Monday, January 05, 2009

Matthew 13:44

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field."

-A man finds the truth of God, and in his giddiness, gets up and sells everything else he owns to take in the joy and truth of this one thing.  Isn't this beautiful?!!?  This is what God calls us to--to truly dive into His love and experience it in fullness.  So much so that we are willing to give up everything we once had that does not relate to it.  

Remember, the man buys the field for the treasure--he accepts the gift along with every aspect of life that comes with it:  the lack of a house; the possible leveling, plowing, and farming that the field requires to live in; the wild animals that may inhabit it; etc.  Not only that, but he completely casts off everything he once knew because it pales in comparison to this glorious new gift.  Have you ever experienced the same thing?  Because this is the image of the love of God.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Alone with God

I have been all over the place recently.  Finishing my senior year in college, serving as youth and outreach minister at my church (not to mention all of the Christmas stuff that happens, and the Winterfest trip we just took), being the Baptist Collegiate Ministry President, as well as the state representative for our school and planning the college retreats, spending time with my girlfriend and friends (which is a blessing completely, but still time taken), and in the midst of all of this I was trying to convince myself that I was setting aside enough time for me and God.

But if that were true, there would be absolutely no reason for me to be writing this blog.

And so I realized two nights ago that God had a more solitary experience planned for me than I had for myself.  I was supposed to leave the next morning for a mission trip to Atlanta and felt incredibly ill--the worst I have felt in years.  I woke up knowing I couldn't go on the trip.  In fact, after a trip to the doctor, I realized I had tonsillitis, a respiratory infection, and strep.
Though I'm sure that God didn't just all of a sudden set this up for me to realize that I wasn't spending enough time with him, I do believe that it may be one of those things in my life that has been planned all along.  

Sometimes even good things like mission trips can be getting in the way of our relationship with God.  If our hearts aren't right with God, and our lives aren't centered correctly around God, it is very easy to miss the mark as a missionary for His gospel.  Don't get me wrong:  I will never tell you to focus more on yourself than on others, because I believe wholeheartedly that the truest way to experience the love of God for yourself is to give it to others, but at the same time, you still have to focus on yourself some.  God still wants to speak to you.  God still wants to personally interact with you--so save some time for it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Questions

So I wanted to find some fun games for my youth to work with this Christmas and I recalled one that I first played with my old Pastor PJ.  It is basically an asking of questions concerning the origins/legitimacy of the Christmas story.  I remember the first time I took and did terribly:  there were no Wisemen at the nativity scene (they came days or years later), there is no mention of a donkey, a stable, or any other farm animals (just a manger), and mistletoe apparently first meant "dung on a stick" (okay that has nothing to do with the nativity story, but it's true nonetheless).  But there were two major questions that popped into my head after having read all of this information.  

The first had to do with the origins of Christmas.  Nearly every aspect of the Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus has pagan roots, even the day we celebrate it on!  December 25th was chosen to please the Romans in the 4th century, because it fell between two of their major holidays:  Saturnalia and Winter Solstice.  Both of these holidays were known for their revelry and drunkenness.  But before this, Christians would typically celebrate the birth on one of three days spread through out the year.  What this means is that early Christians had no idea of the actual day that Christ was born!  They obviously didn't even know the year until something like the 16th or 17th Century (seeing as they got our dating system wrong trying to base it around the year he was born, though it was more likely 3 or 4 BC....).  But even things like Christmas trees, yule logs, Santa Claus, etc. come from pagan backgrounds.  So if we as Christians know their origins, does that mean we should shun their use in our remembrance of the birth?

I would answer with a resounding "NO."  Christians have taken things that were commonly used by the world and made them their own for thousands of years--ever since the church was established.  For instance (this is material from Rob Bell's "You" NOOMA video--I highly recommend it), the original translation of the "Gospels" was "euangelions."  This word was first used by the Roman Caesar Augustus to declare the good news of his birth as the savior of the people, to bring peace and prosperity to all of them.  He would then set up an advent season to celebrate this momentous occasion.  Sound familiar?  How about this:  the Romans used the word "ekklesias" to describe a city that worshiped Caesar alone as Lord.  Christians took this same word and used as what we know today as "church."  There has always been a parallel between the ideas of the world and how Christians want to view them.  They take something of evil nature and purify it to use for God.  Such has been the case with Christmas, Easter (another pagan holiday season), Rock music (and more recently Rap music), and many other traditions we now share today.  

