starving for substance

The Next Step

Posted in Uncategorized by starvingsteve on August 29, 2010

I was listening to a Tim Keller message about wisdom and one part really jumped out at me. He was talking about our decisions and God’s sovereignty and how our minds cannot combine those two aspects due to their counter-intuitive nature. In the end, he said that we are free to make our own decisions but God is ultimately in control. So we can make our decisions knowing that regardless of what we do, God is bringing us where we need to be. He gave an example of when he first planted Redeemer, people would ask him if he thought it was God’s will. He would truthfully answer “I don’t know,” but he planted the church with the idea that New York was the right place and this was the right time yet with the knowledge that if it failed, it meant God was ultimately preparing him for something else further along the line that he did not know.

It really got me thinking.

1990-1996. I grew up in a smallish church, singing songs like “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” and doing all those motions as violently as possible with the intent of hurting the people next to me. Don’t worry, they were doing the same thing. We thought it was tremendous fun.

1996. We move to Illinois and go to a really small church. As the years go on, it shrinks and shrinks and I hate church more and more. Small churches are tough on the kids, unfortunately.

2003. At this point I’m pretty much tired of church. The retreat highs made the couple years before this okay but the lows had me ready to quit. I think at this point I’m counting down the weeks left at church before college. I also start teaching swimming lessons around this time, learn how to effectively deal with kids.

2005. The last time I have to regularly attend this church where kids from 1st grade to 12th grade listen to the same message. Much happiness ensues and I rush off to college.

2005-2007. Some interesting times. Not exactly pagan but not very Christian.

2007. Things come back full circle and I’m back at church. Start plunking around on the guitar to learn how to play songs that my roommate hates.

2008. Year started off with OIL, then Mexico. Mexico. Mexico.

2008-2009. Coserving at CFC. Learned a lot, grew a lot. Started to use those rudimentary guitar skills for leading praise for small group.

Summer 2009. First time doing CFC Summer School. Time spent teaching swimming lessons turns out to be very useful. Lots of fun, first experience with Christian Children’s ministry.

2010. Coserving at CFC, continuing on through spiritual dryness and depression. A rough year personally and spiritually but I’m very thankful for my small group and a couple other key people. Really learned serving despite circumstances.

Summer 2010. First time leading a small group, first time being head teacher at CFC Summer School. Still learning lessons from these experiences.

August 14-15, 2010. Speak at a youth retreat. First time having to prepare/give a message. Praise the Lord it went well, learned a ton in a short amount of time. Still reeling two weeks later after this one…

August 22, 2010. Friend invites me to her church where she’s now in charge of the youth program. Go to church and find a small group of kids, ages 3rd grade to 10th grade, all participating in the same Bible study. The decision of where to serve is made within the first few seconds of seeing this sight.

August 29, 2010 3:01AM. I find myself preparing a message for students in this church aged 6th grade and up. I will also lead praise with the same terrible guitar skills I initially learned to annoy my roommate. One song we will sing is called “Lord I Lift Your Name on High.”

For the first time in years I’m at peace, I have hope and trust and faith in today for I know the One who holds tomorrow. And as I look back and see my past and look at today, I know for sure that His ways and thoughts are higher than mine and that He is objectively and unwaveringly good and faithful. And so (to borrow the email signature of a great friend), “with feet unsure, I still keep pressing on for I am guided by the Faithful One.”

All that I am, all that I have, I lay them down before You, oh Lord.
All my regrets, all my acclaim, the joy and the pain, I’m making them Yours.

Lord, I offer my life to You, everything I’ve been through, use it for Your glory ,
Lord, I offer my days to You, lifting my praise to You, as a pleasing sacrifice,
Lord I offer you my life.

Things in the past, things yet unseen, wishes and dreams that are yet to come true,
All of my heart, all of my praise, m
y heart and my hands are lifted to You.

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Tired Cliches

Posted in Uncategorized by starvingsteve on August 28, 2010

I had a roommate who liked to use cliches as justifications for the most ridiculous things. Now, I forget exactly what he would do but I remember what he would say: “When in Rome!”

