October 20, 2017

THE BOOK TOUR – one small step at a time….Auburn, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Corpus Christi

I often grow impatient with myself and where I think I should be in life, instead of where God has me, right now in this very moment. I overlook the obvious blessings and the successes currently in front of me. My two newly released books, through Woodson and Knowles Publishing Group, titled Twenty-Three Deeply Rooted Confessions and Thirty-Five Virtuous Blueprints, illustrates movement forward, going somewhere instead of nowhere. The first text contains 23 poems and 23 photographs and the other, 35 poems and 35 photographs.

While most never get rich off poetic words combined with photography, there is still pride in the creation of a traditionally published book. It is one more step in the right direction….an eternal direction where dreams eventually await me. The greatest of achievements in life involve climbing over the highest of mountains one step and hand hold at a time.

I have scheduled the following book tour and signings in the next month for the two books mentioned before. I would very much like for you to attend and celebrate this recent accomplishment with me.

FIRST STOP:

Thursday, October 2, 2014, 7:00-9:00 PM
At The Gnus Room
108 S 8th St
Opelika, Alabama 36801

RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/668622926567700

SECOND STOP:

Thursday, October 9, 2014, 3:00-6:00 PM
At McKay’s Bookstore-Chattanooga
7734 Lee Hwy
Chattanooga, TN 37421

RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/1474528916149226

THIRD STOP:

Sunday, October 5, 2014, 7:00-10:00 PM
At the Inman Perk Coffee Bookstore
240 North Highland Ave., Suite H
Atlanta, GA 30307

RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/854683257882835

FOURTH STOP:

Saturday, November 1, 2014, 2:00-4:30 PM
At Lori’s Booknook
1005 E Concho St
Rockport, TX 78382

A New Day Begins – Inspiration into the Unknown, given by my own Auburn Tigers!

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)

Before you read this entry, please watch the miraculous win above with the recent Iron Bowl, the yearly, historical American football rival game with The University of Alabama and Auburn University. For better or worse, this sports rivalry sometimes splits households over the game of football, especially near Thanksgiving when this game occurs.

At the beginning of this football season, no one actually predicted or even believed that the Auburn University Tigers might actually play for a national championship under first year coach, Gus Malzaln, well at least, not until now.

Just the year before, the previous football coach, Gene Chizik, won three games and lost nine. By the end of the season, the football student-athletes felt demoralized, and their performance on the field felt even more tragic as their lack of motivation was evident by the last game of the season.

Coach Gus continued to preach a new theme in the locker room, “This is a new day. Forget about last year.” I feel this motto to be true in many ways within my own life and even the lives of my own readers, with stories written in the comments section or emailed to me.

Tomorrow I move to Corpus Christi, Texas to begin a new job with a health conscious, nonprofit organization whose cause I deeply believe in. I was also recently accepted into a very select Masters program through The University of South Florida in Digital Journalism, Media, and Design….my second Masters attempted and eventually graduated from. These are just two new glimmers of the many hopes recently experienced with the new chapter about to begin in my own life.

I begin the New Year with a new job, new studies, and a new location to restart and reboot. My beginnings are not just resolutions. They are actual life happenings.

Last year was kind of like Auburn’s season for me, a rebuilding year as they might say in the world of college athletics. This job is a new day for me. The new soon-to-be home is a new day for me. These new studies are further more a new day for me. It is truly a new day to pick up and begin anew. Through a worthy cause, I will attain higher heights, with intentional chosen joy, in the celebration of what is to come.

We cannot control what happened in the past, but like Auburn and my own life, we can control what happens tomorrow with a new day ahead. Like a losing football season, this past year was character-building for me, on many levels. And now it is time to utilize the character now molded to become better on a personal level but also closer to God on a spiritual level, thankful for all the good He has done.

I owe my new found success to the many friends and family who supported me, specifically with my faith community in Atlanta, Georgia, Grace Midtown Church, and most importantly, my parents. Our most valiant successes often come from those who most believe in us, even when we fail to believe in ourselves.

