Divorcing the Gospel

“We dilute the beauty of the Gospel story when we divorce it from out lives, our worlds, the words and images God is writing right now on our souls….[Your] life is a story about who God is and what he does in a human heart.” Shauna Niequist
Tonight I was at a young adults service with a couple friends and I was thrilled. The place was packed. The music was awesome. We were going to dive deep into the Word of God tonight! It was going to be amazing.
And then it wasn’t. And the whole time I kept thinking, “There’s something wrong with me” followed by “Lord, please help me to see you through this.” To explain a bit, the concept of the service was awesome. It was about the Gospel of Jesus and we were going to start from his birth. And it wasn’t even Christmas! But as the sermon wore on, I couldn’t help but think “there’s got to be more.” The pastor preached the truth: “Jesus does the impossible”, “A virgin birth is a spectacular thing”, and “Jesus died for, yes, the world. But he also died for you as an individual.” All good things. And yet, I wanted to weep as the band came out and forced the pastor to squeeze his second point into five a five minute crescendo that lead up to the bridge of a song being played loud enough to burst some ear drums with lights flashing and strobing to the beat.
And if I wasn’t pained enough, at the end the pastor said, “Now I want you to feel it. Just feel it in your heart. And if you don’t feel it, I want you to ask Jesus to reveal himself to you.” The only thing I felt was grief and the pounding of a drum in my chest.
Jesus is so much more than a feeling. I wanted to get into the geneology of his birth, what his birth meant to the heart of the Israelites, what his birth meant in Mary’s heart.
See, I think that’s one of the ways the way God works.  Everyday he winds his way through hearts that are willing to change. He molds and crafts us into the beings that we were always created to be. Sure, he changes situations. And that’s awesome. It’s really spectacular when someone is miraculously healed.
But what about a human heart.
If you’ve ever tried to change one that is dead set in believing something, you’ll know it’s impossible. You’ll know that you could give every reason to buy Sprite–and they could be good, solid, correct reasons– and that heart would look at all the thin possibilities of how it could possibly be right to drink Sierra Mist. And that’s the way our hearts were towards God. We were dead set on sinning, on living apart from him. Everything seems better than a relationship with him. Porn seems better. Drugs seem better. Even things that are harmless seem better. Writing seems better. Drawing seems better. But all those things, even things that we were created to be good at are death when put before him. But our hearts, in our sin, don’t see that. We see how fun it is to create something out of nothing, characters, stories, plots, ideas that didn’t exist before they were written on a page. God can wait. But wasn’t it him who wrote us into existence?
The Bible says He is the author and perfecter of our faith. Every day He writes on our hearts. He writes our stories, each one a little different than the last. Only the thing is, He only writes if we hand him the pen. We each live out our own story. God wrote us into existence but he gives us freedom to chose our own path.
I know that one thing that kept me from asking was the fact that I don’t know how to ask, or what to ask for, or even if what I was asking for should be asked for. One way this happens is when we go to services and all we learn about Jesus and his birth is that He does the impossible and that He left heaven for humility. Okay…
And I know that sounds horrible but stay with me here. Those things are true and they’re amazing and they show God’s character in a really awesome way if we dive into it. A virgin birth is impossible so it’s pretty obvious that God can do the impossible. And to leave a place in heaven for spot as human who came to serve in humility shows humility. So that’s a fact. But now what?
How often do we do this? We get so caught up in fluffy language and what God is “supposed” to be doing. We compare who God is in other people’s lives and why He isn’t like that in our lives. According to the message, God does the impossible. So why can’t He take away my anxiety? I’ve prayed about it. I’ve asked him time and time again. And yet here I am. And what does it mean to me that He came to serve in humility? How does that impact my life?
People are dealing with situations in life that seem impossible. For me, it’s anxiety among a whole bunch of other things. And when we just tell people that he does the impossible, that leaves room for doubt and questions about why he isn’t fixing their impossible situation.
And honestly, leaving heaven for humility is a catchy tag line but nothing more in every day life. I real
ly want to cuss someone out, but Jesus left heaven for humility so that should take all the emotions I have, all the anger and frustration in me, that should just be wiped away with a bit of alliteration.
So here’s me trying to be real. Here’s why I am so astoundingly impressed with the fact that Jesus does the impossible and he left heaven for humility. I am blown away because I see this in my heart every day. God impossibly changed my heart not my situations. For example, I still have anxiety. But after a pretty intense attack, God changed my heart. I saw it in a whole different way. Instead of feeling like it was this “other” it was just me. And yeah, it still sucks and it’s still hard, but God showed me that He is strong in me even when I am weak. He didn’t take away that weakness. And when I am having an anxiety attack the furthest thing that feels real is that anything can be stronger than the panic I am feeling. But He is there, right alongside my racing heart, my frantic breaths, the hand that I hold close to my chest because I am pretty sure I’ll explode if I don’t. He is there not taking it away, but showing me in the moments when my thoughts have calmed down, how strong He is. He is showing me that I don’t need to be perfect to be a part of his plan. And people who deal with things that are messy (trust me, there’s ugly crying involved in my anxiety attacks) and people who feel like broken are people He uses. And hey, it shows that in the bible too. Moses had a severe stutter and was asked to speak on God’s behalf to Pharoh. I have such a big heart for listening to people’s stories and yet, I am terrified to meet them. God will still use me.
And Jesus left heaven to allow me to see that. I was blinded in my sin. When Adam sinned, he gave his rights to a relationship with God over to Satan. There was no communication between the two. There was no guidance, no expressions of love, no correction. Jesus gave up his rights to get those back. He did not sin and because of that, He had a right to life. Instead, he took our punishment, our death. He didn’t need to. We didn’t deserve his sacrifice. But he acted in humility.
So stop. Stop divorcing the Gospel from your every day life. Stop making it something that is so shallow and vague that  it seems either worthless or unattainable.  Take a second and look at the story God is writing on your heart. Look at the every day implications of it, the nitty gritty messy stuff. Look at how He’s come through before and how He will come through again. And then tell that story.
That’s the story that is going to draw people to Him. Not lights, or bass, or alliteration. Stop trying to sensationalize the gospel. To make it so attractive and perfect and pristine and uninvolved with everyday human emotions. The most attractive thing about the Gospel is that it was one man for 33 years every day. And he died so He could be a part of that–a part of your every day. Not just your Thursday night once a week, or your Christian conference once a month, or your very moving Easter service once a year. He didn’t die for your occasional. He died for your every day.

