Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Whose Kingdom is It Anyway?

One of the great things about living in Florida is being able to go to the beach 3 days before Christmas. That is how this year found me, skimboarding on the ocean waves lapping up onto the shore well until past twilight. If you live in the North, (or anywhere else above South Florida) you might be jealous to hear that even the onset of night didn't make it too cold to continue enjoying the water and sand. (No hate mail, please.)

As it got later and the lifeguards had finished their shift and closed up shop, I drew near to the pier. (They don't allow skimboarders in guarded areas. Some garbage about safety or something like that. Psh.) As I was enjoying riding the waves and such, I noticed a teenager running about in a wetsuit. At one point, I fell off my board and the water had carried it a distance from me. The young man in the black wetsuit ran up, grabbed my board, played with it in the water for half a minute, and then handed it back to me, laughing all the while.

Sound strange? Yes, it was, but the boy had some kind of developmental deficiency. I can't speak into the details of the situation, but having studied many developmental disorders in nursing school, I knew he had some kind of dementia or autism perhaps. I stayed around that area close to the pier, continuing to try to get some good waves in before heading home, but I couldn't keep my eyes off the boy who ran about the shoreline, splashed in the water, and threw small pebbles back into the ocean, even grabbing a jellyfish that had washed up on shore. No shame. No fear. No regret.

I wanted to be like him.

As I watched, I realized that this boy didn't give a flip about what other people were thinking about him. As someone who is so wrapped up in my performance, I wanted to stop caring about what people thought about whether or not I excelled. I began to long to do the things that I do for the God's glory instead of my own. I wanted to enjoy throwing pebbles without wanting to show my neighbor how far they went. I wanted to splash in the water with no fear of how silly I looked doing it. I wanted to run along the shoreline without worrying about my form. I wanted to grab jellyfish without thinking that others would look at me like an idiot.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10)
Casting Crowns has a song that says, "How can I further your Kingdom when I'm so wrapped up in mine?" A life of making the almighty "me" the end goal of my efforts is a life wasted. And as much as it is easy to sit here and write that I want to change, I stand to make this post as much about my conviction as it is for yours. When our lives become about God and others, people notice, are blown away, and do not understand. It's only logical: no one understands miracles, and a lack of selfishness is probably one of the most miraculous things out there.

That is what I want.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Walking Mud

One of the original bands that got me into music was Switchfoot. We were on our way home from church and my brother had bought a CD called, "The Beautiful Letdown." I didn't know that what I was listening to would go double platinum. I don't know that a fact like that would have even mattered to me. All I knew was that I soon memorized almost every single track on that album (I checked Spotify and saw a track I'd never heard. Musta been an easter egg).

A few years later, I got one of my own CD's from a band called Relient K. The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek became my ear-candy for the next few months and music soon became one of my passions. In the beginning, my brother introduced me to new bands and genres, but I soon started finding music of my own in that process, but I always maintained Relient K as one of my beacons of great music. Sure, a lot of people fell out of favor with them after Five Score and Seven Years Ago, but I found one of their least-popular albums, Forget and Not Slow Down (a post-Five-Score release), to be one of my favorites, containing some deep spiritual truths that required digging past the surface for their discovery.

Alas, things got weird when they released two karaoke albums. After all that waiting for them to release new material, all I got was covers. Ick. So when I heard they were releasing a new album, Collapsible Lung, I was stoked. Fresh music! I soon found, however, that the lyrics contained in those songs were some of the most secular, spiritually void words in Relient K history.


The last track, however, holds some words of intense thought. In this, the title track of the album, lead singer Matt Thiessen gives insight to his own walk with God.
/I’m feelin' backwards when I’m trying the most/
/And I hope haven’t heard the last words from the Holy Ghost/
/Cause I think that I’m supposed to be/
/Well on my way by now/
I've spent a lot of time thinking "that I'm supposed to be well on my way." I stumble and fall and feel the shame of sin and think, "God's probably getting pretty tired of me." If someone treated me like I treated God, I'm pretty sure I would have distanced myself from that person.

It's easy to have a pity party. You don't have to muster the energy to celebrate. You don't have to invite anyone. You don't even have to buy a cake. Just think about all of your failures, wallow in them like a pig in the mud, and get a woe-is-me sign.

Yeah, you screwed up. I screwed up. But I'm pretty sure that the truth of this whole Jesus thing is that He's no longer our Judge, but our Father. And not only is He our Father, but He's the best kind there is, which means He's patient. I once heard the analogy that, when a child is learning to walk, you don't get angry at the child when he falls after two steps, but rejoice in the fact that he was able to take two steps!
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103)
God rejoices in the steps because the fact that a mound of dirt is learning to walk is a pretty big deal. I think the truth of the matter is that we'll never be where we're supposed to be. And that's ok. If we're moving forward, even by the babiest of baby steps, He rejoices in the propulsion. He won't leave you where you are, and He'll push you to walk faster, but He concurrently recognizes our weakness.

Does that mean it's ok to be lazy or to sit in our sin? If that's what you're thinking, you've missed the entire point.

Masterpieces aren't composed in a day.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Two Approaches to Sin

If you've ever known... well... anyone, you know one thing: sin sucks. You may not verbalize it in this way. You may not even cognitively process the fact that sin sucks, but, oh, you have felt this truth. Whether it was your own sin or another's, you have experienced what it means to be damaged and bruised by the decision to rebel against God's natural order.

There are usually two responses to sin: either you do not realize it's gravity, or you dwell upon it entirely too much.

Let's tackle the first situation.

God abhors sin. If you don't know what "abhor" means, it's loathing. If you don't know what "loathing" is, it's hatred. God cannot be near sin. He is thoroughly and totally disgusted with the ways we choose to disobey His direct Word. And because of the way that sin impacts our daily lives, He grieves over the fact that we make deliberate choices to throw our life down the pooper. Sin is the opposition to all God has intended for us, and it breaks His heart when we make it our escape. Realizing the nature of sin from God's perspective is a crucial part of the Christian life.

However, there is another temptation. As Christians, after we've sinned, we can often tend to forget about grace. We tie ourselves to the woe-is-me pole and refuse to leave. I'm not sure if we do this because we think that there is some sort of righteousness in beating ourselves up over sin or because we are just so stricken with the agony of our wrongdoing, but either way, we forget what it means that God has covered all those things in His blood. I get that there is a time to grieve over the fact that you've screwed up. Sin sucks, after all. However, don't let your sin be greater than your God.

Repent, move forward, and fill your mind with the good things God has done for you.
I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. (Psalm 143)
Don't just look at all the ways you've failed. Begin to look at all the ways that God has pushed you in the right direction. Remember the moments in your life where God has done great things. Along with your repentance, there must be rejoicing.

God is writing your story. Don't forget to read the highlights.

Monday, November 25, 2013

We, The Condemned

I've spoken on occasion about my times with the Christ next to the intracoastal. For whatever reason, God has used my times next to those waters as very significant and powerful moments in my life. So I figured the little place deserves a little more explanation. My school is about a 3 minute walk from the intracoastal, and then another maybe 20 minute walk to the beach. In between or after classes, I head off to have my daily time with God out there by the waters where there's normally very little to distract me.

The little place is actually owned by a church across the street, which had built a small outdoor amphitheater in recognition of a few successful years of crusades. A small, marble plaque inlaid into the floor commemorates it as "The Place of Decision." Sections upon sections of bright blue chairs face the intracoastal and a stage set up with a baptismal channel running in front of it. It really is quite the place to enjoy solitude and peace, sitting in an empty amphitheater where the worship of saints and souls won for Christ define its very existence. Sitting there reminds me that God not only works in the multitudes that once filled those seats, but also in the single, solitary man that sits alone in that sea of chairs.

However, when I said that the church across the street owned it, that wasn't entirely true. They used to. Now, because of monetary reasons, the property has been sold, and there are plans to build some of the tallest skyrises in downtown right on that area. Now, look, I'm no protester or activist - that's not why I'm telling you all this. I'm not going to tell you to sign a petition to save this property. The reason I bring it up is because the current structure that lies there is condemned.

And I love it.

I love the fact that I am fully appreciating something that the world cares little about anymore. I know it will all soon be over, and perhaps that increases my fondness of the time I have now with that little place. Look at me - I sound like a schoolgirl. Oh well, I love it. Every minute of it. Condemned and all.
"For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die - but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5)
Look, I'm not going to drag this out. Whatever pleasure I have in this little condemned piece of property is reflective of how God loves condemned humans. He loved us while we were still sinners. Not at our best, but at our worst - at our most condemned moment.

Can you see that?

God chose us, The Condemned. He loves us, The Condemned. And He rescued us, so we are no longer The Condemned.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hardwood Floors and Fleshy Pads

I recently replaced the carpet in my bedroom with hardwood flooring. Usually, people compile a list of pros and cons before they do a thing like that, but I have nowhere near that kind of foresight. Instead, I've decided to compile my list retroactively, and here's the result.