One scenario that might have happened, though I might be mixing two different stories together, goes like this. We’re driving back from Meijer around midnight. Some kid (couldn’t have been older than middle school) is riding his bike on the sidewalk. My roommate leans out of the window and yells “Get a job, pal!” to which we all ask “WTF? Even if he had a job, it’s freaking midnight.” So my roommate again leans out the window and shouts “Get a horse!” When asked why he did this, he simply said “When in Rome, when in Rome.”

He would say this about anything, whether it be forgetting to move his pans off the stove, playing his videogames too loud, shouting at people while driving, the justification was always the same. “When in Rome!” It never made sense but it was always hilarious.

Of course it sounds ludicrous to use “When in Rome!” as a reason for doing something stupid yet as Christians we repeat the same well-worn, trite cliches and expect them to have great spiritual impact on people. We bandy about phrases like “Fight your heart” or “Love Jesus” or “Be faithful” or “Just pray” or blah blah blah and so instead of meeting people where they are, understanding them and addressing their needs, we just throw out a bunch of contrived garbage that makes us feel better about our wisdom and leaves them more lost and confused than before. Why does it make no sense to shout at a kid riding his bike “Get a horse!” and justify it with “When in Rome!” yet we still think “Fight your heart” is great advice when counseling someone?

I’m sick of the way we live by cliches instead of living by the Word. Yeah, great, let’s all get blessed, but feeling is only one half of the equation. And so what we’re left with is a Christianity that is based on feelings and a bunch of holy sounding one-liners, and that is weak faith. “When in Rome!” right? And that’s exactly why it’s wrong.

I used to live with this guy. I miss him sometimes 🙂
[Whoops, there’s supposed to be a video here but it’s not working. :(]

Meaning

Posted in Uncategorized by starvingsteve on August 26, 2010

There will be no continuation for the last post, there’s just nothing left to be said.

I’ve been on a reading tear lately and just finished The Fighter’s Mind by Sam Sheridan. Long time fans and readers will remember my enthusiastic review of his previous book, The Fighter’s Heart. He’s a tad over-philosophical but he has some really interesting insights as to why human beings will train for hours on end in an attempt to dismantle each other in unarmed combat.

In the end as he ruminates over the interviews he’s compiled for his book and thinks about that eternal question of why, interesting insights are revealed.

There are two quotes that stuck out to me:

“Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the great Russian novelist, understood the value of such sentiment. He wrote, in Notes from the Underground, “What is to be done with the millions of facts that bear witness that men, consciously, that is fully understanding their real interests, have left them in the background and have rushed headlong on another path, to meet peril and danger, compelled to this course by nobody and by nothing, but, as it were, simply disliking the beaten track, and have obstinately, willfully, struck out another difficult, absurd way, seeking it almost in the darkness…And what if it happens that a man’s advantage, sometimes, not only may, but even must, consist in his desiring in certain cases what is harmful to himself?”

We choose things that are against our own best interest because the freedom to make that choice is more important than those interests.”

and

When I spoke to Carlo Rotella about this issue over the phone, he said, “One of the things that always impressed me about the fight world, people want to feel like things they do in their life are meaningful and important. Fateful.” That was a word Carlo would come back to often, fateful. People wanted to feel like the things they did mattered. He had written: The primacy of hurt supercharges even the smallest detail.

“It seems like the fight world is well set up to turn everything you do into something fateful and important. Every sit-up, staring at yourself in the mirror, every little detail of your day, whether you slept well, ate well, blinked, or not, standing face to face with that guy, is the most fateful, and important details matter in the epic that is your life. There is a whyness to that.”

In the end, we want to believe that our lives matter. When that sense of significance in the things we do start to fade away, we question if what we are doing is worth it. Difficulties will often bring out that oft quoted expression “Is this even worth it?” A question voiced again and again by countless middle school students forced to learn trigonometry “When will we ever need to use this?” translated: “Is this worth it?”

We long for significance, either to be significant or be of significance to someone else. And that’s the fall of man, in essence. Finding significance in the wrong things, seeing the wrong things as significant. Mankind was truly created for One thing.

Finally, it was a Christian boxer that clarified a lot of things for me.

