Progress and Pain

11:02AM, Thursday, December 27, 2007

No, I haven’t forgotten about the Rob Bell tour review that I promised to write. I’ve got most of the critique written up, I just need to finish the last section and it will be ready for your analysis and feedback. My hope is that it generates meaningful discourse.

Life has been moving at a whirlwind’s pace this past month, though that’s not to say it’s been a terrible time. On the contrary, it’s been very exciting, and I consider myself undeservedly blessed. I started at a permanent job (Yay! No more contractor work!) working downtown in a NOC (network operations center for the ungeeked masses) just a few weeks ago. I’m enjoying the heck out of the work I do and the learning involved. It’s a great place to work, a great company to work for, and I have a boss who is an encouragement every time I see him. I’m working nights at the moment, which somewhat limits my ability to devote more significant periods of time to writing.

And certainly, there have been a few disappointments, the most significant of which are with a few brothers and sisters who have uttered lies and spoken ill of me to church leaders in at least two churches of which I know. Totally ignoring the commands of Christ concerning sins between believers (Matt 18), they have whispered not a word of this supposed grievance to me. Instead they have gone in secret to slander and gossip. I grieve for the loss of those who I might have once called friend to the hellish poisons of bitterness, unforgiveness, and unlove. I long to embrace them once again as brothers and sisters, but they are as unbelievers to me because they have hardened their hearts and have rejected my attempts to make peace with them.

Alas I am no chiseler of the cold and stony hearts of men. But I do know the master stonemason who reduced this man’s heart to rubble. I know the master physician who took that rubble and gave this man a heart of flesh. I am now able to love and forgive because of the great love and forgiveness shown to me. To this great mender of hearts do I commend them with tears and with hope. He is able to do what I am not. May it please Him to do this and bring us together once again around the dinner table to commune in harmony and love.

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Do You Really Love Me? Do I Really Love You?

10:46PM, Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Were I walking down a path filled with pitfalls and snares, and at the end there lay a thick mist concealing a cliff with a drop sure to lead to death, and you did nothing to warn me, tell me friend, can you really say that you love me? If you did not make every effort to see that I did not go down this path, knowing where it led, can you speak honestly and say that you care for me as for your own brother?

On the contrary, true love would compel one to go even so far as to be a physical barrier between his brother and a path of destruction. Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but in truth. Love does not sit idly by while a brother walks the way which seems right unto a man but whose end is death. Love exhorts the brethren to holiness and righteousness.

And what is the path in which we should walk?

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
(Php 4:8-9)

And what ought we not to love?

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
(1Jn 2:15-17)


Holy God, Holy Joy, Holy Love, Holy Living

5:16PM, Saturday, August 11, 2007

An incredible joy stirs in my heart. God is exceedingly good and His glory is great. I stand amazed at the richness in mysteries God has found pleasure in making known to my once-dumb mind.

Joy to me is no longer simple pleasure and happiness in earthly things in and of themselves. It is now the full surrender to and pursuit of God’s pleasure and His will. It is that which brings to me far greater pleasure and happiness than I could have ever hoped to obtain by my own efforts. It is shalom peace which far surpasses any “rational” man’s understanding.

Love to me is no longer simply a word which means warm fuzzy feelings and good emotions. It is pleasure in the pursuit of true joy (found in God) for another, even at — and some might say especially at — great cost to my time and treasure. Love motivates service without an expectation of praise or material goods in return. But that doesn’t seem to encompass all that love is. To me, love does seek a result for its actions, but that which it seeks is itself! That is to say that love seeks to create love where there is no love and increase love where there is already love. When I love, I do it because I love to love. Love finds pleasure in translating itself into action.

What motivated Paul to write to the Thessalonian brothers, “Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” (1 Thes 3:11-13, emphasis mine)?

My friends, I posit to you that Paul was motivated by his love for them to pray this. He loved the Thessalonian brothers so much that he desired for their love “increase and abound” for one another and indeed for all people.

