Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Resurrection of the Body, and the Life Everlasting

Sorry this has taken so bloody long for me to finish…

The resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen
I have been dragging my feet when it comes to dealing with this part.  It’s not that I don’t want to be done with this topic; I just don’t really know how to explain my thoughts.  So, bear with me while I try to put my thoughts into words.  

I believe that Jesus when before all of us when it comes to death and resurrection.  So if anyone has questions about how our resurrection will be we should look to him.  When Jesus came back, he wasn’t just some ghost or spirit.  He was solid, corporal.  He had an actual, physical, body.  You can see this when he proves to Thomas that he is back from the dead.  Thomas puts his hand on the wounded side and pierced hands of Jesus.  He touched him: physical contact.  

We will follow after Christ.  We will, in my understanding, come back in the end days as an actual physical being.  I don’t really know how it will work, or what the details of it will be; but I know it will happen.
That being said, it implies that we will still exist come the day of the resurrection.  We have a life that will not end even when it does.  The Book of Revelation is very adamant about the idea that people will have life everlasting if they believe in Jesus as lord and savior.  There is an image, which John paints, of a New Jerusalem where the believers all live together and Jesus rules over the people.  That is an image that has me excited for whatever may come.


Looking back, there isn’t a whole lot that I really needed to question in the Creed.  Most of it felt like second nature as I started to pick it apart.  However, there were some statements in the creed that through me for a loop as I took them apart.  In the end, I think it was a beneficial exercise for me.  I always have fun doing things like this.  :-)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Keeping Christ in Christmas

*I’ll finish my thoughts on the Apostles Creed tomorrow. Tonight, I have something more important on my mind that I needed to get out there.*

‘Tis the season for one of my biggest pet-peeves. I really hate when people say to keep Christ in Christmas. Not only do they say that, they feel the need to emphasize their point by writing CHRISTmas. Really? Is that entirely necessary?

Now, before I have people jump down my throat (or start praying for my salvation) let me explain myself. I have no problem with people writing Xmas or Christmas. In fact, I do both. In reality, the x is not removing Christ, but denoting him in another way. X is the Greek letter chi, which early Christians used to signify Christ back in the day. By saying Merry Xmas, I am saying the same thing. However people don’t take the time to learn about the history of our church or the abbreviations that are used. Where do they think Xmas came from? It wasn’t an arbitrary decision to use x instead of Christ.

That is part of why I dislike this religious movement. The thing that really gets me going about this mentality is that people get so fired up about the way we write or say Christmas however they don’t even consider how absurd our celebration of the holiday is. We forget we are celebrating Christ’s birthday. Instead we have turned it into some hugely consumerist event where we spend way more than we should on stuff we will use a few times then set it on a shelf to collect dust.

The message of Christ has never been about amassing more stuff. Nowhere in the gospels does it say that the person who dies with the most crap wins. In fact, it says the opposite of that. When a rich man asked Jesus what he needed to do, other than keeping the commandments, to enter heaven Christ answered by telling him to sell ALL of his possessions and give the money to the poor. It is in this story that we have the verse, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)

When we give people birthday presents we try to get them something they would want. If your friend is a vegetarian, are you going to give them a membership to ‘Meat Monthly’? I don’t think so. It seems to me that if we really thought of Christmas as Jesus’ birthday we would want to give him something that he would like.

There is movement that has been around for the last couple years that I really admire. It is called the Advent Conspiracy. The premise here is to not spend so much on useless presents, but to make meaningful gifts and give some of the money to the people who needed. It’s about letting your heart break for what breaks God’s heart. It’s about giving real presents that people will find meaning in, rather than giving something that they may or may not want. Here is a video explaining this all better than I am able to:

Consider what the video is saying.  What really matters; they way people write Christmas, or the way they think about the holiday?  Maybe it’s time for a wake up call and a redefining of how we think of Christmas.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins

Both of these aren’t really things I disagree with. I’ve already gone over the forgiveness of sins earlier. It goes hand in hand with the death and resurrection. I really don’t feel the need to rehash that here. As for communion we could look at it in so many different ways. I could pick apart the different views of the actual substance of communion. I could go into if I think the “body and blood” is literal or symbolic. Quite frankly, I don’t want to do that.

A couple years ago I had a revelation about communion and the reason behind it. You can read that here. I went back and read it. I still think this is the most important part of communion is the memory that it inspires. In that other post, I wrote:
I never really understood the reason for Communion. I mean, I understood it intellectually; I knew we did it because we were told to do so. I didn't understand why it mattered though. I never knew the emotional value of this simple meal. Now I understand, even as trivial as this analogy may seem, it really has opened my eyes to the beauty of this act of worship. People come together over food. Jesus understood that and used it to our benefit. We remember who we belong too and who's family we are in. It's almost as if He was implementing a family dinner where we share more than food with one another. We share life and we celebrate life together with this simple act of taking Communion. This fact is truly beautiful to me and I am so grateful to understand it on a new level. I hope someday you also can understand this as I do today.

