Still I Will Follow…

I love taking pictures of my shoes when I go someplace exciting. I’m not entirely sure why, but partially I feel as though the pictures represent my journey and my chasing something. The only question… What am I chasing?
Of the hymns that I’ve heard over my 21 years in Christian communities, few stick with me in the same way that “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” does.

A few weeks ago, the CVCYouth Team was talking in our weekly meeting about “headstone epitaph”. The question being asked “What do you want to be true/remembered of you?” The answer came to my mind almost immediately, because it’s a question I consider a lot.

If one statement could describe my heart, I desire it to be this… “Though none go with me, still I will follow… No turning back.”
This statement is everything that I wish to be true of me. But why? This is a pretty simple and basic statement… Yet it communicates a deep sentiment. Though none go with me…

Even if its hard, even if I must do it alone, even if it costs me everything. Still I will follow. Because what I follow is what is most important.

For years, I couldn’t say that. I placed condition, things which would have to be true in order for me to follow… Lord, if you make me happy, then I’ll follow. God, if you give me a relationship, then I’ll follow. Jesus, if following you brings me this, then I won’t turn back.

All of these convey a message; that the object I’m following isn’t worth it unless there’s something else added to the mix. If I tell Jesus, “give me this” and then I’ll follow You, than I tell Jesus that He is not enough!

If I only follow Jesus conditionally, then I don’t truly follow Jesus, I follow the conditions! If I’ll only follow after Him if He makes me comfortable, than I’m really following comfortability instead of Jesus.

My heart’s prayer is to run and chase fully after Jesus and Jesus alone. He doesn’t ask to be the “first of my heart” but rather the sole desire of it. That’s why even if none go with me, even if I do it alone, even if I do it hungry, or hurting, I will STILL Follow.

I will Follow.
Why? Because I’m following Jesus, and in Him is found a worth that surpasses all else.

Golden

Looking back on High School, many people see times with their friends. Nights spent making fun and sometimes rash decisions. Fridays spent hollering at the local high-school football game, surrounded by community. High school is often seen as the prelude to college, all in all the best years of one’s life.

When  I look back on my years in high school, I see none of those things. Instead, a picture comes to my mind. It’s a dark room, exposed by the dim light of a single desk lamp. Right beside it, sits a digital alarm clock, its poor red display showing it to be around 3 in the morning. On the desk, there’s a mound of books, piled upon each other. They’re placed there for priority, but among the mess of the desktop, it is evident that they aren’t used as much as desired. In the poor lighting, you can make out a few things in the background. A Bible, once marked up consistently, resides in the same place it has been for months. Mountain Dew cans scattered, rolled up paper-balls tossed in frustration beside them. Posters, footballs, baseball gloves, and guitars are all over the room… It used to be more fun in here. The once bright walls of the room have grown faint, barely visible now in the darkness. The pictures with friends that hang on the wall are now covered in dust. Joy, fun, happiness,  and contentment all used to reside here. But those memories and happier times have been replaced with a overwhelming sense of fear, loneliness, and desperation.

How did I reach this place? I never thought I’d find myself so close to the edge..

Growing up, I could not have been a more different person than who I became in high school. I was fun, people-loving, energetic, outgoing, extroverted, naive. As the oldest son of a youth pastor, I spent a ton of time around a community that loved me and wanted to see me succeed… And succeed I did. I quickly found that I was talented at many things. My charismatic personality put those things readily on display. Being on display increased my talent at these things, but also increased a desire to be even better. It fostered a pressure on my heart and on my spirit to be great. To be the best.

As I grew up and became a leader in many avenues, this feeling grew even more. The expectations grew. I was Kevin Lorow, the son of the youth pastor, of course I was going to be a spiritual leader. Of course I would succeed in all of these areas. I was the Golden Boy.

But then, life changed.

