"He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." ~Jim Elliot

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Improved or New?



As my girlfriend, Megan, and I sat together on the couch last night, an interesting report came on the news. It was Fox News interviewing Joel Osteen in lieu of his new book titled Break Out, which is already a bestseller. Any time Joel Osteen's name is mentioned, my reaction is to sit up straight, put my thinking cap on, and listen. And I do so because I believe he does as good a job as any at opening wide the gates of hell to all who will listen.

It's not that Osteen's message is lies through and through. It is sprinkled, battered, and coated with strong biblical truth. But the core of the message is poison. His gospel is not a gospel of complete transforming power - it is a gospel of self improvement. It is the realization of potential already inherent within every human being.

And since I've been meditating on Romans 1:16-17 this week, I began to think about what the gospel does to us. Is it the power of God to make good people better? Or is it the power of God to make dead mean alive, to make sinners saints, to make old people new? Does God stop at improvement? Or does He make the children He chooses into new creations?

The New Testament is packed with illustrations that answer this question. And the Bible states in clear terms that we once indeed were "dead in [our] trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). Part of the glory of God in the gospel is the truth of resurrection. And it is also transformation:
Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26).
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Cor. 5:17).
Before we say anything about "better," let's talk the gospel. Let's talk about a God who took us when we had nothing to bring to the table and made us new creatures in Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 13, 2013

He Gave

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him should not perish
but have eternal life.

Even before the foundation of the world, He saw the catastrophe. When there was nothing, perhaps that Father looked into His Son and presented the eternal plan to hear His dear child say, "Father, Your will be done." The grandest scheme was about to take place. The stage - planet Earth - was set.

And thousands of years later, the fullness of time came. The Father looked into a broken world and sent a Remedy. He looked into sinful mankind and sent them a Savior. He beheld a sick, lost people; He sent a Healer and a Shepherd. Out of the darkness, Light shined.

And on that hideously wonderful night in Bethlehem, God committed a crime for the ages: He sent His dear Boy - God of God - to become man. "He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted." And one day this baby Boy, who was - and is - the hope of the world, would be pierced through and crushed, bent and broken for our sins. This is the gift.

Yes, that night God flooded the world with His grace. He did the unthinkable, the unimaginable. He loved. And in His love He gave.

So let us, with hearts full of joy and praise, also give. Let us give of our hearts and souls. Let us give of our very lives - our own selves. All we are and all we have, let it be His. For in His mercy He gave His all for us; in our worship we give all we are for Him. Not because He needs us, not because we deserve Him, but because He first loved us. 

Because He gave.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

RE: A Round-Up of the Holy Hip Hop Squabble

The following is a link to Thabiti Anyabwile's response to a recent panel on reformed rappers. Having watched the video I was greatly disturbed and upset as a close listener to Christian hip-hop. Let it be said, however, that I am thankful for the public apologies that have taken place since this panel happened.

A Round-Up of the Holy Hip Hop Squabble

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks for Secured Blessings

Today is the day we gather with family to fellowship and eat. We enjoy our abundance of supply, and we enjoy each other. We relish the cooler weather that so permeates the memories from this time of year. We enjoy a day off. We enjoy football. We enjoy shopping. Today we are thankful for all these things.

But let us never forget that it is today that we have an opportunity to be thankful to God for loving the world and offering His Son. We are thankful because Christ gave. He gave in His live, and He gave in His death. And because He gave, we live. And we give. We give thanks to Him for all He has secured for us in securing the most important thing - our salvation in Jesus Christ that we may know Him.

Romans 8:32 (HCSB)
He did not even spare His own Son
but offered Him up for us all;

how will He not also with Him grant us everything?


Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hosea 1

Perhaps this is a cheap way of coming up with a post, but work has been quite the time-consumer lately. I realized today when I was emailing a friend that it had been quite a long time since I put into words what God had been showing me directly from His word. And that is sad because the main reason for that is that my time in God's word has not been consistent or deep at all lately. So yesterday I started Hosea, and these are some of the things I found:

Right now I am studying Hosea, which is a really interesting book. Yesterday I read chapter 1 about Hosea being commanded to take a whore for a wife and have "children of whoredom." It's amazing to see so much of God's anger and mercy in one passage: He never excuses the guilty, [and yet] He adopts illegitimate children. I don't know how all that works exactly - I'm just glad He does. Because I was an illegitimate child, and He adopted me into His family.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Found and Forgiven; Fondled and Free

Romans 8 is perhaps the most comforting passage in all of Scripture for me. It reminds me who I am and who God is. It tells me what the Holy Spirit is doing and what Christ as done. It shows me that I belong to God - and He fights for me and blesses me and gives to me. He loves me. It challenges me in light of these things to battle my sin and conquer. It consoles me in that it affirms that through Christ I am already a conqueror. It says, "Kill your sin," and when I fail as I so often do, it says, "You are free. There is no condemnation for you."

And in light of these things, we can take heart that there is nothing in this world or the next that can sever us from God's presence or separate us from His love. Our God is for us!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Battling Uncertainty and Unbelief

Everyone thinks God is good until life is bad.

Perhaps you are in a place similar to the one I find myself in these days. School just doesn't make any sense. The job is tough. Your relationship is falling apart. One more shred of bad news came today. Yet another bill. The doctor still doesn't know. The car is falling apart. You're betrayed, rejected, ignored - invisible. You're lost, and there's no map. No clear sense of direction. No understanding of purpose. No clear calling. Nothing.

This is going to sound like the end of a writing because I do not yet have a beginning. That part has not been written in me yet. All I know is this: hardship is the test of obedience. Even in our most difficult circumstances, we must remember that God is not a man like us. He does not waver; He is not prone to change. He does not base His decisions on a moment but on the eternal wisdom He possesses.

(You don't have to know. You don't have to understand everything. You don't have to have an extensive game plan. Just hold on for the ride. One day everything wrong will be made right).

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

1000 More Reasons to Love Arizona (Photos)

Good news - it's finally cooling down here in the Valley! Autumn here certainly doesn't feel the same as that in Indiana, but Arizona has a beauty of its own. Enjoy the pictures.





 Reason #1!







Ok, so maybe this isn't a reason to love Arizona. It's
just some photos from my root canal. As you can see,
the oral surgeon did fantastic work.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Home

Romans 8:23
And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

"If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the most logical explanation is that I was made for another world." ~C.S. Lewis


This blog was born out of the realization that though there is much change in life and though I am bound to changing circumstances and locations, this world is not my home. Right now I'm away from home. Understand this please. I'm in my house on Poinsettia Drive. And I'm in the house of an earthly body. But I am not home.

This summer and fall has thrown me many curve balls. New location, new job, new church, new friends, (soon) new school - new life. And it has terrified me. For the first time in my life, I have come to the realization that I am deeply afraid of many things. And for yet another time in my life, I am awake to the paralyzing pain in our world today.

It's not just angry customers that scare me. It's not just uncertainty. It's not just transferring. It's not just a shooting in Washington. It's the weight of it all. When all of these ingredients are mixed into a drink, the cup becomes utterly bitter, almost impossible to swallow.

This is my burden. This is my mountain. These are my tears. This is my present death. It's my groaning.

There are some days I do not know what to do. All I can do is cry out to God for His grace and fall at the mercy of Christ. And it is on days like these that I come to the end of all hope in this world, and here I see that I was not made for this world at all. I was made for - and in sorrow and expectation I yearn for - a different world, a heavenly city, a place prepared, a weight of glory.

And that place is home.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Always Learning, Never Arriving

2 Timothy 3:1-7
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Long ago as I thought about this passage I was greatly convicted about that final verse. It had my spiritual wheels turning, and lately I've been coming back to a realization of the truth of the statement here.

Christians like me are really good at learning things. We read our Bibles every single day, we go to church every Sunday, we ask deep questions, and we read good books; and we may even pray from time to time. All of these are critical to the growth of a believer. They are essentials, and learning is a necessity for every child of God. But it is not an end in itself.

