To all those who are broken and fumbling: (and all those who think they are not.)

“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”  He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”  Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” -Matthew 19:16-22

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When Jesus revealed the rich man’s need, he stood back, aghast at the request. How? How could he give up everything? What kind of benevolent Messiah would ask that of his followers? He worked hard for what he had and no loving God who would make that a prerequisite for entrance into his Kingdom. Surely it is the law that holds the power of salvation! Surely i’m a good person, surely…I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.

Jesus looked at the disciples and claimed that “It is harder for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” As his disciples scratched their heads at this, wondering how their Master could endorse such a narrow way, Jesus said that those who would inherit eternal life would be those who left everything behind for him.

My quasi-Christian American civil religion doesn’t allow for this kind of cognitive dissonance. We want to take up our platforms and raise rabble over so much, but when Jesus’ words hit us squarely between the eyes and challenge and provoke us, we are more apt to close the Book and go on with the way we like, as we have done many times before.

I don’t believe that Jesus is slandering the rich or diminishing God’s goodness with his strong words. I believe he is illustrating the law apart from grace, he is decrying selfishness and raising rabble about our tricky penchant for idolatry.

I grew up in a loving supportive Christian family where my Mom and Dad were both present and loved God with reckless abandon and, in many ways, raised me to fall in love with Jesus and to truly believe what he says. I grew up in a youth group where for many kids, this was not the case. I have since ministered in youth groups where this was not the case. And you know what? I love those kids.

One of my favorite things about them is that they are abundantly aware of their need. They are well acquainted with their brokenness and their doubts. There’s so much that I want them to know about the Gospel and selflessness and truly taking hold of the life God is calling them to, and that can be very very difficult at times. But I don’t have to convince them that they are desperately in need of a savior. They are so aware of that. And there’s a lesson in that.

The rich man walked away from Jesus because he wanted the Kingdom of God as a sort of side item in a combo meal he paid for with his “good” works. I want my wealth, my security, my self-assuredeness of works righteousness and if that’s good enough for my perfect life, that is good enough for eternal life.

And Jesus stood in the face of that flimsy theology and spoke directly to his need that he would not admit he had. Our pride swells and our spirituality buckles under the weight of the brokenness we believe we are hiding.

It has been an unbelievably difficult week for me. My friend Max went to heaven on Friday. My mother found out that she has cancer in one of her kidneys. That mocking voice in the back of my mind has been whispering threats and doubts and insults and hurling me to the conclusion that I am powerless to stop the tides from pulling me under and filling my lungs with water, but you know what? God has revealed to me in all of this that I am powerless. I am irreconcilably broken and I have not arrived and I will not arrived until the day I embrace my Jesus in his Kingdom.

It is out of our abundant need that the seed of the gospel is watered and grows. It is in having the humility to admit that we are broken beyond any repairs we could complete ourselves and must look outside of ourselves for the truth of Jesus to hit us squarely between the eyes and cut us deep.

My friend Max was one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. He lived his life without fear of failure because he knew who was holding him. Before he died, he wrote a note in the hospital about how he picked up his Bible and hugged it to himself. “The very Word of God is heavy on my chest,” he penned. Max, at any moment’s notice, would’ve been willing to sacrifice everything to be in the will of God. He spoke boldly to others about the love of Jesus. He figuratively had the very Word of God heavy on his chest at all times.

So in brokenness we find respite.

In loneliness, we are comforted by God’s very breath.

In adversity, we rise stronger than before we were knocked down.

In humility, considering others as better than ourselves.

In obedience, denying ourselves, picking up our cross, and following Jesus, wherever he leads and laying whatever he says aside for the sake of the Gospel.

We are all in desperate need. We all have brokenness coursing through our veins and to say otherwise is to deny the fundamental realization that brings us to Jesus in the first place. We are beset, but our completeness is in Christ alone.

 

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Rhema (or, Idol Hands Sit Idly.)

Emboldened by words left unspoken,
Crumbling beneath all that I have broken.

As I scramble to rearrange the jagged pieces,

To complete a puzzle named resentment.


Wordless, I have no thoughts left to pen,
I have no utterance to be uttered,

No rhymes left to usher in.

