Wednesday, May 17, 2006

//Sabbath #14 - 13 February 2006//

Well, I need to make this short. I notice that in past entries when I've set out to do just such a thing, I've failed miserably. But I'm determined; come on, it's 1:30am! This past week I faced the daunting task of overcoming backlash from the micromanaging fiasco of the week prior. But You are amazing, LORD...a few nights up late, a sickness that gradually took hold of me as the week wore on ... but You took care of me. Blessed be the Name of the LORD! So I was tempted from early on in the week and felt the heavy oppressiveness of it upon my soul, but You helped me come into victory by and large. And how my heart is changed! My heart was overjoyed at the lack of sin, but disheartened at the lack of prayer walks! Not mere victory, but spiritual communion -- intimacy was desired. I had quenched my thirst on previous weeks with nightly prayer walks...and now when my soul didn't receive that, it ached! Oh, to become more Your servant! More Your vessel! More Yours, O LORD and Father -- Lord Jesus!

You blessed me most directly with this verse towards the end of the week: "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." [Col. 2:15-17]. That verse came on Friday, I believe. I had been stressed out the entire week and worrying about homegroup, LT, life, classes, tests...and then Thursday came and I awoke and felt completely sick [under the weather] then Thursday afternoon I struggled to finish my teaching. But then at homegroup the worship time was amazing; it was such a blessing and for the first time in the week, I felt Your peace. The next day it was pouring outside and I was miserably sick, but decided I needed to go to class nonetheless. As I was waiting for the bus, there was this guy named Kyle standing there. Now, I'd seen Kyle many times before, but we'd never talked. Long story short, he came to church and he may come to homegroup on Thursday! You encourage me, LORD, even when I really don't deserve it in the least [but as stated before, when do we ever?]. [...]

NOTE: Sorry for the misnumbering. Apparently there were two 'Sabbath #14's -- but I don't care enough to go back and correct the mistake. So, deal with it.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

//Sabbath #14 - 6 February 2006//

What a strange week this last one turned out to be. My opinion of how and where it was going changed several times over. Though the week itself was marked again by a clear and pointed sense of focus. Starting out, I was in a tough spot. On Sunday I was pretty torn up emotionally, that's not particularly visible in my entry from that day. But it was, in fact, the case. I had been plagued that weekend by a sudden attack of loneliness. As previously explained as to why this came about, I was in bad shape on Sunday afternoon. But that night and particularly in core group the next day, I was just confronted with the feeling that You desired for me to surrender myself to You on a deeper and new level. And it was a good and hard feeling simultaneously. I felt myself constantly being emptied and filled by You; a pitcher being poured clean and then filled sweetly overflowing again and again. It was a hard-pressed drunken car ride. Loneliness is a terrible disease. The prayer time on Monday night was a monument to Your grace. I realized in prayer the psalm of my weekend [It was as if I wanted to cry, 'Let the earth swallow me rather than face down my own loneliness!'/ The skeletones of the trees became foreign, the night grew bitter cold/ And I cried out, and in tears called, 'Will You not save me?'/ And then I remembered who You are -- the God of the Universe, the LORD who delights in saving the meek and humble/ You are my strength, O LORD!].

But Tuesday morning awoke with a sense of duty and business to it. I met with Harry and was greatly encouraged and challenged by his fiery heart for You, LORD. Literally, I have seen few people as wired and excited as he is about the gospel. Sadly he hasn't been part of a fellowship. Real fellowship. Then the rest of the week was filled with meetings as well. Wednesday -- Aaron and Nick Adams; Thursday -- Danny. And this is the benefit of hindsight. I realize now that I am micromanaging far too much. Because I overextended myself last week, I had a painfully dry weekend spiritually [a tiresome affair] and a swamped academic schedule awaiting me this week. Again, that is perhaps why this week was a mixed bag of sorts. Thursday night at homegroup I realized I was entirely worn out. I couldn't get a whole lot out of the teaching or worship time for that matter -- I was worn thin.

Thus, changes must be taken to amend this mistake. Though last night we had a grand ol' Super Bowl party that was entirely too much fun...and from what I heard, the girls had an amazing time at their retreat. The pangs of loneliness and awkwardness of love are still stinging. Enough of my emotions though -- it really does seem that our homegroup might go somewhere if we don't bog it down in our human weakness. LORD, we indeed need Your strength. Your focus. I believe I've started the week on the wrong side of the bed, correct my ways. Even now, reflection has aided that blindness.

//Sabbath #13 - 29 January 2006//

Things move. I don't have a terribly long time to journal tonight [which really translates to -- I didn't give myself enough time]. But there's my short summary: things move. They don't stay, they occasionally idle...but eventually move. As Sufjan Stevens sings, 'All things go, all things go...' This week saw the propulsion of the semester a little more into full swing. Thursday I had a good meeting with Mr. Garcia -- he was a little downtrodden a couple weeks back, but this past week he's been doing good spiritually. I lift him up to You, LORD. Friday afternoon I met with Bryan Tabor, much talk of how he's gonna have a busy semester [needs to keep his B's to stay in engineering]. I really do pray and hope that he'll take Discipleship class this semester though. He's much like a new Christian, it's exciting -- but I pray he'll keep striving after You. Jeff is supposed to start meeting with Nick Adams, I'm hoping that happens -- Jeff has grown so much since he's been here, we could really use him in helping out with leadership. This sounds like a very business-like entry, no? It felt somewhat business-like this week. Prayer time on Monday, homegroup on Thursday, Chinese Bible Study on Friday. I don't know, it's not that it was done was more the fact that all felt very organized and structured spiritually. For the better part of the week I felt keenly focused on the end goal and how we as a homegroup needed to get there. The end goal being of course to glorify Your Name.

