Satan's Sieve

Consider the Lord. He is all-knowing. He is omni-present. He is sovereign and all-powerful. He is good. He has good plans for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

Consider man. He knows nothing that he has not seen or heard apart from the Lord. He is fleeting. He is weak and powerless without Christ. He is easily deceived. He does not know of the Lord's plans except by faith.

Consider Satan. He knows a lot. He was second-in-command to God when he fell. He is deceitful and very powerful - he currently rules the earthly realms. He is evil. He also has plans for our lives.

These are the players, but what is the stage? Earth. And another realm so easily forgotten about - the Heavens. An inaccurate but simple illustration puts this "play" in better light - Satan and God are playing chess and we are the pieces. Both sides have strategies, and both sides are trying to take pieces from the "other team." I think we realize this about God, but quickly forget that Satan is also a strategizer and schemer.

Before we dive into the plot, let's examine a brief history of the players - maybe we can get an idea of the script. Throughout the Bible, Satan has tormented, seduced, beguiled, and frustrated the efforts of man to know God. And man, in accordance with his nature, has fallen many times into the hands of the great deceiver. However, God is sovereign, and although Satan is very powerful, he must have God's permission to reign on earth and act against believers (Revelation 20 talks about the Lord ending Satan's rule at the appropriate time).

Example: Job.
In Job 1, Satan comes before God from roaming through the earth. God asks him if he has seen his upright man of faith - Job. Satan taunts God, saying that if Job was cursed rather than blessed, he would turn around and curse God. God sends Satan away from his throne with the rights to everything that Job possesses. Read that again. God sends Satan away from his throne with the rights to everything that Job possesses. God gave Satan the authority to put Job through trials - to devastate his life. But God in His omnitience knew that Job would withstand the test and prove faithful.

Example: Peter.
In Luke 22, we see another example of Satan gaining the Lord's permission to touch one of His believers. Luke 22:31-34 says, "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. But he replied, Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death. Jesus answered, I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me." Satan asks Jesus to sift Simon as wheat, and Jesus allows it, saying He will pray for Simon Peter. He allows it, and here's a key difference from Job. He allows it, knowing that Simon is going to fall, knowing that he is going to deny Him three times. And Jesus tells him to strengthen his brothers when he turns back (from his fall).

As I was reading about this and realizing these things in my Beth Moore Bible study, I was shocked and comforted at the same time. Shocked to see that Jesus handed Peter over to Satan's wiles knowing that he would fall. Comforted that God uses even the devil to work all things out for good.

Not only did Jesus know that Peter would fall, but He also knew the results of failing in our lives that would follow - shame, regret, pain, sorrow. Jesus knew that Peter would sin when the devil came and tempted him. That blows me away. Why would Jesus give the devil any room in Peter's life if he knew that he would sin?

Matthew 16:18 says, "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." When sifting of wheat occurs, the impurities are separated from the pure seeds. The wheat is refined so that it can go on and become flour. Peter needed to be refined; Jesus needed him to become the rock of the church.

Our first choice would naturally be to imitate Job - to prove ourselves faithful to the Lord before the devil and to help win a battle being fought in the spiritual realms. So we strive for that. However, when we do fall into the devil's snares, and sin one or two or multiple times (Peter denied Christ three times which could be labeled as a "pattern of sin"), it is wonderful to know that Christ is praying for us, and that maybe He is allowing Satan to "sift" impurities out of us. Some lessons must be learned the hard way (think about understanding God's grace without having first failed).

And when we turn back (not if, when), Christ calls us to strengthen our brothers - to encourage and spur on the Church. Even the devil's schemes are not outside of His purposes. We are in a play where the end has already been determined; it is up to us how we read the script.

Christ wants us to be Jobs and Peters. Our lives influence the spiritual realms. We just need to realize it.


LOVE WINS part deux

"Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds." William Shakespeare

Love wins. Everyday. Always. I know why it wins - the blood on the cross. But how? Practically speaking, in my life today and everyday, how does love win?

To answer this question, I quote William Shakespeare - certainly not the theological mastermind, however we cannot deny it when Truth is spoken, and he speaks it quite well in the following sonnet.

Sonnet 116
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

I've been struggling with explanation, when all I had to do was turn to Shakespeare's eloquent ideas on the topic. "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds." So succintly yet poignantly stated. A love that changes in regard to the various objects of that love, is no love at all. Period.

So go live a love that doesn't change.

