Suffering, Hardship, and Certainty

Sometimes the bible sucks. Not the whole thing, mind you, just parts of it. There are parts of it that really, thoroughly suck… at least, from a selfish American perspective. 1 Peter 2 is one of these passages that calls us to things that we just don’t want to do. Peter starts off the chapter well enough by reminding his reader’s that they’re not actually alone (remember that the book was written to Christians spread throughout Asia-Minor and currently undergoing persecution). However, then he gets into issues of obedience, specifically obedience in the face of suffering.

As Christians we are going to suffer. Paul makes that perfectly clear in 2 Timothy 3 when he tells Timothy that those who follow Christ will suffer. Of course, for many this has led to the question: since I’m not suffering right now, does this mean that I’m not really following Christ? Of course not, but… maybe. The fact that Christians will suffer does not mean that all Christians will suffer at all times in all places. Christians are not promised constant suffering, nor are we promised universally equal suffering. We are simply promised suffering. If you consider yourself a Christian and you have never suffered for your faith, then the above may be a valid question. However, the fact that you haven’t suffered yet doesn’t mean that you won’t suffer in the future. To assume a constant or universally past quality in this would be a mistake.  That being said, Christians will suffer persecution. This persecution may come at the hands of people who disagree with us, people in authority over us, or people who hate us and are powerful enough to make the authorities look the other way (certainly this is far from a complete list), but it will come.

Not every Christians suffering will be equal. One Christian my be bullied in school, another may lose a promising career, another may be beaten, and another may have he hands and feet amputated. However, any suffering for the sake of the cross is a reflection in our lives of the suffering of Christ, and thus a thing of honor in which we should rejoice. This is a part of Peter’s message in 1 Peter 2. Of course, he also reminds us that there is a difference between suffering in general and suffering for the cross. If you are imprisoned for murder, you are not suffering for the sake of the cross, you are suffering because you killed someone. If you were lazy in school and thus have lackluster opportunities, then you are not suffering for the sake of the cross, you are suffering for you laziness. However, when we do suffer for the cross, it is a wonderful thing… this doesn’t mean it’s a pleasant thing.

I am always amazed by the (generally very young) Christians I see running around singing and praying and talking about how they want to be broken. I am often tempted to add to their prayer’s something like ‘God, please make so and so’s girlfriend dump him and kill his grandmother…’. Anyone who honestly, truly wants to be broken is insane. I have been broken, multiple times. Consider the meaning of the word here: to be broken, at it’s most basic, means that a thing no longer works correctly. When I am broken, I stop working. Being broken… hurts… to an unendurable degree. No one in their right mind finds this desirable. Of course, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t necessary. There is a huge difference between wanting to be broken, and being willing to be broken. If I truly trust God, then I must be willing to allow him to break me, because I know that being broken is the path to being better, and I want to be better.

Now that I’ve finished my rabbit trails, 1 Peter 2 calls us to submit to those who would persecute us. This is antithetical to the American mindset. An American, even most American Christians, is convinced that his/her rights and freedoms are paramount. However, 1 Peter 2 calls him to cast aside his rights, even in the face of unjust actions on the part of those in authority over him. American’s value independence and freedom to the point of making selfishness a virtue. However, the scriptures claim that we should think of ourselves as less than others, give of ourselves by putting others first, and allow ourselves to be treated unjustly and thus rejoice in sharing the sufferings of Christ. This is a hard shift to make.

A few years ago, I was fired from my job for unjust reasons (I think I’ve shared the story before). The company that fired me only gave me half of my last paycheck. They had deleted the rest of my hours. It took about a month… maybe a month and a half… to get everything worked out, and at first the company didn’t appear to be willing to handle the situation at all. For a few weeks I didn’t think I would ever be seeing that money, money that I sorely needed. I had a number of friends tell me that I should sue the company, and I wanted to. I had my schedule, and I had kept track of the hours that I worked (the company was notorious for losing hours). Moreover, I had a desire for vindication. However, I prayed about the issue repeatedly, and repeatedly God told me that I was not only not to sue them, I wasn’t even to mention the possibility. No suggestions or threats to create leverage or put an emphasis on getting things worked out. Even after mentioning this to my friends who suggested that I sue the company, they continued to push me to sue… I should mention that all of these friends were Christians. They cared about me, and they wanted me to take the ‘wise and reasonable’ course of action. However, in doing so they encouraged me to flout God’s specific will. They put human reasoning and my rights above the glorification of God, and I honestly lost a lot of respect for several people because of that experience.

