Sunday, December 28, 2014

Why I Write

As I’m sure you are well aware, the internet has no shortage of bloggers. The ones who seem to generate the most interest are those who shout the loudest and invite the most controversy, often by grabbing you with a shockingly blunt headline. I sometimes ask myself where I fit in amongst the madness? What would I need to do to go viral? Everyone who writes wants to be read, and it’s easy to become discouraged when I consider that much of what I write here on this blog will not be read by more people than can comfortably fit in my parents’ living room. Sometimes, I’ll admit that I have asked myself if it is really worth it. Why spend so much time and energy writing for so few people? Should I employ shock and awe tactics to draw in more readers? I don’t think that’s what I’m called to do. So I provide this as an answer to the question and a reminder for myself: Why do I write?

1. It gives me something productive to do.
There are plenty of ways I find to waste time, and writing is not one of them. The more time I spend writing, the less time I am wasting away. Of course, this point in and of itself doesn’t prove its productivity, but by the time you reach #7 you should agree.

2. It exercises my creative muscles.
There is something satisfying in taking an idea and seeing it realized. I often have a general idea of what I’m going to write about with certain key points established in my mind, but a lot of pieces fall into place through the writing process. Often times things go in a slightly different direction. A good reason to write is because what you set out to write doesn’t already exist. I see no point in writing an article about something everyone else is already talking about with the exact same perspective. If I’m going to write about something, it’s going to have an angle that I haven’t seen elsewhere. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, but simply that I haven’t seen it put in words. It should reflect the unique perspective of the writer.

3. It cements my beliefs
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, most of my writing is a reflection of my beliefs, particularly of my faith in Christ. I find that through the writing process, I challenge myself and the positions I’m taking to see if they stack up to the truth test. As I’m simultaneously writing and investigating what I’m writing, I’m either confirming what I set out to write, or making modifications to get it right. My objective is to give the clearest explanation of what I believe, so that anyone who happens to read it will get my drift. Hopefully they will agree, but at the very least, they should understand where I’m coming from. This process of “checks and balances,” so to speak, helps me to confirm for myself the points that I am making. It helps me to remember those things for future reference as well, in case they should come up in everyday conversation. I find that I am growing more certain of my beliefs, and more confident in sharing verbally with others as a result.

4. It’s a way for others to get to know me better.
Everyone who knows me can tell immediately that I’m an introvert. I tend to keep my thoughts to myself, but writing helps me to break out of my comfort zone. People who read my writing may be surprised to see that I have such developed views about really important topics. Seeing what I focus on in my writing reveals what I focus on in my mind. These things are important to me. So important, that I feel compelled to share.

5. It brings my faith out to the light. 
The most important thing I can share is my faith. My whole life I have shied away from speaking up about my beliefs. I have struggled with a fear of rejection and persecution. Through this blog, I have put myself out there so that anyone who I know who has a Facebook account can see (if they so choose to click on the link) what it is that motivates me. Whenever I see my friends in person, I know there’s always a chance that they have checked out my blog at one time or another. They have at least seen my Facebook posts, which in themselves should make it clear that I am a Christian. This also gives me confidence to be open and honest in personal conversations.

6. It might introduce one person to the Gospel.
The greatest reward for all the time invested in writing would be to know that just one person came to know Jesus Christ as a result. It may not happen directly, but it could even be that something shared here helped a fellow believer who then was able to pass along what he/she learned from reading. Perhaps some words of encouragement helped a Christian who was struggling with doubts or a particular issue that they didn’t know how to address. I believe that as a believer, the Holy Spirit can use me to speak to others. That doesn’t mean that I’m infallible by any stretch, but something that God has put on my heart could be just what another person needs to receive at a particular moment.

7. It is obedience.
If the Holy Spirit is working in me, and I feel a calling to write, then writing is obedience. It would be wrong, and dare I say, a sin to not share what God has put on my mind. This can be a little scary though, because there are certain topics I’ve been hesitant to approach for the fear of offending others. I need discernment to be sure that what is on my mind is from the Spirit and not the flesh. I need a good dose of humility and grace. It’s easy to begin to believe that I really know what I’m talking about and to take credit for any wisdom that gets through. Those of us who are believers are all a part of the Body of Christ, and as such we each have different functions. I believe that teaching through writing is a specific function for which I am called to serve at this point in my life. For others who read this, you may or may not be called to write. If you are, I encourage it for the reasons listed above. I feel I have grown a lot in the years that I’ve been doing this, despite the fact that my audience has been shrinking. The flesh has been discouraged at times, but the Spirit is pressing me onward. I hope and pray that those of you who read have been encouraged and strengthened in your faith. At the very least, I know I have. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Issues of Life and Death

The news is breaking this evening that Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old San Francisco native who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, ended her life today. She recently moved to Oregon, where doctor-assisted suicide is legal, and news of her decision brought the “right to die” issue back to the forefront after a good number of years since Dr. Jack Kevorkian stirred up the debate. Listening to talk radio in these recent weeks, it seems like the public at large has changed its tune quite a bit from those days to be much more welcoming of human euthanasia. Listening to callers defending “death with dignity,” one can’t help but see it as a reasonable, maybe even morally positive option for people in very grim situations. The argument largely centers on pain and suffering. If you can be relieved of tremendous pain and suffering, isn’t that a good thing?