 Honestly, I think that is all I can say on the subject.

The Holy Catholic Church

I believe in… the holy catholic church.  Seems simple enough, right?  That’s what I thought too.  Then I really started to think about what that means.  Do I believe in the church?  I think I agree with that, but I’m not sure. 

On the one hand, the church has done so much wrong in the past.  I don’t have to think hard to come up with a list of the church’s sins.  Just ask a “non believer” about the church and they are sure to site the crusades or the way the current church seems to judge anyone and everyone who isn’t part of their group.  As an insider, I see other things that are not right.  There is so much in-fighting and bickering among believers and it tears the church apart.  These are serious issues that make it hard to trust and believe the church.

One the other hand, however, the church does so much right.  I look around at what my church and the churches around do for their neighbors.  I look at What Kim Emch and her crew is doing with SON Ministries.  They feed lunch in the summer to Hilliard area students who are on a free or reduced lunch.  So many kids are fed because of them.  I look at Operation Christmas Child and how they give presents to those who wouldn’t get them otherwise.  They get kids and their parents excited about giving to people who will never be able to say thank you.

When I weigh the difference between what is wrong with the church, and what we are doing right I am surprised by what conclusion I come to.  I really think that the good can outweigh the bad in this case.  I know the church has and is doing plenty of things wrong, but there is a strong contingency out there that wants to do good no matter what.  I can honestly say that I believe in that part of the church.  I would fight for those who are trying to accomplish what God has asked.  I can back those who are acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.  And I want to help show those who aren’t the way they can change.  This gets me pumped to help the further the church as Christ saw it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Believe in the Holy Spirit

I would be lying if I didn’t say that this part of the creed pisses me off.  I think the Holy Spirit is grossly underestimated and ignored.  One of my absolute favorite church Holidays and stories in the Bible has to be Pentecost.  I mean, seriously… not only did Peter give the sermon of his life and tongues of fire land on the heads of the apostles, but they were all able to speak in the languages of the people in the city.  Think about it, these guys are former fishermen and what not.  What is the likelihood of them knowing various languages and dialects that were represented in the city filled with outsiders?  Very slim. 

The reason I think the Holy Spirit is underestimated is because of the way we talk about him.  It’s like the only thing we believe he is capable of is giving us nudges and feelings about what God wants us to do.  I’m sorry, but the story of Pentecost suggests something a little more intense than a nudge or feeling.  For real, he does the work.

There have been times where I have been worshiping and the air feels thick and electric, but not oppressive in any way.  Sometimes, that happens even when I am alone in my car or on my bed journaling.  It is the unmistakable presence of the Holy Ghost.  I love those moments of connection; they help me get through the times I don’t feel connected. 

There have been some times when I have had the unmistakable feeling that a friend I am around needs prayer.  Or, sometimes when I stand up to give a talk or even just answer questions from friends the words have just come out of my mouth.  There is a certain truth that is communicated in those instances that I can’t conjure up on my own.  These are clearly instances of the Holy Spirit moving. 

The reason this part of the creed pisses me off is because God the Father and Jesus both get whole sections in the creed and the Holy Spirit seems to be an afterthought.  I suppose that could be because it is so hard to really understand the Holy Spirit.  We are not really wired to understand the way he works.  Maybe the lack of explanation comes from the Church Fathers not really knowing what the heck to even say about the Holy Spirit.  Even if that is the case, it is too bad.  I feel we interact on a daily basis with him, I wish we didn’t take that for granted. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ascent and Judgment

He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father.  He will come again to judge the living and the dead.  

This part of the creed is so much easier for me to understand.  I almost don’t even feel like talking about it, since it seems so basic to me.  But that would be taking the easy way out, which is something I try not to do.  So here we go; ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of God wait the day he comes to judge all of humanity.

Something interesting about the “seated at the right hand” imagery is that it is one of the most common ways Jesus is seen after he heads home to Heaven.  There is one time, though, when he isn’t seen sitting but rather standing at the right hand of the Father.  The only time (that I know of) is when the stoning of Stephen is recorded in Acts.  It’s like Jesus stood up in support of the poor dude who was being pelted by rocks.  If I die a horrific death like that, I hope he stands for me too.  Lol

I find it interesting how so many of the major world religions have a concept of judgment.  A lot even match the end of the world judgment pattern we Christians believe in.  I love how even the religions without a specific deity has one.  I mean, karma is rough and a form of judgment.  It’s like the universe passing a verdict and sentencing, however you literally can blame no one but yourself. 

