Monday, December 24, 2012

Musings on Christmas

Sometimes the Christmas story just sounds too much like that: a story.  It's got a setting, principal and secondary characters, a plot, a climax, a resolution that leaves room for a sequel.  Sometimes I fall into the routine around this time of year and even get swept along by the whole glorified aspect of the baby Jesus born to a virgin to save the world thing.  It sounds like it could be a movie, too, and guaranteed there are hundreds of movies out there about this very theme.  Approaching it cynically, it's enough to make one wonder about the validity and even the meaning of Christmas.  But what I need to remember is the fact that no matter how often human beings take this story and make it even more of a story, appealing to the general audience, it's more than just a story.

It happened.

Perhaps not on December 25, but still it happened.  Perhaps not with Mary riding into Bethlehem on a mule and pausing at different homes, taking her time to ask every single person if they could spare a room for the night, but it still happened.  Perhaps not with exactly three wise men or los tres reyes magos like we always see and have grown used to seeing, but still it happened.  Perhaps not with everyone lined up neatly around the manger in picture perfect lighting, baby Jesus sleeping silently in a pile of clean hay and tidy swaddling cloths, but still it happened.

In fact, we tend to glorify this event so much.  We forget that Mary was just a teenager, and probably freaked out of her mind for multiple reasons: a) she witnessed an angel come to her and tell her she would be pregnant (how many people see angels, again?), b) she was pregnant at a young age, c) she was pregnant by means that had nothing to do with normal conception, and d) she wasn't even married to Joseph at this point.  We forget that Joseph probably assumed that Mary had been unfaithful to him at first, and that he was probably furious with her for a little while before an angel also came to him and told him what was going on.  We also forget that Mary was very pregnant when she had to travel with Joseph to Bethlehem for the census, that they probably didn't have a mule available to them and they had to walk the entire way across treacherous terrain and probably without proper footwear (sandals, anyone?).  We forget that Mary could have begun to contract at any point during her arrival in Bethlehem and simply would not have had the time to amble around with Joseph looking for a neat little inn, and that odds are she just ducked into the nearest stable because nobody was willing to take in a stranger.  We forget that there were no painkillers.

We forget that this, in fact, definitely did not occur on December 25, since the fact that all the sheep were out in their pastures at night lends to the thought that it was probably springtime and mating season for them.  We forget that hundreds, if not thousands, of shepherds and magi who traversed miles to be able to see the Savior of the world in baby form.  We forget that King Herod tried to use this whole sequence of events to murder the child so that he would not overthrow Herod's reign (even though this was never Jesus's intention, since His kingdom "is not of this world" [John 18:38]) and in fact ordered all children under the age of two to be executed in order to try to avoid this possibility.

We forget that Jesus, though He was born entirely God, was also born entirely human, and human babies cry.  A lot.  We forget that a manger is a feeding trough, usually for pigs, and not the most sanitary location for a newborn baby.  We forget that Mary may or may not have anticipated Jesus's birth on this journey and therefore may or may not have thought to have brought clean cloths to wrap him in; in fact, from such a long journey, they were probably as dirty and sweat-ridden as she and Joseph, and the cloths may have been taken from their own backs.  We forget that Mary and Joseph probably hadn't eaten much of anything and had hardly slept any up to this point.

We forget why Jesus was even born to begin with.  We forget that God created humans and loved them as His favorite part of all creation, and yet we with our free will decided that we wanted to go our own way apart from God, and not live in relationship with Him, not listen to Him, not have anything to do with Him.  We forget that a rift created by such "sin" (anything that "misses the mark" of God's absolute perfection and relationship with Him, like a bullseye in a target) can only be filled and bridged by a deep, personal sacrifice of some sort, and that for centuries humans tried to make up for it with their own perfect animal blood sacrifices.  We forget that love came down to Earth, that God so loved the world that He gave the world Himself as His son that we might forever live with Him and be in perfect relationship again with Him through an absolutely perfect, eternal sacrifice to trump all others (John 3:16).  We forget that, ultimately, this is why Jesus was born: to die one of the worst deaths, if not the worst death, that humanity has ever recorded.

We forget that all of this is more than a story: It's history.  And we forget that grace is not just a gift given for the whole of humanity, but that it's also personal.  It's for me.  And it's for you.  He loves me.  And He loves you.  He loves you.  You.  Just as you are.  You, with all your imperfections.  You, with all your problems.  You, with all your unfulfilled goals and dreams and wishes.  You, not because of anything you've ever done or ever will do.  You, simply because you are.  Simply because He chooses to love you, because He thinks you're wonderful and marvelous and lovely and an incredible nuance of creation.

