Archive for christianity

Defeat is No Longer an Option

We’ve all lost battles. I’ve suffered defeats. Sometimes, it feels like no matter what we do, we never win. I’ve walked (and ran) away from so many things in life. I’ve given up on countless people and turned my back on opportunities without giving them a chance to flourish.

We learn to live with the shame of defeat. Society tells us to submit, so we don’t put up a fight, even when we know in our hearts that we should fight. We compromise our values and our beliefs. We step back and let others rise because we feel that we could never be that artistic, articulate, or knowledgeable.

I learned that it was easier to accept defeat than to face my fears and persevere. It was easier to walk away. To let go. To step aside. To fail. To sin and ask for forgiveness.

There is something humbling about admitting defeat. But there is power in standing up to the fight.

Late at night, I end to blast my music while working on sketches and drawings. And I heard a line in a song that made me pause. In the song Destroy by Worth Dying For, there is a line that states “Defeat is no longer an option.” I heard those words and I thought to myself, if I truly believed that God has already achieved victory through the death of his Son on the cross, why doesn’t my life reflect what I believe?

Victory. It is more than a simple word. It is the belief that God has achieved something we could never accomplish ourselves.

There is a freedom in victory. Freedom from fear. Freedom from mistakes. Freedom from second guessing ourselves. From failure. From defeat.

I feel that so many times we see how many times we have been defeated and broken by the world that we turn to our faith and feel the same way. We question if we could really love our coworkers and neighbors that surround us. We compare ourselves to others and see how ‘blessed’ they are and struggle with accepting who we are in Jesus. We are reminded of how many times we have come up short and question if we could ever overcome the sin in our lives.

And that is where we discover that victory has already been achieved.

Our faith reveals to us the love of our Father, poured out through the sacrifice of His Son of the cross, has already given us victory. God has given us His Spirit who lives in each of us, pouring out His love into our lives so that we may also love unconditionally. This is the love that reminds each of us that we have been accepted by God, not by something that we have done, but because of who He is. This is the love of forgiveness, that has washed us clean of our sins. Not just the sins of our past, but the sins that have yet to come.

This is the victory that brings us freedom. The freedom to love unconditionally. To love those around us, as well as ourselves. The freedom to accept grace that is offered to us. The freedom to forgive. The freedom over temptation. Freedom from sin. From death. From not knowing our identity.

The victory that allowed us to be in a right relationship with our Father.

The beautiful thing about this victory is that there is nothing we are able to do. It is already won. The battle has already been fought. And victory has already been achieved.

The choice we have is not whether or not we will fight. But will we stand in victory or turn our backs to the grace that has been offered to us.

And once we learn to stand in our Faith, the battles we seem to face in our every day lives fade away into the background. And the defeats our world and society throw in our direction wont affect us, because we know who we are in Christ.

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Finding God in the Chaos

A couple weeks ago, someone asked me a question; I was unable to put the answer into words. They asked me why God would allow so much chaos in the world. They asked me why God would let their child go into cardiac arrest. And as I walked them through CPR over the phone, I didn’t have an answer. And yet, in some ways I still don’t have an answer.

The community that I have been journeying with has started the process of reading through the entirety of the Bible (a journey together called Halak, but you can find out more about that here), and over the past week or so, we have been going through the book of Job. In it, Job asks God the same question.

Why? He asks why these things happened to him. Why did his belongings get taken from him? Why did his seven sons and three daughters perish when the wind swept in and collapsed the house on top of them? Why was he afflicted with terrible sores and blisters? He cried out and questioned why.

His wife tells him to “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). And then for the next 36 chapters, his friends are unable to console him, to answer his questions of “Why is this happening to me?!” He never looses his integrity, he never sins or turns his back against God, but his answers are unanswered until God speaks.

And yet, God speaks from the storm.

Imagine yourself in Job’s position. Your children had been crushed beneath their home when a mighty wind swept in and struck the four corners (Job 1:19), and now your God speaks to you from a storm. Many translate it as the whirlwind. This is your chance to curse God to his face. But then He begins to ask you questions.