God is trustworthy. Whether we are in times of plenty, times of hardship, or times of persecution, he is faithful to care for us, and he has not forgotten us. He has been, is, and always will be faithful to work everything to his glory and our good. This is something that we are all to prone to forget, and we shouldn’t be.

Little Things Lead to Big Things

This is a concept that is very true and works in multiple directions. For instance, I have a young friend that I’ve mentioned several times… I’m not sure I’ve ever given her a name… let’s call her Shelly… I’ve known Shelly since she was very young, and I’ve never really done anything all that special for her. I’ve given her a few birthday presents here and there, I’ve spent time with her, and I’ve comforted her a few times when things at school were upsetting, but I haven’t done anything really major. I’ve never saved her life. I never bought her a pony. I never did much of anything besides be myself. The thing is, over years of being myself, this little girl has decided that I’m a really great friend, and a close bond has formed. The same is true with her younger brother… Timmy…, for whom I’ve also never done much of anything special. Little things, over a long period of time, lead to big results.

This is true in the opposite direction as well. When I was young I was given constant negative reinforcement. I can’t say that my parents ‘never’ did anything majorly wrong (I almost made my mom move out at one point, and that is the one time that I can say that my dad just plain beat me), but they didn’t do many hugely wrong things. They weren’t drug addicts, they didn’t sell me to strange men in alleys, they didn’t smack me around on a daily basis. Nonetheless, little things, repeated over a long period of time, lead to a massively screwed up kid. When I turned twelve I was in my eighties, and I didn’t reach my teens until I hit 20. Thus my twenties were filled with all the emotional crap that teens have to deal with. It was all very annoying.

So, little things+time=big results. When a gorgeous woman whom I’ve never met and who has many pictures and few connections ‘friends’ me on Facebook I tend to take one look at the profile, decide it’s not a real person, and deny the friend request. … …Of course sometimes I take the time to look through the pictures of said gorgeous woman… I generally regret that afterwards. Today has been one of those days. Ever since the friend request I got this morning, I’ve been wanting to Google ‘the girl next door’. I don’t particularly want to do this, but the idea keeps popping back into my head. I push it out, and a few minutes later it pops right back in. Then I push it out again… and repeat. This frustration has persisted through grading, martial arts classes, and a friend’s party. I suppose I could have named this post ‘and the cat came back…’ If you know what I’m talking about then you know… if not… it’s a thing, don’t worry about it.

At this point I can’t say what will happen, and I hate that feeling. I can say that I’m going to take my frustration to God and ask for help. I can say that I’m going to do my best to keep my mind and heart focused thoroughly on him. I can also say that little things lead to big things. Little blessings lead to big blessings, and little problems lead to big problems. …And there it goes again :(. Anyway, we all have desires. It’s a normal part of life. We want things. Sometimes we actually, legitimately need things. We long for things. However, ultimately, it isn’t the desires that pop into our head that matter. It is what we do with those desires. Which desires will I choose to dwell on? Which desires will I choose to pursue? Which desires will I choose to focus my heart on? I know which desires I want to focus on, but all to often want and will are two different things.

So, for all of you who are struggling with some desire that frustrates the crap out of you: it happens to all of us. You are not alone. So get your head back in the game, beat the shit out of whatever is pulling you away from God, and focus on pursuing him with a complete heart and mind. I’m going to go do the same.

