My Year away from Jesus: Part 1
The boxes were packed and stacked around my bedroom, waiting to be loaded into my '99 Ford Taurus. Looking around my room, I ensured that everything was neatly put away in the boxes, ready to move to Phoenix, Arizona. You see, for the last ten years or so I've lived in Flagstaff, Arizona. In that time I graduated from Northern Arizona University with an elementary education degree. After I graduated from NAU, I began working with students at a local Elementary school for about five years. I loved the job, but my hope was to get my own classroom.
The time finally came where I felt God moving in my heart to move me to Phoenix to teach. I was excited to gather my courage (along with my stuff) and move my life to Phoenix. I landed a teaching job in the center of Phoenix, where I would be teaching 5th grade.
Before I was able to leave for Phoenix, I needed to tell all of my church family in Flagstaff that God was moving me to Phoenix to be apart of this amazing ministry opportunity. Before I knew it, the head pastor at my church asked me to go stand on the stage of the church so that the church members could pray for me. The prayer felt empowering and encouraging as I prepared for my life change.
So, I left for Phoenix.
This was the start of a time period where I would walk away from Jesus, the God-man that had freed me from so much over the last ten years. The same God that I promised I would never turn from and abandon. similarly to so many, my descent started small. It started with small decisions and choices that I would make that would snowball into bigger issues, leaving life-long memories that I will have to deal with and tackle as I fight for my relationship with the Almighty LORD.
As the months went by and I started working in fifth grade, my faith slowly deteriorated through difficult times and bad decisions. As I struggled with my new job, I lost focus on God though this time. For example, I would come home from a difficult time at work and stress would be layered over my chest, weighing down my heart and my mind. At the end of the night I would read through some scripture and pray, then I would go to bed; hoping to have a better day the next day.
When my days would continuously go bad and sometimes even get worse; I realized that I grew more tired at the end of the day. Slowly I read less scripture and prayed will less expectation. It seemed like my only solace was Sundays, when I would go to church. Often I found myself wiping tears of joy from my eye as the worship band played; I still had hope. although I was loosing it quickly.
As I write these words, nearly two years after I moved to Phoenix, Arizona I have to reflect and discover what were some of the causes that lead me down this path. I also am being forced to consider what I could have done to prevent this descent down the mountain of faith.
1. Community- The Bible is very clear about the need for community for the Christian . Building a firm and reliable Christian community could keep you focused on your mission. The community will also be there to pray for you and guide you through the trial and tribulations of your ministry. I can't say that I didn't have a great community around me because I had Fellow teachers and friends who would have willingly walked with me through all of the difficulties that I have faced. The true issue was my trust of these individuals. I have learned that the importance of community is not to just simply have crowds of people around you, instead true community comes from having people around you that you trust and who care about you; people who will hear your stories and talk you though them, giving you advice. As I said, my issue wasn't having people around me, I had plenty. My issue was being open and honest with the people who were around me. I felt like I had to solve my problems on my own, therefore I wouldn't allow myself to be completely honest with everything that I was truly facing. Yes, I had a community of family and friends around me, but I wasn't using them to the most effect that they should have been. Also, in this time I had lived with a home church or a church community. While I did find a church to go to, I never truly connected with the members of the community. Obviously that cost me a lot when it came to my faith walk and my growth as a man of God. I was essentially stunting my own spiritual growth with this choice.
2. Influence- Now, anybody with any life experience at all could tell you that not only do they have influence on people but they have been influenced by the people around them. The lesson of community and influence truly go hand-and-hand. The company that you keep influences the person that you become. Over the last two years I have had many influences come and go. Unfortunately the ones that I chose to keep around where the ones who lead me astray. Please understand that I am not saying this to blame the individuals in my life for my distance between myself and God. I am writing this to share what I've learned though this very trying experience. Influence is a two-way street. If people can influence you positively or negatively than you too can influence them as well. The dilemma is when a person is allowing negative thoughts to fill their mind and heart, more often than not that vibe will overflow into the person's influence of others. This was never more evident than in my own classroom. Over the last years I was negatively influenced by my lack of God's presence in my life along with the other influences of people, music, media, and my own thoughts. As they filled my heart and my mind, I carried a negative presence into my classroom. As I faced challenges in the role of teacher, the dark cloud got heavier and harder to bare. That same cloud filled my classroom, hanging over the head of every student that stepped foot in my room. This is an impact that I never wanted to leave with such an amazing group of kids. Soon, I realized that I need to change my influences if I wanted to become the person that I once was. If I desire to influence and impact the world for God's ultimate glory, then I must grab hold of my influences and learn to control them. I can not allow them to have control over my thoughts and my mood, I must speak out the truth of God. I will pray to God to allow my thoughts and my mood to be an influential element to the world around me.
