[nevertheless]

though eve & adam ate a fruit
and welcomed death inside
though we reject You thoroughly
as Lord as well as guide
though sin infected everything
and has made us all to fall
though a veil was then created
that silenced every call
though now my body suffers
and tires every day
though endlessly i toil
and slowly i decay
though enemy & friend alike
will leave me yet in want
though rich just brush the poor aside –
they acquire, store and flaunt
though monetary earnings wax and wane
and needs may not be met
the Lord still tells the sun to rise
and i will praise Him yet.
though He who spins the earth about
still works in ways unknown
yet still He plans my every step
in pleasure and in groans
though both my will and intellect
will give me reason to cease
though storms of life keep raging
and deafen me from peace
though men opine and reason
and say, ‘there is no God,’
though doubts arise within myself
and i speculate, “He’s a fraud”
though prayers seem vain and fruitless
as if His ears were closed
though i perceive i’m suffering
and on every side opposed
though the road is narrow
and persecution guaranteed
though i’m bound to stagger
on the road that He’s decreed
and though my own shortcomings
frustrate my best attempts
still the very God i fail
is who bought me recompense

though everything i’ve said before
may justify a cause:
to give up on the God i mention
yet one thing gives me pause –

when Christ was in the garden
He had a choice to make
He could have turned aside
and not suffered for my sake
but had He done, i would be doomed
death would remain my fate
there would be no intercessor
the wrath of God to sate

yet Christ in all His mercy
examined the path ahead
He knew that He’d be beaten
scorned, and left for dead

He saw my every failure
He saw my fickle self
He knew that i’d lack faithfulness
in sickness or in health
He saw the times i’d doubt Him
and the times that i’d deny
He saw the crown, the cross, the nails
and He saw the darkened sky
He knew there’d be no other way
to rescue me from hell
He knew there was a price to pay
for how far we all had fell

so Christ, in that one moment
as God as well as man
chose to do the Father’s will
and carry out the plan
instead of leaving us alone
to suffer and to die
He chose to bear our sin & shame
this was His reply:

nevertheless! Your will be done”
His fate was surely sealed
He chose the route of senseless love –
the Father’s heart revealed
now for His great mercy
and all His endless grace,
nevertheless, i’ll follow Him
’til i see Him face to face

slowing down: a brief thought on isolation vs community and experience vs impact.

I read something in a book the other day that has given me pause ever since. It’s the restatement of the ideas of Yale philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff which says:

Modern culture defines the happy life as a life that is “going well” – full of experiential pleasure – while to the ancients, the happy life meant the life that is lived well, with character, courage, humility, love, and justice.

I read that and my spirit responded with a resounding “YES!” and suddenly I was forced to evaluate everything I currently practice.

We live in a sensationalist culture. We live in a world in which we crave entertainment, and it’s honestly quite difficult to avoid. I feel I’ve been conditioned (while also willingly choosing this option) to, when I want to relax and unwind after a long day or week at work, play a video game, watch a movie, or disappear in the world of social media that is my phone.

I’m constantly bombarded with a new entertainment opportunity. It’s what my brain has come to crave, but I’m increasingly unsatisfied. It seems the pleasure is in the anticipation. When I drive home and think, “I can’t wait to play the wii,” the drive is more enjoyable than the actual game.
When I’m at work and thinking, “I can’t wait to get off and take a break,” the anticipation is normally better than the break.

It seems, in some ways, like my (I’d like to say “our” as a society) is always thinking about the next thing. Never in the moment. When we are in the moment, it seems a meaningless one.

Here’s where I make a confession:

I’ve made more out of isolating myself and playing video games than I have community.
I’ve made more out of my personal “alone” time than doing justice.
I’ve made more out of mindless experiences than I have taking time to learn and engage my mind.

I’m increasingly sickened by this as I notice it at work in my life.

I’ve also found that there are very few things in life that I truly enjoy. Or perhaps more accurately, I don’t do the things I enjoy as much as I should. To me, the difference between doing things we like vs. doing things we enjoy comes down to a matter of time – that is, the things you enjoy seem to last forever. A good dinner or a beer shared with a friend seems to last longer than a beer alone or a movie. A good book or a good conversation (or a conversation about a book) seems to last a much longer time than And the funny thing is, they usually aren’t any longer. It’s only that the time is more full.

The common thread is this: I think people are made for community.
I think people make each other stronger, and I think people enhance one another’s lives.
I think justice is only possible through community, and I think a fulfilled, impactful life is only possible through community.

