My Faith Is Not Blind

I’m not really a fan of spontaneity. Never really have been. Being in college, I’ve become OK with it because it just happens sometimes.

But I don’t like doing things with somebody unless I planned it the day or three days or a week before. I leave for things probably a little earlier than I need to because I want to be sure to give time for things that might happen on the way that would delay me. I don’t like stepping forward in an unfamiliar situation unless I have step-by-step instructions on how to handle it.

Whoops. Doesn’t happen all too often.

Funny thing is, to others Christianity seems similar to those spontaneous situations sometimes: no real firm foundation, no basis, no rationale, just believing and something unseen and unconfirmed and doing something. It even seems that way to us believers sometimes, taking steps as a blind man, not knowing if we’re going to walk smoothly or trip. BlindCurve

Beautiful truth: Christians don’t have “blind faith.” Sometimes we take steps that seem blind, but we have an unshakeable rationality for doing so.

My Experience Tells Me Different

I’m about to step into one of the most difficult seasons of my life: post-graduation. I graduate from Elon University in 25 days with a degree in communications with a concentration in print/online journalism and a religious studies minor. Just thinking about that is truly crazy. To think, just about four years ago I was getting ready to graduate from The O’Neal School in Southern Pines, N.C., prepped to head off to Elon to study cinema, to be a filmmaker.

So much has changed in my life since August 2010 when I entered Elon. I’ve grown closer to Christ, seen others believe in Him for the first time, developed strong relationships with brothers and sisters in the faith and so much more. And through it all, I’ve seen God prove Himself faithful. Let me count some of the ways:

  • God was faithful to provide me with a strong community of believers during my sophomore year when other friendships were incredibly strained and broken.
  • God was faithful to grow me in seeing the need for the spreading of the gospel through a mission trip to South Africa, a summer in Myrtle Beach and other experiences on campus at Elon where I was blessed with the opportunity to proclaim truth.
  • God was faithful to give me opportunities to improve my writing and reporting abilities through classes, time spent on staff with the student newspaper and an internship with the local newspaper.
  • God was faithful to convict me of sin in my life and push me towards a deeper understanding of His grace and forgiveness in the midst of conviction.

All throughout these four years, I’ve seen the truth of Romans 8:28 fulfilled over and over: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for God, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God has proved Himself faithful by making everything work out for my good over and over and over and over and over and over again.

I Don’t Have to Fear

So if God has proved Himself faithful over and over, why do I still fear the future? I sat in the sun room at my house at school last night just fretting over and over about not having a job yet, not knowing if my current plan is a good one. Basically, not knowing the future.

I shouldn’t be upset that I don’t know the future, by the way.

So when I don’t see the future, when things seem blind, when I literally don’t know what’s going to happen, I can have faith that God will prove Himself faithful in some way. He’s promised to work all things together for my good. And He’s followed through with that promise in the past. I don’t have to fear anything.

But I don’t work that way, do I? I think of the Abraham story, when God asked him to sacrifice his only son Isaac even after God had promised to make a nation out of his bloodline. Hebrews 11 says Abraham was prepared to offer him up “by faith…He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (v. 17, 19). He did what God commanded because He knew what God was capable of, knew that God would follow through with His promises to the extent of raising Isaac from the dead. Sometimes I don’t live like that because I like to have visual confirmation of everything. But as Christians, we don’t walk as blind. We walk with full confidence, full sight, clear sight, into situations.

It’s like driving around a blind curve (the picture above). We know generally where we’re going, we just don’t know what’s on the other side. But we go because we know where it’s headed.

I can have confidence that God will guide me where I need to go, confidence that I have all I need. I just need to take that step. As I step into my future, I can step into those unknown situations knowing that all things will work out for my true good and God’s glory because that’s what happened in the past and that’s what God has promised, and I can count on it happening again.

So can you.

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We Are Joy Seekers, Pt. 1: Looking in the Wrong Direction for What Satisfies Most

I’ve learned something over and over this year that Blaise Pascal explains quite succinctly: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception…This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”* We’re all looking for happiness in something. We look for satisfaction. We look for joy. We look for fulfillment.

As I was reading the introduction to John Piper’s Desiring God today (where I found that Pascal quote), I came to this one conclusion: The root of all sin is the misdirection of our pursuit of joy. Let me explain what I mean.