My family moved halfway through my 8th grade year. Everything I’d ever known was gone as we relocated from Columbus, OH to Newport News, VA. My school friends? Continuing on in the Plain City and Columbus School Systems. My church family that loved me? Now an 8 hour drive away from me. My best friends of 13 years? Back in the neighborhoods of the only place I’d ever truly known as home. I was someplace new… someplace foreign.

As we arrived in Newport News, I decided I wouldn’t let it beat me. My outgoing and charismatic self worked tirelessly to rebuild connections. Within a month, I was playing Varsity Baseball for the private school I attended, my family was consistently attending a wonderful home church, and I found myself helping to lead worship for my youth group that I adored.
A month or two after I moved, I found myself comfortable. I felt loved, supported, successful… Golden, once more.

But then, life changed again.

About a year after our first move, my family moved again. From Newport News, VA to Richmond, VA. I convinced all of my new friends I would be back to visit often, after all, it was only an hour drive. The sad reality of the situation was that those visits never really happened. The newfound friendships fizzled out, and the friends I had grown to love in Newport News went from friends, to acquaintances, to people that I used to know.
In Richmond, things grew dark quickly. I went from being in a school to being home-schooled. I went from surrounded by Christlike people, to alone as my family looked for a church. As a young individual who thrived off of the praise and affirmation of others, I was shell-shocked to be isolated. Outside of my family in the four walls of our home, I was utterly alone. There were thousands of people I had met and could connect with via Facebook or text… I had thousands of acquaintances, but no-one to be there with me.

That shock quickly turned to anger, as I began to hate my family. It was their fault! They messed everything up when we moved the first time, and had made things worse with the second move! I couldn’t stand any of them… And God? Please. If my dad hadn’t followed “God’s leading” none of us would have been in this mess in the first place. I felt extreme anger, hatred, and distrust towards the only people that I truly had around me and I isolated myself from them.

Given the dramatic change of my life, I needed people more than any other time in my life. But there was no-one. And my heart, once alive with a heartbeat for others, turned inward. I went from optimistic to pessimistic, from loving to hateful, from naive belief to deep distrust… From hopeful to cynical, from open honesty to closed reservation. My former bubbly, outgoing self was replaced by a wounded, introverted, and disenchanted spirit. Even though I needed people more than other time in my life, they simply weren’t there. And I refused to accept the fact that I wasn’t the “Golden Boy” I’d made myself out to be.

The Golden Boy could have handled this. He would stand tall, resolute, unflinching through these difficult storms. But I was struggling. For the first time, I saw that I wasn’t Golden. I was paralyzed by a fear that soon everyone else would see that truth as well. That the doubters would have their day and laugh as I failed. “We knew he couldn’t make it, because he’s weak.”
I developed a steel, cold-hearted determination to achieve the Golden Boy ideal. I would silence and scoff at those who doubted me. But to do that, I had to repress the feelings of fear, loneliness, and hopelessness that I felt with a false front of confidence and certainty in myself.

So I tried. The Golden Boy led worship for his church and youth group, he worked in the children’s ministry, he worked 40+ hours a week at Chick-fil-A, he did high-school online and took college courses as well, he played baseball. He was praised for his giftedness, his passion, his talent, his high ceiling, his incredible future, his intelligence. The Golden Boy had it made. But Kevin? Kevin didn’t know what to do. Beset by loneliness, hopelessness, I took myself to the edge. Given the demanding schedule, I’d be lucky to get four hours of sleep a night. My dreams grew vivid, as I’d see my own death. At first I was simply fearful, but then those dreams became the desired reality. I would avoid sleep at any cost to keep from experiencing the scary temptation of what those dreams offered. My schedule took what had been a mild sleeping problem to full-fledged insomnia that I still battle each night 5 years later. It drove me from feeling “down” after my move, to a deep depression that would push me to the edge. But I couldn’t let anyone know. If anyone knew this, the Golden Boy would die. How could I escape this pressure and this impossible feeling of hurt, pain, and fear?

