Las Vegas State of Mind

Contrary to what the title of this post might suggest, this is not me in a dark, strange hotel room with a splitting headache wondering how I ever got to this point. But if you know me at all, that is probably obvious.

I went to Vegas as a family vacation/business trip. I was excited because the last time I went on vacation was four years ago, and it was to, you guessed it, Vegas. But you always see things differently when you’re older. I was also a little reluctant because it’s not exactly a holy pilgrimage going over there. 

Although I’d seen the sight before, it didn’t cease to amaze me. One minute you’re in the desert, surrounded by nothing but Joshua trees and interstate and what appears to be the same little mountain over and over again… and then, with not enough warning, you are in the entire world at one time. People from everywhere, beautiful, larger-than-life buildings, eye-catching billboards. 

The buildings really caught my attention. As we drove up to the Bellagio, I was simply breath-taken. All day, I was in a sort of contemplative ecstasy (not because of drugs or alcohol… although I did drink a lot of iced tea). I wanted to take the people around me who looked less-than-content and shake them by the shoulders crying, “Look where you are, man! Isn’t it pretty!” As inconveniences and problems sprang up, as they always do, I was hardly able to muster any negative feelings. When they almost put us in a room with a king bed instead of 2 queen beds, I could only pay attention to how courteous the hotel worker was and how pretty the fake flowers looked. When we got stuck in rush hour on the Las Vegas strip, I could only laugh because it was all so absurd. The chaos, the frustration, the inefficiency (how long it took to go less than a mile)! It was just funny to me. I wonder if my unusual optimism succeeded in cheering up my family members or if it just annoyed them more. 

I guess what I saw was mostly the innocent side of Vegas since I’m not old enough to do the things that most people would consider fun. There were glimpses into the darkness, which I responded to with a strange cocktail of indignation, self-righteousness, pity, and indifference. But these were brief. What I really saw a lot of in Vegas were families. Ordinary tourists. An old man putting an arm around his wife as they filed out of the theater. Two little girls, probably sisters, sharing one small chair, hugging each other. Families clinking glasses at a restaurant. A little girl on her father’s lap. Three generations sharing a buffet, caring for their little baby by brining him fruit and showing him pictures in a book. Smiling faces standing in front of landmarks. Elevator banter with strangers. In general, people who seemed happier than usual, not unlike me. These scenes of humanity made me feel better about Vegas. Sure, I can’t help but wonder if my joy and theirs was genuine, feigned, or just as real as the Eiffel tower and pyramids there. True joy or intoxication? 

Is it all a dream? Like that show I saw with the water, acrobats, and unexplainably awesome scenery called “O.” You can’t argue that Vegas has an artificial quality, more so than other places. It’s like if you just push it hard enough it’ll fall right down like a cardboard facade. What would it be without the air conditioning and delicate water supply? What would it be without the slot machines and naked girls? How could it have even sprung up without the gangsters?

I suppose that’s a depressing way to look at it. I know I’m an over thinker. But it’s true, and the truth stretches farther than we might think. Many pleasures of this world are fleeting and superficial. But  There are some things that are real too, like those precious hugs, laughs and memories shared by families and friends that I was glad to witness. That Jesus billboard north of the strip. 

I can’t help but be reminded of this verse. Jesus and the disciples are walking around, kind of sight-seeing I guess you could say:

24 As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

I’m not trying to be too prophetic and weird. I guess I’m just saying that while the great buildings of the world may collapse, and while the chocolate fountains and water fountains may run dry… the Kingdom of God is here to stay. 

***

I wonder why it’s been difficult to adjust to ordinary life. I was gone for less then 3 days! Don’t get me wrong, it feels good to breathe fresh air and eat fresh fruit. It’s good to work, to eat cook and eat real food, and be in a place that came about just a little more organically. It’s good to sleep in your own bed and use a shower that makes sense. But why do I feel so strange? Why do I feel that it’s hard to push aside the memories? 

I’m sure that I don’t really want to go back. I’m sure the charm of the place wears off pretty quickly. It’s good to quit while you’re ahead. And a life of idle leisure? That sounds horrible to me!