Our successes often come from those we surround ourselves with. Tomorrow is a new day. Make the most of the opportunities before you! Our valleys often next lead to our greatest mountain successes.

Here are a few more Auburn football videos to get Tiger fans everywhere motivated for a new day!

Why do older adults struggle with the Gospel? The younglings just get it….

Recently I have seen a unique twist of events in my life with age accountability and the beliefs individuals have in Jesus Christ. I find some college students and fresh graduates (most under 25 years of age) act consistent in their examples and they way they treat people. On the other side of perspective, I also see older adults in leadership positions who appear to possess no exposure to a life in ministry, even no honest control of major ministry groups.

Those supposed adults claim to understand the “why” of ministry but ultimately fail to live out the Gospel in the simplicity of the message in Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. I found my way yearning to explore my own demographic in a closer age range as a 31 year old, because at times I tired of college students in the Atlanta metropolitan and their constant worries in the classroom. That was a period of life I passed through in graduate school a few years back. As I ventured out to hang out with my own kind, I quickly found myself disappointed in the groups of older adults who complicated the Gospel and its simplistic message of grace and salvation. They lived legalistically in structure and the call of discipleship cliques.

I often saw believers leaving these older grouped Bible studies hurt, confused, and even turned away from Christianity. One particular individual even cried because of something unfortunate that occurred. As a result, when I brought the matter to the leader’s attention (an older believer), the matter was politely ignored with a false performance to listen. Proverbs 12:15 (NIV) says, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” And Proverbs 19:20-21 (NIV) goes on further to say, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise. Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

The Bible remains clear about friends holding each other accountable. I find that again younger men read and understand the truth, rather than creating their own forms of perceived truth. The Bible says this; therefore it is. The college students in my church just get the obvious.

As a result, I left the turbulent retirement home of thirty year olds to return where I possibly should have been all along. I find the clear understanding of these youth-driven groups awe-inspiring. They do not flinch. They do not misinterpret the message of salvation or even distort it. They just believe in the movement of a live Jesus who dwells in each and every one of us.

I find it ironic that college students, in my own church body, pave the way for Biblical truths for others to exemplify. You think old people would have it down by now, but then again, in the inspired words of Alanis Morissette, “Isn’t it ironic… don’t you think?”

“Ironic”

By Alanis Morissette

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay
It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late
And isn’t it ironic… don’t you think

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought… it figures

Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids goodbye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down he thought
“Well isn’t this nice…”
And isn’t it ironic… don’t you think

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought… it figures

Well life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right
And life has a funny way of helping you out when
You think everything’s gone wrong and everything blows up
In your face

A traffic jam when you’re already late
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife
It’s meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife
And isn’t it ironic…don’t you think
A little too ironic…and, yeah, I really do think…

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought… it figures

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
Life has a funny, funny way of helping you out
Helping you out

Exceptional Talent Born from an Exceptional God, Grace Midtown House Churches

I remain mysteriously marveled at the students, young professionals, and recent college graduates who display talents, spiritual and intellectual, in the circles of House Churches within Grace Midtown Church, located in Atlanta, Georgia. Ordinary individuals display exceptional talent born of an exceptional God we worship and celebrate together.

For examples to illustrate, I attended a play through DramaTech, a company of student-led plays at Georgia Tech, a major university located in the heart of downtown Atlanta. The leader of my Bible study played the lead role, which included a vocal performance in the stage production. I figured this young gent participated only in ministry service-like roles. I never knew he could one day star in a Broadway show as well.

Almost everyone at the church plays some kind of musical instrument. I have also met photographers, painters, public speakers, and some with very distinct clean comedian personalities.

Three students research and learned how to start an aquamarine business where tilapia fish in urban farms defecate. In turn, the fish defecation then fertilizes the plants in this urban method of farming. The business will turn profitable revenues while providing three individuals with full time jobs, who otherwise in the inner city might not have employment.

Another leader graduated as Valedictorian from Georgia Tech with the highest GPA among other undergraduates in his class. I never knew such a title even existed at the Ivy League level university.

