Category: Christianity


The Beach

In the dream, I am fishing with my friends. I am just about to bring in my nets as my boat sails past the beach, where I notice smoke coming up from a small fire.  I don’t think anything of it and return to my work. It’s been a bit of a rotten day for fishing. We haven’t caught anything, and it seems like nothing will ever go right again. My friends are talking in hushed voices as I do my work by myself, but I don’t feel left out, really. I have been reminiscing and pensive these past couple of days, because my best friend died. Was killed, in fact. He was the one you could count on to lead the pack, who always seemed ten steps ahead of everyone else. And he was.

He was way ahead of me, that’s for sure. He knew I would run, just like the others. He told me it would happen, even as I stood there adamantly insisting that I would never run, betray, or wound. He caught me in plenty of other ramblings, too. But that last time…well, let’s just say I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut since then. As much as I thought I loved him, I couldn’t — wouldn’t — save him.

My friends are getting loud next to me. I look over, perturbed, but they’re talking to a man on the beach, the one who had started the fire. I follow their gaze back and listen to what’s being said:

“Hey, maybe you guys should try fishing on the other side of the boat,” he says.  Yeah, whatever.  The guy’s a kook who clearly doesn’t understand that if fish aren’t on one side of the boat, they’re likely not on the other.  But, my friends look to humor him, so I pitch in. Let’s get this over with as soon as possible.

So, we let down the nets again and leave them for a couple of minutes.  I look back to the man behind the fire but I can’t see his face.  Maybe he expects us to bring him some fish to cook, if we catch any.

I’m pulled out of my reverie as I realize the boat is tipping to the side.  Half in a panic, I rush to the nets and discover them breaking from the thousands of fish caught inside–thousands upon thousands, breaking strong braids of thick cording.  I get the odd feeling of deja vu and turn my face to the beach.  I look again at the fire and the man sitting behind it stoking the flames. I don’t recognize him at first, so I squint, trying to find his eyes through the haze of smoke coming up between us.

Either this is an apparition, or I am most certainly hallucinating. It’s my best friend. Alive. Sitting by the fire like nothing happened.  Yes, it’s an hallucination for sure.  As soon as I think this, the smallest hint of a smile plays on his face and he slightly shakes his head.  He knows what I just thought in my head. No, it’s not an apparition. This is just the sort of thing he would do.

I throw caution to the wind — it’s one of the things I’m best at — and I jump off the boat and swim to the shore to greet him, unsure of anything in my head at this point.

I stand up and wring my clothes out a bit as I walk over to him, losing excitement with every step. If he’s really here, really real, really alive, I don’t know that I can face him after what I’ve done. My steps grow awkward as I draw nearer. He’s watching me the whole time. The slight smile has vanished from his face and he is looking at me with that piercing gaze of his, looking into my soul. Looking concerned.

“Hi,” he says. “Come have some fish with me…I see you have plenty to share.”  I have to laugh a bit, as overflowing and breaking fishing nets have become sort of an inside joke between us. He is quite peculiar. He always has been. One time, we were all on the boat and there was a huge storm–a squall, practically, and he would’ve slept right through it if we hadn’t woken him up to tell him we were all going to die. I remember then, he just shook his head at us, walked outside, said one word, and the gale-force winds instantly calmed to a balmy summer breeze. And now he wants fish. After dying a few days ago. I’ve never had a friend like this, and I know I never will again.

He smiles up at me when I laugh, and I sit with him and eat as the others come. They had taken up the nets, tied up the boat, and embraced our friend as they also joined the repast. Their faces convey the shock that I am feeling, but our friend doesn’t pay any attention to our obvious confusion, concern, and wonderment. He makes small talk for a while and then drops off into silence. The others cautiously talk to each other for a while to break the tension of the silence, but my friend and I just sit there, staring into the flames, not speaking.

After a bit, my friend stands up and brushes the sand off his hands and clothes.  “Come with me,” he beckons to me as he begins to walk off along the beach. I have time to shoot my friends a glance as I walk after my best friend and teacher. They look around at one another and cautiously walk after us a ways, so as to give us privacy but still remain close. I suppose they feel as I do — now that our friend is back, we can’t bear to be apart from him. After all, we spent the last three years together almost exclusively. And nobody was closer to him than me. Except I don’t feel that way. Not now. Not after what I did.

