Freedom Year

Freedom Year
On September 12, 2008 something happened to me.  My whole life changed.  Not only my physical health, but my worldview as well.  Not only my goals in life, but my desires as well.  I became a Christian in a very interesting way.
I was in a dorm room with my college girlfriend.  It was in the evening and we had been fighting all week with each other.  She had slapped me in the face, and I had broken her heart.  The pain was real.  My sin became real.  I realized that I was addicted to a hedonistic lifestyle, and I was beginning to go cold turkey from tobacco and alcohol products.  I prayed for salvation that night after crying and shaking for an hour.  I couldn’t go on living my normal life.  I realized for the first time that I was a sinner with a huge need that no earthly pleasure could satisfy.
When I woke up the next day and each day thereafter that week I felt alive.  I could see colors more vividly, and all of a sudden I was surprised with the amount of love and kindness that I felt towards strangers and people close to me.
My life started to be rearranged around new routines like church and worship times at the local college ministries.  I began to devour the Bible.  I seriously read the Bible every day everywhere I went.  Lunch break, in the car, on my bed, in the cyber café at school.  I wanted to learn everything.  I began to be conformed to a new image.  There were some downsides to being a new Christian if I can be honest.  I was naturally defensive and judgmental towards my former friends and colleagues/teammates.  I was naturally withdrawing from social situations because of my fear of temptations.  I began to have nightmares of my past sins, and dwelling on those daily perpetuated the problem.
I began to battle in prayer, and those habits slowly faded as I matured and rebuilt friendships and relationships around the new me.
Years passed.  Now it’s been 7 years.  I want to call it my year of Freedom. I’m celebrating my freedom now.  I’m resting this year by pursuing my heart’s desires in music and relationships.  I’ve had plenty of struggles since then, and I’ve never been perfect, but this year I have learned so much about forgiving myself and forgiving others.
Here are some amazing events that happened these past few years as a Christ follower:
1. Ministered to thousands of people in Spanish and English all over the globe
2. Ministered to my own family whenever I saw a chance and saw my friends become Christians
3. Studied for 2.5 years in seminary
4. Led a men’s ministry and multiple bible studies
5. Began to build a music based ministry
Http://www.soundcloud.com/onepilgrim
6. Served as an FCA sponsor for 4+ years
7. Learned that God’s grace is sufficient for all of my needs
8. Became the head swim coach for a state ranked high school team for 3 years
9. Competed nationally in military armed drill against West Point and Texas A&M
10. Opened the stage for the Christian rap legend R-Swift.
Honestly,  there are so many stories I could share about miraculous events that have happened in my life.  I think that every day that I wake up sober and happy is a miracle.
I praise God for these past 7 years.  My little blog post doesn’t do Him justice.  My life is not even enough to give him the fullness of his glory, but he lets me follow him anyways.
Just know it’s all grace upon grace upon grace from your friend, Pilgrim.

This photo is from when I was an Army ROTC cadet on a National Collegiate Drill Team called the “Blue Ridge Rifles”.  This photo was taken a month after I became a Christian.

new08

Advertisements

Sometimes

Sometimes I just need to write.  More than 140 characters would be nice.  Right now I’m remembering how I used to write for therapy.  I deleted all of those posts when I deleted my MySpace account about 7 years ago haha!  But  it’s time to do it again, ya know?

So what I do is put on music and write.  Just write.  Just bleed on this pixelated paper.  Okay that was deep right?  Well anyways I’m just flowing right now and whatever comes out comes out.

I mean…I’m still being careful to choose uplifting words.  I never want to be the downer, and I know myself with Jesus makes me full of happiness and peace.  With Jesus…

Lately he’s been showing me not to strive anymore.  Stop fighting so hard to gain the world.  It’s so easy to lose your soul.

Well…I’m clocking out.  Be back soon homies.  I love you.

The World Cup, a Rooster, and the Gospel

The world cup, a rooster, and the gospel.

