Bob and Weave

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Archive for the ‘God’ Category

Night Court!

Posted by flyingbk on 03/31/2017

I prepare weekly Bible studies for my church small groups. I want to share a quote from the cutting room floor by my main man, Robert Farrar Capon. Those of us who grew up watching the TV show Night Court will especially appreciate this one:

The Father’s will for you – his whole will, his entire plan of salvation – is that you believe in Jesus, nothing more. He has already forgiven you, he has already reconciled you, he has already raised you up together with Jesus and made you sit together in heavenly places with him. And better yet, Jesus himself has already pronounced upon you the approving judgment of having done his Father’s will. But if you do not believe him – if you insist on walking up to the bar of judgment on your own faithless feet and arguing a case he has already dismissed – well, you will never hear the blessed silence of his uncondemnation over the infernal racket of your own voice. “He who argues his own case has a fool for a lawyer” is true in any court. But in this court you will be more than a fool if you try that trick. You will be an idiot. There is no case. There is no evidence against you. And there is no courtroom to display your talents in. It is all quashed, all over but the fun of having an eternal drink with the Judge who makes Harry Stone look serious. This is the Gospel as Night Court. All you have to do is hoist your glass and say, “Yes, Judge. Cheers! Skal! Salute! Ein Prosit! Bottoms up!” The whole thing, you see, stands forever on its head: the last shall be first – just for believing.

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Jaded or Joyful?

Posted by flyingbk on 03/28/2017

I’ve been attending in2 Crosswalk for about eight months now. (By the way, if you’re looking for a church with a friendly congregation, many ways to get plugged in, and a pastor who’s a preacher-poet, come visit us!). During that time, I’ve spent many weekdays and weekends in the greatest city in the world. I love so much about New York City- how there’s so much to explore and do, how there’s so much energy and buzz (I love people watching and I actually enjoy loud crowds and tight spaces), and of course, the FOOD.

But NYC certainly has its foibles. One night, while walking around the East Village after hanging out at a bar, one of my crazy bros decided to perform a trust fall directed at me. His attempt startled me, causing me to freeze. This pause unfortunately created a domino effect in which I staggered backwards into a man who was clearly in a rush. He promptly yelled obscenities at both of us, and another guy joined the sneering. My friend muttered something under his breath, certainly not anything hostile, and the first guy stopped, turned on a dime, and menacingly asked: “What did you say?” My friend replied, “Just… Have a nice night.” “That’s what I thought,” was the man’s final words as he whisked around and continued to walk quite briskly.

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When I think about my church, and I think about New York City– especially with most of us coming from a Korean performance-based and shame-based culture, I think to myself: Man, life must be exhausting. Life must be tiring. So many of us clock in so many hours at work and/or at school. We encounter rudeness, anger, selfishness, and insensitivity on a regular basis. Everyone is pushing us out of the way as they’re all in a hurry to achieve something or make much of themselves.

Also, my main prayer for my congregation has taken aim at another paradox. New York is so full of people everywhere, by day or by night. So when we see all these busybodies, and yes, when we see all those couples and lovebirds, the final equation is that our sense of loneliness only increases. It’s like the phenomenon in which one spends time on social media and gets depressed because he or she erroneously concludes everyone else is having a blast. That’s New York City, even if you walk around for just an hour.

And the end result of the all the rudeness, selfishness, self-actualization-chasing, and loneliness is… Jadedness. Cynicism. Disillusionment. If not in all areas of our lives, we struggle with a hardened heart in at least one area: Our jobs and our bosses. Our romantic life, or lack thereof. Our parents and siblings. Our relationships with and our suspicions toward people, perhaps especially in the Church.

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All this jadedness robs us of joy. So we must be ever vigilant, and fight for joy and against any hardening of our hearts.

I want to give four suggestions for how we can fight well. These are four weapons I like to use in my battle for joy and against jadedness:

Process It All

A friend recently shared about how she tries to make  time each week to sort out how she’s feeling. She journals, she prays, she takes stock of her emotional and spiritual state, she simply asks herself, “How am I doing?”

I do the same. I take prayer walks– not just to pray for myself and others– but to ask myself, “How am I doing?” I use this time especially to sort out any signs of discouragement and disillusionment in my life; I take inventory of all arenas of my heart. If there is something especially pressing down on me, I journal and write it out so that I can see what I’m feeling.

