A Light in the Darkness

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Darkness has covered the world as a shroud covers a corpse.
Light cannot ignite on its own, and hope cannot come from even the best of our works.

In this darkness, with a blanket of death wrapped around us, we lie spiritually sleeping.
Our heart may still indeed be beating, but death is really all that we are reaping.

When the time was right, and darkness seemed to permeate all of earthly existence,
The ultimate Light of the World came and shone with an unexpected brilliance.

This Light came like a small burning flame, humble and simple,
But this Light was more than just an ordinary candle flicker.

In him was life, life like mere mortals could not fathom in their comfortable sleep,
A life of peace in the midst of struggle, a hope so different and unique.

This Light was, is and will be light of people, a light that shines in the deepest of darkness,
The Word of God, alive and incarnate.

The world was made through this Light, but the world esteemed it not.
Still the Light came, without hesitation or any second thought.

The Light knew there would be rejection,
But still came to save us from our own self-destruction.

The brightness of the Light hurt the eyes used to the night,
But no matter how much the world tried to extinguish it, the Light still shone ever bright.

Darkness could not, cannot, and will not overcome it,
In fact, the darkness cannot hide and will ultimately submit.

The Light gave a hope to all who believed,
They became sons and daughters of God on high, adopted and redeemed.

By the Light, we can see and do things impossible in the dark,
The Light invites us to follow and with him to walk.

And as one flame can light many fires,
All believers have the light, though we often try to hide it because of fleshly fears.

Darkness can be comfortable, as it keeps our deepest secrets hidden
But only in and by the Light can all our sins be forgiven.

If the Lord is our Light and salvation, of whom shall we be afraid?
Though we are prone to wander, our Light does not stray.

We are children of the Light, lamps made to illuminate the night.
And in the pitch black of night, light shines spectacularly bright.

And so, our Savior says “let your light shine before others,”
That they might glorify the Father with awe, praise, and wonder.

May we live, love, and serve wholeheartedly,
As messengers of God’s great grace and artistry.

And as a candle’s wax eventually runs out,
So does the end of our days on earth eventually come about.

And while our physical forms wear down and decay,
The light of life permeates our souls forever and always.

The Light of the World is Light forever,
And so we are His, forever and ever.

 

A Ship Lost at Sea

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Sometimes it feels like I’m a ship lost at sea,

Blown off course by deep-seated anxiety.

I am left alone with inner turmoil and self-directed aggressions.

I am left with no real discernable direction.

See, this anxiety is a storm that not only batters and bruises,

Is whispers and shouts and permeates every fiber of my daily reality.

It’s told me that I am nothing, not worthy of anyone’s time.

It’s told me that I’m not good enough, and never will be.

It’s told me that every word I speak is a word too many.

It’s told me that every effort is just a waste of breath.

So here I float, alone in a sea of thoughts and tears,

Not sure which direction to take,

Afraid of the approaching night when the storm will rage again.

Will the crashing waves of fear and dread finally overtake my little boat?

Will the gusts of violent thoughts finally drag me under?

Will I drown in this sea, never to see the light of day again?

And though it seems the night will never end, hope comes in the fourth watch.

Hope shines in the darkness of night and does the impossible.

Hope walks on waves that logically should swallow.

Hope beckons me and reaches out.

Hope doesn’t throw shame on my already tired shoulders.

Hope instead speaks my name and says to “come.”

Hope invites me to share in the impossible with Him.

The wind and waves still seek to drown me,

But even they must bow to His commands.

I may feel like a ship lost at sea,

But to Him even the seemingly lost are known and seen.

And I know that being known by He who calms the waves

Means that I can continue on.

The waves will not take me prisoner forever.

He who calms the waves on the sea,

Can surely calm them within me.

There’s Not Enough Ink (Layla’s Words in My Mind)

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Layla* said  “there’s not enough ink.”
And what she said is what I think.

There are not enough words to describe the feelings buried deep and suppressed.
Somehow it’s not enough to just say I’m depressed.

All I know is that I’m so tired, in every way a person can be.
Drained physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

I guess the seeds I unintentionally sowed were really the heartiest of weeds.
They took root and choked out anything and everything good.

You say to come to You and You will give me rest,
Yet even when I try to pray, I often feel such distress.

These words are hollow,
like the feeling harbored deep in my chest.

And as I sink deeper beneath these waves,
I hear a whisper that He is there even in the depths.

He made the sea and He made me.
He knows both intricately.