While I was brainstorming the practical applications of love "winning" in our lives on a day to day basis, I was hoping (as all writers do at one point in time or the other) to come up with a magical and thorough list of ways to love with a selfless and sacrificial lifestyle. I am learning, however, that there is no list. My love manifests itself very differently from yours, as does yours from your neighbor's. The only constant among all of our "loves" is that it is like Christ's; all of our love must transcend this world, be motivated by Christ, and have no desire to gratify ourselves.

So let us be centered on Christ and love in all the ways that He has gifted us. I can't necessarily tell you how, and you can't necessarily tell me how. Just follow Jesus and love. Let us live a love that does not alter "when it alteration finds," and let us lose ourselves while doing it.


Brainstorming - love wins practically speaking

“Christianity can be built around isolating ourselves from evildoers and sinners, creating a community of religious piety and moral purity. That’s the Christianity I grew up with. Christianity can also be built around joining with the broken sinners and evildoers of our world crying out to God, groaning for grace. That’s the Christianity I have fallen in love with.”

“There is a movement bubbling up that goes beyond cynicism and celebrates a new way of living, a generation that stops complaining about the church it sees and becomes the church it dreams of.”

"Charity wins awards and applause, but joining the poor gets you killed. People do not get crucified for charity. People are crucified for living out a love that disrupts the social order, that calls forth a new world. People are not crucified for helping poor people. People are crucified for joining them."

"Jesus is pointing the church to her true identity -- she is to live close to those who suffer."

*All quotes by Shane Claiborne.

I have been thinking a lot about the body of Christ and its function as the church in the world, and I'm still thinking. These quotes illustrate my brainstorming as I think about "Love wins" and continuing thoughts about how that is lived out practically in our lives.


Death or Life

I choose life.
I choose to breathe in deeply every day of the Truth that is found in the Holy and the secular.
I choose to not walk in my flesh, but to have fire in my bones that is not satisfied with living "the ordinary" ordinarily.
I choose to believe that the ordinary things of life are mirrors of the extraordinary, and someday we shall see face to face.
I choose life because love is real and worth fighting for on my knees.



I was studying today, and my friend walked up to share a table with me. I paused to talk for a moment as she pulled out her laptop. The sticker on the cover read "LOVE WINS." Those words were all I could think about for the rest of the day.

Love wins. I have a friend who calls me no matter how long it's been since the last time we've talked. She will often call me three or four times before I call her back. I would think that she would be so frustrated with me by now. We laugh about it when we get together. Her love is greater than my shortcomings. It always wins.

Love wins. I was locked out of my house the other day, and at 1:30 in the morning, I woke up my roommate who had a test the next day to let me in. The next morning, she gave me a huge hug as usual, as if I had never been thoughtless enough to forget my key and selfish enough to disturb her sleep. She never fails me.

Love wins. I say this not because I see it overcoming all in my life, because I definitely don't love like my two friends do. I say this because these words are weighted with hope - hope that my battles are not in vain.

Sometimes I feel like I'm fighting so hard to love others, and sometimes I'm fighting to let others love me. Other times, I'm just fighting for God's love to penetrate my hard heart and warm me from the inside out. It seems in vain. It seems like I'm losing all the time. I feel like I'm never reaching the full potential of love.

That's just the thing, though. I'm not reaching the potential. My efforts are in vain. I am losing - to Love, that is.

I'm realizing every day that Love wins; it wins me. In my battles, I am fighting so hard to live and love, when ironically I'm losing to a Love that is taking me over. It's like I'm swimming towards the boat, trying so hard to get inside so I can start making progress, so I can start moving forward in life, and all He wants me to do is stop and drown - drown in the waves of His Love.

It's so contradictory to what I've thought all my life. I've constantly chased after this life I think He wants me to live, and He wants me to stop and let Him consume me. He wants me to stop fighting and let Love win. And I've thought all along I had to "reach the boat" to get to the Love and where I can finally act out of that Love. I just need to give up and let Love wash over me - over, and over, and over again. And then let the tide take me where He wills.

Stop swimming for the boat. Drown. Let the water seep into my lungs until they're so full that it hurts to breathe. I will die, that is for sure.

But Love wins.



Ephesians 2:4-5 says, "But God, rich in Mercy, because of His great Love, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive in Christ - it is by Grace we have been saved."

It is by grace we have been saved. But what is grace when we still live as if we're holding onto what's been freely given? None of it is ours except what He's given us. 1 Chronicles 29:14 says, "All things come from thee O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee." By God's grace we have been saved, not by our own righteousness.

This is all common knowledge, though, in the church today. Yes, we all know that we have been saved by grace. But do we? I will venture a guess and say that we don't. The reason for this is self-righteousness.