-It looks positively alluring.
-It's easy to clean.
-It shines bright like a diamond. (Thanks, Rihanna?)
-My desk chair has become exponentially more slidey on its surface (thereby increasing fun percentage by 17%).
-No more rugburn.
-Did I mention it looks good?

-All the dust/hair/dead carcasses tend to ball up in the places where footsteps don't normally land.
-It's not very comfortable to lie face down on. (Don't ask.)
-I'm pretty sure it absorbs more heat than carpet, turning my already-hot room into the molten core of the earth.
-I may or may not have cried in frustration while installing it.
-It's super slippery.

One day, my friend tried to hide from me by putting himself behind one of the doors in my room. I tried to push the door open, only to find that I simply slid on my socks. As frustrating as this was, I knew there was a simple solution. I tore off my socks and planted the fleshy pads of my feet on the ground, giving me just the grip I needed to shoulder my way past the door.
"Give me a place to stand, and I will move the Earth." - Archimedes
I asked one of my friends the other day if he wanted to change the world. He replied, "Not really." However, my next question was of a little more importance: "Do you want to change your own little world?" To this, his response was a definitive, "Yes."

I think every one of us wants to change the world, either on a global level, or on the level of the world that is immediately around us. We want to impact our friends, peers, and family in a way that creates an indisputably compelling legacy. We want to leave our mark.
Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. (Luke 6)
Might I suggest that, at one point or another, the flood is going to come? If that's the case, my question is, "Will the legacy you have built survive?" which is really just another way of asking, "Were you standing on the Rock when you pushed to move the Earth?" All you are trying to accomplish will fall until you find out that there's only one spot to put the fleshy pads of your feet.

That spot is on a hill far away, next to an old rugged cross.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Spectator Sport Christianity

I never really enjoyed watching sports on TV. Go ahead. Be rude and say that I need to be more "manly" and participate in the ritual of gathering around a flat rectangle on a wall to scream and yell at minuscule impersonations of real people who will never hear me. Go ahead. I dare you.

I always preferred to be the one out there playing the games that people watched. Granted, I'll never be as good as the people who get payed Niagaran amounts of money to throw, kick, or hit a ball, but I see involving myself in something as way more engaging than sitting back and letting it happen in front of me. I know some people agree, and I know that some people think I just need to buy a jersey, make some spicy wings, and spend a Sunday watching the game with friends to really know what the experience is all about. Ok, I'll give you that.

However, I contend that we apply this style of inactive observation to other areas. We would rather hire a guy to come and fix our toilet than put our hands down the bowl and get the offending obstacle out. We would rather let the government give us our monthly benefit than get up and go to work. We would rather watch the wife cook than get up and mix our fingers in the beef.

We've turned life into a spectator sport.

And I fear that the worst casualty of this reality is our walks with God. We're content to sit in a pew and get fed by a ministry as long as God doesn't actually require anything of us. We're fine being told things that make us feel fresh-bubbly-tingly (I'm copyrighting that...) on the inside, but we avoid things that will actually convict us to the point of making us change. We're good with hearing someone pray after a sermon, just as long as we're not expected to actually find a silent time of solitude on our own and chase after God in secret prayer. We've become great cheerleaders who "Amen, brother!" the work of warriors in God's Kingdom, but we refuse to take up a sword and become ourselves the very men we applaud.
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Cor. 10)
Men and women of the church, we've got to stop with this notion that the Gospel is dedicated to making us feel good. I'm tired of people talking about God as a source of warm/fuzzy therapy instead of the source of all glory and power Who filled us with this strength that we may go out conquering in His name and for the sake of His glory alone. I'm sick of cultural Christianity.

I'm sick of spectating.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Your Brain on Banality

Let me lay out for you a typical weekend in my life. I don't have school on Fridays or Saturdays, so I typically dedicate these days to studying for my nursing classes. Sunday is supposed to be my day off, where I can just lead my small group and hang out with my family or friends. At least, that's what things are supposed to look like. Here's what actually happens.

Thoughts going through my mind on Friday.

"Ok, let's get down to business. I've got a lot to take care of, and there's a test on Wednesday. Let me just check my Facebook for a few minutes, and then I'm off to the races. Someone commented on my status? Oh sweet, I'll go respond to that."

*Scroll down my News Feed.*

"I'll just see what's going on with my friends. Someone posted a link to a Vine video? Oh... my... it's cats frolicking in a field of gummy bears. Must. share. Oh look, someone commented with a link to a Youtube video. WHAT?!? Cats rapping about gummy bears! Coolest. video. ever. And just look at these suggested videos! One's called, 'French Cat Performs Surgery.'"

*Watch this 7 minute video in its entirety, then follow a trail of suggested Youtube videos until you somehow get to one about the brand new field of biochemical engineering of 3D printers that print new organs already inside your body!*

"ACPTH! How is it 1 o'clock already?? I can't believe I let myself do this again. Now, I can't spend any time with God, or have the opportunity  to hang out with my brother and friends tonight because I have to study."

*Repeat on Saturday.*

*Have leftover work that needs to be finished on Sunday, which flushes family-hang-time down the pooper.*

Ok, so maybe this doesn't happen every week, but it happens in some form or another, to lesser or greater degrees, every day. It perpetually serves to frustrate me, get me behind, and prevent me from doing other, more constructive things. Plus, it doesn't even bring any satisfaction past the 5 seconds you take to do it! And I don't think I'm the only one.
And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” (Matt. 22)
I'm pretty sure God's cornered the market when it comes to time. He owns it. Monopolies ain't got nothing on Him - He invented it. So, I'm pretty sure that the root of the problem with this laziness is a failure to recognize that when God's asking us to give Him what is His, He's also talking about our time.

I write this article mostly out of the conviction that has washed over me with this stuff. And every time I try to buckle down and "just stop," I find that I am totally incompetent to do so. I find that the only thing that works is surrendering before I start my day, while I'm going throughout my day, and while the day is winding down.

Essentially, I need to shake hands with surrender every moment.

So who are you shaking hands with today?

Monday, October 28, 2013

No Money Back

I have to go to Best Buy this week to return a cable that turned out to not be the item I needed. It's a pretty simple process. If I have the receipt, (which I do) all I have to do is walk up to the front desk, demand my money back, (Or ask politely. Either one works) and they'll hand it to me fair and square.

When I buy products online, I like to check the return policy. Just in case something goes wrong and the product is totally screwed up, I want the assurance of knowing that I can return it for a full refund. Most sellers will, as an incentive to buy from them, sell their products with a strong return policy.

I find that we treat a lot of things as if they are returnable. Say, for example, that Facebook status. So you accidentally posted a really dumb status updated while you were drunk. No problem! Thanks to modern technology, you can virtually erase every trace of any misspoken words.

Or the way our culture views marriage. Gone are the days of actually keeping your promises (Gasp! What a thought!) till death do you part. Now, if you don't happen to feel like you "love" someone anymore, the solution is just a few divorce papers and court rooms away!

Babies are a little more tough though. You can't exactly return them. Instead, you've got to kill them. But hey, as long as you don't feel any pain and you get to go back to life as usual, it's all good, right? You don't exactly get a refund, you just don't have to pay for your mistakes. Perfect!
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8)
I am non-refundable. Un-returnable. I do not come with a money-back guarantee. In an age where Indian giving is as easy as it is, God made sure to explicitly and undeniable state that He will never return us. No matter where we find ourselves, it is never outside the dominion of His grasp. No matter the sin, His reach is uncompromised. No matter the hopelessness, He looks over the moment and sees an eternity of you and Him together.

His heart is broken when we insist on thinking that we've done "too much" for God to take us in. Look, to say that is essentially saying that the cross wasn't good enough. In other words, you think that your sin is greater in strength than the work that was completed on Calvary. And that, my friends, is blasphemy.

So wherever you're at today, take a moment to finally look up. You'll find that He's been holding on this whole time.

Monday, October 21, 2013

God: Our Heart and Lungs

So, I don't normally include pictures in my posts, but this was too good to pass up.

What you're looking at is called controlled cross-circulation, and it is mind-blowing. Before the days of modern heart-lung machines, surgeons who wanted to perform an open-heart surgery needed a way to oxygenate the blood. This was a long time ago, so they hadn't yet invented a machine that could take the patient's blood, filter the waste product out of it, and put fresh, new oxygen into the bloodstream. Their solution?

Open up the father, too.

What? That's right. You heard me. Imagine that your daughter gets sick. Really sick. The doctors tell you  that she has a heart condition. Since this is years and years ago, surgery was not as safe, and there was a big chance that your child might not make it out alive. Anxiety doesn't begin to describe what you're experiencing. But wait, there's more.

They've asked to put you under as well.

They say that the only chance at saving your daughter's life is to bring you into the surgery room to function as your kid's heart and lungs. So you say, "Yes."