I have held all my cards close to my chest,

And I wish I could say I tried my best.
So I guess the letter I would’ve written would sound like

This:
Dear Future Me,

You’ve got so many stories left to be told, A blank canvas soon to be dripping with red and blue and gold. Do not give in, do not give up.But stand.

Stalwart and proud of the man you have become.

A man who knows what is past and what is to come. One who weighs his legacy like his idol hands weigh on his conscience, and idol words sit enshrined on tongues of fire racing around and around as if chariots set ablaze.
I speak because there is an inferno resting inside my bones, as I wrestle against flesh and blood and deny the calling which I have received.
To be simultaneously saint and sinner, to wage war on these rebellious legs that carry me to places I know better than to be.
Oh God, may my futile words be few.
May my lips tremble when I speak your truth, and may my heart be laid upon a blazing altar for you.

You are my past, present, and future. It’s always been You. So forgive my idol thoughts and my idol ears and my idle soul sitting idly by, waiting on You to move.
Jesus, rid me of deceit, of anger, and of my broken heart. Let me embrace the calling you have poured out upon me as you envelop all the idols that strive to gain a foothold in my life in refining fire.
“I love you Lord, and I lift my voice. To worship You. Oh my soul, rejoice! Take joy my King in what you hear. May it be a sweet sound in your ear.”

Fight For Joy (grief after three years)

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I feel like I’ve written endlessly about the topic of grief. As if it is the only constant in life, where all relationships, in one way or another, end up. As if it not only holds all the cards, but stacks them neatly into a house that could crumble at the slightest breeze. As if death has the final say, and we are always haunted by its specter.
But for me, writing about what I feel is catharsis. So, it’s probably telling that I haven’t written anything in a while. That sometimes you move into that stage of grief where feeling anything is an outright challenge.  This blog began for me as a desperate attempt to come to grips with the goodness of God in a world that sometimes indicates anything but.

And, as I believe life is a journey and we never stop learning, I don’t have any neat and tidy answers for you. I can’t tell you with absolute sincerity that I never have doubts or fears. I can’t tell you that I don’t find myself crying with little provocation. I can’t say that I don’t get a knot in my chest when I think about the people in my life who are gone way too soon. I can’t tell you that injustice doesn’t make me question why.

I think about absence, which hurts a ton more than outright rejection, and my mind is drawn back to the good times, which overwhelm me in the way that simultaneously feeling joy and pain does. How two opposing ideals–joy and pain–can be so irrevocably intertwined and cause me to understand myself even less.

Three years ago from last Tuesday, one of my dearest friends was involved in a hiking accident and fell from a hundred feet and died. 

I’ve written it so matter-of-factly so many times because I need to understand it as reality. Sometimes, even three years later, it’s so hard to fathom, impossible to comprehend. The unfortunate thing about trying to wrap your head around something so much is that it leaves you with a terrible migraine.

Tuesday, I came back to my hometown and spent the day with some of my closest friends. We all went to the park we used to hang out in and then the cemetery. Sitting around Jordan’s grave was different this time. Before, I’d almost always go alone. But surrounded by the friends he helped knit together, we laughed, we talked, we cracked jokes and reminisced. It is times like those that give me hope, that show me, no matter what, that I am not alone. That the God of the universe who I so love to question, knows exactly what I need and pours it out lavishly. That he is not content to leave me in my grief that feels so like fear, as Lewis says, but instead shows me perfect love to cast out fear.

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Out of His Love, he replaces that feeble house of cards with stone and mortar, and refuses to give some immovable fate the victory. He is a God who loves his children so much that even in their pain, he gives them good gifts, relationships that do not end with this side of eternity, reasons to rejoice though the pain is sometimes so intense.

Leo Tolstoy said that “only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.” And I do not always believe that is true. But on days like today, I do.

I do because on this week three years ago my world was shattered. I was like a flattened house of cards, but I know a carpenter who was also called the great physician and binds up all my wounds and floods my weakest moments with his insurmountable strength.

I’ve learned after these 3 years to fight for joy. And you will fight. Because it is by no means easy to be joyful, but on days like today I believe it is not only necessary, but possible.

