a realistic dose of cynicism

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the great Constant [in a sea of variables]

you know that song, Blessed Be Your Name?

it talks about how one day, the sun can be shining down on us… and then the very next, we can be distraught, despairing and downtrodden.

one point behind the song is that God gives blessings and takes them away as He pleases — but in spite of it all, He’s always there; He’s the great Constant — and He is worthy to be praised not only in our highlights, but in our lowlights too.

I think a common belief is that it’s easy to praise God and give Him glory and thanks when things are good; when things are going swimmingly. And that when our life is in shambles — when all hope is lost and it seems as if God has abandoned us, it’s difficult to still give him praise and glory and honor in the face of disappointment.

I think I’m the exact opposite way.

When things aren’t going my way, when things are difficult… I find that’s when I turn to Him most. It’s when I feel like I’m being swept away by the hurricane of life that I realize just how desperately I need to hold onto Him, the solid rock. It’s because He is truly the great Constant in a sea of variables.

On the contrary… when the ride is smooth, it’s very easy for me to get swept up into complacency, into thinking that I don’t need Him. I’ve been lulled into a false sense of security; that I’ve got life all figured out.

But just as Blessed Be Your Name urges us to praise God in our sufferings, don’t overlook the fact that it urges us to praise God in our blessings too.

praying for closer walks with You…

every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise;
and when the darkness closes in, Lord,
still I will say…

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Strategy vs. tactics.

What’s the difference between strategy and tactics? Well, if you were there for that one Trellis lesson…

Strategy is an overall view of the battlefield – it’s a point of view that looks at the forest and not the individual trees. Strategy looks at your end goal.
In Halo CTF, strategy is just the objective – go get the enemy flag.

Tactics are your individual nitty-gritty manuevers that achieve very specific goals. Tactics look at your next step.
In Halo CTF, tactics involve a myriad of manuevers – for example, snipe the flag-carrier as he’s hopping into the passenger seat of that Warthog.

In every case, tactics and strategy are intimately intertwined; every tactic should serve the purpose of advancing your strategy.

Not willing to be trivialized to mere video games, strategy and tactics exist on a far broader scale, and that’s in our very lives. I’ve seen that God has his own strategy and tactics for our lives. He’s got a perfect overall plan for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 19:21). Yup, I believe that… and I’ve heard that a million times. But not only that, he’s got each of our steps planned out too (Proverbs 16:9).

Ergo, on the battlefield of life, God is not only a perfect strategist, but he’s also a brilliant tactician. Each spiritual manuever that he performs is so utterly magnificent, ultimately advancing the plan he’s already set for my life. And I absolutely believe that.

Recently, I’ve often tried to discern the purpose behind each of my steps, the purpose behind each of God’s tactics. I realize he’s orchestrating the symphony of my life from his celestial pedestal. Each movement he makes is never haphazard; never random; never accidental; He has the most specific intention behind each wave of his pinky finger. And I’ve been trying to interpret what those divine purposes are. In a sense, I want to know what God has planned for me before he actually brings it to fruition.

But don’t you think that’s a little naive?… to think that God would want me snooping in on the sheet music perched up on His music stand… that I could know his plans before he reveals them to me. Maybe he has an insane rush of 32nd notes awaiting me, or maybe a relaxing, somewhat boring string of tied whole notes. But if he really let me see his plans for me, I wouldn’t need to depend on him at all! And God wouldn’t let that stand. He wouldn’t reveal his tactics to me, because that would negate my need for me to depend on him, and ultimately neglect my need for a Savior.

And from that, you may conclude that God is a sadist, that he just likes toying with his children, stringing them along. But that’s not it either… maybe he won’t let us know his tactics. But he’s already spelled out his strategy for us, and that won’t ever change; there’s nothing to anticipate or decipher. God’s already said that he has a plan to prosper us, to give us hope and a future.

