Happy New Year!


Posting late because I was at the Happiest/ Most Expensive Place on Earth (oh, this can be several blog posts on its own) instead of somberly thinking about my life and the passage of time and everything about myself I need to change but won't for one reason or another.


As a student, my major reflection time comes in August before I start a new year of school, but I like opportunities like January 1 to sit down and re-evaluate how I've been doing.  Jonathan Edwards' resolutions always provide a nice starting place, so this year, I decided to write out a few questions for myself partially based on them:


  1. Do I seek opportunities to glorify God in my life?
  2. Do I seek opportunities to serve others?
  3. Do I seek those opportunities in the same way that I seek my own profit and pleasure?  (Do I realize that, ultimately, they are the same thing?)
  4. Do I follow-through on those opportunities without regard to the cost of time, resources, or my personal comfort?
  5. What would it look like if I did?
  6. After becoming aware of my sin (either by commission or omission), do I automatically repent, or do I "sit on it" and wait awhile first?
  7. Do I make the most of my time?
  8. Do I cherish life and make the most of it, or do I let time pass me by?
  9. When things don't go my way, how do I respond?
  10. How do I respond to difficult people or situations?
  11. Do I have the desire to learn more about God and become closer to Him?
  12. Do I live in such a way that I will not regret what I have or have not done?
  13. Do I live Gospel-centered and pilgrim-minded?
  14. Is my Christian walk deliberate and active?
  15. In what ways can I become more deliberate and active in my relationships with Christ and others?
  16. How do I view Christ?  My own sin?  Does the way I act or feel align with what I know to be true?
  17. Do I praise, pray, and confess boldly?
  18. Am I faithful to God, the doctrine I profess, and my brothers and sisters?
  19. Do I act as my own person, or as one who has been bought at a price?
  20. And when I realize that I utterly failed last year, will I mourn my sin and be blessed by the comfort of God's grace for past sins and grace for future strength?

Mixed Metaphors and Feelings



A reminder


Encountering the Divine


I smile at a passerby; by his clothes and demeanor, he must be a merchant.  He stares, fingering his money satchel for a brief moment, deliberating, before moving on.  The city has been busy lately, and we’ve had a lot of people passing through.  Business has been good.


Someone grabs my shoulder; I gasp and spin around.  I need to be more careful sometimes.  Not that it’s a luxury I can afford.  However, instead of a large man with grubby hands, I see Samuel.  He’s something of an old friend, if someone like me can have friends.  Abashed, he started to stutter out an apology, but I cut him short.


“Sorry, I’m just a bit jumpy.  You on your way to the fields?”  He’s carrying a young lamb in one hand and his staff in the other.  I’m stating the obvious, but it’s the best I can do to diffuse the awkward atmosphere.


“Yeah, I was just heading out.  You, um,” his eyes dart around, “You’re going to work, too?”  He doesn’t wait for a reply.  “Well, uh, be safe, OK?” he nervously adds, as he turns around, waving over his shoulder.


Flustered, I shout after him, “You too,” and more softly, “good night.” 


I turn around and continue towards my destination and my partner for the night, Steven.  I don’t mind him so much as the others.  He was very in love with his wife, and it was years after her passing before he even thought to see us.  Only 20 and a few years older than me, he probably could find another wife, but I think the loss was just too great.  I delivered the stillborn the night she died.  That was back before I switched jobs for the extra income.  Now he asks for me when he has the money, and I help him the best I can.   He helps me the best he can, too.  It’s not unusual for me to come back with a little extra food from his kitchen to share with my daughter.


I go through the alley connecting to the back of his inn.  Sneaking around doesn’t suit me, but when I took this job swearing to provide for my little girl, I set my pride aside.  He has a respectable business to run, after all.


“I’m sorry, I really am.  There really isn’t enough room.”  I hear his apologetic voice from around the corner.  I stop just before coming into view.  From the looks of it, the man he’s speaking to had been traveling for quite some time.  I continued watching and didn’t even notice the woman behind him until he started raising his voice in desperation and pointing to her.


“But my wif…my betro….she…she’s pregnant.  We need a place to stay.  Please.  Don’t you have an extra bed?  Just give one to her.  I can sleep outside or something.  Please, just…just…don’t leave her in the cold.”


The man is urgent, and I can see why.  His companion is pregnant.  She gasps and clutches her rounded belly.  I’ve seen that look many times before.  That woman is very close to giving birth. Judging by her age and the age of the man with her, they probably don’t know just how close she is.


They continue talking, and then I see the couple turn away, perhaps to try the last few inns down the street.  I try to forget the incident, quickly combing my hair, being careful not to let it snag on my gold earrings.  I feel sorry for the couple, but I have troubles of my own and mouths to feed.  Might as well look presentable.


I come into view just as Steven is about to close the door.


“You heard that, didn’t you?”  I nod in assent.


“How long do you think until she gives birth?”


His question surprises me.  We hardly make reference to my old life anymore; it brings up old wounds for the both of us.  I’m prepared to conclude our business for the night, but clearly he has other concerns on his mind.  I answer as best I can.


“Maybe a day at the most.  Maybe a few hours.  It’s hard to tell without actually touching her.”


“He reminds me of myself,” he whispers, partly to me and partly to no one in particular.   “Sorry, give me a sec,” he continues, half-turning to me, and half-turning to run out the door.  I’m not sure what he plans to do exactly, but I make myself comfortable inside and wait for him to return.


He finally comes back, but he’s running around and grabbing supplies.  “Towels.  We need towels.  And a basin.  And water.  Herbs.  I don’t know if we have it, but what do you need?”  He looks right at me in earnest.


“Wait, what?  What’s going on?”  After I second, I recognize the tools of my old trade.  “No, no, I can’t.  I haven’t in ages.  That was a long time ago.”  The people I work with aren’t exactly happy to give birth.  I can’t say that I haven’t bent to their wishes on occasion.  “What about Martha?”  The town’s midwife would be a much better choice.


“Her husband’s from Bethel, remember?  They’re long gone by now.”  In my head I curse the census and the Empire.  I also wonder if I’m going to get paid tonight.


“Hurry!”  Steven shoves a pile of blankets into my arms and pulls me out the door.  I have no choice but to follow him, but I realize I don’t know where we’re going.  Before I can ask, Steven shouts over his shoulder, “Remember Old Man Zach?  I convinced him to lend his stable.  Well, I had to pay for it.”  With all the rushing and the running, I must have heard him wrong.  A stable?  Who would give birth in a…


We reach the stable, and sure enough, the couple is inside.  The woman’s is screaming in pain.  We got there just in time.  I take a deep breath to compose myself.  I will be this woman’s midwife tonight, whether I like it or not. There’s no other choice.  I regain my senses, and my constitution grows stronger.  Old habits come back into place.


