July 7, 2013

The Direction of Humility

Whose opinion of you matters?

I have had to ask myself this question both when others would make it known to me how much superior they are to me, or when I am asked to do something that would not honor God.  In both situations, a conflict arises: do I satisfy my ego and make a rebuttal, make a compromise and get someone's approval, or do I respond in love while taking the hit?  Do I make someone else unhappy because I am committed to some invisible ideal that I believe is righteous?

I have had to ask myself this several times over the past several months.  I wish I had been able to ask this of myself during some key moments in waiting tables back in The Plains, but hey, not everyone can say they've been screamed at in the presence of Robert Duvall.

In some ways, yes, other people's opinions of us matter.  When Paul talks about what love looks like in Romans, he tells us that "as far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone" (Romans 12:18).  If we live by that verse alone, though, it becomes a carte blanche for trying to keep everyone happy.  The passage it comes from is Paul telling us how our God-honor love as Christians should look in the world; thus, it is not to be at the expense of our relationship with the Lord.

We often don't have any time to regroup before we have to react to these situations; no one gives us forward warning that they're going to be quite rude to us later today, so please get in some quality devo time, 'cause you're gonna need it.

That's why we have Romans 8:
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.”16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

June 16, 2013

Broken For A Reason

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Romans 8:20-21

These verses have been a favorite of mine for some time.  They are a significant part of the Bible's answer to the question of evil for the give the very reason God let the world fall into sin: so that He might reach out in love across a chasm we could never hope to travel.  It is one thing to love someone who has done nothing ill toward you; it is something else to love someone who has cut themselves off from you by their actions.

I have thought of these verses in a philosophical context since I realized their weight.  They are my fallback in theological discussions about not only the reason for evil and sin but also to highlight God's plan for this whole thing: to glorify himself through the showing of the most powerful kind of love, the kind that forgives, sacrifices, and does not waver.  But recently they became very personal for me.

In my talks with God I have often lamented how deeply I need other people.  I can get lonely very easily.  I have asked why this stumbling block seems to get in my way so often, as it causes a lot of grief.  As I prayed about this most recently, Romans 8:20-21 came to mind.  Not as a rebuttal to someone's point, but as something that applied to why God lets me have my faults.  I have these faults so that when I stumble and turn from Him, He has the chance to pick me up, forgive me, and love me, all to His credit.  So that I might be liberated from my bondage to decay.

These faults are still something we move through, that we take on and replace with more God-honoring habits and thought patterns.  But in that, we shouldn't become obsessed with perfecting ourselves; the Lord will do that in time.  We're broken for a reason: to be healed, and God is glorified in that, bringing us into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

June 2, 2013


I had a revelation driving home today.

I have often looked at witnessing and being effective in the real world for Christ as something that one gets up the courage to do in the moment.  The M.O. is to hope you can muster up enough courage in the moment to say the right thing that points toward Christ.  This was an incidental, unexamined viewpoint that I held.

While mustering up courage in the moment sometimes plays a part, it is not at all the central motivator for witnessing.  Preparation is.  Time with the Lord in the morning, consistently, sets one's mind on things of heaven and it is the resulting spiritual frame of reference that brings the important eternal things to the forefront of your mind and enables you to look past possibly rejection or scoffing and get out there to witness directly and by example.

I share this in hope that anyone else who has framed this incorrectly will be able to see even more value in the daily walk with God, through realizing that it really isn't about what we can do on our own power.

May 18, 2013

Change in Seasons, Part 2

There's a difference between what things were like between college and getting the job (we'll call it winter, for the sake of the season metaphor) and now.  It's something I want to look at.

During winter, my situation was always difficult in some way (that is a relative term).  At home I lived twenty minutes from town and half an hour from work; my hours were different from my Dad's so we weren't home at the same time too often.  I did have my old friends while there, though; that helped.

Then I moved to Staunton; because it was such a big change, I thought winter would be over.  I was wrong; working long hours in a town where you only know the family you live is tough.  Big change, but not much change.  The church I attended for several months was wonderful, but was shorter on peers than my hometown church had been.

That time was tough.  There were some good times to be had with people, but there was a lot of loneliness and frustration.  With my career, it was tough to believe I was really moving toward; once I was in Staunton, the long hours butted into everything else.  I was largely dedicated just to working just to get somewhere; it was draining.

Through it all God helped me keep my head above the water emotionally.  There were very dark days; plenty of emotional lows from feeling lonely (justifiably or not), and I lost one of my jobs right after signing a lease and spent all of January eating my savings and job hunting.  January was especially tough.  There were quite a few days I spent in a heap on the floor.  As much as I could, I stayed in the Word and in prayer every day.  I would not have lasted as long without being connected to God, as I was deprived of so much that gave me energy: pursuing things I love and being around people I know.  It was tough; it was different.  I read some, but not a lot.  I did not have the energy.  Perhaps I could have; no matter, now.

What I do know is that this new season will be different.  It already is, even though there's still snow on the ground in some places.  Perhaps a few snowmen will last a little longer than the icy ground around them.  The church I'm attending has some great people of all ages; now, I need to get to know them.  That will take time, like everything else.  I want to be involved at church too, in serving and in ministry.

So much to move forward in.

This is a retrospective and a guess at the future.  Things are good.

May 16, 2013

Change in Seasons, Part 1

Some changes.  Big ones this time.

I'm done waiting tables, done working nights, done working weekends (for now).

Just I was burning out working two jobs for 55+ hours a week over six days, I was offered a full-time position at the theater I've been working at.  Nine to five, Monday through Friday.  Oh, and a lunch break.

