Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reflecting on Perspective

Last week I sat down to work on my Systematic Theology III paper on Jonathan Edwards. I found myself distracted as I wrote by World AIDS Day events.

ONE Campaign and (RED) ran a round table discussion featuring the last three presidents as well as Bono, Alicia Keys, Senator Marco Rubio, Coca-Cola's CEO, and others.

There are many misconceptions about AIDS, and the role the US plays in relief efforts abroad.
It is possible for mothers who are HIV positive not to transmit the virus to their babies. Anti-Retrovirus Vaccines save thousands of lives. The US spends less than 1% of its budget on foreign aid which saves thousands of lives.

I know the economy is the big issue of the day. Something Sen. Rubio pointed out, "The economy is tough, but it will be even tougher if we didn't have a workforce to take part in that global economy."

Watching this really put things in perspective for me.

My problems are that I had a 15 page term paper due the following week, I have to take my CDL test, and I still don't have enough money to pay for seminary.

Honestly, my problems are small compared to the 1000 who are born with AIDS every day, and the 24,000 who die due to conditions of abject poverty.

IT doesn't have to be this way. Most die because of the lack of clean water and access to waste disposal. The untreated waste in the world would fill up the Superdome in three days.

As small as my problems are compared to the greater ones faced by so many, our God is bigger.

This reminded me why I am going into ministry.

Kay Warren reminded me the church has always been at the heart of the community. Christ calls us to take care of the sick, the poor, the widows and orphans.

Francis Schaeffer told his students, we must make the distinction that we ask God to build His Kingdom here on earth and use us as He sees fit.

In my Father's Kingdom there will be no AIDS, poverty, injustice, slavery. By doing what we can here, by His grace, for His glory we will see His Kingdom transform our world. There will come a day where all wrongs will be settled and accounted for, either by the Blood or by wrath.

By doing what we can to end the injustices of our day, we are pressing into the Kingdom.

So what can we do now? Add your voice. Everyday, our leaders make decisions that affect the lives of millions. ONE has several opportunities to let our leaders know how we feel.

TEll someone else. WorldVision ACT:s offers advocacy kits to educate. We can see a generation free of AIDS.

And a bit closer to home, do something to serve someone you wouldn't normally.

I remember talking about some of these issues with someone else who disagreed with me. He told me, "We can't save the world."

I answered, "We saved the world three times last century and put a man on the moon while we were at it."

Sen. Rubio agreed with me, "This is the nation that ended WWII, that put a man on the moon. This will be greater than any accomplishment."

There's a new world for the winning. The day is here.

Edwards tells us to press into the Kingdom. "God is now calling you in an extraordinary manner: and it is agreeable to the will and word of Christ, that I should now, in his name, call you, as one set over you, and sent to you to that end; so it is his will that you should hearken to what I say, as his voice. I therefore beseech you in Christ's stead now to press into the kingdom of God! Whoever you are, whether young or old, small or great; if you are a great sinner, if you have been a backslider, if you have quenched the Spirit, be who you will, do not stand making objections, but arise, apply yourself to your work! Do what you have to do with your might. Christ is calling you before, and holding forth his grace, and everlasting benefits, and wrath is pursuing you behind; wherefore fly for your life, and look not behind you! But here I would particularly direct myself to several sorts of persons."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Of This World and Another World

My original thoughts were to post a list of my favorite films. I decided against that for a couple of reasons. First is that no one really cares of my opinion and analysis, second is such lists are overdone in the blogosphere.

As I mulled over some of my favorite films, literature, video games, music ect. I thought about why I like them. Without using words like, "Architectonic meta-narrative" or what have you, I find they resonate with my deepest longings.

So what do I mean by that?

In the opening credits of "Laputa: Castle in the Sky" a world is shown with fantastic flying islands which crowd out the skies.

And I watch that, and think, "I want to live there. Whatever happened to that world?"

Two of my favorite video games, Legend of Zelda and Chrono Trigger both reference Laputa heavily and give the most fleeting glimpses these wonderfully pristine worlds that seem untouched by corruption.

