Thursday, September 30, 2010

Peace is only a Piece

     The past couple of days/weeks have been filled with trials, due to circumstances that I won't go into or dwell on. Needless to say, it has left me exhausted physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I haven't really blogged much because either I didn't feel inspired or didn't want to write anything that didn't have a happy, care-free tone to it. Which I realize now goes completely against what I said when starting this blog: that I didn't want it to become a part of any kind of "beauty contest." It's important to remember that it is okay to not be okay, and it is more than okay to be transparent about it. I was reading the Word of God for some comfort and strength when I came across this verse:

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid."
- John 14:27

     It got me to thinking: what is peace? What does it mean to receive peace from God? Surely it doesn't mean peace in the sense of the absence of war or conflict, because Christ said he did not come to bring that type of peace in Matthew 10:34. In fact, He says he came to "bring a sword" and to "set a man against his father." We know that Christ does not prevent us from having battles; He equips us and prepares us for them. So the word "peace" in this context should (and does) shout out at us as an important term. He does, after all, refer to it as the gift He is leaving us; something the world cannot give us.
     To find this answer I looked at the Hebrew word Christ uses when He refers to the peace He is leaving us. It turned out to be shalom. So I looked up shalom in Strong's Concordance, and these are the definitions it gave: completeness, wholeness, health, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.....and peace. The Hebrew root of shalom is shalam, meaning to be safe or complete. 
     Isn't that amazing, wonderful, and beautiful? Christ's gift to us is completeness, wholeness, welfare, etc. He says in this verse that the world cannot give us these things. When we try to use things on Earth to make us whole or complete or safe, we are let down, broken, and disappointed 100% of the time. Which is where I (and just about everyone) find myself: broken. Why? Because I've allowed myself to depend on things of this world for happiness and completeness - finances, friends, academics, family, relationships, etc. Most of these are established by God and are definitely good and are meant to enrich our lives, but are not meant to make us whole or complete. When any of the things of this world that we turn into strongholds (or a combination of them) start to hit a rough spot (and they most certainly will), it can be completely devastating and stressful. Even if they are all going smoothly, they will never be enough. There will always be an emptiness and dissatisfaction within us. We will always want more. There is only one love that can satisfy us and make us complete, whole, and right with God: Christ. If we allow Christ to be our stronghold and trust Him as the mighty rock that He is, He will never ever disappoint us. His love endures forever.
     The things in this world that we depend on can do many things for us, and may even give us feelings of peace and happiness. Friendships and relationships are beautiful, God-given gifts in our lives and can help us ease our burdens and grow. But what in this world, when faced with the attacks of Satan, stands a chance? What in this world can keep us safe from his spiritual warfare? 
     There is only one name that can make Satan quiver and flee: Christ. If we rebuke Satan in Christ's name, he will flee 100% of the time. We will be protected and safe. The peace that God gives us is not the elimination of trials, conflict, or trouble, it is the guarantee that when those times come we will come out of them remaining complete, whole, and in the safety of God's righteous and loving arms. This is confirmed and reassured to us later by Christ when He says to His disciples:

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
- John 16:33

     Again, we see Christ referring to achieving peace in Him. Completeness in Him, wholeness in Him, perfection in Him, well-being in Him, protection in Him, and safety in Him. Shalom in Him, and Him alone. Peace may be the best translation of what Jesus is saying, but it is truly only a piece of His gift to us. It is okay to be going through troubles, and it is okay to not be okay. Christ foretold of all of the troubles we are going through, and desperately wants to be the peace that we live in through it all. He knows that the world cannot complete us and lead us to the life we were meant to have. He loves us so much and wants to guide us to the path of righteousness. He does all this yes, for the glory of God and so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:13), but also for our own good and so that we may have life. Jesus states (again, in the gospel of John): "I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)"
     We have all heard the expression "live life to the fullest." And especially in times of trouble, that's what we wish we could do. Christ came to fulfill that in our lives. He came so that we could live life to the fullest! We can only achieve that through Him. We need His peace, His completion of our lives, His wholeness in our beings, and His protection. So if you find yourself in that low place, broken and discouraged, take heart! Christ has overcome this world and all the troubles in it. He has brought you His peace so that you may have life to the fullest extent. He is so good.