Self-righteousness is prevalent in America because we live in a society that "does the right thing," morally and socially. It is "right" to live good lives. People even look better on those that live somewhat holy lives, calling these elite people "gentlemen," "ladies," "considerate people," "he's a solid guy," "she's not that kind of girl," etc. Sin is tolerated in the non-religious sector of America (and even in some religious circles), but there is still respect in our society for those people who seem to have it together more than the rest. But we don't. No one does.

Yet, in our self-righteousness, we hear ourselves say, "Well I've never done this," or "At least I haven't done that." And if we don't say it, we're thinking it, if not conciously, then subconciously. And if it's not what we haven't done, then it's what we do. And so we keep adding up our good points and subtracting the bad ones and adding on more for the bad things we don't do. What does it amount to? Some number that really means nothing because it all adds to zero every time. And that's the point.

The point is zero. No matter what I do or don't do, my works add up to zero when counting righteousness. (I'm not talking about bearing fruit, so please don't be offended and think that I'm saying good works mean nothing. They do, but NOT in regards to our state. Good works are an outpouring and outflow of the state we are put in by God's grace. Because we are righteous by his grace, we bear good fruit out of obedience in that grace and freedom.) And here is where I believe that it is hard for us to understand His grace until we have messed up big time, over and over again. It is then that we see that we cannot add up any points; we're getting into negative numbers here and we're losing hope. We're realizing our depravity and desperation for some way out, and we can't find it. We're cycling through sin, and we want out so badly, but just can't leave it behind. Here is where we find the grace of God - when we see that we cannot even live one more day without His help, and that nothing we do can make up for what we've already done.

The sad irony of this is we're all in this place - liars, murderers, thieves, homosexuals, gossipers, haters, lusters, etc. No matter the size of the sin, or the weight that the world places on it, we all add up to zero. And that's the beauty of grace - when we realize our depravity and that the size of it is huge, and always has been huge, and always will be huge, we can surrender and realize that "no one is righteous" and we need Him to give us grace. And then we need His mercy day after day after day, and then some more.

I pray that we would realize our need, whatever it takes. It may take falling into sin. It may take being hurt by someone elses sin. But when you reach that place where you know without a doubt that God saved you and no one else, and that He'll save you every day from the bonds of sin and guilt, and that He provides endless stores of grace and mercy for past, present, and future mistakes, you will know the depths of His love for you.

And the wonderful thing is that when you know His love for you, and how you still can't comprehend it fully, then your heart longs to step out in obedience. And that is how we love Him back.


Abiding Mercifully in You

She is one part
Of the body of Christ –
Exuding His light
And touching His heart

The feet are beautiful
Running with the Lord
And carrying His word
To the ends of the earth

The legs are firm
Providing a foundation
For the church and the nations
To grow in dedication.

The arms enfold
Gathering in the hurt
Bringing them close to His heart
So that He may love and nurture

The head brings wisdom
Knowledge of the word
Instruction for the herds
And prophecies from the Lord

But where is she?
Her heart is not at rest
For she finds not a place among the legs,
The head, the arms or the feet.

However, her role is noticeable –
Unseen and insignificant in her own eyes
She is visible in the mirror of Christ
And to others, irreplaceable.

Her work, not in vain, is worthwhile.
She exemplifies His grace
And is quiet in her place.
She is His smile.

*I wrote this about my precious and dear friend Amy.

Come Sit

David went to face his enemies
And found a table prepared before him.
“Come sit,” said a voice.

Elijah looked for God in fire and wind.
Instead he heard a whisper.
“Come sit,” it said.

Martha busied herself preparing a meal
While Mary chose what was better.
“Come sit,” said the Lord.

The disciples sent the children away
But Jesus bid them come.
“Come sit,” He said.

The Father looked down at His Son on the cross,
Then stretched out His right hand.
“Come sit,” He said.

Today, Jesus looks down on His sheep
Running around aimlessly.
“Come sit,” He says.

He sees those who never stop-
They’re always preaching, always serving.
“Come sit,” He says.

The gates of Heaven open wide;
A table is prepared.
“Come sit,” He says.

He points to an empty seat by his.
“I have called you, my child,” He says,
“So come sit.”


My soul speaks

Souls have different languages. Some speak written music, others sing, while still others speak verbally with eloquence. My soul speaks words - on paper, or even before that, stringing together in my mind like long daisy chains. But often when I open my mouth to let them out, the chains are broken; the flowers are blown away.

