Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Breakfast with Jesus

Somehow, every time the holiday season of the year rolls around, things end up getting crazy (that's unheard of, right?). Since the girlfriend is on break, she hops into town. Since my extended family sees the holidays as one of the only good excuses for getting together, they also drive in. Then there's the parties, the fact that my birthday is four days after Christmas, the gift-giving, and on and on.

One of the by-products of what goes on during this month is that I lose touch. A midst the hustle and bustle and stretched time demands, I somehow forget to do the things which are most integral to my life, like spending intimate time with my immediate family or investing into friendships in more than just the superficial conversations that take place at White Elephant gift exchanges.

The biggest deficit I experience, however, is the time missed spending with Jesus the Christ. One might think that this season would be the one where people dive into this, the most important of relationships, but for me, that usually ends up not being the case. 
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”
Let's set this scene a little bit: the disciples have not been spending the time with Jesus that they've gotten used to in the past three years. Since His Resurrection, He's only showed up twice, and the disciples are probably feeling some kind of frustration with this disconnectedness, especially since the Holy Spirit had not showed up yet.

In the past, I've typically told people that I'm not a morning person. I don't know that this is entirely the truth. Even if I get up at an insanely early hour, I can function pretty normally if I've had enough sleep and I've dosed myself with some coffee. And some of the most life-changing moments in my walk with Christ have been in these early morning hours, and one thing I've realized is that I miss having breakfast with Jesus. Sometimes I feel some kind of frustration with this disconnectedness.

Friends, perhaps you've been feeling some kind of frustration with disconnectedness from this Jesus lately. Maybe it's time to have some breakfast with Jesus. Maybe it's time you let your knees reconnect with your bedroom floor.

After all, 'tis the season to be joyful.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Punchline, The Reveal, and The Disappointment

I consider myself an amateur magician. Then again, I consider everyone except for the David's (Blaine and Copperfield) to be amateur magicians, mainly for the reason that there are so few of us (hah - "us"). But I heard somewhere once that magic is very similar to comedy in some respects.

That might sound odd to you, but let's analyze this: there are many jokes that take the listener down a path where they think the outcome is something they can generally expect. (i.e. "Why was six afraid of seven?") Then, the listener is surprised with something they couldn't see coming (i.e. "Because seven was a well known six offender.") We might call this "the punchline."

Magic often operates in a similar way. The observer is taken down a path where they think the outcome is something they can generally expect. (i.e. The observer chooses a card and the card is lost in the rest of the deck.) Then, the observer is surprised with something they couldn't see coming (i.e. Their signed card appears underneath the sole on the inside of their shoe.) We might call this "the reveal."
"For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." (Isaiah 53)
I'm a big fan of counter-intuitive thinking. I think God is, too. He took the Jews down a path where they thought the outcome was something they could generally expect. (i.e. The Jews were being dominated by an oppressive regime and had hope for a conqueror-Messiah to come and free them.) Then, the Jews were surprised with something they couldn't see coming (i.e. The Jews were given a small Baby born to a nobody-family from a nowhere-town Who would be more concerned with the freedom of their hearts than the freedom of their circumstances.)

Make no mistake, the Jews were right in expecting a great Lion-Warrior-King, but they just didn't expect it at the right time. Jesus' First Coming was as the Suffering-Servant, and the logic-defying nature of His arrival upset a lot of people. We might call this "the disappointment." But hear me friends, this was news was not disappointing, but rather the greatest news to ever reach Earth's shores.

You just have to have the eyes to see it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Peaches, Homelessness, and a Place of Rest

So I make it a point to be friends with interesting people. One such person's name is Peaches - yes, Peaches. That is not his birth name, but I can't see myself calling him by his real name or anything else. I volunteer for an organization called Youth for Christ, and so does Peaches.

One night, I was having a meeting with my supervisor and she made a ridiculously appropriate comment about my buddy: Peaches creates home for people wherever they may be. Perhaps you don't quite fully understand what that means, so I'll explain myself.

Let's say that you were at a football game. Lots of things are happening around you. There's tons of noise. There's crowds up the wazoo. If Peaches steps into that atmosphere, his personality creates a very real sense of calm, as if you were resting at home in quiet. He doesn't lend himself to the craziness of the surrounding environment, but rather makes his home with you in that moment. It is a great feeling of peace.
"Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." (John 14)
What is home? Yes, it may be where your heart is, but why is your heart there in the first place? Is it not because that is the place where you feel most at rest? Is it not the place where you find the worries and concerns of your everyday life fading into the peace and calm of home? I contend that it should be, and I also contend that this is what Jesus does for someone who has been redeemed by the peace that He offers.

It is no small matter that the God of the universe saw it fitting to make Himself at home with the dirty, broken, and hopeless. It is a matter of great wonder to think that Christ would take up residence and create home for those who have long felt homeless and abandoned. For those who have felt restless and hopeless. For those who know not what it means to have peace. But the Almighty God saw it fitting that He should make His home with us, giving us all of the rest and peace that it entails.

Friend, if you've too long been homeless and restless, would you not allow Christ to make His home in you today?

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Forgotten Fruit and the Bruises It Bears

Figs don't get the publicity they used to. And even though many great lovers of fruit have heard of this treat, they have yet to actually try it. This is travesty. If you've ever tried the fig, you know what I'm talking about. It is truly one of the more unique flavors in the fruit kingdom, with a soft texture which is mixed with the crunchiness of its seed core, and it has a sweetness which is quite separate from any other kind of sweetness.

Those from the Middle East do not have the same problem of not knowing this fruit - it's all over the place! The fig is to Middle Easterners what the apple is to Americans, I suppose. If you've read any of the Bible, (hint: it was written in the Middle East) you know that the fig is quite the stud among his fruit buddies.
"Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet's son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs." (Amos 7)
If you've read the Old Testament, you know that Amos is one of the Minor Prophets and has his own book (whoa). However, the man did not come from a line of prophets and was not designated by Israelite Prophet Association as a licensed minister. He was simply called by God to do what he did, but that's a lesson for another day. In his previous life, Amos was a "dresser of sycamore figs."

Now, the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon talked about Amos in a much cooler way than I could ever expect to. He says,
"...a more correct translation might be a bruiser, a trainer or preparer of sycamore fruit, the sycamore fruit being like a fig, though not quite so excellent in flavour. It was believed in the East that it would never ripen except it was a little bruised, so that some person was employed with an iron comb to scratch and wound the skin. Unwounded the fruit, even when ripe, was too bitter to be eaten, but after it had been wounded, it ripened rapidly, and became sweet, and was not an objectionable article of diet."
It seems as if one of Amos' primary positions in life was to literally bruise fruit. Imagine talking about that job at your high school reunion. However, unless the fruit was bruised, it was not made sweet enough to be enjoyed. Unless it was wounded, it wasn't good for anything but the trash heap.

Dear friend, I don't know what it is that you're going through right now, but hear me out for a second: maybe God's allowing some things into your life so that you could be made useful for a greater purpose. Consider for a moment that the pain might be God's way of giving you nothing to grab onto but Himself. Maybe the hurt, and doubt, and brokenness is His way of preparing you to bless someone who will experience the same trial. I know for a fact that this happened to me.

Maybe God's bruising you so that you might become sweet.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Home is for Keeps

I was born and have lived my entire 21-year-old life within one roughly-seven-mile radius. And it's not even like I've lived in one house my whole life - I've moved about 6 times. So I guess you could say I moved around a lot as a kid, but let's be real here: I've made my home within this small town that I grew up in.

I moved into the house I live in now about 8 years ago. I was 13. Everything I knew about living in houses was that we might not stick in one for all that long. There were no guarantees that I'd even get my driver's license while living in my house. This wasn't a huge emotional thing; it's not like I had to drastically change my life every time I moved. However, this whole moving-on mentality was something I was pretty used to.

That being said, I found myself recently thinking, "Wow. I really like living here."

I know they say that people get tired of seeing or doing the same thing all the time, but somehow, regardless of how little it's changed, this home had really grown on me over the years. Perhaps it was because I had the chance to let the years sink into my perception of this house that I began to truly realize how at home I felt. My room is now my lair, my cave, my sweet abode of manliness. Seriously, my desk is a carpenter's workbench (thanks dad!). Although, the curtains are a bit feminine. I've gotta do something about that...
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14)
Now watch the miracle that's happening in this text, and pay attention because it's easy to miss. Jesus, the Christ, the Lord of galaxies, earthly kingdoms, mountains, and even the screen you're reading this off of has an offer: if you would love and follow Him, he will make his home with you. 


