Update

The phone seems to bring more bad news than good news. As my mom dialed the doctor’s office to hear their “message” for me, I was prepared for the worst, but I tried to focus on how green the trees were. “Just be serene like Jesus was.”

I know that sounds really silly.

Finally, the suspense was over. “Her tests all came out fine,” the lady said, “we just wanted you to know that.”

I smiled, how could I not? I”m not diabetic! At least I think so- you’d think they would have told me, right?

Whatever, if fancy medical tests can’t find anything wrong with me, then I suppose it’s not my place to find out what’s wrong with me either.

What’s there left for me to do? How will I spend my time now that I no longer have much cause to worry about my health? I suppose there’s nothing left to do but praise God and pray for those who really are sick. You know, like I should have been doing all along. Life really is short- if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all this, it’s that I must enjoy the moment- however imperfect, however dull, however fleeting- because I know that one day, I’ll remember fondly the flavor of this time in my life. You know, God willing.

I guess there’s not much time for me to worry about if I’ll be here tomorrow, or twenty years from now, or sixty years from now. Who can know for sure anyway? I’m here now- I guess that’s all that counts.

I Once Had a Christian Professor

I really think so. On the last day of class, he gave us an inspirational speech on how we shouldn’t be afraid to enter the real world and pursue a career in accounting. It truly was stirring. In the midst of the applause, he showed us the last slide on his slideshow, this verse, or one very similar:

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind”
2 Timothy 1:7

I stared at this slide for a moment as everyone else shuffled out. What bravery, what feeling from my dry professor! I looked at it with that serene, but somehow guarded approval that Christians occasionally bestow upon one another.

Later that night, I was reflecting on these words on the long drive home in the dark. Suddenly, there seemed like so much to fear, but I couldn’t put my finger on any of it. I needed the remembrance of those words to prevent myself from having a panic attack.

These words have special significance to me as a person with anxiety. Fear seems to be the driver of my existence. Power? Love? Soundness of mind? Those all seem like strangers, and I confess that at times I feel so overtaken by darkness that those words seem to have no real meaning.

Why all this despair? You may ask. That is a question that I can’t easily answer. But what I can say is that it springs from a lack of faith. A lack of faith in absolutely everything. Lack of faith in God, lack of faith in good, lack of faith in people. My mind, which hates to take things at face value, questions everything, including the merit of goodness itself. Isn’t that awful?

It seems that the day will come when I’ll run out of energy to fight this. And indeed, I already have. So I crawl at the Lord’s feet and beg for the will to go on, to live, and help others live. And then, feeling just a little recharged, I go out and try to fight Satan’s whole army once again, only to be taken as a prisoner of war, at this point sympathetic to his cause. And then the Lord has to ransom me back all over again.

“Stop going out there by yourself so glaringly unarmed,” he tells me. But do I listen? Do I obey like the good sheep?

No!

I keep waiting for the day that he runs out of patience, love, and forgiveness. I suspect he already has. But how can He? He is God.

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?

 

 

To All Who Suffer From Social Anxiety

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There was a time when people didn’t get drugs for what we now know as SAD. Their families and peers likely brushed it off as shyness, introversion, or plain weirdness. There was also a time when drunk driving wasn’t illegal and you could buy a candy bar for a nickel.

What I’m saying is that times have changed, and so have attitudes about many things, including mental illness, for better and for worse. It is good that nowadays we tend not to trivialize things so much. Like, “Oh, that’s just a flesh wound… Oh that’s just mercury… Oh, he’s just a little shy and quirky.” People tend to have a little more knowledge, sensitivity, and symapthy… Right?

But are we overreacting? Are we overmedicating? Are we overthinking?

The problem is that when we turn SAD into a disease, well, we turn it into something that is important and real… But we also turn it into a DISEASE!

I’m not saying that you necessarily need to stop taking drugs. If Prozac keeps you from spending 5 hours a day crying and if you need a little something something to keep from passing out every time you enter a crowded room, who am I to judge you? Maybe I should be on drugs myself.

I’m just saying that it is time for a new kind of victory. No more defeat, no more shame, no more stigma, no more self-loathing. It is time that we say, “No more, we are free from SAD (figuratively…)!”

Society may shun us with its well-meaning smile. Maybe our friends will leave us and our families will continue to misunderstand.

But you may know what I’m about to say. You’ve known it all along- that there is someone who cares, there is someone who gets it, and there is someone who loves us for who we really are (not that everything we do is perfection, that is actually something society tells us, and doesn’t really mean).

We don’t need to view anxiety as a tragedy. We don’t need to view it as a manifestation of all of our failures. It doesn’t need to be fully integrated into our innermost being. It can just be another struggle. It can just be another cross to bear.

