I am an enigma, a mystery
What I say is not necessarily what I am thinking.
And what I do doesn’t necessarily represent my motivation.
I am a thousand piece puzzle,
With less than a thousand pieces present.
Even I cannot seem to put the pieces all together.
I am something that baffles,
Both myself and perhaps many others.
Chaos and confusion housed in my physical form.
I am an ocean of secrets,
And even I am afraid to swim to the ocean’s floor.
The depths are dark and dangerous, and not for the faint of heart.
To Him I am as clear as day,
Transparent, an open secret.
No clever words can mask what I’m thinking,
No lovely roses can hide the abhorrent stench of my sinning,
No sweat melodies can overpower the my internal screaming,
No fancy clothes can improve my being.
This is terrifying.
This is liberating.
This is the worst news.
This is the best news.
For healing can come only when the Healer knows what is ailing.
Life is not a masquerade.
It may be fun to go to the ball,
But it isn’t where real life happens.
A dressed up skeleton is still lifeless,
A decorated corpse is still hopeless.
We spend hours crafting our image for others to see,
Hoping words of admiration and approval
will satisfy the darkness gnawing deep inside.
Smile for the camera, boast of successes,
We bury the brokenness only to find we are digging our grave.
We paint on a mask at such an early age,
And curtail it to match what we perceive others desire.
When one version no longer suits us,
we add another layer. The mask grows thicker,
And day by day, our hearts also become harder.
We do it so well we don’t always realize we are doing it at all,
Masters of individual PR, masters of deception.
Wearing a mask daily, letting it become our identity.
With each layer, with each empty word,
We only dig our graves deeper.
It may be what we do, but it’s not what we were made to do.
Life was not given just to be lived under a disguise,
Nor our energy be exhausted to keep up an image.
Life sometimes beats us up all black and blue,
But in the scars and bruises, the light can seep through.
Life does not have to be a masquerade.
A masquerade is not where real life happens.
Real life is messy, complicated, and sometimes painful.
But it is only when the masks are taken off,
That the darkness within can see the light.
Ask any New Englander how they feel about the weather right now, and they’ll probably grumble about the April snow showers and the cold temperatures. Winter has lasted a long time, and we’re ready for sunny skies and warmer temperatures. We’re ready for spring. The weather just hasn’t caught up yet.
But the signs of spring are there. Indeed – spring is here – though it may only be in the early stages right now. At work, the crocuses are blooming amidst the shriveled up remains of last year’s gardens. New life is springing forth from the dust.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I really don’t feel like a new creation. The reminders of past sins come and haunt me. The baggage of my guilt and shame sometimes weigh down on me. The doubts and fears creep in and threaten to steal what God has given. Some days I want to just throw in the towel. Some days it seems that hope is far off. Some days it seems like the chains of yesterday will never fall completely.
But that’s not the full story. I am in Christ, and therefore I am a new creation. But I am a new creation also in the process of being recreated. I am saved, but I am still being sanctified. Jesus has won the war, but there are still battles to fight. The kingdom of God is at hand, but it is also not yet. God’s promises are both now and some time in the future. The winter is over, and spring is here, but spring is also still coming.
Who are the Samaritans in the modern world?
The ones who remain individually nameless despite having names.
The ones despised because of some perceived difference or deficiency.
The ones infected and inflicted by the ills and plagues of our sometimes-shady societies.
What can be done about the Samaritans?
It seems we tend to simply avoid them.
It seems that it is easier to just walk around them.
It seems like dull guilt or ignorance is easier to bear than the forfeit of our comfort.
When did the Samaritans become so utterly rejected?
Perhaps it was when differences divided.
Perhaps it was when we fell asleep in our own cocoons of comfort.
Perhaps it was when we made the problems in the Samarias bigger than our God.
Where are the Samarias in today’s world?
Places forgotten by the constantly streaming media fanfare.
Places avoided by those too fearful of losing their own pristine self-made image.
Places privileged society ignores unless there is some possible and probable reapable benefit.
Why are the Samaritans ignored?
Because they are seen as different and potentially dangerous.
Because there is no economical or reputational gain in serving them.
Because messy situations are a challenge – it’s easier to just pretend they don’t exist.
Who are the Samaritans in the modern world?
The ones who were last but will someday be first.
The ones ignored by many but loved and seen by the Father.
The ones with whom even the Lord speaks to and knows intimately.
What are you going to do about the Samarias in your part of the world?
We each ought to soberly ponder this question.
We have a Savior who has led the way before and will lead us now.