Because what other answer could you give? This is your baby girl. Of course you would do it, but not because you felt that you "had" to. In fact, you would walk through hell and back for her, if it meant saving her life. So you do.

They get you ready, wheel you into the room, and put you both on two tables feet apart from each other. You say a goodbye that had to carry the weight of the world, because, knowing the risks, you might not get another one. And then they open you both up and twine your arteries and veins together. You've heard it said that only marriage makes two people "one flesh," but this surgery is making you think you're not too far from that concept.
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4)
Through Him. What? Is it just me or is that somewhat the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard? God being murdered, so that life may come. All this for a people that cannot love in return, unless He gives them His very heart. Unless his very arteries bleed off the wooden beams of the cross and into the vessels of our broken bodies, we are totally at a loss to love Him, or anyone, back.

He becomes our hearts, our lungs, our breath; our blood. And yes, they put him under, too. Six feet, to be exact. They put him under, so that he could raise us and Himself back from the very dead.

This, I cannot comprehend. This, this is too wonderful for man to understand. What God is this?

Tell me, what God is this?

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Car Key, Jason DeRulo, and Community

So, in the past few weeks, I went through the harrowing experience of getting a new car. Extremely grateful? You bet your sweet noodle! Somewhat frazzled over the craziness of the situation? Refer to the answer to the last question. But that's another story for another post.

In any case, I was looking over the owner's manual of my new vehicular transportation device (what a few people might recognize as a car), and I saw something that I had always suspected was true: pressing the unlock button once opens the driver's door, and you have to press it twice to unlock all the doors. Is it strange that I only realized this after almost three years of driving? Probably. Stop making fun of me.

Why do we have this setting? Vehicular transportation device manufacturers (AKA car-makers, for those few who know them as such) realize that a lot of the driving in the United States is done alone. Since this is the case, it just makes sense. Why would you unlock all the doors, when you just need the one? That would be redundant. (SAT word. Keep following me, sport.) Despite multiple attempts by the government and other organizations to get us to start carpooling, the reality exists that these manufacturers still expect us to be the solitary body in our cars. We even take pride in our lonesome drives. If we didn't, we wouldn't have the words of modern-day, existential philosophers like Jason DeRulo:
I'm solo, I'm ridin' solo
I'm ridin' solo, I'm ridin solo, solo
It would be a crime to not have such profound words. Anyhow, this all goes back to the individualistic bent that America insists on feeding.

"Don't you think you're making too large of a philosophy based off of your car key alone?"

Probably, but you're almost done reading this, so you might as well keep going.

I love me some United States. Trust me, I do. But however much I believe in its strengths, I must also acknowledge it's weaknesses. And one of the greatest weaknesses we face is this idea that we were somehow meant to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, be a lone ranger, and do it all on our own. I'm sorry, but it's just not true.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Galatians 6)
Ladies and gentlemen, we were built for community. It is ingrained in us to need each other. We were meant to carry the problems, struggles, and temptations of others in prayer. God made us so that when life presses too hard, we have the firm grasp of those who are holding on to us when we can't hold on to ourselves.

 "All I need is God!"

Yeah, but God is gonna get to you through other people. So be there for one another. Pray for each other.

And when you bear one another's burdens, bear them all the way to Calvary.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Why Photoshop Exists

This world is full of ugly people. Twisted noses, misaligned eyebrows, thin lips, crooked teeth. Too fat, too skinny, too pear-shaped, too stocky. Stubby legs, toes going in the wrong directions, knees too far apart, knees too close. Muffin tops and cankles. Terrible fashion and too much makeup. Man hands on girls, bulging knuckles, brittle nails. Necks too long and ears too big.

Even celebrities haven't got "the look." Even on their best day in a studio filled with people trained to make their hair fall just the right way, give them smokey eyes, and give them a body to die for, they are still thousands of clicks away from being "beautiful." Even all of the industry's illusions and tricks used to make them look perfect for the camera don't let them escape from the ever-present Shopping of their Photos after they've been snapped.
"...He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him." (Isaiah 53)
The Creator. He who knows the perfect combination of features to make a man look... well... like a god. It is this God who chose to make Himself look... fairly average. And average is ugly. Or perhaps not. Perhaps average is only truly ugly when we insist on finding the details of ourselves that don't fit into what's accepted as "beautiful." Keep in mind, the same people who've constructed this standard can't fit into it themselves. They fight and struggle to have the right genes fit, but they never will. This is why Photoshop exists.

It's a good thing being ugly has nothing to do with how you look.

This world is full of ugly people. Twisted souls, misaligned intentions, thinly veiled motives, crooked desires. Too mean, too angry, too fake, too broken. Stubby hearts, running in the wrong directions, loving too far apart, hating too close. Topped with pride and arrogance. Terribly fashioned and too much greed. Man handling girls, bleeding wrists, bloody razors. Pointed fingers too long and false beliefs of innocence too big.

We're not ugly because of all the ways we don't measure up to the physical standard imposed on us by our culture. We are ugly because our souls need some serious beauty tips. But try as we might to do it on our own, we seem to be failing. This is why the only beautiful soul that ever existed died - that He might give us the beauty we've been trying to acquire through the fractionally-as-important system of physical attraction.

So today, maybe even just for a moment, stop thinking about what others see when you walk out the door, and start thinking about what they would see if they really, really knew you. Past the makeup and imperfections. Past the muscles and posing.

I was told once to picture all of the things that I considered to be part of my identity. So I considered the clothing I wear, the sports I play, the blogs I write, the messages I give, the friends I have. Then, I was asked to picture myself without all of that.

That, my friends, is the guy Jesus loves. Without all of the extra. Without all of the cover up. Without all the things we used to distract others from seeing who we really are.

That's who Jesus loves.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Storms and their Domestic Rivers

I got caught in a storm this week. That day, I had gotten a good grade on a test and had a coffee-esque beverage to celebrate. (I say coffee-esque because it was mostly ice, milk, sugar, and caramel. Girly, I know. Don't judge me.) I had all of this extra energy that needed some gross-motor movement to release, so I went longboarding in an empty-ish parking lot on my school's campus.

Well, after a few minutes of realizing that the sun was blinding me, I was sorely out of shape, it was a bakajillion degrees, (yeah, that many) and that it just wasn't my day for longboarding, I headed over back towards the intracoastal to spend some time with my Maker. When I got settled in, sitting down on the wall that butts up against the waters, I noticed some disturbance upon the glassy surface. It looked like abnormally miniscule rain drops, but I couldn't feel them, so I wondered if they were just bubbles coming up from underneath. Besides, it was too sunny to rain.

And then, the flood.

As I realized the clouds were about to unload their contents upon my fleshy bod, I walked over to an awning next to an abandoned building, hoping that it would protect me from what I was thinking might be a timidly short shower. I was wrong on both counts. The awning was only about a 2 foot by 4 foot jut out of the wall, and the rain soon fell hard enough to drench my lower body, and I was stuck there, with nowhere to go for close to an hour. So I took off my soon-to-be inundated Vans and socks, guarded my Bible and notebook by sticking it between my back and the wall, and watched. I decided to "soak in" the moment. (C'mon, that was good.) Those crossing over the nearby bridge in their dry "Lexus cages" must have looked at this barefoot boy caught in the rain thinking that he was the one trapped.

But perhaps I was. The awning above me, not wanting to miss out on the sky's fun, also dripped rain down around it's edges, forming a cage around me, with bars made of a very simple molecular structure. What began as dry ground soon garnered a sheen of slickness across its surface, which then began to peel off the ground, tumbling and rolling to a lower valley, soon becoming a domestic river.

This building I was standing next to was only a few feet away from the water's edge, and I was able to see something I'd never remembered witnessing before: the water poured in waves, and I was able to see the pattern of the rain fall in what almost looked like currents. It was as if the planes of ocean and sky were connected by puppet strings filling in the gap, all under the command of the Great Puppeteer.
"What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!" (Matthew 8)
And what manner of man are we, that we disobey when all of creation can do nothing but bow in humble submission. Who are we hat we run up against this God, before Whom the mountains tremble and the seas part, and, with our finger in his face say, "No. I will not." Who are we, that we think we are anything but dust before his feet as He treads on the foot-rest that is His earth?

Who are we?

We are the ones this God paid everything for. So that the mountains of hate in our heart would crumble. So that our stormy seas of wretchedness would be calmed. So that we would submit.

And finally find joy.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Beekeeping and the Mystery of God

My grandfather was a beekeeper. Now that may seem like an interesting occupation, but it wasn't just that for him. He had a passion for bees. For many reasons, he was enamored with this teddy-bear insect and chose to spend his life tending them. He loved them so much that he didn't wear a bee-suit to protect himself against stings, believing that getting stung was good for the health. I suppose I can't doubt that, since he lived to the ripe, old age of 83 in a life filled with preaching the gospel (he was also a pastor in Communist Romania) and leaving a godly legacy that has impacted, to this date, four generations of Christians.