No height nor depth – not even the Mariana trench –
can clutch me from His fist so carefully clenched.

There may not be enough ink,
but there is enough grace and mercy to keep me from the going beyond the brink.

The sea swallows sin, but it won’t swallow me.
There’s not enough ink, but there is enough of Him.


*Layla is a good friend of mine. She wrote a poem that contained the phrase “there’s not enough ink” and ever since she shared that poem with me, the phrase comes to my mind as an accurate description of how I sometimes feel. Her poem, as well as her love and the fact that she continually points to God, inspired this version.

What is Peace?

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Peace. We hear this word thrown around a lot. It’s sung in music, written on t-shirts, talked about on TV, and offered as a greeting. Yet usually when this term is tossed out, it is merely a wishful thought in a world filled with more violence, turmoil and hate then we can even fully comprehend or fathom.

The dictionary says that “peace” is a period in which there is no fighting, a time of security, a state of concord. The world sets this “peace” as a lofty goal on a pedestal. We are told that if we just reach a little farther, work a little harder, and hope a little stronger, we can obtain it.

The problem is that this “peace” the world gives is an unreachable hope that never lasts. Even in so-called “peacetime” eras between official wars, there is plenty of strife on the streets and in homes, much of which goes unreported and unheard except by the victims. And of course even when there is peace among governments or neighbors, there is still  inner conflict hidden within the walls of every person’s chest cavity and skull.

The world says that “peace” is a lack of conflict, but “peace” means something different in God’s word. After all, the apostles certainly didn’t live lives free of conflict but instead were faced with jail, slander, and indescribable brutalities.

Knowing full well what strife his disciples would face after the ascension, Jesus tells them “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you” (John 14:27, ESV). He takes this thought a little further in John 16:33 saying “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

So what peace is Jesus referring to, if it isn’t a life free from trouble? There are no words to adequately describe it, as Philippians 4:7 says that the peace of God “surpasses all understanding.” Still, there are words to help us identify what this peace is. Ephesians 2:14 says that Jesus is our peace. Our relationship with him, and through him God the Father, is our peace. We have been reconciled to Him and we belong to Him both in our life and in our death. No earlthy strife can take us from Him. As Isaiah 54:17 says, “no weapon that is fashioned against [us] shall succeed.”

This peace is resting in God’s sovereignty even when the storms of life are raging and chaos seems to be reigning. This is why the peace that Jesus gives is “not as the world gives;” it is a peace that remains and survives even in bitter outer conflict. This peace is sweeter and more filling than any “peace” the world tries to dish up. This peace allows us to live in freedom that only Christ can give us.

This all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Of course, in reality life doesn’t usually feel like this. Peace sometimes seems unattainable at best. Life is full of stress and worry, and I fall victim to this as much as anyone. In fact, lately my anxiety has been even worse than usual because of my dad’s recent cancer diagnosis and a boss that gets on my nerves at work. How more wonderful is it, then, to know that God’s promises and His gifts are not reliant on human feelings? He gives His peace to us as an unmerited gift every moment. We just have to accept it, and allow Him to change our focus from earthly stress to His promises.

I’m still learning to live in this peace and freedom. I will need to continually be reminded of these promises for as long as God grants me breath. Yet in these struggles, He is still sovereign and this peace is unwavering just like His love for us.

Knowing this, let our prayer for ourselves and each other be as Paul says in Colossians 3:15; that the peace of Christ will rule our hearts, even in a world filled to the brim with every type of conflict.

4 Things I’ve Observed at the Potter’s Wheel

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The Word of God is true forever, but I think sometimes certain metaphors in the Word lose a little as cultures and technology change. The truthfulness remains, but people’s understanding of it may diminish simply because of different life experiences.

Lately, one such verse that has been on my mind is Isaiah 64:8, which says “But now, O LORD, You are our father; we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

For many people today, the art of pottery is a lost one. After all, we can purchase factory-made ceramics for minimal costs. Many people have never seen a skilled artisan shape a pot or pitcher. If one does find and purchase a hand-made piece, it usually remains on a shelf as a memento or decoration. Yet for most of history, pottery was not only an art, but a useful and perhaps necessary trade. Hand-made clay pots were used for eating, drinking, cooking, and storage.

