Monday, August 31, 2009

title: 4


It's been a long time.

I'm back at school, obviously. And already I feel as busy as I ever was last year.
God is so prominent in my life, though, and I feel him overwhelming me daily.

That's a definite change from last year.
For the better.

I'm waiting for a shirt to dry and watching Dragonball Z to kill some time. My roommate, Daniel, is playing World of Warcraft, which is pretty standard for him at this time of night. It's actually pretty standard for him any time that he's not in class or sleeping (which often takes second priority to WoW). I like my roommate, but since he's always up late, I give in and stay up later, too.

My body is starting to suffer from the lack of sleep. I need it, bad, but I keep setting it aside for friends and homework and other things I want to do.

Oh, yeah. I'm actually doing homework this year. It's satisfying in a certain unexpected way.

God hit me with this the other day:
Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.
-Ephesians 4:2

I've read Ephesians a bunch, but this only just caught my eye. I was really struggling with loving a friend, because I always feel discouraged after talking to this person. My instinct is to just avoid, because then I don't get discouraged. But Jesus would love them more. Be patient, I'm told. Make allowance for their faults. After all, I have faults of my own.
I can't quite describe how much it really struck me, but I'm just feeling really convicted about it.

Keep yearning for God, first and foremost.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Life Vest

So, I blogged briefly about my week at Adventure Camp this summer, as part of my job; whitewater rafting, rock climbing, hiking, etc, and all paid... I had some interesting thoughts that week, and they recently came back to me. There is some really unrefined theology in this post. I don't mean it to be entirely accurate of God, but it's mostly accurate from how I perceive God at this point in my life, and perhaps it'll spur your own thoughts to challenge and grow mine.

I was in the lake the first day we got to the camp. All the kids were doing their own thing, and us three counselors were basically okay to do whatever. I decided to go for a swim, and the lake has no official lifeguard on duty, so I had to wear a life vest. They had a ton of things in the lake; slides and obstacles and a mountain to climb (all inflatable stuff), and I did a little bit of that. Mostly I just floated around. See, the life jacket hinders your movement tremendously. Even swimming somewhere took a reasonably difficult effort. It was really frustrating, so I decided to just float for some time.
It's interesting how some thoughts can just strike you. Somehow, I started wondering about how the vest I was wearing compared to Jesus. I had a few ideas sift through my head, but nothing that made significant sense.
The next day, we went white-water rafting. Our boat guide said something that made the previous day's incoherent musings suddenly click together unexpectedly. "Now take your Personal Flotation Device (PFD) - some of you like to call them 'life vests', but we can't call them that because we can't guarantee they'll save your life. We only promise they will keep you floating..." And I don't remember anything else he said, because it was no longer relevant to the revelation I was experiencing.

Do I treat Jesus like my PFD? Did I strap him on years ago, and just expect him to keep me alive, even in the storms that throw me from a boat? See, it's one thing to have faith that, if I just lay there, he'll keep me afloat. That much is true. But if some huge rapid tears me up, and I don't fight against the dangerous sin swarming around me, it's true that Jesus will still "keep me afloat", but I won't really be living. Not the way life should be lived. Jesus will always keep you floating, but if you don't seek his wisdom to navigate the storms and rapids of life, they chew you up bad and leave you feeling pretty dead. Life with Jesus is supposed to be so much more than that! He's keeping us afloat and able to breathe, so we have to choose to pursue life, or wrecklessly drown ourselves in sin. I guess if you dig deeper into the theology of my metaphor, you might perceive that I'm implying once you have the "Jesus vest", you never lose it... I don't necessarily believe in the "perseverance of the Saints", as Calvinists call it, that salvation cannot be lost.

I am certain that Christ would rather die than lose another person to sin and death.

But God granted us free will, to choose good and to choose evil, to choose him or choose sin, and if, in our choice, we deny him... I've heard some really good questions to challenge these things in the defense of the perseverance idea: "Was the person ever truly saved to begin with?"
"Couldn't they re-accept salvation in their dying breaths, proving they never, in their heart-of-hearts, denied him?"
I don't know the answers... I just feel as though, from what I currently know about God, it's possible to lose salvation. I don't understand why anybody would make that choice, but everyone makes foolish choices.

