Guidance to 17-Year Old Me (Part Two)

One of the only true friends I have in this world died last night. 45 years old.

The fact that he was a fiercely introverted nonconformist with a cartoonish wit, who had known the darkest throes of trauma and depression at various points in life; who knew what it was like to be misunderstood and ostracized because of his outward appearance…it made us instant friends – and at a time in my life when I had absolutely zero desire to have friends.

We had such a strange and delightful friendship.

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Most people get upset if you text them after such and such a time.  This guy would happily shoot the breeze with you whether it was 1 in the afternoon or 3 in the morning.   We’d talk about anything and everything imaginable – from deep, theological discourse to nuanced 20-minute conversations about Francis from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure; from zany ideas we had for movies or methods that were helping us overcome anxiety and low self-esteem to the latest instance we had fallen under somebody’s grievance for inadvertently breaking some ridiculous unwritten rule of American church convention.

After being misunderstood or replaced by so many “friends” whose judgement never let me be my uniquely real self, it was one of the greatest blessings in this world having a friend who I could be real with and never have to worry about losing him because I wasn’t just like everyone else.

When I ministered at a church in Florida, I put him to use, making him my personal Consigliere.   Whenever I had a casual appointment with someone, he would contact them at my behest a day in advance and send them the wackiest emails that made me sound as important and regal as the King of England.  We did it as a gag about how I don’t take myself as serious as others might.

 

We laughed together until we cried.  But the majority of our friendship was spent hurting together until we cried.

Can’t tell you how many times we prayed together in the park with tears falling down on the bench.  He agonized every single hour of his life in every imaginable way.  He was in such relentless bodily and psychological torment, he told me on a weekly basis that he wanted so badly to leave his earthly tent and to go to his true home with Jesus.

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I believe with all my heart that one of the main reasons God wanted me in Florida those years was to connect with that dude and to impart the strategies I’ve learned in triumphing over anxiety and depression to him in the December of his life.  But as usually the case is in ministry, the people one ministers to almost universally become the very ones who minister even more so to you.

The last time I had a true conversation with him nearly two weeks ago, he said he finally sensed his value and how special he really was in the eyes of God.

He had an 8th grade education.  But he was one of the deepest, most potent thinkers and theologians I’ll ever know.  So much so that I referred to him in a recent sermon as a prominent theologian.  But it wasn’t a joke.  His insight into so many of the Scriptures was unspeakably rich and will resonate in me for the rest of my life.  Many of my sermons and blog posts were birthed from conversations I had with him.

He often predicted that nobody would shed a single tear for him on the day he would die. But I’ve been crying my heart out all day long.

Ultimately, I’m ecstatic for him, finally having been set free from his suffering and now resting in Jesus.

But as for now, my heart is utterly punctured with sorrow at the passing of such a young man.

Aside from Amanda, this guy was my best friend. And my life is irrevocably better because of it.

Your Inner Circle is not a come-one-come-all for just anyone.  This is sacred ground.

Don’t let the people who think they’re above you in.  Let the Troy Niedfelt’s in.  As rare as they are and though they come once in a lifetime, it’s more than worth the wait.

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Troy Niedfelt
1973-2018

Guidance To 17-Year Old Me (Part One)

IMG_3505Stumbled upon this picture from 2001.  I was a sophomore in high school and giving my third ever sermon at one of my hometown churches in Peoria, Arizona.

This was the time when an increasing number of people began coming up to me to acknowledge that this is what I was put on the planet to do.  It was the time when I began filling notebooks with sermon ideas at Ironwood High School during class (instead of paying attention to the teacher) and dreaming for the first time – “What if this wasn’t just me filling in for the minister once every other year anymore?  What if someday, I was the minister?  What if I spent my life doing this every single day?”

And seemingly in the blink of an eye, here we are 17 years later in Philly, ministering to the 7th church in 4 states on 2 continents we’ve labored with long-term.

