Is Anyone Angry?

I’ve been thinking a lot about anger of late—probably because it’s one of those emotions that I’d like to have a firmer grip on. You know how it is. No matter how often we say we’re resolved to “turn over a new leaf” and stop behaving in ways we’ll regret, somehow that resolve goes straight out the window, especially when we find ourselves beset with anger. We can actually feel it rising to the surface from somewhere deep within us, its pressure relentlessly building until it seems that an outburst of violence can be our only respite. So, we give in. We unleash our inner tempest on the object of our rage, sometimes even managing to abuse an innocent bystander. And for a moment, we might feel some false sense vindication—even pleasure—at the release. But it doesn’t last for long. And afterwards, we’re likely to be more angry with ourselves than we were with the person or situation that provoked the initial storm.

I’ve always thought of anger as a kind of secondary emotion—a mask for pain and fear. It makes us feel less vulnerable in times when we can’t defend ourselves. The trouble is, though, that it harms us much more than it helps us. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus actually likens anger to murder, and that can be a really hard thing for us to accept. To us, there is a huge difference between the two, but God doesn’t want only to change our actions for the better. He wants to change our hearts, and, to Him, anger is murder within the heart. Murder is sin because life belongs to God. It is a sacred gift from God—Who Is the ultimate Lover of life—and what He has breathed into each of us, no human being should ever seek to extinguish. When I’m angry with someone, the one unassailable fact that I hope to always keep at the forefront of my mind is that this person—whomever he or she is—bears God’s image. No matter what else I’m thinking or feeling about this person in any given moment, nothing is going to change that. So, how dare I mount an assault on an image-bearer of the Most High?

In the knowledge that our Creator has loved us so fiercely as to turn His anger away from us and to take it upon Himself—murdering His own Life that He might rescue ours—we should love each other. We should seek Him in each other’s eyes, acting in defiance of our own conceit. When we do that, how can we possibly be angry? Please, pray for me, and I’ll pray for you, too.

Advertisements

The Majesty of Love

I recently stumbled across something I wrote about six years ago. I’d been lovesick and despondent for more reasons than one, and I’d found myself trying to make sense of my pain. Things have changed for me since then, but as I reflected carefully upon the words, I realized that they still hold true. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I know that there are many who still yearn, seemingly in vain, to be loved by the object of their affection. If you are one of them, I’d like to dedicate this entry to you, in the hope that it might give meaning to your pain. This is what I wrote:

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about love recently, and although I feel the need to add a disclaimer to say that my thoughts on the matter are of no greater importance than anyone else’s, I wanted to share them with you because in them, I’ve rediscovered a fundamental truth that could help us understand.

Sometimes, I wonder why it’s necessary for us to feel with such intensity when the love that we have goes so often unreturned. It would probably be next to impossible to count the number of poems and songs that we, as a unified whole, have offered up to our beloved in an hour of passionate longing. Dare we even try?

Love is, indeed, the most powerful force unseen by human eyes, and it makes me so sad to think of the innumerable tragedies that befall us when our love is rejected. I don’t think there’s really any need to discuss these in detail—I’m sure we’ve all heard mention of them if we haven’t experienced them in some measure ourselves.

To be denied by the one we love will bring a pain so indescribably real that we fear we may be crushed to death beneath our own weight. In our anguish, we turn our gaze to the clouds and wonder, why?

I have to confess that I have been guilty of this questioning myself, from time to time. But when I really stop to think about it, I find that I’ve known the answer all along: We have to know this pain so that we can understand.

At the risk of losing some of you with this next part…what if there’s a deeper meaning behind everything that we experience in this world? What if the pain that we feel for the want of those we love is not meant as a mark of cruel indifference, or even as a punishment? What if it’s actually bestowed as a gift?

I believe, wholeheartedly, that God exists. I also believe that He loves us more than we will ever have the capacity to know. He gives us so many things as a testament to His love—the way the flowers smell, the way the fireflies illuminate the summer with their tiny and twinkling lights, the way the warmth of the sun can soothe us gently to sleep—but more than all of these things, His greatest sign of affection is His willingness to suffer for the want of us. He loves us so much that He embraced anguish and death even at our hands. Many of us have heard the story, but is that truly enough to let us know?

Maybe God has another idea in mind. Maybe He knows that we could have no hope of understanding unless we experienced a piece of this anguish for ourselves. He so desperately longs for us to know the depth of His love, so He allows us to love each other in a way that emulates it. He allows us to know the pain of unrequited love not because He wants to hurt us, or because He doesn’t care, but rather because He wants us, in those moments of sadness, to turn our hearts to Him and remember.

