Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chris Small :: No Longer Hiding

When I was studying in Arkansas, several of my friends moved to Oklahoma to study at the University of Tulsa.  They told me about many people that they got to know at the campus, and one of those people is my friend, Chris Small.  By the time I came to serve at TU, Chris had already graduated, but somehow we’ve struck up a friendship that I’m very thankful for even if we’ve never shared a season together.  There’s much I respect about Chris in his faith, character, and our few times together.  This is his story.

Chris grew up in a Christian home.  “I was raised like most other kids in stable Christian homes. I was taught there were good things I was supposed to do, I said I ‘wanted to ask Jesus in my heart’ at 5 years old - I even read my Bible pretty consistently. But I didn’t understand a purpose for it.  I kept on trying to do all the right things hoping that it would pay off, that it would impress people, but by high school I was deeply dissatisfied.  It really wasn’t working anymore.  I was focusing on my mistakes, all the things I did wrong, and trying to fix myself without any help.  It came to a point when I was hanging out with some Christian friends.  We were talking about what God was doing in our lives, and I realized I didn’t know what he was doing.  I never saw answered prayer, and I didn’t know God.  I wanted that to change, and I asked God to change it.”

Time went on for Chris trying to see that change.  “I had some setbacks in high school, and I would ask, ‘Why did things turn out the wrong way?’  One thing was that I worked so hard at training for basketball, but I was so afraid in a game that I couldn’t even play comfortably.  Here I am, working hard for this thing, and yet I was so afraid of what people would think of me that I couldn’t even play with my team.  It was really frustrating.  So, I kept asking God what was going on.  I didn’t understand it.  That summer, one of my friends from basketball invited me to go with his family to spend a weekend at a lake.  And it was out there with open water and beautiful scenery that I finally said, ‘You know, I’ve wanted all these answers, but I think God’s been waiting for me just to spend time with Him’.”

The next week, Chris ended up going to a church camp.  “I’ve been to church camps before, I didn’t think anything would be different, but this was.  God met me there, and He changed my focus.  My focus wasn’t any longer on just impressing people or just trying to do the right things.  My focus was on connecting with Him.  There was a point at which I said to God a prayer out of the Bible, ‘Search me Oh God, and know my heart.’ The fact that I said, ‘I want to be open to You, God,’ was a significant change.  I did just a lot of hiding before that.  I wasn’t comfortable with anyone knowing what all my life was about.  One of the nights at the church camp, there was a girl who was sharing what the word ‘surrender’ meant to her, and it was a picture for her of coming to King Jesus, and holding out her dreams and everything she wanted out of life and saying, ‘I trust you with this.’  And I realized that’s what I had been looking for.  I needed and wanted to trust someone who could handle everything that goes on in life.  In a way, I could see God doing surgery, removing my heart and giving me a new one.  “The old has gone and the new has come.”  It had been replaced.  Instead of wanting to hide, I wanted to share.  I think it surprised me.  So, I did just that.  I started telling people that God had changed my life.  I started with a couple of camp leaders there, and then it moved to telling my family.  My family was absolutely shocked to see the attitude change in me in the following year.”

Chris points to friendship as a major contributor to his change. “My family was really strict and focused on obedience while growing up.  There wasn’t as much focus on enjoying each other and everything God has gives us.  This developed fear in me that people wouldn’t like me if I didn’t do everything right.  It made it hard to have friends, and it made me lonely.  When I did find friends, it was because I could see that they were living the way I wanted to live – open and not afraid.  It was their friendship that brought me to God.”

When Chris came to TU, he met his best friend and former roommate, who continued that change.  “It was being friends with him and others that continued to grow me.  Every time I’ve been in a new location or new situation, I’ve known that I need to keep finding people that stimulate, encourage, and accept me.  During my sophomore year, I studied abroad in Spain.  The best time I spent was with the local church there.  It was the same situation when I had an internship in Shreveport, Louisiana.  And now, I’m in Tyler, Texas.  I still point to the friends that I have as the greatest source of encouraging me in life.”

Chris realized that seeing people share their lives showed that they had a love he didn’t. “At every point it wasn’t me doing something on my own, but it was learning something through someone else.  I love building community.  Now that I’m out on my own, I try to build community where I can.  That especially means building unity among every different type of Christian as well as building bridges between different groups of people.”

These friends showed Chris a new love, but he discovered only God could give it to him.  “People can only do so much. Jesus was open to every type of person, died for their mistakes, and rose again, even though he knew he would be rejected. When I spend time with God, He gives me Jesus’ same openness, and it becomes a joy where it would normally be a bitter struggle.”

My friend, Chris, started off as a guy afraid to show himself to people, hiding who he was so that people might accept him.  Now because of Christ and his community of friendships, he has no need to be ashamed about who he is, what his mistakes are, and he can proudly show the work of God that has gone on in his life.  The Apostle Paul says, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”  And this is the life of Chris Small to show the work of Christ in his life and show that victory with boldness.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Todd Williams :: Humble Obedience

Five years ago, I crossed paths with my good friend, Todd Williams. We met in Chicago at a house church, and both of our lives have really sharpened one another in our short times of fellowship together. What I am most blessed by with my friendship with Todd is that he really loves Christ with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is said that sin is in the extremes or the abuses of faith, and I would say that Christ has led this friend to be as balanced in that faith as possible. This is Todd's story.

