Thursday, December 30, 2010

law

I consider myself a good driver. I use my turn signal at all times, make full stops at stop signs, signal until I have completely changed lanes, and never dare venture 5MPH over the speed limit. Don't get me wrong, I had my reckless days and a few speeding tickets (over two years ago now) that cost me a perfect driving record and a lot of money. But I had an epiphany and change of heart when I was riding with my friend Marty and he expressed how awful it is to drive with a newborn in the car when people are so apt to cut you off or drive dangerously around you. I cannot even begin to recount the excessively numerous instances in which I have almost been the victim of a bad crash or death (no joke) due to some dangerous drivers out there.

People are apt to point out the fatality of many things that can injure or kill you, but I am quick to remind people that they are in far more danger every time they get behind the wheel and enter a word that makes most people tense up: traffic. In order to make traffic a safer experience there are numerous laws in place that provide the safest procedures one can follow to keep driving purposeful and devoid of danger. Every day, though, one has the free will to disregard any of these laws or throw out the the ones they see to be the least important in order to get somewhere faster, because they are ignorant of the law, or maybe even out of complete rebellion or carelessness.

Bible college was insightful at times, however there seemed to be a lot of debating. While some asked questions out of pure hunger or knowledge or understanding, some also seemed to pose loaded questions in order to validate some pre-disposed notion or belief and get the professor or classmates to join in with the opinion. However subjective or objective, one question and topic seemed to stand out amongst the rest: law (or works) vs faith.

I guess I always saw the law as a skeletal system for faith. Faith is a huge, sprawling, giant canvas, a tapestry of colours, words, harmonies, notes, and movement that is completely fluid, ever-changing and moving along with the people that comprise it. But as with every painting, every canvas, artwork exists within confines, clear-cut boundaries and lines. Artwork, to me, is not necessarily thinking outside of the box, it is filling the proverbial box with something out of the ordinary, something that it was not originally intended to be filled with. Nevertheless, there are still parameters within which the art must exist otherwise it devolves into something messy and gaudy.

To me, the law set forth in Scripture are the guidelines by which we live that enrich and enhance our faith, our discipleship over others, and our attitude in general. When we start to "throw out" law or mandates that we see as less important, we give way to danger and recklessness in our lives. While we might still get to our destination intact and alive, think of the stress and hurt we might inadvertently cause along the way. Breaking the law is not sufficient to nullify our faith, this is where grace takes the reins and saves us from ourselves. Rather, the law itself is the pathway to freedom, peace, and a life-giving lifestyle.

Nevertheless, even the messiest and gaudiest of art is still art. Our messy lives can sometimes be a motivational or inspiring story of redemption and the true changing power of Yeshua. The journey, while imperfect, can nevertheless end in a glorious victory, especially when we allow Him to be the artist and not try to paint it all by our own moral standards.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

science

Fore-ward: I am no rocket scientist. I do not have much in the way of scientific credentials save for a grueling stint in AP Chemistry classes, but this is what I know of and believe about science without knowing everything.

Some Christians fear science. If you want my honest opinion on the matter, some Christians fear science because they fear that one day irrefutable proof will be provided that completely, 100%, beyond argument disproves the existence of God. In short, I believe their faith is limited and, deep down, they do not trust their own beliefs and have doubt about them.

Doubt is OK, in my books. Science is humble in that it knows what it knows, but it also knows what it does not know. There are doubts in the scientific community about this and about that, so experiments ensue until a bonafide answer beyond all reasonable doubt can be established. I respect and applaud the scientific community greatly for their constant search for the truth and their willingness to hold off on belief until proven otherwise. Science has shown us that it has been something that can be proven, there can be a determinable outcome and a defined outcome. It has been proven as being meant to understand.

Faith is different, obviously. Faith requires one to make a choice and choose a conclusion without being presented with all the facts upfront. Faith is believing in a pre-concluded outcome transpiring before the outcome is either realized or shown to be folly. Our assurances that our faith is well-placed come from a place that is honest within us, from a part of our brain that we regard with trust, generally because of a behavioral consistency that builds up an immunity to doubt. On an aside, this is why those who have had their trust broken time and time again struggle with shallow faith. If you are used to constantly being let down by people or circumstances you thought you could trust, then faith is going to be a very high mountain to try and climb.

I digress, though, and get back to the subject at hand: faith and science are quite different and often regarded as oil and water, or apples and oranges. They are simply polar opposites and, while they can exist in congruence with one another, they are labeled as not being able to play ball in the same park. Wrong.

Imagine if you will that God decided to show up one day and wanted to share just a little fact with, something much less grand than some might expect at the arrival of God. Let us suppose for one moment that God said "I made the sky, but I did not make it blue. I made it lovely and expansive, something to be marveled at and to be enjoyed. 'Blue' is what you made it by your human definition and classification." We ourselves have been responsible for setting the scientific standards. In our quest and discovery of the scientific world we gain an understanding how it all works, what it is comprised of, where it belongs (in terms of classification), and how to react to it, but we have no say in its creation. All we have ever created are organisms or structures that are made out of something that already existed, something created apart from human effort.

This is where I draw the line in science being the eventual answer to the creation of the universe. There was existence prior to human existence, and we can never grasp what that might be. It will forever remain unproven because it exists outside of our time, our understanding, our comprehension. We can break everything down to its most basic and simple atomic level, but where did that atom come from? Where did the simplest form of life come from? Everything cannot be created from something. Something has to exist on its own, a creation in itself. Saying that such things "BANG" just one day appeared seems about the most plausible thing apart from Creation that makes sense to me because it is so utterly ludicrous. The scientific would will tell you they have no answer, they have no comprehension, no understanding of what actually put us here.

I saw an atheist today tell me that logical thought and scientific reasoning have brought him to the conclusion that there is no God. I have said all I have said to say that I see this as illogical. No man has proven the origin of man or the universe, so by definition, there is no logical conclusion, faith is once again called upon and required right there in the smack dab middle of the scientific world. 

We as a people are prone to rebellion, driven to it at times it seems. To beat rebellion our parents spend our entire childhood teaching and training us to behave, be polite, mind our manners, be selfless. These things do not come naturally, they have to be learned due to our rebellious nature. If you ask me, I do not believe we were meant to understand it all. In the Garden a bigger choice than to eat the apple or not eat the apple was made. God told Adam and Eve they could enjoy all that He had given them, enjoy His creation, and live in abundance, peace, and perfect health. He also said that Adam and Eve could imbue themselves with the knowledge of good and evil, the understanding behind what was meant to be enjoyed. Acting within the bounds of human propensity to rebel but to also gain understanding and knowledge, the apple was plucked.

I think for every Christian that is scared we might one day figure it all out and find out God is not real is an Atheist who is scared that we might not actually ever know everything, that we as humankind are limited and Someone greater exists. To acknowledge that means giving over a great deal of power and subservience that is contrary to our will, some of us more than others. But, that .... that is the science of man. And this ... this is the science of my faith.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

society

The other night I was speaking to someone about their passion in life, what it was they truly wanted to do if the right doors would open up. They expressed their desire to work with children in the missions realm so I had to ask, "so why are you not doing that," a question I ask myself quite often, to be honest. It came down to a very simple answer about the need for a job and money. I felt an affinity with her plight as I too have the same answer, at least for now.
In Matthew 21 Yeshua is telling a wealthy man that he could be perfect if he would sell all he had, gave it to the poor, and then followed him. On the surface, this story has been used by preachers for years as a clearly defined example of Jesus denouncing greed and being rich. While I am not here to have a theological discourse about the validity of that supposition, I do wish to explore the scope of this further.

Society is a weird thing. We have formulated for ourselves a defined path which one must embark on in order to achieve nominal success. When things started out they were much simpler. We provided food for ourselves by killing things that had meat, we built shelter from crude material to stay warm and protect us from the elements, and we fiercely guarded that which was ours: our family. Over time we began to become more complex and understand things further. Where we once toyed with bone and rock, we now were crafting microchips and lasers. In order to understand these things and harness them in such a way as to advance our world we had to build institutions of higher learning so that we could essentially further perpetuate the cycle of man's understanding and then subsequent development of both how we understand ourselves as well as the sciences.