“Get him out of here!” I snap at Steven, pointing to the woman’s husband.  Or was he her betrothed?  I can’t quite remember from his conversation with Steven, but I don’t have time to linger on it.  I hurriedly spread the blankets on the floor.  What a horrid place to deliver a baby.  She shrieks again.  I remember that I’m not the only person on the planet.  No, what a horrid place to give birth.


I start to massage her.  “Breathe.  Breathe.  What’s your name?”  I try to calm her down.  “I need you to remain calm.  Keep breathing for me, OK?”


“Mary,” she replies, between gasps.


“You’re doing great, Mary.  My friend’s name is Mary.  We call her Magdeline.  Mag for short.  She’s around your age, too.”  I make pointless smalltalk.  She nods.  Good, the distraction works, at least for awhile.  Poor girl, she’s giving birth to her first child, and it has to be like this.  Then pain replaces the fear in her eyes.


The next few hours are a blur.  Screaming.  Breathing.  Sweating.  And finally, the smell of blood.  Mary’s cries cease, and another one pierces the air.  “It’s a boy.”


“I know,” she whispers with her eyes closed.  She’s at peace. 


I hold the baby to clean him off, but as I do, I hear a great shout from far off, maybe from the fields.  Or maybe I don’t.  My senses are confused, and all I know is that I am afraid.  I almost drop him because when I touch the baby, I am filled with a sense of guilt.  Who am I to deliver this baby?  These hands…I don’t deserve to hold him.  I feel so dirty, so shameful.  Tears stream down my face, but I don’t know why.  It doesn’t make sense.  I don’t like this feeling, so I hurry to put the baby in his mother’s arms.


She looks up with a smile.  “Joseph, God is with us.”  Steven and the man, apparently Joseph, stand at the mouth of the stable.  I don’t know how long they have been there.  Joseph rushes up to Mary and the baby.


“Thank you,” she says.  Still emotional, I reply, “Mary, you have been favored by God.”  I don’t know why I said that, but it just felt right.  Steven and I take our leave.


Not a word is exchanged between us.  I’m still crying, but I try not to show it.  “You hear that?” he asks.  Footsteps.  A lot of them, and coming closer.  Who are these people?  Their faces come into view, and I pick one out.


“Sam?  Sam!  What’s going on?” I ask, as he almost rushes past.


“Angels!  Shouting!  God!”  He’s excited and out of breath.  Maybe even delusional.


“Slow down.  What happened?  Why aren’t you in the fields?”  It’s Steven’s turn to ask the questions.


Sam then tells us how he and his friends were tending the sheep when they heard a great shout and angels approached them.  He describes the brilliance that filled the sky and the fear that filled their hearts.  I nod.  That must have been what I heard.  And the fear?  I felt that, too.


But he smiles.  “It’s the Messiah.  Peace on earth and goodwill to men. That’s what they said.  We’re going to see him.”  He looks around; the others have already gone ahead.  “Well, they’re probably seeing him now.  I should go join them.  Tell the others!”  With that, he runs off to the stable we just left.


The Messiah?  Peace?  It sounds fantastical.  Is that what Mary meant when she said “God is with us?”  God is with us in Israel?  In Bethlehem?  In a stable?  I don’t understand any of it, but I allow myself to hope.  Maybe that child really will grow up to be the Messiah.  Who knows?  What I do know, is that the more I ponder the mystery, the more fear gives way to a peace I cannot explain.


We reach the inn.  Quietly, we sit down, facing one another.  After a few minutes, Steven breaks the silence.  “That was really something, huh?” he asks, pensively.  He fumbles through his belongings, and takes me by the hand.  “I need to tell the patrons about what happened tonight, but don’t you have a little girl to take care of?”  I feel the coins he presses into my palm.  I hesitate, but he smiles and leaves the room to start down the hall and knock on people’s doors.


“Thank you,” I reply, and I let myself out the front door.

Behold, the lamb of God


Note to my readers:
My aging grandfather has developed his fourth cancer and will yet again undergo chemo, that side of my family isn't saved, and I don't speak the language.  Please keep us all in your prayers.



Photographer: squiggle of flickr under CC2.0 and is released under a similar CC3.0 license.

Peace- how big is your Gospel?


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Click once to open the thumbnail, and again for full size.


Image taken from the first page of hits from Google when typing in the phrase "peace on earth" (no quotes)  on 12/16.  Besides the five screenshots merged together for the different enlarged photos, the image shown is "as-is," and there was no further tampering of the background image.  I've actually been wanting to do a post like this for awhile (but with a different subject), and I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out.

I thought of the topic of this post after reading a guest post on SCL.  I thought it was a good reminder to take time off and establish peace in our lives.  We have crazy hectic schedules, and giving ourselves time to rest and pause is important.  Even God rested on the seventh day to show us the importance of rest.

However, I hope that this season (and always), that "peace" will not simply be time carved out of a hectic schedule.  I hope our Gospel is larger than that.

Incarnation


Photobucket

When working on today's post, I fell in love with the stock photo I used and decided to make a wallpaper for myself.  Since there have been requests for wallpaper in the past, I decided to make two sizes available for you guys.  They're uploaded to deviantart because it was the easiest way to make the large files available.


1280 x 800
1920x1080

The photographer is dyet of stock.xchng.

I'm still working on that first wallpaper request  because I can't get the typography quite right, but if you want wallpapers for any of my other works, or if you would like today's image in another resolution, please comment below :)

Jargon


I normally do posts like this on Fridays, but I have my last final on Friday.  I figured I would use this for Wednesday's post instead.

I went to a Christmas dinner and candlelight service the other day.  It was nice.  We sang songs, held hands, lit candles, and ate.  And something the pastor kept talking about was the "miracle" of Christmas.  The "joy" of Christmas.  The "peace" of Christmas.  He kept saying that these were all supposed to be things for us to think about and appreciate.  Oh, he briefly ran through the Gospel in a sentence or two, but left feeling like I wanted more.  Why is Christmas a miracle?  Why is there joy?  Where's the peace?  I supposed to reflect on the ________ of Christmas, but what about Christ Himself?  Where was he in all of this?


Not a carol, but a hymn



Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most bless├Ęd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.
Have you heard this song before?  It's the first verse of an old hymn.  I'm not sure if I've even sung it at church before, but I used to play this song on the keyboard when I was part of Bible Study Felowship's children's program.  I was trying to explain the incarnation to a friend of mine, and this song came to mind.  What it describes is basically everything that baby Jesus didn't have.

