A Reflection on the Psalms

I haven’t used this blog in too long of a time. I have also failed to faithfully read my bible in too long of a time.

You don’t realize how much you miss something and how much returning to it fires you up, until you actually go back to it. So let’s fix both issues in one fell-swoop, shall we?

Today it’ll be on the Psalms, God only knows (literally) what tomorrow will be about.

But let’s start with the latter half of my first statement. I’ve been trying for years to find the perfect way to read my bible. Yes, I mean, “the perfect way.” I’m a perfectionist and killing those habits is just as hard as telling myself not to breathe. This has created a barrier between myself and God. One that God looks at, sighs, and shrugs saying, “He’ll figure it out at some point.” So here’s my attempt at taking down the first brick in that wall. I love writing and I love, love, love reading scripture.

Those two revelations have lead me to the conclusion that I can’t just read and meditate, I have to share. It’s just how I digest scripture. I don’t know how not to share. I know that’s a double-negative but it’s completely true. I lack the knowledge of how not to share what I’m feeling or thinking. Maybe it’s arrogance that what I’m thinking is worthy of being shared but I am what I am and no amount of self-reflection will change that.

So what in the world do I feel is so important that I had to blog about it? Well, the beauty and simplicity of the Psalms.

I am a college graduate of a Christian University so one thing I definitely know how to do is read scripture. Trust me, I did well in my Biblical Studies courses (my major, by the way). Now, I’m not saying I’m the most brilliant theologian there ever was, no, absolutely not. In fact, if there is one thing that school taught me it’s that I know very, very little. However, after four years, you have a few things drilled into you. I learned those practices very well but I also picked up one very bad habit, a habit that I deal with in every other area of my life: I overcomplicate scripture.

Reading scripture reminds me of renovating a house: you can do it very simply or you can go crazy and completely redo everything down to the foundation. Scripture allows us to do something very similar. You can cross-reference one passage for months and months and never leave that one passage. I have, for the longest time, taken that to mean every time I read scripture it’s supposed to be like “Moses and the burning bush” revelatory experience. That’s just not the case. Not every conversation with your family or spouse are deep, mind-blowing experiences. Sometimes it’s as simple as “how was your day? Good? I love you” and that’s it. It’s just the experience of enjoying one another’s company.

That’s the Psalms.

It’s a combination of worship of an amazing, powerful, holy God and just saying hi to your Papa. It’s bowing down in awestruck wonder and coming to Him as a child. A child doesn’t know that their parent is the President of the United States or the CEO of Microsoft. They know that person as “Mom” or “Dad.” Now, as a child matures they begin to understand but they still see that person so differently than the rest of the world.

This is why I love the Psalms because they simplify everything in my mind. Because they were written as songs of praise and worship they aren’t trying to make big, theological points (even though they absolutely can and do it well). The purpose of the Psalms is “I’m focusing on YOU, Lord. I’m coming humble and fully aware of just how unworthy I am.” I was reading Psalm 8 and verse 4 is so powerful, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Anyone else hear the author’s gratitude and understanding of his lowly position in front of God?

The Psalms do such a great job of reminding us that we should be so, so grateful that God has chosen to love us and save us. God is not to blame for sickness, violence, and every kind of sin. We are. It sucks to say but God would be perfectly just in condemning us all to Hell. God isn’t JUST love. He is mercy, justice, and righteousness to name a few. We can’t forget that there are Psalms where David asks God to “break the arm of the wicked.” God doesn’t mess around with sin and injustice. It’s the part of God’s character we love to minimize in our churches now. We want to “love people into Heaven” which can be amazing and a perfect approach to a situation. You shouldn’t beat people over the head with your bible but you shouldn’t minimize a portion of God’s character in hopes that “you will love them into Heaven.” There is a very good reason why Jesus spoke more on Hell than Heaven. Jesus didn’t mince words or water down the gospel in hopes that it would save one more person.

The Psalms don’t attempt to be politically correct or just be about love. They talk about depression, feelings of inadequacy, and the injustice in the world, but, above all, they talk about the character of God. They talk about His attributes: His glory, His strength, and His majesty. They talk from a place of honesty and humility. I love the verbs that the author in Psalms 8 uses. He uses verbs like “have given,” “have made,” and “have put.” You might be asking “……. and????” well each of those verbs is preceded by the noun “You” in reference to God. It’s not “because I’m awesome God did this.” Every time the author talks about an action of God, it is ALWAYS at God’s prerogative. God decides what God wants to do.

My final thought on the Psalms for today is God is not just one attribute. He is not just love. He is not just wrath. Too often in our churches we see something in our world we don’t like about other Christians and we change our theology because of it. Please don’t do that. Look first to the scriptures and study to see if a change is needed. The Psalmist didn’t look at his world and think, “Well, people are mean and violent, I don’t want my readers to think God is that way. I won’t talk about His wrath.” He also didn’t think, “Man, people are too wishy-washy, I can’t tell if my fellow believers are true belivers or not. I’m going to focus just on His wrath and hate for sin.” Psalms 9 contains both aspects of God in one chapter. Verse 1 “I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” Verse 5 “You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever.” God is both loving and just.

Never look at scripture and say, “Well, I don’t like this version of God so I’m going to explain it away.” Scripture is messy and ugly and sometimes hard to swallow. There is nothing wrong with struggling and searching for answers but don’t let your emotions decide what God you will serve. He is who He is. He doesn’t change and doesn’t hide who He is because our culture isn’t a fan of His. Realize where your pitfalls are going to be and give them to God. And the perfect place to do that is the Psalms. I would encourage you to read them in a new light, not just as a song of praise but as a holy conversation between you and your Papa.

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Love Does Not Meaning Accepting Sin

I have seen the firestorm that has erupted as the topic of Homosexuality has again been brought to the forefront of American culture. I have tried my best to stay out of the debate since arguing on the internet is inherently unproductive. I can’t speak thoroughly on a topic or give a friend or fellow believer a complete explanation of my stance in a Facebook post. However, as friends of mine have shown their support for same-sex marriage and have placed love in higher regard to truth, I have been forced to say my piece.

