What are you afraid of?

Guys, I can be a blockhead sometimes.

Just kidding. I’m a smart guy. I’m decently intelligent, and I can be fairly witty. But sometimes I can’t see what’s plainly in front of me. More specifically, sometimes I’m blind to how God is working in my life.

Let me give you some context. Like the vast majority of college students right now, I’m barely awake. I can’t think or see straight from lack of sleep and cramming for final exams, projects, and papers. And like many others, I’m battling the fear of not passing a class and graduating in May.

College in general has been a struggle for me in regards to time management and balancing responsibilities. Every semester I say I’m going to do better, and generally I have improved and matured. But in the last few weeks, as the semester comes to a close and graduation nears, fear has crept into my mind. It has been telling me that I either haven’t done my best or that my best won’t be good enough.

I believe fear is the absence of truth. When we’re afraid of something, it’s typically a fear of the unknown, which is perfect ground for the enemy to spread lies. To combat fear, we have to focus on the truth.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about myself, but the truth is there have been times when I should have been studying instead of socializing. That is the truth, and while I can’t change the past, I can improve in that area in the future. Even though that’s not on any syllabus, that’s still part of learning and growing.

More importantly, the truth is God can work in ways we can’t imagine in order for His will to be done. I was reminded of that the other day. Long story short, I had some work to do for a class, and it was going to be impossible for me to finish it on time. With stress, fear, and sheer exhaustion hanging over me, I felt like two and a half years of grad school (and a cosmic amount of student loans) were about to be completely wasted. Right before crawling into a corner to cry, though, I had this simple thought: God, you know what I need to do. It’s impossible, but help me do it.

You might be disappointed to know that the clouds did not part, an angelic choir did not ring the Hallelujah Chorus through the library, nor did my keyboard magically start typing away by itself.

But a miracle did happen. In the next three hours, I wrote over 1,600 words and finished my work two hours early.

Will all of that work mean I passed my class? I honestly don’t know yet. But it is a clear sign to me that when I put my focus on the Truth—that God has called me here in order to do His ministry, and if I’m willing to do the hard work while relying on Him—He will give me the strength, wisdom, and focus I need to accomplish His will.

Now it’s your turn: what are you afraid of, and how can you combat it with Truth?

Laziness vs rest

You scan the peaceful horizon. The sun sets over the lake, which is nestled between rolling highlands. A flock of birds shoots across the dusk sky, and you begin to hear crickets chirping in the distance. A fish playfully leaps from the water, and you watch an old turtle gently make his way into the reeds. No one is in sight. As the last ray of sunlight fades, you see the full moon reflect off the tranquil waves. Only one thing could make this beautiful scene better: for it to be the end of your stressful day.

The alarm pierces through your dream… blissful paradise replaced with monotonous reality. You lie there trying to convince yourself you can get out of bed. That you have the energy to pull off the sheets, sit up and shut the obnoxious alarm off. But that would only mean you’ve accepted today. Reality would win yet again. As long as you ignore it, you still have reign over paradise.

Somehow you find yourself dressed and heading out the door with a cup of coffee in hand. How did you get to this point? The routine of life has been ingrained into your mind so much that you barely even notice what you do. It’s 7 am on Monday morning, and you’ve got to be at work. You don’t have much choice, do you?

Why is life so monotonous? Somehow, we run our lives with such repetition that we lose sight of life itself. We busy ourselves with schedules and responsibilities, and eventually we crash and burn.

•  “But you, lazybones, when will you sleep? When will you wake up?” (Proverbs 6:9)

•  “Lazy people are soon poor, but hard workers get rich.” (Proverbs 10:4)

•  “Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave.” (Proverbs 12:24)

The book of Proverbs talks quite a bit about laziness. It’s very clear that laziness is a path of destruction. By absolutely no means am I arguing against that. However, I think that we have a tendency to equate laziness with rest.

•  “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

•  “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

•  “God has told his people, ‘Here is a place of rest; let the weary rest here. This is a place of quiet rest.’ But they wouldn’t listen.” (Isaiah 28:12)

•  “Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, [and] he went up into the hills by himself to pray.” (Matthew 14:22-23)

•  “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.” (Genesis 2:2-3)

The Bible is just as clear about finding rest as it is about not being lazy. That’s because there’s a difference. Laziness is consciously avoiding basic responsibilities and selfishly relying on others. Rest is consciously putting aside work to unselfishly rely on God.