Anyway, are you fighting to live as Christ would have (which, by the way, cannot be done unless you have Christ from the start), or are you floating around, getting smothered by the waves and expecting Jesus to keep you breathing without your actions reflecting the life he desires for you?

As always, please comment with your thoughts or reactions. There is some really rough theology here and it probably isn't all accurate, but I only aim to challenge and be challenged, be transformed by renewing my mind.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

An Encouragement: Part 2

This one's primarily for the guys (though not exclusively, by any means).

Rob Bell writes:

The word that came to my mind at that moment was the word submit.

Not her submitting to him.

Him submitting to her.

...Submitting is serious. Submitting is difficult.

And it's the only hope a marriage has. (or any relationship, for that matter.)

I'm aware that I am using a volatile word here, one that's been used to cause great harm to women and consequently marriages and even men. The danger is that in reaction to the abuses and distortions of an idea, we'll reject it completely. And in the process miss out on the good of it, the worth of it, the truth of it.

The word submit occurs only a couple of times in the Bible, most notably in the letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5. The section begins in verse 21 with the command, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."

The passage says we are to place ourselves under one another out of reverence, or respect, for Christ. This reference to Jesus calls us to follow his example, his sacrifice, his giving his life for ours. As it's written in the book of John, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son." At the heart of the worldview of a Christian is the simple truth that people are worth dying for.

People are worth dying for. We know it to be true deep in our bones. And when we see someone actually do it, it's overwhelming.

Jesus said in one of his teachings that there's no greater love a person can have than to lay down their life for another. (John 15:13)

We know this to be true.

People are worth dying for.

So the passage in Ephesians is to love and serve the poeple around you, placing their needs ahead of your own, out of respect and reverence for Jesus, who gave his life for us, the ultimate act of love and sacrifice. Die to yourselves, so that others can live. Like Jesus.

In Greek, the passage continues with verse 22, "Wive, to your husbands as to the Lord."

Did you notice that a word is missing?

We're missing a verb. The words submit is not in the verse. You have to go looking for the verb, which is in the verse before.

The wife isn't commanded to do anything different from what everybody else is commanded to do in the previous verse, namely submitting. Placing the needs of others ahead of her own, especially in her most significant relationship - the one with her husband.

Verse 23 is next: "For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior."

The point is that the husband is supposed to be like Christ. And what does that look like?

Notice how the text continues. Verse 24 repeats the submit command, and then verse 25 reads, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."

Christ's "headship" comes from his giving himself up for the church.

His sacrifice.

His surrender.

His willingness to give himself away for her.

His death.

Whatever authority the word head carries with it is rooted in the sacrifice of Christ and therefore the sacrifice of the husband.

So the husband is commanded to lay down his life for his wife, and the wide is commanded to submit to her husband, but they're both commanded to submit to each other because everyone is commanded to submit to everyone else, and all of this is out of "reverence for Christ."

A man waiting for his wife to submit is actually a failure to lead. He thinks he's the strong leader, but he's actually weak and misguided. If he really thinks he's the head, then he would surrender his desires and wants and plans. He would die to his need to be in control and do whatever it takes to serve her, to make sure she has everything she needs. He would die to himself so that she could live.

He would lay down his life for her, like Jesus laid down his life for the church.

This is submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

What if he had a habit of this?

What if she knew without a shadow of a doubt that his love for her was so great that he would give his life for her in the blink of an eye?

Think about your friendships, the closest ones, the ones that have gone the distance. How often do you ask who is in charge? Do you ever find yourself questioning, "Where does the buck stop?"

No, it's not even on the radar. Over time you've built up reserves of trust and love, and power and control become irrelevant. The healthier and more whole a relationship is, the less you ask these kind of questions. When people are truly living in what's called "mutual submission," you lose track of who's in charge.

In a marriage, you're talking about power and control only when something central to the whole relationship has fallen apart.

And once again, poetry comes to our rescue.

The woman says in Song of Songs, "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine."

She speaks a paradox. Two things are going on here. She's giving. Giving herself away. Letting go. Losing herself in her lover. And yet she's also getting something in return: the other person. Her lover, at the same time, has let go and fallen into her.

(Let's go back to those verses in Ephesians.)

This paradox of mutual submission is only one of the profound things going on in this passage. The command to the husband is to love your wife "just as Christ loved the church." On the first pass, it seems quite straightforward. But as we've seen before, words in the Bible are often loaded. In this case, the word love in the Greek language is specific.