Loving others DOES NOT mean accepting their sin. Throughout scripture we see the Lord being very clear on His stance on sin. Now, I don’t believe in stoning Homosexuals or some of the things spoken about in the Old Testament, but I do believe that the Lord has not changed His mind in terms of how he feels about Homosexuality. In fact, Romans 1 makes God’s stance pretty clear. Homosexuality is a sin.

Now, does this mean I HATE Homosexuals? ABSOLUTELY NOT! The reason why the Lord sent His Son to die for us on the cross is BECAUSE He loves us. The gospel of grace is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. However, the love God has for us comes in spite of our sin. God did not pardon us of our sins, HE PAID FOR THEM! The reason why Jesus died on the cross is not because sin is acceptable. Jesus died because the price tag for sin IS DEATH!

When we, as Christians, come into a relationship with the Lord, we are given the freedom to continue sinning but the Lord has very clear expectations of our behavior. In light of grace, we should strive to live godly lives BECAUSE WE LOVE OUR LORD. Moreover, the Lord expects us to balance love, grace, and truth. The Lord is a perfect being who has grace, truth, love all wrapped up EQUALLY in His character. The gospel is a message of BOTH love AND truth. Love was in the sacrifice and the reason for coming to earth to die. BUT ALSO He came to PAY THE PENALTY FOR THAT SIN to satisfy His justice.

The Lord also demonstrates this balance through His love for us and through His justice. For instance, the Lord loves us unconditionally, but He only allows those who have accepted His Son into heaven. The Lord loves us unconditionally but abhors sin. The Lord loves us unconditionally but disciplines us as a father disciplines those he loves.

Love DOES NOT mean accepting others sin as acceptable behavior. In fact, we are calling to hold our fellow believers accountable for their sin. The famous passage that talks about not judging others has the expectation that we will strive to live godly lives, BUT THAT WE WILL ALSO hold our fellow believers accountable BECAUSE WE LOVE THEM! If I love my fellow believer, I’m not going to allow them act in such a way that God has clearly said is ungodly. In fact, if I do allow them to do so then I am enabling them.

Love, by definition, means loving someone no matter what but also holding your friend, spouse, family member accountable for their behavior BECAUSE YOU WANT THE BEST FOR THEM. I want the best for my fellow believers who struggle with or have surrendered to the temptation of homosexuality. I DO NOT HATE THEM. I DO NOT JUDGE THEM. And I will love them NO MATTER WHAT. But I WILL NOT sit by as they choose to live a life contrary to what the Lord has clearly outlined for us.

We, as Christians, are Christ’s ambassadors. We are the light and salt to this world and if I want others to come to the knowledge that will save them from Hell, then I am honor-bound to be as godly as I can be. And if another Christian is going to compromise that mission, I will go to them IN LOVE and ask that they change their behavior. I don’t expect IMMEDIATE CHANGE. I fully expect trails, tribulations, hard times and lots of prayer, tears, and frustration, from them and me. BUT I WILL NEVER GIVE UP ON THEM OR CALL THEM WICKED.

That is the true definition of what it means to love someone.

Why God Why?

Every day it seems a new tragedy is on the news, tugging at our heartstrings. Every day it seems the world is getting worse and worse. We hear about mother’s drowning their children, children being sold into sex slavery by their starving parents, and millions dying of either starvation or preventable diseases. While the tears are flowing, we can’t help but ask ourselves (if we are honest) why is God is allowing all of this? Why isn’t God doing anything?

If God is so powerful and so loving, why doesn’t He stop all of this from happening?

Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people and why do bad people seem to go unpunished? Both of these questions, haunted Old Testament prophets and are two of the main reasons I’ve heard Atheists give for their beliefs. And if I’m honest with myself, I don’t blame them.

I understand why God doesn’t stop every bad thing from happening. Even bad people have free will and bad things happen when imperfect people are given the ability to choose poorly. But what I don’t understand is why God lets certain bad things happen.

Why did God have to allow the Holocaust? Why did God allow six million of His chosen people to be ruthlessly exterminated like they were not any more important than cattle? Why did God allow the Rwandan genocide where several million people were butchered by their friends and neighbors? Why does God allow the sex trafficking industry to exist, and not just exist, but flourish?

Do these examples speak of man’s depravity? Yes, I believe so. But when someone comes up to me asking where was my God when his or her mother/father/sibling/husband/wife died of cancer/aids/car accident/war/drugs/gun shot what do I tell them? What do I tell the little boy who walks up to me and asks why did my mom have to die when the terrorists attacked? Why didn’t God stop them?

Why God why?

I was reading through the book of Hosea and read this “Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the LORD said to Hosea, ‘Call her Lo-Ruhamah (which means ‘not loved’), for I will no longer show love to Israel, that I should at all forgive them.'” I stopped, shocked by what I had just read.

Now, I had read Hosea before but this time, the reality of God’s command hit me. You are to name your daughter NOT LOVED. This isn’t just symbolic (as far as I can tell from scripture) but the name the child would for the rest of her life. The name she would hear every time her father said her name, “Come here, NOT LOVED.” Then I read on and saw her brother’s name, “After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son. Then the LORD said, “Call him Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not my people, and I am not your God.

Wait, wait, wait, time out, Lord. You want a father to name his two children NOT LOVED and NOT MY PEOPLE? How could you ask someone to do that, Lord? How could ask a father, who loves his children so dearly, to have to call them by those names? Lord, don’t you understand how difficult that must be for Hosea? Don’t you understand how heartbreaking that would be for him? How is he going to look his children in the eye every time he looks at them?

Why God why?

Why does the Lord ask us to do things we don’t understand? Why does the Lord ask to do things that are difficult, that are hard, and that hurt? Why would the Lord command Hosea to do this?

