Archive for July, 2009

I’ll be brief because it’s late. 😛

As you probably know, both my meditation and reading lately have been about the presence of God…. and, often, the lack thereof. I believe that the topic of the elusiveness of God is dealt with badly among the Christians in my circle. In all the years that I’ve been a Christian (which admittedly hasn’t been a very, very long time), the “dry spells” of the Christian life have always been seen as a negative thing. While it may be true that these times in one’s life can hardly be described as pleasant, the associations that come with it are often misplaced. What are the common approaches?

1) Many times, those who are going through this period are seen as having done something wrong. They are somehow less spiritual, have sinned, or have “lost” their way (A most serious accusation if you believe that backslidding is something to watch out for. Perhaps this requires discernment since the way you ought to approach a backslidden believer would be different than your approach to a steadfast believer who does not sense God’s presence).

2) It is a season to be endured — a natural yet disdained part of the Christian walk. One that is believed to inevitably come but dreaded. Often advised to “protect” oneself against it, to be prevented or avoided as much as possible, hoping to survive it in order to come to the next season of refreshment which will also inevitably come to the steadfast.

3) These dry spells become a season to fight through. It is Satan’s attack, one that we must do everything in our power to change. Change our spiritual practices, pray more, frantically do something so that God may be felt again (I’m not denying that spiritual warfare is a reality and that Satan does attack you where you are vulnerable. At the same time, we should not take it to mean that ALL those “low” times of our lives are a result of the demonic).

Really, why does it have to be this way? While these approaches may have some merit in their own way, would it not be good to see these times as part of the ambiguous relationship between God on man? God comes and he goes. We do not control him, but we continue to call. The silence is the breath before a new sentence. It is the long-awaited pause before an exclamation mark. The absence of God is manifold with profundities and is perhaps the most powerful experience God gives us because it allows for faith to be tested. The recognition of God’s absence is actually a confession of faith for it requires us to remember that God was once present in our lives. In that acknowledgment, we crave for his return. We know him greater through the time when he is hidden and taken away from us as one parched knows water through thirst in a way that was not appreciated when he had it in abundance (Terrien, The Elusive Presence, 311).

Is this not a spiritual experience? We would do a grievous ill to turn something that can be powerful and make it to something that is detestable and feared. Jesus’ cry to the Father on the cross, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46) resounds with mystery, pain, and bewilderment. It is strikingly profound when one considers that the union with God that Jesus maintained throughout his life was now disrupted, wrenched from him by the Father’s will. But, reader, to stop there would be a crime. The Jesus who died on the cross apart from his Heavenly Father would also rise to a new union with God and would be ascend to be at his right hand. Who’s to say that it’s not worth it?

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame….
You are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God….
I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.”

– Psalm 22:1-5, 9-10, 22-24

And now, I have stayed up and have written far more than I intended. Goodnight. 🙂

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I cannot believe that in a week, I will be moving out of Upland and going back home. It’s crazy to think about how quickly this summer has gone in some respects. I feel like so much has happened… this whole year in general. I’m not sure how to make sense of it all. Maybe it won’t all make sense to me for yet a while, but hopefully, one day I will get some clarity.

Anyway, the state of mind that I’m in currently probably have several different contributing factors. And honestly, I think it’s partly that I just need to stop… and pray… and listen. I don’t know about the way it is with others, but sometimes I’m great at neglecting the things that I know I should be doing. Sometimes, it is from sheer thoughtlessness. Other times, I simply lack the motivation or the will to do that which I know I should do. I wish I could say it all came easily to me, that I’m just always a spiritual person. But that’s not true, and in these times, I am greatly indebted to the grace that God offers to me lavishly. He seeks to restore instead of finding fault. His reproach is not without the chance for rehabilitation. My repentance may be long delayed, but it is still accepted.

I think of the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia) — to turn around, to change one’s mind. That is, to perceive and agree with God and with what he’s said. There is something strange and unsettling in realizing that one has fallen short. People just don’t like to admit their weaknesses, and I am the same way. Such realizations can lead to a paroxysm of guilt. It can be so discouraging that it leaves us incapacitated to do anything about it. In its worst, it can lead to self-hatred that is counterproductive to spiritual growth. But it would be wrong to say that God desires that our admission of guilt is as to make us feel inadequate. That would be cruel, as a bully might hold his physical prowess to psychologically threaten a smaller peer. A better illustration is that of a loving friend who, after being maligned by another, still willingly sits down to confront the person about the wrongs done against him. In the latter instance, there is an understanding of the possibility to improve the relationship once the damage has been handled. Where there is love — and God has much of that to give — there is no fear of condemnation.

