Thursday, January 27, 2011

A glass can only spill what it contains.

Revelations are fun. I had one the other day. Whenever I say revelation, I usually mean I recalled something I already knew, but just barely grasped the relevance of, or I finally truly understood something. So it's nothing new, really. I've been trying to wrap my head around the idea of making something compelling or interesting to someone else. I came to the conclusion that in order to get someone excited or interested in something, you must be excited or interested in it first. My art work isn't going to be good to someone if I don't believe it's good enough to be on the page, or my witty remarks won't be considered funny unless I think they are funny enough to be uttered first. Or something like that. I might be overstepping my bounds a little bit here...

I was in the mood to be moved by the music on my ipod while at school the other day, so that naturally means I'm going to put on someone like Mewithoutyou. They always do it for me. Something about the instruments they employ and the themes they incorporate just inspires me. One of their songs came up: "A Glass Can Only Spill What it Contains" and I was zooming through the canyons of my brain.

I was thinking about current issues in the youth group. At least they're issues that have been on my heart for a while. I've always struggled with the idea of getting the students in the youth group to get into scripture. I've been trying to figure out how to actively engage them in the process of discussing the meaning of scripture and struggling to grasp it for themselves. Tom and I have recently endeavored to try this via our little webisodes. Our approach has been to try and make it simple and fun in order to engage them. I'm not saying this isn't the way to do it, but may be there is more to it than that.

As I was jamming to my tunes and considering all this stuff, I realized that may be in order to inspire the students to want to study scripture, we must be inspired ourselves to do so. We must be as excited about scripture as we want them to be. It made perfect sense to me. "Be the change you want to see in the world," and all that good stuff. Ya, it's a neat and tidy idea, but I'll be the first to say that I haven't been entirely exhilarated by studying scripture lately. My glass hasn't exactly been filled with scriptural study. It's funny that this realization hits me when I need it most. When I'm looking to start off this year right. I love when that happens. So basically if I want to see people drinking up scripture like it's living water, I need to be over-flowing with it. Among other things, of course.

It really makes awful good sense. Why would I bother listening to someone when they themselves do not follow what they say? Christ knew this himself. What better way to teach creation how to live then to come down and do it himself? I like what he says to Nicodemus in John 3:11 when he says, " I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen."

We could take this a step further though. If we want the students to make a difference in the community and to change lives, they need to be convinced that they can do it, and they need to be convinced by the power of Christ Jesus who works through us to accomplish such things. If we want our students to believe in Christ's love, we must also believe in Christ's love, but also act accordingly. How can we expect people to come to believe if we don't even act like we do, or if we don't believe it ourselves? "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" Romans 10:14-15.

It's just a small thought of mine that's been on my brain for the past few days. I ought to be spilling forth enthusiasm for scriptural study and the participation in a life-changing relationship with my Savior. I need to be as convinced by Christ's message as I want others to be in order to serve as a compelling example. Christ's life and sacrifice wouldn't have been so powerful if he wouldn't have been so thoroughly convinced by it himself.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I shall be telling you all the time.

I have a wicked tendency to doubt God's grace sometimes. It usually happens when I screw things up big time. I fear that I'm so far gone that God's given up on me because I'm such a lost cause. It really is a self-destructive habit. It's just the beginning of such a dark series of events that feel impossible to overcome.

Now I am one who believes that we are all responsible for our own actions and the problems that may come as a result, but I think it's hard to ignore the effects that Satan has on our lives. It's important to be able to recognize his work in our lives and not to discredit the power that he has. We should have a respect for the chaos he can visit on us.

I've heard it said that Satan's lies are the most dangerous of all, and I find myself agreeing more and more the more I hear them. Those are a lot of mores...In any case, the greatest lie he could he ever say to us is telling us that God doesn't love us. It makes perfect sense. Convincing us that God wants nothing to do with us is the worst thing that could ever happen to us. Think about it. That's Satan effectively separating us from our Creator. He's blinding us to the constant yearnings of our Father to have a lasting relationship with us. That's not something we make him do by our own actions, it's something he just does. He does it because he loves us, and we are his. We are his.

One of my favorite books in the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis has always been the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I've always liked it because of the journeys to the different islands that the crew of the Dawn Treader took. I always thought that was neat. I had the pleasure of rereading the book before watching the movie quite recently. I enjoyed the movie, but they kept out some of the best parts, with the exception of the end. At the end of the movie and the book, When Lucy and Edmund are told that they can't return to Narnia again, they are confused as to why. Aslan expresses to them that the reason why he brought them to Narnia in the first place was so that they would come to know him, and that they would never stop knowing him. He tells them they came to Narnia so that they would know him there for a little while, but know him in their own world for longer.