Plenty of people feel compelled to throw in their “two cents,” either helpfully or not so helpfully.  But sometimes, the greatest of mentors is the modern day version of us blowing the dust off an old Kodak in a shoe box and grasping just how far God has brought us ever since.

As I peer into the face of that terrified 17-year old boy reading from his 13-page manuscript sermon, there’s so much guidance I want to give him.

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Here is what I would say if I could sit down with him over juice and cookies…

Part 1: BE A JESUS.  NOT A PAUL

Paul is the gold standard of those of us who aren’t God.  He was the conduit that the Spirit used to compose half the New Testament.  He’s the one who told struggling churches “Mimic me as I mimic Christ.”   His fearless and relentless fervor to make Christ intensely known anywhere and everywhere is an inferno that needs to blaze in every Christian soul.  He’s the greatest missionary who ever lived.

But like 999,999 out of a million other ministers, I wasted a lot of time subconsciously trying to be Paul-like.  When ultimately, what I needed to do was aspire to be Christ-like.

There are virtues of Paul we need to emulate.  But every single person on the face of the earth is not mentally/psychologically/temperamentally a Paul.  Paul was a freakishly left-brained, methodical, analytical soul.  He was an intellectual black belt and a scientist of theology.

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There are many whose personalities fall under the “A-Type” and left-brained categories.  And for all of those who are, seize the day!

But for the rest of us Barnabas’ who are abnormally “B-Type” right-brained-empath-creatives who specialize in tender-hearted mercy showing, it’s an exhausting process being made to feel as if “Uber A-Type Left-Brain Intellectual” is the only personality type that’s allowed.

Often, Paul wanna-beism morphs into something Paul never actually was, inadvertently leaving in its wake a horde of staid, robotic “professional” preachers across the landscape of the church.  Ones with the facial exuberance of a man driving to his vasectomy.  Who obsess over filling their brain with lofty academia but who scarcely permit those academics to connect to the heart.  Ones who spend their lives using big, elaborate words that cruise over the heads of even the educated, debating in upwards to three hours at a time on the derivation of the conjugative form of the word “the” in a biblical passage.

I don’t believe that’s what I was created to be.  I don’t believe that’s what anyone was destined to be.

When Jesus taught, He didn’t jump into a white lab coat and wax like a religious rocket scientist.  When He spoke, it wasn’t a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of sanctimonious jargon.  Much of the time, when Jesus taught, it was a plain-language teaching, one that dripped with kaleidoscopic creativity.

He sat down in boats, on hilltops, at tables and said “Once upon a time…”

He unmasked the self-righteousness of His listeners by making them characters in the theatre of the mind.

He pointed at objects, at seeds, at water basins and towels; at sparrows and sack lunches and coins, and before their very eyes, suddenly, heaven was so apparent in those everyday things, His audience could taste it.

It’s true that for a time, He spoke exclusively in parables for very unique reasons.  It’s true that several of the things He taught were temporarily veiled and grotesquely misunderstood.

But Jesus seems so much more interested in showing His audience what the kingdom feels like and looks like (when we dare to embody it like a child) so much more than simply knowing some facts about it.

It’s not a matter of Jesus being left-brained.  Or right-brained.  He’s Jesus.  He can’t be labeled or boxed.  Neither does aspiring to be Christ-like call for us to turn water to wine, never sin or become the greatest teacher who ever lived.

But as exemplary and as helpful as Paul’s life is to our own spiritual journey, the reason we exist is for a broken, unbelieving world to see the resurrected Jesus reigning in our hearts and for Him to be so brilliantly alive inside of us, that they see glimpses of heaven so chill-inducingly vivid in the way we live, they can taste it.

Don’t waste one second of your life trying to act like the smartest, loudest, most educated, most important person in the room.  Be the most soft-spoken.  Be the gentlest, the most caring, the most loving, the most child-like.  Be who God uniquely created you to be.

And that is 17-year old flawed, introverted, tender-hearted David Creek doing a Jesus Christ impersonation.

