The Handshake, The Side Hug, The Bear Hug: Lessons on Vulnerability with God and People

Once again, in really simple terms, God has laid down a lesson for me in my life. He teaches me in the most simple ways that I wonder at times if this is even God or just my own thoughts. Recently, God’s revelation to me has been about vulnerability, with Him and others.

God has been showing me recently that there are different levels of trust and vulnerability. The first level is the handshake. A handshake is usually something that happens upon first meetings. You are just getting to know the person and you really don’t know who they are yet. Its a simple way to be friendly, but not too forward or open. Handshakes are usually reserved for more proper or formal greetings.

The next level is the side hug. This shows that you know this person and are comfortable, to an extent. You may trust them with some stuff, but other stuff you keep hidden away from them. You may share with them surface level information, maybe even some deeper info, but you won’t share with them certain stuff. That person is your friend, but you wouldn’t call them a brother or a sister.

Finally, we have the bear hug. This hug or level of trust or vulnerability, is reserved for those who you love and are great friends with. You are willing to share with this person almost anything about your life, your family, your circumstances. This person you would call a brother or sister, father or mother, even if not biological. Some of us may not be able to even have this close of a trust with our biological parents or siblings. But each one of us has those people, that we trust a ton. We need those people as human’s to be able to talk about problems, to cry, to be real with. We get to take off the mask with these people and sometimes this leaves us vulnerable.

It takes some of us a lot of time until we get to this point with people. I know for me personally, its hard to trust people with a “bear hug” like trust. I will trust people to a certain point, a lot of people to a side hug, but few people will I truly trust with my whole heart, because I’m afraid I’ll get hurt by leaving myself open and vulnerable, for people to see my wounds and my scars. I don’t want people to see my past. I didn’t want God to see my past for the longest time either.

When I first became a Christian a couple years ago, I truly did trust God with my life. I surrendered my life to Him, but part of me still held on to several things. You see, my trust was broken a lot when I was younger. I put myself out there for people, and they crushed me over and over and over again. I guess for the longest time, I became guarded because of all the hits I took when I tried to be vulnerable with friends. So even back in January 2012, I trusted God, but I didn’t know who He truly was yet, so we did the handshake.

Over time though of spending time in God’s word and spending time with God in prayer, that handshake quickly became a side hug and then to a bear hug. I was down on my knees in worship, crying, as I poured out my heart, my scars, my hurts, to the One who knew them all already. I was vulnerable for the first time in a long time. The funny thing was, I wasn’t hurt. I was healed. And over time, knowing that I wouldn’t be hurt, by being vulnerable with God, allowed me once again to be vulnerable with people.

I guess I still fear at times being hurt by people, but my view is different. I have a different perspective of how vulnerability works and how God views my vulnerability. Being vulnerable with people though is different. Its hard because you know you may get hurt. You know that even the best of friends can take what you have to say and turn that around on you one day. But I know God is not a God of fear. A friend today at church said, “There is no fear in true love. God is love.” How true and encouraging that statement was. I had nothing to fear in my vulnerability. I could experience emotional harm or psychological distress, but in the end, there was someone I could always be vulnerable with, Jesus Christ.

Jesus was vulnerable many times in the Bible. He was vulnerable as a baby. He was vulnerable as He hung on a cross naked, bearing the sins of the world on Himself. Jesus has been through vulnerability, so He understands what it is like for us to be afraid of vulnerability. But He wants us to know today that no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done, we can always approach Him in our most vulnerable of states. We can approach Him as ourselves. We can take off our masks that we put on for people. We can cut out the acts that we perform for people. We can come to Jesus in all our pain, suffering, rejection, hopelessness, fear, anger, confusion. And He will be with us in our vulnerability. He will understand, because He was once vulnerable too.

