Tag Archives: faith

Remind Me

A few weeks back, I wrote a song — something I haven’t done in quite some time — based on a similar theme coming to me from several angles.

I had been reading “Accidental Saints” by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor I had seen popping up on my YouTube feed. I don’t agree with everything she has to say, or how she chooses to say it… but when she starts talking about the grace and love of God, she is so on point.

Additionally, I had been playing keys for worship at a few churches, and singing songs like “Who You Say I Am” or listening to songs like Lauren Daigle’s perfect “You Say” which capture the theme of our identity in Christ.

Contrast that with the reality that I know how messed up I am and how often I blow it, how often I miss the mark, how often all my striving or all my lazy giving up just isn’t enough. And yet God’s love is there, even in the midst of my abject failure.

I thought of a great picture I saw where an artist captured the constant sense of “I should be doing X” whenever I am doing Y. I should be blogging, so I blog… but then I think I should be getting my work stuff done, so I get on that… but then I think I should be going outside and getting fit, so I do… but then I realize I should be at home spending time with my family, so I do… but then I remember I meant to write more of my book, so I do… but as I’m writing, I realize I don’t get enough sleep, so I go to bed early, but then I wake up and realize I should have been blogging…

It’s easy to dwell on all the voices in life that whisper ‘should’ and tsk-tsk every time I don’t. It’s easy to constantly reach for the next thing and the seemingly better thing and miss all the good things going on around me. It’s easy to think my worth is found in what I do and what people think or how many likes or shares or retweets I get (and thus it’s easy to despair when I don’t see those).

In those times… heck, at all times, I need Someone to remind me of what’s true.

Remind me of Your mercy, remind me of Your grace

Given to the undeserving, who are welcome in this place.

Remind me of Your patience for the weary and the faint,

Remind me of Your favor toward us sinners You call saints.

 

Keep me in that place of awe and wonder

Where the power of Your grace still pulls me under

Awash in Your mercy, lost in the thought

That the very One who died for is the One my soul fought

Yet You heal and restore me, the sinner that You sought

And transformed in Your glory, the life that You bought

With the blood You poured out for me, my sins have been washed

And exchanged for Your righteousness there upon the cross…

 

Remind me of Your promise, and of Your faithfulness.

Remind me that nothing I do will make You love me less.

Remind me of Your calling, and what You called me for.

Remind me that nothing I do will make You love me more.

Remind me of Your favor toward us sinners You adore

Remind me who You are

Remind me who You say I am

Tomatoes and Cretins

I hate tomatoes.

I always have. I don’t know why.

They’re disgusting. They’re wet, nasty chunks of blegh. They pollute everything with their slimy seeds, so that even if you pluck them off your burger or salad, you still end up tasting them.

Farmer’s Market I, by Karl Thomas Moore, shared under Creative Commons license

Actually, tasting the flavor isn’t the problem. I love ketchup and
pizza sauce; I even like tomato soup so long as it’s smooth liquid
instead of being filled with pieces.

I used to hate peppers the same way I hate tomatoes—for as long as I
can remember. I would find diced green peppers in an omelet or larger slices in some oriental dish then set them to the side of the plate in revulsion. Tabasco sauce? How about Tabasc-NO. Peppers, I felt certain, were the worst… almost as bad as tomatoes.

Salsa was pure hell, chunky style.

Then one day I tried some Tabasco sauce on a bit of meat cooked on a campfire, and it was amazing. A few years later, I had no option but
to eat a meal with diced green peppers mixed all throughout. They
added a great flavor to one of my favorite dishes, and I had to
reconsider my ridiculous food aversions.

Sometimes the things we “know” with absolute certainty from a young age are actually false. Sometimes, we’re just reinforcing mistakes we’ve made or bad beliefs we’ve accepted as fact–to the extent that we’ll actually argue with people about them.

It’s pretty stupid, but it feels so sensible at the time.

I found myself in that position (yet again) last week when a friend
used the word, “cretin” in a way I thought didn’t quite fit. “That’s
not what that word means,” I proclaimed.

(As a writer, of course I know all manner of important things about
words and their meanings, both subjective and literal.)