At the time of writing this, I’m beyond stressed. My mind is maxed out with tasks and responsibilities. Being completely exhausted with so much left to do, I walk around campus, and I have to remember to do simple, basic things. Like, open a door before I walk through it.

Many of you know what I mean and feel a similar anxiety. This is a stressful time for all of us, even those of you not in school. Our lives get so busy that we forget simple things… like rest.

I’m encouraging you to take 10 minutes, right now, and go somewhere quiet. Grab a Bible and get somewhere away from distractions. Read Isaiah chapter 40. It’s not long, and mainly focus on verses 12-31. It was a reminder to the people of Israel after physical bondage, and it’s a reminder for us today to find rest in the right place.

God’s plan is not always easy. In fact, sometimes He leads us through trials and crucibles so that we remember to always depend on Him. But He has lead you to this place for such a time as this, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Finally, always remember that God made you and loves you more than you can comprehend. His love is consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, unrestrained, furious and extravagant. Rest in His arms.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He’s done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, my dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received. Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:6-9)

If I could write you a Thanksgiving letter

In the spirit of the holiday, I want to thank you. If you’re reading this, then that means you took the time to read my thoughts, and I really appreciate that. I don’t write as often as I’d like, so it means a lot to me that you’re following my inconsistent writing.

So this post is about you, my reader. Thank you for supporting me and my dreams. Thank you for encouraging me to write, even when the quality and quantity is lacking. Thank you for allowing me to grow as a writer by being the first to read my art. Thank you for bringing out the best in me.

I have so much to be thankful for. At this moment, in this small corner of the internet, I want to thank you for reading. I wouldn’t be writing right now if it wasn’t for you.

What if…

Earlier today, I was working on my advanced youth ministry class, and I could not focus. If you know me at all, that probably doesn’t come as much of a shock to you. But I could tell something was holding me back. To be honest, it’s like I was afraid to write my paper.

A graduate paper is the culmination of what you’ve learned in a class. So what have I learned? By writing this paper for advanced youth ministry, I am proving that I know what I’m talking about. As the syllabus states, that I have deepened my understanding of, and broadened my praxis of, ministry-leadership in the context (and as the director of) a church youth camp summer experience.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t want that responsibility. What if I don’t know what I’m talking about? What if I still don’t know anything, even after all these classes and homework and studying and exegetical analyses? What if I can’t lead volunteers? What if I don’t relate to students?

What if I forget everything I teach students at camp? Like I’m doing right now…

I tend to forget why I’m called to ministry. You’d think being in seminary for over two years would constantly remind me, but as with anything, it’s easy to get caught in the motions of a day-to-day routine. But what do I teach over and over again to students? God wants nothing more in the entire universe than to have a relationship with you. There will be definitely be challenges in life, and questions will come up and we’ll wonder where God is. But God has promised that he will never leave us, and he will guide us through life if we let him.

It’s time for me to stop worrying about the “what ifs?” and start practicing what I preach by using the gifts God has given me.

How Eminem Helped Me Write My Seminary Paper

I’ve found my inner rapper. I searched deep inside, and I found the words of my soul beat to a rhythm I can’t contain any longer. I was born to rap, and I’m not doing the world a favor by keeping my beats inside.

That, or I’m dressing up as Eminem for Halloween tomorrow.

Two years ago, our office theme was the 80s, and my coworkers all but forced me to wear a karate gi. Last year, I dusted off my old Indiana Jones fedora and put together a totally awesome-looking costume (the ladies could barely control themselves whenever I wore the fedora… the eye rolls were just a cover).

This year, I decided to branch out a little and dress up as Eminem. In contrast, I’m also currently writing a Jesus paper for my New Testament class. Yes, I’m writing a graduate paper discussing the central theme of Jesus Christ’s earthly message while dressed up as Slim Shady.

For the record, I don’t by any means condone his language or model of behavior (see disclaimer at end of post). However, I have to say Eminem has helped me write my Jesus paper.

Before you think I’ve totally gone off the deep end (and before you fail me, Dr Majeski), ask yourself this question: Why did Jesus come to earth? The thesis for my paper is “Jesus’ earthly message–his mission– was to proclaim, portray, and provide the kingdom of God.” (Go ahead… take a quick yawn… except for you, Dr Majeski).

As I listened to Eminem’s song “Not Afraid” while trying to figure out how I was going to support my thesis, it suddenly hit me. Through the language and anger, I heard a cry for help. A cry for hope. The cry of the created searching desperately for his Creator.

“And I just can’t keep living this way. So starting today, I’m breaking out of this cage. I’m standing up, I’ma face my demons. I’m manning up, I’ma hold my ground. I’ve had enough, now I’m so fed up. Time to put my life back together right now!”

Jesus came to save the world. We say it over and over in church. We memorize John 3:16 like a creed. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, because it’s the core truth. But sometimes the hard reality of the truth gets lost in repetition.

Jesus came to save the world. We got lost from our Creator, so the Son of God left heaven to remind us why we’re lost, show us how to have a relationship with our Creator, and to make that possible again.

While they may not be the most positive and encouraging, Eminem’s lyrics are an honest, gut-wrenching cry for truth. They are the question for Jesus’ answer.

**Disclaimer: For any youth reading this, I must say that I do not recommend listening to Eminem’s music. The letter of James has a lot to say about being careful with what we hear and see, and I would strongly advise you to refrain from listening to such music.

Say What?

Let’s be honest… sometimes the bible can be a little confusing. I mean, it was written thousands of years ago in a combination of foreign and ancient languages, so it stands to reason it would be a little puzzling at times.

I think part of the issue is our interpretation, though. We’ve grown custom to reading the bible in such an antiquated perspective that we’ve nearly sucked the rich meaning out of it and grown blind to what we’re reading.

Need an example? Check out Matthew 5:33-37, which are a couple verses from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Read it first in the New International Version:

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Call me a saint, but I don’t think I’ve personally ever sworn on Jerusalem… never mind the fact that I don’t even know what that would mean.

I’m going to go seminary student on you for just a second and say that the NIV is great for personal bible study, because it’s in plain enough English to understand while still keeping some integrity of the text. However, sometimes it’s helpful to hear what other scholars have interpreted, because it can shed a whole new light on scripture. The following verses are the same as above, but taken from The Message, which is a paraphrase of the bible written by pastor and scholar Eugene Peterson.

“And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.”

I wouldn’t recommend The Message paraphrase for all of your bible study, but I do feel like it helps to bring a whole new light to these verses. Jesus was telling people to not get caught up in fancy religious talk. Modern translation: Lose the “Christianese.”

Next time you read the bible, try to imagine it being written for you specifically. If you come across a part you don’t understand, check it out in a different version. Biblegateway.com has just about every version and translation out there, including The Message.

Even though the bible was written over thousands of years by multiple authors and compiled over a thousand years ago, it stills applies to our lives today because God inspired it. It’s how we know how to live in a relationship with our creator.

This Place Is Crazy

There will be times when certain people will drive you crazy. A reckless driver cuts you off on the way to work. Your boss ignores any suggestion you have to better the company. The lady in front of you at the grocery store has a coupon “somewhere.” These are the moments that test us… just how much do we love the world? God loves them just as much as he loves us… are we loving them the same way? 

Because the truth is… we’ve all cut someone off, at least once. There has been at least one time when we’ve ignored someone else. And coupons save money, which just makes good sense. 

Go love the world. One crazy, annoying person at a time.

No. Nicht. Non. Pas.

No. 

Such a small but powerful word when you stop and think about it. A word that many of us don’t really like to use. It can seem negative and harsh, and it’s antithesis is often a lot easier to use: yes.

“Yes” has a much lighter feel. It’s all in agreement. No conflicts… no quarrels… everybody likes us.

So where am I going with this? I mean, we all know the difference between these words. True, but I don’t think we know how to use them correctly. At least, I know I don’t. I’m learning the responsibility of saying “no” to people asking for help.

Now before you think I’m an absolutely horrible person, I am not saying we should not help people. What I’m saying is that there is a time and place for everything. If I could devote my entire life to helping people, then I would! But I’m finding out I can’t. I can’t be in more than one place at one time, there are only 24 hours in one day, and I can’t do everything. And I’m not meant to do everything.

By saying “no, thank you” more often, I’m actually freeing myself to invest better in the things I have said yes to (my family and friends, classes, church, my self). It’s tough and uncomfortable at first, but I’m finding it’s a much better decision in the long run.

What are some things you have said (or need to say) “no” to?

What Are You Doing Right Now?

It’s January 24, in the year 41 AD. You’re standing in the most powerful building of the era — the Roman palace. Looking around, you begin to understand why Rome was so great. Everything from the marble floors, magnificent statues, colossal pillars, and painted ceilings was designed with intricate precision. Out of the corner of your eye, you notice a pair of sandals underneath a large curtain a few feet to your right, and after taking a second look, you can see that someone is actually standing behind the curtain. Out of curiosity, you walk over to the curtain, pull it back a little, and see a man — late twenties to early thirties — crouching down with his hands over his head. He looks up at you with eyes as big as saucers, covers his lips with a finger, and says, “Shhh!”

