20091027

A Tribute

I sit here writing this in the middle of my third year of college, five months away from my twenty-second birthday, in the craziest, most forming stage in my life. I’m learning so much in so many areas, both inside and outside of class, and these new things are being coupled with what I already knew and synthesized into new understandings that are both consistently rocking my world and crystallizing my understanding of that same world. And the more his happens, the more I come to understand a humbling truth:

I owe a debt of incomprehensible magnitude to my parents.

Of course there are all the obvious “duh” sorts of things, like the fact I wouldn’t even be in existence without them. But there’s so, SO much more than that. My parents didn’t teach me what to think; they taught me how to think. They didn’t construct a Christian worldview and then impress it upon me; they gave me the pieces and the tools and let me build it myself. I remember times when I would come to my Dad with a question about the Bible, and instead of giving me an answer, he would point me to some passages and tell me to come back when I had come up with an answer. Often I would return with a half-cooked theory, only to have him poke holes in it and point me to Scripture again. It was enormously frustrating at the time, but now I see what enormous value this had.

While many of my friends are now wrestling for the first time with fundamental questions about what they truly believe, I am free to confront deeper issues because my foundation was fought over and established long before I came to college. My education is so much more enriching because instead of having to cram everything I’m learning into my brain haphazardly as I try to muddle my way through everything, I already have a framework with which to acquire, evaluate, and integrate new knowledge into my existing life paradigm. Sometimes this requires making minor and even occasionally major corrections as necessary, which I am free to do instead of being terrified that all my cherished beliefs might come tumbling down if they get jostled and rearranged a bit. I owe to my parents my very ability to know and come to an understanding of the reality I exist in.

But that is only the beginning. My respect for the authority and applicability of Scripture in my life also originates in my parents. As far back as I can remember (and some of my memories go as far back as the age of three or four), my parents made it a family habit to have devotions. Even though I resisted this by getting bored due to short attention span as a child and irritated due to irrational rebellion as an adolescent, it was “forced” on me anyway, for which I am now thankful. As soon as I could read on my own, I was taught that it was important to read the Bible daily. My mother made Scripture memory a consistent part of our elementary education. When I would ask Dad if I could do something, what the Bible had to say about the issue inevitably entered into the discussion. Everywhere I turned there was more of the Bible; you couldn’t get away from it. Yeah, it might have gotten old sometimes, but I see the value in it now.

My parents also instilled me with the ability to not only pay attention to, but also critique the exegesis of Scripture. Early on in childhood my father made sure that instead of going to children’s church, I sat in “big” church. And he didn’t just tell me to pay attention to the sermon, he would also be sure to quiz me about it afterward—and heaven help me if I couldn’t answer his questions! Words cannot express how much this exasperated me at times, but it did teach me to pay attention, even to “boring” speakers. Now all I do is chuckle and shake my head at my college peers who whine about “boring” chapel messages that they didn’t get anything out of; they miss treasure troves of knowledge simply because they were never disciplined with the ability to pay attention to a speaker who might not have the skills of a showman.

What’s more, whenever Dad disagreed with the speaker (which seemed to be a rather frequent occurrence), he would point us to the Bible and show us why. Messages were always evaluated based on how well (or poorly) they reflected Scripture. Sermons were not something to simply let soak in; they had to be confronted, dismantled, inspected, reconstructed, and then applied if they passed the test of Scripture. And no speaker was above this process. They were all subject to it, from Billy-Bob of the Backwoods to the likes of David Jeremiah, Tony Evans, and Chuck Swindol.

I was steeped in critical thinking about the messages we heard in church, and if pastors were not above critique, then certainly no teacher, artist, or author in any other field was either. Dad made sure we had similar Q&A conversations about movies that we watched or books we read. It became imprinted on my brain: all thought (and its expression through any form) is subject to the truth of both general and special revelation, and therefore must be evaluated to see how well it measures up. This critical thinking is now second nature to me; I do it unconsciously, and it all began with Dad making me pay attention to and think about what I heard in church.