I find myself so tempted to try and enjoy things that aren’t enjoyable when the missing link is community. I try to get a bunch of good experiences (or at least experience things) on my own and I end up burnt out instead of refreshed, while I can starve myself for sleep and get an early-morning coffee with a friend and feel fueled up. The hard thing is persisting when: I’ve had a long day; I’ve been gone all day; I think I’m broke; I’m tired; nobody seems to want to hang out; I want to relax my mind; etc etc.

But I think it’s worth it and I’d like to learn to commit myself to community.

There’s strength in community, and I don’t think it’s idolatry to say that we make each other stronger, because God is a God of community (He Himself is triune) and He made people to enjoy Him and His creation together.

being overcome by Jesus.

I’m starting to think I’m just full of it.

Sometimes the way I think doesn’t line up with what I claim I believe about Jesus, or what I’ve been told about Christianity. Sometimes the way I act doesn’t line up with what I believe about Jesus. In a sense, I’ve turned into a bit of a stranger even to myself.

For example, I’ve been really thinking about the issue of language lately. It started when I started listening to the BadChristian podcast. I have a lot of respect for those guys, and I like the way they discuss things – I like the way they’re honest about their vulnerability to pornography; I like the way that they get atheists on the podcast to see how they think – about God, about the Church, about life, about humanity; I like the way they cuss. Weird, I know.
But let me explain myself a little bit – the way I’ve started looking at it, curse words mean nothing in and of themselves. It’s the intent behind them and the object of the word that makes it a bad thing. [WARNING: I’m gonna use a couple, because this is for display purposes only.]
For example, if I say “I’m so fucking tired,” I’m just saying I’m REALLY tired. Sure, I could say I’m REALLY tired. Okay, fine. Either way. That’s one of those ‘all-things-are-permissible-but-not-all-things-are-helpful’ kinds of things, in my mind. But if someone ticks me off and does something stupid, and I respond with “you’re so fucking stupid,” that’s when the red flag comes up with me. When I’m playing a video game or soccer or something, and I screw up and say, “shit,” that’s fine in my mind. I don’t think that’s hurting myself or others. But if I tell someone they’re full of shit, that can be hurtful and demeaning. In my mind, that’s the difference. If I’m directing those kinds of words (which get their insulting nature from society) at someone else, that’s when it becomes a problem. But again, I think the problem is less in the words said and more the reason I’m saying them to someone. If I tell my friend he’s a ****ing idiot, then I have a patience and grace problem, not so much a cussing problem. If someone is talking about the latest girl they’d like to (you know the word,) then they have an objectification problem and a purity problem, not a cursing problem.

That said, I’ve tried my hand at cussing lately. I don’t do it around everyone, because I think that it’s possible to be a stumbling block to people. I think some people do get offended by it, so I’ll hold off. But I don’t always hold off when I’m around other people who use those words, and while I’d like to say I don’t give it a second thought, I do.

Here’s why:
Yeah, cussing doesn’t automatically make me a bad person. It doesn’t make me not a Christian, because Jesus makes me a Christian.
But while I justify myself by saying that strong language is just an indicator of strong emotion –
1. it’s always negative
2. the emotion is a problem, and Jesus wants to deal with that.

While curse words are not restricted, they shouldn’t be necessary. There’s just no reason for me to use them.

But cursing is just one instance. There’s other stuff I wish I could do with a clean conscience, because it’s fun or it feels good or it’s just nice.
I wish, for example, that I could masturbate (even without pornography) without a shred of guilt. But there’s still the fact that I’m giving in to a sexual desire – and it’s still the unwillingness to submit that desire and that thought to Jesus.
I wish, for example, that I could have oatmeal cream pies every morning for breakfast. But my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and I can’t just fatten it – buildings are made of solids: wood and steel – not cloth and fluff. And even more practically – there are mechanisms in my body that kick in when I’ve had too much junk food. I should respond to that.
I wish that I didn’t have to think about being a stumbling block for other people. I wish I could do whatever I wanted without an ounce of respect to anyone else’s conscience, but that’s not what Jesus asks of me. Jesus commands me to love my neighbor.
I wish I could flirt with tons of girls and not protect my heart and not worry about breaking theirs either. But that’s not what Jesus asks – He commands me to love my neighbor and His word tells me to guard my own heart.

Basically, I’ve just come into this season in life in which I’ve called into question all of the cleanliness that church encourages us as we grow up within it. After all, I’m free in Jesus to do whatever I want…

…but it’s not that simple.

There’s a popular song these days called “Forever,” and there’s a line in it that stuck out to me like a sore thumb this morning:

“The ground began to shake, the stone was rolled away. His perfect love could not be overcome.