In Zelda, particularly Link to the Past, there's Golden Land or Sacred Realm that has the imprints of divinity left on it.

In Chrono Trigger, there is an attempt to create an enlightened world free of earthbound influences.
But both places fall because of corrupt ambition.

These stories reminded me of Tolkien's Silmarillion, which is my favorite book. In the creation account of Middle Earth, it begins with Eru, The One, gathering his children the Ainur to sing before him. They sing a grand, beautiful theme. It continues until Melkor sees himself as greater than his creator and begins to weave his own designs into the theme.

Unlike the grand theme, his is vain and clamourous and repetitive. Even though others join Melkor, his song is nowhere near as glorious as the one he is meant to sing. Before Melkor and his rebels are cast out, everyone is given a glance at the grand theme and their role in it. There will be a new song sung in a new world unmarred, that is more beautiful than the first, but not until there has been great conflict.

The same holds true in some of my other favorite books. These are stories that show the brokenness and fallenness of this world, which resonate because we long for the harmony of the world we've been denied.

The chorus in the finale of "Les Miserables" asks, "Beyond the barricade, is there a world you long to see?"

In Moby Dick as the Pequot sinks into the great shroud of the sea that rolls as it did five thousand years ago, our imaginations are cast back to a world before it fell. As Ishmael awaits rescue he is surrounded by "unharming sharks" and seahawks with "sheathed beaks" as though they have come from the world we long for.

I wrote some time ago about how I long for things that don't exist such as espressosaketinis and Riskopoly. These longings still have their roots in reality.

The longings that resonate with these stories and the worlds they give ever brief glimpses into are rooted in the reality we have not yet experienced.

What do I mean by that?

Proverbs 13:12 says, "A longing deferred makes the heart sick, but hope fulfilled is a tree of life."

Longing, as used by the ancient Hebrews, meant what we in our deepest inner core thirst for.
Tim Keller explains it by saying, "Our deepest longings, the things we put our hearts upon to fulfill our deepest longings, we will never fulfill them because we are searching for, in everything we do, is the tree of life."

Commentators says, "the Tree of Life is an image of immortal, eternal life, but also an image of irretrievable loss, some cosmic nostalgia. A longing for something that we remember but never had."

When I listen to music, I'm listening for a song that I've never actually heard. When I look at art, I'm looking for a world I haven't seen. When I'm out in the woods, I search for a path there.

When I photograph the sunset, I hope to catch a glimpse.

I haven't seen it but I know its there.

Lewis explains it that when we look into our own hearts we are searching for something that we are acutely aware that we cannot have in this world. "There's always something we grasp at in that first moment of longing that fades in reality, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited from something in the universe which we have been cut off is no mere neurotic fantasy but the truest index of our real situation."

These worlds that I long to explore through these stories give me foretastes of the world we long for that we have not set foot in. There have been moments in my life, that if they were to last forever, I would be content. But they all end in grief.

This longing creates conflict in my story.

I find I am compelled to conflict and story. Trafalgar and the American Civil War were both pivotal moments in the stories of three nations. The same is true in Mixed Martial Arts, when two fighters step into the cage, we are seeing the intersection of their life stories. Even two professional wrestlers with good in-ring ability and workrates can tell a riveting story with their match.

There is a grand battle being fought all around us as we are daily being put to death, and we battle not with forces seen, but with unseen powers and principalities. The beauty is that the victory has been won on our behalves.

The beauty of God's grand story, is that we do not get just walk-on roles. We're more than just extras. We are the stars of the grandest story in creation. God weaves our personal own narratives into the epic cosmic narrative that began with Him speaking creation into being and will end with Him sharing His glory with us.

Jonathan Edwards says "We are stars in the hands of the Christ."

The beauty is that our longings will be fulfilled by the One who created us with longings so that we may seek Him as our fulfillment. The Tree of Life that we lost in the world we were evicted from will be made new. The song will be sung again, more beautiful than it was at the beginning, and it will go on without end, giving us what Tolkien calls, "joy above the walls of the world."