The key point here is to not let negativity linger. Whenever I see my heart even leaning in the direction of jadedness (i.e. when someone is rude or unfair to me, or when I’m sad and experiencing any kind of pain), I immediately look to stand against it.

Don’t Fight Alone

We need each other. I am so grateful for my many friends who have helped me process my heartbreaks and fears through the years. Whenever I was rejected by a romantic interest, I would fight against the temptation to wallow and isolate myself. Instead, I would share it with my friends, even while feeling ashamed that there were hearing the same old story.

There is power in processing with others, even if they’re just listening and not giving advice (in fact, this is actually better than giving advice in such situations). You realize new things as you talk out loud about your issues and problems, things you would not have conceived if you kept it bottled within.

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Do It Again

Processing and sharing are not one-time things. They must be done again and again. I take another walk. I journal again. I tell my friends one more time, even though I sound like a severely broken record.

There was one time I was particularly broken up about being rejected by a girl. She was someone I was close to, and it was killing me that I still wasn’t feeling better two months after she said no. I knew what I had to do. I asked a friend for help; I asked her, “What’s wrong with me?” She did give me good advice, mainly that I need to just be patient with myself. I gained much by attempting to process the pain once again.

It is a joy and wonder to know that there are people who really do care for you. They are willing to help carry your burdens, even if it feels like you’re bothering them time and time again. It’s not the same old story to them, and therefore not to me either. I wonder how many of us miss out on this sorely-needed blessing because of our pride and fear that prevents repeated vulnerability. This wonder of being accepted just as you are is indispensable in our battle to thaw out all the hardheartedness.

Remember Grace

Ah, yes, like I wrote yesterday. If we know that we are Kichijiro, in constant need of forgiveness, and freely able to ask for and receive it… We have discovered the only tried and true pathway to joy.

The only thing that disqualifies us from the grace of God is not admitting our need for it. It’s choosing to hold on to our anger and pride and disillusionment and how we’re victims of unfair treatment, and wearing them as badges of honor, even knowing it steals away our joy. It’s refusing to process them, or being unwilling to look weak by sharing them with others.

But it is in the weakness of processing, sharing, repeating, and remembering God’s grace and forgiveness where we find the strength to fight on against jadedness and for joy.

So I encourage us all: Keep fighting. Don’t give up. It’s worth it.

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In Need of Relief

Posted by flyingbk on 03/27/2017

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About two months ago, I watched the movie Silence. This Martin Scorsese-directed flick takes place in the 17th century, when the Japanese government ruthlessly persecuted Christians. The government discovered an ingenious way to put down the Church. First, the inquisitors killed Christians; but they soon realized that method only served to inspire the Church due to the martyrdom effect. So instead they forced Christians to step on a fumie, usually a stone creation which featured a picture of Jesus or the virgin Mary.

The government especially targeted Catholic priests and gave them an impossible choice: They must either step on the fumie, thereby apostatizing and losing their status as a Father, while sharply discouraging their following. Or else, they will continually witness the torturing and even killing of said following. This quandary propels the plot in Silence as Father Rodrigues (played by Andrew Garfield) is torn between the two options.

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I want to focus on another character in the novel and movie. He’s a tragic figure named Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka). He grows up as a Christian. But during this time of persecution, he steps on the fumie, which causes his fellow believers to shun him. And yet he keeps trying: He discovers Fathers Rodrigues and Garupe (Adam Driver) and helps them find refuge in a Christian village. During that time, he approaches Rodrigues, and says, “Father, I must confess my sins.” Father Rodrigues faithfully provides the opportunity for Kichijiro to receive forgiveness.

But soon enough, Kichijiro’s true colors show as he sells out the two priests to the government for a few silver coins (remind you of anyone?). Still, he finds Rodrigues in the prison camp, bows before him, and implores with clarity: “Father, I must confess my sins.” After he receives forgiveness– in literally the next scene– we see Kichijiro running naked out of the camp, free to go because he has stepped on the fumie again.

Near the end of the movie, there’s Kichijiro again, finding Rodrigues one more time. Rodrigues is strongly reluctant (for multiple reasons related to the plot), and yet Kichijiro insists: “Father, I must confess my sins.”

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My Union Square theater-watching companions groaned each time Kichijiro betrayed God and his people, and snickered when Kichijiro repeated the same request before Rodrigues.