I’m sure it’ll wear off soon. I guess that’s the price you pay for having fun- it’s hard to do work again. But I believe that it will pass. I believe in the power of the Spirit. I believe that God is everywhere. Even in Vegas. 

 

 

 

 

 

Holy Spirit, Are You There?

I wasn’t supposed to think about God for seven days, in fact, I promised I wouldn’t. I know what you’re thinking, and believe me, I really, really didn’t want to do it. I almost had to.

Of course, the promise didn’t mean much because I still thought about God. How could I not? Hey, don’t think about elephants. What did you just think about? And it goes even deeper than that. You see, I can’t stop thinking about God because I belong to him.

I still felt so guilty. I still felt so bitter. I felt like I’d betrayed God. I feared he was going to abandon me forever. “You’ve made your bed- now go and lie in it.” I feared that I would die before the seven days were up and be cast straight into Hell. 

And yet, here I am. I don’t think God abandoned me, though. I felt His presence. There were moments that I was absolutely certain of HIs existence and infinite significance. Sometimes, you don’t know just how real God is until others oppose you. Sometimes, you don’t realize how ridiculous and fleeting the world is until you watch someone else continually living for it. 

There were other times that the worldliness took over. I found myself wondering if I really would have a better life without thinking about God, as O had tried to convince me. 

Even now, I don’t feel all that spiritual. I don’t feel the guidance of the Holy Spirit as I’m writing this. I don’t feel “abandoned by God,” but I don’t feel filled completely by Him either. And I can’t help but wonder if it has anything to do with my denying Jesus (but if I’m going to use that analogy, God did forgive Peter. I don’t know- just saying). 

But one thing I do know is this- that every decent thing I’ve ever written on this blog was the work of the Spirit. It wasn’t me, my talent, experience, or “wisdom.” God forbid that I should be prideful or smug! It was Him, it was Him all along. I just pressed the keys. 

Oh, Spirit return to me! I’ll do whatever you say! Spirit, where are you? Fill me, please, like you filled the apostles, like you have been filling emptied souls for centuries! Pick up the pieces of my heart! Scrub the filth from my mind! 

O, Spirit, where are you when we fight on the side of the road with our brothers and sisters? Why don’t you whisper in our ear as we whisper filthy gossip into the ears of our friends? Where is your healing touch when we feel jealous or angry? 

Why does the flesh win, Spirit? Why does it constantly hunger and yearn, even when the Spirit is filled? 

Why can’t we walk in our spirits? Why do we ignore, belittle, and defraud our brothers and sisters? Why is there so much tension, drama, and awkwardness when our spirits are all rejoicing together? Why?

 

 

Wonderful Blessings When I Least Expected Them

I wrote this a couple weeks ago and forgot to post! Reading it now has been a comfort.0

I was in the desert for a while. It seemed that the whole world was just ignoring / judging me. I grappled with it. I tried to understand it in any way I could. What’s wrong with me? Is this a punishment or a trial? Should I discard hope? Love myself? Reach out- no, they’re all better off without me.

I finally came to the conclusion that I should stop thinking about myself so much. 

Then, starting a couple days ago, everything seemed to change for the better. Old friends whom I thought I would never see again started texting me. A family member was nicer to me. An email I sent out a long time ago finally got answered. A couple people very sweetly reached out through the internet. I even had an employer ask me for my resume in an email! 

I was happy yesterday- not just that “Christian joy”- but I was really happy in my own unusual way because I was thinking about how God is taking care of me. After all, all these things happened without me lifting a finger. To me, it’s a sign that He cares and He listens, and yes, that He loves me. 

Where is this all going to lead? I don’t know. I’m sure that it can all end as abruptly as it began. Perhaps my old friends just felt obligated to see me, and it won’t even come to fruition. Maybe the same resume request was sent to everyone or it’s some kind of scam (I don’t really believe I’ll get the job, by the way). Maybe my family will get mad at me and I’ll feel lonely again. 

