I Have This Hope – Cover

This song.

This hope. How quickly we forget it and take it for granted. He is with us, and we have hope, He is the one who takes our sins away and gives us grace. That should blow our minds every single day.

I had it on repeat all day today so I decided to practice some rough harmonies and slap ’em together.

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Paris 01: Lets get down to business

Cue the intro to “Be a man” !

The day has come. Training is over and we fly for the city of light tomorrow!?

We have a tight team and already God has shown us how good He is and how much He knows us and loves us. We haven’t even left and there are already a few cool stories, a number of examples of “coincidental”, “that was lucky”, “guess that worked itself out” moments. AKA God-ordained, super cool, crisis averted moments.

From “happening” to have extra essential things to cover exactly what was forgotten, to “happening” to be all musically talented with hearts for worship, to “happening” to be perfectly compatible housemates… I’m amazed.

What training has challenged me most in is making a habit of checking where my heart is at with regard to pride, my attitude towards others, especially my team mates. To not hide behind a surface version of me, but to not be afraid to be vulnerable. Amidst all the fun and the teasing, I have to be careful with my words and use them to edify and encourage also. Not only that, but to be caught in His grace if I fail and something weird and unnecessary comes out of the mouth. Also, being ready to generously offer grace to others, especially in ou varying degrees in French fluency.

What I find encouraging is that we’re all learning and for many of us, but I’ll speak only for me, there is less fear in asking what words mean or how to translate a saying. And there is no shame when gently corrected.

Our very wise directors gave us some potential points of culture shock and the most worrying is the cultural sport of invigorating discussion. Debating with rationality and rhetoric. Did I mention that most Parisians would identify themselves as atheist? Ouf, debating… not my cup of tea. Nor my glass of wine, or slice of brie, or bite of croissant. (Can you tell I’m looking forward to the food?)

And yet by God’s grace and the wise training we just went through, I’m going on this mission trip without any significant feelings of fear. I have no expectations because what God has planned is far more magnificent than anything I can imagine.

The other day I was reading Isaiah 55, and it is my prayer for Paris, that they would see the compassion of the Lord.

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. …Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way,and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. €œFor as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.  For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace…”

Jesus is enough to satisfy, and the Gospel is enough for an answer. God in His sovereignty and the power of the Holy Spirit is stronger than our human hearts, He is mighty to save. His word is enough to water this hardened soil, and I trust that the next 5 weeks will yield fruit, even if we never see it.

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Daily bread, not weekly buffet.

My heart is so full. I don’t think I can comprehend or express how blessed I am to have the community that I have around me. Surely, this is how we were designed to be– a family of families, caring for one another, genuinely being thankful for someone’s existence, loving one another, blessing and being blessed by one another. Essentially loving one another under the unity of Christ.

I didn’t get much writing done, so the “muse” is coming out in a blog. And why shouldn’t it if that’s where my heart is overflowing right now.

It’s only Monday night (technically Tuesday morning) and I’ve already learned 3 interesting things:

  1. The folly of God is still wiser than the wisdom of men
  2. The weakness of God is still stronger than the strength of men
  3. The riddles of God are still more satisfying than the solutions of men

Perhaps the past tense “learned” is a bit premature… three things I was taught and am still learning.

I do not have all the answers, I don’t have a comeback for every argument or debate, I don’t know what is to come, or how or when, or why.

And I don’t need to.

Well how’s that for an unsatisfying answer? Right up there with “well, it depends.”

It’s taken me this long to realize it, and will continue to be a wrestling point I’m sure, but not having to know the answers, not having to be strong in my reasoning… is so freeing.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again because it’s so true… “Hallelujah we are free to struggle, we’re not struggling to be free.” (Mike Donehey).

We can fail, we can walk away from an excitable discussion unscathed by the tongues of men because we’re told that to them it’s folly. We are free to be confident in the truth. As Matt Chandler put it (roughly), if it’s true, it’s of God… we’ve got the market cornered on Truth.

And so our only task is to preach Christ, as Paul encourages us in 1 Corinthians.

Bonus thing I learned this week: The Lord is my portion.

What does that even mean? Who talks like that anyway, what does that look like? I’m still unpacking it to be honest, but He is our daily bread.

He is enough for today, He is everything I need for today. He is the strength that helps me peel off the warm covers to get me out of bed, He is the joy and energy that sustains me throughout a long day, He is my companion who walks me to wherever I’m going, He is the provider who chases away worry and fear, He is the one who makes room in my busy schedule for rest and community, He is the creator who is glorified when the wisps of sparkling snow race alongside me when I look out the bus window.

Who am I that you are mindful of me? How wonderful are your works O Lord. You are my prize and my portion, my God and my deliverer, my refuge and strength, my Rock and my Redeemer. Praise be to God in the highest.

Every day is an adventure and every soul encountered has a moving and epic story worthy of the big screen, and He is moving in all of it, and He is God through all of it.

Tomorrow, next week, next month, next semester, next year, the next five, ten, twenty, fifty years… starts with today.

Not weekly buffet. Daily bread for the daily grind.

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Only We Would Leave the King of the Universe Hanging

What happens when runaway thoughts spin themselves into a hurricane inside your heart, but all you want at that moment is to go to bed?

“Spirit, can you hold these thoughts, bookmark them or something ’til morning?”

The storm only presses upon me like a firm and gentle push on the swings, adding momentum. Very well. Here I am.

In the past two weeks, I’ve experienced the same conversation several times, which I found rather curious. It went something along the lines of, “Well you have your Christianity thing, but I prefer the buddhist philosophy if I had to choose.”

I’ve heard many people express their admiration for the buddhist worldview, my own grandmother being a devout practitioner.

I’d always wondered what made it so attractive until I saw a booth on campus a few semesters ago, that encouraged students to develop spirituality or oneness with the universe… but where God was optional.

One part of me said, yeah um, good luck with that. God is inviting you into true spirituality, that is, a relationship with His Holy Spirit (and the Son and the Father), how can you possibly do that without Him? You can’t fist bump without a fist to bump! There have been many times when a friend would hold out their fist and I’d miss it, so to add some dramatic flair to the situation and reduce the embarrassment, they’d make a big deal about leaving them hanging. I do it by accident of course, though Freud might disagree. However, we do do this on purpose to God all the time, on a daily maybe even hourly basis. He’s set up the relationship so that He contacts us, we just have to be there and be willing. Instead, we don’t just leave Him hanging, we left Him, the King of all things, high and dry!

But back to the booth. The other part of me empathized. We were made to worship, and worship we do. We are constantly searching for it. Some will worship things like money or success or approval, not in the golden calf sort of way, but in putting their identity in relationships (self is only in relation to so and so), image (I live to appear like this to the world), reputation (I am who people tell me or expect me to be) or a career (I am no one without my career and/or my salary), and so many other things. Others will worship virtue, being and doing and living according to some moral standard, a constant process of atonement. In fact, since the Fall, these are the defaults in you, in me, and in everyone else who ever lived.

In seeking just spirituality, people are looking for the “way of life” part of worship, which is why I can understand the thought process behind “why can’t people just believe what they want to believe, do what works for them?” Another phrase I’ve heard often, but oddly more frequently in the past bit.

Worship, the kind that we were designed for, includes another component: loving and generous volition. In other words, a relationship. Without that, nothing will work or satisfy your soul. At least not forever. When we say that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the way, the truth and the life, we’re not trying to take away people’s free will! If a treasure hunter finds the room with the jackpot, a sea of treasure, won’t they say, “hey guys, come here, I found it!” It’s a jackpot, you really can’t miss it, which is why it doesn’t make sense for the other treasure hunters to ask, “are you sure you found it? There’s a smaller room here with some cool trinkets, that might be it.”

As followers of Christ, we are not just servants to the King of the universe, but heirs. Heirs! The one who holds the name above all names is not just our Lord or our Master… He is our friend and Father who knows us deeply. He cares much less about us and His rules than us and Himself. Matt Chandler puts it this way, “God is more interested in progress than perfection.” Progress of course, requires an interaction with the one assessing you.

I’m not sure what kind of spirituality people have found without a deep and personal relationship with God, but I can imagine the peace it brings is more about keeping your hands busy than finding rest and purpose… A peace that comes at the price of never ending toil, with the resulting fruit leaving something to be desired.

Here’s another one I hear often enough: “So many other religions and worldviews are similar, what makes Christianity right or better than them? It’s not even the first one.”

Many people go to this point of the argument to discredit Christianity, but to me I see it as a proof of its legitimacy. Communicating what I see is of course the issue, but I will try. The most basic common ground for all the religions of world history is the human condition. It’s all about advancing or improving the human condition in some way. That is the common thread — a sinful heart that needs fixing.

This common thread extends far beyond religion, and into everything we do, since everything we do is a direct result of our sinful heart. But written on that same heart is God’s law — our conscience, our own moral standards. I’m most interested in storytelling, and so I see echoes of the soul yearning for the gospel all the time there.

The villains must always get their just deserts, because we know that sin and evil must be punished. The hero always starts out flawed or unprepared for the task, because we know that we aren’t perfect and need something or someone to make us whole, to prepare us for our destiny. The hero must always go through a great ordeal before succeeding, because we know that justice comes at a sacrificial cost. The hero always achieves the goal and overcomes the ordeal, rewarded with honour or revelation.

But these are just the standard givens of story structure, of the monomyth or infamous hero’s journey! Yes, but why? Why are they taken for granted, why is this what we want to see, why is it that if a story defies these laws, we are left cheated or unsatisfied?

After all, a story where the hero dies and the antagonist wins and the whole journey was for naught, is often considered a bad story, not a creative twist. We feel like we’ve wasted our time. What’s worse is that sometimes life is like that, intrinsically wrong and a waste. It’s that deep pit of dissatisfaction and despair.

I propose that at the root, we know in our core that there is a certain way things are supposed to be, and every human knows it. The gospel tells the story that is the balm to our souls. It doesn’t just give us hope and peace and love and fuzzy, flimsy emotions… it is a solid anchor to cling on to.

The hero’s journey example I just used is only one of many places I’ve seen the yearning for the gospel. There are more specific examples. Take the superhero boom. Of course many factors played into this, but at the root, I would say its appeal comes from our deep intrinsic need for a saviour with greater power or skills than ourselves. One, or a small group, must represent and save all of humanity from evil and tyranny. Or how about a show like Once Upon A Time? At the time of writing this, a saviour is being tempted in the wilderness to turn to darkness so that the laws of storytelling might be reversed — villains will get their happy endings, evil will reign, heroes are forever fated to fail and their redemption becomes a futility. Will she succumb and leave everyone without any chance of hope, or will she prevail and let redemption win? Or how about a movie like Jupiter Ascending that I just watched a couple hours ago? SPOILERS: it ends with the protagonist inheriting the Earth… Sound familiar?

I see elements of the human condition echoing the biblical narrative in stories, on TV, on the news, in movies, in people, in other worldviews… it’s everywhere! And I’m not surprised. In awe, definitely, but not surprised. The bible itself was written across centuries by different people in different contexts for different purposes through different mediums. Letters, instructions, songs, poems, historical documents, prophets, fishermen, tax collectors, priests. All this… and yet the common thread tying all these things together is the narrative of the cross. Everything pre-cross in the old testament points to it, and everything post-cross points to it. Prophecies of a Messiah, of a coming kingdom, meant as an encouragement to God’s people in the old testament, and a proclamation of what was done on the cross meant as an encouragement to the early church in the new testament.

My point is that, if the gospel is a common thread throughout the incredible diversity within the Bible, why should it be any different today? The existence of common threads among religions and worldviews isn’t discrediting the gospel, but rather reaffirms it in that we can all agree that we’re broken and need help — admitting this is the very foundation of our faith.

For some, this still doesn’t answer your questions or satisfy your stirrings, and this is to be expected. I couldn’t possibly explain everything because there is still a lot that I don’t fully understand. Even the apostle Paul said “I am perplexed, but not crushed” in 2 Corinthians 4. The guy who wrote most of the new testament still didn’t get stuff, so there’s no way I will.

However, I’ll touch a bit on why Christianity not being the “first” is not really an issue. Firstly, God understands what it is to exist outside of space and time, so linear thinking can’t really be applied here. I know that answer isn’t good enough for some of you, so I will go further.

Christianity didn’t “start” when we entered the story. The beginning wasn’t when humans finally understood what Jesus meant all those times after he died and rose again. It wasn’t when God showed us a virgin birth. It wasn’t when the prophets of Israel told God’s people that God was coming to humankind through a Messiah. It wasn’t when God himself told Adam and Eve that their seed would crush that of the serpent’s. No.

Everyone knows how it goes. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the beginning, God. He is the beginning, He is where it all starts (and ends, but I won’t get into that here).

God planned everything from before creation, whenever that was. He wasn’t surprised at man’s rebellion, He wasn’t scrambling to come up with a plan to save humanity after the rebellion… He knew all along. He planned all of history before time existed. The cross and Christianity pre-dates time itself.

Your acceptance of this answer inevitably depends on your own worldview of course, but there is no talking about faith without faith.

I guess if there’s a take away point at all from all of this, it’s that God wants a meaningful relationship with you and has programmed that desire in you. That programming has come out in, among other things, the value we place over spirituality, our eternal search for steadfast peace everlasting, and our intrinsic sense of justice and redemption.

CS Lewis describes this unique God-us relationship like this:

You asked for a loving God: you have one… not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible of the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.

If you’re searching for steadfast peace everlasting that does not waver in even the worst of circumstances and that transcends a mere code or creed, I can only tell you that I have found it here in Christ and have not yet heard of someone who found the exact same thing elsewhere. Will you cave to the backwards instinct to fight and run away from the very thing you’re looking for, or will you be called a friend of a King?

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The Artist’s Collapse

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is a gift from God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:8-10

This is no obscure verse. There are cards and mugs and T-shirts and bumper stickers that probably have this verse on it. It’s great for encouraging one another, especially in those times (cough cough teen angst) when we question our worth, our existence, and our future.

I remember seeing it and reading it and coming back to it time and time again but as always, the Word of God always has something to say to the soul no matter how many times you’ve heard it. The ramifications of this verse are stunning; literally and figuratively. It’s huge! It’s almost unbelievable. It’s a compliment as big as God’s heart, and it’s so hard to take in. I have a hard time dealing with mortal compliments, that is, my response to them. How am I supposed to handle these words breathed from the God of all creation to me?

“Who am I that you are mindful of me?” asks the psalmist.

Here’s the usual breakdown of what this verse is actually saying:

1) If you are a human, we are told that each of us are masterpieces worth dying for.

2) We are chosen, and chosen well. We have purpose. We have a destiny. No one who has ever lived or will ever live, is an accident. No one is useless. Not only that, this purpose was carefully chosen long before you arrived.

3) Our salvation is a gift. This is the Bible turning backwards thinking right side up again. To us of course, the backwards part seems forward, and God’s forward seems backwards.

You do something to earn the reward, right? Not with God.

He gives first, now go do good work. We didn’t earn God’s gift, we can’t boast in our efforts toward it. But in truly receiving the gift of grace, our works and effort become a natural response of joy and gratitude. Natural. As if it were supposed to be that way all along. Right side up, right way forward.

Ours is a culture where chosen ones and heroes and destiny resonate so deeply with us. Most, if not every child has at least dreamed or pictured themselves as their favourite hero character. Maybe I’m an alien with powers that will develop in the near future. Maybe this body mark means I’m destined for greatness. Maybe my crazy old uncle has a double or triple life and will find me worthy enough to invite me into it. Maybe my family has a secret they will take to the grave and I’m about to join their ranks.

Maybe someday a mysterious stranger or mysterious circumstance will come knock at my door, tell me I’m chosen, present me with a purpose and turn my life upside down, but also make it so much more interesting.

I’ll be honest, with that last one I was initially thinking of Harry Potter or something like that, but reading it again… in many ways, isn’t it what we’ve been exploring in Ephesians 2:10 just now?

Sure, but that’s fiction, people have told me. Well how about an analogy, penned no less by CS Lewis in his book, The Problem of Pain, in which he answers the anxiety-inducing question, “if God is so good and loving, if God loves us, if God finds us precious and worthwhile, why does He allow pain and suffering into our lives?”

Not to belittle any painful experiences, but… well I guess I should just let him explain:

We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the ‘intolerable compliment.’

Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life — the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child — he will take endless trouble — and would, doubtless thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.

He goes on to show this love in a man’s despotic love for a beast or a pet, a father’s provident and venerable love for a child, and the inexorable love between husband and wife.

For the artist’s love for his work, it is persistent, according to Lewis. God’s love is persistent. It’s taken me a while to really believe the truth in Ephesian 2:10, and even now I haven’t plundered all its truth yet. But God is faithfully persistent in revealing it.

When all the other voices tell me what’s wrong with my body, my fitness, my intellect, my personality, my social image, my beliefs, my behaviour, whatever it might be… The cross tells me who I am.

Not that my identity is in religion, necessarily. Far from it. I am labelled under “Christian,” but its implications are far more interesting. The cross, and my faith in what was done on it, tells me that while I still deserved His wrath over my sin, God in all His glory and power died in my place because He loves me and thinks I am worth that cost.

Let me note that my revealing these voices is not to garner pity or validation… it’s not a secret cry for compliments. I rarely know what to do with compliments, it’s not my love language, if you will.

But the cross, the act committed upon it. That is love at its truest.

I love Lewis’ illustration of a sentient work of art. If we were to take the analogy a bit further, Christ’s incarnation would be like the artist being collapsed into his own creation, only to be scorned by it.

The fully fleshed, three dimensional painter is collapsed into a few two dimensional strokes of colour, and then blotted out.

The fully fleshed, three dimensional author is collapsed into a few lines of fiction, and then scribbled and scratched out beyond recognition.

The fully fleshed, three dimensional dancer is collapsed into pattern of movement, then practiced poorly, abandoned and forgotten.

The fully fleshed, three dimensional musician is collapsed into a simple melodious pressure wave, lost in a cacophonous symphony.

But the story isn’t over…

The painter, the author, the dancer, the musician, the creator… is so much more than their creation. Immeasurably more, as our friends at Rend Collective sing. What is a blot of paint to the painter, a scribble to the writer, poor repetition to a dancer, noise to a musician? A nuisance sure, but certainly not enough to wipe them from existence.

What is death to the creator of life?

But the story still isn’t over…

What if the art maker, like Gepetto, desired so much more, not of but for the artwork? For a wooden toy to become a son? For the creation to be like the creator?

[See] that you put off the old self with its practices and put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.

Colossians 3:9-11

What if the artist could lift the world on the canvas and bring it to life? What if the writer could lift a character from the page and hang out? What if a dancer could meet their dance personified in all its richness and complexity and beauty? What if a musician could duet with their opus?

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Christ’s invitation to draw near to Him, to enter a covenant relationship with Him, is not for misery in righteousness, not an ideological cage or a prison. It’s an invitation to a life outside the confines of this reality.

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From Useless Pirate to Surrendered Captain

The end of the semester came out of nowhere. Has it really been 12 weeks since I started? This winter term, if I’m to follow the schedule I’ve set out for myself, is the climax of my time here. Or at least, in terms of fun courses. So much fun in fact, that after the first week, I was dreading the last.

This mentality of course did not last very long, because I got swept up in the work that I thoroughly enjoyed. And now the end has come and gone. Perhaps it’s a mercy that I didn’t brace myself for the end, or else it would have been a bitter end.

Fortunately, I plan much too far in advance and those future plans, when they become present and urgent plans, are always modified. So this is most likely not the climax. It’s not all downhill from here, as many people try to tell me.

They’re right, of course, but they’re wrong too. There’s always something better and worse around the corner, I find.

Anyway, the sudden evaporation of my daily routine left me with a work vacuum. For the first few days, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Do I relax? Watch hours of YouTube and Netflix? Check emails? Do chores? Work on personal projects? I could do all of these and should do all of these, but with a schedule wiped clean, my brain went, OKAY YOU HAVE TIME TO DO THIS AND THIS AND THIS AND THIS, ISN’T THAT EXCITING? LET’S DO ALL OF THEM AT ONCE. And… cut to white noise.

There were no boundaries, no structures, no coherence to organize or prioritize. And so I got nothing done.

I didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t want to think about anything… for lack of a better way to put it, I was in a lethargic waking coma.

It was a dry season spiritually too… I couldn’t decide if I wanted to sleep or get up, one part of me wanted to dig into a new Bible study while another part wanted to binge watch Orphan Black, going outside or having any human interaction was suddenly a lot of effort… the list goes on. My internal soundtrack may as well have been, “we are the pirates who don’t do anything, we just stay home, and lie around!”

But there’s good news. The reason I felt compelled to write this post is because I am OUT of that space now. Mostly because I’ve actually got to study for exams now… but also because once I got back into prayer, scripture and community, everything came back into focus.

I’m moving ahead with a new project now, and I’m researching and just moving forward with purpose again. This research incidentally requires Biblical investigation. History, culture, extra-biblical sources, looking for experts… some very fun stuff I might add.

After a few days of spiritual drought, the sudden thirst for the Word is just exploding in me, which doesn’t happen nearly as often as I’d like. I was about to go to bed when I decided to skim through Hebrews and 13:20-21 caught my eye. Of course, my writing impulses forbid me to leave this blogpost til morning.

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 13:20-21

Especially right after Easter, this verse is such an encouragement and a reminder. We’ve celebrated, now it’s time to get to work. Work? I thought the cross was all about not having to work. This is true, for our salvation. That work is being done in us, but not by us. That’s Christ’s work. His work then motivates us to fulfill the purpose he designed us for.

If we are motors designed to fulfill a purpose, He is the beautiful, dangerous, essential, electrical power source without which the motor is useless.

As I’m working on this new writing project, it was a great reminder to me that my writing is worthless without His power in me. My words would be meaningless, my stories ephemeral, my voice unintelligible. He has equipped me with everything I need to do his will, and he is working in me the map to doing it. He is creating in me something new… Lord willing, a person of the Jeremiah 31 people, and a Proverbs 31 woman.

The project is Esther’s story, one of providence and presence. God provides, and God is present. In a time when God’s presence appeared much more tangibly than it does now, whether it be booming voices, blinding visions, miracles, burning bushes, oncoming storms… the book of Esther shows His presence in a much more invisible kind of visibility.

This post is full of paradoxes, isn’t it? God’s name is never mentioned in the book, and nothing strictly supernatural happens either. Events just sort of… fall into place. One after another.

God was definitely in control of what was going on. He set his plan for the Jews’ deliverance into motion before they even faced destruction. He wasn’t there, but boy he was definitely there. At work. In people. Esther was equipped naturally with everything she needed to face the king and win his favour: faith, obedience, wisdom and modesty. Mordecai was equipped to be at the right place at the right time to discover the plot against the king’s life.

After watching a documentary about the incredible trials that come with the incredible… eventual… precious… rare rewards of writing in the TV industry, it’s so good to know that God is present through it all, and that he provides the “inside,” like the personality and the skills, as well as the “outside,” as in the circumstances and doors.

What does this mean? I’m realizing as I write that this post has become an “unriddling,” a place for me to digest my inward thoughts. If I’m preaching, this is not my intention. I simply cannot let myself forget these truths, lest I fall for the lie that my life is in my hands, that I am the captain of my destiny.

If I am to pursue this career, I will have to bring the right idea, to the right person, in the right place at the right time, and do it consistently and constantly. A daunting, impossible task for me, but all too easy for God. I must keep reminding myself of this, that everything that happens to my scripts and stories are under control. If they succeed, God did that. If they fail, God let that happen for a reason. I want to fight my pride to the sweet sweet end. These stories aren’t for me, or my living. I need to keep my eyes on that which they cannot see; write toward a Kingdom that cannot be shaken, for a King who is never changing.

Clearly, this is in my “head knowledge.” But what of the heart?

My “big break” hasn’t come yet, but neither have I faced any kind of searing rejection… yet. This is all the more reason to remember that while I am equipped with the quill, I am not the writer. My darkest and finest hours of my early career are coming, so let my heart (as well as my head) ever remember:

God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6

And with that, friend, may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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There but for the Grace of God Go I

After a whole bunch of posts for my media class digital portfolio, it feels good to do a normal check-in on my “real” blog.

This past week and this coming week are the two busiest weeks of the semester, maybe even of all the time I’ve been in Guelph. The work to be done, the meetings to go to, the people to speak with, the time to be spent… going into this period, I was anxious and worried. I was worried about being worried.

My to-do list is too long. I’m not going to have time to do everything, or at least everything well. When am I going to do this task? How am I going to do that task? How am I going to time manage all this??

But God is faithful. Here I am, half way through and more than hopeful.

In fact, last Sunday’s sermon was about God’s faithfulness. He comes through on his promises. He comes through on His word toward those who aren’t his people like Ishmael, and He will certainly come through for those who are His. And how amazing is it to be called His if we are in Christ.

What’s cool is that from the get go of this busy time of year, God worked to encourage me and take away my fear and my anxiety. He is faithful to provide. And He’s been looking out for this for a while — forever to be precise, really — because He had to orchestrate the sermon schedule, among other things.

My point here is not that the world revolves around us and that God is here to make our problems go away. Just the opposite. I don’t think I could have been as productive as I was and I don’t think I would have made it through this storm as unscathed as I did without the grace He’s shown, without the strength He’s given, without the community He’s blessed me with. This is about Him, and praise and honour and glory be to the one who restores us to Himself.

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:31

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

These are such go-to verses, almost cliche to the point where it seems they’ve lost their lustre. They’ve been said so many times online, on mugs, on T-shirts, on posters… But this week has reaffirmed their truth for me in way I haven’t experienced before. God gives us what we need to get through stuff, and at just the right time.

I received peace and rest through a sermon before I could even get very anxious. Before that, I learned those verses before I knew what it was to be this busy. Way before that, God breathed and the authors of those words penned them to encourage the thousands of generations to come.

I even got VCB’s new album that Sunday and I’ve been listening to If I Have You throughout the week. Such a timely encouragement and a blessing:

I don’t need the riches of this world / I can’t even take them where I’m going. / I don’t need a thousand empty words / I just need the ones that You have spoken.

If I have You and nothing else, I have everything.

I don’t need to see tomorrow’s plans / I just need to trust that You are working. / I don’t even need to understand / I just need to keep You as the first thing.

You are more, You are more than enough.

I forget which sermon I heard it in, but God knows every cause and effect event down to an atomic level and smaller. He knows how many moles of oxygen are in your lungs, and he knows which molecules bump into what when we exhale. He knows what the chain reaction of consequences will be for every action taken. He planned the cross before He made man. He knows what He’s doing, He’s in control, He is sovereign over our circumstances. Now, these two weeks seem as small and insignificant as they are, and not because I’m woman enough to handle it.

He is my strength, He is my everything. With one week down, one to go, there but for the grace of God go I.

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He is Jealous for Me

Last re-post! We’ve finally caught up! Some of you might remember this one.


I’ve often wondered why the Bible describes God as a jealous God all over the place; Exodus, Deuteronomy, Joshua… and yet commands us, “you shall not covet.”

At first glance, seems a little hypocritical, contradictory, right?

Jealousy. Envy. Covetousness. Our culture has amalgamated these three words and made them synonymous, when the reality is that though there are subtle differences, that’s all it takes to completely change the meaning of the text.

Exodus 20:17 says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

Of course, one of the 10 commandments. I’ve heard this sometimes translated as “you shall not envy.”

ENVY: A feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.

Or,

ENVY: Desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to something or someone else.

Pretty straightforward, usually what most people think envy means.

Now COVET on its own, means to yearn, to crave for a possession – a person, a quality, an object, anything. That possession may not be already owned.

But of course in this case, “you shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbour,” is very much in the realm of envy. The reason though, that I think they used covet rather than envy, is because it is driven by a desire, a craving, rather than resentment. I’m sure someone, a scholar who has read this text in its original language could answer this much better than I.

Well okay, I’ve told you more or else what you already know.

JEALOUSY: Fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions.

I’d first heard of the difference between envy and jealousy last week in my first acting class. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but when I was reminded that our God is a jealous God… it was very much a do-you-know-what-this-means?!? kind of moment.

Fiercely protective.

See, envy is about possessing that which isn’t yet yours… but jealousy is almost the opposite. Jealousy is about preventing the loss of what you already possess.

Some people will say that God’s most important quality is His love.

Some of you are reading that and thinking, ‘you say that like it isn’t.’

It is important, yes, but overwhelmingly, I think it’s God’s holiness. The fact that He is perfect, whole, complete, set apart. His love for us is an overflow of the love between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again, God doesn’t need us. He doesn’t need our love to be complete, He is complete, He is a community, it’s not like He’s lonely without us.

And yet… He is fiercely protective. Fiercely.

If you look at the contexts of the old testament passages that describe God as a jealous God, it is in relation to idolatry…

If you’re like me, whenever you catch yourself putting anything above God, or putting God under other things, you pray and repent, and learn and grow from that “season.” And growing is good. But then you fall for it again. And again. And again. And you feel guilt, and shame. What’s wrong with me? Why do I keep stumbling, why does this keep happening? Did I not do it right? Did I not truly repent?

And behind those questions is a growing doubt, a seedling of a lie that says that even in Christ you are worthless, beyond saving, and a complete failure.

But God is sovereign. He is true. He is holy. It’s not about us in the slightest.

Once you are God’s, nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

He is fiercely protective. Of us. Our idols, whatever they may be, are under His control, nothing in our walk or our journey or our relationship with God happens without crossing His desk first, so to speak.

Obviously, don’t actively go and sin, but when you do stumble, and we all will, see if you can figure out what God is trying to get at. What I mean is, our stumbling in sin is not a punishment, or ‘haha look how worthless you are.’ It is a tool meant for us to learn. Maybe the first time it’s to learn humility. Then the next time to learn surrender. Then the next time to learn gratitude. Then trust. Not only that, every time we learn a new lesson from the same “exercise,” we often apply what we already learned.

As a result, every time, whether we know it or not, we come out of a “stumbling” learning something, and every time, our Father is using that lesson to protect us in the future. Making us holy. Teaching us, guiding us, to becoming more and more like Christ. Transforming us, rather than condemning us, grace rather than judgement.

He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane
I am a tree, bending beneath
The weight of His wind and mercy
 
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these
Afflictions eclipsed by glory
And I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great your affections are for me
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I’ll Remember You Forever

Re-post. I may have to update this list after I graduate. I’ve had the privilege to learn from exceptional teachers who also happen to be professors.


This article caught my attention:

This kid says she’ll remember this teacher when she’s 75.

Take a look, I’ll wait.

I get the feeling that having a teacher that inspires you is a rare thing these days. I could be wrong. I hope I am. There are the fun ones, the brilliant ones, the lazy ones, the strict ones, and any combination of these labels.

But the ones that you remember forever are the ones that cared – not just about what you did in class, but what you’ll do after your time with them is up. The ones that cared about YOU, mostly academically and often times otherwise. They made that their job.

They’re the ones that even though they had a student label – crazy, harsh, chill, etc. nobody really cared what it was.

I hope that as you were watching the video and as you’re reading this post (if anyone is reading this post) that at least one name comes to mind – one teacher that you’ll remember forever. In a life season where everything is spinning on its head at unfathomable speeds – that is, adolescence of course – I think it’s important, nay essential, to have someone with a true gift for teaching there to keep you focused, to nurture your learning. Not just to discover what you’re good at, but who you are.

They may not realise they’re contributing to your discovery of your identity at the time (or maybe they will). You probably won’t either. I certainly didn’t.

I have no idea what the average number of inspiring teachers people have in high school is these days, but I can tell you that I had the honour, blessing and privilege of 4 of them. And here’s what I learned from each (in no particular order).

MR. BAYAT – Gr. 11 and 12 physics and chemistry.

He was my tutor, and I was jealous of his students at the high school he taught at.
Up until grade 11 physics, school was a blast and a breeze and my biggest fear was getting an 85.

For the first time in my life, I was failing. (On the bright side, pride was no longer much of an issue afterwards.)

My confidence evaporated at an astronomical rate in moles per second and my heart plummeted to my stomach with a force and acceleration greater than that of gravity everytime any sort of evaluation came up.

Like a racing altimeter on a crashing plane, every mark update was painful.

I had never failed a test before. I never had to ask for after school help before. Why was this happening? I failed once and it shook my world. It also seeded my dislike for learning physics and to a lesser degree, chemistry.

My identity was in my marks. Failing once meant that I was a failure. “It’s just one set back” never got processed in my brain. It was inexplicable and illogical and silly, and yet that’s how blindsided I was by it.

Bayat helped me get the grade – I impressed a handful of people with my improvement. He also achieved the impossible by making my least favourite subjects (because they were my weakest) fascinating, if not enjoyable.

But let’s not talk about the academics since, despite my success I remember nothing and am very far away from the academic fields of chemistry and physics. Obviously what I took away from learning under him, was not academic.

Lesson 1: DON’T GIVE UP. Teachers ought to care simply that you learn. Whether it’s from their lectures or your mistakes is irrelevant.

Lesson 2: TALENT can be measured in potential – how far you can go with what you have. Not how you or others judge your performance. You are more than a percentage.

Lesson 3: BE CONFIDENT in what you’ve learned. Defend yourself, respectfully challenge your teachers and your peers, be grateful when corrected. The point is learning.

In many respects, I learned these 3 lessons over and over again from all four of these teachers, every year I had them. Same lessons, different numbers — situations.

MS. GOLDMAN – Gr. 11 English.

She was an LTO, a long-term on-call while my much stricter English teacher was on mat leave.

I was doing alright in 3UENG but not as well as I hoped, in terms of numbers. It’s important to note however that at my high school, an 80 meant you were considered a genius. If not in English language and literature, then in pinpointing exactly what your teacher wants to read amidst an infinite range of subjective interpretation. I’m not sure which type I was. I didn’t feel like either.

Ms. Goldman was a refreshing change after that first half of the semester, and some marks started to climb.

Now, I won’t comment or compare with how the two teachers marked us. Again, what I took away from being Ms. Goldman’s student was not academic.

Like the other three names in this post, the first thing I noticed when she started teaching us is that she genuinely cared about the work we submitted, and how that reflected us as individuals, as a class and as a school.

She was actively participating in this unspoken dialogue, interacting with us on such a level that her students could believe her when she gave positive feedback and trust her when she gave constructive criticism. And we loved her for it.

This is perhaps the strongest theme or trait these four names have in common:

She cared, and that made us care about the subject, our work, ourselves and each other, whether we liked or were good at English or not.

But for me personally, I’ll remember her forever because she embraced creativity and taught and encouraged me to do the same, whether she realised it or not.

Many projects in that class had very little guidelines. It could be as insightfully crazy as you wanted or as crazily insightful or just standard clear and concise.

No matter how you learned, the point was that you learned.

For me, that was writing an 11 page (~12K words) “sequel” to Shelley’s Frankenstein.

I’d been writing stories for most of my life. But this project. The comments she left and the mark I got left me more than chuffed. I was stunned that she actually read it all. But that selfish pride soon faded away. After all, she was just one person.

And yet, one person is enough. It wasn’t the comments or the mark that did it. Anyone can slap a number on something. But when she handed it back to me, her eyes seemed to smile, “I’m proud of you.”

Then my mom read it and said so audibly. She was genuinely impressed as well, unlike some other times, but she’s my mom… So bias is a factor.

Anyway, after that, and only after that, did I actually begin to think that maybe writing was something to consider.

But it was a thought too dream-like to indulge and I didn’t want to admit it to myself. As a result, it took a couple years for me to go actually dive in and go for it. In the meantime, those two years were spent experimenting… literally and figuratively. It was painful. And necessary.

MRS. HEISLER – Gr.10 Math

I realize I’m going in backwards order here. I should correct what I said with Ms. Goldman. She only reaffirmed what I learned with Mrs. Heisler a year earlier.

Much in the same way, those grade 10 “anything projects” allowed me to let my creativity loose.

1. Create a comic STRIP explaining how to solve a binomial expansion.

…I created a 27 page Stargate-based comic booklet.

(She’s a fan, don’t worry.)

2. Create a presentation on how to use the quadratic formula.

…I spent a couple weeks creating an espionage choose your own adventure on Keynote for the class to play, with me as the game master.

I’ll never forget what she told me on the last day of class:

“I would love to open up your head and explore your brain one day.”

It was, and perhaps still is, my favourite compliment I’ve ever received.

learned in that class, and not at all in the conventional way. I learned because I was allowed to be creative without fear. I was allowed, because she was creative without fear. (I still remember some of the many QF songs we heard).

MR. COLLEY – Gr. 9 – 12 Music.

Yep, so this is definitely in backwards order. As my first high school teacher I ever met, this whole narrative might have begun with him.

From the moment I met him, I could tell he was one of the crazy ones. But also one of the kind ones. Then I was a student in his class, and I saw the way he worked. His passion for music, but more importantly his passion for students and their growth, academic primarily, but otherwise as well. (Well maybe not physically. Although he did poke fun at us shorties.)

It was the first time I’d seen anyone fulfilling their calling and it blew my mind. I wasn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last. Secretly, I think it’s why people stay in the music program for all 4 years.

Yeah the marks are easy, the trips are fun, but the rehearsal hours can be brutal – and yet Colley is always, always ready to go. (With his never ending coffee supply of course.)

I can’t speak for the hundreds of students he’s had and whose names he somehow never forgets, but even if I wasn’t a band geek already, I might have stayed just to see what he would do next, how he would do it and why.

There was something different about him. Other teachers care, but he’s next level. He’s genuine, he’s tough, and he’s hilarious. Perhaps the three key things a teacher needs to help students learn and grow in a healthy way.

(Let me be the first to admit that I am no pedagogical expert – these are simply my observations based on my personal experiences)

When I learned that he was also a brother in Christ… Suddenly things made so much more sense, and things clicked very quickly.

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to be Christian to be a great teacher. Many of them aren’t, and conversely, very few who are, are akin to Colley.

What I do mean is that the “why?”s could be answered.

Why get to school before 7 am and stay til 5 to help students? Why listen diligently to all 300+ students play up to 48 scales each? Why push and spur on a student when it would be understandable if he gave up on them?

This is what he was made to do. Encouraging students is his passion, music is his skill. He did not openly preach the gospel, that wasn’t his job.

Instead he taught us to work diligently, to find our passion, to encourage and be encouraged, to build community, and to care and listen to one another unconditionally. What’s more is that he taught us – or me anyway – all this with his actions first, across the 4 years, and his words last, during our last day together as a band.

It was during my one on one sessions with him that he taught me to put my identity in Christ. Not marks nor praise. In Christ alone.

He loved us first, so we too must love others with the same unconditional love that is manifest in how we use our gifts and talents.

Now… I can’t help but feel a bit vain going on about my greatest high school academic successes throughout this post.

So I’ll sum up what the connection between all of this and my life now to show that in many ways, I am indeed who I am today because of these people and their success at what I call real, true, teaching.

Without Mr. Bayat, I would not have the confidence or patience to persevere after a failed script or query.

Without Ms. Goldman, I would not have thought to be remotely capable of writing anything entertaining or worth reading.

Without Mrs. Heisler, I would never have the guts to share my work with other creatives, let alone the more sane people.

Without Mr. Colley, I would not have seen what being the light and the salt of the earth or a calling fulfilled, looks like in real life.

These people and so many others like them need medals for both leading by example and then passing that example on in their students. Who and where would we be without them?

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