At times I am frustrated, as it's hard for me to express what my soul knows. Sometimes I feel like my soul speaks a different language than my mind, so when I talk, my heart is lost in translation. But it is my soul that hears from the Lord, as it is His lovely dwelling place. Because He dwells there, anywhere that I might wander has little significance; it is He who guides, He who directs, He who is always constant. He is sovereign in this journey.

In the past, I have been hesitant to share the poetry, analogies, memoir papers, etc. After all, I am the only one who can truly see that my wandering has purpose. But it's time for me to share my wanderings. J.R.R. Tolkien said, "Not all who wander are lost." My wandering soul is steady because of it's Maker, because it is the dwelling place for the most High God.

So now, my soul speaks.


iPod - "Shuffle Songs"

Just about everyone has an iPod these days, so when I talk about the setting, “Shuffle songs,” most people should know what I’m talking about. The beauty of this setting is that it takes you through your entire music library in random order. The irony is how few people actually appreciate and use this setting to its full extent.

There are many ways to access songs on an iPod – artist, album, song, shuffle. Humor me while I meticulously describe the process we all know so well. Let’s just say I want to hear some Coldplay. I can scroll through my artists until I reach the “C’s,” find and select Coldplay, and then choose from the three albums I have. Or maybe there’s that one song I always have to listen to when I pick up my iPod – let’s say “Where are you going?” (DMB). I can search for the artist, album, or son title to hear my song. The problem with hand-picking each song, one after the other, is that unless you have a preset playlist, you have to have a new song in mind at the end of every song played. This is where “Shuffle songs” comes in.

My problem is this, however: when I don’t know what I want to listen to, and choose to shuffle through my music library, I inevitably end up having songs that I don’t want to listen to. A good friend once told me that you may not always know what you want, but you definitely know what you don’t want. So we sift through our “shuffle” looking for a song we don’t know we want yet, and before we know it, twenty something songs have gone by without a chance.

I don’t know what I want, but I know what I don’t want. I think our sinful nature takes this same approach to life. I don’t know who I want to marry, or when I want to for that matter, but I do know that I don’t want to be alone. I don’t know exactly what I want to do with my degree after college, but I sure know what I don’t want to do. We play this game all the time – we don’t know what career path to take, but we’ve already decided the ones not to take. We don’t know exactly what we want for our children, but we know precisely what we don’t want for them. When I look at a menu, I usually don’t know what I want right off the bat, but I quickly eliminate what I don’t want. It’s just like choosing to “Shuffle songs,” but then deciding to control what you do and don’t listen to.

To compare this to life, I relate someone who has not placed their trust in the Lord to someone who hand-picks each song in succession on their iPod. They are in control of their lives from one decision to the next, creating their “playlist of choice,” if you will. As soon as we choose to believe in the Lord we have selected the “Shuffle songs” setting. We no longer control the songs coming up next; we do, however, have the option to skip a song, cut it short, or go back and repeat. This is where the problem lies – unlike an iPod, God’s “list of songs” for your life is not random. It is perfectly purposed; each one has its place for a divine reason. When we look at the song He’s given us and choose to skip it, we are not trusting that He is good, and therefore we are not letting Him be sovereign in our lives. On the same note, when we choose to dwell on or repeat a certain song when He’s designated an end and a new beginning, we are not trusting His will in our lives. Until we let the songs shuffle through as they come, we won’t know what we’re missing.

This isn’t to say we should feel guilty when we skip songs while our iPod is on “shuffle.” In fact, I’m doing just that as I write this. If we do it with the Lord, however, we miss out on the blessings and life that He has for us. Another good picture of this is our hands. With our hands, we give and receive, we work and we play. As long as our hands are open, not only can we give and receive freely, but also the Lord can give and take away as He chooses. My temptation is when the Lord gives, to close my hand around that gift or blessing in an attempt to secure it for myself. This seems like such a great idea because then I won’t lose the blessings I already have. I realized, though, that although a closed fist secures what’s inside, it is unable to receive any more from the Lord as well. In order to receive from Him, I must be wiling to let Him take.

My desire is, then, to not decide ahead of time what I want and don’t want. With open hands I want to let Him give and take as He pleases, and with an open heart, I want to sing the songs He gives – no skips, pauses, or repeats.


I like the word paradox.

Paradox, n. - any person, thing, or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature. I'm a thinker by nature, and yet somehow this semester the Lord has been teaching me to be a "be-er." He's been asking me not to think but to do and be everything that I am in His presence. So as I pause for a moment and think about the past couple of months that I have struggled to "just be," I realize how much I don't know, how so many things are so confusing, and how it just encourages me to continue "being." Ironic - after "being," I try to think about what it means "to be" and it draws me to "just be" some more. And that's paradoxical.