Let's consider this aspect reality of Christmas a little more, shall we?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pegado a Dios

(Note: some of this will be written in Spanish because of the connections.  I will translate it in parentheses, even though it sounds better in Spanish.)

While it's perhaps not the greatest analogy and perhaps not the best situation, I was hit with the realization yesterday of how much bachata dancing (or any similar dance) relates to a relationship with God.  Not in the sense that it's sensual, or anything like that.  Allow me to explain:

When dancing bachata, the closer you are, the better, generally speaking.  It's a lot easier to follow the person who is leading you the closer you are, because you can relax into the movement of your partner's body and feel where he wants to go and what he wants to do next.  In fact, when the two partners dance pegados (that is, stuck together), that is when it is the easiest to detect what moves the other partner wants to do, and that is when it is the easiest to follow, and also when it's the most enjoyable because of the fact that it's simply just requires the willingness to follow.

There's a song that Jesús Adrián Romero does called "Pegado a Ti" (stuck to You) that completely relates to this theme.  Basically, the closer we get to God, the better we are able to detect where He wants us to God and what He wants us to do.  We can hear Him speak more clearly; His voice is more audible to us over the noise of the world around us.  In fact, when we are pegado a Dios (stuck to God) as though we were dancing bachata, that is when it is the easiest to know where He wants to lead us and when it's the most enjoyable, because all we have to do is just follow Him.  It can be kind of scary simply giving over to His lead and following, and sometimes we don't know the steps very well that He wants us to take and follow because they are new to us.  But the more we dance with Him, the better equipped we are to keep following and keep dancing.  The bottom line is that it requires a constant decision to trust God.  It's not a one-time "yes, I'll follow You this time for this step," because if it were that way, the dance would stop in the middle.  It's a constant decision to keep dancing and following Him and His steps.

I could keep going on and making connections but I think you get the point, dear Reader.

It's been hard for me very recently to keep trusting God and following Him.  It's been difficult to remain pegado because some recent happenings have just had me so strongly desiring to not dance so closely, out of pain, out of fear, out of anger/bitterness.  But the truth is that this is when I need to cling even tighter to Him, because quite honestly I don't know the steps on my own for this dance, and even if I did, in any dance it's not good for the follower to resist the lead.  It messes up the whole dance and results in a dance that doesn't come close to what it could have been.

Proverbs 3:5-6 = "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

To die daily to pride

Little by little I am learning here in Spain (I'm studying abroad; click here for blog updates on that!) that sometimes it is much better to simply keep my mouth shut.  Of course I need to practice the language.  Of course not speaking is not how friendships are made.  But I asked God to humble me before coming here, and He is doing just that, and as much as I am not liking it in the moment, He is faithful and I am grateful that He is.  I am indeed learning a lot.  And I am realizing more and more each day that it is crucial that I die daily to pride.

Pride is an awful sin (sin = anything that "misses the mark" of God's perfection, if we deem God's perfection to be the perfect center and bullseye of our target), and probably the sneakiest as my friend Carli pointed out last night.  Instead of glorifying God, we glorify ourselves.  When we do things, we do them to build ourselves up instead of build up God's kingdom.  And the thing is, everyone is prideful to some degree.  Yes, even you.

Pride isn't always just "I'm better than you", thought it certainly is.  Pride is also "I'm glad I'm not you."  Pride is also "At least I'm not like him" and is also "At least I don't do that."  Pride is also "I don't need your help."  Pride is also "I know I'm right and I'm not backing down from arguing with you."  Pride is also "I refuse to x because I don't want people to think I am y."  Pride is also "Why is this happening to me of all people?"

It's not hanging around people who are "beneath you."  It's not listening to the advice of others because it's contrary to what you might be stubborn about.  It's not admitting to being wrong.  It's talking about your own experiences as a means to "one-up" someone else.  It's correcting others about every mistaken detail, no matter how minute.  It is measuring yourself against others.  Proverbs 18:2 = "Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions."  How many times have I been a victim to becoming a fool now?

It's in all of this that I find myself mixed up and falling short of the humility I desire to have in my relationships with other people.  It's in my daily life here in Spain that I find my eyes being opened more and more every passing moment to my depravity and my own struggles with pride, something that I only started becoming aware of last summer and that I have only recently begun to realize is more than just a surface issue.  Pride is never just a surface issue with a quick fix: It is rooted in the heart.  It's like a disease, one we came into from the Fall, and eliminating symptoms doesn't treat the disease itself.

Because of the Fall, mankind is naturally selfish.  But thanks to the Passion, mankind is supernaturally redeemed.  Jesus is the cure for the disease.