Immortal?  Jesus was born to die on a cross.
Invisible? The Spirit God took on human flesh.
Wise? Not only did Christ take on human flesh, he started off as a baby.  He drooled and spat and had to be cleaned up after.  He babbled, like any baby does, trying to grasp the right phonemes that corresponded to Aramaic.
Inaccessible?  Jesus was born in a stable, where shepherds and fieldhands rushed to greet him.
Almighty and victorious?  Oh, He will be.  But not until thirty-three years later after he had led the country, come back, was threatened with stoning, was beaten, mocked, and killed.  His almighty and victorious rise from the dead, and later his ascension, would not be for a very long time to come.


Scandal


It's been said that the most scandalous point of human history was the day that Jesus was killed.  I don't dispute this, but I think the second most scandalous point was the day of his birth.  That's where the miracle lies.  Not that a baby can be born of a virgin.  That's nothing to God.  It's the thought that Christ would come to earth at all that floors me.  That's where the miracle is.  The joy.  The peace.

May you truly appreciate the miracle of Christmas, be filled with joy and peace, and that you will not only embrace the jargon of Christmas but you will have an encounter with Christ Himself.

Not Crazy. Just a Little Unwell.





Photographer: D Sharon Pruitt, Pink Sherbet Photography of  flickr under CC2.0.

Note: Sorry for not posting on Friday or Saturday.  I have had a post on the Incarnation stewing in my mind for awhile, but my final was on Friday.  Up until Friday, the worst test in my academic career (including college exams, all of undergrad AND the LSAT) was my makeup AP Computers exam (it was originally scheduled the same time as AP Spanish, thus the makeup) in a dimly-lit, highly air-conditioned and cramped storage closet adjacent to a rowdy classroom watching a movie.  True story.  After last Friday, though, I'm not sure which one was worse.  I could have still typed out my post, but I really want to take the time and sit down to do it justice.

In the absence of my post on the Incarnation, I was considering not posting at all, but then I remembered that I'm not the only one with a life.  Some of you, like me, are dealing with academics, some with work, some with family situations, some with sickness, and it's highly probable that some of you are dealing with some combination of these things all at once, not to mention bearing the burdens of someone else dealing with their own issues.  Christmas is a stressful time for everyone.

Consider this post a prayer for my readers: Don't get distracted.  Focus.  And may you experience and understand the height, depth, breadth, and width of the peace and goodwill with the Father that the Son established through becoming a man, our priest, and our sacrifice.

A Tame Lion


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Click to enlarge, click again for full size.

Photographer: John Pavelka of flickr under CC2.0.

The Canary Test




Photographer: pereguine blue of flickr under CC2.0.

My Favorite Christmas Poem


I hope you will be patient with me these next couple weeks, as I will be studying/ taking my finals.  (Expect another coffee-related post soon!)

Today, I will leave you with my favorite Christmas poem "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity" by Milton.  I have to expect that your schedules are as busy (or worse) as mine, so I'll just post the first two stanzas for you to meditate on.  Here, Milton focuses on the sacrifice of the incarnation: the glory, majesty, and power that Christ gave up to become human "that our deadly forfeit should release" and bring us peace with the Father.


I

THis is the Month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav'ns eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.

II

That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,
Wherwith he wont at Heav'ns high Councel-Table,
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside; and here with us to be,
Forsook the Courts of everlasting Day,
And chose with us a darksom House of mortal Clay.

Our Worst Enemy





Photographer: Peter Palander of flickr under CC2.0.

See also: Christ is Deeper Still.  "What are you doing, in obedience to the Word of God, that positions you for either God or total collapse?"

I'm also reminded of this old post of mine, even though that was before I settled on my current vertical graphics format.

Live, Move. Have our Being.




Photographer: Veo_ of flickr under CC2.0.  This new work is released under a similar CC3.0 license.

Note: Happy advent, everyone!  I'm thinking of doing something special with the blog, but I haven't settled on anything yet.  Do you or your church do anything special for the Advent season?

Edit: I re-uploaded the picture.  I'm not sure whether the issue before was because of a glitch or not, but the use of the photo is in accordance with CC2.0, and the disclaimer on the sidebar about not receiving endorsement from photographers applies to this as well as all other posts.  Since this post is in accordance with the CC2.0 license under which the photo was released and because I haven't been contacted by the photographer, I will assume that the issue before was a glitch.

Gluttony and Consumerism: A Warning


James 5:1-6 "A Warning to the Rich"
    1Come now,(A) you rich, weep and howl for the(B) miseries that are coming upon you. 2(C) Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire.(D) You have laid up treasure(E) in the last days. 4Behold,(F) the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and(G) the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of(H) the Lord of hosts. 5(I) You have lived on the earth in luxury and(J) in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in(K) a day of slaughter. 6You have condemned and(L) murdered(M) the righteous person. He does not resist you.

I came across this in my reading today (Tuesday) and found it really sobering in light of the Thanksgiving/ Black Friday holidays.  (And, yes, it seems that Black Friday has become a "holiday" of its own.)  I have nothing to say at this time about American society or culture at large, but here are some personal reflections I think would be helpful as we enter the holiday season.

1) Everything I have is God's.
2) Everything I receive is God's.
3) There is no merit in me to deserve anything I have or anything I receive.
4) Gold and silver will corrode.  The moth will destroy, the thief will steal, and the fire will consume.
5) Slavery, fraud, and coercion still exist.  There are more slaves today than when the Atlantic slave trade was active.  The laborer cries out for his wages, which have been held back.
6) Have I been living to indulge myself?  To fatten my heart as others cry out to God?
7) Do I value righteousness over personal comfort?
 8) What steps do I need to take to defend the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed and to live righteously?

What other personal reflections do you think we should add to this list?

A Cerebral Passion







Photographer: sebastien b. of flickr under CC2.0, and this new work is hereby released under a similar CC3.0 license.

Note: I always find Thanksgiving posts difficult to write.  I even wrote Friday's post before I wrote this one.  Historically, Thanksgiving has been a difficult holiday for me.  It always seemed like an arbitrary day where people get together and force themselves to feel warm and fuzzy about things that they weren't particularly happy about the other 364 days of the year.  Thoughts like Well at least I have _____________ or Well at least things aren't like _____________ would come to mind, and then I would try to convince myself why I really should be happy about whatever I did have.

That's when I started thinking about thankfulness itself.  I think we've reduced it to a mere warm and fuzzy feeling (much like our concept of forgiveness), but it's much more than that.  There's a reason why we should feel warm and fuzzy, and that's because there is some knowledge of a fact or set of facts that has stirred our passions because of its immense or extraordinary nature.  And if we don't feel thankful, it is not our feelings that are lacking but rather our understanding of the facts.