At that same time, there, standing at the edge of Aslan's country they ask him if they'll be able to reach his country from their world and if Aslan will tell them how. Aslan's answer is just so awesome. "I shall be telling you all the time," said Aslan. "But I will not tell you how long or short the way will be; only that it lies across a river. But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder." C.S. Lewis is a genius. The great lengths Aslan takes to know these children, even Edmund who betrayed him, was awesome. Going as far making them Kings and Queens of Narnia, his realm. The Great Bridge Builder. That's just so awesome. Regardless of what separates us, Aslan, or should I say JESUS will lead us to overcome. He doesn't tell us or show us how to do it once, but ALL THE TIME! I Shall Be Telling you All the Time! One of the greatest things I've ever seen written in ages.

Looking at it now, Satan's lies are obvious nonsense. Why would Christ go to such great lengths if he were to discard us at the sight of any of our faults? He brought us into this world, so he knows full well what we are capable of, but he loves us regardless. One of my favorite verses is Romans 8:37-39 which says, " No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth no anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." That is a sizable list of things that can't separate us from God's love. Our sin is nothing compared to what's on that list. How could Satan's lies possibly be true?

I think it's important to realize, even in our periods of despair when we think so little of ourselves that Christ does not. He finds us worthy of his sacrifice always and forever. Nothing we can possibly do will ever change that. It's the most beautiful thought ever realized by the minds of man, that our Creator would never quit us as the things of this world often do. That there is no preconceived notion regarding his unfailing love. It's completely illogical to us, but also completely beautiful. It's dreadfully hard, but oh so important to realize that Christ's love penetrates even the thickest clouds of doubt. We are not alone in our suffering. We must remember to train our ears for the booming roar of the Lion of Judah.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


I got to thinking about how I wanted this New Year to go a while back, and I considered all that happened to me this past year.(I suppose this makes this my New Year's post) My year was actually pretty good, for the most part. I had some grand adventures, but it was filled with some rather harsh times for me, and the tail end of this year shaped up to be the toughest of all. I was so tired of it all by the time Winter break rolled around that I had completely given up and checked out.

I'm a big fan of these occasional periods of introspection. It proves to remind me of how far I've come and where I've come from. I just don't like the part leading up to where I have to have these periods of introspection. In any case, it was one of those times, and I endeavored to self-diagnose the cause of this particularly crummy end of the year. I ultimately came to the conclusion that I've taken my life into my own hands. Sure, that sounds good, but it's not. I understand that as a Christian, our lives are not our own. My all time favorite verse ever: Luke 9:23-24 says, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." So I violated my end of the agreement here.

As Christians, we recognize the fact that Christ really does understand what is best for us. Not only does he understand it, but he also desperately wishes that we live that way; enough to have given his life in the most brutal of manners. As Christians, we also must recognize that this life of ours isn't all about us. Christ's death and resurrection are not all about us. There are other people in the world. Just as Christ was concerned with the well being of everyone, So should we be concerned with the lives of others. Christ's love is a whole lot bigger than us.

This past year, I found that I was overly concerned with my own well being. I was gratifying myself. I was numero uno. It's certainly conduct unbecoming of a Christian, considering we are patterning ourselves off a man, who is God, who cared about everyone but himself. (Not to say you can't pay attention to your own personal needs. That's an important part to being a Christian, but don't let it go to your head, now.)

I'm not saying I didn't know what I was doing, although this is often the case with people. We tend to miss the fact that we are too busy being concerned with our own needs than the will of God. I was not oblivious to this very important fact, I just chose to ignore it. Not to say I purposefully went out of my way to do the opposite of what God wanted me to do, I was just so wrapped up in my own affairs that it was of little importance to me.

In my period of introspection, I tried to figure out what from scripture would help me to describe what I was going through, and what would help me learn from this. I could think of no better book than the book of Jonah. The Prophet Jonah is called by God to preach against the wickedness of the city of Nineveh. Jonah doesn't even pause to ask God why, or ever argue. He immediately runs away. A prophet chosen by God decides to run away. So Jonah jumps on a boat and heads to Tarshish so he can flee from the Lord.

How often do we think that if we just run from our problems long enough, they'll get sorted out in the end? What is it about us that makes us do this? It never works! It's even more impossible when fleeing from the Creator of the Universe! Of course, just like our own problems, Jonah's problems were sure to follow him. The results were rather disastrous.

Jonah and his fellow shipmates find themselves in an insane storm. Fearing for their lives, the sailors begin to call on all of their gods, even going as far as waking Jonah from his slumber to beg him to pray to God to save them all. Jonah understands why they're in the middle of the storm though. He asks the sailors to toss him into the drink in order to save their lives. They refuse, oddly enough, and instead decide to row their way out of the storm that they now understand is the result of Jonah's rebelliousness against God.