P.S. What the heck! I was winning! I go away for two days and I’m back to barely breaking even! Seriously people…

Emptiness is What I Long For…

I don’t know how many of you remember the song “Holiness” by Micah Stampley (as far as I can tell, though I found websites attributing the song to three different people). Honestly, I had to look it up because all I could remember was the first line of two verses. This isn’t a bad song, holiness and righteousness are things that we should long for, and they are things that we should pursue. God commands us to Holiness and to Righteousness, and this is what sanctification is all about. However, when I was in college we used to use this song to mock one another horrendously. Whenever someone was struggling, frustrated, down in the dumps, the lyrics of the song were replaced with whatever that person was feelings at the time. We would sing out ‘bitterness, bitterness is what I long for’ or ‘lustfulness, lustfulness is what I long for’, and we weren’t entirely being mocking. A part of the reason for this was to remind one another of where we should be. Clearly bitterness and lustfulness are not what God wants from me, and they are not what I should be pursuing. Nonetheless, we often do. In our human hearts we often mistake bitterness for righteous anger, lust for love, pleasure for joy, etc and we convince ourselves that this is the way that we should feel. We convince ourselves that this is a good thing, even though it is clear to everyone around us that it isn’t.

Last night I was at a get together with a large number of very young people. There were a few people who were my age, but most of the attendees were between eighteen and twenty-one. Part of the evening (a large part actually as there were a lot of people) was a kind of popcorn sharing of meaningful events over the summer. We were asked to share what God has been doing in our lives, and it quickly turned into people being chosen to share by others. Honestly, I spent most of the night thinking about what I might say, and as it ended I’m really not sure whether I would have said that I didn’t have to share or that I didn’t get to share. Honestly, and I hope my journal reflects this, God has done a lot over my summer. Certainly too much to share in a short tidbit.

God tends to use the summers in my life to do work on me, whether I want him to or not. I was during the summer that I started learning how to trust him. It was during the summer that I let go of my anger. It was during the summer before I converted that the Holy Spirit started drawing me himself and out of the sins that I was so comfortable with. The summer has always been a special time for me, and I honestly don’t think that’s likely to change any time soon. This summer one of the things that God has taught me is that I need to empty myself. I need to let go of my pride, my self-esteem, my self-importance, my desires, my hopes, my longing, and give them all to him. I’ve let go of some of these, but certainly not all of them. Pride is probably the most significant thing I need to let go of right now. It consistently gets in the way of following God and obeying him. Whether I’m too prideful to go to a Sunday school class, too prideful to ask out a girl, too prideful to accept being second best, too prideful to see the qualities of others… ultimately, something that God has shown me this summer is that I am often too prideful to obey. I can think of two major fights that I had with God over the past three months that were based entirely on my pride.

So, this is my song for the moment: Emptiness is what I long for. I want to be empty of myself and filled with the Holy Spirit. Somehow, I have a feeling that’s going to hurt.

Ethics, Self Image, Family, and Foundations

Teaching ethics I am often confronted with the fact that I am a horrible person. This is not to say that I am completely without the traditional virtues. I have a modicum of wisdom (though I’m always amazed when people actually listen to me), some small measure of courage, a fair amount of patience, and a little self-control. However, I am not an excellent leader, nor am I a man of impeachable moral character, or incredible internal strength. I am certainly no sage, though I do always find myself drawn to the Chinese sages (…I suppose that’s pretty obvious by now). I’m not a particularly skillful leader, and all to often I allow exhaustion to impede my ability to live up to my responsibilities. I care about people, but far too often I don’t stop to help when I could. I try to do what’s right, except when it’s too hard and then I’m all too happy not to. I want to be a good person, but when not living up to that standard seems easier, more fun, or more profitable I’m not unlikely to chuck my morals out the window.

Scripture tells us to have a right view of ourselves, but it also tells us to view others as better/higher/more worthy than ourselves. I struggle with the latter. I want to be the best, to be the one who’s admired, chosen, looked up to, lauded… I want to be important, and I’m still struggling with the fact that I am, always will be, and always should be nothing. If I am to allow God to live in me, to work his will through my life, to act through me in the lives of others, then I desperately need to get over myself and step aside. I think that the man who’s funeral I attended yesterday was very good at this. He was good at being nothing, at getting out of the way and letting God work. I find that I am thoroughly not good at this. I am good at getting in God’s way. Forcing him to move me out of the way before he can do anything that he wants done. I am good at causing problems. I wish I was better at living for him.