I've met people who are genuinely thankful for Christ, but I've also met people who felt that they should be thankful but weren't really "feeling it."  These people may know the facts of the Gospel, but their understanding of those facts is lacking.  They don't understand the immensity and extraordinary-ness of it.  The utter mind-boggling-ness that God cloaked his Deity in the form of a baby that cries and poops and needs milk, grew up knowing but resisting every form of temptation, died one of the most horrific deaths humans have ever devised, experienced the infinite wrath of the Father multiplied by the number of people (who hate and despise Him, by the way) who He would bring into His kingdom and into a relationship with Himself, and furthermore gave them His very own Spirit as a counselor, guide, and promise of their future inheritance that they would never be alone.

Examine the facts, and let your heart follow.  Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Memoing.





Panel 2 Photographer: fodor of stock.xchng.

Notes: I hope you read all the text at the bottom in case I don't show up for a few days.  Otherwise, you can probably expect normal content to resume for Wednesday's post.

Tetris, Parables, and Missions


I play a lot of Tetris (which explains my Tetris  related posts that pop up from time to time.  The site I play on provides a weekly mission that you can complete for points, such as "perform X back-to-back combos" or "beat Y opponents in a multiplayer game."  This week's mission was to perform 15 Tetrises in a single game.

15 Tetrises.  That's manageable.  I started the game and set up my Terminos (the little block things).  1 Tetris.  2 Tetrises...3...4...

The first few were easy enough, but as I racked up points, the game sped up.  I couldn't solely perform Tetrises, so I cleared a few single lines here and there, with the occasional double, and kept making Tetrises when I could.

Before I knew it, I completely lost track of how many Tetrises I had performed.

The game sped up so fast, that I stopped trying to make Tetrises altogether.  I was just frantically trying my best to simply not "die."

After awhile of proceeding like this, a few thoughts came to me:
1) Why am I playing this game? (I normally play a multiplayer game instead of a single player game)
Oh yeah, I'm doing this week's mission.

2) What was the mission?
..................Oh wow.  I don't even remember.  But I had better keep clearing these lines or else I'm going to die.  What was that mission?  Oh yeah...I think I was supposed to perform Tetrises.

3) Well the game's going way too fast to set up the board now.  How many Tetrises did you make already?
I have no clue.  I guess I'll just have to wait until I die to find out.

It turned out that I did meet the requirement for Tetrises, but you probably don't care about that.  That's not the point of this story.

The point is that I had a mission (literally), and I started to complete it but then I got busy.  Things became really fast-paced, and I was just trying to survive.  And in the midst of the hustle and bustle, I completely forgot what the mission was.  Completely.  And at the end, I wasn't even sure if I accomplished what I was supposed to do; I had to wait in suspense to see if the computer would tell me "well done, good and awesome Tetris person."

I'm laying it on a bit thick here, but only because I think it's important.  What is our mission here on Earth?  To love God with our hearts, souls, and strength.  To love others as ourselves.  To defend the widow and the orphan.  To proclaim the Gospel to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the world.  To pick up our crosses daily.  To abide in Jesus as He abides in us.  To put off the old man and put on the new.  To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before God.

Friends, this is a lot more than performing 15 Tetrises.  For starters, these missions are never actually "complete."  And on top of these, we also each have our own missions.  There are good works that have been set out in advance for us to do.





----------------------



So pause for a bit and think about what your mission is.  Have you forgotten it?  Have you been making every effort to pursue it?  Or has life gotten too fast-paced with Terminos piling up all around you?


And regardless of how you answer those questions, whether positively or negatively, remember this: praise to Jesus Christ who gives us the victory.

Living


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I double-checked the thumbnail, and it worked fine.  Fingers crossed that it still works when this goes live!  Click once to enlarge, then again for the full size.

Photographer: tome213 of sxc.hu.

Demolition: The Fear of the Lord






Alternate title: More than a band-aid

Photographer: Gare and Kitty Wilkin of flickr under CC2.0, and  this new work is hereby released under a similar CC3.0 license.

The three people I never want(ed) to be


Preface: For the purposes of this post, I’m working within a framework where the issues at hand are ones of preference, not major doctrines or sin issues.

There are three people I never want(ed) to be:



1) The person who disagrees with the small group leader on almost everything.
2) The person who feels that they’re not getting much out of church services and meetings.
3) The person who becomes bitter and 1) stays, badmouthing the church and creating division in the local church or 2) leaves, and badmouths the first church at the next church and creating division in the global church.

You can’t really help being the first two if it happens.  You might agree with the doctrine of a church, but you might not agree with the doctrine, emphases, or practices of your small group leader.  The probability of this becomes higher as the church’s standards for leaders or number of people available to be leaders become lower.  You also sometimes can’t help it if you aren’t getting much out of services and meetings.  (Of course, one needs to be careful here.  Sometimes our own pride and our sin get in the way of what the Spirit wants us to hear.)  But if a certain style or philosophy of preaching or small group meetings isn’t to one’s taste or expectation, even someone attending with a good faith effort to learn and glean from the messages and fellowship may be left with not much to work with.

However, you can help not becoming the third person.  It’s really easy to become the third person after becoming the first two, but don’t.  Seriously.  Just don’t do it.

If you become one of the first two people, you might want to seriously consider quietly switching churches.  Or, as with my case, you might sincerely and inexplicably feel you're supposed to stay with a particular church despite realizing you’ve become one of the first two people (or both).  In that case, you should listen to the prompting of the Spirit.  But whether you stay or whether you go, bitterness and impatience and badmouthing has no place in the heart of a Christian, and it definitely has no place in the church.

Things essential to keep in mind:


1) The church doesn’t exist to cater to your individual needs and expectations.  The church exists to glorify God.
2) The church is full of sinners.  Don't expect people to rise to your definition of perfection.
3) You’re a sinner, too.  Shocker.
4) Not everyone approaches Christianity with the same presuppositions about Christian living.  Differences in approach are not always wrong or bad.  Be Bible-based and open-minded.
5) Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but consider others better than yourselves.
6) You exist (among other things) to serve the people in your local church.  If you think you're so high and mighty and better than your current church (which you aren't...see #5), then go and serve others using your "superior" experience and knowledge.
7) Jesus is really, really, really patient with you.  Any amount of patience that the aforementioned service calls for is a peppercorn compared to that.



As I said before, I love my new church and I love the people at my new church.  I have been given the opportunity to fellowship with a lovely group of women who love the Lord.  It's just that we don't always agree or approach the Bible or Christian living in the same way.  This list contains things I need to remind myself of, but I don't think it's limited to people who are in my position.  Really, this is a very small list about Christian living in the church in general. 


