December 12, 2010

Treehouse Revelations

I overanalyze things. My spell-checker says that's not a word but I am the boss of my spell-checker, not the other way around.

It's easy for me to get depressed at home. I didn't know why it happened for a while, and in retrospect I couldn't figure it out because I was overanalyzing it. I get apathetic, sad, angry, and I just don't care about anything. For a long time, I just dealt with it by getting things done; except for when I wasn't able to even get myself that active. Usually, I ended up drowning myself in a movie or some video games.

This past Thanksgiving break, I had avoided said feeling for most of the break and it was great. But that Saturday it hit again, and again, I was confused and cloudy minded. This time I was going to ask God about it; usually, for praying about such a problem as this I would go to my designated prayer spot on campus, but because I was at home I went to the treehouse instead. In the Gospels, Jesus often goes to a mountaintop or some separate place to pray to God and I've found that getting away from things you surround yourself with in your routines is a good thing.

I started praying to God about this very particular depression that hits me. After a few minutes and some God-directed reflection, I suddenly realized/was told: "You're lonely." It was that simple. Once I got back to the house, I called a friend who God is equipping to be able to empathize with and encourage people through any emotional problem and he did just that.

Two weeks later I was attempting to study for my finals. I got to the library and tried to read my notes, but I just started to cry and I had no idea why it was happening. I went to my secret place, prayed, then called my dad. After some prayer, he asked me about what possible stresses there were and I told him about everything that was going on with me (there was more than just finals). His simple response, with some explaining after, was "You're stressed." I wasn't able to see that with both my tendency to overanalyze and my mind being clouded by the negative feelings.

I started writing this just as a confessional, but I think there's a really good lesson to be taken from this stuff: talk to people about what's wrong, and pray about it. If I know what's wrong I don't have a problem with this (you're reading about this on my blog, aren't you?), but I've discovered that I either don't acknowledge or realize how much stress I'm under or what my feelings really are.

Our emotions can often cloud our minds enough to stop any attempts at clear, objective analysis of our situation. Let someone else into your heart and mind to open the windows, turn some fans on and get all that stink out of there.

December 11, 2010

Hezekiah's Backbone

He had quite a bit of it.

The people of Judah had 13 kings over more than 150 that did not follow through. The closest anyone came was Asa, who ruled for 41 years and did everything except remove the "high places" which had originated as places God was worship but had become corrupted. To his credit, he was "fully committed to the Lord all his life" even though he did not remove the high places (1 Kings 15:14).

Hezekiah, though, completely followed through after coming from a line of corrupt kings. His own father Ahaz sacrificed one of his other sons/Hezekiah's brother (2 Kings 16:3) following the ways of nations the Lord had driven out before Israel. This family is messed up. The writer of Kings doesn't go into how Hezekiah came to be strong in the Lord to stand up to the vast amount of wrong going on in Israel, but he did. He had backbone.

Here's where the stakes get raised. Hezekiah is being king and "did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done" (2 Kings 18:3). The other kings all get compared with David, except that they were not as devoted to the LORD as David was; of the kings of Juday, only Asa and Hezekiah get this honor. He trusted in God fully, and is called the best king Judah ever had ("There was no one like him among the kings of Judah, either before or after him" 2 Kings 18:5).

He was highly successful until Assyria started to retake some cities that Hezekiah had taken back from them (he had cut ties to Assyria, the local bully who liked to take over other nations). Israel is deports all the people of the nation of Israel and then turns his eyes toward Judah. What happens next it not encouraging.

Fourteen years into King Hezekiah's reign, the King of Assyria "attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and occupied them" (2 Kings 18:13).

All the fortified cities of Judah. All of them. All of the cities that were fortified, e.g. not supposed to be taken over.

That's like hearing "So-and-so country/faction attacked and took over Washington DC, Chicago, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, and most other major cities in the U.S. You are now completely helpless."

For the sake of not giving away the spoilers that would give away how great this story is, I want to read 2 Kings 18 and 19. Hezekiah had backbone; he didn't give up even when his nation that he had stewardship of had been conquered except for Hezekiah's actual official surrender. Check out his response and what God did.


Two conversations I've had with friends recently merged in my head, and both were about Heaven.

The first was a few weeks ago with my friend Meredith. We were brewing ideas about what to do with our afternoons and our friends, and Lake Matoaka came up. Then Jamestown Beach. Then Virginia Beach. Then California. Then Australia. And there's only one place better than Australia.

As the climax to this frenzy of outlandish suggestions about where to take our friends on a Sunday afternoon, Meredith suggested that we go to Heaven. This got me thinking quite seriously all of a sudden: what if we went to Heaven just for a few minutes and came back? I was focused less on the metaphysical implications of the event itself and more on the effect on our daily lives from then on out.

Heaven is something we trust that is true, but we do not know it experientially. We have seen echoes and reminders throughout nature and glimpses in worship, but these have all been merely glorious suggestions of the real thing. If all of a sudden we had that fulfilled knowledge, assuming we would be able to function after seeing our true home and experiencing true fulfillment and then leaving it, wouldn't we live with that as our frame of reference? It would such a strong impression that we would never stop living for it; it would never be out of our minds.

I don't think that the situation just described would be the perfect one, because through our broken journeys God teaches us and draws us to himself and improves us; experiencing the end result would be to cut out the journey of growth. But it is a really intriguing thought experiment to consider, because I do want to live with eternity in mind.