The word for love here is the word agape. We find the word all over the New Testament, and it's generally used in the context of God's love for people as in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world."

So the man is to love the woman, to agape her, like God agapes the world.

Agape is a particular kind of love. Love is often seen as a need, something we get from others. Agape is the opposite. Agape gives.

Agape doesn't love somebody because they're worthy.

Agape makes them worthy by the strength and power of its love.

Agape doesn't love somebody because they're beautiful.

Agape loves in such a way that it makes them beautiful.

There is a love because, love in order to, love for the purpose of, and then there is love, period. Agape doesn't need a reason.

It's written in the book of Romans that Christ dies "while we were still sinners."

Jesus reminds his disciples, "You did not choose me, but I chose you."

People in the Scriptures essentially are loved into their futures. Think of how many of us had encouraging or affirming or inspiring words spoken to us years ago about our worth, our value, our future, and how those words shaped us. We often carry those words of agape around with us our whole lives.

Agape shakes us. It's too good to be true.

Or maybe you could say it's good enough to actually be true.

It affects how we live, how we act, how we think about ourselves.

For God so agaped the world...

And so the man is commanded to agape the woman with the same kind of love that God has for all people everywhere.

It's a big task the man is given, and it's reflected in the number of words in the passage. In the Greek, the command for the woman is 47 words long, while the commands for the man are 143 words long. The onus here is on the man to love with the kind of love that will go all the way to death if it has to.

What if she were loved like this?

Guys, do you realize she is worth dying for?

Gals, do you realize you are worth dying for?

See, marriage is on my mind. Not anybody in particular. But in another few years, I'll be around that age and stage in my life where marriage comes to great potential. I'm certain most of you guys are feeling similar to me. I want to live like Christ. I want to learn to love like he loves. I want to learn to die to myself so others can live. If I'm still living selfishly, marriage opens the door to cause overwhelming damage to another person. I want my marriage, with whomever, whenever it should come, to reflect Christ's love for us.

I guess the encouragement is more of an instigation for us guys. Can we spend our time now, whether single or already in some sort of relationship, learning how to submit to others, how to die to others? Can we learn to give up our desires and wants and plans for the sake of others? Now is the time to start learning and to start practicing.

Now's the time to start living. "To live is Christ and to die is gain." To live is Christ who died for our gain. To live is Christ so we should die for their gain. His gain. Her gain.

A good friend wrote on the subject of girls about two years ago. I'm going to adapt his main points, quoting and paraphrasing some and elaborating my own thoughts of response, too. Jeremy Steckel, I hope you don't mind, and know that I greatly respect you!

1. Girls are talkers!
I'd think if you haven't noticed or observed this fact before now, you might be somewhat daft. There's countless articles and books suggesting that girls use an average of 20,000-25,000 words a day, and guys use only around 7,000-10,000. There's no way this is going to change! Girls are wired to talk about everything, and it's how they connect with other people. I once read that girls define their closeness of friendships based on the amount of conversation they've shared, where guys base their closeness on the amount of time spent together, whether talking or not. The point is, if you want really respect a girl, LISTEN! It's important to her!

2. Girls are relational!
Some of you may disagree with this, but it's an observation Jeremy made with his post, and I agree: "Girls tend to de-bunk their bunk beds here at college more often than guys do. Why? I wondered the same thing. Until I realized an astounding truth: maybe they do it because, then, it's easier to TALK to your roommate! I've also noticed that girls seem to have more of an emotional connection with their roommate than guys do." From here, we get to Jeremy's third observation:

3. Girls are emotional!
Again, if you haven't noticed this by now, you may be a bit daft. Girls are HIGHLY emotional. Emotional security is probably the most important thing for a girl! God is a wonderful daddy who provides incredibly security, but as guys, we can constantly remind every gal we know of this. We are able to encourage and lift them up with the reminder that Abba, daddy, is their emotional guardian. Too, we can help to guard their emotions. Physical protection is a great thing, and I know girls value feeling safe in that sense, but emotional security is even more important than that!

4. Girls are gorgeous!
Yeah, we all know it's true! Jeremy said it best: "Imagine a world, or even a campus, without girls, and I imagine a place full of dead bodies of men who couldn't take looking at each other any longer."