A drug addict can learn that what he does is wrong and still be hooked. A cutter may discover that God does not delight in self-destruction and still be a cutter. A prostitute may be taught that it is wrong to use the human body for immoral purposes and still continue in her sin. A porn addict may know that adultery is wrong and still be a porn addict. A drunkard may see that drunkenness is dissipation and still be a drunkard. A hedonist may know that his pleasures will never be satisfied until he places them in God and still be a worldly hedonist.

And all of these kinds of people, regardless of specifics, may truly and sincerely desire to be free from their sins and yet continue in them. Many people go to hell that way.

I do not want to be the next tragic story in the line of fallen people.

What God is teaching me now is this: yes, I may have been learning for the past five years that His followers are to make disciples, but if all I do is learn and take no action I would be better off not knowing. I may know full well by now that the greatest commandments are to love God and to love my neighbor as myself - but if I do not love God and do not love my neighbor as myself my learning is in vain.

You can preach all you want. You can sit and listen all day. But do not be deceived into thinking that we can sit around learning all day and do nothing with the tools we are given. The Bible was not written only to be memorized - it was written to be obeyed.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Monsters

Though it is a rare occurrence, every few seasons it seems that I have a dream that reminds me of the inhumanity of humanity. Such was the case last night. (Suffice that to be descriptive enough).

Today I am reflective of something I read a while ago: "Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive" (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity). A similar concept applies to common thought about humanity: everyone says there are bad people, but no one who says so thinks he is a bad person.

Christians who read something like that and immediately direct their minds to criminals are a prime example; we make wonderful hypocrites. Mormons think they are good, Jehovah's Witnesses think they are good, Catholics think they are good, Muslims think (hope!) they are good, atheists think they are "good" - and so forth.

A father's thoughts about his son who beat up a child is another strong example. How one's kid can gang up with two friends and bang up a smaller kid and one can still say, "He just got in a bad crowd," is beyond my mind.

Something we must all understand about the human nature is that it is in many ways like the nature of a beast. And something I must understand is this: I am a monster. Because of sin, I have the potential to do horrendous things. There is no such thing as a good person, and I am no exception.

And this is the state we were all in when God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to die for us (Jn. 3:16). It happened while we were still helpless; it happened while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:6-8; 1Tim. 1:15).

For as long as man denies this, man will be a kind of sub-man. Not an evolutionary genius - a degraded monster. There is only one antidote; there is only one hope.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Pain

Recently I had a friend tell me that basically he was not doing well at all. Reading the Bible has become a burden, prayer has faded away, fellowship is nearly non-existent. It all feels old, and it seems so hard now. The days of peace and praise have vanished. Difficulty has come.

The only purpose this post serves is to say this: I'm there. I know. It is hard. All I could say in response was, "Yeah, life stinks." And it does because it is filled with much pain and heartache, passionless wandering and endless distraction. Days are only good when they turn to evening and they can be slept away like a bad dream.

But there was one more thing I told my friend in response, and I've been preaching it to myself a lot lately: whatever happens, don't give up. You don't have to love life right now or act like everything is fine. But whatever you do, just hang on. One more day. One more hour. One more moment. One more breath. Some way - somehow - God is in this moment. Somehow it will all be okay. Somehow everything will turn around.

And all the pain will be gone. 

You will sing again.

Just hold on.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Live to Please

This year has been anything but normal for me. It has held little rhythm, and at times, it seems, little rhyme or reason. But through all of the changes and uncertainties, surprises and Surprise (AZ), trials and triumphs, God has taught me many lessons. The core of it is simply this:

That life is hard but He is good, that the world is rich but the riches of His kingdom are greater, that my kingdom is vain but His is glorious. And that though I am weak, He is forever strong. And by His grace He has made me strong in His Son.

I get so consumed by the pressures of life that I often forget who God is and who I am in Him. I spend so much time thinking about myself that I lose my ability to see Christ as beautiful. I look so much at my own failure that I fail to see the victory I have in my Lord. I forget.

But all the while, my God stands in His beauty and glory. He reigns high above me and follows me everywhere. He is the defense before me and the power behind me, the shield above me and the strength within me.