Another friend, later, mentioned the song Eden by Phil Wickham. She said that in a strange way it made her sad; not necessarily depressed, but sad that she was not yet in the state of bliss with God that the song speaks about, that she has to face each earthly day with its troubles. I told her not to see it primarily as something she doesn't have, but something that she will have, that has been promised to her, something she can live for. It is a sobering thought, but I believe it is also one that can remind us who we are, where we're going, and why we're here.

November 30, 2010

Winter Snow

Winter is my favorite season. I have always wanted someone to use winter in a positive way in a song, instead of using it as a symbol of negative times (though I understand the association).

Then I found Audrey Assad, who on her first CD has songs about two of my three favorite things aside from my Saviour... one of them being snow. When you combine snow, the Lord, and musical and lyrical talent this it what you get:

November 24, 2010

A Long Journey

C.S. Lewis's dedication in at the beginning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (spacing of phrases for effect by me):

My dear Lucy,

I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still.

But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.

You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be

your affectionate Godfather,
C.S. Lewis

I have always loved fantastical adventure stories. The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, and The Dark is Rising are all book-spanning epics that I've enjoyed and re-enjoyed at some point in my life (I'm reading Narnia again this week). One of the things I love about these books is how the stories and characters develop over time and through experiences, and when you reach the end everything is packed with meaning obtained from what has happened.

What I want to talk about though, is the sense of adventure. There is something large at stake in all these stories. There are struggles, fights, deaths, adventures, victories, injuries, healings, prophecies, promises, friendships, and all sorts of very significant and thusly emotional happenings. I get caught up in the drama and significance of it all.

Something that I feel most people share with me when it comes to enjoy works of epic fantasy is the worlds they happen in are not "ordinary" like our own. There's a sense of freedom from the constraints of our particular society that we often believe limit the possibilities of adventure.

There was some point in the last two years where I had a subtle revelation that has developed more and more clearly since. As I got serious about my walk with God, life began to get much more meaningful. There was much more significance to each of my actions and words than there had been before, and as I realized this I thought of my favorite stories. Everyone in them lives in a world that is not ours, or is at least drawn into others that are not. The assumption of a lack of significance is one that I made for a long time; while I still very much enjoy the stories I do not look down on my own journey and fight that I am living out. Christ has made sure that my life is anything but insignificant, and I would do well to remember this on a regular basis.

I am a son of the Most High God, who created this world. I am a co-heir with his Son, Jesus Christ.
That same Jesus Christ gave his life for me, in a way that was less like throwing himself in front of a bus and more like standing in front of firing squad that I very much deserved.

I am more than a conqueror through Christ. Not in the sense that Alexander or Napolean was, but in terms of fighting for the Kingdom of God. Since I am more than Alexander or Napolean, if I heed the call of God in my life I will have a significant eternal effect on the state of things; Alexander and Napolean only had temporal ones.

I am literally fighting "against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12).

Every true Christian is in the same situation. If we are to take the Word of God seriously, then we must consider the true significance of who we are. We must take into account the weight and importance of what we do. Somewhere in the Lone Islands, or in Lyra's Oxford, or in the Shire, the fairy tales are not of magic and talking animals...

They are about a boy passive about his holy inheritance until he was awakened by the Spirit of the King, and his Brothers and Sisters fought and grew alongside him as he learned about his King. They are about a boy who falls seven times and seeks to get up seven times, a boy who seeks to wield the Sword of the Spirit with ever great skill, a boy who hates nothing more than the suffering of others. They are about a boy who fights against enemies who attack his family, his friends, and himself.

The stories are about a boy who does not always remember who he is, even though he was told to do so from a young age. They are about a boy who through his own weakness is shown the awesome power of his Father.

Much of the story before the end is still unwritten, but the end is known even by the boy. That gives him hope for the future, because he knows that however dark things get, however fierce and fatal the battle, however alone he feels, his King Most High has won and is bringing him home.

If you see this boy forgetting who he is, remind him. He will appreciate it.

November 20, 2010

Humility is not Fun

This semester I've been praying for Jesus to humble me. He has and is continuing to do so.

Earlier this semester God opened my eyes to some things I had given up on, some areas in my life I had become complacent. He showed me that I'm still depraved. I've responded to that by rising up again against my "Philistines" that I have to keep fighting over and over again.

The roughest lesson, though, has been in the past several days. I've been sick for four days now, and it has made me quite cranky and short-tempered. If you couldn't tell, it's because you couldn't hear what was going on in my head and missed the times I actually got miffed.

Being sick has also been an obstacle to my "running the race," to use the 1 Corinthians 9 metaphor. I've let myself become apathetic and distracted by my sickness, using rest (which you need when you're sick, don't get me wrong) as an excuse not to run after God. The result is that not only am I physically uncomfortable, I'm also spiritually lacking. And boy, do I feel it.

This sickness has also provided a great reality check. I've been leading small groups of friends in worship sessions, singing and playing my guitar. We had one of these sessions planned recently, and I talked to my friend Chris about a change in plans because I was sick. His response was frank and very true: "Don't cancel it. It's great to have you singing to lead worship, but ultimately it's about God and not you." He phrased it gently, but I reacted negatively to the truth that was in what he said. That's when I realized that worship leading had already started to go to my head. I foresee more humility in my future.