Anyways, yeah.  I don’t really have much else to say.  So, I think I’m going to finish this episode of Pretty Little Liars then go to bed.  Tomorrow is going to prove to be a busy day. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

He Descended Into Hell

Sorry it’s taken me so long to write anymore.  I’ve been fighting strep throat for the last week.  Well that and I have no bloody idea of how to deal with this part of the Apostles Creed. 

This is the phrase that has always bugged me.  I have gone over the gospels time and time again, but I have found nothing.  I had no idea of what this phrase meant in terms the Bible.  Like, where did it come from, and why does it matter?  Being stuck, I decided to email one of the pastors at my church. 

Pastor Eric replied saying,
The main Bible passage is 1 Pet 3:18-4:6, where the descent into hell is mentioned twice. The first time seems to speak of the descent as a triumphal march, as if Christ descended in order to demonstrate his victory over sin and his Lordship as Judge. The second time seems to speak of the descent as a missional journey, as if Christ descended "to preach the gospel even to those who are dead" so that none will be excluded from God simply because they were born at the wrong time or in the wrong place. Those are the two main interpretations of what "he descended into hell" means.
This makes sense to a certain extent.  I mean, I have heard about the idea that he kicked down the gate of Hell and rescued the faithful who had no way into heaven without him.  I have heard the idea that he went to hell to show his power over sin.  Neither of these understandings really satisfies me though.

I was talking about this with Tyler, the other intern, and my friend Rachel last night after the middle school youth group.  Tyler presented a very interesting idea about it.  He was saying that the way he has understood Jesus’ decent into Hell as part of the atonement for our sins.  It’s like the cross was a microcosm for what was really going on.  His suffering on the cross wasn’t enough, so he had to be punished in Hell as well.  I think this makes the most sense to me.  We liken Jesus to a lamb lead to the slaughter.  Well, think of the cross as the original killing of the lamb, and the decent into Hell is like when the good parts of the lamb are burned in honor of God.  Just killing the Lamb isn’t enough.  There is another step that needs to be taken to complete the atonement. 

I’m still not totally comfortable with this part of the creed, but it makes more sense now.  I’m sure over time it will be fine. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Apostles Creed: Part 2

Note:  I have decided to combine two parts of the Apostles Creed.  I have skipped over the “he descended into hell” part, but that is only temporary.  I’ll get there next. 

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried…  On the third day He rose again from the dead.  

I am not usually this forward with what I believe.  I think if people get to know me they will see that I believe in Christ, so I don’t feel the need to profess that part of me very often.  Let me take this time to do that though.  I do, in fact believe in Jesus. 

That being said, I’m not 100% sure why Jesus’ virgin birth matters in the scheme of things.  I mean, would the work on the cross be undone if Jesus was actually Joseph’s biological son?  I don’t know.  I suppose it would make a difference.

I mean, we are all children of God (1 John 3:1), but we are also imperfect.  We are unholy*, and that leads to us being part of the dead.  (Ephesians 2:1)  So, here is my question; how can the dead bring back the dead?  They can’t.  This is why the virgin birth is important.  Because Jesus is God’s “biological” child, then he is part of the living not the dead. 

Now, if you have grown up in the church at all, the next part of the creed is very familiar.  Jesus was crucified on the Good Friday, and came back to life on Easter Sunday.  This sounds incredible and hard to believe when you think about it.  Short of instances in Hollywood, how often do you see someone come back from the dead?  Even with our advances in medicine, I have never heard of someone coming back to life after having been buried for three days. 

Well, that’s not entirely true.  There is Lazarus.  Lazarus died before Jesus made it to his house.  When Jesus accompanied Mary and Martha to the grave, Jesus asked for the stone to be rolled away from Lazarus’ grave.  Martha protested saying that Lazarus had been dead for four days and that the stench was going to be overwhelming.  In the end, Jesus called Lazarus back from the dead and Lazarus came back to life. 

The precedent of God bringing someone back from the dead is there in Lazarus.  The difference between Lazarus and Jesus is the same between the opening act and the main event.  Lazarus’ restoration was meant to show people who Jesus really was.  Jesus’ death and resurrection served the same purpose, but also to restore human kind as well.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  (John 10:10)  In his death and, more importantly resurrection, we are able to more than just survive; we can thrive. 

One of my biggest pet-peeves is the way Christians focus so much on the death of Christ.  Without the resurrection, his death would have meant nothing.  Jesus would have just been another Jew the Romans wrongfully crucified.  It is only in his resurrection that we know who he is. 

