Middling

The fancies and reflections of a loquacious ninja

Category Archives: Thoughts

Beautiful Things

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”

  ~ Revelation 21:5

On a trip to help my dad pick up a lawn-mower today, I slipped on a hill that turned out to be muddier than it looked. I caught myself, but my hand was covered in earth as a result. I wiped it off as best I could, knowing with some annoyance that I wouldn’t be able to wash it off until much later. But a few minutes later, I looked at my hand in the sunlight — and scattered all over it were grains of something that sparkled in the light. I suppose there are specks like in any handful of dirt, but I’d forgotten about them. In those particles of dust and grime filling the lines of my palm, I saw a touch of beauty shining at me. That reminded me of this song.

Whether or not you’re familiar with it — even if you can’t yet relate to the heartfelt story of  pain and redemption captured in its notes — it’s worth listening to and giving time to reflect over:

One of the ways I think our Lord most delights to display His beauty is through using what is weak, what is despised, what is barren, what is broken, what is forsaken, what is worn and exhausted, to shine the very radiance of His face. He makes everything beautiful in its time — even pain, even weakness and defeat, even lowliness and ashes, even dust. We serve a God of beauty.

“One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to inquire in his temple.”

  ~ Psalm 27:4

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Beauty and grace in His body, my siblings

I have been back home from my first year of college for roughly three weeks now, and have (obviously) neglected to post anything until now. A time for confession and some reflection on the future trajectory of this blog will come, but for now, here is the best I can do as a wrap-up reflection on my first year. I apologize if it sounds a bit too polished or refined in an impersonal way; it was for an essay contest after all, though I’ve made a few changes. All the same, I hope you enjoy reading it.

It is amazing what God can do with a mustard seed of time. In the span of two short semesters, the Lord has intercepted my mind and life with a throng of worthwhile ideas and experiences that continue to resound within my being and shape my thoughts. Yet towering above the rest stands one special, ongoing lesson: the beauty of the body of Christ – or more specifically, experiencing the richness hidden within the individuals who make it up, through the intimate vehicle of fellowship.

Even before coming to school, my journey in learning how to know and experience people has been an eventful one. Through the examples of several key influencing people in my life, God taught me the gift of reaching out to others in everyday conversations, and to seek to build friendly relationships with whoever might intercept my path. Because of these dear friends, I developed and cultivated an inclination for what might be called broadcast relationships. I want to know everyone’s name, remember details about people’s lives when they share them, and cast my social net wide enough so that no one is left out. Though I still have ample room to improve, I believe that this skill has served me well in my time thus far at college.

Yet even as God was guiding me through these lessons, He began offering me tastes, little foreshadowings of a greater prize awaiting my pursuit. I witnessed another dear friend whose friendships seemed an entirely different sort of creature from most of my own. This friend excelled in cultivating deep, one-on-one relationships with people; such intimacy felt foreign to my experience, but fascinated me. By this example, I realized many of the friendships I had (rightfully) sought to nurture were more broad than deep, and I soon yearned for deeper friendships. In several of my relationships back home, God indeed granted me a meaningful and satisfying bond, friends with whom I shared an intimate connection that pushed far below the mere surface – and by God’s grace, those treasured relationships have endured even while I’ve been away living the college life. Yet my longing for richer, one-on-one relationships has been fulfilled most substantially since my arrival at school. I did not go seeking for them, but God poured them into my lap; and by their presence in my life, even those relationships back home have seemed to take on a new and fuller tenor.

Intimacy is both to know and be known. The friendships God has blessed me with since going to my college have penetrated new reaches of intimacy and fellowship because of both of these factors. Vulnerability has been my teacher lately; under her tutelage, I have gradually been able to lower somewhat the walls that have always naturally surrounded the depths of my interior. Yet perhaps the greatest reason I have been able to do so is that others have opened their hearts to me. Since joining in the life of my school, I have known more than ever before the depth of a human soul.

In this area, senior testimonies have been an especially meaningful pedagogue to me, especially this past spring. A great number of seniors – many of whom, tragically, I’ve only been able to forge at best a hasty connection with – have laid bare their souls from that pulpit for the entire campus to witness, some with trembling voices and tears. I walked away from many of those encounters with my world altered; you cannot see everything the same way after being made aware of such an unseen wealth of struggle, growth, pain, victory, failure, healing, loss, and redemption. After one particularly poignant testimony of deeply internalized pain and the salve of fellowship that ultimately brought healing, I later returned to my room and penned a few reflections. I called each individual soul a cistern, “fairly narrow yet nearly bottomless,” its dark waters obscuring its secrets to all but the most perceiving eye, and only ever known in its fullness by the Lord who created it. “We are deeper than we ourselves know,” I wrote to myself.

