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.

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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.

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.

 

Take Me Deeper.

In morning’s grey light,

I became present, made aware of

Your majesty in roaring waves.

As You spoke, the tide

responded to the gentle wind’s urging,

growing in boldness to approach.

Walking back, a single destination

was met by many paths –

so I chose.

The earth below gave way

to a happy two;

You knew.

Two birds You cared for made

their love public,

hovering together in fluttering bliss.

As they hopped, I walked

alongside their joy –

both loving the path we chose.

Our Daily Bread.

Jude 1:17-18 says: “But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.'”

We now find ourselves, as a body of believers, walking in the aforementioned “last time.”  Yet, as we approach the return of our Savior, a striking problem becomes more and more visible: the generations have become more and more faithless, aside from the occasional flicker in the darkness.  The love of the Church (and I am not speaking here of the Catholic Church; rather, I am referring to the body of Christ of which Christ is head, as found in Colossians 1:18 and various other places in the Bible) has been mangled by the violent passions of each new wind of doctrine we hear in contemporary society.  Even some of the youth who faithfully attend Sunday services at a church find their vision of Christ obfuscated by their vision of social justice.  Now, this is not to say that the pursuit of social equality in its various manifestations – feminism, black lives matter, etc. – is somehow wrong or to be despised; they are all reasonably good causes, and causes in which we ought to feel a leading to be ambassadors.  I would, however, argue that Christ and His Bride are of far more importance in that when we were still sinners, Christ died for us so that we might have a heart for the brokenhearted circumstances we find ourselves in.

The problem with the love of the Body of Christ is a two-way street: our generation of believers holds our faith with grips that say, “Christ is coming soon, but my future is coming sooner.”  The church is at times both lukewarm and overzealous, creating a veritable chasm in its pursuit of the hearts of our generation.

As believers, we encounter the scoffers in our lives, certainly; in the context of social media and the online world at large, we may even fall perilously (but silently lest we disturb our friends, our co-workers, or anyone, really) into the margin of the quiet minority, bleating along with the loudest voices of the next polarizing issue.  When we say that we know Christ is coming soon, that we know He will come as a thief in the night, that we know to not be like the five virgins who came unprepared with oil in their lamps, what are we really saying? Is it something to the effect of, “I know all I need to know about Christ, but let’s be real; He isn’t coming yet,” or “It’s nice to be a Christian and all, but God probably wants me to be more concerned with helping people in the now and being a good person, you know?” As much as these thoughts are for an audience, they are also the manifestation of a deeper self-critique because I too find myself adopting these positions.  However, just as the disciples never stopped asking questions about Jesus in hopes of understanding Him more, so too should we ask questions about the Christ who lives in us.  Where does that certainty of His delayed return come from? Perhaps it’s because we don’t really have a hope in Christ’s return at all – then again, it may also be the case that we simply don’t know, in all of our “knowledge” of Christ, what exactly to expect of Christ’s return; we exchange our ignorance of His glory for the comfort of facing the present reality when, in the most prostrate of faiths, His return is the reality.  But no, we don’t actually want that, do we?  Jesus wouldn’t want us to just kneel before Him all day when people need to hear the Gospel, right? It’s true, and yet how much Gospel are we honestly sharing in our lives? If we answer the dormancy of our spiritual lives with sound, but empty, spiritual doctrines, how can we expect to speak life into the world around us?  Maybe we shouldn’t be so critical of Judas in John 12 when he is mortified by Mary’s “wastefulness” before the Lord; after all, doesn’t he have a point?  It would be better to use that money to help the poor, wouldn’t it?  If it wasn’t apparent already, many of the questions asked are asked sarcastically; what Judas is doing is not caring for the poor, but opting for his own comfort when witnessing true worship because giving up his own comfort to fall at the feet of Jesus is a greater price than the perfume Mary poured out for her Lord.

The church also has its share in contributing to the lackadaisical faith of its members, but less so because of what the church is doing and more so because of what the church has become.  Defaced by the actions of Westboro Baptist and other very publicly “Christian” groups who passionately stain the testimony of Christ on Earth, the church we love fights a war both against the unbelievers and the believers.  Its plight with the unbelievers is the tremendous loss of trust that being human within the church has produced; society looks with rapt attention on scandal and misrepresentation, and when the humanity of public Christians shows, it pounces on each anomaly as if it were a fact of faith.  And yet, the hope is that they would understand that we are not perfect people seeking to make unbelievers perfect; we’ve merely found a perfect hope that restores our imperfection before the eyes of a just and loving God.  Since this is the case, the church has begun a gradual retreat from the public sphere, believing discretion to be the better part of valor and not wanting to offend anymore people by its “radicalism.” The church’s ability to love has been crippled by humanity’s ability to hate, and so, the church is found at odds with its own body, as an adolescent going through puberty.  It is awkward and no longer knows how to present itself.  Show too much love, and it worries about being a cult; show too little love, and it loses the hearts of men.