Love is the single greatest gift that we have been given in this life—in our ability to give as well as to receive it. To receive it is such an indescribably wonderful joy, but only in giving it do we start to bear likeness to our Creator. Only in giving it are we clothed in majesty.

So the next time you love someone, be ever thankful for that precious gift…even if the one you love cannot love you back. Just take a deep breath, lift your eyes to the heavens, and remember…

I suppose that some might find my musings a little theatrical, and even I must admit that, most of the time, I find it quite entertaining to re-read the expressions of my younger self. But this one—well—in light of all that my God has spoken into me throughout the years, I can’t help but stand by it. And I know that every moment of my life I’ve chosen to pine for someone else, God has spent pining for me—waiting for me to finally turn my heart to Him and give Him the passion that belonged to Him from the beginning. He loves us all this way, and He deserves our love in return. So, when you find yourself heartbroken for another person, may you also find comfort in knowing that His heart breaks for you. And in that knowledge, may you run to Him—His lover overwhelmed to be His beloved.

 

God with Us

The story continues to amaze me. No matter how many times I’ve heard it before, I don’t think anything could take away its newness. People sometimes point out that, despite the pageantry of Christmas, it’s Easter that holds the deepest significance for Christians around the world. And, in a way, that’s true. Were it not for the miracle of that bright, Sunday morning, Christmas would hold no significance at all. Yet, in my heart, the miracle of Christmas still touches me, ever so slightly more than Easter ever could. Maybe it does have something to do with the pageantry of it all—the music and the tree, and the soft beams of light set against the crystal snow. Even for those among us who aren’t particularly spiritual, there’s something about Christmas that’s so completely enchanting. It makes us want to be different—better, somehow.

Maybe Christmas touches my heart more than Easter does because my secular culture tells me it should, but I don’t think that’s the reason. For me, I think it’s simply that within the Christmas story, there lies such a revolutionary thought. The word God, along with all words synonymous to it, is typically associated with unbridled power. When we hear it, we’re likely to imagine a force so strong that it could effortlessly crush us, if it wanted to. We think of a person for whom nothing is impossible, a person who could bend anything to his will—even death. The story of Easter certainly falls in line with that idea. But the story of Christmas? Who, in their wildest dreams, could’ve ever seen that coming? God. Almighty Creator of the world and all life within it, ensconced in the fragile form of a tiny baby? It’s just so unthinkable. To imagine for a moment that we could hold Him in our arms and rock Him to sleep with our songs. Have you ever wondered what it must’ve been like to be His mother? To feel Him growing inside of you—to look down and watch Him as He drinks from your breast? I mean, wow. What kind of God is this? What kind of God is this who would willingly submit Himself to this kind of vulnerability—at our hands? The careless hands of His created ones, whom He’d made for His pleasure, but who had spurned His affection again, and again? It’s incredible! And after all this time, the thought of it can still draw tears from my eyes.

Easter is the story of our triumphant Savior, coming on the heels of terrible violence and pain. But Christmas holds such a gentle beauty. What greater expression is there of the love of God for mankind than for God to make Himself vulnerable to us? I’m so grateful to have a God who loves me this way, and it was precisely this kind of impossible love that won my heart to begin with—this love which only our God is capable of rendering to us. So now, as the chaos of the season comes to a close once again, I pray that we’ll all find a moment to rest in the quiet. To gaze lovingly upon the lights of our beautifully adorned Christmas trees, or into the tiny flames of the candles still lighting our frosted windows. To hear the songs of His love and to feel its overwhelming warmth. Tonight. Tomorrow. All the days of our lives—on earth and in heaven.

Walk with Me

This will probably be one of my shorter posts. I have something to share, but for those who will receive it, I’ll spare the personal details and focus on the simple truth. I have often heard the testimonies of other people who speak profusely of the joy they feel in knowing that God guides their steps. God has given me joy throughout my life, but only in these recent days have I finally begun to understand this particular joy. I’ve come to recognize the difference between walking in my own will and walking in His. And this difference might seem pretty basic in a logical sense, but it’s not just about what we can perceive intellectually—it’s about what we can experience.

Regrettably, I’ve chosen to walk within my own will throughout the vast majority of the precious time I’ve been given on this earth. In consequence of that choice, I’ve experienced a lot of strife. I’ve been victimized by fear, I’ve stumbled in frustration and resentment, and I’ve grieved in terrible heartache. I’ve spent so much energy trying to break down the wrong doors and wondering why they won’t just open, when, all the while, He has been waiting for me to take His hand—wanting so much to lead me down the path He cleared for me long ago.