But you know what? Why should I care? Why does any of that matter? Why can’t I allow this happiness and blessing to bring me closer to God? Why can’t I feel good even though I know that at any moment it can all come crashing down and I’ll feel depressed again? Why do I need more when I already have so much more love than I deserve? 

Why can’t I believe in people a little, for a change? Do all those good times mean nothing? Should I just forget how I feel now and go on feeling disillusioned and bitter? I think not! 

If being content with the pathetic, fleeting joys of this world, that God is merciful enough to let me experience is foolish, then I don’t ever want to be wise. And if rejoicing in the unchanging and all-powerful God even in the worst of times is silly, then shove me in a tiny car with twenty other clowns and call me Bozo.

I only hope that when the inevitable happens, I will be just as happy or even happier than I am now.  

 

Unity of the Faith

till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— (Ephesians 4:13-15 NKJV)

Christ is unity- not division. It’s not clubs and cliques and churches and Christianisms… It is the church. It is the body.

I would say more… But I think God through Paul said it best.

There’s the Fruit!

When I was in middle school, I remember going to chapel every Wednesday. They made us wear these really ugly plaid skirts and white oxford shirts. Yes- they had to be white oxford shirts. Our normal white polo shirts, I guess, just weren’t holy enough. 

And when we were dressed thus, we sang many cute songs, one of which is called The Fruit of the Spirit, based on this verse:

Galatians 5:22-23Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)

22 And the fruit of the Spirit is: Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith,

23 meekness, temperance: against such there is no law;

 

I used Young’s Literal Translation even though it doesn’t flow quite like the other translations because I like the words long-suffering, meekness, and temperance which are more familiarly translated as patience, gentleness, and self-control. 

Long-suffering- what does that make you think of? Somehow I’m picturing someone who’s been at the bottom of a well for five days, singing “How Great Is Our God,” hoping that someone will hear even though his voice is weak and rough. The word “patience” doesn’t give me quite the same image. “Patience” reminds me of standing in line at Starbucks and repressing the urge to yank the pony tail of the girl in front of you ordering five impossible concoctions. Or maybe I’m just crazy, and the two words are perfect synonyms. 

“Meekness.” I suppose that’s similar to gentleness. But “gentleness” seems more linked to grace and femininity, while meekness is a bit more gender-neutral. Meekness is close to humility, while it also implies gentleness. Yet, one could be gentle without being humble, right? So I like the use of the word “meek” a little better.

“Temperance” makes me think of ladies wearing way too many ruffles carrying signs with pictures of liquor bottles x’ed out. We can call them naive and misguided from our view, but maybe that’s what we all need as a society, more temperance. 

I think what I’m really trying to say is that I like the word “long-suffering” because it involves suffering and not just waiting for good things to come. Patience is when we see the first streaks of dawn. Long-suffering is when it’s pitch black and the only light is in our soul. It’s a reminder that the Spirit will help us in our suffering, help us endure it, well, for a long time. And we will endure it because the “Love, joy, peace, and goodness” will keep us going. Somehow, we will keep going. Somehow, we will feel love, and somehow we will give love. I believe it, even though a part of me screams that it is impossible. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where’s the Fruit?

I have known about God for about 7 years, and I have been officially baptized in His healing waters, partaking of the flesh of Christ (no not literally). But still I ask, where is the fruit of my life? 

This is an important question, one that cannot be ignored anymore. 

Matthew 7:16-20Revised Standard Version (RSV)

16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. 18 A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.

 

Doesn’t that just scare you? Or maybe it only scares me because I don’t produce the good fruits…

Yes, Second-Great-Awakening-Era Preacher, here is a good verse to use in a fire-and-brimstone kind of sermon that will leave ladies crying on bales of hay. This is not so much a sleepy-Sunday afternoon-in-the-valley kind of verse, is it?

But come now, allow me to be serious. So what we’re saying here is that we can’t bear any bad fruits… but how is that even possible? Even if you had a 100 years to live and you were a Christian from childhood, how could you possible eliminate all your bad fruits?

And what are bad fruits? Are they just actions? Or are they thoughts too?