God has increased my love for my brothers and sisters as well as those who are not yet in Christ. My desire to love is exceedingly great, and this is all because of God’s work to bring my human heart and mind to reconciliation with His divine, perfect and holy nature. I desire that they may find pleasure in loving inasmuch as God has seen it good to reveal this great pleasure to me and demonstrate His own love by lavishing it upon me. God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.

God has adopted me as a son, even as a fellow heir of Christ! How can I possibly honor Him for who He has time and again demonstrated Himself to be? Or as a song I heard today put it, what can a poor man bring to lay at the feet of a King? I can bring nothing to God but my sin and my brokenness.

God is owed everything because everything is His. He deserves all that I am and all that I have because He is worthy. I was bought with a price; my life is not my own. And this is why my life ought now to be a living sacrifice, given to Him that I might decrease and that He might increase.

Holiness is a product of an intimate relationship with a holy God. God’s intimacy causes me to pursue holiness because I cannot help but respond to Him in this manner. He meets me here and now; I choose to submit and allow Him to take me from where and who I am now and cause me to be where and who He wants me to be.

I’m finding this concept of holiness encompasses all that I touch, see, feel, think, say, do: every aspect of life. Some people (even brothers and sisters in Christ) might say I’m “overspiritualizing” or making a big deal out of nothing when I take a chance to examine how I approach music for worship; or when I examine the extent to which I ought to forgive people and pursue reconciliation; or examine what it really means to love someone; or examine why I feel something negative toward someone which causes me to avoid them and if I even should feel that way; or to examine how much time I spend pursuing leisure activities and how much I spend renewing my mind. Some people might say I’m making a big deal out of nothing, but I think these things are important to God because of the very fact that they are a part of our lives and our pursuits. God cares about how much I pray. God also cares about how much I eat and if I’m taking care of my body. I have neglected my body and am overweight and out of shape. If I desire holiness, it means that I need stop drinking so much soda or perhaps cut it entirely out of my diet. It means I need to eat less, and eat less fried foods. It means I need to exercise more. And all of these actions are not holy in and of themselves; a desire for holiness coupled with an action that is profitable to that end is what marks a given action as a pursuit of holiness.

So I must ask what my motivation is in my choices, no matter the significance. Some choices might be relatively trivial and fairly flexible like when, where, and how I get my hair cut. Other choices are pretty black and white, like whether or not I harbor hatred or bitterness in my heart toward someone.

So that’s what’s going on for the past 2 weeks for those who are curious. I might update, but I’m a bit rushed to finish this since there’s stuff going on tonight.


Identity

7:26PM, Thursday, July 26, 2007

A lot of thoughts about who I am have been floating in my head for some time now. I figured it was time to write them down so I could make sense of them all and wrestle through them, perhaps together with you, my friends.

Not to be cliche, but I truly have nearly always felt that I don’t quite fit in whatever the crowd of the moment is. Even in my personal relationships, there seems to be an uneasiness about one or more aspects of who I am that tends to drive most folks away from friendship rather than attract them. Is it the depth of the conversations in which I enjoy engaging? Is it my goofy humor that alternately leaves my friends in groans or fits of laughter? Are either of those inherently bad personality traits?

An old friend of mine used to think so, at least in regard to my humor. She’d whisper to me and ask me to “tone it down” if she felt I was being silly or embarrassing her in front of her friends. It bothered me because that’s really who I am, and she seemed to take exception to it while most of the others around seemed to enjoy it. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with being goofy or being totally serious, or even mixing the two together to keep a sane perspective on things. Especially in a light-hearted environment like a party, I’ve never thought it inappropriate to be silly and entertain both my company and myself with humor.

And then there’s my faith. I’ve found that a lot of people my age either want nothing to do with Christ or else they’re not committed to the price that the Cross demands of us. So there’s not a whole lot of people I can talk to about spiritual matters who are my age. There’s probably a sum total of three of my peers whom I would trust for deeper theological conversations because of their proven faithfulness and love for God and others. Sometimes it feels like the only people who are willing to sit down and wrestle through spiritual matters in a serious manner are folks 30 years my senior — not that there shouldn’t be some. I consider myself graciously blessed to have a few closer friends who are 10, 20, or 30 years my senior; their insight into God’s Word and wisdom for my life has proven invaluable to me in these past months.