Have your views ever conflicted with church leadership?  How did you handle the difference(s) between you?  How do you feel about your current church?  What about the local church do you need to remind yourself about?

Not just semantics






Photographer: Cobalt of flickr under CC2.0.

More





Photographer: somadjinn of stock.xchng.

Text: I ran across some old poetry of mine

200!


200 posts ago, I was walking home late from lab and looked up into the smog and light-polluted sky.  I've always loved stargazing, even though I could never quite make out the constellations aside from Orion's belt.  That night, Orion's belt was the only three stars I could see.  I thought I saw a fourth, but it turned out to be an airplane.

Life's sometimes like that.  We know the stars are there, but we can't quite see them.  We know there's something or Someone bigger than ourselves, but our view is obscured by pollution, sometimes from others and sometimes our own.  Usually it's a combination of both.

That's when I decided to start this blog.  It's small and simple, but it's mine.  My very own corner of the Internet, but it's mine to share.  Thanks for letting me share.  Some of you have been with me since the beginning and others of you are new; thanks for stopping by.  I hope that you have been blessed.

I hope you subscribe to my blog, and for those of you who do, I'd like to direct you attention to the new sidebar on the right (and for those who don't, there's a "subscribe" button on the right, too!).  I've changed some things and also added a "Popular Posts" widget.  I'm not sure why these particular posts are the most popular, except maybe for the timing when Reclaiming the Mind recommended TSN, and I got a giant influx of traffic.  At any rate, the most popular posts to date are:

I'd also like to point out the fact the top-googled post is Being meek does not mean being a doormat, mainly because by the way the phrases were spelled it seems that a younger crowd has been looking for it and also because I particularly like that post (and plan to do a remix at some point.)

You've been listening to me talk, but I'd like to hear from you.  How long have you been reading?  How did you hear about TSN?  What's your favorite post?  What would you like to see in the future?

Call Your Senators!


UNICEF estimates that 3,287 children are trafficked every day.

The Child Protection Compact Act (CPCA) is legislation designed to help protect children in targeted countries from slavery and sex trafficking. It was close to passing in the Senate, but Congress adjourned for elections in early October without finishing the job.

On November 15, Congress reconvenes for a “lame duck” session, giving us a final, unexpected chance to pass the CPCA. Commit to calling your Senators on November 15- they need to hear from constituents who care about ending child trafficking if they are going to make the CPCA a priority.

To find how to contact your senators, visit the Senate website and search for your state in the upper right-hand corner.

For more information about the call-in day and to see a sample script, follow the link in the title of this post. I've done this before, and it only takes two minutes. It's a quick and easy way to help children around the world.

Thinking is Easy


What goes through your mind when I say "The Gospel”?  What do you think of?  I assume I write to a largely Christian audience.  Words like “crucifixion,” “justification,” “redemption,” and other “-tions” may come to mind when thinking about the Gospel.  But what do you feel?


We are often taught to be wary of our emotions.  As the pastor/ elder of my church once said, “YOUR FEELINGS ARE WRONG!”  Indeed, they can be, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t feel.  In fact, feeling is a large part of who we are.  They constitute part of the way we reflect the very image of God.

Most of us know the facts of the Gospel.  But how do we feel about it?  Gratitude? Joy?  Excitement?  Or has the Gospel become mundane?


There have been times when others have shared the Gospel with me and their eyes lit up.  Their talked faster.  They started using the arms more.  Some of them cried a bit.  It was in those times that my own faith was strengthened, encouraged, and emboldened.


How do you feel about the Gospel?  Does the way you convey those feelings encourage the believers around you?  And what about non-believers?

"I tried to find a cure for the pain"





Photographer: 4Cheungs of Flickr under CC2.0, and this derivative work is redistributed under a similar CC3.0 license.

Title/ Text: Cure for the Pain by Jon Foreman
So I'm not sure why it always flows downhill
Why broken cisterns never could stay filled

Tangibility




Photographer: danyela of stock.xchng.

Note: I saw some old friends that I haven't seen in a really long time, and a lot has changed over the years. I was just thinking about how sometimes we treat friendship as a tangible thing- something that we create and something that also changes us. I haven't come to any conclusions, but it's just the latest thing I've been mulling over.

Knowing and Being Known


Having recently moved, I've been working to form new friendships with my new acquaintances. Within the church, this means becoming friends with people who are already my sisters. One thing I've found awkward in the small group setting is that the intimacy shared may not be proportional to the intimacy of your actual relationship with the other person. We are sisters, but we are strangers. As sisters, we share about our hurts, habits, and hangups as we go through a curriculum, but we've also only known each other for a few weeks, seeing each other briefly on Sunday morning and having meetings on Wednesday night. Of course, the only way around this is to meet up outside of these times. Go out for coffee or lunch and just chat. To actually get to know one another and to be known by one another.

I think it's the same way with God. He's our Father, Savior, and Friend...but sometimes he might also be a stranger to us. None of this is his fault, but rather we hold back our lives or parts of our lives from him. And then we turn around and tell him about our hurts, habits, and hangups every so often. Some realize this disproportionality and simply stop communicating with God across the board, rationalizing that "He doesn't care about my small problems anyway." But my encouragement is to continue to go to God more. He has stood at the door of your heart and knocked, and you have allowed him to come in. He's already inside -- he already "abides" -- in the house of your soul. He extends his arm toward you as the vine, if only you as the branch would abide in you as well.

Meet him more often than Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. Know Him and be known by Him.

Dust and Moth Destroyed




Photographer: Lucretious of Stock Xchng

Text: Blaise Pascal, HT The Resurgence

The Story of Blue Like Jazz the Movie


"Blue Like Jazz" was the second book to change my life in the way that I viewed God and the world. ("Desiring God" was the first.) Now, those who love the book have the opportunity to make movie history by becoming part of the Save Blue Like Jazz campaign and be a part of producing the first American film to be crowd-sourced. If you enjoyed the book's raw "non-religious thoughts on Christian spirituality" I would encourage you to participate, so others may be blessed as well.

The Story of Blue Like Jazz the Movie

Poetry Mashup




Photographer: Nils Van Rooijen of flickr under CC2.0. This new work is released under a similar CC3.0 license.

Text: What Frost, Thoreau*, Dickenson, Eliot, and Levertov would say if they went on a walk together.

*Note: I don't actually like Thoreau all that much, but you're not allowed to mention walking in a forest without mentioning him. Also, to anyone who thinks I overdid it with the mashup, my original draft mentioned two roads, one with leaves no step had trodden back. This is actually my edited-down version.