God asks Job a series of questions.

  1. Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? (Job 38:2)
  2. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? (v.4)
  3. Who marked off its dimensions? (v.5)
  4. Who stretched a measuring line across it? (v.5)
  5. On what were its footings set? (v.6)
  6. Who laid its cornerstone? (v.6)
  7. Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, “This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt”? (v.8-11)
  8. Have you ever given orders to the morning? (v.12)
  9. Or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? (v.12-13)
  10. Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea? (v.16)
  11. Or walked in the recesses of the deep? (v.16)
  12. Have the gates of death been shown to you? (v. 17)
  13. Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? (v.17)
  14. Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? (v. 18)
  15. What is the way to abode of light? (v.19)
  16. And where does darkness reside? (v.19)
  17. Can you take them to their places? (v.20)
  18. D you know the paths to their dwellings? (v.20)
  19. Have you entered the storehouses of the snow? (v.22)
  20. Or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? (v.22-23)
  21. What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed? (v.24)
  22. Or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? (v.24)
  23. Who cut a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? (v.25-27)
  24. Does the rain have a father? (v.28)
  25. Who fathers the drops of dew? (v.28)
  26. From whose womb comes the ice? (v.29)
  27. Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen? (v. 29-30)
  28. Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? (v.31)
  29. Can you loosen Orion’s belt? (v.31)
  30. Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons? (v.32)
  31. Or lead out the Bear with its cubs? (v.32)
  32. Do you know the laws of the heavens? (v.33)
  33. Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? (v.33)
  34. Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? (v.34)
  35. Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? (v.35)
  36. Do they report to you, “Here we are”? (v.35)
  37. Who gives the ibis wisdom about the flooding of the Nile? (v.36)
  38. Or gives the rooster understanding of when to crow? (v.36)
  39. Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? (v.37)
  40. Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together? (v.37-38)
  41. Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? (v.39-40)
  42. Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food? (v.41)
  43. Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? (39:1)
  44. Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? (v.1)
  45. Do you count the months till they bear? (v.2)
  46. Do you know the time they give birth? (v.2)
  47. Who let the wild donkey go free? (v.5)
  48. Who untied its ropes? (v.5)
  49. Will the wild ox consent to serve you? (v.9)
  50. Will it stay by your manger at night? (v.9)
  51. Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness? (v.10)
  52. Will it till the valleys behind you? (v.10)
  53. Will you rely on it for its great strength? (v.11)
  54. Will you leave your heavy work to it? (v.11)
  55. Can you trust it to haul in your grain and bring it to your threshing floor? (v.12)
  56. Do you give the horse its strength? (v.19)
  57. Or clothe its neck with flowing mane? (v.19)
  58. Do you make it leap like a locust, striking terror with its proud snorting? (v.20)
  59. Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread its wings towards the south? (v.26)
  60. Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high? (v.27)
  61. Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? (40:1)

At this point, Job responds: “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:4-5) But God continues:

62. Would you discredit my justice? (v.8)
63. Would you condemn me to justify yourself? (v.8)
64. Do you have an arm like God’s? (v.9)
65. And can your voice thunder like his? (v.9)
66. Can anyone capture it (the behemoth) by the eyes? (v.24)
67. Or trap it and piece its nose? (v.24)
68. Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook? (41:1)
69. Or tie down its tongue with a rope? (v.1)
70. Can you put a cord through its nose? (v.2)
71. Or pierce its jaw with a hook? (v.2)
72. Will it keep begging you for mercy? (v.3)
73. Will it speak to you with gentle words? (v.3)
74. Will it make an agreement with you for you to take it as your slave for life? (v.4)
75. Can you make a pet of it like a bird? (v.5)
76. Or put it on a leash for the young women in your house? (v.5)
77. Will traders barter for it? (v.6)
78. Will they divide it up among the merchants? (v.6)
79. Can you fill its hide with harpoons? (v.7)
80. Or its head with fishing spears? (v.7)
81: Who then is able to stand against me? (v.10)
82. Who has a claim against me that I must pay? (v.11)
83. Who can strip off its (the leviathan’s) outer coat? (v.13)
84. Who can penetrate its double coat of armor? (v.13)
85. Who dares open the doors of its mouth, ringed about with fearsome teeth? (v.14)

Job’s reply has struck me as something very beautiful: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You ask, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:2-3)

It hit me as I sat in the Gathering as these questions filled the screen before us; we are not in the position to ask God “Why?”

