are hungry. I feel like there is a certain point I reach when even cooked cardboard tastes as good as filet mignon from Ruth Chris. That point seems to only occur when I am trying to hunt or fish—There was one time when Dad and I were fishing and we didn’t bring any food on the boat. Our guide had 2 pieces of fried chicken; and after a long day of not catching much, half of a drumstick from a very reluctant fishing guide was the most delicious morsel I had ever put in my mouth!
The disciples had a similar experience in John 21. They didn’t quite know what to make of the new resurrected Jesus; and like a true fisherman, Peter and some of the other disciples went out to fish and clear their mind. They caught nothing. The cruel mistress that is the Sea of Galilee bested their angling efforts once again. As they were about to get off the lake, a man (Jesus) appeared to them on the shore. The man told Peter and the other disciples to cast on the other side of the boat. Casting in Biblical times was not a matter of leisurely flicking a pole with bait on the end; casting was more along the lines of throwing a bunch of rocks as hard as you can—more along the lines of trying to run a shrimp boat without any mechanical equipment. Long story short, Jesus miraculously directs them to a monster catch—so big that it was a miracle that the nets didn’t break—and I am not using a figure of speech. However, the ending of the story is what really struck me. Jesus took the time to set up a small charcoal fire and was smoking some fish for the disciples to eat as soon as they got off the water. I can only imagine the elation on the disciples’ faces when they turned around to see the beautiful, brownish-white filets grilling out on the fire.
Jesus took the time to cook fish for a group of men who had completely abandoned him and left him to die just a short time before. These appreciative fishermen remembered so much about the meal that they deemed it important enough to record for all eternity in the canonized scriptures. This gives us a very intimate picture of Jesus—seeing him as somebody who cares so much for the men in his life that he goes through the preparation and planning to have a hot meal ready for some weary fishermen.
When we go about our lives, I am left wondering if we often forget the simple things. Thanksgiving is now coming and America is about to enter in what I like to call the “Marathon of Feasts.” From thanksgiving forward, we set out our best and most delicious food for the ones we love. The casserole that mom makes just right or the fried shrimp pa might try to cook are the types of homemade specialties that we will be stuffing our gullets with for the next month. Food is a great way to show appreciation and love. So next time you are chowing down on a Christmas afternoon rib eye or a four layer cheese dip on New Year’s Day, remember to be appreciative of what you have been blessed with; and consider your quickly defeated hunger a sign of the things to come, when the bread of life feeds you eternally!”
I’ve been thinking a lot about bread lately. Yes, I know that sounds strange in the land of Publix and plenty. In 2014 America, I take bread for granted. It even comes conveniently pre-made and pre-sliced. I don’t even need it some days because I have other options in the pantry. But for some people in this world, and for many throughout history, bread is essential for daily survival. They heavily invest time and energy making sure they have their daily bread. Those folks would have understood exactly what Jesus meant when he asked God to “give us our daily bread.”
You see, I’ve been going through a shortage of “daily bread.” Sure, I have all the food, clothing, and shelter I need to survive; but surviving is pretty pointless without purpose and meaning and people to share my life with. Having graduated last year, I am still in the process of looking for professional work. In the meantime, my life is in an awkward transitional phase where I’m not sure what my mission is, and I am short on friends, community, and intimacy. That’s the daily bread that I’m hungry for. I was feasting on a loaf last year. Now I’m living off the heel. I ask God, “Where is my daily bread and why have You delayed Your provision? God, You promise to provide for me. Why am I short? Are You cheating me? Am I getting second best? Am I getting Plan B? Can I trust You when it seems like You aren’t providing?” God never answers. Like Job, I’m going through my own rough time and God seems absent even though I believe He is sovereignly controlling these events.
And then, this week, God finally answered. It was not pleasant. God first rocked my world through someone I knew intimately. She pulled my skeletons out of my closet in a way that forced me to address them. But that wasn’t all. I ended up reading Hosea to see how God could justify giving Hosea the horrible mission of marrying a habitually unfaithful wife. I pictured myself as Hosea but ended up being the unfaithful wife who has “gone after [the] lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink.” It’s like God was saying, “You think you’re flawed? Let Me show you how flawed you really are!” I take my bread for granted. I obsess over it. I worry where my next meal will come from. I get too caught up in my needs and my wants. I stress over my daily bread and forget about the Bread of Life. I worry about my lesser needs and forget about my ultimate need for Christ. I treat Him merely as a means to my daily bread. He is just there to make sure I have all that I need. “Thanks God! I’ll call next time I need something.” Or worse, I forget to thank Him and just assume I am entitled to it.