So… what comes out of all this? As far as tactics go, God won’t let us know in advance. He’ll reveal his plans to us when he wants. The thing is, if God’s truly a brilliant tactician, then his tactics work for the advancement of his strategy. But that’s exactly what God has told me — what I already know — is that God’s strategy is sound. And that’s something I can trust in.

Filed under: thoughts on christianity, ,

what God wants.

At heart, we’re really impatient people. That’s why we microwave our food (or end up eating ramen), that’s why we send e-mails… that’s even why Facebook and GChat exist. We’d much rather check up on someone by opening Firefox and typing and clicking versus calling or meeting up with them. So many facets of our lives are fueled by impatience. I could name a few others. For example, I looked up how to solve the Rubik’s cube instead of trying to figure it out for my own (it may not have taken me 26 years), I drive through the express car wash rather than doing a much better job by hand, and I hate traffic.

I often pray for patience, for myself, and for others. I admit sometimes it’s one of the things on my laundry list of “good/spiritual-sounding” words, along with faith, hope, trust, wisdom, clarity, love. Patience to let go of our own desires, patience to wait on God’s will and God’s timing. Patience to lay our own wishes and wants down at God’s feet, and let him lead and guide.

I, too, often wish I weren’t single, that I’d have someone to share life and love with. Someone to sacrifice for, someone to care for, someone I could serve. But the problem is that I want it… now. I’m not really a patient person. Naturally, I would rather not wait on God’s timing and on his good and perfect provision. I’m of the opinion that if you want something, you should go get it. Instant gratification. “If you want to be in a romantic relationship with someone, go get ‘im (go get ‘er).”

Is that what I really want though? Is that what God wants for me? …maybe. But I definitely know what he DOES want, and it’s for me to love him more, and thus, obey him more. He wants me to grow in my walk with him. He wants me to be rooted in his word. He wants me to cultivate godly, loving relationships with his children, men and women. He wants every relationship to be a chance for me to show God’s love to others — the selfless action and obedience in love. Not the often-selfish feeling of love, but the seldom-selfless obedience of love. “Love and serve others as Christ loved you first,” God tells me.

And if this selfless action and obedience of love draws me closer to a human being that I might marry someday? All the better. But I know that first it’ll draw me nearer to Him who loved me first.

Love is patient.
-1 Corinthians 13:4

Filed under: thoughts on christianity, , ,

God’s plan, providence, and predestination.

Warning: long post ahead.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
Proverbs 19:21, ESV

We’re human beings. Naturally, we like having power, we like having control of whatever situation we’re in. In fact, having control of your own life is something so fundamental to today’s culture that it seems ludicrous to even suggest otherwise. I’d like to be able to control what school I go to, what I study, who my friends are, where I’m going to work and live after college, and who I’m going to marry. Those sound like basic human rights, don’t they?

The Bible teaches that it’s God who has a plan for us. I’m sure I’ve lauded the praises of Jeremiah 29:11 before, but this time I won’t stop short by simply stating the verse, but examining what it practically means for us.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11, NIV

The way I see it is that God already has your whole life planned out for you, down to what you chose to eat this morning for breakfast. And that good and perfect plan is hand-crafted for every person. Every single decision you make has been pre-planned by God, and he’s got his own intentions for every little fork in the road that you take, no matter how trivial. Then I ask myself:

If God already has a plan for me to prosper me, and that plan is good and perfect, is it possible to make a wrong decision?

It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? If you believe that the Bible literally teaches predestination, and that God is all-loving and all-powerful, then you can arrive at the conclusion that no matter what decisions you make throughout the course of your life, you’ll never make the “wrong” choice. A friend of mine will make a decision in the next few months about which graduate school to go to, and where she’ll live for the next few years. Knowing Jeremiah 29:11, I’ve thought to myself that whatever choice she makes, it’ll be the right choice.

Now it really sounds ridiculous. Are you saying that no matter what path in life I choose, that I can do no wrong? If I choose to go to a grad school that doesn’t really offer the best program for me, or if I end up moving to an expensive city and I end up going broke, that those choices are still the “right” ones? Even though technically they’re not the “best” ones?

