Talents

There’s this phrase I like to use to describe myself. It’s well known by many, but also misunderstood I believe:

“Jack of all trades, master of none.”

On the surface, this phrase seems a little poignant. You’re saying to the world: “I’m not really that great at any thing.” and that thought used to make me shy away from it. I was afraid that people would think I was looking down on myself, that I lacked confidence in what I talents I have.

When you start to dig deeper into the meaning though, something beautiful happens.

You see, I used to be jealous of the people out there who were great at something. They had this one thing that drove them further, this one passion, this one desire that kept them on track. They knew what they wanted out of life and they pushed toward that everyday.

And then there was me.

I’ve felt the call of music ministry from the age of 16, “This is it!” I said to myself. But I believe God had something different in mind.
At 19, in response to my love for art, I enrolled in art college for photography.
I kept my options open, I continued to learn what I could in the realm of music (A story for another day), and I continued to pursue the arts. I painted, I taught myself some graphic design and videography, I got involved in performing arts and discovered a love for musical theater, and I started writing. I loved it all. But where was my one passion?

I believe one of the hardest parts of life is choosing what to go after.

In fact, if there is one thing I’m great at, It’s probably self-awareness. The ability to not be able to lie to myself. To be able to see the harsh reality at all times without rose colored lenses. It’s more like a curse, really. 🙂

I look at every single one of those things I love and can truthfully say that I am not great at any of them.
Why? I would ask God over and over. Life would be so much easier if I just knew what I needed to pursue!

I slowly realized that maybe I wasn’t called to be great at any one thing. God began to challenge me… What was so wrong with that?
Did he promise me that ‘my calling’ would be one thing? Why should my calling happen like everyone else’s? Why shouldn’t I have many talents?

I’ve been so caught up in finding my calling, my special talent, seeking my passion, that I missed the point.

— — —

Today, I was thinking about the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.

A master leaves money (talents) with three servants. Each servant knows their master is a certain kind of man. He values profit. Yet, clearly he values his servants enough to entrust them with his money. He gives one 5 talents, another 2 talents, and the last servant he gives one talent. He leaves for a while and comes back to find that the servants who had the 5 and 2 talents invested them and multiplied them. The servant with the one talent was scared that he would lose his money and be punished by his master, so he buried it.
The master returns and he praises the first two servants for taking what he gave them and multiplying it. But the third servant he scolds and throws out into the darkness for not having multiplied his one talent.
I’ll admit this story has always seemed a little harsh to me. I mean, he didn’t lose the talent, he could’ve went and spent it, but he didn’t. Was it so bad that he was scared that he would fail his master?

But I realized today that that’s not the point.
Multiplication of one’s talent is a side effect of one’s view of the master. The first two servants knew their master, knew that they had been given a lot of trust, and they knew the weight of what their task was. The third servant didn’t understand that. He let his misunderstanding of the master cause him to dwell on all the wrong things. He was more worried about the talent than he was worried about his master desires.

— — —

God has been showing me lately that I’ve had that one passion all along. That one passion is, and always should be, Him. He has given me many talents, and has entrusted me to use them for his profit, his kingdom’s profit.
I’ve felt that weight from the very beginning. But it’s so easy to become the servant with one talent. To get caught up in what I have to offer, maybe even comparing what I’ve been given with others, hiding my small abilities because they didn’t measure up.

God’s message in the parable isn’t that some people have more than others for any particular reason, his message is that no matter what abilities he has given us we should love him enough to want to use them for his gain.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that having more than one ability is better than having just one thing you’re good at. It’s all the same. As in the parable, it is not the amount of talents that mattered at all.

At the end of the story, The master tells the third servant that he doesn’t deserve his one talent, takes it, and gives it to the first servant. Then he says: “To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.”

I’m finding everyday that if my passion lies in my talents, then I am doomed to fail. But if my passion is for my master, the talents I have are just a tool to please him.
It’s a beautiful thing to be a jack of all trades and master of none. God has richly blessed me with abilities, entrusted me to gain interest for his kingdom. To be a master of nothing isn’t a poignant matter. It means that I’m ever learning, ever growing my abilities. And the truth is, I’ll never become a master of my talents. For my talents are not mine to begin with, they’re his. I am merely holding onto them, using them well, striving to increase them for my master’s hand.

Don’t Stop This Train.