And what about when the Devil or the voices or society tells us to do things and we think about doing them? Does that count?

But maybe these are the wrong questions to be asking. I mean, they are valid questions that everyone asks, but maybe these are not the questions that will get us to our goal- fruit production. That is the goal, right? Okay, maybe step one is clarifying what the goal is. And then the right question is simply, Lord, in Your mercy, how may I produce good fruits?

I think we’re finally getting somewhere. 

But am I getting anywhere? Look at my life! I would like to help bring people to God, but I don’t seem to be able to do that. And it’s no wonder, I’m such a mess myself. No one who knows me personally seems to like me that much. Not that it’s important to be thought highly of for the sake of being thought highly of- but it is important to give God a good name, or at least do what He asks!

Sometimes I wonder why I have so much jealousy, anger, and sorrow locked up inside. But how can I blame God for it? How can I blame anyone else for it? I sin because I choose it. I sin because I don’t value God highly enough. That is the only reason. I want to blame it on my circumstances and mental illness- but where’s that going to get me?

 

 

 

 

 

Christians Have Feelings Too

Is it just me, or is it hard to know how to process your emotions as a Christian? How do we justify our state of mind before the Almighty?

“Comfort is a hair’s breadth from complacency! Sorrow is the right up there with self-indulgent melancholy! Happiness is next to worldliness; Godly joy is the goal, but this is hard to come by without caffeine and uplifting music.”

“And fear, doubt, and worry, of course, must be repressed at all costs!” 

“And what place is there for depression and mental illness in a Christian?”

What I’ve been trying to focus on lately is the message of comfort.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.[a] If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 RSV

After all, how can I comfort others if I myself don’t feel comforted by the love of God? How will I ever make a positive influence if I continue to spend my time worrying and sulking? Surely, this is not God’s lot for me. Surely, I must put on a brave face and the breastplate of righteousness and go out there and feel… comforted. But how?

So we are supposed to feel comfort. But Paul also speaks of the afflictions, in his case persecutions. As we all know, afflictions will come. But should we feel afflicted, which makes sense, or should we feel comforted? Or both, at precisely the same time? What?

Jesus cried the night before the Jews put Him to death because He knew it was coming. That is right, the Savior, the Son of the living God, cried. But what does that mean? Well, it couldn’t have been a sin because He is, like I said, the Son of God. And who wouldn’t cry if they knew they were going to be crucified the next day for the crime of serving God? I would probably do more than cry, that’s for sure. 

Are we only allowed to cry if we are being severely persecuted or about to be put to death? What do we do with all these emotions? 

“If you feel it, it can’t be wrong,” someone with flowers in their hair might say. 

Indeed, I feel a lot of things. Guilt, for one, constantly. But is it wrong of me to feel this? Especially if it’s not quickly resolved and the sins repented of? How long are we allowed to wallow? 

2-cor-7-10-web-watermarked

I suppose I should be more serious about this. The answer to these questions may just be staring me in the face. After all, the Gospel is “the good news.” It’s not supposed to leave us feeling lousy about life. 

I guess what I mean to say is that emotions will come. I’m sorry, but even after you are saved you will continue to be sad at times. After all, it is a little hard to be comforted if you were perfectly happy in the first place. But it’s not the sadness that we know and love and remember… or at least, it shouldn’t be. It’s a different kind of sadness. It’s a sadness that we don’t fully believe in, sadness tempered with hope. 

When we come to trust God and let Him work in our lives, we continue to feel emotions, but we are no longer their slave. Or at least, we shouldn’t be… 

That is the difference. We are doing things now for the glory of God, not to satisfy ourselves. Jesus was sad, to say the least. You know, before they crucified him. And I’m sure that, at times, Paul wasn’t too thrilled about being imprisoned. But that didn’t stop them. Why should any little thing that life throws at me prevent me from serving God?

And maybe, eventually, we’ll start feeling different kinds of emotions. Sorrow over our sins (temporary), anger towards Satan, joy in serving the Lord, compassion for the weak, happiness for the success of others. I hope those things will come with time. 

 

From:

A little perspective.com