We moved from the beginning of the week in which everyone seemed a bit anxious and unsure. Colleen was worried about closing their house and moving in, Jeff was stressed about getting an internship for the summer, Desire was facing a hard time emotionally...and then the week moved on and through much prayer many if not all of these trials were rested by You. Tuesday and Wednesday I was somewhat hard-pressed in deciding what You wanted me to teach about in homegroup. Sunday night on a prayer walk I felt that You told me, 'I already told you -- it's all about the child.' [I had asked You to tell me what to speak about]. I mean, generally, I was supposed to talk on 'Experiencing God' -- but there were many categories that were sort of candidates with that [it's a fairly general topic]. Wednesday, I felt You confirm that answer, You called me to talk about how our experiences with You effect our perception of You.

Thursday night, homegroup was a very good time. We had two new kids there -- Harry and Mary [ha!] and then Sonny came! Off all the craziness -- I hadn't seen him in forever! I pray You'll work in his heart so that he'll keep coming. Anyway, that's the short end of it. This weekend I had an emotional breakdown -- a quick one-hour affair. [...] It's also just hard on me with Ben not being here this semester. I didn't realize it until now, I guess he really is one of my best friends, period. There! That was all very un-business-like, if you will.

//Sabbath #12 - 22 January 2006//

What a strange and awkward start to the semester this has been. I knew from the start it would be kind of different [what with Ben being gone and Michelle having her child, and so forth], but just didn't anticipate the feeling of it all. It has been raining off and on since Friday and it's made everything seem a bit dreamscape -- a bit impressionistic. Today Michelle had her Entrustment Ceremony and it was a very, as Laurie Johnson put it, 'bittersweet' time.

Beginning with the previous week, everything has seemed a bit remiss. Monday night before school started we had many individual Pizza and Vision times rather than the normal AMCF-wide time because of remodeling in the gym. So, from the first, all felt kind of strange and anti-climactic. Don't get me wrong -- it was a wonderful time we had nonetheless...but still, it was a bumpy start to the semester. The whole time as all this went on, I was pretty stressed. I had still not been forced into a class I was supposed to be in and it kept nagging me, it was always in the back of my mind the entire week. Somewhere in the week I lost my confidence. I lost my edge. I began to be very self-conscious and subdued; I was trying to help prepare a special song for the rally and all the while try to hold it together. Strangely enough this was another curve I couldn't have seen coming. Sunday night I felt the most spiritually prepared I think I've ever felt for a new semester...and yet here was the first week -- one trial after another. The entire time I just kept wondering who I am and where I'm going. I'm still scared to death of this sudden change in career plans [possibly going on with GCM after school]. I don't know, I'm scared of the insecurity and unsure nature of the future. Actually, a very encouraging thing -- Jordan Castille mentioned off-hand the verse about not worrying about what tomorrow brings [Matthew 6:34] when I told him was so stressed. But nonetheless, everything felt very tentative [Life as it were] this week.

Friday morning I got the e-mail saying that Michelle had her baby...and what a trip! There's always this weird disconnect when it comes to not really comprehending something's existence fully until I see or feel or experience it for myself. It was just a real grounding in reality. Friday night before the party I went to visit Michelle in the hospital. Hospitals are strange places. Everything always feels so subdued and foreign, like entering a tomb. It's as if you enter and you're in this whole other world where people aren't meant to be, and don't necessarily want to be -- but rather have to be. It was a surreal drive through the rain-soaked streets in the dark; then parking, asking the old desk clerk for a room number. What a frightening place! And yet the baby! The infant was wonderful and small and complex and completely, fully, and utterly alive. It was so revealing to see this kid my own age with a child of her own. But ever more wonderful and bewildering was to see the child itself -- fully alive! The homegroup party afterward was fun but somewhat subdued [I enjoy that word tonight]. However, the real joy came on my prayer walk that night. I was walking along feeling somewhat frustrated about how the semester had started [only one new person at the party]...but God answered by turning my attention to what I had seen that day. This living creation, this child had formed from Michelle! He had grown out of her -- and as weird as that sounds, the miracle of God's creation blew me away in my heart of hearts! I was suddenly taken to seeing myself as a newborn, as a fetus in the womb -- 'knit together' as David wrote [Psalm 139: 13]. And all my unecessary worries and dramas left me. I thought of how amazing it is how God has created me and knew me from the start. And loves me because I am. Because I exist!

