Sunday, March 31, 2013 | By: Jake

I Am Still in Charge

After a day of eating, procrastination, and volleyball, I took off with six other friends for my grandma's house. We went out for pizza at the famous Giordano's, had some awesome conversations and went around the table complimenting each other. One of the most surprising compliments I received was that I was an "all-or-nothing" kind of really got me thinking...realizing that God wants all of me, it's a really big step for me to be able to say "Here, have all of me. I trust You more than myself." We throw around that "gave my life to Christ" phrase just as much as we do "I love you", "Thank you", or "How are you?"

Anyway, we finished dinner, and went over to my grandma's house where we would be spending the night. I played the ukulele, and we sang some really quiet and peaceful worship songs, slowly lulling ourselves to sleep just as the apostles did.

In the morning, a few of my friends started putting together breakfast, but soon enough, that simple breakfast turned into an Easter feast. Planning to just have some french toast on paper plates, we soon found ourselves cooking more and more food, getting out my grandma's china, the fancy table cloth....

Our colorful Easter Feast
We prayed together, talked together, and just enjoyed each other's company, enjoyed His company. A group of friends, just all trying to make something out of nothing...just like He made us out of nothing. We used the talents we had been given and made something special, something worth remembering...and clean-up went by in a flash. It's amazing how efficient and productive the Body of Christ can be...

Three more friends came and we just continued celebrating...some us played games, others talked, some dyed and colored was really something special.

Two friends joined me in a walk through the woods, which of course, I had to do barefoot.

Walking across the frozen dirt, the dead trees, the swampy mud...if only foot-washing had been today. This is probably how dirty the apostles' feet were...this is how dirty my soul...but He made it clean.

We walked back to the house, made yet another Easter feast for dinner, and then headed off to Willow Creek for their Saturday Easter service. Joining along with roughly 10,000 other Christians, we sang praises to the King of Kings, boldly proclaiming and celebrating His Resurrection. Again and again, we announced it: He is Risen! Alleluia! 

We sat down and watched three testimonies...three lives changed...a former Muslim that found Christ, a former "goody two shoes" that realized she didn't deserve Him, and then a 40-year old man...

But the 40-year old man's story was different...he talked about how he had "listened to the whisper" and given His life to Christ when he was 17. Yet even with that, he continued to lead his life the way that he wanted to...he continued to be the "CEO" of his life until just recently, when he finally decided that Christ was a better CEO than he was.

Afterwards, Bill Hybels came to the stage and talked about the idea of surrendering your life to Christ...

We were handed white flags when we came in, and he told us that we could write three different things on them:
  1. "Regime Change: Easter 2013" - A surrendering of being the CEO of our lives...this option was for non-believers or dormant Christians who had never made the step to give their life to Christ. 
  2. "Re-Surrendering: Easter 2013" - A re-surrendering of our lives to Christ...this option was for the believers who needed a revival, a wake-up call to their faith...kind of like the renewal of the baptismal vows in the Catholic Church
  3. "I Am Still in Charge: Easter 2013" - An option for the non-believers, for the people that weren't ready for Christ to take control of their lives, who weren't ready to stop being the CEO
He wanted us to write down an option...but I didn't have a pen. But I knew exactly what I would write...
"I Am Still in Charge: Easter 2013"
I didn't think I was ready...I still don't think I'm ready. It's a big step, and it means giving up a lot of "you", in fact, all of you. And along with being an "all-or-nothing" kind of guy, I can't just say that I'm fully surrendering, that I'm doing a "regime change" if I don't plan to give over all of it. 

The Cross is a scary thing, and we act like when we start following Christ, our lives become easier...we expect better jobs, better possessions, better relationships...but that's all wrong. 

I'm not in a period of doubt...I know God is Real...and deep down, I know that He knows best, that he would be a better CEO, that He has a better plan...

But that involves a lot. And I want to make sure I'm writing it down honestly, that I'm fully for I did as I was told. It was hard, it was painful, but it was convicting...and I wrote down what was true:

I Am Still in Charge.
Friday, March 29, 2013 | By: Jake

We Paused

For Holy Thursday, after some prayer, worship, and foot-washing with close friends, I attended Tenebrae at the Basilica at Notre Dame, an amazing service that I also attended the previous year. However, last year, I attended and focused a lot more on the "show" aspect of it...being amazed by the choir, the loud organ, the lights, etc.