Girls need to feel loved, and girls need to feel beautiful. Encouraging a girl in this area is a fine line, and I'll admit I often avoid walking it altogether out of anxious fear I'll creep a girl out. But us guys have the opportunity to really embolden and reassure value in our friends and sisters in Christ, and it is absolutely possible to tell a girl she looks beautiful without hitting on her! Take that uncomfortable step and encourage! (Which is a challenge for me, too.) After all, she is worth dying for!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Lo and behold, it was the chainsaw...

Today, I cleaned out my car, in the hopes that somebody might soon buy it from me.
Then, Josh and Katie picked me up, and we drove to the Ohio State Fair. We saw some stuff, most notably a chainsaw artist carving a bear from a log, with botox lips, a mohawk, fins from its chin and strange legs. Katie swears it was actually a fish, but I was intent on seeing him carve a bear, so I just know that's what it was. Josh tried to convince me to eat a fried PB&J, but I went for a gyro instead. It wasn't worth $6, but it was still good; maybe worth $4 or so, at the most. We saw a lot of random crap people were selling in their various booths, and we also "walked the line" with beer goggles on. The trick is to look straight ahead, zone out and just step forward, heel-to-toe, with trust in your natural walking abilities. Josh wanted to ride only one ride there, and it was closed.

After the fair, we went to dinner at Buca di Beppo along with Drew, Josh Gulvas, Steve and Jackie, Andrew and Amy, and a couple other friends of Steve. It was sort of a surprise dinner for Steve's birthday in a couple days. Drew, Gulvas and I split the Chicken Parmesan, which at Buca is a huge waste of money. Never get Buca's Chicken Parm. You'll regret spending that much money on something that totally isn't worth that much money.
After dinner and some hilarious conversation/antics, Josh and Katie dropped me off and left to see G.I. Joe. The ride home was spent mostly discussing how awesome (my point of view) and lame (their point of view) the name "The Ceiling Fantastic" is. I love it. I think it's catchy and a clever play on words. I want some more opinions.

Anyway, all this stuff is great, keeping me busy and rather entertained. I truly am enjoying myself in the midst of such things, but being back at home, back in my terribly messy room and feeling overwhelmed by everything I need to do in the next week, I'm feeling rather bitter. I don't actually understand why I'm feeling this way, but bitterness is the best way to describe it.

I cannot seem to finish the music I've been writing. I keep changing the words, I keep striving to make it less cliché, yet still maintain my identity within it. The emotions in these songs are so deep and so dark, and I'm in a place now where I can dredge them up and use what I'm feeling to help create. But nothing ever feels good enough. It all starts to feel the same to me, even among the differences from song to song. It's additionally frustrating to be in my "prime" of creativity (both tired and emotionally fragile), yet still unable to produce.

My room is a mess, like the state I'm in, and busy-ness is all I see coming in the next week. Please pray for my endurance and peace and joy in this, as those will be pushed the most.

Currently Listening:
The Flower Kings - Adam & Eve

Thursday, August 6, 2009

title: 3

I've been really depressed this whole week. I'm not sure exactly what it is. I keep thinking, I just need school to start, then everything will be okay. But that isn't true. All of my stress and emotional burdens will follow me to school like they did last year. No, it isn't a matter of school to fix this.
I don't even know what "this" is. My car's transmission went out on Monday, but it's nothing to do with that. This whole week has felt all clumped and senseless. I don't even know what day it is, and I hardly believe the calendar. Apparently tomorrow is Friday. Already? I don't even remember Tuesday, and Wednesday is only a tiny fragment. And today is over now, too?
I'm riding my bike to work tomorrow. Possibly. It's a longer trip, but I don't have a car that'll get me there.
I feel as though my list of things to do will overwhelm me. Perhaps I need to rewrite it, organize it, and keep going at it. It's probably less challenging than I'm expecting, but since it's a bunch of things all floating freely in my mind, it takes up so much more space.

What's to come of friendships this fall? Will things start to fall apart, as I've witnessed in others' lives for this season? What of the expectations, or hopes, at the least, that I have for other friendships? And will I be able to restrain myself, exhibit self-control, for the sake of my commitment to God? I haven't the slightest idea of what's coming; just a general sense of fear. It's the same fear I feel when I see tv shows about supervolcanoes that could destroy the US or comets that could wipe out earth. It's a sort of worst-case-scenario fear, but those are the only scenarios I seem able to think. There's a supervolcano lying dormant underneath this upcoming school year which could blow at any moment, and anxious me is convinced tell-tale tremors are rumbling all around.
Some old habits and cravings are redeveloping, or at least resurging. I guess they never fully went away, but I'm feeling overwhelmed again. Food doesn't make anything better, but those endorphins are killer when I'm feeling down.
Everything just feels so artificial right now.