What an emotionally taxing weekend! I was reminded of Hannah when she gave up Samuel to the LORD for service as a priest...I thought how hard! How crushing that must have been, and yet Hannah stayed true [1 Samuel 1:21-2:11]. What a hard thing! I pray for Michelle over these next couple of weeks especially. I couldn't help but tear up at the Entrustment Ceremony -- what a hard thing! And yet all glory to You, God! Hearing the story of how You brought Dane and Laurie to know Michelle was amazing. You are a good God, who blesses His people. I am in Your hands, we are in Your hands, that child [Stephen Michael] is in Your hands. We need Your strength. Amen, LORD, amen.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

//Sabbath #11 - 29 December 2005//

I am just back from Schertz. So far it has been a very good break [deep sigh and long pause], except for a few hiccups and a couple of days of lost focus [like falling in purity just yesterday; hang my head]. But deeply, and with much sincerity I can say this has been a much needed retreat for me. Spiritually speaking, I found myself again. In the quiet moments, in the moments of nothingness -- all becomes quite clear to me. I have fallen in love with that boat ramp down on the bank of the Comal; I spent many hours there, pacing back and forth in prayer for the coming semester.

To note, this break has seen the return of the Prayer Walk for me. As it was meant to be, rather. I do not mean to say that anything less than these drawn-out times of wrestling is insincere, but rather that sweet times of communion cut short are much less fulfilling for me. As has been a matter of meditation lately -- love takes time. The veritable Relationship takes time. Time to question validity, time to question directions, motives, feelings, desires, needs, etcetera. The Prayer Time strangled in length lacks such an ability to question and consequently an ability to find said answers. Though in the past I have often viewed myself as a man of some patience, it appears I have in fact inherited a bit of the impatient spirit of our times. Prayer needs space, room to feel its way around, search the 'depths of our hearts' as the saying goes. I have had more than a few of these good times of prayer this break and I cannot stress enough the difference felt in my heart. A yearning is renewed in my heart for such time with You. The sweet taste is still on my tongue.

I desire very much to get away once more before school. Perhaps next weekend, a trip to Surfside. I desire to pray for this semester until all feels quite satisfactory, for I dearly wish to not enter this semester having inadequately prayed for it.

The trip to Ben's was a real blessing. To get off 'on my own' as it were was so greatly needed. I was, in all truth, not on my own -- but having such a small group was comforting and the quiet of the road trip was healing. It was also enjoyable riding in the car with Michelle because much like my trip with Desire last spring, I now know Michelle better than I probably could have any other way. Though there are often light-hearted, loving, yet quite meaningless coversations about music and other random matters -- I often crave more substantial talk with individuals to really know them. To know a person truly you must know them spiritually. Not politically, not occupationally, not culturally -- spiritually. To hear someone's testimony and where they are in their relationship with the LORD, that is to know a person. And to return to the aforementioned point, it takes time to get to such a place. One must learn to swim the shallows before proceeding to the ocean. And truly, a person's soul is indeed an ocean, to know the soul and probe its alien depths is to be God [and there is but One].

My father asked me the other night if I had considered going on Staff [working for GCM] after graduation. I said I had not. I am not sure what brought the change in him, in the past I recall him recommending I not do that. I suppose opinions or evaluations change [as do needs]. I guess over time I have grown foreign to the idea -- should I reconsider? I do not know! To me Staff seems something that requires a deep, deep faith in the LORD as a Provider. Perhaps that is where I need to be. I do not believe I have ever had to trust Him so greatly for provisions. Much prayer will be needed. Much.

I am excited and not about this coming semester. I am somewhat shaking in my boots. At times I'm scared, at times not. LORD, You are the Provider. This is off-the-record, but do sincere conversations ever cross the line with unseen undertones? [...] I am not quite sure how that works. [...] I do not evaluate, I merely record for curiosity's sake [or so said the historian]. "I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to seperate us from the love of God that is Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8:37-39).

[NOTE: the '...' edits will not always makes sense from here on in, and for that I apologize. Honesty is one of the greatest virtues -- but love is the greatest, even more so than all spiritual gifts [1 Cor. 13:13]. I feel I am editing certain details on account of my love for individuals. Be assured, these are not shameful details [a la black-outs on declassified documents], but rather are particulars obviously worth noting for my own sake -- but not for your sake at this point. Thanks.]

Monday, May 01, 2006

//Sabbath #10 - 5 December 2005//

It's amazing how special some of the small things in life are to me. It's in the forties tonight, colder than it has been all winter. I'm sitting on the book store floor with a cup of hot cocoa -- and I think, ya know -- I love hot cocoa on a cold night! Particularly when it's close to Christmas and it just feels natural. Haha! The other day I bought Vince Guaraldi Trio's A Charlie Brown Christmas -- and I haven't listened to anything since then. There's something about listening to jazz when it's cold outside. It's almost as if the brushwork on the drums and those meandering piano lines are the winter day, the season.

This past week was a really good one. Honestly, the best week I've had since last week. Especially my meetings. Just when I thought I hardly knew him and had lost closeness with him, Aaron and I had a great meeting on Tuesday. There was a lot more feeling and honesty in that meeting than probably most every other meeting we had this semester. My heart was just in a much better place. Though it was nine in the morning, I was focused and geared to go. Likewise, my meeting with Bryan was really good as well. We went and met down in that old antique park down on the Southside. It was such a good time, and I'm just so encouraged with how well Bryan is doing in reading [and really becoming excited about] the Word. He's nearly done with John now.

Homegroup felt a little awkward on Thursday. Everyone seemed really tired. I could just was this spirit in the place. Oh well, Nick still did a good job on the teaching -- the usual 'Gung-ho! Go get um!' teaching to prepare for the break.

