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Category Archives: loving our neighbors

Perspective

It’s interesting that I have now, once again, found the urge to write again. I have spent many months with the idea of writing, or for that matter, letting others know what I really think. For those of you who know me, you know that I have been in a state of flux for the past several months.

I have been slightly wayward, especially after being let go from something that I studied long and hard to do. On that same note, I would not have been able to write anything like this post at any time in the past four months. The only way I can write this now is because of one thing, perspective.

I have now had four jobs in he last four months, and now am doing something completely outside my field of devotion and study. I do still work in a church, but it is in a part time and limited capacity. I am once again doing something that I love, which is music, but my day to day job is something vastly different. I spent seven years studying religion, and have now spent the last four months outside of this field. It’s been a wild ride.

I can say now, something I couldn’t say at the beginning of this journey, God has a plan. I’m reminded of the passage of scripture in Malachi 3:2 which says, “For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap” God sometimes has to put us into situations so that we move ourselves out of the way. God has to put a little pressure on us at times so that we can see what he is pushing us towards.

Now throughout this experience my heart has picked up a lot of scars, there has been hurt by people being used at cross purposes from God’s. I have seen both the best and the worst of people and this experience will make me more useful to God. I know that God will take my experience and as I move towards what’s next, He’s prepared me to face adversity and difficulty.

God’s plan is becoming more clear to me on a day to day basis. I know where I want to eventually be, but I’m not sure how I will get there quite yet. Another thing that this newly found perspective has given me is this: be a light where you are. I’m daily surrounded by a group of people who do not know God. It is funny to me that these men attempt to moderate how they act or speak as soon as they know a little bit about my past. I know that I have the opportunity to be an influence for good on these guys, it may merely be that no one has taken the time to care about them, or that God put me there for a reason.

I have had many friends encourage me over the last few months, and still others who have no idea the struggle I’ve come through. But I sincerely hope that if you are in the midst of some struggle, although I know it’s hard to hear in the midst of turmoil, that maybe my words may be marginally comforting.

 

Inspiration in Weird Places

Recently a new show began on Fox and my wife and I have begun to watch it and follow it pretty closely. It’s called Terra Nova, and although I’m not huge on sci-fi or futuristic stuff this show is pretty cool. The show begins in the year 2149 with an earth so polluted that the sun cannot be seen and the air outside cannot be breathed. Somehow these future people have discovered and created a portal to an earth millions of years prior.

So (this is the big sci-fi leap) they send people back into the past to create a new society, to hopefully help correct the mistakes of the future. Terra Nova is full of dinosaurs and other animals that like to prey on the new tasty humans who have taken up residence in Terra Nova. Now I have to also admit that the special effects and explosions on this show also excite that young boy who is still inside of me.

The colony at Terra Nova is led by Captain Nathaniel Taylor, who was the first man to go through the portal, who survived 118 days in this jungle by himself, which we see was an incredible accomplishment. When the new recruits who are the 10th pilgrimage (notice the religious tinged language) he walks out on the front of his command center hutch.

Captain Taylor introduces himself and tells these people that they have come to a new place and have been entrusted with a second chance to create a new society. The world they came from had fallen victim to the “baser” natures of greed, pollution, and the degradation wrought by human mistreatment of the world.

This speech got my mind rolling from the moment I heard it, and I have since watched it several times again. But I was struck by the idea of grace that is woven throughout the speech. Even the family that the show focuses on, that broke population control laws in 2149, are given a second chance in Terra Nova. The father of the family was an escapee from a maximum security prison, and also brought their third (breaking the strict population control of two children per family) daughter to Terra Nova with them.

The idea of second chances is something that I think we often miss. We get the second chances, but we are not lining up to give them to others. God is constantly giving us opportunities to live out our faith in substantive ways, and we are constantly failing. I hope that today I will be more willing to give the second chances to all of those around me. I pray that God will help me to be the person he has called me to be. What are you praying that you might get a second chance at today?

 

 

Getting Your Gait

So this is my second week in a row inserting a video into my post, but this song has played several times in my office in the last week and I just had to post it.

Those of you who know me well, know that I am a huge fan of the Dave Matthews Band. I have been a fan since high school where I think I watched “Listener Supported” at least 1000 times from the couch in my family’s couch. Then I remember sitting in my room for hours learning to play anything I could get tabs for from Dave, and even had some roommates in college that loved (possibly hated) my rendition of “Long Black Veil.”

This song is off of Dave Matthews Band 2004 release “Stand Up” and quickly made it in to my top 5 of all time favorite songs. The lyrics are so simple yet profound. “To change the world/ you start with one step/ however small/ first step is hardest of all.” This is the first verse from the song and I keep coming back to these words.

The more times I listen to this song the more sense it truly makes to me. We spend much of our lives dreaming up what we could do, what would be possible, if only this or only that. What we truly need to do is to just start walking. I am the king of this, I sit in my office dreaming, scheming or planning, but the follow through on these plans is lacking.

I also think about this song in light of all the bad things I see in the world around me. Maybe if we stop sitting and discussing these issues and actually put ourselves out there things will begin to change. “Once you get your gait/ You will walk in tall” we have to start getting our gait. We have to start working instead of bemoaning the world.

God is calling us to action through this unlikely source. We have to stop worrying if we’ll die trying, and begin to think about the fact that if we succeed things will be so much better.

 

 

The Hunger Games

I am a reader. I love to read books, and for some reason I don’t like thick Theological volumes. I do however love a good book with a lot of suspense, or a one of those crazy thriller books (see Dan Brown or Gregg Loomis). So recently my wife’s book club read The Hunger Games, and with all of the talk from my youth I became interested.

Needless to say this is one of those books that devoured my life while I devoured it. It took something like three and a half days, and it really has gotten me to thinking.  The games themselves in the book are really a kind of character study on the human condition. The books are so interesting, they have literally caught me from the beginning, and I can be a very fickle reader.

But how do The Hunger Games square with the ideas of faith, and I know that the book is set in a fictional world after a world altering rebellion and consequent brutal oppression. I am focusing a bit more on the games themselves than the extra information that we are given throughout the book. How does our ideas of people humiliating themselves for our entertainment sound to our culture today. I think that The Hunger Games depicts what many of us would characterize as barbarism, and I think you would be correct.

The games put 24 young people against each other in a fight to death scenario in an arena full of hidden dangers and nightmarish creatures. I look at the ideas of the games and I cannot help but think about the way we are enculturated into an idea of the American dream. I know I have fallen prey to the American dream many, many times. But how are we taught that we are to get what we think we “ought” to have no matter the expense to others. How is our cultural viewpoint that of me getting mine no matter what?

I think Christ draws a drastic distinction between The Hunger Games where only one person is able to prevail (I won’t spoil the book if you haven’t read it) and changes the language.  Instead of only one can survive, Jesus calls to live a life where there is plenty for all. We may not have a huge house or two brand new cars, but we will live in plenty. I talked a little bit about the Kingdom of God during Youth on Sunday night, and it is something that is really difficult to explain in a coherent way for teenagers. But I think the gist is this, we can all have enough, although we may not have all we want.

If we look at our world and try to step outside of our own hunger games and strive to make sure that there is plenty for all, maybe we can finally escape this perpetual rebellion we all live with.

 

The Truth Will Out

I am an unabashed Harry Potter fan, and this phrase come from the fifth book when Harry is going down to the courtrooms to face charges of underaged wizardry. The line is spoken by Arthur Weasley as he escorts Harry down to the courtrooms, and before Dumbledore comes to save the day.

I was talking with my Tuesday morning Bible study group about Matthew 14:18 this morning,”But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.” This comes after the Pharisees accuse Jesus and his disciples of not following the elaborate hand washing rituals that they followed.  And this is part of Jesus response to the Pharisees. The implication is that yes they wash their hands elaborately, but the inner parts, their hearts, were truly the dirtiest part of their lives.

When I read this passage during my devotional time the other morning it got to me thinking about the fight we often have to fight against ourselves to put a Christ-like face out there. A lot of times the Christian life feels like “fake it til’ we make it.” And that is exactly the way is most of the time, we are trying to truly follow Jesus until we truly do follow him. But we always have those “truth will out” moments, those moments that our weak spots and tender spots still remain.

