February202013

Life as a gift, Lent as a gift

There are too many cliches on how to approach each day, each moment. There are so many that we shrug them off. We say “yeah, yeah…heard it.” We promise ourselves not to use them publicly, but find them stuck in our brain as private reminders to really embrace the day.

It’s not until one of those overused cliches is used in such a poignant way that we stop to consider the worth of the statement. Life is gift. Life truly is a gift. Each day, each moment. This is not a cliche that I flippantly regard anymore. A sermon, rather a eulogy, was passed down through the community in my church. Kyle Lake’s last sermon, written before his death, was read at his funeral to a crowd in need of the words. The excerpt, which is now so meaningful for me because I can see how it has changed people’s approach to life and loving, can be found here (first hit of google search, no idea what this blog is). 

To begin to think not only of Life as a gift, but life’s little components—conversations, holding tissues for kids, the smell after rain, relationships, seasons—as gifts, changes how we live. 

Gifts are not ours. Gifts are not deserved. Gifts communicate exponentially more than the tangible thing offered. Life is this great gift from God, and so is Lent. This season is certainly a gift. If we view Lent as a gift from God, we realize it is time for Him, not us. Not that we may think little of ourselves, but that may we think much of Him and how we must depend on him. Lent as a gift means we don’t deserve it. We don’t deserve time to repent, we don’t even deserve to repent, but we are given this gift of preparing our hearts to celebrate. Lent as a gift means any small sacrifice or recommitment or thing that we do during this season communicates and means more in our lives, in our journeys, in our relationship with God. 

So take this gift of Lent, this season of preparation and undeserved repentance, and celebrate it properly. Rest. Reflect. Pray. Practice a new spiritual discipline. Repent. Prepare yourself for the next liturgical gift.

Life is a gift. And Lent, too, is most certainly a gift. 

February182013

How we go.

We go towards the cross.

We go fasting,
we go praying,
we go reflecting.

We go somber,
we go pensive,
we go inward.

We go onward, wondering, wandering. It is not a straight path. Rather it is a familiar journey that the heart must navigate again and again as it strays and remembers the way. We walk mostly, but sometimes, tired of the journey, we stop. The weight of knowing what is at the end of our walk is difficult to bear. As a believer who knows what is coming, this introspective journey is all the more difficult. I walk each step knowing that each sin of mine put Him on that cross in the distance. 

It is easier to not go on the journey. It is easier to skip the beaten path of the mockers and the ones who spit on Him, the path of the repenters who return each year. It is easier just to celebrate the mystery of the day death died and the one who reigns victorious. The sweet destination is one I would want to run to, but the path is too rough for running, it must be taken slow. 

For years, I skipped the journey. I celebrated the cross without journeying to it. During the time when I categorized my faith into the high’s and low’s of weekend retreats, camp, emotional services and daily routine, because that’s the only way I observed and comprehended faith, skipping the journey made since. The candy and family and good-feelings of Easter Sunday left me with an artificial high that in those days sufficed and sustained.

Now, I need the introspective, prayerful, repenting journey to make sense of the cross. I need to acknowledge that before I stand with the redeemed, the debt-free, the blameless I stood amongst the idolators, the lustful, the traitors. I journey towards the cross necessitated by my sin. I go slowly, taking time to remember the way towards the cross. I go with a heavy heart. I go. 

And I shall arrive. 

February132013

2nd Annual Lent Blog-a-thon

Last year was the first year I wholeheartedly participated in Lent. For memory’s sake, yours and mine both, I am supplying my reasons for doing so below:

I have never participated in lent. The church in my hometown either chose not to dwell on it, thus it has not remained intact in my memory; or, it was left out in favor of the joyful Easter celebration. With my advance in years, two things have come to dominate my life—balance and a love of tradition. With the joy of the resurrection, we must remember the narrative, complete with temptation, devotion, prayer, fasting, and suffering. We must anchor our hearts in the still unfolding story and become a character. Christ clothed in flesh came to be like us, and we are to be like him, clothed in glory and love. We must also be like the disciples too: dropping our former lives for something greater, following and drawing nearer, questioning and humbling ourselves with ignorant frustration, repenting for all the times we choose denial, accepting the race and training with perseverance. Lent is a sweet time of being both like Christ and the disciples, a time to embrace history, and to balance repentance with the hope that will be celebrated in six weeks time.