That’s when I realized – I can’t overcome the love of Jesus. I can ask tons of questions. I can have my doubts. I can wander. I can dabble in stuff like cursing, I can have a pornography problem, I can have anger issues, I can become unmotivated at work, I can have issues with people, but I cannot overcome the love of Jesus.

That does not mean that I do whatever I want and don’t change – in fact, what I’m implying is the exact opposite. I can’t look upon the love of Jesus Christ for me and not change.
I can’t look upon the love of Jesus and not love my neighbor.
I can’t look upon the love of Jesus and not respect women as friends and not sexual objects.
I can’t look upon the love of Jesus and think pornography is okay.
I can’t look upon the love of Jesus and be fine with being angry.
I can’t look upon the love of Jesus and curse other people or things.
I can’t look upon the love of Jesus and not care about the body He’s given me.
I can’t look upon the love of Jesus and cling to my comfort.
I can’t look upon the love of Jesus and not be generous.
I can’t look upon the love of Jesus and waste my money lavishly.
I can’t look upon the love of Jesus and not be a steward of what He entrusts me with.

Am I saying that I’ll never do that stuff again? No. I guarantee you I’ll get irritated with someone. I guarantee that I’ll masturbate at some point in the future (you don’t want to know that, but I’m going to be transparent here.) I guarantee you that I’ll eat way too much junk food in one night sometime. I guarantee you that I’ll pass by a homeless person asking for food or money. Because I’m human.

What I’m starting to want, though, are more glimpses of Jesus’ love. I want to see Him move. Not because He’s not moving – but because I’m not looking. I want to be overcome by Jesus’ love more often. I want His love to wash over me and flow into others.

Jesus overcame death, hell, and the grave – and I so desperately need Him to overcome me, too.

Hope After Faith: An Ex-Pastor’s Journey From Belief to Atheism, by Jerry DeWitt [response]

This is one of those books that catches your eye for a while (or…it caught mine) and you think about it and think about it and then you finally bite the bullet. For me, I was fascinated by the idea behind the story: a pastor – who actually spent time with people and preached messages and studied the bible – had his faith deteriorate over time instead of strengthen? I tend to think that the more people see God at work in their own lives and in the lives of others, the more it reinforces the things they believe.

I’ve taken to buying less and less books – my primary qualification for a book to buy has become how soon I’ll read it after buying it. In other words, I’d been marginally interested in a lot of books, only to buy them and have them sit on my shelf until I decided I’d never get around to reading it and selling it on – but I finished this one in a matter of about three days.

Jerry tells his story – how he was saved at a Jimmy Swaggart revival and became involved in the local Pentecostal church. He felt a call from God at a very young age to be a preacher and that he’d spearhead a revival, so that became his primary objective, no matter the cost to his family or himself, no matter how his bottom line came out financially.

The book does not read (at least for the first two thirds or so) as some sort of argument against God, but indeed as a story highlighting Jerry’s journey of faith and attempts to find places to preach as a twenty-something preacher. In that sense, it’s a beautiful, if sad and painful, story to read. It became difficult for he and his wife to move out from living with his grandmother; they struggled to find jobs; they pondered and carried out cross-country moves at times; Jerry encountered people with crazy doctrine, etc. You feel the ups and downs of his journey, as he articulates them very well.

Among those struggles are the losses of his father, his grandfather, his cousin, and the churches he chooses or is otherwise forced to leave. In the midst of encountering people who live by unbearably conservative interpretations of the Bible, he is forced to question things about his faith. The tension mounts over time in his relationship with his wife, and it’s easy understandable as he writes how difficult it must be.

His theology seems to get increasingly liberal – from extreme Pentecostalism in which he preached that devotion to God was the key to a holy life, to more moderate stances on grace, such as preaching to a congregation that their church attendance isn’t what got them right with God, but Jesus was. At this point, I was resounding with his faith journey – I’m in complete agreement with such a statement! – so I was left wondering what the breaking point must have been.

The breaking point was when he prayed with a man and his brother who was dealing with a blood clot. The man (who went to his church) was trying to convince his brother to get surgery, and he asked Jerry to help convince him to do the surgery, as Jerry had a family member who had successfully undergone that same surgery. Everything seemed to go off without a hitch until the man sat up the next morning to eat only to have the blood clot return and kill him immediately.

Jerry, he felt, was supposed to be able to help people. God, he thought, would either meet people when they needed Him the most, or else He wasn’t real. After all, what kind of God would let people suffer like that?
That’s a classic argument, and it makes even more sense when you hear the whole story of a person like Jerry – he’d experienced failure after failure in life: jobs wouldn’t hold up; people betrayed him and misled him; the things he felt called to do wouldn’t pan out; he lost a number of loved ones and close friends; how, in the midst of all of that failure (presumably, God failed him) and disappointment, do you hold on to your faith?