So there you have it.  I may not be very forthcoming with my believe using my words, I still have laid out part of what I believe.  I hope people can see my belief in the way that I live, but I feel it may be necessary to say it sometimes. 
*I really dislike the word sin, because of how often it is used in the Christian culture.  We use it to judge those we disagree with and rarely use it in a self-reflective way.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Apostles' Creed

A couple months ago I tore apart the Lord’s Prayer. I was having problems saying the prayer because I wasn’t really sure I meant it. Well, I am kind of having a similar experience with the Apostles Creed. I don’t want to profess belief in something without really digesting what I am saying. So over the next couple weeks I’m going to deconstruct the Apostles Creed and see what it says and see if I actually agree with what it says.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

While this may seem like a no-brainer to me, I do actually believe in God and his creation. While, no, I am not one of those people who believes that God created everything in literally seven days. I’m not saying that He isn’t able to do it in seven literal days. I just think the simplest answer is usually right.

Many new earth creationists believe that God put the dinosaur bones in the earth where they are to test people’s faith. While that is possible, it doesn’t seem very likely to me. I think it is more likely that the earth evolved over time, but that’s not to say it was all random. There is no way God couldn’t have guided the evolution of mankind.

In Genesis, the only thing that God actually uses more than words to make is man. (Genesis 2:7) God formed man from the dust and breathed life into him. That is so much more intimate than just speaking humans into existence. It sounds like He took His time refining and reshaping man.

I have to say, is really cool to think that the God who created everything we see with a word took the time to craft and perfect each of us. When I think about that it brings so much more meaning to Jesus saying,

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you?

God takes care of those things He created out of word; won’t He take care of those He crafted in His own image?

Of course He will.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


I have been feeling really bad for myself recently. There have been a bunch of little things that have been piling up over the last few weeks. I could easily just go into the details of my pity party, but that is neither necessary nor helpful.

Tonight, the pity party culminated with me sitting at home watching Netflix and playing Angry Birds. I thought about calling people, but never bothered to do anything about it. I just sat on the couch with my headphones in, feeling sorry for myself. Then my friend sent me a text talking about how Ecclesiastes reminded her of how even when everything feels meaningless God will come through.

Wednesday was See You at the Pole, so I went to pray with the students from my high school. It was cool because some of the high schoolers are in the youth group that I hangout with. The thing started around 7am, which is crazy early for me, but was totally worth it. A couple of the students lead worship for like a half hour before breaking off into small groups to pray. While we were worshiping I was standing on the side of the circle that was facing the sun as it rose. It was incredible singing Canons by Phil Wickham as the sky burst into a beautiful sunrise over the school.

In that moment I realized that what I was missing wasn't just Springfield; I was missing the community I had in Springfield. There is something about knowing that the people around you have your back. I have that here, but the number of people here in Columbus is pretty small. The majority of my support system is still in Springfield. But that doesn't mean I am totally alone. Totally cliché, I know, but it's true this time. I just need to start looking outside of my comfort zone and what not.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Woman of God

Last week I had dinner with Mary.  It was wonderful catching up, cooking then watching Glee and Lost.  At one point during the night, the conversation took a turn toward what it means to be a woman of God.  During our conversation I realized that I have no idea what that means.  I have read Proverbs 31, and that seems to be an unattainable standard.  Other than that I read stories of Deborah who was a great leader, Easther who was the savior of her people, and Mary who literally gave birth to the son of God.  I don't really know how to be a woman after God's heart. 

This confusion is making me uncomfortable trying to lead women younger than myself.  How can I sit in front of one of my girls and be the roll model then need?  I know I will never have everything figured out, but I don't know that I should feel this unsure.  Then again, maybe it is a good thing being uncertain.  I don't know.

Any thoughts?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Death and Family

Death and family have been very prominent on my mind. My family went up for a funeral on Wednesday of last week and came home to sleep. I woke up Thursday morning (after getting Alex to school) to a phone call from my mom saying that Grandma Holt was dying and I needed to pack a bag and get ready to go to Mansfield. After picking Dad up from the Cleveland Clinic we stayed in Mansfield until Monday night. Luckily it was Labor Day weekend, so we had that extra day to spend with family.

The whole experience of watching my grandma die was totally surreal. Even now I am really not sure it happened. When we arrived at the nursing home she was at Mom and Dad wanted us to wait before going back to the hospice room. Mom came out and warned us (really, she was mainly warning Alex and I) that Grandma was not conscious and she had an oxygen mask on to keep her breathing. I didn't even make it to the back room before I started to cry.

When I walked into the room, two of my uncles and my grandpa (Poppie) were already there. One of my uncles gave me a hug as I cried and told me I needed to be strong, because grandma needed our strength. The other gave me a hug and told me we should be happy. I just nodded weakly and sat down at the table on the opposite side of the room from grandma.