IMG_0474.JPGI work at a living history museum that represents life in the early nineteenth century. One of the exhibits is the Pottery Shop. Here, visitors can marvel as a skilled craftsman in nineteenth-century costume forms a beautiful redware mug in minutes on a foot-operated wheel. While the techniques of our potters are surely different from those of Biblical times, some of the same principles of shaping clay remain.

Watching this process has given me a newfound appreciation and perspective of Isaiah 64:8 that I would like to share.

First of all, pottery is a messy art. As the potter throws the clay and works the wheel, wet clay inevitably splatters. The potter’s clothes often have dried remnants even when he was wearing an apron. The window and table next to the wheel also often have dried clay splatters on them. The same can be said of God’s dealing with us. It’s a messy proposition. Jesus literally came into the mess when he was born and laid in the lowly manger. Then he lived among people, many of whom were poor, sick, and/or labeled as “dirt” by society. He wasn’t afraid of the dirt. Figuratively, God also handles the mess of our sinful selves. He heals us, sanctifies us, and loves us, even though it can be and most certainly is a messy job. The messes that we make with our lives and the crimson stains of sin that plague us don’t scare Him. He enters the mess and makes us new.

Second, pottery is a skill. I have not yet tried my hand at the wheel, but I have seen people try it for the first time and usually their first pot isn’t all that great. It takes a skillful hand to make any mug, bowl, or plate. It takes patience. It takes the right tools, steady hands, and a good eye. God is a masterful artist who created the entire universe – every star, flower, animal, and person. God is our potter, and He shapes us with His skillful hands, pressing and holding us just right, sanctifying us and molding us according to His plans and purpose. Even when we don’t understand what He is doing, we can trust His skillful hands.

Third, pottery often has to go through some sort of extreme heat or fire for it to actually be useable. In the case of the redware pottery at work, the pieces are fired in a 24 ft. tall brick kiln, heated to about 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit. The complete firing process takes over 24 hours of constant monitoring and feeding of the fire. Talk about dedication! Sometimes circumstances in life hurt. Sometimes circumstances are just downright hard. Yet God remains through it all. He stays even in the darkest part of the night. He gives peace and strength to endure. He uses these circumstances to make us grow. He uses all things for the good of those who love Him. Sometimes life feels like going through a fire, but God sees us to the end.

Finally, every piece of hand-made pottery is unique. Sure, a skilled potter can make a set of mugs or bowls that look pretty similar, but they are never 100% exactly alike. The same is true of us. God made us and we all share some similarities. Yet we are also all unique. While we might share experiences, no two lives are exactly the same. God knew our days before we were born and knew us before we could even know anything. He formed us in our mother’s womb and numbered our days according to His purposes.

I truly believe God knows what He is doing when He makes us, with our unique features and talents. Then He shapes us, as a skilled artisan does, knowing what will come of it. We are the clay in His skillful hands. He is the potter. And what a messy, but lovely, thing to know.

 

The Mountains and Our Stories

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I just came back from a wonderful weekend in the mountains of Maine. Looking at the mountains, everything looks absolutely beautiful. The trees, the sky, the water below, everything. That’s the big picture and it’s beautiful. As I stood in awe of this part of IMG_2300creation, I started to think about how this stunning display of nature was formed. What about all the time it took for the mountains to take their present shape or for the little seedling trees to grow into massive forests? What about all the dirt that allows those trees and all the other plants to grow? What about all the dead and rotting plants and animals that nourish that soil and make it fertile? What about all the creepy, crawly bugs at the bottom of the food chain that are bothersome to us but vital to the entire ecosystem? The mountains are a messy place when you’re at the micro level, but the big picture is breathtaking.

Perhaps our own stories are similar. Our lives have plenty of dirt. Plenty of dead things (or things that IMG_2458should die). Plenty of mess. Sin creeps and crawls in our minds and hearts. Some things in our lives (like pride, lust, hatred, etc.) need to die for better things to take place. Our lives are covered in filth from our sin. Yet the big picture is God’s glorious masterpiece that He is creating in all of His children. God meets us at the micro level, in our sin, in our dirt. He doesn’t finish there though. Over time, He grows good things in us. In time, he makes us His masterpiece.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10, ESV)

We live at the micro level. We see all the dirt. In time though, and through the dirt, God does wonders. We can’t always see it from our perspective on the ground, but in the long run, God does amazing things through His people. The big picture is God’s glorious work in us.  Even the dirty, bothersome, and dangerous things have a purpose. We are a masterpiece of His design and in His time.