He stops walking and looks at me. I am taken by surprise and almost continue to walk along, but I turn back, and he has a look on his face that I’ve never seen before.  “Do you love me?” he asks. I know he is addressing my betrayal of him, and I choke out the words, “Yes, I do.”  He searches my eyes for a moment and says, “Feed my lambs.”

Feed your lambs? Huh?  I’m sure my look betrays my confusion because he asks me again, “Do you love me?” I repeat, “I do.” He puts his hand on my shoulder and looks into my eyes and says, “tend my sheep.”  I think I might be getting it. He must mean for me to take care of the others.

I nod cautiously and we start walking again. But he stops again and says, “Do you love me?”  And then I lose it. I realize the gravity of the whole situation. What he’s really asking me. The fact that he asked me 3 times, the same number of times that I betrayed him. Does he really not know if I love him? Is he unsure of me? But I know him well enough to know there’s no way in the world that he wouldn’t know. I’m crying as I tell him so.  “You know everything!  You know I love you!”

I’m about to run off in shame when he grabs me powerfully by the shoulders and looks into my face once again. But this time, he’s smiling with compassion. “Feed my lambs.”

Relief floods over me, like nothing I’ve ever experienced. He’s not doubting my love, but he knows I’m doubting my love. This is his way of restoration. His way of saying he forgives me. His way of saying he loves me and still wants me in his service, as his pupil, as his brother, as his friend.

We’re smiling as we continue walking along the beach. After a while we are both composed and he’s telling me all these things that will happen in the coming days. I’m going to die too, he says in not so many words. I’m concerned, of course, but still glad in the moment of our reconciliation. But I’m also still me, so I look around at the men following behind us a pace and say, “what about them?”

But he raises his eyebrows and says, “What is that to you? You follow me!” And somehow, I’m comforted. Because I know that he’ll be in this with me. That he loves me individually and is the crux of my purpose in the world. We walk along together as he shares more with me, and I am happy.

The dream shifts and I am in the future, sitting at a table with my friends. We’ve been praying for weeks to seek guidance, and now we’re all looking around at each other. We’ve just finished praying and somehow we’re all speaking different languages, things I’ve neither heard nor learned before. And I feel something stir inside of me. Someone. It’s him. I’d know that presence anywhere. I haven’t seen him in body in a while, but he explained that he was leaving, and that someone was coming back to help us. I didn’t understand it at the time, but this feels so real. So like him.  He’s still peculiar, I suppose. He leaves, and promises to send a helper, but it’s really him, in a way, and the helper now apparently lives inside of me, because I can hear his thoughts and feel the weights of glory and knowledge of the law in my heart. It makes no sense. And it’s just like him.

And suddenly I know what I must do. We followed him for 3 years, watching him feed the hungry, open the eyes of the blind, raise the dead, heal the cripples, speak brilliantly and hang around with outsiders and untouchables, thinking that all the while, that was his main work here. But it wasn’t. It was me. And the other few in our little band of brothers. And now it’s my main work. Bringing others into our group, so that they can bring more into our group. This is about people, and it starts with me. Here. Now.

I wake up, but I’m not Peter. I’m 2,000 years removed, but nonetheless a product of his realization. I make the same mistakes he made — moments of insane hubris, betrayal, times where my words do more harm than good — but I feel that same stirring inside of me that came upon him. I’ve never seen Jesus. I don’t know what he looks like, but I know his voice. It lives inside me. Every day I deny, every day I fail, and at the end of each day he asks, “Do you love me?” And I cry because I don’t trust myself. I cry because I hurt him, and because I hurt others. I cry because I know every day of my life will include a denial of some kind. I tell him that but he doesn’t even address it, really. He just knows my heart and says, “Feed my lambs.”

A Glamorous Deception

If you are even minutely involved in modern society, you will know that kids today (I know, I’m a bit young to be saying “kids today”) are into some pretty weird stuff.  The airwaves are filled with insipid, messed-up former Disney stars, sparkly, angst-filled undead creatures, the pre-pubescent voice of post-pubescent Justin Bieber, and the graceful words of the new vernacular–“adorbs,” “cray-cray,” and “totes” (as in, “This pic of the Biebs is totes adorbs,” to which I might respond, “You’re totes cray-cray” or some version of that which isn’t insane).

I poke fun, but really, this generation is all rhyme and echo of my own. In my day (I know, I’m a bit young to be saying “in my day”), we listened to Paula Cole, BBMAK, and Cypress Hill, watched “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (apparently vamps are never out of style–just go back to Anne Rice’s novels and the first undead soap opera, “Dark Shadows”), and used words like “like” (every other word), “as if,”  and “the bomb” (as in, “Paula Cole’s like, the bomb,” to which I might reply, “As if!” if I were a valley girl).