God’s grace abounds. The recognition of estrangement itself should be seen as a gift from God, for it is only in the recognition that we are able to turn back to him. It is a restoration. It is being welcomed back into his presence. It is the prodigal son returning home to his father. It is just reason to give thanks and recall his generosity to us. After all, does not thankfulness help us to abide in his presence?

“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered!
How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit!
When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away
Through my groaning all day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah.
I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”;
And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.
Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found;
Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.
You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble;
You surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah.”

– Psalm 32:1-7

“But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago…”
– Acts 3:18-21

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We always want to have sense of knowing what is before us. There are those with whom the future prospects are of great concern, while there are others who “live in the moment.” But both extremities have to acknowledge that the future is a great and vast unknown, one in which there may be great anticipation or may be a cause for great fear. It would be nice at times to know what the future holds. Then at least we would feel some sort of control. And how desperately we seek to box in our future, to plot out the little details so that we would have even greater control. While there certainly is merit in planning and preparation (I’m not advocating that we do not do those things and do them well), we can’t ever really be prepared enough for the surprises that life brings us. To seize at control over that which is uncontrollable is an absurdity. So what is the proper balance?

I find my thoughts oscillating between present and future. There is something great about the anticipation of the new. The feeling is giddy, somewhat similar to the feeling one gets in starting a new relationship. Not only that, but in times of great change, there is a sense of renewal. I enter into this newness as in a ritual, allowing myself to be reborn into a new circumstance and new prospects. A new hope perhaps? It is in times like these that I appreciate it when Jesus says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). He can and does breathe new life into our circumstances… always so that he may make things better, perfecting it. At least, that is my belief.

But because there are so many variables that are unknown about the future, it is also stressful. The “what if’s” and the “maybes” linger around and occupy our attention. We become nervous, fretful, frustrated — among other things — and perhaps there is something to be said about God wanting us to live in the present. Is not the faithfulness at the present more important than obsessing over how we will respond to situations that have yet to occur? Would we not be going astray if in getting caught up with thoughts of the future we neglect to do our duties to God at the present? The Christian walk may not be always exciting. In fact, there will be times when it is downright tedious. Maybe even horrible. But perhaps those times are most revealing about who we really are.

Did our Lord not impart upon us wisdom that speaks to how we are to live presently? He was very practical about his approach to our spirituality in our daily lives. This is something I appreciate in his teachings. As is recorded in Luke 12:22-34, Jesus said:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

I do look forward to my tomorrow. But I will not overlook the blessings or the struggles of today. How can I not appreciate my Maker who is molding me with his very hands? I think I am very much in love with him. 🙂

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Jesus Calling by Sarah Young

This tiny gift book is a daily devotional that is intended to invite the reader to meditate on God’s presence.  It is written in the first person perspective as God addressing the reader directly and serves as an encouragement to consider what God has spoken through scripture.  The book would be most suitable for young adults and adults who are looking for a brief daily devotional message.

My first reaction upon looking through the book was one of disappointment.  The devotions were smaller than I expected, about a paragraph or two for each day.  After taking time to read through the devotions, I found that I enjoyed the perspective of God speaking to me.  The author integrates scripture verses seamlessly into the message.  The Bible passages are referenced at the bottom of each page and are well worth looking up.  This book is valuable if solely for the fact that it encourages direct interaction with the Biblical text as part of the believer’s lifestyle.  The concept of the presence of God is also a worthy concept for consideration. Overall, It is one of the better gift books I have read, and I would give it four stars out of five.

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What is the source of one’s desire? In searching the Bible, I have come across many instances where desire is addressed, some very good and others horribly bad (Biblegateway.com came up with about 150 hits on the word “desire”). In contemplating my own wants and hopes, I see that my desires come from many different sources which all become entangled with one another. Often, they are even conflicting. Sources such as the desires of your physical body, your emotional needs, your ego’s ambitions, your family and friend’s opinions, your society’s dictates… these should not be overlooked. Their influences exert themselves powerful upon us, and yet often go unnoticed. Or at least not examined critically.