But this year, it was a little bit different. I tried actually paying attention to what was being sung, to what I was saying, attempting to realize what the cross meant...not what the cross did for us, or what it meant for us, but what the cross, itself, meant. And it meant a lot of suffering, feelings of abandonment, showed the power of God...

As we sang together those emoting words from the 22nd Psalm...

My God...My God...Why have You forsaken me?

It's a powerful quote that we probably say a lot more than we know...God, how could You let this happen?...God, I thought you were a loving God!....and maybe even once in a while, we add some wonderful four-letter words in there for Him. It perfectly sums up this idea of wrestling with God, wrestling the Creator, fighting over past events, fighting over current circumstances, fighting over the call of the future...

My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?

And the Kýrie, Eléison...

My God, My Lord, My Christ, My Savior....Have Mercy...sung with such passion, but "passion" doesn't even begin to describe it...more like desperation, fear, we realize Christ as our only hope.

And as the Light processed out of the Basilica, we sat amidst the earthquake, amidst the suffering...and instead of moving on, we waited.

We paused.

And this afternoon, at Granger Community Church, we heard Jason Miller mention the same thing...not to quickly rush past Good Friday to Resurrection Sunday, but to pause, to take in this moment. We have a great benefit in knowing what happens on Easter...a benefit that the first Christians did not have.

Because they thought they had lost their Savior, they thought He would not return, they thought they were forsaken just as He was...

And we took the bread and wine, we took in the moment, and together, we shared in the meal, remembering the cross...

And we united our voices in that remembrance, and for the first time, I could hear the church's voices over the quiet acoustic alive church, a church desperate to share the good news...but not until Sunday...

Because until then, we wait.

Thursday, March 28, 2013 | By: Jake

The Beginning!

In November of 2011, I heard about an amazing opportunity within Notre Dame's Campus Ministry...a pilgrimage to the Holy Land over Spring Break. Amazed that I actually had a chance of going on the trip, I eagerly waited to see if I was accepted into the program, only to find out that the trip had been cancelled due to last minute logistical and financial issues. Disappointed to say the least, I actually ended up having a pretty good spring break, staying on campus with weather in the high 70s.

Not quite knowing what to do inside an airport.
A year later, this past October, I heard about the opportunity again, and immediately applied (and by immediately, I mean that I instantly decided I would apply and then procrastinated on the application, turning it in a solid 5 minutes before the deadline). A quick two weeks later, while I was in the midst of an awful case of bronchitis, I received an email around 3am informing me that I had been accepted to go this year! It all seemed so surreal...never having been on a plane, and never having left the US, this was sure to be quite the experience, not to mention walking the very place where Christ walked!

In order to go on the trip, I had to raise a lot of money and was astounded by the generosity of close friends, distant acquaintances, members from my church, and family friends that I had never actually met! To all of them, I cannot express how grateful I am because the trip would not have been possible without them.

Over Christmas break, I made my trip to USPS to get my passport, and before I knew it, February raced by....and March had rolled right in. I went home to get some last minute things and my luggage (that my parents graciously bought for me) the weekend before I left. Although we had a few pre-pilgrimage classes before we left for the trip, many of the other pilgrims were mere acquaintances...but we became close friends soon enough!

As I walked over to the Coleman-Morse Center on March 8th, I wanted to scream, "I'M ABOUT TO GO ON MY FIRST PLANE. I'M GOING TO ISRAEL." to everyone student I walked past on the quad...but I held back.

AKA "O'Hare Airport"
We took the long bus ride from Notre Dame's campus to O'Hare---my first time inside O'Hare. Confession: I grew up thinking that this building to the right was O'Hare....until about 8th grade. Needless to say, I was pretty confused when we got to here...and still really don't understand what it means to "check in" haha.

I checked my baggage, went through know, all the fun stuff. We had to wait a good four hours or so before boarding, but it actually went by pretty fast. We went to our gate, and I saw that we would be flying on a Boeing 747; needless to say, I was pretty excited.