Todd was raised in a non-religious home. "My grandma would rope us all into going to church on Easter, but I never had a personal faith growing up. The town I grew up in was bad for cliques, and I was never in one. My friends were friends of convenience. When I made it to junior high, I started secluding myself, and getting caught up in martial arts and Eastern meditation. I did that for about 3-5 years. I also got exposed to pornographic stuff, and my parent's reaction to the material was, 'It's just what kids do’. So, my house became a ‘Mecca’ for porn.”

Todd also took up an interest in witchcraft. "As a result, one night I had my friends Bob and Dave with me. We witnessed a knife fly across the room without touching it. Soon afterwards, I realized that witchcraft wasn’t good, so I stopped. But I continued doing meditation and martial arts. Due to not fitting into cliques as school, I shut off myself emotionally."

In 1994, Todd's mom had to go to the hospital because she had issues that were diagnosed as gallstones. "One day a local pastor came by to visit her in the hospital while I was there, and he started talking with me about Christianity and the Church. He started invited me to church and started picking me up on Sundays and other days for Bible studies. It was an old Pentecostal church. I asked him questions about what it meant to be born again." 

A few months later, Todd was at the church where there was an 'altar call', "I heard this voice inside saying, 'Go upfront and get prayer.' I said, 'No.' It kept pestering me. I walked up to the alter, and I heard another voice say, 'Don’t do this, you’ll be a fool.'" The pastor asked Todd what he needed prayer for, "I said I didn’t know, I just needed to be down there. We prayed the salvation prayer. I didn’t know what I did, or what it meant. Two weeks later, I was baptized. During the baptism, I was asked, 'Do you have anything say?' I replied 'I will live for God with everything I have.' I went to Sunday school, and they said, 'Read your Bible, speak in tongues, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' When I became a Christian, all of my non-Christian friends stopped hanging out with me. So, I’d read Scripture, go to school, do my homework, watch Star Trek, and go to bed."

After Todd became a Christian in 1994, his mom continued having health issues. "My mom’s gallstones were actually stomach cancer. She went from 188 lb to 77 lb in a year, took chemo, and was bed ridden.  It was the most trying time for me and my family. She passed away on July 9, 1995. The family and friends sat by her, praying for her in her last moments. At one point it was my only my dad, his friend, his friend’s wife, and myself. I was the closest to the bed. Finally, I saw she wasn’t breathing anymore, turned to the others and said, 'She isn’t breathing.' The toughest thing I had to endure was to see my mom die. I knew I had to make a decision about God. Do I blame Him, or turn to Him? I realized my witchcraft and martial arts couldn’t save her. She was able to come to a saving faith in the Lord before she died. My dad took a year and mourned. I just went to school and went on with life as best I could. I tried living as best a Christian life as possible."

Age 17 was one of Todd's most exciting years for spiritual experiences. There was a church he started going to called Christian Life Center. "Through them, I went to a summer youth camp called 'Youth America' in Oklahoma, and I went to Promise Keepers. I got to see the youthful energy of a youth camp that’s filled with the Holy Spirit, and at Promise Keepers I saw how men worshiped God. I also went on a fast for 21 days. My dad thought I was crazy. In that fast, I was awakened to God’s presence, and it was amazing."

Todd graduated high school, and started studying to become a pharmacist. "After a couple years through a series of closed doors I saw I didn’t have a future in this field, and decided to go on a fast. I didn’t have the drive to do science and math long enough. I started studying history at SIU. While I was there, I took a personal interest in theology. Yet I had a love for Medieval History. One of my professors said for that field I would need to study German, Italian, Latin, and French. It was about this time that I was at church on a Wednesday night. The Pastor got up and said, 'There’s only a few times when I’ve gotten a word from God about someone.' The pastor called over the elders and prayed for me; I asked what the word was from God, and the pastor said, 'I can’t give you all the details, but I see you in full-time ministry'.”

Todd came to Trinity International University “I started studying for a Masters in Divinity focusing church history. For the cross-cultural Field-ed, I was sent for 3 weeks to central Europe where I taught English and cataloged the theological library of a para-church ministry. It was a wonderful experience for me. It opened my mind to missions and cultures other than my own. I had this desire to go back and reconnect with the people I met."

After an internship in Peru through the school, Todd got his degree, and had a heart to go back to central Europe. "I got a job teaching and I started saving up so that I could pay for a return trip to Central Europe. I was funding my own trip, and in close contact with my friends in Europe." At this time, Todd started going to the Barkules family young adult ministry, "That family ministry became a blessed community for me and a support while I was preparing to go the Europe."

Todd got to Europe, and he met his friend who went to a small village church. "My work there ended up going from preaching at many churches. This trip was very isolating both socially and spiritually. My time alone with God and scripture made so much sin in my life burn to the surface. 'Where am I going to be?' was the continuous question on this trip for 3 months. I was getting exhausted emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically. After a while, it felt like I was just going through the motions serving. For the duration of the trip, my resolve was to at least find out my next marching orders."