Random Thoughts (on contentment, goals, and how I’m feeling about life)

I’ve always wondered when it is, that moment when you look out at all that you’ve done, all the stories you’ve told, and are finally content. Or when you get to a place of real intimacy with the people you care most about in the world and finally believe that authentic relationships can last, or even begin. Or can finally have the courage to speak boldly about what you’ve been given without fear of criticism.

I know that once you feel like you’ve arrived, you’re probably more blinded and arrogant than you’ve ever been, but I’d for once like to be sure enough of myself to believe I’ve done some good in this world.

In all my questions, I’m confident of this: to know God is the greatest joy in this life. Jesus is everything, his peace makes even the dark times bright. We don’t always overcome our nagging questions with abundant joy, but we are blessed with joy for the small moments that keep us running the race. As a dear friend once said, “God is my alpha and omega, my beginning and my end.”

He is constant grace, for the moment and for the long haul. Know tonight  that you are more loved than you ever thought was possible.  that in Christ, there is no condemnation, no fear of inadequacy, no comparing yourself to another person. Because in relationship with Christ, when God looks at you, he sees Jesus. When he looks at me, he sees Jesus. We are all the same at the foot of the Cross.

No matter what relationships you value most in your life, they will always fail you. People will always fail you, but the omnipotent God of the universe who saw you first, who, while we were still sinners, sent Christ to die for us, that God knows you and He loves you and he will never fail you.  We are so worried  that the people we love most in this world will not love us back. We pine for their affections, yet we ignore the One who loves us with a love that never ends.

We bury our boldness underneath layers and layers of low self esteem, terrified to testify about the only one who can save us from ourselves. And if we have experienced Christ’s overwhelming mercy? Well then, we have no excuse to keep silent. How dare we keep to ourselves what has the power to save!

It is my prayer for you that knowing God would be your most deeply cherished treasure. That nothing would come between you and a relationship with Jesus Christ. Not fear, depression, not anxiety, not other people, not complacency, not bitterness, not dissatisfaction with your life. Because the goal and aim of our lives is to know Christ and to make Him known.

This God knows your hurt. He knows your pain. And he wants to be your joy. I pray that you would let him be your joy, your peace, and your salvation.

When You Were Young (or, when you were a Myspace kid)

I did something awful last night.

Just truly horrible.

I looked myself up on Myspace.

You remember, the clunky, minimalistic-until-you-loaded-it-down-with-gaudy-html-layouts-and-glittery-graphics website where every early 2000’s high school student’s self esteem rose or fell with the amount of comments left on their latest mirror selfie?

The infamous pc4pc bulletins and heinous chain letters that always found their way into your inbox. And if you were an emo kid, you did everything in your power to let everyone know it.

That Myspace.

While Facebook can be accused of much  of the same kind of self-promoting drudgery and high school stupidity, Myspace was THE social media of my childhood.

So, I opened the page, rembered my highly embarassing aol email adress/password combo and went to work digging through my early high school years.

Much to my surprise, Myspace has changed significantly, pandering now to those who would like to combine Facebook and Spotify and pilfering their profile music from YouTube videos it so conspicuously plays in the corner.

There was an option to download your classic blogs and I clicked the button, curious about what I said in my earlier years. I wish I hadn’t.

It only came up with one blog, and I distinctly remember writing more than that, but I’m glad I only read one. Below is what I wrote. And I want you to read this in the most angry, dramatic voice you can muster.

I’m tired. Worn out. Done trying.

I’m ready to go to college and get on with my life.

I’m ready to get a life.

I’m tired of foolish people in high school chasing void passions.

I am called to something greater.

God help me seize that.

Help me change the world!

To all the void-passion-chasers: You fail. You do not offer any lasting meaning. Your hedonism will ultimately destroy you. You cling to false truths and wear them like a sash. Well, your stupid sash will burst into flames. But don’t worry, it won’t reach your heart, because you don’t have one.

Sex.

Money.

Power.

The Achilles heel of our society. You will die in your lust for more. And I pray to God you find the way out before it’s too late.

The way is Jesus.

You can scoff all you want. It won’t change the truth.

I may be burned out, but I’ll never deny my Savior. He is mine. I am his. And this love is greater than anything you’ve experienced in the throes of ignorance and death.