None of us can provide an answer to the questions that were asked of Job. We never have been, and we never will.

All we can do is to keep out integrity before God and stand firm in our faith.

Instead of asking God “Why?” when I’m walking a parent through CPR on their child or when I’m on the line with a child who is hiding while their parents fight in the other room, the question is “How do I show your love?”

Instead of cursing God and giving up, even if for the briefest of moments, we must refrain our lives so that our response is to accept that this chaos is part of a larger picture that is His plan.

I hope my ramblings made sense…

The Child Born

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
– Luke 1:30-33

While they were there (in Bethlehem), the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
– Luke 2:6-7

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. …

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decisions or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
– John 1:1-5, 9-14

Just over a week ago, we celebrated Christmas. The celebration of the birth of Jesus and the coming of God as a child into this world. Over the years I have tended not to like this season of the year, the commercialization of the society in which we find ourselves surrounded by things. I’ve often wondered if we fail to truly comprehend what the birth of this child really means to us. To our faith.

I consider myself a Christian. A follower of Jesus Christ. A disciple. A student. Someone who is still trying to find the words to say what this means.

The child that was wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger was so much more than just a new-born infant. He was the Son of God. Fully human, yet fully God. He was the promise that was made to the people of God. He was born the Savior and the King. He was the Word.

At that time, the people of Israel were expecting something so different. They had expectations of a savior and king who would come down and free them from the reign of Rome. They expected a military leader like David. A messiah who would establish a physical kingdom.

But yet, God humbled himself to be born into the world as a small child who had to flee his home and live in Egypt as a refugee while the current king of Jerusalem, Herod, tried to have him killed.

This was a child who grew up with a father who made his living as a carpenter. A mother who knew who he was, because the angel Gabriel told her who he would be. Mary knew that the son she gave birth to was also the Son of God, but she could never comprehend what that would entail once he grew and began his ministry and teaching his followers.

One of the only Christmas songs that I like is “Mary, Did You Know?” and I feel that most of us can relate. Do we ever really know what God is going to do in our lives?

This child that was born had come to die for us. He came, free of sin, to be put to death in our place, so that we may once again be the children of God.

And while the official holiday season seems to be behind us, followers of Jesus celebrate every day because we have received another day to live a life of praise. We celebrate because we are in a relationship with Abba, our Father in Heaven, who is our Lord and King over every breath we breathe. We celebrate because the Son of God came to forgive our sins and shed his blood so that we may once again be in the presence of God. Because our savior not only died for all our sins, the ones we have committed and have yet to commit, but defeated death and rose again so that we may have eternal life.

This is the child who was born that day. This is the child that the shepherds found in the manger. This is the child whose birth we continue to celebrate by living the life he has called us to live.

Slipping Backwards

Earlier this week, I gathered with my community group, a collection of powerful men and women who have taught me so much about what it means to fight and live for God, and found ourselves discussing the path we take as we grow closer to God.

A lot of times Christians see their relationship as a plateau. So many times I hear people talk as though there is a point where we come to know God as our lord and savior, and then there is nothing more. We level out and become comfortable, telling ourselves that there is nothing we can do to bring ourselves closer to God.

In a sense, this is true. Once we have accepted God as our lord and the redemption that was paid in full through the blood shed on the cross, we know that God has adopted each of us into His family.

But there is so much more to this relationship with our Father. Over the past couple years I have learned over and over again that this relationship is something that continues to be explored. It is something that continues to grow throughout our journey with Him.

Instead of a single step to knowing God, it is a constant journey. An ever-progressing movement upward in a relationship that is alive and growing.