This afternoon I messaged a friend of mine (actually the mother of my young friend at Church) to ask if I could take her children to a movie sometime. I love her kids, and I have always wanted a family. The older I get, the less likely that seems. Honestly, it might just be a result of some melancholy left over from the funeral yesterday, but at the moment I feel as though it will never happen. Even if I do someday find a wife, the chances that she’ll be young enough to easily have children is unlikely (though Sarah did have Isaac in her 90s). I wanted to cry out to this woman: ‘Let me borrow your family! Just every now and then! Please, help me to feel less crushingly lonely!’ Of course, I didn’t. I have a feeling that this would come across as creepy and desperate. Of course, her children aren’t the answer to my loneliness. That is, in itself, a ridiculous notion. I love both of her children, and I want to spend time with them, but time with them (or with anyone else) is a temporary fix for an emptiness that only God can fill.

And that is my foundation. Whether I have a family or not. Whether I am humble or not. Whether I am a good person or not. Whether I spend time with her kids or not. Regardless of any of this, it is God in which my joy lies. It is him who fills my emptiness. Him who dries my tears. Him who heals my pain. God is , and must be, the foundation of my life because there is nothing else that can serve that purpose. This doesn’t mean that I don’t desire, but in the midst of my desires, in the midst of loneliness, of despair, of emotional turmoil and pain, I can know that tomorrow will be a new day that will bring with it new joys and new treasures. God always provides, and this doesn’t simply mean that he provides for our physical necessities. God’s provision is ever sufficient for the whole being of man. In this too I know that he will provide.

My Day Started With a Funeral

One of my college professors died this weekend, and honestly I don’t think it actually sunk in until I was sitting at his funeral. This is a man who I never really knew particularly well, but was still extremely influential in my life. Amazing how that works isn’t it? I hadn’t seen him in probably six or seven years, but I still practice things that he taught me on a daily basis. So, I was sitting there at the back of the church in blue jeans and a dress shirt because I wasn’t particularly close to the family, and it hadn’t occurred to me that people would be wearing suits and ties until I’d walked into the building and seen them wearing suits and ties. Honestly, I doubt the dead man would have remember my name even if I’d seen him a few days before he died. So, I sat there in my completely inappropriate clothing wondering who might be sitting at the back of my funeral wearing inappropriate clothing? Who have I influenced without ever realizing it, and who’s life have I changed, even though I don’t remember who they are?

We all influence people on a daily basis. In 1 Peter 2:11-12 the apostle exhorts his audience to live righteously so that those who would malign them will see the truth of their virtue in their daily lives. Paul does the same thing in Titus. It might be one of my students, or someone at church, or a person whom I met at a local coffee shop. It might be someone to whom I’ve taught martial arts, or a neighbor, or someone I ran into at the mall. Regardless, there are people to whom my life matters that I will never know about, and I have to wonder how I’ve influenced them. Have I spurred them towards righteousness? Driven them away from the faith? Made them give up on a dream? Or pulled them back into reality? I wonder what kind of role model I’ve been, because I can see how this man influenced me.

Of course, if I spend all of my time trying to be a strong role model to whom others should look in awe, then I invite pride, hypocrisy, and deceit into my life. The man who died wasn’t a perfect man. He wasn’t even close to it, and he didn’t hide his flaws, but he was also humble, forthright, and consistently inspired me towards Christ. He was a navy man, and I remember something he told me about serving in Korea. He told me that it was always easy to tell who the Christians were on the ship. When the shop docked at post most of the crew went into town to get drunk and visit prostitutes. The Christians were the ones who came back and felt horrible about it. He pointed out to me that the mark of a Christian is not that he is morally perfect, but that he is convicted of his sin, and that he seeks repentance.