Maybe from context clues, kid’s cartoons, or childhood assumptions, I took “cretin” to mean something along the lines of “villain” or
“troublemaker.”

“Is that what it means?” my friend asked. “I thought it meant ‘idiot.’”

To the Google-machines!

He was right. The answer flashed onto the screen.

Cretin. Noun. 1. (informal, offensive) a stupid person (used as a
general term of abuse).

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines our modern use of ‘cretin’ as:
“(informal) a stupid, vulgar, or insensitive person: clod, lout”

Google also showed us the Urban Dictionary definition: “A person that is: brainless, stupid, child-like, and full of pointless information
that makes no sense and appeals only to other cretins.”

Now, I won’t recommend Urban Dictionary as the go-to for defining
words—especially while at work, where your network usage might be monitored or scrutinized. That said, their definition struck home for me in an unexpected way.

How often does my faith get wrapped up in child-like arguments and
pointless information? How much do I get wrapped up in nit-pick
debates about politics and living out the Christian faith? How many
discussions quibbling over theological details have I dived into on
Facebook? How many tweets have I fired back in response to a
disagreement over something that doesn’t matter?

In the Church, we find so many reasons to disagree and dispute, to
decide and deride and divide. We split into denominations as often as we split hairs. We say nice things about how “those believers are
pretty good and all,” but we know deep down that they’re missing out on so much (which, thankfully, God has revealed to none other than us).

I wonder at the division over politics and other issues in our
country, and then I realize how often we have the same mentality and spirit operating within the Church. At worst, we demonize the other denominations, highlighting all their faults and flaws while hiding our own. At best, we engage in lengthy dialogues about minor details – which method is best, what style is ideal, what personal subjective preference should everyone take as objectively superior, and so on.

As I considered how wrong I was—while feeling absolutely convinced I was correct–about the meaning of ‘cretin,’ I wrote the following in my journal:

Am I a cretin about the things of God? Do I focus my attention on the little details that matter nothing in the grand scheme of eternity? Do I focus on whether tongues is this or that, whether one can say or sing “Reckless Love” and be theologically sound, whether the Trinity is best described in this or that complex explanation instead of a simple albeit imperfect analogy? Do I get wrapped around these silly details while missing the point of the much greater matters?

I think of the Pharisees and their tithing of mint, cumin, rosemary, and whatever else… And Jesus looks at them like, “Yeah, ok, you do those things, and that’s great. But how about justice, mercy, compassion? Have you thought about doing THOSE things?”

Are we a bunch of religious cretins today?

Are we missing out on something God has provided for us to enjoy or called us to do?

Are we standing around debating which is the proper oil to use in our lanterns, while the Bridegroom passes by?

He sets a table for us, a wonderful feast to which we’ve been invited.
Am I in a tizzy over how the silverware is placed or the quality and
color of the tablecloth?

Am I pushing away the plate like a child, scrunching up my face
because I just KNOW that I hate tomatoes?

Grass on Venus

North Korea launched a long-range missile past the island of Okinawa today, ostensibly to launch a satellite, and quite probably as part of their ongoing efforts to develop a better ballistic missile program in conjunction with weapons of mass destruction.

My thoughts on this are a little rambly… to include the question of whether ‘rambly’ is a word.

I stood at the park with my 5 year old around noon, watching picture perfect clouds stacked in different layers coasting across the blue sky. He climbed on all the playthings at the park, and then I gave him a ride home on my back, listening to him laugh with delight.

 

The Dude on a recent trip to the park
 
I recently played a bunch of Fallout 4, exploring a ravaged Boston battered by radiation storms and post-apocalyptic cruelty. Coupled with today’s news, when I looked at those clouds it struck me that it would not take a whole lot to bring the beauty around us crashing down. Some combination of insane or fearless world leaders, political brinksmanship, and powerful weapons–that could do the trick. 

My idealism wants to rail and shout. What sort of madmen would threaten something so pure and peaceful as a 5 year old climbing and playing with abandon on a bright sunny day?

My cynicism knows the horrors wrought by human nature, and my pragmatism understands that I and my family aren’t immune to or protected from events that can shake the world.

