Bob and Weave

Musings of an impostor. Welcome to the masquerade.

Archive for October, 2016

Halloween > Christmas?

Posted by flyingbk on 10/31/2016

Everyone knows the grossest part of Halloween. It’s candy corn, of course.

When I was a kid, I enjoyed candy corn. It was a special treat only to be eaten around this time, and this tri-colored triangular concoction was a delight to my eyes as well as my mouth. It’s funny how taste evolves over time; for example, I was that kid who needed his kimchi dipped into water to get the spice out. Now, I love all spicy food and I love kimchi. And since I’m an adult, I’ve come to abhor candy corn for the monstrosity that it is. For you parents who possess kids who savor this abhorrent “treat,” do not be troubled for your kids will surely grow out of it. Hopefully.

The Holy Trinity of candy is common knowledge: Naturally it’s M&M’s, Reese’s Pieces, and Almond Joy. (Honorable Mention: Kit-Kats. And if you are not a fan of Almond Joy, please see yourself out now.)  I envy the kids who will come home tonight with bags full of those top three delights, and pity those who will be stuck with licorice… and candy corn.

The thought hit me yesterday that we are in the homestretch of 2016. Life comes at you fast. Before we know it, it’ll be Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and finally we’ll be watching the ball drop to ring in 2017. Craziness.

I find a deep irony in a key difference between Halloween and Christmas. No, not because my main choice of Halloween costume when I was a kid was the devil, with a markered-on goatee and a classic red-and-black pitchfork.

Consider: We know that Halloween is not a Christian holiday. It actually has Christian origins, but pagans then got a hold of it. There are many churches today that either refuse to celebrate it or seek to redeem it (Holy Win, Hallelujah Fest, etc.). I wrote about the death of Jack Chick on Friday, and tracts like this one echo the conservative view toward Halloween.

But let’s think about Christmas. The gifts we give one another depend on many factors: your relationship with them (family/friends/co-workers), how close you are, whether you think that person will give you a gift and therefore you feel obligated, how much you like that person. We’re all like Santa in his song about coming to town: We’re making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. And there is so much stinkin’ work that goes into all the planning and shopping: The myriad of trips to the mall, constantly checking online deals, even tussling and fighting with people on Black Friday. Come early-to-mid-December, the consensus among my friends is this:” I’m exhausted.”

Halloween, on the other hand, is completely different. If you’re a host who gives out candy, you buy a few bags; it only takes one trip and not much thought or stress at all. There’s no thought of making a list of people or worry of forgetting anyone or anything.

And who gets candy? EVERYONE. Or rather, anyone who utters three simple words: Trick or treat. Doesn’t matter if the kid is naughty, nice, skinny, fat, cute, ugly, smart, dumb, a sweet kid, a jerk, a nerd, too young, too old, wears a thoughtful costume, wears no costume, brandishes a pitchfork. All you have to do is make a simple request for candy, and it’s yours. There’s no other questions, no other requirements.

In this way, Halloween reminds me of the gospel much more than Christmas. Romans 3:22-24 (NIV) says:

 

22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Verse 22 says, “There is no difference.” That’s Halloween. Everyone gets candy, everyone gets the same amount, and usually, everyone gets the good candy (sadly, those who get candy corn may not be the chosen).

The gospel is simple: All you need to qualify for God’s offer of grace and unconditional love is to believe that you need it. You believe you need it, you get it. You utter three simple words to God: “I need you.” It doesn’t matter how good you’ve been, how bad you’ve been, if you grew up in church, if you’ve turned your back on God before… you believe and receive. You become “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came through Christ Jesus.”

You don’t think you need it, you’d rather keep things under the illusion of your own control, you prefer keeping lists of naughty and nice for your life and others… you don’t get it.

So today, let’s remember the beauty and equality of the gospel. Let’s savor God’s unconditional love for us, how Jesus was carved up and then nailed to the cross for us. And save some Almond Joy for me.

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The Weekend Is Here! 10-28-16

Posted by flyingbk on 10/28/2016

A reminder that my weekly newsletter drops every Friday afternoon. You can sign up here!

1. The Christian cartoonist Jack Chick passed away on Sunday. I grew up in a semi-fundamentalist church, and we LOVED our Chick tracts. We passed them around like candy, we got excited every time someone surfaced with a new one, and I would rifle through and read the same pages over and over. The final page was always the same, imploring us to take the only way to heaven.

The one tract that sticks with me to this day is this one, titled “The Letter.” A woman has a dream in which her non-Christian friend writes her a letter from hell. The friend tells her that she’s residing in hell because she never told her about Jesus. The woman wakes up, startled, but with fresh resolve to evangelize to her friend. But since this is Chick, there’s a shock ending , albeit a predictable one, which you can read if you click…

RIP, Jack Chick. I agree with a quote in the Christianity Today piece linked above that he always meant well. See you in heaven.

Chick Publications lives on. They have a few ideas on how you can use their tracts this Halloween! #6 is my favorite 😉

2. There’s two phenomena on social media that always make me sigh in exasperation. First is those who think that writing legalese on a Facebook post will empower them to regain control of their online content and protect them from those goonish Facebook employees. People even use the disclaimer “Just in case:” as if that’s an excuse for being so gullible.