2 Kings has continued to bless me. I am to Hezekiah now; he really is one of my favorite dudes in the Bible. He is the embodiment of a King who is faithful to his LORD. LTT on Sunday night was a real blessing as well. We were talking about the Spiritual Disciplines and I realized how much further I have to grow. How young my faith is. How far I have to go. Memorization and Meditation, Intercessory Prayer, Fasting, Extra-biblical Reading, Giving, Sharing our Faith with Unbelievers. It's always surprising to see how many gaping holes there are in my spiritual maturity. Let me be a man after Your own heart.

Friday, April 14, 2006

//SABBATH #9 - 27 November 2005//

I know this looks a bit strange seeing as how these entries are only supposed to take place every week...and my last entry was three days ago, but if I don't do any entry today, it won't happen until next Sunday.

Looking back on this book, and consequently the semester, I have seen and remembered much. This record makes up for many of the downfalls of my devotional journals. The descriptions are less tedious, less ambiguous and more accurate as to long-term patterns [spiritual trends]. So what is the pattern then?

Definite patterns: A) The semester started off rough. A lot of lost feelings, a lack of feeling 'grounded'. This perception changed thanks to the LORD and the advice of friends [namely some very insightful meetings with Ben and Danny]. B) A fortitude and enduring spirit for working under pressure was developed in me that had not seemed to exist previously. Spiritual health can apparently be had during times of extreme stress. Leadership can apparently be maintained under terribly busy circumstances. However, these long periods of stress will wear on the individual -- particularly if the individual loses his focus on needing the LORD's sustenance in times of diress. On the other hand, if those times of distress wear long, and then suddenly let up, the individual will have a hard time adjusting to this new schedule [as seen in my spiritual doldrums of November]. C) The LORD answers prayers. The LORD listens to concerns and needs as seen in explicit examples. Prayer for our freshmen, for homegroup unity, for more active discipleship, for Danny getting a job, for Michelle finding parents to adopt her child, for Bryan doing better in his grades, for help in looking after homegroup in Nick and Colleen's absence, for Nick and Colleen's wedding, etc.! D) The semester through November slowly descended into unfocused self-destruction somewhere after October and SCW. I began to lose my way; there were fits of action involved of course, but sadly misstepped nonetheless. Sporadic as these better moments were, I personally began to lose the fighting spirit for chasing after the Kingdom ---> possible causes: D1) forgot. The Israelite Syndrome, as we know it. D2) poor spiritual disicipline. Prayer times lost their time slot, quiet times became meaningless practices, D3) priority given to discipleship meetings and true honesty lost. Many of these meetings continued, but were poorly timed, planned and unspirited. D4) boundaries set up against war and purity and general self-indulgence let down. D5) forgot my first love. God. D6) became used to double-faced religion, didn't recognize anymore what seeking God looked like.

E) Began to understand what Spirit-led teachings look like. Began to see that slick, head-knowledge, tongue-in-cheek teachings don't touch the heart, don't reach the homegroup's needs. F) Realized the gravity of leadership and the extreme devotion and infrastructure needed to be an effective leader. G) Saw need to reconcile my sometimes liberal beliefs to Absolutes - to God's absolute's, to Definites - not maybes [as inspired in large part by the Sunday series on the Ten Commandments]. H) Saw renewed need to pursue healthy, loving relationships with the sisters in our homegroup. I) The importance of making effective Spirit-led descision-making in life [refer to my dad's teaching at SCW].

Well, I could go on but I'll end it there. Many of the things were personal - but in them, changes in the homegroup might be inferred as well. The stay at my grandparent's was a glorious success. Quite ironic because it seemed to start off quite horribly. Thanks to a lot of soul searching and reflection I realized how wrong my relationship wtih the LORD had become. Very profound to me was the story of Jehu in 2 Kings Chapter 10. The LORD chooses a leader to purge Israel of the evil family of Ahab and return His people to Him. Jehu is that leader and it seems implied that he started out as a leader after the LORD's own heart and even after the LORD's glory. But as we witness the grisly murders of Ahab's relatives and the priests of Baal, and the destruction of the temple, we are completely let down. Jehu loses his goal somewhere along the way and seeks after politcal gain rather than the LORD; it's a very sad tragedy of sorts. I sadly realized this has mirrored my own loss of focus in the last quarter of the semester. Though I am definitely oversimplifying my slide into mediocrity, it seems okay to be overly critical about a period which holds no endearment for me in the least.

The other night I had one of the best prayer walks I've had in a long time. I realized I had grown distantly cold to the LORD. I had lost the feeling that I desired to serve Him alone. I fully realized how detrimental this hipocritical faith had been on my ability to see, hear, and feel God. Though the night was extraordinary, the farm black-and-white relief under paper-cut stars, I felt lost. And I realized this is where I need to be - this is where I should have ended up a long time ago. So, here goes! Here goes the long journey back to You. Let it be. Much has been learned this semester, much has been changed. But sad flaws remain, sad handicaps. the fight is for You, is for Your glory - let it be! I am for Your glory.