Man seeks to find joy in basically three places: himself, others or things.

got-joyWhen man seeks to find joy in himself, he looks for satisfying happiness in who he is and what he does and how that reflects on who he is. The scholar might say, “Well, look at my grades and my academic prowess, I feel quite happy.” The athlete might say, “Well, look at my trophies and my medals and my stats, I feel quite happy.” The businessman might say, “Look at my office and my salary and my title, I feel quite happy.” The person who seeks for joy in himself will be consumed with himself and his thoughts and feelings and moods.

I’m there.

When man seeks to find joy in others, he look for satisfying happiness in how he relates to others and how others relate to him. The high school sophomore will look at his girlfriend and might say, “She makes me happy because she likes me, I feel quite happy.” The college freshman will look at his friends he goes out with on the weekends and might say, “They make me happy because they make me feel important and liked, I feel quite happy.” The over-worked and under-appreciated wife will look at her girl friends (or maybe even another man) and might say, “They make me happy because they actually care about me, I feel quite happy.”

I’m there.

When man seeks to find joy in things, he looks for satisfying happiness in his possessions or in certain activities. The CrossFit junkie will look at the gym he works out at and the work out he’s just completed and might say, “Man, I just killed that workout without a problem, I feel quite happy.” The shoe-loving college girl will look at her footwear collection and might say, “I love how many shoes I have and that I can wear them, I feel quite happy.” The music lover will scan through his iTunes collection and might say, “I have so much good music that I can listen to at any time, I feel quite happy.”

I’m there.

Because I’m there, I can tell you that the music collection, the girlfriend and the grades DON’T bring full satisfaction. They can bring happiness, but only temporary. How many people that love music are ever fully satisfied with the music they currently have? How many guys are ever fully satisfied with either one girlfriend or where they are with their girlfriend? How many students are fully satisfied with one A?

Before I make my point, I’m going to say one thing: there’s nothing inherently wrong with strong academic performance, strong athletic performance, strong business performance, having a girlfriend, having friends to hang out with, doing CrossFit, buying shoes or listening to/having lots of music.satisfaction_opt

But when we seek after joy in these things, we’re missing something so much greater. Also quoted in Piper’s Desiring God, C.S. Lewis wrote:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on make mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.^

And because we are far too easily pleased in the short-term with things that seem so easily obtained, we don’t seek for what will satisfy us long-term.

I’ve been thinking on this a lot this school year because I’ve so often sought after the short-term pleasures of attention, affection or pleasure found in temporary, silly things, and seek after them daily. But alas, I’ve found a better way.

Second part coming soon…


 

* Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensees, trans. W.F. Trotter (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1958), 113, thought #425. Cited in John Piper, Desiring God (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Multnomah, 2011), 19.

^ C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1965), 1-2. Cited in Piper, Desiring God, 20.

Christians, We May Fail, But We’re Not Failures

How often do you disappoint yourself? Be honest with yourself. Be honest.

You don’t do as well on a test as you would have liked. You misplay a ground ball on the ball field. You say the wrong thing at the wrong time. You unintentionally hurt someone.

FailureYou sin. You disobey God. You ignore God’s promises for your life and you do something else instead.

I want to remind you of a beautiful truth. If you’re in Jesus, if you’re saved, there’s two words I want to remind you of:

YOU’RE FORGIVEN.

It’s so easy when I disappoint myself to think: “Well, there I go again. I failed. I failed God, I failed myself. I failed my friends. I failed everyone.”

It’s very likely I did fail in some way. But it’s so easy in those moments to translate “I failed” to “I’m a failure.” It’s so easy to make our identity wrapped up in what we do, actions we take, often because that’s what the world says we should find it in. For instance, more often than not…

  • If you get paid to be an engineer, you are classified as an engineer.
  • If you have kids, you’re classified as a parent.
  • If you get consistent good grades, you’re classified as a good student
  • If you can’t hit a free throw in basketball, you’re classified as a bad free throw shooter.

It’s so easy for me, in those moments where I see my failure, to classify myself as a failure. See what happened there? I translated my action into my identity. I do this way too often. Whether it’s sin in my heart, in my life, in the classroom, in the social world, I make my action my identity.

There’s two problems with how I approach this.

1. I forget the grace that’s already been given to me.

When we Christians begin to identify ourselves as failures, we are ignoring perhaps the most important thing we’ve been given: the grace of God. The grace of God means that, when we run away from God and pursue sin or we slip up accidentally, He still welcomes us back with open arms.