Hands and Head

Hands and Head media

I decided to write a series of poems when I feel strong emotion. I want to be okay with feeling things strongly and not trying to defuse the tension of whatever I am feeling. But just rest in it and experience it.

Right Now I Feel…

Betrayed.
Did you not think I was worthy enough to stay?

I know that people love the  best they can but your best wasn’t good enough for me.
(I learned I have the right to feel that)

So you weren’t enough. And I wasn’t enough. And there just wasn’t enough.

And we became skeletons that just existed on shadows of what we were supposed to have. And I don’t see you enough to know what you became.

But I became hands and a brain

While the rest of me was bone

                    Even my heart

                    White

                    Bleached by years of sun

Hands because I always tried to do things to become enough
and a brain because I always tried to try and think enough.

Reason enough

Use enough logic

But I want my heart to beat and allow some of the pressure of life off my hands and head.

And this is okay to feel without justification or rationalization or needing to move on to the next situation.

Because even though I feel betrayed, I know that there are other emotions (There’s light) and hope.

Auld Lang Syne

This is a post I wrote on New Years and never published. But damn I wish I had. Anyway, compared to where I am now, this is pretty funny.

This very minute, I have no idea what I want to do with my life. And I’m 19. I’m getting old!

I know that’s ridiculous. Everyone I’ve talked to about my crisis of what I’m going to do with my life has told me that I have like a million years to figure out what I’m going to do with my life. In some way or another, they’ve all said, “It will come to you.” And my thought is “When? How will I know?”

But, today, while being wildly productive, I watched the final episode of the fourth season of Parks and Recreation. And I cried. Now, for the ones who know me in the real world, you know I am a crier. But I have a very hard time crying about things I know are fake, like movies and books even if I have connected with the characters. But as Leslie Knope, presented her boyfriend with (spoilers) a Washington Monument statue to tell him to go to DC and as the confetti rained down on her after she’d won her campaign for council woman in Pawnee, I cried. Her dream had come true, the thing that she had worked her whole life for, dreamed of and fought for had finally come true and because of that, she had to let the love of her life enter into his dream, walk his own path, even if that meant that they would be separated.

It wasn’t until tonight that I realized why I had cried over this woman who never had and never would exist. It was because Leslie Knope was a woman I wanted to be. I finally saw Leslie for who she was. She believes in her small town even when everyone else doesn’t and she works tirelessly to make it a better place for it’s citizens even when they don’t deserve it. And I saw myself. I want to be this woman. A woman who’s willing to give it her all, who doesn’t let fear hold her back, or the opinions of others stop her from doing what’s right.

A friend said to me, “Life’s a mess” and in that moment, among the aching in my chest that signaled the obsessive yearning I have to do something important with my life, I saw that the people who lived satisfactory lives weren’t the people who spent their lives trying to clean up and untangle the mess of life. They were people who saw the mess of life and decided to pick a piece and give it their all. Dedicate their hearts and time to it. Whether it be time, money, or souls they picked a piece of the mess in front of them and lived for it. Leslie Knope lived for her town.