In exploring every last nook and cranny of the physical world we began to see how things were broken down, to their very most basic, atomic level. We then believed that God simply must not exist because we had figured out how things work and, if we understand how it works, then we must be as smart as God and, therefore, he cannot be bigger, wiser and more powerful than us. Humanism began to be a bigger, more widespread and prevalent staple of our culture. And, with humanism came the desire to make ourselves great, to be a not just a people, but an individual person of extreme success and stature, a god among men: someone revered and admired head& shoulders above others.

This is where I think we all went wrong. Power. Immeasurable and obtainable power. It existed because we had created the capacity within which it could exist. We blew up the bubble and then told other people they had the power to fill it with their destinies. And when the bubble got full, man had the innate proclivity to want more, so he found ways to make the capacity bigger, his ceiling higher, limitless if possible. And now, our measure of power is shown to others in the things we have. What we drive, what we wear, what we live in, what we own can tell other people that we are important or well off, that we have blown our balloon up and managed to fit bigger and better things inside. Since human tendency is to want to achieve not just the success of others but to surpass it, we set our bar and standards, and life becomes a race to get the most toys. But there is a saying: he who dies with the most toys still dies.

When Jesus got angry at the men selling goods in the church I do not think he meant to set forth a standard that espoused that the Church should be precluded from selling coffee or books within its walls. Instead, I believe he found men who were using the church as a means of personal gain and not respecting it for what it was: an outreach and center for His community. Instead, they were using what was holy for nothing other than personal gain and accumulation. When the wealthy man came to Jesus and He told him how to be perfect, He was giving the man a deeper lesson than to eschew money: He was telling the man he had to start living outside of societal conditions.

The wealthy man had bought into a system, most likely that of marketplace buying and selling that allowed him to amass a fortune. This was his life, and the fact that he had money meant he probably spent most of his life doing business and being business-minded. With success comes more restrictions than one would usually expect. Even the richest of men are in constant search for extra time to do the things they want to do. Trust me ... I know, I work for some of them.

And, so there are many people like me and the person I mentioned at the beginning who find ourselves torn... having the desires of our hearts sometimes trumped by the inevitable and inescapable dependence on the established workforce to earn income and provide for ourselves. In our strive for power, for things, for keeping up with societal constraints and expectations, I believe we as humanity have only furthered the gap between ourselves and God. Getting back to Him and His heart sometimes seems improbable or downright impossible when I truly think about how ineffective I can be when I am tethered to a work schedule.

When I ask myself how I can "go and disciple" or " ... leave [my] things and follow ... ," I still do not know what that looks like (beyond the daydreams I have had and the prayers I have spoken or thought). I do not have all the answers, I cannot tell humanity what the complicated and involved answer to it all is, I cannot even tell myself. I only know it starts out with one thing: Jesus. The desires of our hearts are upon His own and if you are feeling stuck or hindered then know that He wants our desires to be fulfilled. Our response to his invitation to fulfilled desires, though, is faith. Faith that requires the ability and trust to let go of the societal safety and status we cling to and give way for only His will to be done.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

feast

There was once (and still is, I am sure) a boy named Billy. Billy was best described as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, a real go-getter who saw the world as his oyster and wanted nothing more than to experience everything creation had to offer him. With reckless abandonment, Billy took hold of everything he could get his hands on. Realizing that his hands were not big enough to hold it all in, Billy took a taste of everything before proceeding to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. Before long, Billy had a long list of things he had tasted, but realized something tragic: he could not recall how anything really tasted. In the quiet times of the evening, Billy wanted to dwell on a specific memory, something rich and rewarding that would give him comfort before dipping into a deep slumber. But, each night, Billy found himself instead immersed in longing as the sleepies drifted in.

Billy wanted to explore an experience in his mind to the fullest. He wanted to be able to recall every little bite, every flavour he tasted as it went down his throat. He wanted to remember the joy of feeling full, sometimes uncomfortably, or how tantalized his senses felt at the moment of dining. But, Billy could not distinguish one experience from the other, nothing significant stood out, and he had nothing substantial to draw from...

In an orchard stood a large tree. She had spent years and years drinking vital nutrients from the rich soil. She had spent years and years thriving and soaking up every last drop of rainfall, every last ray of sunshine. The beautiful tree had spent years going from a weak and flimsy sapling into a large and strong sight, her branches long and firm, her leaves lush and green. When the time was right, the mighty tree began to see something beautiful between her leaves, many red orbs that began to dangle almost precariously (but firmly) from its branches. In the right light was an almost infinite depth of ruby red gleaning off of each smooth surface. These apples were some of the best a young boy could taste, a sweet, cool crispness on a warm spring day. The tree was proud for she had nourished herself well, established her roots, and was now producing beautiful, rich fruit. Tall and dignified, she stood waiting for nothing more than for someone to come along and partake in that which she had grown, that which she had worked so hard to develop.

Through the years she saw many people pass by, sometimes near, sometimes far. When she was still young and had not yet developed her fruits, people marveled at her beauty but kept on their way. Once she had spent enough time developing herself, however, one spring day, something different happened. Over the rich, lush, green meadow hills she saw a small figure approaching rapidly, a lean human with with a boyish grin splashed across a slightly dirty (yet sweet) face, a face enveloped by a full head of hair fluttering in the breeze. When she saw the spirited, joyful-looking boy, she wanted nothing more than for him to see not just her beauty, but to see the fruits of her labor, the work that she had done in herself that made her so strong and proud.

Alas, with utter disappointment and grief, she watched and felt young Billy simply pluck one of her red delicious apples off one of her shorter, lower branches, take a bite, then discard the rest on the ground without seemingly a care. With an unfulfilled yearning deep within her roots, she could do nothing more than watch as young Billy proceeded to run off into the distance, disappearing over the horizon.

While the genders could be reversed in this situation, the meaning is the same: the relationship between Billy and the tree could have been mutually beneficial had Billy taken the time to value the tree and the fruit it had to offer instead of chasing after his every whim and boyish desire. 

When God told Adam "eat everything but that one fruit" in the Garden, I believe His purpose was to teach Adam that not everything that can be seen should be tasted. There is to be discretion and boundaries in our lives that safeguard us, protect us from knowledge which can later hinder or hurt us or, most importantly, hurt those that deserve our utmost respect and value. When Billy embarked on a journey to "taste it all," he began to taste things he had not intended on tasting: disappointment, regret, even discouragement. I bet Billy might even have gone as far to think there might not be anything beautiful or of value left in the world because he had gotten a little taste from everything, and nothing satisfied. nothing left a trace of fulfillment in his life.

I remember when a large, sizzling steak covered in bubbling butter and grilled onions was placed in front of me at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse at my graduation dinner. I valued what was placed in front of me, I spent ample time carefully cutting every little piece, chewing slowly, and tasting every morsel, every bit of juice that squished out with each bite. That steak was not just a simple meal, it was an experience, one that still causes me to salivate when I dwell on it today, ten years later. 

And so should we regard the heart the same. To taste love through constant flirtation, casual interactions, and fleeting intentions might give us a small sample of it all, but we further the desire within to truly feast upon the true, infinite depth of love. In our snacking we might stave off starvation, but we will never know the richness of what was meant to be enjoyed in a deep and savory manner.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

free

I was watching a television show the other day involving a high school teacher who discovers he has cancer and decides to go to drastic lengths in order to provide his family with enough money to cover their expenses (college, clothing, food, etc.) after he passes on. He finds himself in the company of criminals and happens upon a man who will, for a fee, take responsibility for committing a crime and going to jail for you. It is explained that the man feels much more bound in "freedom" than he is in prison where he gets his daily meal, a warm bed, people to talk to, and enough to scrape by.

In his freedom he finds himself bound to the every day struggle life can be: making money, having resources, being a valued member of the community, and holding down a job.

I had a friend recently tell me that he was glad to be done with Christianity, that he was happy he could just do the things he wanted and that got him by: heavy drinking, rampant partying, and casual sex. I looked back to my own time when counsel was given to me and I had a realization of how much bondage those things can truly keep you in. It is not necessarily the acts themselves which are the root of the issue, but more so the empty heart behind them.