1 Corinthians 8:1b = "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."

For me, the struggle has never been recognizing that everyone, and I mean everyone, has sinned, and sins daily, including myself.  It has never been, for me, realizing that we humans are all on an even playing field and that no one is better than anyone else.  Rather, it's knowing that the things I say and do stem from a "need" to be acknowledged and validated by others.  It's knowing that having a say in every little thing and proving people wrong puts me on the throne where Jesus belongs.  It's knowing that honestly, if I am a true servant of the Most High God, I should see my reputation and abilities and opinions and priority, when it comes down to it, as below that of everyone else's.  You first, not me.

That is love.

And for me, a lot of this starts with being slow to speak and quick to listen, like my friend Aurora who has been an incredible example to me in the past week.  As Proverbs 17:28 says, "Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues."  It doesn't mean that I stay silent all the time, but rather that I carefully consider what I am about to say and ask myself the purpose is of the words that are about to leave my mouth.  Most of all, it means I spend more time in prayer and that I allow God to continue working in my heart, and that I not move in the opposite direction or act as dead weight but rather move towards the direction He would have me move in.

What is it for you, dear Reader?  Where do you struggle with pride?  Where is it affecting your relationships?  What steps can you take in these areas?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Obedience and patience

You might be thinking from the title of this post, "Obedience and patience?  Seriously?  Those are the two things I like to hear about the least!"  I know I sometimes feel like that, and it's because obedience and patience are the two things that I need the most right now!  I need to obey God and I need to wait.  And waiting is hard.  I read through Jeremiah 42 this morning and was hit hard by the story though.  There are three important verses in particular that I want to focus on and that I would like to examine here and unpack with you, dear Reader.

Background:  Jeremiah is a prophet of God who didn't really ask to be one and has been through a ton of hard stuff because even though he didn't ask to be a prophet and felt he wasn't ready to be one, God equipped him and Jeremiah chose to obey.  God sends Jeremiah with probably the worst news possible almost all of the time to the people of Judah, and nobody wants to hear it.  Why?  Because what God tells Jeremiah to say is a warning to the people:  He wants Jeremiah to warn the people that if they don't repent from their current practices (that is, turn away from what they are doing currently that dishonors God and follow God instead), destruction is sure to come upon the land, and an entire population of people will be wiped out.  Hardly anyone likes Jeremiah for this, especially because false prophets keep saying things like, "Don't listen to Jeremiah; God will not sent Babylonians to destroy us!"

Why does God do this whole destruction-punishment thing, and why does He even say he feels grieved about it?  Because God is a Father, and He is just:  Like a parent, He loves His children very much, but in order for the child to grow up and be successful the parent must punish the child for bad behavior so that the child can develop well.

So we arrive at chapter 42, and there is only a remnant of Judah left after the Babylonians come through and then the Ammonites.  The army officers of the remnant of Judah come to Jeremiah and beg him in verse 2, "Please hear our petition and pray to the LORD your God for this entire remnant.  For as you now see, though we were once many, now only a few are left.  Pray that the LORD your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do."  Jeremiah agrees, and he's probably happy because it appears in this moment that people are actually going to listen to him and to God for once and actually do what's best for them.  He says he'll tell them everything he hears from God and won't hold anything back.  So the remnant replies in verse 6, "Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the LORD our god, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the LORD our God."

I am convinced that this sort of obedience that the remnant professes in verse 6 is the kind of obedience that God looks for in His children.  He's not looking for wimpy half-hearted obedience.  He's not looking for His children to only obey Him when it suits their own personal desires, to only obey Him when he says "yes" to everything that they want to hear.  He is a firm parent.  He needs His children to obey him whether he says "yes" or "no".  He has His peoples' best interests at heart always, and He loves us always.  This means that since He knows what is best for us, for things to go well with us we need to obey Him even when He says "no"; that is to say, we need to obey Him even when it goes against what we really would like to do.  Unfortunately for the remnant of Judah in these two chapters, they disobey because God tells them through Jeremiah not to flee to Egypt, which is what they had been planning on doing all along.  I haven't read further than chapter 43 at this point, but we know at this point that destruction will come for them later at Egypt if they choose to flee there, even though at first they will be able to live an easier life.

This brings up another juicy point:  Sometimes the easier way is not the best way.  Sometimes we have to suffer things that we don't want to at all.  We're like that child kicking and screaming when told that we can't go to the playground today because it's raining outside.  The important thing to remember is that God uses hard times and moments to shape us and prepare us for things that have yet to come, and to prepare us for the good that He has in store for us.

