Preventable Tragedy.

Since the unexpected and shocking death of Anthony Bourdain, I’ve begun seeing articles about depression and suicide. Among these articles, the phrase “preventable tragedy” has been coming up on more than one occasion, and I’ve begun giving it some thought. The following is just a reflection on how I’ve engaged with depression and a period of going through suicidal thoughts earlier on in life—I recommend speaking with a friend, a pastor, or a medical professional if you’re finding yourself in this season currently; there is no shame in needing help because there is richness in seeking it out, and it can become a deeply meaningful experience for the one who is able to care for and sit with you through it.

After passing through a period of depression in high school, I heard something during college about how people who go through depression never really leave it behind (though they do get to a place where it is completely under control apart from moments here and there). I think this has been true of my own experience; many times, I blog to manage the oncoming waves of depression, but other than that, I rarely notice it. However, it is exactly these waves that betray the nature of depression’s influence on a person’s life. As far as it’s a “preventable tragedy,” I think it takes a strong community and faith, hope, and love to truly prevent victims from taking their own lives. But many times, the suicides we see in our communities are “surprising” or “unexpected,” and the victim is described as “cheerful,” “friendly,” and “caring.” In my experience, when the wave of depression hits, it begins a process of going down a dark and lonely rabbit trail. No matter how objectively well things are going, it is as if I am being led down a path of my own failures, shortcomings, and weaknesses, and instead of rejecting these images of myself, I become more and more enamored of them. I desire to see myself as coming up short. I want to explore why I am the worst. I can’t help but agree that I am worthless. I begin to shut myself up at home, I talk myself out of relying on friendships because 1) they never reach out to me (which is likely false), 2) I don’t want to burden them, 3) if they can’t even notice, then they probably aren’t going to care much if I do open up to them. The terrifying thing is that these thoughts can be compacted within a short span of fifteen minutes (or even less). Within fifteen minutes, a lifetime of relationship, friendship, and trust can evaporate. There is no way to prevent this kind of thing, and depression sequesters its victims as a quiet assassin. It crushes any hope of rescue, convinces me that resistance is futile, and controls my perspective. Someone with depression might be doing well for a season, but depression, like the wave you never quite anticipate at the beach, could wipe him out in an instant.

This is not to say that there isn’t hope for all my friends out there who are in the long, trench warfare with depression—I stand with you and will always be willing to pray for you. However, the only thing that I can confidently say has helped manage my depression (to the point where I have a healthy enough relationship with it) is slow, consistent, and meaningful relationship with God and with those around me. God has provided me the works of journaling and writing to turn depression into an advantage; the poems and blog posts that have healed me the most are the ones written in pursuit of exorcising depression from my life, deepening my appreciation for how God works even in the small, dark details of my life. With regards to my friends, I have a handful who are my safeguard and my resistance to the three thoughts that depression plants in me, and I show them off proudly as proof to depression that it’s not true—people do care, and I just need to be brave enough to admit that I need help. But above all, it’s life with God that grounds victory against depression, and I think this poem by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is perfect:

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

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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

Halfway Done, Halfway Full.

As the youths say, it’s been a minute. With the last “Submit Assignment” button I’d ever see during the Fall 2017 semester, I continued to breathe normally. No sigh of relief, no deep inhale of accomplishment. Perhaps it was because I realized that this semester was a balance between guilt, apologies, and hard work to get my mind off of the first two.

I numbed myself quite a bit to what I was going through this semester. I tried to bury my experience of anxiety, stress, and insecurity beneath more work than I could handle. Many times, waves of guilt and fear would pass through me as I wondered about the health of my friendships, especially with those who lived farther away. Would they even notice if I couldn’t keep up with them as frequently? Would they understand? Would they care to check up on me once in a while? Oftentimes, it felt like I was forgotten. But for those of you who remembered me (you know who you are), I love you all, and I honestly couldn’t have gotten through the darker parts of this semester without you reaching out.

There were moments when I felt like my pursuits were entirely self-centered; nothing was harder to listen to than hearing my old Chinese school principal’s wife tell my mom that she had many years of hard work ahead of her because she saw that I wouldn’t be able to provide for my parents. Each dinner with my parents that I missed made me feel like I was just a tenant in the house rather than a son, and it was no fault of my parents’. They have been beyond supportive, encouraging, and understanding during this time, and if I ever make it to parenthood, I hope to be half as loving as they are.

I thought about how I ought to apologize to my professors with the work that I was turning in, unwilling to rely on excuses about having four classes (three of which were philosophy classes) but secretly hoping that they might understand my circumstance. At times, it felt like I needed more time, but at others, it felt like there wasn’t enough time in the world to help me out of my predicament. It felt like I needed to find my way to more fortitude and just stop being a baby about things; people have worked far harder than I have and have done far better despite their circumstances.

Beyond all this, this semester has made me grateful for the friends that I’ve made at Biola. Shoutouts to Heritage Cafe—there are just too many great people who have passed through those sliding glass doors. It won’t be the same without some of you, but I do hope to see you around! Come visit me at the RSA desk in the library if you can. To Pity Hugs: you’ve been a constant anchor for my mental health, indulging the moments when my sense of humor would betray the helplessness of my perceived situation. I’m excited for what y’all are going to do in the years to come. To Carl: thank you for mentoring me without even trying to; I find myself constantly thinking about how you would respond in circumstances where I’m interacting with people, and it’s a blessing just trying to see the world from your perspective. To Luke: I will never forget the legend of the Friendsgiving Turkey and the moment I received the gospel of brown butter. Really excited to see where you end up, and if all does not pan out, just wait for me a little and we’ll start that coffee&beer place. To Tim: it’s always amazing being in your classes. Thanks for being gracious and encouraging all the time and for teaching in a way that is clear and straightforward. Your passion for the truth really does come across in your teaching.

Despite feeling like I had my soul snatched by the sixty-plus pages I had to churn out, reflection has given me a chance to be grateful. God has been faithful in walking alongside me this semester, as He always is, and He’s brought me into a deeper appreciation for spending time with Him as well as being with His people. This has been the hardest semester of my life, and yet at the end of it, I feel a quiet confidence that the Lord knows what He has planned for me. Through many moments of going through the program for myself, He has been gracious to bring me to a place of mindfulness both of Him and of His will for me. As I look onwards to what He has, I just pray that He continues to keep me faithful to the path He has set me on and reveal His mercies to me day by day.

Hebrews 13:15-16 “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

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.

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!