Todd came back to US in the fall of 2007 "I spent a year recuperating from the trip. I saw the Barkules’ Group had completely changed, and I had to meet new friends again. I didn’t want to go through another cycle of friends. There’s still a part of me that wants to go back to Southern Illinois. It felt like God had me a in a holding pattern. But I started making new connections, new friends, very dear friends. I took the position as the associate pastor in the Barkules family ministry, and in 2008 the family ministry launched more officially into a church called, 'The Gathering Place'. I've been doing that for the last 4 years; and am writing novels.”

My friend, Todd, has been through a journey. In the words of the Apostle Paul, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose." Part of the life of a Christian is learning to hear God in His Word, in His Spirit, and in His church. The purpose of those things helps us to be obedient to Christ, the Master. “Now I’m growing more in obedience rather than sacrifice (giving up things) so that He might do His work in me and others, and I take no credit as his humble servant.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Eleanor Adams :: Wait in Prayer

My family has always been a source of rich inspiration for me, and that includes my grandmother (Mamow), Eleanor Adams.   Mamow was a huge influence in my first 20 years as someone who prayed for me, we would talk for hours on the phone, and she would teach me about all the things she learned in the 10 books a week that she would read.  Her faith in Christ inspired mine in deep ways.  This is her story:

Eleanor (Gillam) Adams was born on in 1914 in Indianapolis, IN, and she was the oldest of three daughters. She was born with a dislocated hip, which in those days was not discovered until she was walking. She had several surgeries to fix the problem, but she still walked with a limp her entire life. Not to be held back, she became a voracious reader and was a very good student. The family ended up in Orrville, Ohio (home of Smucker's Jams & Jellies) where she spent most of her childhood, graduating salutatorian of her high school class in 1932. She attended a local business college for a year to learn secretarial skills (typing and shorthand). Eleanor was raised in a Christian home and wanted to get Christian training. She heard about Moody Bible Institute from a friend and applied. She was accepted and attended for four years, graduating in December of 1938. Eleanor told my mom that she thought she did not believe she was a Christian until she came to Moody. The people at Moody had something that she needed. That is where her personal relationship with Jesus started to grow.

Eleanor's secretarial skills were well used at Moody. She was secretary of her class, and she also was the secretary of some very notable people at Moody. She was the secretary of Dr. Wilbur M. Smith who was well known around the United States at that time for his writing and Sunday School curriculum. She also worked for William M. Runion, best known for writing the music for "Great is Thy Faithfulness." Her sister, Ruth, tells that Eleanor would bring "new music" home to Ohio which included the now well-known hymns like "Living For Jesus" and "I Surrender All." 

After graduating from Moody, Eleanor learned of a new ministry that was starting in northern Minnesota; Oak Hills Bible Fellowship of Bemidji, MN.  At that same meeting, she met her future husband, Charles A. Adams who was one of the recruiters. Eleanor and Charles both served at Oak Hills in 1939 and 1940. They fell in love in Minnesota and were separated during 1940 until they married in Winnetka, IL in July of 1941. They went back to Oak Hills after their marriage. Eleanor's ministry at Oak Hills was teaching children KYB (Know Your Bible) classes in the rural areas of Northern Minnesota near Bemidji.

Eleanor's first child, Peter,  was born in June of 1945 in Bemidij. Eleanor & Charles left Oak Hills and returned to Chicago. There, their second son, Sam, was born in 1947. The family went to Ohio in 1948 where my mom (Peggy Brill) was born in September. The family returned to Illinois, finally moving to Wauconda, IL  in 1955 where they stayed. Three things that Eleanor did all her life: READ (5-10 books a week),WRITE LETTERS (Eleanor wrote to her mother every week for over 30 years) and PRAY. She kept a book of missionaries and family pictures with names and prayed daily for them. In her later years, she liked to watch game shows like "Jeopardy." She would have the prayer book handy and pray on the commercials.

Eleanor and Charles helped found Palatine Bible Church in the 1950's. The family would drive to Palatine from Wauconda twice on Sunday's. Eleanor taught Sunday School for 2 and 3 year-olds as well as pioneering a children's church program back in the days when there was no curriculum to buy. She had a beautiful alto voice and sang duets with her husband in church.

She went to work for a business in Mundelein, IL for about 10 years during the 1960-1970s. Eleanor and Charles retired in their home in Wauconda.  When I was born, much of her life became about our special friendship.  She invested in my life deep ways.  In 1987, her beloved husband, Charles, passed away and she continued to live in their home in Wauconda. In 2002, Eleanor's health declined. After a two-month stay in the hospital she, came to live in my home.  It was a great blessing to have her near during my dad's illness and death in 2005.

In the fall of 2007, her health declined again to where she could not be left alone during the day. My mom had to work, and I was off to college. My mom tried to find someone who could look in on her daily so she could stay at home, but finally Eleanor went to a very fancy nursing home in Barrington, IL. She continued to read about 10 books a week. She liked to read mysteries and as she aged, she would forget the endings so she could read the same books over and over and still be surprised.  Her health started to fail in the spring of 2008, and she passed away July 5, 2008 in her sleep at the age of 94.