First, let's get over the fact that this is one of the most mind-blowing, eyeball-exploding, lungs-bursting thoughts in existence and consider what it means to make a home with someone. It means that you're there for good. Permanent. It means to change the place where your mail gets delivered and set up shop for keeps.

And unlike the fickleness of a housing market which has encouraged a family to move 6 times within the same seven-mile radius, Jesus's new address in you is permanent because He will be with you wherever you go. And unlike the fickleness of a family member who can get so sick of your garbage that they decide to move out when things get rough, Jesus sticks around because, listen, His home is where your heart is.

And for a God that doesn't change, home is for keeps.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Plane Carcass, An Empty Field, and A Day Gone By.

On the way to my old school, I pass by McDonald's, Dick's Sporting Goods, and my friendly neighborhood airport. It's kind of strange to see the landing strip right from the main road, but there it is. Sometimes, when I need to go to the airport to pick up a friend or get dropped off for my own adventure, I pass by what looks like an unused portion of the airport property, which is pretty much just an empty field. However, sitting right there next to the edge of the road that borders the field is a giant metallic tube, which I'm pretty sure is the remains of an old plane, chopped in half to show it's gutted insides.

After all these years, I'm still unsure as to why it's there. It doesn't look like it serves any purpose. Because of its obscurely random placement in a field of dead grass, I doubt it's an attempt at modern art. Whatever it may be there for, I'm positive that it's served its time as a commercial airliner in its glory days. What kind of people have been aboard this bird? Where were they going? What great adventures did this aero-bus facilitate? Who was connected to their loved one because this plane got them there? Did it soar during the Golden Age of Flight?

I don't know. All I know is that this plane's flying days are over.

I recently made my way to my old school, from which I've recently graduated. Just a few short miles from this plane carcass lies the empty field that used to be home to another kind of life. In a former time, it was known as Chapel by the Lake - a place that I've written about many times before. The church that used to own the property sold it to some investors, and I imagine the spot will get used for another high-rise that'll block the view of the ocean waters, but whatever the case may be, this outdoor, open-air cathedral was once home to many of my great thoughts, stretches of worship, and moments of crying and desperation. They tore it down shortly after I graduated and now it's just an empty field surrounded by a parking lot. I can't imagine how many people had been blessed by sitting in those fluorescent-blue seats throughout the years, how many people found a best friend in Jesus there, or how many had been welcomed into the family of God through baptism there.

I don't know. All I know is that this chapel's church-ing days are over.

There was one time, shortly after I graduated, where I sat in those blue seats and thought about the journey I'd been through. College had been pretty much all I wanted it to be, and a lot I didn't expect it to be. Many friends had touched my life in a way that's unjust to put into words. I'd found gifts and talents that I didn't know I had. Nights full of fun and tear-inducing laughter with friends gave me something to miss. Spiritual encounters and a winding, broken, narrow road took me on a journey with God that I didn't think I'd experience if you'd asked high-school me.

It was during these years that my soul learned that a simple joy was not threatened by the changing of the seasons, and so I was ready now. The college years which I had pedestal-ized and longed for when I was a wee one were now over and it was time to step into life as a working man. It was time to leave those times behind and cherish the memories they left for me. I'm not sure what the future holds. I wonder what journey I'll be on a year from now.

I don't know. All I know is that this young man's college days are over.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven... (Ecclesiastes 3)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Speedo Priest's Freestyle Prayer

This past summer's trip to Israel left quite a few impressions on me. Something about piggybacking onto a Romanian Eastern Orthodox tour of the Holy Land as Evangelical Christians created this strange tension. And although it was something that I've never experienced, (and will probably never experience again) I'm definitely thankful for the opportunity to hang out with a group of people that had a very different perspective on faith than I did.

I should start by explaining that we had two tour guides. One of them was your typical week-long excursion-type guide that gave us historical background and other insights at each of the sites we visited. Since many of the tourists were Orthodox church members from roughly the same city, the other guide was actually the priest that presided over the congregation from that area. He was tasked with guiding everyone from a more spiritual perspective.

The first time we got on the tour bus, the priest began the trip with quite a lengthy prayer. I'll be the first to tell you that I don't agree with a lot in the Eastern Orthodox religion, but this was actually a really beautiful prayer that contained a lot of Biblical truth. My dad even mentioned to me how much he liked it, and the trip started off pretty hopeful.

However, what we discovered the next morning was that, when we got on the bus, the priest gave a pretty similar prayer. By the morning after that, we were sure that this guy was praying the same exact prayer that he had the two days prior. And so we ended up hearing this same, drawn-out prayer for a week straight.
"And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6)
On one of the last days of the trip, we were given basically half of a day to relax and unwind from the hard work that is touring the Holy Land. Considering the blistering heat, on the way back from our morning excursion, me and my brother talked about jumping in the luxurious hotel pool. So we got to the hotel, changed into our swimmies, and got to the side of the pool. And much to our ________, (I'm not really sure what word to put here) the priest arrived by the poolside.

Me and my brother, who had not seen this man outside of his priestly garments the entire trip, soon found ourselves with our feet in the pool talking to a priest wearing nothing but a pair of Speedo's. For some reason, not a single other person from our tour group decided to go swimming aside from me, my brother, and the priest.

In our lively conversation, we covered a lot of subjects ranging from religion, to government, and to culture. After getting over the strangeness of seeing a priest transition from such thick, black, body-engulfing clothing to a bright blue Speedo, I found that the conversation had some pretty interesting points.

Is it not sad that the priest could speak more freely to us than He could to the God he claimed was his Father? Is it not exponentially more sad to know that the Almighty All-Creating God of everything wanted to speak to this priest as a dad does to his son, and yet this man could not see it?

Brother or sister, God does not want your fancy words. If you want to make a beautiful prayer, go ahead. But God is more concerned with connecting with you than He is with receiving a superficial layer of words that have no relation to the status of your heart.

I will give the priest one concession: at the end of each of these lengthy prayers, the priest would suddenly relax and start praying improvisationally, so to speak. The last portion of his prayer was always freestyle.

Brothers and sisters, let you prayers be freestyle.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dumpster Diving for Eternity

For those of you who don't know me all that well, my father is a wood-worker.



Or rather, he probably could fix it - it'll probably just cost a lot more than what you originally paid for the item. Y'know, overhead, operation costs, etc. Sorry!

Anyhow, in one of the previous shops that my dad was renting out, there was a dumpster. I mean, there's a dumpster where he is now, but the complex of buildings he's near at the current time doesn't have nearly the same variety of business as his old shop had. At my dad's old shop, he was near a health-minded cookie factory, baseball bat factory, assorted storage units, a dry-cleaning store, etc.

This may not sound too exciting to you, but what this meant is that there was always interesting things in the dumpster. As a child, I made a practice out of total-commitment dumpster diving, literally climbing into the rusty-green receptacle in order to rummage around in hopes of finding some item or artifact that could fascinate my ten-year-old self.

And boy, did I.

Old record players, TV's, baseball bats, massive cardboard boxes - you name it. Forget playing football, finding hidden dumpster-treasure was probably one of my favorite childhood pastimes!
Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he? (Isaiah 2)
The other day, I was driving out of my neighborhood when I saw some boxes and assorted junk thrown out to the curb. There was a sign attached to this pile of assorted potential treasures: "FREE STUFF." For a moment I considered stopping, but for some reason, I was suddenly filled with thinking, "What if someone sees me?" So, I rolled on by, with the fear of humiliation ringing in my memory.

Friends, having a mind to consider the well-being and comfort of others is a good thing. Being afraid of getting mentally condemned by someone you don't know for an action that is good is a terrible thing.

After all, it was a certain man named Jesus of Nazareth Who decided to make a total commitment to dumpster dive into the rusty-green trash-heap that is humanity. He lowered Himself - why are we so afraid to? Oh, that we may cast off the pride that slows us from pushing the Kingdom of Heaven forward with both feet.

Maybe it's time that we dive into the brokenness and trash that is our neighbor's soul, and in so doing, provide hope for One Who can clean up the mess. Maybe it's time we forfeit the weight of pride tied to our ankles so that we might run to the slums and projects that need our humility. Maybe it's time we stick our hand in the mud and pull someone out, regardless of how dirty we'll get.

Maybe it's time.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Great Madness

I was trying to create an account that would allow me to use the electronic health record I needed for school. The online form was asking me to input a middle initial. Anyone who knows me even just a little better than the guy who rings up my groceries at the store knows that I do not have a middle initial. My name is Nathan Costiuc - I don't need a middle name to separate me from all of the other zero Nathan Costiuc's on the planet. So I left that portion blank, just as I always do in these types of situations (although if I had a middle name, I'd want it to be something with a 'Q'. How cool would that be?)