I've learned that if you ask God to humble you, he's not just going to magically put a feeling in your heart. With me at least, he has put me in situations where my human nature and rough edges are set very clearly before me. I can either let this discourage me more or pray for strength and fight against my flesh. One of the reasons I like having this blog is because now I'm accountable to each of my readers to do the right thing. Humility is not fun, but it's good.

To be honest, I'm still in this slump I've mentioned. I'm exhausted, but before I went to bed I wanted to see about jump-starting my comeback by confessing this to anyone with an internet connection. Perhaps "jump-starting" isn't the right phrase... I think writing about this situation honestly is a sign that I want to make the right choice. By this point, I've seen the blessing of obedience consistently enough that I know walking in obedience and swallowing my pride is not only the right thing to do, but it feels much better than wallowing in self-pity and letting my wounded pride fester.

November 14, 2010

Keeps My Heart Intact

Before I do Milk and Meat [Part Two], I want to share my heart a bit with anyone who's reading.

I have shied away from writing about my personal experiences a bit in the past year or so, due to the fact that there are people in my life and God often uses them to teach me things. Most times, I refrain from writing about something that would better be left unpublicized.

I've neglected, though, to write about the things that God's doing in my life that can go public; and, for the purposes of this blog (e.g. to glorify God) they should!

Soon, I'll be posting about the small group I'm assistant-leading and my relationships with the guys there; I'll write about the Ecumenical Retreat I had the honor of planning with many others, and how amazing the implementation of it really was; how God has blessed me with great personal growth through my relationship with my dad; my journey as a songwriter who wants to be humble, go big for the Kingdom, and write lyrics from God; my witnessing experiences, which I am hope in increase in number and magnitude; my lessons learned as I approach my post-undergrad future, whatever it holds; lessons and blessing received from being a Compassion International sponsor for a tall Indian kid name Mumoorthi Mani; and the ways my mind is blown as I read the scriptures and the works of Lewis, Bonhoeffer, Piper, and Alcorn among many others.

The point is: there's quite a lot going on with me, in really good ways because I have a really good God. I want to share this more readily. I'll definitely continue to post my thoughts on scripture, but be on the lookout for more about my walk with my Saviour who really keeps my heart intact... which is a big job to take on.

October 26, 2010

Milk and Meat [Part One]

I've heard the terms "milk" and "meat" quite a bit recently in conversations about Christianity, describing, generally, things that are simple and easy to digest about Christianity and things that are tougher. While I didn't disagree with the way they were used, I decided to search out and know the Biblical references in the New Testament to find out how Paul used them. I'll go through the whole chapter because the chapter ends when Paul reference Apollos and himself and boasting about men again, bringing that discussion to a close. Let's dive in, shall we?

First Corinthians Three:
1Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?
The first reason Paul says they are still worldly is that they are jealous and quarreling amongst themselves; that's pretty straightforward, as we can all agree those two things are not at all good. It's the next thing, though, that stands out a little more:

They claim to follow "mere men," not God. They say they follow different earthly teachers. The men listed are good men of God, yes, but Paul and Apollos are "only servants, through whom you came to believe- as the Lord has assigned each to his task." Paul continues the discussion of his and Apollos's role in the context of being God's workers.

The next shift in topic comes in verse ten:
11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. 14If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
No one can do the work Jesus did, says Paul to the Corinthians. Simple enough, but is bears reminding. Paul tells them that what they do in this world will be brought to light and shown for what it is, and if it survives the fire, they will receive their reward. If not, the believer shall still be saved, but without the reward received by the others.

This may not have blown the minds of the Corinthians, or it may have. It blows mine. We have many assumptions about heaven that aren't Biblically based... including that we'll all be equal. Do not get me wrong here: no one will be unhappy in heaven, where no light is needed because God's glory will keep it lit forever; but there will be difference in "reward" and "treasure in heaven" because of what was done on Earth.

Beyond expounding upon the nature of heaven, this is encouragement to be diligent in the work of God; of investing your resources in the Kingdom, of sharing the Word with those who need it, and of serving the church and working in the Body.

More to come. In the next post, I will talk about the rest of 1st Corinthians 3 and what else Paul is telling the Corithians about milk and meat. There is also a mention of "spiritual milk" in Hebrews 5 that I will talk about then, too. This post has gone a bit long.

Gentleness and Truth

When I talk to people about Jesus, I have done very well in being gentle and kind as we are commanded to be in several of Paul's lists: Galatians 5:22, Philipians 4:5, Colosians 3:12... the list of lists is long.

On the other hand, I have been aware for some time that the message of the Word in its wholeness is often offensive to people. It tells them that they are sinful, that God hates sin, and that they should humble themselves to admit that they are not at all the good people they imagine themselves to be and let God guide their steps.

Humility AND submission? That sucks.

Most people who only follow half the words (if any) of their respective holy books or whom live by a code of what's socially acceptable will tell you that they are "good people" because they don't kill anyone, say hateful things to people on a regular basis, and they recycle plastic bottles. Sometimes. A new standard that throws their hopes and dreams of creating their own goodness is much too large a pill to swallow, quite often.

