Lè kè m’ par kase ande

“When my heart is torn asunder…”

As many of you know, a couple weeks ago, I went to the country of Haiti on a medical mission trip. Going into this experience, I knew that I was going to “experience” God. I had been on countless mission trips in the states during middle school and high school. I felt like I knew what to expect on the spiritual side of things at least. On the medical side, I had never done anything like this before. I figured that I would see some interesting things, gain some experience, do some soul-searching with regard to my future career, and just see what the medical field is all about. I came back with more than I ever thought I would. God truly changed my life there.

Before even leaving the country, I knew what I was going to be walking into when I arrived in Haiti. I knew that I would disease, destruction, depravation, and poverty. And yes, I did see all of these things, but I saw something that I felt like I had never seen before: faith. The people of Haiti have the strongest faith I have ever seen, stronger than in any American church. And I felt myself become physically ill with my own country and myself. We are far worse off than the Haitian people. They have something that we don’t have as a whole. They have what matters in life.

Suddenly, everything fell apart in my mind. My entire way of thinking was changed. We have all of this money, food, clothing, entertainment, you name it. But we as a nation are headed down a path of destruction and a path that leads away from God. I cannot even describe the freedom I felt being there. I had nothing but God and people. And Jesus’ command suddenly made so much sense. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” I finally understood that at least to some degree.

We have put so much pressure on people in America to look a certain way, be a certain way, act a certain way, etc. That doesn’t exist there. All of these arguments that we get in about doctrine and churches and everything that goes along with that do not exist in Haiti. The pastors of surrounding churches all meet together and talk about their congregations and their personal walks with God. They have a united church. They are doing things right. I never realized the depravity in America and especially in American churches until I experienced what a real church was supposed to be like.

There is no way to describe this feeling. There is no possible word combination that can make you feel this freedom. There is nothing I can say or do to make anyone understand what I experienced or how God truly changed my heart. I so desperately what to go back. In fact, I never wanted to leave. That place, those people, that church has my heart. I want to be there so badly. I have made friendships with the Haitian people in one week that are stronger than most relationships I already had. I realized what it meant to have a relationship in which the foundation is God. I always thought I was doing that, but I wasn’t. That is something I am now changing and working on.

This all brought me back to one verse that I have talked about before and that God always kept in the back of my mind and on my heart. However, the week I spent in Haiti helped me to truly find this renewal. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” Christianity is all about the renewal of your mind. It is changing the way you think. Once we change how we think, we will change the way we feel, and then the way we act. This is when lies and sin begin to disappear. When we align our thinking with God’s thinking, our lives will change.

I discovered so much about myself, and even more about God and what it really means to follow him. My life will never be the same. I still maintain relationships with my Haitian brothers. I have seen how a church, God’s church, can stretch across oceans. I pray every day that I can be in Haiti with these people. It is truly where my heart is. I have never felt such a peace or such a freedom. I wish I could describe it in words, but it is not something that I do not think can ever be described. It must be felt.

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Waiting for the Feeling to Return

I haven’t written in way too long. I have had this poem brewing for a while. I thought today would be the perfect day to share since it’s snowing here, and I know no one has anything to do. Here it is. I call it, “Waiting for the Feeling to Return.” Enjoy!

there comes a time in every man’s life when he must decide

when he must choose his way out of choosing neither side

when he must climb down off of his white picket fence

and earnestly claw his way out of the apathetic rut that he has slowly swiveled his heels into

there will come a day when he must realize

that grace and obligation have everything to do with one another

instead of praying for the orphan and the widow, he’s been preying on them

and while he’s been trying to fit the ocean in a cup

his brother’s heart has been overflowing with the Father’s love

his heart is feeble and his mind is week

never knowing the nearness of the grace that he seeks

he has run away

and into an embrace known only to this world

his feet have been set to walking

and his heart to wandering

he drips with sweat he was never meant to bear

and carries chains he was never meant to wear

he spends restless nights awake and alone

praying to the god that never listens

he’s been screaming

he’s been shouting

he’s been crying out

he’s been searching

he’s been seeking

he’s been dying now

longing for a touch

hoping for a kiss

he says, “I prayed my life would never be like this”

and he waits

he waits

sometimes we wait too long

So that’s that. Hope you all enjoyed this. I loved writing it. I hope it touched you like it touched me.