To say that these desires come from various sources is not to make a value judgment on them. They are simply aspects of what I am contemplating as I think about giving over desires to God. These desires may or may not be good no matter where they stem. For instance, the desire to eat is a natural and correct physical desire, but it becomes corrupted with it leads to gluttonous eating at the expense of others and self. Likewise, the desire for a loving connection with one’s spouse is a good and natural emotional desire, but that desire becomes toxic when one pursues that desire despite abuse.

The line between the good and the bad can be fuzzy. Even after much seeking, the lines may not be as delineated as one would like. Therein we must put our faith into practice by pursuing God as our utmost desire. There are times when even to our good desires God may say no. Or he may simply tell us to wait. And yet, I can’t help but feel that when we put our desire of knowing God above all else, his desires become our own. That which went contrary to one another finds peace in submission to God greater will and desire. And in the union of man’s spirit with God’s Spirit, the desires shall meet in harmony. At least, that is the hope.

Psalm 73:24-26
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 145:14-19
The LORD upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.

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While packing away some of my things in preparation for the upcoming fall, I ran across some things that I had not looked at in a while. Old letters, pictures, etc. Usually, these sorts of things bring out the sentimental side of people. Everybody loves to reminisce and think about all the fun times that were had. Everybody but me. I’m not usually one to put a lot of stock in the things past and would almost always rather be thinking about what is and what will be rather than what was. Those things just aren’t “me” anymore (though they make up parts of the current “me”). I suppose they should be valued as markers of progress, and I do try to think of them as such. But other times, old memories have a way of bogging us down from the person we’re becoming, and in those cases, they can be a painful hindrance rather than help. Nostalgia is the temperamental ghost that drifts in and out of your life.

Needless to say, I’ve been having a strange couple of days. They have been days in which the low is so low that it has cast me into despair, and ones in which the high has never seemed higher and my soul stretched into the unknowns of infinity. The contrast is stark, poignant, leaving me utterly at a loss of what to do. I just don’t know how to feel at times… But in the midst of it, I was given an epiphany for which I am extremely grateful. And here I will share a small corner of that epiphany: The God who loves me is the one who forces me to be the person I need to be for my ultimate good even when I am ready to turn away from living up to my ethical code.

This truth has been painfully wrought, forged with fire and hammered down by steel. In my rebellion, I had struggled against him as he dragged me to where I need to be. It wasn’t fun. But at the end of it all, I can only say that I am grateful. I am grateful that he is what I cannot be on my own. I am grateful that he will do what I do not have strength to do. The why still eludes me. I do not know what his has in store, but what I do know is that he is creating me to be who I ought to be for whatever that purposes he has in mind. How can one fail to be optimistic in light of being in relationship with a God who is relentless in fulfilling his purposes? Hmmm… I feel like this is déjà vu from a past entry… but maybe it just means that this lesson is still powerful no matter how many times I experience it.

I am as Israel refined by God for his glory… it would be good to remember that our God is an all-consuming fire…

Isaiah 48:9-11
For my name’s sake I defer my anger,
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.

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I’ve been thinking about the “L” word lately (It’s kind of complicated to explain why, but no, I’m not dating anybody and probably won’t for a while). I really don’t mean it in the romantic sense particularly, but perhaps romantic love best exemplifies what I mean in a lot of ways. I think in a lot of ways, I’m mixed between the beauty of it, the purity that comes from one when given selflessly, honestly, and wholly, and between the selfishness, lust, and caprice that are often associated with it. Maybe it was in my immaturity that some of my former relationships became spoiled (both romantic and non-romantic). Or perhaps it is just the very nature of human relationships… Forging lasting and meaningful bonds with other finite and complex beings are not as straight-forward as we’d like it to be sometimes.

Yet, even in the darker and more cynical depths of my mind and heart, I turn my eyes the one love that is baffling in its beauty. If your best earthly friend loves you and is good to you, how much more would our Heavenly Friend be? I think it’s because of him, or mostly because of him, that I find human love to be worthwhile at all. It’s one of the strange paradoxes of the world, because you would think that knowing his love would make me more cynical of human love. In a way, this is true when I consider the fact that no one I ever meet will love me thus (and my own fallen nature would prevent me from loving him as much as I should… but it’s a process). And yet… and yet, it is in the example of Christ as a prototype for sacrificial love that I am able to think of humanity as sacrificial beings. Why is it that we find life and happiness and fulfillment in giving ourselves to another? If God is love, and we participate in love in the right manner, are are actions not somehow akin to the divine? Perhaps the capacity to love is part of our imago dei, and that love finds completion in sacrifice. Maybe therein we find that we become most Christ-like.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” – Jesus, John 15:12-17.