We have been called His children, and now we have His light to carry to all peoples.
When are you going to stop ignoring the Samaritans around the world?
Time waits for no man.
Time may indeed be running out.
Time is of the essence, for neither us nor them have been promised another tomorrow.
Where are the Samarias?
The city next to comfortable suburbia.
The shelters, rehab centers, hospitals, refugee camps, and prisons.
The places you perhaps don’t want to go to, but the places that God is calling you to.
Who are the Samaritans?
They are your neighbors, whom you are called to love.
They are the ones with unexpected stories and talents to share.
They are people like you and me – beloved, created, and never too far from Redemption’s hand.
These words were inspired by the story of Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4. If Jesus spoke with and loved even a Samaritan woman, then surely we ought to love the people in our own Samarias – whether they be across the street or across the world. We ought to look them in the eyes as equals, value their stories, and love them. It’s hard, but nothing is impossible with God. Let our prayer be that God would help us love the “Samaritans” in our lives, wherever and whenever we encounter them.
We all search for something throughout our lives. We all search for what our role is in the world and whether we matter. We all search for an identity that we can feel good about and cling to. We all search for who we are.
And this search can feel endless and hopeless at times. Sometimes in the search we feel lost, as though we somehow strayed from the marked trail in the woods or ended up stranded on a ship lost at sea.
I’ve been there a lot lately. After graduating college, I felt like I had lost a big part of who I was up to that point: a good, studious student. I also quit performing music, something that had been a part of my life since I was 3. I was working a job, but that job was not my dream job. I didn’t (and still don’t) know what my ultimate career goal is. I felt (and sometimes still do feel) like I was floating in space with no path to follow. My general anxiety about everything and some issues at work only heightened the feelings of desperation in my soul. I felt useless. I felt like a burden. I felt like I had no discernible direction. I felt like a mistake.
We all face these feelings at one time or another. When we do, it’s tempting to drown these feelings out in whatever way we can. So we distract ourselves with entertainment, keep ourselves busy with work, and perhaps turn to a drug or drink to calm the ever nagging longing in the pit of our soul. We let our job titles, personal achievements, money, and experiences, good or bad, fully define who we are. Nowadays, we also carefully construct an image and identity for others to see on social media.
The hard truth is though, on our own, we’ll never find a full, meaningful identity that lasts. The identities we build with our careers and social media profiles are walls that will eventually crumble and fall to the ground.
This brings me to the song “Be Somebody” by Thousand Foot Krutch. It’s one of my favorite songs to sing along to in the car as I drive to work, especially when the frustrations and personal failures at work are weighing me down. It’s both a reminder of an amazing truth and a prayer.
I feel a million miles away
Still You connect me in your way
And You create in me
Something I would’ve never seen
When I could only see the floor
You made my window a door
So when they say they don’t believe
I hope that they see You in me
After all the lights go down
I’m just the words You are the sound
A strange type of chemistry
How You’ve become a part of me
And when I sit alone at night
Your thoughts burn through me like a fire
You’re the only one who knows
Who I really am.
“Be Somebody” – Thousand Foot Krutch
Sometimes I feel lost and far away from the God who created me. You probably have felt the same. But that doesn’t take away from the awesome (though often hard-to-believe) truth that God is ever-present and always creating. It also doesn’t take away from the fact that a child of God is His child forever.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…
Throughout our lives as His children on earth, the enemy will use everything in his arsenal to make us stumble and fall. And we will fall. These battles don’t take away from the fact that throughout our lives in these mortal shells, God is sanctifying us and creating new things within us. He is creating who He made us to be. His plans, purposes, and perspectives are so much higher and so much more complex than ours. When all we see is hopeless situations and desperation, He sees all things restored and new. He is creating something in us that we would’ve never seen or even imagined in our wildest dreams.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55: 8-9)
God knows who we are. He knows every fiber of our being. He knows our likes, skills, talents, struggles, pains, sorrows, failures, guilt, and sin – yet loves us still. The proof was on a hill in Calvary. Since He loves us, we ought to live like we are His. If you tell your spouse or parent or friend that you love them, but never spend time with them or do anything to show your love, your words will sound hollow to the recipient. Perhaps it isn’t love at all. That’s where the prayer comes in this song:
So when they say they don’t believe
I hope that they see You in me
-“Be Somebody” – Thousand Foot Krutch
Let that be our prayer everyday – that God would continue to work in us, on us, and through us and that He would use us to show this dying, desperate world around us who He is. Let our identities rest in Him and what He is creating.