I was sitting in a humble house in Central America. It was more like a shack according to U.S. standards, and I began to think about how to describe it and capture the moment in words.
I was sitting in a plastic chair a.k.a. decent furniture when a faint smell floated through the open door as the pre-rain winds began to blow. It reminded me of every Latin American home I’ve ever visited. It was not strange to hear the rooster crow outside the front door or to see a mangy puppy sleeping on the front porch. It felt like home to me strangely enough. So as the rain began to hit the sheet metal roof I noticed that it wasn’t leaking which was my first concern as I saw the rain clouds coming. But on the other hand as the weather grew worse the T.V. satellite signal blanked out. You see, I had been invited to watch La Copa Mundial at a local neighborhood house. This was a special occasion seeing as after three years of visiting Honduras I had never been invited to enter the modest properties of the local people. Arnold and Javi are two young boys who live in this small wooden house where the bathroom is outside and the street is made of dirt and rocks. They invited me and two of my American friends, Wes and Elijah, so we bought a 3 liter Pepsi, cookies and chips to celebrate our little house party. Their father also named Javier and our bodyguard/friend Juanca sat in with us as well as we watched Germany defeat Argentina in extra time. It was a blessing to simply sit and talk about soccer and nothing at all really in Spanish. It’s the simple things that matter the most you know. That’s why spending time with people helps build a long lasting friendship, and that was what we were doing there. Because you see, Javi and Arnold continue to come to Bible Club every week and continue to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ thanks to the ministry of the missionaries known as Doña Vicky and Don Alan. What a blessing it is to see children interested in learning about God! And hopefully our little visit made an impact that will help continue the long lasting connections which in turn will open up opportunities to spread the Gospel thru word of mouth and example.

Summary:
This summer I spent 4 weeks in La Ceiba, Honduras. That means I had 4 weeks to make a difference in someone else’s life. That also means that I have 48 other weeks to make a difference in my home country.
What I learned this summer was that mission work is hard and secondly that people don’t need handouts. They need friends. They need someone to buy their meal sure, but also they need you to sit with them and talk about Jesus. Are you willing to do that today American Christian? To break out of your solo world to sit and talk to a stranger or a neighbor about Jesus Christ? You think you are socially networked but you are not. You think you are real, but you are mostly digital now and the only real is the sin in your life and the pain of death knocking at your door as you grow older. But you can change that by prayer and petition to God. Be transformed by the renewal of your mind! Oh Holy Spirit come and make our friendships real and make us people persons again. Amen!

Live, Laugh, Obey

Below is an excerpt from a sermon manuscript that I wrote as a final exam grade at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  I hope that it would encourage you and help you to grow deeper in your love for Jesus Christ. – Pilgrim

Good morning!  Let’s open to the letter of Second John, in between First John and Third John and we will begin our reading of the Scriptures in chapter one verses 4-6. “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us.  And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another.  And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”

What is love?  A question we can all answer in our own special way.  A question posed by one of the most popular international songs of the 90’s by the artist Haddaway saying, “What is love?  Baby, don’t hurt me.  Don’t hurt me no more.”  Many of us by the age of 18 have experienced heartbreak in what we felt was love or something like it.  Many of us by the age of 25 have lost a loved one and it grieved us deeply.  Many of us by the age of 40 have married and invested in a loving relationship only to see it collapse under the weight of divorce or disease or a variety of other factors.  And yet there are those of us who do not know what love is at all.  Our hearts are cold and numb to the idea of caring for someone or being cared for by someone else.  And this is a tragic thing.  Is love a feeling or an action some may ask.  As we dig into John’s letter today we will see that the answer is “Yes!”; it is both emotion and action.  We will see that love is knowing God and that knowing God is following his commands in the Scriptures.

In the letter John writes to a Christian woman most likely because of her name in Greek.  Some say that it may be a nickname for a church body, but most likely he is writing to a person who is connected to a church body.  He starts in verse 4 saying that he is joyful to hear about the young ones growing in their faith and walking in the truth.  In our community today we have major access to the truth and many of you here have your children in our kids’ classes learning more and more about the truth.  You even take time out of your day to train and disciple your children.  Wow, what a blessing to have a parent that spends time training and developing their children!  You see John knew God’s command was to walk in the truth, so he welcomes this news with joy.  

As we look at this verse today we too must ask ourselves, “Am I walking in the truth?”  I want to clarify that the truth is Jesus whom we proclaim today.  So really we are asking, “Am I walking with Jesus?”  I want to clarify that the teachings of the Bible are truthful and the more we study it the more our lives are covered in it.  Walking in the truth of the Scripture and walking with Jesus is like stepping in a rain puddle and splashing around.  Except you are excited about it like a kid again!  You choose to step in it and immerse yourself in it because instead of muddying you up it actually cleanses you and refreshes your mind.  It noticeably changes you from head to toe and people around you wonder where it all came from.  The benefit of this is that our lives begin to change and we are filled with joy because the deeper we know Jesus the more we can impact the world around us for him.  You see it enables us to understand and follow God’s commands which in the end fill us with joy and peace and life.    