I personally had my own brand of weirdness.  I forewent watching the traditional Saturday morning cartoons like Animaniacs and spent my morning chilling with Bob Ross’ painting shows.  I read a book a day, played basketball in the driveway and listened to the Broadway cast recording of “Evita” while rollerblading in circles for hours at a time.  I can admit it now, mostly because I’ve accepted that I was a quirky, lonely kid–and because I am no longer lonely or a kid, and my quirkiness has taken on different, cooler forms–I was uncool before uncool was cool.  However, when I was just entering my teenage years, I got involved in some things I am not proud of, one of which was the occult.  I wasn’t just in the vampire slaying crowd (though that was also a big area of interest for me), but I downloaded magical spells off the newly-created internet, researched old demon legends and Satanism (though I was a professing [read: false] Christian at the time).  I messed around with tarot cards, fortune-telling, and thought a lot about holding seances. I believed in reincarnation and a very real spiritual world–a world I knew next to nothing about.  And, true to the occult name (“occult” means “hidden”), I kept most of those things a secret from my family during the three-or-so years I was involved.

It’s interesting to me that the word “occult” means “hidden.”  When you mess with the occult, a lot of showy things can start to happen because the occult is a doorway to Satan.  I know people who’ve used Ouija boards (thankfully, I never did), and had immediate and powerful demonic encounters.  I’ve had a few of my own even without the Ouija board.  God says He’ll grant us more than we can ask or imagine, but Satan has his own brand of that promise–he’ll show us things more horrifying and more often than we asked or imagined if we open the door to him.  And, believe me–if you use the occult, you’re opening that door.

Perhaps you scoff that there is anything dangerous at all about playing with a cardboard “toy” that you can purchase at Toys R Us, or  playing with a deck of cards with a few weird symbols on them, or lighting some candles and mumbling a few words in repetition.  But if you read the Bible, you know such things have ominous meaning.  Do we really have to be so addicted to personal experience that we ignore the warnings in the Bible and the warnings of many who have tried the occult and found it scary and oppressive?

Admittedly, there have been perhaps two times in my life after my initial exploration of the occult when I have been tempted to use it again–both times after becoming a Christian.  Circumstances during those times were such that I was craving both answers and direction, and God was giving me only enough knowledge for the moment–which apparently wasn’t quite good enough for me.  God was quietly exercising my faith, and Satan loudly tried to prey on my desire for more.  Thankfully, the temptations passed, and I didn’t give in.  If you saturate yourself with the Bible, it’s easier to bear up under temptation.

I think Satan preys upon our desire for the glamorous, the showy, the obvious.  He preys upon the boredom that has come with so much ease-creating technology, and on our collective cultural desire for interesting distractions. So, he draws us in with a spectacle, a carnival, a magnificent hall of mirrors pinging objects of horror and intrigue off into an ever-narrowing stripe of infinity.  You’ll probably accumulate a lot of “interesting” stories by dabbling in the occult–probably more “interesting” than you’ll accumulate while carrying your cross behind Christ. But, if you continue down that occult path, only death lies at the end.

Then there’s God. God is glorious, but He’s not glamorous.  He has wowed me with certain experiences, but that’s the exception to the rule. God is no cheap parlor magician–His is the unchanging, still, small voice of humility, not the irresolute, loud, boastful voice of hubris.  God’s hall of mirrors shows us, but that same stripe of infinity changes our image progressively to look more and more like Christ the further into infinity we go.  It’s a path that ends (and begins) in life.  Sure, sometimes it’s not much to look at.  The way is humble, stony, thorny, and it doesn’t promise the seeming ease of other paths, but it’s really the only way to go and end where your truest heart wishes to be.