The second is the unwitting usage of false quotes. A point of advice: Before you post a quote that you haven’t read on your own, do a quick Google search and make sure that, you know, it’s a real quote. One that’s been making the rounds of late is this apocryphal C.S. Lewis excerpt from The Screwtape Letters:

I admit falling for this one too (by liking someone’s post). But I mean, just look at it. It’s way too on the nose. Aaron Earls writes about this fake quote, and explains why Lewis’ real words in Screwtape are still quite the warning for us today. The first real quote especially resonated with me. I was super political from 2000-2008, and I’ve been quite apolitical and frustrated since. Both extremes, of course, are wrong. Also, Andrew Walker writes about “The Impossibility of the Apolitical Church.” I greatly appreciate his thoughts, and they mirror what I’ve been thinking during this year’s presidential campaign.

3. The NBA season has begun, and ESPN writer extraordinaire Zach Lowe (who actually taught at my alma mater, Cresskill High School) preps us with this year’s tiers. Naturally, Golden State and Cleveland are 1-2 with quite the gap beneath them. All an NBA fan can hope for is this year is for health. I want to see a Warriors-Clippers playoff series with everyone at 100%, and the same for the likely Cavs-Warriors finals rematch.

I especially love what Lowe wrote about LeBron James:

What LeBron did to Golden State last June should give pause to anyone anointing this four-headed super team. His performances while facing elimination in Games 5 and 6 — a combined 82 points, 29 rebounds, 16 assists, and six aura-shattering blocks — stand as the greatest back-to-back in Finals history. He imagined a way to beat this specific opponent, and then made it happen.

He dragged Stephen Curry through an obstacle course of pick-and-rolls until he cracked just enough room for something — a thundering drive, those dripping soft lobs to Tristan Thompson, cross-court lasers to spot-up shooters. He hounded Draymond Green on defense, switched onto Curry, and vaporized the Curry-Green pick-and-roll that had been the launchpad to a thousand open 3-pointers.

Never has a player done everything humanly possible on a basketball court at such a mind-blowingly high level in two straight Finals against ultra premium competition. That’s one reason James is now officially the greatest player of all-time, and snuck past Michael Jordan this past June. But more on that another time…

Have a great weekend everyone!

Posted in The Weekend | 1 Comment »

103rd Psalm Part 4: Healing

Posted by flyingbk on 10/26/2016

Perhaps my favorite book read this year is Falling Into Grace by John Newton. It’s my kind of book: gospel-based, simple yet profound. I could see myself re-reading this book to kick off each new year. It’s that good.

 

In his chapter on healing, Newton tells the following story:

 

There’s an old tale about a scorpion and a frog. One day the scorpion decides that he needs to cross a river. Since scorpions can’t swim, he asks a nearby frog to carry him across the river. The frog was hesitant. “I know how dangerous you are,” he said. “If I let you get on my back, you will certainly sting me and I will die.” “That’s ludicrous,” the scorpion replied. “Think about it. If I sting you, we will both drown.”

 

The frog needed more assurance. “How can I be certain you won’t just wait until we are safely on the other side of the river before stinging me to death?” “I would never do such a thing!” said the scorpion. “How could I? I would be far too grateful for your help to sting you.” The frog pondered the scorpion’s words and reasoned that this scorpion wouldn’t hurt him. “How could he?” the frog thought, as he let the scorpion onto his back.

 

The frog began to swim across the river, gradually feeling safer and safer. But about halfway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog. “You fool!” croaked the frog in agony. “Now we will both drown! Why did you sting me?” The scorpion replied as honestly as he could: “Because I am a scorpion. It is in my nature to sting.”

 

This tale captures our experience as human beings. We want to live lives of mutuality and cooperation, but far too often our instinctual programming sabotages our deepest desires. We resonate deeply with Paul’s experience: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7: 15).

 

 

We are at part 4 of my series on the 103rd Psalm (Past entries: Part 1, Part 2a, Part 2b, Part 3). As I covered last time, we all have a dark side. And sadly, we each know all too well that a feature of said dark side is an inner scorpion. We sting each other. Often. Whether it be in family, friendship, marriage, any kind of community, social media, fellow drivers, we frequently reveal our sinful nature by stinging.

 

I love how Jesus’ mission is summed up in Matthew 4:23 (NIV), which also fits with our study of this psalm, verses 2 and 3 (NIV):

 

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

 

2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases

 

Jesus loves to heal. While on earth, he healed the blind, the deaf, the lame, the demon-possessed. But he also healed people’s fear, unbelief, shame. In fact, Jesus’ outward healings pointed to the inward. Jesus is about healing each of us, inside and out, our whole person.

 

Back to our inner scorpion. We all like to think that we do a good job of hiding it, and keeping it from rearing its ugly head. But I’m sure our family and friends around us would beg to differ. In his wonderful collection of essays titled We Learn Nothing, Tim Kreider writes about his late friend Skelly. His friend was someone who always exaggerated when telling stories; he felt the need to add in extra details to make himself look better or simply in an attempt to make the anecdote funnier. We all have a friend just like Skelly; in fact, I bet you instantly thought of someone as I wrote that description.