A week or so later, I was listening to the same talk show, and the host, Chris Daniel (on Fresno’s KMJ 580 AM for those who are curious), made the connection between Brittany and Robin Williams. He argued that we as a society vastly underestimate the very real and unimaginable pain and suffering of the mentally ill, particularly the chronically depressed. Much like in the case of those with terminal physical conditions, those who are suffering severe depression are unable to live lives of dignity. Their existence is hell. While I’m not sure where he was going with that point, to me it is logical to conclude that if it is merciful to allow those who are physically suffering to die, it should also be seen as merciful for those who cannot be cured of their mental agonies. Pain is pain, and that’s what this argument has been framed to be about. If suicide is always committed to relieve unbearable pain, I then ask, is there ever a time when it is not justified? Can you see where this is going? We have defined quality of life as the absence of pain. The pro-life movement has even adopted this philosophy into their reasoning. There’s an ad currently running during these talk radio shows that gives the audio of the heartbeat of a child in the womb. It’s an effective ad, though it too adopts this approach in its argument against abortion, noting at what stage the child can feel pain. While I agree with the position, I fear we are losing the argument when we take this approach. The other side can (and does) just as easily argue that abortion is a merciful act, saving the child and the mother from a lifetime of financial and emotional suffering if that child should see the light of day. I can say with absolute certainty that they are mostly right. Both mother and child will experience much pain and suffering in this world. Any child born into this world will experience these things in form or another. Can you not then argue that the most merciful act the human race can commit is to abort itself? Shouldn’t we put an end to all the poverty and hunger and disease and depression by sterilizing all of us so this miserable existence justly meets its end?

I hope you see the absurdity of this argument. The truth is, pain and suffering of any kind is not a good excuse for ending human life. Pain and suffering is a part of life. Sure, it’s a much bigger part of life for someone who is dying in a hospital from a painful disease, but it’s still a part of life. We live and we eventually die. We experience much pain and suffering in that in-between time. In my life thus far, I’ve had very little physical pain, but I’ve had a great deal of emotional suffering. There are certain struggles with anxiety I’ve had for the great majority of my life, and I’m not sure that I will ever see relief this side of eternity. I’ve also lost the best friend and companion I ever had: not through death, but divorce. Sometimes I wonder why God would allow me to go through these things. Why must I feel such pain? Why am I left with this loneliness or frustration? But then I consider that maybe feeling these things is not such a bad thing. To feel pain and to suffer proves in a very real and tangible way that I am alive. How much worse would it be if I felt nothing? Yes, these things suck, but they are part of this experience that is living. With the bad, we also get a lot of good. It’s a package deal. We will have triumphs and failures, love and loss.

I recently had a random thought. What are the things that I experience today that the first humans also experienced? I began to list things in my mind; the beauty of light reflecting on water, the satisfaction of completing a task, the sound of wind rushing through trees, the stillness of night, the admiration of the uniqueness of animals, the cuteness of children, laughter, the comfort of a place to sleep, how good a meal can taste after a hard day’s work, the love and affection of another person. The list goes on and on. There is much beauty in life, even in the little things. Our lives are a gift from God. Let us be grateful for every moment, and never deprive ourselves of the gifts another day can bring.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Redemption Stories

Well, it’s been a few weeks now since I decided to once again embark on a journey I’ve been on before. Yes, I have re-entered the magical world of “Lost.” As many of you know, that crazy show about survivors of a plane crash on a mysterious island is far-and-away my favorite TV series of all time. “Seinfeld” is great for laughs, but I wouldn’t say that I’m a better person for having watched it. What really makes “Lost” so great is not the mysteries or the crazy plot twists, although those things add to the experience, but rather the incredibly well-developed characters and the transformational stories of redemption portrayed. It seems clear by the end of the series that the show’s title is more than just a reference to their physical circumstances. Another redemption story, “The Shawshank Redemption,” has been sitting atop the IMDb all-time movie rankings for years now, growing more and more appreciated with the passage of time. I watch these stories and cry for these fictional characters because they very accurately portray something that transcends fiction: the human condition. We are all broken people.

