Start With What’s True

This starts with midnight. It starts with a conversation. Because people tend to lay aside their inhibitions late at night. It starts with midnight, and I am sitting with a woman I respect. Someone I trust. She is asking me about spiritual things and it’s good in a confusing way. My faith is confusing sometimes.

Things I used to measure in concrete terms are much more blurred to me now. I used to measure my spiritual health in terms of works. I used to say “I’m part of a great church, I go to home group every week. I’m on day X of this bible reading plan, I’m memorizing this passage, I’m hosting this Bible Study, I have these accountability partners, I’m doing great.”

These are all true statements. And I almost begin to tell her these things. But if the Gospel is the embodiment of grace, not the result of my own works, how can I use religious rituals as a measurement of how the Gospel is changing me? I can’t. So, with her, I said the true thing: “I’m not really sure.”

I question a lot of things a lot of the time. But I am learning that my questions are not the spiritual death traps I once believe them to be, but rather, openings to and opportunities for transformation. What I do now, when I find myself in moments where I must define what I believe, is follow the technique of one of my favorite literary heroines: Katniss Everdeen. It sounds silly, but it works.

“My memories swirl as I try to sort out what is true and what is false. What series of events ed me to be standing in these ruins? My thoughts have a tendency to jumble together so… I use a technique one of the doctors suggested. I start with the simplest things I know to be true and work toward the more complicated”

God is real. He is personal. He is good. He is just. He is mercy. His mercy is the means of His justice. He loves me. Jesus is God fully revealed to man. God is like Jesus.

If God is like Jesus, I should be like Jesus too. Jesus healed the sick, cared for the broken and the poor, he didn’t put up with people who thought they knew all the answers. He loved deeply, selflessly, wholly. He is restorative, redemptive, healing.

These are the things I believe, need to be, and want to do.

I spent almost all of 2014 wrestling with theologies and spiritual disciplines that were only blinding me from the lover of my soul. I turned my faith into its own idol. But, in the words of Richard Rohr, “the great and merciful surprise is that we come to God, not by doing it right, but by doing it wrong.” I often do this wrong, and God’s love for me means he meets me inside of that.

God is present with me, I do not need to search or look for what I already posses. I need only train my eyes to see what is already there. How I came about this relationship with Him, hardly even matters. Was I chosen or did I choose? I have no idea. I have given up on those questions because they aren’t the point. What matters is that He is here with me. What matters is that He loves me. What matters is that I learn to see him, and learn to be like him.

So I start with what I know is true: God is here. I will not spend my time waiting for him to “come back.” I will spend my time allowing him to take away my blindness and see his presence in all the moments I felt alone. For I was not alone at all. Even when I ran, I was not alone. In days to come, when I leave again because, dear God, I am so prone to wander, I will still never be alone.

It’s so easy to feel as though my story fell apart when my faith did. It’s so easy to ride on my past victories instead of being present in the place I am now. But what I am learning is that it is better to sit with the questions and allow Jesus to find me where I am, in his own time. And so, like the Father of the demon-possessed child in Mark 9, my prayer continues: “I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.”

Advertisements

Finding the Voice of the True Shepherd

“Think. Please. Please think about the effect your words have on your outlook. Please. Please don’t condemn people if you don’t know their heart…”

I was sitting in on a conversation a few of my friends were having about the nature of God. And I was silently screaming those words in my head. Because what was being said about the Bible was so distorted I couldn’t even recognize Jesus in it anymore. It was said that God withdrawing His hand and “giving people up” to their sin, is a form of His mercy because that means they’ll hit rock bottom sooner. What. How can we talk so nonchalantly about people hitting rock bottom and being so broken they have nowhere else to turn. You talk about that like it’s beauty. It’s not. It’s a mess. It was said that even though technically God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, sometimes their death brings about His greater glory and God takes pleasure in His own glory. No. These are people. People you’re saying God tritely sent to hell and you’re ok with it. You’re OK with people going to hell? It was said that God doesn’t just hate sin, He also hates sinners. Except when he doesn’t, and we should be thankful for the fact that for some reason He doesn’t hate us. Have we forgotten that behind the theory is people? Maybe if we could visualize what each of our statement means for individual people around us, we wouldn’t make them so tritely. Maybe we wouldn’t say “God sends people to hell and that’s OK.” so quickly if we saw how many of the people we love are included in that statement. Those statements are heavy. And they shouldn’t be discussed as if they’re not.

I don’t worship that kind of God. I don’t worship the bipolar, narcissistic version of God that’s playing chess with the eternal future of His creation. Saying I should love God and be thankful because I got the lucky numbers and someone else didn’t, is a poor argument. That doesn’t make me grateful to be chosen, it makes me question why me over someone else. As Micah Murray phrased it, that kind of outlook gives me “survivors guilt.” It’s not an issue with the doctrine, it’s an issue with the way people have come to view it: as a lottery. And when portrayal of specific doctrine has the power to intrinsically alter how people view God and view themselves, we have to be very careful. Are we using our presuppositions and opinions to interpret the Bible? Or using the Bible to create our presuppositions and opinions?