I have often heard the argument that repentance is a turning away from sin. That a part of repentance is to not do the same thing again, and this is true to a degree. Christ did tell the adulterous to go and sin no more (assuming that this story is a part of the original text), and he does hold us to a higher calling. However, he also offers us grace. There is a difference between repeated sin and willful sin. I may stumble in the same fashion many times, but this doesn’t mean that I have chosen to live in that sin. However, this is a difference of the heart that only God can judge. I can’t look at someone else’s struggle with a particular sin and judge whether he truly repents and stumbles again, or whether he’s simply stopped caring about that particular sin. I can point out to him that it is something he needs to avoid. I do everything in my power to help him to avoid it, and I may gain some insight into his motives. However, I can’t truly know his heart.

So, I think, using this professor as a model once again, that the best way to be a role model is to pursue Christ with everything that I have. To put him first and do everything in my power to live my life for him. I try to do this, and I hope that I succeed. I hope that I am a good influence on the people around me, and that I stand out as a Christian truly pursuing the father, and as a man of virtue. Maybe when I die I’ll find out if I did.

P.S. I’ve had more posts than followers for a while now :). It makes me feel like I’m winning.

Plato, Jesus, and Nice Guys Everywhere

Nice guys finish last. It’s a cliche for a reason, and in my experience it’s very true. Honestly, I have yet to date a woman who honestly wanted to be with a nice guy. I know lots of women who say they want a nice guy. Who say they want to be treated well, cared for, etc, etc, etc. However, show them a nice guy who will do all of those things and they’re gone within a month or two. Jobs often go to the people who are willing to be underhanded to get them. Money goes to the people who don’t care about others. Suffice it to say that our culture isn’t particularly kind to nice guys unless they also happen to be incredibly rich or incredibly handsome.

Of course, part of this is because there are a lot of people out there who put on the guise of a nice guy when they really aren’t particularly nice at all. Some of them are trying to be kind and caring, but are failing. Honestly, in the world we live in this is pretty understandable, not ok, but understandable. Some people pretend to be a nice guy, but actually have no intention of being nice. They use this guise to find victims for whatever their particular version of cruelty might be. Some of them use their disguise to lure women into bed, some of them use it to advance their careers, some of them use it to trick people out of money. Then there are people who actually are nice guys, some of the time, until something happens and they pull a Jekel and Hyde. Ultimately, I’m not convinced that anyone is just a nice guy. We all have issues, problems, struggles, insecurities, etc. We all have things that people will, and probably should, run away from… unless they’re willing to love us. Last week I wrote about about the nice guy with a chip on his shoulder (a.k.a. me). The post was then used in someone else’s post about how it’s pointless to be a nice guy in this world and we should all strive not to be nice guys.

Nice guys get a bad rap. They are often seen as weak or pathetic, clingy, needy, false-faced, and fake. The general perception seems to be that if a nice guy isn’t perfect in every way then he isn’t really a nice guy, he’s just a bastard waiting to happen. As I write this I’m looking at the ‘related content’ page and of the many posts there are exactly three that have anything positive to say about nice guys. That being said, honestly most of these posts (even one of the ones about how nice guys are good) don’t seem to have a particularly clear idea of what makes a nice guy. I know many other nice guys, like myself, have often been lost when trying to figure out what a nice guy actually is, and the standard often seems pointless (because no one seems to want them) or hopeless (because it’s unreachable). So, what does it mean to be a nice guy?

Both Christ and Plato (two very important thinkers, even if you don’t believe that Jesus was the incarnation of the second person of the Godhead) spoke of the privilege of the virtuous. In a world where the powerful, the cunning, and the ruthless are the ones most likely to succeed in most forums, both of these men called us to be better. To put aside the world’s definition of success and seek something higher. Christ called us to abandon the pleasures of this world and find insurpassable joy in him. Plato called us to pursue virtue before everything else and seek eudaimonia (or human fulfillment or flourishing). Neither of them promised that the person who did this would receive wealth, gorgeous women, or worldly success. However, both of them promised to lead their followers to joy despite the lack of these things.