And so by now I’m probably looking like a crybaby emo kid who whines that noone understands him and that he has no friends. Now I think there are a few folks with a love for God and His ways whom I call friend, but some of them simply haven’t had time to develop a deeper relationship with me than sort-of-friends-who-hang-out-every- once-in-awhile-and-have-each-other-friended-on-MySpace-and-have- each-others’-cellphone-numbers. But I’m not about to hide how I truly feel. Truthfully, I am very lonely and long for a woman my age to show the love of Christ to me with her life. I screwed up my last serious relationship so badly that my ex avoids me and won’t even talk to me. It bothers me that there still is so much left unresolved between us. And that might even contribute more to the loneliness I feel.

I know that God is good and that His grace is sufficient to comfort me in my loneliness, but I can’t help but feel that something is missing relationally in my life. I think I wrote about it before when I talked about having a companion. I think that’s really what my heart desires. I want someone to talk to in the wee hours of the morning. I want someone who appreciates my silly humor as well as my love of God. I want a peer and not another mentor.

And that doesn’t mean I’m not going to serve God while I ask Him to bring us together. That would be foolish, selfish, and not at all the attitude of a humble servant that I ought to have toward Him. I will serve God wherever He wants so long as He gives me breath, with or without a companion. And when He does see fit to introduce a companion to me, I will reorient my life with that relationship in mind and continue to serve him in the same manner. I’ll simply have a partner from then on.

So I shall serve Christ wherever I’m called. I recognize that Jesus alone commands my destiny. His timing is perfect. I recognize also that I have a deep desire for true companionship and that if it is God’s will for this desire of my heart to be satisfied, it must be God who provides through His wisdom and good timing, not me through my feeble and foolish efforts. He has already chosen her for me and me for her, and so there is nothing that either of us need to do for one another except wait for God’s gentle hands to send us to love one another. I relinquish control of this to God. Help Thou my unbelief. Let my trust be an act of worship to You, my gracious, loving, compassionate, merciful, magnificent, holy King.


What is Love?

3:11PM, Sunday, July 15, 2007

Edit: My best friend Bob pointed out that something was missing from this post. I agreed. To get the obvious (and humorous) out of the way, here is something with which I’m sure more than a few of you are familiar. I feel it is relevant to the subject at hand. Enjoy!

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Today Pastor Denny took us through some of the epistle of 1 John and how we might test ourselves to see if our hearts are true, to see if we truly are children of God. He talked about our walk and our doctrine as being the first two tests. That is, our lifestyle and what we believe ought to line up with what God’s Word says. Our lives should not be marked by a lifestyle of sin if we are truly following God, abiding in Him and His Word. The foundation for all our other beliefs is that Jesus is the Son of God, the second person of the co-equal Trinity. If anyone denies that Jesus is God or preaches some other gospel other than that laid out in Scripture, it is the spirit of the antichrist and the Spirit of God does not dwell in him.

My heart and my mind are fairly secure with regard to those first two because I do not lead a walk marked by a lifestyle of sin nor do I believe some false gospel, but the true Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. However, the third test which Denny expounded upon definitely hit home with me. It is the relational test for true faith. Over and over throughout 1 John, love is mentioned. Verse 3:10 says “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. ” Verse 15 goes on to say that “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

Well who is my brother? The first part of 3:1 makes this clear: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” Every believer in Christ is my brother and my sister. So when I don’t treat them with the same loyalty, the same love, the same respect, the same dignity, the same forgiveness — in every manner the same as a member of my own family — 1 John 4:20 says of me: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” So if I do not love my brother, not only am I a liar, I am also a murderer and it is impossible for me to love God whom I have not seen because I cannot even love my brother whom I have seen.