But more importantly:  isn't this what God does for us?  Doesn't He take us from our evil roots, purify us, and use us for His glory?  When Christians take pagan practices and traditions and make them holy in the eyes of God they are literally emulating God in the world around them--they are trying to resemble the forgiving, correcting will of God.  They are reconciling a broken world to God in every way that they know how.

The second question is a little bit more complicated for some, but I figure I'll put it out there:  would you still believe every portion of the nativity story if some of it looks to be wrong?  This is a major challenge to the inerrantist and the Catholic alike because my question concerns the validity of the virgin birth.  Matthew would have been reading Old Testament scriptures (Isaiah 7:14 specifically) from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT.  This is very important, because we already see a translation from the original language, Hebrew, into Greek, even as the Bible is being written.  As any linguistic scholar will tell you, there is no perfect translation, and many consider this to be such a case.

The word in the Septuagint is 'parthenos' which, in English, means virgin.  However, scholars believe the original translating scholar (who is unknown) used the wrong word.  The word in the Hebrew language for virgin is 'bethulah,' however, the original word used by Isaiah was 'almah' which simply means young woman.  So because of a misinterpretation of scripture, the idea of a virgin conception may be entirely wrong.

I'm not asking you to believe this, and in fact, I would love comments as to why it is wrong.  But for now let's just assume that it is right.  Aside from disturbing your inerrant perspective of the Bible, does it absolutely upset belief in Christianity?  I would argue absolutely not.  If anything, it makes Jesus more of a Savior for the people--He was born of an illegitimate birth, making Him that much easier to relate to for some.  People may now argue that of course you can't believe that, because then he would be guilty of original sin.  But if you can believe that God can make a virgin conceive a baby, can't you also believe that God has the ability to make a natural born child void of any sin?  

Again on this last point:  I have not arrived to any final conclusion (though I'm much closer), as there are years of fundamentalist teaching to fight through.  But let me make it clear that there is no wrong in searching and questioning, and being challenged.  That's what theology is.  And there is also no wrong in celebrating Christmas even after obtaining a knowledge of its origins.  If we couldn't enjoy something with a humble and sinful past, there'd be no chance of enjoying this forgiven life in Christ.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

'Tis the Season

This Wednesday was one of those awesome nights at church that, unfortunately, seems to only come around the holidays.  Have you ever experienced one of those "perfect" church moments?  One of those times where it seems like everything is running exactly the way the church should be?  Let me give you my example.

This week, we have had the privilege of housing the homeless at my church in Portsmouth.  It is this awesome program that the Portsmouth churches run where, every fall/winter, all of the churches in the city take turns housing the homeless for a week.  All of the churches seem to get involved, because, even if the homeless aren't actually at their church, they help with one of the other churches.  In these recent years, we have had the pleasure of serving with St. Andrews United Methodist Church.  But this program is perhaps one of my greatest memories so far of working at my church.

So this is obviously the biggest thing I enjoy of this time of year, but Wednesday night was bigger.  I was exhausted.  I had stayed the entire night two of the three days before it (when you stay all night, you don't sleep...) and I was fairly tired.  So I couldn't help for long on Wednesday night.  But, to my surprise, after I had told my youth group the prior week that we were doing this, and so they didn't have to come for our regular service, ALL of them came to serve the homeless brothers and sisters dinner on that night.  Instead of the regular 10-12 helpers we have had through the rest of the week, we had about 35-40 helpers in the form of children and teens.  It was an absolutely beautiful display of willing Christian service.

So as I was leaving, treasuring these two things in my heart, I was walking away from the building to my car and I could see the Christmas lights in the choir room and hear the choir practicing their Christmas carols.  Isn't it awesome how quickly Christmas music can lighten your heart?  Everything that should have been happening in the church was--service, willing unity of workers from all ages, and praise and thanksgiving being offered to God--and it was a beautiful memory.
But as I said, this kind of thing seems to happen more often on Christmas than any other time.  And I don't want to be a pessimist and say that, if that's the case, then 
the church has a problem.  Because I think the church already knows that.  I think we have recognized the fact that we have gotten away from who we truly are to be in a world that is so longing for love.  I look forward to the day when these sort of Christmas memories will be made all year long.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


"He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord."
-Isaiah 2:4-5

Did you know that roughly ninety percent of our armed forces profess Christianity as their religion of choice? And that we have the largest and most globally active armed forces in the world? Do you have any idea how many wars are going on today?