At a certain point, I hope we all become broken enough of our own stubbornness to finally take His hand, because when we do, we will all know what it is to experience miracles. We will see our fear give way to trust, our frustration yield to peace, and our heartache transform into the most wonderful joy—a joy born of love experienced both from and for our beautiful Creator.

We have a God who cares for us, I think, far more than we have the capacity to understand. The desire of His heart is to make us whole—to provide for us and keep us safe so that we’ll never have to know the pain of being without Him. “Look at the lilies and how they grow,” Jesus said. “They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are (Matthew 6:28-29, NLT).”

I have felt the hand of my God as He lovingly adorns me with all that I need for my warmth. In spite of every false security the world has ever seduced me with, that Hand is what I’m thankful for.

Thoughts of Heaven

I had a conversation with a friend recently that prompted me to think about heaven. It occurred to me that if I were to ask a group of people to describe heaven, each person would probably have something unique to say—something personal that might give me an idea of what matters most to him or her. It can be a mystifying thing for us to envision, and unfortunately it can sometimes be used as a means of coercion as well. We may be told that unless we follow a precise set of rules, we’ll be denied entrance into this beautiful place and forced to endure unimaginable terror. This was a part of the elementary view of heaven that I had as a child. Heaven was the place we went to if we were good in this life, and hell was the place we went to if we were bad. As a Christian, more specifically, heaven was the place we went to if we believed the testimony of the gospels, and hell was the place we went to if we didn’t.

With so many different kinds of spirituality in the world—so many ideas that promote goodness outside of Christianity—many of us feel an attraction toward ambiguity about our beliefs. We’d rather agree with any philosophy that endorses peace and kindness than stand behind the tenets of one religion that compels us to look down at other people and declare them condemned. It’s natural for us to feel this way. After all, it’s not our place to condemn anyone.

When I look back upon my life up to this point, I realize that I wasn’t completely brought up to be a Christian. My parents were never very spiritual, and they didn’t make us go to church, but they didn’t discourage it, either. They wanted us to make up our own minds, and I will always respect them for that. Nevertheless, I did eventually decide that I wanted to become a Christian, and the more I came to understand what, exactly, that meant, the more passionately I wanted it. It’s probably most common to think of Christianity as a religion, but to me, it wasn’t a religion at all. It was a relationship. And I was in love. From the moment I first came to know Jesus of Nazareth, I was so completely in love. How could I not desire a relationship with Him? Creator of my life. Lover of my life. Life itself. This is who He is. And if He is all these things, then He must be Heaven, too. That’s the truth my heart came to understand. When I think of heaven, I don’t see a kingdom with pearly gates and angels playing harps on white clouds. I see Him. I see myself wrapped up in Him forever. And when I think of hell, I don’t see a torture chamber made of fire and brimstone. I see myself parted eternally from the One I love. It breaks my heart to think of all the people who don’t understand it this way.

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said a prayer for every one of us who would ever believe in Him—every one of us who would ever belong to Him. “I have given them the glory you gave me,” He said, “so that they may be one, as we are— I in them and you in me, all being perfected into one (John 17:22-23, NLT).” That’s what heaven is. Oneness. Intimacy. I knew that in the beginning of my conversion, and I know it now. I pray that I’ll know it always, no matter how the world tries to sway me. I know who He is. I know who I am. And His heaven is the only one I’ll ever want—because no other heaven will ever give me Him.

 

Letter to a Non-Believer

Oh, dearly beloved,

I don’t know where you come from or what you’ve been through, but if, in your kindness, you will permit me, I’d like to speak with you for a moment. I know that there are all kinds of reasons for a person’s unbelief, but as many as there are, I also know that there are just as many reasons for us to open our hearts.

Do you trust in science and think it foolish to believe in the existence of a higher power? I can understand why. It’s hard for us to wrap our minds around the supernatural, and the power of suggestion can be quite strong. None of us want to be fooled into believing a lie, and we certainly don’t want our lives to be led by one. Yet, throughout the course of our history, men of science have proven to be among the most spiritual people who have ever lived. They have come to understand that science and spirituality never have to stand opposed to each other, but are rather undeniably linked. It’s easy for most of us to take for granted the intricacy of our world and the careful precision with which everything had to come together in order to make life possible for us. But for those who devote their lives to studying it, there is often no room to doubt that there had to be a creator—that this couldn’t have just happened. It’s hard for us to wrap our minds around the supernatural, but what if life itself is the supernatural? What if science is just God’s way of letting us in on His secrets? It seems to be a misconception among Christians that true faith must be blind faith. God doesn’t like us to test Him at our leisure, but Jesus performed miracles so that people would know who He was. He deemed it necessary to prove Himself so that they would believe. And even non-believers have attested to His existence—that He lived and died, and that His body mysteriously vanished in the way the Bible claims.