Perhaps the most beautiful picture of this is given in the story of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15:11-24. Basically: the youngest of two sons takes his inheritance from his father early and goes off on his own, doing whatever he wants. Eventually, he gets broke and is eating pig slops, if he gets lucky. Desperate, he returns home to see if he could be a servant for his father. The father sees the son returning while he is still on the road nearing the home and runs out and embraces him, accepting him back fully as a son and throwing a big party in his honor.2013 January 1 watermark

When I translate my action of failure into my identity as a failure, I ignore the fact that God opens His arms wide-open to me, wanting to cherish and love me in spite of my sin. God ransomed me by the blood of Jesus! He spilled the blood of His Son on the cross so that I wouldn’t disqualify myself from spending eternity with Him, instead making a way so that I could! Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

If I’m in Jesus, I’m forgiven and I am no longer condemned. My sin is no longer held against me.

2. I make my own identity, ignoring the one God has picked out for me.

The second issue is that I try to define myself. Not a good idea.

When I see my sin, here’s what I say about myself: “Man, you stink. You’re a failure. You can’t do anything right. You’re awful.”

Here’s what God says about me: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).

I am God’s child. That has so many implications that I could probably go on forever, but the basis is this: God loves me anyways. In spite of my sins, my mistakes, my slip-ups, my failures, God loves me still.

Even when I struggle to love myself, God loves me and wants better for me. That’s the identity He has picked out for me.

Now, this is no excuse for me to just sin and sin and sin and remember grace and grace more and more in light of that sin. “By no means” should we take advantage of grace in our lives, Paul says in Romans 6. Grace saves me to sanctification: “…how much more will the blood of Christ…purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). If we’re in Christ, we’re called to a higher standard: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1).

But when you fail, remember the truths of God’s word: you’re forgiven and loved.

And that’s who you are. You’re a Christian who fails. I am. Every day I am!

But first and foremost, I’m a child of God who’s been covered by the blood of Jesus. If you’re a Christian, you are too.

Trying to Come Up with the Perfect Instagram

I was sitting in church this morning, Easter morning, trying to think, “OK, how can I get the perfect combination of pictures to stitch together for my Instagram?”

I was in the back in the sound booth, so I had a good vantage point of the choir up in the front. I snapped a quick picture of them while they were singing about Jesus’ resurrection. Seeing as how I was in the sound booth, I thought, “Why don’t I get a good picture so that my followers can experience everything I’m doing?” Snapped one of the sound board.hc-social-media-icons-istock-23515213

As soon as I did, a thought hit me. How silly are you, Zach? Why does it matter what you post on Instagram?

Holiday Fever

With holidays like this, I know I get tempted to try to post the best social media thing possible. Here are my attempts:

  • Good Friday: “Praise the Lord for this day so many years ago, when my Savior took the punishment I deserve for the sins I committed today, yesterday and every day until I die.”
  • My birthday: Instagram stitch, “Incredible 21st birthday with some great friends and family, great food and a great Elon soccer victory in PKs. God is good ALL the time. #PraiseHim#turning21.”
  • Election Day 2012: “Today, I pray America would not trust in a Romney or an Obama, but in Jesus, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace, whose Kingdom will last forever after the old heaven and old earth have passed away.”

Now, before I move forward, let me say that I think it can be good to post things like this on these days. I believe that we can use social media to lift up the truth in Scripture and point people to Jesus. But I want to challenge myself, and you who might read this, with something.

Do you try to make the best holiday-related status possible? Why? Do you try to be “more spiritual” than others on Facebook?

I do. Good gracious, I do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve posted a status that in some way attempts to bring glory to Christ, but I check my Facebook every two minutes for the next 30 minutes to see how many people appreciate my statement with a like or a comment.

I’m not writing this to bash those who might like or comment on my statuses or links or pictures or Instagrams or whatever. I’m just saying that more often than not, there’s a part of me that yearns for that social media affirmation like nothing else.

But is that how it’s supposed to be?

Who Are We Speaking to Please?

A week ago, I posted about speaking the gospel with boldness, pointing particularly to Paul’s testimony in 1 Thessalonians 2. I want to zoom in on one particular part of verse 4:

…so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.

Paul was speaking specifically about preaching the gospel in the face of opposition, and moving forward in spite of the opposition because we’re ultimately accountable to God. I think the same thing can be applied when speaking about social media.