All that being said, I love my friends. You guys are great. ❤ ❤ ❤

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So, I broke my goal of posting more frequently. Part of it has honestly been that I haven’t had much to say. My life at the moment hangs between a tandem of “exciting and new” and “the every day.” Mind you, neither of these things are bad at all. In fact, they’ve been very, very good. I think this has been the best summers I’ve had in a long while. I’m happy with myself — with who I am currently and who I am becoming. This is just a period of growth for me, and even though there are some uncomfortable aspects, “growing pains” as it were, at the same time, I feel as if these growths are deeply rooted, necessary, life-changing…. I must be going through puberty again. haha. 🙂

Anyway, I have found it vital in this time to be particularly attentive to my pursuit of God. Could I be led astray? Surely, and that is the risk I take. It is the necessary risk of pursuing understanding, of trying to become a better person, of, as my friend Allan says, “living an authentic life.” There are so many things that could sweep me away, overwhelm me utterly, overtake me unawares… and knowing that, it becomes more important now to actively pursue and grow my own spirituality and to think critically about my faith. It’s so terrifying and exciting at the same time. If I didn’t think it was worth it, if I did not have a passion of pursing God, I would not risk it. As it were, my faith shall continue to seek understanding…

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I should start making it a habit to write while I’m inspired. But in those moments, I’m always doing something else and forget entirely. 😛

God continues to speak to me in strange ways. Through a word of a friend, through the pages of a book, through a sudden quieting of my heart, through pleasant and unexpected blessings, through the beauty of the world in which I live… This week has been a strange one, to say the least, and I’ve been contemplating on the presence of God. What is it like and what can I compare it to? It is like the thundershower on a summer’s day that comes suddenly and vanishes as quickly as it came. It is like the soft and gentle breeze on an otherwise stagnant day that you feel on your face as you are walking along the way. It is like the pleasure of an unexpected phone call from that friend with whom you talk more infrequently than you ought. It is like having a few words jump out at you from a text and speaking into your life situation…

Obviously, these are merely comparisons, and by their nature inadequate. And yet it is an attempt to describe to you the dynamics of the relationship of Creator and creature. The finiteness of man is such that the presence of God, though everywhere, is not easily captured –that is, comprehended — by men. Perhaps this shows that there is something to be said about the Divine reveling himself to us. This is a quote from a book I’m reading which is profound even if you do not happen to agree with the specifics:

“The feature of divine disruption is typical of all literary genres in all periods of biblical history. It appears in the primeval legenda (e.g., Noah, Gen 6:13), in the patriarchal saga of epiphanic visitations (e.g., Abraham, Gen 12:1 ff.), in the national epic of theophanies to Moses (e.g., Exod 3:1 ff.), in the visions of the great prophets (e.g., Amos, 7:15), in the psalms (e.g., Ps. 139:7), in Job’s pleas (e.g., 23:3 ff.), in the Jobian theophany from the whirlwind (Job 38:1 ff.), and in the synoptic traditions on the appearances of the risen Lord (e.g., Mark 16:11 et par). Biblical man is always ‘surprised by God.'” (The Elusive Presence, S. Terrien, 28).

The way that God reveals himself to me is not always expected and timely. Do you ever go through periods of time where you seek God in great earnestness only to be greeted with silence? It is quite possibly one of the most frustrating things to endure. We always want God to be found on our own time and way. But God so rarely works that way. He hides his presence for a time. but then, he shows up. Perhaps it is in that tension of silence and presence that God’s words to you become profound, and we are able to receive it with gratitude. Perhaps he is teaching us that the God who is creator of all cannot be manipulated by men. Perhaps he is waiting to see if we are listening…

“He [Elijah] entered a cave there and spent the night. Then the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD God of Hosts, but the Israelites have abandoned Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are looking for me to take my life.’ Then He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the LORD’s presence.’ At that moment, the LORD passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave…” (1 Kings 19:9-13)

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