Have you suffered much? I feel compassion for you because I’m frightened to suffer. It’s probably the thing I’m most afraid of in this world, and for those who have endured it most, I have an overwhelming sense of respect, awe, and love. Please, know that, and also know that God has suffered with you. I know that words such as those can seem empty and even evoke anger within your heart. In your pain, you see this image of an all-powerful being who could help you if he wanted to, but, for whatever reason, chooses to do nothing. It’s better for you to believe that God doesn’t exist at all than to believe that He is so indifferent. Part of what makes Christianity so special is the idea that God willed Himself to become human. Omnipresent, all-powerful, and everlasting as He was, He bound Himself in our mortality so that He could be close to us—so that He could understand us in a way that would fortify our bond with Him. For thirty-three years, our Creator lived as a human being. He knew what it felt like to be hungry and cold and tired and heartbroken and scared, and everything else we feel. He allowed Himself to be born into one of the harshest environments that anyone could’ve been born into—and as a peasant who was certainly much more impoverished than I have ever been. Then, he ultimately allowed Himself to be tortured. Made fun of. Spat upon. Beaten. Practically torn apart to within an inch of His life. Forced to carry the instrument of His own execution, to find relief only in reaching the place where he would die. Finally, after being subjected to this, He allowed His executioners—whom He, Himself, had created—to brutally drive nails the size of railroad spikes through His wrists and feet to hold Him fast to a wooden crossbeam. Afterwards, the vertical beam that supported it was hoisted up to stand erect in the ground, making it so that those nails were the only things supporting His weight. Slowly suffocating, then, He remained for hours, having to use the nails to push Himself up each time He needed to breathe. It was only a matter of time before He would find Himself too exhausted to go on. Then, He, God—the Creator of light and life—submitted to a dark and human death. I don’t give detail to these things in order to trivialize your own suffering. I’m just saying that the idea that God is distant and indifferent to your suffering couldn’t be further from the truth. He’s lived through it. He’s died through it. And he’s done so because He loves you. He’s done so because it is never His will for you to suffer. You have suffered because our world is fallen. Our hearts are fallen, and though it grieves Him, He does not want to control any of us against our will. He allows evil because it’s what we choose, but He counts your tears, and He promises that someday He will make all things new. He loves you, and He will not allow you to suffer anything beyond that which He, Himself has suffered. He loves you, and whatever you suffer, you may rest assured in knowing that He is there—holding you.

Have you sinned? So have we all. Ever since Eden, sin has been in us. From the moment of our conception, it spirals itself into the very fabric of who we are, and there is nothing we can do about it. One of the other great misconceptions of Christianity is that we have to follow God’s rules in order to be allowed into heaven. Yes, God has rules. And yes, He wants us to follow them. But he knows that we can’t—not really. When Adam and Eve made the choice to disobey God for the first time, it put a chasm between God and humanity, rendering us all imperfect, fallen, and broken creatures who can never be worthy of heaven. That’s why God came to us. In spite of the damage we’d done and the hurt we’d caused Him, He wanted to be with us. He wanted to make His home with us and to bring us home to Him. Heaven is a gift we do not deserve, no matter how upstanding our lives are, and we can’t earn it. We can only receive it. All He truly asks in return is love. He wants us to love Him more than anything else. He wants us to love Him with the same unbridled passion with which He has always loved us. And in loving Him this way, submitting to His desires can become second-nature to us. Our love for Him will make us want to sacrifice our selfishness, not because we’re afraid of what he’ll do if we sin against Him, but because we love Him so much that we’re willing to do anything to make Him happy. That’s really all it is. That’s all He wants. He loves you with all His heart, and He wants you to accept His love. He wants you to accept His sacrifice on your behalf, and He wants you to love Him in return. Don’t treat Him as though He’s just some annoying voice in your head making you feel guilty about something you shouldn’t be doing. Treat Him as though He’s your greatest Lover, who deserves nothing less than your undying fidelity and devotion—because that’s exactly what He is. And when we deny Him, all we’re really doing is denying ourselves of the most profound and unfathomable love we’ll ever know.