 

In this essay, Kreider came up with a brilliant term: The Soul Toupee. He writes:

 

Each of us has a Soul Toupee. The Soul Toupee is that thing about ourselves we are most deeply embarrassed by and like to think we have cunningly concealed from the world, but which is, in fact, pitifully obvious to everybody who knows us. Contemplating one’s own Soul Toupee is not an exercise for the fainthearted.

 

Most of the time other people don’t even get why our Soul Toupee is any big deal or a cause of such evident deep shame to us but they can tell that it is because of our inept, transparent efforts to cover it up, which only call more attention to it and to our self-consciousness about it, and so they gently pretend not to notice it. Meanwhile we’re standing there with our little rigid spongelike square of hair pasted on our heads thinking: Heh – got ‘em all fooled!”

 

 

The world is a cruel, unforgiving place. The older I get, the more I become susceptible to and weathered by insecurities, brokenness, rejection, failure. In addition, I can see it all around me in my older friends. I see people managing their disappointment, armoring up against any kind of possible rejection or failure, and simply giving up on certain areas of their heart and life. And as long as one doesn’t completely isolate himself, those flaws will show up. The soul toupee is on display for all to see, despite our best attempts to play it off or pretend otherwise.

 

I believe I’ve zoned in on my soul toupee. See, I’m an older single male. The vast majority of my friends are married with small children. So I spent a lot of my time third-wheeling, fifth-wheeling, seventh-wheeling, etc. I know I’m in a good place when I’m with them, I don’t think of what number wheel I am, and I’m simply enjoying good company. I know I’m struggling when I’m driving home after hanging with them, and complaining to God about how I have no one to come home to. And now, I’m fully aware that my married friends can also tell which place I’m in, based on how I interacted with them that night. (“Bob, you seem really quiet tonight…”)

 

We are all hurting. We all need healing. The good news is, God wants to heal us. It’s what he does. See his heart in Isaiah 1:5-6 (NIV):

 

5 Why should you be beaten anymore?
    Why do you persist in rebellion?
Your whole head is injured,
    your whole heart afflicted.
6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
    there is no soundness—
only wounds and welts
    and open sores,
not cleansed or bandaged
    or soothed with olive oil.

 

I noted in Part 1 of this series how Psalm 103 is a progression. So in order to know and experience how God heals all our diseases, we must get how God forgives all our sins. Again, if we come to grips with our dark side, and see that God loves us even when we’re extremely weak and undeniably dark, we are now ripe for healing.

 

We need to first fathom the wide forgiveness that God offers. Then we can better perceive the depth of his healing. We need to receive forgiveness for all the times we’ve stung God and stung one another. Then God can get to work on our inner stinger.

 

(WARNING: This part is gross.) I had this ugly abscess on my upper back in late August. It just got bigger and bigger with each passing day to the point that I couldn’t sleep on one side because it hurt so much. Finally, I knew it was time to pop this sucker. So I went to my bathroom and prepared for the battle ahead. It was late, after midnight, but I was determined. I found a rhythm: Squeeze hard on both sides, get some pus out, wipe the area down. My bathroom reeked of death. Every time more pus exited, the unbearable stink was replenished. I must’ve done this at least 15 times, but I knew it would be an abject failure if I didn’t get all of it out. I succeeded in my task, and I shudder to think what would’ve transpired otherwise if I approached that night halfheartedly.

 

We all need healing. We all need draining. The pain, the heartbreak, the suffering, the brokenness, the rejection, the disappointment. It all needs to be flushed out. If it’s not dealt with properly, the wound hardens. We grow jaded. Bitterness and disillusionment squeeze out room for joy. The past ends up defining our present and future.

 

So we must come to God, heart open, armor shed, past presented. We must pour out our hearts before him completely, leaving nothing behind. It won’t be easy, and it may even smell really bad. But then he’ll begin to heal us and make us whole again. He wants to heal all of our diseases.

 

 

One day, Kreider and his friends wrote a song and performed it for Skelly. The message of the song is clear: We know your flaws, and yet we still esteem you. Kreider notes Skelly’s reaction:

 

For all his secrecy and his fear of being seen, he was touched that we had observed him so closely, and with such love. He loved that we knew him. This is one reason people need to believe in God–because we want someone to know us, truly, all the way through, even the worst of us.

 

Praise God, for he does indeed exist, and loves us in our darkness. And he’ll also heal us as we allow him to explore every crevice of our hearts.

 

But you see through my forever lies
And you are not believing
And I see in your forever eyes
And you are forever healing

 

Posted in 103rd Psalm, God | 1 Comment »

What Children Teach Us: Intro

Posted by flyingbk on 10/24/2016

16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
-Luke 18:16-17 (NIV)

Back in the day, there was a season in my life in which I received many prophecies. Regardless of your views about the prophetic, I love that its main aim is to “strengthen, encourage, and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3).

I received one prophecy that I will never forget. A lady was speaking over me, and she said something like this: “Bob, I see you as a child moving into adulthood. (NOTE: I was already an adult, at least by age.) And I see you saying to God, ‘Well, I don’t want to give up those things.’ And God wants you to know that it’s OK. (Insert girlish giggle. No really, she giggled.) It’s OK to hold on those things. It’s who you are.”