Right now, I don’t know what I want to do aside from the knowledge that I want to live an intentional life. But I think learning that I don’t have to straighten out the mess in front of me to figure that out gives me peace of mind. And hopefully, for those of you out there who’ve been misguided into thinking that life starts when they’ve figured it out (like I was) I want you to know that life starts when you decide it will and when you open your heart up to it. Whatever you decide it will look like for you.

So yes. 19 is old. It’s old to not know that I don’t have to have a perfect life and that I need to work not to untangle the chaos I see in front of me but invest in it. Don’t wait. Start living.

Mistakes Happen But The Sun Is Still Out

So, today I realized something unpleasant and yet pleasant at the same time. It’s not often that this happens.

I realized that it’s been a month since I’ve been out of school and I don’t have a job. It’s seems a small uncomplicated realization but it’s one that is surrounded by the time loss that seems to come upon me during the summer months.

It’s been a month and three days from the day that I checked out of my first year of college, packed up all of my stuff, and drove home. And I don’t have a job. I could have had a job. I need a job. But I don’t have a job. I waited too long to apply to a job that would have been perfect for my summer schedule (with a vacation in the middle of it) and the opening closed. The two jobs I worked for while I was in school were on campus jobs and they were easy to apply to because I had to fill out one application for the both of them instead of the million I seem to be submitting now.

But it’s alright. This is one of those things that in my moments of panic and anxiety, I don’t think about. I forget that it’s okay to make mistakes. I forget that everything always turns out okay. Would I prefer to have a job. Of course! I would love to be saving up for the next school year and be able to go out and buy those amazingly cute rompers that I own none of. But I am not dying. The sun still rises every morning. I still get to go outside and enjoy it. I am still able to enjoy the rain when it does come. And I can still see and hang out with my brother. And my friends.

I made a mistake. Yes. And I am paying for it right now. But life is still good and it still goes on.

The lost and found

I have never experienced this call to nature during the moments of anxiety that seem to come with living. But in this piece I can taste the spray of the salt water and hear the empty, quiet beckoning of the forest. In this I feel the rallying of comrades and a renewed fighting spirit.

oceanicjack

Jack, what do you want to do with your life? What interests you? What are you doing to be successful? AHHH!!!! Sometimes this drive towards success is too much. It is this all encompassing black hole that has destroyed marriages, torn down households, and broken the sense of awe and wonder in many people. When I feel the weight of this pressing down on my I escape to the forest. As a boy I climbed everything! Trees, rocks, large walls, buildings… hurt myself pretty bad doing the last one, but it never stopped me. Then came the day when i was taken to the beach. It’s a northwestern beach and being so is lined with a forest. We hiked the trails, stayed on the path and walked slowly. All around me, birds were flying and chirping, a curious chatter that still entrances me. The sun shown through the leaves creating…

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Where the wild things are

I once heard that our hearts are wild. And I believe it. Sometimes, mine pounds within my chest, straining against the cage of my ribs. It belongs to no one but the wind, the lone desert plains and starry night skies. It belongs to no one but the hilly mountainous ridges and the dark, wet forests. My heart it wild sometimes.

And during it’s wild beating, it’s calls to the moon and to freedom, I feel an infinite longing to something not found here on earth. It’s this desire to see more than what this planet has to offer and yet to spontaneously absorb every beautiful thing that it can give me. On nights, on days, on evenings where my heart feels wild, I feel free. I feel uncaged. I feel invincible.

But there’s always a cage that my heart returns to. It settles down in it’s bed of dust and stale air and lives out the days of monotony. And I do not know that I am completely sad that this state exists. I do not believe I would be able to handle a perpetually wild heart and I would not know what a wild heart was if it were wild all the time, for then it would be normal. But I do know that at these times, I let my tiredness, my annoyedness, my petulance, consume me in a way that a wild heart would not dream to allow.

This time of sadness, of the cage that my wild heart was locked in, haunts me. It makes up the majority of my memories of last year. It colors my experiences with dim, gray glasses that stopped me from enjoying the rain and the clouds and instead cause me to want to sleep when little drops pelted my window.

But now, I will dance. I will take every opportunity to stir up my wild heart. I believe that sometimes, I denied myself the opportunity to be inspired, amounting it to foolishness, or selfishness. But no more. Every minute of every day there is inspiration about us. And sometimes we are truly unable to see it. Yet other times, we do not allow ourselves to see it. I want to be more wild than caged. More free than bound. And more inspired than apathetic. I want my life to be a life of mystery in everyday things. I want to find wonder in the tasks that I’ve performed a million times. I want to experience things that I’ve done before as if I am doing them for the first time.