I am guilty. I have promoted grievously incorrect portrayals of God in an effort to “win one for the team.” I have done so because it’s what I was taught. What kept me comfortable. What made God fit into my ideas instead of making my ideas line up with truth. And I’m tired of doing that.

So I have been reorganizing and re-evaluating what I believe about the very core of my faith: the Gospel and the nature of God. I have gone back and tried to understand the difference between my religious tradition and Jesus. I have begun to weed out the gross deviance from truth I’ve seen in Western American Christianity. I have questioned a lot of things I didn’t think I’d ever have to question. And I think it’s time to strip away the decorations I have added to my faith, until I can see the heart of it again.

I really don’t know many things right now. But I know that the New Testament paints a beautiful picture of Jesus. I know that true, undefiled religion is helping the poor and orphaned in their affliction. I know that if I’m going to cling to theological purity, I’m eventually going to have to recognize that theological purity can, and too often already has, become its own idol. I know that idolatry, not even idolatry of “good” things, has ever been part of the Gospel. I know that I’m tired of the American Church wanting to be pitied for the so-called persecution it’s facing, and applauded for maintaining morality in legislation no matter who is hurt along the way. I know that Jesus said whatever I have done for the least, I have done for Him. I know I have done too little for the least. And I know if I can no longer hear the voice of the True Shepherd above the bleating of the sheep, it’s time to walk away and let Jesus find me.

I have seen things in the church recently that have broken my heart. I’ve seen individuals and institutions sacrifice integrity and reason in an effort to hold on to tradition. At the very least that’s Pharisaical. Either way, it’s not the sacrifice Jesus wanted us to make. In the end, He wanted us to sacrifice our lives in love for others; not our logic in a debate for a specific theological stance. And I am tired of winning so-called victories for Christianity all the while leaving a trail of victims in my wake.

I have begun to ask these questions and I hope you will ask them too. Because it isn’t true faith to only feed the poor if the food comes with a tract and only touches the hands of someone who shares the exact same theology as you. It isn’t true grace to  only bind of the wounds of the broken if they agree to be converted in the process. It isn’t equality if it only includes those who act, and believe the same way. We have continuously done this. We have lived as if it’s OK to condemn sinners, as long as they’re sinning differently than us. As long as [we think] they’re not part of God’s chosen. As long as God [or so we believe] has already given them over to their sin. We have pursued justice and rightly so but in the process, forgotten to love mercy and walk humbly as well.

I don’t want my definition of Christianity to be chained to a version of God that hurts people. I don’t want to go into conversations trying to prove my theology as the most right. I want my faith to look like Jesus and most of the time what I’ve seen and what I’ve done looks starkly different from the man who loved people so selflessly He’d rather die than condemn them.

These are hard things to write. I have debated whether its worth it to write them at all. I have edited and rephrased and re-evaluated. My dear friend Audrey recently asked on her blog “How honest are you allowed to be on the internet?” and I am asking that question too. Words have extreme power over people and most times my words need to simply be kept to myself. But I am broken by the way I and so many others have tried to reshape Jesus and contain Him inside of our own boxes. So I am working on a more honest conversation. I am working through the problems I have with religious institution and reminding myself that correct theology reveals Him, it doesn’t contain Him. I am hoping to live with more truth as my focus. I am working on a better story.

Deeper [Than My Feet Could Ever Wander]

“I spent this year as a ghost and I’m not sure where home is anymore.”

I’ve been absent from this blog for a few months now. Not because I didn’t try to write posts: I did try more than once. I’ve been absent because for the first time in I think my entire life, I’ve been spending more time actually living than I’ve spent thinking and writing about living.

The initial quote is something I came across on a friends blog. I identified with it. At least, I identified with it for the first part of the year. If one looks closely, at the progression of my posts here this past year they could probably pick up on that fact. There are a lot of things I’m proud of that happened this year and then there are the things I’m less proud of. And because I am constantly talking about honesty and the importance of story, here is my honesty: this year brought so many doubts into my life, there were times I struggled to simply keep my head above water. My senior year of high school, I was doing so many things I’d always wanted to do. After graduation, I had a great summer job, college on the horizon, and nothing to worry about except having fun.

But spring and summer proved to be more of an emotional train wreck than anything else. I’d wake up and go to work. After work, I’d usually go to some social outing with my friends and get home late. Rinse and repeat. It was draining, I was sick for pretty much all of it, and looking forward to a different routine.