I see this in my own life when something happens and my initial reaction has nothing to do with the love of Christ, but everything to do with the way culture has conditioned me to react. When a neighbor says something that upsets me I do not mount a gracious response, but instead a heated or angry one. I know that we all fall, I count myself as chief of sinners as Paul wrote, but we have to try and mount a truly Christian response.

One of my professors in college David Zerkel had a quote in his office, “Practice does not make perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect.” He called my attention to that quote many times throughout my time studying music under him. I can now freely admit now that my practice was not always perfect, nor was there always enough of it. We will have those truth will out moments, but the true test of our faith is what we do after we have fallen.

Do we just take ourselves out of the game, or do we dust ourselves off and try again the next time? I think perfect practice is how we react when we fail to truly live to our convictions. Living into our convictions in this world is extremely tough, especially when those convictions are counter to the world around us. But I really think that if we eventually practice truly following Christ, then as we, to cop a Wesleyan term, move towards perfection in our response to the world. And eventually the truth will out that we are truly seeking after God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and body.

 

A Measure of Judgment

Let me preface this post by saying that my heart cries out for Caylee Anthony, her suffering makes me want to sit down and cry.  However, I am writing about the response that I see, and what our response as Christ’s followers should.

I woke up this morning and turned on my television. This is an unusual occurrence for me, but after I saw what was on I sat down and ate my cereal on the couch. What was on? It was the Today show, and what were they talking about? The Casey Anthony trial, and gauging reactions from people all over the place, even a former member of her defense team.

Yesterday all I saw, in my daily life as a social media addict, was reaction to the verdict, and at times the crying out for Casey Anthony’s demise. I had a single friend on facebook who called for Christian’s to act in a graceful way towards Casey Anthony.

When I sat down in my office for my quiet time this morning I read this, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” Matthew 7:1-2. I myself as a follower of Christ know that I have been forgiven for all of the sins I have ever committed.

When I read this it really hit me at the gut level in seeing the response that I have seen to this verdict, I had to wonder at how many of those people would qualify themselves as Christian. I am not questions their faith or faithfulness, merely how well their responses are integrated with their faith.

My view of the human condition is that I am a fallen creature, that I sin and fall short of the glory of God, but I am forgiven. My status as being forgiven is to guide everything that I do, and especially to my interactions with other people. As a follower of Christ we have to extend grace to others, because if we do not we are not truly following in the way we should.

Seeing the acrimony, anger, and hate that I have seen poured out makes me wonder at how well we are integrating and communicating our faith to the world around us. I know that the ones who yell loudest often get heard, but we as Christians can mount a quiet, strong and graceful response to the world around us.

 

Black Beard’s Wisdom

So in the last week I have been to see “The Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” twice, and have had one particular scene stuck in my head for a good bit of this week. I will not give away too much about the movie, but Jack Sparrow is in Blackbeard’s cabin. Then Blackbeard looks at Jack and says, “Your words surround you like cloud, make you hard to see.”

This line has stuck with me this week, it has just kept coming back over and over again. After the movie Sunday night I thought about this quote and it kind of struck me. How often do my words surround me like a cloud, and make Christ hard to see in me. We, as people claiming to follow Christ, are to be representations of God in the world around us.

I think a lot on how not only to teach how to be a Christ follower in the world, but also on how my own life can become much more like Christ.  How do I represent and re- present God to the world that to a great extent has become apathetic to His existence. We are surrounded everyday by people who either believe or live as if God does not exist.

We are surrounded by people who also have been hurt by so called Christians, and people espousing hateful views and ascribing them to their faith. The idea of Christ being someone that these people would want to get to know is laughable. How can we as people of faith, compassion, and love combat these things in our world.

I like to talk about living faith in an authentic way, and I like to think that living an authentic life will lead others to the source of our life.  When we live in ways that are not consistent with our faith we become like Jack Sparrow, our words surround us and make us hard to see.

We are all bound to be poor examples for Christ at times, in truth there are days where I just do not feel up to the pressure I put on myself to be a real representation of Christ. When does it become something I don’t have to think about and I truly master myself to the point of being a disciple is not a struggle.

I have a new idea to add to my prayers and it is that we will all not be surrounded by a cloud of words that do not represent Christ. I hope that if we do have a cloud it would be full like a gray storm cloud with the words of Christian love and the affirmation of the divine worth of all the people around us.