This is the key. This is what being a nice guy really means. The nice guy is the guy who doesn’t need all the trappings of success to be satisfied. He is the guy who can meet with tragedy or triumph and treat them both the same. He is the guy who will put you first, not because he’s trying to get something, but because he doesn’t need to be first. Does this mean that he’ll be perfect? Of course not, none of us are, but it means that he’s trying. That everyday he’s trying to be better, to be virtuous, and to put other people before himself. It doesn’t mean that he’ll never be hurtful, but it does mean that he’ll apologize when he is. It doesn’t mean that he’ll never get angry, but it does mean that he’ll handle it as well as he can. It doesn’t mean that he’ll never get hurt, but it does mean that when he is hurt he’ll give the one who hurt him the chance to explain. Ultimately, being a nice guy means being a guy who honestly cares about others. Who is willing to pursue virtue in his life, and inspires virtue in the lives of others. The nice guy is the guy that may not be particularly noticeable, but who is there when you need him.

The thing is, it’s easy to walk away from him. When the nice guy gets rejected he doesn’t get angry and throw things, instead he gives a smile and a hug, and tells you that it’s okay. It’s easy to say no to him, because you can be confident that he won’t hate you afterwards. It’s easy to hurt him because he’ll be okay. It’s easy to forget about him because he’s not loud and obnoxious, telling you everything that you need to do to make him happy.

This doesn’t mean that he’s weak, or that he doesn’t need your attention. It means that he’s willing to put the needs of others before his own needs. If you find this guy, you should do the same. Ask him what he wants and what he needs from you. Show him that you care about him. Take the time and make the effort to take care of him as much as he takes care of you, and when you find his flaws don’t write him off. Instead love his flaws in the same way that he’s loved yours.

I can’t honestly say that I’ve always been this guy. There are times when I’ve been needy, clingy, possessive, angry, frustrated, etc. There are times when I’ve been hurt and unwilling to forgive, and there are times when I’ve been angry and not handled it particularly well. That being said, this is the guy that I’m trying to be, that I want to be, and I hope to find a woman who will help me become this guy, even as I help her become the woman that she wants to be.

The Pursuit of Life

One of my bible professors died a couple of days ago. It wasn’t unexpected in any way, but it’s still surprising. That’s probably a little bit difficult to explain. I think that we are always surprised when someone dies. I remember my grandfather dying. He spent several years dying, and we all knew that it could happen at any moment, but it still came as a surprise when it did. Compare this to my Grandmother, who had relatively few health problems, but quite suddenly died of a stroke, or my friend Robin who was quite a bit younger than I am, but died quite suddenly in a car accident earlier this year, and it really seems like my grandfather’s passing should have been much less painful. It was expected, we were even kind of waiting for it, but when he finally died I still couldn’t believe it anymore that I could when Robin died. I think that death, even when it’s expected, always comes as a surprise.

The man who died was a truly amazing man. He provided the foundation for everything else that I’ve learned and understood. More than anyone else, excepting God of course, this man taught me what it meant to grow in my knowledge of the Lord, and that is something that I will never forget. I’m hoping to be able to attend his funeral service this week, and I don’t really see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to go, unless I simply forget about it, which is entirely possible I suppose.

At the moment things are going fairly well for me. Yesterday was a wonderful day, even though I only got a couple hours of sleep on Saturday night, and I was able to thoroughly enjoy every part of it. I had the chance to tell my young friend at church how proud I am of her, and what an honor it has been to watch her grow into the young woman that she’s become. She seemed very happy to hear that. I got to have lunch with some wonderful friends, new and old, and I got to enjoy my afternoon with very little work to do. I also got to spend a very sweet hour with the Lord before the evening service.

I’m hoping that today goes as well, and it’s off to a fairly good start. There is a woman on eHarmony that seems fairly interested in me, though we’re still just beginning to get to know one another. I suppose that we’ll find out what will happen with that when it happens. There’s also a young lady who’s been coming to my church that I find myself somewhat interested in. However, I rather doubt that she would return my interest. I was interested in her once before, a couple of years ago, when I was in a very bad place, and I handled it very poorly. 

There is no way to know what will come in life. However, we can be sure that neither the good times, nor the bad times, will last forever. Much like the endless revolutions of the Earth create night and day, our lives revolve through a cycle of events that bring both wonders and horrors. However, we must seek God’s hand in all of them and pursue him.