I don’t believe anyone can or should run from their problems. But I have learned that sometimes distance is a healthy thing. Sometimes you don’t even really have a reason for the depression, the feeling of being boxed in. Sometimes, without any clear cause at all, you feel like you’re suffocating and can’t seem to get enough air, no matter what you do. And sometimes, because of that, you have to remove yourself from your old life completely before you can breathe deeply enough to create a better one. That’s what college was for a me: a new start and a catalyst for something better.

I learned a lot of things this semester. A lot of those things had to do with saying no to voices calling me to be selfish, or unhealthy. A lot of those things had to do with saying yes to voices calling me to be more honest, more kind. Sometimes those things involved learning how to ask for help. Taking advantage of a professors offer to talk about life problems, not just class problems. Sitting with my friends at Starbucks, and being honest when they asked how they could step into my life and help me. Those same people constantly following up, day after day, praying, talking, living a better story than I knew was possible.

I don’t cry over many things, but at 3 am when someone I loved tried to hurt herself, again, despite all the time I’d spent trying to convince her how much I loved her. I was weeping like a child and my roommate, my dear, amazing roommate, told me she loved me even though I hadn’t meant to wake her up. Even though I couldn’t talk about it. Even though a few weeks earlier we’d been nothing more than strangers and bonded more over our mutual fear of large crowds than anything else.

I have seen a lot of things, but when, in the first few days of school, three people sat down with me, and willingly opened themselves up to and with me; sharing their stories while we were still strangers. Praying there, together, aloud, honestly with one another. I felt the true Christian community I’d been craving for so long. And I still feel it, cause we didn’t let it end there. We stuck  with each other through the semester, and with others who joined us. We created something true, and honest, and pure, and Godly, and I’d like to say I hope it lasts for the remaining years we have together.

If I could explain in just one sentence how the past few months has affected me, I would merely say that in leaving home, I found a different home.

I think that home is stepping into moments before you know how they’ll end. It’s being able to speak truth into peoples lives and help them grow with grace and love. It’s being able to live a transparent life. Not with everyone, but with a few people, who are there, with you, alive and in person. Who are reading the Bible with you, and losing sleep with you, studying with you, and living with you. That’s what I found this semester. And that’s a hard thing to write about, because most of the time I’m just trying to live it.

My roommate and I read the entire bible through together in 90 days this semester. I want to do that at least two more times in 2014. Here’s to knowing Jesus better than I did 6 months ago, and the possibility of knowing Him even deeper in the year to come.

[[Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, / And my faith will be
made stronger  / in the presence of my savior.]]

This Little Light of Mine [I’m Gonna Let it Shine.]

[Today I graduated high school. It’s so crazy to think I started this blog right before my freshman year and now I’m finished. This is the speech I gave today. I wanted to share it with you as well.]

One of my favorite authors is Ralph Waldo Emerson. I actually wasn’t a huge fan until I decided to enroll in a poetry class that almost took both my sanity and my GPA. After spending the majority of that semester slaving over and overanalyzing his and many other poets work, I became rather attached.

In one of his essays, Emerson wrote “Never lose an opportunity for seeing anything that is beautiful; For beauty is God’s handwriting-a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in ever fair sky, in every fair flower. And Thank God for it as a cup of his blessing.”

I think it’s beautiful that I had the chance to stand up today with some of my close friends and be able to say “we’re graduating high school!” That sounds cliche but there are so many ways my life could have played out differently and yet God saw fit to give me an amazing family who taught me to love learning, and more important taught me to love Jesus. But If I were to pick the most important lesson or the one thing I learned in high school that I believe has shaped the person I am and will continue to help shape the person I become, it’s Emerson’s thoughts on Beauty.

There is beauty to be found in everything. Beauty in the good and happy parts of life, but perhaps more importantly beauty in the harder and more difficult parts of life. I think I’m pretty safe assuming everyone has experienced at some level, both happy and sad things. I certainly have, even just in the 18 years I’ve lived so far. I’ve made some great and amazing friends, I’ve had some incredible opportunities. And I’ve lost friends, and been let down and disappointed. And through those things, I’ve learned that everything we go through in life has a deeper meaning than we may not at first see, usually involves a valuable lesson for us to learn. And we have the ability to make even the difficult things, beautiful additions to our individual stories.

We can use our experiences to come along side and encourage other people in the same situations. That’s perhaps one of the most beautiful things I’ve figured out in high school: I’m not alone in the things I’m going through. There is always someone out there who has walked a road before me and can help me along my journey. And I’ve come through things that perhaps other people are currently walking through and I can come along side them and help them in their journey. And all those dark times I wasn’t always sure I’d come through: friends leaving, friends dying, being let down by people I trust, questioning my faith, I don’t know, AP calculus. There is beauty to be found in all of those things because I can use them to help other people.