Writing about this for The Gospel Coalition, Dustin Neely says: “Social media offer us a glimpse into our worldly significance with such tantalizing immediacy as our blog and tweet stats. Many of us check our stats because we are more concerned with the applause of man than the affirmation of Jesus. We forsake justification in the gospel for seeking to be right in our followers’ eyes. In these moments, we are guilty of doing the exact opposite of what we set out to do in the first place—glorify God and serve others.”

I like the way Neely puts it. The temptation with social media comes when we are too concerned with people liking what we post and finding our affirmation and joy in that rather than in the fact that Jesus laid everything out on the line for us.

I’m there. All the time. I tweet, Facebook, Instagram to seek the applause of man. Ultimately, it’s a short-coming on my part, not relying on the satisfaction of Christ’s sacrifice and love for me to find my purpose and significance.

We Have All We Need

I love what Peter says about God in 2 Peter 1:3 –

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…

Peter’s saying that, through knowing God, who’s called us to know His glory and His excellence, we’ve got all we need for “life and godliness.” There’s so much in that, so much that you could probably write a whole book, but I want to focus on one thing. To live, we need affirmation and significance. We were created for that. We were created to find it in God.

crossjesusAnd He’s given it to us, by allowing us to know Him and love Him, by showing us His love for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That’s all we need to be satisfied. We need to be thinking on the truth that God has given us all the joy and satisfaction we need in the fact that we have a relationship with Him.

Much harder done than said, of course. But I would encourage those of us who struggle with seeking affirmation through our social media posts, or through anything that’s not God, to remember what God did to give us the opportunity to have a relationship with us.

He died.

Don’t waste that, especially for the sake of a few likes or a retweet. Those things are temporary. God is eternal.

As Neely aptly ends his blog post: “We are more excited about what strangers say about us that what the God of the universe has already spoken over us through the cross. We are stitching together a flawed coat of fig leaves out of followers, “friends,” and retweets to try to hide insecurities that can only truly be addressed in the gospel. But, by God’s matchless grace, if when we are tempted to go to the the fleeting approval of man, we instead go to the eternal approval of God that is ours in Christ—the approval unaffected by the abundance or absence of re-tweets—we, our followers, and the kingdom are better for it.

Some Music For Ya’ll to Chew On

It’s been a while since I’ve written a music-related post, so I figured I’d put together a playlist for you to check out if you get bored. The Spotify version of this playlist is at the bottom of the post.

1. All of Me | John Legend | Love in the Future | 2014

John Legend’s new popular track has made its way near the top of my “Future Wedding Dance Song” playlist. It’s a wonderful piano-driven melody that proclaims a man’s love for his woman. “Cause all of me loves all of you, love your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections.” I love the lyricism that Legend brings to the table, more than your standard pop love song. It’s a song of sacrifice and giving everything to a relationship. It echoes the love that Jesus has for us; after all, we sing, “Jesus paid it all.”

2. Beautiful Times | Owl City feat. Lindsey Stirling | Beautiful Times | 2014

Adam Young’s new track is his first in a while and is a fun-infused song, something we’re used to seeing from Owl City. It’s got a catchy chorus, something required for anything to be played on radio these days. Young acknowledges the tough times (“This fight of my life is so hard, so hard”) but proclaims that he’s going to make it through (“But I’m gonna survive, oh, oh, these are beautiful times”).

3. Against All Odds (feat. Phil Collins) | Straight No Chaser | Under the Influence: Ultimate Edition | 2013

I love Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds.” Great 80s ballad. Straight No Chaser, an a cappella group that originated out of Indiana University, provides a cover with Collins singing lead vocals, while SNC provides back-up vocals and all the instruments with their voices. I’ve got a brother who’s in an a cappella group, so I greatly respect the skill and ability it takes to do what they do. Plus, they got Phil Collins. ‘Nuff said.

4. On a Night Like This | Dave Barnes | Me and You and the World | 2008

Dave Barnes has added himself to the list of singer-songwriters I love (Matt Wertz, Ben Rector, Mat Kearney) with songs like this, another piano-driven love song. If you can’t tell, I love these things. He sings of a night in which his love for his girl is crystal clear. “The way you move is a lullaby, and I could fall in love with you.” It’s so refreshing to hear songs like this, often lacking on radio, and fall in love with them. Also, speaking of that “Future Wedding Dance Song” playlist…man, competition abounds.

5. Rather Be | Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne | Rather Be (feat. Jess Gylnne) – Single | 2013

“Rather Be” is an up-beat love song crafted by British electronic artists Clean Bandit with vocals from Jess Glynne. The song debuted at No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see it get popular here in the States pretty soon. Another fun track with strings mingling with some electronic beats laid down in the background, while Glynne sings that there’s “no place I’d rather be” when she’s with her significant other.