My Mamow, Eleanor Adams, knew the Bible very well. If you were trying to find a certain verse and only knew a few words, you could ask her and she could find it immediately. She had many favorite verses. Many were from Psalms having to do with how God cares for us. "I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord."  Knowing people who know how to wait on the Lord are really the treasures of the world: patient words, a faith in Christ that makes pure contentment, a love for learning, and a heart for people to come to Christ and be protected by Him in His timing.  This is what the life of my Mamow, Eleanor Adams, is all about.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sean Steadley :: He is My Perfection

Since coming to serve at the University of Tulsa, I’ve met some pretty blessed people. One of those people has been my friend, Sean Steadley. In the last several months, I’ve met a man with a hilarious sense of humor, a level-headed mind, someone who doesn’t rush to conclusions, and someone who desires to serve God with all that he does. This is his story.

 Sean was born into a Christian home. “Both of my parents were Christians. My dad came out of a Christian home, but my mom did not. She met my dad, who took her to church, and she became a believer and was filled with the Holy Spirit. During my ‘younger years’, I was in AWANAs, I did some Bible Quizzing. I'm not sure if just memorizing is good, but it has come back to me in later times. I gained a general knowledge of where everything was in the Bible. I gave my life to Christ when I was young. I became more serious about my faith around age 12.” 

Around that time, Sean met a guy named Erik at a church called ‘Christian Chapel’. “He invited me to his church, called ‘Father's House Church’ where I started going to their youth group and met a youth pastor named Jon. His calling was to help link young people to God, and he invested a lot of time in me. During that time in my life, I really wanted to be in the Bible every day, partially out of a desire to gain understanding and insight into everyday life, how I should live, and what kind of person I should be.”

When Sean was about 15, he was at Jon’s youth group one night, and at the end of the meeting Jon said, "If anybody needs prayer, come up to the front and I'll pray with you." Sean thought he didn't need to go up to the front. Jon spoke again, "If you need a touch from God..." Sean still didn't go. Jon extended the invitation a third time, which convinced Sean to go up.

Sean walked up and stood in line, “I was the last person. He started praying for me, and it was indescribable. It was like joy and peace like an expansion of vapor within and around me. Jon prayed things for me that only God and I had ever heard.” Sean learned an important lesson through this experience: Faith wasn't tied to a feeling. “Prior to Jon praying for me, I read Scripture and lived according to His Word with the absence of a feeling. It taught me to not be driven by feelings.”

Towards the end of high school, Sean’s dad got a job in Indianapolis. “My brother was away at college, and we still lived in Oklahoma. My mom said I should look into going to Purdue. My dad said he might get job in Kansas City, and he eventually got a job in Tulsa. I hadn’t looked for colleges, and it was past the point of looking for scholarship money. I didn’t think there was much reason to check out the University of Tulsa, but God provided a financial grant through TU.”

Sean commuted his first two years at TU; he thought that the dorms might not be ideal for having privacy to talk with God. Commenting on his time at college as a whole, “It's been a rough four years, but God has taught me a great deal about His grace and rest. Paradoxically, those things are hard to wrap your head around sometimes. I knew I was saved by grace, but I still felt lacking in some way. I’m the kind of person that feels like he needs to take the hardest part of a project, otherwise I feel like I’m slacking. But my mom gave me this analogy once, ‘God did the project, and he just put your name on it.’ Since I struggle with perfectionism, I tend to place an emphasis on what I do rather on what God has done or is doing. The idea of me not doing any work and still getting an ‘A on the project’ taught me an important lesson about grace.”

At one point during college, Sean really wanted to get through some obstacles in his life, so he considered fasting to draw closer to God. “I was talking with my mom about fasting and she said she wanted to fast for me. My instant thought was that I didn't want to inconvenience her. It was just something that I didn’t want her to have to do, because it would be hard for her. And then I remembered the words from Scripture, ‘…the punishment that brought us peace was on Him (Jesus)’. (Isa 53:5) It was a reminder of God’s love and grace, that He first loved us, that God would do something so sacrificial for a sinful person like me (and I don’t even know the full extent of my sin) and then actually have an unfailing love for me through it all and afterwards. We serve a God who ‘redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.’ (Ps 103:4) It was a lesson on receiving a gift, and at the same time a lesson on my complete dependence upon God.”

At TU, Sean got involved with a group called International Student Ministries (ISM). “At one of our Bible studies, a guest speaker named Kris came and shared about her experiences with her husband who focused on doing good works, like taking in homeless people (actually looking for people to take in). She said that after a period of doing these things, they felt spent. She said her husband was like a walking corpse. They took a break for a while. She went to church by herself one day, and this church had a place set aside where people could go to dance and worship God. Something hit her during the time of worship, ‘Why are you trying to reach something that's already been given to you?’ She thought about it for a long time. She had been trying to work so hard to earn something that God had already freely given her, which reminded me of the grace God has given me. Her lifestyle changed dramatically. That really spoke to me: what have I been working so hard to reach that I’ve already been given?”