Let me share a bit of my day so far…

My beloved Macbook Pro turns three years old on Monday. This means my 3-year Apple Care plan expires and I’ve never had to use it. So I decide it’s a good idea to take it up to the closest Apple service center here in Nashville to get it checked for anything that might be wrong that could be covered.
Turns out, nothing is wrong with it that can be covered, which is good news that I’ve had my Mac for 3 years and it’s still running strong, and bad news because I used my last bit of gas money to make the trip for nothing.
Traffic is insane in Nashville on this blistering Saturday afternoon, and to make it worse they’re doing major inter-state closings all over the city. The car I’m driving has this weird thing where it likes to die randomly without warning and the hot afternoon is making it worse while idling in traffic.
This leaves me sitting on the side of the road, not being able to use my a/c, with a ‘feels like’ temp of 110.

All of this hits me as sweat rolls down my brow and thousands of cars pass in ignorance. I start thinking about my life. How this is just ironic that I make a trip for nothing to end up on the side of the road. How my life isn’t going at all how I planned it to be. How I don’t have a job. How I don’t have money. How I’ve never been able to afford a reliable car in my entire lifetime. How God has placed me on a path in ministry I hadn’t expected and truthfully don’t really want at this moment.
I suddenly prayed a prayer, not for my car to make it to the next exit,  but for my path in ministry to change to the place it was well on the path to going but can’t because I accepted a position that takes me further into a ministry that isn’t my exact calling. God, PLEASE send someone to take over this. I don’t know why you gave this job to me, but I don’t want it anymore.

After I shed a few tears and get ahold of my brother, who is a mechanic, and he advises me to try to make it to the next exit, I hobble into the parking lot of Panera Bread. Trying to mask the fact that I’ve sweated ten pounds off, I head straight into the air conditioned bathroom and lock the door.

A familiar song plays over the speakers in the quiet; John Mayer’s “Stop This Train”. I hear the lyrics:

“Don’t stop this train, don’t for one minute judge the place you’re in. Don’t think I couldn’t ever understand, I’ve tried my hand. Honestly, we’ll never stop this train.”

Not only have I known these words for a very long time, but I’ve also heard this song at the times when I most needed to hear it. It’s just like God to put a small, quiet moment into a day of disaster. It’s just like him to use a pointless trip and an outburst of a prayer to speak to me when I was least likely to hear his voice.

I walked out of the bathroom with a determination to write this thought down. To share with you the journey I’ve made in a single day. To find a still, small voice play over the speakers in a restaurant bathroom.
I know I can’t stop this train. I know things can’t be perfect right now. I know I can’t judge this place I’m in according the place I thought I would be. I can’t know the thoughts of an Almighty God who knows exactly where he’s leading me and exactly what I need. How could I have thought that he couldn’t understand this place I’m in. He did, after all, try his hand in life as I am trying right now.

Honestly, We’ll never stop this train.

Hiatus.

 

I stare at the blank walls around me,
Vast, empty, looming.
They mock and tempt me,
Do something, they say, Do anything.
Don’t just stand there, anticipating!

I can’t stand listening to them,
wondering if I’m wrong.
I’ve waited for you to answer,
I’ve waited for much too long.

You’re a fool for trusting him, they say,
You’re a fool for believing.
Why don’t you get up and seize the day?
Why don’t you live your own life?
I know they’re wrong, but what if they’re right?

Where will the next road lead me?
What is the next lesson I’m to learn?
Why won’t you answer me?
Don’t you see me here all alone?

It all seems pointless,
This hiatus I’m in.
As if my life means nothing.
I feel like giving up,
I feel like giving in.

I’m so angry with you,
And yet I see you in these blank walls…
Your face regards my disdain and you reveal nothing.
You don’t smile, you don’t wink.

You simply gaze upon me, appraising me with gentle eyes,
I can’t hold your gaze, knowing you hear my every thought.
I hurriedly glance up again, but all I see are tears.
Yours and mine.
They slip down our faces in silence.

Your eyes say everything,
Your mouth never moves.
I know, my child, how long you’ve waited.
I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do.

But through everything that’s happened,
through every tear you’ve cried,
Your eyes become hopeful, endearing.
I’ve never left your side,
I’ve been right here every time you’ve tried.

Then why is this happening?
Why do I still fall?
Why have you just stood there and done nothing?
Why does it feel like it’s all a big stall?