The man who got by in prison, I guess he got just enough to get by: bland prison food, a decent bed, and people he may or may not be able to trust at all times, but think of the richness he was denying himself. In faith, we can find our relationships deepened to the point of giving us fulfillment and deep satisfaction. When David and Jonathan had one another, they were as brothers who lacked nothing as a result of their deep-rooted relationship with one another. Faith can open the doors to a community of depth and living beyond mere sustenance. Still, it can be tempting to reach for the instant gratification, the vices that are a purchase or phone call away.

I think God made the deeper things of life harder to attain because he did not want us to get used to reaching for the things that were within easy reach when we are at our laziest. Threaded throughout the Scriptures are calls to perseverance, strength, tenacity. It says, for instance, that he who does not work does not eat. While this could be taken literally, I think there is a whole lot of things that could be listed there in lieu of "eat." 

Faith by works makes sense to be only in the sense that each and every day we have to work on making choices that are congruent with those of Yeshua's. It is no easy task to be patient, to stay level-headed, or to resist anger when some things happen to us, it takes time, understanding, and learning to build a resilience. And, until said resilience is built, we constantly have to defend our hearts and guard what is valuable within us and to us as well.

Faith was never meant to be easy or a proverbial walk in the park. Faith opens the door to an understanding and belief that gives us a foundation from which we can work and build our lives, our attitudes, our reactions to the people and things that we encounter on a daily basis. Freedom does not afford us the right to be lazy and have everything work out as we stroll along, it merely gives us the right to stand for what we believe, fight for those who are weaker than us, and build a legacy based out of a fruitful life and spirit. We are free from constantly being on the defensive and having to heal from when we allow ourselves to be wounded by things that happen to us, things that cause us to believe something contrary to that which is true about us. There is an inherent strength in us afforded by faith, but that strength enables to be the people on the outside of the fence free to live a deep life enriched by the people, the places, and the experiences within it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

captive

There was a man who said that if you controlled a man's heart then you controlled him as well. Every day our emotions are played upon in the world of marketing and advertising. If the company behind the ads can make you feel like you need to buy something, then they will see your dollars in your hands often enough. They want to captivate you, they want you to be their captive. If they own your heart, they will own your wallet.

We as humans do it to each other. We take things we say to one another or do to one another, and we exploit them, wave them in each others faces, and we take advantage of other people's feelings so we can get what we want out of them (which is a long list of things I will refrain from posting here). We take an emotion the other person has felt or is susceptible to feeling and use to to hold that person hostage. For example: a person I once knew was given information on how to help his marriage. He was told "it is obvious your wife feels this way, so to help her stop feeling this way, you should treat her like [this]." Defensive and angry, the man instead confronted his wife and said "Is it true you feel this way?! Is it true you are ______ and _______ ?!?! In spite of everything I do for you, you don't trust me?!" Any good counselor will tell you that this defensiveness will only push the walls up higher and make the heart harder to access, not bring about true connectivity.

And, my friends, it sadly seeps into our faith. Christianity itself has suffered greatly because of the emotional captivity some people make of it. I think back to tracts in the 80s or early 90s that were only interested in shoveling people's sins into the spotlight, exposing that person as a "rotten sinner," and convince them they were deserving of one thing only: hell. So many people were held hostage by guilt, living out their Christian lives not in a manner of freedom, but in bondage to the worry and fear they would never be good enough. Outsiders and non-believers or even those who claim faith but yet have little have a lot of discord in their lives. There is a major lack of peace simply because our every day lives are dependent on us being hostage to feelings others have placated onto ourselves or us on ourselves as a result of others influence on us. Why would they openly accept and invite further captivity, and to guilt at that, into their lives?

I know the freedom from guilt did not really come about in my own life until I had an epiphany and started to truly believe who I am. I became cognizant of  not only the abilities within me, but also of the authority I have within me, of the responsibility I have to be a whole person and share my understanding with others. It was no longer time for me to be a person who kept other people hostage, but to be someone who gave them the keys to set themselves free.

In order to connect people to faith, especially those who have none, you have to show them the solid and wide bridge they have access to (the awareness of God's power within us), not the crusty, narrow, decaying old suspension bridge (a result of only having faith in our own selves: susceptible to failure) that they better hang on to if they want to make it to the other side. There is a fortitude in one possessing a faith that can trust and can love freely, and it is enough to empower anyone to feel an ease to invest in something that can be very difficult and trying along the way. I in no way mean to say that living a faith-filled life is a casual walk in the park: it requires a higher degree of diligence, perseverance, and exertion than what we have on our own. But, that is what the community is for, that is what healthy connectivity to our faith is is: a means in which we can overcome the hardships and travesties of life and grow in strength and wisdom.

Imagine in my earlier example of the husband and wife that the husband, instead of getting defensive, instead says "I understand that you feel _____, let me show you how you can instead feel ______." Or maybe he says nothing at all but, instead, lives it out as an example of the good things his wife has access to. We are called upon to be disciples, to be shining lights, to be strength where weakness abounds, not for our own benefit, but to be an example, a guiding light and a compass pointed towards the connectivity we robbed ourselves of with the simple act of eating a little piece of forbidden fruit.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

give

In scripture, a parable is shared by Yeshua in Luke. In it, a Jewish man is left naked and desolate by the side of the road, asking those who pass him for help. As the story goes, some men walk over him or around him and cannot be bothered to lend a hand. Eventually, a Samaritan man stops and renders aid to the man, taking him in and clothing and feeding him. The kicker of the story here is that Jews and Samaritans historically despised one another, so this good Samaritan was a man with a heart bigger than his social status.

I admit that it is a very touching story, one that fires off the emotional synapses within myself, so with that said, I suppose I must also admit I am a hypocrite.

Austin is densely populated with a substantial homeless population. It is hard to find a corner in any part of the city or suburbs that is devoid of someone holding and a sign and seeking some help. I am going to be honest and say that I have some of the same pre-conceived notions that others do: they are going to use my money for drugs, or for alcohol, or something else nefarious. So oftentimes I keep the windows and the music up and wait for the light to turn green before going about my way. I hate that. I pride myself on being someone who does not think of or expect the worst from people. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt and expect the best possible results. I know it is hard to do so as it is oftentimes easier to expect little and stave off disappointment. But, it is so much better to be able to handle disappointment competently and, therefore, treat people with the best expectations in mind.

Nevertheless, a lifetime of lessons learned from or stories told by others had me set in my stubborn mindset in regards to panhandlers. Then, something changed. The other night I was getting out of my car. I had not planned appropriately for the drop in temperature and found myself in frigid air and without a coat to give me some warmth: I was so cold that it hurt. I went inside my house and a random thought just hit me: there are people who live in this weather. There are people who call the outdoors (a bridge, a bench, an alley, an abandoned home or warehouse) their home, people without a coat, or a heated space to walk into and live in. At that very moment I wanted to find some way to give a blanket or a jacket to all the people who have to brave the cold weather, give them some degree of comfort in circumstances that afford them very little.

So today on my lunch break in the midst of a lot of hustle and bustle I was given my chance. I sat there at the red light, music enveloping every square-inch of my car interior. And then came a bearded man with matted gray hair and a sign telling me he has been down for so long that it was starting to feel like up. I cried. Not a gut-wrenching, bawling howl, but my chin got a little wet, and I dug for every everything I could find. I was nervous: what would the other commuters think, that I was irresponsible for enabling a lazy alcoholic? I knew that was a dissenter within me speaking and I quieted him the only way I knew how by turning down the music, rolling down the window, and giving every last bit of cash I had on me.

I do not know if my gift gave that man any warmth, or if I gave him the luxury of another day that he did not go hungry. All I know is that I felt a calling, an obligation and a duty to be of service to this man, this person who is my equal. I could see myself living in his shoes, if I would be in them, would I be bold enough to carry my sign and beg for the charity of strangers? Maybe, maybe not. Nevertheless, when I spoke the words "God bless you" to him, I hope he heard in my voice that I meant it with every fiber of my being.

I do not know what lesson I can share with other people. Sometimes I just hope my own honesty and story-telling can incite a thought in someone else, or maybe even something bigger. For myself, I hope that I can become someone who does not just wait for the right moment to do something good, but seeks out those moments and inspires others.

