Saturday, November 29, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
I've always grew up knowing that God is love. In fact, I believe the bible is a love story between a Maker, and his children. It's an ongoing saga of the distance that exists between man and God, and God's undying faithfulness to bring his people to him. The bible illustrates the ebbing of a tide - the tragedy of when people turn their back on God contrasted with the beauty of a people who choose God.
Today is no different.
Recently I've been set on something that I can only call a journey. It's a journey of understanding myself in the context of others, but more importantly in my relationship with God. I've been going through a lot of things on the inside that are hard, if not impossible, to express with spoken words. This is all good stuff I believe, a struggle that I hope everyone will have sometime in their life, a holy wrestling match with a sovereign God. Out of this struggle I have faith I will be blessed, but will never be the same. I'll have a slight limp, and a different name. (Genesis 32:22-32)
But I've realized that this struggle will never happen without some kind of polarizing force. Something has to draw us to God. We fall into sin and maintain our worldly trek just as the rivers flow into sea. We are prisoners of gravity. But God calls us to ascend, to reverse the natural flow of things. He calls to us to stand in faith to part the water, to step out in faith to walk on water. He calls us to do the unnatural. To perform the supernatural.
But how can this work? I think the best understanding can be derived from our knowledge of electricity. The basic principal of electrical power is that electrons flow when both a negative and positive force applied. The greater the extremes, the stronger the flow. It is the love of God that draws us, but in order to get the flow started, we must first learn to despise our life. Since God's love is infinite, that must mean the only thing stopping us from flowing into God is us.
I picked up my bible yesterday. OK, in all actuality I picked up my iPhone and launched the bible application, but that's the same thing right? I started flipping through Luke trying to find the passage where Peter walks on water since the other gospels leave out that minor detail. As I flipped through, the title of a chapter section caught my eye. "The Cost of Being a Disciple". My soul reverberated at the sight of this topic because I feel that God is calling me and desiring to teach me. So I flipped to that section. The following are the verses I read in mind-blowingly simple detail.
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple" – Luke 14:26-27
So let me get this right... Jesus is telling us to hate? Is that what's really being communicated here? This is a mind-blowing verse that I think gets easily overlooked. We seem to skim over this verse in our Christian circles and popular theology since it's much easier to fast forward to 1 Corinthians 13 or something. It's much easier to focus on how much we are called to love our children, our families, honor our father and mother, etc. So why would Jesus say such a thing the messes up our tidy world? It's all about flow.
God desires us to have a relationship with him. He desires us to seek him. He desires us to flow into him. But that flow must come from a hatred of your life. There must be a holy discontent, a divine disgruntlement. Besides, change only happens when the cost of not changing exceeds the pain resulting in remaining the same. Too often that's how we live our lives – in a constant state of fearing change and expending our energy to maintain some constant of normalcy. But we instead busy ourselves in life with patching up the leaks so we can stay afloat in this boat that we've built. We pray to God that he will help us keep our head above water, but really what he wants us to say is "Jesus, if that's really you, tell me to come". And then he answers simply with "Come". (Matthew 14:28-29)
Are you sick and tired of your life? Are you frustrated with your family or maybe even your spouse? Maybe your kids are driving you crazy. Perhaps the entire world is collapsing around you. That's great news because it means you're well on your way to becoming a disciple. For the rest of us we may need learn to despise this world a little more so we can have that relationship that God wants with us. To seek him out and struggle with him through our darkest moments until we get a glimpse of his face when the day breaks. Then we will be forever ruined to this world. We will never walk the same. We will be forever changed.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
In my search of self, I looked at my current circumstances, my job, my home life, my church, my family, et al. In each of these cases I've found that I am known by a series of labels meant to encapsulate a particular role that I play. In each of these labels I've discovered that I'm never quite on the mark. I doubt anyone ever is. I work with a bunch of great guys and try my best to live up to my role. I'm a Chief Software Architect who hasn't designed anything lately in lieu of fixing software glitches or server problems. I'm a husband to a beautiful wife and I could be a lot more husbandly. I'm a drummer on the worship team who doesn't practice and wings it every Sunday (I say that's why angels have wings). I'm also a youth leader who wonders sometimes if he's doing any good at all. I'm a son who lives far away from home and forgets to call his mom.
So in all these things I've found that labels don't accurate reflect my current state of being. They point out my failures, but worse yet, they stagnate my direction. They are not forward looking, but focus me on the challenges of the present. But who are we really?
Most of us derive our awareness of self through a few demographic parameters. These include not only what we do or how we are labeled, but also where we live, the color of our skin, or our gender or sexual orientation. Perhaps from that information we join groups or organizations so that we can get that allusive sense of belonging. Then we can say things like "I'm a member of the NRA", or "I'm a member of the clean plate club", or whatever makes us feel like we are a part of something bigger. We try to improve our roles in society. We worker harder and longer and for the promise of fifteen minutes of fame our label can garner. Is that who we are? Is that all we are?
If the truth were told I doubt that none of us has a real sense of who we are supposed to be. If we are honest with ourselves we are mostly mimicking those that have come before us. Perhaps we add something to the role, or innovate a little. But I think we are playing a nice long game of "monkey see monkey do". Perhaps the Ecclesiastical notion of there being "nothing new under the sun" is true because, well, it always has been.
This weekend I met a man named Scott who, through no admission of his own, is a prophet. At the school of worship he spoke words into our lives as if he knew the inmost desires of our hearts. I mean, it was actually kind of surreal. But one thing he communicated was that we are not just known by what we do. If we were, then who are we when we no longer do that thing? Do we lose all sense of identity?
My grandfather was an engineer on the railroad at Bethlehem Steel (the one in Bethlehem, PA), and he worked his whole life on the railroad. When he retired, he got a nice pension, a nice watch, and a blue and white striped conductor's hat to hang in the house. But he also got something he didn't bargain for -- a loss of identity. He would tell stories about the railroad and when I was going to college I told him I was going for Engineering. He got excited (I didn't have the heart to tell him it didn't involve railroads). But in a few short years he was faced with a problem, one of life's little dilemmas. He was an old man with no identity, and that took his life.
I made a vow in my teenage years to never fall victim to that fate.
So continuing my search for self, I also began to seek my identity in how others saw me. I have been lucky enough to surround myself with friends and a great family who are not afraid to tell me what they think. During my search I talked to many friends, past acquaintances and pastors. I even talked to relative strangers and strange relatives. But I think the greatest insight came from my mom, but especially my dad. I found that my mom, when asked what he son did, was already telling her restaurant patrons that I was a minister. Then I proclaimed to my dad without any pretense "I'm thinking about going into the ministry", and he replied instantaneously "I was wondering what took you so long!" What can you trust anymore than the reflection emitted from the parents you love, and who love you unconditionally? This may be the closest human reflection we have, but is there something even more accurate?
1 Corinthians 13:12 -- "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
I was told in church a number of years back that Paul was referring in this verse to the primitive mirrors just invented back then. That's a question piece of history and I don't buy that theology. We wake up every morning and look into a mirror. Who do we see? Personally, I don't see me. I see a poor reflection. Now, I don't mean I should go get some Windex and paper towels and clean that thing (although I do need to do that), or that I should get a better mirror with which to see my own lovely face. What we see is not ourselves, we simply see the flesh wrapper around a heart, and in my case the two are very different. In fact, what we see from our labels, or what we do, or what our friends and family think about us are also pretty poor reflections. We can get a good idea -- lean in close and even pop a few zits -- but only a face to face encounter with God can show us our true nature; our true destiny.
One of my favorite verses is Matthew 4:18-20. In this verse we read that "Jesus saw two brothers" and he called to them. But what did Jesus see? I doubt that the magnificent appearance of two fisherman after a hard day's work of gutting fish and casting one more net into the lake was what attracted Jesus. It wasn't their labels or how they saw themselves or what they were doing. I believe that Jesus saw their hearts.
God knew us before we were born. Beyond that, we find that he knows who we are before we do. Check this out in Jeremiah 1:5...
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
This is a verse often used by pro-lifers, but the focus here is that God knows who we are to become and he has a purpose for us before we ever find it. In Jeremiah's case, he was to become a prophet, and sure enough he was one (a major one actually). We find that if we want a true and accurate picture of who we are, we shouldn't use a mirror. We should find God and chat with him: face to face.
Perhaps the process of finding ourselves should really be the process of seeking God. And then when we find Him, ask Him who we are to become, and then become it.
Monday, November 24, 2008
I went into this weekend with a desire in my heart, a desire that doesn't immediately come out of your mouth like "wow, I could really go for a cheeseburger" type of desire. This is one of those unspoken needs that you have but don't consciously know you have. Mine was simple - I wanted to meet a friend. I distinctly remember looking around at all the faces there. I'd smile and be friendly, hoping that they would open up and let me into their little groups. Perhaps I just wanted to have affirmation that I was a worship leader or a good Christian. I really didn't know want I wanted. But I do distinctly remember going home Thursday night a little bummed out and saying to Jaime "I just wanted to make a friend". She told me later in an IM that I'm not as shy as I think. That encouraged me.
Friday came and I left work early to get to the second day of the school. It started at 2 PM and I almost didn't make it. I said "hi" to a few people I had seen the night before, and engaged in some small talk with the woman behind me. But all of this didn't seem to do the trick. I mean, it was just polite and what is expected of good Christian folk. I was still alone and still had that longing, that desire like a little boy getting on the school bus. "I just want to meet a friend daddy".
Then, a young woman sat in the same row as me. We glanced over at each other a few times in an awkward kind of way. I wondered what she was eating and if she liked the color orange. I'm not sure what she was wondering. But I suppose we were wondering if we were really this shallow. Could we honestly sit less than 10 feet apart and not acknowledge each other? Finally I decided that I needed to break out of this shell I've been living in and be outgoing. After all, God commands us to "go" and to be "bold", and frankly the awkwardness was killing me. In a manner almost completely void of suave, I reached out my hand and introduced myself. "Hi, my name is Jason". I was greeted with an eager smile and a firm handshake "Lorena".
Evidently this started something of a snowball effect that God had been planning long before we even arrived that weekend and, probably years in the making for all I know. We started chatting during the lessons and during worship. Interjecting comments and trying to fit in little life experiences whenever we could. It was ten o' clock when the service officially ended. We stayed until eleven just talking, sharing life stories and learning about each other and God's plan. It was just us... and the janitor.
The next day we all arrived back and sat in our "assigned" seats like good ex-public-school students. Again, Lorena and I sat next to each other, this time one seat closer so we could chat some more without excessive straining or leaning. Now by this time you may be wondering about my intentions towards her or vice versa. If you are I'm officially ignoring you. Why? Well, I'm getting there.
Lunch time came and I decided I should be a good host and ask if anyone had lunch plans. After all I lived only 5 minutes away and those around me lived at least an hour away. Lorena said she was meeting a friend for lunch, but quickly told me I was more than welcome to join them. Another gentleman named Scott took me up on my offer. I asked Lorena if that was alright and it seemed like four would be a nice number for lunch. And so, there we were, three relative strangers traveling to lunch with another stranger. This was a strange situation, but strangely it seemed so "right".
Lunch was perfect. I'm not talking about the food, or the atmosphere or any of that. It was absolutely perfect because God was in our midst! We met with Lorena's friend Michelle and just started having church. We encouraged each other, spoke the word of God over each other, read the bible, prayed for each other and for healing. I hardly remember eating! There was testimony and prophecy and prayer and just copious amounts of agape love. It was something that I needed so badly. It was perfect. It was sacred. It was more fulfilling than the tomato pepperjack bread bowl. Yet, this all started from a small spark, a small step of faith, a mustering of courage enough to say "Hi, my name is Jason", and to do so in the name of Christ.
You never know how long you will have that connection with someone. You never know when that connection will be terminated. You need to make the most out of the situation and show the love of Christ and really mean it. There's no reason to hide; there's no reason to be afraid. I'm encouraged by what the Lord is doing in my life. I'm encouraged to see what God is going to do in Lorena's life. But I'm even more encouraged what we can do together! I don't think God is done with us.
And now back to all of you I was ignoring. Don't spoil this. Don't twist this. Don't put even a drop of doubt in my mind or an ounce of curiosity in my flesh. Those are the tools of the enemy. Those are the ways of the world and I rebuke it. What I have now is a friend built on the love of Christ. It is pure and child-like and full of prospect to reap fruit in the Kingdom. I got kicked out of church with this girl for talking too much and we sat out in the coffeehouse and chatted like old friends without so much as a cup of coffee. I know that if someone saw this from afar they would start thinking and scheming. I can even hear the comments "oooh... who was that you were talking to?". Well, if I answer with "go to hell", please realize it's only because you're propagating the lies of Satan and well frankly, that's where he's going anyway.
Here's what I believe people. I believe that God crossed our paths. I believe that nothing happens by accident. We were there for one another when we needed someone outside of our circle of friends and family, when God touched us, when we repented, when we were given new direction and when the dawn in our darkened lives broke. We prayed for each other, and cried with each other, we encouraged and we testified. We are children dancing before our Maker in purity and it is beautiful. It is my goal that this continues. I know there will challenges and troubles, but I take heart because Christ has overcome the world. In Christ, all things are possible and in Christ, this unlikely friendship is probable.