Now let's look at what it says in verse 7:  "Ten days later the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah."  You might be thinking, "Okay, so what?  This is boring."  Dear Reader, the point is that God is a God of processes, not of instant gratification.  How well does instant gratification work when it comes to raising a child?  It doesn't discipline the child well, that's for sure.  I'm sure you can think of a couple of kids who are being raised this way or who are older and were raised this way...  God does not coddle His children like this.  God's timing is perfect, and once again He knows what's best for us.  This means that sometimes we have to be patient and wait.  Our prayers may not be answered in an instant.  It may take a day, or it could take ten as we see with Jeremiah, or it could take even longer.  And so ensues a time of waiting.

But what does it mean to wait?  It doesn't mean just sitting there!  Look at how John Ortberg puts it:
[To wait] doesn't mean to be passive or inactive or fatalistic.  It means whatever I do while I'm waiting for Sunday [an answered prayer, a certain event, a blessing, etc.], I do with Him.  I work with Him, I rest with Him, I ask questions with Him, I wrestle with Him, I complain with Him.  I wait on the Lord.
 Of course this requires a ton of patience, especially when we've been waiting for answers or healing or blessing for a long time.  I'll let you know that I've been granted a couple of really amazing dreams that I want to follow through on and I want to see come to life really bad, but I know that they require that I wait.  What does this period of waiting involve?  Well first, I'll be studying in Spain in the fall; before I am able to go, I need to prepare my heart, pack bags, tie up loose ends, and of course still continue life here in the United States!  After that, I have dreams of going to graduate school, but this requires that I wait as well.  During that period of waiting, I need to finish my undergraduate studies.  And I picture myself living and working in Costa Rica in the future, which of course requires more waiting as I finish all of my studies, do all of the necessary planning, get things set up, actually finding a job, etc.  There are more dreams floating around in my head besides these, but I share these just as examples.

Jeremiah had to wait ten days for God to answer his prayer, but during that time he wasn't passive.  He continued to pray, and continues to live life.  One final word on waiting that I greatly enjoy:  In the Spanish language, the word for "to wait" is "esperar".  That same word "esperar" also means "to hope".  While we are waiting for whatever it is we are waiting for, we are hoping.  We hope for something that hasn't yet come but that we have faith will indeed come to us, that answer to our prayer.

In the end when God told him what to tell the remnant of Judah, they still didn't listen and went to Egypt anyway, but Jeremiah's example of being a faithful servant is one that I pray that you, dear Reader, would take to heart.

Blaming God

(This is from way back in March or April.  I thank my lovely G.I.G. for the awesome time discussing the following!)

Imagine that someone had all the money, resources, and power in the world. Imagine that you had heard that this person was generous with all of his or her things, and had been known to freely give things to those people who needed them. Imagine you were just twenty or so dollars short on cash and needed the money in order to pay your rent for this month (or pay for textbooks, or pay the mortgage, or pay bills, or whatever).

Imagine yourself, then, going up to that well-endowed person and asking for $20.

What would you do if that person didn't give you the answer you were looking for (which, we're assuming, is a yes?)

You have a few options:
-You could keep asking for the money
-You could sigh resignedly and decided "Oh well, he/she really isn't generous after all"
-You could get angry at the person because he/she gives to tons of other people; why not you?
-You could acknowledge that the person may have a reason for not giving you the money and still believe that person to be generous
-You could try to bargain with the person, or try to say that you'll pay him/her back later

Whether it's healing a financial situation, healing a medical situation, healing a relational situation, healing an educational situation, or any other sort of healing, when we turn to God and ask Him to help us, we usually expect to receive that help. What sucks is that sometimes, we don't receive the help we ask for. Sometimes we weren't really expecting Him to help anyways, in which case we're not too disappointed because it just perhaps confirms the notion that He wasn't really generous after all. Sometimes it makes us angry because we needed His help so bad, and it was only a situation that He could fix, and He didn't do it, and this causes us to turn away from Him in a huff and decide, "Well, if that's how you're going to be, then I don't need you. I'll be fine. I'll do it myself." And there's a whole range of other responses we can have towards that.

Many times, basically, we blame God Himself for not giving us what we want. Don't we have good reason to, though? It's His fault that He won't be generous with us like He is with some other people.

There's a couple of different ways one can explore this:

-If you do not know someone, or if you do not know a person very well, and you go up to that person and ask him or her for money, how likely is it that the person will give it to you? How does that person know that you are trustworthy and will pay him or her back, or that you truly need the money that the person is giving you? God truly seeks a relationship with you, and He truly does desire to give you your heart's needs, but you need to show up.

-Sometimes, God has a different plan in mind. Maybe something has to happen in a specific way such that you grow from it, it shapes you, He can use it in a better way, etc. We cannot even begin to comprehend, in our own selfish selves, what plans an omnipotent being could possibly have for us, until those plans start unfolding in our lives little by little.