That probably makes me sound horrible, but I can't stand hospitals or nursing homes. The amount of pain in those places is beyond overwhelming to me. It makes me totally freak out.

After a while, my cousins and aunt came up. There was drama, and crying and anger, but we don’t need to get into that. We all took turns staying over in the hospice room with Grandma. Even I stayed one night. Oh, another thing about my family; it is freaking huge. There would come a point pretty much every day where I would look around and all but three of my seven cousins (plus Sarah, Alex and me) where there. Not to mention my three uncles, four aunts (Mom’s sister came to support us over the weekend), and umpteen million other relatives were all crammed in the hospice room. Add to that the fact that the majority of my extended, extended family was raised in either rural Ohio or the Appalachian mountains in Kentucky, it was a bit of a culture shock. As an introvert, that nearly killed me. I never had a moment to myself, and everyone had an opinion that they felt needed to be heard.

One of the things that bothered me the most about the whole waiting for grandma to pass was the fact that everyone just kind of sat around watching. At one point I walked into the hospice room and some relatives were sitting in a semi-circle around grandma’s bed just watching her. It’s like everyone was just waiting for her to die, like it was a spectator sport. It made me feel sick. It made me so angry. I left the room and when mom came out to check on me I started to cry. Of course that was the exact moment that some of my cousins came. Jen told me she felt the same and that we should be spending our time remembering the way she was before she started to decline. We gathered all the cousins and began reminiscing about when we were kids and the way she took care of us. It made us feel a little better about saying goodbye.

The thing is, we are not created to deal with death. Death is a post-fall situation. We were created to live with God forever, not to decay and die. I think this is why it is so hard to cope with the death of a loved one. Deep down we still know it is wrong. It’s like way down beneath the filth and tarnish the original image of our eternal God is still alive within us. So far, the death of my grandma hadn’t set in, it all feels surreal.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Grey Areas

A friend of mine asked me the other day to explain what I meant when I said that 'you need to study religion to understand all of the grey areas.'  I don't have a perfect memory of saying this, since it was at a really long lunch when he and I talked about it, but I think I was mainly talking about how much overlap there is between the religions I have studied. All of them, Buddhism and Hinduism included. I think that religions are the way mankind tries to understand our infinite God. I think all religions have a glimpse of the God we love and want to glorify, and in that way it is hard to see them as 100% wrong. That is what I meant by grey areas. Growing up we were essentially told that Christianity is right and anything else is totally wrong and is (depending on who you listen to) evil. When you start to learn about those “wrong” religions, it is easy to see instances where they get it right. Look at the faithful prayer seen in Islam for example, or the importance of denying yourself in Buddhism.

While these are grey areas they are not necessarily proof that the religions are correct. Once you accept that every other religion could be wrong it is easy to see that we as humans may have distorted the real mission/passion/purpose of Christ. We tread in very dangerous water when we think that we have it all figured out. Our pride can get in the way of our ability to see where we have gone off track. When we as humans and religious people called “to be and make disciples” go off track, we can get in the way of what it is that God is trying to accomplish in and through us.

I know I probably sound like I am straying from God, but let me assure you that I am not. I have come to recognize that God moves in the grey areas in my life, and in the world. Take the world’s reaction to the Japan earthquake/tsunami for example; many countries rushed to the aid of Japan in that time of crisis. We all, as humans, seem to inherently feel compassion for those in situations that are worse than our own. I don’t think that is a coincidence. I think that is one of the ways we were made in God’s image. But God’s image is not as black and white as some Christians (read Muslim, Jews, Hindus, etc) would have you think.

God is bigger than any one religion or worldview. I believe that Christianity is the closest to the Truth in the lineup of all religions. That does not mean that I believe we have it all right. We have a lot that we, as American Christians (and I'm assuimg other Christians as well), do wrong and don’t understand. But we are only human. We are limited in our understanding and in our ability to see God’s master plan.
Sorry I got super preachy. Sometimes it happens and I can’t make it stop.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Time to Slow Down