On another night about a year later, Sean was on his way to the ISM Bible study. “I was praying before I got to the meeting and having a hard time. Once I got to the apartment, I sat down so that Terry (one of our leaders) was sitting in front of me, and my friend James was sitting across the room. Terry suggested that we pray for two girls in our group; we prayed and laid hands on them. James then started speaking something timidly. ‘I don't usually do this, but I had this thought, 'perfection'. Maybe directed towards Sean or Terry. You are covered, and Jesus has done the saving work. He is your righteousness.’ As we prayed, this burden I had was removed from me to see that it was His work and not mine at all in my life to deliver me daily.”

My friend, Sean, has been given a life with many privileges, many blessings, and many friendships. None of those things were things that he personally achieved for himself. He can’t go through this life in his own ability; we can’t save ourselves. The Apostle Paul says, “And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’.” That means that Christ has done everything in His grace to save us, to get us through this life and to give us life more abundant. “Christ is my perfection. That grace He gave through His cross and resurrection is something that I received as a gift, and it’s something I could never have earned.” That is what the life of my friend, Sean, will continue being to the end.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Philip Korvick :: Brought Back to Grace

Since coming to the University of Tulsa, I’ve met some pretty awesome people. One of those people has been my friend, Philip Korvick. Philip is one of those down to earth people with a heart for God and the people around him. This is his story.

Philip didn’t know how much to believe in this idea this or not, "Some people are lucky to be born, and some people are born lucky. My mom prayed asking for a child, and that's how they had me. I believe that I've been given to God, and I wouldn't be able to get away from Him if I tried.”

Philip started life in a very Christian household. “I went to church almost every day. It would be very strange if we weren’t going to church on the weekend. I learned all the kiddy gospel stories: Noah, Jonah, Moses, that talking donkey, etc. But I really didn't understand it. I sat there, and a lot of it was going through the motions and mental knowledge. My mom taught me the Lord's Prayer, and I didn't know what it meant.”

When Philip got to middle school, his teacher had something called, ‘Quiet Time’. “People there would talk about the Christian faith before class would start. That's where I heard about giving my life to God, and all that fun stuff. I did that, and it sounded good. It solidified at a camp called Kanakuk. It really drove home the message of the Gospel of Christ in a way that I could understand. Since then I've been growing and learning in Christ. I grew up in a 'Turn or Burn' mentality. I was more afraid of God than loving God. One of my pastors introduced that concept to me.”

Philip came to college the University of Tulsa. “I got a girlfriend in between high school and college. For a lot of my life I've pursued women, and idolatrized being in a relationship. I put women up on a pedestal, and I thought it was nice to have one up until that point. Our relationship didn't last very long. At that point I started seeking more for God.”

Philip came in with a Baptist background and hangout at the Baptist Collegial Ministry, and he then came to Reformed University Fellowship at TU. “I met some great guys: John (RUF Pastor), Kevin, Brandon, Bob, and many more. I really love these guys in Christ. I really got to grow a lot closer to knowing God. I started seeing the differences in denominations, and some disappointing things happened with some people in the ministries, which was very difficult. Most of the RUF students graduated that year. So, I started hanging out at the Wesley Foundation. I was going through college, learning about God as best I could, but it was kinda becoming stagnated.”

In Philip’s senior year, he met a girl. “We ended up dating, and she wasn't a Christian. I tried to convert her, and that wasn't working. I didn't talk about God as much, and I ended falling away from God. I starting sleeping with her, and I was going to church once a month. I dated this girl for a year and a half. There were multiple times where I asked her if I should give up my faith, and she said 'no'. I thank God that I didn't.”

Last year, Philip’s girlfriend went and studied abroad, and Philip stayed at TU because he thought he was going to marry her. “We tried to do a long distance thing, and a few months into it she wasn’t committed to our relationship exclusively. We tried holding off breaking up, but it killed me. I felt like I had nothing but God. I went straight back to Him. He met me with so many friends that helped me make it through that time. He exists.”

My friend, Philip, has been given a life where Christ will not leave him alone. “This has brought me back to the grace of God in which He has shown me His pursuit of me, and how I should pursue Him. With my education, the plan I understand right now is to get a job, make money, and donate all that I don't need to the church and the advancement of the message of Christ’s grace. I'm a part of the people who help that work to be financially possible.” God wants our hearts above all things, and he has pursued Philip in a way that is calling him back to always remember to seek refuge in the open arms of Christ who never leaves us or forsakes us.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Jerry Lout :: His Great Healing

Last year, I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and soon after I was introduced to a man who has become a great friend of mine, Jerry Lout. In this last year, I’ve learned from Jerry the importance of speaking tenderly in all situations; I’ve been blessed to serve with him at the University of Tulsa. This is his story.

Jerry’s journey began on the West Coast in California. “I came down with a viral disease called polio a year after I was born. Polio is a life-threatening illness that attacks the muscular system and often leaves its victims with permanently damaged muscles and limbs. After getting through the illness, I was left with a shortened left leg and a weirdly turned out foot but was, thankfully, pretty ok with mobility - at least for a while.”