I hear of miracles everyday through this very real group of believers who genuinely understand how to love others. I think many supposed Christians lose focus of this very basic principle in Pop Culture Christianity. I know I have witnessed many misguided missions with mega churches who forgot basic relationships for a platform to “save thousands.”

Exceptional talents born from an exceptional God activate faith to overcome and accomplish amazing feats. I am very blessed to be part of such an amazing community with amazing and gifted individuals. I hope in your own personal journey and relationship with God you become blessed to be a part of something special as I have.

One of my favorite people, Kay Warren, shares with us how to develop our own spiritual gifts. How do you follow in the steps of a spiritual warrior like Rick Warren? She addresses these questions through the gifts of ordinary people….

The NEW Marathon in ME – Atlanta, GA, March 17, 2013. GRATIFIED, BUT NOT SATISFIED!

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

On Sunday, March 17, 2013, I participated in my fifth completed half-marathon, but this time was different than the previous four. I did not feel bad for not training like I should have. I did not feel bad for walking. On the flip side, I looked at those around me and imagined those who continuously talk about running a 5K, 10K, a half-marathon, and full, but never do it (and never show up as a result). The talkers of these achievements did not wake at 4:30 AM that morning and other mornings before with me to train. I realized I stand in the margin of those who walk dreams and try desperately to realize them.

I also witnessed children pushed in wheelchairs because they wanted to run a half-marathon but with special needs could not make the journey on their own. A local nonprofit in Atlanta brought the dream to realization with some passionate and in-shape volunteers. I realized that I get to run on my two legs and feet, something these children will more than likely never do. I smiled during the half-marathon not because I felt the pain of arthritis in my thirty-year-old legs but rather because I got to run. I get to run. It is not something I have to do. It is something I choose to do because after completion of those five miles each day, my body just feels better. Laziness never brings such self-gratification.

I sometimes remain scrutinized because I am not satisfied with my current life predicament. I want to be a leader unlike those who have failed and disappointed me in the past. To clarify for the sake of my family, this comment does not pertain to any of my own blood members. On the contrary, I owe my family all the honors and credit for my greatest successes. They are the reason I remain alive and passionate to become more.

I remain gratified with my many apparent blessings but not satisfied because I hold myself to a higher standard. I think someone of you need to realize and live this distinction. Hear the message I write to you now. I remain gratified with gratefulness but not satisfied with complacent dangerous ground. God created both you and me for BIGGER PURPOSES!

When you are capable of living for more with under-utilized spiritual gifts (living in the temptations of complacency to settle), that is not acceptable! That is not okay! God made us for so much more. And it takes hard work, real hard work!

Remain grateful but do not remain satisfied if you constantly feel unfulfilled with the dreams set on your heart. You were built and created for a purpose. It is now time to live like such. Run the race with me, and smile as you enjoy every single minute of it. You get to do this thing called life! It is not something we have to do. It is something we are divinely blessed to do!

This video demonstrated the example of a man who understands this mindset. Make today and this moment the very best day of your life! The choice is yours.

Update on Life – Forward Movement in Knowing That God Is With You!

Recently my pursuit in career shifted suddenly bringing me abruptly (but gladly) to a new city and home in Atlanta, Georgia. I awakened with new present moments of struggle in the realization of gratefulness. It is amazing to me how a valley in life brings us sudden joy when we remember and appreciate the best mountain top moments. We appreciate those moments with gentle reminders of God’s loyalty to us.

While seeking new direction in addition to my own part time job, I have had time to really reevaluate God’s Will for my life. I set time aside to exercise and devote personal time with God in the Word and prayer with intentions to focus on others. I am scheduled and trained to run a half-marathon in three weeks, with an aim to run one registered race a month. I finished my photography website and even more recently, a polished manuscript (with an applied copyright). I also start another Master’s degree in Public Administration focused in nonprofit administration at Troy University in May this spring season. More importantly, I made time to remember my life mission and what I aim to accomplish with God’s plan for my life.

I do not express all these grand ideas to brag but to show that God brings favor, even when we do not realize He is still around. Sometimes God brings a fresh and slow season in our lives to redirect our attention to Him. Instead of whining because things do not go your way (which we all have done), try to enjoy and remember the good things of those times. There is good to be had if you look for it with the right perspective in mind.