Your questions will be answered one day,
I can promise you that.
I lower my eyes, feeling again all that I lack.
“Stay with me.” I plead.
You smile, I will stay as long as you need.

I began to feel peace permeating the walls,
Sifting up from the ground beneath me,
The walls bow and tremble ,
And suddenly I could see…

The cage I’ve lived in,
With walls that mock and leer,
It no longer obstructs my view.
The surfaces had become lucidly clear,
And I find my eyes resting upon you.

I feel your arms around me,
Cradling my broken spirit in your hands.
I peer weakly into the unknown
as you help me to stand.

“My child, my child,” you finally speak,
“I know you think you’re ready for this,
but I know you better than that.
I want you to be free from this,
I want you to never go back.”

My eyes become wider as I see the outside world,
An invisible barrier is all that keeps me protected.
“This is the only way for you understand.
It’s not my will that you should feel rejected.”

Beyond the walls I see hurt and pain,
I also look upon triumph and gain.
“This is what’s next for you,
But first you must wait.
You must first learn how to open the gate.”

“Gate?
What gate do you mean?
I’ve known these walls for so long,
And this gate I have never seen.”

You usher me towards the gate,
“It’s been there all along,
Though I’ve just chosen to reveal it to you.
Use what I’ve given you, it won’t be long,
Soon you will have the future you are due.”

“Why couldn’t I leave before?
What was holding me back?
What was the purpose of this delay?”
I question you ruthlessly, my spirit suddenly slack.

You peer back with a loving look
in spite of my tortured glare,
“Oftentimes we are worried where we will travel next
when it’s right here that should hold our care.
What did you learn here, while waiting for an answer?”

I felt a surge of revelation course through my veins,
Our eyes met again, and I knew you knew.
I felt faith rise in my demeanor and confidence take hold of my reigns.
Your all-knowing expression held the final clue.

Instead of explaining to ease my mind,
You nod towards me, asking for my conclusion.
“Oh God, I’ve been so blind! How could I not see?
In all that has happened here,
Learning to trust you is what you were teaching me.”

You nod once more, an approving smile taking hold of your lips,
“Indeed,” you say slowly, “Indeed, it was.”
Then the gate was absolved and I faced the other side,
My nerves coming alive in an electrical buzz.

“Aren’t you coming?” I say as I turn to leave.
You stand placidly, your hands behind your back,
“I am with you always. But not always like this.”
I nod my understanding, courage filling my soul,
Bit by bit the cage fades to black.

Gazing ahead to the world before me,
a wonderful and terrible sight,
I think of the journey I had while waiting,
and recall your tender plight.

I take the first step into this unexplored terrain,
Feeling the invisible strength of a hand I already knew.
I glance over to see that I’m alone,
But in my head I hear your voice,
“Take heart, my child… I love you.”

2011: What If?

As I’ve done for the last couple of years, I will give you a song that sums up the last year for me.
My song for 2011 is: ‘What If?’ – Coldplay.
I picked this song because I actually discovered this song this year (6 years late) and spent many late nights with Coldplay playing over me as I stared at the ceiling, lost in the music beyond any anxiety or worry. If I could sum up the entire year of 2011 in one character it would be a big fat ‘?‘. And it was songs like this one that kept me going. In fact, the entire X&Y album became this year’s anthem.

The song asks the question in everyone’s heart: What If?. A question I’ve asked myself too many times to count this year.

After all the questions expressed, the song concludes: “Let’s take a breath, Jump over the side… How can you know it if you don’t even try?”
And that’s what I decided to do. This year I jumped over the side of a lot of cliffs. I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew something would happen. That was all I could cling to.

I’ve heard a quote that says: “IF is the center of LIFE.”

Last year, after a bit of struggle on my part, I made peace with my looming future and put it into higher hands. I walked into 2011 with the strongest notion that promotions were coming. But I also felt that these promotions wouldn’t come through natural veins of life. In fact, I felt an understanding that I wouldn’t get a good job, wouldn’t start my career, but instead I would be tried financially, emotionally, and mentally. It was a year of self-denial. But the payoff was that the promotions I’d receive would be spiritually. That 2011’s growth would set me up for the beginning of the future I so desired.

