My Time in the Trees

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As all of you have certainly noticed, this month we’ve been writing about positive experiences the church has given us. Since I write about biblical context and backgrounds as the resident archaeologist, this has been a difficult assignment for me. It’s not what I typically do. That said, at the 11th hour, I seem to have come up with something worth sharing, a bit of my personal testimony.

Despite living in northern Oregon, most every summer during my childhood my family would pack up our motor home and drive all the way down to California for the Northern California Conference camp meeting in the great redwood forests. It was unfailingly the highlight of my year.

For those who haven’t been, the Redwood camp meeting is awesome. It’s a 10-day run of meetings, lectures, fellowship, being in nature, and connecting with God. At the risk of sounding like a Druid, being out in the forest, among nature and the trees and away from the insanity of normal life, it’s a spiritual place. This is what camp meetings were originally and what they ought to be, unlike the long weekend stints at the nearby college campus. Here, people actually, you know, camped. The Redwoods was always a special time for me but no more so than the summer following my freshman year of high school.

Like most people, my freshman year was difficult, although probably not for the same reasons. It started off with a close friend dying in a hiking accident and kind of just went downhill from there. Dealing with grief I was unaccustomed to along with being stifled in a tiny town and school plus the typical puberty hormones, I was pretty messed up by the time summer came around. I had committed to going to Upper Columbia Academy the next year (arguably the best decision of my life) but frankly didn’t know if I wanted to be a Christian, let alone Seventh-day Adventist anymore. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God, although I wasn’t so sure; more I just didn’t care.

Now I was intimately acquainted with the beliefs of the church and all the whys and so on. My parents had done a great job of teaching me the facts, something I am grateful for. But what they couldn’t teach me, what no person can teach another, is how to make those beliefs a real, living, faith of my own. I went through the motions because I had nothing better to do but it was stale. Once I left, I wasn’t planning on sticking to it.

Then camp meeting happened. I went to the youth tent of course where a pastor named Jonathan Henderson was giving the evening talks. He talked to us about David but it wasn’t the subject matter that woke me up. It was the way he talked about God and the way he prayed. He talked about God as if he was a real person, one that was active in his life and the world at large and not just some idea. It was so vibrant and undeniably real, it got my interest. I wasn’t drawn to him as much as I was drawn to what he had.

Over the course of the ten days, I got to talking with him and saw more of his faith. I don’t honestly remember much of what we talked about but just seeing that convinced me pursue God. I wasn’t sure what he had, but I wanted it. So I went after it.

That particular story is a long probably much more boring one. Frankly, I’m not sure if I’ve gotten to that sense of realness with God. At times yes; others, not so much. It’s daily struggle with its ups and downs, something I’ve come to accept. The journey isn’t over.

But it was that camp meeting that got me started on the journey. It is one of the biggest reasons I am where I am today. Pastor Henderson probably doesn’t remember me, let alone have a clue how his witness impacted my life (side note: if anyone knows him, feel free to pass along my gratitude or tell me how to contact him so I can say it myself). I shudder to think the person I would be now were it not for that summer.

Also, soon I will start a series on Who Were They, discussing the non-Israelite people’s of the Bible starting with the Philistines. If there is any people group you want to hear about or any other archaeology/Bible history/Bible context question you have, feel free to comment below and I’ll get right on it.
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Beyond Truth: Testimony of Manuel Gomez

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Do you have a testimony you would like to share on thehaystack.tv? Well it’s easy! Just send us a message on our Facebook page and we will get back to you.

I was born in Pinar del Rio, Cuba. Growing up in a communist country was definitely a challenge for my Christian walk. Every day when I left the house in the morning I knew my faith was going to be tested in some way, but this process helped me to lay a strong, logical, foundation to what I believed and why. However, there was one thing missing; a relationship with Jesus. I knew to keep every aspect of the Law and how to speak and behave properly, especially in church! But no one ever told me about this relationship with Jesus stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I was sure that Jesus came to this world, and died for me, and was risen from the tomb, and will come back eventually – but He was just way too busy making sure the universe functions properly to have, or even want, a relationship with this Cuban, red-headed, freckle-faced, little boy. This all changed in March 2006.

In March 2006, my dream came true. I found myself in a 62 foot yacht heading to Mexico in a journey to every Cuban’s promise land: The United States. After almost three weeks and a few stops, we finally made it. This new place brought a whole new set of challenges for which I was just not ready. Challenges that I realized I could not conquer on my own. I needed something else, I needed someone else. I needed Jesus, but I was sure He was too busy for such small business. The next few years were full of ups and downs, victories and defeat. But through all that, I started to realize that God was never too busy for me, and that my life was not “small business” for Him. As a matter of fact He had given His life so that I could live mine for Him. All this time He had been restlessly pursuing me, it was I who was keeping Him out. This was probably the most life-changing realization I’ve ever had. As I started to nourish my relationship with Jesus, I was amazed by His ever-lasting love, His never-ending grace, and His patience with me.

As a result of this experience we (a very special group of friends from my church in Hialeah, Florida) felt the need to share this beautiful experience with Jesus. Then we came up with “Fired Up” an outreach program based on our local church seeking to get teenagers and young adults engaged in active ministry, and to help them discover what it is to truly have a relationship with God. God used this ministry powerfully to make His calling and purpose for my life clear to me. I knew then and there that I needed to prepare to engage in full-time ministry. A year later, and after much denial, I was driving about 700 miles north from Miami, FL to Collegedale, TN. Southern Adventist University was the beginning of a new chapter in my life.

Every time my strength has failed, His power has prevailed.

Going to Southern was both a challenge and a blessing. But between school, work, and a long distance relationship (which is another full-time job, just the kind that one doesn’t mind doing) it has been hard at times to stay afloat, but every time my strength has failed, His power has prevailed.

If there is one thing that I have learned in my few years walking with Jesus it’s that He is real. But He is real beyond simply the truth of His existence, He is real in your life and my life. I cannot even begin to express the transforming power that one can find in the realization that Jesus Christ, the One who created galaxies with the breath of His mouth, the One who walked on water, and died, and was risen from the death, is actively pursuing you, because He wants be real for you and with you.

Note: This article was originally published at redletterroundtable.wordpress.com

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1462571_10202948363975082_112045582_oAuthor: Manuel Gomez is a theology student at Southern Adventist University and a proud red-headed Cuban who enjoys Starbucks. His passion is to help others experience a real encounter with a real Jesus who loves and walks intimately with each of us. He also runs his own blog at 2worlds1god.blogspot.com