Curious as I often am, I spent time this morning to research Lent, as I have never taken much time, nor care, to do so. In an essay by novelist Ron Hansen from journeywithjesus.net (I know…so cheesy; ‘tis unfortunate), he writes: 

Of all Christianity’s public ceremonies, Ash Wednesday is perhaps the most introspective at its core, and the root of that is in the first reading from the Book of Joel. 

But it would be a mistake to think of Lent solely as forty days of hunger and denial. In one Eucharistic prayer in the Roman Missal we find these words addressed to God: “Each year you give us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed.” Renewal and growth are what Jesus sought for his disciples, and are fundamental to the teaching of all our readings for Ash Wednesday, and the Day of Atonement as well.

Contrary to the misunderstandings of my elementary friends of different denominations, Lent is not just about giving something up. It is not a contest to see who can claim the “Super Christian” title, or as my friend Antonia says, a second chance at New Year’s Resolutions, but a purposeful sacrifice, in order to seek joy in the renewal of heart and mind. That’s what Christians of old used to understand. From some online british christian site:

The weeks of Lent were once the time when new Christians, who were to be baptized on Easter Eve, were taught about the Christian faith and life. Those who had already been baptized thought again about the promises they had once made and promise to be true to them. Lent was a time for spring-cleaning lives, as well as homes. 

While some of my collegiate peers still seem to misunderstand the true goal of Lent, I am learning, and I am finally participating with my brothers and sisters in this time of repentance and fasting to prepare myself for the sweet celebration of the resurrection. So, I choose to both give up something and take on something (my love of balance prevails). To align myself with the tradition of Lent, I choose to clean up my life (and my schedule) by giving up wasting time. Certainly, not every moment will be filled with purpose, but I will at least fill 30 minutes to an hour (maybe more!) with introspection, repentance, a remembrance of the promises I have made as a Christ follower through a post on this blog. I am choosing to do something public for the purpose of accountability, but also with the hope that this will create conversation and that you might enjoy it! 

_______________________________________________________________

Again, (note my love of tradition), I will be giving up wasting time and adding on 40 days of blogging, for the sake of introspective preparation as Christ’s death & resurrection draw near. Reading through my posts from last year, I remembered the thoughts I had, the moments I shared, the way my life was being prepared for something. Since I have not blogged more than 5 times since Lent, allow me to catch you up. (I graduated, moved to a place of my own, began a job…but most importantly:) During Lent (of 2012), I began to date a gentleman named Byron. During this season of Lent, we prepare for our marriage. I certainly cannot credit our beginning and success to my Lent blogging, but I do believe that the Lord was not only preparing my heart for his resurrection, but also for the great display of Love that has been shown to me through Byron. My heart is still being worked on in great ways, as will always be the case. 

I am thoroughly excited for this season. I have missed the serious devotion and dedication to sharing my thoughts with you all. I have enjoyed reading the words of others and delight in the ways they have work on my heart during the rest of the liturgical year, but to look back on my own words and to see and notice how my life has really changed in a year’s time is overwhelmingly encouraging. Cheers! to another year of reflection and response to the Lord. 