In that dark room I described earlier, a door appears. I would ask myself what’s inside of it, except I already know. It’s the escape. The door has always been here, I just refuse to acknowledge it. Now, it grows bigger and bigger as it presents itself to me as the difficulty of the room escalates. To go through that door would end my struggle. It would replace my helplessness and fear… All of these terrible things would be gone. Replaced with vast nothingness.  The room shrinks smaller and smaller, while the door grows and grows until it looms over me… I have no choice.

March of my senior year arrived, and my already overpacked schedule grew even more intense. I would get around 10 hours of sleep between Monday and Saturday… Total. Even though I didn’t think it possible, life got harder. I’d wake up Monday at 1 in the afternoon to go to work until 11:30; I’d do homework until 3 or 4 in the morning, and then sleep until work at 5:30 am. Wednesdays and Thursdays I’d work from 5:30 am to 2:30 pm. I’d pick up my siblings from school, and then spend an hour on schoolwork before driving to church for vairous ministries. When we’d arrive home after church around 10:00 pm I had nearly the entire day’s worth of schoolwork to get done, with the next day already crushing down on me. The Golden Boy charade was growing impossible, how could I keep pretending everything was okay? How could I find rest from this meaningless and empty struggle? My sleep-deprived mind kept returning to the door… And now, I opened it.

Either the Golden Boy would die, or I would. 

One night, in late March, I came home from work at about 11 PM. It was a Monday. The full week was ahead of me. I had to be back at work in exactly 6.5 hours. My family was gone for the night doing something. I hadn’t touched any of my homework. I had videos to watch, books to read, and papers to write. In my despair, I wondered could I survive another week of this?
It was simple.

I couldn’t.

I pulled out a knife that I’d hidden in my room. It wasn’t pretty, but it would certainly do the job. Long, wickedly sharp, and poised to complete its task. I picked up the knife and moved it to my chest, letting its edge begin to prick the spot just over my heart. I held the knife with one hand, and grabbed a thick book with the other. I was afraid I would stop halfway and not be able to finish the job.

The door stands open, as I stand in the doorway and lean in as far as I can. Turning my head to examine the nothingness that lies within. I take a deep breath, closed my eyes, and prepared to step inside forever. But I find that I can’t move. I wasn’t able to take the step inside. I was paralyzed.

I sat there for three hours, tears rolling down my cheek… Paralyzed by fear. Fear of what would happen if I followed through with this, and fear of what would happen if I didn’t. As the hours ticked by, I came to the conclusion…
I couldn’t do it. How could I be afraid to do it, yet still afraid not to? How could I keep going on this way, without any hope?

A sleepless night passed,  and the next morning at 5:30 am I drove to work. I cried the whole way there, regretting what I had failed to do the night before.  A couple hours later, I was sent out to the side of the road in a Chick-fil-A cow costume. People passed by laughing at the amusing scene, seeing the cow waving and rocking back and forth. But inside the cow, stood a 17 year old boy who wanted nothing more than to end it all. Hopeless.

In many ways, that was how people viewed the Golden Boy. Standing outside, smiling and waving, but concealing immense hurt and fear below the surface.

That day in the cow costume forever changed my life.

I wish I could say that it was some event that occurred, because it would likely make more sense. But that’s not how it happened. In the moments by the side of the road, I spoke with God. For the first time in my life, I saw that I didn’t have to be the Golden Boy. I had heard the Gospel message a million times throughout my life, and had accepted Christ as a young boy. But I had never seen this. God’s unfailing love for me wasn’t (and isn’t) based off of my capacity of living up to the Golden Boy standard. In fact, God had allowed me to endure the pressure of attempting to achieve that standard to show me that it was beyond my reach. I had always heard that I needed God, but now I knew why I needed Him.I’d heard thousands of times that I needed Him. My head knew it better than anyone around me. But my heart had no clue. God used the brokenness of my high-school years to show my proud, arrogant heart the depth of my need for Him.