We're told in the book of Daniel, "Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. "

Friday, November 4, 2011

Now is the Autumn of My Discontent

"Autumn is the time of year, that I should like to meet you here
to find when you cross my face
To dream of what tomorrow may be despite what yesterday was
to have your company.
Can I wait, here with you?"
Jason Harwell, "Can I Wait?"

No season makes me feel more alive than the fall. Something about Autumn's flames
that ignite the trees that makes me realize that all the old is being ushered out in a glorious
display to bring in new life. While we have endure cold and darkness and barrenness,
it will come.

About a month ago I was playing my first wedding. I've been more than I can remember, but this was the first time I've been a wedding musician. I found that a little surprising as I have several friends and am a competent musician. As I talked with my friend who I played guitar for, I was reminded not much of life has gone according to plan.

This semester is one example. I have had not been able to cover my living expenses with the money coming in from work. While I am extremely grateful to have two jobs that I absolutely love, hours have been scant and it's been difficult when the red in my register overpowers the black. I had to close an account because the numbers were on the wrong side for too long. I haven't been able to pay my phone bill for a couple months now. I'm still not sure how I'm going to pay for seminary.

And I know I'm not alone in facing any uncertainty. A quick perusing of any news scroll, or a glance at a paper, or just a quick browsing of a facebook or twitter feed will tell you there's a great deal of unrest and restlessness in the world. From the famine in the Horn of Africa, to the financial crises in Greece, Ireland, Spain, USA, to the political unrest in the Middle East and former Soviet republics, it is easy to see the shadow.

Inspite of all this, I can't help but to find myself unflaggingly optimistic.

This doesn't mean that I bury my head in the sand, oblivious to my responsibilities, nor to the oppression in the world. It means I can work to fulfill my responsibilities and against the affliction knowing there's meaning behind it.

I know how the story ends and it ends well. It doesn't get a fairytale, happily ever after ending, but a very real closure into an eternal beginning. A beginning where heaven comes down to earth and all that is old is burned away ushering in a new glorious existence. A beginning where all wrongs are accounted for, and all rights are rewarded. A beginning where all tears and pain are gone, and there will be no more darkness. This beginning has been in the works since before the beginning of anything.

This gives backbone to my optimism. It's not an empty optimism that sugar coats the harshness of life now, or that whistles Dixie in the dark, but a very real promise of our best life in the world to come. No matter the difficulties now, they will resolve.

Jonathan Edwards once described this life as such, "Our good things can never be taken away. Our bad things are being used for our good, and our best things are still to come."

When I look at things from this perspective, things aren't so bad. I have two jobs that I absolutely love that use my gifts and strengths. I get to work with great people, who need what I can share with them. I'm in a relationship that's far better than any of my previous attempts and it gets richer every day.

And no matter what happens, everything's going to be okay. If I lose it all tomorrow, the sun will still rise. And if it doesn't then that new beginning all ready started.

"I'm sure forever never meant, that we just glide on till the end without some tragedies.
So let's just put our troubles down, and listen for the quiet sound of everlasting peace
Can I wait, here with you?"
Jason Harwell--Alive in the Fall

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Camera is My Brush

So it occurred to me I'm overdue to post a photoblog this year. I meant to before my last art show, but was unable. At anyrate, enjoy.

Locations include: Table Rock Lake, Niagara Falls, Cape County North Park, Fredricksburg National Cemetary and Battlefield and Parts Unknown

Table Rock Sunset



Table Rock Dawn


Crown of Daylight

Blinking Dusk


Fallen LImb on the Falls

Of Sunset and Water


The Climber

Spring Falls

Friday, July 1, 2011

"...Maybe there's hope for this man."

"Try to take on the weight of everyday freigtht
You'll find you're too weak to stand."
--Mark Heard, Rise from the Ruins

I can say with gratitude from the safety of my desk that I've longed to play a pivotal role in a historic battle. I would have loved to have walked next to MacArthur on the beaches of Lyete rather than walked back to my classroom, or manned a cannon on the HMS Victory rather than sit at my desk, or gone on a run at the Death Star rather than driven to another meeting.

