A Kingly Intervention…

“Our walls have fallen,”
His people cry.
“Retreat! Retreat! Run!
Or we will die!”

No one stays behind
to defend Him.
In men’s might they trust
to offend Him.

Mocking and cursing
His Name despised;
His throne overthrown
none is surprised.

Helpless, but trying
they fight alone;
warring each other,
they eat their own.

What must a king do
when none remain?
Why should He protect
His whole domain?

What reason, what cause
shall draw His sword?
What belief, what faith
calls out His word?

In sorrow He sees
they cannot win;
for although they try
they live in sin.

Their laws, their commands
are all in vain.
Their wants, their desires
rendered insane.

Before His walls fell,
their hearts were sacked.
His enemy’s seed
within attacked.

Arising in rage
He sees a plan;
“I will intervene!
But as a man!”

Unsheathing His sword
He throws it down;
while the ground receives
His only crown.

Kicking and clawing
His foe attacks
“Though you might kill me,
I will relax.”

“You foolish old king!
You die for rats!
Wretched and selfish;
sin fills their vats!”

The King fell silent,
He spoke no word;
a whip slashed His back,
His screams unheard.

Skin hanging barely,
blood drenched the ground.
Nails pierced Him to wood
death He soon found.

Exalted in pain,
spited by men,
the King breathed His last.
“It’s finished, then.”

His people were shocked
to hear He died;
some angry, some glad
some even cried.

Chaos covered Earth,
in three day’s time.
His enemy charged
himself the prime.

More lands were conquered
people enslaved.
The enemy won;
a new world paved.

Yet something was strange:
A Presence made;
man began to feel
his debt was paid.

The enemy freaked;
chained all the slaves.
But forgot one thing:
To check the graves.

Bones rattled and danced,
combined and grew;
a massive army
for a King’s crew.

There the King appeared
leaving a tomb,
looking full of life
from a new womb.

His army rallied,
numbered like sand,
and took from His foe
the Promised Land.

His Enemy died,
sealing his fate.
And the King unlocked
a brand new gate.

New heavens, new earth,
the Scriptures say,
where lions and lambs
will rest and play.

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An Orphan No More…

Gazing into the mirror
I see a man somewhat known;
Brown skin, hair, and eyes
Yet a person not his own.

Sunlight darkens him with ease
And remains through the winter
And amidst his kin
He stands out as a splinter.

His nose, ears, eyes, jaw and mouth
His entire facial structure
Has no history
Which gives his heart a puncture.

“Where do these features come from?”
His heartache has often asked.
“Who the hell am I;
My identity is masked.”

“You were born as a mistake!”
A voice inside his pain cries,
“Cut your wrists and die!”
He fell, helpless to the lies.

A blade lay within his hand,
His knuckles were turning white,
Wrists trembling in wait,
He began to lose the fight.

He watched as it touched his skin;
Cold steel against a warm life
And pictured the blood
Which he hoped would end his strife.

Squirting, spurting, and splashing;
Bubbling, boiling and bursting
Fear poured in his heart
Adding to his soul’s thirsting.

“Fatherless, hopeless, helpless
I’m finding myself to be,
Here I try to take
My own life to set me free.”

And yet the knife was withdrawn,
Placed securely on his desk;
His heart still beating
A scene avoiding grotesque.

“You fool!” cried the evil voice,
“There is no hope to be had;
Waiting for nothing,
Your actions prove you are mad!”

“No!” whispered another voice,
“Who are you?” the orphan cried.
“I am your Father
And for your pain I have died.”

“How can this be?” he wondered,
“For you are still here with me.”
“Read the Ancient Book;
I will give you eyes to see.”

Opening to the Poet
His eyes gazed upon a line,
Which shot through his heart –
Healing it with the Divine.

“Father of the Fatherless”
His sorrow-filled eyes did read.
“The King of the Jews”
“And for my life did He bleed!”

“No!” cried the fork-tongued demon.
“Your life is for pain and death!
Cut yourself and see
Your ‘father,’ ‘God,’ wants your breath!”

And yet a thunderous voice
Spoke out from the Ancient One,
“I am his Father!
And he my beloved son!”

Brown features still stare at me
But less unknown than before;
My Father saved me,
I am an orphan no more.

Shut Up and Lead…

In a post I wrote a month ago, I talked about my frustrations with biblical scholarship – lack of heart-felt belief underneath the opinions, focused more on their arguments than encouraging one’s faith, etc. In that post I said that when it gets right down it, poetry still speaks clearer to me than scholarship. After reading poems from Taylor Mali and subsequently writing a few of my own, I’d have to say I feel as though I’m just now beginning to find my stride as a writer.