I know that for me, I’m not sure I could follow the Lord’s command here. How could I ever call my child, not loved? I’ve seen the damage and hurt that comes from the brutality of parents, who don’t understand the power of their words. I’ve seen the devastation caused by careless or hurtful words and I could never burden my child with the thoughts of

My parents don’t love me.

They don’t want me.

They’d would be better off without me……

Maybe, it would be better if I was never born.

Why God why?

When I read the Lord’s command to Hosea, my heart ached. I could just imagine the conflict that raged within him at the request of the Lord. Hosea already was told to marry (and not divorce) a prostitute and have kids with her. Now, I could see him looking into the eyes of his newborn daughter, thinking of a name for her, and hearing the Lord speak to him, “Name her, NOT LOVED.”

“Wait, what, Lord? You want me to name her what?” Hosea asked.

“Name her, NOT LOVED.” The Lord repeated.

Why God why?

This is difficult picture to imagine but understand where the Lord’s heart is at that moment. He is telling Hosea to name his daughter because God is going to no longer show love to Israel, His child. God’s chosen people, His wife, have played the harlot for so long, ignoring all of the Lord’s commands and becoming so sinful that the Lord is grieved that He is going to no longer show love to them. But even more damning is the second child’s name, NOT MY PEOPLE.

Israel, God’s chosen people, have that name taken away from them because of their disobedience and sinfulness. The title that every Israelite finds their confidence and identity in is stripped away by God. “For you are not my people, and I am not your God” the antithesis of what made Israel, Israel. Israel had become so godless that they were now literally God-less.

We focus so much on the difficult decisions that Hosea had to make, under the command of God, that we forget that God in Hosea 2 is going to go romance His prostitute of a wife and win her back to himself.

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her…. In that day,” declares the LORD, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master… I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD. I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”

God planned on romancing Israel all along, but He understood the cost of their disobedience and that it had to be punished. God instructed Hosea to do the things that he did because through those lessons Hosea would understand the depth of the Lord’s love and sadness for Israel. Only Hosea could understand how the Lord felt and truly be the Lord’s messenger. The heart of the Lord, although angry, was never full of bitterness. He never desired to punish His beloved, but knew He had no choice. His desire all along was to have His people remember what He had done and worship Him. He desired a close relationship with them and would do anything to get them back on track.

God knew the only way that His people was going to return to Him was after a difficult lesson that would cleanse them of their sin of idolatry. The story of Hosea’s love is also a story of God’s love. Reflected in every command to Hosea, no matter how difficult they are to understand, is a glimpse into God’s heart. We should grieve for Hosea since the commands God gave were hard indeed but we should also remember how hard it was for God to view His people as disowned and not loved.

So didn’t the Lord understand how difficult His commands must be for Hosea? Didn’t He understand how heartbreaking that would be for him? The answer to both questions is an emphatic yes. The Lord understand exactly how Hosea felt. And now,

Hosea understood exactly how the Lord felt.

Would It Better If We Did Nothing?

I find it interesting that no matter the topic, we find a way to fight. I was unaware of the resurgence of the topic “the Invisible Children” until Facebook exploded with the discussion of Kony and the bloodshed and horrific acts that his army has committed. Videos appeared, comments were posted, and posts were liked. And then, as humans tend to do, we missed the point entirely.

We forgot that people were dying and complained that we weren’t talking about child soldiers in other countries, that we only care because its popular right now, and that we only post because, well, we’ve always cared about the children in Uganda (sarcasm not my own). I think every one of those comments misses the point. So what if “I only care NOW” at least I care AT ALL. So what if we aren’t talking about child soldier in other countries at least we are talking about THESE SOLDIERS. We look at these situations and see the emotions not the heart. I admit that it does frustrate me that there are millions of other tragedies that don’t get the attention they deserve because they aren’t “high-profile”. However, let me ask you this

Would it better if we did nothing? Would it make you happy if we just didn’t do anything at all?

I understand that in many of these situations, people only care because they watched a video and it broke their heart. Maybe they will forgot in a month or a week or even a day, but what if they don’t? What if one post on one person’s Facebook makes a difference? What if it took us getting off our fat, lazy American butts and just simply spreading the word to change the situation? So, honestly, I don’t really care if you like the posts, I don’t care if you agree with them. I’m just happy anyone is saying anything at all.

With that being said, let me defend those who are frustrated with the attention the Invisible Children are getting. We as Americans love the glamorous tragedies. We love the stories that pull at our heartstrings and we fall head-over-heels in love…. for a little while. The question should be asked what about the other kids? What about the sex trade issue in Arizona? What about the fact that sex trafficking is the number two illegal industry in the world right behind the drug industry? Shouldn’t that get JUST AS MUCH ATTENTION as the Invisible Children?

The answer, of course, is yes. Why? Because every act of injustice breaks the heart of God and should cause us to rise up and seek to eradicate that injustice immediately.

Do I want to see children abused, used, and killed? No, of course not. But my heart is especially sensitive to the plight of children. Some people in this world feel more strongly about helping drug addicts, or sex slaves, or those with mental disorders than they do about helping children. Am I going to judge them for that? Am I going to judge a missionary who doesn’t leave Arizona? Am I going to judge the missionary who only wants to go to Rwanda? No. Why? Because God has wired each of us individually and for very specific purposes.

So why can’t we all rally around one another and support one another? Why can’t we defend the cause of the Invisible Children while bringing up other cases, honestly desiring justice to be done in BOTH situations? Why can’t we stand up as one and strive to eradicate the exploitation of children while also striving to eradicate the sex trade industry? Why can’t we support one another in our individual pursuits of bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth? What I’m saying is

Why can’t we just get along?

Seriously, why do we act like fools, jostling for position, claiming OUR CAUSE is greater than someone else’s?