There was a moment in the conversation last night where someone stated that sometimes it feels as though their life does not feel like a constant staircase upwards, but more like a growing mountain range with peaks and valleys, highs and lows. It was the concept of sliding backwards in our relationship with God.

I sat there looking at it, trying to put words to thoughts.

Part of me understands where this comes from; we are human. We constantly fall short of God. This is the concept of sin.

There are going to be days when we fell like we have drifted away from the relationship we have built with God. There are going to be days where it feels like we are in the darkest of valleys or standing in the desert where nothing can grow.

But it’s a lie to say that, in these moments of failing or feeling disconnected from God, we slip farther away from God.  Our relationship with Him remains the same. And a lot of times, those moments of darkness allow us to grow deeper in our relationship to our Father.

When the writer of Psalms cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (see Psalm 22, read the entire thing) do you think his relationship with God had become distant? If we look at human relationships, I would say yes. But God is so much more.

When we commit to a living relationship with our Father, we invite the Spirit of God into our hearts. We chase after Him with all our soul. And even in those moments of doubt, if we are truly embracing a relationship with our Father, we will never loose footing in that relationship. We will forever be drawn closer to one another, even in the silence.

I’ve discovered that it is the beautiful lie of the deceiver that convinces us that we have or are slipping backwards in our relationship with the God who knows us by name.

Trickle of Water

This past Sunday, we celebrated Pentecost. You know, those events that happened in Acts 2, where tongues of fire came down on the Disciples as they gathered together and they began their journey of changing the world? Fifty days after the death and resurrection of the Son of God, the man we know as Jesus Christ.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language. … we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
– Acts 2:1-8, 11-13

On Sunday, I joined the Radius community for the weekly gathering and they made some connections that makes this event much more beautiful. You see, this is more than a single act in the larger story, but the start of something so much bigger than we could imagine.

One of the things I’ve realized is that God rarely shows us the larger picture in one go; it’s a story of discovery and a trail of small pieces that lead us to something so much more.

Ten days before Pentecost, just before He ascended into heaven, Jesus dropped another little piece of the story.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
– Acts 1:4-5, 7-8

Jesus tells his followers to wait. Something was coming that would fill them with power and the ability to change the world. He sets them up to be in place for something better. To be filled with the waters of eternal life.

And as his followers were gathered in the Temple and received the Holy Spirit, they become a trickle of water from that spring of life. And our entire relationship with God changes.

Before Jesus was crucified for the sins of the world, he tried to explain what would happen to a Samaritan Woman at the well. (See John 4:1-26)

You see, so many of us think exactly like this woman. She came day after day to Jacob’s well, a specific spot on the edge of the Samaritan town of Sychar, to fetch water. This is everything she knew. And sometimes we see our relationship to God in the same way: we must find Him in specific locations, like in the church pews.

When Jesus tells her that he will provide living water, she still doesn’t understand that he is no longer talking about water that we drink, but water that sustains eternal life.

“Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
– John 4:19-24

Jesus is telling this woman that the relationship that we had with the Father was about to change. He tells her that the location of our worship will change forever. No longer will worship be centered in the Temple. No longer will the priests be the only ones to enter the Holy of Holies, because the presence of God will be within each of us. Jesus tells her of the Holy Spirit that will come.

There is one more nugget of this story that was hidden from me for so long. It is a prophecy that is still in the works, but started that day in the Temple when tongues of fire carried the Holy Spirit down to the chosen few and began a movement of believers that continues to move us today:

The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side.

As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led e through water that was up to the waste. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in – a river that no one could cross. He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?”

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so whee the river flows everything will live.
– Ezekiel 47:1-9

Do you see it yet? That moment in the temple? When tongues of flame came down? This was the trickle that was foretold. And soon this flood of water will flow into the deadest areas of our world and fill it with life.

There is so much more that I could dive into, how sometimes we must wait or go back to the beginning of the story, but for now, I’ll just leave it at this; the story of Pentecost.