This week has been really great. Last Friday I went to Springfield and got to spend so quality time with friends I have been missing recently.  It is hard seeing all of the statuses about going back to Witt, but I know I can always go visit.  On Saturday the family went up to Mansfield and visited Grandma and Poppie.  It was good to see them, but nursing homes make me super uncomfortable.  I spent the majority of my time reading The Help.  It is a really engaging book, and I enjoyed reading it.  Sunday was the Senior Send-off at the Gathering (our High School youth group).  Mom, Dad and Alex came to support Sarah since it was her last one.  I didn't do much on Monday or Tuesday.  Wednesday was the Impact (the Middle School youth group) and from that the Youth Team left for Marsha's Mom's lake house.  We spent like a solid 24 hours with each other both working and playing.  I am totally burnt and in quite a bit of pain from that right now, but it was totally worth it.  I am excited for what is in store for the youth groups in the coming year.  Today I took little brother to his piano lesson and went to hangout with Andrea M. at Kitamu Coffee.  Around 8 we were bored so we went to Lytham to see if it was open so we could cook in the kitchen.  It was, however when we got back from our epic trip to Giant Eagle it was no longer unlocked.  I called Doug and he let us use the Kitchen at Mill Run and gave us his key.  Andrea and I stopped at Michelle M's place and picked her up on the way to the church.  We "broke into" the church (as Andrea likes to say since it sounds badass) and made tacos.  Before we knew it it was 11pm.  So we cleaned up the kitchen and I drove Michelle home, dropped Doug's keys off and took Andrea back to Kitamu where she left her car.  It's crazy to me that we spent like seven and a half hours with each other.  It didn't feel like that long to me.  It was a wonderful way to spend my Friday night.

On the retreat I had a pretty strong realization that I need to slow down.  Somewhere along the lines I have become a "Martha" when I really desire to be a "Mary".  I feel like I need to do things and be places and be really scheduled to be doing what God wants, but in reality I just need to enjoy who God is.  It's like I am so busy with my life that I don't really notice what is going on around me and the way God is moving around me. 

Sometimes I fear our youth group is that way as well.  We are well intentioned, but sometimes it's like we are so scheduled and focused that we miss opportunities where we could see God moving.  I really don't want that for the students.  Some of the coolest times in my life have been those times when God's movement was practically tangible.  Those times where I could see God moving have shaped who I am, and I really want to students to have that as well.  It may be time for our youth group to slow down and take it one event at a time.  I don't really know how do-able that is, but I would be nice if we could. 

I think I'm going to start writing my prayers again.  That forces me to slow down and really focus on the words I'm saying.  I miss doing that, so I'm going to go back to it. 

Well, the sun will be up in about an hour, so I should really probably sleep before we go back up to Mansfield tomorrow.  Good night!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Love Wins

So, I just finished reading Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell.  I really appreciated what he had to say.  It is interesting, because a lot of Christians have taken the message of the book as saying the Bell doesn't believe in Hell.  However that is not true.  Bell seems to believe in Hell, he just believes that God can change a person's heart when they are there.  This idea of a postmortem conversion is one that I agree with.  Earlier this year I tried to articulate this position to friends, but none of them really understood what I was saying.  I can't really blame them for thinking I had gone off the deep end; this is not a commonly talked about theology.  At least not until recently.  Bell's book argued what I have been thinking for the last year or so. 

I'm not uncomfortable with the idea of Hell.  I know that it has to exist, because my understanding is one of a duality.  Like Newton said, for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction.  I think the same is true for Heaven.  If Heaven exists, and I'm mostly sure that is does, then there has to be a place opposite of that as well.  This place must be the ultimate bad place, since heaven is the ultimate good.  So, that is not something that makes me uncomfortable.  What does make me uncomfortable is when we limit God's ability to save us through the sacrifice of his son. 

God can do whatever he wants.  I have a really hard time with people saying that Jesus, who conquered death, can't go into Hell and give people another chance.  The idea that God would accept defeat that easily does not line up with the parables we see in the Bible.  When the woman loses one of her gold coins, what does she do?  Does she look around for a bit then give up?  No!  She searches until she finds that coin.  When the shepherd lost his sheep he leaves the rest of his flock and does not come back until that little lamb is on his shoulders, safely home.  Why would Jesus not do the same? 

Overall, Bell presents and argument that I do agree with.  I will admit that sometimes his writing style is a bit much.  I.
Seriously, use complete sentences.  It's not that hard.  And I do agree with one of my friends who found it entirely obnoxious that pretty much the entire first chapter was made up of questions.  Be that as it may, they were good questions.  So all in all I definitely liked the book.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Music I've Been Digging Recently

I've I have really been digging two albums I bought recently.  The one, The Medicine, is by John Mark McMillan.  The songs are so good and seem so raw at times.  I really can feel myself connecting with his worship in a way I haven't done in a while.  I totally dig his song Skeleton Bones, and when I heard Death in His Grave and How He Loves at Soma last year I fell in love with the songs.  I also love the Youtube video of How He Loves. 

This is how I wish we worshiped in our churches.  The people jumping around completely filled with the joy that comes with the knowledge of the fact that God really truly loves us.  If more of us really understood that I think we would do more than just raise our hands when we worship.  Seriously, it's awesome!

The other album that's been rocking my world is Beautiful Things by Gungor.  I've written about the title track before (here), but now that I have listened to the whole cd, I love this band.  Like John Mark McMillian, they are really hitting me where I am right now.  I love it!  One song, The Earth Is Yours, has and awesome video of the band in a forest doing an acoustive version of it.  Check it out below.
Incredible.  So yeah.  That's the music that has been rocking my ear drums recently.  I hope you dig it too.  Anyone listening to anything good these days?  I'm always looking for new music to check out.  :)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

At first glance, I don’t really know what to do with this one. So, I did the only thing I know how to do. I turned to a Bible commentary. That proved to be no help.

I am not one who thinks that God leads us into those bad places. I do think, however, that he lets us go there so I can better understand him. I mean, how can I understand light if I haven’t experienced the dark? I would never understand it.

God is love and life. When I have those times away from Him I start to crave that connection. Right now that is where I am with God. It’s not that he has left me, or is sending the hard times, but my connection is weak.

I do believe in evil. I have some friends who don’t really want to believe that humans are evil, but I know that humans have that capacity. The Congo and other places where genocide reigns supreme are proof. Not to mention the recent tragedy in Norway. A guy blew up a bomb by a Norwegian Government district killing seven people. He then apparently went to an island where the ruling party was holding a summer camp for the youth of that party. He open fired, and last I heard he open fired on the attendees for an hour and a half. 85 people were killed there. People are still missing, so that number may rise.

I don’t know how someone faced with this could say that people are not capable of evil. Just thinking about it makes my stomach turn. God doesn’t say he will stop these events yet. Not to sound super cliché, but we live in a world that is broken. This is a symptom of that brokenness. While that will not bring back those lost, it gives me hope. Someday, Jesus will come back and banish the evil that causes people to do atrocious acts like this. Someday, God will deliver humanity from the evil that plagues this world and we will live in the kingdom that God had in mind from the beginning.

That doesn’t help us now, but remember how this prayer ends:
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
God is in control. While right now we suffer, he will deliver us from evil. That is a promise.

Until then, we need to pray. We need to try and live a life that is reflected in this prayer. We need to remember how God rescued us, and run to him like Stoyan runs to Jeff. We need to try to let go of our matches and allow room for God’s Kingdom. We need to be thankful for the blessings God has lavished on us, and try to turn those blessings out to those who have less. We need to forgive those who wrong us including ourselves, and remember that God forgives us too. God will not abandon us. He never has and never will. Beautiful, huh?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. I’m not very good at forgiving the people who hurt me. When my family’s landlady screwed us over it took me months to get over it. If I’m honest, some part of me still isn’t over it.

This goes deeper than just bad feelings toward her, but that bitterness has turned into one more barrier between me and other people. I have a hard time fully trusting people, because I am afraid that they will hurt me. So I hold the sins of others against people who have never hurt me. It’s a very unhealthy way to live.

That is not how I, as Christians, am called to live.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you; leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
This seems to me to work the other way too. If I have something against someone else, I will not be able to worship fully. I need to try and make peace first, then come back to God’s alter and lay my offering before Him.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

And Forgive Us Our Trespasses

I have grown up in church. This line is nothing new to me. Even when I peaced out from God when I was in middle school I still knew this to be a truth in my life. So what is the big deal?
While I know that God forgives our sins, I don’t always remember or act like I am forgiven. Often times I ask forgiveness over and over again for the same sins. There are things in my past that I feel guilty about. That guilt rears its ugly head and can paralyze me from doing what I am called to do. I feel ashamed to go to God, and sometimes that is the only excuse I need to avoid him.
The thing is, I don’t need to do this. I mean, Jesus didn’t die and come back again so I can ask for forgiveness for the same thing time after time. Maybe it’s not God I need to ask forgiveness from. Maybe I need to forgive myself. God has already fulfilled that desire for forgiveness. He knows what I’ve done, but when he looks at me he doesn’t see what I’ve done. He sees what Jesus has done for me.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

It’s time for me to stop focusing on the past. God is doing a new thing and if I spend my life looking backwards I will never see the beauty in front of me. It’s time to start acting like a new creation. So instead I ask God to forgive my inability to forgive myself and ask him to focus my attention forward since that is where I am going.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

God has more than fulfilled this part of the prayer for me. I very rarely go to bed hungry. If you looked at me you would know that food is not something I have to worry about. I have more than enough.

What if that isn’t what this phrase is saying? What if it is less about my personal food allotment for the day, and more about the hunger in the world? From my perspective that explanation makes more sense than the idea that God only cares about me and my personal comfort.

In Exodus God provides the Israelites’ daily bread in the manna they would collect. Do you remember the rules God gave the Israelites about the manna? He told Moses that they could only collect enough to last their family the day, and they could get twice that on the day before Shabbat (the Sabbath). When the Israelites took more than they needed, the manna was rotten and maggot filled in the morning. They were incapable of storing up the food. God literally had to give them their daily bread.