In fact, life is paradoxical. Nothing is as it seems, and yet everything is as it seems. When I hear others describe me, they see me as a risk-taker, as someone who is passionate about life and adventure, someone who laughs a lot, someone who has difficulty facing the facts, someone who has a hard time crying in front of people, someone who studies a lot, someone who over-analyzes things, etc. And I am all of those things, but I'm also afraid of almost every risk I take, and afraid of getting out of my comfort zone, and sometimes laugh to cover up what I'm really thinking, and someone who knows the facts but likes to pretend. I'm a paradox. We're all paradoxes.

Does this mean that we're not being real? I don't think so. We're all afraid of things, and yet we spend our lives trying to conquer the fears. Someone who is brave probably has more fears than most of us because they have more fears to conquer. Someone who hates what the American church has become, and yet still goes to church and sits in the audience dissatisfied and bitter is a paradox. Someone who abhors violence on TV and speaks out against the media and yet goes and sees violent movies is a paradox. Life is a paradox, in fact, because the things we see as beautiful often are not, and the things we immediately discard are sometimes the biggest treasures of all.

So what can we do? How can we live honestly in this world of sin where paradoxes are abundant and disproving our arguements and inclinations?

The greatest paradox of all time was Christ's death on the cross. This one event was the most beautiful and the most terrible thing that has ever happened in all of history, and that will ever happen. Terrible because of the intense suffering of a perfect and beautiful man whose Love never fails, and beautiful because of the hope and assurance it gives us. Also beautiful because it proves that Jesus is real...it proves that our paradoxical lives are beautiful because Jesus died for us the way we are. Our filth and beauty is wrapped up in one and He loves it all. He loves it ALL. He died for it all.

My response to this amazing and terrible act is to just live. I don't need to question why He endured suffering and yet made it a beautiful sacrifice at the same time, I just need to respond to the great show of Love. I don't need to question life, and love, and why things happen, and what hope we could have, I just need to live and to love and to let His will happen and to have in hope in this great God who created life the way it is - this great God who lets the pain happen with the beauty.

So let us live and love and have hope. Don't throw caution to the wind, but trust that He is sovereign. Embrace the life He has given - just as it is. Embrace the beauty, but don't forget to embrace the pain. "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:10-11)

Nothing matters except to "know Christ...the power of his resurrection...the fellowship of...his sufferings" so that we can live in the paradox of His amazing Love. It is everything that it appears to be, but it is also so much more, because His love is driven to us by the weight of His suffering.

He desires that we "just be," that we understand His love and grace and that we live in that, and that we seek to know Him intimately in the midst of a life that doesn't make perfect sense. Know Him - know His love, but also know His pain. Let it envelop you, because when we see Him like this, life becomes something we live in for, through, and because of Him.

This all may seem jumbled; after all, these are paradoxes we're talking about...but basically He wants to consume me, and consume you, and consume us, by letting us partake in His suffering and Love. This is why we're here. To be His, to know Him, and to then Love. That's all.


Fullness in Christ

"For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority." Colossians 2:9-10

If we have been given fullness now, why do we always feel like we're waiting for something? I know I do. God has brought me to a place where I am satisfied in Him...not that I never struggle, but I consciously seek to choose satisfaction. And at the same time, He's not teaching me any huge lessons right now. I feel as though I'm just living day to day with Him - like it's becoming predictable almost. And I get antsy.

One of my blessings and curses is that I am a dreamer. I love to think and imagine adventure and an exotic life. So this "limbo" that I feel that I'm in is hard. I feel like I'm stuck in a rut, and my struggle is to want change.

I want to become less dependent on some people, and more dependent upon others. I want to get online less and read more. I want to talk less and pray more. But my tendency is to think that I have to be somewhere else to learn these things. God is teaching me that it may be harder, but through Him I can learn these things here...surrounded by the things I want to let go of. After all, "all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ."

We must trust that we are "full." I am full right now, and the "head over every power and authority" lives in me...so in my weaknessess, He is strong, no matter where I am, no matter what I'm doing. He reigns in me. He reigns in you. It's so easy to say that, and so hard to feel the weight of that statement. I don't need to move away from the things that I need to let go of in order to let them go. I need to trust that He has placed me here purposefully, and will give me the strength to let go in His timing. It's just hard, and when you feel that you're in that place of "limbo," it's time to trust Him and take that step, here and now.

