Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Faith Roller Coaster

On New Year's Eve, I determined that 2014 would be my "Year of Faith." I was gonna beef up my prayer life, study the Word, and just put my trust in God fully.

But I've realized that prayer is dependent on faith. And faith is a really hard thing to do. 

I am living the life that most people live: the rollercoaster. I've never really visualized that metaphor. But now, I'm thinking about what it's like: the giddy anticipation going up the hill, then screaming in terror as you plunge down, the odd sensation of your stomach dropping, the thrill of the fast turns, your head whipping from side to side, and the horrors of being stuck (sometimes upside down). I'm trying to imagine what it would be like to genuinely and fervently pray continuously through a ride. I'd have to be totally focused on God and not on the rollercoaster.

I've found that to be difficult. Two days ago, my stomach dropped, and suddenly, I truly felt the words of my prayers turn to ashes in my mouth. I was going down a hill (it might not have even been that steep), and the focus that I'd been putting on God (as part of my 2014 plan) was naturally shifting to the rollercoaster. I say naturally because bad things are real. And there are reaction to those bad things that everyone understands. No one gets mad at you. It's explainable. When things are going my way, I'm a really "good" Christian. When things are bad...I'm one of the worst. Faith starts to diminish. Prayers cease. Bible starts collecting dust. I start to equate adversity with God's abandonment. It's explainable.
I feel like this abandoned teddy :'(

“I don’t want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit. I want people to look at my life and know that I couldn’t be doing this by my own power. I want to live in such a way that I am desperate for Him to come through. That if He doesn’t come through, I am screwed.” - Francis Chan

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets... - Hebrews 11:32

I agree! It's time to move on to a new series, so I can't talk about all those people. So I want to talk about the person who's life is so incredible and unexplainable without the Holy Spirit that I couldn't end the series without him:


Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward...1 Samuel 16:13
That sounds like an awesome moment! Chosen. Anointed. Happy days ahead? If only.  David was on the tallest, fastest, most maintenance delayed rollercoaster of them all.  He went through so much that I wanted to put it in a table:

From the time the oil was poured on his head to being King over all Israel is well over a decade. He spent must of that time on the run! Then after I fiddled with google docs and published to web...I realized the table was only the stuff on his road to becoming King! He had tons of family issues too! 
  • He kills his loyal servant/friend Uriah to get his wife Bathsheba
  • Then the baby he has with Bathsheba dies
  • Then his son Amnon rapes his daughter Tamar
  • So his other son Absalom kills Amnon
  • Then Absalom tries to kill David and gets killed in the process
So many bad things. So many that I have to wonder which bad thing led to Psalm 13:

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.
But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

This Psalm is often broken down into three parts:
  1. Despair, anxiety, questioning God's love (Psalm 13:1-2)
  2. Request for an answer/deliverance (Psalm 13:3-4)
  3. Faith in God's love (Psalm 13:5-6)
I'm often get stuck at one. It's so easy to feel abandoned and alone. It's easy to imagine that it's forever. And, for me, it's hard to pray like that. 
David did a lot of really cool things (lots of bad stuff too), but why is he in the Hall of Faith? I don't know. But if I had to guess, it was his unwavering faith in God's LOVE. Lots of people put faith in a promise. But David's faith was always just in the character of God. Here's a man who knew pain, and 
who prayed through it. He prayed through the rollercoaster.
I hope I'm starting to do the same thing...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Goodbye Old Town! Hello Jericho!

I started my career working for an audit firm in Chicago. I am from a mid-sized town in Ohio, and really had only left home for my one year of grad school in Indiana. So for me, it was the beginning of a whole new life. I was super excited about it. Then, one day before I was set to load up my red Pontiac Sunfire with all my junk, an obstacle appeared:

My roommate had to suddenly decline her offer with her firm, and she would NOT be moving to Chicago with me.

...but...I already signed the LEASE on a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment in Old Town. Right next to the El. It had pillars in it! High ceilings! Hardwood floors! A fireplace! I could not afford that apartment on my own. Not even close. Not even close! I had a few options: 
  1. Give up. Don't go. Toledo is just fine. 
  2. Break the lease. Pay the fees. But how? I'd paid the deposit. I wouldn't get paid for a month. 
  3. Find a new roommate ASAP. 
These are all rational options. Even #1. I could have seen this event as an omen: it's just not meant to be.

this is not my car...but it looks like old Red!
The four-hour drive to Chicago was horrendous. I cried the whole way there. I cried so much that I had to pull over on the side of the road. I could barely breathe. My mom was with me. And I remember standing there weeping, with my hands on the hood of my car. And my mom had her hand on my shoulder, and I thought she would tell me to calm down or to suck it up. Something! But she just prayed. And when she was done...I felt better. I believed that everything would be okay. I'd love to tell you that something miraculous happened. Something amazing! But I don't think that it did. I can barely remember what happened except, I didn't go home to Ohio. I didn't break the lease. I only met crazy people on craigslist, so I didn't get a new roommate. I was simply let out of the lease and the roommate who bailed found me a new place to live with a friend of hers (from undergrad) in Wrigleyville.