Monday, December 6, 2010

cost

Our world is very much dictated by trade, by our resources, and by our currency. Every day countries negotiate the value of the resources they have as well as need, and then trade organically flows. We go to shopping malls, mom-and-pop operations, antique stores, garage sales, retail stores, grocery stores, and sidewalk vendors to gaze at and oftentimes purchase items which are valuable to that particular location.There are items that particular individual or company has determined to be of value to the general public, or maybe even private collectors, and so things are bought so they can be sold, and sold so they can be bought or collected, or just used. Supply-and-demand is listed on Wikipedia as being "an economic model of price determination in a market." That to say, the rarer the item, the more it is worth.

In this model it is simple to affirm that our value is priceless, that because we are the only us on the globe, that there is nothing that can cheapen who we are, there is no man or woman who can tell us we are worth less than we actually are. My friend Lauren actually touched on this very topic yesterday, but it is also one that had come up over the weekend for me, so apparently our signals were in alignment at some point. She illustrated that how we let people treat us is in direct correlation with how we value ourselves.

God did not ant there to be any confusion whatsoever with where our value lies. Various scriptures discuss treating others as equals (Romans 12:3), or not showing favoritism to those in power over those who might be handicapped or weak (Matthew 9:10-13, James 2:1), and how God shuns those who put themselves above others (James 4:6). There are various other places that all seem to give me one big idea: we all hold the same priceless value. There is no man who ought to think lesser or greater of him or herself than someone else because, to Him who made us, we all come without a price tag and each one of us matters equally.

It is hard to see this in modern day society. We try to put proverbial price tags on ourselves with our possessions, our clothes, even our hairstyles (you won't catch this boy spending more than $25 on a cut, and he still looks good), but it is all meaningless. Worthless. I have found some of the richest people to be those that blend in and do not stand out. And to those that like the boost that a new designer jacket or pair of jeans can give you: enjoy it, revel in it, we all like to look nice and be our best for people, just do not forget that at the end of the day, you are just as special and valuable without that thing than you are with it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

family

It is certainly not my intention to brag, but I must give credit where it is due: I have one amazing family.

Family, to me, is meant to be your collection of ambassadors to the world. Your parents raise you, instill wisdom, values, and learning, help to develop you as much as possible mentally, emotionally, and physically, and also affirm you and help validate you. It is a lot of responsibility, the weight of which is paramount. My parents bore that weight well. They not only provided a safe and wholesome childhood (all bad paths I took were completely of my own selfish curiosity), but have helped me in ways that are almost embarrassing to admit.

Then there are my sisters, though very different they have taught me how to value the heart and gentle spirit of the female. I have to say that some of my lessons were learned in hindsight (sorry for the time I knocked you over with my backpack in the snow, Kikken), but I don't think I would fully be the socially-imbued individual I am today if not for them. They have been predominant in the way of teaching me how to just enjoy life and have as much fun along the way as possible.

I say all that to say this: while all families have their disagreements and miscommunications, you always have them at the end of the day, you will always belong to them, and them to you (no matter how high or thick the walls you put up can be sometimes). You will always share the same heart, the same blood, the same heritage. You are married to this community.

There are a lot of intellects who think very highly of themselves and see belief in God as a crutch, something people need to lean on in order to give themselves some hope or chance of finding security when there is none in their lives. I will not go into my own suppositions about the person who thinks they are too smart to need anyone other than themselves, but, suffice to say there is intrinsic value within a community that carries no price tag: it is priceless. In fact, the people who feel as though they are not tied to society or to a community are generally likely to be suicidal sociopaths (sorry to flex my social psychology background muscles here).

I acknowledge there are people who do go to church with broken families, broken relationships, and broken trust who are looking to or for something to bring about mending in their lives. I do not begin to dare to say these people are weak, though some would write them off as such. What I can say that is that it is evident they are in need. And, if their need is to go to church or accept God as a crutch, then more power to them: at least they are acknowledging a power greater than their own and are willing to tap into it. The purpose of a crutch is to bring about healing, to allow what has been broken to be strong and whole once again. The true measure of that individual is when they turn brokenness into victory and are able to function as a support to someone else comes comes along afterwards.

One of my favorite moments as a prayer partner is when I speak imminent victory over the individual's life, that what they bear now will one day be a testimony and a story of encouragement to others who follow them with the same burden(s). We as the church are a family: dysfunctional at times, but ultimately interested in providing the love, validation, and acceptance one needs to build strength within themselves. And while some would argue this is weakness and only weak people need God, I think one would be hard-pressed to find a healthy individual who exists outside of a community and has not had another person in their life who pushed them to be the best person they could be.

I am not afraid to admit that my beliefs were a natural choice because of my parents. I found my own faith, but it was hard to rebuff God when my parents have always been His best ambassadors to me, when they have shown me love without condition greater and more times than I could ever count or repay. Special thanks to Michael Ray, Cheryl, Kristen Renee, and Sarah Nicole for making this entry and this life possible.

Monday, November 29, 2010

live

Back in biblical days there were religious/political leaders with a good deal of notoriety: The Pharisees. That word is associated with negative connotation for good cause, in my opinion. Here was a group of people well-versed in things religious who had a lot of knowledge and strong political influence. Like some who are dealt power and a position of leadership, they used their knowledge to belittle other people. I could suppose this might have been due to their need for religious & spiritual validation (which some people unhealthily seek by belittling or being condescending towards other people), but their motives and hearts are unknown.

What is known is that these men were constantly throwing scripture at people, constantly blasting the law at all times, and attempting to make men feel small or inadequate by comparing them to their own personal standards. The Pharisees thought they had figured it out best, and only those who measured up to their standards were going to make the religious cut.

Funny thing is that the very Son of God came along and basically gave a sentence of damnation to those who acted or spoke like the Pharisees. Here they were trying their best to make everyone feel guilty (we use the Christianese word "convicted" these days) by purporting their own standards and way of living, then someone shows up and smacks the proverbial caviar off their trays. Well we all know wounded pride is the mother of offense and this all led way to a murderous conclusion, but what else can be learned by all this?

I would like to think that we are given a prime example of how to live and how to lead. There was a love that has transcended through centuries that was shown, a love which trumped law, legalism, and religion. Jesus' own parables usually gave people a sense of indignation about those wronged in the stories he told, but those people who heard said stores searched their own hearts to see if they possessed qualities like the ones they abhorred hearing so much. His stories were devoid of finger pointing but were, instead, an open-handed approach where He unfolded his hands, offered a story, and let the lessons fall where they may as they naturally permeated the hearts of those present. This just illustrates He understood something basic about human nature: we all have an intrinsic desire to be better people.

When someone hears something that touches a nerve (because it touches on a sensitive area that is a weak place in our lives), their senses all come alive and spring to action. Our first reaction might be to get defensive which is why Jesus' approach was such a good one. He brought light to the dark places without pointing anyone out. He obviously knew that people respond best when left to their own devices, when information is shared with them as opposed to it being shoved down their throats or used as a divisive tool to separate those who thought they were more religious from those who did not appear to be (at least according to Pharisee standards).

In my own learning and growing as a person of faith I pray daily that the things which are revealed to me be passed on through my own life. I pray I not use what I learn or know to feel or act better than anyone else, but that I might shed light or clarity on a place previously cloudy or obscured even if not intended. In the same vain, I pray for people in my life that also equip and strengthen me not by chastisement, but by a daily life lived well and purposeful. If I could have nothing more than that in this world, I would continue to be a truly thankful and content man.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

thankful

While thankfulness is ever-present in my own life I like to think of Thanksgiving Day as a day to take a yearly inventory on what has transpired and reflect on some of the bigger picture items that are not necessarily a singular instance or event. For the past year I have the following to to be thankful for:

The family I have. Not just for being my family by default, but for being people that make life easier to live together and make the world a happier and better place to be because of one another and not in spite of one another.

For having a good job with Apple that lasted the full scope of my contract and then for a new job with IBM, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed and continue to enjoy. I also enjoy the two months of unemployment between Apple and IBM when I was humbled and blessed to earn money by mowing lawns to keep up with my bills.