If all else fails, I want to know God. Even if I don't get a college degree or the career I want, even if the sky pours down rain, even if my attempts to fulfill my ambitions come short - my soul is placed within the hands of God: recklessly surrendered on earth, safely sealed in Heaven.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

New Poetry

A few days ago, I began work on my latest poetry project which I am calling Strong. I thought it would be appropriate to share a part of this with my readers:


Prayer Under the Sun
09.23.13

You said You’d make me forever strong
Until the day You’d bring me home,
But now those days seem so far gone
As I’m stuck here waiting -
Not resting but wrestling
And biting the invisible hand that sustains me.
God,
If this is a lie
And I was played this whole time,
Kill me now.
Whoever or whatever you are -
Kill me now.
I don’t want to feed on a strength
That isn’t there
Or be brave because I think someone or something makes me so.

But if this is real,
If this is true,
If You are God and Jesus is Lord -
O God,
For Your own name
Intervene on behalf of one too small to be lauded by this world You made,
Too weak to stand on his two feet,
Too lost to come around again,
Too poor to pick himself up.

Give me the power of Your Son
Like no other name under the sun,
And let the calling of You,
The very mention of Your name,
Cast out every demon or fear
That would destroy me.
Show me peace.

Make me humble -
Make me strong


No matter what I believe
Or how I doubt,
Where I walk
Or when I stray,
Where I stand
Or how I fall.

Get me through this -
Get me home.



Sunday, September 22, 2013

Satisfy

Of all times to say this, I did not think I would say it now. But I am bored. Seriously. This week was, for the first part, one of the most stressful and challenging weeks of my life. College plans are falling through and being remade. Work offers me transitional times. And apparently five of my teeth need attention - major attention. But all this is not enough when I come home. There is a restlessness which I cannot shake.

Most of Saturday was spent not in things of little value. Much internet, much texting, much TV. Little meditation, little prayer, little Scripture. Things ought not to be this way. My excuse was that Leviticus is a challenging book to read all the way through. So maybe it is. So what? Well, I took a break and looked at a passage of my choice which I thought would help. So far so good:

Luke 10:38-42
Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”


I am quite sure Martha was a lot prettier than I am, but I make a better Martha than Mary. 

Distracted. Why does that one word get me every time my eyes come to this passage? Because it describes me. Give me anything but sitting silently and listening. But this is what I need.

"We fall down,
We lay our crowns
At the feet of Jesus
The greatness of
Mercy and love
At the feet of Jesus...

No more fears
You've dried our tears
At the feet of Jesus
Grace abounds
To all who've found
The feet of Jesus"

~"We Fall Down"

The reading from Isaiah 55 in the first service this morning only acted as a reminder of this simple truth: all but Christ fails to satisfy. Happiness may be found in but a moment in other things, but it is found for all time in the Lover of my soul.




Saturday, September 21, 2013

Never Quit

Take a listen¹:




Sometimes I feel like this is me. I get so frustrated by my distance from all substantial reality and any sense of normalcy that I want to yell or throw my arms in the air; usually I just end up rubbing my hand down my face. This is one of those times.

The other day these words came out as an attempt to describe the feeling:

"All my brokenness in one room:
The snapping of joints,
The black, the bent back,
Hurt -
I'm gutted...

All my passion in a city:
The lack of sleep,
Yelling, the swelling,
The sores -
I'm shattered."²

These are the days when life hurts the most. Things keep getting harder and harder, and there are even moments when there is no visible hope. But for every moment of being downtrodden, I find one more ounce of energy to press on. So I do. Giving up in life is not an option. Looking inward all the time and pitying self will only cripple me; looking to the hope God gives us in salvation in Jesus' name is the remedy.

Don't give up.

"You gave it all you had
When all was torn from you,
And when it all was lost
Hope restored your view -
Never give up on it
When life is all but gone.
Conquer every death
And wait for the dawn."³

Today is just one day. The season will soon be over. Don't quit right before the relief comes.