Yet these semesters have been more than merely hearing accounts of the soul; I have also been given the opportunity to venture beneath the surface of some of my fellow cisterns. Almost by accident, this past semester I began the practice of informally, almost spontaneously meeting with my dear brothers and sisters one-on-one over a simple meal in the dining hall. Sometimes there was a particular item to be discussed, sometimes no reason to meet existed but fellowship. Several times, I built up my expectations unrealistically to anticipate some kind of life-changing conversation, and disappointed myself when I merely found another soul like mine across the table from me. Yet the simple act of fellowship over food, a type of breaking bread together, helped me to both open my soul to others, and to plunge beneath the mask of the abyss into the hearts of my brothers and sisters in Christ (though only with their permission). As of now, I have only barely been underwater; yet I have gone deeper than ever before.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful ways I have experienced the richness of fellowship with my brothers and sisters at school has been in our partnerships in meaningful things. The forms have varied, but I have been a blessed participant in several endeavors where we have been able to encourage one another in worthwhile ways, because of our engagement alongside one another in truly worthy pursuits. With Christ ultimately as our center of cohesion and the common object of our fellowship, our interactions have ever brought me to new heights of life and growth in Him. By the examples of my brothers and sisters, by their humility born of profound wisdom and maturity in the Spirit, my steps have often been checked from the prideful pitfall of Satan, and been washed instead with the grace of the Most High. To date, I have found no greater expression of the beauty and grace bestowed through the body of Christ than this.

As a product of a society and culture where the almighty appearance can spell the fate of a job interview or advertised product’s success, where the individual is emphasized over the community, and where many have all but forgotten the immortal soul of man, I can easily forget that the Lord placed a piece of Himself within each human being, in His breath and image. I can easily neglect the beauty of His Bride, the body of many parts sustained by His goodness and manifesting His grace. Yet by that very grace, I have come away with a far greater understanding of the depth of each person made by Him, and the overwhelming privilege I possess of intimate fellowship with my siblings in Christ.

If these lessons, though merely begun and received by an unsatisfactory pupil, are what God can give me a glimpse of in my first year of college alone, I stand in eager expectation for what He will do with my future time. May I learn to seek Him all the more as He continues to teach me with my brothers and sisters in Him.

By His grace,

  ~ Timothy

Pensées from reading Pascal: A dead man changing my life

“Pensées” simply means “thoughts” in French, and refers to the title of a work by mathematician, philosopher, and Jansenist Blaise Pascal. Basically, no editing, no formal structure; just the free-flow of a brilliant mind at work. I can claim absolutely no pretenses of cleverness or profundity next to Pascal, but reading him does have a way of awakening the philosopher within. The following thoughts aren’t really organized or remotely polished, and they don’t even relate to what I was reading by him. They just flowed out, and this seemed like an appropriate place to put them. Glean what you will, ignore the rest, and just be glad that I didn’t go on for twice as long.

I was reading something by Pascal today for a research paper.

It was the work of sheer genius. I followed the brilliance of his arguments, laughed at the snarkiness of his expressions, and pondered the depth of his profundity. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore; I was mind-blown. I literally looked at my computer screen and said, “You’ve been dead for hundreds of years. Why… How is it that you can still have such an impact on me? That your life continues on in a way that gives it power to change mine?”

Think about it. A man who belongs to a location and era totally separate from mine has the ability to influence my life. How can that be?

What stronger proof is there that man is more than a merely physical, material reality than this?

Another human being worlds away, whose bones have laid in the earth for centuries or who lives in a place miles apart from my experience, has the power to influence me deeply. I don’t know where Pascal was buried, but it doesn’t matter because his effect on me has nothing to do with a physical connection. He doesn’t need proximity to move my intellect, my heart and my soul. Neither does any other human being on this planet for that matter. Anything you post right now as a blogger or comment-maker has no physical reality beyond words on another person’s screen, yet you carry the potential to shape that person through your actions just the same. You couldn’t do that if reality only consisted of matter. Atoms don’t have that kind of power.

We miss out on so much if we remember only the physical reality around us. Pascal once wrote (in his Pensées) that he sometimes wishes God had never given us reason so that we could always experience him directly through faith alone; no gatekeeper, no passageway, no threshold in getting to Him. I’ve wished the same thing on occasion, but not so much because I desire God as Pascal did; I just get tired of dealing with all the obstacles in my way. Little do I know that reason is a gift from the hand of God Himself. Likewise, I grow weary of the many emotions I experience and will never fully understand, bewildered and frustrated by their constant fluctuation and obscurity, not realizing that this too is the gift of God. What would my existence be like if I were merely physical? Would I be any different than a rock with a more sophisticated arrangement of my atoms and molecules? Would I have any capacity for joy? Understanding? Longing? Pain? Life at all?

The immaterial parts of me give me the capacity to be influenced by others regardless of distance in time or space, and likewise grants me the incredibly potent ability to influence others beyond what I can only see, hear, taste, touch, and so on.

I haven’t the faintest idea if I’ll be having any ongoing effect on the lives of people living four centuries from now, as Pascal does. But by the grace of God, may it be an ability I receive in joy, contentment, and celebration, and exercise in wisdom, goodness, and grace.

A word from Remarque/The sting, the indifference, and the triumph

Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine guns, hand-grenades – words, words, but they hold the horror of the world.

~ Erich Maria Marque, All Quiet on the Western Front

I finished my first war novel yesterday, All Quiet on the Western Front, for one of my history classes… Had I read it, I might have been tempted to breeze through the story too quickly, or gotten distracted by the number of commas and somewhat run-on sentences (which I suspect partly results from it being a translation from German; then again, that’s how I write sometimes too). But with a good audiobook recording, there is no such option… Mere marks of punctuation become gasps, human pauses and tones rife with expression; the human reality becomes manifest in a way that can’t be escaped by skimming ink on a page.

I’m not advertising for audiobooks or discrediting reading out of a physical book in any way. All I mean to say is I had no way out. The grey world Remarque fashioned enveloped me, engulfed my soul as I listened. The battlefields of the Great War (aka World War I) in all their awfulness, desperation and numbing deadness, became real to me; as real as they could have been, short of my being there in person. I heard nothing but words, words; but I felt the horror of the world in them.

One of the greatest points of emphasis in our class has been how prior to WWI, the West was at the height of optimism. Progress was inevitable, Western superiority unassailable, confidence unshakable. Then came the war.

It was more terrible than anything anyone had ever known. It shattered the tower of optimism the West had been erecting for at least a century. The delusion strained and broke under the weight of millions upon millions of corpses, strewing the battlefields of Europe. The wonderful technological advances of mankind became deadly: artillery that decimated entire regiments, gas that dissolved one’s lungs from the inside, machine guns that could mow down dozens or even hundreds in a single battle. And this was progress?

No longer did the world seem orderly, rational, and always improving. Now, it seemed senseless, violent, chaotic and void of meaning. And so, the castle of modernity crumbled, and the ghostly form of post-modernity began to rise from the ashes. Nihilism and hedonism became respectable – what else was left? When the order of the universe seems to go to pieces at your feet, what else can you do but numbingly conclude that nothing truly matters? That the opiate of pleasure is all that remains?

The cry of Ecclesiastes became widespread: “Meaningless! All is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Therefore, eat, drink and squeeze what little pleasure out of this rotten life you can, before it all comes to an abysmal end…

Yesterday we were under fire, to-day we act the fool and go foraging through the countryside, to-morrow we go up to the trenches again. We forget nothing really. But so long as we have to stay here in the field, the front-line days, when they are past, sink down like a stone; they are too grievous for us to be able to reflect on them at once. If we did that, we should have been destroyed long ago…

“Just as we turn into animals when we go up to the line, because that is the only thing which brings us though safely, so we turn into wags and loafers when we are resting. We can do nothing else, it is a sheer necessity. We want to live at any price; so we cannot burden ourselves with feelings which, though they might be ornamental enough in peacetime, would be out of place here. Kemmerich is dead, Haie Westhus is dying… Martens has no legs anymore. Meyer is dead, Max is dead, Beyer is dead, Hämmerling is dead, there are a hundred and twenty wounded men lying somewhere or other; it is a damnable business, but what has it to do with us now – we live… We will make ourselves comfortable and sleep, and eat as much as we can stuff into our bellies, and drink and smoke so that the hours are not wasted. Life is short.

Remarque could have merely described the numbing effect of the war on the main character and the other young soldiers in his novel. But he did more than that… he made you live it with them. He made you experience the sheer weight of the agonizing horror, the desperate purposelessness, and (eventually) the stoic indifference that these soldiers felt – that they had to make themselves feel to stay alive enough to function one more day. I felt nihilism creeping into my own soul as I listened; how can one believe in purpose, in meaning, in any sort of goodness in life apart from carnal pleasure, after experiencing what these men experienced on a daily basis for nearly four years? Each man was like a card in a deck, randomly shuffled and left open for the wind to whip about in any direction it pleased;  some straight into the fire, some only to be singed, some to be seared so badly that it would have been better if the whole card had been burnt, damned at once to the flames rather than this agonizing half-existence of torment. All at the whim of the breezes.

Little wonder that they became indifferent. How can life have meaning after a living Hell like this? What purpose or ultimate value is there in an empty, heartless existence of Russian roulette? A game without thrill, without order, without plan or purpose… only death for the randomly selected and emptiness for the survivor. A game so vicious that the only way to survive is to let it all sink down, down like a stone, into the recesses of one’s being… The sting is too much. Indifference becomes the only way to cope. It all must be… must be meaningless.

But that’s just it though… If there was no meaning in it all, if life had no purpose, if all of existence truly was nothing but chasing after the wind, a random game where it doesn’t matter who dies and who survives to emptiness… why would death matter? Why should we fear it so? Indeed, if life had no meaning, death wouldn’t either; it would have no sting. If there were no meaning or purpose in life, there would be no terror in dying, no horror at the atrocities of this world, no agony in war. Remove absolute goodness and you have an amoral world; and no longer can you be touched by the grasp of evil and suffering, because all is meaningless. The young men of Remarque’s novel let their feeling sink down into them, make their hearts stony, because they realize this. If they continue believing in purpose and meaning, they shall be torn to pieces by the horror before them. But if they are indifferent… if all becomes meaningless, then the terror of seeing death and unspeakable pain all around them is numbed. “Fear we do not know much about — terror of death, yes; but that is a different matter, that is physical.” The real suffering, the heart-pain one finds in seeing one’s comrades fall and writhe in agony… that can be muffled away if all is devoid of meaning. They cut themselves off from the feeling of death by cutting themselves off from life.

