The Brood of Vipers

I’ve never been a particular fan of snakes, much less a brood of them (that just sounds disgusting), so if someone called me that, I’d be pretty offended. And that’s just the thing- Jesus is talking to me too.

“You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.”
-Matthew 12:34 NASB

We often see the kind, compassionate Jesus, but many are uncomfortable with the angry one. We need to keep in mind that He is God. He has the authority to punish us. This reminds me of a mother or father who hates to watch their child screw up, so they eventually resort to name-calling and anger- anything that will get through to the stubborn kid.

So who is the brood of vipers? The Pharisees. The hypocrites.

Me.

It’s not the prostitutes or thieves that Jesus yells at, but the religious people of his time. The goodie goodies. Why do we think that is?

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.”

The other day, I looked in the mirror, and I did not like what I saw. This literally happened, by the way, not just a soul-searching thing. The face that stared back wasn’t the happy face on my student ID or in my old pictures. It looked tired and anxious at the same time. Robbed of joy and the glow of youth. It looked like the face of someone who was very unwell.

What happened to me? Shouldn’t I be holy by now? I’ve been abstaining from stuff, working more, trying harder, eating better…

But in the process, I missed out on something very important. I lost joy, hope, peace, love, sense of humor, energy, and quirkiness. I’d cleaned the outside, but the inside was still very bad and empty, in some ways worse, because I was allowing pride, jealousy, fear, and wrath to remain.

I am beginning to understand all kinds of hypocrisy. I am beginning to understand the Inquisitions, Holy Wars, oppressions, divisions, and squabbles. I am beginning to understand why gossipy church wives have remained gossipy and why many would rather be burned at stake than call themselves a Christian.

But I still don’t blame God. I don’t blame the Gospel for turning people into jerks. I also understand why people don’t want to be Christian. Because I know that I myself have fed into these negative images. I know because someone told me so in a very un-subtle way.

So I’m not going to point out that it’s some kind of logical fallacy to claim that because Christians are bad, Christianity is bad. But I will defend the message and believe in it. I will say that it is not the balmy love and mercy of Jesus Christ that causes us to act like jerks, but it is the cold, self-righteous religion that we impose upon ourselves without even realizing it. It is going through the motions and dressing up the ugliness with a facade of meekness and piety. Cleaning the outside of the cup while the inside is all moldy and gross.

It’s amazing that it’s so easy to get on the wrong track. You get on the wrong track, you realize it, you want to go back because it’s getting dark, but you keep going because something tells you it’ll pay off.

It’s so easy to get caught up in little rules and miss the boat on the big stuff.

“…Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”
Luke 10:41 NRSV

But what, what exactly is that one thing? Don’t we already acknowledge that thing, every time we pray and say things like “With the Lord’s help, with Christ who lives in me, etc?”

So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (‭James‬ ‭1‬:‭19-20‬ NKJV)
So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (‭James‬ ‭1‬:‭19-20, 23-25‬ NKJV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (‭Ephesians‬ ‭2‬:‭8-10‬ NKJV)

So if I love God, I must prove it. It’s as simple and impossible as that.

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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 bringing 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. 

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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?

 

 

My Two Cents on the Immigration Crisis in the Southwest

 

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First reaction: why all the hate?

“Go home?” some middle aged man screams. But what if those people don’t have a home? Why isn’t anyone thinking of that?

I know, as a red-blooded American I’m supposed to be pissed off that undocumented peoples are entering this country and that the tax dollars are paying for it and that this country is in so much debt already…

But come on! These are children! Why doesn’t anyone seem to care? Sure there may be some kind of scheme going on behind the scenes, but nonetheless, how do we know what some of these people have been through and what they are running from?

I have been to Murrieta. I know the sort of people there. They’re the kind of people that make up a large population of this country. Many of them love God, most of them love America, some are a little obsessed about guns… and they work hard and help out. So where is all this, what I perceive as, hatred coming from? Is it really just political, or is it personal as well?

I used to be very conservative politically. Now, I don’t even know anymore. Maybe we should just take down the borders.

Okay, so maybe that’s wildly impractical, but I can’t think of a practical, rational, satisfactory solution. I don’t know. No one seems to know.

 

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Back to the Basics- Reexplaining “Christianity”

Sometimes we forget where we came from, who we are as people, why we’re doing the things that we do and why we feel the way we feel. Christians forget too, but the problem is that we forget who God really is. Even if we have all the right answers. Even if we’re towing the line.

This post is really for anyone. If you’re not a believer, if you are a believer, if you know about the “Christian God,” for lack of a better word, or if you don’t know as much.

Assumption #1- Man is sinful

This is where people often start, and I suppose I’ll start here as well. If you don’t see yourself as sinful… well, that’s a pretty common thing actually. I can see why you would think that. Maybe for now, look around you, at the world you’re living in. Do you see injustice? Do you think there’s something wrong with how we “do life?” Is there? I won’t tell you, I’m just asking you.

Unfortunately, if we can’t agree that man is sinful, then it is difficult to proceed. But let’s keep the assumption that man is sinful.

What then? What are we supposed to do about it? What is sin? How do we stop it?

There is a way to answer this question without including God. You can say that we as people can progress towards a more enlightened existence, that is what a lot of people think.

But my question is: how? If sin is based on what you think is sin, how will you convince others to stop doing what you think is wrong? What if they don’t think it’s wrong? What makes you right above others, if there is no objective truth? What is to stop people from acting from self-interest? What if jail time is worth breaking the law to some people?