Sincerely,
Flawed, Introverted, Tender-Hearted 34 Year Old You Doing A Jesus Christ Impersonation

Manhattan on 10 Bucks

Just before we went to New York for the workshop of one of Amanda’s colleagues last week, we had an unexpected expenditure that set us back a little.  Suddenly, all we really could afford was the $2.25 subway ride each way from Hoboken to 33rd Street in Manhattan.

It was the greatest possible blessing for our day.

The picnic I shared with my wife in Central Park on a perfect New York afternoon was a vastly happier and more endearing experience than what the most expensive plate at the most decorated 5-Star restaurant in the entire city could have offered.

Often, less is so much more.

Usually, true richness is discovered in what is small.

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I’m weary tonight.

I’m weary of empathy and compassion so often being refused access within the evangelical heart.  It’s a DISEASE.  It’s an epidemic.  It’s a cancer of the soul.

How a brother in Christ goes to his fellow brother, pours his heart out to him; confides that he is being tormented by clinical depression – one that has driven him to the precipice of suicide.

And the response is, “Man up,” “Do some push ups,” or even worse, “You don’t love God.”

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How the social media landscape is crawling with memes and content of people who seem strangely delighted when people fleeing oppressions and tyranny we cannot fathom; horrors that we have had the silverspooned privilege of never having to experience ourselves, are called “animals.”  When victims of horrifying injustices who are peacefully making their voices heard are colluded against and kicked in the teeth ten times harder and their commentary to them is, “Well, if you won’t take it laying down then get on the ship and go back to Africa.  Or Cuba.  Or wherever.”

This is the Christian voice we want the world to hear?  This is a light flashing upon a dark sea?  In what world?

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I’m weary of the elegance of patriotism and the American flag being concocted into a golden calf and a bronze serpent and becoming the god the evangelical unconsciously genuflects before as LORD and MASTER.

I’m weary of the politics of this temporary, corrupt and dying world taking on a more passionate and zealous precedence within the evangelical spirit than the gospel, the great commission and the greatest commands (Matthew 22:36-40).

I am so unspeakably weary.

Weary of the dividing delusions of political-dyed-in-the-wool-gang-mentality-tribalism of “Trump can do no right and Obama could do no wrong;” of “Trump can do no wrong and Obama could do no right.”

I’m weary more than anything of the cowardice and the fear that still somehow exists within my heart at times. I’m weary of the gurgling disgust that festers and lurks within me at this moment where there ought to be peace and overflowing Spirit.

I’m weary of the societal antidotes of empathy and compassion being rejected and dismissed as being too “girly” too “sissy” and too “soft.”

Jesus did not hang His head and breath His last on a Roman cross in order to raise up an army of headstrong, machismo Americans who are too tough to enter into the pain of others or to weep at the plight of those who don’t look like us. He desires an army of compassionate, tender-hearted, grace-loving CHRISTIANS, commissioned and possessed by His Spirit to love everyone in their sight with the same amazing grace that saved a bunch of wretches like us.

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All I know is, when Jesus comes, He won’t care who embraced the Elephant and who embraced the Donkey.

The only thing that will matter when the world is on fire will be who embraced the Lamb.

And who loved his fellow human being as much as he loved himself.

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Congress Contemplating Steroid Hearing for Miami Pastor

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Washington (A.P.) –  2007 was the year of the extensive probe into the treacherous underworld of human growth hormone (HGH) and anabolic steroids in Major League Baseball – a 21st century Salem witch hunt that went all the way to the U.S. Federal Court.  Spearheaded by Maine Senator George Mitchell and his 409-page dossier known as The Mitchell Report, accusations were levied against 89 baseball players.

Vanishing from the limelight for the past decade, the now former Senator made an unforeseen return to the cameras Tuesday morning in Washington, whereupon he announced his new target: a Miami pastor named Danny Prada.

Prada, who pastors the effervescent Heartway Church of Davie, Florida, is known for a transcendence far beyond public oration or ministerial excellence.  The legends circulating of his weight room exploits and freakish superhuman strength have long since reached mythical proportions.