God: What are you Expecting?

Expectations do not dictate reality. I’m going to start off with a short passage of scripture. My dad shared this with me the other day, and it sparked these realizations in me.

John 20:15-20, “‘Woman,’ Jesus said to her, ‘why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’ Supposing He was the gardener, she replied, ‘Sir, if you’ve removed Him, tell me where you’ve put Him, and I will take Him away.’ Jesus said, ‘Mary.’ Turning around, she said to Him in Hebrew, ‘[Teacher].’ ‘Don’t cling to Me,’ Jesus told her, ‘for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to My brothers and tell them that I am ascending to My Father and your Father—to My God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them what He had said to her.'”

Now, based on my first sentence, most of you could probably guess where I plan on going with this. I was to focus on one word: SUPPOSING. Mary just assumed that Jesus was an ordinary gardener because she was expecting him to look and be a certain way. Mary expected Jesus to be dead and buried, so she did not even see Jesus when he was right in front of her face.

Although it may not be in a physical sense, we do this too. We expect Jesus to appear to us a certain way. We expect God to be a certain way. And those expectations built around human understanding and our own knowledge are often what lead us to miss God. Sometimes we are looking for God so hard that we miss what’s right in front of our faces. I am not by any means suggesting that it is possible to seek God too much. I am simply stating that sometimes we are seeking our own image of God, and that can make us miss the real one.

I am going to take this even a step further. Is this not a form of idolatry? If we are seeking our own image of God, is that not the same thing as not seeking Jehova God? If we start giving God characteristics that we simply wish for him to have, we are creating god. There is a quote that was shared in my philosophy class a while back that has really stuck with me, and it goes along perfectly with what I am talking about. Voltaire said, “If God has created us in his image, we have returned him the favor.” That hit home with me. It still tears my heart up when I read that and meditate on it.

We earnestly and desperately reach for a God that is not the God of the Bible. We simply give him the same name. We reach for a God that doesn’t send people to hell. We reach for a God who does not punish our sins but punishes everyone else’s. We reach for a God who will bless us. We reach for God who does not ask anything of us. We reach for a God who is easy to reach for. We reach for the God that will get us A’s on tests and help us win basketball games. We reach for a God who we have constructed in our own minds. We reach for us and call it God.

If the God that you are seeking is not the God of the Bible as he describes himself, you are not following the God that will redeem you. We need to stop getting so wrapped up in our theologies and our hopes of what God should be like. We need to read the scripture and find out who God is. God will reveal his character to us, but first we have to let go of all of our presumptions on how God really is. We must stop worshiping ourselves.

I don’t know if anyone else feels like this, but I certainly do. I have prayed about this for years, and I feel that this is a righteous anger. Sometimes this anger is even directed at myself, so it’s not just me bashing the church. I get angry when I hear churches worship sometimes. I listen to the lyrics of certain songs, and all that runs through my mind is, “This is not the gospel.” If a visitor came to your worship service or to your church, and all that they heard was your music, would they be lead to Jesus or some worthless construction of a god? When they listen to your songs, what matters more, how you sing it or what you are singing? I am sure that God cares more about the words, the meaning behind them, and your heart when you sing them. I get passionate about this. It almost makes me sick sometimes when I listen to certain songs in the church because I will put myself in an unbeliever’s shoes and know in my heart that they are not being lead to the God of the Bible.

We often seek to draw people’s attention to God with how pretty our voices sound or how great we play guitar. We focus on making everyone stand up and sing these songs we have created. I feel like often times we worship the song more than the God who the song is supposed to be about. This could honestly be an it own post altogether, but I will stop ranting now. I think my point has been made.

To sum this up, though, what I am getting at is that in everything we do, we seem to be creating God in our likeness, rather than being molded by him for his glory. Just because we expect God to be a certain way doesn’t make him change. It just draws our attention away from the true God and his glory, and on onto ourselves and our own glory. I know I went off on a mini-tangent there, but I will tie this all in. Just be patient with me.

The point. Whether we are singing songs or just living life, we must ask God to reveal his character to us, not suppose God to be a certain way. Our human minds cannot comprehend the true nature of God. We have to stop filling in those empty spaces with our own thoughts, and instead fill them with faith that God is good.

God is. We must let him be.

Unclean Hearts: What Can Wash Away Our Sins?

If you have grown up in church, you were probably absolutely bombarded with the message that Jesus washes away sins. We’ve all heard the lyrics, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” That’s all good considering that’s the gospel. However, there has been something that I have realized recently that has changed my perspective completely.

What is it that has made us dirty? Any good church-going Sunday school kid would say “sin.” This is where the problem comes in. We cannot believe that what we do is what makes us unclean. Before you start screaming heresy, please continue reading.

It is not our actions that have separated us from Jesus. It is our sinful nature. We are inherently sinful. You may be thinking that there isn’t much a difference between those two things. Everyone sins, so it works the same to say that the sins we commit separate us from Jesus, right? So wrong.

The problem with this thinking is that it leads to shame rather than freedom. If we believe that what we do is what dirties us, then every time we sin, we are going to feel like we have dirtied our holiness. We were never holy. We were born into sin. We were born dirty. We were born unclean and unworthy. Even if we never sinned in our lives, we are still not holy.

I have found that every time I sin, usually the “bigger” ones, I feel like I have somehow spotted my perfection. I feel like I’ve messed up some sort of “I didn’t sin for this long” streak. This is a huge issue because instead of focusing on Jesus in sin, it makes us run from God. When we think that we have somehow failed God by sinning, then we fear God in an unhealthy manner. We run away in shame.

We have to understand these things:

1. God knows that we are going to sin. We aren’t failing him by sinning. He already knows we are going to, and his grace is bigger than any sin.

2. We are not perfect. When we mess up, we don’t suddenly make ourselves unclean. Yes, we should repent and feel conviction, but we must understand that we were never holy to begin with.

3. Although we are striving for perfection and holiness, we aren’t there yet. We are going to sin. We are going to lie to ourselves. We are going to justify the things we do. Sin isn’t always going to be subconscious. We are sinful in our hearts. We are going to blatantly and consciously sin at times. God still forgives that.

The most important thing to realize is that the condition of our hearts is what has separated us from God, not our moral imperfection. Our moral imperfection is what shows us that our hearts are inherently sinful. We are unclean in the very fibers of our being, completely separate from our actions. Our actions and failure to adhere to the moral commands of God are simply to show us that we are not holy and that we need Jesus. That is the purpose of the law: to show us our need for Jesus. It is not to try to live perfectly in order to not spot these perfectly white robes that we seem to think we wear. That leads to legalism, not to Jesus.

Following God should lead to guilt that pushes us to repentance, not to shame that leads us to run from God. We must realize that God’s grace is bigger that ALL of our sin. Our sin does not continue to separate us from God. Once we are made new in him, we can never lose that. God sees us through the lens of his perfect grace. We are to strive to be holy, but at the same time we must realize that we are not there yet, nor have we ever been. We are not in the process of trying to stay holy. We are in the process of trying to become holy.

Intuition: Mortal Commodity

Intuition is a gift. However, as with everything God has given us, there is a way to use it incorrectly. Chances are, we will figure out how to abuse any gift of God; that is simply our sinful and rebellious nature. So how do we discern proper use and misuse of this gift?

God has really been putting this on my heart for a while. It has simply taking me this long to really sit down and listen. Let me start with scripture. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way to death.” Powerful stuff.

God has blessed us with intuition, but he has also given us discernment. We just need the wisdom to know when our thoughts are lined up with God’s thoughts. I believe this is the heart behind Solomon’s request for wisdom. God offers him anything in the world, and he asks for the most important thing: wisdom.

Let’s get back to that proverb. The heart behind this verse says that what we think is right is the way to death. I’m going to say something that will really hit hard if you let it. I know this thought destroys every ounce of pride that I hold. What you think and what you feel are not absolute truth.

Ouch, right? This is killing me just to even right this. Just because you think it’s right, or it makes you feel good, or you don’t feel guilty about it, or you don’t think it’s that bad, doesn’t make it right. You are not your own moral scale. You can’t make up your own truth. Truth must be absolute for it to even fulfill its own definition.

Let me share another quote with you that has been tearing me up inside since I first heard it. Blaise Pascal said, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” Just let that soak in.

Everything we do is hedonistic. Everything is for our own pleasure. We even turn seeking God into something to simply make us happy. When it stops making us happy, we stop seeking. When we run out of things to make us happy, we turn back to God. You want to know what Jesus meant when he said to deny yourself? He meant that you’re going to have to put your happiness aside to follow him. He meant that you’re not always going to be happy. You can’t always be seeking happiness. You can’t be seeking things that just make you feel good or things that you think are right, apart from what the author of truth has said in scripture. This is man’s mindset. This is small thinking. This thought taken to the extreme is what leads people to kill, steal, hate, do drugs, have sex, and even kill themselves. He never promised us happiness; he promised us an abundant life.

God wants abundance for us. Fulfillment is found in truth. Truth is found is scripture. Scripture is from God. We must read God’s word, seek God’s truth, ask for God’s wisdom, and follow his will. This means that we can’t just get drunk or have premarital sex or harbor anger just because we want to. When you chose to follow Jesus, or if you do choose that, you chose to deny yourself. We signed up for this. You want fulfillment? You’re only going to find it in one place. I can assure you.

We do not get to be whatever we want and just attach God’s name to make sure we win a basketball game or our sick grandfather doesn’t die. We cannot change God’s character by attaching new truth to his name. We are to change by attaching God’s truth to our lives.

What are you doing with your life? I ask because that’s the question God keeps pushing on me. What are you doing? I know that I hate when God’s name is grouped with things that are not Godly. I’m sure God hates that infinitely more. To end on point, our intuition was given to us to find God, not to make a god out of ourselves. Use it correctly or it will become a mortal commodity. It will lead to death.

Myth: The God of Karma

Okay, the title might be kind of misleading. Just stick with me here! This will (hopefully) make sense as you read.

Often times, it seems that Christians fall into this ideology that God is a god of karma. We may understand that our works do not save us, but often it seems that we believe that our works will make God love us more or bless us more. This is simply not true. Remember, I have said this before, but Satan only tells lies when they are almost the truth. Our works matter and God blesses us, but these are not related in the way we seem to think they are. Let me explain.

For some reason, as Christians, we tend to fall into this rut of “I am doing all of these things right, but God hasn’t ____.” We believe that our attempts at pleasing God should be met with God bestowing happiness and blessing upon us. This is not the case at all. Jeremiah 17:7 says, “The man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence indeed is in the Lord, is blessed.” Now, you may be thinking that that means when we trust God, all of this happiness and rainbows and butterflies are just going to come pouring over us.

Reread this verse. The man IS blessed. It doesn’t say that the man WILL be blessed. Although this may appear to be just a small grammatical difference, this is huge. God does not bless the man who trusts in him with things or gifts or anything like that. The man’s blessing comes simply from being in the presence of God. I think that we often forget that being in God’s presence is the greatest blessing of all. That is fulfillment. That is abundance. That is blessing. That is love. That is where we find ourselves. That is where we are complete. That is the only place we are complete. What more could you ask for?

This issue can also be approached from a different angle. The idea of karma is that one can essentially put the universe (or whatever higher being) into his or her debt. The reason this does not work with the idea of the God of the Bible is that Jehova God can never be in our debt. He doesn’t owe us anything. Everything is already his. You cannot make God owe you. You can’t try to do all of things right and then expect some sort of reward. The reward for loving your neighbor is peace, fulfillment, completeness, not an A on the math test you didn’t study for or a little extra money this month. That isn’t how God works. He’s not a credit card. He’s the creator. He’s the savior. No matter what we do in this life, we belong to God. God doesn’t belong to us.

We need to stop seeing God as synonymous to karma. God doesn’t just bless the good and curse the bad. His will, his purpose, his nature is far more complicated than that. We limit God by expecting happiness from simply doing the right things. When we do what is expected of us, that doesn’t merit reward. That’s simply what you were supposed to do.

For the visual learners out there, I am going to apply this to my dad and basketball yet again (big surprise, huh?). My dad was the kind of coach that didn’t get excited too easily. We often saw him standing on the sidelines with his arms crossed in front of him, subtly chewing on a piece of gum, and either nodding or shaking his head ever so slightly. If my dad shows a lot of emotion, it’s serious. You either did something so unbelievably awful that he felt the need to act it out, laugh at you, and sub someone else in, or you did something so great that all he could do was chuckle to our assistant coach and give you a thumbs up. Anyways, THE POINT: If we ran a play correctly, my dad didn’t get all excited and give us all some candy and throw a party for us. He would just nod his head because it was expected.

The same is true for God. God expects us to seek him. Obviously, he knows we are imperfect, but his standard is that we will seek him. Our reward for seeking God isn’t the blessings along the way. Our reward is in heaven. Our reward is to receive exactly what we are searching for. Our reward is God.

Ex Gratia ; Sola Gratia

So I made one of those permanent decisions recently. I got tattoos. Finally! But I thought since I got them in Latin, and Latin is all mysterious and what not, I should probably explain a little. So here’s that.

As you can see, my left foot has the words Ex Gratia tattooed on it. Ex Gratia is latin for “from grace.” This sounds pretty Christiany, huh? Well, hold your horses. This is actually a legal term. It refers to a legal act in which on party does something for another simply in favor or in kindness. There is nothing the receiving end can do about it. It just is. Now we apply this to Jesus for my case. Jesus did this for us. Sometimes I just need to be reminded of the simplicity of the gospel. Jesus took my sin. Not just emotionally or figuratively, but literally and legally. I am no longer indebted to it. To me, this phrase Ex Gratia is like Jesus saying, “It is finished.”

What I also love about this is that the meaning becomes deeper each day. It also serves to remind me that grace comes first. Just like the legal aspect of anything always has to come first. You walk into a bank and what’s the first thing they have you do? Fill out paperwork. You go to school, what do they  make you do? Paperwork. Just like legality comes first, Jesus grace comes first. I don’t need to sin just to receive grace. I have received grace first, so therefore I flee from sin.

On my right foot I have something similar (but completely different) tattooed. It reads Sola Gratia. This phrase is one of the five solae propounded during the Protestant Reformation. This phrase means by grace alone.” This is also something I need to be reminded of daily. I have struggled tremendously in the past with both extremes of legalism. I have thought that doing everything right will save you, and I have thought that nothing that I do matters because I have grace. Both of these are lies, and hopefully that is evident when they are written out. However, I have also struggled with this middle ground issue. I hope someone can relate to this. I struggle with believing God is a god of karma. Now, don’t worry, I am not going all new-agey on you. Although I will realize in my head that there is nothing in my power that I can do or accomplish or say that will save me or save anyone else, I often struggle with thinking that accomplishing more things will make God happier with me. Therefore, I think God should bless me. It is a simple, small lie with catastrophic and far-reaching implications. This tattoo reminds me that I cannot put God in my debt. God will never owe me anything because everything is already his by grace alone.

Together, these tattoos remind me that I belong to God. I am marked forever, and not just on my body. This is something that Satan uses against me, so I’m going to literally wear my struggle. Battle with me. Image