I think so. I believe that God orchestrates every little thing in your life to build you up, to draw you nearer to him, to make you know and feel more of the glory, grace, and infinite love that he gives out so freely. Every good or bad thing that happens in your life is just another step that you’ve taken toward preparing yourself for God’s eternal glory, whether it feels like it or not. So, whatever choice you end up making… what grad school you go to, where you choose to live and work, and even who you marry… those choices have been deliberately orchestrated in advance. And God uses the circumstances surrounding these decisions to draw you nearer to him.

An anecdote:

I recall my reasoning for going to WPI. It was because it was close to home, and that I had friends who were going there. Little did I know that four years there would cause my spiritual life to ultimately suffer the greatest blow it’s ever experienced. After college, I started going to a small group regularly.

I realized how much my spiritual life had been lacking, and found such great joy from getting to know God more for the first time in years. So much so that I began serving there in the fall. In retrospect, that single decision has altered the rest of my life forever. In spite of all the pain and suffering, I felt God drawing me nearer to him, even now.

The fact that I went to WPI and my spiritual walk suffered for four years… seems terrible. Why would God allow me to make a decision with such a cost? It’s because ultimately, something great and matchlessly wonderful became of it. In some ways, starting to really walk with God again was such a breath of fresh air because I didn’t have that for four years.

With that, I can understand why God put me through four years of spiritual atrophy in college. It’s because in his providence, he had something immeasurably greater planned for me. I can say I’ve reached the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, and I’m simply in awe of how I got there.

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Embracing suffering.

This week’s sermon was on 2 Corinthians 4:6-18, about suffering: why God allows suffering in our lives, and how God enables us to endure suffering.

Why does God allow suffering in our lives? Well, there’s suffering that results from you doing something wrong… and then there’s suffering that results from you doing everything right.

Sometimes, as a Christian, God still allows suffering in our own lives, even though we may have done everything right. Just look at Paul… he dedicated his whole life to spreading the gospel. And look where it brought him: several of the Pauline epistles are written from jail cells. He was beaten and flogged, berated and ridiculed, jailed and tortured, and eventually died for his faith. Paul certainly suffered, didn’t he? He suffered not because he did anything “wrong”. He was certainly a sinner, but he suffered for his faith. He suffered for being a Christian.

But what does this have to do with me? I can say that God has been putting me through various trials and tribulations for the last month. And these sufferings… I deserved every last bit of them. And I still deserve more. But is that good enough for me? God’s allowing me to feel sadness, pain, anger, jealousy, rage–suffering–because and only because I deserve it? Aren’t God’s motives supposed to transcend mere human emotions like retribution and revenge and mere human justice?

Paul compares Christians to jars of clay, filled with the treasure of the gospel. And when those jars crack, the grace of the gospel (the light within) shines through to others. Suffering is akin to slowly dying to ourselves, breaking those jars of clay. When those jars break, the radiance of the gospel–Jesus’ death–shines out, and through that death, we have life in Jesus. Kind of paradoxical. Kind of confusing. But think about it.

We suffer so that God’s glory can shine through us, to draw us nearer to him, to prepare us for the eternal kingdom of God. v.17-18a say it best:

17For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18a, ESV

Paul makes light (pun intended) of our sufferings here on earth! You know that problem you’re going through? the pain you’re in? how monumental that feels? that it feels like it’s crushing the life out of you? Well, Paul’s saying that it’s light! and momentary! compared to God’s eternal glory.

It’s in our times of greatest despair that God teaches us the most about him, that God draws us even closer to him, that we see the most of God’s glory. Why? Because in those great sufferings, it feels as if everything that you know and love is crumbling at your feet. And there only remains God, everlasting Father, who will never crumble or perish. He’s always there, and it’s in these sufferings that we come to rely on him most. Even better, when we finally get through it all, we recognize that it’s God’s hand that has guided through this, giving no credit to ourselves.