in His grip,

Monday, September 6, 2010

No Such Thing

     For those that do not know, I am graduating in December (God willing), and to be quite honest, it is kinda scary.  Nothing is certain as far as having a job or a plan or what exactly I am going to do. All I know is that I want to get married and I want to answer a calling from God to go into medicine and use it for His glory. That is really all I know. Part of me is unsettled and uncomfortable because I don't know exactly what I'm going to be doing in January (or even the next January).
     What I've discovered, though, over the past few weeks is that it is okay to be uncomfortable and unsettled and not know for sure what is going to happen next. In fact, it's better to not know and to trust God fully with your life and your future. Otherwise, you risk becoming so confident that you are doing what you are meant to do that you may not feel like you even need God to guide you or come through for you or provide for you. I know this seems perhaps a little reckless and irresponsible, but bare with me.
     I was listening to "No Such Thing" by John Mayer yesterday and it really hit home. Not only that, but I feel like the song really touches on some of the pressures that are placed on us by society and those who believe to have our best interest in mind. Now I may be way off from what this song is really trying to get at, but this is just what it spoke to me. It begins with this:

"'Welcome to the real world', she said to me
Take a seat
Take your life
Plot it out in black and white"

     Now isn't this what we are told by everyone growing up? Plan out your life, start thinking about what you want to do, start preparing for this and that. Now, I'm not saying we should grow up without a care in the world and not be responsible for our actions and what is coming at us. But hasn't it gone a little too far? I remember when I was in growing up in school and the teachers would say "Now I know this seems strict, but we're just trying to prepare you for the 5th grade, when things are going to be different."
     And then I got to the 5th grade, and the teachers would say "We're just trying to prepare you for middle school. You think this is hard? Middle school is a whole different ballgame." And the middle school teachers would tell us they were trying to prepare us for high school; the high school teachers would be preparing us for college and college professors try to prepare us for "the real world."
     Maybe you did not experience this, and I'm sorry if I falsely assumed that. But are we not pressured starting our freshman year of high school to know everything about what we want to do with our lives? The college we want to go to, the career we want to pursue, etc.? We live in a fast-paced society that treats the education system like an assembly line, where the end of someone's education represents a finished product completely ready to occupy their predestined niche in society and work right away and have a nice, comfortable salary and life. And if not, we've been conditioned to believe that something went wrong. That it's not normal. That the person made some sort of mistake.
     This, I believe, is an obstacle in the face of every individual born in this generation. I also firmly believe that it is a stumbling block in our spiritual lives and in the Kingdom of God itself. The truth is, we don't have to have everything mapped out. We don't have to jump on a track and stay on it for life. We don't have to decide what we want to do for the rest of our lives and who we want to be and where we want to live. We don't have to and we can't.
     Only God can. And he will. God will call you to be someone. He may do it in the form of a loud, resounding wake up call or in the form of a quiet whisper. He may call you by giving you gifts and passions, leading you to use them for His glory. Our Lord is creative and good, and will call you in whichever way He feels necessary. His calling might completely go against everything the world around you is saying. While the world around you is telling you to aim for a job that will pay really well and give you comfort and security, He may (and probably will) call you to a career that doesn't pay as well but better suites your passions and gifts, in order to better further His Kingdom. While the world is screaming at you to save your money and build your savings to achieve financial security, God may (and probably will) call you to live a humble life, giving the money you don't need to the needy and only taking your daily bread (Proverbs 30:8,9).
     While the world screams at you to plan things out and "secure" your future, God begs with you to live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). He wants you to trust Him and fall into His arms and not turn the blessings He has given you (money, family, a job, a house, etc.) into your treasures and your strongholds. He longs to get you to trust Him and praise Him as a Holy God that will never ever leave you empty handed. A God who takes care of the birds, and therefor will take care of you with even greater consideration (Matthew 6:26). A God who will work all things for the good of those who love Him and put faith in Him (Romans 8:28). A God who loves you more than the world and will never let go of you. Another verse in the song goes like this:

"They love to tell you
Stay inside the lines
But something's better
On the other side"