When asked what he wanted on his grave, he told them to put a bee on it. Recently, I had the honor of visiting, for the first time, his gravesite. As I sat back and thought on his life, I saw engraved into his headstone:
Because he cleaves to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name. (Psalm 91)
As I sat down to write this post, I looked for that verse once again. The only version that had what I was looking for in this verse was the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition, a translation I had never read. So whether or not this is truly accurate to the original manuscript, I cannot say. What I can say is that the word that is used here is very interesting, and captured my thought.

"Cleave." It's kind of an old word that means, "stick fast to, or adhere strongly to (a particular pursuit or belief)." It's the word that Genesis 2 uses when commanding that a man "leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." Pretty simple, right? Yeah, I didn't think so either. Check this definition out. "Cleave: split or sever (something), esp. along a natural line or grain, make a way through (something) forcefully, as if by splitting it apart."

One word. Two exactly opposite meanings. Defined by context.

One God. King of opposites. Experienced in context.

God is love, yet His wrath is just as furious. Christ was king over all of existence, but was born in a feeding trough. He is the God of peace, but is soon to annihilate Satan by the word of His mouth.

Contradictions? No, I don't think so. It think this is one of those things that was told to the prophet Isaiah:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my 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)
This is a God of mystery, too wonderful to understand. The human heart which longs for the unknown and hidden things of this life, finds its rest in God, where every desire to see something bigger, and more inexplicable is satisfied.

After all, as my pastor once said, "If I could fully understand God, He wouldn't be God."

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Un-Made Beds and Messy Hearts

I didn't make my bed today. This may not mean a lot to you, but this is a pretty big honkin' deal for me. Why? I'm a big fan of organization. Now, most people would say, "Yeah, so am I!"

You don't understand.

If my bed isn't made, I feel like I can't continue the rest of the work I have to do that day. It's somewhat akin to trying to work in my PJs. I can't do it because it makes me feel like the morning isn't over. At least, if I'm staying around the house, that is. Just the simple fact of knowing that two rooms over, there is an un-made, messy bed makes me think, "What are you doing?! Don't you know there's a pile of disheveled linen in the same house as you? It's like you just woke up! Slob!"

Ok, I might not be that self-deprecating, and this phenomenon may have impacted me more in the past, but the idea still remains. It still irks me a little when I try to pray or read the Bible in the same room as my messed-up bed.

This past week, I went to a student-organized worship night at my school. It was a great time of singing to the Lord and lifting Him up in song. There isn't much of a message at these things because of the nature of the event, but there are short sermon-readings and quick thoughts spoken from the microphone. At one point, one of the students was saying something about how God accepts us no matter where we're at, and no matter what sin we've committed. In this line of thinking about approaching God wherever your sin has found you, he said this often-heard line, "You don't have to be perfect."

See, growing up in the church, I knew what he was trying to say, but whenever someone says that, I feel like it begs a larger implication. It's as if they might be trying to say, "You don't have to be perfect, just not that bad," or, "You don't have to be perfect, but almost." Whoever's reading this, I want you to read this next part very carefully:

God takes you even if your bed's messy.

God has a history of bringing salvation to fools, liars, murderers, racists, the arrogant, the downcast of society, the sexually abused, the ones no one wanted, the religious hypocrite, the prodigal son, and the greedy. I challenge you to find a character in the Bible that God hadn't received because they were too messed up. My bet is that you won't find him. And there's some pretty twisted dudes in there, with murderers and adulterers making up some pretty prominent men in the Bible.

God takes you even if your bed's messy. But He won't let you keep it that way.

So stop trying to fix something you know you'll never be able to, and let God buy you some new sheets.

As for me, I gotta go make my bed.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and a Final Destination

My family loves vacations. We love them so much, in fact, that we make them almost as strenuous at work. I know that people often say that they need a vacation after their vacation, but after one of our classic family adventures, you'd probably mistake our post-vacation sleep sessions for comas. I have never experienced the lazy summer of sitting at a resort's pool, drinking lemonade, and reading a book. Nay sir, my family's vacations consisted of months of research before the trip, (mostly done by my dear mother) frantic train/plane/automobile ventures, and half-visited tourist sites.

And when I say half-visited, I mean that we would get to our destination, go to the popular, tourist-y area, let our eyes absorb its wonder and majesty for a total of 3.72 seconds, then pop out of there like it was our job. We probably did this to go find the less-populated, local-approved restaurants and shops, but it was definitely a harrowing experience.

That being said, we were in Santorini, Greece one afternoon, and I noticed that we were actually taking a pretty relaxed stroll through the town and talking. I must have been about 13-15 years old, and for whatever reason, my thoughts turned to the afterlife. I asked my family something along the lines of, "Will we be a family in heaven?"

I believe it was my mother who responded with a reference to Matthew 22, which says:
"For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven."
To understand what happened next, you must understand my family. I thoroughly believe that my family is one of the most closely connected ones on the planet, with a lot of love to spread. With them being so important to me, it rocked me to my core to think that our family wasn't going to look exactly the same way in heaven. Now, you must also understand another thing: there weren't many ideas that could emotionally affect me as a child. I was almost always very happy, content, and stable. As twilight fell, that night was painted not only in the orange flares of sunset, but also tinted with a hue of sadness at the idea that heaven might not be as great as I was told.

It took me a long time to realize that heaven was something to look forward to and treasure, mainly because my life here on earth was so blessed (something which I thank God for every day). What I began to understand, however, is how much heaven was actually a fulfillment of what I was created for. Today, I heard in a video that a woman's body is made for pregnancy and birth. In much the same way, our souls were built for heaven, the place where we could be in perfect union and communion with our Maker, without the hindrance of sin and brokenness.

I could much belabor this point, but what I'm getting at is that everything about who we are, our aspirations, our desires, and our needs were all made to find their resting place in the throne room of God. My closeness with my family was God's way of showing me that this connection that created so much joy in my life was simply a fractionated piece of what total, perfect completion in Christ would be.

Now that's an idea that I'd like to entertain by the side of a pool with lemonade and book in hand.

Who am I kidding? I'll probably just think about it on the train/plane/automobile.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Noose and a Nosedive

The gravity of both acts were equal. They each betrayed the Christ. They each broke the heart of God for selfish gain. They each contributed to the most fateful moment in history by stabbing the Creator of the universe in the spinal chord. 

The one that gets recognized for his betrayal, however, remains only Judas. Rarely does anyone give thought to the fact that Peter's treason was just as lethal to God's heart as Judas' kiss. The knife went just as deep, and Jesus died just as alone.

Peter? He denied Jesus out of embarrassment.

Judas? He denied Jesus out of greed.

If one were to ask me, I'd be just as tormented over both of these acts if I were on the receiving end. So what's the difference?

Well, after Jesus' death, one met a noose, and the other met a nosedive. Judas found no way to escape the reality of his betrayal rather than to end his life. Peter came to understand that the cross meant even his outright rejection of God's love could be forgiven, and he understood it enough to dive into the deep waters of the Galilee because the boat couldn't take him back fast enough to see His Risen Lord.
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. (John 21)
If you're a little like me, I reckon you tend to do a lot of backstabbing as well. If you're a lot like me, you're the kind of guy that breaks God's heart every day. There are two inevitable responses to this rejection of God's outpoured love on your life. You may either choose to run further from it, or embrace the fact that it is this love which sanctifies you.

You may choose to avoid God until after you've done "better" in your own efforts, effectively throwing a noose around the neck of your relationship. Or, after you've screwed up, you can choose to dive straight back into pursuing Him the first chance you get.

So which will you meet today? A noose, or a nosedive?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Perfection Past Imperfection

I've been having this idea. I'm not too sure about what the Bible says on it, and I await to be corrected if Scripture proves otherwise, but I feel like what I've been thinking about is important for a few believers who struggle with serving God in their ministry.

Having gone through periods of dealing heavily with sin, Satan begins to have his way with me. I begin to doubt and struggle with the question of whether or not I should really be serving people when I'm such a messed up guy myself.

"But you're such a nice guy!"

Listen, I may be outwardly be as innocent as Alfalfa, but only God knows my heart, and the wickedness which it spawns every day. He knows my struggles. He knows my failures. And in these failures, I begin to hear whispers telling me that I should stop being involved in opportunities to serve until I've "got it all together." That I should wait until I have victory to give of myself in the high school outreach and small group activities that I lead.