Sure, okay. Was my response to that urging. But I had no idea that everything I felt was going to happen so blatantly and without wavering. Without going into a long, drawn-out spill, the first couple of months I did everything in my power to get what I wanted. It wouldn’t happen. Throughout the year, I casually applied to jobs… jobs I should’ve had in the bag… I didn’t get them. But somehow each month, I managed to pay my bills through odd jobs here and there. Until August.

When August rolled around, I had been without any sort of income for a month or so and had still managed to scrape together bill money and pledge money for the church. But I couldn’t do it anymore. I had ZERO income coming in. So when it came time to pay these things, I had no choice. I couldn’t pay them. So I increased my crying-over-the-phone skills and asked for extremely decreased payments and deferments, and God allowed that that could happen for me.
Thankfully, I’m still living at home and have a gracious family that would give me gas money and other things to help me along. No, they didn’t fully understand what what going on, and told me increasingly as the year went along that I needed to do SOMETHING for income… even if that meant getting a job at McDonald’s. I couldn’t. I refused.
See, another thing I promised myself, my pastor, and God when I graduated college  in late 2010 was that I would not settle for just any job. I would hold out for a job that dealt with photography and I wouldn’t be selling my talents short. I meant it when I promised it.  I knew what I felt at the beginning of the year to be true. This wasn’t the year for my career. I could wait.

So I existed for a year, mooching off the charity of others, living in a state of limbo, not knowing what or when something good was going to actually happen. But the thing is, I’ve learned more about managing my finances and charity when I didn’t have money to manage or give.
I’ve been so humbled by this situation. I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for help, that there is no shame in being poor, and that in this state of ‘relative poverty’ I had more than I needed. Even when I didn’t have money to put gas in my car, I had more than 75% of the world. I learned that I am an extremely blessed individual, to have a roof, a family, my health, and a free country to live in.

Now… like I said before, this year was meant for spiritual growth. Including what I just spoke of happening in my spirit through financial hardship, many MANY wonderful things have happened to me this year.

I accepted a position on the Evangelism team at church. Not because I wanted to, but because I didn’t want to. I know it sounds crazy, but because my spirit reeled back in fear from the idea, I knew I had to accept it. I am so glad I did. Through this ministry I gained a deeper love for people that I cannot begin to describe. I faced my fears of social situations, and grew bolder and more radical in the topic of evangelism.

I lost all fear associated with singing on stage. My love for Music Ministry has been set in stone this year. There was one Sunday in the old church building (We finally transitioned to our new location this year!) when I was singing a solo in the service. I went to the prayer room and started to pray the same prayer of anxiety I always did: “Lord, use me tonight, anoint my voice and keep it strong…” but something caught me. Why am I making this about me? so I changed my prayer that night to something like: “I don’t care what my voice sounds like when it comes out, but I pray that you would work through my voice to bless someone, that I could have the privilege of bridging the gap between you and the person whom my voice falls upon. This about you, not me.” — Needless to say, something broke loose in me that service. My voice was laughably the worst I’ve ever heard myself sing. But somewhere during my singing, I found myself not thinking about the song or my voice or what it sounded like. I was completely lost in this moment with God, with no fear or anxiety. It was the most liberating experience. As it turns out, the person I had prayed to bless that night was myself. I was finally free of self-consciousness and self-doubt. God used me to get over myself.

Leadership. At the beginning of 2011 I was invited to attend a monthly meeting that had once been reserved for ‘young ministers’ but became the ALT: Aspiring Leadership Team. Basically it’s a time where my pastor, Tim Zuniga, can pour into us anything and everything he can about what it means to be a successful leader, both in the world and in ministry. This class has been like a feast of meat and meat and more meat. It has taught me volumes of principles and techniques that I can implement practically in day-to-day life. It has changed my entire perspective of the Kingdom of God and how it works. Without going into major specifics, I was elevated to higher positions in multiple ministries I am involved in. And while it’s been trying and overwhelming, I can’t begin to relay all that I have learned from these experiences in leadership. It has been incredible.

One night, around September, I lay in bed thinking about all that had occurred (past and present)… and it was like a wave hit me, and suddenly I could see the hand of God in everything that had happened to me in the last couple of years. I lay awake, literally prostrate before God, until around 4am, sobbing uncontrollably. And afterwards, I felt the most amazing peace. All of those What If’s had disappeared. I could only feel confirmed in everything that had passed, even if I had no answers as to why any of it happened.