These thoughts met, joined hands, and boiled down to the level of clarity when I heard a sermon in my hometown several Sundays ago. The pastor talked about Saul/Paul's early ministry, and one of the things he talked about was how Paul was ran out of several towns by people who wanted to kill him (Acts 9:9-25, 28-30). It should be noted that Paul "debated the Grecian Jews" in Jerusalem and "baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ." He was "speaking boldly in the name of the Lord."

While I don't believe that if you're not receiving death threats you're not doing it right (Acts 9:31), there is something to be said for his boldness with the Word. We're called to take the Word to people, and it can be harsh; granted, it is all ultimately in a context of God's love for us, but that's not often the part that first stands out to people when you share the entirety of the Gospel.

All this to say:

By all means, be gentle and respectful. And by all means, present the full Gospel without omitting the tough stuff. And please, be bold. Those of us who don't preach hate or cheap grace can certainly increase it that area.

The sermon I referenced was preached by Pastor John Kuvakas at Warrenton Bible Fellowship on October 10th, 2010, and can be found here.

October 1, 2010

Almost Worse Than Midterms

I write about waiting quite a bit, how beneficial it is.

What I want to guard against is the illusion that I'm able to walk these things out perfectly everyday and I that I never doubt or have trouble believing that good things are coming. Struggling with belief and faith are often the largest trials we go through during the times of waiting, and thus there's a very good reason that trials are called tests of our faith (James 1:3). I was lying awake last night worrying that waiting on God for certain things would take too long and that I should take things into my own hands; he reminded me about that my decision to wait was based on letting him be the one in control so that I wasn't letting my limited human judgement screw things up. When I'm crying out to God, it's often asking him why and telling him that I'm hurting a lot. He knows that already, though. It's after those times that he gives me deep peace, which I only lose when I'm focused on how impossible and illogical everything looks from my eyes, through my thoughts, in my ways...

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways," declares the LORD. "
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Isaiah 55:8-9

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will not let the righteous fall.

Psalm 55:22

Cast your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

Years of Waiting

Do you think you've been waiting a long time?

Abram was promised was promised a son at 86 years old, and had Isaac at 99. That's 13 years of waiting on God's promise. [Genesis 15-17] Then, God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and he says yes.

Then, in Genesis 22:12:
"Do not lay a hand on the boy!" he [the Angel of the Lord] said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."
After waiting for a son for decades, then waiting 13 years for a promise to be fulfilled, Isaac is the fulfillment of what Abraham has wanted for a century. Then God asks him to demonstrate how much he loves him by giving him up.

Jacob worked for 14 years for Laban just to marry the woman he wanted to marry, because he had been tricked into marrying her sister as well. He had run away from his brother, who wanted to kill him because Jacob had tricked him into giving him his birthright, and had tricked his father into blessing him instead. He stayed with Laban for 20 years before going back to his brother Esau.

When they met again, after 20 years, having left after theft, deception, and anger:
But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. [Genesis 33:4]
Jacob, over this time, had twelve sons. His favorite, born of the wife he loved, was Joseph. One day, Joseph died... or so he thought.

Jacob spent 21 years believing Joseph was dead. That's as long as I've been alive. Then, came good news; the son who was long dead to Jacob was alive! What's more than that, Joseph brought them to Egypt, the most prosperous land anywhere at that time, and they lived in comfort and completeness. TWENTY-ONE YEARS.

And then we have Joseph's side of those 21 years. Thirteen of them were spent either as a servant or in prison. He was deceitfully accused by Potiphar's wife, was put in prison, and later forgotten about for two years. There were 13 years, from age 17 to 30, where God was slowly but sure preparing him for huge things... thing that he had promised Joseph at age 17! Then it was another 8 years before he saw his family again. He waited 21 years for the promises to come to fulfillment!

David had a very similar thing happen. He was anointed king, the forgotten and youngest son out of many. He was anointed king at 30 [2 Samuel 5:3-4]. Even if he was 20 when he was the youngest son sent out to be a shepherd, that was 10 years of waiting and being exiled from the very kingdom he was supposed to rule by the father of his closest friend.

Those are just a few example from the Old Testament. I say this to challenge you to put things in perspective. This past summer was a very rough one for me, but God taught me very much; one of the blessing that it was a three-month season of tough trials that I got to see the blessing of (in growth and maturity) very soon afterward; it reassured me that God is using the much longer-term trials too.

Thus, I want to encourage you to stay faithful by holding on and not jumping the gun or giving up hope. The Greek word for enduring has a literal translation meaning "holding tightly." And some translations use "longsuffering" instead of "perseverance;" I prefer the first one. It's much more accurate.

I realize this post isn't as happy as some others have been, but I want to say that there is a promise of happiness to come even if much suffering is happening now.

Psalm 27:13-14:

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

September 18, 2010

I Wish We Knew His Name

Genesis 24 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible.

There's Abraham's unnamed head servant who goes praying to Aram Naharaim to find a wife for Isaac. He's praying to God "in his heart" when Rebekah comes out (v15, 45) and he discovers that she's the right woman. As soon as he learns this, he bowed down on the ground a praised God right where he was, so happy was he that God had provided for his master (v26). The servant's love and devotion to both God and Abraham and very evident and really exciting to read about.