3. New surroundings- I spent nearly ten years in flagstaff, Arizona. From the time that I was 17 until right before my 27th birthday. Flagstaff became my home away from home. For years it was the place that I first met God and realized his dying love for me. It was there that I discovered who I was and what I was capable of. Flagstaff was the place where my heart opened to God's word and His plan for my life. I started working in multiple ministries, impacting the lives of those that I worked with. When God called me to move to Phoenix, I thought that it would be easy to transfer my passion and my heart for people and ministry to the new place, but I soon found that more difficult than anticipated. Now, once again I am not saying that the new surroundings changed me, but I am saying that if one does not properly prepare their heart for the transition through prayer and building a firm community within the church, then it makes the transition extremely difficult.
5. That's what I did; I failed to properly prepare my heart for the transition. I lacked discipline in finding a church and building a church community that would hold me accountable to the life of a Christian. Due to my own choices I found distance between myself and the God that I once loved so dearly. Now, That I am on the road to recovery and rebuilding my relationship with Christ, I feel the need to tell the truth of my journey, leaving nothing to the imagination.
James Chapter 3: Part One
“5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.”
James chapter 2: Part two
“14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”
“15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[b] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
James chapter 2
“My brothers,[a] show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”
“2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?”
“5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?”
“9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
James chapter 1: Part two
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”
“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King: Chapters 21-24
After the “I have a dream” speech and the shifting of southern laws to create equality, one would believe that peace would show its dominance, but there was soon a church bombing that killed four young girls.
“So, they have something to say to us in their deaths. They have something to say to every minister of the Gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of the stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to the federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of Southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing Northern Republicans. They have something to say to the Negro who passively accepts the evil system of segregation and stands on the sidelines in the midst of a mighty struggle for justice………..The death of these little children may lead our whole Southland from the low road of man's inhumanity to man to the high road of peace and brotherhood………The spilt blood of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham to transform the negative extremes of a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future. Indeed, this tragic event may cause the white south to come to terms with its conscience.” (Pg. 231-232)
This is definitely some food for thought in the world that we are living in. Are we just sitting there with our mouths shut pretending not to see the wicked things are happening around us or are we willing to stand and make a change?
Due to his work throughout the years, King was notified that he was receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. When he heard this, he did not know how to take the news, until he sat and pondered it for a while:
“Members of ground crew would not win the Nobel Peace Prize. Their names would not go down in history. They were unknown soldiers in the second great American Revolution. Yet, when years rolled past and when the blazing light of truth is focused on this marvelous age which we are now living-men and women will know and children will be taught that we have a finer land, a better people, and more nobel civilization-because of the ground crew which made possible the jet flight to the clear skies of brotherhood. On December 10 in Oslo, I would receive-for the ground crew-a significant symbol, which is not for me, really. (Pg.257)
While giving his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, King had this to say:
"I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.” (Pg.260)
This shows King's desire to keep pressing forward with his goal towards a world that revolves around inequality yet it shows a generation's drive to fight for the equality of people. I believe that this quote also shows that true justice can not die. We are daily given the opportunity to lift up the hurting and the oppressed around us.
“Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have concern for 'the least of these.' Deeply etched in the fiber of our religious tradition is the conviction that men are made in the image of God and that they are souls of infinite metaphorical value, the heirs of a legacy of dignity and worth. If we feel this as a profound moral fact, we cannot be content to see men hungry, to see men victimized with starvation and ill health when we have the means to help them.” (Pg 261
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King: Chapters 19-20
In Birmingham, the most racially segregated city in the world, one of the most amazing things happened: desegregation began to unfold.
When King was released from jail, the SCLC began a new series of demonstrations that included children who would volunteer. While the youngsters who volunteered would also be arrested and imprisoned, many youngsters were willing to sacrifice in
order to bring change.
One young man said this to his father: “Daddy, I don't want to disobey you, but I have made my pledge. If you try to keep me home, I will sneak off. If you think I deserve to be punished for that, I'll just have to take the punishment. For, you see, I'm not doing this only because I want to be free. I'm doing it also because I want freedom for you and Mama, and I want it to come before you die.” (Pg. 207)
King and the rest of the civil right leaders soon found themselves sitting in a meeting with a community of government officials in order to come to an agreement. The agreement contained these pledges:
1. the desegregation of lunch counters, rest rooms, fitting rooms, and drinking fountains.
2. The upgrading and hiring of Negroes on a nondiscriminatory basis throughout the industrial community of Birmingham.
3. official cooperation with the movement leaders in working out the release of all jailed persons on bond or on their personal recognizance.
4. Through the Senior Citizen's Committee or Chamber of Commerce, communicate between Negro ad white to be publicly established. (Pg. 214)
As Birmingham began to be effected by the Civil Rights movement, there soon became national attention. The leaders were now planning the March on Washington, which would the largest assembly to be assembled in the United States. When referring to the March, King wrote this:
“The enormous multitude was the living, beating heart of an indefinitely nobel movement. It was an army without guns, but not without strength. It was an army into which no one had to be drafted. It was white, and Negro, and of all ages. It had adherents of every faith, members of class, every profession, every political party, united by a single idea. It was a fighting army, but no one could mistake that its most powerful weapon is love.” (Pg. 222)
It was here that King gave his famous “I have a dream” speech, which many believe changed the hearts of a nation.