In October of 2016, Prada saved the lives of a tour group, single-handedly slaughtering a horde of ferocious lions while on an African safari – doing so with nothing but the jawbone of a donkey.   In July 2017, stunned onlookers at Aventura Mall witnessed him help three men who were attempting to push a Jeep Grand Cherokee by lifting the sports utility vehicle over his head and carrying it forty yards into a Macy’s parking lot.

“Aw man, Danny Prada.  That dude is a workout monster!” Hector Sulgaro exclaimed at Equinox Gym.  “When anyone else is there, it’s just the gym.  It’s boring, you know.  But the second Prada steps in, it ain’t the gym no more.  It’s a performance.   Everyone just stops whatever they’re doing, everyone’s whipping out their phones and it’s like, ‘What’s this crazy guy gonna do this time?’  Even the professional bodybuilders who come in here are blown away and take notes.  We’ve seen as many as two hundred people gathered around when he hits the weights.  It’s pretty wild, man.”

Two weeks ago, ESPN’s Sports Center aired footage of Prada holding court at the Miami Dolphins practice facility, leaving everyone in the room awestruck.

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“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry said.  “All the big boys were throwing down – Laremy Tunsil, Gavin Escobar, Akeem Spence, all the usual suspects.  Tunsel lays down 315 pounds, he busts out 17 reps and starts hollering at Prada like he don’t belong in there with us.

“Prada is wearing this collared shirt, slacks and dress shoes.  He was there to do a devotional for us.  Dude smiles, walks over – with no warm-ups, and throws down 780 pounds and reps it fifty times.  I mean, just lifting the house:  26!  27!  28!  29!  Then he starts doing tricks and does this thing where he throws it in the air and catches it one-handed and reps it with a different hand each time.  And keep in mind, all this was going down while he did a Bible class lesson with us and was asking us questions about Galatians and stuff.  He was doing things in that weight room that weren’t humanly possible.”

But while everyone else gushes and captures his feats of strength on Instagram, George Mitchell has arrived at a different response, hypothesizing Prada may have an illicit advantage over other pastors, who more resemble the Pillsbury Dough Boy than a Greek statue.

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“When you look at this guy running around doing all this stuff, do you really think this is the byproduct of normal human ingenuity?” Mitchell asked a throng of reporters as the cameras popped.  “We’ve got to start going after some of these preachers.  We’ve got to get to the bottom of this.  When I think of a pastor, I think Reverend Camden from 7th Heaven.  My mind never takes me to the Incredible Hulk or to that orange fellow from Fantastic Four.”

The Senator’s suspicions run even deeper than originally thought, extending far beyond Prada’s gargantuan biceps.

“His sermons are uncommonly good,” Mitchell added.  “So good that I’m left wondering if any performance enhancing drugs he may be experimenting with are beginning to seep into his brainwaves and emblazon his word selection, his flow of speech.  Something’s up here.”

The Senator may be onto something.  Prada’s  sermon “Life Sucks, Then You Die” garnered an unparalleled number of downloads, even by Pradain standards, logjamming Itunes and momentarily breaking the internet Sunday afternoon.

“Maaaaaan, this is crazy talk,” Heartway congregant Brendan Byrne told TMZ, Tuesday afternoon outside a Hialeah Denny’s.  “My boy Danny is clean.  You see how he always smilin’.  He’s just full of the Holy Spirit.  That’s how it’s goin’ down.  This politician needs Jesus, brah.”

As for Prada, he unabashedly welcomes any steroid and HGH test to come his way, even inviting Mitchell to be his guest at a worship service at Heartway.

“Bring it on, baby!” he shouted, amid the clamoring spectators at Equinox Gym, while casually deadlifting a soda machine while swinging upside down from the chin up bar.  “Truth fears no investigation.  This is 100% Jesus, Holy Spirit joy and perseverance.”

He then followed it up by lifting a keg of beer up and down while stepping barefoot on a trail of broken glass shards.