God is patient, but He wants to stretch me, so He's not going to relocate me to make me trust Him...He's going to wait. He's going to wait for me to take a step away from the things that surround me, and a step towards Him. He's not a cheap God who throws Himself at us; He pursues, but then He waits for He is worthy of our Love.

So this waiting period is not indicative of God's action in my life, it's indicative of my action in His. It's time to move towards Him now, rather than waiting for a more conducive environment. God is here and now and His fullness is in me. What better time or place?


NY. Hollow.

NY. It's one of those cities that is glorified in people's minds as "the place to be." Most people visit at least once in their lifetime just to get the experience - the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, the night life of Times Square, Broadway, etc. There is no place quite like New York.

Well, now I too can check it off of my list of places to see. I spent the past 5 days in Midtown Manhattan. At 42nd St. and 3rd Avenue, I was only a few blocks from the well-known 5th Avenue and Madison Avenue, and Grand Central Station, the hub of Manhattan. However, my New York experience did not correspond with my elegant and ritzy location. I stayed at the YMCA; at $84 per night, my bare 6'x12' room was all I could expect.

At first, when I arrived, the thrill of being in New York outweighed the starkness of the room. My attitude changed, however, when I realized the actual state of the room. Amy and I didn't have our own bathroom, the beds were falling apart, and the sheets were not only dirty, but they smelled. I walked down the hall to take a shower and was even more disgusted. I started praying that God would make me grateful. For what? I didn't know.

So this was my experience of New York. During the day, Amy and I would walk the streets of Manhattan. The weather was beautiful and we walked for miles...literally. We walked 5th Avenue and Broadway and shopped. We headed Downtown to Chelsea and Greenwich Village and had tea, looked in an art gallery and an old bookstore. We braved Canal Street to bargain for cheap merchandise. We hit up Little Italy and ate the best lasagna at "Lunella." We ate in Soho at one of the trendiest little bar&grills that I've ever seen. We walked Central Park, ate hotdogs from the stands, and stopped at just about every Starbucks we found (mostly to use the restrooms :). And then at night we would return to our little hole of a hotel and climb into the sheets, choosing not to think about the state of our living conditions. Friday to Tuesday, this is how we lived.

Sunday morning, God was gracious to give me a grateful attitude. I didn't know why, then, but I felt truly thankful. Now I see why; my experience of New York was truly unique, and the Lord showed me something through it.

Let me explain. In all of my description of our activities above, most of the time we walked. There were many times, however, that we used the Subway system. The subways are the complete antithesis of the streets of New York. Manhattan is, in a way, sterilized - you only see sidewalks, streets, sides of buildings, shop windows, and advertisements. You see what the businesses and their owners want you to see - only the pretty things are visible. It's tantalizing and it catches your eye - all that glitters and shines. In a sense, it's all a facade. It's all fake; people are hiding what they don't want you to see, and creating an image that is better and more appealing in order to compete for your business and your affection.

The subway is dark and dirty. People urinate and defecate in the elevators. Rats crawl in the beams that support the tracks. Graffiti covers the cars and the walls. Homeless and vagrant people are everywhere. The crowds of people are no longer only wearing their crisp business suits. Here we have the poor, the dirty, the hungry. I don't know where they were on the streets, maybe the glitter of the streets blinded me to seeing them, but here in the subways, the impoverished of New York are found.

Everyone on the subways avoid eye contact and sit expressionless. It's almost as if no one wants to acknowledge the filth. No one wants to see it as it really is; they just want to rush back up to the streets where everything is pretty, and where they can forget about the filth beneath them. It's like me, going back to my hole, and not wanting to realize that the sheets I'm sleeping in are disgusting.

I realized that New York is hollow. Literally, because the subways are tunneled underneath. Figuratively, because the people are covering up their filth with all the glamour of the city. No one wants to realize that they are dirty, so they live in denial, behind fake walls with lights and signs flashing, saying, "I'm beautiful," and yet not believing it. Every time they ride the subway, every time they go home at night, they are faced with the truth that the streets are not real. And yet they wake up wanting to believe it, because down in the filth of the subway, there seems to be no hope. This is the state of the lost.

And yet, there is hope. This hope is seen in the unknown musicians and singers and songwriters who play for the audience found in the subways of New York. These artists prove that beauty does rise from the filth when you recognize that it's there and you choose to live despite it. I heard the most beautiful voice as I was waiting for the subway. It had hope. It chose not to ignore the dirty surroundings. It didn't embrace the filth either, but it rose above it, because in recognizing the true state of things, one can then have somewhere to proceed from.