Something I’m beginning to understand is Paul. People criticize him all the time for all his “boasting.” But is he really “boasting” in the way we think of the word? Look at me, I’m such a good Christian…

Well, maybe he did sometimes, he was human after all. But there is another way to look at it. Paul often “boasts” in response to his trials. He would go city to city preaching and church-building along the Mediterranean and Jews would persecute him. They would tie him up and put him on trial and it would happen over and over again. That can get a little tiring, disheartening, frustrating… But through it all, he expresses joy. He “boasts.”

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. (II Corinthians 6:3-10 NKJV)

Maybe we can do the same thing. Not that we shouldn’t be humble or that we should think that we are better than our non-anxious counterparts. There are more than enough examples of Jesus’ humility, most do not put that into question so much. Paul was also far from taking all the credit (see 1 Corinthians 3).

Nonetheless, we can have victory. Maybe you’re not so much used to the idea of victory, like me. You know, I certainly wasn’t the star of my JV tennis team in high school. I think I won 1 match in 2 seasons. And that whole teenage triumph invincibility thing… You know what I mean… Driving around town with your friends, feeling like you’re on top of the world, believe me those moments were all too fleeting and far between for me. But there is victory outside of sports, dollar signs, and conventionality. If we believe in the Lord, if we believe that all things are possible through him, if we complete his work in spite of setbacks… Then there’s no reason to not have joy.

“But tell that to my depression,” you may say, and I would understand.

But victory is still possible. Victory is always possible. Depression is a disease of the mind. It doesn’t need to be a disease of the soul and the Spirit (although keeping it from spreading is way easier said than done). I’m not saying the road will be easy. God forbid… but is victory ever easy? And would an easy victory be as sweet?

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Socialanxietytestonline.com

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! 

 

 

The Cynical Gospel Reader

My reaction to the first part of the book of John was, “Why is it so different?”

“Is this even accurate? Why did he turn the water into wine anyway?”

Not, “Praise God! Hallelujah another side of our blessed Jesus Christ! This little light of mine…”

I wish it was closer to the second reaction. 

“Why is Jesus going to Jerusalem so early? What did he turn the tables of the moneychangers twice, why is he doing it right now? Why didn’t the paralytic fall from the ceiling? Why does he say this? Why does he say that?”

But the fact is, once we start questioning one book of the Bible, wondering if it is completely accurate, then we have embarked on an extremely slippery slope and basically we will plunge headlong into disbelief. 

Losing faith just isn’t an option for me. I know that the true life cannot exist outside of faith. I have experienced enough to know this much. I can’t go back to that dark place. 

Then what do I do? Well, maybe I ought to stop trying to get Jesus on the witness stand. The fact is, if we are to believe that he is the son of God, then why isn’t it possible that he did many extraordinary things in his short time on earth? Maybe he did overturn the tables of the moneychangers twice. And I’m sure he was capable of being in two places at once. What are time and space to God? Didn’t God create them? Why does Jesus need alibis for us to believe him? Why are we so concerned with the logistics and we ignore the message? 

Of course, if you don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then I suppose none of this makes any sense. I’m sure there are Christians that say things that make sense, but I suppose I’m not one of those people right now. If it seems that I am implying that the narrow view of the world that we call logic is an incomplete one, then call me crazy. I’m sorry for being so crazy. 

Actually, I’m not!

God: Questions, Answers, and Perplexity

Why are there so many religions?

I don’t know… I guess you could say it’s like a game of telephone. People kept entering the circle, the message kept changing

What hard evidence is there that your God is the true God? And don’t just tell me to look outside at the friggen trees or into the eyes of a baby. And no circumstantial evidence, please.

Next to none.

Then why do you believe it?

Because it’s the truth.

How do you know it’s the truth?

I couldn’t easily explain why.

Answer this question: What happens to one-week old babies who die? And people who’ve never seen a Bible in their life?

I don’t know.

What do you mean you don’t know? Why are you being so indecisive?

Because I don’t have all the answers. It’s enough that God knows.

Then why should I believe you? Why should anyone believe in this?

You don’t have to believe me to believe in God.

Tell me this; who is God? What is this mysterious thing that you Christians call the trinity?

I can’t be sure, precisely.

Then what do you know? Let’s start there.

Okay. Well, I am sure that God created everything. I am sure that he sent his son to this earth so I could be forgiven. I am sure that Jesus rose on the third day. And if he didn’t rise, Christianity is dead. Jesus will give the Holy Spirit to whoever asks, this I believe. I know that we must die to ourselves and live to God; that eternal life exists. I know that my life hasn’t been the same since I started believing in all this. My faith is the only thing keeping me alive, and I am sure that it is not in vain.

Does that answer your question?

Probably not.