I made a simple New Year’s resolution at the beginning of 2015. It was this: “Children are people, too.” I had been serving at a church where the main demographic was married couples with small children. And quite frankly, I loathed being around children. My posture stiffened, and I wanted to do nothing with talking to them, holding them, or even being a few feet from them. I cringed when I saw others talking to them in that baby goo-goo-gah-gah language. I have a close friend who was similar to me until he had his first son. So I figured I would be like him: When I have my first child, I’ll magically transform into a wonderful dad who loves being around the little ones.

But when I made that resolution, there was actually magical change (thanks God). I suddenly became more comfortable. I began playing with them more, and even being proactive in making up the distance between me and them. And yes, I learned to humble myself and try talking to them in their pared-down language. I even recently told a close friend that I missed seeing her daughter. That would NEVER have happened before. I’m still iffy about holding them; I still have this deathly fear that I’ll drop or crush them due to my poor form.


In the 22 months in which I’ve been better with children, I realize that I’ve learned so much from their words and actions. Like Jesus stated in the above verses, the kingdom of God belongs to them, and we miss out on being full participants of his kingdom when we do not apply the lessons they provide.

During Jesus’ time, children were considered worthless. So he was making quite the statement when he took them into his arms, and his words in Luke 18:16-17 would’ve stunned those in attendance. Certainly, today’s society values children, but I’m not sure that we’re listening well to what they have to teach us.

So I’m excited to start a new series concerning the lessons children give (I’ll be resuming my 103rd Psalm series on Wednesdays). Each lesson will start with the letter “C.” These lessons came to me during Sunday worship yesterday, and I feverishly scratched out notes in my Moleskine. Like children, we are to be carefree, celebrators, cuddlers, and contenders. And finally, it’s actually quite alright to be childish; in fact, we can only attain true love and community when we accept each other as childish. I’ll be supplementing each post with real examples from the children I’ve been around.

The church I’ve joined features quite the young demographic. I’m usually surrounded by people at least 10 years younger than me. At a lunch table last week, I was seated with three 23 year-olds (two in grad school, one working for a year). I’d like to think that being around them has re-brought out my childlike tendencies. Two have even said to me that they thought I was only in my late 20’s or early 30’s, and they were surprised to learn of my age since I’m so young at heart (No seriously, I’m not making that up). These young’uns generally possess a freshness and love for life that has proved to be a fountain of youth for me. They ain’t jaded yet, and I long to have any remnants of jadedness excised from my heart and soul.

I can’t wait to get started. In the meantime, go check out my friend Irene’s recent blog post about a lesson she learned from her child. And read John Piper’s 10 resolutions for mental health: You’ll be able to sketch the childlikeness in each one. Till next week!

Posted in God, What Children Teach Us | 2 Comments »

The Weekend Is Here! 10-21-16

Posted by flyingbk on 10/21/2016

The first edition of my newsletter will be going out this afternoon. Sign up now to get it! 

On Wednesday night, I was ensconced in my sofa, happily enjoying Game 4 of the NLCS between the Cubs and Dodgers. After the inning ended, I thought to myself, “Well, I might as well check out the presidential debate.” Big mistake. It’s like when you can’t turn away from a train wreck. I watched for a full hour until I couldn’t take it anymore. That’s an hour of my life that I can’t get back. Alas. On to this weekend’s links:

1. Last month, Andrew Sullivan wrote about his time at a meditation retreat, but the article is more about his addiction to technology. Gulp. Just like with blogging, I always tell myself that I need to practice a tech sabbath and it ends up happening only once. I know I’m addicted when a) I’m looking at my phone for the duration of a prayer walk, and b) I waste an hour on my phone while lying in bed with the intention of reading. So both have been happening regularly of late.

Since I’m taking a temporary break from ministry, my tech sabbath day should really be the same day as the Sabbath. But that’s fantasy football day (BK Flyers current record: 5-1. BK Flyers current place: 1st)! Still, I will try again this Sunday. So no usage of browsing on my smartphone on Sunday, at least until I snap photos and videos at the Red concert in Asbury Park (Countdown: TWO DAYS). And I’ll look for other pockets of time where I can practice this critically important discipline.

2.  A tremendous feature in the Washington Post on Derek Black, former white nationalist. So many layers in this one, but I especially love the part about how a college student’s weekly Shabbat dinner becomes the impetus for change in Black’s life. It’s a presidential election year, and therefore our charged rhetoric reaches supernova status; combine that with how en vogue it is to be outraged on social media, and you have a recipe for more vitriol and contempt than ever. Bu this piece reminds us of the importance of simply listening to others’ viewpoints instead of dismissing them out of hand.

Also while reading this article, I couldn’t help but think of the movie American History X, whose main character is a radicalized white supremacist and shares the first name as Derek Black. AHX is one of my favorite movies, but I freely acknowledge that the manner in which Derek Vinyard (played so well by Edward Norton) changes his views is way too breezy and convenient. And yet, if someone made a fictional movie about the story of Derek Black, we’d think it was too good to be true. Just a reminder that indeed the truth can be stranger than fiction!

3. I truly believe God dropped a life-giving encouragement on me this week. In my last post, I shared my favorite illustration of the gospel: a lemon sour. And although I used a picture of an Asian bag of candy, the main image in my mind was that of a lemon warhead.

I wrote that post on Wednesday morning, and I taught an essay writing class on Wednesday night. Right when class begins, my student in the back of the room asks me if I want a lemon warhead (!). I say yes, she throws one fiercely at me… and I snatch it out of mid-air. My kids were impressed that I caught it, as was I!