Footnotes:
1. Barnes, Michael. So Far Away. Perf. Anthony Armstrong, Randy Armstrong, and Joe Rickard. RED. Rec. Feb. 2013. 2013. CD.
2. Ross, Jonathon M. "All My Anger." (n.d.): n. pag. Rpt. in Waiting for Dawn. By Jonathon M. Ross. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 38-39. Google Drive. Web. 20 Sept. 2013.
3. Ross, Jonathon M. "Wait for the Dawn." (n.d.): n. pag. Rpt. in Waiting for Dawn. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 40-41. Google Drive. Web. 20 Sept. 2013.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Thorns

8/12/13
Hosea 13:12-14; 6:1-3; John 1:14;
Isaiah 53:5-6; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57

Iniquity is full and bound
In those whom it has been stored,
And lo, the LORD has come and found
This sin; and till wrath is poured
No man will escape his own death.
None will overcome the grave.
He will lie down in his last breath,
None to ransom, none to save.

The pains of childbirth have come -
Foolish sons will pay their plight.
None can delay this op’ning womb -
Mercy hidden from God’s sight.
May all wrath come with screams and scorns
And with it full justice bring:
“O death, where now are all your thorns?
Now, O grave, where is your sting?”

Come, let us return to the LORD;
He has wounded, He has torn,
But lo, the day we are restored
Will come and remove the thorn.
Let us press on to know His way;
After two He will revive,
And raise us up on the third day
To Himself show us alive.


Our Lord has taken flesh and died -
All our sins laid on the son -
And now God’s wrath is satisfied;
Through Messiah we have won!
And when removed are all the scorns,
When renewed is everything:
“O death, where now are all your thorns?
Now, O grave, where is your sting?”

Friday, September 6, 2013

Life is purposeless, and the only thing that can give life purpose is the thing that defeats death.

West Poinsettia Drive is about to sleep - even on this Friday night. All that remains is a few late partying people and some nostalgic streetlights. It is 11:04 and the Ross house is in utter silence. Only one young person's sporadic typing on a small laptop accounts for the sound inside. There may be a cricket or two out back next to the pool.

I have just returned home from a neighborhood Kohl's and Wendy's trip - those are great places to have next door, by the way. It is a somber night. Strolling through clearance aisles leads me to wonder why I even want things. Am I enjoying God's gifts through prayer or am I hoarding them through selfishness? Yet another broken cistern.

Today was crappy. I don't say that word much, but it has come to my mind more recently than in the past. After all, dropping five pounds of one of your store's most expensive products (that was a few days ago) isn't exactly a great thing for your inventory. Were I at my job for hours and money only, it wouldn't be much of a problem I suppose. But manager's are entitled to care.

Downtown Phoenix is a beautiful sight; it certainly was on the way to Mesa this afternoon. What an enormous, spread out city. There are so many people and buildings; I love that sight; I love the sounds. Well, kind of. The beauty of it all is minimized when there is a long drive home and miles of traffic backed up on I-10. How many people did I cut off today?

And as long as I'm writing obituary-like blog posts, why was I stretching pizzas for two hours in a store I don't even work at?

Okay, I'll settle down now, for myself at least. What is the perspective I have gained from living through the past two weeks? There is one simple answer, and I am more than happy to share my wisdom with the people who may read this blog: life is stupid. It's pointless. We live, then we die, and we might get a good haircut somewhere in between. People cut you off in traffic, cats pee on the carpet, and occasionally your fifth grade teach points her long bony finger up in the air.

The teenager working the drive-through at Wendy's accidentally rang up the wrong order for me: I ordered a large Frosty shake, but he made a large Frosty. To remedy the situation, he gave me the Frosty free and made me a shake for the price of the Frosty (which is about $1.70 cheaper). Yay! I get more ice cream! That could almost make life worth it. But not quite.

No, indeed, for tomorrow I'll be hungry again. And who knows what I'll try to stuff my stomach with! How many shirts will I have to buy to be happy? Even if work had gone well, would I really be content making my hourly wage? Even if I do - by some miracle - make it through college, what good will a piece of paper do me in life? A bigger job? Great. More money. More ice cream. More constipation. What good will it do me in death?

Life is depressing for the very reason of difficulty then death. Life happens like this: you're born cold and naked, you hit puberty, you're a broke college student, you get hitched and have two too many kids to handle, you retire to Florida (or Phoenix!), and you have kidney stones or prostate cancer or some other old peoples' awkward disease. And to top it all off you die. That, my friends, is why life is a dumpster.