I’ve digested the issues a bit (admittedly, I just finished this book today and haven’t put TONS of thought into it) but I think that my biggest issue with this book are some of the premises under which he operates or the assumptions he makes about God and about Christians. I’m going to choose to only address the one which seemed to tip him over the edge.

He writes (while dealing with the loss of his cousin)
If God is not a friend in need, He is not a friend indeed.

First of all, I don’t think we can adequately explain this. In fact, that’s one of my other issues with the book – he thinks that, as a pastor, he was supposed to be an answers guy and have an answer to life’s biggest problems. I don’t think that’s true. I think that Christianity is something which will largely be unanswered here and now. After all, the biggest question for which we take the risk of Christianity (is there even an afterlife?) is something we have to wait a long time to have answered. Why do people die? Why is there evil in the world? Why does God choose to heal some people but not others? Why does God let my loved ones pass?

I think we could have a crack at every single one of these questions, but for the sake of being sensitive, maybe it’s best not to. Maybe in the context of people questioning God, or His existence or His motives or His actions or His inactions, the best thing to do is to say, “I don’t know.”

Why?

Because I genuinely believe that God’s ways are higher than ours, and I believe His thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8.) Do I know that there’s a God? No, I don’t. I’m not certain.

Nevertheless, it makes perfect sense to me that if there’s a God, then the way He thinks and the way He works is something I’m not designed nor am I capable to understand. If there’s a God, and He created everything, including me and my family and the people that I love, then it’s not exactly my place to accuse Him if something happens.

The good news, though, is that God can handle it. God can handle criticism, and He can handle our pain, and He can handle our questions, and He can even handle our doubts.

There is a derth of other issues to address from this book, such as:
-how/why religion hurts so many people instead of helping
-the human authorship of the Bible
-the fact that our brains can hear voices that aren’t really there, perhaps rendering God’s own voice as our own imagination

To go in-depth with them would take far too long, and to be quite frank, I don’t know that I’m intelligent or qualified enough to do so. I can’t pretend I know the answers to those questions.

Instead, I chose to take away one big thing from this book: sometimes in life, we’re disappointed and we feel God failed us.

I’ve embarked on a bit of a journey to understand why people embrace atheism and some people leave themselves closed off to the idea of a God. Usually, it seems, it has to do in part with pain or disappointment. Perhaps someone sees that there isn’t sufficient evidence (for them) for a God to exist. Okay, that’s one thing. But why the aggression against Christianity or religion in general? I think that stems from hurt. I think it occurs because the church is the representation of God on the earth (careful: the church is not itself God!) so people are put off by other flawed people who are doing the best they know how (usually) to interpret the book that God wrote and be His mouthpiece on earth.
I think sometimes we take ourselves way too seriously and hurt people in the process. I think that some Christians expect themselves to be perfect, and perhaps worse still, they expect some people who don’t embrace their worldview to live according to their own worldview, frustrating and annoying and sometimes hurting people in the process, and I think that drives people away, because they start to think that if His followers are this bad, then God must be even worse.

Problem is, we’re the flawed ones, not God. God is not the problem. God was never the problem. We’re the problem because we take the things that God says about Himself in the Bible and we look at it through our inherently bent human lens and we start to think that God is selfish, that God is a narcissist, that God is proudly jealous, and then we start thinking that we’re better than God. We judge God, and we do so wrongly (both from a legal standpoint [we have no right] as well as an interpretative standpoint [I don’t think we can understand Him fully.])

Here’s how I’m choosing to live from this day on: I believe it’s okay to ask questions. I believe it’s okay to doubt. I believe it’s okay to hurt, and I believe it’s okay to feel everything about being human – pain, joy, temptation, anger, sorrow. Just because I’m a Christian doesn’t make that the case. I choose to believe that God is real, and I choose to believe He is good. I believe that science and faith aren’t exclusive, because science – just like art, architecture, literature, technology, etc – can and should be used to the glory of God because God inspired man to endeavor in science no less than all the other things. Science is not the enemy of God. And as a future pastor, I believe that my job is not “answers man” but to ask more questions: about God, about circumstance, about life, and about myself.

My thanks to Jerry DeWitt for writing this book – it (obviously) sparked a lot of thought in me and forced me to think about why I believe some of the things I believe. Some of these issues I have to consider further (mostly the authorship of the Bible.)

My response (in a nutshell) to this book is this: pain, suffering, and disappointment are not proof that God isn’t real, or that He isn’t powerful, or that He isn’t good.