It’s incredibly controversial and challenging to think or talk about in today’s society because of the levels of violence in which we live. Defense seems almost required because of the efforts to attack our lives. Terrorism runs rampant. But has it always been this way? What happened to the days of martyrdom?

Isaiah speaks of an incredible time--a day when men will turn weapons of death into tools for life. A day when God will judge and light the nations. I believe this will only happen when we let Him.

Martyrdom fell to the wayside when Constantine decided to conquer under the cross. Believing this "symbol" to be his triumphant charm, Constantine "converted" to Christianity for the furthering of his state. In today’s world, the same philosophy lives within us: we have the right to property; we have the right to bear arms; we have the right to defend ourselves. In the United States especially, this "spirit of Capitalism" reigns supreme. The concept of prosperity helped to found our nation and rests within the mind of everyone following the "American Dream."

But we are also made to believe that America is also a country founded "under God." That Christian values are the basis of our laws and values. If this is true, and the prophecy of Isaiah on the time to come is true, why does it seem like we are deviating from this path of peace? The truth is that being an American and being a Christian have become intermingled and have effectively watered down the power of both.

To be an American today means to love and support your country. It means working hard to move up in the world. It means finding your niche in your city or town and fitting into the webbing of society. But is this what the original definition was? 

Thomas Jefferson once said "to dissent is the highest form of patriotism." The original idea was not to fit in to and accept the current conditions, but to better them. Many concepts like Capitalism and the "American dream" have become common among our citizens, but these shouldn’t be our final goal. Institutions like the military have become the strongest of hiring agents, but as citizens, we don’t necessarily have to be one of the employees. What Jefferson is saying is that to truly love our country is to look for opportunities to constantly better ourselves--not monetarily or physically, but through values and moral treatment. To be a patriot is to realize that the conditions of the nation are more important than the conditions of the individual and the ever-growing status of our bank account.

Christianity in this country has almost been engulfed by the image of the flag. A pastor recently told me they were in a Christian bookstore looking for a Holy Spirit pin and couldn’t find a single Christian symbol that wasn’t wrapped in the American flag. Why is that? What has led us to believe that our country has a better form of our religion? Or even more troubling, what has led us to believe that the two are interchangeable terms?

As citizens we have been fooled into believe that supporting our country that was built on "Christian principles", is a qualifying factor for being a Christian. And as Christians in this country, our faith has been watered down to mean the same thing as being a citizen. In essence, Christianity is patriotism--defending our property and Capitalist ideals are the same thing as defending our faith.

God never intended it to be this way. As Isaiah clearly prophecies, the final plan is the end of war and the encouragement of life. Weapons will be destroyed and reused for harvesting crops, and all along God will judge and shine on creation. God never intended for us to defend our possessions: you might even question what sort of possessions He intended for us to at all. Do you remember how much Jesus and the disciples owned? Jesus once said that He didn’t even have a regular place to lay His head, and yet God would provide. If this is the case, how much do you think God intends for you to have? Even more so, what do you think He would we feel we should defend?

We often make claims to the idea of defending our faith--our country was founded on this freedom of religion. But think about how many martyrs have died for this faith. Think about how many people believed the message of Jesus so much that they were willing to face opposition with nothing other than their faith until they lost their lives. And yet the faith persists. Thousands of lives have been lost and yet Christianity is still the most widely practiced faith in the world. Do you really think God needs you to defend His message? Or are you just unwilling to accept that God’s plan is bigger than ours, and that sometimes for His message to continue sacrifices, even to the extent of death, must occur?

You see God has not called us to offense or defense. God has called us to peace. In 1 Corinthians 7:15, Paul tells us that "God has called us to live in peace." Even more so, because peace can be found no where in this world, He has called us to find peace in Him alone. Paul writes again in Ephesians 2:14 that, "For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility..." and Jesus Himself says in John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Ultimately Americans and Christians have forsaken their core teachings. They have chosen the right to property over the right to equality and peace. Jefferson’s opinion on dissent being patriotic attests to the idea that we should seek change for the greater good because current practices do nothing but benefit the individual. As Christians, we are trying too hard to fulfill God’s role of defending the continued success of His message, rather than fulfilling our role of living it out.