Looking at verse 5 we see that John introduces the command to love one another, but he emphasizes that it was not new or different from before.  Jesus once said that the two greatest commandments are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and secondly to love your neighbor as yourself.  So how do we do that?  These verses do not carry much weight with us if we do not answer the question, “So what?”.  First we must start with God and see that he loved us first before we could ever love him.  The song “Jesus Loves Me” is so accurate and so theologically profound that every child should grow up learning it no matter how simple it is.  As we go out with this knowledge of God loving us from the very beginning of creation, from the days of the Israelites and the days of Jesus to the days of the early Christians to the days of the medieval Christians to the days of the Protestant Christians to the days of Christians fifty years ago and up to now God has been showing his love towards us by patiently saving us each and everyday from the judgment to come!  So what do we do with that knowledge?  We begin to live our lives centered around serving Christ by serving other people, but let me stress that this does not mean that you let yourself decay because you do not rest and your family decay because of your absence or neglect.  No this means that whenever possible and with sound judgment you step out of your way to sacrifice time, money, talents, etc. to make a difference for the kingdom of God!  

A photo I saw recently by a Christian artist named Andy Mineo had a quote in it that said, “A friend once told me, ‘Here’s how I know humanity is fallen.  The things that shouldn’t surprise us do (sin, failure, people’s mistakes).  And the thing that SHOULD surprise us every time we think about it often doesn’t(God’s love for us in spite of our failures).’”  What I mean by that is that true “agape” love does not come naturally, and our recognition of God’s love is only because we are awakened to see it when we are saved from sin.  When we start to see God and know God we are able to help a stranger in need.  We are able to bring people back to life from their darkest moments.  When they are caught up in adultery or pornography we forgive them and counsel them on how to flee from lust.  When they are verbally abusive to their husbands or wives we are able to counsel them on self-control and anger management.  When we ourselves hold regrets deep in our hearts and cannot seem to forget our mistakes of the past we are able to confess them and be free from them.  We are able to look past people’s mistakes and drop our grudges.  WE ARE ABLE TO FORGIVE WHAT SEEMS UNFORGIVABLE!  God’s love is the motivator then for our obedience.

As we come to the last verse we see that John emphasized that love is obedience and obedience is love.  This seems quizzical, but it makes you think about how we express love towards God.  He’s not here in human form.  You cannot hug him or hold him physically.  You cannot smell him or touch him physically.  But you can speak to him.  You can listen to him.  You can read what he says in the Scriptures.  You can be like Jesus was towards the Father and obey him.  In First John 4:10 it says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  What a statement! It does not contradict the previous statement in verse 6 because what God did was send an obedient Son to love us by following God’s command to go to the cross and die as the atoning sacrifice for our sins!  That was how God said, “I love you!”.

Saying “I love you” is a big step in most relationships.  It is a horrible thing for your words and your actions to be out of sync.  No healthy person says, “I love you” and then abuses the one they love.  A healthy person says, “I love you” and then proceeds to act upon those words as their infinite bond.  They pick you up when you are sick at work.  They stay with you in the hospital.  They hold your hand when you are scared.  They tuck you in at night showing their affection towards you.  They play ball with you and befriend you.  They defend you and brag about you.  Unfortunately sin is what disconnects us from the truth of love.  What can we do to love God more and love people more?  Think on these three simple tasks this week and keep track of them daily for seven days.  See how it makes you feel and how the people around you feel because of it.  Watch how it changes your actions and your thoughts.  Do not just live haphazardly.  Live a life of love on purpose!  These are the three ways to love God and love people more: 1. Study Scriptures. 2. Develop a prayer life with God. 3. Humbly serve others in need around you.  

In the end what is love? It is both an action and a feeling.  It is what God did for us on the cross through his sacrificial act.  It is the emotion we feel when we realize that God’s grace was meant for us!  It is the action we take to better others around us.  It is the emotion we feel when we have a deep sense of appreciation towards others.  “Agape” love is sacrificial love first from God towards us and then from us towards God.  This is a beautiful thing and the way life was meant to be originally.  Lastly, loving God is obeying God.  You must obey God in your response to his love.  It is not an obligatory dreadful thing to love Him.  It is something you must rejoice in even when times are hard and God seems far away.  So this week I want you to try those three things and see how far it will take you.  You won’t regret it.  Let’s pray.

Father, please allow us to experience this love afresh each day.  Let us show up to work and remember that people are hurting.  Let us remember that you experienced hurt for us so that we wouldn’t have to anymore.  Thank you Father God for showing us the way to love like no one else.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

What Kind Of Guy Culture Tells Us To Be And Why Ryan Gosling Isn’t That Great

Gospelistic

I’ve narrowed it down to three different types of guys our culture predominantly tells us we should be like.