Now, with all that said. One of the first things that would come to mind if I heard a speech like this, is “well, that’s all well and good but HOW do I make my life experiences beautiful?” And I’d say one of the main ways is simply to share with other people and be transparent. And how do you do that? Well. My friend Rachel [who graduated with me] is in love with this actor Richard Armitage and the two of us were looking up things he’d said a few nights ago and surprisingly enough, even actors can say smart things. One of his quotes was “Confidence isn’t manufactured, but comes through experience.” Being open with other people, especially about personal things can be scary but practice makes perfect. That’s not to say you should go shouting in the streets everything you’ve been through because someone might relate to it, but do be open and don’t be ashamed.

Beauty can come out of dark and ugly things. During the night there can be storms, but the sun always rises in the morning. Beautiful things still grow up, alive, out of ashes. So to go back to what Emerson wrote: “Never lose an opportunity to see anything that is beautiful.” In high-school I learned that my story is beautiful and I shouldn’t waste opportunities to view it as such. I learned that, as it says in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “[God] has made everything beautiful in its own time… and no one can fathom what God has done from the beginning to end.

I hope you realize the same thing.

[[There’s a little flame inside us all / and some shine bright, some shine small. / The rains will come, /
and the waters will rise. / But don’t you ever lose your light.]]

Back to the Beginning [Welcome to Midnight]

Fireworks, sparkling cider, and then 2012 bites the dust. Another year behind me; can’t say I’ll miss it. I’ll probably take that statement back when I’m about 80, but for now I’m not quite 18 and I’m ready for a new year. New years mean new plans, new friends, new memories, new chances. This next year definitely holds a lot of change for me. I’ll be graduating this May.  Leaving for college this August, in a state 20 hours away from everything I’m familiar with. 2013 will certainly be a transition year. Now that I think about it, every year is a transition year. Life is a perpetual cycle of change. I’m continually learning to be ok with that fact.

I’m not sure what it is about January 1st that causes people to attempt to better themselves as people. We spend an entire evening playing games, and eating junk food, and watching “the ball” drop. We usher in a new year with such excitement and when the clock hits midnight, we make toasts and some people make out and everyone begins a new regime of things to change about their lives. As if the number 2013 has some sort of ability to wipe our slates clean and give us the strength to change. I do believe it’s possible to change. I agree with Jamie Tworkowski, who wrote in his new years blog “Maybe [midnight] is the most honest moment of the year.” But the clock hitting midnight doesn’t magically wipe the old year away. That is something we must do ourselves.

I did and experience a whole lot of different things in 2012. In my new years post last year, I shared some of those moments and decided to do the same thing this year.

Florida [February]

I visited Clearwater to kind of get a feel for the school. Even though it wasn’t my first choice of schools, I came away feeling ok about probably attending there. And I’m happy to report it’s my official college choice and I’ll be there next fall.

Regionals [April]

I made so many incredible friends over the 2011/2012 speech&debate season. Regionals was such a great way to end the year. I was slightly disappointed to be one slot away from nationals qualification but even so, it’s one of the best tournaments I’ve had. I remember more than one person coming up to me after various rounds to tell me how a particular speech I’d given had affected them. It was just a beautiful tournament. 🙂

LeVo Camp [June]

I spent a week with my best friend, who I hadn’t seen in two years. She came all the way from South Korea just to see me! [Well. That’s only half true, but that’s beside the point.] It was SO amazing to be able to see her and actually hug her and talk face to face instead of via skype. She’s one of the most incredible people I have ever met. She challenges me, she listens to me, and she doesn’t give up on me. She’s probably the biggest source of encouragement I have in my walk with God. ❤

Switchfoot [November]

In a crazy series of events [it was actually kind of weird] I had the opportunity to attend a concert and meet the guys from the band Switchfoot. If you know anything about me, you know Switchfoot is my absolute favorite band. The guys are some of my heroes. Meeting them was literally on my bucket list. [Yeah, I almost passed out. Not even kidding.] Their music and work has helped me through so much and pointed me to Christ in ways that aren’t fake. They’re honest about life and honest about hope. It was an incredible night.

All of that said, there had certainly been tough moments too. Senior year has been stressful and keeping up too often comes at the sacrifice of sleeping. I’ve lost friends. I’ve had to re-align various friendships. I had to rule out my #1 school choice in exchange for something financially realistic.

The point is, I have many moments from 2012 that I have to let go of before I can enter 2013. The good, the bad, those things are all water under the bridge now. Midnight doesn’t erase those things, but I can wipe my slate clean. I have that ability. You have that ability. We CAN choose to change. We can put 2012 behind us and be defined by different things. If 2012 was a great year for you, awesome! Make 2013 even better! If 2012 was one of the hardest years of your life, I’m fighting with you and 2013 holds new chances, new opportunities, new reasons to keep going. Change doesn’t happen in a moment, but it does happen. It happens every morning when you wake up and decide to start fresh. It happens when you fail to keep your resolutions within the first week of making them, but decide to start fresh. It happens when you choose to believe that Jesus has yet to run out of “welcome home” banners.