I got stuck. There was some sort of problem with the account. I called the company up and asked them what the beef was. The gentleman on the phone told me that I had to put in a middle initial. I was clear with the fact that I had none. He insisted. I lied on the form. Are you happy, Mr. Customer Service?

Think with me here: this little box that was asking for my middle initial was probably doing so to authenticate my individuality. Its purpose was to make sure that it was legitimately me filling out this form. The irony of this situation is that, in being forced to fill it out so I could use the software, it made me falsify information and put down something that was not accurate to the reality of who I was. The form that was asking for the real me forced me to be a fake me.
"Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against me." (Hosea 7)
Sometimes, irony oversteps its bounds and becomes something else. When the reality of the ridiculousness of a situation becomes overwhelming, irony leaps over itself and becomes madness. This is easily seen in a quote from Voltaire, who said, "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets." The reader who peruses this statement immediately becomes overwhelmed with frustration as he questions how such a thing could be true. Coupling the irony of this quote with the frustration over its truth, it gets pushed into the realm of madness.

In Hosea, God is addressing the people of Israel, who are repeatedly and consistently rejecting the covenant God made with them, choosing to worship gods made with their own hands instead of the Almighty Creator. This is where we find the quoted passage. This is where we find God saying, "You have used the very hands that I made and gave strength to build your idols."

Here we find The Great Madness: if God didn't give us the air we breathe and a mind to think, we wouldn't be able to sin against Him as we do. Rather, we use the life He keeps on giving us to show our ungratefulness for the life He keeps on giving us by sinning against Him. This is not only irony. This is Madness.

Brothers and sisters, this is God we're talking about. And we've sinned altogether too much against Him. I've sinned altogether too much against Him. We not only participate in this irony, but we rejoice to be a part of The Great Madness.

Brothers and sisters, this cannot be so.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Falling Asleep in Church and Other Sins

As a child, I was fairly fidgety. If I was sitting somewhere I was supposed to be quiet, it's as if my body would say, "Quiet, eh? Put the hyperactivity in overdrive, captain!" Needless to say, there were many moments of discipline that had to take place when I let that energy get out of control.

The odd thing about my tendency to be energetic is that I also fall asleep very easily. One might think that people like me have trouble falling asleep. Incorrect. (Where'd you get your degree? Psh...) I can fall asleep almost anywhere. This was also true as a child, and I would often fall asleep during sermons.

Even now, though I'm shaking my legs furiously as I type away, my eyelids want to shut down and take a nap.

For whatever reason, nowadays, I don't have too much trouble staying awake during sermons, unless I've gotten very little sleep over the weekend. If that's the case, I usually sit there trying to force my eyelids open by sheer mental willpower. How often does that work? No comment. After trying to keep my eyes open fails, I sometimes do this head-bob thing where I drop in and out of consciousness. Y'know, your head falls as you fall asleep and then the feeling of your head falling alerts your brain and, in the sad irony of it all, your mind doesn't wake you up enough to keep you awake, but only enough to lift your head back up. Only to let it fall again.

The whole process is quite shameful, to say the least. The preacher is pouring out his heart about a deep spiritual matter and there you are, head-banging to the beat of your cat-nap dreams. Then, the inevitable happens:

Your friend nudges you and wakes you up.

That's the most embarrassing moment of this whole escapade! Because if your friend has noticed that you were rocking away to your own hardcore concert right there in the pew, that means everyone else saw it too! So your cheeks turn red and you get flustered with your buddy for pointing out your pagan ways. Sometimes you try to play it off like you weren't sleeping, but just agreeing ecstatically with the pastor. But let's be honest, who are you fooling?
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. (Galatians 6)
The Bible calls us to be accountable to one another. If someone calls us out on something, we shouldn't get upset with that person for pointing out what other people were already seeing. We should rejoice in the fact that we have someone to keep us to a high standard!

So if your buddy wakes you up during church, or calls you out on your pride, or shows you the ways in which you are not being gentle to others, don't shoot the messenger - He's literally doing what the Bible is telling him to by calling you out. Use the opportunity to get angry at your sin, and if you know you struggle with something, tell your Christian brother or sister what's going on before they have to approach you about it. In other words, hate your sin enough to seek accountability for it. So the next time you want to fall asleep in church, don't be upset when the guy you talked to about your tiredness before the service tries to pinch you.

It is a pinch of love.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A New Grading Scale

I was homeschooled for most of my life, (People tell me that explains a lot, but I'm not sure why. Huh.) but I did have a brief stint as your run-of-the-mill, uniformed, mayonnaise-skinned private-school student from kindergarten to second grade. Yes, I came complete with a mushroom-headed bowl-haircut, a gap in my two front teeth, and khaki shorts. And I probably don't even need to mention the fact that my lunchbox always dominated the other kids' - that should be obvious.

During some of those formative years, I was evaluated according to a grading scale that was different from that of the "big kids." Instead of receiving an A, B, C, D, or F, I received some sort of grade that revolved around the word "satisfactory." Either my work was "unsatisfactory," "needs improvement," "satisfactory," "good," or "excellent." Something like that.

Now, according to this scale, one is obligated to recognize that "satisfactory" is pretty much a C. Sure, it technically meets the requirements of the assignment or test, but getting this grade doesn't fill you with the joy that an "excellent" would. This is because the standard for "satisfactory" was set pretty low.

If I were to tell you that God's love was just satisfactory, you would not rejoice.
Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days. (Hosea 2)
If you haven't read Hosea, it is essentially God using an adulteress as a metaphor for the nation of Israel's unfaithfulness to Him. Hosea's wife, Gomer, whored herself away to the pleasures and enticements of other men. So, in order to display God's faithfulness, He tells Hosea to go and pay to get Gomer back.

Gomer's central problem was her idea that Hosea's love wasn't good enough - it may have been "satisfactory," but in no way did she see it as "excellent" as the pleasures she chased. In the same way, Israel saw God's love as only meeting the requirements but not as fulfillment for the soul.

And so do we.

But today, I make an effort to challenge the grading scale. I say that "satisfactory" and "excellent" are one and the same when it comes to the concept of our need and God's love. If the requirement for our hearts to be at rest is a never-ending, all-fulfilling, perfectly-complete kind of love, then anything that could satisfy those requirements would be automatically considered as "excellent." In this way, the "satisfactory" becomes the "excellent," over and above the devastating emptiness of the pleasures that this world offer.

This is why the people of Israel come back, as shown in Hosea 2. They are tired of the brokenness and deceit of worldly pleasure and come back "to His goodness in the latter days."

Dear child, will God's love be satisfactory for you today, or will you chase the abyss?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I Like the Way You Pray

"I like the way you pray."

I was at a Bible study and I had just prayed (for food or in our small groups or something of that nature). That was when my buddy said that to me.

"I like the way you pray."

The main question that arises out of that kind of statement is, "How does a man pray well?" To be clear, I'm not really sure. I don't really know that there's a scoring system for that kind of thing. But I do have ideas as to some things you can recognize that will shape the way you approach prayer. By no means is this all-inclusive, but it might give you a fresh perspective on talking to God.

You're talking to God.
Think about that for a second. It is one thing to realize that God is as mind-blowingly awesome as He is as the Creator and Orchestrator of everything you can experience. This, in and of itself, is enough reason to bow down and approach Him with worship-minded prayer. It is another thing entirely to recognize the fact that we are sinners who fall completely short of God's standard of perfection - a status that ensures that we are hell-bound. This added realization makes prayer not just a humbling experience, but unequivocally audacious and improper! It's as if a convicted murderer were to eat dinner at the judge's house: totally unacceptable.

Observe what's been done for you.
The last point might not have made you feel any better about prayer, but that's because it has to be reconciled with the fact that Jesus died on the cross so that you could draw near. Because the blood of Jesus Christ covers His followers, they can now "with confidence draw near to the throne of grace." (Hebrews 4) Unbelievable. Not only do we get to draw near without getting killed, we get to do it with confidence.

See the implications.
Not only have you been made right with God, but you have been adopted as His son or daughter (Ephesians 1). Children get to ask things of their parents that no one else gets to ask them, like asking for a glass of water in the middle of the night, or asking to be given a piggy-back ride. The point? Kids aren't scared to talk to their parents. No, it is the most comfortable thing in the world for them. I believe that spirit should apply to us as we pray - not to be driven by formalities, but to pray as a son to His Dad.

