Trust…

I wrote a journal entry yesterday, but I hated it so it was scrapped. I’ve been getting back out in public today. It feels good. I’ve been cooped up in my room for the last five days and the fresh air is liberating. Our house is just too stuffy upstairs. I don’t like it. I wonder if our last house was like that upstairs. You get so used to the dry coldness of the middle floor without insulation that when you finally get insulation, you hate it. Last night I found myself sweating while I was just sitting there. It wasn’t anything because of sickness either; it was simply because the room was stuffy.

Going to Tyler’s dorm, watching a movie at Gateway, and going to Starbucks have all proven worthy of the drive. Nothing amazing happened at any of the three locations, or at least not yet because I’m still at Starbucks. But getting out in the world amongst people has been worth it. I don’t believe God made us to be alone at all. Even if you live your entire life never talking to somebody, at least there are people around you to annoy you, look at you, to be looked at, and maybe even to smile at.

There’s something transcendent about being around people. Even though I know only one person in Starbucks (oddly enough, Mohan), I feel good about being around people. Throughout my life I’ve viewed myself as that quiet guy who likes to get away from people, but now I realize I need people, even if they don’t need me. I need them to keep me sane. I’m naturally quiet and introspective, I guess, but that doesn’t mean I have to be alone. These last five days have taught me that driving several miles to sit in a Starbucks for the last forty minutes it’s open is worth the drive. It’s worth the gas, the possibility of getting my car broken into, and the $2.95 for a Grande Caramel Apple Spice. When you start looking at all the benefits there are in being around people, you start to look at the costs as nothing at all. Or at least nothing significant.

Certainly there is wisdom using what we’ve been given well, but there’s also the importance of not becoming attached to the money we’ve been given. Even if we aren’t materialists who simply hoard up our belongings and our wealth, we can still worship the money we have by placing a massive dependency upon it. A lot people in this world – including myself at one point in time – live their lives for financial stability. I want to write well to get the good job to get the nice house to get the nice comfort zone of a checkbook. It seems quite ridiculous if you really think about the concept of placing our comfort into a dollar bill. If you’ve got a dollar bill, pull it out for a second. Take it and place it on the ground beside you. Get a feel for your size in comparison to this dollar. Think about things like, “Can it catch me when I fall?” Try that if you like, but put on a helmet just in case the little green thing doesn’t grow arms big enough to hold you up. Even if you are the smallest human being on earth, you are still bigger, much bigger, than a stupid little dollar.

Think of this question too, “Will it be there for me when I need someone to talk to?” Sure it’ll be there, but it won’t talk to you. It won’t give you the advice you need, like “Commit to your wife,” or “Be a man and apologize to your father.” It won’t tell you that your dependence in it is misplaced. It won’t tell you that the alcohol you’ll buy with it is a waste of time. It won’t tell you that you can’t buy happiness with it. It won’t be honest with you. It’ll tell you lies, it’ll deceive you on purpose. Why? Because your dependency in it, your love for it, is a trick of the devil. The dollar is just a tool, a puppet, that the devil uses to ensnare us. And he’s pretty good at it.

It seems like there isn’t any alternative, doesn’t it? A question I’ve asked many times before is, if I don’t have my money, what in the world will I have? We’re raised in a culture that places so much dependency, so much trust, in material items that when it finally comes to the point where we want them all gone, something fearful appears: nothing. We picture ourselves living on the streets, jobless, and digging through trash cans for food. We don’t seriously believe this will be us, but the image scares us. The image lets us know that we better get back to the money and material items before it’s too late. But that’s the very thing: we’re looking in the wrong place. Since we expect our every comfort to be something with a physical presence, we automatically look there as the next thing to uphold us. Our dollars are gone, our material comforts with them, and we somehow think there’s something else coming around the bend. There is, but it isn’t really a thing; it’s more of a being. No, it isn’t any mere man; it’s Jesus Christ, the God man.

We don’t expect much from Him, since He looks like a regular homeless person, minus the drunken smell and the cracked out twitch. But when He approaches us and we look into His eyes, something overwhelms us. We’re overcome with sorrow, with guilt, with shame, with memories of failure, and with absolutely nothing to offer Him. But He doesn’t care. He wipes our eyes, rips out the old, diseased heart in us and replaces it with Himself. The feeling is transcendent. The reality of it, though, ironically makes it unbelievable. We are filled with doubt that a Man who appears to have absolutely nothing is actually the only Man to give us everything. And since we have everything we need in Him, we look down at our alcohol, our money, our drugs, or whatever our addictions may be, and we throw them away. The cloud-nine feeling we have with Christ is enough to encourage us to let go. People will keep us sane, money might keep us from poverty, but only Christ can keep us from slavery.

