Dec 14, 2009
Therefore, rise up. Rise up and stand with the face of a servant and the heart of a conqueror; for the sword of redemption has already long been at hand. It merely waits for us. It waits for us to rise from the shadows to receive the source of its light. It waits for us to wield such hope against despair.
Let it be so, and the world shall be set free. Let it be so, and we, its fragile people, shall find peace. Now and forevermore. AMEN.
Dec 7, 2009
So, express the joy of such hopeful anticipation wherever you are this season. Celebrate through the delight of friendships and family, the freedom of giving, and the expression of worshipful song. Together, let us continue to open our hearts for the beautiful riches and depth of this Christmas season.
To God be all glory and honor, forever and ever. AMEN.
Nov 27, 2009
I have heard others (e.g. Aaron Stern, pastor of theMILL--the college/20-something ministry at New Life Church) echo the notion that many (but not necessarily all) can feel free to try a variety of jobs and pursuits in their twenties. God can definitely work through such a journey of exploration and transition. Yet, with that, it has also been said that most should have a pretty good idea of where their lives are going once they reach their thirties. This seems like sound advice in a general sense. Again, not everyone may have that freedom; especially those with families to provide for. Though, as one article commenter wrote: "I think you have to be able to get past the question, "how will I support myself/family" (Ben DeWitt).
Nonetheless, perhaps the nature of American culture today almost even dictates that 20-somethings try a number of different jobs. Many job opportunities (especially in this economy) are short-term, which requires the 20-something to move on and try something else. Also, many job domains seem closely guarded by the older generations (i.e. Builder and Boomers). This has been said to still be affecting generation Y, let alone the millennials (i.e. generation X, c. 18-32 years old). I cannot say for certain in that regard, but I have observed and heard about it on various occasions.
Overall, it seems that there is really no one answer to the vocation question, though many (especially the older generations) would attest otherwise. Each person has a unique journey to pursue. That seems to be God's way. He is above any preconceived set of rules or formulas. Not that such things, which have been found to be generally true by our predecessors, should be cast aside. Rather, the important perspective is that such rules are guidelines at best. Guidelines, not laws. This reality then requires abundant grace and patience. It requires discernment of the Holy Spirit, and it requires perseverance. But, above all perhaps, it requires faith in YHWH. He is truly greater--His scope of power vaster--than anything we have ever perceived and ever will perceive. To God be all the glory, forever and ever. AMEN.
Oct 27, 2009
It strikes me that in responding to the question “What does growing up mean?” few have offered a Biblical response.
Now, I must state that I do not have any real answers. I have been wrestling with this topic by another name quite a bit already, especially as I approach two months of unemployment followed by period of heavy job hunting. As anyone who has ever been unemployed may attest to, such a time is truly challenging. I believe it challenges men especially, as they are commonly pressed by our culture to pursue certain ideas of success. But that is yet another topic of discussion.
What does the life of Jesus teach us? In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers writes that the will of God is to pursue Christ-likeness. The Gospels seem less concerned with any cultural “coming of age”, but rather a maturation of our relationship with the Triune God and with our neighbors. The Word teaches that one of the ultimate truths, in fact the Truth, is Love. The mysterious triune nature of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is referred to by many names. YHWH could essentially be described in infinite ways. But one of the primary themes of the Gospel, of Christ’s passion—of the entire Scriptures—is that of Love. “God is Love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (I John 4:16). Thus, Christ is Love, and that is what we are called to pursue. It is the source of our hope. It is the source of our purpose in this world: to join the Spirit’s work in spreading the Kingdom of God to every heart in order that it might believe and receive Christ’s love.
But the pursuit is not limited to our relationship with God. It must be extended to those around us. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (see Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19; Romans 13:10; James 2:8) or “Love one another” (John 13:34-35; I Thessalonians 4:9; I Peter 1:22; I John 3:11, 23, 4:11) are calls saturating the Scriptures. From Love grows the fruit of the Kingdom. From Love the world was forgiven and offered the hope of redemption, the promise of eternal salvation from the chaos of sin. Love is our only true hope for peace. While we cannot fully realize Love in this fallen world, we can hope for its fuller reality when Jesus returns to assert his kingship.