I feel like it was God saying that I’m on the right track with my blog. When I first re-launched this blog on September 12, rust pervaded my writing. But in the last week or two, I believe I’ve been regaining my writing voice.

So thanks again to everyone who has supported me by reading this blog and encouraging me to write. And I love how this warhead was an “extreme sour” one. It only drives the point home even more that we need to bitterly repent to receive the sweet grace of God. My students certainly enjoyed the face I made when I initially tasted the warhead.

4. Since I’m seeing my favorite band for the 11th and 12th times in a few days, I wanted to share a ballad that has spoken so deeply to me. “If I Break” fits perfectly with my last post about coming with grips to our dark side. Each of our souls asks the gnawing question posed in the chorus:

If I break
If I fall
Will you still run to me when I call?
If I close my eyes
And I can’t find my way to you
Will you stay?
If I break
If I break

Hallelujah, that in Jesus Christ, the answer is ever an unequivocal Yes.

(It fascinates me how big Red is in Europe).

 

Have a great weekend everyone!

Posted in The Weekend | Leave a Comment »

103rd Psalm Part 3: Forgiven

Posted by flyingbk on 10/19/2016

This is Part 3 of my series on Psalm 103. See: Part I, Part IIa, Part IIb.

I’ve already started working on my first weekly newsletter, due out this Friday. You can sign up here.

My favorite movie of all-time: The Shawshank Redemption.

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At that revelation, a few of you jeered because you think it’s overrated and marred by cliches (a fair assessment, I concede). But most of you cheered because you share my sentiment. It’s a movie about hope and freedom and overcoming unfair circumstances. (The flick is based on Stephen King’s short story, which is worth the read.) So many great scenes, but there are three that jump out at me. Who can forget when Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) secures beer for his fellow inmates atop the roof? Or when he locks the door and plays Mozart over the prison speakers? Red’s (Morgan Freeman’s) musing: “For the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”

shawshankredemption2

But my favorite scene has to be the one shown above, post-prison escape. As Red aptly narrates, Andy “crawled through a river of s*** and came out clean on the other side.” And there is pure joy as the driving rains wash away all the sweat and filth. Andy is free. Many times, I have pictured this exact scene as I repent of my sins. I imagine myself taking a bath in the torrential downpouring of God’s grace, all the guilt and shame and regret expertly diluted, a la Dufresne.

Of course, there’s a stark contrast between Andy and me: Andy was innocent. Me, not so much. How much more, then, do I need to assume the position underneath the cleansing flood as I hear the words of the Lord as expressed in Isaiah 1:18 (NIV):

“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
We have now arrived at the first benefit that King David mentions in Psalm 103. Here are verses 2 and 3 (NIV):
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases.

While I taught SAT’s over the summer to four different classes, I loved getting randomly philosophical on them. Sometimes, they’d just roll their eyes or lash out in frustration when I riffed on the importance of self-esteem or why they should read as much as possible. (One good reason for the latter: It actually extends your life.) But I could clearly sense flummoxing and quiet tension when I uttered out of nowhere, “We all have a dark side..Right?”, as I made eye contact with each student. It was fun to watch my normally rabid students suffer from a temporary spell of squirming and averting their gazes.

(NOTE: This music video is amazing. Also, countdown to seeing Red in concert: FOUR DAYS.)

Yeah, we all have a dark side. The older I get, the more intimate I become with mine. Whether it’s sloth, self-idolatry, contempt for certain types of people, lust, pride, addiction… my sins are ever “red as crimson.”

But because of the forgiveness that God offers and David chooses for the first benefit of Psalm 103, there is actually hope for me *only* when I come face-to-face with my dark side. Hope spoils when I glance away from the darkness within, and only confess the sins that I deem respectable or not-so-bad.

sourlemon

My go-to illustration of the gospel is a lemon sour: It’s crazy sour and bitter when it first goes into your mouth, but as you patiently work through it, your tongue locates the sweetness. Bitter repentance of one’s darkness must precede the healing waters. But how many of us have missed out on the sweet because we refuse to abide and spend uncomfortable time sitting with our dark side?

I am always encouraged by the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:14-20 (NIV). Here’s a man whom everyone reveres; he’s the gold standard of holiness. That’s much to live up to, and yet Paul is freely vulnerable as he writes:

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

When we know the forgiveness of God, there is no more need to pretend. There is no more need to hide and act like we’ve got it all together. There is even fresh motivation to tackle our dark side, i.e. crawl through our own river of s***, for we know that a deluge of freedom and hope await.

Praise the Lord, O my soul. All my inmost being, praise His holy name. He is a God who forgives ALL our sins.

Posted in 103rd Psalm, God | 3 Comments »

103rd Psalm Part IIb: Re-Praise

Posted by flyingbk on 10/17/2016

NOTE: I’m starting a weekly newsletter. Each Friday, I’ll be sending out a brief summary of my posts for the week. You can sign up here!

This is part IIb of a series on Psalm 103. Part I here and Part IIa here.

Let’s look at Psalm 103:1-2 once again:

1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—

Back in early 2014, I read a devotional by John Piper, and he asked a question that blew my mind for two reasons: 1) The question makes my head hurt, and 2) It’s quite thought-provoking. Here it is:

“Do you feel most loved by God because He makes much of you or because He frees you to enjoy making much of Him forever?”