Kichijiro is my favorite character in Silence. The Catholic way of confession aside, he understood that because of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, there is always forgiveness available. It doesn’t matter the depth, or length, or hideousness, or the number of offenses committed. There is always grace available, no matter what we’ve done, no matter how bad or unfaithful we’ve been.

There are still many of us today, even those who grew up in church, who struggle with how truly forgiven we are. Some of us believe the lie that we are beyond repair, beyond redemption. We hope that we’ll survive, but we think we’ll never thrive. So we settle for a mediocre Christian life, or we spend energy trying to run away from God because we’re afraid and ashamed of what we’ve thought, what we’ve said, what we’ve done.

We are all Kichijiro. We all desperately need unconditional love and acceptance. And because of what Jesus has done for us, we can always get a fresh start in God. If we fall, we can get back up. If we fall for weeks, months, and yes, years, we can still start anew right away because of the lavish grace that God pours out upon us. All we need to do is come before God and say, “Father I must confess my sins.”

Many of us know 1 John 1:9. It says:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (NIV)

(Hat tip to the book PROOF for the following point. I heartily recommend it, and hope you read it and get drunk on God’s grace.)

Have we actually thought about what this verse is saying? At first glance, this is what 1 John 1:9 should say: “If we confess our sins, God is kind and merciful… and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” If you and I are guilty of a crime, the last thing we would want is for the judge assigned to our case to be faithful and just.

So why does the apostle John choose these two adjectives? He chooses faithful and just because he’s highlighting the point– if you and I are in Jesus Christ, and thus believe that Jesus died for us, and we admit our need for his grace– then, it would be unfaithful and unjust of God to not forgive us! The relationship that God invites all of us to, one in which we receive full forgiveness and grace time and time again, is marked by His choice to bind Himself to this covenant.

Kichijiro and each of his scenes do serve as measure of comic relief in the movie. And when we know the power and depth of God’s grace, and receive a fresh start day after day, we also laugh at the hilarity of it all. We laugh at how ridiculous it is that we’re so wicked and depraved, and yet so loved, accepted, and forgiven. We guffaw heartily at the scandal of grace. And there is joy, all the day long.

 

 

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So Free and So Money

Posted by flyingbk on 01/24/2017

On Sunday, I bestowed the privilege of watching a seminal bro film. My younger bro was only three years old when Swingers debuted on the silver screen in 1996. Thus, it was mandatory for me, as a caring older bro, to show him this timeless classic.

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I’ve watched Swingers so many times. It’s a movie that holds a special place in my heart because I eminently relate to the main character, Mikey (played by Jon Favreau), who’s taking forever to recover from a broken heart. With the encouragement of his buddies (played prominently by a young Vince Vaughn and Ron Livingston), Mikey tries to pick up girls at parties and bars, but he fails constantly, usually spectacularly. If you’ve watched the movie, you know that there are fewer cringe-inducing scenes than when he interminably leaves messages for Nikki (Brooke Langton). You sympathize with Mikey’s loneliness and desperation for companionship even as you shake your head at his complete lack of cool and game.

One theme jumped out at me as I re-watched on Sunday night. In his earlier interactions, Mikey is always trying to prove himself: He wants the ladies to know that he now has an agent, and he pretends that his comedian career is taking off and that he’s busy all the time. The continual fronting painfully reminded me of many of my first dates (usually as a result of online dating) when I always tried to put my best foot forward and sought to frame my job and career in the most positive light possible. Thankfully, there was no aspiring model or actress who asked me what kind of car I drive.

It’s all so exhausting. I once was an online dating addict, but I’m happy to say that I’ve been Coffee Meets Bagel-free for almost six months. There are still times when I notice that it’s noon, and I’m relieved that there’s no bagels to check. Don’t get me wrong: I encourage online dating and I celebrate the couples that I know have originated from it. I have simply concluded that it’s not for me anymore, and it’s been so liberating not having to do any more framing.

Fast forward to the end of Swingers. With Big Bad Voodoo Daddy playing in the background, Mikey meets Lorraine (Heather Graham). Lorraine is the one who makes a move first, asking Mikey to dance. After they swing dance up a storm, totally hitting it off, he walks her to her car. And what I love about their interaction is that Mikey is honest with her. As he hands her his business card, he admits that his career isn’t so hot.

(Personal aside: Want proof that this movie is my jam? When Mikey pins Lorraine’s number to the calendar, thereby exercising newfound discipline in his game, he pins it on… December 13. My birthday. Yup.)