They are unable to handle the reality of death; not because it doesn’t matter but because it matters too much. And the only way they can bear the piercing, terrifying gaze of death is to make nothing matter. Only keep yourself busy doing nothing; pursuing empty pleasures that have no substance but distract for a time so that you don’t have to remember the emptiness within you. It can’t be filled, but it can be ignored. So let it sink down… it’s the only way to keep living.

Thus far, I have lead a stain-free existence. Even for a fairly well-off, middle-class citizen of a ridiculously privileged nation, my life has been remarkably free from pain. And when compared to the daily, crushing suffering of millions across the globe, it almost makes me sick. Certainly it makes we wonder… why should I be spared? I’m no better, I know that for a fact. And whenever I catch the smallest glimpse of the suffering others have experienced in this world, down through the years and to this day, my words fail me… but still, I must ask: Why so much pain, so much agony? Why the seemingly pointless suffering, the endless groaning, the futile pleas for relief? Why does death reign so strong?

I know nothing of the suffering of those soldiers in that Great War; I might imagine it pretty well on the receiving end of an audiobook through the mastery of a writer like Remarque and an actor like the one I opened my ears to. But even when I do suffer truly one day, I know that I will never know a fraction of the pain that they or other millions of inhabitants of this world and its history knew daily in their bones and hearts. I don’t have all or even most of the answers, and I don’t even have the true experience of pain to back up the little I do know. But what I do know is this:

There is another way. There is a solution, and it is not to turn one’s heart to stone, appealing as that is. It is not indifference, it is not meaninglessness or vainly chasing pleasure to make the pain go away. And it is not embracing the death.

It is life itself swallowing death up.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In our human frailty, we could not dream of speaking such bold words. Death is too mighty, immeasurably too awful for us to taunt… Yet when we serve a Lord who triumphed over the grave, who became the victim of death – and won anyway – only then can the victory be sounded. Only then is the sting of death removed – not by removing life as well, but by Life overcoming all the force that Death can boast. It is only by the triumph of Life over Death.

Today, I celebrate that triumph. I have no victory to boast of in myself; but I boast in my Lord who overcame all, who is Life Himself, who died and now lives forevermore. And because I am in Him, I do not fear the power of death.

One day – perhaps through war, perhaps through another medium of evil – one day, I will suffer, and this time not merely through my vicarious imagination. It will be real to me as it never has been before. Will my neat ideological categories hold then? Will I be able to keep myself from allowing a heart of stone to sink deep into me, to harden with indifference, as my only means of survival? If all my words were merely a theory, I doubt it. Better men than I have cracked under far less.

But because I stand in a reality, because my confidence comes not in an optimism in mankind or a philosophy in myself, I can say with full confidence that, by the grace of God, it will be possible to stand fast, with a heart of flesh that is willing to be broken again and again, and made new each morning by new life. It can be done; it has been before. I know not if I will be adequate for the trail – I probably won’t be – but I serve a God who is faithful. And no matter how weak I am, no matter how powerfully Death rears its head and crushes me beneath its load, the One who is called Life is greater yet.

I learned the sting of death from Remarque in a way I have never known before. I felt a fearful indifference bent on survival rise up in me as never before. But just maybe, I understand my Lord’s triumph over Death in His everlasting Life a little bit better this day because of it.

Wishing you a Resurrection Sunday filled with the true knowledge of His power,

~ Timothy

Where is the sting, tell me where is the bite?

When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night

Where is the victory, where is the prize?

When the grave robber comes, and death finally dies

~ Petra, “Grave Robber”

Deeper than I know

Deep_Cistern_on_hilltop_of_Bodhikonda

I have often walked away from senior testimonies this semester thinking, “There is so much that goes on on this campus that I don’t even remotely know about. So much struggle, growth, pain, victory, failure, healing, loss, redemption…”

But today, after hearing a testimony of deeply internalized pain and the salve that ultimately brought healing, I walked away with an even deeper realization:

What good is it to know of these things and yet not actually know them as they are borne by my brothers and sisters? To have eyes that see only the facade, blind to the reality of hurt and trial raging on the inside, hid within the faces I see every day? How can I love my brethren, and yet allow them to suffer in silence of their own hearts?

I’m only beginning to catch the faintest glimpses of just how ridiculously complex yet fathomlessly simple this creature called the human being is. Each individual, each person is a cistern, fairly narrow yet nearly bottomless, and sometimes with waters dark enough to obscure all but the most perceiving eye. The true depth of each one is probably a vastness only within the reach of God Himself who made it. We are deeper than we ourselves know.

Why then am I so easily contented with amusing myself with my own reflection dancing on the surface? Why do I not seek to dive deeper, beneath the mask of the abyss, as far as I am allowed to descend? I need eyes able to see and know that deeper reality, eyes able to discern when someone says they’re okay when they’re not. Eyes that understand pain and struggle when it is present, however well masked. Eyes that will display the compassion and grace that a hurting friend may need, rather than the presumption and reproach no man wants or requires.

Vulnerability has been my teacher lately. I have slowly been learning the art of unveiling myself, of lowering the walls that have always naturally surrounded the depths of my interior. I am still an unsatisfactory pupil and progressing only ever so gradually, but the recognition that I cannot have a relationship in the fullest sense of the word unless I allow myself to be known makes me continue. Yet intimacy is both to know and to be known. Even as I learn to allow others to know me, I must learn to know others – not always an easy task, perhaps never. Not all will allow my intrusion, and some rightfully so. I cannot and should not open my heart to all, and likewise, I cannot and ought not expect all to do the same to me.

Yet as I heard today, there are times when a friend is desperate to keep the pain internalized and out of sight, when the last thing they want to do is open up. But perhaps they need to. It won’t always be to me, but I may yet still have a role to play, however small or supportive in only minor ways. I suppose it’ll often depend on the degree of friendship and the specific circumstance.

But whatever the ache, whoever the friend, I pray that I may have eyes to see the hidden and pent-up pain, and the wisdom to be whatever kind of friend is required to fill the role God has for me there, however central or small it seems. Ultimately, I pray that I would have His eyes, and the heart to love others as He has commanded me to love, as He has loved me, and as He perfectly and everlastingly loves them.

I write this far higher than I can reach. I don’t know why it’s so easy for me to write brimming with confidence like I’ve learned my lesson perfectly, as if I knew exactly what now to do and had as good as accomplished it already… I honestly don’t understand how my writing flies so far above me; I am painfully inadequate when it comes to actually understanding and truly living the reality of what I write. But by the grace of God, may it be so.

Photo from Wikipedia

A restless Sabbath

I realized last night that I needed a day of rest.

From what I understand from Scripture (and there are people I highly respect who would disagree with me), I don’t believe that I’m morally obligated to keep a Sabbath. But I think God knew what He was doing when He set down the pattern of six days of work, one day of rest. Plus, given the holiday tomorrow, I knew I would (hopefully) be given enough time to pay my assignments their due.

And so, I decided today would be a day of no schoolwork.

The day flew by, even more rapidly than I’d expected. At first, it didn’t feel that different; perhaps it just took a bit for me to log out of the schoolwork mentality. But about halfway through the day, I was struck by a seemingly out-of-the-blue thought/conviction that caught me slightly off-guard:

I don’t want to just rest from academics; I want to rest in God. But what does that mean? What does it mean to find true repose in Him, and in Him alone? I sensed a longing, a restlessness in my spirit that I didn’t quite have an answer for…

A few minutes later, I attended a dance lesson today that left me totally and curiously drained (I’ve danced longer and more intensely many times before; I guess in those cases my adrenaline was enough to keep me from realizing how tired I was until much later). An hour and a half of involuntary, physical repose afterward had never been so sweet…

Perhaps too often, I go through my day running on a kind of spiritual adrenaline, unaware of my dependence and need for my Creator. And as I learn to remember the restlessness inside of me, I will find the sweet repose that only He can supply.

Lord… teach me to be restless for You.

“…our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.”

~ Augustine

Christmas carol exegesis

Christmas-Carols-Origin-and-History

I wasn’t able to craft a fully coherent Christmas message this year, but since I’ve mentioned my difficulty with finding meaning in Christmas music before (my post on the season from last year), I thought I’d indulge in a bit of exegesis in some of the carols I’ve heard most often and loved singing most this season. If nothing else, I hope that my scattered thoughts give you encouragement you to ponder more deeply the music you sing and hear this Christmas.

*     *     *

O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining.

It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

‘Til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.

To be holy means to be set-apart. It doesn’t refer to the intrinsic worth of an object, but the value placed on it by another; the rocks in an altar holy to the Lord are rocks like any other but set apart for a special purpose, as are the living stones set apart by God to be a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5).

That night so many years ago was, in many ways, like any ordinary night. Yet it stands apart from every other night in history. All else melts away like morning frost in comparison to this: the Lord of all the Universe stooped low enough to enter His creation, wrapped in flesh and nestled in a food-trough.

Were the stars, excepting the one that lead the Wise Men, brightly shining that night? Did they array themselves in all the splendor they could muster at the joy of welcoming their Maker into the universe? Or did they look like they do every night? I could see it being either way; God does seem inclined to be incredibly poetic at times, and starkly undramatic and unglamorous at others (sending His Son to be born in a stable is a good example of that).

However the stars looked that night, the dear Savior came. Why? Why come to this fallen world, a figment still of what God had intended it to be, yet bound by its corruption and rebellion since Eden? Why come to a planet that to this day, two thousand years after the Holy birth, still lies pining in its sin, groaning for its redemption?

Simply this: to testify to the truth that would set men free (John 8:32, 18:37). To bring light to darkness, to make a way of redemption for all who are willing to follow it and eventually, for all of Creation. The Hope of the nations appeared in Bethlehem that night, and the hope of His returning fills the universe still to this day. When the Lord of the heavens appears on the earth to bring salvation to man, there is hope indeed. And faced with such humility and sacrifice — God Almighty stepping down from His celestial throne to become a part of a messy, fallen world, that He might redeem it — how can the soul not exult in feeling its true worth? God doesn’t need us. But if He wants us, if He loved our race enough to take on our weakness and enter our lowly existence, how He values us can hardly be made any clearer. And that is where our ultimate worth lies.

When we sing of a Holy Night, we truly do sing of a night unlike any that has ever been or ever will be.

*     *     *

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh

Come peasant, king, to own Him.

The King of Kings salvation brings

Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

I never realized before how much this verse is saturated with the Kingship of Christ. Even the first line speaks of bringing gifts befitting a king. He is worthy of that honor, and far more.

Yet the Savior’s birth belongs to the rich and poor alike. Peasant and king, lowly shepherd and Magi, the lowest and the highest and everything in between, all may lay claim to Him; good thing too, because all need Him and none deserve Him. Yet any heart that is willing to grant Him its scepter, a heart that truly loves Him, is one He will deem worthy to enter and reign in.

Why He would deign to sit enthroned in our lowly hearts when He has a throne in heaven is beyond me, but I am grateful. Thank the Lord that He, the King of Kings, bore a salvation for us all.

*     *     *

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

The long-awaited, long-expected Messiah’s arrival is truly an event for every son of Israel and daughter of Zion to rejoice greatly over. Foretold in ages past, He had finally come. God with us, a promise made reality.

Yet, it is a promise that the adopted children of Abraham have cause to rejoice in as well. As the angel proclaimed to the shepherds, it is a news of great joy “for all people.” As old Simeon exulted in the temple courts, this salvation was to be “a light unto the Gentiles,” as well as the glory of Israel.

I rejoice for the children of Israel who have received their long-awaited Messiah. But I am also exceedingly glad that I, a Gentile and stranger to the old covenant, may enter in and share the Light of Salvation with them as a child of the New Israel. Thanks be to the Lord for that!

*     *     *

Sing, choirs of angels! Sing in exultation!

Sing all ye citizens of heaven above.

Glory to God in the highest!

O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him,

O come let us adore Him, Christ the L0rd.

Translated literally, the Hebrew hallelujah simply means “praise the Lord!” But more than merely a vague expression of praise, the term is a plural imperative, i.e. an instruction or even command to many. A more apt translation would be, “Everyone! Let us praise the Lord together!”

To me, this verse seems to be the same way. I’ve always sung this verse concerning the angels in a nebulous, praise-the-Lord kind of fashion. Perhaps you have as well.

But that’s not what the text says. It’s an imperative, a request or even command to the hosts of heaven themselves! Then it turns to address the whole Body of Christ, all whose citizenship lies in heaven above.

When we tell angels to sing in exultation, “Glory to God in the highest!”, I have little doubt that they can hear us. Perhaps they join in every time we invite them to as well. At any rate, whether we invite the angels or our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to sing to God’s glory with us, let our invitation be a sincere one.

He is worth singing about. Truly, let us come before Him and adore Him for who He is: our Savior, Messiah, Redeemer, Friend, the Light of all men, the Firstborn of creation, the perfect Son of God.

Wishing you a merry and most blessed Christmas,

  ~ Timothy

Political honesty

Over lunch the other day, I partook of a most fascinating (and entertaining) conversation with some friends. The basic premise was imagining a politican running for office on a platform of “total political honesty.” For example:

“If I am elected, I pledge to take whatever I want from my opponents and give it to my supporters.”

“I actually have no inclination, much less passion, towards this particular issue, and I have no intention of carrying it through when I am elected. I simply make a big deal of it now because I know it is important to you all as voters.”

“I am aware that my campaign has primarily consisted of negative ads defaming my opponent. In fact, this was intentional on the part of my team and I, as psychological studies have shown that a negative perception is more effective and impacting than a positive one, thus increasing my chances of attaining your vote even if I never say a word about myself.”

“I’d rather use lots of fancy, nice-sounding words than craft good, informed arguments. Flowery language appeals to a much broader base of people.”

“My foremost goal in this campaign is to win the election. So cast your vote for me!”

And so on. Extremely tongue-in-cheek, unlikely to ever happen in earnest, but profoundly entertaining to think about.

Please do not misunderstand me; this conversation was not directed at any political figure (past or present) in particular, and is certainly far from being applicable to all political leaders today. But it did raise an interesting question in my mind: how would people react were (unlikely as it is) a politician to arise who said such things? Would any actually vote for him? How many, and for what reason? How would having such a candidate in the line-up change people’s perspective on the political process? Would it force people to reevaluate why they vote for who they vote for? Would they become more wary, more conscientious, more informed and discerning voters? Or would it be business as usual?

All I can say is, I hope that any political leader (current or yet to appear on our ballots) who runs on a platform — or principle rather — of complete political honesty will have more noble aspirations than this one.

Duty, results, and thankfulness

Over election week, I went on a campaigning trip where for several days, I and many others engaged in various endeavors aimed to affect the outcome of the election. We had a short devotional each morning before shipping out; on Tuesday morning, our devotion centered on this simple verse: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

The first part of the verse reminded us that though our campaigning was largely done in the names of the various officials we hoped to elect into office or organizations we happened to be collaborating with, our efforts would ultimately be in vain, regardless of the results, if not done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Striving to serve those other names that week was entirely appropriate, but only if kept in perspective with our primary focus, the name above all names.

To do all things in this name has ramifications: How can you do anything in the name of the King of the Universe, and do it in a half-hearted, timid spirit? How can you act in the name of the One who is lowly and meek in heart, in a manner that is ungracious or ungentle? And how can you live in the name of the Prince of Peace in a spirit of constant frustration and anxiety? It’s a question worth pondering: what does it look like practically for me to carry out the task before me, and my whole life, in the name of Jesus?

This brought us to the second part of the verse. Having done all things in the name of Jesus, both word and deed, the proper course is not to take ownership of or to agonize over the results. It is to thank the Father. In the context of our work there as campaigners, I was reminded of the sermon I had attended that Sunday, in which the pastor exhorted his congregation to approach the impending election with humility and graciousness, neither returning the next Sunday with knowing “I told you so” smiles or “This is it; the apocalypse is upon us!” broadcasts of despair.

I find it interesting that at its root, both of these responses display a denial of the Lordship of Christ mentioned in the verse. One remarks “now all things will be put to rights; we have the right people in office,” the other laments “clearly, with these folks in office, the end is nigh,” but both fundamentally place their trust in the political leaders to make things right, rather than the sovereign God. Towards the neighbor who voted differently, both display a sort of ungracious arrogance, a turning away from the character of God, which in essence is a denial of His Lordship over one’s life. And both fail to thank God for what He has already done; one because he’s too busy celebrating the victory won by human effort, the other because he sees nothing to be thankful for. Both are greatly mistaken.

Instead, as we are commanded to do all things in Jesus’ name, we are called to be thankful in all things through our Lord Jesus to God our Father. And such an attitude of thankfulness, acknowledging both God’s sovereignty over all circumstances and over one’s own life, does not easily degenerate into either of these extremes of arrogance or despair.

The motto for the campaigning organization we worked through was “the duty is ours, the results are God’s.” This obviously applies and was intended to apply to political elections and offices, but it seems every bit as applicable to the rest of our lives also: our jobs, families, schoolwork, hobbies, friendships, and so on. A very real duty is set before us; to do all things as unto the Lord, in the name of Christ. Yet once this is done, the results belong in the hands of the very same Lord. We can and should hoe, plant, water, and weed with the best that we have to offer in our abilities and attitudes, but it is He who makes the crops grow or wither, not us. And however the harvest appears for the future, still we put our trust in Him and remain faithful to His character, through our Lord giving thanks.

How I just took an event from election week and turned it into a Thanksgiving message is beyond me, but I hope that you spent and enjoyed this day in a time of gratitude to the Lord and fellowship with others. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

  ~ Timothy

Building Momentum

About a month ago, I and ten others from my church spent five days in Kentucky for an annual Christian Youth Conference called Momentum. Though we’d gone on mission trips before, it was the first time our church had tried going to a conference like this; it probably won’t be the last.

I knew I wanted to share something about the things I’d learned and experienced there, but giving a long, drawn-out, detail-by-detail account didn’t seem like the right way to do it. Instead, I thought I’d just post a slightly expanded version of what I had the opportunity to share with my church family yesterday.

Basically, how it changed me:

I went into this conference with very low expectations. For the most part, I was just expecting a lot of hype; if not from the leaders of the conference, then certainly from the other youth who would be there.

And yet, I came out of that conference a different person — a better person — than who I’d been going in. We learned and experienced so many things in those five, incredibly short yet full days, but if I had to sum up the greatest thing I took away from that conference, it would be the way that it made certain things that had always seemed out of reach for me… tangible. They became not just ideas, but realities.

One day at lunch, while I was waiting in line for pizza, the two guys standing next to me in line started a friendly conversation with me. Their names were Zach and Quinton, and they had both been saved at Momentum two years ago and three years ago respectively. After chatting for a bit, I turned to head back to my table with my pizza, when they asked me if there was anything they could pray for me before I went.

I was mind-blown. And yet, right there in that bustling cafeteria, they each laid a hand on my shoulder and just prayed for me like it was the most natural thing in the world. It didn’t matter that we’d met two minutes ago.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder why I was so caught off-guard. Are we not called to be a people of prayer, who are unafraid to come before the Throne, who lift up those in need without ceasing? All those two guys did was understand and live out that truth. Now, I can honestly say that I have never been less ashamed to ask people for prayer requests, even my friends who are not believers. Thanks to the concrete yet completely followable example of Zach and Quinton.

Perhaps the greatest example of the intangible becoming concrete took place in an area in which I’ve been struggling to grow for some time now: evangelism. One afternoon, our scheduled outreach was to walk around an assigned street and just find someone to “bless.” We each had $5 (so in our groups of three, we had $15 altogether), and that was to be our tool; buy someone lunch, maybe get to know their story, wherever it takes you.

The first person my group talked to cheerfully told us that she’d already had lunch (it was about 1:30pm after all), and that she was just out enjoying a walk. We watched her walk away, somewhat comforted by the thought that if we didn’t really get any other conversations, at least we’d tried. The second guy we talked to was walking towards the intersection we were standing by just as the crosswalk turned red (I remember thinking, “He has to wait for the light, maybe we can get a quick conversation with him”), so we just launched in and (pretty awkwardly) asked if we could buy him lunch or something. He seemed a little surprised and even slightly amused, so he asked us once or twice why we were doing this, and we responded once or twice that we simply wanted to “bless” him that day. Then he asked if we were from a church group or something (I think excessive use of the term “bless” tipped him off; that seems to be the Christian go-to for anything and everything good), which somehow (I don’t remember how) lead to asking him what he believed. After talking a little while longer, we asked him if we could at least get him a coffee or something to continue the conversation over, to which he readily agreed.

“But first you got to tell me what you believe.”

One hour later, there under the Kentucky sun by that intersection, we were still talking to him; about the Gospel, about Christ, what Christians believe, what he believed, and especially about the Bible. He was a really nice guy, and he shot completely straight with us. We in turn did the same. We listened as he explained what he thought about a certain Christian idea, and he would listen as we explained what we thought he should know about said idea. He believed that the Bible was a great book, full of human wisdom, and that eternal life consists of the legacy you leave behind by living well. We encouraged him to check out the prophecies in the Bible to weigh whether they seemed no more than man’s words or not, and told him becoming an ambassador of God means leaving an earthly and an eternal legacy behind you. It was an amazing conversation. It ended pretty naturally; we just thanked him for talking with us for so long, he thanked us for our conversation, and he just walked off in the direction that he’d originally been going.

He never did get that coffee. As we watched him walk away, we said a quick prayer for him; that God would allow the seeds that He had planted through us to take root, and to grow into something fruitful in that man’s life. Quite a few of the things we had said seemed to take traction in his mind; he just said that he couldn’t accept some of the things the Bible teaches. I pray that he sees that the Bible is God’s Word, and that when our opinions and the Scriptures diverge, we are the ones who must change.

(By the way, we also found out later that one of the other groups, seeing us engaged in conversation with this guy, decided to pray for us while we were talking across the street. That was cool.)

All that to say this: a wall has been lifted. Now, talking to complete strangers about the gospel is no longer… unfathomable to me. I’ve seen that it can be done. In fact, now I want to do it again and often.

I know for a fact that that hour-long conversation in the Kentucky sun was all the work of the Holy Spirit. All the right thoughts and Scripture passages and examples just came to mind (and you better believe that I was praying for them throughout the conversation). It was incredible to see how He used my thinking and what I’ve learned in the past to guide that conversation. And maybe for that reason, it felt pretty much normal to be having a conversation like that. If it had been an incredibly dramatic, mountain-top experience, I would be so afraid that I would never be able to have that kind of experience again. But it didn’t; now, it can become a habit.

One thing I liked about the conference overall was the emphasis on not just having moments with God; nice, fuzzy feelings you can look back on. Instead, we are to build momentum. A snowballing of passion for the Lord’s work that just keeps growing as it goes along, that gets more and more unstoppable and impacts more and more lives as it dives deeper into enemy territory.

That is the kind of life I long to have, the kind of “regular activity” I long to do, the kind of person I long to be. I don’t want to just think back to the time I had that really cool conversation with that guy in Kentucky. I want to make conversations like that a pattern in my life. As Aristotle so aptly said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” It’s a lifestyle, a consistent pattern, not a moment or a one-time experience.

Obviously, there will be many failures, many rejections, many disappointments as I try to live this out. But I serve a God who can turn my weakness to strength, and turn what the enemy means for evil to the good of His people and His own glory.

I went into that conference with low expectations, and came out… different. Honestly, for the first time in my Christian walk, I can say with confidence that I know — both in my head and my heart — that I am a new creation. That I am not ashamed of the gospel; that I am not the same anymore. And I pray that the momentum I have now will not fade as the days pass, but grow all the stronger for the passage of time.

*   *   *   *   *

Dear friends,

I leave for college tomorrow. And though I go to a Christian campus, I want to get into the community there and be a light to the lost and the unseen. I ask that God would enable me, His servant, to speak and live with boldness, and I ask that you pray that I would live as such. Your prayers are ever appreciated.

I fully intend to continue blogging, but I’ll likely be learning to walk again in my new environment for most of first semester, so it’s anyone’s guess how much time will present itself for me to dedicate here. As always, I thank you for reading, and hope to be back soon.

Praying for boldness,

~ Timothy