You can say that there is a universal human code of conduct. A cosmic bro code, if you will. So I don’t expect you to convert to Christianity based on the logic I’ve just presented because I am not the first to put it that way, but if it did make you think…

Let’s go in a different direction, shall we? Let’s make one more assumption.

Assumption #2 The God of the Hebrew Bible is the true God, and Jesus is the Messiah

What goes with assumption #2? That a man named Jesus came into this world oh, around the beginning of the common era, and taught a new and radical way of living. He taught that you should love your enemies and help the poor. He taught that money isn’t important, and he died to show us what is important.

Which is…

Eternal life through the forgiveness of sins.

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, the Lord instituted a holiday called Passover. The Passover celebrates how the Israelites were led out of Egypt and how God “passed over” them when he was inflicting punishment on the Egyptians. To this day, Jews celebrate the festival by slaughtering a lamb.

Jesus became a Passover lamb for us. He had compassion on us, on our plight and our rut. He sacrificed himself so God would pass over us too.

If we believe, of course. Belief is where it all begins and ends. Belief engenders love and trust. Belief inspires action.

Matthew 16:16 (RSV)

16 Simon Peter replied [to Jesus], “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

1 Corinthians 15:3 

 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,

Ephesians 2:8-9

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— not because of works, lest any man should boast.

Romans 3:21-26

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction;23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.

John 10:11

[Jesus says] “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

 

Lately, I haven’t been feeling the belief as strongly. I’ve been trying to do things. I’ve been trying to move forward, but I keep feeling Satan holding me back. I’ve been introspective, reluctant, and confused. I haven’t laid it all down before the Lord’s throne. I’ve been wondering what I would do without my burdens. I’ve been wondering how much work I would be doing (because, usually, you can’t just sit there and wait for God to move your limbs) and how much credit I would receive if I just let God do everything.

But really, it’s so simple that it seems like rocket science. I just have to believe in the Lord Jesus and love Him. I just have to do His work. I just have to become attuned to Him, and when I become attuned to Him, I won’t feel the urge to sin… as strongly. And when I become attuned to Him, I will know what to do. Right?

Yes, right. I will have faith. Because with faith…

Matthew 17:20

So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief;[a] for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.

 

 

 

 

 

Alone Again, Naturally

A little over a year ago, when I was just on the cusp of finishing high school… that was one of the most hopeful times of my life. I thought that in only a few months my life was going to radically change for the better. I wouldn’t be alone anymore. I wouldn’t be unsure of myself anymore. I was going to blossom into some kind of normal, productive citizen. I was going to become the ideal Christian, someone whom people would think of as a “good person,” whatever that means. Yes sir, the next time my classmates would see me at our reunion, they would hardly recognize me. I would be a completely calm and functional human being. Hopefully a little stylish and charming too. 

My, was I off the mark. I am no where near that goal, and thank God for that. 

I had foolish and vain dreams of a better life back then. I still have those dreams. 

I was lonely at the time. And I am still lonely, but in a slightly different way. 

I was worried, and I am still worried.

I was a horrible sinner, and I still am. 

Then what’s different? It’s hard to say, really. The good news is that I don’t have to measure my worth with some kind of instrument. God would rather me focus on the here and now, what I can do at this moment, rather than what I was and what I have been and what I “am.” It’s the enemy who forces me to constantly look within myself for guidance.

I may still be lonely, but I have no right to be mad at God about it. I know that it’s good for me, He knows that it’s good for me, and we both know why. God gives me all that I need and more.

You want to know something? I’m not okay. Not okay. I won’t tell people that, but it’s true. And I can’t be the only one. 

But God is more than okay. God is the glory. God is the light. He is my rock and He is my Doctor. 

So it’s okay that I’m not okay. Let my dreams die, what does it matter? Let me ask the question, for once in my life, “What do you want, God?”

 

Being Baptized

Since I’m going to be officially baptized next week, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my faith has evolved, for lack of a better word, over the years. Even though I feel like I just became a Christian, it’s really been about seven years since the seed was first planted. When did I really start taking it seriously? I can’t put a date on that, of course. 

In many ways, it seems like I haven’t made progress at all. Old demons still haunt me. I still screw things up and get stressed and angry. I still don’t know how to communicate through my Spirit. I still shake in my boots at the very thought of sharing my faith, although I do make more of an effort in that way (not that effort is really the right concept). 

At the same time, I do feel something changing deep inside of me. I have this inner peace that somehow coexists with the constant turmoil in my soul. Satan seems to be pulling out all the stops, but instead of feeling utterly hopeless, I feel that God is pulling for me even harder. 

I know at least that a new dawn is approaching. The hopelessness of my pre-Christian days is over. I know now that it doesn’t matter how bad my “old man” was, because I am getting a new being just the same. I know now that this world is just a cosmic pitstop. I know that my life is not going to be perfect or “normal,” ever, but that’s okay. It’s not like Jesus lived what we would consider a normal life either. He didn’t have two kids and a mortgage and a job in the city. He had 12 disciples and many unsavory characters as his friends, all the rejects of society. Oh yeah, and then the Jews crucified him. That’s not normal. So why should strive for a normal life?

Not that you can’t be a Christian if you have two kids and a mortgage and a job in the city. Please don’t be offended! I’m talking more about the inward conformity that our society expects from us than the outward life. I think you know what I mean.

Well, I’d best go and study for finals! Thanks for reading!