Stand Your Ground

In the Christian circles, we often talk about this idea of spiritual warfare in an abstract sort of way. Where prayer is used as a weapon and we charge in a barbarian wave shouting battle cries taken from the latest praise and worship album. We think of the kingdom of Satan as a fortress with vast walls and gates, and so often we hear the saying, “storming the gates of hell.” I am guilty of using this language, but I have come to realize that this is a dangerous way of thinking, and it goes against how God is using us to fight as warriors in this battle.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your fellow believers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering.
– 1 Peter 5:8-9

The early Church knew that, while the Kingdom of God is at hand, the Kingdom of Satan still exists here in this world, and will remain until the Son of God returns once again. They did not see the Kingdom of Satan as a fortress to be stormed, but something to be feared. A lion waiting to attack.

I have come to the realization that God does not call us to storm the gates of hell. He calls us to a more dangerous task: to stand firm.

We are not called to attack, but to stand our ground. To make our stance known in this world and in the spiritual realms. To stand in the light and be a beacon of hope and strength for others whose strength is wavering. To support one another. To defend ourselves and those who stand shoulder to shoulder beside us.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take our stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
– Ephesians 6:10-13

As believers, God has equipped us to make our stand. To fight a personal battle against the demons that attack us every day and that have worked their way into our scars that life has brought us.

We are called to stand our ground. And after all the battles are done, to stand.

Our battle is not one where physical prowess or weapons have the advantage, but it is battle where peace and love are our greatest weapons, and hope and faith are our armor. It is a battle where angels and demons fight unseen around us, and how we live every moment of our lives is proof of the tide of battle for our souls.

A Glimpse of a Bigger God

In my travels around the world, I have seen some amazing things. I have seen thousands of sunsets and hundreds of sunrises, each one a reminder of how beautiful creation is, as God paints the sky in vibrant color. I have experienced the miracle of life and the mystery of death, celebrating in each moment. I have seen the smiles of those our society considers poor and saw the richness of their pure, unending joy. I have felt God move in my heart, drawing me towards the path He has placed at my feet and have heard the gentle whisper calling my name.

I have rejoiced in the blessings that I have witnessed and taken part in. My path has allowed me to live and discover joy in each and every moment. But my path has not always been on the mountain tops.

There have been times in my journey that have dropped down the the lowest of lows and have been shrouded in darkness.

It’s easy to fall into the belief that everything good comes from God and everything bad is the product of the Deceiver. For a long time, I was convinced that this was the truth. But recently, my mind was blown when one of the gentlemen from the body of Christ challenged this belief. He opened up his Bible (actually, he pulled it up on his smart phone) and revealed the following:

I am the LORD, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
though you have not acknowledged me,
so that from the rising of the sun
to the place of its setting
people may know there is none besides me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the LORD, do all these things
– Isaiah 45:5-7

Another translation states “I send good times and bad times.” Another, “I make well-being and create calamity.” “I make peace and create evil.”

Now there is something that should shake the foundation of who you think God is.

I was sharing these words with another brother in Christ, and he shook his head and stated that this changes everything he ever thought about God. It widens the frame.

You see, God is bigger than just being “good.” Yes, He sends prosperity, well-being, peace, and good times our way. We can easily see Him working in those moments. So often these are the things we associate with God. But He is so much bigger than that.

He not only formed light, He created darkness.

This changes everything.

I’ve had so many people ask me how God could allow bad things to happen. I’ve had people ask how God could allow us to suffer and to die terrible deaths if He truly loves us.  I never had an answer because I don’t know the extent of God. He has always been (and will continue to be) bigger and more complex than anything I could wrap my head around.

But I know this: God created both the light and the dark. He gave us, His children made in His image, the option to choose. He allows us to decide between the two. He could have easily made us as robots, and directed our every moment in this life, but He gave us the choice to live because He wants us to experience life and love to its fullest.

We have the choice to follow the light or dive into the darkness. And when we begin to understand that God has created everything, even the moments of intense pain, death, and suffering, we have the opportunity to open our eyes to see Him in those moments as well.