Some years later after he and his family had moved to Oklahoma and a small rural community, Jerry was surprisingly struck with polio a second time. “This time around it was severe. An epidemic of the virus was going through the nation and hospitals were admitting a lot of children and young adults. Among more serious cases some were dying, others not yet at a critical stage were losing ground. I was in this second group; I was nine years old.”

Hillcrest Hospital in Tulsa was filling their polio ward with patients. “This now became my home away from home. Paralyzed and unable to move my legs or even toes, I was bedfast and going downhill. One of the doctors on my case advised my parents to accept the fact that I would likely never walk again. This disheartening news grew even more bleak as the disease progressed into my upper body, soon threatening my respiratory system. So breathing itself had now become a big concern.”

The small church Jerry’s family was part of had seriously gone to prayer for him. “Taking Bible scriptures like one in the book of James, chapter 5, they clung to hope for me and faithfully sought God’s loving intervention. ‘Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven’.”

After two months in the hospital, having reached Jerry’s lowest state this kind of prayer was again offered over him there in the hospital room. “Amazingly, after all this time of losing ground, something like a turnaround began happening. The condition stopped getting worse, and I began to improve over the coming days moving my arms and legs. Then within about a month after being at my lowest point, I was well enough to be discharged from the hospital, walking! I was soon running and playing ball. Friends and family were thanking and praising God.”

To this day Jerry doesn’t fully understand how this ‘healing thing’ works. “From the original polio my one leg remains short, my left foot still has this weird bend to it. That’s fine for me. I don’t feel I have to figure it out, explain, or prescribe for folks how healing has to happen. What I do know is by God’s grace I’ve been healed. I am humbled and am very grateful for this. As one given up to ‘never walk again’, I’ve had the joy of climbing with a couple of my children to the top of Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, fun! And serving with my wife, Ann, and our family on that continent for 20 years has been, along with its challenges, indescribably fulfilling.”

Back in Jerry’s days of adolescence, he had experienced a wonderful spiritual change in his life in surrendering his heart and soul to Jesus Christ. “Though my life has been far from perfect (like a pretty stinky rebellious stretch in my teen years and struggles and stumbles in my personal life since) I’ve never ever regretted yielding my life and will over to this amazingly great, compassionate, and generous God who made me and who brought me into His life. Maybe I somewhat qualify to be counted among those referred to as “wounded healers”. Regardless, among my highest joys is to share the good news of Jesus with people of my own and other nationalities in this great world of ours. To Him be praise.”

For my friend, Jerry, God has given him the gift of life in God’s great healing, the heart to share that life, and the passion to live it. In the words of Jesus, ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’. As ambassadors of Christ to the nations, we are meant to testify to the healing that can only be found in Christ. Sometimes it’s physical healing, but He always provides spiritual healing. That healing brings life that can face any storm because it’s faced with the strength of God. That is what the life of my friend, Jerry Lout, is all about.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Doug Anderson :: Press On

Over 20 years ago, I was blessed to meet a family that God has used to teach me many lessons. Doug Anderson is a man that I met recently out of that family. Though I don’t know Doug as well as his extended family, I do know that this is a man who will run to the ends of the earth telling people of the great news of Christ and God’s work in his life. This is his story.

Doug’s journey began as a boy in Haiti. “My relationship with Christ revolved around my missionary parents. The first 13 years of my life were spent in Haiti, and my father was a great influence on me.”

A time came when Doug, his mother, and siblings were evacuated from Haiti at a time when it was dangerous to be there. “My father was left there, and it was a stressful time. The reality of God came into question for me. We were eventually able to go back to Haiti, and my father was safe.”

Doug met his wife, Dawn, in college. “She pursued being a teacher in college, and she has been my partner in all the things I have faced since the day after I graduated college.”

After college, Doug went into business because he didn’t feel a call to ministry. Something changed that significantly. “My mother died unexpectedly in my 30s. In the process of her dying, my wife and I felt a call to step away from the marketplace and into the ministry.”

Doug went with his wife and daughter back to Haiti as missionaries in a different location than where he grew up. “We were there for 4 years. The mission organization asked us at a certain time to come back to the United States and be a part of the leadership of the organization.” After three years of service Doug and his family felt like they were heading back overseas to Haiti, but there was a split at a church in need of a pastor. Doug was asked pastor there for 6 years. After that time, Doug and his family responded to a call to a church in Fargo, and pastored there for eight years. “God did amazing things in us in that time with our church in Fargo.”

An opportunity presented itself in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. “We’ve had the opportunity to serve in my ancestral home pastoring the church of my father and grandfather. We have been very privileged for the last several years to serve this church, and it has been an honor to continue advancing the Gospel through this faith family.”

Doug Anderson is another one of those people whom God has touched to share the life that can be found in Christ, and to run the race of this extremely difficult life in the strength of God. In the words of Paul, “Not that I have already obtained this (resurrection from the dead) or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” In the words of Doug, “Wherever I live or serve, I will help people know God and follow Him passionately, and I will help those people draw the world around them to knowing Christ. Every living, breathing human being on this earth needs to know how much God loves them, Christ died on the cross for them, and He must be worshipped."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Chris Byrd :: Undeserved Mercy

Since coming to the University of Tulsa, I have met many awesome students, and some that I would call world changers. I don't use this word as a cliché, but I use it when I meet people who think differently, who have a vision that they're running after with full speed, and someone that is humbled by the grace of God in significantly obvious ways. That is my friend, Chris Byrd. This is his story.