Monday, April 10, 2006

//SABBATH #8 - 24 November 2005//

Obviously it's been quite awhile since I've written in this record. Probably I'd say 2 or 3 weeks sadly. I had a feeling I would eventually do poor in keeping up with this journal. But there's some driving impetus towards keeping it alive -- it's my personal Acts. It is my record of what You have done and taught me. That being said, the last three weeks have gone off and on. I won't attempt to describe them because any such description would be horribly inept. I am in New Braunfels late in the evening. By the bank of the Comal, normal queer and unnatural aquamarine lapping...I sit on that small concrete slab by that useless boat tie and abandoned ramp. It was lovely this year to realize that Grandma's red oak in the yard has grown healthy and tall, the leaves a brilliant crimson.

A very cool blessing the LORD provided came through my meeting with Bryan Tabor last week. The week before I had challenged Bryan to read in the Word because though Bryan grew up in a Christian home, he had never really read the Bible on his own. So, I challenged him to try and read the Word at least once every other day, not really expecting much. When I talk to Bryan a lot of times there's not a huge emotional response -- he's sort of 'hard to read' at times. But against all my expectations, Bryan had read every single day! And he was excited about it! Of all things, I was having a very terrible week spiritually and I deserved that blessing least of all [of course, how often do we 'deserve blessings'?] but sure enough! It was amazing! It threw me off! You are amazing, LORD! I pray You will continue that good work in Bryan; it seems that despite my being a very lacking vessel, You've still managed to speak to him through me.

I 'm having a very hard time reconstructing the timeline of the last few weeks in my head [that's why ideally I write every week]. I know that about three weeks ago my workload for school dropped off substantially. Such a change obviously brought shockwaves to my universe. That first week was a good week in purity and even just in managing my time. Though something that should have served as a warning sign was the fact that despite this freeing of my time, I still did not seek hard after the LORD as I had aimed. It was a dry cause based on my own efforts; I was trying to overcome physical sickness, thus it was logical to drop impurity or pornography or various demons because I wished to get physically well again. There's no saving face -- it was a deeply and solely selfish motive ['for my own good']. Needless to say, those efforts amounted to nothing the next week and I fell harder than I had the rest of the semester. Life has felt mostly like spiritual backsliding since then. I am a miserable creature torn between chasing after my own desires and those of a higher calling [my Master's]. It is with much sadness that I say I have followed my own for much of the past few weeks.

Having said that, homegroup has been very good the past few weeks. Following in the wake of David's speech on guy/girl relationships at SCW, Nick did a follow-up teaching on such relationships at homegroup. We then went on to write growth-needs specific to the guys and girls and continued that discussion into last week...and honestly such talks of unity and loving one another have seemed to foster a real change in the homegroup. Where once we had small, simmering tensions between individuals, now it seems as though we are moving towards what Unity is supposed to look like. The trip to Surfside was taken directly following that talk on love for one another and was, I must say, one of the best trips I've gone on to Surfside. In truth, they've all been good, but I particularly enjoyed this one. Jeff, Michelle, Ben, Desire, Linda and I went. It was hilarious taking two hours to set up the tent that night. We set it up once; the wind blew it over. We set it up again; the wind wouldn't give. We finally had to anchor it to the cars we brought. 20 mph winds [or maybe?]! I've never seen that hard a wind at Surfside! But oh the beauty of the next day! We just went swimming and body surfing in the waves, and those waves were gorgeous!

Another blessing came with my friend Gus finally coming to homegroup two weeks ago. I had been inviting him since the second week of school! Then, Michelle's friend Brittany [a freshmen as well] came last week and visited [she seemed to enjoy herself]. It was just very cool to see people inviting again after not seeing anyone new for a long time. You answered that prayer [which I literally had been praying during those two weeks] quite visibly. In short, I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and have not even come close to naming all of the past few weeks' blessings off. You are such a good God. Even my reading in 2 Kings about Elisha's ministry and the many miracles You continued to work among Your people despite their straying from You. Just Your goodness, LORD. Let this break be a real return to You. In times of seeing close friends backslide like I never could have foreseen, I must cling to You, O LORD. Let me cling to You. Amen.

//SABBATH #7 - 29 October 2005//

"I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched
out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. I thought
about the former days, the years of long ago [...] I will meditate
on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds. Your ways,
O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the
God who performs miracles; You display Your power among the
peoples." -Psalm 77:1-2, 5, 12-14

This was one of the hardest weeks I can remember in a long time. All crashed down around me this week. What contrast as I write this--the Beatles sing, "Let it be. Let it be. There will be an answer, let it be." Everything that could go wrong did go wrong this week. Sunday after returning from the retreat I fell deeply in sin and it halted the week before it could even begin--how could this happen?! I just went on a retreat with the LORD! Needless to say, the week started out incredibly frustrating. Well, really there were three factors that contributed to said statement, 1) Of course, purity. 2) I was sick and tired of dealing with school till 3 and 4am every morning. 3) I had hoped to see and hang out with a current love interest, So-and-so, and it had not happened. In fact, I barely even saw her. So, all factors were playing out in my mind, and Sunday all crashed. I was distrought. Then I met on Monday afternoon with Aaron Reyes which was good because we hadn't met in weeks, but--there was no passion, no conviction--we were simply filling the time slot. And that day was Prayer and Fasting Monday and my fast was quite pointless. To make a long story short...Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday night I got between 3-5 hours of sleep each night. I was miserable, during the day I'd walk around as though barely alive. And all the time the feeling of loneliness in the pit of my heart would say, "I simply want to spend time with So-and-so." [Escapism, my friend] So Wednesday night I was fed up with all this--I was cold, miserable, I wanted to get some kind of answer to this girl problem and wanted to know why life was sucking so bad right now, and there I am walking, and God simply answers, "Look, Stephen, You have not been listening to me the rest of the week on anything I've been giving you advice on. I've been trying to direct your week all along, and you didn't listen. So how do you expect to hear Me now?!"