But I've learned in living and reading history that greatness is not found in watershed moments, but in the everyday humdrum. I've found myself taking jobs no one wants, working with people who have been rejected by everyone; their own families in many cases. While on the surface it may be that I toil in obscure places and that my best work goes unseen, with little if anything to show for it, nothing can be further from the truth.

Francis Schaeffer once wrote that with God there are no little places, there are no little people. Teaching special needs homebound students in a four car classroom is every bit as significant as lecturing at Harvard. Playing baby to a roomful of special needs teenagers is every bit as important as playing Mozart in Carnegie Hall. I've learned there's greatness in the small places because that's where God has me. Much of what I've taught, I've needed to be reminded of myself.

I remember reading this beautiful story about an artist who's doing portraits at Disneyland when a boy sits down to have his portrait painted who is missing an eye. The artist is faced with the decision to either paint the child as he appears to him or to paint him another way. The artist decided to draw the boy with two perfect eyes; for his parents saw him not for his flaws, but through the eyes of love.

I was reminded by this episode that God sees us as we are, not for what we have. I tend to see myself for what I don't have, or I'll look back and see my grand trilogy of failures, or my mid-twenties crisis and feel insignificant and insecure. I have been imputed with significance by the very Creator of everything, and am held secure by the eternal King. We are His children, loved and created by Him. I've learned that burned bridges mean nothing to one who walks on water. God has all ready mended the widest rift that laid between us, and He can certainly carry us across the gaps we've made between us and those we've wronged in the past. I've learned scorched, salted earth means nothing to the great farmer who can bring any seed to purchase regardless of the soil conditions.

I had three careers collapse on me in a 2.5 year span. All of which fell apart in violent, traumatic ways, that I would not want anyone to experience. Yet I've found myself re-established in each, where if I had my way at the time I would've washed my hands of each. But each comeback has been better than the original in ways I could not have ever conceived. Each comeback has come by no effort of my own, nor have they come in sudden blinding flashes from heaven, but in quietly committing to the heroic humdrum, working through the every day epic, and being shown the splendour of the ordinary.

There are no little moments either. Each second has been crafted and set in motion, and is entirely unique. I did not have to hold Lahaye Saint against L'Enfente Terribles, when I'm held by the hand who crafted time. I did not have to March to the Sea when God invites me to walk beside Him every day.

I've learned there is glory in the ruins, and someday we will rise from them. Just like spring's verdancy blossoms after the barren blankness of winter, while we still have breath, we can still comeback.

"And the salmon's swimming again the stream
And the coyote's running in these hills
And the trees are returning to the mountainside,
If they could comeback, maybe there's hope for this man."
Brooks Williams, Seven Sisters.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

"Dare I Believe..."

Since that day it has never been quite enough to say that’ God is in His Heaven and all is right with the world;’ since the rumour that God had left his heavens to set it right.”

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

Upon a recent trip to Niagara, I am convinced no man can stand before the falls and believe that he is great and powerful. In much the same way as I reflect upon the Easter season, I am even more convinced no man can stand before God and not be overwhelmed.

God is working every moment of our lives in our past, present and future, and is using every atom throughout all of creation, to demonstrate the glory of His being so that we become more like His Son. It is God who created us so that our significance, our purpose, our security and identity would all be met by Him.

Ephesians 1:7-8 states, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished upon us in all His wisdom and insight.” This perfectly summarizes what God has done for us. When God revealed His perfect qualities and sovereign attributes to the world at the Cross it broke the bond that held the world in its grasp and satisfied our every need.

Because of God’s limitless goodness, He knew through His perfect wisdom exactly what to do to amend our situation. That is He used His perfect freedom to exercise His absolute authority over sin and death. God being the ultimate in power, overcame sin’s power over us by paying our debt through His blood spilled on the Cross in the form of Christ. He did all this out of His love for us. God would have been perfectly right to leave us in our sinful condition because He is a God of perfect justice and holiness. And it’s not that God’s love and grace overruled His holiness and justice by redeeming us and adopting us. ON the contrary all of God’s perfect qualities, his unconditional love, His righteous justice, His all sufficient grace and His unapproachable holiness all intersected each other at the Cross with God’s sovereign attributes of power, wisdom, freedom and goodness to meet all our needs break our bondages to bring us from our depraved condition into His divine presence.