Already, it being the first week of 2012, change is happening rapidly around me. I feel released from all that was in 2011, and that this year I will finally be able to see the fruition of the future I have dreamt about since I was 15.
But that’s another blog post. 😉

Heaven: Making The Grade?

God never called us to make it into heaven.

I think sometimes we often look at the reward of heaven as making a grade. Like in school, we can just barely scoot under the radar with D’s, barely making it into the next grade. But hey, you made it, right?

That’s not the way heaven is. God doesn’t want us to look at life with our fleshly minds that want only to do the bare minimum to make a passing grade.

God calls us to strive to be our best. To be an overachiever in our spiritual life, to be a teacher’s pet if you will. Those cool kids sitting in the back row, spitting paper wads at the teacher, won’t just make it into heaven.

It’s easy for one to wonder whether God grades us on a curve or not.
(By this I mean how he judges our actions and true intentions.)

If you are not familiar with the concept of grading on a curve, it means grading one according to one’s apparent abilities, not according to an absolute standard. In school, this means identifying the smart kids from the dumb kids and grading the smart kids according to a higher standard, whilst grading the dumb kids to a lower standard. That way, a dumb kid can make an ‘A’ just as easily as a smart kid. In essence, It evens the playing field. (And no, I’m not trying to be politically correct at this point.)

Basically, does God judge us based on what we have accomplished with the hand we’ve been dealt, so to speak… or does he judge us based on one absolute standard: The Bible?
Our carnal minds would like us to think that God, being a merciful and graceful and steadfastly loving God, would understand if we didn’t get around to doing all that we wants us to do. That, like a teacher grading on a curve, he would let us slide from not doing our homework or making a terrible score on a test simply because that is our apparent ability, to just be mediocre.
Whereas, if one does do all that they are required of, they would simply be just another saint making it into heaven.

Here’s the problem with grading on a curve. It creates no motivation to strive to be better, no reward for having gone above and beyond the call of duty. If God graded on a curve, there would be no reason to try to do all he asks us to do.

It is undeniably accurate to conclude that God does not grade us on a curve.

I’m not saying that he doesn’t offer forgiveness or extend his grace, mercy, and undying love to us when we fail. But God isn’t okay with failure. God isn’t okay with mediocrity. Yes, he placed you in the life that you have now, he set you in these surrounding circumstances. The trials before you and temptations you face are all a part of his plan. God doesn’t want you to merely go about your life, using your circumstances as an excuse to whether or not you will be great. Sure, it seems that others have it made a bit easier for them to succeed than most. But they, too, will face trials not unlike the ones you are facing. Their time will come where they are put to tests of equal importance and severity.
By not grading us according to our apparent abilities but according to our potential abilities, God is setting a high standard for all of us to follow. As I stated earlier, that standard is the bible. Unlike the ways of America, and our very own constitution, There are no amendments to the bible.
God didn’t say, “Love your enemies, bless those that curse you… unless that enemy happens to molest you for most of your childhood, then it is acceptable for you to hold hate and bitterness in your heart for the rest of your life.”
Or, “You are in the world, but not of the world… unless you’ve faced brutal persecution for not dressing, acting, or talking like the world, then it is okay to be an undercover agent for me.”

If life was a class offered in your school, and the grading scale was heaven or hell… There would be no D’s, C’s, B’s, or A’s. There would only be pass or fail. When you step up on the day of judgment and look God in the face, he won’t give you a grade somewhere in between.
He will either smile with gladness and gush,
“Well done, My good and faithful servant.”
Or he will hang his head in disappointment and utter, “Depart from me, you worker of iniquity, I never knew you.”

Bottom line: Being rewarded with the ultimate prize of heaven isn’t about doing just enough to make it there.

God calls us to live a live worthy of heaven. He wants so bad for us to succeed that he offers his hand wherever and whenever you will take it. His grace, mercy, forgiveness and love is there for you to be made strong by it, for you to be able to get back up after you fall and fail time after time.
But ultimately, if you have not taken these endless chances he willingly gives you, and have not stood up to his expectations of the person you can be… In the end, you are the greatest disappointment God will ever feel. Your life is his greatest accomplishment, and your are his greatest prize. He wants only for you to succeed.

It is now time for you to prove yourself worthy of the prize of heaven. But to prove yourself worthy is impossible while living a life you control with your own fleshly desires of mediocrity. For it is not your accomplishments, but the God that you have allowed to work within you, that makes you worthy.