Then there's the scene where Rebekah and Isaac meet (v62-67). Isaac is spending time with God, having his devotions in a field. Then he looks up and sees a caravan... and at the same time Rebekah looks up and they see each other. I have no doubt Isaac had been informed that he would have a wife soon, and Rebekah knew the entire time as well. "So she became his wife, and he loved her" (v67). This whole situation makes the whole arranged marriage thing pretty attractive, especially because God was putting the choice in God's hands (v7).

One more thing: Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah. Single dudes (myself included), chill out. The time will come. Until then (and always, really) serve with prayer and dedication like Abraham's servant!

September 13, 2010

Don't Lose the Good You Oft Might Win

Our doubts are traitors, making us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.

-Measure for Measure, Act I Scene iv
Ever since the Train Lady told me to "write that song," I've been taking steps forward to take my musical inclinations more seriously. Last spring, I got the song "Draw Near" written. This Fall, I got it and another song I wrote recorded and posted on Facebook for people to listen too, under the stage name Doubts Are Traitors.

The name comes from my favorite line of Shakespeare, and reminds me of 2 Timothy 1:7:
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, of love and of self-discipline.
I've often erred on the side of timidity; while all boldness should be couched in love and gentleness, boldness is still boldness nonetheless!

It has been a great blessing to see the fruits of my labor that God has brought about, and the way the songs have already spoken to people. While I'm very happy that this has come together, I've got to remember that it's God who let me write these songs and it's for joy in him and testimony that I write them. I hope to pour all that God's given me into writing songs for Him!

The Titus Blessing

But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.

2 Corinthians 7:6-7

Reading through second Corinthians, you'll see that Titus gets mentioned quite a bit. Paul's refreshed by his very presence, and his news too; Titus had been comforted in Corinth and he passes that on to Paul. It's a big deal for Paul because he hasn't been having a very pleasant time, thus the self-referencing with the word "downcast" in verse six.

What I want to point out to you with this passage and the reference to Titus in second Corinthians in general is that we have such power to refresh our brothers and sisters in the Spirit. Serving them to help them out or even just contacting them to see how they're doing (which we have a multitude of ways to do) can be a very encouraging thing to a downcast Christian, even if they're just carrying their usual burdens.

Always be looking for opportunities to serve!

August 4, 2010

Reasons of Practicality

After having some conversations at work about dating, abstinence, and relationships sparked by the ring that I wear, I got to thinking. When I talk about these things, is my present the case that being sexually conservative will make for a longer-lasting and more meaningful marriage? Perhaps it's just to stay away from STDs. Actually, I might just be so afraid of intimacy that I'm putting it off as long as I can.

In all these conversations I've got to remember my main point: Jesus and salvation. I shouldn't argue for abstinence for it's own sake; if I don't have Jesus, I'm spiritually dead whether or not I'm abstinent. Without Jesus, who is our righteousness, each attempt at obeying the rules and doing things right is a futile grasp at godliness. Thusly, whenever I'm asked why I do something differently than the rest of the world does it, reasons of practicality are secondary to glorifying God.

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God- that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

1 Corinthians 1:30

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

John 3:5-6

July 26, 2010

Bold Obedience

If it worked, I would tell every Christian looking to get closer to God to "just do it;" to get in the Word, pray, and worship every day. I know, however, how useless that is to tell most people because it only ends up frustrating them that they're not doing those things and it starts to put a focus on the works and not the faith.

Today, I thought of a great thing to encourage people to do that's simple: whenever your pastor gives you a challenge (some will call it "homework") to do that week, do it. If they're a true child of God, it'll be something good that will actually benefit you to do. The thought to encourage people to do this came to me today after the service I attended: the man preaching (he was a guest speaker) encouraged us to memorize Psalm 23 that week, because it has only 6 verses (one per day starting Monday). My first thought was "I already memorize scripture, so I don't have to do that." Then I was immediately corrected by the Holy Spirit and reminded that the preacher didn't leave any excuses for us not to do it, no matter what habits we've developed (and perhaps let pride creep into).

Thus, my exhortation: do what your pastor challenges you to do. I have never made a habit of it up to this point, but when I think about it... why haven't I? There's no good reason not to! If a man or woman of God exhorts you to do something (and it probably won't be too complicated) then it's sure to be completely worth your while. I'll be memorizing Psalm 23 this week. Not that these works in themselves bring us closer to God, but He (because of his power and goodness) commands us to be obedient and rewards it.

Be bold and step out in obedience!

July 23, 2010

Godly Sorrow

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

-2 Corinthians 7:10
Paul has been writing to the Corinthians about a previous letter he had sent them that grieved them. It was a corrective letter, and when the Corinthians read it they were sad for the things they had been doing wrong (v8-9). Paul says that he doesn't regret sending the letter even though it grieved them, because of verse ten (although he says he did not enjoy it).

The benefits of the Corinthians' sorrow are outlined in verse 11:
See what this Godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.
Godly sorrow is healthy; in this context, the sorrow is sorrow from correction, so I won't overextend this into sorrow in other kinds of sorrow. Accepting correction humbly is a sign of wisdom found other places in the Bible as well (Proverbs 12:1 and 13:18 for starters).

If you're facing correction, don't waste time with shame (Romans 8:1-2). We learn some of our best lessons from our mistakes. While we shouldn't go out to make mistakes just to learn from them (that would be taking advantage of grace), we also can't change the past. We can learn from it, but that's one of the few useful things we can do with it. This Godly sorrow that comes from correction will grow a deeper maturity when we let it.