Ultimately, church and state should be united under only one common ideal--that they seek the well-being of its members and the peace and unity of them all. One does not determine the other. Being an American does not necessarily make one a Christian and vice versa. However, both roles can be fulfilled if we are willing to take up a lifestyle of peace--dissenting against individual gain in favor of living equally, and allowing God to defend Himself and living His message of love. As a Christian and an American I can do nothing greater than live a life of peace.

I know many times we defend war as a means of ending social injustice, but maybe it’s because that is all we know. Do you have faith in the power of the message of God? More importantly, do you have more faith in the power of God's Word than you do in our guns and bombs? What might happen if we attacked enemies with love? Of course, there would be loss, but you have to ask yourself if you believe that God’s plan, whether or not it leads to martyrdom, is greater than our own. Hasn’t our message of love outlasted any civilization of force? 

God will certainly bless America when we are willing to give up our own physical attempts at solution and let His reign supreme.

My Unchemical Romance

It's absolutely incredible to say that I'm falling more in love with someone on a daily basis.  Literally.  Every single day my hormones fire off on a greater level.  It's as if love continues to be exciting, thrilling, and all together new.  And it's all about a love affair with Jesus.

It doesn't make sense.  We all know the scientific reasoning behind "love" and falling into it.  We know that the other party's 
pheromones trigger our endorphins to make us excited, feeling fresher than before, and truly "falling hard."  And we also know what happens after about the first six months--those hormones fade and we see our partner in passion through every day eyes.

But this isn't the case with Jesus.  In fact, not a single element of this "chemical romance" holds water with Christ.  First off, He is eternal--residing in Heaven and waiting for us.  There is no physical contact and no exchange of pheromones, which means there must be something more than the physical to draw us to Him.  There's no loss of excitement in this love because everyday we can experience a different part of His fullness in our lives--who He is is too much to grab hold of in a lifetime, let alone six months.  And most importantly, with Christ, there are no rose-colored glasses--when we truly meet Jesus we aren't blinded by love.  We see Him exactly for what He is:  an image of compassion and, most importantly, perfection.  There is never an image that's too good of our Lord's love.

Falling  in love is an incredible feeling.  I encourage you to seek the relationship where you are called to do it daily.

Penalty of Death

After a rather....interesting conversation with my family at dinner, I have to ask a very important question:  are there any Christians who can provide me with a solid, biblically-based argument in support of the death penalty?  Now, again, let me clarify--I want this to be a Christian perspective and one that is biblically, not personally, founded.  This is a major topic of discussion that I have yet to hear a sound rebuttal for.  I know many of us feel strongly about the atrocities that people commit, and many others believe that death is the only penalty suitable for someone who is willing to take a life themselves, but as Christians we are called to a higher standard than just living by what we want to happen.  We are called to live by what God wants to happen.  

My opinion, for a while, has been greatly against the death penalty, and I have yet to hear a strong argument in favor of it.  Though you will most likely not change my stance in this topic (hey, at least I let you know beforehand...), you will provide a strong asset to my understanding of both sides of the topic.  One of my strongest opinions on the topic is that judgement is to be left for God, and so I am seeking to do the same in my understanding of the topic:  to not pass judgment on supporters of the death penalty, but rather to understand where they are coming from to see if the Bible has anything to say in favor of their position.

P.S.  I know the Old Testament has a lot to say about the use of death as a punishment.  I'm looking for what Jesus or the New Testament might say in favor of it.  Remember the New Covenant in your defense please!

P.P.S.  If you are not Christian and still want to weigh in, I'd enjoy hearing your words as well; I'm just really trying to hear a sound biblical presentation for the death penalty.  Thanks!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mere Reflections of Truth

God is big.  I mean huge.  But at the same time He's small.  Small enough to "live in your heart" as they say.  Does anyone see the paradox there?  God is pure spirit and yet was fully human in the form of Jesus Christ.  It doesn't make any sense!  Perhaps that is why people believe.  Physical nature deals in example.  In experience.  In tests.  The spiritual nature doesn't understand that.  Perhaps the greatest example is that of God's love.

People have tried to qualify the love of God for years.  In many cases, the concept has become an effort to disprove the existence of God.  

'If God is love, why does evil exist?' 

'If God is love, why do bad things happen to good people?'

But to the true Christian these statements don't need to be qualified.  God is love in the good and the bad.  Everything is willed by Him, and for us to believe in His love is believe in His existence, His very Being.  It is not a kind of love that can be qualified like the weaker version of human love that we try to compare to it, but rather one that goes beyond explanation.  It precedes experience.  It goes beyond tests.  The love of God is beyond complete human understanding.