I am thankful for the friendships I have developed this year. There has also come a wealth of relationships that I could never put a price tag on. I live and lead beside some selfless and focused people who make life even better. A couple of new people have come into my life very recently and have enriched it further than I can describe. 

I am thankful for being both humbled and teachable this year. Every low point has opened the door to growth and a better understanding of who I am and what I have to offer the world by my hands and through the gifts I have been given and instilled with. I have had good leaders and mentors in my life who have taught me more than I could imagine and I am thankful I have absorbed the good and repelled the bad. It helps change your attitude towards yourself, other people, and that things that happen in life that you simply cannot control.

I am thankful that I can honestly say this has been the best year of my life thus far. I am thankful that I am happier than I have ever been even though I have spent a lot less time doing things for the sake of making myself happier. I am thankful that I have found a deep, resounding peace and joy in my life that is seldom rattled.

I am thankful for little things: a car without major issues or break-downs, a laptop that still works well, the ability to make a hot cup of tea when I want, heat on the cold days, a/c on the warm ones, the countless freedoms this country affords me, the ability to connect with friends and family through social networking sites, new musical discoveries, good blogs to read, food on the table or at a restaurant, running water, and a small place on the internet to share my thoughts.

Most of all, I am thankful to the One who has made all of the above possible, and for His continued will being done in my life.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

up

When I saw the movie "Up" I think I am the only person who walked out of theater feeling cheated. I didn't know much of the movie beforehand, just that Pixar movies were always so light-hearted and a fun time at the movies. "Up," however, was something quite different. In the movie, love blossoms between a young man named Carl and his sweetheart. We see their lives together progress until one day his lovey passes and he is left ... alone. It was an extremely emotional and heavy-handed thing to see in an animated movie, especially from a movie studio that usually delivered the light-hearted fun. It also set the tone for the rest of the movie and I walked away thinking "that was a lot more serious than that I was ready for and open to."

I later decided to give it another chance and watch it on TV, however. On the second viewing I took something completely different from it and allowed a very poignant message to permeate me.

Life can be heavy sometimes. Hardships come without warning and on a regular basis. A lot of times the problems can stack up on and compound one another before you take action and suddenly you feel buried -- suffocated. It is an overwhelming place to be and can cause you to get stuck in a rut. Poor Carl, he lost his best friend, his wife, and was told he would be losing their home as well. With an overwhelming chagrin
washing over him, Carl did something courageous and unexpected: he embarked on an adventure. With a slew of helium balloons and a passion in his heart, Carl did something drastically daring and adventurous to remove himself from his rut.

Shortly after embarking on his journey, a young kid named Russell is discovered on the front porch of Carl's floating house and has no choice but to join Carl on his adventure. Russell inspired me by his open-minded approach to the whole situation. Instead of being a victim and feeling helpless he made the most of his predicament and had his own adventure alongside Carl. There was a kinship between these two that negated the age gap and allowed a brotherhood to transpire.

Circumstantial living (that is, being defined and led by your circumstances) can be a tough thing to endure and exist out of. Even the richest of men find their circumstances to be difficult: we are all part of an imperfect world. Who you are is what you do and how you react while life happens to you. While I'm not so sure that tying hot air balloons to your house is the answer to all of life's problems, I do think there is an important lesson to be learned from Carl and Russell. When all hope seems dwindling to the point of non-existence, or the pressure of an imminent situation or circumstance is upon your shoulders, like Carl and Russell we should either take the initiative to make it an adventure or go along with the one that sometimes comes right to our doorstep.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

win

Somewhere in the distant past when I had time for video games I sat, surrounded by boxes of warm, gooey pizza and somewhere around 600 pounds of gut-wrenching, howling, grunting testosterone (between 3 other guys). This was not madness. This. Was. Halo.

If you are not familiar, Halo is a video game you play either by yourself or with other people online. Your job is to get dropped into a boxed location with some guns and either kill more people than kill you or complete a mission objective (capture the flag or something akin to that) while people are trying to kill you. Every now and then you get a guy like me who doesn't get much practice and is more of a human body shield than a finely-tuned killing machine. And, trust me, when I get the "you have been killed by ... " screen, my friends laugh, but there is very little satisfaction -- it is not as fun to kill the little guy. It is defeating the guy running around eviscerating everyone with seemingly little effort that causes your friend to jump up and howl in delight as they just unseated the big dog. 

It is about winning, and you do not win by beating the guy in last place.

When someone else has something, a position, a title, maybe even a significant other's heart, it becomes that much more tantalizing for us. It is the reason why the heart seems to want that which it can't have: we need to reach a comfortable level of self-assurance that comes through confidence, confidence which can be ascertained by investing in or obtaining things that project status. A lack of confidence can also appear in the form of arrogance as one relies on their ego to do all the work and project an image of success and contentment. It makes you feel better about yourself. For a season, and to a limited and shallow extent, that is. Trust me, I have been there.

Sometimes I feel like I might get the definition or meaning of humility wrong, but I understand a humble person to be someone who is whole and feels confident without the titles, the adornments, or the awards. When I dwell on the word "humble," I think of someone who is not meek or timid, agreeable at all times, but rather a person who, although at peace and harmony with their surroundings, is a powerful force of concise decision-making, peace making, and the desire to further themselves or the others around them in the name of a selfless goal or desire. As men and women, our own desires are flesh-based, we want to satisfy our own needs and desires and do not take God's will into consideration. Only goals or desires that are within His will are truly selfless, in my opinion.

That said, I now venture into the realm of relationships. As a contently single man (and not currently looking), I tell you that the words "contently single" have not existed in my life at all times. In fact, it was not until I had a game-changing paradigm shift not too long in the distant past that I began to rest in this place. So what can I tell you from my time as someone who did not trust in God in this area of my life and saw it happen in the lives of other people as well?

I was not entirely happy with me. I liked me, I saw good in me, but I was discontent and lacking in confidence in some areas I needed it so I could stop wasting my time. I was not in a place where I was allowing or interested in allowing God to exist in those places: I wanted to do things on my own or lean on my own understanding. It is easy when you are in this place of discontent with yourself that you seek someone else to fill the cracks and "complete" you. And thus begins the frivolous and hurtful journey of what I like to call "career dating." Constantly on the prowl or needing fulfillment that a relationship can bring, you're always finding yourself in one or wanting to be in one. If you can just get that person that makes you feel so happy about yourself and the world, then all will be well. At least for a short while.

There comes a point where you realize that you are not just dating someone, they are also dating you. If you are wrecked and needing to have someone because you do not like yourself and want someone else in the name of feeling better about you or being able to ignore your own shortcomings, then you are not a viable option for that person, you are a detriment to both them and yourself. To make things work you become the person you think they need or want. I think the relatively short and quick breakdown in relationships, for the most part, can be attributed to this. The guise of simply being who your significant other wants cannot last. You are deeply-ingrained and built up of deeper traits and characteristics than that; it is only a matter of time before who you are surfaces and someone realizes they went looking for a good deal, feels they got a raw deal, and then goes looking for a new deal (Thank you, Dr. Seif).

Being a whole person is going to do countless beneficial things for you that are too numerous to list here, but it is also going to allow you to connect with the right person for you and have a viable relationship. It is not going to fall apart when the real you surfaces because the real you will be present at all times. And instead of focusing on your needs what your partner can do for you, you can take the eyes off of yourself and be a better partner for them. 

Being this person is not attained by our own victories, earthly trophies, or a reliance upon ourselves. Nay, it comes upon steadfast peace and joy that comes with aligning our character with Him, and allowing our will to be His will for our lives. In that, we find the peace and the confidence to be who we are called to be. And, trust me, that is much more attractive than being the loudest or showiest guy or gal in the room. You wanna win a heart? Have a full one, lacking in nothing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

settle

Sage advice was never truer spoken than when someone told me not to settle for less than the best. And then someone people simple said don't settle, stay wild and free, forever young at heart. Well, I heeded that advice and still do to this day. Still, our insides, our will and emotions, they can't toss and turn like leaves in the wind, they must settle somewhere and be a foundation, then the rest of our makeup can frolic at will.