Should we stand up and ask honest, tough questions concerning the silence of other nations, despite the bloodshed that takes place there, the exploitation that occurs? Absolutely, but if you want to complain to me when I stand up for one cause and its not YOURS? Remember this,

Would it better if I did NOTHING?

 

Every Story Must have a Heart

What makes a good story?

Is it an epic setting like Pandora from Avatar? Is it a bunch of great characters like the cast from Harry Potter? Is it a fully fleshed-out world like Lord of the Rings, with fully-formed languages and histories for the mythical races? Or is it something more down to earth that under girds everything you are building like the concrete at the base of a foundation?

A story without a heart, isn’t a story at all.

Every example that I mentioned, including Avatar even though it barely made the list, have a heart. In Avatar, the world pulls you in and you want to care about that world. You want it to survive, you want the good guys to win, and you certainly want the bad guys to pay. In Harry Potter, you feel for the characters when they are hurting, mourning, or rejoicing. You feel like you know them and you understand what they are going through. Lord of the Rings is a perfect example of how to balance setting and character development. No one has ever met an elf or stopped a dark lord, but we understand friendship, sacrifice, and loss. By the end of the story, we hurt like they hurt, we’ve cried tears for their loss, and have come to grips with the cost of doing what is right. What sucked us into that world and made us believe, even a moment, that the story was real?

It was the story’s heart.

Now, when I say a story has heart, I’m saying that the author tapped into the very basic things that make us human, and infused those characteristics in the characters. We all have friends, enemies, hopes, dreams and we all have an inherent desire to be understood, to feel like someone else knows how we feel. Why does the “death” of Harry Potter have such emotional weight to it? Because we understand the sacrifice, we understand deep down how his friends feel, believing that he really is dead. Why do we root for Frodo to climb Mount Doom and destroy the ring? Because by that time, we want Frodo to be free, we want the Shire to be safe, and we want evil to lose.

The story has stopped being “just a story”. It has stopped being a robot. Even a mechanically sound robot with fully functional and working parts is still a robot. It is foreign (although fascinating) to us. But the thing is, we don’t care if the robot breaks or “dies”, we can just get a new one tomorrow. No, this robot has become human. It has traded in its heart of metal, gears, and oil and now has a real flesh and blood human heart. It can feel pain, sadness, despair, and joy. We care if it breaks, we care if it dies. It stops being an “it” and becomes a he or she.

All of these literary devices are great tools to help build great characters, but what these stories also have going for them is the setting. We believe in the lie the author is telling us. We believe in the mythology because we want to. We want dragons and goblins and fairies to be real. We want wizardry to exist and we really wish there was a world called Pandora. The setting gives the characters a world of their own and, a really good author, makes the world change based upon the choices of those characters. For instance, have you ever noticed that it is almost always raining outside when a tragedy, like the main character’s wife dying, happens? This is a great use of setting to convey a subconscious idea to the reader. And you know what? We buy it every time. We believe in the characters because we believe in the world they live in.

However, my favorite books are the ones that explore simple human stories, especially stories of people dealing with extreme hurt and pain. I love books like Lovely Bones, Willow, If I Stay, and Redeeming Love because the focus is solely on the characters and how do they deal with tragedy. How would you react if you felt you were to blame for your parents death? What if you truly believed that the pain of cutting was far less painful then the thought of dealing with your own guilt and shame? That is the question Willow asks and that not many people truly want to answer or deal with. The concept that challenged me was Willow’s belief that it was easier to deal with physical pain, cathartic even, then to deal with the emotional pain of losing her parents. She had numbed herself so much that she wasn’t sure she could even handle her emotions anymore. This is a powerful picture painted by the author where the story takes center stage and the setting is complimentary, although still important. After all, the setting must still make sense. It must reinforce the story being told and be a reflection the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters.

What about Lovely Bones? What is its “pull” or “hook”? That story centers around a different kind of tragedy, set in a normal neighborhood and with a normal family. What would you do if someone in your family, a young member of that family, was brutally murdered? What would you do if you were in love with her, even at that young age? What would you do if “you felt her spirit fly through you to leave the earth”? The “hook” of this story is multifaceted but is primarily built around two things. One, the everyday, normal setting juxtaposed with the horrific nature of the crime. Two, the aftermath of what took place as viewed through the eyes of the murdered girl in her version of heaven. The story follows the family and community as they attempt to move on and also how each person deals with the event in their own way. The power of that book is in the simplicity of the language and the realistic reactions and decisions of the characters involved.

I could continue on with my thought on the two books (and I might in the future, we’ll see) but I will end with this. A good story is not about what kind of horrific material you can fit in or how crazy a world you can create, although both have their place. It is about who populates the world of your story and could they be transported to earth and blend in? And if they can’t, do their abnormalities make sense? Are they unique, or odd, for a good reason? You could be writing a story about a robot, set in the distant dystopian future and make that character so real that he could be your next door neighbor. He could shoot lasers out his eyes and speak only in pig-latin and be completely believable to your audience. If, and only if, he has a heart.

Excuse me

Knock, knock. We all knows what that sound means. Either you’re telling a joke, or someone is at the door. Now, if its three o’clock in the morning, your reaction may be a little different then if it was three o’clock in the afternoon. Add loud music, alcohol, and large group of guests and the likelihood is the visitor at your door is not a late-arriving guest. Add flashing red and blue lights coming from your driveway on top of that and your reaction might now be close to panic. You know who is at the door and you know there could be serious consequences, so the next thirty seconds might be the most important of your life.

You open the door and your heart almost stops. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize a police officer when you see one. Two things could happen here. One, the officer could be polite and give you a warning or two, the officer could be brash, reading you the letter of the law. Those are the two options available to the officer. But, I guarantee your neighbors are not thinking about options. They are thinking about silence.

