theology

I Don't Care by Michael Nichols

Once upon a time, I found Jesus. More accurately, He found me. After spending a really long time not knowing how much I need Him, I finally saw myself for who I was, and I called out to Him in response to His call to me. That was almost seven years ago. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew that I didn't love, not truly. I knew that in order to love, I needed to accept His. I needed to really believe He loved me. So I did. My whole paradigm changed that day.

That doesn't mean anything else changed. I was already on a trajectory away from Him. I was on a road I didn't belong on. As an excellent Wavorly song says, "Turning around was never so hard til I found us far apart." At that point, I was really far away, heading further, and had no idea which way to turn. Imagine yourself lost on a dark night with a broken light and a broken compass, and nothing but two ears and a voice guiding you home. Even better: imagine yourself in the Millennium Falcon, crashing toward Starkiller Base, unable to pull up, not knowing the defector storm trooper was a janitor and new nothing about blowing the place up.

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I had no idea what was in store. I really didn't. I knew things would be difficult, but I had no clue of the depth of it. I don't remember being as bombarded with temptations and heartaches as when I started following Christ. Yet I don't know that I've seen more personal growth happen in me than when I started following Christ.

I'm not going to blather on about all the things that happened between 2009 and 2013. If you've read my blog before, you know. If you want to know, read it.

In one respect, I'm glad for how far I've come, but it hasn't been without cost. That cost has been my ability to care.

I don't care.

Those are three words no one wants to hear. "I don't care" is giving up. On what? Anything.

Have you been told that before? It hurts, doesn't it? Knowing that you're not seen, not heard, invisible, inconsequential.

I hate that about me, which is great because that means all hope is not lost. But right now, that's a problem. The whole reason I decided to follow Jesus was so I could love, not so I could withhold love in apathy.

I'm not sure entirely how I figured it out, but I suddenly noticed lately how much of what has been happening in my life indicates that I don't really care.

The stagnancy of my romantic relationships?

Because I didn't care about anything beyond the moment, escaping the rest of my life.

My lack of reading scriptures or praying in a meaningful way?

Because I didn't care about anything beyond the moment, escaping the rest of my life.

My isolation from people I claim to care for?

Because I didn't care about anything but my own problems.

My inability to focus long enough to do successful studio takes?

Because I didn't care about them as much as I care about the things distracting me.

My inability to loosen up?

Because I don't care enough about living healthily enough to stop obsessing over the things I want.

My jealousy?

Because I don't care about much else than what I want.

Why I don't try hard enough to change any of this?

Because I don't care to keep failing or hurting, which is, by default, keeping anything good from coming of anything I'm going through.

I don't want to run away from my issues, but I also don't want to run into a worse place. Another song, by Linkin Park this time, says, "Sometimes I think of letting go and never looking back, and never moving forward so there'd never be a past."

Relatable? Too much.

Good way to live? Not ever.

The irony of the whole thing is that we tend to stop caring because of the weight that caring becomes. But to stop caring means your heart has to stop working, and if your heart stops working, you really can't go anywhere. You collapse. You stay where you are. You die.

When you stop caring, you are dead. And it definitely feels the part. At least pain lets you know you're alive, even though it means you're fighting to stay that way. When joy happens, you know you're alive and free.

That's what I think is so powerful about the "joy of salvation" that people talk about. Not only are you alive, not only are you free, but you are now set on a path of becoming more like Christ until His coming, when everything corruptible in us will be replaced with something incorruptible, and we enter eternal life and eternal freedom, where all darkness ends and the light only grows, extending into every corner of creation. It's unstoppable. It's unstoppable good, unstoppable beauty, unstoppable life.

That's something that's actually worth caring about. When we lose sight of that, it's not hard to stop caring about things, especially the more we know about evil and hurt.

I guess that's what I've been missing. With something lasting to care about, whatever else is valuable to us, whatever else brings joy, although temporary, finally gains its true meaning. We finally have a reason to care about it.

A reason to care about him.

About her.

About anyone, anything.

But without context to something eternal, how can anything temporary have meaning?

"Our light affliction, which only lasts for a moment, is working toward an eternal glory that far outweighs anything else. That's why we look not on the things that can be seen, but the things that cannot be seen. Why? Because the things we can see are temporary, but the things we cannot see are eternal." --Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 paraphrase mine)

The Irony of Sad Songs by Michael Nichols

For those of you who don't know, I'm making a record in 2016. I'm really excited. I've spent the past two months recording some basic demos for 14+ songs while I wait for responses from potential session musicians and make plans for the crowdfunding campaign. Since my vocal coach got a hold of me in the beginning, what was once just a passive and casual outlet that was little more than a mimicry of my favorite bands at the time has become something much more.

I've been on one of the longest journeys of my life since the middle of 2009 when my walk with Christ really got underway. But things got especially bad in the beginning of 2011. A lot of the song that are on this record were either written about that time, during that time, or because of that time.

One song in particular has been difficult to write, but was one of the first ones I wrote after probably the most significant event, the one that started the 2011-present time period. I'm not just talking about the song was mechanically hard to write. I'm saying it took everything out of me. I poured out more pain into that song than I've ever poured into any other song.

It's called "Closure (If You're Hearing This)." The whole premise of the song is that after a falling-out, it's really easy to just leave things unsaid in the same place that we leave the people who've hurt us... Okay,  should say that the whole emotional premise of it is that. But the story is bigger.


I believe that we will all stand judged before the Lord one day, and that everything that is hidden will be revealed. So, say that I left things unsaid. If I did, eventually, that truth will be revealed, no matter how hard I tried to hide it. Things left unsaid will be said. That is just when it's the Lord doing it.

It starts out very sober. Single piano hits that hold for a measure at a slow tempo. Lyrics that are very objective, factual, stating the likelihood that she would never hear these words until we were both dead and in God's hands. The "chorus" sees a change in the chord progression, still with the same single hits, same tension, but now posing a question: "Was I wrong to react the way I did? Was I capable of more hate for those who hurt me than I'd previously believed?"

Then the mood changes. The undercurrent of legato cellos, the pulsating beat of the piano, gently, yet tensely. I say how enamored I was to begin with, and how devastated I was at the fact that I was abandoned because of my feelings for her. As the second chorus begins, I solidify with certainty that my pushing her away was the only way to protect what was left of my sanity and self-esteem.

But as the bridge begins, the piano notes ascend, a slower pulse with more suspense, acknowledging that my distress, turned to hate, had turned me into something I never wanted to be. Made to feel despised, I despised everything.

As the bridge begins to build, I exclaim that I felt helpless, without an alternative. I never wanted to push her away or let her go, and that if doing so hurt her, I was sorry, without regard to my own personal feelings.

The ending is a sober plea for things to return to the way they were. The tension lessens, and the tempo slows at the very end. The music itself ends with a bit of optimism, a lot of longing, and no resolution.


 

I began the song in late 2011-early 2012. Even if the story behind the song had not seen two friends reconciled, I'd still have kept the song. I was allowed to feel that pain in order for God's strength to show through an inherently weak man.

As I've begun wrapping up the orchestration to this song, the pain hasn't fully subsided. Memories fade, but never completely. Even healed scars are still visible.

I've found a sweet solace, though.

Sometimes, it's good to think about the past and feel the pain of it so we can remember why it stayed there.

Imagine what it would be like to bury someone alive, who couldn't die. A scene from Heroes comes to mind, in which Hiro Nakamura digs up the grave of Adam Monroe, a man whose superhuman ability to regenerate allowed him to revive on his own upon exhumation. That's what happens when we bury our experiences. It's not really a memory that we've buried: it's us. You can't bury a memory without burying the pieces of your heart that bear its weight.

I think that's what makes sad songs so sweet, ironically. They allow us to open up the ground above us and let in new air, allow the healing of the soul to begin. The tension, the suspense, the animosity, resonates with the parts of us that feel the same way.

But it's not that we listen to songs about pain in order to perpetuate it. It's like magnetism. We use magnets in compasses to tell which direction we're going, because the earth is also magnetic. How else can you find people who are in pain? How can you expect to reach people who are in darkness, yet refuse to acknowledge darkness, refuse to bring light into the dark? It won't just magically show up. They won't simply wander out of pitch black.

Just north of here is Mammoth Cave. On several of the tours, once you're deep enough in, all of the lights that have been installed in the cave are turned out for a moment so that tourists can experience what it might have been like for the original explorers to wander the depths with only a torch. For a brief moment, before a tour guide's flashlight comes on, you experience total blackness. Nothing. No point of reference. No way out.

It's terrifying.

It's even more terrifying that you get used to the dark, so much so that you have to adjust to the light.

It's comforting to hear voices calling out to you, telling you that you're not the only one down here.

It's electrifying to see dim rays of light bouncing around the corner.

It's overwhelming to see a map in the hands of your rescuers.

Songs like "Hymn For The Missing" and "Pieces" by Red, "It's No Secret" and "I Found My Way Back Again" by Nevertheless, "Wrapped in Your Arms" and "All I Need To Be" by Fireflight, "Breaking You" and "Run Forward" by Audrey Assad, and many, many others... they've saved me more times than I can count. Most of my own sad songs, including "Closure," have been the most therapeutic to write. It's one of the reasons I'm so excited to share them with you in 2016.

If you're like me, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. It's okay. If you know the darkness, it's okay. But there is a way out. We're calling out to you. Jesus is calling out to you. He knows. My God, He knows darkness. Let Him come find you. Call back to Him.

Every Thought About Every Person All At Once by Michael Nichols

It's really interesting to see where your relationships with people go. If you're like most people, you see friends, enemies, in between, come and go. Some stay longer than others. Some just go. Some, defying all odds, seem to stick around. It's really cool when that happens. I've been blessed to spend the past almost-seven years with the same group of people consistently in my life in some way or another. My immediate church family is especially hugely important to me, along with a ton of the people I've met as a result of meeting them, even the ones who have moved away or I don't get to be in touch with as consistently. There still always seemed to be consistency there.

It's a fantastic feeling, welcomeness, wantedness, neither of which are actually real words. It's an awesome contrast to my life before. I won't say I had no friends. That'd be a lie, but they were few and far between. I look back on that time, and I'm glad I'm not there anymore. It makes where I am so much sweeter. Knowing that the people you've chosen to surround yourself with don't have some agenda, some mold, some criteria for you to fulfill in order to be kept--people who don't just want to use you--is liberating in so many ways I can't even list them all, and I'm just getting started with the list myself.

Not because intend to be this way, but it's taken me longer to grow closer to some than others. But it's happened, and I'm grateful. These are people that I will cherish for life.

After a while, the people who deserted you start to fade in the glow of Christ in the people who chose to stay. I will always remember the feeling of being alone, and that will be valuable in ministry to people who have felt the way I have, been treated the way I have, and those who will. I'm totally fine with that. It's not that I resent the past. I just have no reason to dwell in it.

The thing about that glow, is that it leaves an impression. By abiding in light, darkness seems darker when it comes, at least at first, if you don't get used to it.

People leave impressions. I'm so glad for that, but the whole idea about an impression is that it stays with you. So when I say that I've got a lot of people on my mind, it's an understatement. It's not that it hurts. It's a beautifully diverse picture full of tons of different people who have each meant something to me. I'm not unaware of the blessing of brothers and sisters that I have.

But sometimes, it does hurt. Eventually, you get around to those people you miss. Sometimes, you miss them a lot. Sometimes, life has you too occupied to dwell on it, which can be sweet relief, but it can make you question how much you care. It probably shouldn't. Or maybe it should. I guess it depends which is actually true.

The contrast between the time in my life before people kept me around just for me, and where I am now, just makes everything seem a bit more vivid. The joy of loving and knowing I'm loved is even clearer because I know what it's like to not know I'm loved, or to know what it's like to be hated, or worse, dismissed and ignored. And with such a vivid joy comes an equally vivid sorrow when those who light your life aren't near.

Don't get me wrong. I refuse to live consumed with either blind joy or blind despair, but they're both there. They're both present at all times, warring against each other. At least that conflict makes sense, even if it doesn't help.

It's times like these that the over-quoted words "the joy of the Lord is [my] strength" (Nehemiah 8:10) pop out of the mouths of people who seek to encourage you. It's good to have people who try to encourage you. They are gold. But I'm not convinced that most people think through the implications of that statement.

A lot of people claim "the joy of the Lord" in an attempt to make you (or them) happy. But that's not what it's really about. The joy of the Lord is not my happiness... okay, sometimes it is. I'm grateful for those times on a level I cannot convey with words. But let's not get it twisted. It can bring happiness, but that's not what it is.

The joy of the Lord is strength. It's not that you feel better, or your situation changes, because you have the "joy of the Lord." It's not a magic, cure-all happy pill. It's strength, meaning that when your mind is in chaos, when your heart is shredded, when you've been betrayed, when you're lonely, when you're longing, when you miss those you care for, when you hurt for those who are hurting, Jesus strengthens you. He stays with you "so that you will be able to bear" the weight you carry (I Corinthians 10:13).

It's okay if it doesn't go away. It's okay to feel joy and pain at the same time. It's okay if you have a lot of people and stuff on your mind. I do. All the time. All at once. And it's actually okay. It really doesn't feel like it sometimes. I don't always feel okay. But even that's okay, because somehow, I make it through, and that is joyous. I know my Father is with me, always, and that good will come of all things that face the people of God.

Accuser Within by Michael Nichols

I've always struggled with risks. I think everyone does, though maybe not as much as others. If I know that there is something to be lost, I don't want to. Don't we all? Whether we acknowledge it consciously or not, we realize that we contain infinite value, endowed upon us by Jesus. We also experience fear when we're confronted with the possibility of loss. Everyone's looks different. Some people are afraid to take risks on career ventures. Others hate the idea of moving away and facing the unknown in that respect. My issue is with relationships, specifically the dating kind.

I'm not the only who has been hurt. I'm not the only one who has been scared. I'm not the only one who gets tripped up on words or will altogether avoid words when nothing seems sufficient enough to make enduring the fear worthwhile.

Unfortunately, inaction, in my case, has led to much, much more pain than action. You know, at least if you get shot down, you know you can change direction. And there can be a lot of reasons for being shot down other than it being, you know, your fault, something you did, something you are, heck, how you look.

But wait! How can you experience pain if you don't take a risk?

I'll tell you.

You see, it's equally as big a risk, if not bigger, to assume that something bad could come from your action, as it is to assume that something good could come from your inaction. I say this not to perpetuate the "follow your heart" mentality that has led modern day culture into a morally relativistic decadence, but holding back what's inside of you because you're afraid you might get hurt is like holding onto fire. You don't get used to it the more you hold it: you simply burn what's left of you the longer you hold it.

You're not protecting your heart by not telling people how you feel. You're actually poisoning it. You can always get back up from rejection, but you can't move past a choice you never made. I've avoided making a lot of those choices, and none of them have made living with the regret of what I might have missed any easier. I can think of a few instances in the not-so-distant past when I could have just told a person how much I cared for them, or let them see more of my real self, let go and just had fun with amazing people, but I didn't. I treated my insecurities as though they were for my benefit, like they could save me from being broken.

In reality, all I did was break myself before I let anyone else get to me.

What really eats at me is that every time, at least for the past several years, I've told myself I would stop avoiding what's inside of me, quit copping out of making the choices that I had to make. "This time" I'll say how I feel. After all, that's all I can do, right? After all, I have no control over what she does with that knowledge, right? And I haven't actually lost anything more than an idea, because until the feelings go both ways, I'm not actually "in love" with a person, right? And it's their problem if they can't get over the fact I might have feelings for them, even if I can get over them myself, right? So knowing all of that should make opening up easier, right?

I haven't. Not once.

Even as I speak these things, I realize I'm just finding more reasons to blame myself, as a dear mentor and friend recently put forth to me. And she was right. I'm not doing this for my own good, at least not anymore. Just the habit of repressing the person that God made you to be, even if you don't acknowledge that you're actually doing that, leads to the belief that God doesn't want good things for you, that you are beyond His love, His grace, a second chance, and that you might not even have any value at all.

Guess what. It's a lie. Your very existence, not to mention the whole truth and message of the gospel, is proof of that.

We all torment ourselves over something, but if it isn't making you a better person, it's not worth it. Whatever you're tormenting yourself over--and it doesn't have to be fear of rejection--isn't worth your time, your breath, your life, if it is a barricade preventing you from growing into the person God made you to be in Christ.

Easier said than done, right?

It's a good thing we have a powerful God going before us. Just trust that. Trust Him. Take a risk. Even if it doesn't turn out the way you wanted it to, let Him carry you to the place He wants you to be, and trust that this place will be a beautiful one.

The Praise of Doubt by Michael Nichols

The story about Jesus calling Peter out to walk with Him on the water is commonly used to tell people to trust God. That's kind of the point, right? But how quickly do we gloss over what's really going on there?

What Peter experienced made absolutely no sense by human standards. We are heavier than water, so we sink. Storms are huge, so how could we be expected to hold our ground within them?

The problem is not that walking on water makes no sense. Jesus is the Lord, right? All things are possible through Him! The problem is that it makes perfect sense, but we believed something else. What doesn't make sense is sin. It doesn't matter if it's the perceivably "little" white lies or the thefts or the abuses or the addictions or the perversions or the violence or the murders or the genocides. It's not just what we do, and it's not just others have done to us and each other.

The adversity for we who now live is that society tells us to question everything, and the fact is that, yes, there really is merit to skepticism, but the amount of that merit is much smaller than we think. Bear this in mind as I speak to you, though: I'm not condoning naively putting oneself in absurdly dangerous situations without a worthy cause.

As followers of Jesus, we believe that everything that we were meant to be is now working in reverse, meaning that we do not live by reason or sanity but rather by lust and psychosis. Our worldview flipped nearly instantaneously in Eden from being sustained by an omnibenevolent God to questioning whether or not His word was true and what He was holding back from us. (Now, whether or not our initial motives were pure cannot be determined, but it can be reasonably assumed that we were as guilty as lucifer of arrogance and lust for power upon temptation.) Now, we live in a world inhabited by three kinds of people: those who prey on others, those who merely try to survive, and those who think that there must be a better option than either.

Jesus is the better option. His death in our place for our sins and His resurrection overcoming the punishment for the same sin is the single most revolutionary act anyone has ever done. Had we never exposed ourselves to sin, this fact would make sense to us all. We wouldn't view the world through the murky lense of fear. The idea that there is a perfect Lord of all would not seem so idiotic, because it isn't! In fact, it makes the more sense than anything in this world! Our problem is that we base our perceptions on what we've seen and heard, and what we've seen and heard is nothing but the evil proceedings from man's heart!

So when Peter was called to walk with Jesus on the water, his lense was already murky. He already had doubts, but they didn't surface until he refocused on how many ways walking on water could possibly go wrong. In a world where man had not chosen corruption, he would have understood and not doubted that this call from Christ were absolutely possible and that it was going to happen.

The real kicker here is that Jesus didn't just call Peter out on the water; Peter asked Him to do it! He already doubted that it was Jesus on the water, but he had learned so far that Jesus had a habit of doing things that were, by human judgments, completely insane! So if Jesus called him out with Him, shouldn't he have understood that it was going to be a little crazy? Yet he doubted Him anyway! I'd bet he didn't mean to do it, but he did. How could you not when there's a hurricane raging around you, right? But Jesus is Lord of the hurricane and the water!

I dare you, reader, to ask God to do something absolutely insane with you, and even more, I dare you to trust Him to lead you in the correct way. It's our disbelief that is insane, not His sovereignty over all things, because the reality is that He is the most sane thing alive.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dy9nwe9_xzw

Arguing and Outreach by Michael Nichols

I just finished watching the new feature film God's Not Dead with a bro from my congregation. I had preconceived notions about what I would see. Most of those notions were pretty awesome. I expected it to be a well-executed movie. I did not, however, expect as much conviction from it as I got.

God's Not Dead, if you haven't seen it, is about a college freshman who is presented with the fearful challenge of defending his faith in front of his philosophy class. The reason? His philosophy professor required all of his students to write the words "God is dead," sign it, and turn it in. The alternative? Defend the antithesis. Argue/prove the opposing viewpoint.

The main character in the story feels that God is leading him to do this and not back down from it. In standing for his beliefs and for Jesus, he was discouraged by most of the people from whom he sought guidance. His girlfriend, one of them, actually broke up with him over it--to boot, she also professed faith, but was convinced that doing this would somehow wreck their future together.

It was a great example of what good can come out of being able to defend your faith. That having been said, watching the professor, who ardently opposed God in all ways, along with the general use of philosophy in the context of the Christian faith, made me think about philosophy's place in outreach.

Parallel to this story were several others being told throughout the film. Many of the stories had to do with people living with the backlash that comes with following Jesus, or conversely dealing with their own doubts and feelings/oppositions about God Himself. In addition, these parallel stories included the hardships that these people were going through. One person had cancer. Another had dementia. The professor--need I say more? Another freshman was kicked out of her home for following Jesus and not recanting. A minister was struggling with not feeling used.

I realize I've given you spoilers. Sorry. But I want to paint a picture for you. These people had real lives. It wasn't just the things they believed about God. They had lives that shaped those beliefs, and in turn their beliefs shaped their lives. Then there was also so much that was beyond their control! Isn't that true of life!

No matter how comprehensively you argue to defend the faith, no matter how convincing your speech is, no matter how many words you put in the correct order--simply put, a person cannot be convinced to believe. They must choose for themselves. That having been said, they're not going to choose something that they don't know about, or something that they believe is silly or bad for them.

We can argue all we want, but are we loving the least?

Are we lifting up the losers in the hallways of the school?

Are we ensuring that people know they're not alone?

Are we willing to sacrifice a little bit of time, effort, or money, just for the sake of being sure that maybe one person gets a meal for the day, or has proof that they really do matter to someone?

Do they know that Jesus died for you?

Do they know that Jesus' love for you has saved your life and given you the ability to live more fully than ever?

Do they know that the same is true of them?

Do they know that He's more than just some idea, but that He is 100% real?

Convincing people of the truth of Jesus is infinitely important...

...But has convincing people of the fact of it replaced our desire to really live it?

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal..."

--Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 13:1)

God's not dead.

Revisited: Identity Crisis by Michael Nichols

What sets you apart? What makes you an individual? What is the basis for your existence? These are all ways we tend to define "identity," that thing that we hold so dear. It's the most personal thing about us. We like to call it the sum of everything we are and the difference between us and those by whom we are surrounded. At some point, and really through our whole lives, we're constantly working out who we are, and it's a necessary thing because we'd go bonkers if we couldn't distinguish ourselves and our lives and boundaries from that of others...

...but is it possible that we've become too concerned about our personal identities?

It's me. It's who I am. It's how I feel. It's what I do. Who are you to question it? (**REMEMBER this question.)

Part 1: The Question

We've all asked that question before, right? Or maybe it was asked of us. Let's be fair though--and I want to be fair for you as well, so you can ask this of those who challenge you. "Who am I? I am me." If you have the grounds as a human being to do what you want, then so do I when I identify us both as human. Consider the playing field level. So identity isn't confined to one and only one individual at a time. Identity is also collective. We can identify with each other. We can also identify too much with each other. That's something we call co-dependence, when we identify so much with someone else that it inhibits our ability to function on our own for sensible periods of time. We can use the same criteria to identify us that we use to identify me.

It's generally not a question of what identity is, but what are its components? What is it made of? What is its substance? Let me be blunt about the subtext of the question: is your identity made up of things that change or things that are constant?

Part 2: Your Identity Rides on Change

If you relate to that initial question, "Who are you to question me?" you probably feel like everyone else has at some point or another: feeling threatened. Someone observes you and probably has some kind of disagreement with you, or maybe a concern for you. If this is how you feel, you may identify yourself with things that change. Not long ago, I published a poll to see what people thought about what makes up their identity. Here are the results:

[polldaddy poll=7784543]

I purposefully selected those things, and left out other things, because the list could go on forever. None of these things are invalidly used to identify a person, but can they really suffice for the core of our identity? I've tried a few of these myself, and though I haven't been alive enough to personally experience them all, I have definitely witnessed them. Bear in mind that I don't make this list to make anyone feel bad. In dealing with my own identity crises, I've had to be extremely honest with myself, and that's why this list exists.

*Impulses and thoughts. (You may only have them for the moment as perspectives change with experience.)

*Substance abuse/addiction. (They always leave you wanting more, but more is never really enough, is it? and what is the cost to having a fuller, more satisfied life by satisfying our addictions and lusts?)

Actions. (You may regret them.)

Tastes and preferences. (They may erode with constant use.)

Physical traits. (Age and accidents happen, as does change in health.)

Personality. (Life events can radically change a person's demeanor and behavior patterns.)

Careers. (They can fall through with or without our consent, with or without the rest of the economy, with or without our health.)

Accomplishments and abilities. (Do they really stack up when death comes knocking?)

*Friends and family. (People change, whether they choose it or not. We are blessed to have them at all, let alone have them around until the day we die.)

Beliefs. (Someone may challenge them, circumstances can make you question them, and you may lose them.)

*Sin and sorrow. (Everyone makes mistakes and eventually sees a malicious side of themselves, and while they do lead to death, often in a slow way, and in both a spiritual and a physical sense, we're not dead yet. That goes for both the sinner and the victim. While we are still alive, there is always hope for recovery and redemption. We also all experience heartache, but I promise that it is not the end-all.)

(*These weren't poll answers.)

It's a lot to take in, I know. Maybe you're also reading this and feeling offended. I'm not one to apologize for the gospel, but if any of that is hurtful to read, I sincerely apologize. That having been said, I hope you will take time to think about that and ask yourself if something you read has some basis in reality. I am not the great corrector nor the judge of anybody: God is. Speaking of Whom...

Part 3: Your Identity Rides on Constancy

If the initial question, "Who are you to question me?" didn't upset you, you may identify yourself with something constant. At this point, though, you may have gotten through that list for Part 2 and had a change of comfort. So here's my only question for you: does your identity ride on something constant?

I'll tell you one thing I've learned in my brief two decades: identifying oneself is exhausting. Circumstances, weather, health, and people are so dynamic, so quickly changed or distanced. The most constancy a person can experience is their own life, and even that is tentative at best, but there is still hope.

Jesus' love, death, and resurrection are a fixed fact, giving hope to those who have a hard time believing it exists. When everything and everyone around points the finger to tell us we're hopeless, there is Jesus, interceding for us and lifting us up by the message of His cross and the power of the Spirit. When who we are crumbles and everything we've known is lost, He IS. He is the one that gives us our identity, and by resting in Him and in His constancy, we find peace for our souls and rest from our fears. Much peace and love to you, readers, in Jesus' name.

"My eyes will flow unceasingly, without relief, until the Lord looks down from heaven and sees. What I see brings grief to my soul because of all the women of my city. Those who were my enemies without cause hunted me like a bird. They tried to end my life in a pit and threw stones at me; the waters closed over my head, and I thought I was about to perish. I called on your name, Lord, from the depths of the pit. You heard my plea: 'Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.' You came near when I called you, and you said, 'Do not fear.'"

--Jeremiah the prophet to Israel (Lamentations 3:49-57)

The Sin of Confession by Michael Nichols

We say that nobody is perfect, and that applies to us, right? Okay. Good. What about others? Do they have to be perfect, unlike us? Are they held to a higher standard by the Lord than we are, are we better than they, or is our perception of equality severely skewed?

I'm by no means saying that we shouldn't fight sin in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that we should try to encourage others to do the same, and be there with them when their sin doesn't cause us to sin ourselves. That would be a lie, and one of the worst. I'm saying that we ought to closely watch our reactions to others who are in sin confessing theirs to us in confidence, and let that be a check against our own.

You have to be sincere about what your truth is before you can sincerely change your own to the one that is truly... well, you get the point.

Entering Rest (1): In Exchange by Michael Nichols

The included video is fan-made, from the film X-Men: First ClassI thought it to be particularly relevant. If you've watched the movie, you know the setup. If you haven't, watch it. It's worth renting/purchase in my own opinion. The scene I'm dropping you into shows you Erik (aka Magneto) drowning in an attempt to take revenge on the people who wronged him and his family as a child. Because he held onto their submarine with such determination to sink it, he couldn't hold himself above water. That's when Charles Xavier (aka Professor X) tries to reach out to him telepathically (oh, wait, this movie is about mutants, which I didn't mention). The phrase he used that always jumped out at me was, "Calm your mind."

Revenge meant so much to him that he was willing to die to administer it. To Charles, however, the life of this complete stranger meant more. Somewhere along the way today, I realized how well this scene represents this passage in the Bible. Matthew 16:24-27 has this to say to all of us: "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.'"

Magneto was willing to die for a revenge that would never have brought him peace in his life. In relating that scene to these words of Jesus, I realize that there are things that without thinking I sometimes seek out in life with a level of precedence that may not bode very well for my soul. I don't say that we should never seek out things in life, but the real question is whether or not they can save us and whether or not they will bring us the truest definition of peace like what Jesus can bring when we follow Him with priority above all else. After all, just like with Erik, that moment of revenge (or whatever good or bad thing you desire) would have only been for a moment. He thought he was alone, and so do we many time, but we are not alone. Jesus goes before us.

Do you think you're alone? Have you been hunting for things that cannot truly bring you peace? What are you willing to risk/lose to acquire those things? What is it that makes it difficult to "calm your mind"?

(CLICK HERE to jump directly to the scene, or watch the full video below.)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpI6lHuzhwo&feature=youtu.be&t=1m31s]