When we go around telling other people about Jesus – not about Christianity or the church we attend, but about Jesus – they start to see the beauty, peace, comfort and freedom in Him and then they want Him. If this process continues for a while, a community of Jesus freaks is created and suddenly we’re able to trust, forgive, and love each other. It isn’t long before someone walks by living a life of slavery and begins to offer his financial comforts to us, thinking we’ll be excited by his shiny green dollars. We look to each other and realize how ridiculous we once were. The money, the drugs, the alcohol, the clothes, the shoes, the cars, the jobs, the images, the false identities prove worthless when we realize Who we have within us. Early in my walk, the passage about Jesus telling Satan we only live by every word that comes from God’s mouth didn’t make sense (Matthew 4:4). I tried to picture someone else eating pages out of the Bible, but it just looked strange. I pictured someone else because I didn’t want anyone else to think I would ever be that crazy. But when Christ really entered my heart, that is, when I finally manned up and let Him, this passage made sense. We live by Christ’s love. Christ is the Word that God spoke into motion all those years ago, and it is Him, His love, that we feed off of. I know, it looks a little more complicated than just this, but that’s the gist.

We give up who we are to be made to who He wants us to be and in return, we don’t have to sin. We don’t have to depend in hopeless things; we’re free. My instinct to be alone becomes less of an instinct and more of a burden. I’d much rather be around people. People, unlike money, remind me of Who provides peace. If they remind me of how hopeless I once was or if they remind me of how hopeful I’ve become; they remind me of Him. The church, a community of Jesus freaks, is described as a building being built by God, with Christ as the cornerstone. It makes sense now; a community so close together, so connected to each other, so loving to each other, appears as a stronger building than any man-made temple. It’s funny how if we simply trust in the humble little Cornerstone, we receive everything we could ever want.

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The Church…

Today was the official ministry fair of Calvary Fellowship where all the ministries within the church were showcased and sign-up sheets were presented. Danny’s message was short, but definitely sweet because he focused primarily on what the church actually is. What I’m writing about in here isn’t necessarily what Danny talked about, but I might reference this morning’s message here and there.

From my short college career, I have seen several different types of Christians. I’ve seen conservatives, liberals, radicals, and probably a few heretics. But what I’ve typically seen within the more dedicated ones really comes down to two different groups: those who attend church and those who are the church.

You can really see the difference between a Sunday Christian and a follower of Jesus. A Sunday Christian is exactly that: one who attends on Sunday, but throughout the rest of the week is living his or her life however he or she wants to. I’m sure that we have all been there at one point. I know I have. In fact, the first four or five years of my walk with the Lord was spent in this manner: attending church and doing all the right churchy things, but not actually living it out in my day to day life.

The second category is a little more difficult to be and do. It means that your primary focus is what Jesus wants you to do and then everything else falls behind that. It means you’re not limited to Sunday mornings and that you actually serve out of a renewed mind and heart instead of strictly obligation. You don’t serve because people are pressuring you to serve; you’re serving because you want to serve.

As you can see, these are basically opposite ends of the Christian spectrum. You are either a believer who cares more about your own image or you’re actually gathering with the church because of your love for God and for Jesus. I do not mean to make it seem like I’m in the right and everyone else is in the wrong; I think I would be fulfilling the definition of a religious Christian in that case. No, I am here to simply point out the difference between what American society has made the Christian church and what the Christian church originally was.

The early believers never had anything called services like we do. They weren’t limited to Sunday mornings or even one day a week for that matter; they gathered whenever they needed to, regardless of what they were doing in the secular world. They’d get together for food, for prayer, for worship, and to receive God’s messages. Pastors (or prophets – basically teachers/encouragers) were numerous and there wasn’t any particular one who would do the speaking when they gathered; whoever felt it upon their heart would speak. Certainly there was some form of organization to it all, but it wasn’t structured like we have it today.

As many before me have defined it, church is not a building made by any human hands. It is a body of believers and followers of Jesus Christ who are being transformed collectively and individually by God into who He wants us to be. Throughout Scripture, it is clear that following Jesus is not limited to one day of the week or one week of the month or whatever; there are no limitations because following Jesus is an everyday thing. From the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep, we are called by God to follow and obey Jesus’ commands.

What I realized this morning is that our church should not be structured by when and where we meet and for how long, but rather who we are, where we’ve been in our lives, and what we’re doing now for Jesus. Reducing the revolutionary movement that Jesus started a couple thousand years ago is reducing the possibility of the world becoming a better place and the possibility of lives being saved. By “being saved” I do not necessarily mean people just turning their lives over to Jesus, but also having their lives transformed through Jesus. Drug addicts becoming clean, alcoholics throwing away the bottle, adulterers controlling their urges and revamping their minds, and the rich helping the poor.

These transformations are impossible if the church sits idle and conducts itself from service to service, Sunday morning to Sunday morning. I would not be where I’m at now had it not been for the church moving outside of its walls. I would still be seeking after my own glory, my own fame, my own agendas. I would still be so full of myself that I would be empty inside. No church movement, no transformations. No transformations, no advancement of God’s kingdom.