And that is the story of how Tiberius Claudius Drusus Germanicus became the fourth emperor of the Roman Empire. A Praetorian guard found him hiding behind palace curtains and declared him the next emperor.

Claudius may have wished he was doing something a little more impressive when he was declared emperor. So live like something incredible could happen at any minute, because you never know what you’ll be doing when it does.

Cloudy Eyes

There I was: a brand new, miniature version of a human being in the hands of the town midwife. The midwife wrapped me up in a blanket and gently handed me to my weary mother, who didn’t really seem to be bothered by my persistent, ear-piercing cries. Thinking back on it, I really didn’t have anything to cry about — I was in a warm blanket, safe in the arms of the one who literally just brought me into this world. But hey, I was two minutes old, and I had just been pushed and yanked out of the only world I knew. It was safe, quiet, and comfortable. After a while, though, my lungs started to get a little tired of crying, so I decided to turn it down and take a look around the room. I’d never seen anything but darkness, so I figured I might as well start checking out this new world. But as I opened my tiny eyelids, I was really disappointed. The outside world looked just like the one I just came from! It was so dark, I couldn’t see anything. I heard my mom say that my eyes looked cloudy, and I wondered what was wrong with cloudy eyes.

You probably already know what’s wrong with cloudy eyes. From the time I was born, I could feel the warmth of the sun, I could taste the delicious food my mother prepared, I could smell the incense burning in the temple, and I could hear birds chirp in the sky. But I could never see any of those things.

As time went on, the people around me began to see my lack of this fifth sense as a weakness. I somehow became less of a human in their perfect eyes. I could feel my ribs crushing as they kicked me onto the side of the road, and I could taste the dirt in my mouth as the ground slammed into my face. I could smell the trash they would toss at me, judging that I was of the same value, and I could hear the new hateful nickname they gave me: Son of Filth.

Filth. Garbage. Waste. The kicks, dirt, and trash helped connect the dots to my new name, and eventually I came to believe that I truly must be a waste of a human life because I could not see. For the longest time, I simply sat by the edge of the road and begged for anything anyone might give me to survive.

My entire life changed one day when the road started to get really crowded. I could tell there was a crowd coming because I felt the ground shake more than usual, and there were more voices around me than I could count. I started asking what was going on, and someone said that Jesus the Nazarene was walking by.

As a blind beggar, you have the opportunity to hear a lot of gossip that passes by on the street. I don’t ever have full conversations, but I can piece together news as it walks by. And recently, all the talks have centered around this Nazarene. Which is kinda weird because I had never heard of anyone cool coming from that town, but Jesus had really made a name for himself lately. Supposedly, he’s a descendent of King David of Israel and that God can do miracles through him. If I could only bother him for one second, maybe he would help me see. If only I could even see him!

So I just started shouting for him. People around me told me to shut up and be quiet (why, I don’t know, because everyone else was talking), but I just kept yelling even louder for the Son of David to have mercy on me.

Honestly, I don’t know how he heard me in that crazy crowd of people, but I heard someone order for me to be brought to him. As I stumbled toward the man, I heard him ask, “What do you want me to do for you?” Was he talking to me? Was Jesus really asking me what I wanted him to do?

“Lord,” I stammered, “I want to see!”

“Alright,” Jesus answered. “Receive your sight. Your faith has healed you.”

As soon as he said that, my eyelids slammed shut. I didn’t mean to shut my eyes; it was a reaction like when I pull my hand away from a flame. I slowly opened opened them again, and instead of darkness, I saw.

I saw it all. Everything I had felt, tasted, smelled and heard, I also saw. I saw the birds I had heard chirping. I saw the sun’s warmth on my arm… my arm… so that’s what I look like. I looked up and I saw the people staring at me… the same people who kicked me, threw trash at me, and called me Son of Filth.

Then there was the man who stood in front of me. His face was different. I had never seen eyes before, but I couldn’t stop staring into his. This must be what power, majesty, kindness, and love look like. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, met me, the Son of Filth, in person, in public, and on purpose! He did far more than clear my cloudy eyes… he made right with society — a gift far greater than I could ever have dreamed. From then on, I couldn’t help but praise God for how he completely transformed my life.

While that is the end of the story of how my life changed, it is not the end of my entire story. I am, however, only one of the countless stories of lives changed by this man. And this is by far not the end of his story, either. But that is for someone else to tell…