A thought grows up just as humans do. They start off fumbling, weak, small, but nourish them and they’ll grow powerful and stout as oak trees.  Starve a person, and they die.  Starve a thought, and it, too, will die.  And, if your thoughts are for spectacle, or curious for easy answers, I advise that you be very wary.  I am an extremely curious person by nature, and in younger years I gave myself carte blanche to research and learn as I wished.  Yes, I learned.  I learned that not all learning is helpful.  I learned that sometimes, a satisfied curiosity is not worth the price.  I learned that we cannot exchange the glory of the immortal God for some lesser counterfeit. Sometimes you have to let a thought simply die. Sometimes we have to learn to not be so fixated on our own entertainment. I learned that this whole idea doesn’t apply only to the occult–it applies to anything that draws you away from God, whether it be a culture that follows its every whim, an apostate teacher, or personal sinful desires. We don’t have to experience everything to learn from it, and I’m still learning this.  Wisdom can be a killer of intrigue, of glamour, of ease, of worship of  the wrong things.  And, wisdom can be life-giving.  We can get involved in some bad stuff over the course of our lives, but we don’t have to stay there.  Life, goodness, truth…all await you on the other side.

In God We Trust

I wrote this poem for a class I’m taking called “Living in God’s Presence.” It’s a wonderful class and I’ve enjoyed learning new things about my walk with God there, so I thought I’d share some of that here:

In life there are two friends

One, the fair-weather sort—fickle, absent, and shallow

The other dependable, stable and present

To whom will I turn when the storm waters rise and the waves threaten to steal my breath?

I see those friends standing by and watching as the waves overtake my eyes

Blurring and distorting my view of them

I reach my hand, but whom shall I choose?  In whose hands do I place my life?

I reach for the faithful friend and find myself in good hands.

When it comes to such trust my talent is of no consequence

“How trustworthy is the one I turn to?” Not “how good am I at trusting?”

For I fail in such ways, sometimes expecting a stone in place of bread

Or fearing a snake will rear up and strike, should I request a fish.

Forgive me for such thoughts, Father, for I have been weak.

In paradox, the storms have taught me to trust You more

For in the most shadowy nights, the stars luminesce all the clearer

Just as the Sun glows hotter and brighter

After the rains unceasingly, gently cleanse again and ever again this soiled earth

After darkness, You are light, where no shadows dwell

After rain, You are perfect and clear, beautiful as the sky

Teach me again when the tempest comes and the dark descends

That Your hand is ready to take hold and guide me through shadow and rain

Knowing that on the other side of trial, I will find myself clinging to You, You who are life itself.

And through the long ages, to forever, may I live in complete enjoyment

Of Your guiding hand and trustworthiness

Continually plumbing the depths of who You are,

Rejoicing that I will never see the end.

 

(I borrowed some of my thoughts from other poems/psalms/devotionals I’ve written, but it’s all true, and I’m grateful to be learning this lesson)

 

Filters

Many people in this world argue that “perception is reality.” However, I would amend this statement and say that our perceptions can easily set up for us a form of deception that is only just passable as reality. Sometimes our perceptions really do reflect the true state of things; at other times, what we see is not always what is really there. The filters through which we see things can greatly impact what we see. There is a certain level of naïveté in the person who sees all of life through rose-colored glasses, for example, just as there is naïveté in the person who only sees darkness in the world. In either case there is a deficiency of judgment–neither one perceives life as it is, and our filters can do the same to us in impairing judgment.

There are a great many filters through which we can see things. Our families of origin, experiences, personalities, and ways of thinking about life can all either enhance or taint our view of the world, and our view (or lack thereof) of God. It has typically been my tendency in life to view God in the light of life’s experiences; thus, my view of Him has traditionally been tainted and wrong, for all intents and purposes. It’s common to feel the need to perform and earn the affections and respect of others, and many of us are ingrained with that mindset over the years of our lives.

I always told myself, even before becoming a Christian 5 years ago, that God did not make me to be mediocre, and I always pushed myself to perform well under all circumstances. It’s been a snare for me, because I never felt like I would ever be happy in life, that I would always be looking around the next corner for the bigger and better thing. I’ve had a life of adventure and relative success because of it, but also a life I didn’t enjoy much until recent years.

This never seemed to mesh well with the idea that Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light. I thought all my hard work and efforts to “measure up” were what God wanted from me. I saw the Bible as a list of commands–a harsh, rigid manifesto of sorts from a God who was unrelenting and onerous–someone who wanted only my infinite admiration and perfection as the price of His love. But where does this leave room for Jesus? And where did I even get this idea of God?  I have my hunches, and now that I’m a Christian, I’m revisiting all the old opinions I trusted for so long.  Is the Christian life all about “measuring up?” Are Christian living principles the be-all and end-all of what we’re called to on this planet?  Is God a distant taskmaster, demanding obedience in exchange for love?  Is He quiet so often because He doesn’t care? Or worse, since He doesn’t often make Himself known in the way we would like, does He even exist?  I’ve had many of these questions myself and know of many others who’ve had the same. But, I’m learning a new way. A better way.

