Unashamed Because of Mercy

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I think stories are spiritual. They have the uncanny ability to hit the human’s mind and heart in a deep way that cold, hard facts can’t. Stories bring in and tie together complex truths of our world into a way that we can process it. Stories imprint on us. Stories pinpoint ideas. Stories offer emotional and psychology oxygen. Or…. they can also strangle us. Because stories are spiritual, I think they can go both ways. Not all stories are good stories. Not all stories offer good and happy endings. Some stories are down right diabolical and can terrorize a person’s mind with its ideas, and philosophies. Either way, stories stick with us. They help mold our minds, whether for good or bad.

I just finished a story that left me highly unsatisfied, mainly because the way it ended was just rather incomplete. Here was a character that spent the entire story searching for redemption for his past sins. He had a hidden grief that made him somber, closed off to other people; he was unwilling to love those who were willing to love him, kept people at arm’s length, hesitant to trust, all because he was still searching for redemption of his past sins. He was trying to reconcile his present life of a peaceful living with his past of being part of war. He vowed never to kill again and to use the same hands that have killed so many to protect people. And the question came to me, “what will happen when you are not there to protect the people you vowed to protect?” And sure enough, the enemy attacked his loved ones, those he wasn’t really willing to admit that he cared for, and he proceeded to shut down. He couldn’t do it anymore, he couldn’t go on with trying to find the answer and live his life when the closest ones to him were still suffering at his expense; he was too tired. His idea of redemption, his process of making things right for himself and within himself still had massive loopholes. He was constantly stuck in war no matter where he went with himself, even while being in a time of peace. He was struggling to make himself better, to no longer be the person he used to be and finding out that he really couldn’t.

And it made me sad. Here I was staring at this story, knowing that he was a fictional character, but I knew he represented a very real thing, and the thought that kept coming to my mind was, “If only you knew Jesus. If only you knew.” Because even though this character was fictional, he embodied a very honest reality of millions of people across the world and across the eras of human history.

Some of us live very defeated lives. Some of us think, “No matter what I will always be what I am.” Some of us have been affronted with very strong words that have equated us to nothing. Some of us are our own worse critics. Some of us just can’t let our past die. Some of us have people always throwing our dirt in our face. Some of us are even thinking of ending our lives. Some of us are just too tired to even get out of bed. Some of us just live in denial of our problems. Some of us are just too angry to even care. Some of us live a life of victimization. Some of us live a life of excuses. Some of us lie to ourselves. Some of us have been so beat up to even think. Some of us have so heavy of a past, we don’t even know what to do with it. Some of us are just here and that’s it. Some of us think that, “I will never be right. I don’t even know what right is, but I know that whatever it is, I will never be it.”

And here is where I want to talk about justification by faith, or righteousness by faith. The reality is if you are remotely Christian Protestant, or have grown up in the Adventist faith, these terms have been tossed around like sprinkles on Christmas cookies. It is almost like garnish in everyday jargon for the Adventist, reviewing Reformation history with Martin Luther and learning about the famous day when he came upon the verse, “the just shall live by faith,” (Romans 1:17). And we have probably heard of it close to a thousand times and still have no idea what it means, because unfortunately, sometimes the very ones waving the term around may themselves not even understand it.

But justification by faith, or righteousness by faith, (both terms are simultaneously interchangeable) is the very bread and butter of the thriving Christian. It is that welcomed gulp of fresh air after almost drowning. Righteousness means “rightness” or things done right or is right. Justification means the state of being justified and justified means being declared innocent or guiltless. Faith means, as defined in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” (ESV).

A quick rundown on what faith is not; it is not wishful thinking, or a distant dream too good to be true. Faith is not crossing your fingers, hopping around on one leg, and throwing in a lucky penny in the wishing well. Faith is not blind belief, doing whatever is told to you even though there is no evidence for it. Faith is not pleading, and begging, and beckoning God to do just the thing that you want Him to do and holding your breath long enough. Faith is not positive thinking in difficult situations. Faith is not the Christian equivalent of luck.

Faith is trust.

So, justification by faith is, “trusting that you have been justified (innocent or guiltless),” or righteousness by faith is, “trusting that you have been made right.”

Some may argue that the definition of faith given by Paul in Hebrews leaves room for ambiguity, where he himself notes that faith entails believing in things that you cannot see. While I do admit that there will be some ambiguity, it does not necessarily mean that there is no evidence. There will always be ambiguity in regards to the things of God because He is God. There will be things of God that will always retain majestic mystery. There will be some things that we will not understand. However, even though God is mysterious, therefore deserving ambiguity, that does not mean that there is no evidence in order to trust Him. He has given us ample evidence in regards of His character and the type of person He is in the Bible, so that even if there is something that I may not completely understand that God is asking me to do, I do understand the type of being He is, and I know enough to trust Him for who He says He is and to go forward, knowing that He will not contradict Himself. The entire chapter of Hebrews 11, which is called the Faith chapter, is explaining this very thing, where Paul lists person after person who worked off of this very principle in their lives while following and loving God.

