“Oft in Sorrow…”

oft in woe,
Onward Christian, onward go.
Fight the fight, maintain the strife,
Strengthened with the Bread of Life.”

There have been way too many hashtags on my twitter feed this past month:

#Dallas
#PiedmontParkHanging
#PhilandoCastile
#AltonSterling
#Baghdad
#Bangladesh
#Orlando

These acts of violence are unfathomable. To watch people’s lives gunned down on camera and to see mothers and fathers mourn for their lost children is heartbreaking. I’ve seen many of my friends on social media express anger, sadness, confusion, fear, depression, and despair. I have also equally seen many Christians express these same feelings and fears. Questions are spreading throughout my newsfeed, questions like, “How could someone do something this horrific?” and “What is going to happen to our country?” But, the question I have seen the most is:

“What should I do now?”

If you are a Christian, then the answer is simple:  You do the things you should have been doing all along, serving Christ and loving others.

If your hope is in Christ, then you should not be surprised by these events. Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.”

The cause of these horrific events is simple:  It’s sin in the hearts of fallen men and women.

This world is fallen, it’s people are fallen. Our world has rebelled against its Creator and sought its own way; sin is the result of that. The same sin that caused men to shoot at police officers at a protest caused officers to shoot and kill men who looked differently than them. The same sin that caused a group of militants to attack a mall during a religious holiday caused a man to take an automatic weapon into a club and open fire. The world is a broken, sinful place.

But, there is a great hope, and that is Christ. Scripture teaches that Christ is the one who has overcome sin, overcome death, and is making the world whole again. Do you believe that? Do you believe that you are lost in sin? Do you believe that this world’s only hope, that your only hope, is in Jesus Christ?

If you do, then your next step in the face of all this tragedy is simple:  You keep going.

We will mourn with the Dallas police force, and with the families of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and with our black brothers and sisters, and with Muslim communities, and with the LGBT community, and with anyone who is facing insurmountable grief. We will love them, where they are at, and we will tell them and point them to the Cross. We will direct them to the pierced hands and feet, the crown of thorns, the blood of the Lamb, and we will trust our salvation on the Lord because the Lord has defeated sin and will have the final victory.

In Revelation 21, God promises victory over the world. He will dwell with His people and wipe every tear from their faces for sin and death will be no more. Christ will have the final victory.

The lyrics posted above are from a hymn called, “Oft in Sorrow.” It is one of my favorite hymns that encourages Christians to continue the fight of faith in the midst of great despair. I’m going to leave a link to the song below, but I want to end this post with this stanza:

Let your drooping hearts be glad. March in heavenly armor clad.
Fight, nor think the battle long. Victory soon shall be your song.”

Christian, the battle is not long, and the battle is not lost. We have victory in Christ. Live in that victory. Live in that victory so boldly that in the face of great fear and sadness you will love those who need love and point them to the ultimate freedom of Christ.

Oft in Sorrow

 

I Was Sitting Outside….

….in one of those places that are only supposed to be on postcards. A hand-built, wooden house, vibrant green acres fenced by groves of trees, and the only way in or out was an old dirt road. Yep, I was in the country; sitting under the shade as speckles of sunlight broke through, eating a ham sandwich with my pastor, who honestly felt more like a pal. A nice breeze would pass by every now and then, keeping us cool as we had one of those conversations that wasn’t really about anything and yet at the same time was full of substance. As we talked, a ray of light beamed off of my sunglasses and I looked up at the sky and thought, “This is a perfect moment.”

Now, of course it wasn’t perfect. The chairs we were sitting in were coated in a yellow layer of pollen and the path around our seats was all dug out from wild hogs, but in that moment, sitting out there, enjoying a beautiful day, I couldn’t help but think that this was the way things are supposed to be, like I was getting a glimpse of some truth that hasn’t been fully discovered yet.

That postcard moment was just one of many I had yesterday where I felt this peace. I can’t explain why, nothing spectacular or out of the ordinary happened, yet yesterday was one of the best days I’ve had in recent memory, maybe ever. It was as if, for a day, God had lifted this veil over my head and allowed me to see a vision of a way life could be. A life where you can just sit with a pal and talk about what’s going on in your life, how God is working in your life, while admiring the creation that God has made all around you. A life where, just sitting outside and eating a sandwich is an act of worship.

I can’t help but believe that this is what heaven will be like; a place where all of us will just enjoy each others’ company while basking in God’s glory. I can’t imagine how that will feel when we are fully glorified, when sin has no place, and where everything truly is perfect, but I do believe that it will be 100 times better than today. I can’t wait for that day, when everything will truly be the way it is supposed to be.

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for  the former things have passed away.”

-Revelation 21:3-4

I’ve Always Had A Problem….

….with injustice. Growing up, I always wanted things to be fair. If you were good and played by the rules, you should be rewarded; and if you were bad and broke the rules, you should be punished. That reasoning made sense, and everything in my life seemed to support it. From my home-life, to school, sports, society, everything in my life made me believe that if I did what I was supposed to do then life would go well for me. Even my church enforced this belief. Yes, Jesus died for my sins, which were washed away in baptism, but I had to make sure that I stayed good or else I’d need to get baptized again to get clean again. Getting in that water, getting cleansed, that all was on me and my decisions.

However, as I grew older, I became more aware of the sin that settled in my soul; not the surface-level sins like swearing, stealing and being mean, but those inward sins that Christ talks about in the Sermon on the Mount. The lust in my head that I couldn’t control, the anger in my heart that was at a constant simmer, and the unshakable desire of my will to just rebel from everything that I’d been taught. People thought I was a great kid, but I knew the truth, I knew I wasn’t right and that I didn’t deserve to be made right. To be called “good,” it wasn’t fair.

Fairness has been on my mind a lot lately. It started when one of my pastor’s preached on Isaiah 41. He talked about when in verse 14 God calls the people of Israel “worm,” but then goes on to talk about how He will redeem them and make them triumphant against their foes. Basically, God is giving great honor and glory to a bunch of people who do not deserve it. The pastor then related this to Christians’ justification in Christ and how because of the sacrifice of Christ, we are both sinners and saints. We are completely made right with God even though we still struggle in sin, yet God gives us the Holy Spirit to combat sin and make us more holy.

I haven’t been able to shake this dichotomy this month, that I am both wicked and righteous, and that it all because of Christ. He has made me worthy of God’s pleasure because of what He has done. When God looks at me, He sees Christ’s work, not my sin, and because of that I am rewarded with a restored relationship with God. Christ bore the punishment for my sin on the Cross; He got punished, I get rewarded. Where’s the justice in that?

The gospel of Jesus Christ has often been called offensive. As a person who values justice, I completely understand why; it’s pretty much the most unjust thing that could happen. A man, who is born with no sin, who has a perfect relationship with God and who IS God is punished, not because of what He did but because what the rest of humankind has done, and then WE reap the benefits.

This week, to prepare for Easter I was reading Mark 11-16 and I got to the part of the crucifixion, and I found myself feeling something I have never felt before about the cross:  anger. That should have been me who died, that should have been who was separated from God. I deserved that, I earned that, not Jesus, not the only human who has lived a perfect life. What happened to Jesus, what God did to Jesus, it wasn’t fair. Christ didn’t deserve to die, I do.

Yet tonight, I was reminded what Easter represents. As we worship tomorrow, we worship a God who did not just die on a cross, but who rose from a tomb, who defeated death. Jesus did not stay dead, He beat it. He conquered the punishment that all men and women deserve and was exalted above all creation for it. He did not remain in the grave, He overcame it, is now ruling creation by the right hand of God, and will one day comeback to make His creation and His people perfect.

I often focus too much on Christ in the tomb, the Christ who was punished because of me, and forget that He walked out. He was greater than my sin, He was greater than the death that I deserve. I want to stay in the tomb because I know that is what I deserve. I push people away, second-guess my decisions, and question mine and other’s motives because I know that I do not deserve joy. I know that because of my sin I should not be made right with God, I should not have joy and everlasting peace, but in doing so I cheapen the full extent of what Christ’s death AND resurrection mean. Yes, my sin caused Christ death, but it is HIS resurrection that gives me life. I do not have to stay in the tomb of my past, but am free to live a life made right with God. Is it fair? No, but Christ is not still suffering, it is done. He does not still feel the flames of hell, He is now glorified with God. His crucifixion is not still happening. It is finished, and He has won.

So this Easter, I hope we will all be encouraged to leave our tombs of shame and fear, and to shake off the bandages of bitterness, anger and loathing and embrace the newness of life that Christ has purchased. We are made holy because of Him. We are loved because He first loved us.

I don’t know if I will ever be fully okay with the grace that God has shown to me; I don’t know if I want to be. I don’t ever want to take for granted the mercy that God has shown me, and the grace that He has given me by refusing to let me walk down my own destructive path, no matter how fast I’ve tried to run. I wish I had the words to express what it feels like when you realize that the God of the universe died for you, and made you righteous not because of what you’ve done, but in spite of what you’ve done. Christians, we are loved, so loved.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds, you have been healed.”

1 Peter 2:24

 Amen.

 

(Guest Post) The New Normal

 

This was written by C.C. Waller, a recent graduate from the University of South Carolina and one of my good friends. C.C. wrote this during a very rough period his senior year of college, but doesn’t have any platform to share it, so he asked if I would post it on my blog. I immediately agreed and after reading it I’m glad I did. This post pulls no punches when it comes to heartbreak and pain, but it also reminds us of the greater hope that is found in our suffering. Hope this benefits you like it did me. 

There’s one question that people have asked me this semester that has been extremely hard for me to answer. Well, two really. “How’s it going, CC?” and similarly, “How are you doing?” Yes, really, they are the hardest two questions that are pressed to me. My thoughts on graduation, on a new job, on moving, those topics I do feel like I can answer. Some of these questions are more challenging, but I am able to give a response that explains how I feel those big life events.

Now back to the first of these two gnawing questions: How am I doing? That, admittedly, I can answer, but I usually feel more than a little intimidated by the question. Some days (or hours or even minutes) my answer is honestly that I am doing well. In those moments, I feel in tune with my calling as a Christian and with the circumstances of my day. Yes, I have many moments like all seniors where I yearn for the end of studying and doing homework. Nevertheless, I know God has placed me in college for my fourth and last year to love Him and live for Him there, as a student, working heartily unto him, and striving to love those around me as well.

But sometimes, my honest answer is that I am barely functioning. I complete my daily actions and interact with people on the outside, but my inside self is drained. I feel disconnected from myself. That’s because to connect with myself, with my heart, I would have to link my outside self with a broken, hollow, and sad soul. I feel broken because I know my sin; I see my selfishness and discontent. I feel hollow, because in these frequent moments, the great truths that my soul knows and clings to ring hollow, unable to bring me the comfort of my Savior that they so often have for me in moments of the past. And I’m sad, plain and simple. If you know me, you can figure out why. If not, just take my word for it. The sadness hits me every day. I’m going through a process that brought me into the depths of emotions that my heart has never really been in before. It’s a powerful reminder that this world is not my home, and it makes me yearn to see the King make all things new. It also just sucks sometimes.

The other question is even more perplexing for me. How is it going? Going implies movement and maybe even that someone is on a path, right? Well, I cannot confidently say I know my path right now. I’m navigating into what feels like the murky waters of the soul. My heart, my emotions, they have a grip on me that is overpowering the thoughts in my head. I’m a big fan of my head. (I have a big pride issue, in case you haven’t picked up on that yet.) Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t say that I tend run from my emotions and connecting with people on the human things of life. But, I am really passionate about intellectual conversations. I love to ponder about where theology meets real life, where the truths given to us in God’s Word transform and enlighten our lives. I feel like it is such a privilege for believers to be together and share how God is convicting us and using our minds, the knowledge He has given us, to guide our walk with Him.

Tangent aside, it’s hard for me to understand how things are going in my life. And that is crux of the matter. I don’t understand it. I do feel like I have analyzed my situation almost as much as is humanly possible. I can explain the details. But, I return to my prayers and admit to God that I’m desperately clinging to Him with this. I lay it before him, and for what has been the longest period in my life, I wait, stuck with a reality where I can find no explanation that satisfies me. It’s like a gut punch, and it is clearly showing me how much I make this situation entirely about my own feelings. Here’s what I want to say that I believe and trust right now: that this season is about God giving me another opportunity to grow and live in a way where I die to self and live in Christ, in a way that can honor Him. I want to say that. But, my heart reminds me I’m not there yet. I wait for the Holy Spirit to move my heart and bring me there, but now my life consists of siting in the ashes and weeping.

And that brings me to the title. I’m at a new normal. I am living life, functioning on the outside as I normally do. But, it’s not the normal I’ve known before. It’s a new normal, one where I strive to move forward, but where I slide right back into the depths of sorrow at almost any moment of any part of the day. I’m learning that even in this unsettling and uneasy place, Jesus still smiles on me in my weakness. He sits with me when I need someone to sit with me, and picks up (sometimes against my will) and tells me to press on, to live out a purpose that is bigger than me. I am His, He redeemed me entirely absent of anything on my end, but because of His Love. I confess with a heavy heart that I don’t always feel moved by this, or by anything, in my sad moments. I just feel sad. Friends, Jesus is so patient with me. Even in this time, He is faithful. “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13 ESV.

I’m thankful for this. I cling to this. And, I keep living life. Lately, I feel comfortable telling others that things are normal (this new normal). Let me tell you though, I despise it. But here’s the thing: this new normal is not a permanent normal. Realistically, my friends faithfully remind me that in my situation, time really does bring healing. So, I look to when this normal disappears and I find a better normal. I look to Jesus to “restore to me the joy of my salvation.” Psalm 51:12 ESV. However, there’s always a chance that not only have I been brought here by the will of God, but that I am meant to say here. And even so, I know that this new normal will give way when I leave this earth or when Jesus returns again. And, with a genuine feeling of joy, can say I look forward to that day when this new normal ends.

“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5.

 

I Thought the Title of 2015….

….was going to be “trainwreck.” The whole reason I began blogging again was to figure out what exactly was going on in my life. To say I am not where I thought I would be may be a bit of an understatement. Living in Greenwood, SC, working at a paper, going to a BAPTIST church with over 1000 members; yeah, I never planned on seeking out any of these things.

For most of this year, I felt derailed, like an earthquake had shaken me off of my foundations and left me in rubble. It was unfair. Why didn’t things work out the way I wanted?

If you haven’t noticed, most of those sentences are pretty selfish because I was in a selfish place. Basically, I was upset because I didn’t get want I wanted; like a three year old. But, God is faithful, and,  “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”– (Philippians 1:6). This has been my verse for the year, and I have held on to its promise that Christ will bring His children to completion.

And Christ is bringing me to completion. In my first post back, I said that I would vent, ramble and change because that’s the life of a single, young adult. I was wrong. My life, or any Christian’s life, is not a mess because Christ is working to bring us to completion. A verse I’ve been thinking about lately is John 15:5 where Christ is speaking with His apostles. It goes, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is who will bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

The Christian’s life is one of dependence. Christ is our vine. Without Him, we cannot grow properly. We cannot be complete. We can only do nothing.

I was doing nothing because I was not depending on Christ. I was not looking to Him for wisdom and comfort. I didn’t get what I wanted and I was upset with Him for “letting me down,” forgetting what Christ had already done for me. He has paid my penalty of rebellion and justified me in the eyes of the Almighty God, all while I was still in my sin. How can I say Christ had let me down? And not only that, but God is still working within me to bring me to sanctify me to His holy purposes. If that is true, then I am never abandoned and my situations are never mistakes. My life is not in rubble but under construction with the guidance of the creator of the universe. How can I be upset at that?

No, I never wanted to live in Greenwood, and no, I would’ve never sought the church I attend and the friends I’m making, but thank God for those things. As this year ends, I feel like “Ben” again, a sinner redeemed by the blood of Christ. Christians have great hope in knowing that we are cherished by God and being molded for His purposes. Our situations in life are not something to lament over but to be thankful for because God is using them to mold us. God never gives up on us and will continue to work within us.

So, if I had to give a title to 2015, it would be “submission,” submission to God’s lordship and work within my life; and I look forward to 2016 with eager anticipation. I don’t have the slightest inclination of what is in store, but whatever comes I know this, that Christ is Lord and has made me His own. And, that’s all anyone really needs to know.

As I Entered My Professor’s Office….

….I felt hesitant. I wasn’t sure exactly why I wanted to meet with him, but I knew I needed to. He looked across his desk from me, and with a crooked-smile asked why I was there. I responded, “Every time I leave your class, I feel like I’m going to hell.”

See, his class was challenging my worldview on faith and religion. The last semester, as an 18-year-old college freshman, I thought I had figured out God. God was an all-loving god who loved anyone, and many people could find their path to God. All religions were valid because all of them said the same thing, and the main goal in life was for us to make our own destiny. I felt comfortable about myself and my faith, and then I had to take Western Intellectual Tradition II:  The Early Church.

Our professor, whose doctorate was in early church history, attacked our modern view of the church and the things we found important. He also challenged post-modernism, pointing its flaws by asking things like, “Why don’t we want post-modern architects?” and “Why are we okay with metaphysical ideas being subjective but not physical?” In short, he made me second-guess my worldview, and I didn’t like it.

My worldview was challenged a lot in college, actually, since I had professors who were dedicated to teaching the evolution of western ideals. During my time in school, I had to learn classicism, stoicism, Christianity, rationalism, liberalism, romanticism, modernism and post-modernism. With each new philosophy, I found that what I thought to be true about the world maybe wasn’t as solid as I had originally thought and was forced to re-examine my worldview.

In short, I was forced to discuss, forced to analyze, and forced to think. 