For a few minutes, while the Internet connection held, I played a video game for a while. Destiny is a sci-fi, first-person shooter with open areas on several planets in our solar system. My character stood on Venus, killing evil robots and aliens. My 10 year old son recognized the level and watched for a moment, then asked, “Wait a minute! Why is there grass on Venus? It’s super hot. That isn’t right!” 

And that led to a conversation about the far-future, sci-fi dream / hope of terraforming other worlds to make them habitable for humankind. I laughed at the idea, but remembered a recent article suggesting the sort of “colony” we actually could put on Venus (in theory) in the distant future: a suspended cloud city that would rest not too high in the upper atmosphere as to freeze and not too low as to suffer the inhospitable heat.

But with all that comes the realization that this will almost assuredly never happen in our lifetimes. 

So we talked about what it means for humanity to reach for the stars. “Basically, one meteor strike, one nuclear war, one significant enough calamity, and everything ‘human’ ceases to exist. We have this one planet, where every single human has ever lived and, for the near future, will ever live. We don’t want all of that swept away in an instant. People want to spread that risk out a bit.”

Questions of faith arise in our home. Is that like the Tower of Babel? Is that an expression of human arrogance or pride, making more of ourselves than we ought, or not being content with what we have? And how do we reconcile that desire with what the Bible says about the end of the world? 

Oddly enough, my justifiable fear of what we know could likely happen to end the world aligns pretty well with the Bible’s promise of an end to this world–coupled with wars, famines, diseases, and calamities. And that raises challenging questions. 

But I also find great hope–both in what my faith has taught me to expect if/when I see those promises come to pass, and in what the best and noblest expressions of human capacity show us is possible when we put our minds and resources toward fantastic, even ‘impossible’ goals. We’re coming to understand so much about the universe around us. We live in a world surrounded by knowledge and technological miracles compared to just a few decades ago, and that trend is on track to continue for the foreseeable future.

Depending, of course, on the paths we choose.

May our faith in something greater than ourselves and our hope for a better future guide us to always take the path that leads to a park at noon on a sunny day, and maybe even grass on Venus. 

Bridging the Gap

Seventeen (and a half) years ago, I knelt in this spot under a blue sky and asked my girlfriend to marry me.

Wifey and I would take long walks away from our on-base dorms, strolling through lawns and parks, up and down the hills on Kadena. We’d often sit on a bridge, under the stars, legs dangling off the side, hand-in-hand. Or perhaps she’d snuggle up next to me, head on my shoulder as I put my arm around her to hold her close.

There used to be a bridge here.

IMG_1350.JPG

You can see two marks where the edges once stood. I proposed on that bridge. When we married, Wifey came from the States to rejoin me on Okinawa. And sometimes we would revisit “our” bridge. I’m pretty sure we even took our oldest children to see it (not that they cared, of course. They were very young, and it was just a concrete bridge.)

In the grass across from where the bridge once stood, I laid down under a cloudy night sky, crying out to God, overwhelmed with frustration and anger at myself for various failures as a new adult and Airman. I
dealt with my dissatisfaction with mistakes I’d made, and I thought about my childhood faith.

It was there that I decided I had to really live what I claimed to believe, or forsake it all. I chose the former.

(Rationally, I understand that there’s no theological reason to look for God up in the sky, as though He lives out in space somewhere and we all live down here like some fishbowl He watches when He gets bored.

Rationally, I know that the universe goes on for billions and billions of light years with whole other galaxies comprised of nearly-countless stars spinning and swirling through a cosmos full of other stuff we can’t even yet comprehend. So my musings as I sat in the grass staring at the night sky were pretty insignificant in the scale of what we know is out there.)

Back then, Wifey and I would walk for hours. And with Okinawa being a Pacific island, we sometimes got caught in sudden cloudbursts of rain.

One time in particular, the rain became a torrent and we took refuge in the doorway of the nearest building, a couple blocks away from our dorms.

It rained for an hour or more, solid sheets pouring from the heavens. Finally we got so desperate that we prayed. “God, I know it’s silly… But could You stop the rain so we can get home? Please?”

We went back to talking. Several moments later, when our conversation paused, we realized it was silent outside our refuge. The rain stopped.

We set off for the dorms, shocked and thankful. And just as we reached our dorms, a drizzle started up again.