While things have not been ideal in my own mind, I am coming up with a new mountain top experience with where God will have me. As my father always says in abundance, “God’s with you,” which you start to believe after you hear it two thousand times.

This morning I sat still, something I rarely do in discipline, and just listened to God in meditation. While private in my relationship with Jesus, God reminded me of His Promise in my life. What I love about the right decisions in life is that the Holy Spirit usually gives us the inclination of what to do. Sometimes we pray and pray and pray when we know what God wants. We just need to make sure. I happened to experience God’s reminder this morning while listening to the Kari Jobe (love her music) song below. Breathe in. Breathe out. I took this yoga-like approach to relax today this morning. There is something refreshing about a moment to relax and express your vision for the reminder you are right on track with where you need to be. Perhaps this song will speak to you as it speaks to me.

Keep A Balanced Perspective – How do you see the world? This week? Yourself?

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NLT)

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

It is very easy in this world to become discouraged, by the loss of a job, loved one, or perhaps a new car in an accident. I think we most truly grow when circumstances are not what we would consider ideal. You must know and believe with faith and a hard work ethic that your down moment will turn up eventually. I found this to be true in past times when I thought the rough path of the road less traveled would never end, and eventually situations turned around.

This week I encountered two individuals in God-size moments that reminded me to keep my perspective. One moment I sat in my car at a traffic light, and as I looked to the left, I saw a man in a wheelchair inching up an inclined sidewalk with all his might and effort, each forearm pulling the wheels one slow mini step at a time. The previous day I easily jogged up that same small hill. I suddenly realized how I felt that I had to exercise instead of that I got to, with the blessing and privilege of my ability to walk. My moment stood still with the perspective shock factor of true gratefulness.

I currently live in midtown Atlanta and consistently interact with my apartment complex groundskeeper who at times possesses mentally what I often think of as a less-than-desirable job. When we ask each other, “How you doing,” with our usual pass-by chat, he constantly says, “I am glad to have work and pay my bills.” His perspective always seems in the right place, as he picks up trash and performs light yard work. And some moments I will witness him at the entrance with a dog mascot costume and sign, waving at possible tenants, to rent a unit where I live, and he appears content with his sidewalk advertisement performances.

The other day this same man complimented my truck, a 1998 Chevrolet S-10 extended cab. While there really remains nothing wrong with what I drive, I often wish I drove a nicer, more up-to-date car instead. It almost sounded as if he wanted my truck, again sparking another enlightening moment that I have a car when many in Atlanta continue forward with dependence on public transportation.

If you listen and look for the Holy Spirit this week, you might also experience three moments where perspective hits you in the face. What you worried about with your daily checklist will and might suddenly appear as insignificant as it really is.

This motivational speaker, whose nickname calls for ETtheHipHopPreacher, presents a simple message with his segment series, “Thank God It’s Monday,” which illustrates that with each Monday morning, we wake up with a fresh beginning for a new week. You start again fresh to pursue something perhaps greater than yourself. Contrary to live-for-the-weekend syndrome,   Eric Thomas views movement at the first stages of a race as the most exciting. He will challenge you to believe and achieve dreams with the right perspective if you follow his advice. I know many of his words inspire, and strike me like arrows in the tender spots of my heart. I encourage you to watch at least one video. You will then want to charge the battlefield after eight minutes of fresh breathe with this talented speaker! He puts everything in perspective!

Thank God It’s Monday! – Season 4, Episode 1 (by Eric Thomas)

Thank God It’s Monday! – Season 4, Episode 2 (by Eric Thomas)

Thank God It’s Monday! – Season 4, Episode 3 (by Eric Thomas)

Thank God It’s Monday! – Season 4, Episode 4 (by Eric Thomas)

Social Media: Blessing or Curse? Opportunity or Consequence?….the generational gap.

I think this video accurately shows that social media is NOT A FAD. Social Media is in fact existent as it has and will continue to CHANGE the future forever as we know it. You simply join in or are (be) left behind. At least that is how I view it.