Looking back, I understand that God was there every step of the way, even in those darkest moments where part of me thought He had abandoned us. He allowed me to be resent when He chose to bring home a child as she slipped from this life before my eyes. He revealed to my heart the value of life and the gentle blessing of death. He allowed me to hear a mothers cry of anguish and sorrow so that I would be reminded of the lessons He gave me.

After Job looses his oxen and donkeys in the fields, after flames fell from the sky and devoured his sheep, after his camels and servants are put to the sword, after every son and daughter were buried beneath the ruins, he fell to the ground and worshiped God (Job 1:13-20).

Naked I came form my mother’s womb,
and naked I will return.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.
– Job 1:21

And after all this, after he is afflicted with painful sores over his entire body, when his wife tells him “Curse God and die!” He replies:

You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?
– Job 2:10

You see, God creates good and evil. Light and darkness. He provides good times and bad. And He is always present in it.

This is something that was revealed to me, and I continue to process it. I am still yet to comprehend what it all means, but it is part of the larger picture of faith.

Until next time…

Lessons from Kingdom of Heaven

Last night I watched the movie Kingdom of Heaven with my dad. You know, the movie where Orlando Bloom is a blacksmith who becomes a knight during the Crusades and ends up as the defender of Jerusalem. It’s one of my favorite movies. Not because Liam Neeson plays Godfrey de Ibelin, the baron who once fought for two days with an arrow in his [edit in case of sensitive eyes]. Or because the love story between Sibylla (played by the beautiful Eva Green) and Balian de Ibelin (Orlando Bloom). Though those are some of the interesting parts of the movie.

The reason I love this movie so much is the fact that it shows us the struggle of faith, the doubt in religion, and the quest to bring good into the world, to be ones best at all times, even when that means personal sacrifice.

::NOTE::
If you have not seen the movie, go watch it. There may be some spoilers and I do not want to be held responsible for ruining anything for anybody. I know the movie has been out for 10 years, but you never know if people have seen it or not.
::END NOTE::

The movie takes place in the Holy Land during a time of uncertainty, as Saladin and the Saracen army threaten the Kingdom of Jerusalem. On top of this, the Templar Knights, led by Guy de Lusignan, are trying to provoke a war by slaughtering Muslims left and right.

A king may move a man, a father may claim a son, but that man can also move for himself, and only then does that man truly begin his own game. Remember that howsoever you are played or by whom, your soul is in your keeping alone, even though those who presume to play you be kings or men of power. When you stand before God, you cannot say, “But I was told by others to do thus,” or that virtue was not convenient at that time. This will not suffice. Remember that.
– King Baldwin IV

King Baldwin, the leper king of Jerusalem, reminds Balian on their first meeting that a man’s actions are his and his alone. It is a reminder that every man is responsible for making the choice to follow the demands of those who claim to rule us or the commands of our Father above, Abba.

Each one of us bears this same responsibility. Do we follow the path that society tries to force us down, or do we seek out the stepping stones that God has put before our feet to find the journey stretching out before us? This is a choice that we must answer.

God has called each of us to be His hands and feet. To take up the weapons of love and become warriors in His name.

Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong. That is your oath.
– Godfrey de Ibelin

That is the oath Balian took to become a knight. A slap to the face was so that he would remember it.

This is an oath that we should all live by. To love through our actions. To show our faith through protecting those around us. Even those that do not believe the same things we do. To stand when everyone else runs to hide behind the walls of protection. To ride out against a foe that outnumbers us to give others the chance to escape to safety.

Balian takes this oath to heart and tries to bring good wherever he goes. And though he struggles with his faith, he succeeds in building a better world for those under his protection.

At one point, after spending the night listening for God on the hill where Christ was crucified, he admits to his fathers friend, a Hospitaler who remains unnamed throughout the move, that he has lost Religion, that God has abandoned him.

