Saturday, July 27, 2013

Subtle Idolatry

Do you tend to think like God or does God tend to think like you? It sounds like a funny question at first, but it's something we all struggle with. Do you struggle with the character and nature of God and try to better shape your life to reflect Him or do you tend to make God care about the things you care about and think about things the way that you think about things?

If you've ever read the top of my blog, I quote a guy named A. W. Tozer. He was a pretty cool dude, usually about 3 notches over my head at all times. The quote I use above is from the book "Knowledge of the Holy" and it essentially asks the question, "What comes into your mind when you think about God?" To Tozer, thinking about God rightly is of the utmost importance, for there can be no greater thought than the thought that is of God. One of profound things that he says in his book though is that when we begin to put attributes on God, we start to turn Him into an idol, for He is truly incomprehensible (even calling God incomprehensible can be a step in that direction). All kinds of writers (including Biblical writers) have described God and so I don't think we need to stop using words to describe God, but I do want us to be cautious of how we do it. 

One thing I tend to see people do is make God be like them. We seem to make God rich, poor, white, black, republican, democrat, etc. based on who we are. God transcends all of these petty things. God transcends gender, race, denomination (as if), viewpoint, and any countless number of things we can imagine. 

I set this up to say a few things. Firstly, I re-ask my first question, do you tend to think like God or does God tend to think like you? If you and God tend to share all the same viewpoints, you may just want to step back and evaluate YOUR position, and see if God actually holds that position or not. It sounds weird because of course we want to have a more godly mindset, but I fear that too often we get the order reversed and try to make God have our opinion, instead of holding God's truths as our opinion. People have made God in their own image since...forever pretty much. It's nice to have something we can sculpt and control a little better. When we make God have our opinion, we're just sculpting our own god in our own image and enacting idolatry. 

I'm now going to take a jump in thought, so if it doesn't quite seem connected, sorry, it probably made more sense in my mind than it did in reality. 

I think something that goes into this discussion of not making God in our own image comes from us needing to put God in a jar. I think we too often try to understand every little facet of God instead of relishing in the fact that He's far too big and complex to understand. If we really could understand everything about Him, He wouldn't be worth giving our lives to and living for. 

That being said, I think sometimes God can do things that we aren't allowed to do. Obviously God can do things we can't do, He's the all powerful creator. But what if He can do stuff we shouldn't do? James 1:20 says "For the anger of a person does not produce the justice of God." James essentially says that the anger that you possess does not bring about the Justice that God would have, and thus taking any initiative on that anger leads to the wrong thing. It's really a fancy way of saying that "vengeance is the Lord's, not man's". 

Remember a couple of posts back when I talked about judging? Jesus says essentially not to do it, because we tend to mess it up. One thing that I'm rather confident in though is that God will judge us all at the end of this world. So God gets to do something that He says He'd rather us not do. Why? Because we don't do it well. James says that our own anger and vengeance are not healthy, and won't bring about the justice that God says will come to the evildoers of this world. Thus, even though they may be judged harshly one day, Jesus asks us to love and pray for our enemies instead of retaliating against them (Matthew 5:38-48). 

We mostly prefer to think about God as loving and merciful. He is, don't get that wrong, but those are not his only attributes. He is also the God who has struck people dead before in their tracks and opened up deep chasms in the earth that have swallowed entire families up. These types of stories really mess with our thought processes because they seem to contradict God's merciful nature. I challenge you not to put God in a jar which you've poked just enough holes in so that He can breathe. You don't have to understand Him fully, but trust me, that's ok. C. S. Lewis created a pretty crazy image for God when he wrote about the character Aslan who is a lion in the Chronicles of Narnia. In the Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe - one of the children asks if Aslan is safe and a beaver replies, "Safe? Of course He's not safe. But He's good I tell you." I'd rather God not be a tame lion, it makes Him worth following. 

There's a flip side of this though. In James 4, it says "Do not speak against one another, brothers and sisters. The person who speaks against a brother or sister, or judges their brother or sister speaks against the law and judges the law...There is one lawgiver and judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But who are you, you who judge your neighbor? (11-12). God's not a tame lion, and he surely has the power to save and destroy, but that doesn't mean that we do as well. That's why I think Jesus asks us to turn the other cheek and love our enemies, our anger and revenge won't bring about the justice that God desires (even though He desires to avenge you). 

God has every right to take away life and pass judgment, but I'm not sure we do. We are asked instead to show the positive aspects, like giving life, mercy, and love to those around us. We are asked to live like Jesus did on this earth. Even Jesus, having all authority to act as God (because He was God) did not judge those around Him nor retaliate against those who did Him wrong. We are asked to imitate Jesus, maybe because there are attributes and characteristics of God we are simply not meant to imitate. 