I have heard of people losing their jobs with information provided on social media networks. Unless extracurricular activities clearly violate laws (i.e. stealing, drinking under age, etc.) or extreme moral dilemmas (i.e. adultery, indecent exposure, discrediting an employer through libel, etc.), then under the first amendment rights, I believe what people want to share and say should not matter. If the personal messages and expressions on social media networks do not affect one’s performance in the work environment, then who cares? These opinions and viewpoints are one area where you will see a very distinct generational difference. Someone my age may not take this so seriously (those 35 years and under who embrace the social media revolution) whereas older generations (35 years and older) take offense to any open message, for better or worse, misinterpreted. Instead of working through the matter, they just get mad without understanding social media culture and technological change that ensues, example in point, those below.

As I offended some family members with my comments on this picture (for individuals who did not understand sports innuendos), this is a classic example of how users read and interpret messages differently than others. Some female readers unfamiliar with NFL football and championships known as the Super Bowl may not realize these college students resemble the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. They are participating in an example of his stature after big play success, “Kaepernicking,” hence Colin Kaepernick’s last name, the quarterback of the 49ers. I wrote “losers” on the image below, some unfamiliar with the sports world thought I was referring to those in the picture instead of acknowledging the losers of the Super Bowl game. The message was misinterpreted by those unaware of the largest game in the sports world, much like my interests in the Oscars I suppose. I just do not care who wins the worst movies of the year.

Another instance includes a volunteer experience for me still fresh in my mind here in Atlanta, Georgia. Two ministry leaders (a wife and husband couple team) approached me to assist in their social media marketing platform where I would bring my expertise to speak to the unreached target youth and twenty-something’s, professional skills I happen to possess much knowledge in. I should have known challenges would arise when the minister claimed that the increasing popular trend of Pinterest were a complete waste of time, despite the statistics, a sign of obvious lack of knowledge and incredible ignorance on his part. The number of daily Pinterest users has increased by 145% since January 2012 as the fastest growing social media outlet in the world. Pinterest generates over 4x as much revenue per click (attributable to first touch) as Twitter and 27% more revenue per click than Facebook. 81% of U.S. online consumers trust information and advice from Pinterest. But remember the old man said that these trends were a waste of time (that older than 35 years generational difference). While the ministry already had a Twitter account and Facebook with the minimal requirements, there was much work to be done; however the couple insisted on proofreading every message I posted. In other words, they micromanaged what they originally recruited me to do. They did not want to revamp their social media platform. They simply wanted another body to follow their commands.

Eventually, the husband minister had me surfing YouTube for videos with his sermons, and his wife had me developing Power Point presentations on Superheroes, yes Superheroes, nothing of which related to social media or public relations. I tweeted the following, “I feel like a glorified secretary” that day on my personal Twitter account, and then the next day they were offended and angered. That was one of my last straws with some who simply never understood social media and never wanted to listen to someone who did through a graduate education of Communication from Auburn University. The generational gap of change remains evident once again.

And finally, for a more hysterical example, I wrote my top ten tweets on lame excuses of why girls will not go on a date. I recently took someone on a date here in Atlanta, but not much came of it. In fact, I forgot the whole ordeal long after I posted/tweeted the “Top 10 Lamest Excuses from Girls” when asked for a date. While this particular female joined my friends’ list with her own initiative and request, she kept a close watch on both my Facebook and Twitter through her own cyber stalker ways. She automatically assumed every Top 10 tweet was about her when in fact only one was with no names mentioned. These were excuses I recorded over the last ten years, really lame but funny. It is amazing what someone says when an individual does not want to go on a date. Honesty usually works best as a first choice for those who conjecture excuses through creative responses.

This girl called really late one night in tears, crying. I was already asleep and thought something was legitimately wrong. Her feelings were hurt over the misinterpreted tweets. I said, “I’m sorry,” as I tried to hold back the laughter. When she finally got off the phone after her scripted tirade, I laughed so hard, falling onto the floor from my bed. Someone recently told me, “People often get angry when they face truth they do not want to hear or be reminded of.” I think that is often true with social media (blog included), but I also believe some people just take small trivial things way too seriously, i.e. social media pictures on Facebook of included “Kaepernicking.” Sometimes a tweet is just a tweet. That is all it is.