I’m Graduating and I want to Live it Well

The past few years, I’ve been battling some intense darkness in my mind. Fear, anxiety, self-hatred, depression, and other feelings have come over me like crashing waves and sometimes it feels like I’m drowning. Then I look at the suffering and trials of people around me and around the world. It is overwhelming. There is so much pain and darkness in this world. As Jon Foreman says:

“…the dark wounds of our world are inescapable- the wound is you, it’s me, it’s humanity. The wound is Afghanistan, it’s Palestine, it’s the United States. The wound is our broken homes, our broken marriages, our broken hearts. The wound is Golgotha, the wound is the cross. But rather than running away, let’s embrace the truth about our broken humanity, and the truth will set us free! Let’s not pretend to be well- after all, it’s the sick that need a doctor. No, we are the wounded. Mortally wounded. Darkly wounded. But, the wound is where the light shines through. Do we really believe in a Living God who is our redeemer, strong and loving- capable of healing these wounds? If so, then let’s bring our darkness to him. All of it. Life is short I want to live it well.”

I have started to confront the darkness in my life. First comes acknowledging it, rather

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My decorated college graduation cap

than always running away from it. I have come to accept that I am a broken, wounded person. The wound is where the light does indeed shine through. God has been reminding me that He hasn’t left me and that I am His creation, a creation continually being created. While the dark thoughts have not left my mind, there is a renewed hope that shines bright and gives me courage to continue on. 

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

I am about to graduate college. This is supposed to be a joyful time and people keep reminding me that I have my future before me. The future, however, is filled with uncertainty that is overwhelming and somewhat terrifying. One thing that I do know, however, is that I do not want to waste my life. God has led me this far and He has plans for my future. What is unknown to me is known to Him. I am still wounded and still broken, but that is a part of being human. I have one life to live and one story to tell. I want to live it well.

“I wanna sing with all my heart a lifelong song
Even if some notes come out right and some come out wrong
Cause I can’t take none of that through the door
Yeah, I’m living for more than just a funeral
I wanna burn brighter than the dawn

Life is short; I wanna live it well
One life, one story to tell.”

(“Live it Well” by Switchfoot)

 

 

God’s Word: Daily Bread that Requires Chewing

Several years ago I set out to read the entire Bible in order in a year. I figured if I was going to call myself a Christian, I should read the entire thing that I call God’s word. I had read it to check it off my “to do list” of being a Christian. I succeeded in literally reading the entire Bible. I did not study it nor did I give much thought to the cultural contexts in which it was written. I did not pray about what I read nor did I ask many questions. I read the book to say I had read the book.

After officially finishing the Bible, I figured I could set it aside and maybe refer to it once in a while. After all, I had read the entire thing. I foolishly thought I “knew” at least the high points of every story. The crazy thing is, my actions were as if I ate a big meal and then decided to not eat again after that except for the occasional small snack. If I stopped eating food, I’d slowly grow weaker until I died. A strikingly similar statement can be said about time in God’s word. God’s word truly is the bread of life and should be a staple of our daily lives. Without regular time in His word and in prayer, our soul weakens and eventually, dies.

Saying that you don’t need to read the Bible or a specific passage in the Bible because you have already read it so many times is like saying you don’t need to eat food. You have probably eaten bread thousands of times and yet it’s likely you’re going to consume some form of bread again within the next twenty-four hours.

I grew up in church and therefore there are Bible stories I’ve read or heard about thousands of times. It is so easy to look at these stories now with a glazed eye. Stories like Jesus feeding the masses with a few loaves and fishes are told so regularly that it’s easy to think that we, as Christians, don’t need to re-read them or study them. During my sophomore year of college, I joined the Bible study group on campus. We have gone over some of those stories that I’ve heard more times than I can count. Yet when I prayerfully study those passages, whether alone or in a group, God often shows me a detail I didn’t notice before or gives me some new revelation. There is so much under the surface of these stories and unless we take the time to really prayerfully study them, we only scratch the surface.

Jesus himself knew the importance of God’s word in people’s lives. When Jesus was fasting in the wilderness, the devil came along and told him to turn some stones into bread. Jesus replied:

““…It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

Here, Jesus is actually referencing Deuteronomy 8:3, which refers to the Israelites. What was true for the Israelites and Jesus is true for us as well. If bread (or any sort of grain) is such a daily staple of our diets for our physical bodies, surely the Word of God is the same staple for our souls. Rather than thinking of the Bible or prayer as things to check off our to do lists, let us truly see them as our daily bread for our souls. Let us remember that bread requires chewing even in our rushed lives. Let us prayerfully meditate on each passage and word in order to get all the flavor.