August12012

the business of religion; the religion of business

the business of religion:

all to often I am disappointed by the commercialism of churches—marketing to certain people, using the right rhetoric (ethos, pathos, logos) to make a “profit,” structured by hierarchy…in some cases. the influence of society on religion makes me sad, because it should be vice versa. religion should influence society…in a good way.

the religion of business:

in light of the recent chick-fil-a scandal of sorts, to which I wish to only reference, not add my voice to any side or argument, I am similarly disappointed by businesses having religious views that affect the entire company. normally, I am proud of chick-fil-a and hobby lobby and mardel and other such businesses being closed on sundays and holidays and such, but I now realize that they’re businesses, not religious branches or organizations…businesses. plain and simple. while individuals have religious preferences, moral views, and such, the entire company shouldn’t abide by those of the CEO, CFO, President, Founder, &etc. 

where’s the hope in this, you wonder. well, sadly, I see this trend continuing. religions will keep acting like businesses, and businesses will espouse religious views. but… I’ll just infuse both entities with a little hope:

the business of hope: people in the corporate world realizing that they can do more with their talents and doing it to make the world a better place, whether or not they believe in this, that, or themselves.

the religion of hope: people in any congregation realizing that they can do more with their talents and doing it to make the world a better place, because their faith dictates that human beings are all similar and of equal value and all need love. 

July132012

yet another conclusion.

After 5 hours straight of research, with my mind being always somewhere else, devoted to thoughts that were expressed in my last post…I came to a conclusion, at least in regards to the point of Jeus.

He redeems the physical life.

While I will trust God to the ends with my spiritual life and all things eternal, it is up to me to allow the Spirit to move me to do something with my little ‘ole life here and now.

I have this precious time on Earth, and that’s when I need Jesus. I need the example of God on Earth, Son of Man to show me how to live and love and forgive and extend grace. I need that example. And I need to know that incredible, amazing love conquered death. He is risen; we, redeemed.

So, Spirit, move me to be like Christ with my time here. Allow me, despite my beliefs about all being redeemed spiritually, to work on redeeming people mentally and physically and socially. Let me be as Christ to them.

10AM

author. perfector. (a rambling about Jesus & universalism & hope)

I have been struggling as of late. There are two things I believe. One is that Jesus was/is an extension of God, in flesh, to Earth, to show us the way to heaven to live. The other is that no matter what one believes or how they conduct themselves, being a creature cast in the image of God, they will be redeemed. I synthesize these two things well most of the time. Other times, there is the struggle—the struggle to find the place for Jesus if, in stereotypical terms, I am a “christian universalist.”  What place does the redeemer play if all are redeemed? Thus, the tension.

Conversations/thoughts that brought on the tension:

This past weekend I asserted that I think to much attention is given to Jesus these days. (Boy, does that sound extreme.) But, really, Jesus is rather recent. There was the time before him that fills Sunday School curriculum and Veggie Tales movies. In that time, it was God and acts of redemption. There was a cycle of betrayal, anger, judgement, and forgiveness. There were redeemed people. But, because our sweet, sweet God loved the world he sent a physical presence that we might get a glimpse of Him, the one who all along had been redeeming, but was now to redeem us all by showing us how God would live on earth. As I ramble on about how grand I think God is, and how He should be the one receiving our attention, my conversing partner points out: but Jesus is part of that. Oh, the trinity. That stopped my universal love and hope train, because he was right. Jesus needs his place, as does the Spirit. I am doing my best to make room for them, to reunderstand them, to yet again redefine my faith. After a week, this is as far as I’ve come:

I will continue to praise God from whom all blessings flow.
I will walk in the way of Christ, who points to the Father.
I will listen and pray that the Spirit speaks louder than my dumb self-conscious.

Just yesterday I read a blog post, written by a friend of a friend who has also been struggling and conversing and wondering and has concluded that he can’t believe as the universalist, but he understands how they (myself included) got there. That line stuck with me, “I see how they got there.” For me, it flows in the opposite direction. I, the ever hopeful universalist, see how they, the more traditional heaven/hell divide thinker, got there; mostly because I once was there. I see how you read the words “I am the way and the truth and the life” and understand that Jesus was providing one way, belief in Him, to get to heaven. I get it. But I can’t. I can’t believe that anymore because if I do, then things just suck.