     The world draws lines for us to stay in, but they only lead to more stress and hardly ever produce any fruit. All along, God is on the sidelines calling you to come to Him. To the other side. To something way, way better than the world can ever provide or offer you. He will take care of you and use you to bring glory to Him and establish His Kingdom on Earth.
     I guess what I'm trying to say is that we need to stop worrying about how we're going to make it in the future and just love God with all our hearts and place full trust in Him that He will provide a way for us to succeed in life and in His Kingdom. This semester, I've seen this come true. I wasn't sure I would even be able to return to Shorter University, due to financial strains. But God provided a way through a grant. Doors have been opened for jobs, volunteering opportunities, etc. I am confident that God is watching over me and sending his angels to hold me up each and every day (Psalm 91). After studying the book of James, I have tried to commit to praying with faith. It isn't always easy, but God always comes through in some shape or form. He is continuously freeing me from anxiety and outside pressures, and He is just as present for you as He is for me. He loves you and He has everything under His perfect control.

in His grip,
Zack Akvan

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Praying With Faith

     One of the most important, crucial components of a believer's relationship with the LORD is prayer. Prayer, however, is the subject of so much criticism and frustration. Countless Christians (and non-believers) challenge the power of prayer when they don't feel like their prayer was answered or that they received what they asked for. Many will question the faithfulness of God. After all, Jesus did say that if we ask anything in His name, He will do it (John 14:14).
     So why, then, do we feel like our prayers are not answered? That our prayers do not have power? I just finished studying the book of James and one concept I learned from it is the ridding of doubt from prayer. Doubt is one of the biggest obstacles to effective prayer. James states in his letter:
"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord." - JAMES 1:5-7
     When we approach God with our requests, we have to believe that He can fulfill them. Sometimes, we ask but do not receive because we do not trust or believe that we will receive. God deserves better than that! We have to have faith in Him. If we ask from God with doubts in our hearts, we insult His majesty and sovereignty. Before God can fulfill our requests, we have to show Him that we are truly following Him and willing to rely on Him for everything. We not only have to give him our requests, we have to trust him with our requests. Trust requires faith. Prayer needs to be our first response to tribulation, rather than our last resort. James reaffirms the power of a faithful prayer later on in his letter:
"The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up..... the effective prayer of a righteous person has great power." - JAMES 5:15,16b
     When we pray with faith, miracles can happen. We have to have faith in God. And in addition to that, we have to have faith in ourselves. We are, after all, empowered by Christ and the Holy Spirit to do all things through Him. Christ tells us this in the Gospel according to Luke:
"Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you." - LUKE 10:19
     The power of Christ is within us! We have the power and the authority to do all things through Him! This is very important to remember. It's said all the time: you cannot love anyone until you can love yourself. I have found this to be very true. And it is perhaps most true with our relationship with God. Part of the reason we have trouble believing in what God can do through us is that we have lost confidence in ourselves. We not only have to believe in God, but also ourselves because we are the vessel by which Christ lives and works on this Earth. In John, Christ reiterates the power we have when we have faith in Him:
"I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." - JOHN 14:12
     We know that Christ did miraculous things on Earth. But are we ready to believe that we could do those same things through faith in Him? Do we believe that we can do greater things through Him? I know I am guilty of doubting the strength that I have through Christ Jesus. Christ says that the signs that accompany those who believe Him are the ability to heal the sick, cast out demons, and speak in tongues (Mark 16:17-18). Christ has so much faith in us. It's time that we buckle down and believe in ourselves, and the power of Christ within us.
     We quote all the time that we can do anything through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13), but do we really believe it? Are we moving mountains with our faith or being tossed by the ocean of our doubt? Do not be afraid of anything, brothers and sisters. Do not think twice. God is with you and will strengthen you. With Christ in you and the Father above you and the Spirit around you nothing can stop you. You can heal the sick. You can cast out Satan.
     You can do anything through Christ. And Christ can and will do anything for you. He loves you more than you know.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Medical Missions 2010: Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico

       I had the blessing and the honor of serving our God in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico. Sinaloa is a nation roughly the size of Tennessee, but sadly only has about 33 churches. Under the leadership of Marco Vallejo, whom we had the awesome opportunity to serve with and live with for the week, each of these 33 churches are establishing “missions,” which hope to become fully functioning churches within 3 years.
       Throughout the week we set up 4 free clinics, mostly at the mission churches. The goal had two parts: (1) to heal the sick, both physically and spiritually, and (2) to attract and invite people to the mission churches who may not even go near the church otherwise.
       Most of the people of Sinaloa cannot afford proper healthcare or even the simple over-the-counter medications that they need. Countless people said to us that they knew that they needed to see the doctor but could not afford it. Fortunately, we were able to give everyone who came something that they could use to help ease their pain and suffering, but it came more and more evident to me as the week went on that it really wasn’t at all about what we could provide these people.
       It was about what God, the Great Physician, could supply them. God reveals to us in Psalm 41:3 that he will “sustain [His children] on [their] sickbed” and “in [their] illness restore [them] to full health.” This is something only the LORD can promise. No matter how many vitamins, antibiotics, and pain relievers we supplied these people, nothing could ever compare to the healing and loving nature of our God. And so, we made it an effort to pray with and for each patient individually and love on them the way that He loves on us. In the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 10, Jesus sends out the seventy-two and commands them to “heal the sick in [every town] and say to them ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.’” If we were to minister effectively as missionaries and followers of Christ, we needed to not only attempt to heal these people, but to also make an effort to further His kingdom.
       The most memorable moments of this trip were praying with these people. I prayed over more people during that trip than I ever did in my entire life. Some people were more receiptive than others, but I have no doubts that in those moments the kingdom of God was brought nearer to them. One woman came back to me after I prayed over her, asking me to pray again and also for her son. Keep in mind the language barrier. Almost no one who came through our clinics could speak a word of English, and yet they still wanted to hear us pray for them in our language. Another man, after praying with me, thanked me and my whole team for the work we are doing for God and said (in Spanish) that “a prayer made in trust and in faith and in truth is worth more than any medicine the world can provide.” After I heard a friend of mine translate that for me, I was so overwhelmed. This man had suffered from three heart attacks and still believed in the power and faithfullness of God.
       One of the most emotional and memorable events of the trip involved a man named Salvador Lopez, who came to our triage table with pre-heart attack symptoms. He was immediately rushed to our nurse and given some aspirin. There was really nothing we could do for him except give him the little medicine we had, pray for him, and send him to the hospital. I still to this day wonder what would have happened to that man if God had not sent our team to set up that free clinic at that church. He probably would not have gone to the doctor, because he couldn’t afford it. He probably wouldn’t have gone to the hospital because he had no idea what was coming. God may have saved that man’s life that day.
       Aside from the amazing work done through helping their sickness, another part of our clinics was a “vision center.” Where we provided cheap, simple reading glasses for anyone that needed them. We used a Bible to test whether or not the people needed corrective lenses for reading. It hit us mid-way through the week during our reflection time that some people in this world can’t even read their Bible because they cannot see it. I cannot imagine what I would do if I couldn’t see the word and truth of God.
       This trip revolutionized the way I think about my faith, missions (especially through medicine), prayer, and the medical field. It reaffirmed God’s will for my life and reawakened my passions for medicine and ministry. The gospel may have been written 2000 years ago but the world is still the same. There are still countless sick that need healing and lost that need to be found. Christ calls us to reach out to these people and to fill their needs. God challenges us through James that “if a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:15)” It felt so amazing to be apart of a ministry that I felt confident was the will of God. I hope to continue doing His will, through missions, my career, my relationships, my entire being.
       I feel like these scriptures, along with what I have experienced in Los Mochis can be applied to the American church. We often ask why there are so many lost in the world when we build churches and invite them and pray for them. God’s word says that we must fill their needs and love on them and get to know them before they will ever accept our messages of peace and truth. The lost can’t be found without knowing God; they can’t know him until they feel His love; they can’t feel His love until we give it to them; and they won’t accept the love we give them until we get to know them and their needs.
       God is so much greater than we can possibly ever know, and it has been a blessing to share with you a tiny bit of what I saw Him do in Mexico. God bless you!