Chris' relationship with Christ started around the time he was 4. "With the faith of a child, I asked God to save me. I've obviously grown in repentance and my understanding of the gospel, and I continue to grow in astonishment at the amazing story of Jesus."

Chris followed Christ sincerely throughout this childhood from the age 4. "I struggled in middle school; I discovered the internet and the things that boys can find on the internet. I got caught up in that; looking at porn as a 14 year old boy made me feel terrible inside. On the outside I was this nice Christian guy who knew all the answers, but I could not escape this addiction. The patterns of life didn't change until I started confessing my sin to others. God rescued and restored me beginning with that confession. I started to understand how deadly sin is, and how faithful God is to deliver those who come to Him."

Chris grew a lot in high school. "I was home schooled. My parents discipled me and taught me to discern Christ's voice. As my thinking matured, I had to consider if this faith was really, really true. Was my faith just something that we created? I studied a variety of worldviews and even read Richard Dawkins. I concluded that Christianity was real, and my devotion to Christ was strengthened. I came to school at TU, and I wanted to be connected with a community of people who followed Christ. I found that here at Baptist Collegiate Ministry and the Wesley Foundation. Some of those old struggles came back as I had more freedom here in college."

Chris went to Kaleo (a StuMo summer program), and that was a really incredible experience for him. "I grew a lot, and I shared my faith with more people than I ever had. I could share my faith with people who didn't believe in Jesus, and we could still be friends. I gained confidence in that, and I learned how to do that in more honest, respectful ways. I became close to the guys I lived with at Kaleo, and we're still close friends today."

Chris studied business, economics, and law at TU. "We had a missions conference, and Claude Hickman (from The Traveling Team) came and spoke. I had heard everything he said before, but God just spoke to me. This mission, this idea of taking the Gospel to people groups who don't have believers, churches, and haven’t heard of Jesus...That's not just another option, that's the primary objective of the church. Our purpose is to glorify God, and missions is one of the main ways we do that. This vision compelled me; I had to give my life to this work."

Chris came back from that experience, and he was really excited. "I had learned so much, made great friends, and everything made sense. I guess I had it all figured out, and I tried to do way too much. Eventually, I let myself get overwhelmed, and I was still trying to do ministry without a daily time with God (the means of Christ's grace). I've always struggled with letting people know what's going on inside of me, and I isolated myself. I came to a point of failure in school, what I felt about myself, and my relationship with God. I was preparing to go on a summer mission trip. I had deep depression and all this enthusiasm for missions. I took Perspectives--a class that formed the way I looked at missions and how it ought to be done, yet inside I was falling apart."

As long as you keep sin secret, you feel trapped by it. "Once it comes out, it feels so much better. I was forced to confess. It's scary and really difficult, a hard feeling on the inside, you feel pulled out in the open where you're exposed and you can’t hide anymore. But Christ is there to heal and restore—I’m finally free! That's incredible and wonderful."

Chris went on that mission trip, and he probably shouldn't have gone. "I confessed to my parents and the people on the trip about my inner sin (and they still let me go). And they wanted me to go (God confirmed it). I went feeling very broken and weak (I was). I went to Southeast Asia (Myanmar & Thailand). God taught me a lot of humility that summer. I can do nothing apart from Christ. My mentality had been that I still had something to offer even if I was still holding onto sin. I felt like I could still make a difference, and God showed me that wasn't the case. He wants me to love Him, but that's way more important than me playing some role in His mission. It's going to happen no matter what."

That summer Chris and his team did rural community development. "I am not cut out to be a farmer. Still, the sustainable development practices we used could be applied in other ways that could make a difference in the oppressed and marginalized. This could be a way to make a difference in the world. I saw frontier missions as something for church planters and Bible translators, and I didn't see the connection between that and what I was studying in economics at TU. I saw that these can come together in development work, and that's given me a focus in my direction since that summer."

Chris got involved with Celebrate Recovery, and that's been really valuable. "I completed one 'Step Study". In that, God's worked a lot of healing, He's helped me be more honest with myself in how I'm doing, I can't get fixed all at once, but I just celebrated one year of being clean from internet pornography. Through His grace, God's finally helping me get past that. I couldn't point to anything in particular that I've done better. God had mercy on me. That's the biggest thing I've learned in the last few years. We don't do anything that makes us better or God's choosing us more warranted."

For my friend, Chris, God has extended him great mercy, "God has mercy on us; He lavishes us with blessings when we least deserve them. He still takes us. I've seen especially on that mission trip that I continue to battle performance based acceptance as if God is mad at me. There's nothing I could do to make myself more or less worthy. He is changing me. I didn't do anything to deserve it. I never have, and I never will. I'm not all fixed, I'm not all better, but I'm on that path. It requires terrifying honesty, and a cry to God saying, 'Rescue me again, keep making me new'. When we live like that, God lets us find Him. He comforts us, and those are the incredible moments." In this way, God has given Chris an undeserved mercy to display to the world the work of Christ. It's a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

James Hunter :: A New Purpose

In the last year of my life, I came to Tulsa, Oklahoma. One of the first good friends that God gave me since coming here is James Hunter. James is probably the wisest of the people I know younger than me, a man after the heart of God, a tender soul, and a friend that I greatly appreciate. This is his story.