I'm still not sure exactly what my buddy meant when he said he liked the way I pray, but I have a feeling that it had something to do with skipping the fancy, King-James speak and talking to God in recognition of what I was doing: approaching the God of all that exists as a sinful, but sanctified son.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Can McDonald's be Foreign?

I've seen a good bit of the world. This is not to boast, but, rather, I consider it a blessing to have had my mind opened to things quite extraordinary and spectacular. However, I'm left with a striking impression that the world is growing smaller. Even in foreign lands, culture has, for a number of years now, begun to meld together with other cultures - a process that has been sped up by the internet, I believe.

However, there are some cultures which remain truly separate and distinct. This summer, I got to go to Israel (this was right before things started to get really heated up in that area). In this culture, I was truly and undoubtedly a foreigner. I knew none of the language, customs, or setting of life which drove Israeli existence.

If you ever go to Israel, you'll most likely go as part of a tour group. This is pretty much the only option for gringos like us who are so out of place that even ordering from an Israeli McDonald's would be near-impossible. Well, as part of a tour group, you typically go and visit all of the sites where major Biblical events are said to have happened. In most of these places, the Orthodox or Catholic churches have built monolithic Cathedrals to mark the spot.

At a certain point in these tours, everything begins to look the same and your appreciation for the locales that you are being taken to subsides. You become saturated and find it difficult to muster any recognition of the monstrous cathedrals that you're surrounded by. At one such location, named Tabgha, it was told to us that this was the location where Jesus multiplied the fish and loaves of bread for the crowd of 5,000 people.

Well, that's cool, (and probably not a true statement) but I had seen so many sanctuaries by this point that the Koi pond in the front of the building was more fascinating to me than the elaborateness of man-made chapels. As I stared at the fish and our tour group leader droned on with information, I heard something which snatched my audible attention: singing.

And let me make this clear: I had already heard a lot of singing. At every place we stopped, the priest leading our group made sure to sing the Scriptures or some Orthodox hymn. We'd gotten a lot of this ritualistic, chanting-type music along the way. But what I heard in that moment was not some Orthodox tune - it was an evangelical hymn.

As fast as you could say, "Forget the Koi," I up and bolted into the church where I heard the singing and almost immediately joined in song with this group of evangelical believers. Here, in the middle of Israel, surrounded by the foreignness and unfamiliarity of an astoundingly different culture and longing for something that reminded me of home, I was washed with the warm native-ness of what I knew and loved.
 "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ..." (Philippians 3)
Sometimes, this world is unfamiliar. Not because we're not used to it, but because there is, in our hearts, a desire for more. We long for a satisfaction we cannot attain. No one put it more succintly than C.S. Lewis, who wrote, "If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world."

Today, I long for home. To be done with this broken world. To be wrapped in the familiarity for which my soul was made. Brothers and sisters, we will one day be home.

But for now, make much of the journey.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Jesus Wants You to be a Murderer

I'm not sure when society transitioned from seeing Christians as people of valor, strength, and justice to a view of them being goody-two-shoes whose faith made them weak and unable to fight. It's as if walking with Jesus means that you are now a soft-serve, timid, sheltered, meek-and-mild, quivering creature who is petrified at the very thought that people who aren't believers actually do bad things. Along with this view, there simultaneously exists the perspective that the strong of this world are those who do what they want, when they want to do it. They are those who can get any women they want, experience all the pleasures they can get their hands on, and get the most toys.

This is for my warriors.

This is not a message for non-believers. This is a message for you, my fellow brother or sister who feels antagonized by a world that views you as feeble and weak. For however much this world tells you that it is a thing of weakness to not grab a hold of all the pleasurable sins you can, your resistance is actually a monument to a great strength that sinners have no ability to mentally process. To be surrounded by a sea of beckoning temptation and walk on the waters above it takes unbelievable focus and fight, neither of which are spawned by your own strength or willpower.
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2)
I won't go into details, but if you know anything about circumcision, it is painful. It is the taking of a knife to your body. And I don't know how much you know about burial, but it typically means that someone must be dead for it to occur. These symbols are given for a very specific reason:

Jesus wants you to be a murderer.

Christ wants you to to put to death your sin nature - to decisively, intentionally, and un-regrettably drag your flesh out into the streets, put a gun to its head, and pull the trigger without a second thought. And that would be decidedly easier to do if sin didn't look so good. In fact, it's so difficult, you can't even do it! That is why Colossians 2 explicitly states that it is God Himself who accomplishes His task in you throughout your whole life.

Essentially, your warrior-king has given you the strength to do what needs to be done. So as you stand back and are mocked by the world as they drown in their sea of temptation, remember your warrior-king. Remember that the God of infinite power lives inside of you and is working a might in you that is greater than the world can even comprehend. And as you fight with your teeth gritted and your failures mocking you, know that "you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." (1 John 4)

Dear warrior, Jesus wants you to be a murderer.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

You Can't Climb the Clouds

No matter how much they stand as a testament to divine architecture, these divine skycrapers will drop the foot of its first climber. No matter how much you stare from your airplane seat at 30,000 feet and begin to truly think that these colossal marshmallows actually maintain some sort of structural integrity suitable for the fleshy pads we stand on, the clouds will reinforce the foolishness of a climb with the insult of death. And no matter how much they seductively stare back, tempting man with the most spectacular of all rock-climbing opportunities, their end guarantee remains only failure and fatality. For all of their light, beauty and jagged edges masquerading as foot-holes, clouds are liars, visually promising a glorious scale, but not even offering an anchor for your harness.

You can't climb the clouds.
And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. (2 Cor. 11)
I call shenanigans. Satan must be in cahoots with the clouds, teaching them their lying ways. Only, perhaps they have not learned as well as he yet. Oh yes, the clouds are liars, offering the sham of climbing its slopes to its aeroplane-bound onlookers, but one mistake they make: they will not hold your foot even for a second.

You see, Satan will hold your foot. In fact, he is a master of deceptive foot-holds, allowing you to grasp the rock-face of your sin and begin to climb. Don't worry - the steps will hold. And hold they will until you have grasped each vice, pulling yourself up to the pinnacle of this boulder of evil - a peak that promised you satisfaction, acceptance, joy, and love by means of your own self-glorification. But when you get to this peak, you find that this boulder is more like a cloud, and it lets you go as soon as you realize your foot-holds were always a fluffy, bright, beautiful illusion.

You can't climb the clouds.

And as you fall to your shameful and utter failure, you hear these words:
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee. 
This Rock of Ages, this risen Jesus, this Mountain of Shelter with a place carved just for you in its face, can catch you in your descent. And in catching you, it promises something better than foot-holds and dangerously deceptive climbs: to "soar to worlds unknown." 

You can't climb the clouds. But you can fly over them if you want to.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Warped Together

Everyone who has a passion or hobby of some sort grows to love very specific things within that passion. For a guitarist, he might love the stiffness of a certain, rare guitar pick. For the runner, they find the particular pair of running shoes that best aids the way that their feet... hit the ground? I don't know. I can only speak of what I do know.

I am a prestidigitator - a sleight-of-hand artist, if you will. I love working with playing cards specifically, and I've learned a few things about my own tastes. I like it when card manufacturers use a thicker stock of playing card paper, like Studs (out of production). I appreciate the Linoid finish used on Tally-Ho's. I greatly value the packet-ability of Bee Wynn playing cards. This might all be Greek to you, but to me, I find great pleasure and happiness in appreciating the details. However, the flip-side of that appreciation is finding great annoyance when something is just a little bit wrong.

Warped playing cards.

It's hard to describe just how much I am disgusted with warped playing cards. Even the slightest curve make fan spreads feel wrong. They make you hate to spring the cards, because you know you will only add more distortion to the deck. And you cringe every time you see someone perform a riffle shuffle without completing it (the bridge thing), for you know that they are bending the cards without accomplishing an equal action that will unbend them. It's hard to watch.

One thing that you notice about bent playing cards is that it's almost never just one card that is warped. It is every single card in the entire deck - they are all warped together, with the same horridly unnatural twist running through the whole deck. If it was just one, you might be able to fix it; an entire deck cannot be salvaged. You must put up with them, throw them away, or do what I do and give them to people who want to play a game of cards so that you don't have to give them anything out of your more expensive decks. Selfish? Perhaps - I have 70.
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. (Galatians 5)
The fact of the matter is that we are the lump. You and me? Lump. The whole church of Christ? Lump. A lump of dough cannot be separated. You can't go into it and begin to separate the water from the flour. So whatever you do to one portion of it affects the rest. If you set a lump of dough on a table, with just the end of it peeking over the cliff, what happens? It is not just the little piece on the end that falls, it is a whole section of dough.