I for one am humbled by this marvelous gift from YHWH. I then begin to wonder whether growing up is about the lifelong surrendering of our lives to the Kingdom of God as Jesus did. There surely cannot be a point where we have actually grown up; for, as another commenter notes, such a point would presume a lack of needing to continue growing. Knowing our frail natures, growing up must be a lifelong process; or even cycle of reexamining Truth with new or deeper insight. It is like the last refrain of Sleeping at Last’s song “Birdcage Religion” from their album Storyboards, which pleads “please be a broken record for me.” Growing up must have something to do with faith, with a peace found in the confidence of YHWH’s provision for our every need. That no matter how much we wrinkle and tear our clothes, His Love will “soften these edges and straighten out my tie/ and help me remember/ the hope that I have compromised” (Sleeping at Last, “Birdcage Religion”).
Growing up is surely a multi-faceted experience. If Love is at its core, it must not only have something to do with our connection with God, but, again, with the service and sacrifice we offer through the Holy Spirit’s stirring, Christ’s strength, and God’s faithfulness to others. Then again, perhaps growing up is not the facet we should be dwelling too long on. Perhaps it is so relative today that it is rendered rather unhelpful to discuss. I am not sure. There is probably much more to be said.
Nonetheless, if growing up is any of these things then we will be busy for quite some time . . . until the only one who truly “grew up” returns to make things right once and for all. To God be the glory, forever and ever. AMEN.
Oct 26, 2009
Above every storm, the light shines forth.
Forgiveness is the beginning. It is the foundation in which the seed of Hope can be fostered. The Spirit of Truth plants it freely in the hearts of those who humbly receive it. Yet, that is only the beginning. The source of such redemption, like an invisible Tree of Life waiting to be found, must be sought.
But, how can we find the tree? How can it be measured?
The beautiful freedom of Forgiveness, perhaps, is that no tangible value can bind it. For who can truly measure the Love that offers such a gift? Love is immortal. It has many names. It is the Tree of Life.
But, it also has a Keeper. He comes from a line of kings, and has also been known by many names. He gives himself wholly to the Tree’s care. In truth, he nourished the tree with his own blood. His blood is its life. His blood is the Love that makes it grow. His Love offers humanity forgiveness—a rich foundation promising eternal inheritance—as it is held in the Keeper’s palm of peace. His love helps the seed of Hope to grow. It grows in the hearts of those who accept it—hearts that were once empty dying kingdoms in this world, but are now filled with his Kingdom of Life.
Though such orphans are now heirs—no longer slaves, but free men and women—the world itself is not yet a place governed by Peace. The world is still dictated in part by chaos. Its ruler plagues the world with violence.
Yet, there is great significance in even one life saved. For the Kingdom of Peace is waging an invisible war against the kingdom of chaos. It needs every freed son and daughter to take part. The end is already written; it is the merely final moment that remains unknown.
Therefore, the heirs of the Kingdom of Peace are called to strive against the tempest who seeks to consume the world with chaos. The heirs are to help their companions when they fall down, and to free the lingering orphans. Freedom comes at a great cost, but hope in the Kingdom of Peace must endure. It must protect itself with the Shield of Faith. It must win new ground as more than a conqueror, which can only be achieved by actively wielding the Sword of Truth.
The Sword of Truth is Hope. Hope is the seed planted in Forgiveness, from which Love is the source of its maturation. Love is Peace. Peace is the promise of a kingdom: the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a kingdom of Peace, Love, and Hope. It is the Kingdom of YHWH. He is those truths, and those truths are Him. He is the Spirit, and He is the Keeper.
YHWH is everything. He is our Family of Meaning.
Proof is eternity. AMEN.