I had to get outside today. The anxiety in my mind and heart was overwhelming. I needed to walk. I needed to pray. I needed a little perspective. I needed some music from one of my favorite bands.
It was a cold and blustery day here in MASS today. It was so cold and windy I almost turned back to go to the warm office to make some hot tea instead. But the whole reason I was outside was to escape the office and to-do list for a few moments. So I trudged along the icy paths with one ear bud in and a playlist of favorite songs playing. Somewhat ironically, the wind gusts attempted to steal my breath away on numerous occasions and it got me thinking. One can’t live long without breathing. Similarly, we can’t live long without hope. A little hope can go a long way, but it is as necessary for our souls as oxygen is for our body. Without hope, what’s the point of doing anything? What is the point of working hard, striving, and living? The problem is, we often put hope in the wrong things: money, success, relationships, careers, reputations, etc. These things aren’t inherently bad. In fact, they are good things. It’s easy for them to become idols though, and that’s when they become hurtful things. These things weren’t meant to bare the weight of life in this world alone. Indeed, they cannot bare it.
My lungs and I were born to fight
Sometimes I’m not sure what I’m fighting for
But death ain’t the only end in sight
‘Cause this ain’t a battle, it’s a lifelong war
-Switchfoot (“Hope is the Anthem”)
I tend to put my hope in good things that ultimately will fade away, and that is the root cause of so much of my anxiety. God has had to remind me time and time again that my hope should not be in me or anything that I can do on my own. My hope should not be in other people or their perceptions of me. My hope needs to be in something so much bigger than me and all the responsibilities of everyday life. My hope needs to be in Him.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…
(1 Peter 1:3)
The hope that God alone gives is living and it is eternal. This hope will not put us to shame (Romans 5:5). This hope gives strength. This hope overcomes and survives through bitter adversity and seemingly hopeless situations. This hope cannot be destroyed by any weapon in the enemy’s arsenal. This hope is resilient. This hope can flourish even in desperate situations.
With this in mind, I can keep living and living it well. And so can you. As my favorite band so aptly says: Hope is the Anthem.
Hope is the anthem of my soul because it is stronger than my anxiety. Hope is the anthem of my soul because it gives me strength to carry on. Hope is the anthem of my soul because it allows me to serve and offer temporal hope to a hurting world all while pointing to the only Eternal Hope. Hope is the anthem of my soul because God has given me hope even though doubt, anxiety and shame often seek to drown me. Hope is the anthem of my soul because God loves me and has promised to never leave me. Hope is the anthem of my soul because God gave my soul this song to sing. Hope is the anthem of my soul, and may my soul sing it all my life long.
Four years ago today, I recommitted my life to Christ.
Before that, I was a model church kid, involved long before I can actually remember. I went to Sunday School until I had aged out, sung in the choir, volunteered at VBS, and tried to do everything I was “supposed” to do. I had believed in God since I was old enough to verbally say so. Over the years of childhood, I had moments of doubt and faith. By my teen years though, regardless of what I was doing or not doing, my faith would more accurately be described as knowledge of God, rather than a relationship with Him. On this day four years ago, that began to change.
It was at a retreat in New Hampshire. Somewhat ironically, I was a “leader” and not a youth group kid. I was a sophomore in college trying to figure out what the heck I was doing with my life. I happened to be friends with the youth director at my church and I was well versed (pun somewhat intended) in the Bible, so she wanted me to come along as a leader. I thought I’d be helping wrangle kids, I didn’t expect to come away any different. I don’t remember exactly what the speaker said, but I remember praying to God in a way I hadn’t before and recommitting myself to Him. I came home with a rekindled faith and a renewed hope.
In a journal entry right after I returned home, I wrote:
…The strangest thing happened even before the retreat. For me, anxiety has been a way of life lately…When it came to this retreat however, I felt no anxiety…During the entire weekend, I felt an incredible peace. All I can say is that God was there. I did not feel any anxiety. It was one of the most freeing things ever.
Anxiety had been a major part of my life in the years preceding this retreat. Some days it made it almost impossible to function as a ‘normal’ adult. Even simple tasks like ordering lunch could be a challenge. A weekend without anxiety was like a drink of fresh, cool water after a long, strenuous walk in the desert.
I’m not going to say that everything changed right after that. In fact, I still struggle with some of the things I was struggling with at that point in time, including anxiety. Some days are just as hard if not more so than the times before the retreat. Sometimes I feel really down on myself that things haven’t changed as much as I would have liked. Still, God has been, is, and will remain faithful. He has shown me things in His word, given me peace in raging storms, and been a rock that doesn’t move even when everything in my life seems to be changing for the worse. In the clearer moments, I know that God will do with me according to His time and His will, not my own selfish, impatient desires. His love, power, and mercy are not dependent on me or my feelings.