Maybe God is not to be seen through the lens of those who’ve been harsh with us. He is not the abusive or absentee parent. Love is not a weapon He uses to coerce. He displays no indifference, but only passion–passion for us. The word “passion” itself comes from a word that means “guts.” It is a visceral, physical reaction to something that stimulates you to the core of your being. That’s how He feels about us. It’s why He physically came to earth and died an horrific death to save us–compassion. Passion.  For us. For His children. For His dust-bunny creations.

I’m changing my filters these days. I grew up with one person in particular who contributed to a negative impact on my view of God, though my own perception was the true culprit.  I always thought God was like this person because that’s what I grew up with, what I expected all forms of life to contain. But after I became a Christian, God put certain new people in my path–people who have loved me without condition. They rarely express their love for me explicitly in a verbal way, but they make the reality of it known through their actions, which has been far more important for me. They always have an encouraging word for me, a hug, a term of endearment, a way of emphasizing the bond we share. They take interest in my life and invite me into theirs. They look out for me, guard me, cry for me, lift me up in prayer, rejoice with me in victories, share opportunities, think of me fondly, and talk with me just as well as they listen, learning and teaching in the process of friendly interaction.  Why do I base my experience of God on the people who’ve wounded me deeply, and not more like the people I’ve just mentioned? They are a far better representation of the character of God.

I’m not saying that our view of God should be based on others, because if we viewed Him exclusively in that light, He would be imperfect and fragile. We would have no hope resting in a god made in our own image. But humans learn via analogia, or by analogy. Our experiences of others have surely affected our view of God in some way (the reverse is certainly true as well). But this should not be an indecent thing. There are examples of goodness and godliness scattered broadcast throughout the world. God blessed me by bringing such people into my life. They are helping to change the faulty views of God I had previously possessed. It took a couple of years for me to realize it was happening. Love crept up on me slowly, deliciously, warmly, like the blue-orange glow of the horizon when the Sun is about to rise. Now it’s apparent. God is more like the good people you know than the bad. Don’t look to your bad experiences and relationships and base your relationship to God or view of God on that. It could very well be that you’re not seeing Him through the right filters. In reality, He’s beyond anything brilliant and beautiful that we can imagine, graciously giving us little images of Himself along the path to help light the way home. And in these little images, these little lights, we see reflections of His light, the most glorious star to ever exist.

Son…You are my favorite star.

The Communicable Nature of Love

Some people are perpetually thankful for the gifts and opportunities God has given them. Every once in a while I will hear one of them say something like, “Lord, why have You given me all this stuff and just showered me with all this great love and success?”  Francis Chan said something similar about the success of his book, “Crazy Love,” about how he just didn’t get why God has always shown him favor. In giving it some thought, I realize that God’s act of love to one person (like Francis Chan) can be an act of love for others (like me).  I read that book and got a ton out of it. I listen to Francis Chan’s messages and get so much from them. God loves Francis Chan. God loves me. And God uses Francis Chan to communicate a bit of that love to me and others like me. I feel that way about all I come into contact with. God has showered me with love, success, and opportunity. Maybe He’s showered you with the same. We can’t keep it to ourselves, because maybe we are supposed to share it with someone else, and be that expression of God’s love for them.  Someone once said, “You are the only Bible some people will ever read.”  Let people read you, and see that your message is love.

Suffering

A few years ago a group of 23 missionaries went to Korea and got abducted by the Taliban.  The last day they were all together as a group, one of the ladies still had a Bible with her and ripped it into 23 sections and passed it to each person so they could have some encouragement before they were separated to be killed.  They each released their life to Jesus one at a time.  “Whatever will bring You the most glory, whether it be my death or my life, I ask that of you. Kill me if it will bring more glory to You. Let me live if it will bring more glory to You.”  A couple of them were killed, but the others returned to their homes unharmed.  The odd thing was what the survivors had to say to each other after several weeks and months of being back.  They all would remark to each other, “Don’t you wish we were still there? Don’t you wish we were still imprisoned by the Taliban? We were in this pit and I remember being fearful but I remember being so close to God. I had this intimacy with Jesus and I’ve been reading the Bible and trying to get it back but it’s just not the same. It’s not the same!”