Questions Week: What mistakes do you wish you could take back?


Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

What makes you poor? What makes your mourn? What mistakes have you made that you wish you didn’t?


I think there’s a pull within Christian culture to either deny our poverty and pretend everything is OK or to deeply mourn our brokenness before God without ever accepting His comfort. Both are equally sinful and both are equally selfish. Both place our works and performance above God’s righteous decree: I will love you. By my stripes you are healed. It is for freedom that you have been set free. There is therefore no more condemnation for those who are in Me. You have been saved by grace, not by works, so that no one may boast.

I’ve done both of these. I’ve had my everything-is-fine-praise-God church face. And I’ve also had my woe-is-me-I-am-of-but-dust-and-to-dust-I-will-return pity party moments. But both these attitudes focus on ME and MY situation and what I have done.

But really, the Gospel is this: Christ died while we were still sinners. 1) We are sinners! We are poor, and we mourn our sorry state. 2) Christ died for us! He knows how we are, and He restores us and heals us and forgives us and brings us into His family.

He gives us the Kingdom of God; it is ours to inherit. He comes to comfort, if we will cast our cares upon Him.

What do you wish you could take back? Will you take it to Christ instead?

Questions week: The Fray


Do you walk above the fray?


This past Sunday when preaching on the Beatitudes, our pastor mentioned that God lifts us above the fray of life, that things can be tough, but God shelters us from it.

Personally, this has not been my experience.


Yes, God helps in times of need. He has never abandoned nor forsaken me. And he never will. But I have never been lifted above the fray. I have always been very much in it. I have felt every blow, every hurt, and every pain. However, God has been with me through all this, and He has sustained me and encouraged me and healed me (though the scars remain.) This isn't to say that I will always be in the fray or that God never lifts us above it. I am merely conveying my personal experience up to this point.

A few posts back, I referred to a Denise Levertov poem. I love her poetry because she speaks with a frankness about human suffering and God's comfort. Here are a few lines from her poem "Suspended."

I had grasped
God’s garment in the void
but my hand slipped
on the rich silk of it

yet
I have not plummeted

I love this quote because sometimes, God doesn't lift us above the fray, but he doesn't let us plummet, either. We are suspended by His grace, whether we feel His embrace or not. Even if we cannot grasp His cloak in the crowd or understand the richness of it, He is there.

What has your experience been when suffering? Did God lift you above the fray? Did He let you experience it, but also suspended you and kept you afloat by His grace? Is "How to Save a Life" as stuck in your head as it is in mine right now?

Questions Week: What would you like to change?


What would you like to change about yourself?


I certainly know what I should change about myself. I should want to be more godly, more discerning, more self-controlled. I should want to become more loving and meek, service-oriented and hospitable. I should want to be more humble. And these are things I legitimately want. But they aren't the first things that come to mind.

When the pastor asked us Sunday morning what we would like to change (a question that I've heard posed hundreds of times), do you know what my gut reaction was? I want to know the future. I want to control the future. Specifically, I want to know my personal destination and control how I get there. In other words, I want to be God.

Well, glad we got that out in the open. To be sure, this isn't normally my knee-jerk reaction. I would normally say one of the first responses I listed (and sincerely mean it.) It's just that yesterday my career path seemed to become a bit muddled. Things didn't turn out the way I wanted or expected or hoped. And I was a bit confused. And in that confusion, I wanted answers. And to be honest, I wanted to be God.

For the record, wanting to be God- bad idea. Really bad idea. Like Lucifer-bad. Like introducing death to an entire planet and countless generations of people- bad.

And I've since repented. And instead of wanting to control the world and re-make it in my image and wanting to know all the answers, I've since understood that being God is not my place in the universe. I know my place. All man is like grass, the wind blows over it, and it is gone. I don't know the number of hairs on my head or the days of my life. I can make plans for tomorrow and say to myself, "I will go here" or "I will do business there," but really, in the end, all control is illusory. However, I know the Person who IS in control and who DOES have a plan. I just need to acknowledge Him in all my ways, and He will make my paths straight. That's how I want to change.

What would you like to change about yourself, really? Or what desires of yours did you realize were actually sinful ones? Or, simply, how has God changed you?

Wholistic Being


Being Stewards

As God's chosen people, we have been created to do good works which God has chosen and equipped us to do. What we do with that equipment is called "stewardship." We are to be good stewards of our money, for instance, and remember that the money we have is not ours but God's. The way we use our money indicates where our hearts are.

Stewardship of ourselves

The same, however, can be said of stewardship of ourselves. Who are we? We consist of our mind, body, and spirit. Christianity and spirituality obviously address the "spirit" part. but what about the rest? Often, I feel myself neglecting one or two of these to work on the other. I spend time at church worshiping or in the library studying, but I don't go to the gym. Or I'll study and exercise but neglect serving others. Or I'll be SO busy serving others and neglect my studies.

However, when one area falls, so do the others. If you don't sleep and take care of your body, you won't have enough energy to to handle your school /work duties, and you definitely won't have enough energy to be serving the church. (I know I've been using "serving the church" as a substitute for spirituality here. I'm using it because it's an outward indicator of an inward attitude, though don't take this to mean that the indicator is necessarily right.) Or if you neglect your personal spiritual disciplines, you'll probably end up more frustrated and more grumpy and less focused on work and school. Or if you aren't on top of your school and work duties, you'll be frustrated and stressed, and these emotions can easily effect your spirituality.

Juggling is bad

I think the first thing to do is realize that all of these things are linked. And they're all YOU. YOU are your mind, your body, and your spirit. The second thing to realize is that you need God. God isn't just for the "spirituality" part of your life, but He is for every part of your life. Not only does He provide "for" every part, but He wants to be "in" every part. If you study or do your work for the glory of God, then you'll want to do your best, and He'll enable you to do so. If you take care of your body and eat well and exercise for the glory of God, then again, you will see health and growth in this area. And, of course, if you seek God with all your heart, soul, and mind, the spiritual part of you will flourish as you abide in Christ and He in you.

Final Note

I also want to recognize that some people live with impairments. Some are intellectually challenged. Others deal with physical ailments. These conditions take time to address and should be discussed separately, but I did also want to acknowledge that such limitations exist. However, regardless of where one is- intellectually, physically, spiritually, no one is ever outside of God's reach or outside of God's power. God meets us where we are and transforms us into the people we need to be. So let that be a lesson for us this week.

To live is Christ, and this encompasses ALL areas of living, as we are living sacrifices as our act of spiritual worship.