Uh… what? Let’s break it down.

There is great power in reciting all that God has done for us. In verse 2, King David implores his own soul to forget not all of God’s benefits. Whenever I feel down, I make it a point (usually on a prayer walk) to call to mind all the ways that God has blessed me- past, present, and future. Before I know it, my soul has shifted from despondency to gratitude. I feel much lighter than when I first started. No wonder the great Albert Schweitzer once wrote:

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That’s been one of my money quotes since I came across it in college. I like to joke that my spiritual gift is receiving. You know how many people react with hesitation and even uneasiness when someone does something nice for them (i.e. offering to pay for a meal, giving a gift, helping out with a task)? Yeah, that’s not me. I’d like to think that it’s not because I’m selfish; it’s because I believe we actually eclipse a sliver of the giver’s joy whenever we put up a fight or feel bad. I know that I when to offer to help someone, my joy is complete when the receiver is thankful and receives with gladness.

OK, back to the Piper question. The first part is very much true, and it is awesome. God loves to make much of his children. In my small group study last week and in the sermon yesterday, the focus was on how God blessed Abraham in Genesis 12. God’s blessings were unsolicited, undeserved, and unreserved. And how God appeared to Abraham and made a lopsided covenant with him (read: God does all the work, and Abraham just has to believe and receive) is a paradigm for His people today. He loves to shower blessings on us over and over, everyday and in every way. 

So again, whenever we receive any kind of blessing from God (spiritual, material, relational, a gorgeous fall day, a delicious meal, a fantasy football victory), the proper response is to give thanks. But often times, the buck stops right there.

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The second part of Piper’s question is the all-important next step. When we give thanks and receive the blessing, we are then to take the time and turn our hearts to God. After gratitude comes worship, and with worship comes surrender.

But when we stop at just gratitude, we can fall into a trap. Piper continues as he breaks down the second part of his question:

Why is it important to be stunned by the God-centeredness of God? Because many people are willing to be God-centered as long as they feel that God is man-centered.

Gulp. Yeah, that’s me. Often. It goes like this: I know God is God, I know that God is my creator and redeemer, I know what God has done for me. BUT…in the end, I’m still more concerned with my happiness than I am with God’s glory. In fact, when my prayer walks only result in me feeling better about myself, I’ve shortchanged God and I’ve missed out on a prime praise opportunity. Those times actually become shrouded in self-idolatry, and they serve more as therapy than a true encounter with the living God.

So let us praise. With our soul, with our throat. Let us give thanks for every small and big thing that comes our way, and let us not forget one benefit. Let us be masters at looking back with gratitude, re-mixing the records in our minds with Hallelujahs.

But let us not stop there. Let us take the next step, and bow down in worship and adoration. Let us re-orient our hearts toward God, and seek to give Him glory in that all we think, say, and do.

Let us use our freedom to enjoy making much of God, forever.

Posted in 103rd Psalm, God | 3 Comments »

The Weekend Is Here! 10-14-16

Posted by flyingbk on 10/14/2016

1. I loved this story about a church weekend getaway. This church has been doing God’s work, and helping bring the needy and addicted to Jesus. They faced a unique quandary: A man wanted to join the weekend trip to learn more about Christ. But he’s a severe alcoholic: “This is a person who needs 3 litres of Cider and a six-pack before he can even get out of bed in the morning!” Without any alcohol, his body would go into shock and he could even die. So the church had to decide: Do they tell him to stay away that weekend because he won’t be able to drink? Or do they have him come, and provide the beer that he needs to function?

Reading that story reminded me of another one from The Guardian about a homeless shelter that provides box wine to alcoholics. This place calculates just enough terrible-tasting wine each hour so that its residents don’t suffer “the shakes and sweats of detox.”It’s an example of a strategy called “harm reduction.” Certainly there are risks with this style of treatment (who can forget Tobias Funke’s love for the Method One Acting Clinic in Arrested Developement?), but I believe these stories are reminders of the power of simple acceptance. People do not change because we tell them or attempt to force them to change. But people may change if you just accept them with no preconditions.

Also, if you get a chance, I recommend listening to the July 1, 2016 podcast of Invisibilia titled “The Problem with the Solution.” It’s about a town in Belgium that accepts strangers with mental illnesses to live with them, and it’ll blow your mind.

2. “It’s not a partisan issue, it’s not a religious issue. It’s a human rights issue.” Slate published a revelatory piece on the promising future of the pro-life movement. Certainly, being pro-life is informed by my belief in the Bible being the inerrant, incontrovertible Word of God. But as this piece demonstrates, there are a myriad of other reasons to be pro-life and the various activists featured arrive from all over the religious and ideological spectrum.

Also promising is how more women are leading the movement. One activist, Aimee Murphy (her story is the first one told, and it’s a doozy) states:

“I see this movement going in a direction that is a lot more women-centered. What are we doing to help women in need? What are we doing to empower women? What are we doing to promote equality among all persons?” The fact that women are expected to bear the consequences of pregnancy alone, and that pregnancy often seems incompatible with success, is “a grave form of injustice that we are passing on to women,” she said.