Chesterton described how the old world’s pagan beliefs could not contain the Cross. The symbol of paganism is a perfect circle formed by a serpent eating it’s own tail. When the cross was placed at the center of the pagan circle, it extended out in each direction, breaking paganism’s constricting grip of superstitions, falsehood, idolatry and ignorance. Imagine now instead of a pagan circle, a four-link chain that surrounds the world. God broke through the chains that enslave us by exercising His sovereign attributes and revealing His perfect qualities at the Cross. Just like the archaic pagan belief systems were overwhelmed by the cross, the bondages of the world are completely shattered by God’s sovereignty and perfection.

We have been given all that we need to be free and that is Christ Himself. When we realize that we are free to be loved and have the freedom to love. By forgiving us, He freed us from sin’s penalty and through His grace we need not be enslaved to sin any longer.

God allows us to exchange the shackles of this world that is the bondage of conformity, the curse of superficiality, the crushing pressure of self-indulgence and identity crisis for His goodness, His freedom, His power and His liberty. This will give us purpose for our life will not be our own but will be given to God for His glory and our benefit. When we do He will provide our security by meeting our every need and allow us to realize our significance because we are made in His image and are loved and treasured by Him. And God will transform our fallen identity to the perfect likeness of His Son.

"Morning rolled, that stone away, calls a man out from his grave. Lifts my soul upon your wing, Oh my Lord, Dare I believe."
Billy Cerveny.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Of Oak Trees

Of Oak Trees

The Missouri White Oak Tree shows very little noticeable growth for the first twenty to thirty years of its life. What it in fact is doing is developing it's root system, sending them down deep into the Earth where the nutrients are found and where there is water. It also interlocks its roots with other trees. When it matures it becomes one of the strongest, tallest and most beautiful trees in the forest and provides a home for many kinds of life. It is also one of the most profitable trees and is used around the world for furniture, buildings, homes, even barrels to age French wines champagnes or Scotch whiskey as well several other uses. By spending so many years developing the root systems, these oak trees can survive times of drought and withstand the fiercest storms and harshest winters. There are oak trees that have lived for several hundred years because they have such deep roots.

In much the same way, I've spent the past few years developing my roots. While on the outside, (especially to people like my parents and others) I have not seemed to show much growth financially, career-wise, or whatever, this time has been very valuable for me as I've spent a great deal of this time learning about who God is, what sort of relationship He wants from me, experiencing His character and presence in my life.

This period has also given me time to work on my creative talents of music and writing and photography. I have also been able to cultivate great relationships with so many people and opportunities to serve, more than I can begin to name. I've seen too many people achieve success after success who never develop their roots so when hardship comes, they come toppling down. When the droughts will inevitably come, when the storms will most certainly strike, I will be able to stand because, not because of what I have done God has used time for my roots to grow deeper in Him.

When we are rooted we can escape the cycle of demoralization as we are being attended to by the great Gardener. And at some point we decide, by God’s grace with His leading to no longer believe the lies of the world of who we are and embrace the truth that we are His children.

When the adoption of Christ comes upon us, He gives us everything we need to live as He wants us to, and that is Himself. And as He shares more and more of who He is with us, His thoughts, actions, attitudes, and words will be His rather than the deadness and sin that is our flesh. Thinking about the oak trees, a tree can only grow as tall as it’s root systems are deep. Christ is to be the soil and bedrock giving us our foundation and sustenance that our roots are to dig into. The Spirit provides us with air and water that we need and as we grow toward the light of the Father.

And as oak trees also need the other trees in glade to share nutrients and lock roots together so the storms do not topple us, so too we need the other believers in the church. For Christ has called us all to be rooted in Him, the Spirit surrounds us all and together we are to grow together toward the Father. And our only response is humble gratitude for what He does through us. For we have been planted here not because of our own virtue and merit, for we have none, but for God that we may glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.