In His unending love,
Zachary Akvan.

Monday, March 15, 2010


     For those of you who don't know, "hineni" is one of my favorite Hebrew words ever. It means "here am i," and, in its use in the Bible, it is usually associated with surrendering to God. 
"Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?'
      And I said, 'Here am I. Send me!'" - Isaiah (Isaiah 6:8)
"When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, 'Here I am.'" - Exodus 3:4
"But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, 'Abraham! Abraham!' 'Here I am,' he replied." - Genesis 22:11
     You get it. Just as God revamped my understanding of Jeremiah 29:11, He taught me an important lesson in surrendering when I went to the BCM summer missions interview weekend. It was such an emotionally, spiritually, and physically exhausting experience, but one of the best of my life. Someone actually told me that exact same thing right before I left, and I remember thinking... Really? Exhausting? How? I already know where I want to go. There isn't much to it.
     I was very wrong. For those who aren't familiar with the process, you basically show up and divide up into groups. Its kinda like a group interview, if you've ever done one of those. Every group has a leader, and the leader's goal is to get to know everyone in the group as well as they can so that they can discern the best, most God-inspired mission to assign them to. Most of the "interviews" are done as a group, like ice-breaker questions that relate to your background, personality, and passions. There is also a one-on-one interview with the group leader that helps finalize your preferences- a list of 8 missions the interviewee feels called to go to in order of preference. There is also a box that you can check that indicates that despite your preferences, you are willing to serve anywhere.
     I made the mistake of going with the attitude and mindset that I already knew where God wanted me to go, and so I never planned on checking that box, even though our group leaders encouraged us to do so. As the day went on and I had more time to pray about it, the conviction started settling in. I started trying to justify my choice to limit my preferences. Things like... I need a job over the summer and so I can't go on most of the trips. Or that I am a pre-med major so it's obvious that I need to go on a medical trip. Or the thought of my parents not supporting it if it wasn't a medical trip. I was writing all this to God in my journal when I heard His voice almost audibly say something along the lines of... Drop all you have and follow me. Am I not your God who knows your needs and where you should go?
     Now, I don't want you to think I am crazy. And this may have just been the Spirit guiding my thoughts. But  whatever it was, it was enough to wake me up. What was I doing by submitting a preference sheet that only allowed me to be assigned to one of four mission trips, all of which were medical? I was (1) limiting myself, (2) telling God that I don't trust Him with my summer (or my life, essentially), and (3) telling God that I would love to serve Him, but only if I could be sent to those four places. How proud and unfaithful was that of me? Very.
     God knows my gifts and my talents. He knows where I will succeed and sew seed. He knows what I need in order to serve Him. And if I need a job, He'll provide a way for that to happen. If my assignment takes up most of my summer, then clearly it means that getting a job is (A) not necessary this summer to prepare for the life He has in mind for me and (B) is not as important to Him as me serving Him in a place of need.
     And so I said to my God, Hineni, and searched for additional trips to fill my preference sheet of 8 and indicated that I would serve anywhere. And at the closing service, which was SO beautiful, I placed it on the wall with the others that picked my number one choice, drove back to Rome, hopped out of the car and waited for the call. I was glued to my phone all night and all morning the next day, anxiously waiting for the call that would let me know of my assignment. Kaitlin and I took Isaiah (our loppy-eared rabbit) to the park and played parcheesi while we waited. It was a gorgeous day.
     Ironically, I missed my call because my phone had been on vibrate the whole time. I found out my assignment through Kaitlin when she got her call. I was assigned to Los Mochis, Mexico. There, I will spend a week of my summer setting up medical clinics, sharing the gospel with villagers, and educating them about health.
     I am so stoked. =]