"Here's your change. Have a good evening."
"You too."
But neither of us feel that way.

Even time feels artificial. It feels as though time is whirling and spinning around me, and I do not even understand what I'm seeing. Everything just feels really foreign right now, as though I've been thrust into something with no instruction and expected to just "figure it out".

I don't feel hopeless. This is a different depression than I've had in the past. My belief in God is strong now, as is my faith in general. I just feel a general, dark sorrow, and also discouragement. Perhaps it's also an identity crisis.

Though this next part is unrelated to my current emotional state, something reminded me of this: I've been really grappling with some things about God this summer. There's certain ideas about God that I've grown yp being taught, and they all seemed to make perfect sense when I was younger. But I've been meditating on these ideas and I'm convinced that the only reason they exist is because it comforts people more to think that way than to think the way it really is. I'll just throw myself out there.
I don't think God has my life (or your life) all plotted out, step-by-step. I firmly believe God has a will for my life (and your life). I believe that will is for me (and you) to emulate Christ to the best extent we can; to focus our energy - heart, mind, body, soul - on loving God and on loving others as Christ loves us. THAT is God's will for me (and you). God also gave us freedom. That means the freedom to choose if we go to college or not, what we study, where we work, whom (if anybody) we marry, etc. I think Paul was right: it's best for us not to marry and our greatest work for the Lord is done when he has every fiber of our being dedicated solely to Him. But we are very fallible creatures, so it is better for "us" to marry and pursue God together than to try alone and fall more because I'm too distracted by desire. Back to the idea of "God's will", it just doesn't sit with me. God's will gets accomplished with or without us, right? So, then, for a person to live, that's God's will; for a person to survive a heart-attack means "it was God's will" that this person survived. But by default, that would mean for another person to die of stroke, or suicide for that matter, it was also "God's will". After all, by that argument, he planned out our days. I don't believe God would ever "plan" or "will" a person to die, especially not if by murder or suicide. It breaks his heart, and I'm sure of it! God wants life for us, and life to the fullest! That's why someday we'll be in a place with no more death and no more sadness! But God gave us freedom out of his great love for us, and with our freedom, we've entered into sin. That means we can kill each other, hurt each other, steal from each other, and it all breaks God to see us misbehave! But if he just steps in and stops it all, what freedom do we ultimately have? That would be like God saying, "You can only do it your way if it looks like my way. Otherwise I'm just going to step in and stop you until you do it my way." There is no freedom there, and without freedom there can be no love.
I don't think that sufficiently covers my thoughts about it all. I don't think any number of words could quite capture what's in my head. I just don't believe that God has every step of my life (or yours) already plotted out and planned to work a certain way. Sure, he knows what I'm going to choose since he is outside of time. But that doesn't mean he sketched it out and made it for me. He gave me the freedom to choose, I chose it all, and he's just able to see the whole timeline even though I'm stuck IN time still writing. I made the ending, but I haven't seen it yet; only God has.
I don't think God cares at all where I go or what I do or whom I talk to or marry or anything, as long as I'm doing all of it in a spirit of love and compassion, just as Jesus did, just as God-with-flesh would do. In a sense, Christians should be "God-with-flesh" or... the body of Christ... My actions should show God's love above all else, and the only thing I could do that would defy God's will for my life is to continue sinning. Like I said, I don't think God cares where I go to school, where I work, whom I marry, etc, as long as his love is evident and overflowing from my life.

(Now if school, work, people, relationships, etc, distract me from God, then such things should be avoided/moderated until the fruits of God's spirit are built enough to live within them and not be brought down. To dive into the specifics of this side of things would be a lot more typing, but frankly, it's all covered pretty well in the New Testament already.)

Hmm, I'm done ranting for now. I feel a little less depressed than when I started, but maybe that's because I'm excited about going to sleep.

Currently Listening:
Andy Hunter - Life
(I always forget how energetic and generally great this album is.)