What Danny is intending with Calvary has a certain mindset, a certain attitude, that every follower of Jesus should at least consider. Going to service every Sunday morning is good, but if there is no change in the individual’s life and no impact on the collective, then it is a waste. It’d be better off for the person to not even try to be Christian if they aren’t going to commit to it. Danny said two weeks ago that you might as well believe in fairy tales since there’d be no impact on your life.

No, there isn’t a limit for the church. It is not restricted to walls, social statuses, racial backgrounds, political parties, or religious affiliations. The curtain that was torn from top to bottom at the moment of Jesus’ death was a curtain that divided the religious elite from the “sinners,” where the women and Gentiles were allowed to worship. They weren’t “clean” enough to worship with the religious elite. Jesus ended that division by tearing the dividing factor down. Likewise, there should be nothing dividing the church from each other and the secular world.

Danny’s message this morning was specifically directed to Calvary Fellowship. But this does not mean that any other congregation cannot take the encouragement. I think it was Wesley Towne, the pastor at Ekklesia, who put into perspective for me: don’t go to church, be the church. Being the church was never meant to be on one particular day or for a certain amount of time; it was a perpetual, day-to-day thing. It’s time for the followers of Christ to resurrect the passion, the vision, and the commitment of the early church. It’s time to stop putting on the fake Sunday smile and to start opening ourselves up to each other. It’s time to be the church.

End Note…

There was one slight thing I didn’t clear up after my first post. I had mentioned early on that my mother was addicted to meth, but what I didn’t mention was how she is now clean. I’m not sure how long she’s been clean, but I know she is now. In fact, she’s even turned her life over to God again and is being transformed on a day to day basis. Although she wasn’t there much in my early childhood, I’ve been able to keep in touch with her on a frequent basis.

Me…

Since this is the first issue of what I hope to be many, I must introduce a little about myself. I grew up in Lincoln City, Oregon, but I was born in Salem. At the age of three I was removed from the custody of my mom and placed into a temporary foster home. I was only there for one night and then I was back with my mom, I think. But for the next eight or ten years, this would be a common event in my life; bouncing back and forth between the custody of my mom and the custody of my foster parents, who were mostly my grandparents. I think it was around the age of eleven or twelve when my grandparents officially became my legal guardians and thus began a life of opportunity.

I say “a life of opportunity” because it was my grandpa who enabled my older brother and I to be who we are. With my mom there was no such opportunity. She was addicted to meth and allowing many drug-affiliated friends into her home while we were there. It was a bad environment. The man who eventually became my “step-dad” was a marijuana dealer who had verbally threatened my mother’s life on several occasions. He would yell these things at her regardless of our presence. He looked upon us with annoyance and disdain. My siblings and I felt worthless.

But he was quickly out of my life. When my grandpa finally adopted me, my drug-dealing stepdad was no longer allowed to see me. It wasn’t anything put forth by a restriction order or anything the government said; it was by law of my grandpa. If you ever meet my grandpa, he’s a pleasant man. He’s got a burly, God-like voice that demands your attention. And yet, he’s got a perpetual charisma that is deeply contagious. Since his generation and mine are separated by several decades, his raising me might have been different than how kids today are normally raised. He was pretty strict about rules within the household; no wearing hats, you took off your shoes at the door, and you didn’t punch your brother. And at a young age, I do believe I misinterpreted his rules and raising style. I took offense instead of reverence.

I had thought he was singling me out whenever he would lecture my brother and I about our “rough-housing.” And since I didn’t ask him to see if he was singling me out, I simply assumed it and continued on. This built a great dislike for him. Since he was at home, I didn’t want to be there. I would spend whatever time I could at school or hanging out with friends, but then those became troublesome as well. When I was at my friends’ houses, I would notice their fathers – something I’ve never had. And when I’d see them at school, I would remember their fathers and the horrible feeling of worthlessness would return. It was right around the age of 14 when I started to think about what life might be like if I were not alive anymore. I think if I had gone to a doctor about this, I might have been deemed “clinically depressed.” Regardless of labels, I knew I wanted to kill myself.

There came a week when I determined to do just that. I told myself, “This weekend; it’s going to happen, no matter what.” But then I grew quite afraid of it. I thought about what happens when I die in this world and the many uncertainties that came to mind made me tremble. I was afraid of staying in this world, but I was more afraid of leaving it. And then came God.

It was during the week I decided to absolutely kill myself when I was invited to a concert. It was a close friend whom I knew went to church who asked me to go. And when I joined them to help out with an Easter set up (I only went for the candy, trust me), their pastor even asked me if I wanted to come. With how much I didn’t want to be at home and how much I didn’t like hanging out at my friends’ places, I decided to go.