In Christ Alone,

Monday, March 1, 2010

I Know the Plans I Have for You, So Come and Get 'Em

     For the longest time (and by that I mean... a little over two years?) I have considered Jeremiah 29:11 my favorite Bible verse. Over the past couple of months I have experienced so much life-changing scripture that it's hard to imagine choosing one as my favorite. But anyway, that doesn't really matter. I think that, for the most part, people tend to only pay attention to the first part of this verse (myself included), and don't realize the beauty and meaning behind the scripture that follows it. The Lord has convicted me and changed me recently through studying it deeper. Jeremiah 29:11-13 reads:
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."  (NIV)  
"For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me." (NLT)
     I think all to often I have looked at Jeremiah 29:11 for comfort and have taken it for granted. But just because God knows the good plans that He has for me doesn't necessarily mean that no matter what I do and how I act, that my future will be amazing and glorious if I call myself a Christian. God definitely presents a promise to claim: that He will listen to us and provide us with all the hope and prosperity we need. God also, however, delivers a command to obey. We must seek him with all of our hearts.
     As nerdy as this sounds, I first began to understand this in my Anatomy & Physiology II class when my professor was briefly discussing immunology. Our immune system is amazing. Really, it is. Basically, the immune system hinges on the concept of recognizing self vs. non-self. The immune system must be able to recognize what is not you, so that it can attack it (if necessary) and your body's health can prosper. It also must be able to recognize what IS you, so that it does not harm you. Your immune system equips you with the capability to destroy/prevent anything that can potentially cause you harm. Theoretically, everyone has the potential to live amazing and healthy lives without ever getting sick. Those are the "plans" the immune system has for you. But we do get sick. Everyone gets sick. The problem is, the immune system can only do so much for us; we have to do the rest. We have to take care of ourselves and be responsible. If we get sick because we're not taking care of ourselves and getting the vitamins/nourishment we need, can we really blame our immune system? This may sound dumb, but there is a point.
     The truth is, we can't. No matter how sick we are, the immune system is doing everything it can, and, technically, the mechanisms by which it works are still near perfect. The way we do our part to help it is where the imperfection lies. Now granted, there are some genetics involved here, and some people are more susceptible to certain conditions. Not everyone gets sick because they don't take care of their bodies. But anyway, I'm digressing way too much.
     The point is that, yes, God has amazing, wonderful, perfect plans for us. But He's not just going to poof them into our lives. We have to keep our relationship with Him healthy and alive, and take care of His sheep. We have to seek him with our whole heart, and find him. And by finding Him, we find the plans he has for us and it becomes second nature to follow them. His plans are still there no matter what, and they are still perfect no matter what, and they are still ours to claim no matter what.

     Its up to us to fall on our knees, give up all we have, follow Him, and take hold of the amazing purpose and meaning He has for our lives.

P.S. The LORD is sending me to Mexico this summer as a medical missionary. He is so good. More on that later. =]

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's iPod Touch

Bethany College of Missions hosted a contest last week on Twitter. It was really simple. All you had to do was tweet this:

Follow @BCOM_network and RT this + your answer 4 a chance to win an iPod touch: "Where would you do missions?" many times as you wanted. Simple, right? I tweeted about 400 times. Probably closer to 500. All I could think about was getting that iPod touch. Twitter has anti-spam programs, so I couldn't tweet the same answer twice. I'd quickly generate the names of cities and states and countries to put in the answer spot. At first, they were places that I wanted to do missions. Then, places that I thought could use more God. And then, I just started spitting out random answers. Sometimes, for an hour at a time.

The contest ended last Wednesday and the winner was announced on Friday at 2pm. Needless to say, I was anxious to hear the results.

I didn't win. I'm glad.

Did I, at any point in my pointless mass tweeting, ever once seriously think of God and/or missions? The point of the whole contest was to raise interest in mission work, and for people to discover opportunities through BCOM to get plugged into missions. What was my motivation? Was it to bring glory to God and people to hear His calling? Nope. It was an iPod touch.

I have two iPods. I won one from a contest at my school, and the other I got for Christmas. I don't even need an iPod.

But a whole lot of people need God.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

GTEG on death row?

About a month ago, students attending private colleges, like myself, received notification that the Georgia Tuition Equalization Grant was being cut over $100 starting this semester. About a week or so ago, we got an email that the governor has proposed the elimination of the GTEG altogether.

"The state is in a terrible budget situation, revenues are down more than 20 percent, and we looked for anything we could possibly find to cut," Bert Brantley, a spokesman for the governor's office, said. "And GTEG just happened to be one of those things."