The day I recommitted my life to Christ wasn’t the end. It wasn’t a one time decision fueled by the fun, excitement, and engaging conversations of a weekend retreat. In fact, I’ve had to learn the hard way that I need to make this decision every single day of my life. My heart is fickle, and many times it doesn’t want to follow Jesus. Thankfully, God’s love doesn’t shift with circumstances, feelings, or whims. Lamentations 3:22-23 says it better than I ever could:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
On this day four years ago, some things started to change in my heart and life because of our faithful, never-changing God. Many things still need to and will change. In all things, God is faithful. He who began a work in me, before I was born, on this day four years ago, and every day of my earthly existence so far, will bring it to completion. Thanks be to God.
When we have our hopes set on the Kingdom that is coming, it is easy to believe that this life does not matter. Our lives here in this world are but a grain of sand on the shore of eternity. Nevertheless, our lives (and what we do with our lives) do matter. Sure, we are not truly home yet. Our real home is Heaven but that does not mean our work here does not matter. Think about it. In this life, we have earthly dwellings we call home. Yet much of the work we do in this life occurs outside the home. And this work outside the home impacts our life at home. As a college student, I consider it like this. A student might leave their earthly home to attend college. (I did not but this is just an illustration). He or she is technically just passing through college for four years (give or take) of their lives. It’s not a permanent situation. Still, what he or she does at college matters. I’m not just talking about grades either. While grades do serve their purpose, college is more than grades and GPAs. It’s a place to explore, grow, make friends, and pursue interests. Whether I like it or not, what I choose to do in my college years (academically, socially, activity wise, etc) will impact the rest of my life in various degrees.
This is a worldly example so just imagine how much more this is true in a spiritual manner. We are passing through this life. God has given us jobs to do as we pass through. God would not give us these lives without purpose. Ephesians 2: 10 states “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God made us how He made us for His purposes. We don’t always follow His will and way but we are here for a reason.
Imagine if the disciples had not done what they did. Imagine if they had not preached and served and recorded the gospel. They were all humans like us and what they did matters even now. Sure, much of what we do right now may not matter a whole lot sometime in the future. But when we do what God has called us to do, we can be sure that He wants us to do it for a reason. We may not even understand how our actions and words may influence someone or something. I doubt the writers of the New Testament thought that people in an area of the world they had never heard about (the Americas) would be reading it and living based on it some 2,000 years later.
Of course, the amount of pain and suffering in this world is overwhelming. Our actions appear so small in comparison. Sometimes we become numb to all of the evil and pain in the world. We’re bombarded with stories of violence, disasters, suffering and more each day through the media. If we feed a hungry person on the street, bring one person to Christ or encourage one brother or sister, it seems like just a drop in the ocean.
If we help one person though, isn’t it worth our efforts? God sent His son into the world to save us because of His great love for us. He knew that many people would still not love Him back even after the ultimate display of His love for us at Calvary. He also knew however, that the sacrifice would be worth it because of those of us who do believe and love Him back.
As I reflect on these ideas, my mind comes across this video. None of us can help everyone but we can all help someone.
So let us continue to walk with Christ and do what God has called us to do even though the hurt in this world is overwhelming. Let us remember that our actions, big and small, do matter. We have these lives for a reason.
Some men come to Jesus trying to trick him into saying something they can use against him. They ask about whether or not it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus knew their intent and replied in a way that shocked them all.
““Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”” (Matthew 22: 19-21)
I want to point out one particular sentence of Jesus’ response. “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” What is God’s? All of creation is His. That includes us. We are His. Further, Genesis 1:27 reads “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” So we also bear the image of our Father in Heaven. Jesus used this moment, this discussion about ordinary worldly matters of paying taxes, to illustrate a very important point. If we are to give back to God what is God’s, then we are to live every moment for Him. Since we bear the image of God, we should give back to Him and follow His will for our lives. This means that we should live for Him at all times, not only at church or when other followers of Christ are watching. We were made in God’s image and we are not our own. We should live our lives everyday for Him, so that in everything we do, we give back to our Creator.
What does this look like? Well it will be slightly different for each of us. Whether you’re working in an office, studying in school, doing laundry at home, doing missionary work, playing music…remember that it all matters. God’s got a plan for each of us and we just have to be willing to answer the call.