Just like a deck of cards, the church acts cohesively. If it allows false teaching in, large amounts of those who aren't careful will be poisoned with lies (as was happening to the Galatians). If someone in the church continues to remain in unrepentant sin, it will affect the people around him. We warp together. It is for this reason that we must be exceedingly careful about what we allow into this deck.

Oh, that we might let go of our self-centeredness and grasp the gravity of the reality that we are all responsible for each other - that what we do has ripple effects for those who God chose to be near to us. Let us not sit with our hands folded at the effects of our own sin and the onslaught of false, demonic teaching.

For this we have been doing far too long.

Friday, July 18, 2014


How dare I?
It'll be all right. I'll think about that later.
There's more than this. I know it. He has more for me. He promised.
Stop it. Right now is calling.
Ignorance is bliss. Forgiveness is always there on the other side, anyway. Plus, you've already made mistakes. We'll just consider this whole thing a package deal.
At this point there is no ignorance. There is only willful, intentional disobedience, and to call it anything else wouldn't even be a respectable attempt to lie to myself.
You think too much. Just stop thinking. God would forgive a moment of forgetfulness, no?
Of course He would! But can't you see that's not the point!? More than forgiveness, I desire repentance! I want less reasons for Christ to have to forgive me! Shut your mouth and slay thyself.
Why do you stay? Why does even the name of Christ not keep your shadow from being cast over me? Why does your darkness continually loom over my head?
Because as much as you want me to leave, you've already proved that you want me to remain. Your will is weak and slowly cracking, and I do not need more than a small sliver to wedge myself inside.
This is God we're talking about here. Maker of every atom which dares not even spin without first asking His permission. Commander of every gale and all its raindrops, He tells them not only stop, but to begin raging. Every speck of light in thunder being told, "Here, and not there." Every sonic crack making people run from the sheer terror of simply experiencing its deafening might, and might I defy this God? This God Whose throne is surrounded by exponentially more terrifying iterations of these meek earthly detonations, and I dare willfully turn my back before the One Who gives my ankles the ability to twist? Somehow, this pathetically microscopic sack of water and carbon, when faced with the immediate, unquestioning obedience of a Creation that dwarfs its existence, shakes its fist at the heavens and says, "I deny You, Mountain-Mover." And yet, this ant dares defy Mt. Everest. What frame of rational thought exists to even conceptualize this kind of rebellion? I have decided - there is none.
This is You we're talking about here. And I've already done more than enough to break Your heart. Please don't leave me. But more than forgiveness, I ask for repentance. Would You let me walk away? You are God, and, right now, I'm not the one who gets to decide what's best for me, no matter how bad I want it. After all, of what worth is denying myself and following when it costs me little? Some, I admit. But, oh, the immeasurable reward for those who choose You when storms like these rage. Oh, Storm-Maker, I know not how to give You my will for longer than the few seconds ahead, but for these few moments, it is Yours. And when he shows his face again, as he will not long from now, may I be humbled by thunder once again.
How dare I?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Open-Handed Entitlement

A few weeks ago, I was in Sibiu, Romania. It was one of my family's last days in the motherland, and we were enjoying the city that had once been voted the Cultural Capital of Europe. And in case you're wondering why some town you've never heard of in a country you think is a part of Italy got that title, it's because of the many nations that gather in the city year-round for festivals and events. Plus, it's beautiful to a level that goes beyond ridonkulous.

We sat down at a little restaurant away from the crowds and ordered some food. I got up to go to the bathroom, and when I got to the sink to wash my hands, I stuck my hand underneath the soap dispenser and waited. And waited. It took me a bit of time to figure out that this soap dispenser was, in fact, not automatic - a fact that came as a bit of a surprise considering the reality that most of them nowadays are.

Our society is teaching us things. Sometimes, it's small stuff, like sticking out an open hand and expecting a dollop of soap to magically be squished out of a dispenser. Other times, we stick out an open hand and expect it to be filled with free money from the government so that we can pay for school. Or housing. Or (insert whatever you want right here). I mean, that's fine, right? We do deserve it, after all. We've worked so hard to, uh... you know, exist. We should be rewarded for our efforts!

There are good things about my generation. Plenty. We work together well. We're huge on innovation. We love approaching age-old issues with fresh perspectives. However, one of our greatest disadvantages lies wrapped in one word: entitlement. We expect things to just be handed to us. When we get those things, we aren't super grateful, and when we don't, we get angry. We are the generation that was raised to think that everybody's a winner, we can be anything we want, and we shouldn't have to work as hard as our parents worked. 
For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3)
So, good news - the truth is, we're right! We are entitled! We are entitled to all that comes with falling short of the glory of God, namely, death. That's right, because of the excellent strides we've made in loving sin and showing our disrespect for God by doing everything that He told us not to, we get to stick out our hand and expect eternal torment and punishment for everything we've done to earn it with all the hours we've put in to this daily grind of sin. Yay!

*Puts sarcasm aside.*

Dear friends, approaching faith in Jesus Christ by feeling deserving of anything more than God's wrath is destruction. Not only is it flat out unBiblical to expect God to give you a fancy car, the perfect job, and great health 'till the day you die of old age in your sleep, but it sets us up for great disappointment. 
"In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16)
Every single thing that God gives us is a gift, from the beating of your heart to the strength in your legs. The oxygen in your lung branches to the slow growth of your fingernails: gifts. The alarm clock that wakes you up and the waking hours to serve Christ that face you after it does: gifts. The struggles of life that break us to be rebuilt and the pain that makes us hope for the rest of Heaven's gates: gifts. These gifts, in fact, force us to face the Gift-Giver, Who, through the merits of His own grace and perfection, becomes the only One actually entitled to blessing. So, if you stick out your open hand, expect it to be filled with the hand of someone who needs to be pulled up.

This is your entitlement.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Gaudy, But No God

You may think that I have gotten lazy and not posted anything on this dear website of mine, but au contrair, dear, dear reader (please read that with all of the anger it's due). Though I have been out of the country for the past month, I've made sure that I would have some stored-up articles ready to be posted every week. I simply have not announced them, o impassioned follower of Kingdom Eyes. I do believe I am allowed to take a vacation, no? (I really need to start being nicer.) I went to Romania.

Let's start off by saying that you need to stop everything you're doing right now, buy a plane ticket, and go to Romania. Like, right now. It's that great. I truly believe it is one of the most hidden gems of geographical and historical beauty that exists in the world. And yes, I know it is hidden because when I tell people my family is from Romania, they think I'm some Italian or something.

Anyway, woven into the history of this great nation is its involvement with the Eastern Orthodox church. Almost all of the great monasteries, cathedrals, and monuments scattered throughout Romania are Orthodox constructions, and they present a very unique and distinctive look and feel when compared to the religious buildings of other countries.

I won't dive into all of the difficulties and problems I have with the Orthodox church, but I will simply give an example that might get you to see what has molded my view of it:

My family had the opportunity to spend time with a group of Orthodox priests and monks, visiting various monasteries and churches. Contrasting with the often clean, un-cluttered look of Catholic cathedrals, stepping into an Orthodox church consists of first being affronted with the overwhelming smell that results from burning incense in a small room for hundreds of years. Once your eyes adjust to the light, you are bombarded with floor-to-ceiling, multi-colored, gold-laden depictions of Biblical characters and stories, painted in the same Byzantine art style that has existed for centuries. There you will find golden icons, relics, and artifacts which people touch, kiss, and rub their religious products all over for the betterment of their loved ones, all in accordance with their "holy tradition". But above all this noise, I was impressed with one important detail:

It was small.

This monumental building with all of its religious splendor could fit no more than perhaps 30 people inside of it. Don't get me wrong: from the outside, it was quite sizeable. But venturing to the inside, you find that man's attempt to create religious splendor crowds out the very people that would come to worship in this place. In the exorbitant amount of money spent to build and maintain this monstrosity of a building, there is no room for the needy and searching soul that might come to its doors.
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24)
O God, that we might not become obsessed with appearance and pride and forget the poor man who lives in brokenness. Let not our buildings and services become theater, but a home and a place for family to come and fellowship. Rebuke our desire for architectural and visual majesty at the cost of the orphan. If we must tear down our concrete so we may have bricks for the widow's home, let it be so.