It sucks that Christians misrepresent the word, repulsing others. 
It sucks that geography and economic status largely define opportunity, including opportunity to hear the Word.
It sucks that so much value is placed on the afterlife, because we stop living fully here. 

Things just suck if I believe that in the end, we will be judged and divided. But I see how people read that. Even though this was a ramble, it was all part of leading me to write this, so I just needed to type those thoughts out.

Moving on…

A dialogue within my own head was present this week too, prompting me to start replacing ”think” with “hope.” While it is the actual act of thinking that will conclude in my vocal chords making utterances of opinions, I feel as though I cannot declare them to be thoughts, for God alone knows. I have no idea how the future is going to play out. I have hopes of how it will, but I can never be sure, and “think” just sounds too assertive.

So, I hope that we will all be saved. I hope that my reason for Jesus, as a guide for living, is worthy of the praise He deserves. I hope that the author and perfector of our faith sees my struggle and holds me dear to His heart.

He created. He redeems. I just hope.

June222012

"thank you, Jesus": my internal dialogue

yesterday, I was in an almost wreck. when I realized the “almost” part, I said “thank you, Jesus.” what follows is the conversation my synapses had with each other:

synapse 1: hmm, that’s odd of us to say aloud! 

synapse 2: no it’s not…we believe Jesus is great, part God, all God. 

S1: yes, but, he didn’t physically prevent us from backing up further. 

S2: right, but can’t we attribute this moment to him? 

S1: why would we? 

S2: because in some sense, he probably had a hand in this.

S1: that’s not what we believe.

S2: oh, yeah?

S1: yes. we have concluded that God’s will is very broad, non specific, with “kingdom” goals and redemption and such, not guiding our every move and thought.

S2: well, sure, but maybe this is different. why did we thank him if it wasn’t his doing keeping all parties in the “almost wreck” safe?

S1: oh, self…this is good. maybe it’s this: we know his hand was not driving, yet we choose to thank Him because he is still good. perhaps we’ve been conditioned to say the phrase in scary moments.

S2: so you think that sometimes, rather than consciously believing Jesus to be the intercessor in our earthly lives, guiding our lives according to some detailed plan we have been conditioned via our experiences, family, and friends to say “thank you, Jesus” in moments such as this?

S1: that sounds right. it’s subconscious. but that doesn’t detract from the value of the phrase. 

S2: how can it not?

S1: because it means something is embedded in us. we know that we are to be thankful for health, for safety, for life….&etc. 

S2: so…we’re not thanking Jesus for the specific instance?…but those moments turn us to praise and thankfulness for the things we can’t control. 

S1: eureka! thank you, Jesus! 

S2: nice conclusion, self. 

S1: we should write a blog on this. 

DONE. 

8PM

mega churches, architectural & evangelical

It seems a though every time I drive around Waco these days, I see a new architectural masterpiece. While construction looms around campus, and bricks upon bricks build to erect more living spaces downtown, it is the past that catches my eyes. I am seeing churches everywhere, churches that I didn’t know existed, churches that direct my eyes toward the heavens. I think of England. I think of the French monastery I stayed. Nostalgia, oh so sweet, beckons me to recall not only memories of things I have known, but memories of stories and of pictures and of saints and of people. There is a tradition that is embedded deeply within me, though I have witnessed so little of it, I am a part of all of it; or rather it is a part of me. When I cast my eyes upon these buildings I feel something of all this; most importantly I feel. The mega church of today leaves me numb. I wonder about the mega church, architecturally and the mega church, evangelically. 