I put no stock in religion. By the word religion, I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of God. Holiness is in right action and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and of goodness. What God desires is here (pointing at his head) and here (placing a hand over his heart) and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man – or not.
– Hospitaler

Every time I hear this quote, I smile. These words were something that I struggled to discover for some time. They echo in my heart, telling us that if we do not live out our faith every single day, we do not truly know the desires of God. Religion has brought some of the greatest love to the world, but through the actions of men and women who have warped it into an abomination, it has also been used to pour out hatred, violence, and death.

Religion has been warped to spread war, but if we truly want to live the lives that God calls us to live, we will find ourselves fighting for love. And peace.

The movie ends with the siege and fall of Jerusalem, an epic battle of wills and strategy. After Balian threatens to tear down every religious building, temple, and holy place, Saladin responds stating that this might be for the best. He then goes to remind Balian that the city is filled with innocent women and children, granting them safe passage back to Christian lands in exchange for the city. With the safety of those under his protection secured, Balian surrenders the city.

As they depart, they share the following words:

As-Salaam-Alaikum
And peace be with you

The entire move reminds me that we (Christians) are not so much different than those who are of differing faiths. As Balian and his father approach Messina, we hear a priest shouting “To Kill an Infidel is not murder! It is the path to heaven!” As my dad heard this, he turned to me and stated that his was the same rallying cry we still hear in the Holy Land. And when Balian spots a number of Muslims praying, he asks what their prayers mean:

“Subhana Rabbi’l Adhim.” Praise be to God. It is proper to praise him.

To which, Balian states: Sounds like our prayers.

I don’t believe we are all that different. That we are capable of living together in peace. That the lines drawn by religion can be erased through the love of faith. And that our actions prove stronger than our words.

One of my favorite characters in the movie is Nasir, a man we assume is a servant, but is revealed to be a leader of the Saracens with Saladin. After Balian spares his life, he returns the favor. After seeing the righteous actions of Balian as he fought to protect innocent citizens caught out in the open before the Saracen army and the defense of Jerusalem, Nasir returns a horse to Balian and then asks him a final question before the movie comes to a close:

… and if God does not love you, how could you have done the things you have done?

And I’ll leave it there.

God Bless and PEACE

The Challenge

I am sitting here on family vacation looking out over the Atlantic Ocean and I wanted to share a thought or two while it is still quiet. It’s been a long year. It’s been rough and, to be honest, there have been times where I loose focus on things that really matter in life.

Several weeks ago, I finished my last and final year as a Corps Member with AmeriCorps, having served the past two years with the St Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT). Before that, FEMA Corps. And before that, NCCC. I’ve had the adventure of a lifetime, something I wouldn’t trade because these experiences have shaped me. In that time, I have struggled with Faith, with people, challenges, and with discovering who I am and who I want to be.

Recently, I reconnected with my old roommate from college and a beautiful young lady and good friend who recently returned from a year in the missions field. I hadn’t seen my roommate in almost 5 years, so there was a lot to catch up about over dinner. This included side comments about how I was the only one who was eating flesh (Vegan-speak for eating meat).

The conversation went back and forth as we caught up with one another and shared our experiences and journeys with one another. We talked about faith and missions and churches and jobs. We shared our hearts with one another as we relearned about who was sitting across and beside one another. Five years changes people, but somehow we are still the same person as before.

As we embraced one another as brothers and sisters in faith, a friendship that goes beyond blood-bonds and distance, I smiled.

Since finishing my time with AmeriCorps, I have spent time holding my new nephew and watching him be baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. I’ve sat in quiet looking out over the beach here at Edisto. Sang and played music with my mother and her sister. Read for hours. And compiled a video montage of this past year with the ERT.

I’ve also woken up each morning with the reminder that God has granted each of us another day here on this Earth.

Something my friend said has stuck with me: God has a plan. This doesn’t always mean we are going to be happy, or safe, or feel like this is part of the plan, but we have to trust that God knows what He is doing. If we accept what is before us, the challenges and difficulties that come with our jobs, the people we work with, and the stress of living, if we take all that with a smile, knowing that it is an opportunity to grow, then maybe we can start to see that it is all good.

Someone once told me that you must wake up every morning and remember that each day, each breath, is a gift from God. So what are we going to fill it with?