There is a part of me that loves organization. And I do not believe that a wild heart is the equivalent of a chaotic heart. Rather, a wild heart is a heart that decides to experience life to the fullest and pursues that decision with each mighty beat. In the times where I am pouring over my planner, color coding assignments and making sure that I have everything on my to-do list done, I will let my heart be wild. I will allow it to be free.

When I was younger I was told that the greatest adventures had dragons, and princesses, and damsels, and saviors. But I don’t think that this is true. From what I have experienced from life so far, I believe that the greatest adventure is to live. The greatest adventure is to not become apathetic. The greatest adventure is to stay true to yourself. The greatest adventure is to make the hard choices that don’t seem to be paying off. The greatest adventure is to find a balance of doing things for the good of yourself and the good of your community. The greatest adventure is living this life, here, now, in this dangerous world with every cell in our body making an effort towards crafting it into what we want it to be.

So what do you see in the lone sunny plains? I know that I myself am done viewing it as an obstacle to be overcome. I know that there is beauty in the warm, scalding rays and the watery mirages on the horizon. And I will let myself be inspired by this beauty, no matter the cost. What do you see in the dark depths of the forest? I know that I myself am done viewing it as the place where wolves lie in wait. I know there are flowers and mice which sing to each other songs beyond my comprehension and yet not beyond my ability to recognize that it’s is beautiful, that it is magic. Life is what we make it. It really is. And I want to make it into a masterpiece where I saw wonder and joy and awe inspiring things around every corner. Sure, from time to time, my heart will rest in it’s cage. It will take a break within the dusty, stale confines of the walls of my chest. But I will leave the key in the door and the door cracked open so that when it sees the aureate light of another mystery it is free to fly to it and discover.

When Passions become Purpose

At the beginning of my Freshman year, I thought (on top of everything else I was already doing) that I would lead a missions trip to India. And thank God that didn’t happen. But not before I stood up before the whole student body and told them that God doesn’t have one plan for a persons life. We have multiple passions for a reason. God doesn’t give us those passions only to condemn us to a life of misery if we don’t follow the one he has picked out for us to follow. I wholeheartedly believe this. But somewhere along the way, I forgot.

Several things caused me to forget. The first of which is what I know I want my life to be about, the non-negotiables of my existence. I want my life to be about helping others. I will not live a life about me. I will not live a selfish existence. I desire, almost to madness, to invest in others. To pour little parts of myself into the spaces and cracks of others and have them do the same to me. (A theory of why this may be is a whole other post)

The second thing that cause me to forget that there is not one set path for my life was a focus on what I love to do. I love to give advice. I have a natural instinct for it and love of learning about the mind and what makes us tick. I could literally sit in my psychology class forever and not get bored. I also have a found a passion in making coffee. I’ll never forget the first time I pulled a shot and saw the morning light stream in through the windows and illuminate the caramel body in a glory that I’d never before witnessed. I have three more years to pursue a degree in one of these things. (Or so I was set on believing)

The third thing that caused me to forget and really tie the first two together in a masterpiece of misery are the facts that I am an achiever and a strategist. This means that I will obsess about the outcomes of anything that I want to do. I will research it until I’ve exhausted all my resources. I will think about it constantly, trying to decide if whatever it is happens to be the best course of action. And if I think it is, I will pursue it with a vigor that is inexhaustable. Some might call it obsessive, but let’s not.

When I looked at what I wanted my life to be about and what I loved to do with the motivation of an achiever and a mind of a strategist, I became panicked. There were cons to both of them with the pro that I loved doing each and could not reconcile them. I would have to chose one or the other.

But I was talking with my brother, something that often brings me clarity, and my eyes were opened. It was mind bending. I’d complicated it. Life that is. I’d complicated life. I’d forgotten that life paths are a choice and when I looked at my choices, I saw that neither were bad, both would be hard, and either would be worth it. But more than that, I saw the wide variety of the choices that I have. I saw the options that I had been to distracted to see. I saw there there was more than just a coffee shop, and more than just being a counselor. AND I might chose a path that I can’t even imagine now. Who knows.

The point of it all and the thing that my strategist-achiever mind was not content with, was the fact that God calls us to accept Him, follow Him, and love Him. Our purpose is not to crusade, conquer, accomplish, achieve, etc. And I don’t know what this looks like executed perfectly. I am human and besides, God doesn’t call us to be perfect. However, I do know that the times that I get most tripped up is when I let my passions become my purpose. This is what caused me to forget. But now I know. I remember.