The principle of justification by faith is found throughout the entire Bible by those who followed God, but the actual principle itself is only mentioned four times: Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38. Every person, those in the Old Testament, and those in the New Testament who followed God believed, lived, worshiped, loved, and grasped unto this truth. People in the Old Testament who sincerely followed God had to believe in His promise that a Messiah will come to make things right, us today and those in the New Testament who sincerely follows God has to believe in His promise that He provided the Messiah to make things right. The Old Testament looked forward. The New Testament looked back. At the pivotal center of it all is the Cross. Neither the Old Testament nor us living today, except for those who lived with Jesus, and even then, they did not completely see(understand), have seen what Christ has done for us on the Cross.

Jesus understands the situation of sin far better than we do. We are like fish in a fish tank, a fish lives in water, but he doesn’t really know what water is, other than he lives in it. He can’t tell you whether it is wet or dry, whether it is a liquid or solid. He doesn’t really know, he was born into it. We really don’t know what sin is, other than that it has some pretty serious consequences, it has made life miserable for us and we live in it. Other than that, there’s not much to say on our part. Oh, we can theologically and intellectually argue over it, but at the end, it was the theological experts that put Jesus on the Cross and Jesus Himself said, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do,” Luke 23:34.

Once sin entered into our lives, Jesus knew exactly the type of battles that we were going to fight, the internal struggles that we will have with ourselves day in and day out, the constant search that we will have to make things right within ourselves. The search for redemption for things in the past, in the present, and the vain hope that everything will be fine in the future. The constant pleading for peace. He knew all of that and that is why He came. He came to offer us the answer to escape all that. He is the answer!

Jesus came. God with us. Jesus had the right relationship with God. Jesus had the right relationship with mankind. Jesus lived the right life. Jesus died the right death. While we struggle to do the right things, Jesus did the right things for us. Jesus is Right. It is Christ’s righteousness that saves us. Justification by faith (righteousness by faith) is strongly linked with Christ’s righteousness. And by being so, God showed us mercy. Beautiful, perfect, awesome, sweet, mercy. By accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, essentially what we are doing is casting off all the wrong things we have ever done, and accepting all the right things He has done for us. Putting on the robes of Christ’s righteousness. We are putting on His right deeds, His right relationship, His right life, and we stand made right in eyes of God because of Jesus. Reconciled with God. Connected with Him once again. No longer fighting or battling for redemption, but basking in its glorious light in the presence of God. That is justification. That is living in Christ’s righteousness.

Do you trust that Jesus’ right relationship with God is enough to cover your poor relationship with God? Do you trust that His right relationship with mankind is enough to cover your poor relationship with mankind? Do you trust that Jesus’ right deeds covers your wrong deeds? Do you trust that Jesus’ right living is enough to cover your wrong living? Do you trust that His death on the Cross is enough to cover for your death that was meant to be on that Cross? Do you trust in your Savior that He made you right? Do you trust that your Savior is right? All of these things are things that you cannot see with your own eyes, but if you accept these things, you are living out justification by faith; you are living out righteousness by faith. You are living in Christ’s righteousness. You have the assurance of things hoped for. You have the conviction of things not seen.

We will always have bad days; where awful reminders of pasts will rise up, or old insecurities will rise up, or depression snags us, or grief of a passed loved one comes on us with a new wave, or we fall into temptation, but claiming unto justification by faith, by remembering the promise and the provision that God has done for us on the Cross through Jesus Christ, by rejoicing in Christ’s righteousness, by trusting that Jesus is enough, that He is Right and that you have been made a new creature, that you have been made right in the eyes of God regardless of feeling like a failure, that you have the power of angels behind you, that you have been justified, redeemed, and forgiven; and that the mercy and long suffering of God is at your side, you will persevere. You will claim victory, “For you are not ashamed of the Gospel,” Romans 1:16, you will not live a defeated life, because you have a trustworthy and reliable Savior, Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lords of Lords, that He has placed upon you His white robes and have been claimed His child. We have been made righteous, we have been made right. And that is a story that is true. And there are no loopholes, and it has a very complete and satisfying ending.

There is a powerful song that is quite popular right now in contemporary Christian music called, “Overwhelmed,” by Big Daddy Weave. I love that song; it brings me to tears almost every time I hear it. It just uplifts my soul and praises Jesus in a powerful way. There is a verse in the song that goes like this:

God, I run into Your arms
Unashamed because of mercy
I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You

Listen to the song, if you are not against or made uncomfortable by contemporary Christian music. It is a soft and worshipful song. Powerful. “God, I run into Your arms, unashamed because of mercy.” The picture of God with His arms wide open, scared in His hands and sides because of me, yet still searching for me and ready to accept me, and I can run into His arms because of His mercy is powerful. Just powerful. Redemption and being made right does not get any better than that.