Four years ago, almost to the day, I read Blue Like Jazz for the first time and found myself itching to write. Donald Miller speaks with such brutal honesty that I no longer felt uncomfortable putting words to paper – words about my pain, my sins, my errors in life. With the content of that book and also the way in which it was presented, Don made himself a relatable person. He wasn’t teaching, preaching, or pounding anything into our heads; He was simply revealing deep, possibly embarrassing parts of his life. Like the Navy SEAL he writes about in BLJ, he sat down beside us, got cuddly-close, and showed us being a follower of Christ doesn’t have to be an intimidating or militant or dogmatic experience. It just requires you.

Every last bit of you.

When I read Don’s blog a couple days ago, I liked it. He brought out an ever-important and often-ignored point: Jesus doesn’t require the best of the best to lead His people; He requires the willing. He requires those who don’t want their lives to be about their names, their books, their arguments, their ministries; He wants those men and women who realize they aren’t blessing the world with their presence, but instead simply want to serve, to lead, to guide people in God’s ways. Jesus does not want religious bickering.

It didn’t take long, though, to find many on the blogosphere explode with emotional responses to Don’s post. I read a couple and must agree, there were some points that Don didn’t seem to address. But what I found lacking in almost all of these responses to Miller is what he was really talking about: leadership. Jesus’ 12 disciples were not by any means the kind of people society would want leading them, but He changed them around and look what happened: We have church today because of their work then.

Yes, scholarship is helpful; yes, opinions matter; yes, the intellectuals and theologians have done so much in keeping the faith strong. But one only needs Jesus and to be led in His ways. When Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, they left everything and followed Him; they came to Him empty handed, with nothing to offer the world but their service. And He taught them how to serve.

I’ve been briefly reading up on some major issues going on within our own government. Disagreements have gotten so bad within the White House that there might be a government shutdown, which says to me that things stop moving forward until an agreement is reached. Imagine what would happen if Christianity got so caught up in our disagreements, our arguments, our religious bickering that everyone stopped until an agreement was reached? Who would be left to lead?

No, there won’t be a global-church-wide shutdown like our government’s (at least I hope not), but that doesn’t mean certain people who are called to lead won’t venture away into the religious arguments and scholarly debates. Yes, Paul was a scholar who argued a lot, but we would be wise to realize he argued because in many cases, his life literally depended on it. Here in America, we don’t face the same challenges he faced. And while he did a lot with this theology (as scattered as it comes out in Scripture), he did more with his leading. He did more with his serving. He saw people hurting around him and did something about it. He brought them to Jesus.

A couple nights ago Tony Overstake, leader of Cross Training and a pastor at my church, gave a message about two things: compassion and action. In Scripture, especially in Jesus’ ministry, these two walk hand in hand; He had compassion and then He healed. He led the people in need. We are a people in need. We don’t need the arguments and debates; we need Jesus. We need His love, His guidance, His Being. Those stupid fishermen that Jesus picked out at the beginning of His ministry are the ones who sacrificed their lives bringing just that: Jesus. We don’t need Pharisees; we need fishermen.

Many have asked in response to Don if he might be exalting heart above head; that we need more of our hearts than our heads in order to follow Christ. From what I’ve read of Don, he says we need our hearts above our intellectual arrogance. There’s a difference. Jesus commands us to love God with all our hearts, souls, strengths, and minds – not our intellectual arrogance. If anything, our arrogance is part of the problem. It needs to die. Throughout Scripture we’re encouraged to explore God’s wisdom, God’s knowledge, and to seek His understanding; but we’re not encouraged to lord our opinions about that wisdom, knowledge, or understanding over others. That isn’t leadership; it’s idolatry.

Poets speak closer to my heart not because they speak solely with their hearts; but because so many thoughts are packed into so few little words. The two poems I’ve posted (here and here) took roughly an hour and a half each to write. It wasn’t just my emotions leading my pen; it was my mind making sure each word was right, each syllable was deliberately placed, and each letter had a purpose. Religious bickering tends to disregard the content and quantity of one’s words, and yet Jesus said, “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned,” (Matt. 12:37).

Our words, just like our lives, cannot be careless. There is too much pain, too much suffering, too much sickness in the world for us as followers of Christ to sit with idle hands and flapping jaws. Scholarship is very helpful insofar as it helps us love God with our minds; but scholarship is not a prerequisite to follow Christ. If anything, we’re to come empty handed, ready to work.

Warrior With Words…

I’d rather be a man of few words
than a man of many.
It’s easier to speak a thousand words,
utter a million syllables,
and arrive at ambiguity
than to speak clarity in a few.

Like a soldier with his sword
striking his target precisely,
not wasting swipes and stabs
swirling his blade in the air,
my words thrust with meaning.

I am a warrior with words;
my pen is my sword.
Like an archer and his arrows,
my ink must not be wasted.

Beliefs and Opinions…

Nothing against the scholars, but their words do not speak to me. At least, not like poetry does. When I say “poetry” I don’t necessarily mean stuff that rhymes; I mean any piece of imagery that strums the strings of your soul’s guitar – any combination of words that puts a rhythm to your heart’s beat. I’d have to imagine that, to some, there’s poetry in the words of the scholars. But with the two very intense religious studies classes I’ve taken this term, I’ve quickly discovered that the scholar’s inner poet is given the backseat.