As is the ultimate truth of who or what God is.  This blog is an attempt to bridge the gaps of knowledge along the road we call life.  Paul teaches in Ephesians 4 that unity within the body leads to spiritual development and the growth of the knowledge of God within that body.  This is an attempt at reaching that goal as well.  I'm seeking to search my own soul and thoughts, but also to use those searchings and thoughts to spark discussion within a communal setting--to allow this body of believers to discuss and grow in their knowledge of God.

Because we're never going to know it all, are we?  But the Bible teaches us that together we can learn much more than we can individually.  We can gain a fuller understanding of the Word.  We can get closer to the heart of God together than we ever could apart.  We can begin to dust off the glass to see the Being and love of God for what it is, with greater clarity and fullness than we could have ever imagined.

8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. -1 Corinthians 13: 8-13

I look forward to striving towards fully knowing God together as a community.  I pray that His love will continue to overflow in your life, and that you can testify to the love of God no matter what experiences you face.

It's Been a While...

Wow.  It has been far too long since I posted on this blog...after reading some of the previous posts, I realize how important it is to keep it up--I used to be darn good at writing!!!  Whether or not that still holds true is up for debate.  I recently (like 10 minutes ago) started a different blog because I couldn't remember the password to this one.  But here I am, password rediscovered.  So I'm going to post my semi-new blog semi-first post now.  Don't mind the references to starting a new community if you used to read this--I still like you, I promise.  And you can continue to read.

Friday, August 10, 2007


I was trying to think of something clever and witty to put into this blog, but I really can't think of anything other to say than this--my God is amazing. Thinking about Him honestly kept me smiling all day today. And that's not to say that today didn't have its issues. My cousin was sent away to a boarding school today for the school year, I was at work 45 minutes later than I was supposed to be because of a prior paperwork mistake that ended up costing me over 1000 dollars, and I had to wait for 30 minutes in a Taco Bell line to get a burrito. As traumatizing as it was (and I'm exaggerating my emotions tremendously on most of those), God managed to keep me smiling.

I was trying to think of something clever a

I've realized that even when I can't get past my own faults I can look at God and see the image of perfection that He is creating me to be. I can look away from the sin and shortcomings of my life and the lives of those around me and see the God who loves us no matter who we are, but too much to leave us there. I can see through to a God who wants to remove the clutter and restraints in my life to mold me into a creation of perfection and freedom.

That's right freedom. Being a Christian has nothing to do with being controlled by God and being a goody-goody. As a matter of fact, if you aren't following God, then you are being controlled by the lustful desires of your body. To follow sin and pleasure is to be like everyone else in this world, and therefore, to be ordinary. To find your identity in Christ is to become an entirely NEW CREATION. It's to gain freedom from the body, to break free from the chains of sin, and to gain a personality that is completely unique to you given through Christ.

But enough of the personal, small-scale level. Consider how amazing God is in that sense, in the lives of the individual, and then look at the larger picture, the entire realm of Creation around us. Some celestial being can create a world of this measure in 7 days, turn back time for His servant Joshua to win a war, raise His Holy Son from the dead after three days, and change the entire story of mankind for the rest of time. And this created me? I can't even begin to fathom this entity!! I could honestly sit here and try and wrap my brain around it until the sunrises, but I do have work in the morning...

We all have goals--great plans for where we want to be in 10 years and what kind of house we want to live in. We can all picture the things that we want to pursue. Why not pursue the thing that's too big to picture, too big to dream of, or even begin to comprehend? Following God and His plan for your life is the most reasonable thing you can do. Nobody wants to aim for mediocrity. So shoot for the highest possible goal in this life--creativity, individuality, and personality found through nothing else than Christ Jesus our Savior.

"The earth and everything in it,
the world and its inhabitants,
belong to the Lord:
for He laid its foundation on the seas
and established it on the rivers.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in His holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who has not set his mind on what is false,
and who has not sworn deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the Lord,
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek Him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Lift up your heads, you gates!
Rise up, ancient doors!
Then the King of Glory will come in.
Who is this King of Glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates!
Rise up, ancient doors!
Then the King of glory will come in.
Who is He, this King of Glory?
The Lord of Hosts,
He is the King of Glory."

-Psalm 24