Personally, I want 2013 to be about recommitment. I want to rediscover the things I care about and what I’m believing and why I believe it.

Last year my theme song was Where I Belong by Switchfoot. The message of the song being how to live in this world, when we belong in the next one. This years theme song is called Back to the Beginning, also by Switchfoot. It’s not going to be released until this June/July, but the guys played it at the concert I went too. This video of the song is actually from that concert, [I didn’t take it, but I love it because I was there.] It’s about starting over. It’s about rediscovery and recommitment just like I want this year to be about. 🙂

Anyways, that’s all for now, kids. I hope you all have an incredible 2013. Thanks for being with me over the years.

[[And the ocean roars / And wheels they spin, / You are what I’m running towards /
Bring me back, / Bring me back to the beginning again]]

Off the Tracks [Break These Walls Down]

A few weeks ago I had an opportunity thrown in my lap. I was at a park, and a complete stranger started talking to me. He actually thought I was the mom of the kids I nanny, but that’s beside the point. We began to talk about life. How its hard a lot of the time. How people do really hurtful things. How it’s hard to cope. There was shame in his voice as he recounted some of his own personal failures. I suppose I understood because I’ve been there too. Maybe not in the exact same situations but shame is universal I think. And so we started talking about things that are bigger than our failures. I told Him I believe in a God way bigger than the things I’ve done and do wrong. That, the God I serve is faithful even when my life is collapsing around me. Then I did something I try to avoid doing with people I’ve only known 30 minutes: I shared my testimony with him. When I had to leave, he thanked me for talking with him, and I wrote down the gist of what he said because I knew I’d want to share it eventually.

“I’ve met so many Christians who try to give me answers. Thank you for your honesty; I’ve been needing someone to admit they don’t have it all together either, but they still have a reason to keep going.”

Later that week, I found out he called up my pastor to talk. He never came to my church, but I think, if nothing else, that conversation planted a seed. And that’s what we’re called to do, right? Take the opportunities we’re given and share Jesus.

I wish we weren’t so quick to dish out solutions, though. Certainly, Jesus is the ultimate answer, but he’s not a magic “everything’s better,” card. I’ve learned so much about people and reaching out over the last few years but what I’ve seen more than anything else is that nobody is immune to pain. We all need hope and something to hold on too sometimes. And I’ve been trying to write about this ever since I talked to that stranger; unsure of what to say.

I guess the point is it’s important to be open with people. You never really know what’s going on in the lives of people around you; strangers or even friends. There have certainly been times in my life when I wished someone would actually talk to me, not just chat with me. Times when I wished someone would actually pray with me, not just say they’re praying for me. And then there are have been times when people, close friends and sometimes even people I didn’t know very well did take time to stop and pray with me or listen to me. Those times have often produced more encouragement than a quick “God’s in control,” or “I’ll be praying for you.”

There have been people in my life, who have shared their stories with me openly. And those were probably the times I felt least alone and most understood. A good friend of mine was sharing with me once about her struggles with suicide. I don’t remember who originally said it but my friend shared a quote as a sort of summation of her story that goes “The bravest thing I ever did was continuing my life when I wanted to die.” And her story, despite all the pain it contained, was probably was the most beautiful and encouraging things I’d heard. Why? Because it was a reminder that people have been where I’ve been and God rescued them. At that point in my life I was in a pretty similar place as the man I met in the park: I wasn’t sure about my faith, or really my life in general. And my friend, who at that point I’d only known a few months, took the time to be open with me and tell me I wasn’t alone and I needed to keep going. I can’t really explain how much that meant to me.

But people’s cliches and quick answers never really did anything for me. So I’m going to try to conclude this without being cliche.

If you’re in a place right now, that’s dark. I’m not going to try to guess at your circumstances; we all walk through individual hells at times. If you’re stuck somewhere, in some moment, and you can’t figure out how to get out of the ditch. I need you to know that I’ve been there too. You need to keep trying. Difficulty kind of tends to make humans short sighted; blinding us to the possibility that change, freedom, and hope, are just over that next hurdle. Everything has an end; even hard things. I have no answers for the things we go through in this life. Not a single one. But I do know your story doesn’t have to end here. Jesus Christ didn’t give up His life to let you suffocate in this world.

[[How, you don’t even know / but you know you’re off the tracks / and how did you get in here? / I’ll help you break the walls down / and bust you out / and take you home. / Believe you, me, you are not alone.]]

If This is My Journey [Then Show Me Your Road]

Prompt: What does it mean to be a leader? [Funny. I just came home from Leadership&Vocation camp (Affectionately renamed LEVO camp). Coincidence? CoughNever.]