James grew up in a Christian home with parents that cared for him. They encouraged him to "do what makes you happy". "My parents raised me to be good, find a good wife, get a good job, and buy a good house. My dad is very wise, and my Mom is very open-minded. They always wanted the best for me. My parents took me to church, but my mom had problems with Christians being hypocrites." James never really liked school, and found himself struggling with his parents' high standards. "I liked learning, and reading, but I didn't know how to study. I fought with my parents a lot because I was frustrated. I felt a lot of demands from them. I didn't feel like I could communicate with them very well. Although we had dinner together every night; we never talked about spiritual topics. I played a lot of video games & read books; it was my escape. My sister was four years older than me. When I was in high school, she went off to college. I kinda became an only child; I became isolated."

In Junior High, James met some really awesome senior high guys at his church. "They really impacted and encouraged me. They were the really strong Christians in my church youth group; I saw the difference in how these guys acted. My life was sub-divided between school, family, church, etc. I had the attitude that that was just how it worked. I really saw these guys’ lives and their testimonies." By high school, however, James' circle of friends had drifted away from church. "I hung out with two friends: Jordan & Travis. They were the group I always fell back on. It was an experience to find what fit, and I didn't really find that in school. I shut down in my senior year of high school. I continued hanging out with several guys from youth group, but they stopped coming to church."

When James came to college, he still had problems with school. "I came to the University of Tulsa because I didn't know what I wanted to do. I had to learn how to study. My expectations that I set for myself, and what I thought my parents wanted for me, were almost too high. I realized I couldn't do this on my own. Freshman year, my GPA was 2.2-2.5. I visited the frat houses occasionally, and I partied a little bit. I had to work a lot harder than what I was doing. There was really no purpose to my being at school with C-D grades. I needed something more.”

That something more was a solid group of Christians with whom he could surround himself. "Living in community allowed me to start over. I got involved with the Wesley Foundation (a campus ministry) and the Baptist Collegiate Ministry. These friends started encouraging me, and showing me their lives with Jesus. I really found a strong community, something I never had before. Wesley helped me throughout the years find a strong faith family; They were focused on Christ."

Within this new environment, James' attitude began to change. "The friends I hung out with were very motivated both spiritually and in their studies. One close friend I have is Alan Hill. My friendship with him started and grew as we spent time together making coffee before early morning worship. At Wesley we had morning worship, free lunches, and I got involved with the International Student Ministries. Seeing my friends love for others and their heart for serving internationals spurred me on. There is something experiential about our faith: answered prayer, people coming to a realization of God in Christ, really small things that could be considered coincidence, God moving on this campus." James ended his freshman experience with Kaleo, a summer program through Student Mobilization in Breckenridge, Colorado. "Kaleo was an 'A-ha!' moment. It got me into a discipleship group, and challenged me.”

Sophomore year brought big changes for James; he changed degree programs and began taking an interest in global missions. "Perspectives [a course on the World Missions Movement] helped me to connect to the history of my faith. It made me ask, 'Would I be willing to take a bigger part of it?' By the end of the class, I wanted to go to Papua New Guinea. It was an idea to be radical for God. It's not a bad thing, but now I feel like it was for me. Doing the most extreme thing for God isn't a holistic approach. It became more about impressions, about what I thought I could do. Since my change to the Arts and Sciences College, my grades were slowly improving, but I still didn’t fit in. I was searching for some purpose. My thought was, 'Being a missionary to Papua New Guinea would be the hardest, craziest thing'."

James switched to the business college, but it was really his friends that showed him how to be a good student. "Not only did my friends spur me on towards Christ, they motivated me in my studies. I've been fortunate to be on the honor role for the last several semesters."

Throughout James’ college life, he has been in a men's discipleship group at Wesley. "We read books like 'The Celebration of Discipline', talked about faith, and met for discipleship. We were looking at issues in the modern church, and it was a journey to find what was truth...We were studying the early church. We looked at heresies and how to read Scripture. By studying with these guys, it built a place where I could be open. We talked about issues in our lives and how we were fighting together for discipline, fellowship, and getting to know Christ. I also started going with Jason to "Bible Study Fellowship,” where I fellowshipped with a group of men a lot older than I was.”

These discussions eventually led James to the Orthodox Church last November, “I started going to the Antiochian Orthodox Church right off campus. Orthodoxy has changed my faith, given me a historical perspective, and made me question many of my beliefs…”

For my friend, James, he's been given a new purpose and a new life in Christ. He may not become someone whom the world deems 'extraordinary' by their standards, not off doing crazy things, but his purpose is all the more to love Christ and serve the world. One of the main Orthodox goals is to remember God, summed up in this prayer, "O heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who art in all places and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord."