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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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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Joy and Death

November 1st… the day where we enter the Halloween-Christmas limbo period.

I was walking home just now, and passed two houses, side by side. One had the lights and sparkles, red and green decorations, the works. The only thing missing was a pristine, light fluffy layer of fallen snow.

Their neighbours on the other hand had demons in the trees, skulls and monsters in the yard, smashed pumpkin on the porch, cobwebs on the hedges… Seriously, the cobwebs were everywhere, someone went crazy with it. It almost looked like someone toilet-papered their yard.

One house was ready for joy, the other was clinging to death.

This Sunday, Pastor Jacob preached about the joy of repentance, of leaving our sin behind us and trusting in the Lord. Trusting that the good He has planned for us far outweighs the valley of suffering that we may have to cross to get there. Moreover, when we put our trust in Him, the pressure and the focus is no longer on us. Why– how is that a good thing? Imagine it. Our world stops being about us… we can step off stage and just… enjoy. Laugh, cry, connect, be strung along for the ride of what Christ is doing centre stage.

In Genesis 45, after decades of bottled emotions, Joseph sends his brothers back to get their father Jacob in Canaan, to unite the people of God as a family once again. And he tells them, “do not quarrel on the way.” Do not fear, don’t stress, don’t fight.

Jacob fought his whole life for his inheritance, God’s promise to his grandfather Abraham that nations would come from him. But his 12 sons, the nation of Israel was crumbling before his eyes. His first born slept with his father’s concubine, Simeon and Levi slaughter a whole city, Judah sells Joseph into slavery, Joseph’s mother dies in childbirth to Benjamin…

Is anyone to blame? Maybe. But does it matter? When Joseph sends his brothers back, they’ve all accepted that God can bring beauty from the ashes. There’s no need to point fingers, or to wallow in remorse. What’s done is done. What God’s people meant for evil, God meant for good.

So what is this good?

The good is the fact that it’s November 1st. We don’t have to cling to death anymore, it’s time to get ready for joy. Not only is Christmas time the season for joy, it is the celebration of the Messiah’s arrival, the one who takes away the sin of the world, the one who loosens our white-knuckled grip on death.

Colossians 3 invites us to “put on the new self.” In Christ, getting rid of death is as simple as changing your clothes. Or for the sake of this metaphor, as easy as cleaning and redecorating a front yard, because Christ already did the cleaning 2000 years ago on the cross.

In the same way that snowfall covers the city in pure, sparkling beauty, in the same way that it heralds the season of joy and cheer, let us let go of death and find joy in repentance: “Repent and believe the gospel, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”

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P.S. Oh, and move over Pumpkin Spice Latte… bring on the Peppermint White Hot Chocolates!!

Roller Coaster Week: Blue Jays, Midterms… Wait, It’s Over?

It’s been quite the ride.

I jumped on a bandwagon (LETS GO BLUE JAYS), stayed ahead of a wave (of midterms and assignments)… and now I’m not quite sure what to do on the shore.

For those of you still hanging on, I promise I still have work and assignments to do… just not what some call “hell week.”

ALDS, Game 5, Bautista bat flip… I was hooked. Before that, I couldn’t care less about baseball. Then the game was explained and I marvelled at the amount of strategy involved… it really is a mind game. Followed it through the Championship Series… and I’m still feeling the let down that it didn’t turn into Game 7, let alone a World Series.

At the same time that the ALCS was going… so were midterms and midterm-equivalent-assignments. I was wired in and out of class… Not at all a healthy thing. On top of my usual sleeplessness, I could hardly celebrate finishing one midterm and/or assignment before I had to start thinking of and planning for the next. And when I wasn’t, there were the Jays.

For some the following will be heresy… but maybe for me, it wasn’t such a bad thing that we lost… the spell broke and here I am blinking in the sunlight wondering where the last week and a half went.

These games turned me into something I never thought I would be… a sports fan. Maybe not the super crazy ones, but crazy enough to feel every out like a ball to the gut. Crazy enough to scoff at the opponent team’s despair. Crazy enough to cheer for a team I’d only been with for a week, and study all the terms and the players (alongside my midterms).

This wasn’t me, was it? Since when did I care about a game?

As for midterms… this is the first time where because of the back-to-back nature of my schedule, I basically had to cram every night. I’ve never crammed before, so that was a learning curve in itself! By God’s grace, I still did well… but marks are still coming in. All week, I was stressing over what’s done, what’s next, what’s ahead… just survive until Friday and I’m home free.

Well… it’s Friday. No Jays. No midterms.

I’ve forgotten what it was like to breathe. I’d forgotten what it was like to rest. I’d left peace and joy that surpass all understanding for… fandom — tension and anxiety.

Now that it’s over, it feels like the room was flooding, and just before I ran out of air, someone slammed the valve shut. It’s been a week of so much noise and panic, that the quiet sounds suspicious.

But in the quiet, is a still small voice of graceful intercession.

Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Matthew 24:35

It’s over. Jays, midterms, adrenaline, stress, anxiety. No screaming, pounding fans, no profs and TAs telling me how much time I have left. Just a still small voice.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. 

Psalm 46

A very present help in trouble… infinitely more present and more help than seeing a win for the Jays. Though that would’ve been nice, what would it have really accomplished?

The nations rage… sounds like the jays fans. First a bad call on an inference homer, then a bad call on Revere’s strike.

He utters his voice, the earth melts… can I just let that sink in? And then, He is with usHe is our fortress? It’s such a silly thing to forget. How can we forget that God is on our side? The Jays lost… when did that become such an important thing to me that losing hurts? When did losing Jays glory matter more than forgetting God’s glory?

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. Put down your bats. Put down your gloves. The look on some of the Jays’ faces at the end of the game was… heartbreaking. They’ve traded their life for the game, a career that will be over once they get an injury or turn a bit older than 40. They don’t exactly have a lot of time to make the most of. They fought, they lost, it’s over… but what about us? What pointless war are we fighting? What are we wasting energy on?
Be still, and know that I am God. Stop. Breathe. Listen. Slow down. Look around. The games will end. The deadlines will pass. The grades will come in. He’s already fought for you, for our side. And he’s already won, his voice melts the earth, he disarms the enemy no matter where he goes. There’s no need to play “the bottom of the 9th.”
The past few days, my mind has been racing from one thing to the next, and now that I’m forced to stop… it’s almost like mental whiplash. So it’s time to rest. Time to recover.
Kinda something like this.
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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.

1100

To Boldly Go

This weekend I got to see the KWS (Kitchener Waterloo Symphony) perform Michael Giacchino’s fantabulous 2009 score to Star Trek… LIVE to projection.

Needless to say as a band geek and a fan (I love Star Trek, but I’m nowhere near the Trekkie levels of fandom to name myself among them), it was the most fun I’ve had in a while.

Having the music component performed live to a screening of the film brings about a whole new dimension to the experience, an immersion that I think surpasses IMAX 3D. The soundtrack is the audience’s entry point to the soul and emotions of the film, telling the stories that can’t be seen or spoken.

Those gorgeous horns heralded the main theme as the logos went up and I knew I was in for an experience. You could feel the rush of wind whenever the Romulans made an appearance because the low end brass and percussion “punched it.” The strings made my heart strings weep during all those emotional moments (Labor of Love, Head to Heart Conversation…) Don’t forget about that harp either.

Everything about the movie just seemed heightened. There’s a common misconception that the soundtrack is subservient to the film, but it really isn’t. Audio and video complemented each other, the score and film working together as one to form the narrative, neither ever overpowering the other. Of course, during the credits when there’s not much to see other than names, the score is free to shine and the symphony took us where no one has gone before. More on this in a bit.

As was tweeted about the show, “goosebumps and tears are not optional.”

Ever since the development of the film and cinematic industry, theatre has always prided itself in the live aspect of that medium since it is the one thing film can never capture. The ephemerality, the proximity and the humanity of a live performance is completely unique and can never be replaced or digitalized in the same way that other mediums have undergone. Watching a film live on set would not heighten the art of film, in fact it might take away some of the magic. Live music on the other hand… I wish I could see every movie like I saw this one. You get the stunning visual effects of film that can never be seen on stage, but you also get the intense presence of a live performance that makes theatre unique. A big world on screen deserves a big sound that recordings and surround sound fall just short of, now that I know what I’ve been missing out on. It is a wonderful, dare I say perfect, marriage of filmed and live media; the best of both worlds.

This post was originally just going to be raving about the performance as an attempt to live in those memories just a bit longer, cement them while they’re still fresh, and wade in the tides of nostalgia before moving on with life. But of course, as I started writing, a “nugget” materialized and this beautiful relationship between score and film struck me as an uncanny analogy for complementarian marriage.

Not egalitarian. When it comes to marriage, I am no feminist. A bold thing to say in this age of sexual revolutions.

Let me say this before I go any further: neither man nor woman has the right to abuse the other in any way, in any kind of relationship. Ever.

But should the woman serve her husband? As the score serves the film. If the film overpowered the score, we would miss out on that musical narrative. If the score overpowered the film, we would be incredibly distracted and missing the point. It’s a strange paradox to explain… both score and film are needed to effectively tell the narrative, but the priority of focus should always be on the film, the main vehicle for the narrative. They are not equal, but the score is not the film’s handmaiden either. The film and score work together as one work of art, and they enhance each other in different ways, bringing the other to its full potential.

Personally, between listening to a score before and after seeing the film, I have always appreciated the score even more afterwards. Recalling the emotional images paired with the moving music simply makes for a better listening experience. And of course, watching a film without the score, sound effects, or sound at all, is simply pointless.

In the same way, the man should be over the woman like the film is over the score. Once in that covenantal relationship, they need each other as desperately as film and score need each other. They can no longer be separate, they are one masterpiece, one flesh. As soon as one overpowers the other, it’s game over. After all, the score was designed and created to help the film.

Am I saying then that women were designed and created to help the man? It’s scandalous and easy to get twisted, but yes that’s exactly what I’m saying. But again, this is no excuse to allow any abuse. The score doesn’t take orders from the film, but rather from the one orchestrating this marriage of mediums. Both visual and aural answer ultimately to the director, who ensures both arts blend harmoniously to tell a single story. Both man and woman answer to the One who brought them together to reflect a single love story: Christ and the church, His bride, for whom He died.

I will take the analogy further. When the film is over and gives way to the credits, it’s giving way for the score to shine and get the last word. God calls the wife to respect her husband enough to serve him for the rest of their lives, but He also calls the man to love her enough to die for her as Christ died for the church.

It’s three-fold: film and score, man and woman, Christ and church. An analogy for an analogy for the greatest story that has been, is and will forever be echoing across time. Indeed, the greatest story ever told. May we boldly go and proclaim it.

1100

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
1100

Come Stay and Come Fail

What is school for? Wisdom or information?

As much as it ought to be wisdom, we get the ironically less useful information. It’s right or it’s wrong. You know it or you don’t. You remember it or you don’t. It’s acceptable or it’s not.

But at the end of the day, or the course, what did you learn other than memorized facts?

Now, facts are good. and essential in some careers. However, there are others where facts are important, but not essential. In either case, wisdom and life’s lessons, are far more useful and applicable.

With information, success is getting the right answer, with wisdom, success is learning from failure.

Learning from failure means we are free to fail. Free to struggle. Encouraged to try, and keep trying, to keep learning the same lessons in different ways over and over again. What an education that would be if every course could be like that. We’d be free of pressure, we’d be free to innovate, we’d be free to express, we’d be free to discover.

It’s a paradox that I wish more teachers, mentors, etc. understood and applied. Tell students to succeed and they will find themselves failing. Tell students to fail, and they will find themselves succeeding.

It’s not about setting a low standard so that more students “succeed.” It’s about extracting wisdom from whatever situation. If you “failed” and got the wrong answer, what lesson did you learn? If you “succeeded” and got the right answer, what lesson did you learn? In that way, the grade or metric or evaluation almost comes before the lesson.

After class today, my music shuffled to Scars by Colton Dixon and the chorus was quite fitting:

Today’s another day, to learn from our mistakes, knowing that we’re not forsaken. They give life to where we’ve been, when we fall and start again, scars remind us who we are.

After discussing wisdom vs information in class, and then hearing the song, and then remembering what the song is really talking about — that is, the the gospel — a connection was made.

In my experience, the best teachers don’t care about what you got on a test or an exam, they only care that you learned the lesson they were trying to teach you. Imagine you were guaranteed a 100% at the beginning of a course – you didn’t earn it, it was given. Striving for perfection isn’t the point. Learning and a willingness to learn is the point. If you got it right away, fantastic. If it took you a few tries at first before you got it, great.

In this class, the first three important things we were given was a good grade guaranteed, an invitation to stay and a mission to learn something more valuable than facts: how to think and how to change the world.

Those who left, turned down the opportunity to wisdom and steps toward self-actualization. Those who stayed, don’t necessarily make the best looking collages or videos, but what is that compared to knowing and embracing our identity a little better?

Not only that, but the small handful of us in the course get closer to each other with every pressure-free attempt we make. We naturally want to encourage each other because we all know none of us are good at this since a lot of it is brand new to us. We don’t celebrate the product of our projects, but the thinking behind it.

Now from the outside looking in, you would think a guaranteed good grade should be incentive to not bother going to class, and yet we all keep coming back week after week, night after night, not because we have to but because we want to. We’re hungry for this “wisdom” that is so different from the unsatisfying and draining amounts of “information” we’re forced to digest everywhere else.

So where do the parallels align?

God demands perfection, but we can’t overcome our imperfection. What Christ’s death on the cross in our place is, is the free 100%, given not earned — His perfection for our imperfection. He invites us in and says if you take it and stay, you’ll get so much more than the 100%.

Those who choose to leave get nothing, those who choose to stay and learn, practice how to think about people differently, how to see through Heaven’s eyes, how to change the world because of the change within us. Of course, practice means failing and learning from our mistakes, and it’s this learning and growth toward godliness that is the real treasure.

So when we fail and sin, we’re caught in a grace that says don’t worry about your grade or your standing, that’s been covered. Just get back up and try again. Also, if you see a brother or sister in Christ, someone else in your community, fail, it becomes natural to encourage them with the same words.

And finally, why not get up and walk away? Because walking away means going back to the emptiness of what the rest of the world has to offer. Once you taste wisdom and truth like this, there’s a hunger that keeps bringing you back.

So the invitation to the cross (and THST 2450) is here: come stay and come fail. It’s worth it.