Personally, I find this completely appalling and ridiculous. Education should be one of the governments top priorities. However, Brantley says the GTEG is considered a "luxury" that the state can no longer afford. I say bull.

For many students, eliminating the GTEG could mean that they are no longer able to attend the college of their choice. It's about $1000 worth of grants per year, which is a considerable amount of money.

I just think it's sad that the government cuts education when it's in times of financial hardships.

There is so much more I want to say, but being a Christian man, I cannot.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

No One Is Too Lost Or Too Far

I love the book of Isaiah. It's definitely one of my favorite books of the bible, if not my favorite. I just love the way God spoke through Isaiah. I learn so much from his prophecies. The other day I stumbled upon this verse, and it blew me away.

"For the Sovereign Lord,
     who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says:
'I will bring others, too,
     besides my people Israel.' "
-Isaiah 56:8

Maybe I just get excited really easily, but this verse really makes me happy and gives me hope. Hope for people close to me that I fear will never come to see the Father, as well as for those who live in obscure places of the world that have never heard the name of Christ.

Someone I know was once deeply confused and consumed by doubt because she found it hard for a loving and just God to send people who have never heard of Christ to Hell. She even started to look into religions that suggested that multiple saviors arouse in different parts of the world so that everyone would hear the good news. She had so many questions and regrettably, I had very few answers at the time.

She must have found them eventually, because she was baptized this past December.

But that's not the point (even though it's a wonderful and happy occasion, really). I soon dug through the Bible for an answer, because I really wanted to help (and I became curious for the answer myself). Ironically, I stumbled upon the answer in one of the appendixes of my study bible. The timeline. And here is what I find. And I promise I'll come back to that first verse.

You see, before we were given the gift of the Spirit, we had to listen to people that God chose as His prophet. And the lineage of the Spirit can be traced all the way back to when God banished man (and woman) from Eden. And we notice that yes, God sends His messages to the same area. But I don't believe this is because He is selective. I believe that it is because it is the original kingdom of God, where all man came from. The reason we have so many areas of the world that have not heard God's word can be found in the very first pages of the Bible:

"So Cain went out from the LORD's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden."
-Genesis 4:16

Some people, throughout history, chose to be like Cain and leave the Kingdom without bringing the word of God with them. It is really sad that places exist where the LORD is completely unknown, but it is not the fault of God. It is the fault of man. The more I think about it, the only way for God to be clear in His teachings and messages was for Him to be consistent in the area that He sent them. If His Word showed up in random places of the world in random bits and pieces, it would be a close to impossible puzzle to solve. God wasn't being selective, He was being consistent, reliable, and clear. Just as a perfect truth and Love should be.

Isaiah relieves us and blesses us with just how perfect His love is, in that there is hope yet for everyone. For God says that he will bring back the outcasts of Israel. Not only that, but He will bring others, too.

Isn't God amazing?

- Zack

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hitchhiker's Guide To My Conscience

I thought I knew what I wanted to blog today as I was driving up to Rome from my house. But something else completely revamped my thoughts and my day.

So, it was raining and I was taking the ramp onto US 411/Ga State Route 20 towards Rome when I saw a hitchhiker walking along the road. He would wave his thumb out in his direction of preferred travel, and then when the car passed, he would continue his walking. I was next in line. I thought about stopping and giving him a ride, but ultimately just waved at him. All these thoughts popped in my head of stories of criminals acting as hitchhikers and killing/robbing/raping the victims who stopped to help them. I just couldn't trust him no matter how much of me was screaming at me to stop.

And I call myself a Christian? A follower of Christ who strives to mimic His love and courage? As I drove further and further away, it started POURING. All I could think about was this poor man who was walking on this road. But I couldn't bring myself to turning around. I saw the Connect Rome flyer and even daydreamed about reaching out and encouraging him to visit. But those were just thoughts without actions to back them up. All I did was wave.

And it got me to thinking. Even if that man was the worst person on Earth, doesn't Christ encourage us to share His love with people like him, just as we would any other man? If the Spirit was calling me to help this man, I should have trusted that the will of God is perfect and that I would have been protected.