Random notes to my readers:
I finally caved in to the pressure and got a Twitter account. I already decided that I won't use it to post the mundane details of my life (after all, that's what FB is for.) Instead, I'll be using it to RT or reply to other Twitter-ers in the Christian circles I run in (mostly the young, restless, and reformed circle, in case you haven't been able to tell yet.) I'll also be posting original (or semi-original) thoughts of my own as an extension of this blog. If you're interested, you can follow me on jo_of_tsn, and the hashtag I'm using for this blog is #threestarnight.

A Tribute to Mr. Moth




Photographer: danmachold of flickr under CC2.0. This new work is released under a similar CC3.0 license.

Note: I apologize for the image not working on Monday. The trouble was with imageshack because it would only work sporadically, but I switched image hosting sites, and it seems to be working now. Special thanks to Emily for pointing the problem out.

Singing: Not my Gift, Spiritual or Otherwise


Photobucket



Photographer: savioseb of flirckr under CC2.0.

Notes:
1) Yay thumbnails.  Click to enlarge.
2) This happens a lot more when you switch churches.  Also awkward: when you think the leader will go low and you go high instead, and you're the ONLY ONE going high.  These two situations happened to me about 10 times in 15 minutes of worship yesterday.
3) I'm going to drop off the "does not suggest endorsement of the new work" part of my credit blurbs.  I'm linking the CC, which should be enough.  From here on out, just take it that none of the photographers or people pictured in the photos endorse my work.

God is Missing


The reason why the blogging schedule has been a bit wonky lately is because I've been a bit wonky lately.  It seems like there has simply been too much jostling for my attention.  This excerpt from a Levertov poem comes to mind

Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.

However, it's not that I've been ignoring God entirely.  It's been much more subtle than that.  I'll ask myself: how can I glorify God in law school?  Answer:  Study to the best of my ability.  Or how can I glorify God in my relationships?  Answer:  Get to know the people around me, love, and serve them.  And then I try to do these things, but inevitably I'll fail because doing everything to the best of your ability, while admirable, is also tiring.  And when you're tired, it's hard to love and serve others.  And when you fail at stuff, you don't feel very good about it.

 However, though I wanted to glorify God in my actions, do you realize what is missing?  God.  I've been wanting to do these things for God instead of with God.  I tried to do everything using my own power and didn't get very far.  My cup ran dry, but I didn't go to the one who overflows it in the midst of my enemies and my "courtiers" alike.

This is a very basic Christian-living concept.  But isn't it the basics that are the easiest to ignore?  Have you been doing things for God or with Him this past week?

Goldengrove and Sorrow's Springs





Photographer: jesuino of stock.xchng

Text/ Title: Based partly on Spring and Fall: to a young child, one of my favorite poems

Expectations, Fractures, and Fractals




Photographer: Barabeke of flickr under CC2.0, and this new work is hereby released under a similar CC3.0 license.

For future reference: Looking through pages of fractals at 2 in the morning can make you really dizzy...
Also, I'm sorry for the lack of posting on Friday.  I meant to do a "Part 2" for "Easy A," but I got involved in a couple of epically long conversations that started on my Facebook wall.  Thanks for your understanding.

"Easy A" and Christianity


A portrayal of the Gospel from an unlikely source


Last week, I went with a couple of friends to watch "Easy A."  It's not my type of movie to begin with, and I knew ahead of time that they would bash Christianity, but I went anyway because these were people I care about and I wanted to spend time with them.  So I went.

True to my expectations, this movie horribly bashes Christianity.  At the same time, I can't say that people using the "Christian" label haven't given the secular world good reason to bash us.  I'll get to it eventually, but an analysis of the portrayal of Christians in the movie is simply too easy of a target.  I'm sure there will be plenty of angry bloggers approaching the subject (not to mention very valid feminist issues), and I don't want to add to the fray.  Yet.


I want to do something different.

I would say "spoiler alert" at this point, but the movie is so emphatically predictable that there really isn't anything that I can say that you wouldn't be able to gather from watching the trailer and having a working knowledge of high school movies.  But for those of you who plan on watching (which I don't particularly recommend)- consider yourself warned.

The protagonist basically lies about having sex with someone, and the one lie snowballs into the creation of an entire alter-identity for herself in which people pay to have her lie about having sexual acts with them.  Her lies are only known "underground," but the rest of the school actually thinks that she has been doing these acts, even though she hasn't done them at al.  Along the way, she lies for the token gay guy, the token school "loser" and the like.  They get better reputations as her reputation gets worse- a fact that the movie harps on.  The turning point occurs when a token member of the Christian club comes down with syphilis and blames it on her (though in actuality he has been sleeping with the token school counselor who is married to the token English teacher.)  The protagonist first accepts the blame to keep the counselor's and the teacher's marriage in tact (he's her favorite teacher), but she later reneges.  She tries to undo all her lies- the gay guy comes out, but the others won't budge.  As a result, she produces a video diary (which ends up being the movie).

Of course, there isn't a 1:1 correlation and please don't AT ALL take this as a recommendation of the movie, but I think the protagonist (in an incomplete way) can be an example of what Christ did for us on the cross.  He took our sins and our shame and made them His own.  Not only that, but He also took our consequences.  He was ostracized in our stead.  He died in our stead.  He experienced the wrath of God in our stead.  He took on our adultery and homosexuality* and lies and murderous thoughts and gossip and even our religious hypocrisy- and took it upon Himself.  And we didn't deserve that.  Not only did we not deserve it, but our standing before God increased because of Christ's loss.  But though He had the choice (OK, some people don't believe this, but work with me here), he didn't renege.  He bore it all, and He bore it to the end.  He was the only one who could do that for us, and He fulfilled that role.  And because He did, and because the Father accepted His sacrifice, He's now alive, and those who trust that He did this for them can live with Him.  That's really good news.  That's the Gospel.  That's- dare I say it?- an "Easy A" for us.

*by which I mean lust and the actions that arise from it.  I'm using it in the same way as "adultery"

Meditation of my heart





Photographer: Cornelia Kopp of Flickr under CC2.0.  Use of photo does not imply photographer's endorsement of this new work.

Test Your Strength






Photographer: Justified Sinner of flickr under CC2.0, and this new work is hereby released under a similar CC3.0 license.  Use of this photo does not imply the photographer's endorsement.

Note on the text:  I think I made the first part up on my own, but it's so cheesy that it's entirely possible that I heard/ read it somewhere else.  My apologies to the original author if this is the case.

Note to my new (and old!) readers:  Thanks!  I'm glad to have you here.  If you have any comments on what I've done or suggestions (photos or ideas) for content you would like to see in the future, let me know!  I try to output at least two comics per week (Monday and Wednesday) with an "anything-goes" Friday, which usually means a more "traditional" blog post but it doesn't have to be.

