Sunday, October 30, 2011

Beauty for Ashes

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me... to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
-Isaiah 61:1,3

This will simply be me sharing a story with you. About a month ago, I was in Florida on a business trip. We were all very excited about being there, as it is much more enjoyable to go to the Florida coast for business than it is to go to most other places (like Cincinnati). However, one of the days that I was there, I was awakened quite early in the morning in anger and frustration. I won't really get into the reasons why (they're not especially relevant), but imagine your times when you feel the lowest. Frustration, anger, feelings of worthlessness seeping through every part of your being. You can't really feel much lower. You want to cry to yourself, and you have no idea why God would allow you to feel this way! It was about 5:00-5:30 in the morning (I intended to get up at about 7:00), and I didn't really think that I was going to be able to go back to sleep.

I went outside to my balcony, thinking that, though I couldn't go all the way back to sleep, I may be able to get a little catnap in. I was right - I was able to fall asleep for about 5 minutes, but then I woke back up and realized something. It was just starting to get light outside, the sunrise was about to happen, and I had nothing pressing that would prevent me from watching it. I went ahead and went down to the beach to walk along it as the sun was rising. I was treated to this:

God's Beauty for my Ashes

It was very refreshing to enjoy God's beauty and feel his comfort at one of my lowest points.  I'm not going to pretend that suddenly I felt better, life was meaningful, and I was ready to go skipping all the way to heaven, but I did feel like God was there watching over me.  And that He cared.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Herod's Death

On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. 
 - Acts 12:21-23

This verse causes problems for me.  (Not saying that it is wrong by any means, just saying that it poses difficulties in my mind.)  I confess openly that I am an incredibly analytical person.  So, as I came across this verse with a fresh perspective (this had previously been a text I memorized in High School when I was competing in "Bible Bowl" - when I would memorize large chunks of the Bible and yet not actually pay close attention to what they said), it made me ask some questions.  Here is the primary one: how did the author determine that "an angel of the Lord struck him down"?  Now, I know that this question is influenced heavily by our culture that likes to second guess everything in the Bible and to find rational explanations for everything, even the seemingly miraculous.  However, both this and the death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 make me wonder these things.  Did Herod do something that was really that much different than what so many people have done before and since?  Why did the angel of the Lord strike Herod specifically?  

Here is my first example - Egyptian Pharaohs.  The Pharaoh was considered a god in the Egyptian belief system.  Therefore, the Pharaohs were regularly acting like gods and not giving praise to God.  Yet, many of them lived - and the only one that we know of that ran into any difficulties with God intervening was the Pharaoh (Ramses 2?) that Moses dealt with when trying to get the Israelites freed.  Why did God strike down Herod and let all of the other ones live?  

Even moreso - several Roman Caesar's (specifically ones that reigned during the infancy of Christianity) claimed to be divine.  Yet, we have no stories of any of them being struck down by God.  In fact, Jesus tells us to "give to Caesar what is Caesar's" and Paul tells us to be in submission to the authorities.  So, again I come back to: why was Herod struck down for accepting a divine claim?

What's my point?  I don't really have one.  This is just one of those things that I run into that makes me start questioning everything all over again. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Doubt: Part #1

I say part #1, because I assume that I will write about Doubt several times if I continue writing on this blog. The main reason I assume this is because Doubt is far and away the biggest struggle that I have in life.  Yes, I definitely have other symptoms, but I believe that most all of them spring from this central question that bounces around in my brain far more often than I would like (especially since I would like for it to be never): "What if I'm wrong?"

There is a big difference between knowing something on an intellectual level, and knowing something to the extent that it permeates your very being.  I have struggled with Doubt since High School.  Because of this, I find apologetics to be very interesting (and useful) reading.  However, even in this, my brain is a bit over-analytical.  I start thinking: "Well, don't the other religions have something like this as well?"  And I also think (keep in mind, I have a degree in Mathematics in which I did a lot of proofs) "Since I'm coming into this proof with a predisposition that I want to believe that Christianity is true, doesn't that cloud my judgement?  How do I know that these facts are convincing to an unbiased third party that would read them neither trying to prove nor disprove Christianity?"  (By the way, these phantom "neutral parties" don't exist in religious conversations - everyone has something they believe in, even if that something is the belief that it's not possible for them to know what is true.)

Why does this Doubt permeate into all of the other areas of my life?  Well, let's take evangelism as a first example.  (Keep in mind that evangelism isn't something that I think would come especially naturally to me anyway, as I like to be liked and, from what I've read of Jesus, being liked wasn't exactly something high on his list.  Loving people and confronting them with the truth were much, much higher)  When you are telling someone about Jesus and in the back of your mind is "What if I'm wrong?", then your answer to yourself is "then I'm tricking us both."