What scares me is that students don’t seem to want to think anymore. I woke up today reading another protest going on in colleges with another college president’s job on the line. While these protests seem to be racially-motivated, I can’t help but be sadden that these students seem to want blood, not a discussion.

By now, everyone has probably seen the Mizzou communications professor who told a student journalist to leave a protest area because this is a “safe space.” Since when was college supposed to be a “safe place?” I didn’t view it as that; I viewed as a place to learn and grow in all aspects of my life. A person can’t grow if he or she is never challenged.

I understand that many groups feel attacked, and I’m not going to even pretend to know what that feels like, but I do know that going on the offensive and lashing out at others is not going to win people over, especially when it’s over things like a Halloween costume, or firing a professor who is just expressing a reasonable opinion.

It seems to me, that students don’t want to be challenged, don’t want to talk. They think that the education is for them and should cater to their wishes. That is not what college is about. The goal of a college education is to make a person a better thinker and prepare a person for the field of employment he or she wants to pursue. Part of that is to challenge students, push students, force students out of their comfort zones. You can’t do that in a “safe space.” “Safe spaces” create complacent, weak-minded, self-entitled brats, which now seem to be dominating our college campuses. They don’t want to talk because they believe that they are always right, and anyone who tries to challenge them are the enemy.

They are not the enemy. They are trying to make you better people.

I know systematic racism exists, but I also know going on the offensive is not going to change people’s minds, and I don’t think they want to change people minds; they just want them gone. Imagine if the Civil Rights movement had been like that, if those activists had been out to get people’s heads instead of changing their hearts.

The current environment at universities breaks my heart because I love college students. I love working with them, listening to them and helping them think, but I’m afraid that college is becoming a place where thinking is not allowed; a place where it is dangerous to have a different opinion. 

If I had just lashed out at my professor and shut out what he was saying I would not be the person I am today. His class made me think about God and religion in a way that I had never been challenged to do, and I actually ended up with a belief that is different than his, but I would never had gotten there if he hadn’t challenged my beliefs. It was painful, but it was also worth it because I am now a better person and a better thinker, which should be the ultimate goal of education.

Finally, if you are a college student:
You do not know everything.
Your opinion should not be validated by feelings alone.
You need to develop critical-thinking skills.
You are not entitled to always be right, to always get your way, or to be told you are special.
You are paying to be grown intellectually and professionally, not be be baby-sat.
You are part of a civilized society, and civilized society’s run on discourse;
hold meetings, petitions, protests, but don’t angrily shut out the other side.  Sit down with them, listen to them, and let’s come to a solution together because we live together.

And finally, don’t be afraid to examine your beliefs and evaluate why you think what you think. The answers may surprise you and lead you to a place you never saw yourself going.

I’m the Kind of Guy….

….who has always cared about the destination more than the journey. I can enjoy the journey, but at the end of the day, where I’m ending up as to be worth it. I’m not going to drive 12 hours if I’m not ending up in Disney World. With such an outlook, I can often rush the steps needed to reach my goal. A good example of this is how a walk. People have made fun of my walk for years because I bounce when I walk. I’ve tried to fix this and be more self-conscious when I walk, but I still find myself walking like this a lot. Part of the reason I’m like this is because I don’t take the time to step correctly, I’m just trying to get to where I want to go as fast as I can without taking the time to make proper steps.

I can live life like that as well, so focused on the desired outcome that I don’t look at the step I’m taking now, which leads to frustration when I feel like I’ve stopped moving. I hate feeling static, but that’s where I find myself right now. My feet feel bolted to the floor, and it seems like I can’t get to the end, or worse, that the end is never going to come.

The truth is, you’re never going get where you want to go if you don’t take the proper steps. The steps are the most important part, but to do them right takes attention, time, and patience. I am not patient; I want what I want now.

However, I’ve been reminded three times this week, from three different people who I did not know one month ago, the importance of focusing on the steps. We do not always see the destination; in fact, as one person told me, the reason we are kept from knowing our end goal is because if we knew what the trek would entail, we would never take that first step. But God does not call us to see the end, He calls us to the first step. Right now, I see my step, to do my work well and invest in these relationships God has given me in Greenwood. Where the next step will lead is still up in the air, but I have to trust that God will point me to the place I need to put my foot down next.

Living the Christian life is about living holy in the mundane. Christ followers are called to love the Lord and others in their ordinary steps, and those steps lead to an extraordinary finish line. So, my prayer right now is that I don’t worry about my destination. God will lead me there in time. Instead, I’ll focus on the place I’m at now. After all, you can’t complete a marathon without taking the first step.