(Rationally I know that rain can start and stop at any time, and an island like Okinawa has unpredictable weather. There are perfectly natural explanations for how this happened.)

Years later, I had a similar experience on the way to work. In a torrential downpour, I prayed for the rain to stop even while admitting it was a purely selfish request.

It did, and I walked into my building dry when all my co-workers who arrived both before and after me were soaked. The disparity was noticeable enough that people actually asked how I got in.

(Rationally, rain is intermittent sometimes. This one experience is no reliable proof. And there have been times I’ve prayed, but still got wet.)

For years, when I drove past the bridge or jogged around the nearby track, I would see the bridge and smile. I would remember my promise to Wifey, or maybe think of my re-commitment to Christ. And I understood why various Old Testament figures were so quick to set up a monument (usually rocks piled into an altar) for special moments in their experiences with God. Spatial memory–our ability to recall a particular place or setting–is a powerful thing.

Rocks can get tipped over or scattered. Bridges can be torn down. Buildings are destroyed and rebuilt (or not).

But spatial memory locks a moment or concept in our minds to a specific place, and that doesn’t fade or break down over time.

Rationally, I know there are plenty of facts about the world around us, some of which can seem to conflict with faith as I currently understand it.

On the one side are the experiences and the intangible unprovable tenets of faith.

On the other side sit the cold logical facts and all their implications about the world and humanity’s place in it.

It often feels like quite a formidable gap divides the two.

That’s okay. There’s a special place in my heart for bridges.

God's Gifts Make a Way

This is the third of five “God Leads” devotionals based on my experiences as a young Christian man in the military.

GOD MAKES A WAY FOR HIS GIFTS IN US

…According to your faith be it unto you. (Matthew 9:29, KJV)

“He’s so amazing,” I said. “I wish I could play and sing like him.”
Friends from church invited the singles over for spaghetti. While we ate, we watched a video of a musical minister leading worship from a piano. I started playing with our church worship team using one of this singer’s most popular songs.
“His lyrics minister so well,” I said. “They speak right to people’s needs.”
Our church bass player agreed with me.
The host looked us both in the eye. “I see God doing the same thing in you two.”
The bass player said what was on my mind. “Oh, no, not me. I couldn’t do that.”
The host stood up and declared, “Be it unto you according to your faith.”
I was shocked, frozen to my seat.
“Little faith, you reap little,” he continued. “Big faith, you reap big.”
The words echoed in my thoughts for an hour. I drove back to church long before the evening service and sat down at the piano.
“God, if that’s really something You’ll do, then… have Your way.”
I started playing. I chose a few chords, thought of some words, and sang. In two hours, I wrote four songs.
Since then, I started hearing music in my pastor’s sermons. I wrote over one hundred songs. We translated one into Japanese, and several became regular tunes at our church. I believed God, and He answered.
But I am also haunted by one thought, and I hope I’m wrong:
I never saw the bass player write any songs.

Application: Following God’s lead means taking chances and trusting Him for results.

A Mouthful

Monday Morning Snack

My mouth is filled with Your praise
And with Your glory all day long.
Psalm 71:8 NASB

What sort of “snack” are we giving others to eat?

I saw this verse, and the question popped into my mind: “What is my mouth full of?” Maybe it’s because I’m dieting, but I thought of a mouthful of food.

How does that “mouth full” taste to the people around me? How does that “mouth full” taste to me?

Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. Hebrews 13:15 NASB (emphasis mine)

What comes out of our mouths? Is it fruit that will delight our God and satisfy another’s soul? Or is our fruit rotten and withered by pessimism and unbelief, moldy and putrid because of bitterness and anger?

James drives this point home in writing about the power of our words:

8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh. James 3:8-12 NASB

We all slip up and say things we know we ought not to say. All of us can think of a time where we said words we wish we could take back. We may never be perfect in our choice of words, but we must still aim for perfection.

This prayer of David is one of my favorite in the Psalms, and it reminds me to be careful about the “mouth-fulls” I allow:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14 NASB

So… what’s in your mouth?