6. Happy | Pharrell Williams | Despicable Me 2 (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) | 2013

I loved the movie, but I didn’t catch how great the song was until a couple months ago. Then I couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s all over the radio now, and refreshingly so. Once again, it’s a love song that’s pure, a man singing about how his love simply makes him happy. I’m down with that. Can’t nothin’ bring me down.

7. Santa Barbara Skies | James Roday and Dule Hill | Psych: The Musical (Original Songs and Score) | 2013

I’m a huge fan of the show Psych, which just recently had its final episode (slight tear falls to the ground). The lovable characters and witty writing have made it a favorite of me and my family for the last few years. This is the opening number from their musical episode. It’s a good overview of the theme of the series if you haven’t seen any of the show, but it’s also just a fun tune. It’s better in the context of the musical because the track misses some of the dialogue, but it’s still a fun song.

8. Paisano’s Wylin’ | Andy Mineo feat. Marty of Social Club | Never Land | 2014

I wouldn’t write a music playlist without a Christian rap track. Can’t do it. This is the one I’m listening to most right now. If you’re looking for something super serious, though, don’t come here. Andy and Marty get a little crazy and go for a humor-infused song, both playing off their Italian heritage. Stick around to the end for a faux-Godfather moment involving marinara and toilet paper. You’ve been forewarned.

9. Stolen | Boyce Avenue | Acoustic Sessions, Vol. 4 | 2009

This is a cover of the Dashboard Confessional song of the same name, a beautiful song (I know I’ve said that about several songs in this post, but I can’t help it). Boyce Avenue, perhaps the most famous cover band of recent memory thanks to YouTube, does a nice cover.

10. House of Their Dreams | Casting Crowns | Thrive | 2014

Casting Crowns is adept at writing songs that tell stories. “House of Their Dreams” is about a family struggling to connect with each other. “Now they’re trapped in the wrong worlds and the wrong wars, with their cellphones and the closed doors. It’s funny how quiet and peaceful that it seems. But they’re all alone together in the house of their dreams.” And then there’s a beautiful moment of reconciliation. Just listen to it. So beautiful (there’s that word again).

Boldness in God to Declare the Gospel

In the film God’s Not Dead, a young man named Will stands up for the existence of God in his philosophy class, giving three 20-minute presentations explaining evidence for the presence of the Creator. He faces some fear, but he’s unwavering in his commitment to preach the truth. Watch the trailer here if you haven’t seen it.megaphone

Will expresses a boldness that not many of us, I feel, would show easily. He faces obstacles: a stubborn teacher, a classroom full of students who don’t believe as he does, a girlfriend who doesn’t want him to go against the grain, overwhelming academic disapproval.

The Bible has an answer for how we should handle obstacles like that. Paul offers it to us in 1 Thessalonians 2:2,

But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.

Paul and his crew had boldness in God to “declare the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” As any study Bible would tell you, Paul and the disciples faced constant persecution of their physical bodies, as well as mockery and spite from an unbelieving world. He writes that they “had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi,” and the Bible, Acts specifically, records that Philippi was not the only place they suffered this treatment.

I often get scared to speak the truth in the middle of “persecution.” But these guys suffered much greater than I ever have and probably ever will, and they still preached the truth. They went to work even when their friends were being killed. Why can’t we do the same? Fear, of course. But the Spirit can give us boldness to be a witness for our God, to declare the gospel, the good news.

We can speak the gospel in a number of ways: straight up gospel-sharing, bits of truth in conversation, in classroom discussion, anywhere. But often we lack boldness. We need to go to God for the boldness that we lack. I cannot sit here and say, “I can’t be bold.” That’s a lie. Paul and his crew faced death, yet they stayed bold.

I think part of that came from their perspective. Verse 4 of the same chapter says:

but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.

They had the perspective that they were speaking to please their Lord, the one who saved them, the one who will test their hearts. Man does not have the final say on our eternity like God does. Are we going to live to please Him? A lot easier said than done. We fear what people think about us. But our purpose to serve God. I encourage you, and tell myself, to keep that in mind.

I pray that all of you who might read this might grow to have the same kind of boldness that Paul and his crew had. I pray that I would have it. Let’s live to be bold, going to God every day for this boldness. We’re called to that life.