I was reminded of my father's teaching at SCW on decision-making and hearing from the LORD. One of his criteria for being able to discern the LORD's direction is that you must be doing well in your relationship with Him. And I realized--what the heck am I doing?

It's sad that it took the wrecking of my week for me to see the error of my ways. It's sad that it took intense sadness and frustration for me to realize how utterly wrong I'd been. I don't know, I'm still broken. I'm still suffering. I pray You'll help me, LORD. I don't want be rendered ineffective, LORD. I desire deeply to be Your disciple--not a follower of my own leading. One highlight I had was meeting with David Grotheim last night. It was the first time we had really caught up in two years! It's strange because it's like returning to an earlier part of my life. It was very cool though, just encouraging to see him still excited and seeking after You in directing his life. I pray I will reach 27 and still be actively seeking Your face, LORD. I've realized more and more lately how much life is changing. Be my Rock, LORD. Amen.

Nick states I need to grow in the following ways as a leader: 1) Being on time to things, 2) Being prepared, 3) Paying attention during announcements (as an example), 4) Challenge from John Piper, make sure to know correct context and meaning of Bible verses cited.

//SABBATH #6 - 22 October 2005//

"Run away from youthful indulgence. Run after mature right-
eousness--faith, love, peace--joining those who are in honest
and serious prayer before God." -2 Tim. 2:22

We're out at Bastrop for our student-wide retreat. The teaching last night was on having this verse down by 22. Or by the time we graduate. But there's a lot of good stuff in this one verse. Run or flee from youthful indulgence. Pursue or run after mature righteousness. Lastly, joining others. They're all connected. If you flee from anything, you have to run towards something. And you can't run hard without others to press you on--to press you towards greater righteousness. I pray for it, LORD.

This week saw more time go by. More of my life go by. I guess it was not a particularly spectacular week. Particularly in purity. [...] It's sad that I often create a sort of rating system on such sins. I create my own false standard of holiness, which is in fact a rejection of Your standard. Perfection. Thank You for grace, LORD. Thank You for Your goodness and Your grace. By those alone am I being allowed into heaven. It's as if I'm desperately clinging to the cloak of Your grace (through Jesus' sacrifice).Thank You, LORD, for first pursuing me. For first striving after me. As far as homegroup went--the one kind of encouraging thing was doing the teaching this week. I mean, [an aside] it was not a particularly "bad week," it was more literally a "blah week" [which is the politician's way of stating is was not good either]. Nothing happened! But the teaching was good--it was about keeping the Sabbath, even on a daily basis. But I did not know I was doing the teaching until Wednesday night. So I had nothing planned, and I was up at Thomas Park and went on a good, long prayer walk. And God, You made me realize I personally had not been keeping a good Sabbath habit. I'd been so stressed the entire week doing school and it was frustrating. [You] brought me back and made me realize--"Just be still, hang with Me for a bit."

You really are good though, LORD. Bryan Tabor, who I did not know if he'd stick around, came to church for the first time last Sunday. Hallelujah! You're good, LORD. Then, he even came to SCW this weekend. I pray You'll continue to working in his life. It was also pretty cool even at the end of last week meeting with my dad. I love that man with all my heart. I've never and may never again meet a man as earnest as he is for seeking God. And my mom, oh how I love her as well. What a sacrificial person. I hope to have a wife at least half the godly woman she is. LORD, You have blessed me greatly with all of these sacrificial heroes, even in my own homegroup. I pray I will pursue You, pursue mature righteousness. Even this week at homegroup--I just struggled with the thought--do people look up to me in maturity? Do people see me as seeking after You? Do people see me as a spiritual example? LORD, I pray I will grow into that role. LORD, I pray I will be someone's "spiritual hero".

It's amazing right now, I'm sitting out in the Wilderness at bastrop state park. The sea of pine, the top of this hill overlooking a dramatic ravine. Your creation is amazing, LORD. It is good. I thank You that You are a God who blesses us. Who blesses me. I desire to seek after You in all
earnestness. Let mine be a heart after Your own. And for greater maturity. I pray I will grow to be a man after Your own heart. A man it could be said of, "The Spirit is alive and well in him."