I'd rather get to the gates and have God be like, "Hey, you were overtly graceful" than "Dude, why were you trying to do my job at stuff like passing judgment and taking life?" 

This kind of mindset represents the other side of the coin of idolatry. On one side we tend to make God in our image, on the other side we tend to put ourselves in the place of God. 

I'm not saying there is no place for correction or confrontation, but I think we can learn alot from how Jesus did things, He saved his harsh words for the religious leaders of the day and spoke grace and healing to the sick and the sinful. 

Don't be an idolater. Craft your life to be in line with the character of God, not the other way around. And also, know your place in the workings of God.

I leave you with a line from the song Vices Like Vipers by my favorite band Oh, Sleeper.

"When I am God, this church is unsound"

Thursday, July 18, 2013 a kid

Here are a collection of things I wrote for random english assignments from about age 7 to around 12. I wasn't necessarily a shining, gold star student, but I was kind of clever...and mildly twisted. Anyway, this has no theological implications here at all (save the paragraph at the bottom, my personal favorite), but it should be fun(ny) to read. I really couldn't tell you when I wrote all these things, I just found the papers and not many of them had dates. But I'm relatively confident all these were somewhere in the age range I gave above. I've left in all my spelling, grammar, and verb tense errors because you know what, sometimes that makes it funnier. Anyway, I hope my youthful ignorance and wit can bring a smile to your face. Enjoy. 

P.S. I was really into hunting back then. Lots of animal deaths. Sorry if you're a lover of animals. Still funny though. 

*Sentences with Prepositional Phrases* 

The food went through the cat’s intestines and came out his butt.
The bear came down the mountain and got shot.
Since she hocked a lugie, she’s been very disguisting.
The deer was within range when I shot it.
The dog was sleeping under the car when he got squashed.
Throughout the first quarter, nobody scored.
Mommy, I was up on the roof!
I went into the giant toilet at the museum.
Don’t go toward the light!
Before the armadillo got across the road a trucker stopped and ate him raw.

There was a young stupid boy
Who was talked into being a decoy
When they found him half dead
Lying on his best friend’s bed
They said what the heck happened to Troy?

*Focus on having a sentence with both a Compound Subject and a Compound Verb.*


One day my sister, myself, my two cousins and a friend decided to go sledding. From the agony of failure on the preceding day, my cousin decided to try and ramp off my bicycle ramp. He and I proceeded to dig in and pack snow on the ramp. My other cousin and her boyfriend stood by awaiting his launch. Finally, he was ready. He hit the ramp and landed with a thud. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed. And that was a day I’ll remember for a while. The End.

There was an old woman that lived in a house
She was so mean she killed a mouse
She cut off the mouse’s head
And then the mouse was dead
That was the end of the mouse

An Adventure with Dad

My dad said that we would go squirrel hunting. I felt excited. The next morning we got up to go squirrel hunting. We dressed warmly. When we go to the woods we were very quiet. One of the squirrel was very dumb. He walk right in front of us bang, dead squirrel. Another squirrel was very smart. He ran. But me and my dad are very good at hunting so, bang. By the time we got home we had killed five squirrels. We skinned them and gave them to our Aunt Tootsie. It was a good adventure with my dad. It was the best time ever. The End.

Tae-Kwondo Banquet

At my Tae-kwondo banquet the first thing I got was my blue belt and certificate, and then I got picked with my friend for the most dedicated student. I was shocked. I ate cake and drank water. It was good. The rest of the time I splashed my face with water. A girl sang a song. I didn’t like it. At the end I got a picture with my friend and then we went home. The End.

A Limerick Poem

There was a dog
That got lost in the fog
He saw a house
And found a mouse
He chased the mouse into a log

A Rainy Day

One day in Ohio we were staying with my cousin. She wanted to go to her cousins’ house. I went with her. It was raining outside. One of her cousins was tan. He took tae-kwondo just like me. Their dogs liked me. Their names were Prince and Hero. Because it was raining we played pool, poker, and checkers. My uncle picked us up. It was fun after all. The End.

Red Beard’s Ship

One day I turned fifteen. As a present my parents bought me a boat and diving gear. We went to the Pacific Ocean. I saw a sanken ship. I went in. On the wall it said Red Beard’s Ship. It was freaky. I saw a chest. I was thankful I went deep sea diving. I was running out of air. I was worried but I was faithful in God and he gave me strength. I was able to go fast. I pulled the chest to the surface. My parents pulled me in. I opened the chest and it was full of gold. I thanked God for saving me. Instead of spending the money. I gave it to the needy. I felt good. The End.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Trek: Pain & Summiting

This won't be my normal kind of blog post, for this will involve me telling you about my experience. There will definitely be lessons along the way, but nowhere near the same format as normal. I just say that up front so you know what you're about to read. 

I got the chance to go on Trek with Wilderness Expeditions this past week. They are a faith-based guiding service in Salida, Colorado and have been guiding groups since 1989. There are many of you who have probably been on Trek through this company or another like it. I had never actually been on Trek before, shocking as that may be for those who know me best. I was just never part of a youth group that did Trek, so I never really had the chance to go. But here I am as a college grad, and I've finally got the opportunity. 

The first official thing we did was go rappelling Sunday morning. For me, this was not something new, in fact, I've helped others do the same before. However, I did see something extraordinary. I saw bravery. In my time leading OC Excursions, which involved climbing and rappelling, I got to see the same thing: overcoming fear. I've seen people step  off the edge, go for the next climbing hold, and trust the rope through tears. And that's pretty extraordinary. I'm not brave because I'm very comfortable trusting my life to a rope and have taken very decent falls on it, those who do so despite being scared to death are the real brave ones. I can remember very few situations where I was so scared I was crying and still did the thing I needed to do. Most of the things about Trek are really reversed of the way we normally do things. It's not normal for us to trust our life to a rope and back off the edge of a cliff. It's not normal to deprive oneself of a lovely bed and delicious food to sleep in the woods for 4 days with not much more than granola bars. It's not normal to sign up for hard work, aches, and pains. But as I've said time and time again, the Christian lifestyle is rather similar. Who in their right minds decides to sign up for deprivation of self, picking up crosses and following someone you can't see (Luke 9:23)? Well, Christians do. As much as it is against our nature of self-preservation, God has given us this longing for adventure as well.

After rappelling, we hiked to low camp. I don't rightfully know how far any of these legs of the journey were, I only know the overal distance we covered which was 24 miles round trip (I nearly hit the floor when I heard that). I'm gonna guess the hike to low camp was no more than a mile or two, but it was my first encounter with what would be my nemesis for the week: The Pack. They lent us these exterior metal frame backpacks that were large, old, and for most of them, had seen better days. I'm gonna estimate that I had around 50 pounds on my back for most of the trip. Once again, I don't rightfully know, but I think it was around that. These packs are supposed to sit on your hips for the most part, taking the weight off your shoulders. The two problems with that were that my pack didn't seem to fit the norm, and I don't exactly have the most  bodacious hips around. I'm not saying those who didn't have problems had bodacious hips, I'm just saying that when it comes to hips, I've been told (by family, friends, and a yoga instructor) that I seem to be lacking. Anyway, long story short, the pack seemed to set on my shoulders and killed what little hips I have. Good pack or bad pack though, nobody just handles that much weight going uphill well. 

The next day we woke up and headed to high camp. This was easily the hardest day of quite possibly the hardest 4 days of my life. It was just a long freakin' hike. MOST of this day was uphill too. Most of our crew broke down at some point, some cried, and there was a decent amount of item exchanging going on, making some packs more manageable. I was doing pretty well for the first half of the day. My endorphins were kicking (inner dolphins as they would say) and I was overall feeling pretty decent. Come lunch, that all changed. What followed was an uphill hike that just seemed like it wasn't going to end. I stuck around the back in part because I was trying to be encouraging to those back there, but I ended up taking a decent amount of time as well. I just got tired. 

We finally made it to high camp and I felt like kissing the ground (in part because I was grateful for this soil that was to give me rest and in part because it would feel good to just lay down). We set up camp and laid around for a while before dinner, which was absolutely wonderful. 

The next morning we woke insanely early. Like, we needed headlamps to eat and hike with for the first 30 minutes type of early. This was summit day. Every summit day is really just a summit attempt day. Trying to get to the highest point on a mountain is never an easy or safe thing. Weather can change in an instant and you certainly do not want to be the tallest thing around in a lightning storm. Our group faced twisted ankles, asthma, bloodied knees, and just pure exhaustion. To be honest, I wasn't sure we were going to make it, or at least all together. The goal was simply too far away and there were just too many factors weighing individuals down to make it all together. Even the weather wasn't looking like it was going to cooperate just before we were about to summit. However, call it stubbornness, call it providence, call it luck, we made it to the top. I've climbed a mountain that was even higher than this one before, but it didn't quite compare. We had risked alot, struggled immensely, and given everything we had to be at the top of this mountain, and the reward was great. We ended up having around a 12 hour summit day from leaving camp to returning to camp. 

Something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it. On that day, that mountain summit was worth a heck of alot because of how much our group paid to get there. 

Several themes ran throughout all of the hike days. Firstly, it was really, really hard. Everyone was pushed physically, and mentally. The mental was perhaps even the harder for reasons I'm not sure I can explain. Something happens to those who endure hardships together. At this point in my blogging career, I've talked about how we as Christians are called to suffer with one another for the sake of the cross quite a bit, but I really can't say it enough. We live pretty cush lives most of the times. Even if it is not some sort of hardship or persecution related directly to being a Christian, anytime we struggle, it makes us stronger and reminds us of both the reward of such hardship as well as the opportunities we have in daily life to risk something for our faith and get outside our comfort zones. We are surely not meant to live comfy, mediocre lives, and somehow trek reminded me of that. 

Secondly, going through such hardships in a community strengthens that community in immense and amazing ways. There was non-stop servanthood and sacrifice for others being displayed as we approached the summit. The closer we got to the summit, the closer we got to each other. In part, this was because as the climb got harder, we needed each other more, for both physical and spiritual help. There was constant encouragement being passed around, such as is almost never found closer to sea level. Burdens were constantly lifted, not only by encouragement but also physically. Those who arrived at a resting point sought to ease the load of those still approaching. It got to the point where the injured were taking on the burden of the even more injured. We shared burdens, we shared food, nothing seemed to belong to a sole individual. If I may be so bold, it was a time where I felt like I was living out Acts 2:44 with people almost more than any other time - "All the believers were together and had everything in common."

Not only did the community lean on each other, but we leaned on God as well. Several admitted to getting some sort of song lyric stuck in his or her head that would just repeat over and over again, calling on God for help with the next step, and then the next. 

Humans have always sought and found God on the mountain. Moses communed with God at Sinai. The temple was built on Zion. Elijah was used to show God's power at Carmel. Abraham trusted in God at Horeb. Even Jesus pleaded with His Father on the Mount of Olives. Granted that God is everywhere and we need not go higher to find Him, there does seem to be a closeness to God that is found on the mountain. Somehow, we create a thin space between us and God on the mountain. Perhaps climbing a mountain is not necessary to get close to God, but it certainly doesn't hurt the process. 

As we came off our mountain, the hardships did not end. We aren't meant to constantly have mountaintop experiences. At some point, we must enter again into the valley and deal with what we find there. For me, there was a certain amount of disappointment. We took a slightly different trail going down that was supposedly faster. Although my pack had been adjusted, it slowly started to rest on my shoulders again and was bringing me discomfort. With the new route, I did not know where we were exactly but I guessed that we were past where we set up low camp...then I saw it. The area we set up low camp in was marked by several small buildings that were part of an old settlement in the area. When I saw these buildings, I realized we were not nearly as close to our destination as I thought, and disappointment came over me pretty hard. You want to know something though? We still made it, as tired and disappointed as I may have been. Unfortunately, we can't live on the mountaintop, we have to learn how to take the mountaintop with us into the valley. Hard times, disappointment, and low times are going to come, but with God close at hand, we get stronger because of it all. It may help us find God to climb a mountain, but we can't leave Him there. Crap happens, we're reminded of that time and time again. Paul said that we are given the privilege of not only believing in Christ, but also suffering for His sake (Philippians 1:29). It's healthy to be reminded of this from time to time, and to take heart because although we have trouble in this world, Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33).

Trek awoke the adventure in me. Theres something about activity in God's creation that trumps any kind of activity that humankind has created or made. In first century culture, purity was very much related to creation. This makes a whole lot of sense. There is no purer, more fun experience than just enjoying nature as God created it. Some people do dangerous crap that could lead to their death (and many times has). For me, I have different goals I want to attain related to climbing and hiking that I've either formed before this or after my trek experience. One thought I can't shake and now am firmly convinced that I want to do though is to retrace one or all of Paul's missionary journeys, using only methods of travel that He had access to. So basically backpacking and traveling by boat. It'd be a sort of spiritual journey/mission trip. Anyway, I thought about this yesterday, so it's still in it's infancy as a plan (but in Spenser plans, that's pretty good). 

What adventure might God be calling you to? Nobody's journey is the same, but we all got one. What mountain do you need to climb? I climbed the easy one, the physical one, now I just have to work on my own spiritual and mental mountains in life. Be bold - Get out there - and Do something.