That family, however, must extend beyond the immortal invisible to include the mortal visible. In the beginning, YHWH walked alongside Adam in a world unmarred by corruption. Yet, the God of the universe still proclaimed that all was not good in the world. Though mankind enjoyed pure unhindered relationship with God, the great “I am” asserted that something was missing. The need for both spiritual community and physical community is perhaps one of the great mysteries stemming from creation. But it is the truth. It is written in the Word. From that truth so much has come to pass, including the ultimate community of YHWH: His gathering, the Church. Though surely blemished by the frailty of humanity, the Church is an important place for heirs to find and pursue deeper belonging. But their sense of belonging must transcends church walls if the heirs are to help liberate the lost orphans of the world.
Vocation, therefore, is a thread of the intangible and tangible tapestry of needs. Yet, vocation can be a difficult road to discover for some. The challenges take various forms. Some hardships are allowed by YHWH to strengthen His heirs. Yet, some are a result of the weaknesses that remain within their hearts. Some hindrances are even deliberate attacks waged by the enemy. The prince of chaos seeks tirelessly to hold his darkness over all life, to hinder the efforts of the Kingdom of Peace. What can be done in the face of such storms?
The heirs must endure. They must trust in the Family of Meaning. They must trust in the Final Victory.
But, how is that possible? The Keeper of Hope not only offers Forgiveness, but also Redemption. In Redemption there is Hope. To grow, however, it must take root within the hearts of both the individual and the community. Only then can they find the strength to persevere: to stand when members stumble and fall. Only then can they continue fighting when it seems that all is lost.
For even in the darkest of places, there is still light.
Proof is eternity. AMEN.
Jun 5, 2009
I have read a few books delving into racial justice, including a biography of Martin Luther King Jr. and even (at an international scale) Ghandi's Hind Swaraj . I agree with one commentator of the aforementioned article that the racial discussion is a bit worn out and even now possibly a catalyst for further racist thinking. The term "race" has in itself become a somewhat divisive term. Henceforth, I agree with those who suggest that citizens of the United States ultimately (while not being "color blind") see each other as fellow children of God instead of some variety of "_______ American". Those who follow Jesus must recognize that the Kingdom of YHWH transcends physical borders. I do believe, however, that God intended for there to be diversity across the world. It makes life so much more interesting and dynamic . . . and humbling.
I have wondered whether such terms as "_______ American" are limiting and unhelpful. "African American," for example, or the somewhat more vulger limitation of "black," merely implies skin color. Yet, Africa is a large continent full of its own vast cultural diversity (not to mention a fair amount of European and Middle Eastern cultural roots). Similarily, "Caucasian" is an unhelpful term in also merely indicating skin color. It is vaguer than the term "African American" in its meaning. Caucasian generally implies European origin; however, Europe itself is an equally diverse continent. The same conclusions can be applied to the broad regions of Asia, Central and South America (generally termed Latin America with a number of other "general" word descriptions), as well as the Pacific region. And I do not think I have ever heard anything like "Middle Eastern American". Usually immigrants from the Middle East define themselves as Iranians or Afghans, etc. I think it is most helpful, if identifying your cultural roots is necessary in the conversation or relationship, to be specific. That applies to Americans as well. If someone is American, despite having ethnic Nigerian, Russian, Israeli, Guatemalan, Philippino, Korean, English, German, etc. roots—all of which may be important facets of his or her heritage—yet he or she has been born and raised in the United States, he or she is an American. Simply American. Not "Nigerian American" or "Russian American", just American. The United States was founded on principles of vast diversity. Though surely not practiced anywhere near perfection from the beginning (e.g. the oppression of many Native American tribes; though, even that conflict went both ways), it is something unique—a strange social experiment perhaps. It is a cultural melting pot of sorts, rooted in countless nations of the world. In some sense, the United States is built on principles that anyone can live and progress no matter what cultural or social heritage they have come from. There is something remarkable, though not necessarily fully beneficial (e.g. losing one’s cultural identity: another topic for another time), in such openness.
