Settling for Substitutes
My epiphany began with my morning cup of coffee. I’d just completed my morning ritual of prayer and devotion (my God time), and was eagerly anticipating my “man-I-love-that-first-cup-of-coffee-in-the-morning-cause-it-tastes-so-good-and-feels-so-good-going-down!”
I had filled my cup with java and opened the cabinet door to grab the bottle of agave nectar to sweeten it up a bit. My wife Jackie stumbled upon agave nectar a couple of years ago during a 21 day period of fasting that we where going through at church, and at her suggestion, we’ve been using it ever since. The nectar, a natural sweetener, is actually the sap of the agave plant, which is native to South America. We use it as a sugar substitute because it’s supposed to be better for you than the real stuff. It is sweet, to be sure. And I have no doubt that it’s better for me than sugar. There’s just one problem:
It ain’t sugar!
Even after two years, my taste buds know that something’s different, and my mind definitely knows that while the nectar tastes good, it’s just not sugar!
On this particular morning, as I reached for the bottle of nectar, my eyes betrayed me and settled on the sugar bowl: the one that contained the real stuff. Making a split decision, I defiantly took the sugar bowl from the cabinet, dumped a heaping teaspoon of sugar in my coffee, sat down in my prayer chair, and savored that first sip of coffee made the way that I like it; no substitutes!
As I absentmindedly gazed into my cup of coffee, my mental wheels began to turn, and my thoughts turned to my life since I was born again in 2006, but especially the past three years…
March 8, 2009
I’ll never forget the date. It was the first time that Jackie and I attended a service at Church of The Highlands, here in Birmingham. It was a landmark day for me, punctuated by one of those “hall of fame” moments in time that changed the course of my life forever.
At this point, and before I continue, there’s something that I need to try to explain as best I can…
Since that day in March, many people, including and especially members of my family, have asked why I made the decision to attend a non-denominational Christian church after having been a member of another church all my life.
I won’t try to explain this to you in detail because quite simply, it would take too long. I will tell you that for three years leading up to that day, I had been desperately hungry for something that had been missing in my life for a long time, and quite possibly since I was born.
What I found that Sunday morning was the beginning of a real relationship with a real God. I began to understand a Jesus that I’d always heard about but had never known. And I begin a walk with the Holy Spirit that continues to grow stronger and more purposeful each day.
The funny thing is that Jackie and I just happened to be at Church of The Highlands when it happened. I truly believe that it was God’s plan for me to find Him in that church on that day. In other words, He could’ve led us to any other church in Birmingham, or for that matter, any other church in the world, but it was His plan for us to attend Church of The Highlands.
Since that day…
What I’m gonna share with you now is not from a prideful perspective, as if to say, “Hey, look at what I’ve done! Kudos to me! Aren’t I special?” It’s not about that at all. It is about what God has allowed me to do during my three plus years at the church, and truth be told, I’ve been overwhelmed with gratitude and humbled by the opportunities that God has given me to serve.
When we joined the church two weeks later, I was on fire for God, and I was eager to volunteer for any and all opportunities to serve that I could sign up for.
Since we joined Highlands:
· Jackie and I have opened our home as Home Sponsors to fiveministry students from various parts of the country.
· I’ve served as a Hub Leader and Recruiter for other Home Sponsors.
· I’ve been a part of a team that planted a satellite church campus here in Birmingham.
· I’ve either lead or co-lead six different Bible study/fellowship/Life small groups in our home or business.
· I’ve been a contributing writer for a Daily Devotional for Highlands College, a branch of our church.
· I’ve served as a mentor for several of our students.
Here’s what I realized as I stared into my cup of coffee that was sweetened with the real deal, not a substitute…
My use of agave nectar and my activities in church ran parallel to one another! Yeah, I can imagine that you’re laughing at this moment, but check this out.
Everything, and I mean everything that I’ve done in and with church has been good for me. It’s been more than that: it has been an absolute blessing, and has helped me to grow as an individual and as a leader outside of our business, and has helped me to grow spiritually, and has given me a circle of like-minded God loving friends that have been invaluable in my journey, and has given me more blessings that I could list or probably even realize.
But just as the agave fell short of taking the place of sugar for me, so has all the capacities in which I’ve served at church.
You see, all the things that I’ve done at Church of The Highlands have been a substitute for what I really want to do, which is motivational/inspirational public speaking and having a book published. These are the desires of my heart: To speak, to share, to connect, to enlighten, to give hope, to empower, to do and to go. So there…I said it. For you, and God, and the rest of the world to hear.
From this point on, the majority of my efforts will be directed towards making the desires of my heart a reality. Oh, I’ll still remain active to some degree in church, but not like I have in the past. And I’ll still be available in the prayer room in our hair salon to listen to the hearts of those that God sends there. And if God keeps giving me the words, I’ll continue to write The Seed of hope. And of course, I’m gonna take advantage of every opportunity to share my testimony, and to boldly proclaim God’s goodness, when and wherever I can. But I’m also gonna appropriate some time for me move forward in whatever it is that God has planned for me. I believe that it’s a season for me to move closer to my dreams.
Do my dreams sound self-centered to you? Maybe so, but God put ‘em in my heart. After all, He IS the dream giver, and He gave mine to me. Then too, I believe that all of the opportunities that He has given me at church have been to prepare me for what is to come. Don’t ask me to tell you what that is, because I don’t know. All I know is that I have to be ready, willing, and obedient.
So why am I sharing all of this with you?
The answer is simple. I don’t want you to settle for substitutes.
Look, it’s okay to have substitutes. I’m just asking you not to settle for them forever. Not in your career, in your relationships, in your hobbies, and certainly not in the desires of your heart. Don’t make the mistake of trying to substitute a fill-in for a passion that you may have. You may be blessed by the substitutes, you may grow from them, and if you’re fortunate enough, you’ll be a blessing to someone else in the process. And there is nothing at all wrong with that.
Just don’t lose sight or give up on the desires of your heart, and don’t trick yourself into thinking that something else will satisfy that passion in your heart. It probably won’t.
Chances are that one day, you’ll look back with regret on the dreams that you gave up on, and you’ll spend the rest of your days wondering “What if?”