It remains unknown if there will be a Prada steroid hearing at Capitol Hill.  Pundits indicate any case being heard could commence as early as February 2019.

If found guilty, Prada could face a fine of $27.

The Story Behind My Mug Shots

(for spoken version read aloud by the author, click here)

It’s the cry of despair I’ve heard far too many times from across the table.  Where once upon a time, in the heat of some savage moment, somebody made an outrageously terrible mistake.  One that would irrevocably alter the next 5…7…15…25 years of their life.  5…7…15…25 seconds of pure reckless abandon that would haunt their every waking moment from that time forth; that would stain their orange prison jumpsuit with sweat from the nightmares that grieved them in their sleep.

And now, here they sit with me.  Their earth-weary eyes, so ragged and sad, are welling up with bitter tears.  At a loss for true words, I look away as if to search for them, and whenever I reestablish eye contact, there is a melancholy on their face that can be felt.

People like “Jay,” who was arrested ten years ago for breaking and entering a house he burgled to feed his heroin addiction.  Or like “Ricky,” who once assaulted a police officer after committing a heinous crime.  Or, like “Maria,” whose facial tattoos etched from her jail cell were as grisly as the aftermath the crystal meth had inflicted upon her frame.

“They wouldn’t love me,” “Jay” gently laments to me with this erratic cadence.

“I was so happy to be there,” he elaborates.  “Couldn’t wait to get there.  I did my time.  I learned from my mistakes.  I came out a changed man, all brand new!  But they wouldn’t accept me.  It was like no one cared about me.  Until three of the biggest men there came up to me and told me that I wasn’t welcomed and that it was time to go.”

Where this becomes heartbreaking and in other ways, downright infuriating, is that this kind of thing didn’t happen to them at a bar, at the public library or at a job interview.  It happened to them in churches.  By people who wear the name of Jesus Christ.

It wasn’t the facial tattoos, though they were certainly a factor.  It wasn’t that they smelled differently than everyone else, though it played a role in it .  What brought about the rejection and the ostracizing more than anything else was that somebody had the dirt on them.

“It was the mug shots,” “Ricky” says.  “When someone is arrested, they put it up there for all the world to see.”

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“One of them took my name down and googled me and they found all my mug shots on the internet from way back when.  I told them exactly what happened with each one.  I came clean and told them that I was guilty of those things.  And then I shared the story of the pastor who told me about Jesus, and about the day he baptized me and how I came out of that jail a child of God.  I pointed at those mug shots and told them, ‘That’s not who I am anymore!  I know that some people break the law again after getting out.  But I’m walking with Jesus now.   I’m your brother in Christ.”

And that was when they told him it was time to go and appointed three bouncers to send him right back into the street he had come in from.

And it was then as I sat there, having once again heard the cry of despair from yet another rejuvenated human being, in a different place, with similar details but with the identical, sick outcome, that it fiercely registered in my mind.

In the eyes of the law of our land?  They very well may have been the only ones in the room with the mug shots.  But in the eyes of God throughout our lives?  They’re not the only ones with the mug shots.

We all have blood on our hands.  We all have an excruciating past.  Every single one of us have skeletons in our closets.  And in the attic.  And in our basement.  And in the trunk of our car.  And buried six feet deep in our backyard.  We all have stepped into the darkness and made the demons gush with glee.  We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

And no matter how hard we may try to excuse our carnality away, making ourselves to be harmless misdemeanor sinners, while looking at the “Ricky’s” and the “Maria’s” and the “Jay’s” of the world as the felony sinners, we’ve all committed outrageously terrible heinously savage sin crimes against our Creator.  Every last one of us has a rap sheet.

I have never been arrested for anything in my life.  I’ve never been to jail.  In the eyes of the government databases, I have an immaculate criminal record.

But, I had a spiritual rap sheet.  I had so many mug shots from my crimes against the kingdom of God, that it froze the screen and shortcircuited the computers.