If you seem to learn the same lesson over and over again and are frustrated that your flesh drags you back to the same thing again and again (for me, a repeated one has been wasting large amounts of time on video games), just remember that Romans 8:1-2 is always true, no matter how many times in a row you have fallen, no matter if it was just in the last ten minutes, or if you relapsed after ten months of freedom from this sin...

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

July 12, 2010

Don't Wait

If Christians were persecuted in America (I'm talking large-scale), churches would be smaller, fewer, and much more cohesive and active. My evidence behind this is the early church as described in the New Testament and churches today that are facing persecution in countries around the world. I'm not here to say whether you will face true religious persecution in your future; I have no idea.

Here's my point: How would your faith change under persecution? You would either have to leave it completely behind or hold onto Jesus really tightly. You'd be praying and reading your Bible everyday, grabbing every chance you can get to pray and fellowship with other Christians, and you'd constantly be on the lookout to share your faith to the right people at the right time.

Do you want to have to make those adjustments if persecution happens?
32"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35"Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!' "

-Mark 13:32-37

I'm living the next five minutes
Like these are my last five minutes
Cause I know the next five minutes
May be all I have
And after the next five minutes
Turn into the last five minutes
I'm taking the next five minutes
And start it all over again

-Next 5 Minutes by Steven Curtis Chapman

June 23, 2010

Why Are You Downcast, O My Soul?

What are you worried about? What's bringing you grief?

List these things on a piece of paper. I'm not kidding.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

If you've read past the this first half of the Gettysburg Address without writing a list, do it now!

If you put your arms around me, could it change the way I feel? I guess I let myself believe that the outside might just bleed its way in; maybe stir the sleeping past, lying under glass, waiting for the kiss that breaks this awful spell. Pull me out... of this lonely cell.

If you haven't done it by now, after the first verse to Jars of Clay's Something Beautiful, there's not much I can do to convince you.

At the top of this list, write "Situations that God will bring victory through." Worry not, I did this myself a few minutes ago. And I have some of the same feelings you probably have; I want to let my negative feelings about these situations have priority in how I think about them. But there's a better way.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

James 1:2-6

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Psalm 42:11

Yes, these situations are tough and they hurt. We need to acknowledge that, talk to people about them, get help. Don't pretend the hurt isn't there.

The way we change our thinking about these situation and begin to focus on God and how he is doing great and positive things through them is by praying and talking to other Christians. Pray for wisdom to endure the trials, and know that God will give it to you. Pray that God will bring about a change in your attitude, that his peace will guard your heart. Talk to seasoned Christians about what you're going through, and they'll offer words of encouragement for you to dwell on.

I'm not just saying these things... this is very much what I'm learning right now. If you want to, get in touch with me and we can talk.

It's tough, no doubt; but it's an honor, and it brings glory to God's name to consider all these trials pure joy. He'll bring relief, in time. Read the Psalms... forty-two is a good place to start.

My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
"Where is your God?"

These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

June 19, 2010

Common Ground

22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

24"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'

29"Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man's design and skill. 30In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."

Like Jesus did with the Samaritan woman at the well and with Nicodemus, Paul meets the Athenians where they are. He has a great way to start the speech, too: the altar labeled “To an unknown god,” and even quotes poetry that the Athenians are familiar with to help his point. He tells them that there is one true God (not their multiple gods) who does not live in human temples (like theirs) and is not made of gold or silver or stone (like the idols they worship). He also includes several, more universal points: God is the Creator, has determined all our steps, and is bringing a day of judgment. My favorite point, however, is this in verse 27: “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far away from each one of us.”

Not that this speech is a template to use like a witnessing mad-lib, but we can take away some good practical points about talking to people about Jesus. Speak the language of the people, know their context; if you don’t know anything about who they are, you don’t know where they are spiritually. Relate to them.

Don’t take this too far and use it as an excuse not to witness, because it’s a lot easier than it sounds. Jesus and the woman were at a well and in Samaria, so he talked about water and the now arbitrary nature of being a Jew or a Samaritan. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, so Jesus talked about Jewish theology. The Athenians were highly intellectual, so Paul talked about their religion and quoted their poets. There’s common ground everywhere, whether it’s place, experience, or just our humanity. Find that common ground and plant some seeds in it.

June 18, 2010

The Jailer

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are thrown in prison in Phillipi. After they are beaten they’re thrown in prison, and around midnight an earthquake sent from God that opened the prison doors and loosed the chains from around their hand and feet. The jailer was woken up by this noise, and saw the prison doors opened; naturally, he assumed that Paul and Silas had escaped. The penalty for allowing a prisoner to escape on your watch was death (according to my NIV footnotes). The jailer was so distressed by this that he drew his sword to commit suicide… when jailers earlier in Acts were given the slip by Paul, they waited around to be executed. This guy (who has a family, we find out) was going to end it then and there. The funny thing, though, is that Paul and Silas didn’t leave when the chains came off but instead stayed and spared this man’s life.

The jailer knew they were Christians, because that’s why they were thrown in prison; besides that, they had been singing songs of praise the whole night. Seeing the connection between their faith and the act of love they had just shown him (and realizing more readily his own mortality, I’m sure) he throws himself at their feet and asks “What must I do to be saved?” “Believe in the Lord Jesus,” they reply. The Jailer takes them to his house in the middle of the night, feeds them, and his entire family is saved and baptized. Then, Paul and Silas go back to the prison so that they are there in the morning and the guard’s life is spared.