You have already given us the most sophisticated temple, constructed by Your own hands; let us not frustrate ourselves in the futility of making something better.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

5 Things Christians Should Start Saying

Recently, I've seen a lot of good literature and an equal amount of terrible literature in the blogosphere (I admit, I was just looking for a reason to use "blogosphere" in a sentence). Considering the age range of my peers, a lot of the articles that they post and re-post on the profiles of their social media accounts have to do with Christian dating, courtship, and marriage. Solid. That's an area that definitely needs a lot of reflection and redefinition. I also see a lot of blog posts about modern worship and church body behaviors. Great. I'm really excited to see a generation that wants to make sure they're doing things in the right way.

However, throughout a lot of these blogs, there's an air of cynicism and jadedness that I see in the world of online writing (to which I am often a contributor, I must admit). People have grown up being surrounded with bad examples of Christian living, and they seek to condemn some obviously bad practices and habits. Here are some article titles and links, so you get the feeling of what I'm talking about:

I want to start off by saying that I agree. Christians rely on cliches and overused phrases much too often. But the advice can leave us in a tough spot, because, while we are being told what not to do, we are never given wisdom on what we should do.  I am a firm believer that the Christian life consists not only of throwing off vice, but pursuing virtue.
"So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." (2 Timothy 2, emphasis added)
Paul tells Timothy not only to run away from the evil, but to run to the good. Being told what not to say begs the question, "What should we be saying?" So, in an effort to approach things like every blog on the entire stinking internet does nowadays, I'm going to make my own list - a list of stuff Christians should say.

"Heaven is not a place for those who are afraid of hell; it’s a place for those who love God."
This is actually a quote from Matt Chandler's Explicit Gospel, but the point made here is invaluable. Our culture is saturated with this idea that salvation simply serves the purpose of fire insurance. The truth of the matter is that heaven is for those who made the choice to pursue and love Christ while here on this earth. It will be a place to celebrate the love of God for eternity, and if you didn't enjoy doing that here, it won't be your thing millennia from now.

"I don't pretend to understand what you're going through, but I serve a God Who does."
When people are broken and hurting, they're looking for someone who understands and can sympathize with their struggle, but it does no good for a well-meaning Christian to tell them, "I know your pain," if they've never experienced the matter that they are wrestling with. However, relating things back to a God Who experienced every kind of pain imaginable by taking on the sins of the world lets them know that they are not alone in their suffering, and that, rather than looking to you for comfort, they will find the pinnacle of comfort in the arms of Christ.

"You were worth the ultimate sacrifice."
Despite our culture's madly desperate attempts to teach our youth that they have worth, our society's children and adults are drowning in an inability to see their value because of the people who treat them like the dust beneath their soles. Telling someone the truth means little unless it is proved with action, and people will continue to believe they are worth nothing when that is all they've experienced, no matter how many megaphones and commercials we shout self-affirmation from. The ultimate proof of God's belief in our worth was in His death. No lie can disprove the truth that you are worth the Calvary Road.

"You are not a good person."
Sometimes, we try to prove our worth by qualifying it with saying that we are all, in our heart of hearts, good people. Bologna. Anyone with a truly critical eye can recognize that, at the depths of our souls, we desire only evil. One of the most freeing things is to come to terms with the fact that we aren't good, we've never been good, we can never be good, and that there was Someone Who died so that our non-goodness could be forgiven and we could be made right with God.

"Will you forgive me?"
It's hard to apologize. It's probably one of the most difficult things that could ever be done in the context of human relationships. It requires humility and vulnerability. However, one cannot stop at simply saying, "I'm sorry." I realize that this is, in and of itself, ridiculously hard. But when you ask someone to forgive you, you let go of any I'm-sorry-but (fill in the blank). It lets the other person know that the decision for peace in your relationship belongs to them. It is total and complete vulnerability, and it shows that you are serious about your contrition, and aren't simply doing it because you know you probably should.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of things we should be saying, but it's a start. This world has enough stop-doing-this. We need some start-doing-this. Go ahead, find some of your own!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Confidence of Sonship

Once again, I sat in the chairs near Chapel by The Lake - my home away from home butted up against the waters of the intracoastal. Dear reader, I know I've bored you with speaking of this place many times, so I'll spare you details as to the setting.

I sat there and saw a mother and her daughter gather next to the intracoastal wall, probably to have lunch or something of that nature. Shortly after seeing them, I saw another man approach. He was wearing green surgical scrubs - the kind you see high-fallutin' surgeons wear. Granted, anyone can wear surgical scrubs and make themselves look like a doctor (this is coming from the guy who, as a student, had patients think I was a doctor simply because I was the only male in the room). However, this man was giving off surgeon-y vibes. Y'know, the kind of person you wouldn't freak out at if you saw a scalpel in their pocket.

As he walked up to his family, the daughter saw him, took off running from her mother, and jumped into her dad's arms.

Let's get something straight. If I were to run up to this guy and try to jump into his arms, I'd probably find that scalpel in my spleen before I got the chance to even think it. Even if one of his colleagues or trusted friends were to try the same thing, it would just come off unnatural and pretty creepy. The man is a surgeon. And one does not treat someone of such high status with that kind of irreverence and creepiness. For almost anyone else, the only appropriate response to greeting this man includes the use of titles, firm handshakes, and honor (especially cuz he was Asian [white boy said whaaaaa?]).
"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4)
One does not simply approach the Creator of the universe; the Maker of all that is with anything less than strict use of titles, firmly bowed knees, and deep honor.

That is, unless, you are His child.

See, sons and daughters are in a special position - they get to skip the formalities. Notice, I did not say that they were able to skip the honor. Rather, they are able to skip the handshakes and offering of gifts and simply run straight into their Father's arms.

When we are broken by sin, the temptation for us as believers is to recognize the judgment and wrath of God without having a proper view of His grace and forgiveness. This establishes a heart-wrenching, cold-shouldered distance between us and this Judge of a God. However, in these depths of desperation, the soul cannot bear the weight of formalities, and must be given the freedom to run into the tight and warm embrace of a kind Father.

And so, this is what has been described as the Scandal of Grace - that we are adopted, made right with God, and allowed to boldly approach Him in a way no one else is allowed to because of His ultimate sacrifice. These are the privileges of being made a part of the family of God. Will you today run into the arms of your Father, or will you continue to believe that He only holds judgment for you?

In the words of the poet Gethsemane: "More than a Judge, my God is a Lover."

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Hipster Resolutions

So, I understand that ministry majors and the layman Christian who is passionate about the Scriptures have recently been getting a little absorbed in ancient theologians and the writings of great believers who are now long dead. I think there are pro's and con's to this movement of looking to the past for great theology and substance of truth:

Pro: Some of these men (think Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, St. Augustine, Charles Spurgeon, John Owens, C.S. Lewis, etc) wrote and thought about some of the most profound truths that mankind has ever been able to stumble upon.

Con: We tend to pedestal-ize these men to a position they cannot deserve. The truths they wrote about were not the result of their own brilliance, but were outworkings of the unchanging truths found in the same Bible available to all mankind.

Pro: Though these men were great, we see that they wrestled with the same faith-shaking issues we do: depression, doubt, sin, and heartache. In this, we can find hope for ourselves that God's grace works powerfully in weak men.

Con: I feel that much of the desire to quote old literature and respect old men is a result of our generation's hipster-driven love for the oh-so-vintage-retro. The problem with this is that, more often than not, our love for this type of literature is more a matter of intellectual "I-quoted-John-Calvin-before-he-was-cool" pride than it is a realization of the profound nature of what these men discussed. We seek witty quips to share over coffee rather than weighty truths to cry over when praying through despair.

Pro: These men were driven in their pursuit of holiness and the presence of God. Many of them had a solid grasp of the gravity of sin and of the greatness of God, and I'm stoked to hear our generation read about men who were serious about righteousness in a culture where everything slides.

Con: We make it out as if these men lived in an age where everything was better than it is now. We think that theologians of the past contributed towards a "golden age" of the church. The reality is that they had a ton of problems, too, but they were just different ones than we have now.

That being said, I've come to love one particular work of literature written by a 19-year-old Jonathan Edwards, a great preacher of old who is known for a sermon called, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." The work that I speak of is simply called, "The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards," which is simply a collection of decisions that Edwards made when he was young in the faith. We find decisions like these:

#37: "Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year."


#52: "Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age."


#56: "Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be."

There are 70 of these resolutions. Some of them are a bit strange, and perhaps unbiblical, ("Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord’s day.") but they reflect something crucial to the walk of faith.
"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." (Colossians 3, emphasis added)
We are commanded to set our minds on matters of the divine, heavenly order. And what else does "setting your mind" mean than to willfully make a decision to pursue holiness in a grace-driven way, to make conviction-minded choices that will lead us more near holiness, and to be intentional about honoring God with purposeful resolutions that will make us more like Him?