So when you stand before God, he will not consider what you have done with your own hands, but whether or not you let him use your hands and your feet, your entire being, to the greatest degree possible.
What God is looking for on that final day of judgment is not you standing before him, but a reflection of himself.

– – –

I encourage you to read a book that is very close to my heart, a book my father wrote that has been newly published this year. It is called, The Greatest Revolution. It is about unleashing God in your life, and coming together with those around you to create the largest campaign for Christ this world has ever known. If you went to N.A.Y.C. this year, or have heard since of the message preached: We Are Giants… then this book would be a great follow up.
Click here to learn more about The Greatest Revolution and the ministry behind it.
Click here to purchase The Greatest Revolution via Amazon.

Reality: People Do What They Want To Do

I have a statement that keeps popping into my head… probably for the past year, in fact, that I can’t seem to shake. As I did with my ‘Dating is Selfish’ post, I want your input on it.

“People do what they want to do.”

I have personally decided this statement is true, but I also see an opposing side that I can’t look over. You can take this as deep or as shallow as you want. But I want a jumping off point to be where I find the seeming contradiction, in Romans 7:15: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”.

Have at it, ladies and gents.

Truth Goggles.

God has a wonderful way of speaking to me when he speaks through me to someone else.

It’s weird hearing truth come out of your own mouth sometimes.
It’s like, ‘Woah… Where did that come from? I really needed to hear that.’

— — —

Maybe it’s because we’re so tangled in our own situations that our inward truth goggles get fogged. But when someone else comes along with a similar problem, we see clearly through our outward truth goggles by the spirit to offer a helping hand.
Then by doing so, the fog is lifted from our inward goggles and we receive truth as it were a third party speaking into us.
Only instead of receiving advice from a person, we receive it directly from God.

Consider this the next time you feel the nudge of the holy spirit to reach out with a bit of counsel. God might just be trying to speak to you as well.

The Dance With Death.

“Keep your vision all-inclusive, never allowing it to lock on any one thing…look everywhere at once, see nothing to the exclusion of all else—don’t allow the enemy to direct your vision, or you will see what he wishes you to see. He will then come at you as you become bewildered, looking for his attack, and you will lose.
Instead, your vision must open to all there is, never settling, even when cutting. Know your enemy’s moves by instinct, not waiting to see them. To dance with death meant to know the enemy’s sword and its speed without waiting to see it. Dancing with death meant being one with the enemy, without looking fixedly, so that you could kill him. Dancing with death meant being committed to killing, committed with your heart and soul.”

– Terry Goodkind, Temple of the Winds

This passage comes in the context of a warrior in battle. A warrior whose only objective is to eliminate the threat. To obliterate the enemy at all costs.

As my life unfolds, I find that I possess the power to read into things way too much. This is sometimes detrimental, but other times is useful for seeing symbolism and metaphor where there is only normality. To find minute distinction in the hopelessly ordinary. Revealing the nuance in the prose if you will. 😉

Once again, I find myself sucked into another one of Terry Goodkind’s genius stories involving Richard Cypher and the Sword of Truth. And, once again, I recognize the spiritual undertones of it all.

[WARNING: The following text contains extreme nerdiness.]

In order to understand it fully, you must understand the way the sword works in the story. The Sword of Truth is a sword of magic. It’s used in it’s ideal purpose only by the noble and true of heart, warriors who are not corrupt, not selfish. It possesses the knowledge, feelings, and abilities the previous owners sustained. When the sword is used, the person gripping the hilt at once becomes one with the ancestors of the sword, using the same power those before him used. That power is his for the taking.
Richard calls this summoning of power, this art of war, ‘The dance with death’ … as it mimics dancing in footwork, and results in the impending reaping of life.

So it is in the spiritual realm.

As disciples of Christ, we already own this ‘sword’. In a previous blog, “I Just Want to be a Woods Guide.”, I explained that the sword is a symbol of the word of God, the bible (Hebrews 4:12). I also mentioned how accepting the title of ‘disciple’ opened the gateway into the power that the sword gives. Richard gains power through the sword itself, as we do with the words of God to guide us through life. He also gains power through the ancestors before him, who wielded this very sword. Those ancestors to us are not only the prophets and disciples accounted in the bible, but also those generations before us, who blazed a trail into the world we know today. We are given power by their heritage, by their strength. (Acts 1:8)

By this we know that we are fully equipped to fight the enemy. We have the power necessary to obliterate any obstacle and overcome any trial.
With power comes skill. Skills that we learn on the battle field, skills we learn through heritage.