Maybe this is why the disciples and apostles of Jesus wished to be counted worthy to suffer for the Name.  They knew that communion with Christ meant sharing in His suffering, and I can tell you from personal experience that I feel furthest from Jesus when I’m at my most comfortable.

It’s been a bit of a weird year for me thus far. I graduated college in December and began my Master’s degree studies at Phoenix Seminary in January. In May, I moved into my first apartment and got a new job the week after that. The first week of June, I made my first trek to Europe with my mom and stayed there until the 16th of that month. From that point, I worked two jobs, working as many as 26 shifts in a row at one point. In August, my car died a rather painful death, so I got a new car at a smoking deal, an orange Kia Soul that has WAY more features than I could ever possibly think to want.  That same month I resumed grad school studies. Earlier this month I quit my old job and in a couple of weeks I will begin singing at my new(ish) church. There have been a lot of changes, and not all of them good. In June or so, Satan started attacking very heavily, most of it revolving around my old job (a job that was very dangerous to do), and a big loss I experienced in my family.  Satan attacked violently, and that is one of his favorite weapons to use against me. I can’t say what all took place, but I have never experienced spiritual warfare to the degree I experienced it this summer.

Satan doesn’t really get it, I think. If he had just left me alone with all the good things that had been happening, I might’ve ended up rather far from God. It’s incredible how good times can lead to simply wanting to maintain the status quo. But when the trials started, I ran to God, to family, and to a few trusted friends and mentors to surround me in prayer (I confess I should’ve gone to them sooner than I did; Pride will tell you that you can handle it on your own, but trust me, it won’t work). In the course of my life, I don’t think I’ve suffered much, but I notice that when the suffering comes, I run to God. In fact, it was during my greatest period of suffering that I became a Christian (this coming December 19th marks my 5th year in the family of God).

I understand logically why we don’t wish to suffer. It’s painful. It’s uncomfortable. It either forces us to grow or pushes us into a pit of bitterness. But spiritually, I see the value of it. It reminds me of Christ’s suffering on the cross. It reminds me that this world is not my home, that I can share a small part in the pains that Jesus endured, His humiliation and rejection. Paradoxically, it reminds me that there is hope, that suffering will not last forever, that rejection and humiliation are not the end of the story, that I can share a deeper relationship with Jesus through such things, and that He will give comfort through times of suffering.

Jesus has been described as the Comforter.  Why do we need a comforter if we’re already comfortable?

I think of Stephen. Right before he was stoned to death he saw Jesus.  Or Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-nego, when they went into the furnace, and God was in there with them.  The examples are everywhere!  They all shared something in common: they counted everything as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ as Lord. For His sake, they lost everything, and counted everything as crap just to gain Him and be found in Him, without righteousness of their own that came from the Law but having a righteousness that came only through faith in Christ.

It’s not about masochism. I love to enjoy myself and have fun. I spend lots of time with my friends and family. I love to hang out, chat, go to movies, go on road trips, and just let loose and pursue adventure, and I see God in those things, enjoying them right along with me.  It’s not about wanting suffering, it’s about wanting Jesus enough to bear up under the strain of life and all the fiery arrows Satan shoots in your direction. You’ve probably seen romance movies where a man and woman don’t get along very well until they’re thrust in the midst of some incredibly perilous situation, and then they fall in love.  It’s a bit of a bad analogy, but that’s sort of what it’s like. There is something about having a relationship with someone in the extreme lows of life that endears them to you in a way that could never be had by simply experiencing good with them all the time.  It is through suffering that we experience our deepest communion with God and others.  About 6 years ago my dad took off, and I remember exactly who was with me when I saw him for the last time. She is now one of my best friends. It’s not necessarily because she happened to be there, but we bonded very closely in that moment and that bond hasn’t broken. Jesus was there too, and that bond hasn’t broken either. It has been stretched and strained at times, but the more we go through (suffer through) together, the stronger that bond becomes, and lesser things flee away.

Get alone with Him. If you’re suffering, go through it with Him and let Jesus enter into it with you. He knows what it’s like, and then some. Take heart. Whatever it is you’re going through, you’re not alone. Even if there’s no one else, Jesus is right there with you, and a relationship with Him is worth everything.