 Well now that you know more about my blog, I would like to know about you!  How have you been relying on God's strength this past week?

Bad Advice






Photographer: Let Ideas Compete of flickr under CC2.0>.  Use of this photo does not imply the photographer's endorsement.

Utilization




Photographer: elfon of flickr.  (Model: seabamirum, also from flickr.)  Image used under CC2.0.  Use of this photo does not imply the photographer's or model's endorsement of the work.

Text: Something my new friend Maxine said.

Motivation


It's important to know why we do the things that we do.  It's easy to get stuck into a routine and forget why we started it.  I've been listening to a lot of Switchfoot lately.  I think a lot of it has to do with me holding on to the things that are familiar with me: my old music, my old TV shows, and the like. 

One of their songs off the Oh!  Gravity. album is called "Awakening," and it's basically about "waking up" from our routines and living for something more than deadlines and ourselves.

The first star that I saw last night
Was a headlight of a man-made sky
But man-made never made our dreams collide, collide

Here we are now with the falling sky and the rain
We're awakening
Here we are now with the desperate youth and pain
We're awakening

Maybe it's called ambition
You've been talking in your sleep about a dream
We're awakening

Last week saw me living for nothing but deadlines
With my dead beat sky
But this town doesn't look the same tonight

And that's a message I needed to hear, a lesson I needed to learn.  I know why I'm here, but it's easy to forget the importance of it.  The significance of being in a certain place at a certain time with certain resources at  my disposal (also the lack thereof).  "Man-made never made our dreams collide," but the Spirit of God breathes life and creates out of dust.  He makes all things new and redeems all things damned.

I wanna wake up kicking and screaming
I wanna wake up kicking and screaming
I wanna know that my heart's still beating
It's beating, I'm bleeding

Sometimes the paths that we're on will bring us pain, but at least we're alive :)  And we're alive to do the good works that God has prepared for us.  And the same Spirit that breathed life into us is the same Spirit that rose Christ from the dead, and He is the same Spirit that seals our inheritance and equips us for ministry.

And since it's Free Friday and I can do whatever I want, here's a webcomic for you, too.


Solidarity


Hi all!

Please take a moment to sign a petition asking Governor Schwarzenegger to sign The California Supply Chain Transparency Act of 2010 (SB 657) and The Slave and Sweat Free Code of Conduct for goods sold to the State of California (SB 1231) to bolster accountability for large retailers and inform consumers about products in the supply chain that might have been produced through slave labor. For those visiting my blog, there is a widget to the right where you can sign. For those of you with feeds (thanks for subscribing, btw), you can take a look at the petition and sign here.


Whether you are a resident of California or not, these bills are important for consumers across the country, as they will serve as an example for other states and influence large companies doing business beyond California. 

Thanks!


And here is the completely unrelated webcomic for the day:

Concrete Girl




Photographer: Elisafox of sxc.hu.

Text: Lyrics from Concrete Girl by Switchfoot.

The Gospel According to Jo


This was a bit of a tradition back at the Community Group my friend and I led. We would take turns, not every week, but once in awhile, to give the Gospel narrative, and a different person would do it each time. We called it "The Gospel According to [name of the person speaking." Don't get me wrong, we weren't changing or adding to or detracting from the Bible. We weren't speaking authoritatively. But rather, we were framing the Gospel narrative in a way that was personal to us and in a way that we hoped would be personal to others. By having different people give the narrative, we encouraged every member of the group to think about the Gospel for themselves, and to be ready to share it. We were also able to get different viewpoints and different nuances of the Gospel from each speaker.

All my posts this week (and a lot of my posts recently) have been about identity. It wasn't intentional, and it wasn't something I deliberately sat down to think about, but rather it was just the first thing that came to mind when I sat down to write my posts a couple hours before they were "due." Anyway, I haven't really had anyone in my life to properly remind me of the Gospel lately, so I decided to remind myself.

Edit: Wow, in writing this, I realize that I've gotten rusty :(

The Gospel According to Jo

Identity


Before there was Time, there was an entity who simply was. He "wased" with Himself, and indeed, He existed in three persons. Three persons who were not each other yet were the same. We call this entity God. God was not an entity who was a power or "the bright side of the Force," but He was a community of Persons. And within this community, each Person felt and gave love, one to another. God simply was who He was, but at the same time, in their interactions together, each Person sort of defined the other. And God was very joyful as a result of this interaction.

Out of that joy he created what we call the universe. And on a certain planet (much more complex and much more dearly loved than a mere watch) he created and placed two humans. And the two humans shared in the joy that God had in Himself. They were defined by the Goodness of God and their interactions with each other. And it was very good.

But our first parents were tempted. They were told that they could have identities outside of what God had given them. That they could be wise. That they could have knowledge. That they who "merely" partook of the joy of God could in fact be like Him. And they believed the tempter. The sought this identity and gained it, but found that the tempter's words were shadows of the truth. As a result, they became shadows of what they should have been. Defined apart from the joy of God, they were now also subject to His wrath, for they had destroyed a very good thing. And God, though joyful within Himself, was very sad and betrayed that these people rejected Him.

Because our first parents sinned, everything changed. They who had partook of not only God's joy but His eternality (though they had a beginning) would now know death. And the Earth they lived on would know death. This death would define them. Death would cut short their relationships with each other, and in doing so, would change their identities. And death would further damage their relationships with God, forcing them further away from His grace and into His eternal judgment. Death would enter their human relationships, with one exploiting the weaknesses of the other. Toil to work the dying land would define them. Toil to bring life into that same dying world would define them. Whether they laughed or cowered in the face of it, death elicited a response from all of humanity. And it got the last say.

But God had mercy. Christ, one of the Persons of God, became a man. He identified with us, so we could find our identity in Him once again. He spoke to us and healed our infirmities. And the more we interacted with Him, the more he changed us. He experienced our Death, but He conquered it, both spiritually and physically. He took upon Himself all of our sin, all that which separated us from God, all that brought death to our bodies and souls, and suffered our punishment. He died, but He did not stay dead. Rather, He came back to life, and in doing so, paved the way for our own resurrections, both spiritual and physical.

Through Christ, we can again find our identities in God. We become transformed by His goodness. His Spirit lives inside of us, reconnecting us to Himself. He identifies us as His children, His people. As His children, we also find our identities in each other, in our siblings-in-Christ, in the Church. As His people, we have assurance that this world is not our home. And these identities are not transient ones to be cut short by death, but instead are ones that continue into eternity. This is the promise to those who believe.

Is this something you believe in? Why or why not? If "yes," how would you articulate the Gospel? What is the Gospel according to you?

Asking the wrong questions





HT: SCL