A little "surprised" that my first airplane was going to be a Boeing 747.
Before long, it was time to board the plane...and I'm pretty sure all of my nerves were calmed by the constant pictures of me "being scared".
Thankfully, Anastasia calmed any last minute fears.
I ended up getting an aisle seat on the plane, so I couldn't complain. Overall, I am a big fan of flying...even with a 7 hour and 49 minute flight to Amsterdam, I was pretty excited. The food was a lot better than I expected it to be, and I had a lot of time to journal and read.
Kate, Amanda, and Trevor---my helpers through the first flight.
Sleep, on the other hand, was not the easiest thing. I assumed a neck pillow would help, but at times, it actually made things worse. We arrived in Amsterdam 7am their about midnight our time. Thankfully, jet lag wasn't even a problem for me---let's just say coffee in Europe is very strong!
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 | By: Jake

Wrestling Yahweh

One time, while talking with a friend, I remember him mentioning that he felt like his walk with God is this constant, complacent, not really good, not really bad, major ups or downs. For me, it could not be farther from the's a constant cycle with spiritual "highs" and spiritual "lows"...moments of very close connection with God and moments very far away.

Last semester, I was studying Management and Theology...Theology was useful in the "highs" and Management was useful in the "lows". From working at the Career Center at my school, I am well aware of the advantages of double majoring with something like unique it makes you, how it tends to show you as an ethical person, how it shows you think about a lot of stuff. Even in these moments where I wasn't sure where I would be in my faith over the next ten years, I was still able to justify a lot of my decisions. I know I have pretty good business skills, and if I chose to actually go down the path of financial "success", it would be possible.

But earlier this semester, after a lot of discernment, after I dropped out of the Business College and made Theology my sole major, I put a major obstacle in the path of financial "success". I no longer had a place to run to...because my "high" self had made a decision that my "low" self wouldn't. I couldn't run away from God.

I had decided upon these three milestones:

God Is Important
God Wants All of Me
God Is Real

So how do these milestones affect my walk with Christ?

This year, I'm taking a class entitled Religion and Autobiography, taught by the amazing Fr. John Dunne. Although the class has been very inspirational, I couldn't get over one moment:
Fr. Dunne had mentioned his book: A Journey with God in Time, and how he believed this "journey" described life. But he had one past colleague who disagreed with him...saying, "That's where you're wrong, John. My life is not a journey with God, but a wrestling with God."
Since that moment, I've greatly resonated with the idea of wrestling with God...rebelling and following Him , loving and hating Him, seeking and running away from Him. Because God's Love is so strong, it makes Him vulnerable at times, and I can easily take advantage of that.

But sometimes, I have to realize how amazing this is. I'm not wrestling a brother, a roommate, a friend...

I'm Wrestling the Creator of the Universe.

I'm Wrestling Yahweh.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 | By: Jake

God Is Real

This is probably the hardest, and for the most part, will remain one of the hardest milestones for me personally.

I mean God is important...that's pretty easy to prove. I'm pretty sure that most atheists would even say that if God was real, He would be of the utmost importance. And it's also pretty easy to prove that God wants all of me...maybe not easy to accept, but it's not a surprise that He doesn't just want a part of you.

But it's hard to prove that God is real...personally speaking, I know I've put on my "Christian face" at times when I wasn't sure what my beliefs were. During that atheism period, for the most part, I wasn't very open about what I was thinking, and to most, I'm sure I appeared as a Christian. I just avoided talking about the subject.

Two weeks ago, I went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and everything changed...

Standing within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a Franciscan priest who lived there gave us a very informative tour. To start off the tour, he said something that greatly convicted me:
"Friends, we are not here because this is place where a man by the name of Jesus was crucified. We are not here because this is the place where the body of a man recently crucified was anointed with oils and perfumes. And we are not here because this is the place where this same man was buried. These things are not hard to accept, and even many non-believers agree with them. We are here solely because we believe that a man by the name of Jesus, after being crucified, anointed, and buried, rose from the dead! We are here because we firmly believe that this man resurrected. Think about that while you are here."
We do not follow Christ because He helps us cope with suffering. We do not follow Christ because He brings us joy or comfort. We do not follow Christ because He was a compassionate being and was very moral. We follow Christ because we believe that He truly was the Son of God, and that He actually resurrected from the dead.