Friday, August 3, 2012

He is

Psalm 62:11-12a = "One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving."

I was reading Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick when this verse jumped out at me from the page, as did Furtick's basic premise of the chapter I was reading: God is great, and God is good.  I felt compelled to tack on, "and He is."  The first part of the verse reads "One thing God has spoken."  My immediate thought, the one resounding deeply in my heart that may not simply come from myself but has been spoken into my heart, is God speaking the words "I am."  God is power as much as God is love, but God also is.  Is what?


He is personal.  He is present.  He is just.  He is faithful.  He is God.

I had the opportunity during the time I was in Costa Rica to dance a dance of worship two Saturdays ago in the church to a song called "Angels Fall Down" by Skillet.  Once being granted the opportunity on Tuesday, I fretted for the rest of that day and the next four days over the dance, trying to set a basic choreography that would honor God while leaving room for interpretation and for Him to move through me as I danced.  I shed sweat, blood, and tears, cried out prayers from Jesus's words in John 17 for God to use this dance to further His glory, and when it came time to do the dance I gave it all I had.  And on my computer, after I retrieved it after the dance and went to close out iTunes, I saw a link to a song called "I AM" that I had no idea existed. I had never downloaded a song by that name before.  There was no other information.  I clicked it to listen and discovered it was a broken link.  The only other people to touch the computer before me in that building spoke little to no English, not to mention probably didn't know how to download music illegally and then delete the file so that it becomes a broken link.  To this day I still cannot find the original file.

Was it a God thing?  Maybe, maybe not.  But suffice to say it reminded me ever so clearly why I was there in that room, dancing in worship to God.  Because He is great, and He is good, and He is.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

We punish ourselves

I'm not one of those kids who grew up in a church or had a dad as a pastor or anything like that.  I became a Christian of my own accord around three and a half years ago.  So even though I wasn't brought up with any sort of Christian habits or ideas or frames of mind, I grew into them out of what I was learning from my own reading/research and from beginning to attend church.  One of the ideas I was presented with that I didn't really question that much (being busy questioning other matters and all) was the whole idea of punishment.  The idea I conceived from implicit messages from some other Christians and from my own assumptions was that if you did something that was considered sin, if you did something that hurt other people, if you did something that was wrong, etc., God would keep track of those misdemeanors somehow and punish you either now or at some point in the future.

At some point in my life I decided that perhaps I was mistaken in this misconception, but I didn't really care or pay much mind to it.  That is, until I came across this yesterday:

Jeremiah 2:19 = "'Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you.  Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me,' declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty."

Reader, I don't know about you, but upon reading this and doing a little bit of research I've come to be able to paraphrase the first part as the following:  God doesn't actively punish us.  Rather, the consequences of our actions are what discipline us and cause us to feel disciplined or punished.  The second part:  God cares about us but will not impinge upon our free will to do what we want.  He has an idea of what's best for us in the sense of what's good for us, but choosing to do something else is our own decision, albeit one that could be "bitter" or have undesirable consequences.

An indirect example and imperfect metaphor could be the following:  One's choice to get very drunk is normally an exertion of free will, and the "in-the-moment" effects (at least so I've heard; I don't drink) are entertaining and fun.  The after effects, however, could possibly include doing something you regret while being drunk, getting hurt, being hung over the next morning, etc., and they kind of sound like they suck and are reasons to not get so terribly drunk again.

I think this idea is a little more radical and a bit contrary to what people in the church tend to advocate, due to agenda-pushing and such.  The thing is, it's a much more powerful idea and makes more sense.

I am confident in the notion that God never forsakes us, but rather that we are the ones who go around doing whatever we want because we are granted the freedom to do so, and meanwhile He watches us and pursues us, wishing that we would realize that the things He would rather have us do are much more fulfilling.  I freely admit, though, to not being perfect and to straying all the time from what He would probably rather have me do instead of what I choose to do.  When I start getting wrapped up in the "things of this world" as it were, or placing way too much value on things other than God, I usually end up wondering weeks later why I'm feeling so anxious or downright upset and unhappy with my life.  Then it dawns on me that I've been neglecting my relationship with God, something that is irreplaceable and that fills me to the brim with joy and happiness and life.  I feel like this verse was written for me, reminding me that every decision I make matters.

What do you think, Reader?  How do any of these ideas sound familiar?  What does this all mean to you?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Who is lighting your life?

I love how interconnected things can get sometimes. Just thought I'd mention that.