Others, I feel, might rush to getting involved with serving and leading at their churches because they believe that is the way they're going to "fix" their struggle with sin. That, somehow, their act of being a leader will balance the scales of their bad deeds, or that it would point them in a direction that will help them become more holy. However, the thought that popped into my head recently was this:

Serving in ministry is not the place to go when you're messed up. Neither is it the place to go when you've got it all figured out. Rather, I think I'm beginning to understand that ministry is a place where one sinner can say to another, "Hey, I'm just as sick as you are, but I know the Great Healer, and He's doing things you wouldn't believe." 2 Corinthians 5 says,
"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."
Now, listen to that. How crazy is it that Jesus Christ chooses to reveal Himself through a people that are as broken and twisted as we are? In other words, the Christ is saying, "I'm going to work through you, to get to _______." And the wildest part is that He knows everything about us. He knows all our failures and shortcomings and He still allows His perfection to be seen through an imperfect people.

And that, to me, is supernatural.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dartboards and Danger

When I was a wee lad, one of my all-time favorite memories is my parents coming home with a dart board. Now, before you get your pantalones in a bundle, keep in mind that this was a harmless, plastic dartboard with non-pointed darts. However, it did make me super stoked to know that I was doing something that reflected a fairly dangerous game.

For real though, have we ever stopped and thought about how dangerous the game of darts is? You take solid metal needles and throw them at a tiny cork board from about 6 feet away. One small slip and someone's going to be adding an eyepatch to their shopping list for the week.

I grew up going to AWANAs. If you don't know what that is, please beg your church to start one. This children's ministry taught me a lot about Christianity in these wee years, and I am forever grateful. However, as much good as it served in my life, I must be honest about its shortcomings.

I learned, at this young age, that "sin" was defined as "missing the mark." To this, I would agree. But along with this description, I was also shown a picture as a child. To my memory, it was a picture of an arrow missing the bullseye on a target. Considering my rich history in darts, however, this isn't altogether a bad thing. Sure, you always want to hit the bullseye, but you still get points and could potentially win if your darts land elsewhere on the board.
"We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment." (Isaiah 64)
Let me tell you something about polluted garments. You ain't winning with them. You ain't even getting close to playing the game in them. And if even our best actions on our best days are regarded as dirty before this Holy God, our sin must be the very essence of evil. So to put it right, we are not only missing the mark or the bullseye; we're missing the entire board. Our dart doesn't even hit the same wall where the board is hung. We don't get any consolation prizes for getting close to the bullseye because we've missed it by a mile.

See where I'm getting at?

We're totally, unforgettably, undeniably, limitlessly, and infinitesimally sinful. Before the righteousness of a Holy God, the only totality we maintain is that of a perfect storm: totallywretched, through and through. Once we understand the gravity of how broken we are, we will understand why it took such a big sacrifice to put us back together. My point in all this is not to make you feel condemned - we are absolutely covered by the blood of Christ (if you are saved) and can approach the throne of grace with boldness. (Heb. 4) My point is to remind us not look upon sin lightly, as a boy who was taught all his life that he was simply "missing the mark."

We're not just missing it, we don't even have the strength to throw the dart.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Sharing Club

There's a lot of people getting involved in clubs now. And no, I am not in any way referring to raising a roof, pumping up a jam, or fist pumping the freshest of beats. (If any of that makes me sound dated, I apologize.) No, what I'm talking about are things like school clubs, church clubs, or any gathering of people for a common goal and purpose. The club I had when growing up?

The Sharing Club.

Do not adjust your monitor, you read that correctly. Yes, it was a club (misnomer: it was just me, my mom, and my brother) in which all of its members were dedicated to sharing whatever they had with each other. Now, in order to avoid any backlash from my family, I will forbid myself from mentioning anything regarding the fact that this might have been really childish, dorky, or strange. I refuse to say anything along the lines that it just sounded kinda weird. Yup, not saying a single word. You're getting nothing outta me, bub.
"So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us." (1 Thessalonians 2)
There's a big movement of street evangelism in the world of Christendom nowadays. And it's great! I applaud the effort of those who would brave sharing the gospel with people they've never met. It is a bold thing to give the Good News to a stranger, and I tend to think that it should be more normal for the believer to do than what we make it out to be. Instead of seeing it as a thing that only "strong Christians" (whatever that means) do, or as a thing that is only done in organized events, I think every believer should make it a habit to give the gospel to people on the bus, cashiers, waitresses, etc. In fact, I used to do this a lot, and I should probably be doing more of it now.

BUT... (there is a but) I think this form of evangelism lacks the biggest key to the strength of the gospel: Christians sharing themselves. Yes, you can share the Good News with that lady you found in the produce aisle at Walmart, (or should I say "aisles", as in all 513 of them) but the fact remains that she doesn't know you from Adam (or Eve, for you ladies. Trying to keep things PC around here, after all. We all know how good I am at that). She hasn't experienced the God Who, through you, can show love even after being friends with her for a long time. She hasn't seen you, through the conduit of relationship, show her grace when all she's done is hurt you. She hasn't seen you be good when everything around you is bad.

Paul knew that the gospel has the opportunity to take fruitful ground when it is lived out in front of someone, and not just spoken. It is this relational part of ministry that give people a glimpse at the God inside of you. You get to actually share a piece of God with someone else. So, as cheesy as this is about to sound, I beg you:

Please join the Sharing Club.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Go Practice

Anyone who's known me for a decent amount of time has figured out that I am a magician. Yes, I just used word "magician." Notice that I'm comfortable using the word "magician" as a Christian, mainly because I believe that our modern concept of that is very different than if I was to use the word "sorcerer" or "wizard." What I'm trying to say is that I do not practice or dabble in the dark arts, but simply enjoy the use of illusion to create a sense of wonder for those who witness what I do. So put down your pitchforks. Please. They make me uncomfortable.

Having been a magician for the past 8 years or so, I've seen a lot of different performers and tricks, and I'll be the first to tell you that a technical artist is one thing, while a performance artist is another thing entirely. Having specialized in card/close-up magic over the years, I've seen a lot of YouTube performances that have excellently portrayed the correct mechanics of a move or sleight. However, there's a reason that some magicians never get their work out into the real world, and that is because they never learned what it meant to perform. Yes, they may have learned the technical details of a trick to the tee, but they were never able to present that trick in a memorable or entertaining way to real people.

I believe that presentation is vastly more important than mechanics.

"Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." (Colossians 4)

Seasoned with salt, eh? So what you're telling me is that, when having conversations with unbelievers, (outsiders) I should try to make it interesting!?


That's kinda different, no? For those of you who have a talent that you perform in front of an audience, do you not work hard to make your presentation excellent? Why then do we not do the same in our faith? We've learned the mechanics and details of Christianity to the tee, but for some reason, when we get to "perform" the gospel, there's more defense than offense. More mumbling than less boldness. More stumbling than confidence.

Make your presentation of the gospel interesting! Be crazy! Goof off and be real! Granted, I want to make it very clear that the power and substance of the gospel does not rest in our presentation, (Check out 1 Cor. 2) but we have to start doing a better job in portraying the wonder and power that is inherent in the words of God.

In my journey of learning magic tricks, I heard once that one hour of performing for an audience is worth ten hours of practice at home. So, what am I saying?

Get off your computer, walk out the door, and go practice.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Day 279

Day 279:

It's been too long in this rat-hole. It stinks of stale urine, they give me just enough food to keep me from dying, and I haven't danced with freedom in much, much too long. In fact, I haven't been doing much dancing at all. After all, a 4 by 4 concrete cell doesn't lend itself to the tango.

You would think that they would let you wander free in your own jail cell, but even my hands are cuffed in front of me. Nothing fancy, just some zip ties. It's funny how two pieces of plastic have the ability to cage not just the hands, but the soul. Words cannot describe how much I miss Lady Liberty. I'm not talking about a statue, but you could throw her into this if you want. Either way, I'm not visiting her, or anyone, anytime soon.

It's funny how man never realizes just how valuable his freedom is until it is lost. And he wishes that he would have done anything to avoid being placed by a stranger in a dank, dark jail cell. But as I work on carving today's scratch into the wall, I realize that it wasn't a stranger who laid these stones, but I. The very prison that holds me is one that I built around myself, handing the keys to Satan himself when I was done. Oh, the shame and regret.

But I've got everything in order. My plan is perfect. You don't spend 279 days in jail without having time to think of the perfect escape. It's been a long time in coming, and my hands are trembling with anticipation within their zip-tie confinement. I must calm myself down, though. I can't risk injuring my hands.

But how does one calm himself when he knows what lies ahead? When he knows that the this long-awaited liberty is at his doorstep, like the arrival of a newborn child. And just like an expectant father, I trembled in my waiting room. I knew what was coming. I knew my plan. I knew it was perfect.

Then He came in. He walked right past the guard, opened the door effortlessly and without a key, and picked me up. I wish I could say that I helped Him pick me up, but I knew that wasn't possible. I laid there on the floor, and like a helpless infant, waited for Him to come get me. It's amazing how easily He was able to lift me off of the floor, despite the holes in His wrist.

You see, my escape plan was more like a rescue. After building that cell around myself and giving the devil rights to watch me, I knew there was no way I could escape on my own. So I gave up trying and let Him do it.