This got me to thinking about how God sees us. We all love to see people find victory over the challenges in their lives. How much more does God rejoice in the redemption of people? This is in itself an answer to the question of “why do bad things happen,” or “why does God allow evil to exist?” I don’t for one moment believe that God causes bad things or evil, as I’ve written before, but I do believe those things play a part in His greater purposes. One of the great mysteries of God is how He can work bad things for good. Another way to look at it is to ask yourself what the world would look like if bad things never existed. What would be good if there was nothing bad? What would it mean to love if there was never hate? What would it mean to have comfort if there were no pain and sorrow? Would the world have been better off in the long run if Adam hadn’t eaten that fruit?

Maybe such a perfect world is really not the best of all possible worlds. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be that way because God is as big a fan of redemption stories as we are. Maybe He, like us, finds it more rewarding to see the restoration of things than for those things to have never needed the change. It certainly makes for a more captivating story. Yes, God has a reason to allow ugly things to exist, so that true beauty may emerge. Sin and death are ugly things, but God had a plan in mind to defeat them, and that was the cross. Could there be a more horrific image than that of the Son of God being ripped to shreds and then hung on the cross to die a slow, gruesome death? Yet God transformed that which was the most ugly thing into the most beautiful act of love this world has ever seen. The cross of Jesus Christ signifies the ultimate redemption story, not only because He conquered the grave by rising on the third day, but because His sacrifice was on our behalf, to offer redemption for all of us broken people. He paid the price for our sins, and now we can be made free to live the life He desires for us. That life begins when we accept the gift He offers, but it isn’t fully realized until we shed this body of death and join Him in eternity. Revelation 21: 3-5 says:
“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’”

We who believe have a promise of full redemption that will one day be realized. I cannot read these words without getting teary-eyed, because there is so much sorrow and pain to be felt in the meantime, and though we are forgiven, we continue to struggle with the desires of the flesh. But how much greater will it be when He takes it away! This gives me comfort. There is purpose in our suffering because we are better restored than if we were never broken. Our story is part of a bigger story that involves this whole world. How great it is to be a part of God’s great redemption story!

Friday, April 11, 2014

I Think, Therefore…

There are numerous arguments for the existence of God. The following is to me the most compelling. It goes like this: “I think, therefore…God.”

Allow me to explain, and I think by the end this simple statement will make sense. The fact that I can think implies that there is a source of intelligence. The atheist will object and say that our thoughts are just the synapses in our brains firing. This assumes that the synapses are the cause of thinking, and not the result. Of course, if you are to believe this, how can you be certain that there is no God? How can you rely on those synapses, which by your own admission, tell you what to think? Taking this approach, there is no way of truly knowing anything, and the whole field of science is a contradiction of itself. Anything assumed to be true is only assumed as such because the one who assumes has no control over his assumption. He could well be assuming that which is the furthest from the truth. The mechanics of the brain controlling the thoughts is a belief of determinism. There is no such thing as free will from this perspective. Taken to its logical conclusion, determinism assumes that all things are the result of no cause. If every action is the result of another action, what about the first action? If there is a line of dominoes tipped over, do we not assume that it began with a first domino being tipped? If not, did the first domino somehow break the rules and act out of free will? Or do we assume that there is an infinite line of dominoes stretching back that tipped over, but never a first domino responsible for the others falling?

The theist, on the other hand, assumes that there is at the very least an initial action responsible for the actions that followed. Applying this to the universe, there must have been an initial action that resulted in the universe. The universe cannot explain itself because it is an effect that needs a cause. If there is an initial cause, then free will must exist, at least somewhere, because there cannot be a cause by itself without it making the choice to be a cause. Christians like myself call this cause God. The atheists always object, “Then who or what made God?” This is where faith is required, because you cannot scientifically explain an eternal being. We believe that God exists outside of the constraints of time, so no cause is required for His own existence. But consider the alternative. If there is no God, you have to believe that either the universe itself is eternal and doesn’t require a cause, therefore time doesn’t exist, or there was an effect without a cause, and time began at that point. None of those explanations are scientific.

Now going back to my initial statement, there cannot be a thought without a cause. Assuming godless evolution occurred, where did the first thought appear? How did such a thought evolve? How do you go from being brain-dead to brain-active? Does life come from death? If this universe existed without intelligence, how did it get to be intelligent? To assume that it wasn’t is to assume that I am greater than the universe that created me. I am smart. The universe is dumb. How did something so dumb make something so smart? You can’t create something from nothing, especially if you are as dumb as the atheist would make the universe out to be. This is why it is irrational to believe in a godless existence. We are intelligent because there is a source of intelligence. “I think, therefore… God.”