In this very long-winded and ill-conceived post, I suppose the most important thing I have to say is that we no longer feast on Christ, the living Bread.  Our appetites are slaked by more present satisfactions because we are blind to God’s reality.  The church we ought to love has become marred by its inescapable past, and believers and unbelievers alike shoot fish in a barrel when criticizing it in its present state.

All that remains is to simply pray, “Father, give us this day our daily bread.”

Give us Jesus.

Knowing God.

*Note: This was taken from my old blog, “Poet in a World of Prose,” which has since been deleted.

Coming fresh off of winter retreat @ CAIW, I think it’d be nice to write down a few thoughts before the post-retreat excitement settles.  This retreat, perhaps more than any other, left me with a sense of it being a very necessary retreat.  The theme of the retreat was “Knowing God,” and the theme verse was Hebrews 8:10-11, which says: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”  I guess all I really want to do at this point is list a few points that I really enjoyed, and maybe ramble on a bit more after having done so…

  1. The death we died upon Adam eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a spiritual death; as such, that death that occurred once sin entered man denied us the ability to have fellowship with God, as we would no longer be beings of spirit as He is; however, He provided His Son that our dead spirits would be made alive again.  I guess this point was refreshing because I feel like it appropriately clarified the death mentioned in Genesis while creating a new way for me to view the Gospel story, including the aspect of spirit into the narrative.
  2. Be an Ananias if you can.  Ananias was praying, and received direction to go seek out Saul, who was praying on his own. The Lord gave specific instructions to Ananias about where to find Saul and what He was going to do through Saul’s life. However, the important thing is that Ananias was waiting for the Lord in prayer, which led to him getting this charge from the Lord.  He was also able to talk to the Lord and voice his concern about following the Lord’s command, which is something that is worth striving for – reaching a point where we can voice our concerns to God, but still be open to His leading.
  3. Philippians 3:7-8, 10 is an internal response to what happened in Acts 9 to Paul.  Paul had many things going his way in regards to his education and his position within society, and yet, at the moment of his conversion, he saw that knowing Christ was worth so much more than knowing about Christ.  He no longer persecuted the believers, but endured persecution alongside them; once pride of his position, he called himself less than the least.  This was the fruit of knowing the value of Christ.
  4. With regards to knowing the Holy Spirit, the example in Exodus 16:1-4 shows that Egypt is perhaps how we were before we were saved, and the flesh desire is for captivity while the spirit leads to freedom.  Being free is really difficult (they didn’t have water or food, it was hot, etc.), and the wilderness is when the Israelites learned to be free.  With Cain and Abel, we see that the desire to serve the Lord may come from the flesh, but the flesh is wrong; nevertheless, we see how the flesh’s first instinct is to kill the Spirit (Cain kills Abel). Learning to live by the spirit is learning to not desire the immediate confirmation of what we’re doing – it involves quieting ourselves and making space for the Lord.
  5. The central matter of the Lord’s Table is that Christ died for us.  Therefore, don’t treat the Lord’s Table lightly – Matthew 26:26-30 gives back up for this practice.  The reason for us bringing our own portion to the Lord’s table is that we are all part of one loaf; God has no need for any of our portions, but just as we wouldn’t come empty-handed to a dinner hosted by President Obama, so too should we treat – to an obviously greater degree – the Lord’s Table; it is the idea of the Lord not needing anything from us, but us bringing the gesture of bringing what we have to Him.
  6. Consecration comes from love.  Joshua 24 shows essentially the entire process of consecration; we need to be reminded of what the Lord has saved us from to produce the response of love for the Lord and a desire to be consecrated to Him.  Consecration is both a one-time declaration, as in Joshua 24:15 (“…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”), but it is also an ongoing process of making that love-inspired choice to be consecrated to the Lord.
  7. Pressing on in our faith, as spoke of in Philippians 3:12-14, involves both looking inward, seeing our sin and shame, but also looking upwards at a loving Father; we press on knowing that there’s a goal and that there’s a prize: knowing Him.  We want to know Him because He loved us so much, and our pressing on is conforming to God’s design for us – it is not so much an active effort on our part as it is a participation in Christ being the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Really hoping 2016 brings about a fresh urgency in my faith, and a greater expectation of the reality of Christ’s return!

Apprehension.

Will my love meet me there

On the top of the mountains, beneath

the sky of his grace?

Will he receive

my worship and provide a quiet place?

How will he know what words to say

how will he capture my heart each day?

Will I be enthralled for moments

fleeting,

only a soul-moving thrill

I’m seeking?

O Lord, have mercy on

my self-wise thoughts.

You are my glory, you are my stay

I am but night that you’ve turned into day.

May I mind you more than I mine myself

for diamonds, where none are

found. In you I hope, and to you I look –

there is a sound.

And so I strain my ears,

Listening.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Apprehension.

Will my love meet me there

On the top of the mountains, beneath

the sky of his grace?

Will he receive

my worship and provide a quiet place?

How will he know what words to say

how will he capture my heart each day?

Will I be enthralled for moments

fleeting,

only a soul-moving thrill

I’m seeking?

O Lord, have mercy on

my self-wise thoughts.

You are my glory, you are my stay

I am but night that you’ve turned into day.

May I mind you more than I mine myself

for diamonds, where none are

found. In you I hope, and to you I look –

there is a sound.

And so I strain my ears,

Listening.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

 

Knowing God.

Coming fresh off of winter retreat @ CAIW, I think it’d be nice to write down a few thoughts before the post-retreat excitement settles.  This retreat, perhaps more than any other, left me with a sense of it being a very necessary retreat.  The theme of the retreat was “Knowing God,” and the theme verse was Hebrews 8:10-11, which says: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”  I guess all I really want to do at this point is list a few points that I really enjoyed, and maybe ramble on a bit more after having done so…

  1. The death we died upon Adam eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a spiritual death; as such, that death that occurred once sin entered man denied us the ability to have fellowship with God, as we would no longer be beings of spirit as He is; however, He provided His Son that our dead spirits would be made alive again.  I guess this point was refreshing because I feel like it appropriately clarified the death mentioned in Genesis while creating a new way for me to view the Gospel story, including the aspect of spirit into the narrative.
  2. Be an Ananias if you can.  Ananias was praying, and received direction to go seek out Saul, who was praying on his own. The Lord gave specific instructions to Ananias about where to find Saul and what He was going to do through Saul’s life. However, the important thing is that Ananias was waiting for the Lord in prayer, which led to him getting this charge from the Lord.  He was also able to talk to the Lord and voice his concern about following the Lord’s command, which is something that is worth striving for – reaching a point where we can voice our concerns to God, but still be open to His leading.
  3. Philippians 3:7-8, 10 is an internal response to what happened in Acts 9 to Paul.  Paul had many things going his way in regards to his education and his position within society, and yet, at the moment of his conversion, he saw that knowing Christ was worth so much more than knowing about Christ.  He no longer persecuted the believers, but endured persecution alongside them; once pride of his position, he called himself less than the least.  This was the fruit of knowing the value of Christ.
  4. With regards to knowing the Holy Spirit, the example in Exodus 16:1-4 shows that Egypt is perhaps how we were before we were saved, and the flesh desire is for captivity while the spirit leads to freedom.  Being free is really difficult (they didn’t have water or food, it was hot, etc.), and the wilderness is when the Israelites learned to be free.  With Cain and Abel, we see that the desire to serve the Lord may come from the flesh, but the flesh is wrong; nevertheless, we see how the flesh’s first instinct is to kill the Spirit (Cain kills Abel). Learning to live by the spirit is learning to not desire the immediate confirmation of what we’re doing – it involves quieting ourselves and making space for the Lord.
  5. The central matter of the Lord’s Table is that Christ died for us.  Therefore, don’t treat the Lord’s Table lightly – Matthew 26:26-30 gives back up for this practice.  The reason for us bringing our own portion to the Lord’s table is that we are all part of one loaf; God has no need for any of our portions, but just as we wouldn’t come empty-handed to a dinner hosted by President Obama, so too should we treat – to an obviously greater degree – the Lord’s Table; it is the idea of the Lord not needing anything from us, but us bringing the gesture of bringing what we have to Him.
  6. Consecration comes from love.  Joshua 24 shows essentially the entire process of consecration; we need to be reminded of what the Lord has saved us from to produce the response of love for the Lord and a desire to be consecrated to Him.  Consecration is both a one-time declaration, as in Joshua 24:15 (“…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”), but it is also an ongoing process of making that love-inspired choice to be consecrated to the Lord.
  7. Pressing on in our faith, as spoke of in Philippians 3:12-14, involves both looking inward, seeing our sin and shame, but also looking upwards at a loving Father; we press on knowing that there’s a goal and that there’s a prize: knowing Him.  We want to know Him because He loved us so much, and our pressing on is conforming to God’s design for us – it is not so much an active effort on our part as it is a participation in Christ being the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Really hoping 2016 brings about a fresh urgency in my faith, and a greater expectation of the reality of Christ’s return!