A course this past semester informed me better than any before of the purpose and beauty found in the massive cathedrals, the architectural mega church, I will say. (Thank goodness for my university education!) There was thought. There was intent. There was a mission for every stained glass picture, every icon, every brick. There is beauty still in every mosaic, every ray of light that falls into perfect postion, every fresco. How could our attention over years of gazing on these masterpieces not be drawn to something greater, something heavenly, something indescribable?  As for what happened within the walls, I cannot claim that it was great, heavenly, or indescribable. Perhaps. Perchance. At times.

The buildings read like a text: “the people tried with all their might to achieve  something that was not of the world, but they were planted in it, and thus they failed. Their attempts were worthy, beautiful even. Yet they were given to other things, distracted, destroyed. No earthly thing will do.” 

These architectural mega churches were an attempt to reach out for what we cannot, to draw man ever closer to God. In that, I find beauty still. As I drive along and see a church my eyes have not yet locked their gaze on, I find beauty still in the way humans seek to get to God. 

Mega churches now have always puzzled me. The buildings are department-store sized, with a product that feels oversold already. I have more than once voiced my disappointment with members of my faith for this; I, too, must take the blame. I do believe that just like there must have been sacred moments within the architectural mega church, the evangelical mega church has its moments as well. It provides something to people, people who (and I do believe this) are seeking God. While they may walk out of the arena, and down the elevator, and past the book store, and around the “He-brews” coffee shop to their car filling “filled,” I wonder if the moment was genuine, and I hope that it was. And that’s all I can do. Just like the architectural mega church faded, the evangelical will to. 

What, I wonder, will be the next mega church? I hope that at some point we could celebrate the best parts of the evangelical and architectural mega churches. The former teaches us of passion, the latter of being excellence.

Let us craft with our hands things that draw people to God. Let us with zeal and a fire let weekly teaching form our actions to be pleasing to God. Let us not do either alone. Let us join together and gaze upon our history, observe the present, and dream of the future. 

June122012

Choose Christ.

Everyday for two years, the loudspeaker rang out with the phrase which prompted an eye roll from both teachers and students: “make it a great day or not, the choice is yours.” Subconsciously, it was instilled in me that I was in control. Now, reader, you may protest to this brand of philosophy, especially if you were raised in a school or home that may have boasted another slogan: “whether a great day or not, God is good.” Over the years, and much to my dismay, the phrase which I often gave a grimace to has come to the forefront of my mind. Certainly, the power of repetition played a roll. But I will also credit my lovely public school system for giving me food for thought for years upon years. 

In a recent conversation about love with a married and very wise friend, I inquired about how he knew his wife was ‘the one,’ how years later it works and is wonderful. He very simply stated: each day, you choose love. This not only can apply to spouses, family, and friends, but strangers, everyday people we encounter. We can wake up and choose to love. We can breath deep, filling our lungs with the power of the grace gifted to us, and love. We can pause, collecting our thoughts and reigning in the desires of our flesh to act wickedly, and love. We can recite mantras, repeating “love is patient, love is kind,” and love. We can. We ought to. It is our choice. 

True, some circumstances lie outside our control, but there is a great deal that we can control. Our heart, soul, and mind, for instance are extensions of our choices. The words we offer, be they sweet as honey or stinging; the actions, be they gentle or swatting; our thoughts, be they honorable or shameful—all of these lie well within our control. So, choose what He would, because you can. The Christian life is hard, but it is also simple. It is hard to choose the best option; but, the mere fact that we have the capacity to choose to be as Christlike as we can; my, oh, my…how simple! 

So…I pray that you might choose the following:

When faced with a provoking situation, choose peace. 
When faced with a habit you can’t break, choose prayer.
When faced with difficult people, choose grace.
When faced with wrongdoings, choose forgiveness. 
When faced with heartache, choose joy.
When faced with the world, choose Christ.

I’m not one for cliches, and I am often cynical as of late for quick Christian remedies. But here, the choice seems clear…choose Christ. Choose his demeanor, his mannerisms, his behaviors, his actions, his spirituality, his discipline, his love. 