“Therefore,” God says, “I will take away my grain when it ripens, and my new wine when it is ready. I will take back my wool and my linen, intended to cover her nakedness. So now I will expose her lewdness before the eyes of her lovers; no one will take her out of My hand…I will punish her for the days [she] went after her lovers but Me she forgot.” (Hosea 2 NIV) “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards…I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips…I will betroth you to Me forever…and you will acknowledge the Lord.”
God is not going to allow me to confuse my daily bread with the Bread of Life. Nor will He allow me to forget who lovingly provides my daily bread. Sometimes, it’s just the slice I need to carry on a little longer. And other times, it’s the whole loaf for me to feast on. And sometimes, He temporarily brings an unwanted fast into my life so that I will return to the Bread of Life. As His adopted son, He will never let me starve to death. But, as my mentors often say, “God is more concerned with my character than my comfort.” I am convinced that He is perfectly willing to take away the feast, and let me feel hunger so that I might remember and pursue my ultimate need for the Bread of Life. He’s not cheating me. If anything, I’m cheating myself by obsessing over lesser wants and needs. With that in mind I ask, “God, please forgive me for my wandering. Whether I’m feasting or hungry, let me always remember to eat of the Bread of Life, because he who eats of that will never be hungry.”
The reality of trying to find your identity can be a daunting task, at any age level. Wandering through life with no direction is frustrating, confusing, and lonely at times. Along with many others, there was a time in my life when direction was the last thing on my mind, and my identity was found in the mirror, in my stats, and how people viewed me. Because of this, I ran from structure, responsibility, friendships, family and even God. Especially God! But eventually, I had to come to grips with who I was and what I was created to do.
By God’s design and grace, I have had many men pour their life out in the attempt to improve mine; and with deep conviction, they have held me accountable for my failures and praised me in my victories. Through their interaction with me, I have found Christ; their example was a direct reflection of Christ’s love for me. But not all of these men sought me out. I had to realize that life is not a one-person game. You have to be intentional about who you spend time with; and through that, your direction and identity will be found. This is the essential aspect to a man’s life as a follower of Christ. This is how I was able to grow and learn in Christ, surrounding myself with mentors that pour into me, peers that will encourage me, and younger guys that I can pour into. I would not be who I am today without these men and their dedication to my pursuit of God’s Kingdom.
It all started with a simple letter that one of those men shared with me years before I was ready to accept it. I believe it was a personal arrow from God meant for my heart. This man didn’t sit me down and give me a long speech or try to make it an important conversation, he simply wrote it in a letter to me before I left for college. I read the note along with the other cards I had received from graduation, took all that money out and kind of forgot about it. It sat on my desk for almost two and a half years staring at me day after day, as I lived my life for myself with no direction or identity. After two and a half years of trying to balance the parties, football, military, school, and an outward Christian shell, I knew I had to find another way to live. The Holy Spirit was doing a great work in me and I didn’t even know it.
One day, I was cleaning up and began to throw an old journal away. This journal was a collection of letters written by my ex-girlfriend’s family (she eventually agreed to marry me); we had dated in high school and she thought it would be nice to have letters from everyone since I was going far away for college. She broke my heart at Christmas my freshman year; but don’t worry guys, it only took me three years to get her back! But that’s not the import part. Re-reading these letters was so amazing. Her two little brothers talked about how much they loved me and looked up to me; her mom told me how proud she was of me and how thankful she was for how I treated her daughter; Even her older brother said how impressed he was with me and how mature I was for leading his sister in the right way; But then I got to her dad’s letter (the one I talked about earlier) that I had totally forgotten about. Here’s what it said:
There are only three thing a man needs in this life.
A Man must have
a Master to Serve, a Women to Love, and a Hill to Die On.
Now at the time, at eighteen, that did not make too much sense. But at twenty-one, living in sin, desperately yearning for direction and identity, it made perfect sense. And yes, this man is now my father in-law; but at the time, he was a father investing in me to make sure his little girl was with the right man. When I realized this, sitting on my floor in my nasty room at The Citadel in tears, it was one of the most peaceful times of my life.
Finally I had clarity; finally I had direction; and shortly after, I finally found my identity in Christ. In doing this, I completed the first step in finding my Master to Serve, giving me purpose; and no longer was I aimlessly wandering. Christ gave me direction for my life and the passion to influence and impact others, like so many have done for me.