Because Mikey senses that Lorraine is already interested in him, he is free. Free to be vulnerable. Free to be modest. Free to even be weak. Those vibes that Lorraine throws at him make all the difference. Now, I’m not suggesting that women should take the lead, and I’m certainly not a guy who’s qualified to dispense any dating advice.

But Mikey’s evolution did remind me of the gospel.

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The gospel tells us that if we believe in Jesus, we are deeply loved and completely accepted as we are. We don’t have to pretend to be something that we’re not. We don’t need to act like we have it all together and that our lives are on this perfectly secure path. We don’t have to exaggerate or tell fake stories about ourselves.

As the opening credits of Swingers roll, Dean Martin croons, “You’re nobody ’til somebody loves you.” Thank heavens that in Jesus Christ, we are deeply loved and validated by Somebody. He’s not so interested in what kind of car we drive. He loves us as we are, flailing job and career and all. And he’s ever pursuing us. As I read in a book last night, “God always gets the girl.” That is, His people.

Because of God’s great love, we’re all so money, whether we know it or not.


Hat tip (and recommended supplemental reading): This Mockingbird piece.

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Stumbling Upon a Resolution

Posted by flyingbk on 01/12/2017

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I believe in making New Year’s resolutions. I know the shelf life of a resolution is usually a month, perhaps even less. But there’s value in resetting our priorities and seeking to live a more fruitful and purposeful life in the year ahead. So usually in December, I begin sketching out ideas and practices that I want to commit to for the new year. By the time January 1 rolls around, I usually have 5-7 resolutions, or working principles, that I wish to incorporate in my life.

The Weight Loss Miracle

But what I’ve discovered is that the best resolutions I’ve made at the beginning of a new year are the unplanned ones. Two years ago, as 2015 started, I weighed in at 181 pounds. Of course, I had tried to lose weight before, but abjectly failed time after time. However, during the first week of January, I simply started eating less. It wasn’t by design; it just happened (I’ll go ahead and credit God’s sovereignty, because, well, God is sovereign). That week, I ate one slice of pizza for lunch instead of two. I even simply ate just mixed nuts for dinner when I wasn’t too hungry.

At week’s end, I saw the results, plain as day: I had lost three pounds. A light bulb went off in my head. You mean that if I eat less and consume less calories, I actually lose weight? I know, it’s a brilliant observation. Thus, a new resolution was born: Eat less. And by the end of March, I had dropped 17 pounds. Sadly, I’ve stayed around 164 since, despite wanting to get down to at least 155. One day.

When I tell people this story, I always emphasize that it was dumb luck (and God’s grace). I didn’t set out to lose weight. But deep inside, I knew something had to change, and at last, I employed the right means to do it.

A New Resolution for 2017

On January 2 of this year, I decided to give up social media for the day: No Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter. I’m planning to do this once a week. For the longest time, I’ve known that Twitter is the death of me. We live in an instant society where we always want to know the latest, and Twitter feeds that beast so well. I load up my Tweetdeck, and constantly scan multiple feeds (including personally curated lists regarding baseball, college basketball, and money).

I shudder to think how much time I’ve wasted on that platform. So on that day, I realized how much happier I was to be off Twitter. I just felt more fully present and less distracted. Even while watching a comedy on TV, I enjoyed it more and guffawed more appreciably because I wasn’t on my phone while watching it. There was also much less instinct to check my phone throughout the day.

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All along, I’ve realized that I don’t need to check it. What do I need breaking news for? I’ll find out soon enough. And at least on Facebook and Instagram, the people I follow are actually people I know! Most people I follow on Twitter, the sports reporters and fellow fans of the New York Mets and Georgetown Hoyas, are not people I have actually met.

So yeah, no Twitter in 2017. I admit, I’ve checked it a couple times just to see people’s reactions (i.e. the Hail Mary catch in Packers-Giants game). But as a daily practice, it’s been gone, and my life is all the better for it. The key, of course, will not be to simply replace it with more time on Facebook and Instagram, or reading articles on ESPN.com, or shopping on Amazon. But hey, one step at a time.

 

 

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A Birthday Reflection

Posted by flyingbk on 12/14/2016

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I shared this on my Facebook wall, but wanted to post it here as well. I turned 38 yesterday (gasp):

Thank you to all who wished me a happy birthday, whether it be in person via 3 epic celebrations in 4 days, via text message or Kakao, via email, via shoutout on Instagram, via writing on my Facebook wall.