I’m glad that God taught me this great lesson on vulnerability. It allows me to reach out to more people and not be afraid of being vulnerable, to share with them how God was first vulnerable, so that I could one day come to Him with an absolute trust and vulnerability. To trust someone means that you believe that person is worthy to be trusted with what you would share. Jesus took on the ultimate vulnerability so that we could share in that vulnerability one day in our lives. That we could come and talk to someone that knows everything about us. Its an amazing thing to know that at all times, we have someone we can be completely and totally open with. His name is Jesus Christ and He’s wanting you to be vulnerable with Him today.



Lessons from Early Disciples: A Study of the Book of Acts: Part 1: Acts 1-14

This semester I came in thinking I knew what a disciple was. With this knowledge in hand, I was ready to move on to greater and bigger things for the Lord. I thought I had learned what a disciple was over the past couple years. But when I arrived at North Greenville, God took me back, in every aspect of my life, to this lesson. I just wanted to share with ya’ll what I learned this semester.

Lessons from Early Disciples: Acts 1:
-They were en-powered by the Holy Spirit.
-They were witnesses to the power of Christ.
-They were united in prayer, continuous prayer.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
“Continually united in prayer.” (Acts 1:14)
Lessons from Early Disciples: Acts 2:
-They had intentional community everyday.
-They praised God and had favor with all people.
-God added everyday more who were saved.
“And everyday they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house.” (Acts 2:46)
Lessons from Early Disciples: Acts 3:
-They freely gave the love of Jesus to others.
-They were given boldness by the Spirit.
-Pointing to Jesus always; giving glory to Him.
-They were fully present, looking for Kingdom moments.
“But Peter said, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have, I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk.” (Acts 3:6).
Lessons from Early Disciples: Acts 4:
-Pharisees could tell that they had been with Jesus, because they were untrained and uneducated men.
-They were unable to stop speaking of Jesus.
-Unanimous and communal worship.
-Unity in heart and soul.
-Spoke with great power of the resurrection.
-Grace was poured upon them.
“Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common.” (Acts 4:32).
“And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord, and great grace was on all of them.” (Acts 4:33).
Lessons from Early Disciples: Acts 5:
-No jail cell could hold these men.
-Absolute obedience to the Spirit’s plans.
-Obedience to God, not to men.
-Rejoicing after suffering.
Honored to be worthy of dishonoring.
Continued teaching and proclaiming everyday in the temple complex, the good news of Jesus Christ.
“But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple complex, and tell the people all about this life.” (Acts 5:19-20).
“For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38-39).
Lessons from Early Disciples: Acts 6:
-Devoted themselves to prayer and preaching.
-Prayed and laid hands on those who would go out and serve.
-Enemies were unable to stand against their wisdom and the Spirit by whom they spoke.
Lessons from Early Disciples: Acts 7:
-Filled by the Holy Spirit.
-Forgave their enemies, even during the attack.
Lessons from Early Disciples: Acts 8:
-The apostles stood firm in the face of crisis.
-Great joy in the places they left from.
-Instant obedience.
-Listened for the Spirit’s voice and plan.
Lessons from Early Disciples: Acts 11:
-They remembered the promises and teachings of Jesus.
-The Lord was with them.
-Saw the grace of God.
-They were sent out to encourage and glorify God.
“When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of the heart.” (Acts 11:23).
Lessons from Early Disciples: Acts 12:
-Prayed for one another earnestly.
-God’s message spread through them despite all obstacles or barriers that stood in their way.
Lessons from Early Disciples: Acts 13:
-They took sending people out, very seriously.
-The power of darkness and satan had no power against them, because of Jesus.
-They spoke encouragement to others.
-They were witnesses of the gospel.
-The message of the Lord spread.
-When they were persecuted and faced suffering, they did not let that get them down.
-Filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
“Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.” (Acts 13:3).
“And the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52).
Lessons from Early Disciples: Acts 14:
-They relied on the Lord.
-Continual Evangelization.
-Upset when the people thought they were gods.
-Persevered, went back to places of hate and trials.
-Encouragement to believers to continue in faith.
-Told the believers that they would encounter trouble; that it was a necessary thing.
-Appointed leaders in every church.
-Prayed with fasting.
-Spent a lot of time with the other disciples.
-Reported everything that God was doing.
“After the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the town.” (Acts 14:20).
“And they spent a considerable time with the disciples.” (Acts 14:28).
Hope ya’ll enjoy the first part of this mini-series. The second part will be up in the next few days.