After about six months, by the grace of God, I was able to reconnect with my ex-girlfriend, now my future wife, and no longer was I searching for a “Woman to Love.” I being to realize that it’s all about the order of things. Any time in my life where my “Master” is not number one on my list, things don’t go well; relationships end; jobs are lost; hearts are broken; and life gets really off-course. There was a very good reason why my father in-law put a “Master to Serve” first. It’s a distinct reminder that Christ is number one; and even if your “Woman” leaves and your “Hill” is burnt to ashes, your “Master” that you serve will always be there.
To wrap this up, my wife and I are working on a “Hill to Die On.” And I used to think that my “Hill” was going to be a house with some land where the kids and dog can run and play. But now at 25 years old, I think of it more as our platform as a family. How are we impacting the Kingdom of Christ? Who are we influencing in a positive way? Is Christ glorified in our actions, words, and thoughts? Those questions are my “Hill to Die On.”
It’s not complicated; it’s not fancy; and it might take you a couple years to really understand what it means; but when that arrow finally pierces your heart, you will have direction and identity in Christ Jesus; and no amount of money, success, or fame will ever compare.
When I think of one of the biggest struggles within Christianity, I am immediately brought to the issue of our image of who God is. There is a certain desire among Christians to disregard the Old Testament entirely because we want to believe in a God who is only loving, comforting, soft and safe. Well, the inherent flaw within this line of thinking is that God will always be and has always been the same. This is bad news for those of us who want a God who is safe. He is not and never has been safe. However, (to steal an amazing line from a great book) He is good.
I sometimes find myself desiring this soft and safe God who only loves; but this comes at a great cost. I have omitted the traits of God that can be hard to deal with or even talk about. When I ask for and desire a God who only coddles me and gives me what I want and not what I need, I am missing out on his goodness in discipline. I am missing out on the seasons of sorrow that seem bleak in the moment but lead to unimaginable growth and understanding. I am missing out on my protector and provider. I am as Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup to quench his hunger. When I am in the moment, I forget that there is always a plan for the pain. There is always an end goal that is for good. I forget that God has view of all things in time and space while I only have a point of view. In my seeking a loving God, I am actually seeking a God who is less loving than the living God.
Now, this may seem like a rant about a single random thought, but I believe there is a reason Christians are trying to omit certain aspects of God’s character and it is a tough pill to swallow. I believe that the specific parts of Gods that we are avoiding are the parts of his image he has specifically molded into men.
When I think of marriage, I see a more complete picture of God than in any other place on this side of heaven. Women embody the more gentle-natured and caring side of God’s heart while men are more of protectors of their family and providers for their family by nature. These qualities of God, specifically placed in men and women, are to provide us with a better image of who God really is. I believe that we men have failed at embodying our half. We have missed the mark by either being too overly authoritative, too passive, or too absent.
This is not all men, as I personally could list off many names who do embody these qualities well, but as a whole generation of men, we are failing. This is why I believe IRON and FIRE is doing amazing kingdom work in the hearts of men. We need to succeed as men. It is not only important that the next generation have fathers that love them well, but it is also imperative that we give the world a better picture of how God loves us, without being weak.
“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me. 9 I will bear the indignation of the LORD because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication. 10 Then my enemy will see, and shame will cover her who said to me, ‘Where is the LORD your God?’ My eyes will look upon her; now she will be trampled down like the mire of the streets.”
Micah 7: 7-10
In our day and age, even as young men, the obsession with dating has reached an unprecedented level. Nowadays you rarely meet a middle-schooler who hasn’t “dated” anyone. These so-called dating relationships last a few weeks to a month or two at most. Now, personally, I believe, and this is my opinion, that when you can drive someone somewhere and then go eat or go to a movie and then drive them back to their house, that is a date. The word dating doesn’t implicitely include make-out sessions, sex, or total exclusivity, by any means. But these relationships almost always end in anger, heartache, broken friendships, and two people who are worse for wear. And that’s just middle-school.
Then you move to high school relationships, where it is worse. These relationships are almost solely based on physical highs and emotional entanglement with flimsy boundaries that are easily exploited. I’ve read stats that only 2% of high school sweethearts get married. I believe this is due to most dating relationships being based on infatuation or puppy love. On top of this, I bet if you ask a friend in a relationship what their goals are or why they like that person, they will stare blankly back at you or say they have never thought of that before. My dad challenged me to set goals in my relationships with people, especially girls, and especially when I start dating. In my opinion, I don’t feel like dating is a smart idea until about freshman year in college. This doesn’t mean I’ve never liked a girl or had feelings for one before; I have just seen where these young relationships lead: decreasing grades, obsession, and usually gradual seclusion from friends and family. This is not healthy for anyone, especially a maturing Christian man, so I have resolved to not date until later in my life; because at this point, I don’t see the wisdom in it at such an early age.