Friday, February 14, 2014

Selfless Love

It’s V-Day once again, and as usual, I’m looking forward to its passing. No, this isn’t a bitter rant about still being single. In fact, I’ve been surprisingly at peace with that fact for the past year. (That doesn’t mean I always will be, but I’ll take it while it lasts.) The reason why I’m looking forward to the end of this mega-hyped-up day is that I’m sick of the commercials! You may know what I’m talking about. The ones that start out something like this: “Guys, looking for something to get your honey for Valentine’s Day that will rock her world and make her take off her clothes for you?” It’s nothing against giving gifts to your loved one that bothers me. What’s really troubling is the insinuation that the objective of giving is to get something in return. In this case, the objective for men is to give a woman something in exchange for a night of steamy hot sex. What does that remind you of? If you didn’t say “prostitution,” I’ll give you another guess. OK, that may be exaggerating things a bit, but I do think that this method of advertising is indicative of the way our society looks at love. We see it as an exchange. I give you something with the expectation that I get something in return. When someone no longer returns the favor, love dies, and it’s time to move on. You could say this is a “merit-based” system of love. In order to be loved, you must do what is necessary to be loved. You gotta earn it! Besides, didn’t the Beatles tell us, “the love you take is equal to the love you make?”

While this is the natural default position of Americans today, I can’t help but take notice of how we all can recognize a different kind of love when we see it. It’s not uncommon to see videos going viral on social media that tell love stories of a couple where one is disabled or suffering a debilitating disease like Alzheimer’s, and the other is faithfully taking care of them in their time of need. We look at that and are moved to tears because we recognize it for what it is: selfless love. That’s not to say that those who demonstrate such faithfulness and caring for their loved ones are perfect, and they would likely be the first to point out that fact. They would probably share about the struggle they have gone through, and how some days they just don’t feel like they can go on doing this. Nonetheless, the key difference between such people and most of the rest of us is that they understand that love is not a transaction, but rather, a choice. This is why I sometimes wonder if maybe arranged marriages aren’t such a bad idea. Western culture promotes the idea of love as a kind of a drug that makes you feel really good, but what do you do when the rush is gone? No, I’m not suggesting that we should institute arranged marriages as the norm, but perhaps we could learn a lot from them about the commitment to love unconditionally. Certainly, you must admit just by looking at divorce statistics that our modern way of doing things hasn’t been a smashing success. Perhaps we need to look at love differently. Maybe we need to ground our expectations in reality. Most of us look to find that certain someone that will complete us and love us perfectly and make our lives extraordinary. I must give kudos to popular singer/songwriter, Lorde, who at the young age of 16 was wise enough to observe amongst her peers that “everyone’s competing for a love they won’t receive.” That line from the hit single, “Team,” is a sad truth. However great your relationship is with your wife or husband or significant other, they will never perfectly satisfy you. Even relationships like those we look up to do not truly complete either person. However, there is hope for a world looking for a perfect, selfless love.

The Bible tells us in John 3:16 that “…God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Many of us are very familiar with this verse, as well as the gospel accounts recorded in the first four books of the New Testament. But have we truly pondered that? Why did God love us? Did we do anything to merit His love? Certainly not! God doesn’t owe me or you or anybody anything! If we’re in the mindset of a give-and-take relationship, He is on the losing end of that deal. And how could we ever be worthy of His love? He is perfect and holy and good. What can we possibly give to earn the kind of love that would willingly subject itself to the worst kind of death known to mankind for our sake? Maybe if God was looking for the kind of relationship we understand, He could’ve created perfect creatures that would give back. But He didn’t. Why not? Jesus said in John 15:3, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Flip the pages to chapter 19, and you see love perfected. Through his agonizing death on the cross, Jesus took the punishment for our failure to live up to His perfect end of our fractured relationship with Him. Every sin that we’ve committed makes us less than God. If the Church is the bride of Christ, you could say that’s He’s “marrying down” big time! But like the husband who cares for his wife long after she’s able to reciprocate, we recognize that God’s love for us is real. He loves us, not because we deserve it, but because He chose to love us. Romans 10:9 says, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” This means that since Jesus is the perfection of love who laid down His life for His friends, that any of us can be friends of Jesus. The gift of salvation has come to us, and God asks nothing in return but to accept it in faith. We can never repay Him, but He chose to give us the embodiment of perfect, selfless love: His Son, Jesus Christ. So as Valentine’s Day comes to a close, let's take some time to think about what it means to love. And for those of us who believe, how can we reflect God’s love to the world around us?