Colossians 3 goes on to say that we are to

"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you..."

One does not put something to death by making kinda-sorta wishy-washy choices. This act of killing must be willful, persistent, vigilant, and intentional. And so I end with one last resolution:

"Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live."

Monday, May 26, 2014

Bird Turd-ed Rationalizing

I cleaned the bird turd off my car today.

To avoid the risk of sounding like I'm updating some social media status with a mundane detail of my life (think I'm-eating-a-sandwich type of thing), I'm going to explain my aforementioned comment a bit more.

This week, I had to be at church on Sunday morning about an hour early to help prepare for the worship service. One of the perks of showing up to church early is getting a primo parking spot. I'm talking the kind of spot where it's so close to the door, the walk doesn't even make you break a sweat in 95 degree weather in jeans and a button up. Now that's what I call living. Upon visualizing this parking spot, I got all excited:

"Boy, has Jesus shined His light on me! This parking spot is top-notch, good sir!"

This joyous thought process was interrupted by quite the intrusive thought:

"Shouldn't you give up that spot for someone else?"

But fear not! I would never be persuaded by such a sneaky conviction!

"No, of course not! I'm here early for one of the first times in my 10+ years of coming to this church! Why would I give my spot up? Plus, by parking here, I'm probably helping someone else along in their path to spiritual growth. Having them park farther away from the church will be a good tool to teach them patience! (I'm not kidding you, this is actually what I was thinking.)"

So I slid into the parking spot and walked into church without a drop of sweat and the most smug of all faces. Everything was great! Well, yesterday, I learned that the early bird actually just gets the bird turd. When I walked out of church and headed to my car, I was flabbergasted to find a... gift on my car. Or several gifts, rather. It seemed like an entire legion of pigeons had eaten way too much and then decided to role-play as World War II Bombers for the entire church service directly over my car. The war woulda been won a lot quicker if there were more bombers as talented as those pigeons.
"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2)
I believe that's what they call getting roasted by the Scriptures. I love how, when the provocation of the Spirit prompts us to do something right, we immediately begin to rationalize it so we can attempt to make ourselves the exception to the rule. And when I say that I love that, what I'm saying is I want to punch that in the face-hole.

Anyhow, I think that God is working on sanctifying me and making me look more and more like Him. In the meantime, I guess I'll have to accept the consequences for my sin, keep cleaning the bird turd off my car, and learn to give up that parking spot.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Lid-Flipping and the Prosperity Gospel

Certain things make me flip my lid (I can now say that because I just bought myself a hat).

Having my headphones get caught on something and getting forcefully ripped out of my ear. Lid-flipper.

Smashing my noggin against something when I stand up from a crouch. Lid-flipper.

Older people poking or pinching me as if I'm some 5-year-old kid (it's happened - don't ask). Double lid-flipper.

If I wanted to, I could go on. Lid-flippers abound. You've probably got many of your own. And if you're anything like me, you get frustrated at altogether too many random things. Like having someone chew cereal loudly next to you during breakfast. (Lid-flipper, by the way.) And yes, I know that getting frustrated quickly isn't a good thing...



UNLESS we're talking about the Prosperity Gospel. This may be one of my top lid-flippers. It's like a super-mega-ultra lid-flipper. It could flip my lid even if I was wearing a ten-gallon cowboy hat. You have not seen a lid flip until you've seen me talk about the Prosperity Gospel. And if you don't know what the Prosperity Gospel is, it is essentially the belief that God came and sacrificed Himself for the sins of the world AND for our material and physical comfort.

In other words, if you want that new house, Bugatti, healing from any sort of illness, or any material blessing, it has already been guaranteed for you, along with every other believer that has enough faith to believe that he will receive these things and gives enough money to the pastor that is spouting this message. Sounds great, RIGHT?!

Look, we could talk about how the Bible is filled with very few rich men, and those who were were typically very sinful. We could talk about how almost all of the men that pursued God in faith, giving of all they had, were destitute. We could talk about how 11 out of 12 (and maybe even all of them) died horrible, gruesome deaths for the sake of the gospel. But let me direct you to take a gander at this here verse.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. (Mark 1)
I know you can't see it here, but when you read through Mark 1 in your Bible, there is probably a divider heading that you see interrupting these few verses that separates "The Baptism of Jesus" from "The Temptation of Jesus." Sometimes, these headings and dividers distract us from seeing some pretty cool things by making us think that two sections are irrelevant from each other. Follow me here:

"And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'"


"The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness."

Maybe, just maybe, the Holy Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness because He loved Him. So what does this mean? This means that I don't think life is supposed to be daisies and roses.

I think God calls us to brokenness and hardship because it strengthens us. I can personally attest to the fact that God uses hard times to grow us in ways that days of sunshine cannot. There is a purpose in the dark days, and just because you're in them, it does not mean that God has forsaken you. In fact, He's probably in the process of drawing you to a new level of nearness.

This may sound strange, but treasure the dark days.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Maybe I Should Stop Talking

There's two types of people in this world. The first kind, when they walk into a group of other people, say, "Here I am!" The second kind, when they walk into a group, say, "There you are!"

Unfortunately, I am of the former. I'm not gonna lie - I enjoy being the one who's voice is heard first. I was never one of the people who liked to wait until everybody finished what they were saying so that I could put in my two cents. You either heard my two cents, or no one else's! (Humility is obviously my key strength.) This tendency can often get you into a spot of trouble. Like that one time where I asked someone who's house was dirty if they owned a broom. But that's a story for a different time.

Today, I was with a student from this ministry I'm involved with and they were telling me about something pretty personal. I was ready to issue my advice from the moment he laid out his problem. He wanted an answer, and I definitely, assuredly, and undeniably had a definitive answer for his struggle. However, a second before I could continue to lay out the gems that would prospectively pour out of my mouth, he interrupted me with one more sentence. I allowed him to continue, and he laid out a side of the story that made me entirely reconsider what I should say. If I would have said what my noodle was originally pondering, I would have misled him and probably done some damage.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1)
Maybe I need to stop running my mouth. I should probably start listening more, and learn the value of silence. Perhaps you've heard me talk enough and the Word of God is enough to illustrate the point my fallible fingers are trying to type out.

Maybe I should stop talking.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Starting IV's and Dropping the Ball

If you've kept up with this blog, you know that I've been in the Emergency Room for the past few weeks with an internship-type position as a student. One thing that becomes necessary as a nurse in the ER is to become skilled with starting IV's. Ah yes, the dreaded and most-famous of all nursing skills - the ever intimidating intravenous line. It's got all the necessary ingredients for an exciting experience: sharp pointy needles, a considerable amount of pain, and most of all, blood!

I know that some people have a really hard time even thinking about IV's, so I won't go into any gory details, but I will tell you this: it is a scary skill to start practicing, no matter how much you've done it in a lab on a dummy (whose skin, no matter how "realistic," could never match the qualities of human skin and vascularity). It's even worse that, when you first start practicing, you have to do it with someone's head directly over your shoulder, watching every move you make for mistakes.

Something about the fact that you have a patient whose bulging eyes are darting back and forth from your face to your nametag that says "Student Nurse," combined with a room full of people watching you, along with the sweat beading up on your forehead makes this a difficult task. Well, in the course of doing this many times, you're bound to mess up a good amount, especially when you're first starting. This means that, many times, the instructor or nurse who is watching you must be ready to take the needle from you and correctly perform the task with their own skilled and experienced hands.

Notably, there was one time where I had screwed up twice on the same man. The second time I foibled with the needle, the patient said, "I'm sorry, but you've really gotta work on these." I then went, my soul's head hung down, to grab a nurse who could do it, for I could not.
“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness." (Ezekiel 34)
God had to take the staff. He Himself had to herd in the sheep because the people who He'd given the responsibility to do so had thoroughly screwed it up. Ezekiel here is prophesying to the leaders of Israel, whose gluttonous and self-serving actions had come at the cost of the starvation of God's flock. The weight of responsibility that rested on the shoulders of the leaders of Israel had been dropped in a devastating way, and so God Himself had to pick it up.

"Gotcha! I'm not a leader! This doesn't apply to me at all."

Well, maybe you're not a leader, but everyone is in the process of influencing someone, whether they know it or not. And in this way, we are all leaders. One never knows how many little eyes are looking up at them or how many broken souls are looking to them for guidance. And we've all dropped the ball. God had to take the staff. He also took the needle. Three big ones, in fact. 

There is weight that rests on you. There are those who look to you. You will always lead. The only question is, which way will you lead?

I've since gotten a lot more comfortable at starting IV's. God's been gracious in this way. Someone even told me recently, "Oh, you're very good," right after I had successfully gotten their line started. I guess it's a big experience thing - you just gotta get in there and do it, asking for forgiveness when you mess up and learning to accept responsibility for your actions.

Maybe life isn't so different.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Oh, Just Go Fly a Kite

Here I found myself once again next to the waters of the intracoastal, sitting among the rows upon rows of neon blue chairs that lined this "Chapel by the Lake." Kind of a misnomer, I suppose. There was no lake, only the waters of the intracoastal. But I suppose that "Chapel by the Lake" is easier to say than "Chapel by the Intracoastal Waterway," (especially since most people don't even know how to correctly pronounce "in-tra-coastal," as opposed to the ever-popular "in-ter-coastal") so I don't make a fuss.

But I digress. I sat there, among the hundreds of empty chairs that looked pretty old. Not too old, however. It wasn't as if they were completely forgotten about and left to be dilapidated. Instead, it was just like somebody didn't want to put the extra work in to make these chairs look super nice. Kinda like when you wear clothes around the house: you don't put on your nicest clothes - just enough to fill society's rule that you must wear fabrics at all times. So these chairs were dirty enough to leave white dust on your clothes when you sat on them, but they were still trustworthy enough to sit in... most of the time.

These were the chairs I sat among, and as I prayed, I watched a man flying a kite with his toddler-aged son. I had watched them set it up earlier, and noted how excited the father looked to introduce kite-flying to his amazed little boy, who was simultaneously befuddled as to the mechanics of this whole operation. He had the kid hold the handle while his larger hands made sure that the kite wouldn't fall down or fly away, sitting down so he could be at the same level as his son, who was standing up.

The kite soon flew at a height of at least 30 feet in the air, which was pretty impressive, even for a grown-up like me. It was one of those cool, atypical kites whose frame was a series of three connected boxes that formed a triangle-type shape. I mused that these unique-looking types of kites were probably the best ones, with physics that allowed for the most stable and controlled of all flight patterns.

But then my musings took me further. As far as the Trinity, in fact. That's a large mental leap, you say? Probably. Maybe not. Either way, the kite reminded me of God. The kite also reminded me of us. It's almost as if we are kites. The Father stays on the ground, sending and directing us, controlling our flight patterns; raising us to great heights. However, this would mean nothing if it were not for the Son connecting us to the Father, providing the only means of ever getting in touch with His willful direction. Even this, however, would not be enough, for a kite is as nothing without the wind, Who is the Holy Spirit flowing through us in such a way that we even have the ability to lift off in the first place. He empowers our flight, keeps us in the air, and sustains the beauty that is seen when people in blue chairs look on and see the masterful direction of the Father.

You say that my musings were a large mental leap. I disagree. The beauty of created things were meant to point us back to the Creator. All that we see should be a reminder of the glory of God. A reflection of His nature is grafted into all that we experience, from the birthing of a newborn child, to the amazing flavor of fish tacos, to the pain in friendships, and to the flying of kites.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. (Romans 1)
Perhaps, if we haven't been seeing these things, it is because we need to start looking differently.

Perhaps we need to go fly a kite.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Taking the Last Cookie

I've recently started my preceptorship, which is considered the "capstone" to nursing school. It is the final part of your education where you integrate everything you learned throughout your four years and apply it in the hospital environment on a standard 12-hour shift basis. That's been going on for the past two weeks and I've gotten to be pretty friendly with all of the nursing staff and other personnel there in the ER. The best part about working there?

The nurse's lounge.

It's got big windows, and since you're cooped up in a small Emergency Department for 12 or more hours, it's nice to get the light shining in and see the outdoors when you sit down to take a break for lunch. I don't know what it is about all the nurses on the floor, though. They all have this intense love for sweets.

This past week, someone brought a platter of cookies into the nursing lounge, which means... fair game. I grabbed a few, and even though they weren't so great, I still ate them, happy to enjoy something sweet while working hard. Then, at one moment when I had stepped back into the lounge, I saw that out of the whole platter of 25+ cookies, there was only one left.

That cookie made me think. When a nurse walked in to the nurse's lounge and saw that last, solitary cookie sitting right there in the middle of an empty room, would it not be tempting to take it? But, surely, they would not. After all, it's just wrong to take the last cookie! And in no way would any nurse consider themselves such an evil person that they would even be tempted to enjoy the illicit goodness of consuming this last wonderful morsel.

"And he said to them, 'Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?'" (Mark 7)

Man is desperately wicked. Beyond all hope. And although no nurse would ever eat that last cookie in order to preserve their valued feelings of self-righteousness, the greedy desire to take it points to an innate wrong that exists inside all of us. It is a problem that begins first in the heart, and moves to outward action. Even if someone were to eat that baked good, it wouldn't prove that they were sinning by completing the action, but only that the sin was in their heart to begin with, whether or not they followed through.

This is man. Anyone who doubts his inherent sinfulness need only look at the nearest child, who does not need to be taught to lie, cheat, or steal. It is in him, as it is in us. It is this sinful heart that can only be restored by a sinless God. It is in Christ that we find a base-level, foundational change in the way that we even think. As for me, I've got a lot of sanctification and change that still needs to take place.

After all, I took the last cookie.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Classy Polos and Starving Faith

When I was young, (I use past tense because I've hit the ripe old age of 21) I wore a lot of polo shirts. Because why not? It didn't really matter where I was. It could be during the dead heat of summer and you'd find me exercising or something in a polo. They're classy, ok? Think about it: they're like a t-shirt, but with an added collar to say, "I'm better than you." Or something.

Well, anyway. There was this girl that I liked at a summer camp, (take it from me young ones: camp flings are never ok) and one day as we sat down, she kinda chortled at me (I think the word is spelled that way because it sounds like a chuckle-snort) because I was always wearing polos.

Guess what I never wore again in my life ever.

No longer was I a raging polo-maniac displaying the greatness of the innovative improvement to the everyday t-shirt on my pasty, thin torso - no. Now I had succumbed to mingling among all of the t-shirt-ites. After that camp, I tried to start replacing my collection of "too-many" polos with a stack of plain-old tees. Even to this day, I still have some polos, but they're kind of there just as an artifact of my former polo life. I rarely wear them. My polo-wearing days were over, much to my chagrin.
"Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5)
Funny thing about flames. If you put them under a basket, not one sees them. It totally defeats the purpose of owning a candle (or a light bulb for you futuristic early adopters). Might as well not even light it in the first place. But there is a second offense. A light put under a basket also dies. And when I say die, I mean that they die. Kaput. Cease to exist. The flame quickly devours the available oxygen it needs to survive, and when it is out, so is the light.

I'm pretty sure God was indifferent to the fact that the light of my polo-wearing days were over. However, putting the light out on your faith is an entirely different matter. How do we not put out the light? You put it on display, right out in the open. In other words, get out there and show people what that the light in you is! Or rather, Who it is.

The second part of this verse in Matthew 5 talks about shining your light before others. Intrinsic to the life of the believer is this concept of sharing the goodness that flows out of our walk with Jesus. Much in the same way that James says that faith without works is dead, a life of faith lived without displaying God's goodness in good deeds is a starved faith.

Now, if you excuse me, I've got to go put on a polo and throw away some baskets.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ladies First - Christ Last

In about 1.5 months, I'm going to graduate with a Bachelor's in the Science of Nursing (BSN for those of you abbreviation-fanatics). If there's one thing that's unique about being in a nursing program, it is that there are very few other males in it. This essentially means one thing: rules of etiquette fly out the window.

Let me rephrase that (I'm not going to start shutting the door in people's faces or kicking dogs). There's one major rule that simply cannot persist when one is surrounded by those of the female persuasion: "Ladies first."

Ladies first??

Oh, so I guess I'm just going to get my lunch tomorrow, after all 45 of you finish delicately choosing which of the bread slices has the least calories while I wait patiently in line for food behind you, eh? I guess that just means that you guys get to pick all the good spots in the computer testing lab, while I'm left with the only computer that does nothing other than shout digital profanity at me in the form of squeaky hard drive noises? I GUESS that means I have to allow all of you females to hi-jack the MEN'S BATHROOM when you can't coordinate yourselves in such a way that your own restroom doesn't get overcrowded? (Because OF COURSE us men wouldn't mind - there's so few of us!)
"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves..." (Philippians 2:3)
But, uh... wait. Now hold on just one minute. That's not fair.
"Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:4)
Oh come on, now. You can't actually expect me to do that... it's too much!
"And being found in human form, he [Christ Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:8)
Christ made Himself last?

...great. I've got some apologies to make. I gotta go.