I am narrow minded.
But Jesus said that the way to God is Narrow. Only through him. Not through anyone else. Not through John McCain, not through Barack Obama, or Ralph Nader. Not through any meaningless medium of communication or false god.

The false gods are in the dust. They DIED. They didn’t come back. Their kingdoms were severed forever in the bloody agony of their falsehood.

My Jesus didn’t stay dead. He’s ALIVE. And stronger than hell.

He said that if you would just believe in him as Lord and Savior. That he is the risen Son of God, and repent of your sins that he would SAVE you from eternal damnation.

Try to argue.
Try to say it’s not logical.
I don’t care.
IT is the only truth that will fix us.
Don’t buy into my lifestyle, but receive my Jesus. He is the only hope.

Your arguments will fail, because they are void. Meaningless. When passions are of the world, it goes to hell with the rest of the world.

Salvation lies within

IT IS ALL ABOUT JESUS.

I’m burned out, yes. But my Savior is true. He is love. He is EVERYTHING.

These, my friends, are the ravings of a kid in the throes of a confusing adolescence who loved to make zealous dramatic statements and write in colorful metaphors, and who fervently (if it isn’t obvious) listened to his share of Christian Death Metal.

Not that I disagree with some of the statements I made back then. All the stuff about Jesus being better than the worthless pursuit of self, I absolutely echo those in my early adulthood. But there was such a rage behind my words, the result of a whole lot of passion, but no wisdom or experience to temper it. No understanding of relationships and loving people in spite of their sin. No desire to see Christ heal the broken, just the desire to see him as righteous judge.

And sadly, this venom wasn’t just something I articulated on Facebook. I was very much the same kind of person I wrote about in my last blog. I didn’t love those people enough to engage them with anything but bitterness.

So I may feel the same way as this post in principle, but not in action. I wrote that seven years ago, before Christ helped me to be passionate and wise. Back then, I would’ve thought myself wise. I believed I had all the answers that no one else had. I shunned the teaching of Proverbs 3:7, which says “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.”

I thought myself wise, had no fear of the Lord, and ran towards evil with every spiteful breath, all while pretending I was God’s gift to the planet.

In all of my social awkwardness and selfishness, God was nowhere to be found, though I spoke of him often.

And though I look back on my adolescence and don’t see a lot of love, seeds were in place to start growing. In the years to come, God would answer my prayer. As misguided as I may feel I was, I did have a relationship with Christ, and he was beginning the process of healing back then. He was making me less bitter, he was calling me to minister to the very people I raged against.

I said, “I am called to something greater.  God help me seize that. Help me change the world!”

This was three years before God spoke to me through a prisoner in a dusty chapel in South Carolina and solidified my calling into ministry in a miraculous and unexplainable way.

It was five years before God taught me through the overwhelming pain of losing a close friend that the only way to change the world is to pull yourself out of the way and let Christ do his restorative work, and let him ready your heart to be his tool to aid in doing it. Before he taught me that he can and will put you where you need to be for him to change the world, even if it’s just the world of one person.

The God of the Universe took the time to kindle the blazing fire in me and temper it with wisdom. Because fire can’t be fire if it’s lacking warmth. 

God did and is still in the process of teaching me how to wield the truth as a key to unlock doors, rather than a sword to cut off heads.

In seven years, I haven’t stopped using metaphors, but lets hope I’ve started being a bit more tender in the way I speak.

emo kids need love too?
Here is me circa 2008, or what I like to call “my Myspace years.” I really liked looking moody. I also liked Photoshop.

On a side note,

If you’re reading this blog, thank you. I am so grateful to see people interact with my thoughts. Most of the time, this is word vomit, and to see your comments letting me know that my words have reached you ears and made you feel something, whether you agree or disagree with them, means the world to me. I may not have a big platform, and my words are a whole lot less important than the work Christ is doing in each of our lives, but I’m grateful for the chance to engage.

New Year, New…Everything (on dealing with loneliness)

At the time I began writing this post, it was 11:30 p.m. 30 minutes until January 1, 2015 is over. A beginning for so many people of something new. A new lifestyle, a new diet, new relationships, new everything. We make promises to ourselves, we make promises to our families, we make promises to God and wrap them up in the nice little bow we call “resolutions.” And then, so often, we break every promise we dared utter within the first few days.