Questions

In any Christian’s life, questions will arise. Asking questions can be scary. Often these questions are complex with no easy to understand answer. In some Christian circles, the asking of questions is even frowned upon because of the tension and doubt that often accompanies such questions.

Questions are not a bad thing though. Questions are a major part of learning and growing. As young children we learned a great deal simply by asking questions of our parents, teachers, and others. In school, teachers generally encourage questions relating to course material. Having childlike faith doesn’t mean you don’t question. Children are naturally curious and ask questions. People in the Bible had questions so it is no surprise that modern day followers of Christ do too.

When we ask questions about faith related issues however, we must remember that we may not always get the answer we want to hear. Sometimes we may not get any answer at all (at least in this life). As a young child sometimes asks his or her parents a question that he or she cannot fully understand the answer to, so we may ask questions of our Father in Heaven that we cannot fully understand the answers to. Many young children eventually ask their parents a question somewhere along the lines of “where do babies come from.” Most parents are going to give a simple answer such as “from mommy’s tummy” rather than going into the details of how sex works and how a baby forms in the womb. Young children do not need to know those details nor can they fully comprehend them. The same is true for us when we ask our Heavenly Father certain questions. Some things are not meant for us to know or understand right now.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

In those moments when no simple answer is to be found, as in every moment, we must trust in God. His knowledge and understanding surpass our wildest imagination. There are some questions we may not fully understand the answers to, but we can trust that our Father knows what we can or cannot understand at any given moment and that He will work all things for our good.

The Parable of the Sower, the Soil of our Hearts, and the Ultimate Gardener

In Matthew 13 and Luke 8 and Mark 4, we read one of Jesus’ many parables: the parable of the sower. I’ve always thought of this parable as solely referring to when someone first hears the Gospel, whether it be in church, in a conversation with a friend or stranger, or elsewhere. Someone preaches the gospel and people react differently. Sometimes the receivers of the word never have a chance to grow in faith or in a relationship with Christ like the seed on the path didn’t have a chance to grow. Other times, like the seed in the rocks, people hear the message and rejoice…until trouble comes. Like the seed in the thorns, some people gleefully accept the word but the word is then choked out by the cares of the world. Finally, some accept the word and develop a relationship with God. They serve Him and preach His word to countless others.

As Christians it’s easy to assume that we are in the good soil because we have accepted Jesus. The sowing of seed, that is God’s word, is not a one-time occurrence that happens when we first learn of Jesus however. If we are truly following Christ, then the word is being sewn in us on a very regular basis. The seed is sewn in our hearts every time we read and study our Bibles, go to church or Bible study, and every time we pray. Sometimes we are too distracted by everything going on around us and the word we hear or read doesn’t have soil to take root. This is when we just go through the motions of reading the word rather than letting it sink in and applying it. Sometimes we gladly accept the words we read or hear but the stresses, worries and trials of life lead us to forget the promises God made. Other times we accept the word at church or study but temporary pleasures distract us and choke out the message we’ve heard. We are all highly susceptible to distraction and God’s word does not always fall on fertile soil in our hearts. Satan comes at us with all he has and though God is way more powerful, we tend to give into Satan’s deceptive tactics.

My good friend Layla added some more insight to this parable when I was discussing my thoughts with her. Even the healthiest of plants in the richest of soil has hard days. There are days when the plant will wilt in the sun or whither in the cold. Yet the plant still comes back, especially with the loving care of a gardener. Weeds may creep up around it sometimes but a gardener will make sure to pull them out. Like the plants growing in a garden are taken care of by a gardener, our Heavenly Father takes care of us. We can come to Him and ask Him to cultivate the soil in our hearts to receive His word. There will be times when, like the plants, we wilt under stress and suffering in this life or we begin to be suffocated by cares of this world. We still have that “life seed” in us even when we fail however. After all, God’s grace is sufficient for us in all circumstances. As followers of Christ we should of course want to grow in our relationship with God however. In order for this relationship to grow and thrive, we must allow God to cultivate our hearts and remove the things that hinder our growth in Him. Sometimes it is painful as God prunes away the parts of us that keep us from Him. Even in those times, we must trust that He, the One who formed us and loves us, knows what He is doing. Our heavenly Father truly is the ultimate gardener in the soil of our hearts.