But what is love? “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16). So if I am to love my brother as Christ has loved me, anything I have that I have been blessed with that my brother needs ought to be given to him. As God has shown me forgiveness for my sins against Him, so I ought to forgive my brother of all his sins against me. And just as God restores us when we repent to fellowship with Himself, so we ought to restore our brothers and sisters to fellowship when they repent of their sins against us. If I am to rid myself of any remnant of hatred for my brother or sister there cannot even be a hint of grudge-bearing in my life. That means I have to continue to pursue restoration and wholeness in my relationships with my mother and my younger brother, as well as others in my family who may not know Christ and also with those who are not in my immediate family but with whom I have had a falling out.

But what does it mean practically to stop holding a grudge against people who have hurt me? It means I stop avoiding them by refusing to speaking to them. It means I stop avoiding their physical presence. There was a time when I was angry (perhaps, I thought, even justifiably so) over the immense hurt they had caused me in either what they said or what they had done. The time for any anger has long past. It is now time for peace and reconciliation. It is time to pursue love. I am a child of God, and I ought to love His children. I’m going to have to make some difficult calls home this week. But it is what I must do. Otherwise, I am a liar and the love of Christ is not in me. Given who God is positionally toward me and what He has done for me, I cannot righteously justify withholding any forgiveness, reconciliation, or love from those by whom I have been hurt or offended.

If you, my friends, believe that I have a grudge against you or have withheld my love from you in any manner, please do not hesitate to tell me. If you call Jesus your King and God, you are my brothers and my sisters. I want to love you in the same manner as God, who has lavished His love upon me. This is right. This is proper. This is good. I pray that you will love me in this way also.


Running Around in Circles

7:15PM, Monday, June 25, 2007

So on a whim I decided to take one of those silly quizzes I saw on a new friend’s MySpace. I answered honestly, and the quiz seems to think I’m something strange when it comes to relating to people. I don’t ask this with any pretense, but do I relate “too well” for people to take me seriously? Maybe I should become a guidance counselor. Haha.

I will spare you the visual assault that is the evil html code of Internet quizzes — at least in this space. If you absolutely must know, look me up on MySpace.

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I’ve been thinking quite a bit for the past few days with regard to Christian relationships in general (not necessarily romantic relationships). When I meet someone new, I want to find out about them as a person, and a lot of people just aren’t comfortable breaking out of their shells. I delight when I find folks who are comfortable enough share a little bit of themselves with me. I’m delighted when I’ve made a new friend. I enjoy treating people like family even though I may barely know them. But some folks just don’t seem to be comfortable with being truly honest about who they are.

Why is it that we are so afraid to take off the masks? Are we afraid that someone might see us as the fragile or broken person that we are? Why do we pretend that everything is alright and say things like “I’m fine” or “I’m just thinking about things” when really what we want is for someone to hold us while we weep? Is it so terrible to be vulnerable if the people around us genuinely love us? Ok, so not everyone is trustworthy. Many people will see an emotional vulnerability and see it as an opportunity to hurt or use another person. But in the context of a body of people who love, I believe that vulnerability is absolutely necessary if we’re going to relate to one another on the level of brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.

We’ve got to stop pretending like we’re “good” people and have it all together when the stark reality of the situation is that we are all still struggling with this cancer called sin. We end up so afraid to seek comfort and encouragement when we have stumbled in sin because we believe we’ll get singled out and treated poorly. So we just shut everything up inside ourselves and put on a happy face. We wind up in a downward spiral that leaves us falling deeper and deeper into the anguish that sin brings. Why don’t we just level with each other and admit that what Paul tells us in Romans 3 is true:

“. . . [A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

We’re all equals. There’s no distinction among us in God’s eyes. We all miss the mark entirely. We all are utterly desperate and in need of a savior. We all need the community found in the Body of Christ as well: we need encouragement when we’re struggling; we need comfort when we’re hurting; we need rebuke when we sin; we need reconciliation and restoration when we repent of sin. So let’s stop pretending like we don’t sin and that we don’t need these things. Let’s stop pretending like we don’t have a need to be constantly renewed and constantly refined into being more like Christ. We all do, because even the “best” of us isn’t even close to perfect.