After being beaten and thrown in prison, the Paul and Silas are still so focused on Christ that their first action when their path to freedom is open is not “Let’s get out of here,” but “Let’s witness to the jailer.” This imprisonment was all about the Jailer and his family, because it turns out that Paul and Silas were being wrongfully held anyways because there were Roman citizens, and thus should not have been beaten and should have been given a trial.

Physical freedom is in no way important to the Christian. When it is needed, it will be provided (Acts 12). When they were captured, thrown in jail, and then the doors were miraculously opened, it was all about the Jailer’s freedom from sin and becoming a Child of God, along with his family. All this to say: take advantage of negative situations. Face them with praise and a great attitude, pointing to Jesus in word and deed, because it will affect someone for Christ; I guarantee it. We might not get to see the effects immediately (or in this life… but what a blessing when we do!), but regardless, it not only affects others when we do but fulfills our purpose in life and brings us a deep joy and peace.

So get out there, sing some chains off, praise some doors open, and then talk to the first surprised person you see about Jesus.

May 28, 2010

Next to God Himself

39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"

40But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."

42Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

43Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

Has anyone ever heard anything happier? Think about where this guys is coming from. He's a criminal, one poor enough and disliked enough to get death by crucifixion; and he knows it. We don't know about this guy's life before he was put on a cross, except that he was recently a criminal. Regardless, he's not happy with how life is going.

Then, as he's being killed for his crime, while the blood is leaving his body and the pain is increasing rapidly, he meets Jesus. For whatever reason, he believes that Jesus is who he said he is; whether this decision was made a while ago or just before he spoke is unknown, but he expresses it now in rebuking the harsh words of the other criminal being crucified.

While they are both dying, the man on the cross asks Jesus "...remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus responds with "Today you will be with me in paradise."

"Today" is pretty soon. Most Christians, nowadays, have no idea when they're going to die and go to heaven. This guy is told that very, very soon, he's going to be with Jesus, in Paradise. And all this right at the end of a very bad time in his life, that ends it! He's a criminal who was sentenced to death, and this is what he finds. He finds Jesus, faith, and a promise that very very soon there will be no more pain, no more frustration, and that he'll be with Jesus forever.

I love to imagine what it's like for God to plan out our lives. When he creating the world, he knew that this man would be a believer, and that they way to make it happen was to have him end up on the cross next to God himself. The way to get to his heart was to put him on a cross next to Jesus. God' got just as powerful a story for you... just love him and walk in obedience to him, and he'll begin to unfold his awesome plan for your life.

May 21, 2010

The Faith Grind

Waiting on God and don't know what to do? Does it suck? Do you just want to take the easy way out, if there is one? And if there's not, do you wish there was?

Well, have I got some advice for you! (but not an easy way out)

1. Pray. Duh. Pray that God would teach you what you need to be taught, and change in you what needs to be changed. Pray for #3 on this list. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 sums it up very simply when it says "Pray continually." I feel that I should also mention Psalm 66:18- "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the LORD would not have listened." Look at your life, the things you do, and see what you feel convicted about to cut out of your life; or anything that just plainly contradicts the Bible.

2. Read your bible, and do #1 before you read. Hebrews 4:12- "The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any two-edged sword, it penetrates even soul and spirit [as in, emotions and your true eternal self], bone and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." You will find stories you connect with and advice that applies directly to you.

3. Talk to a trusted Christian friend about it, on a regular basis. Pray that God will send you someone who's going through something similar, or has gone through it in the past; this will help immensely. Proverbs 27:17- "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."

This list isn't exclusive; there are many other good things you can do. These are just the top three that have helped me out (although I would argue 1 & 2 should be on everyone's list. And probably 3). It's important to remember as well that God's a person, a being, not an equation or a checklist; these are just healthy things to do to get your relationship with him going and get your heart and attitude back on track.

May 19, 2010

To the Very End

...surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
-Jesus, in Matthew 28:20
Jesus doesn't waste words. If he only had to say "surely I am with you always," he would have. For some reason, he chose to add "to the very end of the age."

Jesus always includes our imperfection in his plan for us. He knew that in times of trial we would start to doubt him in our hearts; he had even seen it many times with the disciples. This is such a universal tendency (yes, you're not the only one) that a second assurance was necessary; he's with us no matter what, right up to the moment of the rapture.

It's not about whether we feel like he's with us or not; he always is. Do you think David "felt" like God was with him when he was hiding in the field waiting for Jonathan to tell him whether he had to leave for good or not? But God was still there, the whole time.

Remember that fact and act on it. Don't give in to the despair of your circumstances.

That's all.

April 30, 2010

Fur, Voices, and Waves

I heard a very useful message preached last week, about hearing the voice of God. I won't go into all the points that were made, but I want to relate something from Genesis 27 that was said.

In Genesis 27, Isaac is ready to bless Esau because he's nearing the end of his life. Isaac tells him to go and hunt some meat, prepare it, bring it to him, and then he will bless him. Jacob and his mother hatch a plan to get the blessing instead; because Esau was hairy and Jacob soft-skinned, they put animal furs on Jacob's arms to deceive Isaac in case he got suspicious.