Maybe it was a miracle. I didn't have to DO anything. I was let out of the lease, and someone else found my new apartment. None of my rational options came into play. 

Which leads me to The Walls of Jericho*:

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. - Hebrews 11:30

The situation: After 40 years of wandering, it's time to take Canaan (the Promised Land). Jericho is the second obstacle. The first obstacle was crossing the Jordan River. It too was parted, but I guess since Moses already did that with the Red Sea, it doesn't get much play. But I digress. Jericho is an impregnable city with high, thick walls and they are on lockdown. Nobody in or out. 

Joshua has two military options: 
  1. Starve the city 
  2. Build a ramp over the wall
 These are both rational options. Both could (probably even would) work. But both would take months, and Israeli soldiers would die during that process. What to do?!

Well...they also had one incredibly irrational God option:

March silently around the city for six days. The only sound is to be from seven trumpets blown by seven priests. On the seventh day, circle around the city seven times and then shout! The walls will just crumble and we'll run in. 

Stitch is out of control; the lei stops him
Knowing me, when my mom got out of the car and prayed, she probably got a side-eye. But prayer is really calming. It's like when Lilo throws that lei over Stitch. It just drains away the stress. Likewise, when Joshua gave this plan to the army, he probably got TONS of side-eyes. The Jews, at this point, were notorious for grumbling and complaining, which is probably why Joshua commanded the people saying,  “You shall not shout nor let your voice be heard nor let a word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I tell you, ‘Shout!’ Then you shall shout!” (Joshua 6:10) Basically no one could say: "this is stupid..." because they'd already been commanded to be silent.  

There is major faith in being silent. In trusting God's plan, though you have no idea how it's going to work. And then there is major faith in shouting. Because when they shouted...the walls certainly came down and they took the city. After six days of silently waiting and trusting in the Lord, they had a faithful shout of victory!

And all of it was irrational! All of it seemed REALLY stupid. Super stupid. Like, I'm so glad I wasn't there. I probably would have been killed for complaining during the six days!

Faith like this is extremely difficult to a rational mind. To a mind that is not fully transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. We like to have faith in things that we think are possible. We like to have a sort of "rational faith," which is oxymoronic and nonexistent.

I have three takeaways from the crumbling walls of Jericho:
  1. God's way is different from our way (Isaiah 55:8-9); I would have starved the city. 
  2. God's way is beyond comprehension (Job 38:4-6); I still wonder if the walls were becoming weaker each day and then the shout was like a baby sonic boom that made it crumble...(still irrational, but better?)
  3. There is an inextricable link between faith and obedience.
Only faith would make you silently march around that city. And only faith could open your mouth. Faith governs how you speak or don't speak in certain situations. Faith and trust robbed them of their ability to speak negatively. And faith and trust empowered them to shout out victory without even lifting their weapons.

Sigh. I'm not there yet. But I'm gonna be.

*Nothing in my life (so far) is comparable to knocking down the walls of an entire city with just the sound of my voice. This analogy is the best I could do. Deal with it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Out of Place

Remember that Mitt Romney family photo debacle from a few weeks back? On an episode of the Melissa Harris-Perry show a beloved Sesame Street sketch was used for no good to either (1) make fun of the Romneys, (2) poke fun at the GOP for its lack of diversity, or (3) both. We can never know true intentions, but it was ill-advised, resulted in a huge blow-up and…who cares? Right?

Well, I thought of the MHP blow up, because I also seek to draw on the magic of Sesame Street for my next blog in the Hebrews 11 series:

Can you hurriedly, before the song ends, read Hebrews 11:1-34 and figure out which one of those things is not like the other? And which one doesn't belong? No? Keep reading…you will.

By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. - Hebrews 11:31

Rahab, in my opinion, is the most important person listed in the Hall of Faith. She is the most unlikely person to "obtain a good report." Up to this point in the chapter, every person (in every scripture) was already a follower of God. Every single person on this list had a relationship with God prior to performing their feat of faith. But Rahab…who is this chick?

Per Hebrews 11, she was:

  • A harlot (i.e. a prostitue)
  • With those who were disobedient
She was in one group. A really bad group. She was a part of the people who were supposed to be "utterly destroyed."And then suddenly she's in another group…listed right after Moses (the rock star of the Hebrew bible). 