Image

The Prolonged Adolescent: The Hangover

The prolonged adolescent is depicted very well in the movie, The Hangover. This guy is, according to Mark Driscoll, “A boy that can shave.” He is a man that is trying to prolong taking responsibility as long as possible so that he can remain young and have fun. Historically, there’s always been two stages in a man’s life; childhood and manhood. This had nothing to do with physical shape. It had to do with responsibility. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” In today’s culture there is this middle stage of life between being a child and…

View original post 1,260 more words

At Summer’s End

Image“For everything there is a season…”(Eccl. 3:1, ESV) says the pensive writer of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament.  What did he mean as he went on to list opposite times for everything we do in this short human life?  Surely I found out some of what he meant this summer.  Nine weeks have passed by at a relatively steady pace with more memories than I care to remember, and I have been observing personal time with the Lord Jesus almost everyday.  I started off with a steady reading of 2 Chronicles, and now I have completed up to Nehemiah.  Prayer also has been refreshing and restoring because for the first time in a long time I have been able to converse with God clearly.

I have also been reading Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  All quotes unless otherwise noted are from this book.  I enjoy this book so much that I feel like I am with Mr. Bonhoeffer in the Nazi prison cell, but I can see the beauty of his freedom in Christ displayed in his letters to his family and friends.  With that being said here are some things I learned and reflected on this summer that by God’s grace I will carry into the next year of teaching, learning, and serving the Lord.

1. “The wish to be independent in everything is false pride.” – Solitude, true solitude, is very good for a season, but time spent in fellowship with others and learning to share burdens with others is a part of living in Christian community.  It is also an evidence of salvation that we would love our fellow Christians and not forsake meeting together weekly.  And hopefully more than just Sunday.

2.  Rest.  Rest is necessary for survival, and every good soldier knows when to sleep.  I devoted this summer to recuperating, renewing, and restoring my mind and body back to full capacity.  Partly by recreation and partly by relaxation.  The word blessing sometimes feels inadequate to describe the freedoms I have tasted and the miraculous provision of God these past few weeks.

3. “It is presumptuous to want to have everything at once” and “But gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.  The beauties of the past are borne, not as a thorn in the flesh, but as a precious gift in themselves.” – this one is for multiple people I met this summer during ministry events and mission work.  The times we had together were valuable; the conversations enduring.  The lessons I learned from you and because of you were in a sense “eternal” because they pointed me back to the Scriptures and trust in the Father.  I am thankful for you and because of your friendship.  Thank you.

4. Lastly, I am now confidently in my calling.  The process was sometimes arduous to get here, and more often than not the path was unsure, but each decision led to this moment as I go back to work with my students, co-workers, and fellow seminary companions.  I have become a young minister, and my thoughts seem more like the Lord’s thoughts each day though not without the setbacks and challenges of the flesh of course.  This is not the end though, but rather a time to rejoice now that my personal valleys are finished for a season.

On a final note about being called I would like to say that the truth is we don’t even know what will happen tomorrow, so I can’t predict anything except for what’s happening right now.  God lays certain skills and tasks and opportunities in front of us to complete.  Right now I will try to complete seminary, but in the future other doors may open to the mission field full time. We shall see.  Until then though let’s carry on together, and I hope you will continue to walk along with me down pilgrims’ tracks.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Letters and Papers from Prison. New York: Macmillan, 1972. Print.

One Week After Honduras

One week after being in Honduras for a second time I have come to realize a few things that have very little to do with missions or Honduras ironically enough, so hopefully you will forgive my cryptic ramblings:Image

1. Life does not flash before your eyes when you die, but rather while you are still living.

I can barely remember my time there currently because to be honest I was distracted daily to no end.  Surely God was testing me to see if I would give Him everything even under intense emotional pressure. Genesis 22 comes to mind.  We faithfully did the work we were called to do during the 8 days in country, but I feel that we only broke the surface of true lasting relationships.  Because of that my confession is that I cannot bear personally to go on another 1 week trip.  I’d rather go for a longer stay next time is what I’m trying to say.  Don’t get me wrong though.  There is still a place and a reason for quality short term mission trips in the church life, but my personal calling is for long term and I am going to steer towards that as the next years of my life carry on.

2.  Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.
Enough said about that.  Especially dangerous on mission trips when you are far from home.

3. Shulammite is an incredible name(perhaps derived from Jerusalemite, or from Salem the word for peace in Hebrew), but few women live up to that standard of faithfulness in this day and age. Song of Songs 6:13

4. “Don’t waste your life” and “Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.”

We all have within our daily choices the ability to turn back to God in reverential fear, humble repentance, and courageously unabashed candor.  Don’t waste time wondering about what ifs and “coulda shoulda wouldas”.  Life is more than your personal satisfaction all of the time.

5. Lastly- “The sweet is never as sweet without the bitter” and “Es tan corto el amor y tan largo el olvido”

Most of us can admit that we know the exquisite pain of the bitter trials in this life, but what great hope we have that there will no longer be any pain or regret in heaven when all of our faculties are consumed by Jesus’ glorious wonders and power.

That’s the only thing that gets me through some days – the promise of reward on the other side of this life.

Yours truly,
Pilgrim