One of my best friends and I partnered up for a little speech competition at LEVO camp. All the campers had to write speeches on what they thought made a leader, and someone they believed exemplified leadership qualities. Guess what we found? Defining “leadership” is actually really hard. And as some of our teammates and friends pointed out, history showcases many “leaders” whose followers gladly carried out genocides, holocausts, pointless wars, and petty regimes. I mean, look at Hitler. Not exactly someone we tell kids to make their role model. But he is considered a leader, isn’t he? Didn’t he control entire nations? Wasn’t he powerful and, for a time, even considered undefeatable? But if people like Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong-il, etc, are leaders, then what is leadership?

Some would posit the idea that leadership is merely the ability to control the populace. That leadership consists only of power and charisma, no matter what a persons underlying motives may be.  But Jordan and I came to a different conclusion. We didn’t and don’t agree that leadership is all about power. Anyone can change society, and be called a leader. But Jordan and I decided to present the idea that a leader is someone who not only changes society, but steps in where there is a need, and leads with actions, not just words. Someone who acts in humility and integrity for the purpose of seeing a world changed for the better. Not to see the world change to fit his or her own agendas.

Jordan and I came to the conclusion that leadership is doing the right thing, because it’s right. Not because a person is seeking power or temporary fulfillment. There are plenty of people in the world that are good at controlling nations and fighting wars. But if a person does not first fight the war, and defeat the enemy within themselves–that is, the war to look pass themselves and see others and help others without any promise of gain–they are not a leader. They cannot be a leader. Because leadership is about others, not self.

C.S Lewis wrote in his book “The Great Divorce” “It’s someone you have never heard of… [but] She is one of the great ones. You have heard that fame in [Heaven] and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”

There will always be people seen as “leaders” in the world, for their power in this life. But beyond the here and now, there is a standard for a leader, far different than the worlds. It is the standard of Christ-like leadership. We do indeed live in a free world, where people have the power to rise up and do their best to make a name for themselves. Often, at the expense of those around them and the expense of their own morality. But what if, as one of our speakers put it this week, “freedom is not the ability to do what we want, but rather, the ability to do what is right.” What if, and I believe this is true, the greatest leaders of our day are those who lead in the invisible world, rather than the seen world. It sounds so mystical, and in other ways, simplistic, but it’s true.

God didn’t put you where you are, to seek your own glory. He didn’t give you your life, so you could gain pomp and power. Most of the people who read this are Christians just like me, so this is for you: Whether or not you are a leader, is defined by whether or not your heart is fixed solely on Christ. You cannot lead without him, because you cannot look past yourself without him. It’s not possible. And this world can have its dictators, presidents, rock stars, and billionaires. But the next world will have it’s prayer warriors, peace keepers, and people lovers. And that world is far, far, more important than this one.

It’s so easy to think the role we play is insignificant. I’m just a seventeen year old kid, right? I’m so not a leader. At least not in the way it’s secularly defined. But if I love people. If I love Jesus. If I pray because I know my God hears me and I know he changes the world. If I stop doing things out of selfishness. If I can spend my life serving, then I lead. And when I die, it might not be front page news, but Jesus said “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” He said “Whoever wants to become great among you, must become a servant.” Why? So that that “[He] might increase, and [I] might become less.”

And that never ends. That is what we are to do and how we are to lead until the day God himself calls us home.

[[There’s just too many times I only think of me / ‘Cause I get so consumed with my opportunities
When my last breath brings me to the feet of God / I want to hear him say I lived for his glory.]]

Until I Die [I’ll Sing These Songs.]