Breaking with History

Imagine this description in a news story:

The young men gathered at the event were able to stand for the first time in openness and honesty before their peers. They were no longer required to cover up their private lives to save their public reputations. The burden of secrecy was finally lifted off their shoulders after years of living a lie.

And fears of violence or reprisal proved unfounded. Despite being a minority — just 10% of the population, on average — the attendees talked of the acceptance and tolerance they experienced. 

“It’s just not a big deal to my friends,” one man shared with a wide grin. “They know me, and they know this is a part of who I am. Our friendship matters more than our differences.”

I received a forwarded opinion piece in an e-mail from a Christian friend today. The article expressed deep concern that the Pentagon “broke with history” by celebrating its first gay pride event.

In the realm of “blinding flash of the obvious,” let’s do the math. The policy change allowing homosexuals to serve openly went into effect in September of 2011, three months after the last LGBT Pride month.

So… duh. This is the first such month that the Pentagon could even remotely support that without blatant hypocrisy.

They acted in accordance with the policy changes they’ve put into effect. Were we wanting duplicity instead?

But the tone of the article is what really got to me, with its one part fear-mongering, one part disgust.

We — the Christian community in America — are mostly operating under a double standard.

That “news story” description at the top could easily apply to Pride month. But that wasn’t my intention. I’m thinking of the way many of these same Christians would respond if the situation was different. What if this was a news story about a church function in a predominantly Muslim country? Or perhaps if it was an account of a meeting in China under communist rule?

Most of the Christians I’ve met would rejoice at the thought. Our brothers and sisters across the world, permitted to serve God openly in a place formerly hostile to expressions of faith? That would be wonderful news!

It would also be “breaking with history.”

My news story is fictional, but I know the hopes and the prayers of my fellow believers… and my own, for that matter. We look for change in governments that are opposed to open expression of religion. We desire a shift toward freedom and individual rights, even if that’s not the historical way of the nations in question.

Abandoning social norms is acceptable if the change agrees with us.

And we act like our stance on religious freedom makes perfect sense; why doesn’t everyone see it our way? Why shouldn’t Christians be allowed to believe in God in a public fashion in these other countries?

But God forbid that homosexuals in America should have a chance to live openly instead of hiding who they are.

Shortly after joining the military, I learned that the standard I use to judge or limit other people’s activities can very easily be turned around against me.

It’s natural that we believe our moral standards are the best. People can call that arrogance, but that’s a silly argument. I believe what I believe precisely because I think it’s the best, most accurate choice. And everyone else does exactly the same thing. If I thought my beliefs were flawed, I would give them up. I expect we all would.

The danger in having a strong belief or moral standard is that you risk applying it to everyone else, regardless of what they believe.

It’s great that I believe the Christian Gospel and the moral standards of the Bible. That’s the choice I’ve made based on my faith.

But why should I act like that’s everyone else’s choice too?

We set ourselves up for needless conflict and miscommunication when we expect others to align with our beliefs when they do not share those beliefs. I expect people who claim to be Christians to act like Christians. I expect people who aren’t interested in Christianity to live how they choose, not necessarily according to my rules.

News Flash: they didn’t sign on for my moral standard.

People of other faiths or no faith are going to live in accordance with their beliefs. That’s a good thing.

We always hope that our missionaries to other countries would be permitted such freedom. We want them to be able to worship and live out Christian values even if they are the minority.

Why is it we’re fine with the majority imposing values on the minority here in the States?

The standard I use to limit someone else’s freedom will sooner or later be used to limit my own.

For example, some of my Christian friends would balk at the thought that other religions could use Base Chapel facilities for their own religious ceremonies and meetings–especially those pagans and Wiccans! The latter term would come out in the hushed whisper that somehow conjures a mental image of spitting on the ground. “I can’t believe they let them into the Chapel!”

One of my Wiccan coworkers tried to get a rise out of me by pointing out how the Chapel opened its doors and permitted them to meet in the facilities.

“Good,” I said. “The day they tell you that you’re not allowed to meet there, they can come tell me the same thing.”

Celebrating freedom is more than just getting to do what I want. Freedom for all means that I also celebrate the opportunity for others to do the things I oppose.

I don’t need a back-seat driver in my life telling me what to do. I don’t need to be one for someone else either.