I do occasionally wonder what it really means to be American, but that is also a subject for another time. Nonetheless, many foreign populations themselves (e.g. Germany) find it difficult to truly identify what makes them as Germans unique in the world. Perhaps the era of strong nationalism and even patriotism is fading with such evident growing globalization and internationalization (greatly rooted in economics—e.g. money: another source of disunity).
However, the most separating factor of late seems to be religious affiliation. It seems the world has circled back to its ancient social sins. I pray that the incredibly oppressive violent so-called religious wars of the past do not repeat themselves. Some seem to have never truly ended as one examines the tribal wars of the world. Perhaps all have never really ended. They merely have shifted to more discrete methods on occasion like social division.
Overall, I find inspiration in the aforementioned article commentator’s call to exceed such diverse and numerous barriers between people, and remember that above all we share something much greater: humanity. Aside from that, and perhaps gender, each person is completely unique from the next. While there is surely academic merit (i.e. for the purposes of social study) in making some cultural generalizations, let us not forget that the only way to truly know someone different than ourselves (i.e. everyone) we must take the time to build relationship with them, to hear their story and live life with them in some form of community. This can only be hoped to achieve through Love, who is Jesus Christ. Love is the foremost call of humanity, from whence other issues (e.g. salvation) can be later addressed. In some sense, I believe all else grows from Love, like the Tree of Life lost after Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Eden. But perhaps it is no longer lost, but has been offered anew to every heart through the atoning work of the Gospel, which is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is surely more complicated than that, but I am more interested in foundational Truth at this point. Such Truth has been difficult enough to practice.
I do not have practical solutions or answers. I leave that to greater minds. Yet, I conclude with this question: Without Love for our neighbor, for our fellow human being, are we not then reducing ourselves to a mere scattering of islands in a endless ocean? Are we not then utterly alone in the world without hope of redemption and reconciliation? We have been shown and given real Love, which is the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, who is Jesus. It is a timeless endeavor, but one that we must nonetheless pursue. It is the pursuit of holiness, of sanctification. It is the pursuit of YHWH.
“Love is not against the law.” (Derek Webb)
Mar 24, 2009
"What’s worth living for is worthy dying for. What’s worth succeeding in is worth failing in” ("On Emerson").
(Both selections can be found within Selected Prose of Robert Frost, edited by Hyde Cox and Edward Connery Lathem)
Mar 3, 2009
It has been argued that the continuing popularity of the antihero in modern literature and popular culture may be based on the recognition that a person is fraught with human frailties, unlike the archetypes of the white-hatted cowboy and the noble warrior, and is therefore more accessible to readers and viewers . . . In the postmodern era, traditionally heroic qualities, akin to the classic ‘knight in shinning armor’ type, have given way to the ‘gritty truth’ of life, and authority in general is being questioned. The brooding vigilante or ‘noble criminal’ archetype . . . is slowly becoming part of the popular conception of heroic valor rather than being characteristics that are deemed un-heroic.
An approaching film, “The Watchmen”, based on the 1980’s Hugo-award winning graphic novel by Alan Moore (writer) and Dave Gibbons (illustrator), is probably the best example of this development. Another recent example could be the character of Bruce Wayne (a.k.a. Batman) in the two recent Christopher Nolan films. In general, antiheroes follow pulp fiction and film noir narratives, a response to the traditional comic book heroes of the early war years (e.g. Superman). But they have certainly extended into other arenas as well. An example of what seems to be the most morally detrimental expression of this is the game series “Grand Theft Auto.”
Nonetheless, I sense an increasingly nihilistic worldview attached to antiheroes. In many cases a sense of hope in good has been removed—hope, namely, in something beyond or greater than society. The primary example of this for me is the presentation of spirituality. In films such as “Constantine” or “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” there seems to be an incredible lack of a strong realm of good to counter the clearly-presented realm of evil. The battle is usually between humanity and evil. Yet, as humanity is inherently flawed, it appears to be a battle between a greater evil and a lesser evil. Naturally, not all art forms demonstrate this trend, but it does seem to be on the rise.