Well put. It also gets fascinating near the end when it talks about our two political parties. The Democratic Party has only become more and more aggressively pro-abortion, which is why even those in the article who may favor a plethora of other liberal policies can’t get themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Along these lines, my buddy over at Beauty Beyond Bones recently penned a piece on the sanctity of human life.

3. Just an amazing baseball game last night in which the Dodgers topped the Nationals, 4-3, in the deciding game of the National League Division Series. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pushed all the right buttons, while Nationals manager Dusty Baker did the opposite. I especially loved Joc Pederson’s reaction when he hit a game-tying home run in the 7th inning.

Peak baseball was achieved when the best pitcher in the universe, Clayton Kerhshaw, came on in relief in the bottom of the 9th in to face former Met Daniel Murphy with runners on 1st and 2nd with 1 out. This is why baseball is simply the best: You do not get this level of tension and drama in any other sport. It’s just not possible. Every Mets fan who’s suffered through this Murphy MVP-level season in the services of our division rival thought for sure that he would come through with a big hit. Alas, he popped up on the 2nd pitch, and the Nationals lost. I admit that I thoroughly enjoyed a little schadenfreude towards Murphy and the Nats. (For crying out loud, Murphy was the Nats’ THIRD choice!)

Despite a great game (which naturally made me gush forth with praise to a couple friends this morning), one major problem reared its ugly head. Due to SIX total pitching changes (five by the Nats), the 7th innings took a whopping 66 MINUTES. And this nine-inning contest (read: NO extra innings) tallied a not-so-crisp FOUR HOURS AND THIRTY-TWO MINUTES. Ridiculous.

There’s a simple fix, but one that Major League Baseball will never implement. The great baseball historian Bill James once suggested a rule change: A 2nd reliever in the same inning may only enter when the 1st reliever has allowed a run. This alteration would greatly cut down on the number of pitching changes in late game situations, and keep the tension at a fever pitch. But yeah, it won’t happen.

4. Finally, this looks really cool and I’m hoping to check it out one coming weekend. Anyone wanna join?

Have a great weekend everyone!

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103rd Psalm Part IIa: Praise

Posted by flyingbk on 10/12/2016

Every weekend during the fall, across the nation, in every state and virtually every city, we jam into public spaces. At this place, we wear similar clothing and we all come, ready to praise and worship. We greet one another warmly with recognition that we’re gathered together as one body for one cause. There will be moments of reflection, moments where the people are led in recitation, and moments of singing. The emotional spectrum is explored in each congregation: There are times of shouting, celebrating, lifting of hands, but also sadness and mourning and even crying.

I was at one of these worship sessions exactly one year ago.

I’m talking about football, but the same applies for baseball. Here’s a pic from my session, at game 3 of the National League Division Series between the Mets and Dodgers at Citi Field. We’re ready for the worship service:

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(I’m in the middle. Props to the two gentlemen who photobombed us.)

Whenever I go to baseball games (and I went to a whopping 18 this year, I re-downloaded my MLB Ballpark App just to verify this number), I’m ever reminded of this phenomenon. We are there to praise, we are there to celebrate. We also may be there to mourn, although we hope otherwise.

This post is Part II of a series exploring the first five verses of the 103rd Psalm (Part I was yesterday). Here are the first two verses (NIV):

1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits.

When I think about praise, I’m reminded of a quote from C.S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms:

But the most obvious fact about praise – whether of God or anything – strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless . . . shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses [Romeo praising Juliet and vice versa], readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game – praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. . . . Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible. . . . I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ‘Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?’ The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.

I love that emboldened part. That assertion is why I went to Citi Field one year ago. It’s fun cheering on your favorite team; it’s a complete blast cheering as one of 44,276 people. When the Mets succeed, we praise as one. When the Mets fail, we grieve as one. There are ritualistic and liturgical elements to each ballgame (the 7th inning stretch, the Piano Man singalong at Citi Field or Sweet Caroline at Fenway Park, the T-shirt launch, each big hit, strikeout, etc.). But like Lewis writes, “all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.” Witness the fans’ spontaneity as we whoop it up when minister of the wooden bat Yoenis Cespedes launches one into orbit at said ballgame:

 

When you discover someone or something praiseworthy, it’s emotional sabotage to keep it to yourself. Lewis is so insightful when he writes that “shyness or the fear of boring others” prevents us from sharing our praise with others. We MUST praise, we MUST gush, we MUST tell others. We mustn’t let fear or shyness hold us back. Otherwise, our inner health suffers.

That’s why in this psalm, King David actually commands himself to praise the Lord. He tells his own soul, “Hey, you’ve got to praise God.” And he does it thrice. When we think about the Lord, and what He’s done for us, the proper response is to overflow in praise. But we know all too well that there are times when we don’t feel like praising. This symptom points to our inner sickness, and the only prescription is to praise. As my old youth pastor liked to say, there are two times to worship God: When you feel like it, and when you don’t.

That’s one reason why we need to gather. Not at stadiums, but at churches. We come together and we put on similar garments of praise. We greet each other knowing that we’re for one purpose. We take time to reflect, recite, listen, celebrate, and lift our hands.

And we sing.