Now, with my over-analytical personality, I have gone over this issue.  So, what if I truly am wrong and I live my life as a Christian.  Well, there are two potential situations here: am I living my life as a sold-out Christian, or a fear paralyzed Christian.  If I live as a sold-out Christian, then, as Paul states "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."  (1 Corinthians 15:19 NIV).  Conversely, there is the person that lived the fear paralyzed life.  If he is wrong, then one of two things happens: someone else (another religion) is right, or nobody was.  If nobody is right, then I guess there's not anything I could have done.  If another religion is right, then I suppose that the one I hope it doesn't wind up being is Islam.  And (analytically) this would be because they don't believe in the cycles of birth, death and rebirth that most of the other religions believe in, and so if one of the other religions is correct, then I would at least have another chance of getting things right.

Anyway, I got off on a bit of a tangent, just so that I could share some of my thoughts.  Here's something much more important that I thought of while I was writing this: What if I am right, but I allow my life to be paralyzed with fear?  Now, I believe in a very gracious God, and so I do not believe (maybe this is that I hope) that it will not be a salvation issue.  However, I believe we are all held accountable for our actions - or our complete lack of actions.  If Christianity is true, and fear has paralyzed me, then I am in a situation in which I must stand before the Lord and tell Him that I have done nothing to advance His kingdom nor to show His love.  I would much rather actually live like Christ died for me, because I want to stand before the throne and show how His love transformed my life, and show what He empowered me to do with the gifts that have been given to me.

How do I do this?  How do I overcome my doubt?  Well, I can tell you for a fact how you can't do it:   reading apologetics.  These books are awesome, and I really enjoy them.  However, though I've read several of them, and am convinced to at least 99% on an intellectual level, it has not overcome this doubt.  Therefore, this doubt must be a spiritual issue.  And with any spiritual issue, I believe the most powerful weapon I have is prayer.  This is something that I need to be in continual prayer about - and if anyone reads this, feel free to pray for me about this as well.  Pray that I am able to overcome my doubt and truly know in every part of my being how incomprehensible the love of Jesus Christ is.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Foxes Have Holes

“As they were walking along the road, a man said to him [Jesus], ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’  Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’” – Luke 9:57-58 NIV

So, let’s be honest.  This passage has never really meant very much to me.  My “in-depth exegesis” of this verse has basically been “following Jesus is hard.”  However, the other day as I was moving from one friend’s house to another for a few days – until I moved to yet another friend’s house (for a total of at least 4 places in less than two months), it really started to gain much more meaning.  Home is where you go when you’ve had a rough day.  It is where you go when you feel like the world is out to get you – whether it’s because of something that happened or because of something in your own mind.  You go there and you feel safe.  You feel like you have some control over some aspect of your surroundings.  You don’t feel exposed.

Jesus didn’t have this.  From what I can assume, Jesus relied on God for all of this.  This is pretty impressive to me.  Sure, I like to think that I trust in God.  I like to pray “give us this day our daily bread,” but I would just assume have my daily bread planned out ahead of time.  I’d rather be able to go to my hole and feel safe.  I really think that what he was telling the man wasn’t “yeah, life will be tough” as much as “following me means rejecting this world – all of it.”  I wonder how often Jesus slept outside.  I assume from reading the gospels that he often stayed with friends that welcomed him into their homes, but I’m sure that there were nights spent outside as well.  We read of him praying all night in the garden of Gethsemane.  How often did he spend the entire night out there praying, and how often did he spend the night there actually sleeping?  Did Jesus ever move on from a location because he felt like he had overstayed his welcome?  Since Jesus doesn’t ever seem to pull any punches, I’m sure there were lots of times that he told someone the truth, and they were offended by it – I wonder how often this happened when he was staying with people; and how often he got kicked out because of it.