And now, freedom is mine. Day 280 will be written from somewhere open. Somewhere free. Who knows?

Maybe I'll do it under Lady Liberty.

"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hiding with Christ

Hide and seek and manhunt were probably my two favorite childhood games. Being the skinny, small child I was, finding places to hide wasn't difficult. Under sinks, behind doors, underneath cars, between bushes, flat against walls (if it was dark enough), in tall trees, etc. You name a small, barely-any-oxygen-to-breathe spots, and I've probably hidden in it.

However, there was always a major flaw in my hiding strategies. Maybe it had to do with all the adrenaline that was pumping, or the fact that silence gives you time to actually think about it, but I always had to pee. I couldn't stay in those places more than 2.39 minutes without feeling the terrible urge to, well, you know, lose my liquid weight, so to speak.

Then the inevitable, and strangely classic "TIME OUT - I GOTTA PEE!" was called, and my secret location was usually divulged to whoever was within earshot. I would have to find a whole new spot after the break.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3)
It's a tale of tradition that Reverend Augustus Toplady, a British preacher in the 1700s, was caught one night in a stormy gale. Seeking shelter, he tucked himself away in the gap of a gorge, where he was inspired to pen the following words, whose eloquence I cannot match:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee
The picture given here is of a God who was carved open that you might rest in Him, protected from the destruction of storm that looms over us. He does not provide the shelter, He is the shelter.

Though the storm may get us wet and sick, God does not fail. He is the ultimate Keeper of that which belongs to Him. Once you are Christ's, you need not worry that the forces of this world will rip you away from His hand, no matter how the winds howl and the storm crashes.

God knows our weakness. Psalms 103 says that He "knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust." Because He knows our susceptibility to sin, the enemy, and suffering, He will guard our hearts until the day when we are lifted up with Christ; when we "appear with Him in glory."

Until then, I await here. Resting hidden in the Rock of Ages.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

God's Economy

One of my most vivid early memories was of me asking my mom how much it cost to go to college. I'm not really sure what she responded, (so much for vivid) but I believe she said something along the lines of about ten grand. Now, as a small boy who thought getting 20 bucks for being polite (that's a story for another time) was a payoff of Kardashian status, this number was massive. Monolithic. Ginormous, if you will.

So, I started saving. Here we have a less-than-ten little boy trying to save ten G's. From that time up until when I actually started going to college, I always made sure that I was trying to accumulate the appropriate cash for those years. To this day, I don't believe I've ever met any other small boy that looks that much into the future. A ten year old with a five-year plan. Go figure. Evidently, I valued college. Mucho.

When I took an economics class in high school, I learned the fundamental principle that something's value is determined by what someone was willing to pay for it. For me, I valued an education enough to start collecting loose couch change and polite-cash (once again, some other time) in anticipation for it. 
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10)
Well, there's the understatement of the ages. It appears that even God loves hyperbole. God values us more than "many sparrows." Well, they'd have to be a lot of sparrows, 'cuz God loved us enough to send His Son to die on a bloody tree. If you ask me, though, I'm not too sure I would have done what He did. I don't know that a humanity which constantly rejects and pains its Creator is one that has enough value for me to pay for.

But thank God I'm not God.

You see, in God's economy, He loves us with a love that stands regardless of our ability to hold up our end. In God's economy, He stretched out His arms on a cross just to show us how much He loves us. In God's economy, we are worth more than many sparrows, or anything else He created for that matter.

In God's economy, you are worth it.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Weepy Unchanged

Something's been bothering me for a while, and I think it's finally time to say it. I've been thinking about this for a while but haven't really been able to put it into ideological clarity until this week. As I was listening to my favorite pastor, Matt Chandler, he said something that solidified my subconscious stewing. He basically said, among other things, that a red flag should be raised when there is a lack of seriousness in the Christian's life about pursuing righteousness and hating sin.

Let me explain. I tend to have a lot of theologically deep, probing conversations with people in which they lay out how they're struggling with sin. Which I love. The family of Christ should be a place where believers share their struggles with each other, as James 5 talks about. But I feel like so many people walk away from those conversations never having a true conviction to do something about it. They honestly and sincerely confess to their struggles, but there seems to be little passion in chasing holiness and righteousness. I see weepy altar calls and unchanged lives. 

As I was scrolling my Facebook today, my good friend Nick Murray put it more clearly than I ever could have: 
Do we really want to be rid of darkness? Our error in the garden has extensively twisted this world. And we find our surroundings aesthetically pleasing. We think ourselves better artists than God. I argue that we like it dark. Or worse, gray. Letting light in, but only in certain places. If we didn't, we'd pray more.
We like it dark. We talk all the day long day about how we realize our brokenness, but make no efforts to bust out the hammer and fix it! And it's not only that we do not attack our sin, but we don't pursue the even higher calling of righteousness. Ephesians 5 points to an interesting concept:
"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit..."
While most people would say, "Don't get drunk. It's bad for you," Jesus says, "Don't get drunk, but not only that, pursue my Holy Spirit!" In other words, don't just stop doing bad, but start doing good. Start serving in ministry. Do Kingdom work. Are you in the right place in your heart to serve in ministry? Nope. Neither am I. But the great thing about this whole "grace" deal is that He calls unworthy people to carry a worthy message to show the world that it's not about them.

What I'm saying is, start fighting against your sin and for righteousness. Pursue holiness. As my friend said to me, "Live in such a way that needs explanation." Make people wonder about why you're so different.

Do it. I dare you.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Most Bizarre Creature

There exists a creature so strange, scientists cannot comprehend it. However, it does not live in the wild, but in cities and highly-populated areas. Which is only fitting considering that it has no exoskeleton to protect itself, but has a highly permeable, weak, water-based, flammable, flexible, keratinized substance as an outer covering. One would think that it would be highly vulnerable to attack, but it in fact rests very highly on the food chain thanks to its highly-developed intellect.

Perhaps more strange than its outer composition are its behaviors. Often bizarre and illogical, these creatures, unlike many of the animal kingdom, mate for life. They most often proliferate by choosing one member of the opposite gender and reproducing within the construct of a concept called "marriage." Within this relationship, both members are expected to remain faithful to their partner alone. One would think that this inhibits the proliferation of this species because of their inability to spread their seed to multiple surrogates, but what they lack in numbers, they make up for in strong children, who get their strength from a well-unified marriage.

They cover themselves in what seem to be referred to as "clothes," because of a most peculiar shame over nakedness. Perhaps things were not always this way. They must eat at regular intervals, as all creatures do, but the strangeness of their eating habits is contained in the fact that, instead of eating what would lead to the survival of the species, they eat things that are incongruent with their health, and in excess. They sleep for exorbitant amounts of time, even past the time of the sun's rising. In fact, sometimes, they even stop in the middle of their daily activities to participate in a phenomenon called "napping." One can only wonder why these creatures enjoy sleep so much - perhaps they communicate with someone when they rest.

One of the defining aspects of this species is their preoccupation with joy and happiness. They pursue it to no end with routine activities like "sports," "drugs," "competitive beer-drinking," or regular sexual activity with multiple partners. They do all these things, and more, despite their negative effects on their emotional, physical, spiritual, and social well-being.

"They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass." (Psalm 106)
For a species with such a highly-developed intellect, they seem to trade glory for garbage. They pursue negative things that will never satisfy their spiritual needs, even when it is clear that those things will never accomplish what they are looking for. This is perhaps most bizarre behavior of the Homo Sapiens species.

They walk in darkness when they could walk in The Light.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Why, God? Why?

Why, God?

Why have the last few months of American history been a seemingly nonstop telling of bloodshed and brokenness?

Why, God?

Why do I seem to hurt only those whom I love most?

Why, God?

Why have I lived a life of abundance when millions lack the most basic of needs?

Why, God?

Why do I never seem to ever get it right?

Why, God?

Why do you bless me when I continue to slap you in the face with the way I live my life?

Why, God?

Why do some of my most important questions go unanswered?

Why, God?

Why do I feel like you're not filling my words when I talk to them?

Why, God?

Why am I so anemic in my faith?

Why, God?

Why did you create me with the very gifts that could easily lead to my destruction?

Why, God?

Why can't I come closer?

We serve a God Who isn't afraid of questions. Who isn't afraid of doubts. Who doesn't tremble at the idea that you might not trust Him very much at the moment. The only thing with these questions though, is that they should lead us to God, and not away from Him. They should lead us to pursue Him, not wallow in fear-filled doubt.

Sometimes, our "Why's?" won't be answered. Sometimes, He just gives us His presence instead of His textbook. And that's fine by me.

Turns out His presence is better than His answers.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

I Love You More

I had some pretty scary thoughts as a kid. I was scared to death of germs (and washed my hands constantly). I wondered if the totality of my life was just a televised event (Truman Show style). I always considered what would happen if one of my family members were to die before I saw them again.