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In seminary, I learned that one translation of “my soul” (as we see in verses 1 and 2) is actually “my throat.” David is actually imploring his own throat to praise the Lord! I quoted my youth pastor above; I remember so many times in youth group when I came to church on a Sunday in a bad mood. I had no interest in praising God. But I heeded my pastor’s words, and began to lift my voice. And before I knew it, there was a change in my heart and disposition. By the end of the singing, and in time for the sermon, my sullenness had transformed into sunniness.

Why? My posture and my throat directly affected my soul. Here’s another favorite quote from Lewis, this time from his classic The Screwtape LettersIn this quote, Uncle Screwtape, a senior devil, is giving his junior devil Wormwood on how to deceive:

At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.

Our bodily position matters. Our throats matter. Imagine if at that Mets game, when Yo hit that bomb, we all remained still and silent. Such a lack of reaction would be a sign that we were ill, or perhaps dead.

So let’s sing. Let’s use our throats. At church on Sundays, and every other day while we’re at it. Let’s praise God every chance we get, and not back. Then we’ll possess that inner health, and it will be made audible.

Posted in 103rd Psalm, God | 5 Comments »

103rd Psalm Part I: Preview

Posted by flyingbk on 10/11/2016

I’ve been a pastor for over a decade. I stepped down from my post as assistant pastor at my church in June, and used the summer to teach SAT’s at a local academy. (Cheap plug: I love the people I work with, and we possess a group of great teachers.) But the plan was to return to ministry at August’s end; I actually had my next role all lined up.

However, at the beginning of September, I just knew I needed some time and space. During a weekend trip in Boston (the same weekend this happened), I talked with a friend of a friend. He had been in ministry, but realized that he wasn’t in the best place emotionally to continue. Ministry can be quite the lonely place, and being single doesn’t help, either. So he stepped down from his church and took a break. Looking back, the seeds of my current path germinated in that conversation.

I chose to pull out of this future ministry opportunity. It wasn’t an easy decision, and I’m sure I could’ve grinded my way through it. Perhaps in another world, I’m involved in this ministry and I’m off and running. But I also know that I can always return at another time, and there will be other opportunities down the road. The sovereignty of God allows us to not agonize over every life decision and sets us free from the “What if?” game.

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This year, I’ve been going through Tim Keller’s devotion on the Psalms. In the beginning of the book, he suggests a few ways to go through this it. Being the deep person I am, I opted for the most intensive prescription:

The third way to use the devotional is to get a blank journal to use along with it. Read the psalm portion twice slowly. Then ask three questions and write out your answers:
Adore— What did you learn about God for which you could praise or thank him?
Admit— What did you learn about yourself for which you could repent?
Aspire— What did you learn about life that you could aspire to, ask for, and act on?

Once you have answered these three questions, you have your own meditation on the psalm.

There are certainly many reasons to do a daily devotional. One I’d like to stress today is that it gives us time and space to hear from God, and you never know how God will speak to you on any given day. On some days, it ends up being a simple meditation in which I’m just reminded of God’s goodness and the richness of the gospel. (Actually, that needs to take place everyday.) Other days, I’m convicted of a specific sin, and the devotion allows me to repent and consider why I do what I do.

On September 10, the devotion came from Psalm 103:1-5 (NIV):

1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Since that fateful (er, God-ordained) day, I’ve adopted these five verses as my main meditation during this season of my life. Here’s what I wrote for my devotion:

9/10 PSALM 103:1-5
Adore: Amazing. Ridiculous. Awesome. I can’t believe the progression of this psalm, how it gets better and better.
Admit: Right now, I can’t believe it. It’s too good to be true, and my eyes are stuck to the ground.
Aspire: Open up my eyes, lift up my countenance that I may believe these truths once again. Amen.

The morning I meditated on this devotion, I was still smarting and licking my wounds over my decision to take a break from ministry. And the road ahead was rife with uncertainty; I didn’t have a job and had no idea how I should spend my time. As you can see from my ‘Admit’ portion, I was in a place where I knew that I did not truly believe what I was reading. That’s another good reason to do a daily devotion: We discipline ourselves and ask: Do I really believe what I’m reading to be true? Why or why not?

And as I wrote in the ‘Adore’ part, I read these five verses as a progression. It begins with praise and reflection, and then God moves ever so surely.

I also experienced nostalgia as I read this psalm. Back in the day, on 6/6/06, three brothers in Christ and I made covenant with each other: to love each other, pray for each other, to strive together for God. We redeemed this date, naturally, and it also happens to be the day that the best band in the universe released its debut album. (Also, countdown until I see them in concert on back-to-back nights: TWELVE DAYS.) So as you can see, it was quite a destinies-altering day in the history of the galaxy.

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(NOTE: photo credit: ME.)

In one of our covenant gatherings, a brother suggested that we memorize Psalm 103:1-5. So it was easy for me to re-commit these verses to memory, and they’ve been ever strong in my heart for the last month. I will be breaking down these verses in the weeks to come. Part II: Praise will be next.

I have been witnessing the 103rd Psalm progression in my life. I’ve experienced the forgiveness of my sins and the healing of my diseases. I’ve seen my work schedule come together (also giving me time to practice my writing in this blog) and I’ve found the right church community for me. Thinking on such things only fills me with more joy because I know this psalm is telling me that the best is yet to come.

Posted in 103rd Psalm, God | 6 Comments »