If you are still curious to learn more about Christ’s righteousness, justification by faith, and overcoming sin in your life, I strongly recommend these three sermons by Dr. Steve Bauer. He takes you through the journey step-by-step, clear, real and precise with some practical tools. Don’t miss out.

Gripped By Sin:

https://www.audioverse.org/english/sermons/recordings/7629/gripped-by-sin.html

Gripped By Grace:

https://www.audioverse.org/english/sermons/recordings/7630/gripped-by-grace.html

Gripped By Christ:

https://www.audioverse.org/english/sermons/recordings/7631/gripped-by-christ.html
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Why I Stopped Doing my Devotions

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I am tired of doing my devotions.

I used to be so good at it too. Getting up every morning, opening up my devotional book, reading a chapter, praying to God, Amen-ing. I got it down.

I would do it in record time. Psh, you couldn’t beat me even if you tried.

But I’m not going to do it. Not anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not giving up on God. In fact, since I’ve stopped doing my devotions, I have actually grown in my relationship with Him. Bet you will too!

Let me explain myself before I get stoned.

If you grew up in a good Christian household with good Christian parents, chances are that your parents would have educated you on the importance of doing your devotions. You also may have heard it from the pulpit of your pastor, the lectern of your religion teacher, or the felt-board of your Sabbath School teacher.

“Do your devotions, Kevin” they said. “you need to do it” they said.

As a boy growing up in Sri Lanka, my view of God was influenced by the religiosity of Buddhists and Hindus that permeated my society. This religiosity was underpinned by their ardent devotion to their respective deities. Both Hindus and Buddhists had to do their devotions in order to receive blessings.

One’s capacity to receive blessings was directly related to one’s devotional life.

So when they encouraged me to do my devotions, I understood it as a necessary prerequisite for receiving blessings. Driven by a need to prove to God that I was worthy of his blessings, methodically and systematically I went through the step-by-step process of getting up, opening the book, reading from it, and praying the prayer. It was the same process every day with the same amount of reading, the same amount of time, and the same prayer.

And I was faithful. Faithful to the ritual.

I was faithful because I thought I had to do my devotions in order to feel validated about my spirituality. I was faithful because I thought it was something I had to do to belong even if I didn’t feel anything good. I was so faithful because if I didn’t do it, I would not be accepted by God.

I was so faithful in doing my devotions because of my misplaced, misinformed view that I had to prove something to God in order to qualify for His grace.

Doing my devotions was my bartering for the salvation of God.

I came to this realization last year after studying theology for four years and being a Christian for twenty three. So I stopped doing my devotions and chose to do something else instead.

I stopped doing my devotions…and started to spend time with Jesus.

The Lord progressively changed my mindset about doing devotions. I came to a realization that there is nothing I can do make God love me more or less. I understand now that God’s love for me is not dependent on my love for God. This revelation of His character frees me from pleasing God through my insipid devotions, while at the same time, frees me to spend that time enjoying His presence.

I didn’t have to do devotions anymore. I just wanted to spend time with Jesus.

With the exception of reflective bible reading and prayer journaling, my routines have not changed much. But every time I wake up and open my book and bible, the experience is different. Good different.  Now I look forward to meeting my Lord and Savior. This is a time I learn from Him and listen to Him. This is a time I allow God to tell me more about me and him. This is a time when we converse as friends.

This is a time I get to enjoy Him for Him. No strings attached.

Maybe you are struggling with doing your devotions. If you are, may I suggest that you begin to think differently about it. Consider these sacred moments as your special, uninterrupted, intimate time with God where you are just… real with him.
Ask God to recalibrate your mind and retune your heart. As your thoughts begin to inform your words and your words begin to influence your actions, you will begin to enjoy your morning time with God.

Don’t do your devotions. Spend time with Jesus instead.

Besides, Jesus never asked you to do devotions for Him. He just asks you to be devoted to him.

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Abandoning the Fight for Survival

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Michelle, are you really living, or are you just surviving? I know that whole TV shows have been made around the quest for survival. But is simply surviving what most of us long for? Generally not. Unless we’ve sadly given up on the possibility, we long to not only “get by,” but to have full, free, meaningful lives. We long to truly live.

But I think I picked a bad time to write on this topic… You see, I’m a worker. I somehow happen to have about three jobs at the moment and I’d say that now could qualify as the definition of “crazy” in my life if any time could. And in times like these, it’s tempting to just “survive.” Stop and smell the roses? Ain’t nobody got time for that! I mean, if I make it to next week still sane and without a bunch of things falling through the cracks, I’ll be doing well! So in times past I’d just be gritting my teeth, plowing through it, and inadvertently boarding the express train to burnout in the process.