I need God’s grace daily. You need God’s grace daily. We ought to love and forgive one another as God does to us when we simply acknowledge our need for it and accept the gift He offers to us. My friends, I pray that God makes us kind, loving, warm, and receptive to one another, especially in times of spiritual need. May He grant us the courage to offer a gentle rebuke in love when it is necessary and also the courage to seek out comfort and encouragement when we have stumbled. May He grant us mercy that we might be merciful to those who have sinned against us. May He grant us the willingness and patience to pursue peace and the restoration of the bond of friendship however it has been broken. May He grant that our hearts would be tender and that we would not selfishly withhold our love for the sake of grievances between us.


Companionship and Affection part 1

1:05AM, Monday, June 18, 2007

I long for genuine Christian companionship. If I stop and think about it, this has been something I have long desired, probably since becoming a teenager and never really having too many friends because being a Christian, being one of the “smart kids” in class, and being a musician just wasn’t cool. I think even in high school I saw through the emptiness of the shallow relationships that people all around me seem to form with one another. Noone really cared for or loved one another in any sort of genuine manner. Every relationship they formed was for some quick emotional or physical gratification.

At the risk of sounding like an emo kid, I understand I’m not the most attractive person. There is nothing special about me physically, and I don’t believe that anything about my personality is really all that alluring. My corny humor is lost on most people and I would venture to say that it downright annoys some people. I know that noone is perfect and I am included in that bunch, but there don’t seem to be any real special qualities about Bill Carlisle the person that would give cause for people to choose me as a companion.

And I suppose that even within the Body that there are those who are still stuck in that worldly mode of hollow relationships. Perhaps this is a fault within me for wanting more meaningful relationships with others, but I sense that people are very loathe to consider being anything more than acquaintances most of the time. I see nothing wrong with sitting down with a total stranger, finding a common interest and talking along that point or perhaps just listening to a story that they have to tell or telling one of my own. I am absolutely comfortable with it and I rather enjoy the company of others and sharing conversations about pretty much anything, regardless of the existence of prior established relationships.

Perhaps I ought to be more sensitive to other peoples’ comfort and pace. I’m mature enough as a person that I don’t mind becoming good friends with someone in a relatively short period of time, but others (really it seems like the vast majority of people) aren’t really ready for that sort of emotional pace in their relationships. I probably need to just slow down, but it’s so very hard when the depth of relationship that I long for isn’t readily available at a “normal” pace. Another area to pray for patience? A resounding “yes” echoes through my mind. God, slow me down.

I so earnestly crave a friend to whom I can write 2 and 3 page letters or with whom I can just sit and have a conversation for hours. And not just every once in awhile. And I don’t want them to be another mentor to me. I have a mentor already. I want a companion. I want someone to walk through the woods with me. I want someone to go to musical plays with me. I want someone who will sit and watch the sun set with me and marvel at how awesome God is and how beautiful His creation is.

And it’s not for a shallow reason either. I want someone with whom I can partner in worshiping God. Does that make sense at all? I enjoy worshiping God, and I can do it when I am by myself, but the experience doesn’t seem complete without someone else sharing in God’s glory. And don’t confuse music with worship. Music is but one way in which we can worship God. I’m talking about someone who is a full-fledged worshiper of Jesus who finds a way to glorify Him throughout the day, wherever they happen to be. I want someone who knows what her “chief end” is and will pursue it alongside me.

Ah, there it slipped out. When I think about what I’m longing for in terms of companionship, really it’s a description of the wife I desire. Don’t run scared if you’re a young woman and reading this. I’m not getting involved in any long-term relationships for awhile until God makes it abundantly clear that it is in His plan for a relationship deeper than “just friends” to be formed. So go ahead and be my friend. In fact, that’s really what I’m asking for, since nearly everything I’ve listed is something any friend can do with me. A wife can simply do them to a much fuller extent. And to my homeboys, you aren’t being left out. I need friends that are men too.

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Affection is something that I’ve also been desiring as of late also. There is something about human touch that is so profound and moving. Someone holding my hand is more than just a benign public display of affection. It has effects on my mood, on my outlook, on my thoughts. More on that in a later post. I’m drifting into sleep at this point. I must retire for rest.