I just finished reading a book lent to me by a friend; it is titled Redeeming Love and it is by Francine Rivers. The entire story is an allegory of the story of Hosea's love for Gomer from the Bible, which in turn is also an allegory of the story of God's love for His people. I came away from the novel with many, many thoughts and take-aways floating through my mind, but here is one that I feel compelled to highlight: Trying to go it on our own and do everything from our own strength is deadly.

Let me try to unpack this for you, Reader, because with not sleeping as much as I would like to lately, I tend to make statements that are a little weird and don't make sense at first because my mind jumps train tracks like a crazed dog jumps around its owner when he or she is carrying some sort of food item...

The basic definition of sin is "missing the mark" (literally taken from missing the bullseye in archery, coming to mean missing the mark of God's perfection and what He would have for us). When we go about our own ways every day, doing everything in our own power, not having what God would rather us have...yeah, technically that's sin. It's a hard concept to face sometimes, especially because I would rather believe that my way is always correct! Furthermore, every sin is a drop of water poured into a vast ocean that separates us from God, because ultimate perfectness and holiness cannot mix with imperfectness without being made less so; in other words, the continuous giver of life becomes separated from His creation, giving us the phrase that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

While this eternal separation issue was solved when God became man (Jesus) and took upon Himself the entire weight of sin in order to restore our relationship with Him, we still have daily choices to make. Just because Jesus died doesn't mean we are now impeccably perfect and can do no wrong, not at all! In fact, we have free will. God doesn't make us love Him; He doesn't force us to choose Him, to go His way, to accept His life, any of that. He loves us too much, and wants us to freely choose Him. Because of free will, we have the choice to go our own way. We have the choice to sin. We have the freedom to choose to go at it alone, to die a little each time we do things that we think will give us real life, to refuse to accept a God's help, to be our own god.

When we light our own fires to try to see in the darkness of our futures/lives (see Isaiah 50:10-11) and try to lead ourselves (see previous post), we walk down paths different from the one that God has for us. He would like us to allow him to be the light instead (see John 8:12), knowing us better than we know ourselves and having our best interests at heart. He loves us and doesn't want us getting lost in the dark.

For me personally, this is also a reminder that my role is not to light my own torch so that everyone can look at me and see me and follow me in the dark like I know without any help where I'm going. Rather, my role is to follow Jesus's light and encourage others to do so as well. This is such a humbling reminder for me. Furthermore, I have been redeemed and am no longer the person of my past; I am not to stay chained to that, for I have been given freedom (see John 8:36). I have a testimony to share and a cross to bear, but I take it up willingly in light of the fact that I am following a new Light. I need not be held back any longer.

Dear Reader, you may disagree with me on one level or another, and I'm okay with that. This is what I believe, and the loveliness of it was too much for me to keep inside. I'm not one to hide a lamp under a bowl in an unlit room (see Matthew 5:15), and so I will not hide what I believe to be true, no matter your level of discontent with my spiritual beliefs. And you did read all the way to the bottom, so I must not have offended you that much, right? (This is where I would wink at you and smile good-naturedly if we were together in person.) But let's talk about this more if you would like.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


When a couple do some sort of Latin or ballroom dance, the female partner must let the male partner do the "leading" and show her off, while she does the "following". For me, I know I have always had some trouble with this. Sometimes it's because I catch on to the choreography faster than the other person. Sometimes it's because I think I know the steps when I actually am doing them wrong, but I think the other person is so I just ignore what he's trying to do and keep pulling him my way. Eventually it becomes tense and uncontrolled, and doesn't look good. And my partner will keep telling me, trying to get it through my head, "Let me lead you!"

I feel like God is this way with his people all the time. He keeps trying to do this dance of life with us, and we keep trying to do our own thing, and all the while He keeps pleading with us, "Let me lead you!"

Isaiah 48:17 = "This is what the LORD says--your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: 'I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.'"

Reading this verse today, I am reminded of the fact that I surrendered my life a while ago to knowing Him and following Him, not trying to lead He who cannot be led, because He is the ultimate leader and dance partner. Yet I inevitably find myself time and time again trying to do things my own way, or even someone else's way, because I think I know best, or I think someone else's way is better than mine or God's.

But honestly, do we really know ourselves as the One who created us from the inside out, who knit us together and imagined us before we were born (see Psalm 139:13)? Are we really so prideful as to think that we have it all together and we know what's best for us, more so than a God who created the universe? And I need to be reminded of this daily, because I'm human, and I make mistakes, and I forget. I don't think there's anyone who doesn't need to be reminded of the fact that we're only human, and yet that we are divinely loved and we are constantly being romanced by a being who loves us enough to bless us with free will that allows us to make the decision of whether or not to love Him back, or to even acknowledge Him. It's the kind of love that pursues and heals and cherishes and cares even when we turn and run our own way over and over and over.