Unwanted by the World; Cherished by Jesus: A K-Story: Part 3: They Are People, Just like Us

As I sit here at my desk, I honestly don’t know what to write. Months and weeks of preparation came down to one night of giving out cookies, eating dinner, and fellowshipping with the K-people. Sometimes God just blows your mind and you don’t even know what to do, but praise Him. Tonight was one of those nights.

Today was the first time that our group got a chance to go into the K-community. We gathered at the prayer chapel at 3:30 and began to pray over our time with the K-people. We prayed that God would speak through us and move and prepare the K’s to understand His love. We left soon after with the cookies that one of the girls in our group had prepared.

The trip was long and tiresome, but eventually, close to an hour later, we made it. We met this lady at her work who had been working with the K-people for a while. Usually around Christmas time she would take candy to the kids in the K-community and to their families. So, we got back in our cars and followed her down the road to this community. Soon we turned left down a street.

Driving through we saw trailer parks on either side of the road. As we approached the houses, in the yard scattered everywhere, were toys and other play things. We came up to the door of the house and knocked. I didn’t know what to expect or who would open the door. Soon the door opened. A lady greeted us with a smile, and welcomed us inside her home. We stayed for awhile, gave her the cookies and left. We went to a few more houses and we were welcomed in with the same kindness and hospitality. The final place we would stop at for the night would be a guy that we had already met earlier in this semester. This guy had come and talked with us about the K-people earlier this semester and it was super encouraging.

As we opened the door we were welcomed in again. This guy’s wife and his family welcomed us in. With our group, we had brought a missionary family that had known this guy back when they lived outside the country. A great reunion ensued between the two families. They began to share stories of what had happened in each other’s lives since they had last seen each other. These two families were supposed to eat together and me and the other two students from school were supposed to leave. But then this guy invited us to eat as well. So we did.

We headed into the living room, (I guess that’s what you call it), and sat down on mats on the floor. The food was placed in front of us. Chicken, rice, beans, bread. We were given the whole K-experience. The food was really amazing. They encouraged us to eat as much as we liked. They were so hospitable and kind.

As dinner finished up, and as my legs were cramping from sitting indian style, I began to look for a place to sit so I could stretch my legs. I got up off the mat and came and sat by some guys who were my age. They were watching soccer highlight videos. I came over and began to watch it with them, connecting with them through sports. As the guys finished up watching their videos, I turned my attention to the guy sitting closest to me.

We began to talk about sports and life, what college he went to and what he was studying. As the conversation got deeper and deeper, we began to talk about beliefs and morals and such. He began to share with me how he sees how we live in a society that doesn’t forget mistakes, that even years down the road, you can get labeled something, just because of something you did once. I could see he didn’t really believe in grace, which is something that is not taught in their religion. I wanted so badly to share with him that Jesus brings grace to our lives and showed grace to us on the cross, but it was a first meeting, and I didn’t want to overstep any boundaries so soon. He referred to himself as a “believer” and said that after his bad wreck a few years ago, that “he knew that there was a god.” I knew though, that the god this guy was talking about was not Jesus.

My mind was really blown tonight about how similar we were to the Kurds. We had been praying for these people and talking about these people so much, that it almost became like to me, that these people are different, in so many ways. When in reality they were not much different than us. They just wanted people to get to know them and like this guy was saying, “not judge before you know someone.”

My mom called me earlier today and told me to “be careful.” I know I was thinking the same thing she was. I was labeling them in my mind, before I even met one of them. And they turned out to be a lot different than what I had pictured. They liked sports like I did, they talked about family, they wanted to live a good life. Things that every person wants. They just need Jesus, like all of us do.