When Jacob entered the room where Isaac was, he greeted him. Isaac replies "Yes, my son- who is it?" Right off of the bat, Isaac in unsure who the voice belongs to. After a question about how quickly he hunted and prepared the meat, Isaac asks to feel his arms to confirm it's Esau... even after Jacob already claimed to be Esau once. Then Isaac gives him the blessing.

The next thing Isaac does? He asks again, "Are you really my son Esau?"

When the true Esau came in, Isaac only had to ask who he was once. You think your family has awkward moments?

The point about hearing God's voice in our lives is this: if the action feels right but the voice telling you to do it doesn't sound like God at all (read: telling you to do something unbiblical, sin, or using condemnation to motivate you), it's not God. If you're unsure, go to someone you know has a strong walk with God, and they'll be able to help you figure out what to do with what you're hearing.

A few days after I heard that message, I was in Matthew 6 and came across this passage:

25During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.

27But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."

28"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."

29"Come," he said.

This illustrates the flip-side of the point I made earlier: Sometimes God talks to you in the middle of a really scary situation, tells you to do something scary, or both together. Again, if you're unsure, check the voice against something objective: the Bible. If it's Biblical and you truly have a desire to do the gutsy thing, my bet is that it's God.

An example from my walk (although a very straightforward one) is my efforts to hike the Appalachian Trail and use that to raise money for clean water wells in communities that don't have them; in these places people will walk miles upon miles for water that kills them. When I got the urge to turn the hike into a fundraiser, I knew immediately it was something I wanted to make happen. Jesus helped the poor, and told us to do the same. He told us to take care of those in disadvantaged situations; with the strong patriarchal society of the time, a widow was one of the most vulnerable members of society. Widows get mentioned a lot.

Thus, the desire put on my heart lined up with things God tells us to do in the Bible (which, by the way, tells us plenty of things to do on its own). I've been taking steps forward in the direction of preparations, and God has provided an on-campus group that just started recently that I can work with to get this done. I have no doubts God is going to go big with this.

Is there something big that's been put on your heart? A fundraiser, a conversation, anything?

Is it scary?

If you step out onto the water, you might be surprised and ecstatic at what happens next.

The sermon that the main point about Genesis 27 was taken from was given by Justin Schoonmaker at Generation Church at Christian Life Center. All credit to God for the effectiveness of the message.

April 16, 2010

Someone Let the Train Lady Know

On a train, more than a year ago, a lady I had never met before and haven't seen since asked for my copy of C.S. Lewis's The Four Loves that was sticking out of my jacket pocket. She saw my guitar and told me to "write that song." Whether she knew it or not, she was talking about a very specific song that I had begun to write that I was just calling "my Godsong." A line or two would come to me every few days and I would write them down, but I had been pretty laid back about actually trying to get the song finished.

Fast forward to the end of this past March. At a church retreat the pastor speaking that weekend encouraged us to chase after dreams that God has put in our heart; things we have always wanted to do, but never pursued. These things God puts on our hearts are not only there, but should be pursued for the strengthening of the church and to honor God: "When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these things must be done for the strengthening of the church." (1 Corinthians 14:26) Note that doing these things is not a "you can if you feel like it." Paul tells us that these things must be done!

Trust me, as soon as you start pursuing whatever dream or skill God has put in you, it gets exciting. After I heard this word of encouragement and heard some of the things those around me had been working on, I decided to get serious about my desire to write songs. I already had a song or two mostly written. I began to work on them more and more, and this past Wednesday I recorded my first one at my college library's media center... what better time to chase this God-given dream, when I have free access to a recording studio!

I'm not a fluent musician. I've sung before, but I haven't seriously taken in up in more than a year. I've been playing guitar on and off for three years, which means that I'm very much still an amateur. Every time I get hung up on these things, though, God reminds me of Moses who had no confidence in his ability to speak in front of people.

It doesn't matter if your dream that you want to chase is in a field or area that you have little to no experience in. I don't feel good enough on my own to actually write and record songs. Moses didn't feel like asking the leader of a powerful nation to free the entire labor force and leading millions of people through the desert for several decades, and look what happened to him.

And if that's not enough, Paul encourages us in this yet again, in Philippians 1:6: "...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

Write that song. Write that book. Write that poem. Write that commentary on Habakkuk. Paint that painting. Design that architecture. Sculpt that sculpture. Write that blog. Film that movie (start with a short). Choreograph that dance. Try your hand at stand-up (if you can be funny, clean, and God-honoring, you'll have a strong following in no time). Take that picture. Take a lot more pictures. Perform that role. Write that play. Write that manifesto for a new way to look at an area of study (if you're into it, sociology could really use one). Write that play that doubles as a manifesto. Write that manifesto for a completely new are of study. Review that music. Review that movie. Surf that wave. Ride that half-pipe. Style that hair. Do pedicures in the name of Jesus. Do anything. For Jesus. For God. He'll make it more than you can dream it would be.


As I came across this passage in Revelation 21, it hit me with a new significance; this is our promised home with God. We will be there one day.

My favorite part is the last paragraph.

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. 16The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadiain length, and as wide and high as it is long. 17He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits thick, by man's measurement, which the angel was using. 18The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. 21The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.

22I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.25On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.