So much can change in one year. Last year at this time, I thought I’d soon be in the promised land of sunny, southern California, getting my tan on at the beach and eating authentic tacos and Korean BBQ nonstop. But alas, that didn’t come to pass. This year, my girlfriend and I broke up on good terms in February. In June, I stepped down from a church I was serving at for 3 years, and chose not to do another ministry even though I was offered. I’ve been working for the last few months, uncertain of what the future holds, whether it be at my current job or future ministry. The stability that I thought was surely mine in terms of romance, job and career, and finances proves continually elusive.

2016 has been a year of loss.

And yet, this I will call to mind:

I love the people I work with, from my colleagues to my bosses, and I’m excited for the growth potential at both companies. I had a joyous summer teaching high school students, and finally got to go on that baseball road trip that I’ve always wanted to do. God led me so quickly to find an amazing church and I soon made new friends, young and old (but especially young), enjoyed my small group with amazing leaders and a loving hostess, and I’m excited for the ministry opportunities that lie ahead there. I’ve always regretted not spending enough time in NYC throughout my life (even as a Columbia student, I rarely saw the city, playing too many video games instead), but now I’m in the city about three days a week, walking around and exploring all the parks, restaurants, markets, museums, and bars. And of course, there’s my family who all live close by, so we can see each other regularly. And there’s my close friends who have been there for me all year long and walked with me through the many ups and downs (you know who you are).

2016 has been a year of gain.

I’ve realized: This is my promised land. Thanks be to God and the abundance of spiritual, material, and relational blessings he pours out upon me. Because of His effectual grace, I’ve already arrived.

I will enjoy the last days of 2016, but I can’t freakin’ wait for all that God has in store for me and those around me in 2017.

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Thoughts on the Election

Posted by flyingbk on 11/07/2016

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A few quick hitters on the 2016 Presidential Election:

The Forecast

Nate Silver’s team over at Fivethirtyeight.com gives Hillary Clinton about a 70% chance to win. That sounds right to me. (Cue the Clinton supporters who believe Silver is engaging in clickbait, and the Trump supporters who want to focus only on a couple select polls.) Recently, I’ve been saying that Donald Trump’s chance to win is about the same as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ odds of winning game 7 at Golden State. Of course, we know what happened then. But I wasn’t floored when LeBron and Co. won back in June; I would be shocked if Trump is giving a victory speech tomorrow night. It is certainly within the realm of possibility, however.

Even Keel

It’s been an odd election year cycle for me. Usually, I’m very invested in the outcome. In presidential elections past, I’ve attended campaign rallies and prayed fervently for the election of certain candidates. I even prayed regularly for specific Senate races. I used to be super-involved, super-invested in every political outcome. I used to read political news and blogs all the time. I would become happy or get outraged when various things went down in Washington.

But I’ve gone from one end of the spectrum to the other. Now, I’m a firm believer in not spectating or participating in the 24-hour news cycle (more on that another time). I steer clear of political debate on social media because let’s face it: No one changes his or her mind when reading someone else’s post. I very much value my emotional health, and the majority of the ways we discuss politics in our country is not conducive to it.

I did make one mistake while swinging on the pendulum. I’ve joked at times this year, “Well our country is now hopeless. Let’s forget politics and only focus on preaching the gospel.” That’s wrong, too. God is concerned and desires to redeem all fields and institutions, and it’s wrong of me to throw up my hands in frustration with our government and say to hell with it all.

I think the best approach is to have an even keel: a) To focus on people and not get caught up in the hype and rhetoric, but also b) To cover our country and government in prayer, and be a mindful citizen. With this year’s super-duper charged political rhetoric coming from all sides, I’ve instead tried to comprehend why we believe what we believe, and why we support or loathe a certain candidate. More than ever, we need people who can empathize, listen, and relate to each other’s mindsets, and yes, biases.

Let’s Get Ready

Final point: For those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, the Bible is clear: We are to submit to our leadership, whether we voted for that person or not. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard fellow Christians in the past refuse to address  Bush or Obama as president. “Well, he’s not my president, I didn’t vote for him,” they’d say. First of all, those statements represent a fundamental misunderstanding of how the American electoral process works. Secondly, that attitude is a direct violation of what the Word of God says:

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
-Romans 13:1-2 (NIV)

1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 or kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
-1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV)

Whether it’s President Clinton or President Trump, we are to pray for, support, and submit to her or him. Even if we don’t like it, that person has been installed by God to lead America. We ought to always refer to our new leader as ‘president.’ We are not to speak ill of our president, but rather consistently show honor. We can be respectfully critical of the president’s policies, but we best avoid any personal invectives.