//SABBATH #4 - 10 October 2005//

Obviously, I didn't record anything for last weekend--I did not even remember until halfway through the week. Sad. Hopefully this journal will be better kept up with than other reflection journals of the past. It will probably end up as another loose end in my life. My life is full of loose
ends. At times they come back to haunt me--but often I must ignore them and pick them up some other time. One of those things this semester seems to be a sane life. It's sad, I spend nearly all of my time at school or doing homework. Literally, I get so very little's not healthy. I'm stretched to the limit often (I feel). Oftentimes I feel it is wearing on me. But then You make me realize that You are there with me and I need not worry about things I cannot really control. Lord, I am pulled quite tight--I pulled near apart, but You are there to give me peace, give me frame of mind. Last week was spent largely on being very busy--as will this week. Nick + Colleen's wedding was this weekend, it was quite fun--I do hope it was a blessing to the both of them. It was quite an honor to be one of Nick's groomsmen. In semesters past I've had problems relating with Nick [very different personalities] But lately...maybe out of maturity, maybe out of respect I have come to see him more and more as both a friend and a leader. I always saw him as a leader, but never felt especially close to him. But I can say now--he is a dear friend and he has helped effect and transform my life [greatly]. Everything that's different about his personality is what has been good in challenging me. His organization, his thought-out planning, his time management, hard work, and so forth. I could go on, but there's no need--I know who Nick is and how he has and is having an impact on my life. One thing I admire in him, and that I see in my father as well, is that he moves with great caution, and more consistent. (i.e. a good leader interprets change in a group or a social trend slowly, and thoughtfully...for often quick changes are poorly-planned and not completely thought through).

Homegroup last week was an awesome time. Just meeting and talking with the guys in an extended life group time. Then doing a discussion/teaching on having the "mindset of a servant". It was just a good time. Even it was very encouraging to have Ben help lead worship--it took a lot work off my hands... and it's just very cool to see Ben step into a sort of leadership/serving position. After homegroup Ben and I had a great meeting--and it actually felt like I encouraged and said something that helped him. I swear, I'm gonna miss that kid a lot next semester. This week I'm flying solo with Nick and Colleen gone on their honeymoon...I pray You'll help me, LORD. The only way for me to do it effectively will be for You to guide me. I pray for it. And I pray for Your peace, LORD. I pray for our freshmen as well, LORD. I pray You'll bring them around.

//SABBATH #5 - 16 October 2005//

I was left to tend to the homegrop in Nick and Colleen's absence this week. It was a very growing experience. I have now realized what a burden such a position is on the individual. Not that it is a bad weight--no, rather the opposite. But it is a testing weight. It makes a man consider what he is about, and what is really important in life. The week was a thoroughly busy one, as most this semester has been, and went by swiftly. A midterm I had on Wednesday clogged up the whole first half of the week (literally, I was up until 2am or 4am every night). But once again, the LORD has built a certain tolerance in me for such times. I do not get enough sleep, and go through times of misery [with the occasional breakdown], but the majority of it is spent in the happiness and joy of the LORD.

Once again, I may have mentioned this previously, but Danny Garcia is a continued blessing as of late. His growth as a man of God is ever more visible. His charge of the Monday night prayer time has been encouraging to say the least--he is one I nearly completely gave up on at the start of last semester (to put it lightly). We had our weekly meeting yesterday (Saturday) and it truly lifted my spirit for the rest of the day.

I will hopefully be able to go into detail in the future on all of the individuals in the homegroup who have thus blessed me--for these relationships and their unique circumstances I must not forget.

Lately, I am ever more thankful that discipline is rooting itself in my life. My prayer walks have accomodated to an early-evening schedule in response to my very late nights. My quiet times have largely taken hold of my early morning hours. I have moved on from Genesis to 1 Kings. Two things particularly hit me this week, 1) Despite being a man after God's own heart, David was a poor father and sadly did not properly pass on his godly faith [on to his sons] ... and it came back to haunt him at the end of his life. I dearly hope that my own continuing flaws do not haunt me in the end, or even when and if I have a family. I wish for holiness. 2) As dull as this may seem, the descriptions of the temple ornaments in chapter seven do tell me one thing--Solomon took great effort to please and serve the LORD in the task ordained to him by providing only the best materials and craftsmenship to glorify his Maker with excellency and thorough planning.

Going into homegroup on Thursday, I was honestly fairly scared. Though I had been praying for the time throughout the week...I was still fairly nervous because I was the only one in charge and also a lot of people had called saying they might not make it to homegroup after all. As always, there was not much need for worry; I had lifted it up to God...there's not much more I could do! And He did provide. Particularly in that Jeff Duncan and Chris Ronnander were there. A special note why this is encouraging: both of these men have a lot more life-experience than our younger guys...thus, they can both tell it straight and say what is really important because they've been through a lot more. It was also encouraging to see Ben take the helm with worship. Of course there were little awkward parts and so fort...but he did it with a servant's heart and had the right spirit about it. A wonderful praise report is that he might be able to take an internship with Charlie Kolarik in Oklahoma next semester. To keep growing spiritually, Ben
really wanted to go some place where he knew he would be challenged. I pray that You'll bring that to completion, LORD! You are a Good God, full of blessings for Your people!

One last note, I led worship this Saturday for the first time. It was a little rought around the edges, but it seemed like a good time. I am still divided with how much I enjoy being a "worship leader" on Sundays. It's not like homegroup worship, which is more akin to campfire sing-alongs...Sundays, I can get into worship at times, but it's more work than worship for me sometimes. I don't know, maybe I'll grow into that.

Wow, it's amazing weather tonight, LORD. I am on the second-floor breezeway overlooking the gardens behind the MSC. I've had many an afternoon with You here, LORD. Nature's beauty has a profound impact on me. This week while taking some prayer walks, I was awed by a near full moon as she broke through the trees. You are the Artist, LORD. Amen.