Have you been taught to serve another god? I know that there are many theological constructs to explore in this world, and I don’t pretend to be an expert on any of them, but if this is where you are, then let me ask rather than telling: Does he love you? Has he died for you so that you can have life, or does he ask you die and end life for him? Are you allowed to experience intimacy with him, so much that your body is the temple where he dwells, or does he keep you at a distance? Does he want any kind of relationship with you at all, or do you exist merely to do his bidding while he sits in judgment in some far away place? Does the thought of him make you feel anything? Is he a living, breathing person just as you are, or is he more of a fairytale being whom you only call upon when you need a wish to be granted? Is your worship of him motivated by love, or is it only fear? Another misconception I hear a lot is that all religions are essentially the same. And on the surface, that may, at first, appear to be true. Many of the guidelines and proverbs for how to live a good life might, essentially, be the same, but the underlying motivation for doing so is often very different from spirituality to spirituality. In my heart of hearts, I know that there is nothing like Christianity. There is no story more touching—no idea more hauntingly beautiful—than that which is presented to us in regard to Jesus of Nazareth. If you open yourself to it, it can capture your heart, and your life will never be the same. The central point that you should know is that my God loves you passionately.

 

 

Speak In Me

I often wonder these days, in the midst of my conversations with other people, if I’ve ever truly allowed God to speak through me. There are moments when an opportunity will present itself—a precious opportunity where I can actually be the vessel through which God reaches out to someone else whom He loves. Sometimes, I only recognize these opportunities after they’ve passed. At other times, I’m completely aware of them as they’re put in front of me, but my fear will cause me to shrink from them. And then, there are those times when I find myself emboldened enough to say His name. I’ll reference His words and try with all my might to influence someone for the better. But even in those times, I’ll be unsure. Was it really Him speaking, or was I merely attempting to speak for Him? If it really was Him, then why did I have to try so hard? Why didn’t the words just come?

When God first appeared to Moses, He asked him to go and speak to the Egyptian king. Moses was terrified, and the Bible says that he pleaded with God. “O Lord, I’m just not a good speaker. I never have been, and I’m not now, even after you have spoken to me. I’m clumsy with words.” But in response to this, God said, “Who makes mouths? …Who makes people so they can speak or not speak, hear or not hear, see or not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and do as I have told you. I will help you speak well, and I will tell you what to say (Exodus 4:10-12, NLT).” The Bible is full of events and assurances such as this one. In the book of Acts, Luke records that the Holy Spirit rendered believers capable of speaking in foreign languages. “And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other tongues, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. Godly Jews from many nations were living in Jerusalem at that time. When they heard this sound, they came running to see what it was all about, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers. They were beside themselves with wonder. ‘How can this be?’ they exclaimed. These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking the languages of the lands where we were born! (Acts 2:4-8, NLT).”

I studied Spanish for a total of four years, and I can promise you that I am nowhere near fluent. In fact, it’s been so long since I last opened those textbooks that what elementary knowledge I gained is, by now, locked away in such an obscure part of my memory that it would be quite challenging to recall it. Learning a foreign language is hard work—but the  people Luke mentions in Acts spoke many languages all at once, and seemingly without effort. They were able to do this because it wasn’t really them speaking at all. It was the Spirit of God speaking through them. I’ve heard other stories like this. Though they aren’t recorded in Scripture, they are just as real, and they make me ache to experience them myself. Someone told me recently that when he was in college, he heard God asking him to go into the gym, where he would find someone alone on the basketball court. When he saw this person, he was supposed to talk to him about Jesus. Anxious though he was, he went into the gym, found the person he was looking for (they had never met), and told him what he’d heard God say. Then, he watched as this other person began to stare at him, with eyes and mouth wide open, before finally saying that he’d prayed the night before for someone to come and talk to him about Jesus. An experience like that can leave no doubt of when we are being led by God. But what about the others? What about those more obvious moments when a conversation seems to leave an opening for God to enter in?

When I recognize those openings and make the choice to say His name, I wish I could know what’s happening within the people I’m speaking to. Can they hear Him, or can they hear only me? Is my voice overshadowing His because I’m choosing to speak on my own, or has He reached them in spite of me? I don’t ask this because I want some feeling of success for myself. I ask this because I want Him with me. Whenever I speak, I want Him to be the one to guide my tongue, because I know that wherever He is, I’m safe. And if I know He speaks through me, then I know He’s where I always need Him to be—inside of me wherever I go.