I'm not too sure that these thoughts are all that normal. Maybe they are. I don't know. Shockingly, however, some good things came out of it. Before I left my family for any period of time, I would always say that I loved them with each farewell. Sure, sometimes I just did it because I had gotten in the habit of it. But, in response to this, my father and I would have conversations that looked like this:

1. Goodnight, Tati! Love you!

2. *chuckle* I love you more.

3. No, I love you more!

Now, repeat 2 and 3 for a few minutes, and you'll get the gist of what happened.

It was essentially a verbal assault of love, trying to convince me that he loved me more. If I were to ask my dad to show me how much he loved me, he'd probably stretch his hands as far apart as they would go. And, being the child I was, his arm-span would always be larger than mine, reflecting how much more he really loved his son.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son..." (John 3)
It was essentially a physical assault of love, trying to convince me that He loved me more. When I asked my Dad to show me how much He loved me, He stretched out his hands as far apart as they would go. And, being the sinner that I was, His arm-span would always be larger than mine, reflecting how much more He really loved His son.

In fact, He loved me so much, He stretched out His arms for 6 hours.

Sure, sometimes I tell Him I love Him out of habit, but the truth is that I don't have to worry about Him dying before I see Him again. Death will be the beginning of a very one-sided conversation on Who loved who more.

Turns out, it's Him.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Stop Being a Youth Leader

I'm not a huge fan of "youth" stuff. Youth groups, youth books, youth bands, youth Bibles, youth this, and youth that. Whenever I read the word "youth" preceding a different word that is used to describe a certain type of genre, I'm almost immediately turned off.


Ok, first of all, please lower your voice. Mostly, whenever you hear about something that's been modified for youth, it simply means taking the adult version of that something and dumbing it down, making it cheesy, or slapping on some weird graphics that don't add any real substance to that something. In other words, it's just a worse version of the original.

"That's not true!"

Look, y'all are gonna need to learn to use your inside voices. Anyway, think about it. Youth Bibles are usually just ones that look "edgy" and have commentaries that use "relevant" lingo. (Don't even get me started on The Message Bible.) I have to precede this next one with telling everyone I've known in a youth band that I'm sorry and I love you. But please, if you're going to form a band for your church's youth group, dedicate your time and energy to it just as any other "normal" band would dedicate themselves to becoming great at what they do. Youth books usually have the same powerful messages delivered in their normal counterparts, but with a lesser vocabulary. Thanks, but I can read.

Probably the worst of all of these youth things are youth leaders. Theoretically, this is a great sounding idea: take a student who shows promising qualities of faith, encourage leadership potential, and disciple him. However, if my time in youth groups has been representative of youth group culture, youth leaders tend to end up being a "good" kid that's been in the youth group a long time. These people have no passion for Christ and other people, but they like the way "youth leader" rolls off the tongue. They are simply riding on the coattails of their youth pastors ministry, and they eventually fade away because they never really had a heart for a specific ministry.
"But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you" (2 Cor. 8)
Titus. I'm not saying he was a youth, but here we have a guy who caught his own fire. Even though Paul already had a ministry to the Corinthians, Titus jumped in and also made it his own. Working with youth leaders that have no passion is an uphill battle. Trying to motivate them is impossible unless the Holy Spirit gives them a heart-cry for the students they minister to.

Titus didn't need anyone to motivate him. He didn't need anyone to come alongside him, constantly nudge him to do work, or have to continually persuade him with weekend retreats and revivals. He got passionate about the Corinthians and he served them.

My point?

If you're involved in some kind of ministry just because you got old enough, take some time and truly evaluate what you're doing. Find out what God's naturally made you passionate about, find out what work is already being done in that area, and jump in. Because almost nothing is worse than a bored leader.

Stop riding the coattails of man, but jump into the passion of God.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Rotten Soul-Stink

I smelled really, really, really bad. I wouldn't be surprised if my odor garnered the attention of some local flies. As I sat there in one of my school's student-organized worship nights, I tried my best to stay an adequate distance from people so that they wouldn't think I was some crazed, wandering vagrant who believed that showers were the devil.

I had spent the three hours prior to this event longboarding at my local skate park with a bunch of guys from the longboarding club at my school. The sun was hot and there was more wetness on our shirts than we were drinking. Before coming out to skate, I thought to myself, "Self, you probably won't be there that long. You could go skate, take a shower, and make it back in time for the worship nights."

Well, let's just say I was right. Except for that one teeny-weeny part where I was actually wrong. Which was the whole "take a shower part."

So, considering the fact that I desperately wanted to check out what this whole worship night was about, I resigned myself to going without bathing. And as I stood there, (near the back of the room, where the smell would offend the least amount of people) I realized just how rank I truly was. I think it had to do with the fact that, since I was finally able to stand still for a few moments, my stench was finally able to catch up with me.

Then, it kinda hit me that my outer stench matched my inner soul-stink. Knowing all of the weaknesses and cycles of sin I was beginning to let creep in, it made sense. Knowing my recent failures at pleasing the Only One Who deserved being pleased, I faltered. So often, people look at me, with all of my writing, ministry involvement, and charisma, and they don't realize just how messed up I really am. How I consistently fail at doing the things I encourage others to accomplish. And so, I sat there wondering what God would do with this rusted-over, rotten, maggot-filled, good-for-nothing pump we call a heart.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor. 12)
Earlier this week, I was listening to a sermon by Matt Chandler and he said, "People will always be more encouraged by your failures than by your successes." I guess it helps people to see that you're not different than any other shlub walking in weakness. They get to see that God uses anyone, regardless of their place in life.
"I think many of us try to escape from life when we are at the end of ourselves- ‘resting‘ through quiet times and attempting to get our hearts into a good place again so that we can go out and ‘do ministry’. But it seems to me that God doesn’t need us to be in a healthy spiritual state to use us for His kingdom. He wants us to offer ourselves exactly as we are- broken, weary, tired, frustrated, even angry- and trust that He is going to be the power working through us." (Annie Heathorn: The World Race)
I have little else to say other than this: God uses everyone. He even uses those with a rusted-over, rotten, maggot-filled, good-for-nothing heart. Which coincidentally ends up being everyone. He will pick up the fight when you finally realize that all your efforts to win are futile. Let God fight, and let God win.

I hear He tends to do that. Even with unwashed skaters.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Smell of Sacrifice

For some people, working at your local Quizno's would be beneath them. Not this guy. I loved it. I loved the staining of my hands with banana pepper juice. I loved the dressing up in Quizno's Cup Mascot costume and scaring children. I even loved the onion slicing.

Well, sort of.

I was one of the only guys in the store who could handle slicing gallons of onions at a time. I'm not sure if I was trying to act tough or not, but all I know is some of my co-workers had a significantly lower tolerance for the smell of those onions and the tears they produced. I would watch as some of them sat red-faced and sliced away on our industrial onion-chopper, with their eyes pouring water like Moses' rock. We had a cool trick, though.

When someone could no longer handle the faucet their face had become, they ran to the walk-in freezer and, well... walked in. Almost instantly, the stinging pain of the onion's aroma disappeared. It was like a switch turned off, and there was no more burning.
"And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5)
This is the part of the show where unbelievers typically do not understand what I'm about to talk about. When Christians start talking about fountains filled with blood, a Ghost that's called Holy, or a sacrificial Lamb, things start to sound pretty weird. These words, which hold such symbolism of power, mercy, and forgiveness for the Christian, are cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs crazy for the one who does not follow God.

A fragrant offering would be one of those things. So let's dive into crazy.

Seeing as that it is Easter's Eve, I find it perfectly appropriate to reflect on the fact that God's sacrifice on the cross was the intersection of God's perfect joy and unrelenting torment. Joy because He knew that He had just paid for the sins of His people, and torment for the idea of being separated from the most perfect, life-giving union this world has ever seen. Every drop of Christ's blood was the sweet reflection that the most absurdly impossible feat of redemption had just been accomplished, securing God's victory in an act that, by all accounts, appeared to be His defeat. And while the offering was sweet, I know that there were was a sting to that offering. A red-faced, tearful sting.

But instead of walking into a freezer, Jesus walked out of a tomb.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Strange Cultural Practices

Often, I feel that American culture has rejected every nuance of uniqueness. The only thing we've got going here in America is making sure everyone has their own, personal space. Distance. This is one of the defining qualities of Western culture: the idea that we have to be an arm's length away from everyone, not look at strangers in the eyes, keep quiet in public places, etc. It's a cold way of operating, and outside of this, there aren't many unique quirks that are identified as specifically American, as there are in other cultures.

In Hungary, it is a tradition for boys to throw water at girls on Easter Monday. Some sections of Burmese culture use neck rings to achieve giraffe status. The women of a tribe in Vietnam paint their teeth with an opaque black dye. Romanians have a Women's Day. Not Mother's day - Women's Day. All of them.