I do not think social media is a bad thing. The promotional tools and reconnections with old friends have done wonders for both my personal writing and photography. I believe there is a clear generational gap with technology though, especially with elders who do not understand the jokes, the personal messages, and youth trends. These demographics often seek to understand, but some still pretend to ignore the statistics when presented. If you wonder what the terms Web 2.0, now Web 3.0, or even blogosphere mean, then you simply exist on social media, but you might fall short to truly understanding the global image of. The video at the beginning of this blog entry could perhaps help you begin to understand the Bigger Picture of social media.

The truth is The Big Picture on this planet that social media brings. Why get mad about it? Why ignore it? Just let it be, and let young professionals give advice on something we grew up with in the college age. We know it as adolescents, teenagers, and twenty-something’s. It was not a band wagon we jumped once everyone started talking about the revolution. We were and still are that revolution of technological change!

Relationships – What do I know? What do you know? But this is funny, I do not care who you are.

You may have noticed that today I was tweeting through my Twitter account some dating advice provided by Eharmony and even me perhaps just as a joke, but a conversation with a student I am mentoring from Southern Polytechnic University here in Atlanta, Georgia spurred these tweet tidbits.

Naturally as guys, we talk about possible female prospects in our dating life. Well, Martin has been extremely affectionate towards the same girl for about the last three months, really since I first met him. And yes, I have Martin’s permission to write about this!

I have had a leery suspicion with this particular girl from the very beginning. For the sake of anonymity, let’s name her Dolly. Dolly only eats organic food. You should check out the prices of organic food in stores. Dolly also attends yoga classes three or four nights a week, which is also very expensive. The girl drives the priciest 2013 Ford Mustang on the market, which her Dad “momentarily” pays for with the car note. While she did finish her associate’s degree as a physical therapy assistant at Southern Polytechnic, she continues to live at home without a job two years after graduation.

At one point, she moved to San Francisco on a whim with a physical therapy assistant short term contract only to move back after six months because she did not like California. She just happened to wreck her newly bought Silver Ford Mustang on the way out to California. And these are just the details I remember off the top of my head. And never once did Martin mention a strengthened relationship with Christ other than that she recently experienced salvation through a yoga epiphany. As if not enough, she constantly complained on how she could not practice yoga or meditation at home because of her “noisy” siblings. Please keep in mind she lived at home for FREE!

In a final message to Martin, she wrote, “I need you to understand and continue your journey to happiness elsewhere.”

That may have been my last sign of hysteria! Sometimes we see something in someone that at least for the moment does not exist. Chris Hodges, the senior pastor from Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama, calls this “missionary dating.” We try to save the person from something that we fictionally create in our minds. Please understand I have there as the salvation soldier.

I think Martin finally gave up on this lost cause after four months of frustration and continual perplexed confusion after admitting that there is more to a relationship than just “being pretty.” This is what happens when someone lives in what I call a “make-belief” world. This person has never truly suffered for anything. So everything up to this point in life has been expected and in some ways thought of as deserved.

I believe that relationships are more complex than they need to be these days. I think it is okay to ask a girl out and have fun, but in southern culture, that is rarely the case. Usually from the second you ask a girl out forward or even express an interest, serious takes over. And then nothing fun occurs.

The other night hanging out some extremely cool people from my church, a girl remained perplexed that I had a list of characteristics I look for in someone I want to marry. I simply asked, “Do you want to marry a man with a strong intentional conviction and relationship with Jesus Christ?” Of course, she responded, “Yes.” Then she seemed less perplexed when she also realized she had her own unstated mental checklist in a man she wanted to potentially marry.

I think as Christians we usually know when someone is on fire for God versus stagnantly constantly “trying to figure things out.” With a mutual attraction, that is usually the first sign that peaks my interest. There is nothing complex about my relational approach. If I want to know you, I usually just ask and seek information about the person’s personality. I will ask a girl to the circus. I will ask a girl to coffee. I will ask a girl to throw the Frisbee in Piedmont Park. If she has it going on for Jesus Christ, I got it going on to try and know that person.