I’ve been able to praise God for my sufferings, for drawing me ever nearer to him. Seems weird, doesn’t it? It seems completely counter-intuitive. I’ve been told by someone that they envied my current situation, with so much suffering ahead. And I didn’t believe them; who would want to put themselves through pain? To embrace suffering? It’s ludicrous.

But now, after enduring the brunt of the assault, I completely understand. God uses suffering to grow your faith like you wouldn’t believe.

6In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:6-7, ESV

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A transcendental God.

Reading 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 today…

God is a transcendental God. His attributes and persona challenge the limits of our very perception. He is beyond anything we could ever know. The confines of this world and the very dimensions we live in prevent us from realizing and receiving his unconditional love, his tender mercies, and his amazing grace. It reminds me of the concept of multiple dimensions; everything we experience in the three dimensions of space is merely a point in the fourth dimension of time. All that we know about the human capacity for love, mercy, and grace… there’s a whole ‘nother dimension to it, so-to-speak.

The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Cor 1:25) Or, as I like to think of it… the wisdom of mere man cannot even dream of matching the foolishness of God. The strength of mere men cannot even fathom the weakness of God. It’s just a whole ‘nother level. God just transcends us, in every way we could possibly imagine.

And I go and think about some of the strongest human emotions we have here on earth, shared among mere men (and women). The strongest among these, is love. It can be a familial love, a brotherly/sisterly love, or it can be a romantic, heart-fluttery type of love. As satisfying and mutually fulfilling as the strongest of these mere God-given human emotions may be, they pale in comparison to what God offers.

That’s mindblowing! I think of the strongest love I’ve ever felt, and it pales in comparison to what God offers? That’s like, take the limit as love goes to infinity… it hurts to think about it. Literally.

The strongest human love I’ve ever felt is like a drop in the bucket of God’s love. It’s matchless, infinite, and unconditional.

Filed under: thoughts on christianity,

a prayer for forgiving oneself

Lord, I’m a sinner. But even though we sinned against you, you still loved us first. You loved us so much that you gave your life for us, pouring out your blood as a perfect sacrifice to make us clean and sanctified. You were the ultimate sacrifice for us.

Lord, I admit that I sin daily. I come before you to say that I’m sorry for all the things I’ve done wrong here. I was selfish, angry, frustrated, and Lord, I mistakenly thought that I was serving you in all these ways. I’ve sinned against you, against me, and against her. I’m sorry, and I need forgiveness from you.

She’s already forgiven me, Lord. And I know why; she’s put all her hurt and pain at your feet. I wish I was there too, Lord… in a place where I could forgive myself, forgive her, and just be able to move on.

Lord, I need your strength. Show me that I’m weak, and that if you’ve forgiven me, what right do I have to stay mad at myself? Why should I still feel guilty and remorse and anger toward myself, when you’ve already forgiven me? Who am I to not love myself when the God who made the universe has loved me first and shown me his infinite love, poured out on me his infinite grace, and given to me his infinite forgiveness?

Lord, there is no one like you. Apology, confession, and repentance will always be enough for you. You are our great Father in heaven, everlasting God, Prince of Peace.

Give me the strength to forgive myself, knowing that you’ve forgiven me first. and give me the strength to love myself, knowing it’s you who loved us first.

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b digression (a prayer)

God, I know that when we human beings mess up, you throw obstacles and suffering in our paths. And until we “get it” and see that your love is so much greater than any love we could ever hope to experience here on earth, that your grace is so free and abundant if only we asked for it, that your mercy is seems infinite to infinity, that your forgiveness covers over all our sins much like the blood of Jesus… you’ll keep throwing obstacles and more and more suffering at us. Until we “get it”.

Until we let go of everything that worries us and troubles us, laying it down at your feet, because we just can’t take it anymore.