The Chinese, however, have a tradition that mandates how a gift is to be received. When a gift is offered, it must be rejected by the receiver three times before it can be taken. It is often uncomfortable if the giver doesn't offer the gift more than once. This tradition, though not as prominent as it used to be, still has its part in Chinese society.

You wouldn't, however, reject the gift a fourth time. Or fifth. Or sixteenth. Or over years of time.
"So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous." (Romans 11)
The Israelites had this bad habit of rejecting the gift of salvation that God was trying to give them. If you want to get a little background as to how the Israelites did this, check out Jeremiah 32. They consistently and persistently rejected the God who brought them into existence, effectively resisting the gift that He had for them.

I don't know about you, but when I have a gift that someone doesn't want to accept, I start looking around for someone else to give it to. And that's exactly what God did here.
"Then you will say, 'Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.'" (Romans 11)
That might be somewhat abstract, so lemme put it this way: God, in response to the Jews' rejection, opened the path for everyone, not just the Israelites, to come to Him. In the past, God's gift was meant to be shared with His chosen people, but He was now opening the door so that all may come to Him. In other words, because of the negative aspect of Israel's rejection, God created the positive aspect of salvation for all.
"Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!" (Romans 11)
If God can make such a messed up situation a blessing, how much more will he be able to bless a good situation? Look, a lot of times, I write stuff to get you thinking and possibly convicted on certain things, and if I've accomplished that, then hallelujah. But, this week, I'm not writing to really point out anything other than the fact that we serve a God who is great.

So great, He makes beauty out of the broken. So great, that He uses things that are foolish to shame the wise. So great, He does everything in His own perfect timing - giving us what we need at the exact moment we needed it. So great, He keeps giving.

Even if it's the fourth time He's offered.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Healing Handkerchiefs and History's Greatest Shame

Late night infomercials are never a good idea. You end up buying things like Hawaii Chairs and Slumber Sleeves. Then you waste all your money to fill your house with things that were supposed to make your life more convenient. Then you inconveniently find yourself out on the streets, eating dog food and peddling alarm clocks just to stay alive.

I'm sorry. That was a bit far, I realize that.

In any case, I'm not sure if you've ever seen these, but they're called Green Prosperity Prayer Handkerchiefs. Essentially, these are little green washcloths that have been "anointed" by the prayers of a man named Don Stewart. They're for the purpose of healing those who would use it. Well, rather than delve into why that makes me angry enough to punch a squirrel from the unbiblical nature of what this product is teaching, I'm going to use this to make a point.

People like attributing marvelous qualities to inanimate objects.

Take the cross, for example. We always talk about the cross in worship music, testimonies, witnessing opportunities, etc. Christians like to talk about how the cross symbolizes redemption, glory, and forgiveness.  Many of us wear cross jewelry. We have cross lanyards that hang from our rearview mirrors.We even use the cross to make analogies. If you've ever given or received a gospel tract, you've probably seen the the cross pictured as the thing that bridges the chasm between us and God. Or, if you're like me, you've recently heard that the cross's vertical beam connects us to God, and the horizontal beam connects us to other people. In short, the cross is attributed with hundreds of qualities that describe its greatness.

Problem: the cross was a torture device.

For us to wear a tiny, golden cross is the equivalent of us wearing a tiny, golden electric chair. Or lethal injection needle. Or noose. In other words, it's cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs crazy for us to wear something that would signify an intentional, and deliberately tortuous death.

Even Satan saw this. He had it all planned out. He would watch with relish as the maker of the universe, his opponent, died the most shameful of deaths - a criminal's punishment on a cross. The Romans' most humiliating torture tool would be put to its full use, and the Devil's satisfaction would be complete.
"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (Genesis 50)
Sorry, Satan. It turns out that your best efforts to make Jesus look weak actually made His death one of the clearest expositions of God's simultaneously displayed qualities of strength, love, and wrath. Your most valiant attempt at humiliation actually fell on your own head when the God of all creation purchased back all of mankind with His death. So, as you crawl away in shame, don't let the door hit you on the way out, 'cuz I'm all out of healing handkerchiefs.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Practical Jokes, Unholy Hours, and a Strange Call

Usually, when people get prank calls, they're a hassle. Luckily, God has blessed me with some people who know the art of the prank call. I'm not sure that many would consider themselves fortunate to be on the receiving end of high-quality pranks, but I always really appreciated it when people actually put the thought and effort into a practical joke.

Past capers have included being called to confirm the details of my "upcoming" photo shoot as a (Russian?) model, a series of never-ending texts describing my "subscription" to Daily Cat Facts, and many more. Whoever is out there orchestrating these master-plans of jokery, you have my applause. Because, let's be honest, if I'm gonna get a call at some unholy hour of the night, it better be painted in wit.

God is a big fan of calling people. Although, it's not really in the same vein as prank calls. When you get a call from God, the weight of His summoning is too heavy to resist. And the hours at which he rings are never unholy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Samuel would know. 

In any case, when one thinks of a calling from God, they typically think about the duty of sharing the gospel, or the duty of forgiveness. In other words, we usually think of the responsibility of blessing other people. And to that I say, "Yes and Amen!"


"But? Are you about to tell me we shouldn't be burdened to help others? You're a heretic. Stop writing, blasphemer!"

All right, first of all, y'all need to get that attitude checked out. I didn't finish yet. So, if you would please put down your gun, I'd appreciate it. Thank you.

But, we aren't just called to bless other people. Check this out:
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful."" (Colossians 3)
Colossians 3 deals a lot with interpersonal relationships. It's about what we first talked about: helping others. That calling is made super clear. However, the apostle Paul here says that we are called to peace. We are told to allow it to rule in our hearts. To be under the subjection and submission of a rested soul.

That, my friends, is a command.

I know that when it comes to the responsibility of blessing others, people often take it very seriously. But, for some reason, when we are commanded to do something that would bless ourselves, we treat it as a "soft command" of sorts. As if not following this command isn't as big a deal as not following another. Because often, as Christians, we get this sick and twisted idea that torturing ourselves mentally over the decisions and trials of life is considered some kind of righteousness. Like a monk tormenting his body in hopes of getting closer to God. But if Romans 8 has anything to say about it, that is a lie from the pit of hell.
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
Hear that? For our good, and His glory.

If you're anything like me, it's time to double up on this whole calling deal.

Monday, February 25, 2013

What an AA Meeting Taught Me

I wasn't exactly expecting to learn anything. And yet, here I was, having a group of alcoholics teach me something very powerful about the position of my heart. I think one goes through life and typically elevates himself over those he deems "lower" or "less-sanctified" than himself, but as usual, I had forgotten one is never more than a few steps away from the worst person he thought he'd never be. And there I was. Taking advice from the people who had taken those few steps into darkness. Because, in the end, the light of truth shines most brightly in utter darkness.

By this point, you might think that this is a post about me coming clean about alcoholism. Close, but no cigar. (Ooh, two controversial substances in one paragraph!? Oh, the humanity.) No, I was simply attending some Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as a part of my Psychiatric and Mental Health nursing clinical rotation. But, apparently, God had more in mind than me just checking off some required clinical hours.

If you don't know anything about AA, I'm either really glad that you don't have a problem with alcohol, or I am really sad that you haven't heard of how you can deal with it. It's an amazing program that goes way past the cliche of, "Hi, my name's _____ and I'm an alcoholic." Granted, the downside is that it's not a Christian program, but it does help people out of some pretty dark times, if only for a benefit in this life.

The integral core of AA is something called The Twelve Steps. If you want to read all the steps, check it out here (they're legitsauce), but for the sake of this post, I'll just talk about the first one.

"We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable."

As I was sitting there, staring at the big "Twelve Steps" poster, it suddenly struck me that you might as well throw out the word "alcoholics," and slap a big, 'ole fat blank right there. Because, if we're really honest with ourselves, I'm pretty sure we're powerless over everything. Over our next breath. Over getting to work safely. Over living to see our grandchildren. But, if we're gonna take the next step and be painfully honest, we are utterly powerless over our sin. Over lining ourselves up with how God wants us to be. Over communicating the marvelous, glorious praise of Christ.

Now, look, I had always understood that. Somewhere in the sticky lobes of my skull, I understood that I was powerless. But for some reason, this past week, in an AA meeting, I realized how weak I really was. And I find it no coincidence that this is the same week that I was given the opportunity to tell my story in front of a crowd of a few hundred people.

God smacked my smart-icles and showed me that I have no message to give. That I could not communicate how great He was. That I could not even begin in any way to help people unless I am doing so in the grace of God's mercy.

And so, I tell you, my readers, I have no tale to tell you that will perk up your ears to wisdom. Anything you read here will not be able to change your heart. If you so happen to be moved by these pitiful words of mine, know that it is not the words themselves, but Christ Himself reaching down into your life. I think this is the reason that 1 Corinthians 2 says,
"This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words."
And for that, I praise the God of both the alcoholic and the arrogant.