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This year, instead of making resolutions I knew I wasn’t planning on keeping, I spent my day eating collard greens and black-eyed peas (a southern tradition that has carved itself into my life, regardless of how gross I thought it was as a kid) and reflecting not only on 2014, but on years past.

In a little over a week, I’m going to turn 24 years old, and I’ve found that it is so easy to spend all of your time thinking back to “the good old days.” And I even spend my time chasing those days again, attempting to relive days gone by when my close high school friends go back home for a few days, a few weeks, maybe, and I return to the town where I grew up to spend precious minutes with them.

And in that time, we make new memories and it is beautiful.

Some days, I wish the moments would last forever.

Let me restate a few truths I’ve mentioned on this blog and elsewhere in the past year.

1.) This is my first foray into living by myself in a new city.

2.) I work as a Youth Minister for an incredible, supportive church and I really love it.

3.) I am, by definition, an extrovert. Everything about me is encapsulated by that. I process everything externally, value constant contact, love to be surrounded by others, gain energy from that socialization, and turn into a sluggish pile of molasses when I don’t have it.

4. Maybe that makes me needy, but I’m currently okay with that.

All of that said, living in a new city is an overwhelming and terrifying thing. I have met folks at the church I work at who I care a lot about and consider friends, but that doesn’t go far beyond the walls of the church, because, well, relationship building takes time.

I have met people at local coffee shops and through mutual friends and the times I spend with them is great. But it doesn’t feel like home just yet. And I’m told that’s normal.

But a year ago last month, I left a college campus filled to the brim with people I spent every waking hour with. And now, experiencing the brunt of loneliness isn’t just relegated to the times I am alone in my apartment seeing what’s new on Netflix.

So, many days in the past 6 months, my extroverted soul has been sick, even when I’m surrounded by others.

Frederich Buechner, a Presbyterian minister, once said:

“That you can be lonely in a crowd, maybe especially there, is readily observable. You can also be lonely with your oldest friends, or your family, even with the person you love most in the world. To be lonely is to be aware of an emptiness that takes more than people to fill. It is to sense that something is missing which you cannot name.

Did he read my mind? Probably. Or maybe it’s that the human condition is incredibly predictable. And this keen observation tells me I’m not a freak, I’m not alone in my (sometimes self imposed) isolation. That, as extroverted of a person as I might be, people cannot solve the innermost longings in my soul.

Buechner then points to a familiar passage of scripture, Psalm 137:1

“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.”

Buechner, and many Christian theologians like him, find parallels between the Psalmist’s cries of dire landlessness and a longing for home with our longing for heaven, our hope to see God face to face. For the one who knit us together inside of our mother to hold us closely and call us Beloved.

This is so that we, fickle people who can’t always keep their emotions in check, can be reminded that our lives are of importance to the only One who can love us with a fierce and undying love, and embrace us despite that we are so slow to give love in return.

And that, when we feel loneliness creeping up inside of us, that longing is for Zion, for Heaven, for the place we can’t quite see but that we know is there.

He finishes with :

“Maybe in the end it is Zion that we’re lonely for, the place we know best by longing for it, where at last we become who we are, where finally we find home.”

I am in a transition currently that is both beautiful and painful. The little boy that I was is becoming the man that I am. I am responsible for others, someone people look to for guidance and the best I can give them is an assurance that though all may not be right in the world right now, it will be one day, and in the meantime, they aren’t alone.

As I reflect on the year, one common theme that emerges is change. Everything is in a constant state of change, like sand shifting underfoot. There are very few things you can hold onto in this life, but I want to make one thing clear: Jesus Christ is the only thing worth holding, the only thing that, at the end of it all, won’t slip through and leave you lonely.

When and if I can look back on my life on January 1st, 2016, I am fairly confident I will see a life where my extroverted soul is free and surrounded by new friends and deeper relationships than I currently have in my new setting, but everything can change in a precious moment. But not Jesus.

He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

This New Year, after being surrounded by my dearest friends and closest family and feeling a joy that sometimes feels elusive, I resolve to not resolve. Because life is a journey that doesn’t end until I reach Zion, until I’m finally home.