So lets rewind the situation and switch out the police officer with a kindly old lady. She’s four foot eight and maybe weighs eighty pounds soaking wet. She has a quiet, little voice asking, quite politely, “Excuse me….. Excuse me could you please quiet down?” Which one demands more respect from you? Is the little old lady going to instill the fear of God (so to speak) within your heart? Or is this officer with the ability to give you a ticket, or in the case of underage drinking (God forbid), arrest you right then and there. So which one (right or wrong) demands more respect in your mind? The officer or the old lady?

Don’t we treat God like that? Don’t we look at God and think “Well, He can’t punish me right now. So I’m not afraid of Him”? What we don’t realize is that the Lord does show up sooner or later as the police officer, but He doesn’t want to have to do that. He wants to come as the small, quiet voice and encourage us to follow Him, to listen to Him. He wants us to willingly obey and doesn’t want us to experience the inevitable consequences for our disobedience. He knocks quietly on the door of our heart and politely says, “Excuse me, could you please listen?”

The comes a time, however, where the Lord must hold us accountable for our three o’clock debaucheries. He ditches the still small voice and instead, grabs His bullhorn and riot gear. We have ignored Him for far too long and He is forced to get our attention another way. Many people have asked me “Why can believer’s live like their hell-bound and still go to heaven? Why can’t they abuse the gift they’ve been given?” I answer, “Because that’s the freedom of the gift. God doesn’t require obedience to accept His gift.” Then they ask, “So God just sits back and lets His people get away with murder?” Absolutely not.

God is a God of grace and mercy, which the American church focuses on ALOT. However, that is not all of who God is and doesn’t describe Him in His completeness. God is also a God of justice and will hold us accountable for our deeds. God doesn’t require obedience to get into heaven but He does hold us accountable for our actions. God doesn’t sit back in heaven and do nothing when we choose to live lives that are entirely against His will. God doesn’t sit in heaven and turn a blind eye to our behavior. No, God punishes those He loves. I know that when we hear the word “punishment” many of us think “That sounds like a mean God.” But don’t parents “punish” and “discipline” their children? Isn’t that done to correct their behavior, teach them the proper path, and hold them accountable? Isn’t that why God in the scriptures instructs us to punish children for disobedience, just as He punished Israel for theirs?

It is difficult for us to understand but the love of God is demonstrated just as much in His mercy and grace as it is in His justice and wrath. This may seem to be a counter intuitive understanding of “wrath” but God’s wrath stems from His hate for sin (not the sinner) and His desire for all men to never experience pain, suffering, and hardship at the hands of another. God’s wrath is seen when His people do nothing just as much as it is when ungodly people sin mightily. What was Jesus big complaint with the Pharisees? They favored legalism over mercy and did not have a proper heart attitude towards God’s people, including the poor, the wicked, and the outcast. What was God’s big complaint against the Israelites in the Old Testament? They failed to follow Him. A failure to obey on both accounts.

I speak from personal experience that I only hear God’s voice plainly in my life when He challenges me. I only have a consistent prayer life when He challenges me to be better and holds a mirror up to my face saying “You like this girl, you want this ministry, you want to follow me? Well, does your behavior reflect a godly man?” Every time I’m forced to answer “No.” I have to go to spiritual bathroom and wash up a little bit. I need to get back in the word, studying what He wants from me, and then I get back on my knees and ask for guidance from Him. He then challenges me again to follow Him, to take up my cross (you notice if you’re holding a cross, both your hands are full?) and drop everything else that hinders me from serving Him.

God is teaching me right now patience, humility, and a proper understanding of who I am. God is teaching me that the thoughts of “You’re not good enough. Of course, she doesn’t care about you. You’re over-doing it. You’re not doing enough. You’re annoying. You’re mean. You’re rude. You’re pestering, on and on and on” are actually all lies. That those thoughts don’t stem from God’s voice. That the still small voice has decided a battering ram is needed to get my attention and break me out this vicious cycle of self-pity.

So what do you do when the Lord’s whispers “Excuse me”? Do you listen? Or do you wait until the battering ram is banging against your door? I would encourage you to listen right away, no matter how much the instructions of the small voice terrify you.

Prayer Made Meaningful

I’m an open and honest person. It’s just who I am. I tell ninety percent of what is on my mind and leave very little to the imagination. So understand the truth when I’m saying that I’ve never been so close to the Lord and yet so terrified to believe. What do you do when you’re at that point as a Christian? Because they don’t teach you about these types of situations in school. Or do they?

The stories and testimonies I remember most clearly are the ones given by men and women I respect, admire, and love. What did they all have in common to me? They had the common thread of adversity and trust in the face of pain. They all had moments where the Lord spoke to them so clearly that they could feel His presence. I’ve asked myself many times “What does that feel like?” Then, one day, while sitting in church, my heart still broken and bleeding over my ex…. I heard Him speak.

Now, His voice didn’t thunder through the pews. I didn’t drop to my knees in awe. I just felt….. I just felt His voice telling me, “Let go.” I was struck speechless. I couldn’t argue, I couldn’t debate the truth of His statement. I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that what He told me was true. And it hurt. A lot. In fact, the pain of letting go and moving on was greater than anything that had happened to me before. And I refused. I tried to ignore the Lord’s leading. I tried to hold on and still failed. That was one of two times the Lord has spoken to me.

The second time, He told me something that brought me incredible joy but frightened me beyond anything I could have imagined. It felt, and sounded, too good to be true. I mean, you don’t hear the Lord telling you that something was meant to be very often, or at all. I wasn’t looking, wasn’t trying, and yet, the Lord promises me something that I couldn’t believe to be true. So what did I do? I prayed “Lord, grant me understanding. Grant me wisdom. Grant me peace.” Then, I started a prayer “mantra”. I asked the Lord over and over again ‘Lord, is this true? Or is it just my fanciful thinking? Is it just me going overboard like normal?” And, like last time, no answer. Just a simple prodding of the soul, affirming His first words.