Imagine it – an embarrassing, disheveled mug shot for every single time that we have ever sinned.

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I know sometimes we like to think that serial killers and rapists and pedophiles and people who commit bestiality are running around committing the real sins; the big sins.  But the crimes of lying, of worry, of selfishness, of cowardice once had us in the same pin as the Charles Manson’s and the Ted Bundy’s of the earth.  It doesn’t matter what sin one commits – the very first sin we ever committed made us a bunch of Jeffrey Dahmer’s.  One sin made us lawbreakers and necessitated the Lamb of God to offer Himself as the sacrifice.

But it’s also what makes me the happiest.  The one person in Scripture who reminds me the most of myself isn’t Abraham or Moses or Paul.  It’s Barabbas.

Barabbas was the notorious thieving-insurrectionist-killer who was inexplicably exonerated when he should have been executed.   What set him free was Jesus being crucified in his place and becoming sin itself so that He might make Barabbas and us and the entire human family the antithesis of what we were – the righteousness of the Divine.

There we sat in our jail cells.   Haunted night and day.  Guilty of every disturbing detail our rap sheet had documented.  But now, thanks to the grace of heaven, such a one that reaches even me and even you, our chains have been unshackled, our prison cells are swinging open in the night and the criminal record listing all our felonies has been erased and replaced with our names being added into the registry of heaven.

We can look at those mug shots and know  – “That’s not who I am anymore.”

Until then, the “Jay’s,” the “Maria’s” and the “Ricky’s of our broken world continue to search for someone who will love them.  Someone who will acknowledge their transformation.  And someone to celebrate life in Christ with.

What a sadness it is – that everyone else in the circle gets to be forgiven and to be defined no longer by their worst day.  But certain people’s must forever be ostracized and defined by those 5…7…15…25 seconds of their life, because of what happened in ’83.

Perhaps the way we will learn to destroy this practice is to view the grace of God as something that’s even more blessed to give than it is to receive.  Then, as it is in any real family, “me” becomes “us;” “mine” becomes “ours,” and suddenly, now we’re sharing Jesus and we’re sharing redemption instead of trying to hoard Him all to ourselves.
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“Jay” found that belonging at long last sometime later when he discovered not all churches are like the one he experienced.  “I’m back!” he exclaimed to me with the smiling exuberance of a first grader.

I’ll never know if “Maria” or “Ricky” ever did.

What I do know is, whenever we encounter the “Maria’s” and “Ricky’s” of our future, we need to address and own up to the elephant in the room:  that their mug shots and crimes are no less hellish than ours were.

And then, if we do, when we look into their faces, we will see who we used to be, looking back at us.

“When Paul (*the one who called himself the chief of all the sinners) came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.  But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.”
– Acts 9:26-27

 

the awe and gratitude of existing

It isn’t easy. And it’s not exempt of every type of struggle, setback and growing pain imaginable along the way.

But the happiness and joy to be alive that I’m waking up to every morning is so intense, it’s a disorienting happiness. It’s an ethereal awe and gratitude that I exist and that I get to do exactly what I was created and put on this planet to do, everyday.

This is better than playing professional basketball.

I’m not even talking about being the minister at the West Chester Church. That’s the icing on the cake.

I’m talking about being a Christian and being an apprentice of Christ. I and every one of His followers today across the world have the privilege of choosing what He wants and making it what we want today. We get to leave yesterday and all of our failures behind in the past and to learn and mature, even if it is at a snail’s pace.

And get this – we actually GET to love everyone in our sight today, just as He does, and to be walking, talking extensions of Him and conduits of His Spirit.

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This world has seen enough self-righteousness and priggish Churchianity.

I just want to show them JESUS.

I want to be so infused with the Spirit that they walk away from me shaking their head and turning around in a stupefying daze; captivated, having just experienced that Jesus Christ really is the love of the world and that contrary to popular belief, He really is the rescuer of their soul.

Today might not be the day that happens.

But the longer we choose what He wants and He becomes all that we are living for, it’s going to.