And then, right when it seems as if all the pain has passed, it’s only the tip of the iceberg, Lord… and I see that I have so much more pain in store for me… Why, God? Right when I think that this trial is over and that my heart has been broken enough and that I’ve learned my lesson, I haven’t. Why do you insist on breaking my heart even more and more? Do I not get it? Is there something I’m still missing? Just when I think I’ve had enough, another avalanche of sorrow and guilt crashes down on me as if I’d never felt pain before.

see: (a digression)

I’ve been looking at what you’ve said to me over and over these last 2 weeks:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:6-7

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
1 Peter 5:10

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:6-7

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

God, I admit that my mistakes are many. If I were to confess them to you and repent of each and every one, I would be saying “sorry” for the rest of my life, for my transgressions are like grains of sand on a beach. But God, you loved us first, and you’ve forgiven my sins. All of them. You’ve forgiven the sins I committed last year, last month, and even today. You’ve already forgiven me when I sin against you tomorrow and the day after. You’ve forgiven all the sins I have yet to commit.

I know you have a good and perfect plan for me. You even have someone for me to marry, even though neither of us know that yet. Lord, I pray that you’ll give me patience to witness the unfolding of your will and trust that you have such a wonderful future in store for me.

Lord, give me strength to know that I am weak. Help me to know you and love you more each and every day.

To this day, I’ve experienced hurt as wide as the oceans, and I know I’ll still be in pain for a long time to come. Lord, I pray that you just blanket me with your love.

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A detail-oriented God.

I think it’s easy for us, being mere human beings, to get caught up in the details and minor intricacies and tiny nuances of our lives. We’re not sure about what college we should go to, what we should study when we get there, whether to go to grad school or head straight for a job-hunt. We wonder about how best to spend every second of our lives, trying our best to meet and talk to everyone in an effort to prevent our treasured relationships from being thrown like chaff to the gust of neglect. We wonder who our future spouses will be, or even if God has one in store for us. We sometimes even wonder what’s going to happen in a situation in which we have no control, as if our actions would be altered by knowing the ultimate outcome.

Far too often, we get absorbed in the details of life; you can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s only natural. We like knowing how things will transpire. We thirst for truth, quenched only by revelation. Medically speaking… patients with undiagnosable illnesses with mysterious symptoms move from doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital, just wanting to know. Terminal patients want to know how much or how little excruciating pain they’re going to experience as they come to grasp their mortality. Even Dr. House, the diagnostician from that television show has an obsession with what his patients’ illnesses are. It’s a game to him; it gives him a reason to move on. They all just want to know the details.

Fortunately for all of us, we can take comfort and find solace that someone does know all the details. He knows all the trials and tribulations we will face, and all the hurt and pain and sorrow we will feel. He knows each and every single hurt we’ve ever felt and will ever feel, from infinity to infinity. He feels each and every possible infinitesimally small fraction of hurt.

He knows a good and perfect plan for you, a plan to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future. Although you may not see it now, he’s got such an impossibly incredible and beautiful future planned for you.

So if he’s got your entire life, details not sparing, in his hands, and has an unbelievably good plan for you…

Our lives are challenging enough as they are. Why aren’t we just leaving the details to him?

Filed under: thoughts on christianity,

all the love in the world is right here!! among us!

and the problem is this           we were bought with a kiss

but the cheek still turned             even when it wasn’t hit

and i don’t know                                            what to do with a love like that

and i don’t know                                            how to be in love like that

when all the love in the world
is right here among us

hatred too
and so we must choose what our hands will do

where there is pain
let there be grace

where there is suffering
bring serenity

for those afraid
help them be brave

where there is misery
bring expectancy

surely we can change

surely we can change
something.

and the problem it seems
is with you and me

not the love who came
to repair everything

and i don’t know…    what to do with a love like that
and i don’t know…           how to be in love like that

when all the love in the world is right here! among us!
…hatred too. and so we must choose what our hands will do.

let us bring grace.     when there is pain:
bring serenity.                     when there is suffering:

let us be brave.             for those afraid:
let us bring them relief.                where there is misery:

surely we can change
surely we can change
oh surely we can change

something.

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