We can find a lack of peace in our lives a lot of the time: things still flare up, mind you. I guess I would equate it to a an explosion that causes the dirt and rocks to heave upwards. But when they fall back down, they settle back onto the ground and remain where they belong. Still, since winds, explosions, and the elements will always rock the surface, we must be settled somewhere deeper than the surface or in shallow proverbial waters.

The other week I was feeling a myriad of strange feelings. There were conflicts to resolve, reactions to circumstances, being tired due to lack of sleep (it was a busy week), and just general day-to-day stuff that was causing me to scratch my head a little more than usual. When a friend and mentor randomly asked me how I was feeling, only one word came to mind: unsettled. Being able to give my affliction a name, I was able to seek out poignant and relative truths in Scripture that spoke to my unsettled feelings and reminded me that I do have a heart that is settled in truth and capable of withstanding the tempest.

I like to think of it like a seashell on the bottom of the ocean floor. There is rests, an indention in the sand outlining the spot that seashell lies upon. Hundreds or thousands of feet above are tumultuous winds, waves, storms, and currents that are a strong tide through the sea. And yet, the seashell has deeply embedded itself within the depths of the ocean and remains unaffected and unmoved. So brittle and fragile is that seashell, but it is made sturdy in its settlement: deep within the arms of safety.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

burn

Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it. 

There are a lot of things about society that make me chuckle, most of them being the social constructs that help us sleep easier at night or ease some of the burden that life can afford us at times.

We are afforded a great deal of security in our lives by a lot of flammable papers kept in flammable drawers or flammable computers in flammable buildings. In an instant, your life and all the zeroes you have accumulated in your bank account, savings account, or retirement fund could disappear as quickly as they were created.

I want to avoid the misnomer of being a bohemian hippie who is going to preach at you from a hemp-based platform as the smell of patchouli fills the air or something along those lines. I'm not here to say you have to fight the system and live outside of it. I am merely intrigued by the fact that so much of our security is in things that can disappear in flames and up in smoke in an instant.

Matthew 3:12 makes reference to burning the chaff, and Hebrews 12 ends about things being shaken from our lives, and God being a consuming fire. When I think of what the chaff in our life represents, I like to think of it as the sin we become dependent on. Sometimes that sin is fostered by unhealthy relationships, mindsets, or afflictions we have in our lives. As a prayer partner, I have found it very common for people to ask for God to remove or burn things from their life that preclude them from achieving their destiny or making them more able to serve His will. It is a scary thing to ask for, though. A lot of these things represent security in our lives, security that we cling to until our last dying breath. It is easy to be stubborn and stay where we are at: familiarity breeds stagnancy, but I think we need the fire in our lives to not only light up the dark areas, but burn and melt away the things that do not look like Him or do not give honor or point towards Him.

Honestly, though, I feel it is scarier not to feel the heat. If there is no adversity or challenge, then maybe this is evidence that growth is not occurring and we are becoming stagnant. The measure of heat is an indicator of how close we are to the flames, and that heat is conviction, the flames righteous cleansing. In my mind, it is one of those rare instances where fire seems cool like ice in my mind.

Still, sometimes I wonder if people really know what they are getting themselves into when they ask for things to be purged. A lot of us are like Linus from the comic Peanuts and want to grow up clinging to that security blanket with thumbs in our mouths. Eventually the fire comes (always invited, even if subconsciously) and we begin to realize the only true source of security in what the Word assures us of and what we inherit from Him.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

bed

Psalm 4:4 - In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.

There's nothing like a cool sheet after a warm day. Conversely, there is nothing like a warm blanket when it's cold outside and Jack Frost is nipping at your nose, or toes, or however it goes.

I don't feel like I have anything terribly deep or thoughtful to say here, but if one wanted to ask me a verse that I live by (or at least try to, after all: I'm only human) on a daily basis, Psalm 4:4 would be in the list. 

I am personally always fascinated when I see commercials for beds on television. To me, a bed is such an intimate and personal thing, it is almost weird to see it advertised in such a casual manner, but I suppose someone has to sell them. And sell them I did. For a short while, I was put on a project at a major retailer you've all heard of to sell mattresses to people over the phone. It wasn't a terribly busy job that required a lot of work out of me (maybe one call every thirty minutes), but I took it seriously. It would perplex me when people would opt for the cheapest model (I'm talking under $100) we had: a bed I deemed to look and feel a lot like thick cardboard. This particular bed model even had a kitschy name to match, but I'll save the company some bad advertising. At any rate, these beds were usually returned with the customer stating "this is like sleeping on thick cardboard." It made me happy to know people valued what they slept on. I think it is important for a place that is crucial and vital to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being to be comfortable.

There are a lot of metonymic uses for the word bed, all of them centering around passion, love, or rest. Those could be synonymous with one another, though: to me, there is fervent passion in rest. When I finally get to my worn-in spot on my bed I put the thoughts and emotions of the day on display in my mind. I will scout over the moments that stuck out, both the good and the bad. The good I cherish and lift up in prayer with gratitude. The bad I allow to convict me, and a much different prayer follows.

We are most vulnerable when we sleep. Not only are we almost completely oblivious to our surroundings at this moment, but a lot of processing goes on in our mind, both conscious and subconscious. It's important to heed the Scriptures and not let oneself go to sleep before you make the decision to forgive and forget. It's almost as if the reset button is hit on your emotions once the blasted alarm goes off and you awake to face the next day. I sometimes feel like I am the only one who finds it hard to get there sometimes. When we are angered it feels natural to instantly lash out or respond in a manner that would be deemed as sinful (an angry outburst, a harsh word towards someone else, or even a physical altercation in the most extreme of circumstances), but it is important we guard our emotions and put things on the shelf so they can be pulled off and sorted when it is best for us to do so and not in the moment.

Perhaps this is just one of the few straight-forward physiological lessons the Bible sets out to teach us: it is best to deal with your anger not at the moment you become angry, but in your bed before you go to sleep. Mmm, science.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

symbiote

I hope this blog entry isn't losing all credibility with the inclusion of a photo from one of the most disappointing superhero movies of all-time. Regardless, I know it is an easily recognizable image from a popular film and thought it would best represent this entry to a broad audience.

Someone older and wiser than I recently told me that people who champion their victories over victimization and wave their victory flag around are still tying themselves to the pain. This is the type of symbiotic relationship that can squelch dreams, maturity, growth, and ambitions. There are a lot of other mindsets that can attach themselves to us (bitterness, hopelessness, anger, hurt, etc.) and govern what we do on a daily basis, or how we perceive or receive other people or even perceive God.

In the past, it was easy for me to think that my choices had been made, I was cemented into being the person I was, and that the only way out was to start digging on my own accord, intellect and strength. What stopped me every time, however, was having to feed the symbiotic mindsets that got me there in the first place. I wasn't just responsible to me and able to just dig myself out, I had to stop and also give effort and energy to the things that I allowed to comprise me and my countenance.

When futile attempt after futile attempt led to constant, cyclical failure I felt hopeless, and that is when that God becomes that much bigger to me. God isn't just who He is, to me, He is also what He provides: peace, comfort, joy, and much much more. It's funny how the pits of life seem to dissolve and things just seem ... manageable. It turns how I feel about day-to-day life from from being merely a circumstantial reaction; that is, I don't let the things that I encounter or happen on a daily basis determine what is inside of me.

Attaching oneself to the graceful/loving character of God, the mannerisms of Christ, the fruits of the Spirit: it allows for one to be connected to a wellspring and a set of inner workings that are beyond our own capacity. This is where the concept of the Trinity makes the most sense to me and how it indwells within us and our lives. Connectivity to all three is what makes what we have in life, our part, our jobs, our family, our existence our place of joy, of service, of camaraderie. While I think it possibly silly to label our relationship to the Father as symbiotic, I can recognize that we are allowing a source to feed us as we feed it and become an intrinsic part of our innermost being.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

faith

There are a lot of things man puts stock into when it comes to their faith. Faith is a measure (whether small or extraordinary) of goodwill we extend to things unproven and yet unseen but genuinely hoped for.

I can't help but feel that faith in anything other than God is misplaced. I can't even have faith in myself: I know I am going to make a wrong choice somehow, somewhere based on an emotional whim (which is where grace comes into play, thank God). 