I'm not a Christian because it helps my life. I'm a Christian because it's true.

I'm a Christian because God is real.

So, God is real. Check.

Sunday, March 24, 2013 | By: Jake

God Wants All of Me

Almost a year and a half later, I had my "second milestone":

On October 7th, 2012, my off-campus church, Granger Community Church, had a Baptism weekend. GCC has baptism weekends twice a in the fall and one shortly after Easter. Prior to this service, I had thought long and hard over whether or not I should get baptized. Already being baptized in the Catholic Church as an infant, what was the purpose of this baptism supposed to be?

To wash away all my past sins? My ticket to eternal salvation? I wasn't really sure. I ended up not signing up. Then I saw this video the weekend before the service, made by Jason Miller and the Creative Arts Team:

I realized that for me, this baptism wasn't for salvation...I didn't get anything from it. He got something from it...I was publicly declaring my faith, my desire to follow Christ, my promise to give up my life. That phrase is said so often, that over the many centuries, it's lost meaning. This means that Christ goes before us...that in every action, we should be glorifying Him, not ourselves.

We arrived at GCC and the service began...dozens of people prepared to be baptized. Shortly beforehand, we recited the Apostle's Creed as a full church, but we weren't just reciting it, we weren't even saying it...we were declaring it, announcing our proclamation of what we boldly believe. 

One by one, the pastors started baptizing believer after believer...tears poured down faces, as people announced their promise, their up their lives, handing them over to God, following God's will. Being put under the water and coming up as a new person, with a new beginning...knowing full well of the trials ahead, that they were not going to be perfect Christians. But...they knew that He was perfect.

And then I watched as 15-20 men in prison went up to be trapped in cages because of past actions, allowed to come to the church for this special declaring that their actions did not define them, and even with their actions, Christ still immensely loved them.

And then it happened...I wanted to get baptized. The pastor announced something along the lines of, "We're almost done, but even if you didn't plan on getting baptized...if you feel called by God, we'll welcome your decision with open arms...and if you're worried about you getting your clothes wet or your hair messed up, then you might want to rethink what God means to you."

I made the decision. I was going to do it. My close friend, Linsey, prayed over me and walked me up to the front....and I was baptized, along with dozens of believers:

The heavens did not open dove came down from the sky...but this moment could not be more spiritual. A dying of the old and a birth of the new. For when we were baptized into Christ, we were baptized into His death. (Romans 6:3-4)

I walked back to my seat, tears in my eyes, receiving hugs from random people that I didn't know (well, didn't know at the time---turns out that a newlywed couple who now runs our home group were in the same row as me!). I stood shaking, part of me sad that this meant I could no longer chase after my desires, but a larger part of me full of Joy, knowing that I was His.

This call to walk with's not an easy one to accept. And there's this myth going around that when you accept Christ, life becomes really easy...but as it is written, suffering is sure to come, and we now receive pleasure from Christ, not earthly things. I can't continue pursuing my dreams if they don't align with His Kingdom. My heart must become His life, His Life....not just parts of it.

So, God Wants All of Me. Check.
Saturday, March 23, 2013 | By: Jake

God Is Important

There have been many different milestones in my life: birthdays, holidays, graduations, accomplishments...the list can go on and on, but there are a few different milestones that rank above all.

On April 9th, 2011, I attended a worship night at Stone Hill Bible Church. Aside from being a night of worship, Carolyn Twietmeyer from Project Hopeful spoke and gave her testimony, speaking about how God had affected her life, how she had adopted children with HIV/AIDS and sought to give them a life of true love, just like the True Love that she received from Christ. This night was after a few months of doubting my faith, after becoming an atheist for a short period of time, and after slowly developing a prayer life and attempting to realize who Christ actually was. And the words played in the back of my mind:
"Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important." - C.S. Lewis
After years of being "lukewarm" in my faith, years of just going through the motions, I finally realized that this was a lot more important than I had previously thought.

So, God is important. Check.