I think all of our group learned a lot from this meeting, even from the interaction between the K-family and the missionary family. We learned that this is going to be a long term thing. It takes truly caring for people, to reach them with the love of Christ. It truly takes investing in their lives. It takes time, energy, patience, endurance, love, lots of love. They are people. They are not a group. They are not a conversion ratio. They are a people, who have feelings, plans, desires, purposes. They are people who need to be shown grace, truth, freedom, through the love of Christ. They need to be shown what Jesus has done for them.

It was a mind opening night. Tonight we learned that the K-people are just like us. Just like us in a lot more ways than we knew.

I thank you all for the prayers of the people of God for this ministry. I pray that you will continue to pray for us as we continue to build relationships with these people.



A Night of Engagement: Will and Bethany’s Proposal

Tonight, I saw my best friend Will, propose. He had told me on our way to Charleston, Sc., a couple weekends ago, that he wanted to propose over Christmas break. Today though, he decided instead, that tonight was the night to do it. This post is a re-telling of watching my best friend propose to his bride.

As I walked into the house this afternoon, I looked to my left and saw Will. He was busy, talking away on his phone. As I reached for the door handle to my room, he called to me. “Joe, come here, I need you to do something,” he said. Confused, I walked toward him. “I’m doing it tonight. I’m proposing to Bethany. Please tell any guy in the house to meet at Tigerville Baptist at no later than 9:00,” he said. A smile lit up across his face. The same smile that always crossed his face when he talked about Bethany.

I have now known Will for close to four years. We had been roommates back at Charleston Southern. Will was the first person to reach out to me in the midst of the darkness of my addiction and he loved me. He told me if I ever needed to talk, he was there. Even when we left CSU, Will made sure he kept in touch. That was a huge reason I ended up at North Greenville this fall. Will is more than a friend, he is closer than a brother and I love him as such.
Anyways, he had met Bethany at a summer camp, the summer that we left Charleston Southern. Ever since, Will has been in love.  I mean I could tell from how he talked about her that he was crazy about her. I didn’t get to officially meet Bethany until last year, when I was up visiting North Greenville University. But when I did, I could tell from the beginning that they were made for each other.
I have witnessed Will serve his bride and his Lord during my time at North Greenville. Whenever Bethany has needed anything, he has been there for her. No matter how far he had to go out of his way, he went. No matter the cost, the price, the time, he was devoted. He would drive to her house just to tell her goodnight. In a society filled with non-committal, relationship-last driven people, Will has stood out in my eye. He is the epitome of Ephesians 5:25.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.”
It was now 8:45 p.m. I hopped in my housemates truck and we soon arrived at the church. Will’s sister Ana, came running up to me giving me a huge hug. We had known Will the longest and this meant a whole lot to both of us. As I came in and sat down at the front, it just really began to hit me. “My best friend is getting married,” I thought to myself. More and more people began to file in and soon the front half of the church was filled. Soon Will got up and spoke. He told us about the plan and how he had written a song for Bethany, over the last three years of dating. Each year he had added a new verse. He thanked us for coming and then we began to wait. Soon, Bethany would arrive.

As we heard car doors opening and closing, everyone began to get silent. Bethany was soon ushered into the church by her friends. She was blindfolded as they walked her through the door. We all looked back at her to see her expression when the blindfold came off. It was priceless. She had no clue what was going on. “Am I getting married?” she asked as one of the guys lead her down the aisle.

Bethany climbed up onto the stage and Will took her hand. He lead her to a chair. Bethany was laughing and crying and still completely confused. Will slipped the guitar strap around his shoulders and began to play the song that he had written for Bethany. Bethany continued to laugh and cry hysterically. As Will finished the song he took Bethany by the hand again. He began to tell her how much he loved her and how he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. At that point he kneeled down on one knee and took the ring out of his pocket. “Bethany, will you marry me?” Bethany paused for a second. “I can’t believe this is happening!!” she exclaimed. Then she said yes. Cheers went up, fist bumps were made. Girls were crying and wiping their eyes. It was a moment I will never forget.