I could go on and on. If I were to write everything my parents have taught me or all the important ways they have influenced me, it would fill more volumes than the Encyclopedia Britannica. This little essay hardly does them justice, and doesn’t even put a dent in the enormous THANK YOU they deserve. And while they certainly aren’t perfect, I can most assuredly say this:

God has blessed me with amazing parents.

20090706

The Great Adulteress

One of my favorite songs goes like this…

Was this over before, before it ever began? Your kiss, your calls, your crutch, like the devil’s got your hand. This was over before, before it ever began. Your lips, your lies, your lust, like the devil’s in your hands…

It’s the chorus of a song by Anberlin called “The Feel Good Drag”, an acoustic version of which you can listen to here. The song is about the destructive effects that lust has on relationships and society in general. Essentially, it is a monologue from the protagonist who is addressing the seducing antagonist, who in turn has dragged said protagonist to a place he doesn’t want to be. This crooning (but rocking) serenade cries out in warning to others to avoid similar situations, which is a message that our culture desperately needs to hear. What I really like about the song is that it’s essentially a pop-culturally appropriate rendition of the message found in Proverbs 7. It sounds to me like the song comes straight out of the text, essentially mirroring the narrative in verses 6-23. Take a minute and read it; it’s a sad story, and what is even sadder is that some people live it out to their own destruction.

I think, though, that the story is more than just a cautionary tale warning against literal adulterous affairs. I’m convinced it’s also a danger-notifying flare for our own flirtations with the Great Adulteress. The hard fact is: everyone has played out this story with the Great Adulteress at some point or another, everyone. And the saddest part of it is that so few people are willing to admit it.

“Huh? Great Adulteress? What are you talking about? Are you accusing me of adultery?” That’s just the thing, I don’t have to. Jesus did. We all are familiar with his statement to the Pharisees that lusting after a woman is committing adultery in your heart. Everyone, guy and girl alike, has lusted at least once. So you’ve committed adultery, I’ve committed adultery, everyone has. Now as for answering who the Great Adulteress is, that’s a different question entirely.

I suppose the best way to explain it is to show you where the concept first came from. One morning after my quiet time I had a moment of inspiration and wrote furiously in my journal for more than twenty minutes. Here’s an excerpt from that session…

“The object of my lust in my mind is not the person I like to think it is. Whatever fantasy takes my fancy is not as it appears, even in my mind’s eye. No twisted guise of future love can be justified, because it is neither a true love nor even accurate. The woman [or man] in one’s mind is never who it seems, rather it is the greatest adulteress taking whatever form it chooses. It is not a hidden fountain of delight, but a hideous demon of destruction and misery. Do not let her fool you, o man! She is not what she appears! All deceptions come from their father, and this is one of his finest! It may take the form of a person, real or imagined, but it is only a fiend of Hell. How foolish am I to give it even a nanosecond of consideration. It must not even be acknowledged, but banished the instant it makes its presence known. Dear God, how could I be so foolish as to flirt with this Great Adulteress?…”

The Great Adulteress is quite literally a figment of your (and my) imagination, but a dastardly figment at that. Imagination is one of the greatest gifts God ever programmed human beings with, but it is also one of our elements that depravity has twisted the most. Our ability to conceive of possible worlds is what lets us dream dreams, solve problems, and craft wonderful stories. But possible worlds are also where the Great Adulteress has her abode and wars desperately for our very souls.

See, the real problem with sexually provocative images isn’t really the images themselves, but the fact that they give the Great Adulteress ammunition. Pardon the references, but the Great Adulteress is quite like both the Decepticon whore in Transformers 2 and Mystique in the X-Men movies: she can take whatever surface form she likes, but underneath she’s nothing but a vile and hideous monster. I sometimes think there might even literally be a demonic element responsible for her, to be honest. But whether she is a demon or simply the spawn of our own depravity matters not; either way she must be fought with everything we have.

Yet all too often we leave her in peace without so much as even lifting a finger. After all, thinking it isn’t the same as doing it, or so we rationalize. But we cannot afford to rationalize. Even worse, we cannot afford to pretend like she doesn’t even exist, as we so often do. If we are even to begin slaying this monstrous dragon that we all have inside, we have to at least acknowledge that it exists. It seems like this is one area where we are most fearful to admit we struggle, which really is really stupid considering that of all the different arenas of sin, this is the one where absolutely no one can point a finger because we all struggle with it. So let’s just be honest with each other for once and get this ball rolling.