At this point, I have never kissed a girl. I feel like it gets you too emotionally entangled with her and leads to other, more risky things. Some words of wisdom from a friend to me were that kissing leads to babies… meaning that once you open that door, you put yourself on a downward slide of more compromising behaviors. I am lucky to have such a wise and Godly father who has been able to guide me down this winding road and has set me up for success to avoid the same traps that he experienced, and I am forever greatful for that. I have been fortunate enough to read books by great Christian authors on dating by Biblical standards as well as on girls and what they want deep down inside. These have given me a different perspective on what God wants and what girls want. At times I feel like I am hopelessly alone in my convictions and wonder if I am doing the right thing; but I am continuously encouraged by older men’s stories, along with young men in college, encouraging me keep up my resolve.
It may sound like I am against dating, but I am most definitely not. I just feel that before you fall head over heels for a girl and start dating, just because she makes you feel good and is hot, you need to take a few weeks or even a month or two to let the infatuation wear off and pursue a friendship instead. This doesn’t mean you can’t like her; it just means that you should make wise decisions. When you do finally begin to date, make sure to set clear goals and boundaries and never throw your relationship with God to the wayside. Also, try your best to not fall into the trap of physical entanglement; because I bet if you ask your dad or one of his friends if they regret being sexually active or promiscuous in high school, every one of them would answer with a whole-hearted yes. It’s not worth a world full of heartache for a few moments of an emotional high. Again, I am not against dating in high school; I just encourage everyone to be very methodical in choosing a person and in beginning a dating relationship.
Today I feel entitled. Yeah yeah, I know; that’s what they all say about my generation. They say it’s because we’ve been given too many “participation” trophies, too much praise, we’ve been coddled too much, and not challenged enough. Well regardless of whose fault that is, today I feel entitled.
I feel entitled to a great job, to lots of great friends who like to have adventures, to the good life, and a good wife, and the American dream. And if I have to wait for those things, could You at least give me a hot date and a championship for the “Dawgs?” Man, I’ve been waiting for a while now. I’ve suffered the pain of rejection and spent a nice chunk of my life on the outside looking in. Come on, please? I’m not asking for anything impossible here. You are God. You can do anything and You told me to ask. I’ve been waiting, man. I’ve even incorporated You into my wish-list. I really want this job to help the Kingdom flourish. I want the girl that’s beautiful and loves You. I’m not asking to live in Johns Creek. I’d just like to have enoughh money to go to some Georgia games and give to my favorite ministries. You know I’m not going to sell You out for the world. I’d just like to have You plus the world. I want the party on Friday, the date on Saturday, and church on Sunday. Come on, God! I’ve been in the field most of the day, and you gave the folks who showed up an hour ago the same as me? Why does it feel like everyone else got a balloon and I didn’t? Everybody else got a cherry on their milkshake; why didn’t I? We’re both equally undeserving; so why them and not me? Haven’t I been through enough disappointment to justify a few blessings?
Oh, what’s that You say? You have blessed me? It’s true. You did send Jesus to die for the salvation of my soul. That should be enough; but as long as You’re handing out bonuses, I want in on them! What have You done for me lately? Ah yes, You did provide my first car, not too long ago. But everyone else had one in high school. Oh, but that’s not it, You say? You’ve given me a life with two “cherries” on top? True, my parents aren’t divorced and my family isn’t “broken.” I come from a middle class family, putting me in the global 5%. I’m healthy, I’m talented, and I graduated with honors from the University of Georgia, which, when added together, is essentially a ticket into the global 1%. I’m a member of the most privileged demographic in world history; plus, You decided to save me.
I did get a milkshake with two “cherries” on top and yet I’m complaining about all the people sitting next to me who got three. To the world, I must look like a millionaire complaining he’s not a billionaire. Yet You still love me unconditionally. David McNeely preached about God asking him, “If you had a choice between having a brand new house without Me, and a rundown house with Me, what would you choose?” Well I want the nice house; but isn’t it true that who you share the house with matters more than the house itself? Plus, You’ve given me a good house. The problem is, I feel entitled to a great house. Can I be satisfied if You decide it’s better for me to have ‘good enough?’ You won’t cheat me, and You’ll always provide what I need to live. Do I trust that You alone are enough?
I know there’s nothing wrong with wanting or desiring all the things I wrote about; and I’m beginning to think the grass is often greener on the other side because I keep watering it. Maybe there’s a difference between desiring and deserving. I’ve crossed that line and I’m sorry, God. Please rescue me; because today I feel entitled.