But the first signal is and always will be the same for me: does she love God? If yes is the answer to this question, then I ask a few more questions of conversational interest.

The following video dives deeper humorously into Biblical relational dating. I think this preacher is hilarious, but I also think the minister rings true that a relationship with Christ comes before a relationship with someone else. I think Martin finally learned this lesson the hard way. I think whether we consciously admit or not, many believers, including me, learn this lesson the hard way.

My Best Christmas Gift This Year – A New Home in Grace Midtown, Atlanta, Georgia – Video Imagery!

12 It is not an enemy who taunts me—
I could bear that.
It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me—
I could have hidden from them.
13 Instead, it is you—my equal,
my companion and close friend.
14 What good fellowship we once enjoyed
as we walked together to the house of God.
Psalm 55:12-14 (NLT)

You know – coming to a new place and town can always be somewhat daunting for those taking the pilgrimage for new opportunities. I have backpacked around the world through Europe, South America, and the continental United States. However the move to Atlanta felt like a move to China for me. I stressed about it in both unusual and unique ways as I was about to experience a test unlike ever faced before; however that is not the subject of this blog and journal entry, even though adversity has been withstood.

In the last two months, I radically experienced two different spectrums of faith: religious churches versus real churches. When I mention a religious church, I mean a legalistic body that follows protocol, rank of title, and certain constitutional procedures and policies. We live Christ in the confines of these guiding principles, placing Jesus in the realm of a box or church structure.

On the flip side, I experienced a real church with real people in the relationships evident at Grace Midtown Church, the home I will inevitably join if I am granted my wish and blessing to make Atlanta my permanent residence for a few many years. Grace is not solely defined by a box of rules. This body of God is defined by the teaching of a real and live Jesus Christ.

Probably more than ever before, through the internet, face-to-face interaction, and phone calls, I have felt more called (literally and spiritually) to this church for growth in addition to security and comfort in an unfamiliar place with recent troublesome and turbulent circumstances. The following video gives a slight feel for how this church rises up to higher heights, much like Birmingham Church of the Highlands, another purpose-driven real community.

I took my home church, Church of the Highlands, extremely for granted when I firsthand experienced a really bad religious institution here in Atlanta upon first moving here. While some might think it wrong to blog about any such church, it became increasingly apparent between stagnant structure of so-called faith versus a life-breathing organization that brings fresh air to our lungs in relationship, small fellowship, and Big Time plays for heaven size purposes. When I escaped the perils of that lost freedom of boredom and routine, I found Grace Midtown House Churches through the referrals of friends in Auburn, Birmingham, and an unusual phone conversation with a rather special college junior obsessed with Arabic culture and building the firm foundation of house churches within Grace Midtown.

And so as you can see in the previous video, I found a home of real people with real worship and real intentions to ask me about me and invite me to activities without my lead, a very unusual social approach. In other words, I am used to introducing myself and meeting others. It was nice to have others do that in my direction, in my favor, and in pursuit of joint relationship with Christ. More people prayed over me at Grace Midtown in six weeks than a year anywhere else I have ever been. Now that is a Christmas present of fellowship worth blogging about! Have your way with me here, Lord! Have your way with me!

Grace Midtown, I owe you an extreme multitude of many thanks and appreciation. While I am not sure where God will place me in 2013, I am so firmly glad and grateful for the meaning you restored into new life relationships, strengthening my faith for a firm presence of mind to rise next year as a new creation. I am ready and willing to be a part of your family once my destination is set, delivered, and whispered into existence. Thank you for the best Christmas present I received this year – your body of believers!

If you, as a reader of my blog, find a faith community like this, you will truly never be the same as these videos illustrate including this past Christmas service at the Gwinnett County Civic Center and Arena. I challenge you this Christmas and this New Year in 2013 to find something that will never make you feel the same again as you live and pursue Christ in the present in real community. Find a body of believers to celebrate holidays like this!