Thinking of the latter, there are numerous recent film antiheroes who resort to incredible violence in the name of justice (e.g. “The Punisher”). A quote by the character Aereon from the film “The Chronicles of Riddick” offers another example of a potential shift to unbalance in its narrative:
If we are to survive, a new balance must be found. In normal times, evil would be fought by good. But in times like these, well, it should be fought by another kind of evil.
Is this true? Individuals, human and flawed, can be inspiring models of heroism. But overall I believe they must not take that power and irresponsibly to freely define their own moral action. This, in part, is the battle against extreme post-modernism. For uncompromised hope and victory, there must be a power greater than the fallible antiheroes including even national authorities. The only steadfast answer is God, the lord of creation. Though I will not delve into discussing it further now, one should note how Jesus offers a stark contrast in heroism to the common world hero. In his crucifixion, Jesus was a lion in sheep’s clothing. He fought injustice with the sword of his Word, against human sin nature and against the prince of the world (i.e. Lucifer). Only in this is the world’s search for hope satisfied. It is hope in divine justice and judgment, in grace and provision. It is hope in Love.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness,” Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed, “only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Mar 2, 2009
Overall, however, I currently am inclined to think of the term "church" as no longer relevant or useful (much like the term "Christian"). I am more apt to talk in terms of the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven). This is the language that saturates the Biblical narrative. Yet, is the Kingdom synonymous with the Church, or is there a difference? Looking at the church as it is practiced today, and trying to be a good scholar, I would be initially inclined to answer with a "yes" and a "no." But I do not believe I am equipped to discuss that at length here.
As I begin to seek more specified answers to the aforementioned questions, I came across Andrew Schwab's article "Church Shopping" (Relevantmagazine.com), which seems to offer some good early thoughts. As always, it is interesting to read some of the comments. The emerging generation certainly has an interesting perspective. It is refreshing to have some international voices, as well as elder wisdom, in the mix.
Finally, I have come across the idea of the culture moving toward "post-Evangelicalism," and wonder if there is some validity in this development. But it also begs the question: "What truly is Evangelicalism?" Another question to note as the journey continues. In light of this, and the creative musings of Ian Morgan Cron, I appreciate the closing words of Richard Stuart (a commentator on Schwab's article):
"What finally put a stop to this in my life was leaving evangelicalism altogether. I went to a church that, instead of having a special service for every demographic slice, has one liturgy for everyone, with young and old and in-between with all their flaws and foibles, that actually gets to know people as they are without giving up on telling them what they can become, that has never sacrificed doctrine for popularity, and whose every last act in its services is rich with symbolism and meaning, if only you look for it.
"I joined the Eastern Orthodox Church. You know, the one that the Catholics split off from. With the funky languages, the icons, the 'dead rituals' as evangelicals call them. But they're not dead, not at all, unless you want them to be. It's not a perfect church, you'll never find a perfect church. But it gets the essence of Christianity, the daily struggle to grow closer to Christ and one another. They're all reviled as old, out of touch, and all the other insults that are wrapped up in the term 'ritualistic.' But I would really, really encourage you (and all the other commenters here) to just go to one one Sunday, see for yourself."
Feb 17, 2009
With that said, I was drawn to reading Eric Hurtgen's article "Stick a Fork in It: Postmodernism" as yet another simple starting point. I found his thoughts interesting, and am anxious to delve further into the dialogue as it also relates to the Kingdom.
Feb 12, 2009
Above: Mama preparing some cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving
Above: An iconic shot of Papa videotaping Anna’s soccer game.
Below: My friend Eric and I before a sunset run on the beach.
1st Below: BFA ’03 classmates Andrew Tebbe and Alyssa Smith (RA and art teacher), and friend Rebecca Beeh (also art teacher)
2nd Below: At a German art studio with friend and fellow STAND facilitator Ramona Sebald, as well as Alyssa and Rebecca
A definite highlight was my first solid one-on-one time with Ryan, in which we went snowboarding twice: once in
In Him, JOSH
Below: Christmas day with my sister Tabitha, brother-in-law Ryan Fultz, as well as Mom and Dad