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King: Chapters 15-18
After numerous arrests and bails, King and the rest of the SCLC decide to take the rest of the fight to to Birmingham, Alabama. This was a place filled with segregation and segregation supporters. King described Birmingham as a place of severe segregation and the mistreatment of the black community, which made by a large fraction of the city's total population. He concludes his description like this:
“You would be living in the largest city of a police state, presided over a governor-George Wallace- Whose inauguration vow had been a pledge of 'segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!' You would be living, in fact, in the most segregated city in America.” (Pg. 173)
One would think this statement would put fear into the hearts of those civil rights fighters, but they kept on. While preparing for the various challenges that would come with the new protests, King would inspire the volunteers with his words.
“To the ministers I stressed the need for a social gospel to supplement the gospel of individual salvation. I suggested that only a "dry as dust” religion prompts a minister to extol the glories of heaven while ignoring the social conditions that cause men an earthly hell.“ (Pg 179)
"I pleaded for the projections of strong, firm leadership by the Negro minister, pointing out that he is freer, more independent, than any other person in the community.” (Pg. 179)
“I expounded on the weary and worn "outsider” charge, which we have faced in every community where we have gone to to try to help. No Negro, in fact, no American is an outsider when he goes to any community to aide the cause of freedom and justice. No Negro anywhere, regardless of his social standing, his financial status, his prestige and position, is an outsider as long as dignity and decency are denied to the humbled black child in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.“ (Pg 179-180)
These words changed the hearts of all that heard them. It turned fear and suspicion into faith and enthusiasm. With this new found energy, another protest was planned and executed. The demonstrators faced a number of new challenges in Birmingham; one of the biggest one was dog attacks and a large number of imprisoned demonstrators.
During his time in jail in Birmingham, King read a letter that was written to him by a group of white ministers asking him to stop the demonstrations, saying that the demonstrations were too extreme and ill timed. While still in prison, King penned a response, which was later titled, "Letter from Birmingham Jail”
In this letter King reveals that he has been disappointed with the actions of the church in his fight for civil rights. He soon says this in his response:
“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to the positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in your goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.'.“ (Pg. 195)
He later goes on to say: "Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it ca be cure.” (Pg. 195)
There was plenty of things said that could get the mind's wheels spinning and to encourage the Christian to be more mindful of life's daily struggle. I believe as a body of Christian believers we should be willing to look and act as an extremist in order to ensure that God's love is seen by all people.
The Autobiography of MLK:Chapter 13-14
In this times of division of the United States, it feels as if we don't know what direction to go. We don't know who who is wrong and who is wrong. We don't know who to believe in. Too often it seems that wickedness and acts of violence run through out lives, leaving a path of destruction in it's wake.
In this time of national division we find ourselves filled with hate. People have allowed their hate to lead their actions, creating chaos in the streets and the hearts of many. At the same time, there are people showing love though these difficult times. Unfortunately, we as a society seem to dislike or forget about those individuals that act in love.
Martin Luther King wrote it this way:
"The world doesn't like people like Gandhi. That's strange, isn't it? They don't like people like Christ; they don't like people like Lincoln. They killed him-this man who had done all of that for India, who gave his life and who mobilized and galvanized 400 million people for independence......One of his own fellow Hindus felt that he was giving in too much for the Moslems.......Here was the man of nonviolence, falling at the hands of a man of hate. This seems the way of history. And isn't it significant that he died on the same day that Christ died? It was on Friday. And this is the story of history, but thank God it never stopped here." (Pg. 132)
This is very thought provoking. It is amazing to glance into history and see that those who take a true stand to change the world; to change the hearts of those who have shaped our world. It creates a fear in the hearts in those that want to do what is right.
The true beauty is the written line, "And this is the story of history, but thank God it never stopped here." While this truth reverberates throughout history, we can take solace in the fact that God is not finished with his work throughout this world. The work of God has not stopped with the fear in the hearts of the majority, it continues today, with the loving and compassionate actions of the individuals that are willing to stand for what is right.
Questions to ask:
Should we continue to fight for the rights of others with our lives on the lines? Should the fear of death hinder the courage it takes to change the world for the better?
Thoughts from Martin Luther King:
"But I do have a graduation thought to pass on to you. Whatever career you may choose for yourself-doctor, lawyer, teacher-let me propose an avocation to be pursued along with it. Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights. Make it a central part of your life.
It will make you a better doctor, a better lawyer, a better teacher. It will enrich your spirit as nothing else possibly can. It will give you that rare sense of nobility that can only spring from love and selflessly helping your fellow man. Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the nobel struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in"
This is a huge challenge! As I write these words, I want to make them a challenge to fulfill these words in my life! This challenge is not for me only, it is for my family, my friends and my students. This challenge from Martin Luther King can truly impact the world that we live in. This challenge can change the world, but only if we commit to it. Nothing will change if the supporters live out this challenge daily, with a mindful effort to live for civil rights.
This challenge is to stand for what I believe in order to benefit the world. Lord, help me to live a life for humility and love towards the people in my life!
Anthony K. Giesick
I grew up loving stories and quickly found myself loving writing poetry, stories, songs! Here is a sample of what Beautiful Feet Writings is all about!.