Retreats away from the familiar are wonderful. You’re so wrapped up in wonder and excitement of the new things you’re seeing and experiencing that you forget the pain you feel in your comfort zones. And that’s exactly where God met me. This concert, I would soon find out, was a Christian concert. Acquire the Fire – as it was called – was a massive gathering of thousands of Christians and almost all of which were youth ministries or just a bunch of kids my age. I don’t think it was any one sermon or testimony that made me curious about God, but I left that weekend wanting to know more. And within the next couple of months, I was baptized and given a Bible to read.

Although the pain of being at home or at school was alleviated with this new-found practice, another boring and equally destructive practice was produced: religion. My life wasn’t about what others thought of me or about how worthless I felt; but rather about going to church every Sunday and reading a chapter of the Bible a day. The good parts were learning a lot about something I didn’t know and finding a place where I no longer felt insignificant. But the bad part was that I wasn’t yet experiencing a relationship with Christ. Then came college.

If you’ve ever spent longer than a month or so in Lincoln City and around the people of Lincoln City, you might notice how secluded it might seem. All the while I was there, I felt cut off from the rest of the world, from different cultures other than the American, and even from other Christians my age. Certainly there were Christians my age in Lincoln City, but I sadly did not spend much time with them. When I came to college, I had pretty much no choice in the matter; they were all around. I started learning how to be a Christian amongst other Christians and also amongst those who have aggressively different beliefs. A few of these Christian friends felt the need to bring me to church events and churchy things. Jon Derby is the main one.

He may not know it or believe it, but he was the main reason why I even came to U of O in the first place. Back in the spring of my senior year in high school I was contemplating not even going to college. I saw that it was way too expensive and too much of a challenge for me. But he reasoned me into it and the next thing I knew I was accepted to the University, provided with a financial aid package that covers everything (though not entirely free – I know, a bummer), and was loading up my things to move into the dorms. There was another family within my hometown church who helped with some financial funding whom I am deeply grateful for. Apparently this family and Derby saw something that I didn’t: an opportunity from God.

Once I was totally settled into the dorms, Derb brought me out to a churchy thing called Cross Training. Through Cross Training, I was engulfed into a communal exploration of God; not just an individual one. I realized the porn watching I did throughout high school was immoral and had to be cut. I realized the many thoughts and feelings I had towards my grandfather were not Godly and had to be altered. I realized that I also could not force my beliefs upon another and humility became attractive. The winter break after my first college term was an eye-opening break. I had gone back to the same house I lived in, the same job I had, and the same kind of ritualistic life I lived when I was in high school. But something broke through.

It seems kind of funny now, but what broke me then was an episode of “Fresh Prince of Bel Aire.” I forget what the episode was titled, but I remember it being the one where Uncle Phil had a heart attack and the whole family was there to visit him, except for Carlton. If you haven’t seen an episode of “Fresh Prince,” just trust me with what I’m saying. I’ve seen so many episodes so many times I could almost quote it better than the Bible. Anyhow, Will Smith (who plays… himself, sort of) was the one to go find Carlton since he was the only one missing at the hospital. He found him back at their house and Will asked Carlton why he wasn’t there. He said he didn’t want to see his father like that; Phil had always been big and strong in his life and to see him so weak and frail would be too much. Will’s reply was what cut me deep; “At least you have a father to look to at all. Where’s my father? I don’t know!” At those words, I lost it. The pain of not knowing who my dad is, the guilt of watching so much porn, the guilt of holding such horrible grudges was all too much to bear and I spent the next two hours weeping. It was then that I experienced God.

The next couple of years were much harder to work through, but easier on the heart. I had a lot to change and though I disagreed with God in a lot of it, I knew it would only make my walk with Him stronger and would, in the end, provide healing. I threw away old desires that were only destructive to my walk and embraced new passions that weren’t really new. I now love writing and want to commit the rest of my life to it, but it’s not a new passion. From my early childhood I remember being enthralled in the world of literature, even if I wasn’t conscious of the love. Brian Jacques’ Redwall series was one I became addicted to and I am quite certain I read every last book. Then when I came to college the sudden speculating thought of “Could I create something like this on my own?” entered my mind. And soon enough it grew to become a way of serving God.

Which brings me to today. I’ve been thinking about writing something for Calvary for quite some time and after asking several people, I realized this could be something more than just me writing. This is intended to be something that draws people closer to Christ, both collectively and individually. I intend to write out my thoughts about life, love, theology, doctrines, and God and I invite all who read this into that journey. I hope my words may encourage, uplift, inspire, or at least point you to the One who does all that better than I. I hope to blog as often as I can, but with my senior year starting up, I can’t quite guarantee anything. Write a comment if you like or if you aren’t comfortable with that, shoot me an email, it should be on the profile. And “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” 1 Corinthians 10:31. God bless