As I made my way to the front to congratulate Will, I almost lost it. My best friend was getting married. It was a crazy thought. I finally got my turn. I threw my arms around him, somehow keeping my composure, giving him a huge bear hug. “Congratulations man. You deserve this.”

And to be honest Will does deserve this. But he has never acted like this was the case. He has never had pride in his relationship or been angry at God for the stuff he faced in his past. No, just like everything, Will, with a huge smile on his face, counts everything as a blessing. He sees this relationship with Bethany as not deserved but a blessing. He is truly an amazing guy, that I wish everyone could know. Bethany compliments him well and keeps him on his feet. It is truly amazing to see God’s plan worked out over a long period of time. As Will was standing up there tonight, he said, “I never would have guessed that I would be here and that this would be happening. I am so blessed.”

Right now I just want to offer up a prayer for Bethany and Will.

Dear Lord,
I thank you for my brother Will and his bride Bethany. I thank you for both their love for You and their love for each other. I thank You Lord that You have brought them together and that You have great plans for their lives. I thank You for the man You have made Will. I thank You for rescuing him from darkness and suffering and have given him new life. I thank You for bringing him Bethany, to cherish, to love, to lay down his life for. And I know he will. I thank You for the lives You have touched through Bethany and Will and for the lives You will continue to touch through them in the future. Guard their hearts and their minds. Protect them from any things that may try to come against them in their marriage. I pray that You would continue to grow them daily and draw them into a closer relationship with You. Bless them with Your abundant riches Lord. Use them to bless others.
In your name I pray, Jesus, Amen.

Bethany and Will, I thank you for allowing me to be apart of your lives and seeing your relationship with each other and Jesus Christ first hand. God will use you both to do incredible things for the Kingdom. I can’t wait to see what that is.



Trust, Acknowledgement, and Surrendered Guidance

Trust. Acknowledgement. Surrendered guidance. Tonight, God woke me up to share with me a lesson on my own life and encouragement for our lives as Christians.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”[1]

Such a simple verse that most of us have heard growing up in churches, or from our parents. Its a comforting verse but do we really know what it is saying?

First off it is saying trust in the Lord. Ok. With “all” your heart. That means that you don’t trust your emotions, you don’t trust anything over God. Jesus said in the New Testament that “if you don’t hate your mother and your father you can not be My disciple.”[2]That doesn’t mean to not “honor your father and mother” but that your love and trust in Jesus must be over everything.[3]  Next it says “lean not” on your own understanding. What does that mean? That means we can’t trust our feelings or our emotions, even our view of situations. We have to completely rely on God for answers to our questions.

This second verse I think is what really got me tonight though. In “all” your ways acknowledge Him. What does that look like to acknowledge Him in all our ways? I think what this is saying is that we know God is sovereign over all things. We know that He is working “for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”[4]

So we have acknowledged Him. He is working despite our weaknesses and flaws, but then what? What do we do? Nothing. After we acknowledge that God is in control and we trust Him completely, “He makes our paths straight.”

I think this is something for so many years that I missed. I thought I trusted God, but I never trusted God with my whole heart. I completely tried to lean on my own understanding and my understanding “was foolishness.”[5] I acknowledged that God was there but I tried to change myself, when that was something I could never do. All the time God was asking me to give up my understanding of things, so that He could give me real understanding.

I feel like sometimes this is something I forget even as a Christian. I acknowledge that God is working, but instead of letting Him lead, I take over. When what I really ought to do is trust in His sovereignty, that I am already acknowledging!

I hope ya’ll have a blessed day,

[1]Proverbs 3:5-6
[2]Luke 14:26
[3]Ephesians 6:2
[4]Romans 8:28
[5] 1 Corinthians 1:18