When we recognize our filth as sinners, then we can make progress by turning to the Lord. But only then. When we live as a hollow image of what we would like to be, or think we are, then we have nowhere to go - all of our work is based on a facade of perfection that is not real.

Pray for New York. Pray that the people will open their eyes to the subways of their lives. Pray that they will listen to the voices of hope, echoing through the subway tunnels, calling out for the audience to open their eyes to see the truth, to see the state of the city, and more importantly, to see the state of their hearts. Pray that Jesus will fill the hollow void.


Love is dying.

I think about love a lot, and yet I think it's one of those abstract ideas that I still have a hard time grasping. It's a trait that has been twisted and misunderstood in our world by Satan because it is so powerful. The fact that God is love is the reason why Satan is going to be vanquished. Why wouldn't he twist our view of it so that we don't fully understand and live in the power of the great love of our God?

If God IS love, meaning He actually equals it, what does that mean? God = love. What else is God? He is just, righteous, holy, merciful, gracious, etc. The list could go on. He is also angry, full of wrath, and to be feared. One of my good friends told me the other day that whatever God is, He is ALL of that; everything in Him is acting on it. For example, God is love, so all of God's being is behind being "love." So all of God's being is also behind being powerful, just, merciful, wrathful, etc. He's not halfway loving and halfway just; He is everything He is, all the time.

Now I'm going to draw on my many years of math. If God = love and God = just, then according to the Transitive Property of Equality, love = just. So if this is true, then love is also equal to all of the other qualities that God embodies. So love is just, holy, righteous, merciful, kind, gracious, full of wrath, patient, etc. and to be feared.

This is hard to imagine. One reason, is that in our limited view of God, we only see certain aspects of His character at certain times; we don't have the full picture. "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:12) It's easy to look at His interaction with Mary and Martha and see love, His cleansing of the court of the gentiles as evidence of His wrath, his tears at the death of Lazarus as compassion, etc. But to see and experience all of Him all at once is hard to imagine. And yet that's what He's saying Love is; if Love is Himself, then Love should be all of these things all at once. How do we see it then? How can we ever love if we only see a small picture?

I believe that we have one instance where all of God was evident all at once, so evident that it moved God to turn His back on His own son. So evident that the entire earth was affected, being cloaked in darkness. When Christ died, we see God's wrath and anger towards sin in the world, His mercifulness to relieve us of the death we deserved, His grace to give us the free gift of eternal life, His holiness that He could not look as His perfect son died in shame, His righteousness that the sinner on the cross next to Him could not deny, and His awe - the earth shook and the veil was torn because of His death. And of course love - love so great that God's only son would die for us. All of Christ was there on that cross when He died for us.

So what is love? It is dying - dying to everything I am, just like Christ died to everything He had, "becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:8) Love is dying to my pride and any and all desires I have. It's dying to the things that hurt me as well. For me, to love is to act as though I have nothing to lose - to treat others and serve them with no regard to protecting myself, and with no fear of being hurt. I am, after all, dying, and I don't hear of beautiful and painless deaths too often.

Dying is rough; it's hard to bear. As should love be. It's painful, and I think we often candy-coat it. But when we see that love is dying, and encompasses all of the characteristics of Christ, it is so rich. It becomes a beautiful sacrifice, rich in the blood of Christ. C.S. Lewis described it like this:

"Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable."

I must love others, even if who they are hurts me. I must love others for who they are at that moment. I must love change even if I think I will suffer. If we should love, then we must die, for love cannot be experienced to the full without a death to ourselves and the things we hold onto to preserve us. And the ones that share this kind of love, this all-encompassing love that never fails, know the love of Christ, because they die daily with Him. "Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23)


Brief thoughts on purpose...

My purpose is to glorify the Lord in everything I do. And yet, I sin. It's inevitable. I am human.

God's sovereign will is to glorify Himself. And yet, we sin against Him. We disrespect and disregard His name when we sin, or at least, from our point of view.

I'm not saying that sin is good at all. He detests it and deplores it. It is what keeps us from a right relationship with Him. It is dirty. But as I look back at my life full of sin, I know that there must be something more. And I realized today, that I've been focusing on the wrong character - myself.

It has never been about me - my mistakes, my sins, my defeats. It's so easy to look back at it all and say, "Why, God?" when the main character of the story is me and I'm failing. But I've been wrong. The main character was never me. It has always been Him.

When I look back at my life in that respect, my "dirt" just highlights His role as my Savior. Instead of focusing on my foolishness, I should focus on His kindness despite it all. Instead of focusing on my hurt, I should focus on His healing compassion and tenderness. Instead of focusing on my mistakes, I should focus on His amazing grace and forgiveness. The main character has never failed in my story because the main character was never me; it has always been Him.