Why am I talking about all this right now? Well, I’m exhausted. I’ve been forced to work harder this term than I have for any other term of my college life and I’m not even in the thick of it yet. These next two weeks will be a true test as I have one final, two presentations, and three papers to write. Before I look ahead, though, my heart has called for a spiritual reflection.

There is a reason why I was an English major in college: figurative, implicit language speaks clearer to me than literal, explicit language. When reading the work of a Dead Sea Scrolls or New Testament scholar, I learn something, but no fire ignites my heart. Unless, of course, I’m frustrated with their grammatical or spelling errors – in that case, I do get riled up. But when I think back to the English classes I was taking even a year ago, I was deeply inspired. Ever since my last English class, though, I haven’t felt the same love for my classes or the texts we’d read.

I’m not saying that scholars should be done away with; I’m just saying that when they speak with their minds more than their hearts, I’m not as drawn to them. There’s a difference between speaking with opinion and speaking with conviction; one states what they think while the other expresses what they believe.

The biggest challenge to my faith this term hasn’t been the statements attacking the validity or reliability of Scripture or anything like that; it’s been the removal of personal conviction. Anything you believe with your heart and soul is regarded as a “bias” and therefore makes you less credible. Yet if there was any common sense among these scholars, which I believe there is, they’d recognize that everyone has a bias and no matter how hard one might try, that bias can’t be removed.

Again – I cannot stress this enough – I learned so much this term and am glad that I have taken these classes (even the journalism one). But what I found lacking was belief. Arguments and theses were given and with sound reason and logic; but there seemed to be very little conviction. I don’t believe in Jesus because He makes the most sense; I believe in Jesus because when my heart felt nothing but pain and depression, He broke through. My testimony is proof – at least to me if no one else – that I cannot allow my intellect to lead and guide my faith; Jesus dives into the heart and leads from there. My intellect must submit to the Spirit beating life into my lifeless soul.

Some time ago, and I forget where I received this from, I heard a different interpretation of Philippians 3:13. Usually, and this is how I thought of it before as well, we think of our sins and failures when we read how Paul forgot what was behind him. But what of his successes? If he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews” as he proclaims, then certainly the religious zealots around him would have seen that as a major success in his life and not a failure at all. We can’t ignore his failures, but we can’t ignore his successes either; both were forgotten by Paul when Jesus entered his heart.

Learning about our faith is essential for a further strengthening of it. Either we learn the history of where our forefathers in Christianity came from and where they ended up or we learn about what Jesus is really teaching us in Scripture. In both regards, the scholars are more than helpful; they’re absolutely essential. They are the ones who have dedicated their lives to understanding their faith; to them, the words of dead scholars and theologians speak poetry. What I am saying here is that I do not hear that poetry; I am not moved by the opinions of others. I am moved by the power of Jesus; a power that is reflected through the heart of a person, no matter their intellectual understanding of what’s happened.

Our book for Early Christianity was Gerd Theissen’s The Religion of the Earliest Churches: Creating a Symbolic World, which we were asked to write a critique of before today’s class. I scrambled to get it done merely because I had slept in much longer than I wanted to, so I didn’t take much time to truly reflect over what I liked and what I didn’t. Theissen is a believer, to be clear, but throughout most of the book he spoke with his mind. Yet when he described the exploration of early Christianity like the exploration of a cathedral, when he put things into a figurative light, I was able to get a sense of what he was saying. Sadly, he only talked with this cathedral metaphor in the first and last chapters. The eleven in between were brutal for an English major like me.

Yes, I learned, but I wasn’t inspired much. Ideas can be taught and understood with the mind without the heart ever entering into the mix. But beliefs aren’t possible without the heart. When I come to Jesus, when I kneel at His cross, I’m not engaging Him with my mind only; my heart and soul are leading the way. If my mind has any role in the experience, it’s following the heart’s lead.

I am not trying to suggest that we should disregard the scholarship or learning anything with our minds; that’s just stupid. And contradictory. If that’s you’ve received from this post, then that’s what you’ve learned from my teaching, thereby rendering the possibility of an intellect-less faith impossible. What I am saying is what I believe: Jesus speaks to our hearts and souls in a way that our minds can’t fully comprehend. They’re left only to turn away in ignorance or surrender with a child-like trust.

State your opinions, sure, but keep in mind that if your opinions are entirely intellect-driven, there is no real faith. It’s a fabricated faith in reason and logic and the mind’s ability to understand all things – one of the most misleading messages. One must believe with conviction; it’s what makes true life possible. And since one must believe with conviction, it shouldn’t be ridiculous for someone to express that belief with conviction – as if their life depended upon it.

“For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame,’” – Romans 10:10-11