“Andre Ward told me concerning his faith, “My faith and understanding is that God placed me here for a reason. He has work for me to do. That encourages me and keeps me going. I’ve said this before, and so does Virg [his trainer], as a professional, that without God I wouldn’t be in this business. I just wouldn’t.” Andre paused. “God has me here for a reason, he’s in control of everything and his will will come to pass. My job is to work hard, give him all I have in preparation, and leave it to him. It’s everything, the centerpiece, the cornerstone of my career.”

So succinctly said. Now comes the eternal question of what exactly do I work hard at?

Envy

Posted in Uncategorized by starvingsteve on August 20, 2010

Over the past couple years, I’ve had a growing envy of anyone majoring in education, medicine, social work, people going into full time ministry, heck even personal trainers and chefs. Why? For me, it’s so much easier to see how their profession fits into this whole redemptive history that God has laid out. It’s so much easier to teach a student or suffer through their failures and believe that what you are called to do what you are doing. It’s easier to use “God” and “calling” and all that other wonderfully holy jargon as you heal the sick or help the poor, but can you really use those words when you calculate someone’s net operating loss carryover? When you work with people it’s easy to see how everything is spiritual but when you work with numbers there seems to be a disconnect in the application. In short, I’m envious because these people seem to have it all figured out.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this idea of “calling” and I really get uncomfortable when people talk about calling and the distant future in the same sentence. Example: “God is calling me to Antarctica to witness to the penguins for the next 23.4124 years.” Hyperbole aside, I think you get the point. While it sounds holy and godly to talk about what the next 20, 30, 40 years hold for us, I really really really don’t think it’s biblical. I think God uses the obedient rather than the obstinate yet as we focus on all these future things God is “calling” us to, I feel like we become more of the latter instead of the former. “Give us this day, our daily bread.” “Tomorrow will worry about itself.” Yet here we are still laying out these 5, 10, and 15 year plans of how we’re going to follow God’s will. I just can’t buy it.

So then what about this idea of calling, this idea of work? It’s becoming en vogue to talk about how there was work before the fall and how as a result of the fall, work becomes harder, so I’ll leave that to the fashionistas. Here’s my conclusion: If the Gospel story is the most glorious story this world has ever seen, and man is created to give God glory, then our lives must be a reflection of the one thing that gives God the most glory, The Gospel. Every wedding I’ve attended this summer had a sermon that mentioned marriage picturing the Gospel but I think as we work we need to picture this very same Gospel, redeeming a world that is fallen and bringing beauty back to what was once disfigured. Our work must picture the Gospel. This is the foundation on which our motivations must come from. Are we picturing God’s redemptive plan for this world in our actions, or more succinctly, are we picturing Christ?

To be continued…

Conclusion

Posted in Uncategorized by starvingsteve on August 10, 2010

The past few days have been that of general soul searching but no real answers. I went running for the first time in a while tonight and things started to click a bit. There’s something about physical pain that strips away nonessential thought processes. I realized two things on my run: 1) I never will be satisfied with anything in this world. 2) When things get easy you’re slacking off.

Here we go.

1) I Never Will Be Satisfied With Anything In This World
I was thinking about how to pay bills with no job and how discontent I am with my current situation. I’m sleeping in my parents’ basement, unemployed, the quintessential L-O-S-E-R. Due to a past conversation, the amount of $500k was floating around in my head. Imaging that sum of money was nice, thinking of everything it could pay off was nicer, and imagining how it would go a long way at providing some stability in life to do other things was awesome. Yet in the pit of my stomach I could feel an emptiness. I increased the sum of money to an unlimited amount and the hollowness remained. Replacing money with a spouse, a meaningful job, material success, global recognition, anything I could think of, my heart still craved more.

C.S. Lewis once said “He who has God plus many things has nothing more than he who has God alone.” This is something all Christians know in the back of their head but to experience the truth of this is something different altogether. Jay-Z was right but dead wrong when he raps “All I need in this life of sin is me and my girlfriend.” This is a life of sin but you can’t find meaning in you and you can’t find meaning in your girlfriend. And so we’re left finding our complete and total satisfaction in the only One we objectively and experientially know can provide the satisfaction we’re looking for. Yet we don’t. It’s a life of sin, remember? So while yes, we want to be completely satisfied with Christ but we are still a living (though slowly being redeemed) wreck of sin and so complete satisfaction is not possible. And so at last, ideally, we’re stuck in a life yearning for the day when we really will have this complete and total satisfaction our soul hungers for.