It is amazing to me, and speaks volumes about my personality, that in the midst of great pain and tribulation my prayer life was adequate, never powerful, never consistent. Now, after walking through the flames and overcoming pain, the Lord speaks to me once again. And my response to His amazing revelation, is more prayer than I’ve had in months. Every word asking for assurance, peace, and confidence that what I’m doing is the right thing. Why is it that revelations of joy, rearrange our priorities while revelations connected with pain, bring resistance? At least from me.

Why is it that prayer only became powerful to me when I was trying not to repeat past mistakes? Why is it that prayer became important when the Lord asked me to do something that I would never normally do? Why is it that prayer was only made meaningful when the Lord asked me something He knew will challenge me?

I think we view prayer backwards. Its not necessarily most important that we have a way of talking TO GOD, but rather He has a way of talking TO US. You see, I believe that prayer was only made meaningful to me when I heard from God, rather than when He heard from me. I wasn’t expecting Him to talk to me. I wasn’t expecting Him to give me this blessing. I wasn’t looking for His leading on the matter. All of this, of course establishes how dense I am. Now, I won’t argue that answers to prayer are powerful, but they are powerful because of my earlier point: God answered.

I can speak from personal experience that there is no greater feeling than to hear from the Lord. However, be careful because when the Lord speaks, it isn’t cute and cuddly. At least, not for me. The Lord speaks to challenge, to comfort, to exhort, and even the comfort is still framed by a context of pushing us to be better, to know Him better. I was terrified because His answer sounded a lot like my earlier failures. His leading sounded a lot like the direction I already wanted to go. Fear and doubt are dangerous when mixed and are especially dangerous when they are fighting against God’s voice. They breed within fears that already grip your heart.

When you promise yourself the world and fail, it is harder to believe when the Lord speaks the same words. But the Lord doesn’t care if you have failed before, His will is still His will. And He will promise what He wills to who He wills. He made prayer meaningful to me again, but He, of course, chose a way that will stretch me, that will scare me since it took faith I didn’t yet have. He chose a promise that was closely connected to the weaknesses I have. He has a way of leading us out of the pain of one mistake into the glory of a victory. I just wish the road in between the two wasn’t so dark and that the victory didn’t take such faith. Believing in what He was asking, forcing me to put myself in a place where I was vulnerable, open to being hurt. The Lord didn’t promise the results, He only asked that I trust Him. He didn’t promise eternity, or happiness that couldn’t be turned into sorrow. He just promised great things, if only I took a step in the direction He was asking me to go.

What Do You See?

I am an interesting man. I say that because of the eclectic collection of likes, loves, and interests I have. I love musicals, love stories (chick flicks), and poetry. This is juxtaposed with my love of action movies, sports, and UFC (more blood in the ring the better). I have the most differentiated collection of interests of anyone I know and that is one of the things I love about myself.

This leads me the reason why I felt the need to write this blog post. The reason is I have a question: What do you see when you see a child?

I view a child as a gift from God to be cherished and loved. A child should be viewed as someone, not something, not an it, who deserved to be loved. A uniquely designed person, known and loved by God, who deserves to feel safe. No matter what society may say, it is not bad to shelter a child; to protect a child from the horrors and tragedies of this world. The more I read, the more I listen and watch what is going on in this world, I understand that there are those out there who do not view a child like I do. Children are my weakness and anything evil or horrible that happens to them (actually this is probably tied for first in my heart with abusing women, especially minors) breaks my heart. Because I can’t comprehend how you could treat a child with anything but love and compassion.

What do you see?

I recently started reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. I saw the movie in theaters before I had read the books or even seen a trailer and I was horrified by what occurred in that movie. Then I read the first two books in the trilogy and was even more horrified by the depravity of man (something I am convinced is true). I will not discuss in this blog the graphic nature and contents of that trilogy so if you have the internal fortitude, go watch the movie and read the books. I highly recommend them but also strongly suggest you prepare and educate yourself first.

I then started reading the book Redeeming Love and just like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I was horrified all over again. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is brutal in its honesty and upfront in its contents, ripping through all the layers we as a culture place over injustice, pushing into your face so you have no choice but to see it, and never forgot what you saw. Injustice is something we actively seek to hide  from our eyes so we can lie to ourselves and cry “I don’t see it so its not my responsibility”. But The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo refues to allow you to do that and I commend them highly for undertaking such a monumental, and unpopular, task. But Redeeming Love….. Broke my heart in a way I could never have imagined. Blinsided by subtlety is an understatement. The last time I cried so much in so few pages (cried twice in 20 pages) was when I read Lovely Bones, my all-time favorite book.

You may ask “What happened that was so terrible? That evoked such emotion from you?” The answer is simple: a child is viewed as unloved and unwanted…..

At an age, where a child should be carefree and spoiled beyond any hope of rehabilitation, a child is faced with the prospect of being unloved and unwanted by both her parents. What do you see when you see a child?

Because children understand how you view them. Contrary to popular opinion, they do hear every word you say. Not only that, they take every word to heart like it was spoken by God Himself. They take all of that hate and displeasure and put the blame squarely on their own shoulders. Because after all, “If I hadn’t been born, my momma would be happy” (direct quote from the book). What do you see when you see a child? If that child isn’t your whole world, where you would bend space and reverse time to make sure they feel loved, then you don’t understand how to love.

I don’t care if I’m called soft or less than a man for crying because when I see a child, I see an image-bearer of the Almighty and I will be damned to pits of Hades before I allow my heart to harden to the point where I am not deeply grieved when a child is abused, neglected, or mistreated. What do you see? Or more aptly and practically, what do you fight for?

Micah 6:3-4 says, “My people, what have I done to you, And how have I wearied you? Answer Me. “Indeed, I brought you up from the land of Egypt and ransomed you from the house of slavery.” When we stand before the Lord, indigent and angry that our cable signal is on the fritz. That our fridge isn’t fully stocked. That our job is too hard. That our feet hurt. That taxes and gas are too high. And then, with a voice full of arrogance and stupidity, boldly ask the Lord, “Why are you asking so much of us, Lord? Don’t you know I’m busy?” He asks right back, His voice full of righteous, “What do you mean? Hmmmmm? You mean, you, my people, who I ransomed from death and the grave. You, my people, who I bought out of sin and shame, are too busy?”

Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” So what does the Lord require of you, His people, who are “too busy”? All He asks, all He requires, is that you demonstrate love, mercy, and justice to the world. All He asks is to do what you agreed to do when you signed the contract to be His chosen people (this applies to Israel then and to the Church now). All He asks isn’t even that much but He does ask it of you.

The consequences of not doing what is asked of you is simple. Micah 6:14-16 says, ” “You will eat, but you will not be satisfied, And your vileness will be in your midst. You will try to remove for safekeeping, But you will not preserve anything, And what you do preserve I will give to the sword. You will sow but you will not reap. You will tread the olive but will not anoint yourself with oil;
And the grapes, but you will not drink wine…. Therefore I will give you up for destruction Andyour inhabitants for derision, And you will bear the reproach of My people.”

So let me ask you one more time

What do you see?

Age of Accountability (the succinct version)

While researching the Age of Accountability in scripture and in Church history, I discovered the debate hinges on just a few important  conclusions about how we are saved and how infants factor into that picture.

However, before I outline the different points, I want to start with a personal story. The names in the story have been changed for anonymity’s sake but it is a true story.

Many years ago, a young lady, we’ll call her Jane, was working at a dispatch company. While she was working there, she met a man, we’ll call him John, and she led him to the Lord. They dated for six months and then were married. After they had been married for a little while, they decided they wanted to have children. They tried to conceive and did. They were ecstatic and praised the Lord for His blessing on them. Everything looked like it was going great. They decorated the baby’s room and decided on a name for the baby. However, one day while John was at work, he got a call from his wife. The moment he picked up the phone, he knew something wasn’t right. “Something is wrong,” She said. “Something is wrong with baby.” John could feel a pit forming the pit of his stomach, but he maintained his composure for his wife. “Stay strong,” he said. “Everything will be ok.” They drove to the hospital, their worst fears playing through their minds. The doctor examined Jane, did some tests, and then left the room. They waited patiently for his return, both of them extremely nervous and tense. The doctor came back, a solemn look on his face, and Jane’s heart dropped. The doctor said, “I’m sorry but it looks like you lost the baby.” Jane and John didn’t know what to say, all they could do was cry.

Months go by, and John and Jane decided to try again, hoping and praying that maybe, just maybe this time everything will be ok. They are scared to decorate the baby’s room, and don’t even discuss a name. Months go by, and tentatively, cautiously they start to hope. They start discussing a name for the baby. And then….. John receives a phone call. A phone call he had hoped he would never have again. “John…” Jane whispered. “It happened again.” John didn’t reply, he just sat at his desk and cried, while silently asking, “God… why is this happening to us?”

Sadly, for this couple, they experience not two miscarriages, but nine. They didn’t lose one baby, or two. They lost nine. So what do I tell them? Do I tell them that their babies are in Hell because they did not “put their faith in Christ”? Do I tell them their babies are “not of the Elect” and are in Hell? Or do I tell them that their children are in heaven since they didn’t reach the “Age of Accountability”? A concept not found in scripture.

I know that many within the Protestant faith view Infant Baptism as unnecessary for salvation (which they should). However, if you want to believe that a still-born or aborted child goes to heaven, the belief that Infant Baptism ensures that a baby goes to heaven is very attractive.

The Arminian system is also an attractive one to me because it argues that a believer chooses God. This means that a child has not had the opportunity to choose or reject God’s free gift; therefore, there is a strong chance that a child will go to heaven.

Calvin had an interesting take on infant salvation when he said that he believed that children of believers are believers from the moment of birth. This is strange to me, however, since Calvin believes in original sin and total depravity. I fear what this means for the children of non-believers who experience miscarriages but this at least means Christian’s babies are going to heaven.

The conclusion that I have come to after all of my research is that your stance on original sin (we are born with a sin nature) will decide how you view infant baptism and their eternal destination. Moreover, after reading through scripture, I find the absence of any conclusive evidence on the topic, disconcerting. Scripture hints at the eternal destination of babies when David speaks of “going to” his dead son but there is no other evidence besides that. I would have also expected Jesus to at least address the topic but whenever He is around children, He speaks of having faith like them and seeing the face of angels. After hours of research, I am no closer to a conclusion then I was when I started. The absence of biblical evidence could be support the claim that infants do go to heaven but that just as easily could be used to say they absolutely do not. It boils down to do you trust that the Lord knows what He is doing and that He is perfectly just and loving.

My final thought on the topic is that I tend towards the Arminian understanding (as far as I could articulate their understanding of “choosing God”) of whether or not an infant goes to heaven or not. This conclusion hinges on the justice and love of God and that He would not condemn a child who is never given the ability to choose. This conclusion would also support the belief that mentally handicapped go to heaven.

Finding Joy in Negative Places

When I was thinking about what my first post would be, and fighting through the frustration of losing the idea I had in the first place while putting together this new blog (Oh, well), I finally settled on an overview of the changes that have taken place in my life in the past year. Think of this as an introduction to the author. You know, the part that would serve as the foreword by an author in a book. Author’s usually do this when something major has occurred while writing the novel or if they really want their audience to know something personal about them, a struggle or something in that vein.

In the past year, and I don’t mean January 1st to now, I mean last February to now, I have gone from engaged to be married, to single, to in a relationship to single again. And it would not be hyperbole to say that it was the worst year of my entire life. A bad break-up, with an even more terrible aftershock, followed by a hurried relationship just so I could feel better about myself and make myself believe that I was “ok” are just a few lowlights of the past year.