Yeah, we can only “survive” for so long. Enough time fighting, controlling, and running like crazy while neglecting our relationships, our God, and ourselves, and eventually something within us snaps and says, “Enough is enough.” So we sign up for “over committers anonymous,” run away, blame circumstances, prioritize, downsize, or in some other way try to either escape or regain control. And to a degree, we may succeed. We may legitimately need to change some of what we’re doing so we have more time for what’s most important – more time to “live.” But I don’t believe this is the full solution.

You see, while taking on duties and expectations that the Lord’s not asking us to can definitely be a recipe for disaster (trust me…), believing that we can only truly “live” when things are smooth, quiet, and under control can be just as big of a disaster formula. Last year, after a particularly taxing time, tired and hoping for a “break,” I found myself face to face with the Biblical story of Peter walking on the water. Here’s this crazy guy, in the middle of a storm they believe is going to kill them, asking Jesus to let him walk on the water. And he does! Now he almost drowns and has to be rescued in the process, but all Jesus says to him is, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). Jesus doesn’t say, “Why didn’t you wait for me to calm the storm before you started walking?” Or, “You should have known better than to get in over your head.” Instead, He basically just says, “Don’t you believe that I’m big enough to take you through this?”

And that’s my challenge: Do I really believe that my God is big enough to take me through this? Because if I don’t, I will always live in fear of the storms. I will always be controlled by the circumstances or futilely fighting to save myself from them like the disciples in the boat. I will always be struggling for survival.

But on the other hand, if my God is truly big enough to take me through any storm, what CAN’T I do? In fact, maybe I can truly relax, truly enjoy, truly live. Just like Jesus sleeping peacefully in the boat during the raging tempest of Mark 4 or walking right on top of it in Matthew 14, I believe God wants us to live in secure confidence – whether in my preferred shallow kiddie pool, or in the midst of the deepest, darkest ocean. And in that trust, there’s freedom.

So today, in the midst of the crisis, will I choose to trust? Will I choose to risk my survival? To go through the storm – not avoid it, not attempt to control it? Will I choose freedom? Freedom to quit surviving. Freedom to live.

 

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Should “A Rape On Campus” Matter To Faith?

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If you’re looking for an article on rape in any direct way, I suggest that you close this tab and search elsewhere (one great place to start is Dee Knight’s post from December “Why the Wait”). This is not an article on rape. It cannot be understated how extremely important rape, the treatment of rape victims, and manner in which universities handle rape are as issues. In their own right, they each deserve the utmost delicacy and respect in treatment. However, I am not qualified to write that article. It is my true hope that this article does not in any way diminish, moralize, or trivialize any of those topics. Rather, this is my attempt to grapple with what significance can be found in how one particular reporter handled an alleged rape victim.

I saw the words “A Rape on Campus” in that little box on the right side of my Facebook feed (you know, the one that loves to inform you of all the “trending news”), and before I knew it, I was clicking into the Rolling Stone piece. If you’ve read the article, you can probably guess what comes next. As I began to skim the words, a sickening feeling overwhelmed my stomach. I was in absolute horror, appalled at the gruesome atrocities committed in the violent gang rape of a freshman student at the University of Virginia by several members of a key fraternity and the university’s alleged attempts to cover up said rape. It was the type of story that you’re somewhat hesitant to read, but you manage to force yourself to keep going you realize that if someone had to go through this unimaginable experience, the least you could do is read about it. If you’re unfamiliar with the original article, you can find it here. The article managed to break my heart and wrench my gut. At least, it did for a time. However, in a matter of weeks, I’d largely forgotten about Jackie and the deplorable acts reported in the article.

Until last week, when I once again saw the words “A Rape on Campus” light up that little box on Facebook. However, this time, the title read along with the news that Rolling Stone was now issuing a full retraction of the article. I clicked in to find a lengthy report done for Rolling Stone by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism on the reporting done in the initial article entitled, “’A Rape on Campus’ What Went Wrong?” The subtitle read, “An anatomy of a journalistic failure.” If you haven’t had time to read the Columbia report, it expends a significant amount of effort explaining how the telling of the gang rape by Jackie, the alleged victim, could not have taken place in the manner in which she reported it. Many of the details were inconsistent. The writer of the article, Sabrina Erdely relied far too heavily on Jackie. She did not confirm details with the fraternity due to the fear the story would be front-run by some sort of PR piece. The writer had a distrust of the university for their perceived past mishandling of rape occurrences. Erdely deferred to Jackie in many ways that compromised the integrity of the reporting in the story. The identity of the alpha male in the situation was never verified, and the only friends Jackie called on the night of the rape were not called upon to corroborate any of the facts. The report goes on to explain how this article or Jackie’s story in the article should have been scrapped in almost any of its many stages of preparation and ultimately offers advice for journalists as to how to avoid this type of situation in the future.