The elections show me that people are pressing their shoulders heavily against the proverbial faith grindstone, hoping for someone to come along and save them: their checkbooks, their failing health, their shrinking retirement fund, their hope in equal rights and broader freedom, even their faith in the political system and our nation as a whole.

But, all these things can be given and taken at a whim, at any moment. It doesn't matter who is at the wheel steering the ship, the waves will come as they please. All we can do is close our eyes and hold on to the only thing that will never sway: His name, His sweet sweet name.

Monday, November 1, 2010

church

If I had to sum up the Christian community in modern ages with just one word, it would be this: divisive. Funny, considering that the Christian faith is meant to be the exact opposite of that very word. Yet here we are, brothers and sisters of one faith hurtling stones and ill-tempered words from the safety of four, stone walls. Somewhere, somehow, some of us got to thinking that Christianity is all about what our church believes and practices, or that what happens in our four walls is better than what happens in your four walls. But that attitude is completely missing the purpose: community.

I have been a part of Shoreline Christian Center in Austin, TX since 1994. Prior to this, I lived life on the missions field of Africa and was/am a son to two, full-time head pastors. My dad had both a local church and was also an itinerant (traveling) minister as well. After moving to Austin in 1994 and tentatively being on staff at a church ripped apart by scandal at the top level, my family sought out and found our new home at Shoreline (my parents have since moved on to answer God's call to pastor their own congregation though they remain dear friends with the pastors at Shoreline). Needless to say, I have seen church at and from every single level you can think of: children's leader, youth leader, young adults leader, praise team, and also on various missions and community outreaches. I've seen the mistakes, after all, these churches are being lead by people and not micromanaged by some divine entity teeming with perfection. Conversely, I have also seen a lot of the changed lives, too numerous to count really, so something must be going right.

All the churches I have been to and attended (and I have visited many around the Austin area, as well as across the country during my dad's itinerant dayes) have taught me one thing all churches have in common: people are actively searching for a church where their mind, soul, spirit, and body feel comfortable. Comfortableness is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can give way to complacency if allowed. Still, there is something important that one must be mindful of: the walk of one's faith has never been the church's responsibility. It is, rather, an individual endeavor which churches can only help foster and partner with alongside you. In short, a church's ability to cause a member to grow is entirely limited to the involvement and tenacity of said individual.

Mega-churches get the bad rap of being shallow or "seeker-friendly" these days, but I have seen a lot of great things done with the facilities, resources, and benevolence a large church has access to. In all honesty, a bigger church is easier to lose oneself in. It is much easier to be invisible when you are in a room of 10,000 than a room of 100. Still, it is not the church's responsibility to grab every person they see and demand a progress report on that individual to see where their faith stands and if it is growing. Really, all a mega-church can do is try to employ a staff (both paid and volunteer) large enough to connect with all the people in its church.

If your church, big or small, is going to fail, it will be because it does not offer any viable options for deeper living. To me, the depth of one's faith comes in the form of relationship: with other believers, with non-believers, with the needy, the young, the old, the widowed, the married, everyone and anyone apart of the local and global community. The church service as it stands today is more of a foundation to me, a time to hear an engaging message and experience some good worship, both of which are great on their own. The meat of the church experience in my opinion, however, is going to be what you get involved with outside of your typical 9 a.m. service time. This can be a number of things: small groups where peers discuss the Sunday message, or digging into Scriptures further while strengthening friendships with the center being a desire to grow in one's faith. It can also be involvement in the local homeless/needy person community, being sent on short-term missions trips, attending leadership courses and classes, going to groups that specialize in ministering to specific needs (of which there are so many a church service simply cannot address all of them at one), or serving with another ministry in the church.

My prayer for Austin and other cities all over the country is that our community becomes stronger, that the competitive nature of churches becomes a thing of the past, and we start to grab hands across denominational as well as property lines. There has to come a point when a church organization has to stop saying "what are they doing wrong" and start saying "what can we do right?" Abraham Lincoln once stated that "A house divided against itself cannot stand." We will find ourselves in a faith crisis if we do not all agree upon one mission and one mission alone: be the answer point to the answer to the need of the hearts in our congregation, then send that congregation out into local and global communities to spread the answer.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

clean

After many, many months I finally stopped avoiding the inevitable. Drowning in the smell of perm and hair products, I gave my name to the smiling receptionist and waited patiently in a cold, plastic chair. It must be a daunting experience for some because I was offered a beer while I waited. Declining, I decided to bide my time by calling a friend. I soon heard my name called and made my way over to a soft, comfortable chair. A plastic gown was thrown over me and after much snipping and some polite small-talk, I looked into the mirror and marveled at how I looked with what must have been 17 pounds of hair missing from the top of my head.

I still feel like a handsome devil, and I can not help but admire how sleek and how clean I appear in the mirror. This is such a good feeling that I decided I must get it done again, and much sooner next time. additionally, I gave my car a glance over today and decided my first stop once I got some free time would be to the local car wash.

It is a good feeling to be clean, to exist within clean spaces. There is a sense and air of empowerment about me, and I know others share this feeling when they are in the same clean-cut boat or wearing a freshly-laundered or newly-bought outfit. Generally, things seem to go better for us or be easier to deal with when we are feeling this empowerment. It is as if the floodgates of positivity are opened and flood over us and nothing can get us down. In all honesty, I think in this empowerment engendered by our cleanliness we tend to exude an attitude which causes positive attitudes, words of encouragement, or helpfulness to gravitate towards us.

What people are seeing, though, might not be what we think it is. I do not think people are necessarily drawn to the outfit or the hair. Sure, it is what is most noticeable at first glance, but I think others are truly educed to the aforementioned empowerment and positive attitude we project from said haircut or outfit.

In a spiritual sense, no matter how inundated with junk or how "dirty" we might feel when it comes to our own sin nature, our poor decisions, or failure to be/speak our best, there is something within us that is pure and cleaner than snow. It is imperative to feel washed over and cleansed by the ever-present spirit within us, not because we are called to always feel wonderful or perfect but because we need to feel washed and cleansed by that which is in us.

I believe in doing this and being mindful, we will find ourselves devoid of the feeling of self-conscious insecurities or that people can see what is unclean or wrong with us. Therefore when people do look to us, engaged by what they see within us, we will be able to minister to them and not shut them off in a natural effort to hide what we feel most self-conscious about. I think this is what the Scripture was after when we were commissioned to let our light shine before men: to have that "so fresh, and so clean" feeling each and every day so we can show others that we are not perfect, but He is, and in Him we are truly cleansed.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

raw

I have a Youtube channel or account or whatever people refer to them as: http://www.youtube.com/spidersoma. My reason for starting one was to upload a friend's song that she wrote and performed for our old college. Months later, I recorded a song and someone asked me to upload it somewhere. Youtube seemed as good a place as any, so there it went. Somehow I ended up with 76 "videos" (I use that word loosely since I just post songs with a photo) with more to come, I am sure. 

At any rate, today I was on an online forum and some people were discussing a cover I had posted on my Youtube channel. One individual commented that they liked how I showcased the simplicity of the song in an elegant way. 

I was happy for their comments and told them they hit the proverbial nail on the head of what I was trying to accomplish in my reply: "My whole 'shtick' as it stands is to tear songs down to their very basic and simple acoustic core. I guess this is a way of showing people that even the most complicated or produced songs come from a very vulnerable, simple, yet genuine and raw place."

I looked over the words I had said, at first out of self-conscious vulnerability as I had kind of made my intentions transparent and wanted to make sure I had described myself in a soft yet honest light. But something else resonated with me: this is humanity. I'm no stranger to the fact that songs are an extension of who people are and what they want to express from inside themselves (well, at least those who aren't polluting the creative pool with songs meant for profit), so I started to digress and reflect.

Beyond our basic intrinsic need as humans (shelter, food, water, air, sex), we have emotional needs as well: safety, companionship, security: in ourselves, our relationships, maybe even our finances. There was a time when I had built up a cloud around me that was meant to magnetize people, give them a reason to come check out what the commotion was all about and then keep them in said cloud. I couldn't even begin to recall and list all the things that I thought mattered to others and, therefore, caused me to proclaim or advertise them, but it was all purposeful: I needed people.