I used to think, as many feisty youngsters did, that a desk job would never be cool.  I never anticipated being really excited about a company's mission and being an important part of making that happen; being one of around 14 or so full time staff in the offices, it's impossible to feel useless.  Especially when the two departments you are assistant two only have you as the second employee in each.

As the weight of this change washed over me, I began to realize how much time I would have on my hands.  One Easter Sunday night soon after, God dropped something on me like a bag of bricks:

This new schedule isn't for me.

Not that I won't enjoy it; I am seeing out-of-town friends more often and doing some things I enjoy.  The best use of this new time, though, is the Kingdom of God.

Diving into Bible study more.



Getting into Church more.

It was a heavy realization He put on me; a weighty message that I am His.

To clarify to people who haven't experienced this: it is not similar to being told to do your homework.  It is more similar to turning a corner and realizing you're home; more similar to looking up into the face of a much-missed loved one.  If you think I'm faking, let's hang out.  Ask me about it.  Watch how I react. Spend time with me.  I'm either legitimately mentally misaligned (or the best liar you know, for reasons unknown) or I'm headed down the right path.

So, I've completely given up video games.  I've given them up by degrees in the past, but now they're sworn off for good.  They connected with an addictive part of my brain that just wanted more.

I've switched back down to a dumb phone, for multiple reasons.

These adjustments saw immediate results.  I've been reading much more; praying more; working out more.  There's more momentum all around.

More of this to come.  I've got a book to read and a few drafts of posts to start.

March 6, 2013

The Only One

"Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says 'The LORD will deliver us.'  Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?  Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad?  Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah?  Have they rescued Samaria from my and?  Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me?  How then can the LORD deliver Jerusalem from my hand?"

2 Kings 18:32a-35

Through the loss of a job, the extreme busyness after gaining a new one and moving to a new area, the LORD has been teaching me quite a bit recently. Primarily how to rely on Him, and only Him, instead of entertainment, socializing, or many other things. My prayer since hitting the real world in 2011 has been for God to put me through such experiences as will drive me to only be satisfied by Him. Having experienced the emptiness of the comfort of worldly things, my hunger for God and doing his work has grown, and though it's not irreversible I aim to focus on God and close off that option as much as possible.

This passage in 2 Kings reminded me of that this morning. The commander of the Assyrian armies, speaking for the king, lets the Israelites (of Judah) know that no god so far has been able to save their people from the might of their army. He invites them to surrender. They do not, as Hezekiah is a wise and God-fearing leader. The context in regards to Judah's recent history makes the situation even more powerful. For several generations beforehand, Judah had been blatantly turning away from God. Ahaz, Hezekiah's father and predecessor, was the worst, setting up places of idol worship all over the land. At that point Judah was nigh indistinguishable from the other nations; until Hezekiah came and cleaned up shop. And thank God for placing him there when he did.  Our God is the only one, the only power we can rely on.

"That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp.  When the people got up the next morning- there were all the dead bodies!  So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew.  He returned to Nineveh and stayed there."

2 Kings 19:35-36

January 29, 2013

Brother Lawrence

On a recommendation from a friend I recently picked up a book Called The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.  He was a monk who wrote this book about 300 years ago, working mainly as a cook.  This book is concise but dense with meaning, so even a small two-sentence paragraph can leave you chewing on it for a while.  I want to hit a few of them and discuss them a bit. Edit: that will come later, as this post has gotten quite long without that!

First, though, a definition.  For a long time when someone would say  "the presence of God," it would seem to me as if they were attempting to summon God and He made himself know by everybody getting a really big feeling at the same time and expressing it.  That didn't jive with me.  God is omnipresent, right?  And where two or more are gathered, He is there also, right? [Matthew 18:20]

Brother Lawrence makes it clear this is not what he means (through providing his own definition).  The "practice of the presence of God" is instead pointing our thoughts toward him in everything we do.  If we are driving, we intentionally drive in a way that glorifies Him.  If we are cooking, we consciously cook in a way that glorifies Him.  If we are at our job at the Box Office, we are selling tickets and dealing with frustrating people as patiently as possible in a way that glorifies Him.  It is a constant directing of thoughts, of phrases gratitude for every little thing, of acknowledgements that we need His help to complete any task, of inward sighs as we battle sin and simply confess to God that is our nature, thank Him for the cross and reminding us of our need of Him, and move on.  Not a faux-piety dismissal of sin, but not dwelling on it for the sake of turning back to God.

I was inspired by this as I read it, and read several of the chapters slowly, then over again.  It seemed a simple and obvious practice.  Attempting this lifestyle as a no-brainer.

It's been roughly a day.  The first twelve hours were great, but bumps in the road soon appeared.  I had to deal with some difficult people who came across my path at work, and that threw me off, especially when I was interrupted by someone who was correcting my grammar while grasping a certain style of "that-shouldn't-be-here" beverage and asking about employment.

At home later that day, my worldly side was doing well in convincing me that this constant state of worship was pretty uncool and that I totally needed to just watch a movie and not pray and read Jesus blogs and write and read the book and totally not pray or anything, you know whatever. 

I think my worldly side is a insecure teen skater kid with his hat on sideways wearing a baggy shirt.

This practice is tough, but doable. It is not the will just generating a feeling inside; as someone with a capacity for a lot of emotion I have always tried to be on guard against this kind of thing.  It is constant and conscious thoughts directed toward God; gratefulness, petition, and worship. 

More thoughts on this topic to come as I continue in the book.  Brother Lawrence doesn't seem to cite scripture at all, so I may begin a small project to add scriptural support to his work where it warrants it; there has been a spot or two where I raised an eyebrow.  Until next time.