In the end, “A Rape on Campus” was a sadder story than many of us could have imagined. However, this sadness was not for the occurrence of the gang rape as reported in the initial article. Rather, the sadness stems from the reality that the untruths told in the article will likely plague other actual rape victims. It has done the opposite of its proposed intentions. Rather than supporting rape victims, it has worked to cement an unsafe environment for rape victims to tell their story. It has helped solidify people in their immediate questioning and distrust of any individual who cries “rape.”

With that said, we’re about to take a turn. Remember, this is not an article on rape. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism report during the last several days. I don’t want to turn this into an “And the moral of the story is…” situation, however, I do believe there’s something specific to learn for us as millennial Adventists from the critiques made in their report. Ultimately, the report asserts that too much deference was given to the rape victim. The author was so concerned about not upsetting the emotional stability of the alleged rape victim that she failed to get tangible facts for the article.

Now, for the context of this discussion, consider us, as Christians, to be the rape victim. Don’t take that any further than that as Christians seeking to share the Gospel with other Christians, we have something to prove. In a similar vein, someone who claims to have been raped has something to prove. In order for a rape victim to be considered credible, they have to have facts. They have to be able to detail the account of their alleged rape to the best of their abilities. However, while their explanation is fact-based, it is also tremendously emotional.

Let’s keep our analogy going. The issue with Jackie’s story was that she did not have facts to framework her emotions. She had an incredible story, however there was little to nothing to verify it. And, sometimes, I worry that we face this very same struggle as Christians trying to get others to believe the story we tell, the account that we live our entire lives for. We get so fixated on the emotions of the gospel that we forget that there’s fact behind it, too.

You see, there are a few Christians out there who have more facts than faith, but there are a lot more of us out there that have more faith than facts. And, that’s good…to an extent. Our relationship with God is rooted in faith (I Peter 1:21, Ephesians 2:8). Our trust in the Bible is based on belief. However, at the end of the day, faith is just a fairytale without fact. Fact makes all the difference. Paul makes this abundantly clear when he writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (I Corinthians 15:14 NIV). It’s faith and fact working together that makes Christianity so strong. We have witnesses. We have real experiences. And, all of those are supported by the history we have in the Bible.

I think there are times where we gloss over the details of Christianity, because we aren’t so certain about the facts. And, sure, you could argue that Seventh-day Adventism potentially does that less than other Christian denominations through our upholding of the Bible, but that certainly does not make us immune to the problem. In fact, I would make the claim that this is a far more detrimental issue for those of us in 2015 than our denominational predecessors. As millennials, we care a lot about feelings. We want God to make us feel things. We think the way to people’s hearts is through what our religion can make them feel. That’s what will single us out. However, I don’t believe that’s the case, at least not an isolated feeling. Along with feelings and faith, it’s the message, it’s the truth, it’s the facts that matter.

Why do we do this? Why do we want to gloss over the details? We don’t always feel self-assured by them. It’s largely because our society so upholds science. It’s almost like we’re afraid of science. We’re scared that scientific study will somehow prove the Bible wrong. Or, for some of us, we’re not so certain we know enough to articulate the “right” answers. So, we refuse to engage in discussions on creation versus evolution. We shy away from arguing that the biblical figures did exist. We focus more on the New Testament, which often feels or appears more verifiable than the Old Testament.

It’s like we momentarily forget that science comes beneath the Bible. It is not in any position to judge the Bible or its authenticity. And, here’s the craziest part of all. We do have facts! God really did create the universe in a literal seven-day timespan. The Israelites really were in Egypt. David ruled a wealthy Israelite nation. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniels’ subsequent interpretation of it came true. Jesus was a literal figure. There is ample evidence to support the historical framework outlined in the Bible. And, while the miracles may take a measure of faith, that need for faith shouldn’t in any way hinder their plausibility.

So, what have I learned from the “journalistic failure” that is “A Rape on Campus?” I’ve learned that facts and emotions matter. Let’s stop apologizing for the facts of our religion. 2 Timothy 2:15 supports this, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (ESV).” God has given us enough tangible facts to have faith. However, in order to give us freedom of choice, He’s also given us room for doubt. Every belief requires at the very least a mustard seed of faith. The beauty is that we have the choice as to which leap we’re going to make with that mustard seed. Ultimately, we have to recognize that our beliefs are nothing without truth, and our truth matters not without belief. Faith and fact are not enemies. They’re two sides of the same coin. We need them both if we want people to listen to our story.

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Yeezus Christ: 3 Scary Ways I Become My Own Great God

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Kanye West is no stranger to controversy. He has been praised for his creativity by some and reprimanded for his immaturity by others (like that one time he flipped out during a radio interview with Sway). Someone, however, might have taken their devotion to Kanye a little too far.

Earlier this month, there was an article with the headline “TheBookofYeezus.” I took a closer look and found this:

A novelty Bible honoring rap artist, Kanye West, has been removed from a popular website in the wake of growing complaints. It is unclear whether or not the book is a hoax.

The Book of Yeezus, which is a nod to West’s sixth studio album, is said to be a “Bible for the modern day” as it replaces every mention of God in the book of Genesis with the rapper’s name. The text is still mostly the same as it appears in the first book of the Old Testament, but the word “God” is removed and the name “Kanye” is repeatedly used instead.

“In the beginning Kanye created the heaven and the earth… And Kanye said, Let there be light: and there was light,” the text reads.

Obviously, this didn’t go over very well on social media. The response was overwhelmingly negative with many people expressing concern that the book was “blasphemous.” Others thought it must have been a joke or a hoax.

I got to thinking about it and the thought came to me: “None of us are really above this type of self-exaltation.”

Whether Kanye knew about this idea or whether it was an admirer with a creepy devotion is not the point. The larger point is that we all have the tendency to make a god in our own image and put our names in the place of God’s if left to ourselves.

At its core, sin leads us to exalt ourselves before God (and others) positionally, relationally, and sacrificially. Consider how the first three sins, chronologically speaking, happened:

Lucifer (Isaiah 14:13-14)

“But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north… ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’”

Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:5-6)

“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Cain (Genesis 4:3-5; 8)
In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast…Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Position

In the first sin, Lucifer wanted the power and prestige of deity and wanted something that wasn’t his to begin with.

Relation

The second sin was when the Serpent cast doubt on God’s intentions and convinced Adam and Eve that God didn’t really have their best interest in mind; he was holding something back on them. So their actions were fueled by a backdrop of suspicion and distrust.

Sacrifice

The third chronological sin was a murder that happened because Cain was upset that God didn’t accept his offering while accepting Abel’s. This final example is one that deals with the fundamental principle of worship: will I give all of me in response to God, or will I only give what and when is convenient. Abel had to kill one of his lambs in order to present his sacrifice, while Cain offered up the best fruits of his labors. While what Cain gave wasn’t bad in itself, it really represented a works-based form of worship because he showed up with something that required little sacrifice, unlike the killing of a lamb.

So, Cain killed his brother because he was upset that God wouldn’t accept his works as good enough.

In each of these examples, we see three different aspects of the common virus that has infected the Universe. At its core, sin is a heart issue more than anything else. It tends to make us lust after things that aren’t ours, makes us think that no one really has our backs and we have to look out for ourselves, and think that our own good deeds or efforts should be enough to earn God’s favor.

My Own Personal God

Worse still is that we’ll kill to get what we want, or if the outcome isn’t what we expected… especially when it comes to defending our form of worship (in the Cain and Abel case)

TheBookofYeezus could easily be TheBookof(YourNameHere) because, at its core, sin leads us to put ourselves at the center of the Universe.

This is all exacerbated by the world we live in today. While it has a lot of benefits, our media-focused culture of selfies, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook has been great at bringing this to the surface.

Of course, this doesn’t stop once we come into faith. Even on this point, if we ever stop learning or think we have come to the end of our understanding of God, we can even create a personal idol based on our own partial or limited understanding of who God is. Eugene Peterson described what can happen in his book Answering God:

 Left to ourselves, we will pray to some god who speaks what we like hearing, or to the part of God we manage to understand. But what is critical is that we speak to the God who speaks to us…there is a difference between praying to an unknown God whom we hope to discover in our praying, and praying to a known God, reveled through Israel and Jesus Christ, who speaks our language. In the first, we indulge our appetite for religious fulfillment; in the second we practice obedient faith. The first is a lot more fun, the second is a lot more important. [5-6]

When we overemphasize God’s power over love or vice-versa, we open the door to either a view of God that sees him as a totalitarian, legalistic dictator, or nothing more than a senile grandfather figure who has general goodwill upon everybody.

When we exalt one over another and stop growing in our understanding of Him, we can, as Tim Keller says in his book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God:

Left to ourselves, our hearts will tend to create a god who doesn’t exist. People from Western cultures want a God who is loving and forgiving but not holy and transcendent. Studies of the spiritual lives of young adults in Western countries reveal that their prayers, therefore, are generally devoid of both repentance and the joy of being forgiven. Without prayer that answers to the God of the Bible, we may be responding not to the real God, but to what we wish God and life to be like. [62]

We must not delude ourselves into thinking that blasphemy happens in the “secular world.” God invites us to lay all of our glory at the foot of the Cross and recognize that we were meant for so much more than to worship the feat of our own accomplishments by becoming our own gods and saviors.

Photo Credit: Kanye West via Google Images (Labeled for Noncommercial Reuse)

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Coma: A Pause Between Life and Death

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There was a flurry of activity surrounding his body – buzzing sounds, blinking lights, hands flying in and out of view. There was shouting. There was a panic. Then there was a silence. The noises and commotion had not stopped, but the patient’s heart did. An eerie, ringing silence muffled the background noise––death was knocking. The stillness that comes from the awe of gazing upon the grandeur of death’s door was broken by a team of physicians who came crashing into view. They fought to save his life. And after seven minutes, the enemy of longevity, death, retreated. The man’s pulse returned; the physicians had saved his heart. However, they were not able to save his mind. His brain had spent too much time without oxygen, and the anoxic brain injury bell toll rang. He was standing on the edge of a coma.

Twenty-four hours later, the man showed little signs of improvement. Repeated testing of his brain-stem function gave little signs for hope. He wouldn’t speak, open his eyes, or move his limbs. He was estranged from his sons, so they debated over the phone from different cities about whether to keep him on a ventilator or to take him off. This man who once had hopes and dreams was now alone, trapped inside his mind. And then, the next morning, his niece showed up at the entrance to his room.

Hearing her uncle’s story, and seeing his condition brought tears to her eyes. As we explained the circumstances and discussed the expectedly extended trajectory of his recovery, she grabbed his hand gently and looking at us with watery eyes said she knew he would get better. He was showing minimal signs of recovery, but she had found reason to believe in spite of what she saw. And though it was touching to hear, it seemed as if time did not agree with her.

Days went by and the man did not improve. His sons could not come to an agreement on what to do with him and his niece could not relinquish her optimism. Every morning she sat at his side, his hands clasped in hers, whispering words of encouragement. It was something worth marveling at, really––seeing hope thrive like a single flower in such a barren valley of despair.

It was a privilege to witness such courage, and an even greater privilege to see her courage rewarded. The next day the man began to twitch when his nail beds were pressed. The following day his eyes opened. The day after that he began to turn his head when his name was called, and the day after that he began show responses to simple instructions like “raise your eyebrows” or “turn your head”. Within days his breathing apparatus was removed, and he was beginning to form words again.

The next morning when I examined him, he had taken leaps and bounds overnight. With effort, he was able to follow almost all my instructions, displaying remarkable gains. He was forming sentences and it seemed as if he was the most aware he had been since I first saw him. He was possibly more aware than he would have liked to be. With the return of his cognition came the full realization of his condition––he could barely move the lower portions of his body. When I asked him to raise his legs or move his feet, he was still having significant trouble. As his mind grappled with the reality that he still could not move his limbs at will, he looked at me with a pained expression and tears started running across his face.

I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t expecting him to cry. But his aged face stayed focused on my confused one. “Don’t lose hope.” I fumbled. “It may take some time, but you can do this.” I was at a loss for words and that was all I could scramble for. I grabbed his arm with intention, “Whatever you do, don’t give up.” He slowly nodded. He was being prayed for.

When rounding with the attending and team three hours later, I found the man was sitting up in bed seconds away from practicing walking with a physical therapist. My jaw was scraping against the floor. The injury he sustained could have removed his ability to ever walk or talk again. It could have left him in a coma permanently. And most people who survive that kind of brain damage, after months and months of therapy, leave with permanent, debilitating injuries. But there he was, only days later, defying all the odds. What is this power that moves over human life? What is the source of this hope, this courage, this strength that mankind shows in times of sorrow and duress? Who can reach into the depths of a man’s mind and lead him back to his loved ones safely? How could someone stand so close to the brink of death, and so quickly find his way back to life? Was this man’s entire recovery simply attesting to the magic of medicine? Or had I glimpsed into the eyes of a miracle? Was this the heart of the ministry of healing?

The room was lighted with smiles and laughter. The man was moving. He was speaking intelligibly. And what else would be some of his first words other than a quip about the POTUS? I smiled, reminded of these words, “By prayer the sick have been encouraged to believe that God will look with compassion upon them. A ray of light penetrates to the hopeless soul, and becomes a savor of life unto life.” (E.G. White, Adventist Review and Herald, 1900).

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Faith or Feeling?

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Stopped at a red light, I turn the car stereo up another couple notches. I don’t want to hear anything but the music right now – especially not the voices in my head. I don’t want to hear the questions. I don’t want to hear the pain. I don’t want to hear the echo of the eerie void. But no matter how loud the external noise gets, I can’t drown out the feelings yelling from deep inside. It’s so hard not to feel…

Yet hard as it is, avoiding feeling can get easier over time. It gets easier not to listen. It’s possible to carve out an existence where we guard more, feel less, and simply survive. We can shove it away, get down to business, and avoid the pain. It might pop out sometimes – when something triggers that internal switch, or the stress level reaches a certain threshold. But for the most part, life temporarily can go on as “normal.” Or, when just shoving it away doesn’t work, we try to drown it out with our addictions – anything from movies, to music, to drugs, alcohol, sex – you name it. We know how to avoid the feelings.

Yet these unhealthy cycles often relate to a lie we’ve been fooled to believe. We’ve been fooled to think that pain is the enemy. But in reality, pain is not the enemy. Sin is.

And now you’re thinking, “Oh great, another lecture on why I’m doing wrong and need to fix up my life.” But “sin” is not the enemy just because it’s “wrong;” sin is the enemy because it’s what separates us from life. Isaiah 59:2 says that sin separates us from God – the source of true life. And that’s exactly what the devil knows. He knows if he can turn our feelings, our pain, into a reason to turn away and separate from God, we’re done.

Are our feelings sin? In Ephesians 4:26 Paul quotes Psalms 4:4 saying “Be angry, and do not sin.” But then in 1 John 3:15 it says that “whoever hates his brother is a murderer.” No, our feelings in and of themselves are not sin, but they can lead there. Anger can become hate. Pain can become unbelief and bitterness. Even happiness can become idolatry as we pursue it instead of God.

You know, I’ve always wondered about texts like Romans 8:28 which says “all things work together for good to those who love God.” But I think we misunderstand this verse because we don’t read on. The previous sentence finishes with “to those who are called according to His purpose.” And what is that purpose? The next verse answers: “For who He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” In essence, all things are NOT good. But all things can work FOR good as they can drive us toward our ultimate purpose – to be restored to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Thus, in every situation, with every feeling that runs us over, we choose to be driven one of two ways: either away from Jesus into sin (separation) or toward the feet of Jesus (restoration).

We can walk through our feelings, by faith.

This is why avoiding feeling means we actually avoid growing in Christ. We’ll never know if He can be truly trusted until we face the feelings – the joys and the pain, and find out if our Savior is truly strong enough to hold them. You’ve probably heard Christians say, “we need to walk by faith, not by feelings.” But I’d like to change that: We can walk through our feelings, by faith. We don’t avoid the feelings; we surrender them. We don’t have to run anymore because they don’t rule us anymore.

“God, I choose to hurt right now.” I couldn’t believe I was hearing myself say that. Who wants to hurt? But somehow, as I choose to face it – to feel it – I think I choose to heal as well. I allow God into those hurting, angry, or empty strongholds. And then He can actually come in and work there. The numbness wears away. And with the choice to feel pain comes the possibility of feeling joy as well – the possibility to not just numbly make it through but to be fully present and really alive. So by faith, today I choose to feel.

photo credit: Think! – 9:365 via photopin (license)

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Is It Okay if It’s Broken?

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“Is it okay if it’s broken?”  My car had fallen victim to the epic “Snowpocalypse,” also known as the “Great Dusting of 2014.”  There I was, gleefully enjoying the glory of the inch of snow I’d waited three years for, when a dog, also relishing the wonderful phenomena, jaunted right in front of my car.  I don’t think I would have been able to stop on a dry road, no less a snow covered one. It was him or me. So with a thud the poor pooch took a tumble courtesy of my front bumper.  Fortunately, that large dog seemed to obtain only minor injuries.  My front bumper, on the other hand, was not as hopeful of recovery – it sustained a nice long tear leaving a large chunk of plastic corner dragging pathetically.

I felt bad for the dog, and bad for my pocket book!  I didn’t enjoy having to drive around with my ghetto-style, duck-taped front bumper mistakenly implying, “someone can’t drive.”  Yet after finding out how much replacement would cost, I was ready to consider other options.  Thus, there I was, super glue in one hand, gorilla tape in the other, attempting save my cash while hiding the bash.  But in spite of my best I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing-but-I’m-doing-it-anyways efforts, I just couldn’t get it all the way “right.”  Part of the crack wouldn’t go back in line fully for gluing.  I got some glue smudges on the plastic.  I couldn’t find a way to get the plastic vent cover in right without some tape on the outside.  And though my repair actually held the cracked bumper together quite well, I couldn’t fully erase the scar of the damage.

That’s when that almost audible voice seemed to pierce through my fretting consciousness: “Is it okay if it’s broken?”

For a vessel made of dirt to let light shine out of it, it must have some cracks.

I froze. I knew instantly that this was about more than just the car.  There I was, attempting to do to the car the same thing I do with my life. How many times in my life do I inherit a “scar” – whether through my own doing, something done to me, or just results of our messed up world, and I try to cover it.  I try to fix it.  I know I can’t fully make it right, but maybe I’ll at least be able to make it so people won’t be able to notice.  I mean, I wouldn’t want people to think…. Being broken is one thing.  But being visibly broken??

Now I’m not saying that God can’t heal completely – the Bible is very clear that He can.  And I’m not saying that God won’t give us victory over sin – I know that He does.  But sometimes, on this side of heaven, there may still be scars.  We may still be a little bit… broken.  When Paul prayed about a certain weakness he had, all he got was “My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).  If that weakness, that scar, that brokenness will bring God glory, am I willing to wear it?  Paul also mentions that our treasure is in earthen vessels so people will know specifically that it’s God’s excellence, not ours (2 Cor. 4:7).  And if you think about it, for a vessel made of dirt to let light shine out of it, it must have some cracks – some openings.  Essentially, it has to be broken to fulfill its purpose.

So Michelle, is it okay if you’re broken?  Is it okay if others can even see that you’re broken?  Lord, help me to remember that it is.

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