Note: This is the first in my summer posts, the topics can be found here. This prompt is “Tell about the song that most impacts you.”

~~~~~

Not Guilty Anymore – Aaron Keyes

In a sentence, this song is a declaration of one thing: your past is forgiven and you are clean in Christ forever.

I first heard the song when I was struggling with forgiveness. Forgiving people around me. And forgiving myself for all the stupid things they and I had done. I had just returned to Christ in a sense, after a period of essentially ditching him. And even though it seems a little silly now, I felt like I’d wasted so much time, why should God bother with me? Why bother to give me a second chance? It was difficult at first, to see my own worth in Christ. I knew and believed he had taken my sin away. Cleansed me through his sacrifice on the cross. I knew I was forgiven. And I understood the mercy in that. But I didn’t at first, understand the grace. That not only was I forgiven, but I was loved as well. That God called me “child” not just “friendly acquaintance.”

I think it was my friend Julie who first introduced me to the song Not Guilty Anymore. The first time I heard it, was when I first began to understand: My past sin, and my past failures, and all my scars and shortcomings. All of those things. Not one of them is viewed by God as a mark so deep that he couldn’t fix it. It struck me, that yes, I. Am. Forgiven. Washed clean, and my past isn’t held against me. Because when Jesus allowed soldiers to beat and scar his own body, every single one of my own scars was placed on him, beaten into him, and inflicted on Him. and because of that, God looks at me, and sees His  own daughter.

I’m learning that God doesn’t call qualified people. He qualifies those he has called. And for me, this song is part of what taught my heart that truth. And I am not guilty anymore. I can receive mercy AND grace. I am no longer broken or captive. And I don’t have to hate my past failures. Because if God’s grace is like the ocean, then there is more than enough for me. And there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus.

[[You are spotless. You are holy. You are faultless. You are whole. You are righteous. You are blameless. You are pardoned. You are mine. And you’re not guilty anymore. You’re not filthy anymore. I love you. Mercy is yours. ]]

Where I Belong – Switchfoot

Of course, I had to have a Switchfoot song here. Duh guys. Would you think any less of me? Where I Belong is one of the bands newer songs. And in my opinion, one of their best works. I would easily call this song my “life song.” It describes every part of my life. Past, present, and future.

The first verse talks about feeling as if we don’t belong in this world. Misplaced. And not quite at home. Storms on every horizon. And a fight to continue walking in a sense. But as it continues, the conclusion is made that perhaps the search for belonging is part of a bigger journey. So if we don’t belong in this world? Why do we waste our time letting our hearts break and seeking acceptance IN this world? No. Our purpose should be to raise up a generation that is awake and aware of its citizenship in heaven, not the importance of building a successful life on earth. And for what end? For the end of making our lives worth something of eternal value. Not physical value. So that we can look at our savior and tell Him we fought the good fight. So that he can take us by the hand and tell us “You have finally arrived. This is where you belong.”

This song is how I want to live. Both in this world and in the next. It’s a six minute illustration of what’s in my heart. Both of these songs are. Because music is like that. It can express artistically what we’re not so awesome at phrasing in words.

I haven’t written anything here in weeks. And part of the reason is simply because I’m not sure what to say. I’m always trying to find words that will somehow change the world. And I haven’t felt very revolutionary lately. I’m tired, honestly. But even that is part of my heart wanting something “other worldly.” Because, as C. S. Lewis wrote “It now seemed that…the deepest thirst within [us] was not adapted to the deepest nature of the world.”

We do not belong in this world. It’s not our home. Because Jesus has called and forgiven us, taken away our guilt, our home is now heaven. Our home is with Jesus Christ. We are travelers and soldiers walking and fighting our way through a life that ought to make us restless. It ought to give us tunnel vision, so that we only live this life in a way that means something in the next. We ought to have the same attitude Paul had when he wrote in Acts 20 “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”

Perhaps I’m so obsessed with music, because it is one of the things that can reach me when everything else is shut out or down. Particularly these two songs. They’re truth’s and reminders.

[[And when I reach the other side / I want to look you in the eye / 
And know that I’ve arrived / in a world, where I belong.]] 

Every Breath is a Fading Crown

March has 31 days. Months that have 31 days always confuse me. I never understood why Alosyius Lilius, when he invented the Gregorian Calendar, didn’t just make each month has 30 days. Because now you have to remember which month has 30 or 31 days, and that February only has 28, unless it’s a leap year. It’s like the guy had a few extra days just sitting around after he created the calendar and decided to tack them on in random places. And randomly take a few away from February. And those 31 day months always seem too long. And February usually seems incomplete. And you probably really do not care what I think about the organization of our calendar, but you’re still reading, aren’t you?

Sometimes I think people feel a lot like those extra days in the calendar. Randomly tacked onto a group that doesn’t need them, because nobody knows what else to do with them. And I think sometimes people feel like February. A little bit incomplete. Like their missing little pieces. Not huge portions of themselves, just small parts of their communities. I don’t know. Maybe I’m being too abstract. That usually happens when I write. Which is why I only post a small selection of things. But the metaphor fits, abstract though it may be. And tacky though it may be.

Shakespeare wrote in one of his plays: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves.” And I think maybe he’s partly true. Because a lot of the time, we are the ones who let ourselves be nothing more than tacked on, leftover, people. Of course, it’s not our fault that we feel unwanted or left out. But how much do we really work against it? How often do we simply accept our fate because we think deserve it? How often do we simply accept the love we think we deserve, without pushing the question that maybe we deserve better. Maybe sometimes we feel incomplete, because we only see ourselves. And we’re not meant to see only ourselves. We’re incomplete if we don’t see others too. Incomplete if we don’t care for others more than think of ourselves. Maybe we’re all just living backwards lives. And maybe I spend so much time writing what I think about, that I don’t stop to live it as much as I should. Maybe Plato wasn’t so wrong in thinking of this world as a reflection or a paradox. Metaphorically at least.

Six years ago Jamie Tworkowski printed a tee shirt, that Jon Foreman wore during a concert, which sparked a movement, started an organization, and began what we now refer to as TWLOHA [To Write Love On Her Arms.] But at the start of everything, it wasn’t meant to be a non-profit. It was just a means to the end of helping a friend through rehab. And I know there’s a lot of both love and hate for the organization, but this post isn’t about that organization. It’s about the fact that we’re missing the point. We see things like Jason Russell going psychotic in San Diego and think the entire KONY 2012 project is a sham. And we forget that the goal was fixing a problem of child soldiers, not analyzing the life of Invisible Children’s founder. [I’m not endorsing, simply making a point.] We forget that human people do human things. We forget to fight the tides for what’s right. And instead get caught up in questioning motives, doubting ourselves, and getting confused about how God even plays into everything. How does he play into the lives of the extras? Of the incomplete?  How does he play into this day of March 31st. A day [in my opinion] randomly tacked onto the otherwise normal month of March?

The post is about a lot of things. But mostly it’s just about thinking. Thinking about whether or not fault is in ourselves or in other people or as Shakespeare notes, in our stars. Thinking about whether supporting imperfect people is a good decision, or something that we won’t benefit from. Thinking about how God plays into abstract things like how I’m writing right now. Thinking about where our motives are. About what we’re expecting. About whether we’re really alone, or we’re only feeling lonely because we isolate ourselves. About the paradoxes we play out every. single. day.

 I think Jon Foreman was right when he wrote “The more we learn, the less we know.”

Seriously. Think about it.