The Composer

All music has its predecessor, and He it was, at the start. One note, two, crescendo to a symphony. So grand and harmonious was this first composition, and the like of it had never been heard before. But the best musician greatly desired the Conductor’s baton and began to play a most foul melody. Some of the musicians around him were thrown off by the dissonance and joined him. The Conductor perceived the musician’s designs and wrote the musician out of the symphony. A most malicious hatred arose out of the hubris in the musician’s heart, and he conspired to ruin the auditory masterpiece by interjecting his own notes. His craft was subtle; the notes appeared fair from the off but grew dark in time, and many musicians were corrupted by trickery and deceit. In but a short while, the song in major had a minor undertone, and it remained thus, even worsening, for many ages.

Fermata

Bridge

From the start of the symphony, the Conductor held a secret Note, even a Chord that He knew the awful musician would not be able to imitate, corrupt, or destroy. At the proper moment, when the music was ripe for such a Note, the Conductor interjected it, and there was none else to compare. A vast shudder rippled throughout the orchestra because the veiled beauty of this Note was so profound. Many musicians wept at the sound of it, yet they were unable to explain the simultaneous joy in their hearts, so paradoxical was the sound of it. Still others were offended by the Note and attempted vainly to ignore or silence it. And almost as quickly as the Note came into the symphony, it faded to silence, and the awful musician felt a relief and triumph because the Note especially grated on his ears and threatened to ruin him. But his momentary victorious bliss was shattered when the Note burst back into the melody in forte. It was then that the corrupt musician knew he would never possess the baton and make the music his own, so he redoubled his efforts to harm the melody, and even the musicians themselves. The Conductor raised His hands and the Note had primacy; at other times the awful musician had the melody so twisted that his minor key had the veneer of dominance. And this symphony battle carried on as such for a great while.

Fermata

Coda

In later times, many musicians forgot the music, and even forgot they were playing; they had grown so dull from long ages of confusion. The symphony became myth and the Composer was rumored to be fable. Things considered fair proved themselves foul and the foul, fair. The state was so desirable to the awful musician that he seemed, for a time, to have the upper hand and dominance in the melody. Yet inwardly, the Composer was smiling for He knew the time for coda to the end had come. Louder than ever, the Note, and a tempo change: Allegro. Bewildered and joyous musicians took up the new yet familiar sound, playing their various instruments with renewed fervor, passing over the counterfeit notes written by that awful musician. And of that musician, what can be said? Once the most gifted player, and ruined by a single Note, humbled by his inability to copy its beauty. It was his undoing, and the sound of it drove him to torment and uselessness, and the symphony was never interrupted again. The melody became more joyful and perfect than at the start; the Conductor was loved and revered more than ever for His mastery and brilliance over the music and the usurping musician, and at the end of all things, the music was still playing, growing ever more complex and beautiful through the long ages, to forever.

(I owe a debt to Tolkien for starting this idea)

Family

Tonight I went to the Hillsong United concert at the US Airways Center.  I’ve had lots of worship experiences in my life (even before I became a Christian 4.5 years ago) but I don’t think I’ve ever really been to a “Christian concert” before.  Hillsong rocked it, and it was incredibly moving to sing and lift my hands in praise with a couple thousand other people.  I think the thing I was most impressed by was when the band played their song “With Everything.”  They finished up and the lights went out, and the thousands in the audience continued to sing, unaccompanied, in the dark.  People were flashing their cell phones in the air and all around it looked like twinkling stars as we stood there passionately and humbly singing to God.  It was a profound moment.

That’s probably what impacts me more about being a Christian than anything else–this fact of being part of a group that shares God in common. We are all indwelt with the Holy Spirit, and because of that, I can say that tonight I was singing with two thousand family members. That is a poignant thing.  It’s a holy thing.

Family is an incredibly important thing to me, and I know it’s because of past events.  I am blessed with an awesome mom and extended family, and I’m grateful for them all the time.  However, there is something incredible about Christianity in that I have millions of family members worldwide.  God is the tie that binds.  It’s commonly misconstrued that the church is a building, but it’s not.  The church is a family.  There’s something moving about worshiping with so many believers because of that familial bond, and it’s such a powerful feeling that any words I possess that could describe it would be pitiful and woefully inadequate.

It very frequently brings tears to my eyes to ponder all the ways God has blessed me through family.  Sure, some of our deepest pain may result from those close relationships, but I believe it’s in the context of relationship that we receive our deepest blessings.  I hope we learn throughout our lives to take more notice of these blessings.  For my part, they have brought joy and love to my life, both in such unimaginable quantities that I can’t begin to explain it.

If you are a Christian reading this, I am more grateful than you can realize to have you as a brother or sister.  I pray you will be abundantly blessed, and I can’t wait to get to know you, if not on earth, than in the Kingdom of God.