When we honor our president, we honor God. When we dishonor our president, we dishonor God. Mature Christians recognize that there is a God-granted flow of power from God to anyone else with power, and therefore submit to God by submitting to ones who are placed above us.

So, whoever wins tomorrow night (and hopefully it is tomorrow night), let’s get ready. Let’s get ready to pray for our president-elect. Let’s get ready to honor and submit. Most of all, let’s keep praying for our country and align our hearts with God’s, “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:4, NIV)

 

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What Children Teach Us, Part I: Carefree

Posted by flyingbk on 11/02/2016

A few months ago, I visited Brooklyn at the abode of a couple with whom I’m very close. They have a 3-year-old daughter who is an absolute joy to be around, and I’m not just saying that because she once scurried the full width of a 20-person dinner table just to give me a hug. (She even once told her mom “I love Uncle Bob,” punctuated with a happy sigh. No, seriously. I’m not making that up.) We finished our scrumptious pizza dinner, and were just lounging around in the living room. The little girl entertained herself by watching one of those Youtube shows in which these girls play with Barbie dolls. Here’s the video on that particular night:

After the video was over, the time drew nigh for her to go to sleep. However, she had one last surprise in store for us. Seemingly out of nowhere, she starts jumping up and down. That part is hardly surprising, but she then follows it up by looking at each of us and repeatedly imploring: “Everybody DANCE!!! C’mon!!!” She continued to lurch all over the place and make her demands even as we simply laughed and spectated. This joyous episode took place for about 10 minutes.

The first lesson I have learned from children (intro here) is the value of being carefree. One main shackle that holds us all back is the fear of man: Worrying and caring way too much about what others think of us. Therefore, we’ve all become much more civilized and dignified, and we’ve honed our words, mannerisms, even the way we smile and laugh. Our image is paramount, and we prevent ourselves from ‘letting go,’ lest others look or think of us as weird or different.

Certainly, there are times that call for professionalism. But I pity those of us who feel a need to hold back when we’re amongst family and friends. The daughter’s carefree dance routine reminded me of King David in 2 Samuel 6:12-23 (NIV):

12 Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.

20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

21 David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

23 And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.

We all have a Michal or two in our lives. The one who frowns upon us and even passes us some Haterade when we do or say something carefree or silly. (Pro tip: If you don’t know who the Michal is in your life… then you might be her. Just sayin’.)

King David was so excited about God’s goodness in his own life and his people’s lives. Thus, he can’t help but rejoice, he can’t help but dance with all that he’s got. He knows that many eyes were upon him, and it didn’t matter to him. He was carefree.

I watched my favorite band twice last week. I saw Red in concert at the famous Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ on Sunday, and at the Highline Ballroom in NYC on Monday. The Jersey crowd was much smaller, but the people were also much more lively. (My theory: NYC’ers are less adept at rocking out because of the need to always act so civilized.) I was so carefree on Sunday night, mainly because I went alone. I noticed the occasional glance at my jumping and headbanging as well as my boisterous sing-along attempts, but I didn’t care. There was such freedom in enjoying the music, the performance, the lighting, the rocking out of fellow men and women Red-heads.

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(A photo by me of my main man Michael Barnes in Asbury Park.)

This article recently made me think, though (aside: Game 7 tonight!!! Doesn’t get much better than this!). Am I as carefree when I worship God? I used to be. But the older I get, the more prim and proper I am in worship services. I still lift my hands and sway to the music; I still worship. But if you juxtaposed me at the Red concert vs. me in Sunday worship, you’d see quite the difference.

Going forward, let’s seek to heed the command of my friends’ young daughter, and call to mind what King David’s epic display. Not just in Sunday worship, but throughout each day. Let’s throw off the shackles of the fear of man, and live our lives with loud and unabashed joy. Let’s not worry so much about how we sound or how we look. And let’s remember that we can be carefree and even be a spectacle at times because Jesus unashamedly loves us, even willing to suffer public humiliation at the hands of haters galore.

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

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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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 »