I hurt two people I care about because I couldn’t stand being single. I couldn’t stand the thought of my ex, and her new boyfriend (my former good friend. Long story for another time), being happy while I was miserable. I couldn’t stand the thought that I wasn’t ok. I couldn’t stand the possibility of losing her and I couldn’t stand the thought that I had failed. So many lies running through my mind, and I believed every one of them. And why wouldn’t I? After all, hadn’t I clearly blown up my “one chance at happily ever after”? That was hyperbole and a period in my life when I was extremely bi-polar, even though I expertly hid the fact that my heart was in a billion pieces with the shrapnel piercing every fiber of my being. Because you see, one week after my relationship with ex-fiance ended, I was promoted. Woo-hoo? Not really. Even that accomplishment was tainted by the fact that I had worked so hard to be promoted so I could afford to get married….. Yeah, that put quite the damper on my job life.

Shortly after that, I began to date a girl who was sweet, nice, and genuinely fun to be around. A few weeks into the relationship, I grabbed a grenade, pulled the pin, and got the hell out of there, blowing that relationship all the way to Jupiter. Now, please understand, I didn’t do any of this because she did something wrong, but because of all the things I realized were wrong with me. Fast forward a few weeks, I’m single and now experiencing intense acid reflux and stomach issues (couldn’t imagine why).

This was six to eight months of me make poor decisions and desperately striving to be loved, to feel loved. Because I didn’t feel like I was lovable and I truly didn’t believe that my ex-fiance had ever truly loved me after what she did. Finally, I made one good decision. A decision that turned all of these thoughts around and changed my life for the better. I went to counseling.

Now, for a little back-story, during this entire period of my life, my ex contacted me four times through text messages. And ever single time, she took the opportunity to kick me while I was down with steel-toed boots. I still love her and always will, but looking back, I honestly don’t recognize the girl who replaced my fiance. The hardest part of all of this was the intellectual gymnastics I was going through, trying to reconcile in my mind the girl I knew now and the girl I knew before. To be told, by her, that I clearly hated her was like being hit with a wrecking ball. Because I loved her unconditionally and without a thought of malice or hate. I went through thick and thin with her for four years. Through good times and bad, and never once did the words “I hate you” ever leave my lips. Am I a saint? Absolutely not. I had just as much to do with the deterioration of that relationship as her.  However, (and I can’t and won’t speak for her) I knew that I needed help if I wanted to become a man of God.

So what did I learn from my counselor? A lot. I learned how to move on. I learned how to be happy while single, to not need to be with someone. I learned how to look for someone who is strong and independent and doesn’t “need” a boyfriend. I also learned how to forgive. I learned that sometimes things don’t make sense. That sometimes things happen that we can’t explain….. Wow. It was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. And for the first time since I had the break-up, I cried. I let myself accept my brokenness and turn to God, instead of her, for comfort and love. I learned that I had made my ex-fiance an idol. She became my life and my happiness. And guess what? She failed me. I put so much pressure on her and expected far more than she could ever give. She could never truly make me happy, never truly fill the void inside me that only Christ can fill.

So now, months later, I can truthfully say, I don’t want to be with her. I don’t miss her. Does it still hurt sometimes? Of course, but that pain doesn’t mean I can’t be happy. In fact, I refuse to dwell on the past and I refuse to allow my happiness to be completely dependent on a human being. People will fail me, people will hurt me, but God never will. She is free do whatever she wants and be with whoever she wants. Her life doesn’t concern me anymore. I am no longer her counselor, her ever-watchful fiance, who was always afraid for her safety and mental health. I’m free to seek someone else and woo her. I have the opportunity to be me, which excites me more than anything.

Finally, I learned that God has a plan and that no matter how hard, no matter how full of potholes, glass, and darkness the road is He is always guiding me. Ninety percent of the heartache and pain I faced was self-induced. I caused most of the problems I had to deal with. God was knocking at the door of my heart and I was so busy trying to straighten the furniture during that earthquake of my life that I didn’t hear Him. I tried to make myself ok and I learned the hard way that I don’t have that ability and never will.

So to keep the past from repeating itself, I’m focusing on walking humbly with the Lord. Job 1:21 says, “He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.'” This verse is a beautiful example of someone understanding how the Lord works. How sometimes things happen we can’t explain and we just have to trust God. I understand that this verse has a wider context in the book of Job (which I don’t want to ignore); however, an extra-biblical observation I want to make in light of the events of the past year in my life, is the Lord doesn’t always take away pain, suffering, or “bad” things in our lives. Sometimes He takes away things we really like. Things that we love and think that we can’t live without. He then sometimes “gives” us trails and tribulations (I know that the Lord doesn’t “give” us trials but rather allows these things to happen. So understanding that, allow me to just use this metaphor for just a second). The Lord uses these trials and tribulations to teach us and make us stronger. He uses these things to teach us what is really important, understanding that the trails we face are temporary. In the end, the Lord then gives us eternal life and eternal paradise.

The Lord in the book of Job, as far as Job understood and believed, took away everything from Him. Including, things that were not evil. In fact, they were things the Lord cherished. He took away the lives of Job’s family and also caused Job’s wife to curse him and tell him to die. I can never understand completely how Job feels but I can understand to an extent. And I know one thing for certain, Job 42:10-12 says, “The LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the LORD increased all that Job had twofold. Then all his brothers and all his sisters and all who had known him before came to him…they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversities that the LORD had brought on him….The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning…” I know for certain that the Lord has blessed me more in the latter days of this “year” of my life than the former. And no matter what, no matter how bad the rest of the year could get, I trust that the Lord knows what He is doing.

I thank Him for the little things and the little blessings. I thank Him for the people I’ve met and have gotten to know. Moreover, I thank Him that someone likes me for me and I don’t have to hide. I don’t have to lie or try to be someone I’m not (i.e. someone is cool or suave. Talents I very clearly don’t have). In the end, the tribulation fades, and only praise remains on my lips.