That’s what the quote is all about. It’s advice for the warrior on how to kill.
I’ll break it down for ya.

“Keep your vision all-inclusive, never allowing it to lock on any one thing…look everywhere at once, see nothing to the exclusion of all else.”
When fighting the enemy, our first instinct is to focus on them. But when we focus too hard on the enemy we get tunnel vision, and can miss more foes on either side or even solutions to the problem. One of Richard’s favorite quotes is: “Don’t focus on the problem, focus on the solution.”

“Don’t allow the enemy to direct your vision, or you will see what he wishes you to see. He will then come at you as you become bewildered, looking for his attack, and you will lose.”
When we are focused so much on the enemy and the problem at hand, we are focusing on the exact thing Satan wants us to focus on: Him. And when we’re focused on him, we aren’t focused on God. We lose sight and direction from who we’re fighting for. Before we know it, we’re so lost in Satan’s will that we become confused and disoriented, primed and ready for yet another attack.

“Instead, your vision must open to all there is, never settling, even when cutting.”
Even when we gain ground against the enemy, it’s easy to have ourselves a little victory march and forget what’s going on. This line means to never stop anticipating the next move. If you allow yourself to freeze on even the smallest gain, it could be detrimental to yourself and those around you (Nehemiah 4). To never settle is to never become desensitized.

“Know your enemy’s moves by instinct, not waiting to see them. To dance with death meant to know the enemy’s sword and its speed without waiting to see it. Dancing with death meant being one with the enemy, without looking fixedly, so that you could kill him.”
To fight the adversary is to know the adversary. In battle we are to move by instinct, and that instinct is based in knowledge received from past experiences and by what the word of God tells us. Because we are equipped with the knowledge of the enemy, we shouldn’t have to wait for his attack in order to fight back. We know which route sin could take to get to us, and what level of attack it will be. It is up to us to be ready for the attack we know will undoubtedly come. The quote calls it ‘being one with the enemy, without looking fixedly’ … This reiterates the previous advice to not put your focus where the enemy wants it, but to keep enough focus about the enemy in order to predict his next move.

“Dancing with death meant being committed to killing, committed with your heart and soul.”
Bottom line: If you aren’t fully committed to fighting against, and ultimately destroying, the sin in your life, you will succumb to the the wiles of fleshly desire and find yourself defeated. You must be committed to the fight with your heart and soul. (Mark 12:30)

— — —

Are you ready for the dance with death?

Brights.

I’m one of those people who loves to drive with their brights on. My car has old headlights, and they are consequently quite dim when it comes to driving at night. So I drive with one hand firmly on the wheel, the other hand freeing my index and middle fingers to rest on the switch that turns my headlights from a dim glow into a glorious beam of light. I toggle in between bright and dim as I meet drivers in the oncoming lane, so much so that I don’t even have to think about it anymore, it’s second nature.
It’s so much more comforting to be able to see a half a mile down the road, or at least to the next curve, instead of only about a hundred feet in front of me. Knowing what’s coming up further down the road makes it easier for me to drive, it makes it more safe to drive, to not have to depend on just what I can see with my dim headlights edging through the darkness.

I find that most of the time in our lives, we’re driving with our spiritual brights on. We want to know what’s ahead so badly we flick them on out of instinct and drive, desperately seeking what’s next, whether it be a destination or just to keep ourselves out of danger.

The thing is, we can’t always know what’s going to happen next. God asks us to have faith in him and in what he has planned for us. Faith is like driving with your headlights on dim in a ’94 Honda Civic. It’s pretty unnerving, let me tell ya. When I have my headlights on dim I have to place my trust elsewhere. I can no longer trust my own instincts. I can no longer make decisions based on what I see because, well, I can’t see much of anything.
This concept raises a red flag immediately in our minds. Why? Because we, as humans, have an incessant need to know about our future. Think about it this way for a moment though. If you’ve driven for any number of years, you have without a doubt hit some sort of animal. If not, you might have had a wreck trying to dodge something in the road. Most of the time, the safer thing to do would’ve been to just hit the animal or obstacle, instead of swerving madly out of the path to try and miss it. Because when you try to miss it, you’re putting yourself and those on the road around you in danger. It’s ridiculous to have the mentality that a squirrel or piece of debris in the road is worth possibly ending your life or the lives of those around you.
How do we see these obstacles at night? Most likely, it’s because we’re prepared for the brave armadillo to jump onto the blacktop and make a run for it. But that’s not always how we’re supposed to operate spiritually. Faith sometimes means that we have to hit the obstacles in front of us, because trying to dodge them could be more fatal than if we took them head on. Driving with our dimly lit headlights would cause us to meet the obstacles God has placed in our lives. To travel the path he has chosen for us, without fail or falter.