How did she get there?! How did she go from being "not like the others" to being "just like the others"? How did she go from as-good-as-dead to as-good-as-Abraham?

This is how the story goes in a nutshell:

Rahab hides the spies
  1. The Israelites want to attack and conquer the city of Jericho, but it's hidden behind a wall
  2. They send 2 spies to scope the place out, and they hide at an inn built into the wall that belongs to a prostitute named Rahab
  3. The king finds out there are spies there and sends for Rahab to hook him up with info
  4. Rahab LIES to her king and country in order to hide the spies
How…unpatriotic. Why did she do this?

…and [Rahab] said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath
- Joshua 2:9-11

Rahab believed in a God that wasn't her God, and through that belief He became her God. Read that again. This right here is the GOSPEL.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. - John 3:16

All Rahab wanted in return for hiding the spies was for her and her family's lives to be spared when they invaded. That happened and more!

The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:
Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king.

…are you kidding me? Look who snuck into the family of Jesus Christ! By faith! But I really shouldn't be shocked, because isn't that how we all got there?

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus - Galatians 3:26

**Update** If you click on the Melissa Harris-Perry link at the beginning of the blog, you can watch the video that started all the drama. But beware of the comments to the YouTube video. Some of them are downright evil.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Prince of Egypt

It's a new year, and so I want to take a new approach to writing my blog. Tuesdays. On Tuesday nights I'm just going to go for it. I spend so much time thinking about what I'm going to write that nothing much gets written. This was not the case when I was on vacation in Italy/Greece; I wanted to write a blog every day so I did it. No matter what. I want Tuesdays to be like that.

First, I have to finish my Hebrews 11 series. I can't believe that it crossed out of 2013. But, honestly, 2013 was a really dark time for me spiritually. It was strange that I was so focused on the subject of faith when my own faith was languishing. There are a lot of things that could mark 2013:
  1. I ran the Marine Corp Marathon
  2. I ran the Athens Classic Marathon in Greece
  3. I vacationed in Rome
  4. I went to the Austin City Music Festival with my bestie
  5. I finally went to Ingrid Michaelson's Holiday Hop in NYC
  6. I spent a long weekend in Miami
  7. I finally moved into a 1br apartment
...and the list could go on. But in my mind, the year was marked by a long stay in a spiritual valley of despair. It's hard to write this sort of blog when you're feeling that kind of way. What's weird though, is that I believe everything in my blog, and it was very therapeutic. However, I skipped a lot of therapy sessions. There was a time when I thought: "do more, spend more, go more places" was the answer to all of my bad feelings. But if I surrounded myself with people, I still felt lonely. If I spent a ton of money on vacations, concerts, or material possessions, it only left me feeling woefully broke. After every marathon I ran, I needed to run another one to feel like I achieved something. The more I focused on things that were supposed to create a "rich life" the more I became aware of my spiritual poverty.

 Which leads me to my part two on Moses:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them. By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned. 
- Hebrews 11:24-29

Background (in case you don't know about Moses): 
  • Pharaoh orders every male Hebrew child to be killed (as Jewish population control)
  • Moses' parents put him in a basket in the Nile to save him
  • He is rescued by Pharaoh's daughter and raised as a Prince of Egypt (the link is to the animated movie on Netflix Instant Play. It's awesome!)

 But then...something happened: 

Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that, and when he saw there was no one around, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. - Exodus 2:11-12

How did he make this decision? Up to this point, Moses had been living what many would call a "rich life." He was a prince! He had money, chariots, probably had all the girls he wanted. He was living! But after this slave incident...things got hard. Pharaoh found out and wanted to kill him! So in 48 hours he went from prince to fugitive. From palace living to homeless. To never having to work a
He looks so his chariot
day in his life to a migrant worker (Exodus 2:15-22).

How did this happen? How did his priorities get all mangled up that what became important to him was "Let my people go!" How did he give up luxury and ease for poverty and difficulty? How did he give up a sure position for, "take thy staff and do my wonders"?

Moses saw beyond the present. He saw beyond his royalty to the reproach of Christ. He saw beyond the king (pharaoh) that he could see, to the King he couldn't see. Since his heart was set on the future, the luxuries of his present seemed...worthless. 

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. - Romans 8:7-8

Moses' mind was no longer set on his ease. It was no longer set on his pleasures. But that's my default mode. Happiness = stuff. But actually happiness = chasing the will of God. Chasing His mission for you. Moses was hesitant at the burning bush, but look at how he led those people across that sea. I wish I was a time traveler. I wish I could walk across with them. Like maybe then I'd know that the answer to my issues isn't a concert. It isn't a trip to South Africa. It's not new boots. It's not a new haircut.

It's higher. It's harder. 

It's the way of faith.

I want to mark 2014 with faith.