~~~~~

[[This world is a dead man down / Every breath is a fading crown we wear /
Like some debilitated king / Don’t let go tonight.]]

One Step [Above the Rest]

I turned seventeen today. [Well, yesterday now. But when I wrote this, it was today.] Yes, yes, I’m getting old. What can I say. My old bones are just aching with the wear and tear of a whole seventeen years. ;). Hehe. But yes. It’s my birthday. And obviously that means some deep philosophical thinking on my part, and of course, a blog post! Aren’t you excited!?

I’m actually currently visiting a college I’m interested in attending down in Florida. It’s been interesting cause I’ve been making friends with some of the other college visitors. [imagine that, Emily is making friends. What a concept!] I’ve had the opportunity to have different levels of conversation with several people and just to learn bits of their stories. You know, we’re all walking a road of trying to figure out the next step in our lives. And for some it’s more clear than others.

I met someone here who really sticks in my mind [and if he ever reads this, haha. You know who you are.] and we had a really great conversation about where god has brought us from and where he’s leading us. Sharing our testimonies and what we feel led to by Christ, etc. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone so in love, and overwhelming joyful about their own weaknesses and in turn Christ’s strength. It was encouraging to see passion instead of nonchalant apathy.

I recently read a book called “The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinners Semester at Americas Holiest University.” and the line that stood out the most to me was this: “Problem is, a lot of Christians here who believe the world is headed for imminent destruction don’t use their eschatology to motivate altruism.”

Now, I’m sure nobody cares to hear about my most recent literary endeavors; but those lines hit home. How many people do you know who would, without truly thinking about it, and perhaps somewhat carelessly, say they believe Jesus is coming back soon? Yeah. And how many of those actually live their lives as if He were?

I believe Jesus is most definitely coming back soon. But it’s sad to see how many people let their eschatology actually motivate actions. We don’t know the time or the season when Jesus will come. So why do we sit back and act like we have our whole lives ahead of us. We aren’t even guaranteed tomorrow. Much less the next fifty years.

This kid I met here at this college believes one day soon Jesus is coming to redeem his own. AND he sees that fact as a reason to do everything in his power to reach as many people as possible. He’s involved in more out reaches than I can count on my hands. Why? Because Jesus set him free from his brokenness and rescued him from his sinful depravity. And if Jesus is coming back very soon, why on earth would he ever live as if he weren’t rescued? Why on earth would he NOT tell everyone he comes into contact with how Jesus is the answer?

I was impressed by his passion. And I caught it while chatting with him. I’m seventeen. In this world, seventeen is just the start of ones life journey. But I’m not guaranteed a long life, or nice living conditions. I’m told that my Savior is coming again very soon. And I’m told to spread the news of His salvation. To be passionately faithful. To love like Jesus loved. To live as Jesus lived.

The clock is ticking. Ticking towards an end that I won’t see coming. And maybe I’ll still be writing these birthday posts at ninety years old, or maybe God will take me before my next birthday. Either way, let my life be a reminder that Jesus is alive and living within me. That when He comes, I’m ready.

Dear God, do NOT let me be held back by my apathy or unwillingness. Don’t let me be held back by the problems I’m confronted with on a daily basis, or the things that drive me crazy, or the things I don’t understand. There are people in this works who have never even heard your name… And here I am living my life to often as if that fact doesn’t matter or it’s not my responsibility. It is. It’s mine.

But it’s yours as well. Seven, seventeen, or seventy. Age makes no difference. Stop pretending you have all the time in the world. You don’t. Be passionate and faithful. Always living in the knowledge that you could be the only Jesus someone ever sees.

~~~~~

[[Seventeen is just a test / and I would recommend /
That you live with no regrets / And even if it seems /
Like the world is crashing on you / You shouldn’t let it hold you down /
Don’t worry you’ll show them.]]