That just seems like the story of my life. I understand what's going on, I know how to solve the problem, but I decide to do it my way. I decide I would much rather row my way out of the storm then to toss my self into the deep, knowing that I'll be caught by the hands of God. How often do we try to find our own way out of our problems, even though we understand the solution is turning to God? Why is this so hard for us? I imagine this is because we would be giving up control of our lives to God, which is a scary prospect. If we are in control of our lives, we only do what we want to do, and we steer clear of the potential risks and dangers. We decide to stay in our own little comfortable state, but life isn't comfortable, and it shouldn't be. We flee from God because we know he's going to make us step out of our comfort zone. God is calling us to experience the scary, but amazing side of life when we would much rather stay home, sit in front of the T.V., and nurse our own personal wounds and decay in our own little bubble of spiritual inactivity. When we're in control, we have the choice of what is going to happen to us and what we will experience, but when we allow God to take control, we give ourselves up to the mysterious nature of the will of God, allowing him to send us out into the world; and the world is a scary and dangerous place. We don't want to get hurt. We don't want to come face to face with the prospect of our own imperfection. We don't want to know we are sinful beings. That's not why God's sending us out though. Our imperfection is not the point. It doesn't matter.

In the end, the storm proves too great for the sailors, and they reluctantly toss Jonah overboard. Jonah hits the water, and, I imagine, he's expecting to drown. Chances are he didn't know how to swim. Jonah is mistaken though. God provides a giant fish to swallow Jonah and save him from drowning.

This part of the story always reminds me of Pinocchio. I always picture a big ol' fish/ whale like Monstro coming along and swallowing Jonah up. Jonah's sitting in this whale with sea weed clinging to him, and all the wreckage of boats and other sea-borne detritus floating around. It sounds like an awful place to be. Being digested by a massive fish and such. He's probably babbling on like Gepetto in there, wondering how the heck he got into such a mess in the first place.

This is the turning point in Jonah and in Pinocchio. Up to the whale, Jonah and Pinocchio have been too busy doing their own thing. Jonah's running away, and Pinocchio's been off being an actor and making a real Jackass of himself on Pleasure Island.

Duuuuuuuuuh OH SNAP!

Pinocchio's been ignoring Jiminy, his conscience, this whole time, while Jonah's been ignoring God: the ultimate reason for their current troubles. This whale seems like the climax of all their problems. Jonah is being digested alive in a huge ol' fish that's swimming in the depths Lord knows where, while Gepetto, Pinocchio's creator, and the only person who really loves him, is doing the same thing after going in search of Pinocchio.

I've gone over suffering and trouble before, and the question always comes up of why it happens. I know I ask myself all the time. Why does there have to be suffering? Although I know there is never going to be a satisfying reason, I do know that God uses suffering to benefit us. This scene with the Whale is the perfect opportunity for Jonah/Pinocchio to turn everything around and get in gear. Instead of wallowing in the whale, or continuing to be a jackass, they decide to do something about it. I think that's the response every Christian should have to their troubles: What am I going to do about this? How am I going to respond and how should I respond? Are we going to let this whale digest us/our loved ones, or are we going to overcome? And that's why the whale scene is my favorite part in Jonah.

Jonah can't run any more. His options are exhausted, and he needs to turn to the only possible source of salvation he has: God. In the whale he cries out "In my distress I called to the the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all of your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, 'I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.' The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit. "When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple." "Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God's love for them." But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, 'Salvation comes from the Lord.' " Jonah 2: 2-9

Clinging to worthless idols. Being the center of our own Universe. Only working for ourselves. It's all the same, and it's all turning our backs on God and turning away from his Love. God is more faithful than we could ever be, though. He continues to shower us with his love and grace even though we don't deserve it. He always allows us a way out. He always delivers us from our troubles, and all it requires is for us to give up our lives to him and allow him to do his work.

After his prayer, God commands the big fish to spit Jonah back out on land. He goes on to do the will of God and preaches God's message to Nineveh. The story goes a little differently with Pinocchio though. Pinocchio goes in search of Gepetto to save his father/creator.

He also gets swallowed by Monstro, but devises a plan to save them both. They light a fire inside Monstro to get him to spit them out. It works but, unlike in the story of Jonah; Monstro goes after them.

So the struggle of Pinocchio's life begins. He's fighting the current and treading water to desperately pull Gepetto into a small cave to escape from the evil whale. He succeeds, but at a great price. Pinocchio dies in the struggle. Crazy for a Disney flick, right?

I'm not lying! That fool is driftwood!

But don't fret! In the end, the blue fairy, upon witnessing Pinocchio's turn around and struggle to live, makes him a real boy.

TADA! And later he gets turned into Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

As Christians though, giving up our lives to God is a big deal. This transformation that we want to see in our lives is something we can't do on our own. We have to give up our lives in order to allow Christ to craft us into true children of God. It's not easy. We're bound to get swallowed by some big fish, and we might have to fight off some of them. But God is ever faithful, and provides us with the strength to survive and become the servants of God we were designed to be, just as Pinocchio was designed to be a real boy.

The tail end of this past year involved me not being the child of God I should. I turned my back on God. The New Year usually involves people making resolutions about losing weight, or working out, or something for their own good. How often do resolutions involve God? How often is God even considered? This New Year, I hope to be less of a Jackass and more of "Prophet" of God, doing his will. That's my resolution. Sure, it's not going to be easy, but it beats getting "passed" by a whale.