And here’s where the second part comes in.

2) When Things Get Easy You’re Slacking Off
Who wants to live life in a constant state of yearning and groaning and discontentment? It’s hard, so we substitute temporary pleasures that we know won’t fulfill us but help us escape from reality. Constantly seeing your sin and seeing your total imperfection is a depressing existence if you don’t see the grace of God, in which case your sorrow turns into sweet repentance and joyous thanksgiving. Yet this is the daily fight the Christian must face, to see and repent for the ways they look for satisfaction in anything besides God. The standard is perfection and our best case scenario is failure, so if you fail enough times and fail to see God’s grace it becomes easier to lower your standards. When I run, my standard is to push my pain tolerance but I find it easier to walk. Failure feels more comfortable. And in the same way, in our own fight against sin, failure is more comfortable. It’s not easy to daily pick up your cross and fight your inherent sinfulness, yet that is what we’re called to do. Every single day the standard that is set before us is perfection and whenever the fight becomes easy, we’re really just slacking off.

Almost every professional fighter you see has a body that can double as a work of art. Their muscles are freaking shredded. How do they get that way? Because fighting, by nature, is a sport that forces you to constantly give your all unless you want to end up a bloody pulp on some canvas floor. By giving their all, day in and day out, they take their bodies to levels of conditioning that is unparalleled with any other athlete in any other sport. So how hard to we really try and fight our sin? According to the writer of Hebrews, not enough.

So what?

The Christian walk is the story of a Christian’s constant attempts and failures to find satisfaction in God though in the process of those attempts and failures, God is sovereign and working to make the Christian someone who more and more finds satisfaction in Him. The efforts of the Christian help, but it’s the effort of God that matters.

[I’m sorry if this isn’t clear, I wrote this while listening to the gangsta rap channel of Pandora and concentration wasn’t where it should be. I know I lost my point in the jumble and I’ll edit this later but for now, hahaha o well]

Just Trust

Posted in Uncategorized by starvingsteve on August 8, 2010

Recently I was talking to someone who was struggling through some tough times. I told him something to the extent of “it’s easy to be thankful and see how God is good in the midst of good times, when everything is going good, but it takes a man of God to be thankful and see God’s goodness in our darkest hour.”

So now it’s my turn. Will I trust that God is good when it all falls down around me? Or will I despair and lose hope?

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

So deep breath, here we go.

Just Do It

Posted in Uncategorized by starvingsteve on August 7, 2010

A couple persistent brothers in Christ forced/guilted/coerced/encouraged me to go to J-Gen, another person begged me to drive his youth group over and so with no excuses and a free trip, I went. Not the best motivation, but still. Upon arriving at J-Gen, there was no rest as I had to quickly make sure the youth group I brought was settled in then had to head over right away for orientation. After some catching up with my pseudo-sister, the doors opened and the kids poured in. My small group consisted of a bunch of socially adjusted (a theory on this is forthcoming), spiritually struggling PK’s and we bonded almost immediately. The camaraderie amongst these kids was awesome. Their honesty about their struggles with faith and parents in ministry was also awesome. The way God worked in the lives of these guys during the retreat was simply awe-inspiring. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this retreat small group.

The workers truly are few. If you’re in the Chicago-land area, seriously consider serving at one of the countless struggling youth groups. You’ll find that you need them more than they need you, and they need anyone.

Upon returning from J-Gen I find in my inbox some finalized plans for a retreat in which I’m being asked to give a couple sermons. Never having prepped a sermon (though I have slept through my fair share), I’ve just been sitting in a rather panicked state. The difference between prepping a Bible study and prepping a sermon I’ve realized are huge (but they shouldn’t be). Not just with content, but in your own character. You can lead a 45 minute (okay fine, mine are closer to 1.5 hours, sorry summer sg) Bible study and have no conviction and shaky character, but to speak 3 times for 45 minutes on the importance of putting God’s kingdom first? You better live it with your life.

So off I go, on to the next chapter in life with no money, dim job prospects, and no idea what’s next. One year from now, I fully expect to look at this post and laugh.

Until then, I hope Starbucks hires me 😛