The words of Solomon reincarnated - since there is nothing new under the sun and all is vanity and everything is in vain - are ended.

Now we have destroyed all meaning and purpose. We have blown all of life to bits. So what is it that rises from the ashes when everything else is dead? What is left when all other things are gone? What is true when everything else has been found a lie? What is real when everything else is fake? What is filling when everything leaves me empty?

What lives beyond this shattered, horrible life? What will kill death?

Solus Christus.

"Amor vincit omnia et nos cedamus amori."

By grace we have something. We have something more. So let us too be conquered by the conqueror. And when He has slain us all to shattered bits let us rise on the third day with Him and outlive everything that comes in our way, all that tries to harm us; for we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us.


("Crown Him the Lord of Life  
Who triumphed o'er the grave 
And rose victorious in the strife 
For those He came to save. 
His glories now we sing 
Who died and rose on high, 
Who died eternal life to bring 
And lives that death may die.")


And He who loves us is the meaning of life because, and only because, His love is better than life.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Draw the Line

Draw the Line
Disciple, O God Save Us All (2012)

Another crash, another fall, another fall another failure
Another choice I don't want to remember
Been here to many times
Every day's another fight
I'm at war with the person I could be
Give me a chance and I'll mess up a good thing
But this is where it ends
Yeah, this is where it ends

This is where I draw the line
This is where the old me dies
Light a match, let it burn, kiss it goodbye
Give it up - what I was
This is where I draw the line

Another battle I lost fighting solo
How many times must I learn what I already know?
Can't do this on my own
Wasn't meant to fight alone
So I'm lifting my hands in surrender
Take my faults and my flaws; make me better
Cause this is where I end
Right where You begin

This is where I draw the line
This is where the old me dies
Light a match, let it burn, kiss it goodbye
Give it up - what I was
This is where I draw the line

Set me on fire
Set me on fire
Burn me up, burn me up, burn me all the way
Till there's nothing left but You
Burn me up, burn me up, burn me all the way
Till there's nothing left but You
Set me on fire

This is where I draw the line
This is where the old me dies
Light a match, let it burn, kiss it goodbye
Give it up - what I was
This is where I draw the line

This is where the old me dies
Till there's nothing left but You
This is where I draw the line






Sunday, August 25, 2013

When the Busyness Takes Over

It is a simple phenomenon of life - people are busy. Busy with work, busy with school, busy with friends, busy with entertainment, busy with problems, busy with promotions, busy with events, busy with social groups, busy with possessions. And it seems like every time we try to start a new routine (like a blog), it fails unless we have a strong motivation or accountability. That is my best attempt at explaining why the posts are (and probably will be) dwindling to a meager number.

Yes, I am busier now than I have been yet in Arizona. Thankfully, that is due in part to a revived focus on school and a decent number of hours at work. I am seeing success in both, and I praise God for that. But I don't want to be deceived. I know that my own heart is "prone to wander"; when I get busy, I am so easily taken from spiritual things and drawn to material things that do not last.

So if you find yourself in the same predicament and need guidance, here is a priority list I aim to keep for myself:
1. Love God and enjoy Him in everything.
2. Love His word and read it daily with passion.
3. Love your neighbor as yourself.
4. Invest most in the things you should love most - the things that will truly last.

And thank God every day. If all goes well, praise the Lord. If you fail, praise Him still. Rest in His unchanging love and mercy that do not fail, and remember that one day all our striving will be repaid in full and we will enjoy the busyness and satisfaction of the presence of the Lord forever and ever.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Overcoming Evil: The Human Condition and Cure

I was planning on doing something else at the time of this post, but something is disturbing me tonight. Allow me to give a bit of a background.

A Human Example
Since the big move to Arizona, it has been a blessing to read more - books, blogs, and media. I have also been able to keep up with the news quite a bit more than I did in Indiana, and recently there was a story that caught my attention; tonight I followed the trial resulting from the incident. If you're not able to cope with seeing malice as well as others may be, I'll explain below. Do please take warning; this is video is hard to watch. 