If you’re not a Christian, I encourage you to think about joining the family.  God is an excellent Papa and you’ll have plenty of siblings to love and be loved by in return.  God is crazy about YOU, and He sent Jesus into the world to die and rise again, making a way for you to join the family.  That’s how much He loves you, cares for you, and wants to be with you.  I want to be with you too, and I’m certain my brothers and sisters feel the same.  So, come on over!  We’ve set a place for you at the dinner table, and we have a room prepared. You are always welcome here.

 

 

Check out this video of the song “With Everything.”  This video very much reflects my own experience tonight:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OP2sFaVqg_c&feature=related

Things to Ponder

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”  ~Ezekiel 16:49

 

“Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.”  ~Proverbs 28:27

 

“Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed.  And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.  For if you will indeed obey this word, then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants and their people.  But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.”  ~Jeremiah 22:3-5

 

“Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey! What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar?  To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth?  Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain.  For all his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.” ~Isaiah 10:1-4

 

“He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.” ~Proverbs 21:13

 

“‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'” ~Matthew 25:41-45

 

These verses have been with me a lot, recently.  I’m taking an Ethics class at Phoenix Seminary and it strikes me just how much many evangelicals of the western world take pains to aggrandize our own wealth and comfort, not realizing that often, our excess is detrimental to others.  I’m not exempt by any stretch.  I may not be rich according to American standards, but I’m certainly very rich when compared to the rest of the world.  It absolutely breaks my heart to know how stingy I’ve been with my resources.

For example, I’m preparing to move to an apartment closer to my church and my grad schools (yes, I said “schools”), and so of course I need to streamline my personal property and downsize a bit.  I’ve got a designated place in my room for all the accoutrements I want to dispose of and give to charity.  Time out.  I’m giving my refuse to charity?  The things I have that I don’t like or that don’t fit me?  It seems so akin to giving God the last few minutes of my day when I’m tired, or talking to my loved ones only when it’s convenient.  Maybe those aren’t good examples, but if I do anything to “the least of these,” I’m doing it to Jesus Himself.  And when I think of how little I’ve truly done (for the least, and therefore for Jesus), I feel extremely convicted.

So, I’ve compiled a list of places to go to help out.  Some I’ve worked with before, others I’ve merely heard of.  All reputable from what I understand, but if you know differently, please tell me and I’ll remove it.

 

1.  www.worldvision.org.  You can sponsor a child here or donate to the general fund, purchase wells or animals for those who need them, etc.

2.  www.finca.org.  This is an organization that works with microloans.  For a small price, you can help someone in a developing country build a business so they can feed their family.

3.  www.streetlightphx.com.  This organization exists to eradicate child sex slavery.  Did you know that if you even view pornography, you are almost certainly supporting the child sex industry?  It’s simple supply and demand.  Check the website and see what they’re doing with this important work.

4.  www.mentorkidsusa.org.  It is what it sounds like.  Mentor a child and be a positive role model.  Lots of kids don’t have good people in their lives (I see this a lot in my own field of work).  If you can’t mentor, there’s a place to donate.

5.  www.compassion.com.  This is similar to WorldVision.  You can sponsor a child and learn a lot about advocacy.

6. http://www.fh.org.  Food for the Hungry (FH) works to meet physical and spiritual needs globally.  A very reputable organization.

7.  www.casaforchildren.org.  I have worked with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) before.  They get to know kids who’ve been abused or neglected (including CPS wards) and advocate for their rights.  Very important people.

 

There are many more I haven’t listed, but these are good places to start.  I pray we all learn that a little sacrifice goes a long way for those whose voices are not heard.

Effects

“Indeed the idols I have loved so long have done my credit in men’s eye much wrong: have drown’d my honour in a shallow cup, and sold my reputation for a song.”  ~Omar Khayyam, “The Rubaiyat”

 

I’m working on an assignment for my 506 Ethics class.  100 consequences for sexual sin.  Yes, it’s daunting.  But even though I’m squeezing plenty of ideas out of the crevices in my brain, it occurs to me that 100 consequences don’t even scratch the surface.  And this is “just” sexual sin.  I can only imagine what the true ramifications are of any transgression.

 

That’s just one of the problems with sin–it blinds us to its true effects, like an insidious virus that convinces the body to attack itself from the inside out.  Sometimes I remember how miserable my sin can make me and others, and it’s preventive.  Would that we remembered this more!