At the core of me was a raw and insatiable desire to have immeasurable loyalty, trust, love, and companionship from others. I fed off of time spent with others and I counted it lonely times when I was by myself. I kept neglecting the Word and the Truth that I had access to all these things, 24/7, completely devoid of expectation or condition. I had the greatest loyalty, trust, love, and companionship of all in the form of my Savior, my God. It is amazing how a cognizance of this then allowed me to stop trying to garner the glory for myself and start giving glory where it was due, and to point others to the purest and most undefiled source of fulfillment.

We produce our own lives, we master our agendas (in a calendar sense, not a motive sense), our job titles, our educational endeavors, our friends, our mentors, our community involvement, our mission statement, and our public persona through social networking. We can appear to be very complicated and important people to others, but only one truth should ever matter and be prevalent in our lives: at the core of who we are is a need for a Savior, and our only interest at the end of the day should be to share that truth with others. The raw love of Jesus can strip away our self-induced layers of protection from feeling hurt or insignificance and cause us to be accessible both to His love, and our usefulness as a compass towards Him. 

I oftentimes imagine a world in which He is the true center of our world (that is the faces, places, and spaces we interact with in body, mind, soul, and spirit), and every heart, every eye, every mind is pointed at Him. There will be no questions of how to live when we're all facing the same direction, when we are all living in a raw and genuine place of divine fulfillment.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

weak

If you are reading this, then there is no doubt that you have felt the string of failure, the defeatism that comes with disappointment in your self. It seems we inherently gravitate towards greatness, valor, victory, strength. We all want to be extraordinary, to be great. We admire the hero, the person who stands up, head held high, and gains something great by their actions. We strive to be the Rudy Ruettigers, William Wallaces, and Kerri Strugs of our world (that is, the spaces, places, and faces we interact with on a day-to-day basis).

Oh, how we fail.

I have taken my fair share of knocks in life, shaken my head more than a few times when thinking back on some decisions I made, words I said. I have been anything but a hero in more instances than I care to count, but I have come to realize something very important: weakness is a measure of and a doorway to great things. 

I mentioned Kerri Strug earlier, and you probably know who she is without having to run to Google. The reason her name is timelessly remembered is not because she scored a 9.712 landing in vault to secure a gold medal for America in the 1996 Summer Olympics. No, she is remembered because she did so after seriously injuring her ankle just moments earlier on a previous jump. American marveled as she did something most of us never could, even at the peak of our physical prowess -- and she did so while injured.

I find admiration in stories of triumph, unlikely heroes who step up to the plate and do something great in spite of themselves. I have a lot of respect for those in positions of authority, namely those within a spiritual context. There is a lot of sacrifice and strength in allowing oneself to die to self and live by a holier set of standards. While I am admittedly a nobody outside of my realm of influence and my own social circle, I see great things within me that I simply cannot attribute to my own self. In fact, everything great in me is a result of my own weakness, shortcomings, and failures. The only great thing I ever truly did was learn how to finally start trusting God and not try to be some intellectual giant who thought or felt his way out of every circumstance or emotional rut. Beyond that, everything is owed to something and Someone bigger than me.

Our success is predicated by our faith. Without faith in positive results, why would we put our hands and feet to any project, dream, or desire? We look at those who have come before us and declare "I can do that, or I can do something great and groundbreaking or trend-setting as well. I too can overcome because they did as well." This is good and well and is definitely a stepping stone to launch yourself off of, but this will only get you so far. When your focal point of faith lies in an individual, a group of people, or an establishment created by and consisting of an individual or group of people, your success can only go so far. You will be limited by not only your weakness, but the weakness of those who inspired you. People will fail, and in doing so, they will fail you. The only focal point we truly can be dependent on, the only unfailing person that is worthy of our attention and being a point of reference is Yahshua. 

Even in the moments leading up to His greatest victory, He struggled, He begged, and He pleaded to not have to take the burden, the pain, and the suffering upon His body. It is here I saw Him at His most human, at His greatest point of weakness, and yet He travailed, just for me. How much greater can I do than that? I cannot, so it is towards Him I face and follow daily when choosing my actions, my words, and my thoughts. Aside from that, there is nothing great I can do on my own in my human weakness.

Friday, October 22, 2010

child

Growing up sucks. No, it's not so bad. Growing up is awesome. Hmmm ... where did all my hair go, and where did these wrinkles come from, and why can't I function on four hours of sleep anymore?? 

Growing up is weird.

I have to preface this by admitting that I am self-conscious about writing this entry. I was planning on writing this very entry on Wednesday, but put it off because I got busy with work and preparing for youth, then listened as Pastor Ben Calmer (our senior high pastor) shared this very same message on Wednesday night. He even went as far as to preach some of the points I mulled over, but I suppose it's a cool thing our heads were in the same place this week. 

Earlier this week I kept hearing the Jars of Clay song where it sings "with faith like a child." Then I ran into a clip of Matthew Lillard in Hackers reciting 1 Corinthians 13:11 - "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man I put childish ways behind me." I started chewing on that and contemplating child-like (not to be confused with childish) ways of living and thinking. 

Life as it stands now is wonderful. I don't want to confuse anyone by projecting the image of someone who thinks everything in the past was greater and present day is dreary and drab. I am finding life to be richer and more enjoyable than ever before, and I am seeing a lot of fruit in life, but kids really have it easier in some ways.

When you're a kid you're amazed by everything. You don't have that jaded attitude of "yeah yeah ,seen that... NEXT" that we can get when we are older. The world and even some of the dullest objects in it are all tools, weapons, castles, swords, fortresses, mountains, dragons, all things transformed by the imagination into something striking and magnificent. Everything is full of color, full of life, full of opportunity for fun and celebration. Even now modern art seems to lean towards a simplistic, minimalist, childish array of colors and shapes. The primary colors and three basic shapes (square, circle, triangle) comprise a lot of what I see in advertising, print media, and other visual stimuli; they invoke nostalgia: an engaging and powerful tool.

Children also have the luxury of insurmountable trust. As a parent, you have to teach your kids that not every adult is to be trusted, followed, or allowed into your home. You have to teach your kid not to accept candy from a stranger, and other similar, cliched (albeit valuable) lessons. And while children might not understand the intricacies of social graces and spaces, they still have an inherent sense of total justice that causes them to be downright indignant about people doing the right or wrong thing. There is no gray area, just black-and-white, and kids will sell you out and tell on you faster than Michael Johnson sprinted across the finish line in the 1996 Summer Olympics. Also, kids will interact with their community as a whole without much bias. They can seem to go to any playground and have fun playing with any kid regardless of background, ethnicity, or social status.

Additionally, what (to me) seems to be most rewarding to parents of young children is the amount of agape love they pour on you. You are their hero, and they think you can do no wrong. They will attach themselves and cling to you like no other force on Earth because you are their safe place.

Over time, these things diminish. The cracks and imperfections of our world begin to show, just like all things that get older. Rose-colored glasses lose their tint and start to become clearer. It can be hard to stay optimistic, to operate out of a place of constant wonder and amazement. Survival becomes more and more of a drive to what we do than things of old such as discovery, adventure, or curiosity. It can become harder and harder to trust: in people, in institutions, in faith.

Mark 10:15 finds Jesus making an aside to his disciples and explaining that if you can't have faith like a child, then you cannot enter the Kingdom. I've come to understand this more and more and have been able to see my trust and faith increase through testing and patience on my part. A toddler doesn't take his first walk, he takes his first step, and then another, and then another until he is confident enough that he can keep taking step after step. The trust sets in, and then he or she can start to focus on more important matters in life. 

Someone recently asked me how you trust God with the big things in life. My answer to them was something along the lines of this: like a child learning to walk and trust his own two legs, you have to take one small step at a time. Instead of asking for the whole taco all at once, build trust by receiving each ingredient at a time and then having the fortitude to make one fine, meaty taco. It's like putting on your seat belt each day. After 30 days (so they say), a habit formulates, and you don't have to focus on it anymore: it's just a part of your every day life. Likewise, I don't think God doesn't want us to spend all our time trying to figure out how to trust Him. He wants us to trust Him so we can move on to a more mature spiritual life, one that sees us spending less time looking inwards and at ourselves, and more on others and the community we are involved in.