So in summary, as best as I understand the situation, one 12-year-old refuses drugs from two 15-year-olds then tells a teacher. Those two 15-year-olds, along with one other, beat up the kid in the bus.

The Human Response
1. Anger at cowardice. Even from a foolish perspective - if you beat a 12-year-old kid up and it takes you bringing two of your buddies into it when you're 3 years older than the little kid, you're a spineless coward.
2. Anger at malice. Hating someone enough to extensively harm them physically is unnerving. I don't get it.
3. A desire for justice. This should never be ignored or excused. Appropriate measures should be taken for protection of the victim and punishment of the guilty.

The Human Tendency
The one man who spoke up from the trial was the father of Julian McKnight, one of the offenders. And what did he say? "I'm so sorry my son behaved dishonorably and violently"? No:

"We're sorry about what happened to the victim, but that's just the way it is. You know, my son ain't no bad person. You know, he just got a little mixed with bad people, that's all... He's sorry."

Meanwhile, Julian did not say he was sorry. He didn't say anything.

The Human Condition
Sir, I am glad to hear that your son isn't a bad person. Even though he repeatedly kicked and punched a younger kid and broke the kid's arm, it's at least a comfort to know he's not horrible deep down on the inside.

Is this the response? Your kid isn't a bad person, but someone else's is? That's the explanation?

No - I am sorry - your kid is a monster.

But Before We Throw Any Stones...
Much more could be said, but you get the point. You feel the anger that I did when I heard this story. But let us not park on that anger and point fingers forever because much more can be seen here. Much more can be seen in all of us.

Julian McKnight and his two culprits are not the only monsters in this world. They are only an example of the monster in all of us. Remember the story of the adulteress in John 8:1-11? She was caught red-handed. The Law demanded justice. The Pharisees were ready to deal out the punishment. But before they did, Jesus gave one statement that would shake their entire view of social justice: "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (8:7).

I know this isn't adultery, but does this saying not capture the essence of the human condition? When something like this happens, we are so quick to become angry and pick up the stones to throw. My friends, that is not justice - it is revenge, bitterness.

The people over us will deal with justice (Rom. 13:1). God will bring this horrendous act to judgment on the final day. But a desire for revenge - the poisonous desire in me to take my friends and gang up against one of them - is only a worsening of the situation. So imagine that horrible feeling you have in your stomach doubling. That is what our bitterness accomplishes. We cannot overcome evil with evil.

But God's compassion and grace are deep enough to cover all, to cleanse the vilest of sinners - even Ninevah, even Saul, even Julian.

Romans 12:19-13:1
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord.
"But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

(More) Promised Photos + random life snippets





 I love this kid...

 ...enough to tell him the truth that the D-backs
aren't the greatest team in the NL.

 Uncle Whit!

Uncle Whit's aviators!



 Playing what I will hereafter refer to as
"Tickle/Tackle." It's a very simple game but
very hilarious.

 He hasn't quite learned yet that sometimes
pushing down hard on a person's face isn't the
best way to socialize. Uncles are only the
exception.

 Climb up the couch...

 ...climb down on Jon.

Matthew took me to my first
MLB game: the D-backs and Rays.
(Arizona won 9-8 in a close game).

Praise God - I have finally been given a job: 
Domino's Assistant Manager / GM-in-Training.
I started work in the store Thursday.

This is a New Testament read-through
I'm heading up in October. 17:27, as I call it,
will have its fourth go-around this year. However,
this is only the second year I've tried to rally
other people to join me. If you're interested, shoot
me an email at jmross94@gmail.com, and I'll
sign you up.





I still have fears and gaps and holes. And I'm not where I should be - I know that. But, as evidenced only in part here, God gives grace and little joys every single day. All glory be to Him.

Hosea 6:2
He will revive us after two days; 
He will raise us up on the third day, 
That we may live before Him.