That just gets things started, though. How do we actually get down to the nitty-gritty of fighting the Great Adulteress? The answer to that question is astonishingly simple but extremely anti-American: we pray for grace and run like there’s no tomorrow. When she calls, we do as the foolish man in Proverbs 7 should have done and refuse to even give her the time of day. When she presents herself, we make like Joseph and get the heck out of Dodge. Of course that’s easier said than done; running from your own mind isn’t a piece of cake, but it is possible. Most importantly: we pray for God’s enabling grace to prove itself strong in our weakness, lest we think that we’ll beat her off all by ourselves. And when we fail, we ask for forgiveness remembering that same grace is greater than our sins and pick up the fight again.

But if you don’t fight her, if you just let the Great Adulteress have free reign of you mind, you may rest assured: just like with the foolish young man, it was over for you before it ever began.

“O sons listen to me, be attentive to the worlds of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do no stray into her paths, for many a victim she has laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.”
– Proverbs 7:24-27

20090704

Freedom

In honor of the 4th, here's a little something I wrote long ago in the days of high school. It also later managed to work it's way into a song I wrote...

Freedom

Leonidas stood, proud and free,
Waging war at Thermopylae.
Three-hundred Spartans held at bay
The host of Persians two whole days.

William Wallace, far outnumbered,
Stood his ground as the charge thundered.
At Sterling he didn’t give a smidge;
Scotland’s freedom won at the bridge.

Prescott held as the Brits advanced,
Cannons hammered and bullets danced.
Redcoats took Bunker Hill that day,
But with it lost their will to stay.

The heavens darkened, shocking eyes
As combat raged in Britain’s skies.
Outnumbered more than four to one
The RAF the battle won.

History’s proved freedom’s presence
Must not find us evanescent.
Steadfast and strong we all must be
To keep in check all tyranny

Liberty by nature demands
That for the right we take a stand.
That regardless what others say,
We fight for justice, come what may.

“Of peace,” you cry, “There is a dearth!”
That’ll always be so on this earth.
It’s in the selfish human heart,
That all true conflicts find their start.

Peace: it desirable may be,
But not at cost of liberty.
Peace: it may be a worthwhile goal,
But it’s not worth a nation’s soul.

20090618

Breadcrumbs

Life is just sort of mellow right now. Not horrible, not amazing, just wonderfully lost in the nowhere in between. And in this mellowness, I have been surprised by one astounding thing: God exists. “Dude,” you say, “I would have thought you knew this already. I mean doesn’t being a Christian require believing in God?” Of course it does, and I never said I didn’t believe in God, only that I have found myself happily surprised at His existence.

Certainly, I have believed in the existence of God for a long time, and according to surveys, most people do. But that’s irrelevant. Believing in God’s existence has nothing to do with the fact that He does, just like a person’s belief in the law of gravity has no bearing on its actual existence. No, I have NOT lost my marbles. Think about it.

There is a very definite difference between believing God exists and being aware of His existence. The evidence is what backs up the belief, the cold hard facts. There are a million and one different arguments and valid reasons to believe God exists, probably even more. The evidence is overwhelming. But that only affirms the belief; the awareness is prompted by the little things. Things like finding out you’d actually met your girlfriend almost ten years earlier than you thought you had; things like receiving a phone call from a friend at the exact moment that you needed it most; things like “randomly” bumping into someone that you hadn’t seen or heard from in a year in a busy fast food joint during the lunch rush.

Some people chalk that sort of thing up to destiny, but I despise the idea of destiny. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, and wrote the story. Destiny is bologna (baloney), and so is karma for that matter. All those various sorts of ideas are hogwash. The plain fact is that these “random” events are not random at all, but just another one of the many trails of breadcrumbs that God leaves to remind us He’s there.

You see, we never forget that we believe in God; we always remember that. It’s just that as we go through our lives, we tend to get caught up in life and forget that He’s actually out there. Its not that I’d never known, only that I’d forgotten. But many recent events have reminded me that God does, indeed, exist and is actually in control of everything instead of us, as much as we like to think otherwise. The reminders have left me pleasantly surprised and renewed my assurance.

And maybe, just maybe, God will use this little collection of words as the latest piece in your own trail of breadcrumbs.

20090129

Chronicle of the Warrior

This is a little thing I wrote recently...

The weariness is almost unbearable.

My armor rattles as I collapse to the ground against a tree, grateful for the reprieve. I exhale labouredly, trying to will away the groaning aches in my joints. My sword hits the dry and thirsty ground with a clank. After a moment I reach up and pull my helmet off. It’s dripping with sweat, mingled with a little blood. Next come the gauntlets, and now I can wipe the grime away from my eyes for the first time in a great while. I can actually see clearly now, although there’s not much to look at in this desolate place. A deep breath fills my lungs once more.

Battle was especially vicious today.

It began before dawn. The horn and blown the alarm and I hastily suited up and dashed towards the source. I was already sore from days of battle, but I had to press on regardless. While the hoard hadn’t attacked me in a long while, there were always weaker brothers to assault, as was the case now. One of us was out alone and under attack, so overwhelmed that he couldn’t even fight back as the hoard dashed themselves against him. A group of us tried to hack our way to him, but we were outnumbered millions to one and the currents of battle carried us all apart. The most I ever caught of any of them after that was a momentary glimpse. We were fighting individually for our own survival now.

Finally, I managed to cut through and reach him alone, quickly beating them off of him as best I could. Between swipes, I dragged him to his feet and put his weapon back in his hands, but he was in no condition to fight. I kept them off of him, taking many blows for his sake as he managed to get out of the melee. Of course then their rage was full bent on me. Minutes stretched into hours, and hours into what felt like an eternity. I felt utterly alone. I knew I actually wasn’t alone; there were others out there lost in the battle, fighting just as I was. I also felt His strength coursing through my veins, sure that it was the only thing that let me keep my feet. I know His promises by heart, and that He’ll never let me be overcome. But that didn’t take away the feeling.

For a brief moment I caught sight of the sideline. There I saw hundreds, if not thousands of our warriors there, standing idly. Did they not know we were fighting for our very lives? How could they just stand there and do nothing to help us? Yes, even with their help we would be outnumbered, but we would actually be able to put up a true fight! Yet there they stood, blinded by their own self-concern, worried only about themselves and their own problems. They left us to fight alone. They left me to fight alone.

Eventually the battle waned, for a time anyway. So now here, under this dying tree, I sit. Exhaustion set in long ago, and I now feel powerless it its grasp. He will never leave nor forsake. I know that, believe that, am giving my life for that. But in this moment I still feel forsaken. All is dark, and opaque clouds mar the sky. I long to be reinvigorated, refreshed. I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I’ve been fighting for hundreds of years, or has it only been a week? I’ve lost all track of time, and I can’t tell anymore. Where is the sunlight? Where is the green grass? Where is the flowing stream of peace that my parched throat thirsts for? I can’t remember the last time I drank of its waters. Dear God! I don’t know if I can carry on anymore.

What’s this? There’s a break forming in the clouds! A small ray of sunlight is streaming through, bathing me in its light. I gasp in exhilaration. For a moment everything is forgotten in the blessedness of this glorious light! This, this is the way things were meant to be! Not dead, not barren, not broken, not war-torn, not battle-scarred, not fallen. I gulp in enormous lungfuls of pure oxygen, letting the light radiate into me, basking in His presence.

Now, as quickly as it came, it’s gone. The clouds have sealed the sun-punched hole. I almost shake with withdrawal. The aches set back in, the fatigue reasserts itself. I long for the thirst-quenching waters even more, but at least the cutting dryness is gone from my throat. And that is enough.

A note pierces the air, another horn. One of my brothers is in need again. On return the gauntlets and helmet. I fight through the weariness back to my feet, sword in hand once more. A part of me wishes I could simply ignore the battle as so many do, fighting only when it touches me personally. But I cannot; I am my brother’s keeper. I have been made this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, bronze walls against this whole land. They will fight against me, but they will not prevail against me, for He is with me to save and deliver. I march to battle again because I am a warrior…

And this task is mine.