That day, my life and my perspective changed. I don’t have to be golden anymore. I didn’t need to make anyone else think I was golden anymore either. My hope, my purpose, my sufficiency is not found in my ability to be golden, or living up to this standard. Because I will always fall short. That’s why Jesus Christ died on a cross, because I couldn’t reach that standard.

Though the days of high-school are behind me, I still deal with the ramifications of that time. 5 years after the fact, my nights are long and restless even if I do fall asleep. My default mode to this day is a distrusting cynic. I’m still learning who I’m supposed to be in Christ. Every day I’m breaking my cynical heart and attempting to re-learn how to love others more than myself. It’s a difficult process removing the deepseeded roots of pride, selfishness, and pain that now exist, because they are often difficult to see.

But the Golden Boy? He’s long gone. If you see him around, kick him in the pants for me, he’s not welcome anymore.

Thanks for putting up with my thoughts.
All Because of Jesus,
Kevin

The Issue of Sovereignty

God is entirely Sovereign, or He is entirely not… There is no in between. He must either be in control of all things, or not. That’s the difficulty in describing a God of absolutes. We can describe Him in those terms when it fits our perspective, but when it doesn’t we quickly begin to question how far these terms can reach…

Take for example a real life situation contained in an excerpt of the book Disappointment with God by Phillip Yancey

“Earlier that week a plane carrying nine missionaries had crashed in the Alaskan outback,
killing all aboard. The pastor solemnly related the details and then introduced a member of the church who had survived an unrelated plane crash that same week. When the church member finished describing his narrow escape, the congregation responded,
‘Praise the Lord!’
‘Lord, we thank you for bringing our brother to safety and for
having your guardian angels watch over him,’ the pastor prayed.
‘And please be with the families of those who died in Alaska.’
That prayer triggered revulsion, something like nausea, in Richard.
You can’t have it both ways, he thought. If God gets credit for the survivor, he should also get blamed for the casualties. Yet churches never hear testimonies from the grievers. What would the spouses of the dead missionaries say? Would they talk about a
‘loving Father’?”

Say what you want about Yancey and his beliefs, but he presents a conundrum here for how most believers view sovereignty. How can we praise God for keeping His sovereign hand on some situations when others go awry?

Either God is entirely over everything, or He isn’t God. Being over everything is an essential part of the very nature of God.

So what is a believer to do?

Stop picking and choosing the moments God is sovereign over.

We love to claim God is sovereign when it is easy or it makes sense. When the church grows, when the child is safe, when grandma heals…. It’s easy because we see God as both good and in control.
But when the church falters, the child passes away, or cancer takes grandma’s life we blame the affect of sin and Satan. The problem is, God is still in control. It is just a whole lot harder for us to admit it.

Consider Job’s story. Job’s life went south pretty quick. But what did his wife tell him to do? Curse God. Why curse God? When we read through the story, we see that Satan is the one requesting Job have these things taken away… But why must Satan ask? Because God is the one in control (which Job is quick to recognize in chapters 1 and 2). When Job goes on his rant later in the book, he isn’t questioning God’s sovereignty! Job instead spends most of his time questioning God’s wisdom and goodness. Job isn’t asking whether or not God was in control; he’s asking why God let it happen on his watch.

How are we to respond to issues where we are uncertain of God’s sovereignty? Shadrach Meshach & Abednego set a great example for us in Daniel chapter 3. King Nebuchadnezzar has built a huge statue and decreed “If you don’t worship my statue, I’m going to kill you by tossing you in a fiery furnace!” Pretty nice guy. Shadrach Meshach & Abednego (From here on referenced as the Three Amigos) believe in the one true God and refuse. Nebuchadnezzar has them brought before him where he gives them one last chance to  respond to his ultimatum. The Three Amigos respond with this:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have hit on the point. While they believe that God will save them, they recognize that even if He doesn’t, He is still worthy of their obedience and worship.

God is always in control, always sovereign. Even in the moments where we don’t see how.

 

 

 

 

Still wrestling with the idea of sovereignty? Check out John Piper’s sermon on the matter here: