Are we sure we understand the concept of "big things for Christ"?Read More
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.
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.
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 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)
We're about to close the first half of our crowdfunding campaign! If you haven't heard, I'm making a record with some amazing musicians and friends, and we're raising money for gear. When you pre-order the record for just $10, you'll get an instant download of one of the singles, "Find You In The Light." We're currently at 12% of our goal, which is amazing! When we first launched this campaign, I was as nervous as ever. Correction: I am nervous! But the response so far has been great, both in feedback about our music and in the generosity of friends and family. We've raised $580 of the $5000 we're shooting for to make this the best record it can possibly be. We actually crossed that 10% mark by the end of week 2!
As awesome as that is, we've hit a pretty big slump since then.
We have barely over a month left to go, so if you can help by preordering our record "Love And Fear," picking one of our perk packages (including anything from downloads to signed CDs, to t-shirts, posters, and microphones), sharing the campaign on social media, and most importantly praying that God will make a way for this to happen and that His will would be done.
As much as we love making music and having fun, though, this is our ministry above all else. We want to reach a world that is afraid by offering them the love of Jesus Christ. We're just looking for the means to do that the best way we know how. :)
ALSO, here's some exciting news! A fantastic friend of mine asked to interview me about the new record. She has an amazing devotional account on Instagram, so head over there and check out @shinejesus_ for some excellent words from the Father, and watch out for the interview, coming soon!
Thanks for all of your support! :)
Our culture hates negative talk with good reason. The world has no need for bullying. But has this thought process gone so far that we are unable to accept and deal with the reality of the darkness?
Ask any scientist. If something doesn't make sense, either your formula is wrong, or you executed it wrong. In the scientific, analytic, performance based world we've always had, it is important to know the difference between right and wrong. Remember how people thought that the sun revolved around the earth? They were wrong, and when someone figured that out, it revolutionized (no pun intended) the scientific world, did it not? Finally, we had explanations for how and why things work the way that they do. Without the understanding the fundamental truths of our world, how can we function in it?
Is it better to preserve our all-important feelings, or to embrace the harsh truth of wrongness in order to find something more reliable? No, this philosophy that "what is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me," simply is not true. Though one's experiences cannot be undone, not a single person's perceptions takes into account every factor, and the whim of no man can undo the nature of the creation. It is arrogant to think that, just as it is arrogant to think that our own ways of thinking are flawless when only the Creator of the universe could possibly shine light on the questions we ask in darkness.
They say you get better as you get older. Wiser, kinder... Really, you just get "er," though. You become more of what your heart desires. It's like that song that becomes stuck in your head. Even though they say you can get it out by singing it or listening to it, most times, it just gets more stuck.
I've always had trouble being myself. It can take on so many forms. I can be a jerk because I don't want you to know how much I care. I can be arrogant because I know how small I am in the scope of things. It gets really bad when I'm convinced I'm going to screw something up. I'm torn between doing anything to get out of a scenario in which I'm terrified to fail, and doing everything I can to keep what I have because of how much value I place on those things. This fear can keep me stuck in a kind of limbo--I don't quite act like myself, yet I don't quite hide myself.
The question I always come back to is simple: which is worse--being myself and living with my failures that naturally come with that, or sacrificing everything that makes me marginally unique for the sake of not making things worse? And regardless of which option my mind chooses, will my heart let me get by with that? Here's an example. I have people in my life who expect/want me to do brainy things with my career. "You should be a mathematician, or design computer applications." Yeah, that's nice. I'm a nerdy guy. I could probably do it. Thing is, I have no desire to do so, nor am I convinced that I'd be utilizing my full potential. I'd be missing something. However, I'm pursuing a career in music. Why? Because that's where my passion lies, and that's where I believe I can be the most effective and do the most good. I have my reasons for that.
What if, however, I didn't pursue a career in music? What If I chose computers or math? Well, there wouldn't be anything wrong with that besides a few things: 1) I'd be defying my conscience, 2) I'd be defying God's calling for me, 3) I'm not the same person when I'm pursuing the head over the heart, caught more in perfectionism than love.
It's never just isolated to one thing, though. This mental limbo is like gravity: it affects everything within that system, only to smaller and smaller degrees as you travel away from it. While I no longer suffer greatly from career choice limbo, I find myself very often in social limbo. I know there are some people who I can be 100% myself around without consequence (or I've just become gradually more apathetic to those consequences); but then there are others whose relationships I value so much that it terrifies me to think that I could say or do something to disintegrate us. While moving on and going separate ways seems to be the modus operandi eventually with most relationships, there are always a few that we shudder to lose. The reason for that is simply that relationships like that are rare, like diamonds in the sand: how does one manage to lose a diamond back into the sand?
So it's worth thinking about to me. Do I build walls and keep people who could come close--keep them at arms length for fear of losing them to time, or do I bite the bullet and love knowing that inevitably I'm probably going to lose them? I think I lose more by creating distance, not calming down and simply taking them in like a breath of fresh air. Still, I find myself caught in the cycle of asking myself these same questions every single time I meet someone who I know could break me, wouldn't, but life might force that breaking upon us. I'm that song, stuck in my own head, looping, repeating, and it's always the typically-brokenhearted second verse that hits me. Why can't it be the bridge? Why not listen to the turnaround?
We're all sinners. We're all liars. We're all afraid of something. Even when we finally choose to follow Jesus in His perfect love, we run into some cycle we've been stuck in since we emerged in this life. Just like open doors are meant to close, though, cycles begin to end. For me, it always comes back to a choice: live alone and lose everything, or love and learn to live fully. Option two is the beginning of the end of my cycle. What's yours?
I may be broken... ...but I am not a failure.
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:
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.'"
A mirror is a place we use to examine ourselves to see if we're prepared to go out, to see whether or not we look decent, be sure the hair is laying right or that you don't still have tomato sauce on your face from that delectable lasagna. It's also a place where we a lot of things wrong with us, question ourselves, and often times can be a source of negative self image (or pride on the flip side, if we're unwilling to see the important flaws).
I've never really been 100% confident in the way I look. I'm always asking for advice on different clothing, different hair. It may be that way because I used to be ridiculed for my face, for my slender figure (which isn't typically a man's desire, but hey, that's the way I'm built naturally). It doesn't help that I'm susceptible to the occasional anxiety attack. I don't know whether they are a result of the ridicule or if the ridicule I used to face simply exacerbated the anxiety that may have surfaced eventually.
About a week ago, I suffered one of these attacks. This one was triggered by my tendency to base my feelings about my relationship with God on my ability to make good choices and also to abstain from sins that are particularly tempting to me. When I have an anxiety attack, the worst symptom I experience is the racing thoughts. They just don't stop. They are many. They are negative. They are violent. The are self-deprecating. They are scary. They are also false. Even if there is something wrong with you, they are false and scary because they destroy.
... But why? Why do these thoughts happen? If God is good, why do I have the spirit of fear? Either one of two things must be true: either God is not good, or someone else gave me the spirit of fear. So I remembered something that I should not have let become trapped in a dark, unregulated corner of my mind: the enemy comes to destroy. Jesus comes to give life! So I prayed, "Lord, protect me from demons, protect me from the enemy."
The racing thoughts dissipated immediately.
I'm nothing special, but sometimes, the enemy tries to put us in a place where we think we're worthless because we're sinners. Jesus begs to differ. He died and lives for us. He knows what we need when we need it, so when we as His adopted and highly dysfunctional kids are scared and need Him, He will step in and say, "Child, I love you, and I will keep you safe from the enemy." I needed to remember that. I needed to be reminded that the One who's in me is greater than the one that is in the world. At that moment, I needed a miracle, and I wanted Him, my heavenly Father, back.
So since then, I've had this thing where I write on mirrors with dry erase marker. I write my sins, insecurities, and my remedy. There's something powerful about that to me. Maybe the words over my reflection help me to see myself in the context of Christ's love and truth. By doing what He did a week ago, He gave me a reason to give back into His Spirit and fight the spirit of fear in Jesus' name, because even though I'd never lost the reasons or lost my faith, I lost my fight and gained some doubts and baggage. But praise God that He is greater than any anxiety and greater than anything I see in the mirror.
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.
Think for a moment about everyone you know or have known and can still recall. Think. Think slowly, clearly, and thoroughly. Okay. Good. That's enough of that. Now comes the difficult part. I want you to pick which one of them most adamantly denies encouragement. Yeah. You've got it. You know.
During high school, I was definitely that kid. Despite constant bullying and exclusion during elementary school, I still had confidence in certain of my abilities, primarily academic. That having been said, between 6th and 9th grade, a transition took place that I didn't understand was even happening, nor did I recognize until recent years. That transition was into self-consciousness. It was the point where the back of my mind slowly began to realize that I was different, and that either made me invisible or a third-eyesore to people. I don't say this to mope, but it truly was the reality in which I lived.
During this transition, what I once perceived as mere perfectionism morphed to become self-enslavement. If I caught flak at some point, I gave myself hell. If I missed a note, I gave myself hell. After feeling that burn for enough time, you start to lose your senses, your nerves, your feelings. What once was self-enslavement turned into apathy, and I was still enslaved.
By the time all of this change had permeated my heart, I was in high school, doing my own thing, taking care of my studies and branching out into fiction writing, music (privately), and a little bit of art (sculpture, painting, etc.), so naturally when a few [crazy] people paid me compliments--well, frankly, I didn't care because there's no way those compliments could have been real, right? Certainly these people were simply setting out to deceive me, yes? But were they?
I remember one specific instance of denying someone's encouragement. More specifically, I remember their reply: "Just take it," said anonymous with a smile.
Those words stuck with me. The skeptic I'd become didn't believe in genuineness, yet aware of [and despite] my skepticism, anonymous insisted that I just take the encouragement and run with it. This person acknowledged that I didn't believe her, yet didn't try to convince me of her transparency, nor did she overcompensate by smothering me with more compliments, nor did she take back the words she said. What really happened is that she saw the bigger picture of who I was and what I was going through (even though she didn't really know specifics nor were we particularly close, but she understood what was happening). This allowed her to truly and genuinely encourage me in the best way. She knew she couldn't force me to believe it, yet she wasn't going to deny the truth, either. That's the bigger picture.
One can only encourage another to the degree to which the other accepts the fact that there are bigger things at stake in life than the problems we face in a day or even a lifetime. If that degree does not exist, our attempts are in vain until the person in question is shown otherwise. In that moment, I was the bigger thing at stake. It was my soul she was after, that also Christ in her was after. I encourage you to recognize something bigger in the moment that you're in, that the truth is the truth regardless of whether or not you believe it. This is true philosophically, scientifically, theologically, but most importantly personally. Take it. Run.