"I am not what I ought to be,
I am not what I want to be,
I am not what I hope to be.
But thank God
I am not what I used to be.”
~John Newton

Friday, August 9, 2013

"Reading" and Reading

Through July and this first part of August I've been working on reading Mere Christianity. Recently I came to the conclusion that there are far too many books to read, and I have far too little time to read. So I pulled up Scratchpad on my Chromebook and made a priority list of sorts. Almost all of the books that ended up on that list were ones that have impacted the church for years if not centuries. Those are the ones I most want to read.

On a side-note, I heavily recommend Mere Christianity to any person who wants to think seriously about God, ethics, morals, and life in general. The books begins by examining possible explanations to the moral law, eventually counts off atheism as too simple, and settles on Christianity for the best system of belief and practice for life. It is a mental work. One has to stay with the author and think critically. But the thoughts given are not too lofty for the common man, and there are a variety of illustrations to help.

Finally, I want to put in a word about reading. When I talk to my friends and tell them I'm "reading" a book, something totally different may come into their minds than is in mine. To me, reading is grueling discipline requiring heavy attention and mental effort. When I read, I have a conversation with the author. I ask him questions, put in objections, agree on points I find valid, summarize and reword what he has already stated, and I mark the pages that have the most important points.

That's what I mean by reading. And I would encourage you to do the same. It takes much time and effort. You won't get through a whole bookshelf in a year, but you will get much more out of your books and be able to refer back to them later. Unless you have a photographic memory, you're not going to get as much out of your books by simply letting your eyes roll over the text as you will by stopping, contemplating, and thinking your own thoughts about the book.

That's my 2 cents. It was Mortimer J. Adler who got me started on it, so if you have any further questions this essay will explain.

Picture of Daniel will come soon. =)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I'm Buying Stock (And I'll Get a Huge Return)

This month I have had more time to read. The feeling I had was, at times, heartbreaking: because of an incident which happened some time ago and because of my busy work schedule, my habit of reading was crippled for a season. Picking up Mere Christianity and working through it has been like learning how to walk again. My world was shaken for a time. However, at long last, I think it is safe to say that the dark valley (which actually began in 2011 and was only continued by more recent incidents) has finally come to an end.

So I read again. And when I read, I write.¹ And when I write I blog. And sometimes I blog what I write outside the blog.

So tonight perhaps it will be beneficial to share what I learned today from expecting something and getting less. Having gone through the most successful job interview I have ever been through and yet receiving a job with ramifications I had expected would be different, God revealed to me the pride in possessions I was clinging to. So here is a lesson from the much blessed and not-quite-as-much thankful average Joe:


Placement of Happiness
We Receive What We Give Away


It is our highest and most noble call to seek happiness in God, for what we put our happiness into we put our lives into. If I am to put my happiness into work, I will have failed because my job one day will cease. If I am to put my happiness into my family, I will have failed because one day my family will cease. If I am to put my happiness into my faith or hope² - again, I will have failed because one day faith and hope will cease. But if I instead put my happiness into God, it will not be in vain.


The logic follows: that means that if God were to ever end, putting any joy in Him would be a waste of time as well. If anything, for that matter, has an end, it is not worth our happiness. This is precisely the heart of the matter. If one day God will die, He is not worth our happiness. But if He is who He says He is - and He is - then I can put my happiness into Him. He does not end. If I put my happiness into God, it will be eternal happiness.

And, therefore, if I put my treasure into God, it will be eternal treasure. If I give my praise unto God, it will be eternal praise. If I sing a song to God, it will be an eternal song. If I give a script to God, the words will never cease to be. For although all these things end by themselves, God does not end at all. All we give to Him will live on in His mind. And all we place into Him we will receive back, and all give to Him will be given back a hundredfold.³


Footnotes
1. This has led me to compile a collection I am calling 2013: The Summer Papers. This blog may contain some of those writings in the near future.
2. This, of course, is a deeper issue than how I worded it. For clarity's sake, it is not our own faith we trust in - Christians do not put faith in their faith. They put faith in God. True, our faith and obedience bring us happiness. But ultimately and finally, any lasting happiness we receive happens because it is grounded in God; no virtue is an end in itself. I.e. our happiness can be grounded in our faith because our faith is grounded in God.
3. This, of course, is one of the summer papers.

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