Maybe I'm beating myself up over it too much. But I do think it's sad that society has created a paranoia that makes it hard to trust people who seem like they are in need. Who knows, I could have died tonight thinking I was saving someone from the rain. But on the other hand... I could have extended Christ's loving hand to someone, leading them to the possibility of being saved from death.

- Zack

Thursday, January 21, 2010

There Is Light

If my last post (or should I say first post?) sounded harsh or discouraging towards the world or the church, I apologize. I didn't mean to be, I only meant to express some thoughts I was chewing on. I left out the best and final stop of my "beauty contest" train of thought. The one that inspired me to write.

A few weeks ago, I started attending a church here in Rome called Connect Rome. They met in a bar (Matt, to answer your question, I think if Jesus were to start a church, he would probably try meeting in a bar) on Broad Street on Sunday Mornings, across the street from a non-profit coffee shop they oversee called "The Nest" (all the people who work for the Nest are volunteers, and all the money goes toward the community... every penny). Their goal: to make it simple for the people of Rome to connect to God.

They did. And do. During their first year, 160 people came to Christ.

Starting this year, both the Nest and the Church moved to our mall (to be a more family-friendly environment and to get more revenue for the community outreach programs through the Nest). I have attended three of their services within the past couple months (in three different locations, because they have been in transition). They have been the most incredible and God-inspired worship services I have ever attended.

In the most recent service, the Church opened for the first time in the mall. During the worship service, I kept glancing at the doors, hoping God would inspire others to join in. I was so excited I cried. It was worship in its purest form. Pure joy shouted out to the Lord. 6 people out of the 200 or so entered the service unaware of their need for Christ and left saved by his grace. And it was then, in the midst of it all, that I realized... this is real. This is genuine. This is the body moving. And suddenly, I realized that I hadn't checked the time during the service. I wasn't waiting for it to be over. It wasn't just one ordinary, routine hour of the week.

And suddenly I realized how beautiful church can be when its not caught up in a beauty pageant of sorts.

God is moving. He really is. Through you. Through me. Through the body.

There is light, and there always will be.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Not A Beauty Contest

Shorter College hosts the Miss Shorter Pageant every year. It was last week. I didn't go. I never go. I used to feel bad, but then I got to really thinking about it. I've never really liked beauty pageants. It really doesn't stem from jealousy at all. Being a guy, I never felt the urge to sign up. The idea of a beauty pageant just seems completely judgmental and shallow. I'm not trying to downgrade any winners of beauty pageants. I'm sure you worked hard and deserve your titles. I'm simply not a fan of the system.

I promise theres a point to what I'm saying.

We all know what a beauty pageant is. Typically, there are three areas of judgment: Overall appearance, talent, and personality (correct me if I'm wrong, I've never been to one). When we
look at those three things though... who is anyone to say that one is greater than the other? Aren't we born with our appearance, have our own unique personalities, and have areas we are skilled at and those that we are not? For the most part, these aren't things we can control. It's what makes us who we are.

As long as you are true to yourself, you should never have to consider your traits as "worthy" or "unworthy" of this world. You should never have to compare yourself to others.

Yet, it seems like the more I think about it, a lot of things work like a pageant. Society has this invisible beauty contest in effect, where people feel like they need to have the best looking cars/houses/clothes/bodies/whatever. They have to be the best at what they do and have an attractive personality or risk losing their job. Companies have to top each other with their software and products. Everyone seems to be wrapped up in some beauty contest.

Even the church.

Many times, churches focus on having the biggest and prettiest building, the best praise band/choir, the most members, and a charismatic pastor who gives the best-sounding sermons, says all the right things, and who everyone loves.

But is that what its all about? Would Christ win a modern-day beauty contest? He was hardly ever clean shaven, had bruises and scars, said things that were convicting and unpopular, and He was even considered to be crazy and a heretic by some. His own followers disowned Him and watched Him die a painful, slow death on the cross.

And yet there could never be anyone more beautiful or glorious.

I hope that in my writing, I convey the type of messages that reflect His love and a blog that reflects His beauty rather another attempt at being the sleekest, loudest, most attractive place in the blogsphere.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed and stick around.