//SABBATH #2 - 24 September 2005//

If last week's entry reads -- a "refocusing," this week's might state: an "unraveling" of my spiritual walk. Much as the week started out with promise and fair trade winds...after all, I was riding on the good spirits of that skidded to a stand still by mid-week. Much, if not all, of this was due to my own poor planning. Monday nights' prayer time started out the week
in an amazing was a solid, good time of prayer--and Danny Garcia really led it for the first time, it was just very cool. Something we need to work on, though, is getting down to the business of praying quicker. By the time everyone has said his piece about how he or she needs prayer we have about thirty minutes left to actually pray. Not that fellowship isn't good, but [fellowship is] not necessarily the vision or purpose for these prayer times. One need that did come to mind for the homegroup was that of unity. It's felt like our homegroup has been lacking this characteristic in large part--we don't seem like we're connecting. It feels as though we're a Thursday night bible study. I do pray so dearly against this.

On to the week. That night, Nick and I met and it was a good time, just a good encouraging meeting. Something he said really challenged me with...he noted how he's always challenged by how often I go on prayer walks with You, LORD. And I realized, as he said that, I had not been going on as many prayer walks. That is perhaps the only up side spiritually to my week--because of that, I went on a good deal of prayer walks. However, my quiet times were lacking in time and did not even seem genuine. It feels horrible blaming things on this, but Hurricane Rita also threw everything off. And that is a complete out. But what was frustrating was not being able to have homegroup. And I'm still worried whether Bryan, Nick, Karen, Sabrine, etc...basically whether any of our freshmen are going to really stick and get plugged in. I should not worry, I know, but I do. You alone can put that desire in their hearts. Sadly, purity was not very great either this week. It is sad, it feels like once I was really starting to get focused again the week before, now I'm back to square one. I guess I'm clinging to You once more, Lord, 'cause I've tended to screw up Your hard work. I was reminded in my quiet time today of the Deliriou5? song where the words go: "What would I have done, if it wasn't for Jesus?/ What would I have become, if it wasn't for Jesus?"

What would I have done?

One short aside, and this is hardly spiritual, but it was the most fun I've had in a long time. Aaron, Ben, Danny, and I were all hanging out, waiting for the hurricane to arrive (which never did) and went up to this rooftop parking garage behind Aaron's apartments and were smoking some cigars we had been waiting to smoke since July...and so, we're there smoking our $2 cigars and the wind is howling and we see this kite tangled in a weathervane and we can't believe our luck! we had been wanting to fly a kite all day! So, we untangled it and Zack Baker showed up, and we started running all over the roof trying to fly it. It flew a good couple of times...but, in short, it was a much-needed time to blow off steam from the otherwise frustrating week.

A verse from Rodger Lewis' teaching that really struck me was Ephesians 4:32, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each others, just as in Christ God forgave you." And Rodger's comment on the matter, something to the effect of, "True maturity is being able to see your own imperfections and forgiving those of others [in light of that revelation]."

//SABBATH #1 - 18 September 2005//

This week saw the refocusing of a lot of things in my life. A sort of mental block I've gone through since the beginning of the semester is the distracting thought of getting old. One must see the paradox-- I'm only twenty. And yet this semester, many things have felt "old hat" [even I, myself]. School. Homegroup. Being single. Not knowing exactly what I'm doing in life. Etc. I've felt very distracted and a little plagued by anxiety. So, I came to this week and it was probably one of the most ridiculous weeks I've had so far in college, as far as course work goes. I pulled an all-nighter Sunday, then a "till 3am" on Tuesday [etc.]. Anyway, it was pretty miserable. But what was interesting is the fact that as stressed out as I was, I wasn't really anxious. The LORD (YHWH) gave me moments of peace and reminded me even as I was working on a number of papers [simultaneously], that I didn't need to worry. And I didn't. Then I was also assigned to do the teaching on Thursday and of all the weeks to do [it] seemed like this was probably the worst...I mean I had gotten sketchy quiet times at best...I hadn't had a lot of time to think through a teaching--and I wasn't really sure what God was prompting me to talk about. So Wednesday night, right before I was about to go work on my teaching, I went on a prayer walk and there while I was walking, the LORD comforted me and the LORD told me to slow down and He gave me such a peace as I had not had in quite some time. Even as life continues to deconstruct and change all around, God is constant, as David says in Psalm 23, "The LORD is my Shepard, I shall not be in want. [...] I will fear no evil, your rod and your staff, they comfort me." You are my Protector, LORD--You are my Inheritance.

Then after a very good worship time at homegroup and a pretty good teaching and discussion with Danny and Mariana, came a much more (and much needed) laid-back weekend. Friday night I went and helped with the Int'l Bible Study, which both encouraged and challenged in good measure. But what was most encouraging was a meeting time with Ben Yates as I was staying at the Villareal place on Saturday. We were having our weekly discipleship meeting and we got to talking about these issues I've been going through--and Ben made a most encouraging
observation. These were the same issues my dad and I had helped him through in the spring (of this year)..and I realized I had been quite disillusioned on many things. I realize today that I have not been keeping track of the goals I set out [to strive for] at staff retreat.

My dad did a teaching today on the importance of reflection on the Sabbath, so today I have begun the task of recording the events of my spiritual weeks, to know where I have come from. The verse which God struck me with most this week was 2 Cor. 1:3-7 -- "Praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort."