What is Your Jericho?

Joshua 6:1-27 “What is Your Jericho?” by B. Fan

These are the sermon notes from a sermon that was shared with the Chinese Evangelical Free Church of Santa Barbara on May 20, 2018. The bold text references cues for main points.


Good morning, Resound family, it’s a pleasure to share this morning with you all in worship; it’s always refreshing for me to come back to Chinese Church. As we start this morning, I’d like to read the last verse of Joshua 6, and then I’ll open with a word of prayer.

Joshua 6:27

27 So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.

Let’s pray:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for giving us this day to come and be before Your Word. We thank You for its power and sufficiency for us in our lives, and we thank You that by Your Word we come to know You more. Give us the energy this morning to be sensitive to Your work in us; help us to seek after You with fresh eyes and pure hearts. We love You, and we need You. In Jesus’s name I pray, amen.”

This morning, we are going to be going through chapter 6 of Joshua. You might be wondering why I began with the last verse (and I didn’t even put a spoiler tag on it!), and so I’d like to unpack the reason for that right now. Part of the reason is I didn’t know which verses to choose out of the whole chapter, and I know very few of us want me to read the whole chapter out loud. However, there’s another reason. Yesterday, my family and I had our funeral service for my grandma. When I accepted the invitation to speak for you all a few months ago, I did so without knowing that she was going to be gone – she hadn’t even gone to the hospital yet at that point, and she was still living with my grandpa in a retirement home. When I realized that the funeral and the sermon were going to be back to back, I started to stress a little bit. After all, it seems uncontroversial to say that giving a testimony at a funeral and preaching the next day is not something most of us would like to do. Nevertheless, God was merciful and made it easier on me.

Now, how many of us here have been to a funeral? (Maybe hands raise.) Okay, so some of us. I’m not sure how common it is at the funerals that you’ve been to, but for all of the funerals I’ve attended, there was always a “eulogy.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a eulogy is “a speech or writing in commendation of the character and services of a person, or the qualities of a thing; esp. a set oration in honour of a deceased person.” Hopefully, starting with verse 27 makes more sense. In most eulogies, we remember the highlights of the person’s life—Joshua chapter 6, verse 27 concludes what might have been a large part of Joshua’s own eulogy: the story of Jericho.

I want to preface this morning’s message by saying that there is a lot going on in Joshua 6; however, God has been drawing my attention to this idea of a eulogy in light of my grandma’s funeral, so I’m going to lean into that a little bit. When we think about the idea of a eulogy and when we think about Joshua, those of us who have grown up with children’s Bibles or going to Sunday school will probably point to the story of Jericho. After all, it seems a little unlikely that Joshua’s integrity in honoring his promise to Rahab would feature in a children’s Sunday school lesson. When we are thinking about Joshua’s life, we can’t seem to easily get outside of the walls of Jericho coming down, and I think that’s actually helpful for us to think about our lives and how we’re living as Christians today.

If it’s fair to say that Jericho characterizes Joshua’s life, it’s worth taking some time to unpack the many facets of what goes down in the town of Jericho. The question we want to answer today (or at least think about more intentionally) is: what is, or will be, your Jericho? When people are looking back at your life, people that you impacted, people you loved, people God put you next to, what will they say was the defining moment or aspect of who you were? In Joshua’s life, Jericho would likely be how people remembered Joshua. This morning, we’ll take a closer look at three aspects of Jericho both for Joshua and for us: 1) Jericho as Obstacle, 2) Jericho as Promise Fulfilled, and 3) Jericho as Testimony.

So, the first point: Jericho as Obstacle. Something that works well for the youth group that I lead back home is to really dig into the “weird,” awesome parts of the Bible; basically, it’s exaggerating everything so that the jadedness of Sunday school stories fades away and the Word becomes relevant again. At this point, I’d like to invite us to do the same. I listened to our brother Joey’s sermon last week (and it was a really great sermon, as usual—that’s a gifted brother right there), and he mentions the scene at the tail end of chapter 5, how Joshua comes face to face with the “captain of the host of the LORD.” WHOA. It looks like this will be the reinforcement that they needed. But when we get to Chapter 6, I imagine the start of chapter 6 like the scene in Infinity War—if you haven’t seen it, cover your ears—it’s like watching Thanos’s gauntlet ALMOST get taken off, only to have Star Lord punch Thanos in the face and ruin everything. Okay, maybe it’s not THAT extreme, but again, we’re going for exaggeration. The prospect of breaking into a tightly guarded city is daunting for sure. Despite how glorious the captain of the host of the LORD must have seemed, the city of Jericho was still a tightly shut city, and Joshua was just one guy. As he’s staring at the city, he comes face to face with a tremendous obstacle—THE obstacle, some might say. This is the start of Jericho becoming Jericho for Joshua, and we can take something from this too. If anyone thinks that being a Christian is smooth sailing and that you’ll never encounter a Jericho in his life, I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but this is highly unlikely (though I grant that it could happen). On the opposite end, maybe you’ve been a Christian for a while, and I’ve rattled you a little bit by asking you about a “defining moment of who you were.” You might be thinking, “That’s just movie stuff – some people are just going to live normal lives without dramatic challenges.” Maybe you’re right. But maybe, you’re also missing out on something that God has been using to shape and form you. Each person’s “Jericho” is not going to be of the same magnitude, but how it characterizes us, challenges us, and changes us remains the same. It’s a transformative experience to encounter and conquer the “Jericho” of your own narrative. The important thing is, like in every great action movie, there’s a big obstacle to face.

However, if you’re sitting there this morning thinking, “Hm, I don’t have a Jericho…maybe I should go find one,” stop. Please don’t seek out a Jericho. You’ll be like the person who jumps into the lion enclosure at a zoo to kill a lion—no one asked you to jump in and risk your life just to get on the news. It IS different though, if you find yourself out camping and you need to successfully fight off a hungry bear. Jericho is not just a trial, it’s not just an obstacle in your life; Jericho is also God’s promise fulfilled. Before Joshua does anything else, the Lord gives him a command and gives him instructions on how he is to proceed. But God doesn’t just say, “Hey man, here are some strats you can use, and they might work, but maybe they won’t. Then you’ll need a plan B and a plan C—good luck, buddy.” God gives very precise instructions to Joshua on what needed to be done for the Lord to bring Him victory. When we’re younger and we hear this story, we might remember being excited because usually the Sunday school teacher would have us do a little skit and walk around a table or a room or something and eventually knock down some books or fake walls. But what we need to recognize is that God is inviting Joshua to participate in His work. He promises Joshua by saying, “I have given Jericho into your hand.” have given Jericho into your hand. You shall march around the city and do the rest of these instructions. But the thing to note here is that the promise and the fulfillment of the promise is on God’s end. And this isn’t a wimpy promise either. God is promising that the walls of a city are going to fall down. Everyone here is relatively familiar with Henley Gate, I’m assuming? This is like if God promised: “March around UCSB once a day for six days, then on the seventh day, march around it seven times, have some pastors blow trumpets, and have all the marchers shout, and Henley Gate will come down,” except BIGGER. It’s a pretty big deal, and it requires Joshua to have faith that God is a God who fulfills promises. After all, let’s dive into the narrative a bit again. It’s probably really hot out there, and maybe marching around so many times has Joshua and the people pretty exhausted. Is God going to really fulfill His promise? Or is this going to be another Egypt situation where they get led into the wilderness and have no food and water and get absolutely crushed by the people of Jericho once they’re good and tired? For us, this is the part of our walk when we know the Word of God, we know that God has the good of those who believe in Him in mind, but just looking at Jericho, we let it show through our body language a little. Maybe we start stooping over a little bit, maybe we sigh more often, maybe start losing sleep. We KNOW the promise that He’s given to us and we KNOW the instructions He’s given to us in how to follow after Him. But we can’t help but wonder—what if this all in vain? The start of Jericho is daunting because we can’t bring ourselves to believe what we haven’t seen happen yet.

So what happens then? Joshua does exactly as the Lord commands him, bringing them around town once each day for six days. On the seventh day, he has the people march around the city of Jericho seven times. The people shout, and the walls come crumbling down. Before this happens though, Joshua does something interesting. When you read the text—and I highly encourage you all to go home and read it because the OT reads a lot like a bedtime story in some cases—there’s an awkward pause in the narrative.After they finish the seventh round and the priests have blown their trumpets, we as the audience are thinking, “LET’S GOOOO!” But Joshua says something that seems like a momentum stopper, a buzz kill. He says in verses 16-19,

16 “Shout, for the Lord has given you the city. 17 And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. 18 But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. 19 But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.”

As Joshua recognizes that the promised fall of Jericho is before them, he takes a moment to check the hearts of Israel. He reminds them that the Lord has given them the city. He reminds them that the city is devoted to the Lord for destruction, and that this city is not to be looted because it’s going to be left as an example of the Lord’s power. In other words, he brings it back to God. Joshua knows that even though the he and the people are invited to participate in the fulfillment of God’s promise—hence the shouting bit of it and the commands that they have to follow—he sees that ultimately, it is about God fulfilling His Word. For us, we’re invited to participate in our Jericho just as the people of Israel are; God gives us instructions, but before all of that, He gives us His promise that He will deliver us. When we face our Jericho, or if we’ve already faced our Jericho, the hope is found in God’s presence. Just as they brought the ark with them, the sign of God’s presence, so too should we be concerned with bringing the Lord’s presence with us as we face Jericho.

The last part of chapter 6 ends with Joshua pronouncing a curse on Jericho and anyone who would try to rebuild its foundation, and verse 27, which we started with. Because of what the Lord had done, Joshua’s fame was in all the land. Jericho becomes his testimony of the working of the Lord in his life. We see all through the chapter how concerned Joshua is with what God is doing. As we face our Jericho, we ought to be just as concerned as well, just as ready to make sure that we attribute what is happening to the Lord. (Joshua is a type/foreshadowing of Jesus, so we’ve also been given a Gentile example; talk about Rahab and how the events at Jericho are also 1) obstacle, 2) promise fulfilled, and 3) testimony.) The OT comes alive in this story with a very real application—upon the fall of Jericho, the story asks us: where is our heart? Will we become consumed by our overcoming, by our “fame being in all the land”? Or will we remember to attribute it to the Lord being with us? When we’ve encountered and walked through Jericho in our lives, it’s the story we tell people of how God has accomplished much in us. Even if it seems like a small thing outwardly—maybe it’s just that your temper got better, you made a better relationship with your parents, etc.—we need to praise God and thank God for the Jericho in our walk. Who here finds it terrifying to share the Gospel? A few of us, myself included. But brothers and sisters, look! We’ve been given something to lean into. Jericho will be our testimony, not of how our great faith won it all in the end, but of our great God who promises and fulfills what He has promised. And while Joshua may have had one Jericho in his life, he had many battles; so too is it with us. And with each battle, we ought to approach it the same way we approach Jericho. For me, my Jericho is overcoming depression in high school. What’s funny is that I never turned from God, never questioned Him. My theology just got so warped to the point that I thought God would be pleased if I ended my life because I was sacrificing for my parents. But He promises to be a God who wipes tears away, who redeems us and loves us and makes us overcomers. He was faithful. Even though I wasn’t comfortable sharing about it at church or with the friends that I had in high school, He was still able to work through some close friends of mine to bring me out of the dark place back into His life. And I owe each day I live to Him and the fulfillment of His promise. That’s my Jericho, and that’s the testimony I’ll give to each unbeliever He surrounds me with.

So to cap it all off, I offer a challenge to all of us. As we’re facing the task of preaching the Gospel, what is your Jericho? Facing the obstacle of sin, God promised to redeem us through His great love for us by sending His Son to die for us, thus fulfilling His promise: what will our testimony of Jericho look like as we share the Gospel with the rest of the world? Let’s pray.

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Nothing to Hope In.

Today, I shared something with my church that may or may not have shaken them up regarding my work in the youth ministry. I think I caught a lot of the people in the room off guard, and, on my end, I regret not voicing these feelings sooner. It hasn’t been the easiest time ever finding community at the church I grew up in—a surprisingly common experience, from what I’ve heard—but it’s also led to the deep experience of learning how to focus on what God is doing in times when my own needs aren’t being met. While some may question why I would keep going to a church that I felt didn’t meet my needs, I think it’s worth noting that the Christian life isn’t always about our own needs. A lot of times, it’s about being humbled and invited into deeper growth and reliance on God; it’s a bit like putting yourself in handcuffs and throwing the key away. (That’s an inside joke; looking at you, Modus.) But it can be difficult to keep one’s arms raised during the struggle; even Moses had to take a seat and get some help.

The point is, in sharing my perspective on the ailment of the church in the area I am most acquainted with, I learned that I am nothing to hope in. There were many moments on Saturday evenings when elders would reach out, bright-eyed, and ask how I was doing and encourage me to continue doing the good work of youth ministry, and today, I felt like I had really disappointed them. My mom (for whom I am deeply thankful) has been faithful in reminding me that the only person I serve is God and to not worry so much about pleasing others or thinking about how they see me, but I am learning that it is a very difficult, uniquely human aspect of church ministry. I want to make the elders who taught me in Sunday school proud. Whenever I stand up to speak in front of the church, there’s still a remnant of the really timid, on-the-verge-of-tears, young boy from years ago. This is not to say that I am immature (though in many ways, I still am); this is, in my estimation, an honest account of how the transition period in a young servant’s life looks. It’s not easy saying hard truths as a kid.

However, in saying today that with respect to the youth the church is sick, I hope I have not been misunderstood as making a judgment rather than a diagnosis. I said what I said partially because there is a dull fire shut up in my bones, and I have grown weary with holding it in, but also because sickness is still a sign of life. Too often, we take statements like “the church is stumbling in this way” or “the church is sick in this way” or “the church is weak in this way” as assaults rather than verifications that the church has breath. I believe that as long as there is life in the church, in a person, in a community, there is hope for God’s redeeming work. Sickness becomes praise, weakness becomes triumph, and sorrow becomes peace in light of the redemptive aspect of God’s actions. I often sadly share about picketers telling event-goers that they’re going to hell not because of how offensive their methods are (and they are offensive) but because they have put people (who may be innately and unknowingly craving the riches of the Gospel) in hell before they have even had a chance to be drawn by true grace. I wonder if we are too quickly defeated in our relational encounters and our experiences of life’s natural rigors, forgetting that though people may intend to harm us, God intends things for good to accomplish the saving of many lives (Gen. 50:20).

To close, I just want to say that I still love the church I grew up in. The church has been a model of faithfulness. Many members in the church have served longer and seen more than I have. I want to cooperate in what God has planned. I want the youth to know Jesus as their Savior, as their Friend, as their King. The church may be sick, but Jesus is the Great Physician. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

“fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isa. 41:10 ESV)

Super Bowl Christianity.

pats eaglesPhoto courtesy of Philadelphia Eagles – Kiel Leggere

Here’s a link with 43 verses in the Bible about eagles: https://www.openbible.info/topics/soar_on_wings_like_eagles. They show why the Philadelphia Eagles were definitely going to win.

Today was Super Bowl LII, and it was the first time I had some younger brothers from my church over to my place to watch the game – it was the first time one of them had ever watched the Super Bowl. My cousin and I took them to Sprouts to shop for ingredients, and it was a good time to get some relationship building going not only because it’s valuable to invest in the younger generation, but also because they’re just genuinely awesome younger brothers whom we both taught in Sunday school. We made guacamole and had a taco bar going with some brown butter kale (don’t knock it ’til you try it), sautéed onions, pico de gallo, skirt steak (seasoned with salt, pepper, and fajita seasoning, cooked on a cast-iron skillet and finished with a squirt of lime), tortilla chips, corn, and a homemade corn salsa.

But before all of the feasting and beasting (looking at you, Nick Foles) happened, some thoughts occurred to me as I was driving them from church back to my place. Christians who happen to get deeply emotionally invested in the outcome of a game (like the Super Bowl) are often criticized for doing things like “praying for their team to win” or even saying things like, “_______ is the Lord’s team.” We also love when athletes profess their faith publicly, but sometimes turn blind eyes to the actions that they take that are less than Christ-like. I actually think the criticism is fair, and I agree that Christians should really stop doing absurd things like the aforementioned because it reflects a pretty serious misunderstanding of the Gospel in how we approach others. Nevertheless, I’d like to use the Eagles as a fulcrum for the point I want to make about how Christians ought to engage with sports in faith.

Here are some testimonies from the Philadelphia Eagles’ players. (PLEASE watch it, it’s actually really cool and encouraging, and I think we could all stand to learn from what the players have to say on how to reach their neighbors.)

Now, I can see the temptation on the Christian’s behalf to say, “Well, it’s clear why the Eagles won—they’re a praying team!” I want to resist this intuition. It suggests that there is a competing component within the faith of one team or group of people relative to another team or group of people; believing something like seems to suggest that “more faith leads to rewards now,” when we as Christians should be focused on storing up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). What we as Christians should be praying about in sporting events like the Super Bowl is not that the team we support would win games, but win hearts. At the end of the day, praying for another team to lose could very well amount to praying the sorrow of a fellow brother in Christ on the other team. This ought not be so. Instead, as Christians, we ought to examine where our treasure is; is it really in the momentary glory of triumph? (I know some might say that I’m downplaying the significance of this first Lombardi for Philly, but I’m searching for a deeper purpose than even that.) Even more, how does God look upon the players on that field? I may be stepping beyond the truth of Scripture here, but it doesn’t seem blasphemous to say that He cares for every player on the field. He knows their needs, their shortcomings, and their struggles—and He deeply loves and cares about each of them. The players all have families that they’re supporting, and it’s often too easy to use the television screen as an occasion to forget that these players are made in the image of God.

When Christians point to the faith of the Philadelphia Eagles, I hope they don’t use their on-field success as a measure for their faith. And for the Philadelphia Eagles themselves, as they continue to have their prayer meetings and Bible studies, I hope that their honest prayer is that in all things, God would get the glory, victory or otherwise. Whether they are successful or not on the field is of little eternal significance. What’s of lasting importance is that they continue to be faithful stewards of the platform that God has given them and set their minds on things that are above (Colossians 3:2).

Having said all this…#FlyEaglesFly. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13 ESV).

ertz divePhoto courtesy of Philadelphia Eagles – Drew Hallowell

The Spirit of the Gospel.

Today, at my church, we had an open sharing service during which people gave testimonies somewhat connected to the theme of “the spirit of the gospel.” This is something like what I might’ve said if I had the time and the space to do so.

It’s been a while since I’ve shared anything, and I think it’s because I often feel like disappointment or disagreement follow soon after opening my mouth. Nevertheless, with regards to the spirit of the gospel, I’d like to think that the Lord has been teaching me about how the gospel overcomes. 2017 was had its fair share of disappointments. I started a college/post-college ministry at this church in which young people might have been able to discuss topics that interested and challenged them that weren’t traditionally available for discussion during youth groups or Sunday services. This was met with mixed reactions of outward encouragement and thinly veiled suspicion from some people here. Not too long after the group had been established, a large majority of the college/post-college aged individuals found work elsewhere or went back to school. After having expectations of finally finding community here that would be vibrant and challenging, I found myself feeling very isolated at church, especially during youth group on Saturday nights – I sobbed behind the steering wheel as I drove home one night because in a “youth group” consisting of five other middle/high schoolers and eight people over the age of 30, I came to terms with the reality of my loneliness. There’s nothing quite like feeling like you’ve built your house on shifting sands.

Fall 2017 was a semester in which I felt like I had fallen short in most of my personal relationships. Having been told that this semester would closely mirror the workload of a PhD program, I decided for once in my life to put school first. I had no idea that I would be worrying nearly every day about whether or not I was keeping up enough with the people I cared about in my life. Some days were so filled with work that I would not have time to reflect on the health of my relationships; the days following were usually filled with guilt and anguish about who I should reach out to first. I was not able to be as present as I would have liked with friends I kept in touch with online, and I would often catch myself in the middle of conversations just going through the motions. The price of doing well academically was a hollowing out of my relationships with others. As I wrestled with all of this, the weight of hearing people from church tell me that they didn’t want me to go to bible school or seminary bore down even more on my heart. There’s a constant clash between vision and voices, and 2017 was an embattled year for sure.

I watched and listened as a humble seven members of this church were singing hymns at 10:05 in the morning. In the testimonies of members of the church, I found it more and more apparent why people were less and less willing to engage with Christians. The tension between not caring about numbers in the congregation and being a fruitful congregation was tangible this year. I saw that many times, the way we spoke about our experiences and attitudes towards non-Christians demonstrated a departure from our own origins in Christ – His love and His love alone. We were quick to cry out against their practices, their thoughts, and their attitudes without stepping forth into the challenge of self-giving and discipleship of the nations. Listening to other perspectives was given second place as we pointed to our knowing the truth as a kind of justification for being an unhearing and unseeing people. Many times, I found myself wondering if we were the enemies of the gospel given the way we portrayed how Christ came to us in our sin. Forgetting that grace, mercy, and love overcame hearts bound by sin, we put on the hardened armor of salvation that was forged by the death of Christ for the sake of intimidating civilians without presenting them an opportunity to experience God’s absolute beauty.

In the midst of these trials (among many others), the Lord revealed that the gospel overcame in each circumstance. In my failure to lead and establish a post-college ministry, He led me to have a burden for the youth group that met on Saturday nights. He placed a conviction in me to see that “youth group” ought not to be in quotation marks – it ought to be for the equipping of the younger brothers and sisters in the church. Though some of the older ones in attendance sat stone-faced during youth groups, a desire for the gospel to be appropriated in the lives of our teens placed a glow on how I was orienting youth groups. As the middle/high-schoolers engaged with the book of James on their own terms, I saw them begin to think more and more about the influence of the gospel in their lives. In my failure to maintain my personal relationships as rigorously as I would have liked, I found that there was comfort in knowing that my academics were oriented towards the advancement of the gospel in future classrooms. Without this hope in being an ambassador of His kingdom in academia, I would have long counted my academic pursuits worthless compared to the relationships I valued. (I continue to hold onto hope that the truly valuable friendships have withstood this trying period.) Finally, with our failure to show love and mercy to those who might be traditionally considered “problematic” to the church, I learned that the gospel is capable of withstanding all assault. If we think that the gospel we preach is weighty, has value, withstands objection, and is, above all, true, why do we hesitate to bring it to those who need it? And when we bring it, why do we think we either convict or compromise? Alienation is not bound up with faithfulness when it comes to preaching the gospel, and I believe that our gospel is one worth sharing because all of the desires of the human heart are met by the gospel – it is precisely what the world is looking for but cannot accept. And so, I have been encouraged by the Lord to engage with a variety of different conversations – particularly ones I myself do not care much for – to see that the gospel overcomes in all circumstances. In fact, not only does the gospel overcome, but it also fulfills whatever is lacking to the utmost because it is founded in the perfect love of God. The spirit of the gospel, then, is one of overcoming; we ought not discourage one another from engaging deeply with the culture around us because there is simply no other way to test the foundations on which we’ve built as Christians. Our Lord is faithful to keep us as we share the gospel, so may 2018 be a year in which we give of ourselves, loving as Christ loved so that when the times come to a close, we will not have missed an opportunity to deeply engage with the souls around us, pointing them to the One who fulfills their every need.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” | Titus 3:4-7 ESV

Generally Relevant Experience.

Today was GRE day, and it was a day full of being mindful of God’s hand in my life. From the get go, I woke up with a slightly stuffed nose and a cough, but soon after I finished brushing my teeth, breathing deeply cleared my nasal passages – thank You, Lord.  I checked my phone and had received a few text messages from my friends with prayers and well wishes – thank You, Lord.  I went downstairs to make myself breakfast, but found that my mom had already made breakfast for me – thank You, Lord.  I checked how long the commute would take after using Google a few days ago to predict the commute time, and I found that the prediction was way off mark; it would only take me twenty-two minutes as opposed to the predicted forty-five to fifty minutes – thank You, Lord.  After arriving at the testing center, I was able to find the testing center without too much hassle, and I ventured into the room at 8:15 a.m.  After locking up all my belongings and entering the exam room, I found myself confronted with the computer screen I’d be looking at for the next few hours.  Taking a moment to pray, I was overcome by the thought of all the people who had been praying for me with regards to the exam – thank You, Lord.  I began the test, and found the first essay topic fairly accessible, finishing with ten seconds left – thank You, Lord.  In each of the one-minute periods following the sections, I took time to quickly pray and ask that I be more focused on His glory than on my results, thanking Him for surrounding me with family who would be praying for me and standing with me as I took the test.  The next essay was also fairly straightforward, and I finished with an extra two minutes – thank You, Lord.

The rest of the test was filled with prayer before and during each section, and at times of frustration or confusion, I felt encouraged when I thought about the blessing that existed in having a praying family.  Eventually, I finished the test, got my scores, and walked out.  I was really satisfied with my scores, and I found that my heart was full of praise; as I started my car, the song that was playing on the radio was “10,000 Reasons,” and I thought it couldn’t have been more fitting.  However, as I listened to the song and sang along, I began to realize that so much of the day had been in God’s hands from the beginning.  I also realized how much bargaining I had done with God prior to the test, and felt deeply that I was, once again, not given what I deserved.  I didn’t deserve the scores I had gotten because I really hadn’t worked that hard.  I didn’t deserve the mercy that was evident – and that I was mindful of – throughout the day.  And yet, God was pleased to guide me along the path He had for me.  In the depth of my embarrassed acceptance of God’s mercy, I found myself making new promises that I wouldn’t keep, and I realized that God had mercy not because of what I had done, but because His love was and is for who I am.  Thank You, Lord, for loving me despite myself and for being faithful in every season of my life.

I Mean.

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for heartfelt messages and thoughtful gestures, and I think my friends have picked up on that over the years.  Then again, who isn’t?  I have been blessed with amazing friends over the years, and I’m constantly amazed that I ever have an impact on anyone.  More often than not, I think deeply about how the things I do have little to no impact on the lives of others, and why should they?  Talk is cheap, and indeed, that seems to be all I’m good at.  Nevertheless, I’m occasionally reminded as I am on this day, the day my daughter is to be married (whoops, wrong movie – go watch the Godfather!), that somehow, I’ve meandered far enough into people’s hearts to find myself meaning something.

Perhaps it’s ego-stroking, but perhaps it’s waking up from a dream of false identity.  Most likely, it’s a mix of the two.  Growing up in a culture of perseverance begetting further expectation, verbal expression of appreciation was nigh unheard of.  Passing through the valleys of depression led to a lack of weightiness to this life; the side effect was believing myself to be barely existing, just a breeze that was pleasant enough to take note of but for a moment.  And so, when I’m met with so much appreciation and shows of kindness, it becomes rather confusing to sift through.  On one hand, I ought not enjoy it so much because I’ve really done nothing worthy of the attention that I’m receiving, but on the other hand, it’s nice to find reason not to listen to the silent acceptance of meaning very little.

As it rains outside and as my eyelids begin to wage war against my wide-open consciousness, gratitude sinks heavy in my heart.  I am nobody, but Christ in me is more than enough to find an identity in.  Thank you all for seeing past the shortcomings and pointing me to where Christ has redeemed my wretched life.  As we usher in the new year, I hope some of us can continue to encourage one another on this crazy journey of life to understand just how deeply Christ is involved in shaping and sanctifying who we are.  You all didn’t have to remind me of the memories that we made together, but I’m really glad that you did.  It’s been a humbling day just thinking about all of you and seeing that I have no reason to continue on in insecurity about my friendships, which has been a bit of a struggle for me from time to time. If I have any boast in this world, it’s that God has granted me the most precious of friendships with all of you and with Himself, and that means more than enough to me.  I mean something, but that’s founded on God and God alone.

Election Day 2016.

I was fairly certain that I was going to write a post when (and I say “when” because I had an odd gut feeling that Trump was going to win) Trump won, so here it is.  I’m hoping to keep it as short and as accessible as possible to spare an already grieving public the grief of sifting through something barely intelligible.

Brothers and sisters, I hope we’re all awake now that Trump is our incoming President.  The thought should terrify us – some of us, at least – but it should also be something we invite into our lives.  As I’ve said before, this election has exposed how far away many of us have fallen from full reliance on God.  How can we be gracious when the result is so obviously disappointing to many of us?  There’s a challenge here for all of us.

For those who proudly supported Trump, I must gently request that you re-examine that pride in the light of Christ.  For those who supported Trump believing he was the lesser of two evils, do not be arrogant, and rejoice not in the rulers of this age. Do not be boastful except in Jesus Christ, who is your Lord.  Now that the election is over, be reconciled to your brothers and sisters.  I have seen many examples of unsavory language from both camps, and so now more than ever, we as the Body of Christ ought to let love reign in our hearts.  I don’t know enough about Trump to assume anything about what will come from his term as President, but I do know that we have not been called to revile one another, boast in the policies of a temporary government, and increase division in His church, so may we be faithful to attend to loving deeply and radically as Jesus did.

For those who proudly supported Hillary, I also humbly suggest that you re-examine the grounds of that pride in light of Christ.  For those who supported Hillary believing she was the lesser of two evils, do not be self-righteous in your decision.  Do not allow yourself to be tempted to keep an account of the sins of another.  Do not continue to rail against your brothers and sisters who voted in opposition to you.  Righteousness is not on account of man’s works; if a man had indeed worked for his righteousness, should it not be his rightful wages?  However, we must believe that it is the gift that comes from an undeserved sacrifice.  We may believe that we voted for Hillary because we voted in the name of love, and yet I say to all of us that God alone is love.  To stand in the shadow of the Cross alone is to realize the eternal manifestation of love.  Let us love our brothers and sisters who voted for Trump because they are not any less deserving of salvation that we are; are we capable of dying to self in view of God’s infinite, unconditional mercy?  We must.

If there is any activism to participate in, it is only on our knees in faithful prayer.  Pray not in judgment that others would see the light of Christ; may we pray instead for our own hearts to joyfully submit to the sovereign will of God, recognizing these times as times in which His glory and love may boldly and richly be displayed in our lives.  I understand that the heart and the mind are inclined towards arguing for morality on both sides of this election, and yet will we continue to stifle the Spirit within us that calls us into deeper fellowship with Himself and one another?  In disappointment, call on Jesus’s name.  In sorrow, call on Jesus’s name.  In triumph, call on Jesus’s name.  Regardless of where we stand, may we find the grace to kneel before the throne of God and ask to be consecrated again unto Himself.  May God have mercy on us all not because the times seem bleak, but because we all lack the strength and the faith to serve His Kingdom in all aspects of our lives.

“Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.”

Fractured Faith.

Something that has invariably been flooding everyone’s news feed as of late is the constant stream of politics – “Ten Reasons to Vote for Hillary Clinton,” “Five Ways Trump Could Actually Make America Great Again,” and “Innumerable Explanations for why the United States Seems Headed for Disaster.”  Admittedly, I have never been the most informed political observant ever, but something about this particular presidential race is troubling.  Not only has this specific election threatened the unity of Americans in how they perceive themselves and those around them, but it is also common to see disunity among brothers and sisters in the Church, and this latter point is what draws my concern. In as measured and equitably as I can manage, I’d like to make a few cases for how our faith has been trumped by our politics and why we mustn’t let this be the case.

A popular approach to politics for quite a while has been the tactic of “mudslinging,” or the tarnishing of an opponent’s reputation. The ammo ranges from policy scoffing to personal insults, and it is, in my eyes, a decidedly un-Christian maneuver.  I recognize the naïveté in trying to apply ideal Christian standards to a staunchly secular arena, but my point is that we as brothers and sisters have partaken in the mudslinging.  Many times, I’ve witnessed brothers and sisters discrediting one another’s intelligence – even faith – for their political position.  So I ask: is this in keeping with what we as Christians believe? Is this what it is to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” as described in Ephesians 4:1-3? There is something deeply disturbing about how Clinton-supporting and Trump-supporting brothers and sisters, once so eager to say “Judge not” and “Speak the truth in love,” now jump at the chance to exercise their bookkeeping of either candidate’s (and possibly the candidate’s supporters’) sins. It’s almost as if we, who are desperately sinful and in great need of grace, believe that our choice of presidential candidate rests on the less sinful person!  As Christians, we seem to have been leaving our theology on the doorstep of political debate instead of seeking first the kingdom of God.

Now, it may seem like seeking first the kingdom of God, as Jesus says in Matthew 6:33, is both taken out of context but also ill-fitting in regards to the present context.  After all, one might argue, Jesus isn’t making a political statement when He’s saying that, or else we as Christians would have to want a kingship instead of a democracy. Yet why is that so objectionable? Is not the Kingship we seek (denoted with a capital K even!) a higher and richer governance? Even the Israelites of old had the desire to be ruled by a king, and it is not without considerable weightiness that we call our Lord the King of Kings.  Yet it seems that we, in our desire for self-preservation, our longing to be heard, and our pursuit of what we think is just, have chosen to extol the virtues of a system that reflects, in part, our relationship with Christ.  This is not a knock on our system of democracy or this country; those who know me know that even while in Canada, I missed my well-beloved United States of America.  However, what I am getting at is that taking our political system as fundamental to our beliefs over and above how we ought to walk in our faith, which I hold to be ideally fundamental, is problematic.  In a submissive relationship between a perfect and benevolent King and His obedient servants, it is clear whose will is to be carried out, for there is only one will – that of the Lord.  But if we treat our relationship with God as we treat our politics and come before God with a list of requests that we demand to be met, if we approach Him believing that He ought to honor our perceptions of what is just and what is fair, if we elevate ourselves to seeing eye to eye in terms of governing our own lives here on Earth while claiming to look ahead to the next life with Him, have we not indirectly affected our proper view of Himself as well?  I ask these questions to draw nigh to what I think is part of the proper context of Matthew 6:33; it is a matter of anxiety.  In our anxiety about the present situation and the future terrors, we as Christians have, I believe, lost sight of the kingdom of God.  This is manifested in our heated debates with believers and non-believers alike, how we think about people when they reveal who they’re supporting, and all the other avenues in which we could be choosing instead to seek first the kingdom of God.  I am choosing to be so bold as to say that who we vote for will not affect the kingdom of God at all.  How we treat one another, if we consider the set of believers to be citizens of the aforementioned kingdom, does affect the kingdom of God.

So, in closing, I’d like to encourage us to reflect on the boundaries of our faith in light of politics. Have we been cordoning off how seek the kingdom from how we practice politics? Are we treating one another with grace, despite heavy disagreement?  Are we allowing the human construct of politics to compromise the way we walk before one another and the world? Certainly it seems like our political future is at stake, but so is our testimony as Christians.  There’s a lot to be said about the fact that we as believers can’t stand united on the topic of presidency; we don’t even need to necessarily all believe that one candidate is the right candidate. However, we are failing to even relate to one another in love during the process, and I am strongly persuaded that it is because we don’t seek the kingdom of God through and through – we only seek it when it’s convenient for us. Let’s learn to love deeper and put anxiety aside during these times of political turmoil; let’s seek His kingdom and His righteousness in full confidence that our tomorrow is in His hands.

Revelations 22: Glory.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

I have been greatly enjoying this portion of the last chapter of the whole Bible lately since my home church has been going through Revelations as of late, and it’s really provided me with an assurance of the things unseen.  Verse 5 alone has really been a means of lifting my spirits when I feel pressed on all sides; I mean come on! There is going to be a time when there will be no more night, and we won’t need light of lamp or the sun? And why? Because the Lord God will be our light. Does no one else see how ridiculous this is? Not only will we be in God’s presence, but we will be able to see and experience His full glory.  That’s actually breathtaking. Recently, I was meditating on the verse when listening to “The Ascension,” by Phil Wickham.  What struck me most was how many times I’ve sung “Let us start the ascension/Let’s begin the climb/Up this holy mountain/Where Your glory shines/Further up, further in/Just to be with You again/Let us start the ascension,” without truly understanding the glory that will shine as detailed in Revelations 22.  This led me to a deeper appreciation of just how the Word of God makes our experience of God a reality; when we fret about not feeling God or reaching a plateau in our faith, how thirsty for the Word are we? Having experienced both extremes, reading the Bible daily and not reading it, I can say that only when I’m engaged with the text is there revelation regarding who God is.  It’s going to be a short post because I just want to challenge my brothers and sisters reading it, as well as anyone seeking to know more of who God is, believer or otherwise – how full are our conversations with God? In singing worship, what is our experience of the reality of those lyrics?  In our relationship with God, how much of His Word teaches us something fresh of who He is?  The Lord is coming soon, brothers and sisters, and let’s not be found despising His Word to us upon His return.  We can manage at least that, if not more, can’t we?

Magnificence.

A crashing wave upon a stone,

centered beyond its usual home.

Alone, the wind guides waves

back to shore so they can tell a poem.

What legends must they tell?

What fable is so pressing?

Beyond the horizon is a

return that needs addressing.

Swiftly, Lord, You are coming;

with love, You’ve waited all these years.

The stones of Your creation

are crying out, stained with ocean tears.

Oceans deeper than our fathoms,

Forests fuller than our dreams

speak to Your imagination

Lord of Lords, and King of Kings.

Forgive us when we are

silent about Your glory.

Make us each a crying stone

that speaks, in part, Your story.

May Your fullness reigns in us,

bearing through us some new fruit;

May You deeply speak to us,

sharing with us Your whole truth.

Though the mountains may now stand,

they will fall when waves have finished

telling of Your ceaseless mercy and

glory no more diminished.