However, It’s both a fleshly and Godly instinct that wants to swerve us away from danger, or heartbreak, or illness. We can’t always live our lives without regard, making haphazard decisions based in knowing that God’s got our back. He gave us brains for a reason. Yes, we are to always have faith in him, but he also expects us to be wise enough to make our way back to his path when we find ourselves making detours that weren’t in the plan. That’s what he gave us the brights for.
I recently finished reading Andy Stanley’s “The Principle of the Path”. It talks about how the seemingly meaningless decisions we make everyday will undoubtedly decide our future. That the wise and simple alike will see the danger ahead on the path they’re on, only the wise react to what’s ahead and take precautions to avoid it right then instead of meeting the obstacle and suffering for it later. The principle of the path is like driving with your lights on bright. You are able to see what’s ahead of you, regardless of how far ahead. In your mind’s eye, you can know that the choices you make today will be the habits you have tomorrow.
Everyone has a general path God has placed them on. In this path we find our calling and purpose, or who we should marry and what our family dynamic will be, or even illness that God placed to prove his glory, and tragedy that affects us because of the intersection with the paths of others that can’t be helped. But within this path we have multiple routes and detours we can chose to take to get to where God is leading us. We call this learning the hard way or the easy way. We can even drive off the path completely and forge our own road in a completely different direction. That’s what free will is. God prepares us a path that will lead us to him and all he has for us, but he loves us enough to not control us like a gigantic puppeteer. “If you love something, let it go, and if it returns…” — That’s what our lives are.

Yes, driving with your lights on bright is the wise thing to do, but it’s not always how God wants us to operate. Sometimes we meet things in our path that are harmed by our lights being on bright, like a car coming to meet us in the oncoming lane. As stated before, certain obstacles aren’t supposed to be avoided. God places this different type of obstacle in our life to help us put our trust back in him. Sometimes God purposefully puts our lights back to a dim setting to help us to focus on what lies more closely in the future and in turn put our focus back on letting God guide us through near darkness, and at times, complete darkness.
It’s when we are making the decision on which side path to take, a crossroads of choice, that we must turn our brights on to see what’s ahead and judge accordingly. It’s then that God wants us to use our wisdom and the right counsel around us to our advantage and travel down the path that most fits where we need to go. Some of these side paths might lead us back to the main path, and others might lead to a completely unordained path. It is when we return to the path that God has preordained for us that our lights must go back on dim and we must put our trust and faith fully in God to lead us through the indiscernible times of our lives.

The headlights you drive with is your knowledge and understanding, and your knowledge and understanding can only get you so far. So, in the end, it is the art of knowing when to use your brights and when to rely on those old, fading headlights that guides you through the paths we all know as life. Don’t be addicted to having the comfort of using your brights. Instead, drive with one hand on the wheel, and one hand on the switch, ready to be a vessel for God to use to get you through your path and to intersect with the path of those around you in a positive manner.

Winter.

Made this short video of a beautiful snow that fell in Nashville a few days ago. This is my first attempt at shooting and editing a video with my new camera equipment.

Shot with: Nikon D7000, AF-S Nikkor 70-300mm lens
Song: “Winter” by: Shawn McDonald

I used this edited clip of the song as a skit in the Christmas Eve service I directed last year. When I watched the raw footage I took, I tried quite a bit of music to accompany it, aiming to use a copyright-free song from a website I frequent. I just couldn’t get away from this song though. It has such a melancholy feel to it, and yet it’s beauty shines through with an odd expression of hope.
That’s the message I wanted for the video. I wanted to show the beauty of nature covered in snow, but also the desperation and loneliness that it brings. The covering of something that appears dead with something that is frozen and heavy… and somehow we call it beautiful.
The destruction of ourselves truly is beautiful, because in that destruction we are able to consider hope. Hope helps us to live again.