It is easy to sit down and give up. To complain to no end about the injustices of the world and the terrible things that go on before our eyes. But what good does that do? Does it reveal God’s love through our actions?

When I dedicated my life to following the teachings of Jesus Christ and accepted a relationship with God, I made the choice to be His hands and feet. To be an example of His love. Every single person who calls themselves a Christian, a follower of Christ, made the same choice. And that begins with accepting the gift of love from our Father, Abba.

Each morning that we wake up, each breath that we take in, should be a reminder that God loves us. And once we fill our hearts with this love, it will begin to pour out unconditionally onto all those around us.

It’s not always easy. There are people in our lives who are difficult, who are combative, who would rather see us fail. But we are still called to love them. There will be people who don’t share the same beliefs as us, who don’t want to believe in God, who actively try to turn us away from Him. It is not our place to convert them, to argue in circles. We are called to love them. And God will reveal Himself through this love.

It is a challenge. But I look out over the waters, and remember the mountains of Montana, the open fields of the grasslands, and even the shattered landscapes scarred by wildfires, floods, and tornadoes, and I can see God working through it all. And I smile because I know I have seen another glimpse of His love in my life.

The Love and the Fury

A couple days ago, as I was leaving Shreveport, Louisiana, the skies around me unleashed a fury like none I have ever seen or felt. I’m talking about lightning strikes that shook my car and rain that prevented me from seeing the car in front of me at the stoplight. It was amazing. But at the same time, it was terrifying.

Storms are powerful things. I’ve seen them rip apart buildings, splinter trees, and toss vehicles like they were my nephews toys. Storms have caused me to cower in fear and run like my life depended on it.

But every storm reveals something to me: the awesome power of God and His creation.

Back up a minute: Death, destruction, and doom remind me of God?!

Um, yes. Absolutely.

You see, the God I believe in is the same God that flooded the world. The same God that rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah. That set the plagues upon the Egyptians. That commanded the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites. Who split the ground and swallowed up those that rebelled from His way. Who flipped over tables and whipped those who made a market out of His temple.

Yes, the God I love and follow is full of righteous fury. He is powerful beyond words. Terrifying at times.

I often find myself speaking about God in a purely safe way; He is the shelter in the storm. The safe harbor. He is the love and gentle. And kind. And if we just believe in Him we will live happily ever after.

Oh, how we are so wrong. You see, sometimes, God is the storm. Sometimes, God sends down fire and rains destruction on the world. Tornadoes are referred to as ‘the Finger of God” (thanks to the great movie Twister). Sometimes, the path that God calls us to follow is NOT the safe path that will get us out unharmed.

I know all this, and still believe in Him. Still follow His teachings. Still accept His love. Because I know that these things all happen for a reason.

Several years ago, I went through a stormy patch of life. I was convinced that God had abandoned me and left me to fend for myself upon those waves. I look back and I realize that God was always there for me; He never let me drown, but gave me the strength to keep my head above the waters. I am sure that He sent the storms to force me to let go of the things I was holding onto that would have dragged me under; relationships, preconceived notions, opinions, and the shadow of the past.

Over the past couple years, God has set my world on fire, literally and figuratively.  Many things from my past perished in those figurative flames, giving me the space to grow and the opportunity to rebuild who I am meant to be.

In Joplin, despite the destruction and the devastation, the deaths and the wounds, I saw a community of people come together to care for one another. Neighbor took care of neighbor. Strangers became valued friends. And many people turned to God in praise and thanksgiving for the blessings that they had received after the world they knew had been torn apart.

You see, God’s fury is part of His love. Yes, I have been scarred and burned, faced the darkness and survived, but I have learned that every time, God is there with me. Leading me. I didn’t become a Christian to be safe. I didn’t choose to follow God because I thought it would be easy. I follow Jesus Christ because, no matter how many times I fail, I am loved.

I’ve always said that the most dangerous (and most glorious) place to be is in the palm of God’s hand. It’s also very beautiful. And scary. And satisfying.

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