I could ponder on that for a long time, but instead I’ll point out another aspect of not having a hole.  As a more experienced Christian in my life pointed out to me the other day, “stuff [possessions] burdens you down.”  He’s right.  (This is relevant because you don’t really own much stuff if you don’t have a home to put it in.)  There are many ways in which stuff can be a burden.  When was the last time you flew somewhere?  How much did you pack?  Wasn’t it a pain to haul that stuff all over the airport (or even to the check-in desk)?  That’s not the only way that stuff is a burden.  What about when you move?  There’s a reason that people throw away so much stuff right before they move.  I think Jesus knew all of this.  That’s why he didn’t own things – it allowed him to be free from worries about belongings.  Possessions really cut both ways.  They are often used for comfort in our society (I’m sure I’m not the only one who has ever bought something because I had a bad day, or because I figured it would make me better in some shallow way).  However, owning all of these things is also a very heavy burden mentally.  How often did you worry about everything you had being stolen in college?  I know that I never bothered locking my door (except when I slept) for 4 years of college.  Now?  I lock(ed) it all the time.  The more you have, the more you’re worried about not having it.  Now, I’m as guilty as anyone else about materialism (before the tornado I had around 200 board games, and I’m sure that soon enough I’ll have close to that many again).  It’s really just something to think about when buying more and more of whatever the latest thing is.

So, to pretend to wrap this thought up – I’m way more impressed with Jesus and how he lived and performed his ministry than I ever have been before.  I just can’t even put into words how intimidating it is to even think about not having a home, and knowing that you won’t have a home for the rest of your life!  (And what about Paul with his missions… I wonder if he was actually a bit relieved when he went to prison and at least knew where he was going to sleep and had a roof over his head….. but I can ponder on that later.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Hi.  My name is Josh.  And I'm a Christian (and as I type that, it sounds a lot like an Alcoholics Anonymous intro).  I write a couple of other blogs - the main one being about board games.  Occasionally, after a particularly meaningful sermon, or after certain things happen in life, I think I should reflect on these things.  That's really what I figure this blog will be for.  I have no idea how often I will update it (or if I will ever update it).  I put off writing this introduction for about a month, so that's probably not very promising.  To be fair, however, that was also the same month after my house was destroyed by a tornado (I wrote about that on my other blog here if you're interested in reading about that).

Who am I, and what are my "credentials"?  Well, I grew up in the church - having attended for as long as I can remember.  Eventually, I even went to graduate school (seminary) and received a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry (MACM).  I have also been hurt by the church a lot.  Starting in high school, I started thinking outside of the bounds of the denomination that I grew up in.  Though many of my beliefs are still the same as what I was taught in it, many others are nowhere near it (and the beliefs that stuck around are much more researched than they used to be).  I must honestly say that my set of beliefs doesn't really mesh completely with any denomination that I've ever learned anything about (and I've learned about quite a few of them).  One of my Christian passions is ecumenical services.  Another way of saying the same thing is that I hate denominational barriers (and don't kid yourself, "non-denominational" is a denomination just as much as any other).  I think that it is silly to have everyone claim to love Jesus, and yet not even associate with each other because they have some different beliefs - differences ranging from silly to fairly important.

And while we're on the topic of me (oh, right, that's what this whole post is about... I'm not off to a good start to write about being a Christian but to actually be writing all about me... hmmm...) One of my prayers is that God's grace be infinitely larger than we can imagine.  I know that most people claim that God's grace is huge.  But, when you come down to it, how big is that grace, really, in your mind?  Is there a chance that men and women of the Muslim faith are saved under his grace?  What about those that practice Hindu beliefs?  Mormon beliefs?  I pray that God's grace is this big and bigger!  I'm by no means in charge of this, but when I even start to think about how many people do not know the gospel and would be condemned to hell if His grace isn't this big, it breaks my heart.  And I cannot even fathom how many people are included in this.  And if it begins to break my calloused heart, I'm certain that God's is shattered over this topic.  This gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, His grace really is ridiculously unfathomable and that somehow by this gigantic grace, all truly can be saved.

One last thing to mention in this "little" intro.  Church.  Yeah.  What to say.  The church has hurt me often.  I don't know that I can truly think of times in my life that I have felt as much pain as from churches.  Through this, God has always found a way for me to grow, but it has still, let's say, "colored" my way of looking at church.  Many of you may attend church and enjoy it.  To an extent I envy you.  Now, with that said, since I often don't find myself very comfortable in the church, I feel like I am better able to relate to others that aren't comfortable there.  Also, because of it, I spend a lot of time outside of the church.  Don't get me wrong, I think it is awesome to have Christian friends that can help uplift you, and encourage you through life.  However, I also think that far too many Christians have given up on ever socializing in places that non-Christians hang out.  Whether out of necessity for company, or whatever, I have found myself in these types of places often.  (I spent about 10 months on a project with work going to bars with my co-workers and watching them drink.  I've never really been a drinker.)

So, that's me and part of why I may (or may not) continue writing here.  If it helps you, then great!  Follow along.  My only request is that you not judge me or "oh, honey" me based on what I say here.  ("Oh, honey" for those of you that don't know is a common Southern lead in that often ends with large amounts of pity dumped in your lap.)