Wake on up from you slumber, baby open up your eyes. Rejoice with the new morning and choose to believe that God is good, and choose the actions that echo that belief. 

Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours. No longer will I roll my eyes. 

April82012

easter thoughts

Despite the philosophical debate that has been waged for centuries, I do believe that Aristotle was right when he said that contemplation is a great form of happiness. Thinking in a meditative way is not a waste of time. To sit and be one with the world, with nature, with the cosmos; to fully know for just second your place in the world and to embrace and bathe in that moment; to get lost in the trails of thoughts that thread memory to present, pulled by the string of a wandering mind—this, to me, is full of joy, and it is often not merely satisfied in itself, but bears fruits. To think, to use my mind, this is an action of praise I believe. I am very good, I am greated with glory in mind, I am a child who is to inherit heaven and her riches, whatever that might look like. To sit with these thoughts as my company—oh, it is praise indeed. 

It is more often in these moments when my conscious is very aware that true praise erupts from deep within me. I think the best way I can celebrate today is to devote my mind to contemplating the great act of sacrifice that culminated in hopeful resurrection. I celebrate with a great hope in my heart for brighter days. I celebrate with a soul that is passionately longing for a home not of this world inside a body so present in this world, causing my actions to speak to that foreign, familiar home. I celebrate with a mind tuned to the cause of the kingdom that has not been quieted since the tomb was rolled away. Better than any human, nature daily celebrates the resurrection, and she beckons us to do so. How often we walk on her, ride past her, photograph her, lay on her, swim in her, climb on her, litter her, and cultivate her, without noticing what she is saying. Today, I devote my mind to thoughts like this. 

I am, more often than not, prone to a critical mind. On a “holiday” like today, I find myself saddened over its commercial appeal, its elaborate fashion, its traditional meal. Certainly, Christ would never prefer to be celebrated in this way. I even think of the services across the countries going the extra mile to make today extra special while in reality not of it should be extra, but normal. I should always boast of the risen Lord. His power should always make me different. His resurrection should always be my reason for rising with mind, body, and soul ready to look like him. Everyday. It is not on these days that we should look especially like him, but rather that our normal begin to transform into something especially different. I am glad for the praise the Father, Son, and Spirit receive today, overjoyed to be sure, but we (me included) ought to do this every day. For on this day we boast that he changes our lives, our very essence, giving us purpose and meaning; yet we wait a whole year to devote a thought to that change again. This Easter, I devote my thoughts, since I have been so guilty of living not so fully, to contemplating how to truly be different. Perhaps people will wonder if I have experienced some time of resurrection, because I will be so fully living, that it will seem as if I had been dead. 

This strand of thinking led me to wondering what the word easter means. I googled it. Literally, just now. Lots of good stuff. (Check out wikipedia.) My favorite etymological find is that the Finnish word for easter is related to a word that means “to be released.” If you don’t know me, the idea of jubilee (the ultimate release of the land and debts and slaves) is a big deal and has a very large theological thumbprint on my thinking. How sweet is it that Easter is our great hope that Jubilee can happen again! What a find.

Anywho, one last bit of my thoughts I shall impart before devoting more of my day to the same discipline. Lent has led to Easter and now we begin the Easter season lasting 50 days until Pentecost. Hello, church calendar. I love this, and I didn’t know this. We often stop celebrating at sun down tonight. But we are supposed to keep praising and speaking of the resurrection until we celebrate Pentecost, the giving of the Spirit, which should be quite the zealous celebration. So, even though I was just blogging extra for Lent, I’m going to keep it up for the new liturgical Easter season! Oh, how I will delight to share my thoughts with you! For it is in the thinking that I praise, in the writing that I share, and in your reading that I hope praise is offered as well!

Happy Easter! Here’s to thoughts devoted toward the cause of the Kingdom and to the season of Easter in which we shall continue to celebrate our sweet risen Lord’s impact on our lives! 

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