Can you imagine being in that situation? I’m not just setting up a “we need to feed the world” tirade. I mean, honestly, can you imagine? The faith of the Israelites would be incredible. We have refrigerators and grocery stores. Our food can have preservatives added and can last for a long time. When we hear about bad weather we stockpile cans of vegetables, fruit and soup. Our food doesn’t have maggots in it after a day. We are so blessed. We have our daily bread.
Now, I could talk about all the Bible verses that deal with the need to take care of the orphans and widows. I could talk about the fact that Jesus himself makes reference to feeding the hungry, but I’m not going to really go into depth with that. We all have heard the prophets and Jesus tell us to love other people. We have all heard it so much that it is easy to tune out.

But it is worth mentioning that there are other Christians all over the world who are praying the same prayer. This line is not excluded, but is very present and more real for them than it is for us most of the time. Maybe we are the answer to their prayer. How can I continue to pray for God to give me my daily bread when they don’t get theirs? Maybe the prayer can remind me to let God use me to answer the same prayer in someone who really has nothing. Perhaps that is why it is plural; Give us this day our daily bread.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Don't Cry Because It Is Over

Last night the final movie in the series premiered, bringing the end of an era with it. I couldn't help but feel sad that this part of my childhood is now over. I, along with others in my generation, grew up with Harry, Ron and Hermione. They were like distant friends, or far away pen pals. We were forever looking forward to their next adventure. Now, there are no more shenanigans to anxiously wait in line to see or read.

I remember hearing about the books for the first time. I was in my fifth grade class and one of the boys sitting at my table was reading it. I was interested and he started telling me about them. I really wanted to read them, but my mom was pretty strict back then. I mean, she wouldn't let me watch Scooby Doo because it had too many references to evil in it. [I guess she was pretty heavily influenced by some people in our church about that sort of stuff.] Surprisingly, mom said I could read them with her.

Mom read the first few books at the same time as me, and then she started to read them aloud to me before bed. I loved that time. I would curl up next to her in her bed and would often fall asleep to her reading to me. She would use voices and make the story really come alive. It was great.

It took me a while to warm up to the movies. By necessity, they had to leave parts out of the books. Often the movies portrayed scenes differently than I imagined them. This made it hard, but once I got used to them I became a fan. I loved going to the midnight premiers of the movies. So many people showing their Harry Potter love. It was a wonderful sight.

Now, it’s time to say goodbye. We need to bid farewell to the excitement of a new book or movie. We also need to say goodbye to those characters who died in the last battle. Though we can always visit them in the earlier books and movies and that makes me smile. We also need to thank JK Rowling for making these last thirteen years so special. So for one last time I say…

Mischief Managed!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

I don't know how comfortable this one is for me. Do I really want to tell God every Sunday that I want His will to be done? More often than not I want to be the one in charge. It is scary to surrender my life and the direction I am going to God who shares his plan on a need to know basis. Often, I don't need to know. It makes me uncomfortable when my life is out of my control. But this is a pray that God loves to answer.

Matthew Paul Turner recently published a blog post about the need to be in control. Turner was responding to what he had heard Brian McLaren say about the Holy Spirit. McLaren compared the work the Holy Spirit does to a wild fire. The comparison is that the Holy Spirit gets rid of the old to make room for the new, just like a wild fire. Turner responded saying,

“Why did I feel conviction? Because I like holding the matches and burning what I deem to need burning. Because ultimately, I don’t trust God to burn up the right things. And God is slow. And sometimes God seems to do nothing at all. Which is why I so often like carrying my own matches.”

I can understand that. I don’t want to give up my matches either. Most of the time I want his kingdom to come, but my will to be done.

The thing is, that can’t happen. His kingdom is so counter-intuitive. I mean, who instinctively says that the first would be last? That isn’t how we are wired in this culture. We are always working for more. More money, more friends, more stuff, more pride, more, more, more. Jesus said you can’t serve two masters. I can’t really want my plan, and God’s plan. It has to be one or the other.

So which is it? Do I want his kingdom or my plan?  There is not and possible.  In my heart I say I want his kingdom to come. My actions say otherwise. I act as though I want my plans to work.

My friend Meredith O. said the other day that she heard someone give the analogy of a hand. She said that planning is ok, but it’s how you hold the plan that matters. There are two ways you can hold your plans. One is with a clenched fist. When God takes that plan, it hurts. He has to pry your fingers from around the plan you are clinging to for dear life. The other way to hold your plans is with an open hand. This way God can just pick it up and mold and change it to match his plan.

I think it is time for me to put down my matches and hold my plans with an open hand.