May we have the courage to surrender and not keep trying to lead this dance, Reader, a dance we do not know even half as well as we would like. We can have hope in the notion that He knows what He is doing, even if we don't. He knows the steps.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

God is a song

Exodus 15:2 = "'The LORD is my strength and my defense [or song]; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him; my father's God, and I will exalt him." (Moses's and the Israelite's song after Moses parted the sea)

Isaiah 12:2 = "Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my song [or defense]; he has become my salvation.'" (Isaiah's reference to Exodus 15:2 and prophecy for the repentance and joy of the remnant of Israel after God's wrath as well as His providence and salvation)

What does it mean for God to be one's song? Think about it: The LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my song. The repeating of the phrase "the LORD" gives emphasis and a greater weight in the Hebrew writing style to the fact that it is God, nothing else, who is "my strength and my song."

He is my strength; I think I get that. I've seen it in Philippians 4:13 ("I can do all this [or things] through him [Christ] who gives me strength"), and I understand that He is the ultimate source of my strength, my love, my everything, along with the fact that He will never give me any situation greater than I can handle with His help (related to 1 Cor. 10:13). But my song?

Switchfoot sings worshipfully in "Your Love is a Song" that God's love is a symphony and a melody coursing completely through oneself. I suppose one could say that since God is love, God Himself therefore is a song. But I'm not 100% satisfied. I think it goes a little bit deeper.

And this may not necessarily be correct, because I'm writing and thinking and guessing and making a hypothesis I suppose all at once...but of course, this is my blog, not yours, dear reader, so I can say what I want. You're welcome to comment below and lend me your views though!

But here's what I think either way: I think more than God being love and His love being a song, God is a song. Period. He is this incredible, uncontainable, incomparable, hard-to-comprehend, ultimately divine being who is greater than anyone can possibly imagine with a faulty human mind. He breathes life into things and holds the universe in His hands, having created time and space and the life within it. He ultimately, by way of being who He is, is a song, in the sense that all His creation was made to reflect Him in a glorious symphony.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lessons from Katie Davis

I am much more terrified of living a comfortable life in a self-serving society and failing to follow Jesus than I am of any illness or tragedy.
Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis, pg. XIX

While the Bible doesn't tell every person on earth specifically what his or her life's calling will be, it does include a lot of general direction:
"You are to find me in the least of these." Yes.
"You are to leave your earthly possessions and come follow me." Yes.
"You are to love and serve the Lord God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself." Yes.
"You are to go and make disciples of all nations." Yes.
"You are to entertains strangers and lepers and tax collectors." Yes.
"You are to show mercy." Yes.
"You are to live a life of mediocrity and abundance, holding on tight to your comfortable lifestyle, lest you lose it." No.
Kisses From Katie by Katie Davis, pg. 100

One of the questions that surprised me most was this: "Mommy, if Jesus comes
to live inside my heart, will I explode?"
"No!" I proclaimed as the children and I headed to the Nile River for a few of them to be baptized that day.
Then I thought about the question a bit more.
"Yes, if Jesus comes to live in your heart, you will explode." That is exactly what we should do if Jesus comes to live inside our hearts. We will explode with love, with
compassion, with hurt for those who are hurting, and with joy for those who rejoice. We will explode with a desire to be more, to be better, to be close to the One who made us.
Kisses From Katie by Katie Davis, pg. 108
Simply put, it's not about us. Though we each have a distinct and important role, we are not the main characters. Our purpose is less about us than we think it is. Our impact is much greater than we imagine it to be. We have free will to do what we want to a certain extent, but we also have the choice to give ourselves to one of God's crazy-awesome plans that end up being better than anything humanly conceivable. None of this stuff around us matters, for it will all disappear one day, whether death comes first or not. Possessions don't last, and it's just not worth it to base your worth on them. Love burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame (Song of Solomon 8:6b), and love endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7). I want to "explode with love, with compassion, with hurt for those who are hurting, and with joy for those who rejoice" like Katie Davis says above. I don't want to be satisfied and comfortable with complacency. May we dare to rise above the status quo.

To learn more about Katie Davis and Amazima Ministries, visit and

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What I gathered from Hitchens's death

So, this is a little late in coming, but better late than never I suppose.

I have given much thought, research, and time to the--what is the best word?--aura surrounding Christopher Hitchens's death. Many Christians were praying and even after his death continued to pray that Hitchens would acknowledge Jesus' gift of eternal salvation at the end of his life, thereby avoiding an eternal afterlife in Hell. Many atheists were scolding the Christians and proclaiming that Hitchens died having done what he wanted to in life, with beliefs that he valued (namely atheism), and therefore can't all these Christians just leave the man alone? Besides, even if there is a (contested) afterlife, he chose his afterlife and is happy with it.