How different my story looks when He is the main character and I am merely a character placed next to Him to make Him shine more, stand out more, and be seen as a wonderful hero! I glorify Him, not the other way around. In light of that Truth, nothing I do or say makes or breaks my role. I am a part of HIS story...not the other way around. After all, I am only human, and He is my great God.


"...where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."

2 Corinthians 3:17 says, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Where the Spirit of the Lord is. In the Old Testament, the Spirit of the Lord annointed Kings and Judges. The Spirit of the Lord also left them, as in Saul's case (1 Sam. 16:14). This verse in 2 Corinthians also insinuates that there is a place where the Spirit of the Lord is, and a place where He is not. And yet throughout the Bible it talks about "the Spirit of the Lord has come upon him" as if God chose to release His spirit at that moment. Almost seems as if He gives and takes away the Spirit outside of our control. And yet in 2 Corinthians Paul makes it clear that where the Spirit of the Lord is, is a place to dwell, for freedom is where the Spirit of the Lord is.

So how do we get there? Mark 1:8 tells us that Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Luke 11:13 says, "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" We ask, and He gives it to us. So we must only have a willing heart to receive His gift.

Why wouldn't we ask, then? I believe we are proud. We think we know God, and we think we know what He wants, so then we go do it - maybe asking Him for strength, maybe not, but we neglect the notion that we can do no good thing unless His spirit is present. NO good thing!

The Holy Spirit is SO important, that Jesus said it was BETTER for Him to leave us, so that we could receive the Counselor. John 16:7 "But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." John goes on to say in verses 13-15, "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you."

Jesus is saying that it is better for us to have the Holy Spirit right now! I would have thought that having Jesus here on earth would be the best possible scenario, but Jesus is saying, no. He is saying that He must leave for us to have access to the power of His Holy Spirit. If Jesus is saying that having the Holy Spirit among us right now is better that having Him walk on earth with us at this time, how powerful must His Spirit be?!?! So are we living where the Spirit of the Lord is? Are we living in freedom because of this great gift?

John says that the Spirit speaks. Do we listen? He says that the Spirit reveals truth from Jesus and the Father. Are we understanding? Romans 14 talks about the weak and the strong. It follows passages where Paul talks about the commandments and the law of the Old Testament being replaced by the New: "Love your neighbor as yourself." He talks in Romans 14 about eating, but is referring to different lifestyles. Verse 3 says, "The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him." Being bound by the law is not experiencing freedom in the Spirit. Even being bound by your own laws! Romans 14:22 says, "...Blessed is he man who does not condemn himself by what he approves." "...where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."

Romans 14:17-18 says, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men." The Kingdom of God is life in the Spirit! Matthew 6 talks about seeking first His kingdom, and not worrying. Life in the Spirit is directly linked to faith and trust.

Brennan Manning said in one of his books, "Some people play with Gospel imagery, mesmerize you with word games. They believe what they are sying and persuade others to belief. But the ideas stay lodged in their intellect and the words stay caught in their throats. Beautiful head trips are all they are. They never internalize mercy. They never risk, they never leap in trust, they never surrender to reckless confidence. The worst sin in their lives is that they exempt themselves from grace."

If I truly lived in the Spirit, I would believe unshakingly in His grace. And if I truly believed in my need for His grace, and His gift of it to me, then all I could do all day is bow humbly at His feet in worship. Brennan Manning describes the faith of a child: "Being a child...mean't letting go of my expectations of some mountaintop experience. It mean't abandoming myself to what was really happening."

Life in the Spirit is time-sensitive. It means I must be able to move at any moment to follow His whispering. It means I must be like a child, and only be in tune with what's in front of me and happening right now. It does not mean being ignorant of the rest of the world and our responsibility, but it does mean looking at where God has put you, and listening to the Spirit in that moment. Getting lost in the now and the here so that Christ is most glorified here and now.

How do we find it? Ask. Seek the Lord more than we seek His commands. Seek His face even more than we seek the lost around us. When we seek Him, He brings us to the place He wants us to be, and the people He wants us to be with. Seeking Him is more than a Bible study, or weekly evangelism, or church on Sundays. Seeking Him is waking up saying, "Lord, I'm here at Texas A&M today. I want this day to be yours. I am willing to do whatever the Spirit desires. Show me what that is." And then listen. The Spirit speaks. Listen to it well, for there is freedom in the Truth, direction, and power of the Spirit. "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."