I understand both claims being made, both undercurrents, both statements, both beliefs. I just have a rhetorical question to make:

We assume, based on what we know from Hitchens in the press and from what he specifically chooses to place in writing, that he was a happy person and died as such. My question is a two-part one. Firstly, was he really happy? If the answer is yes, which I do not doubt, then why was he happy? In other words, what things/people/places/ideas did he place value on and gain happiness from?

What makes YOU, reader, happy?

Examples of things that can make people happy: having nice things (house, car, etc.), traveling the world, playing with or taking care of animals, caring for children, learning, helping make policies that will affect the world in a good way, relationships with people (family, friends, spouse), good food and drink, music, sports...the list goes on and on, but these are just a few examples from off the top of my head. Personally, mine is relationships with people.

The issue many people seem to be tiptoeing around: What does the afterlife look like? Also, is there an afterlife?

The answer to the latter question is either yes or no, and it depends on your beliefs. If you believe that this life is all that there is, and when we die we just go -poof- and stop thinking and that's it and there will never be any more of you except what others remember or write down, then your answer to "is there an afterlife" is no. If you are not 100% sure of that (which, to be quite frank, I don't know that anyone is 100% certain that this life is all that there is, and you can correct me if I'm mistaken), then you're faced with the first issue, which is what the afterlife looks like.

Again, depending on what you believe, your response to this question will vary. And we can look at and debate this issue for hours, and I would be glad to (because somewhere in this issue the whole question of a Creator/God is brought up, whether there is one, etc.).

I would like to look at one aspect of the issue which strikes me heaviest, which you may or may not deem to my own personal bias. Assuming a Creator God (which the three major monotheistic religions of the world do), what is he to do with someone who for his whole life has not wanted anything to do with Himself? Well, obviously, you don't bring him to Heaven to live with you, because that would be Hell for the person who went all his life without wanting anything to do with God. We're assuming that this person still wants nothing to do with God and says he is happy without Him. What do you do with this person? A loving God would put that person where that person wants to be, which is as far away from God as possible.

We give that place a name, which is Hell.

Normally the term evokes images of boiling lava pits and fiery monsters or whatever. I will not go there, because honestly I don't think that's what Hell is, and that's not what I have read it to be anywhere. Hell, when it comes down to it, is basically that place God's love does not touch. Seems reasonable and perfectly fine: If you want nothing to do with God, what does it matter?

But here we go back to my initial question towards you, reader: What makes you happy? Because physical possessions do not go with you after death, no matter if you believe in an afterlife. And assuming you believe in an afterlife, if less physical things like relationships with people are what make you happy, such things are at stake here. Because if your relationships were what kept you happy in life, and all of a sudden you lose them (because they died, or you died, or they wanted to be with God and you did not, or vice versa), I don't think you'd still consider yourself happy. Honestly, would you be? I'm not faulting you if you say that you'd still be happy even without your loved ones. I just want to make sure you know exactly what your beliefs entail.

"Well, Ashley, all of my friends and I want nothing to do with God, so we're all going to Hell together, and we'll have a party." Okay. Just remember that Hell is the place God's love does not touch. If God is the source of love, though, are you still going to be able to love your friends even with their faults? Because if we do derive love and forgiveness from God, and if that is nonexistent in Hell...I mean, I know I'm biased like anyone, but I really don't think you'd be able to maintain friendships the same way in Hell without love, as on Earth or that could be made in Heaven with love. Also remember that everyone else who doesn't want to have anything to do with God chooses an afterlife without God, too, and you're not necessarily going to get along with them. In fact, many of them may choose to hurt you, and that may be why they chose to not want to have anything to do with God.

I think if Hitchens was perfectly happy before, and there is an afterlife, he may not be so happy anymore. And that saddens me, because I like when people are happy.

I realize that this is only one side of a many-faceted issue, definitely one that I need to research more and one that has a lot more depth to it. But this is my blog, after all. This is currently how I feel about this issue. I tried sharing all of this as carefully as I could with the time frame I wrote this in, but I realize a lot of it may sound harsh. And I know I make assumptions, but hear me when I say that I do so for the sake of looking at a side of this dilemma that truly is possible, an outcome that may exist, something we should take seriously. Frankly, we lose nothing if there's no afterlife. But what if?

I have strong faith beliefs, and my faith is based off more than just the hope that there is a Heaven, therefore writing the previous two sentences was difficult for me because it make what I believe seem like a safety net. My intent, however, was that you, dear reader, would understand that when there is no possible way to obtain scientific evidence for something one way or another, caution should be taken about what you choose to believe.