Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Most Devoted Followers Of Christ I've Met Are Not Who You Might Expect

  • I met Daryl in 2013 on a humid summer night in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was an older man, probably in his 50s. I was with a group of high school students from my church, Eagle Brook. We were on a mission trip and had decided to go on a prayer walk down by the river. We were handing out water bottles to people and about midway through our time we walked up to him. Another group had just been talking to him so he didn't want any water. But we talked to him anyway and I'm so glad that we did. We learned that Daryl had lost his home in Hurricane Katrina. He had a large family and they were all separated in the storm. He told us that as the death toll rose he wondered whether any of those people were members of his family. Several years later he was still homeless. But that didn't make him angry with God. He praised God. In fact, towards the end of our conversation he showed us his most prized possession, which was also one of his only possessions: his Bible. Daryl had every right to be discouraged. It had been years since Katrina and he still had no home and no way of knowing where his next meal would come from. Daryl was one of the poorest people in the nation. He didn't own hardly anything and had only a few dollars to his name but he was richer in faith than so many people I know. His faith was incredible. He knew that God would take care of him.
  • I met Jenny at the Marie Sandvik Center about a month ago. From the beginning, I could tell she had a joy and kindness about her that could only come from someone who knew God intimately. As I got to know her I could see her deep trust and faith in God. The first day I talked to her she told me about her miracle of the day. Her daughter had been wanting a dog for a long time and that afternoon they met a man who was looking to adopt out a dog to a nice family. After they talked a while the man decided to not just adopt out this dog to them but actually GIVE them the dog. She was so excited that God had blessed her family with a dog. Now to be clear, Jenny wasn't homeless but seeing as she was a patron at the center one can infer that she isn't exactly wealthy by the standard's of the America. But like I said, after a few minutes with her you know that she is very rich in faith. She could have chosen to be discouraged. She could have asked God why she didn't have a bigger house or why she had to come to the MSC for dinner or why she couldn't afford to buy her daughter a dog but instead she put her faith in God fully.

Daryl and Jenny are only two of the people I have met that had little in the standards of the world but were the richest in faith. Every mission trip I have been on I have met "poor" people with incredible faith and every week I volunteer at the MSC I meet people who give God the credit for every single thing they get. It just goes to show that those who are poor in the world's eyes are often the ones who are the most devoted followers of Christ and are the richest in faith. 

"Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?"
- James 2:5

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"How I Met Your Mother": a TV Show with Unexpected Depth to it

Although the show has quite a bit of questionable content, there are so many incredible quotes and amazing life lessons to be found in How I Met Your Mother. I wouldn't necessarily promote the show (I have given it up for long periods of time simply because there is a lot of content I don't care for) but I do think you should take a good look at what the show has to say. I think you'll find the lessons to be quite valuable and not present in many shows or movies. This post focuses on just a few of the great lessons taught in How I Met Your Mother.

"If you’re looking for the word that means caring for someone beyond all rationality and wanting them to have everything they want no matter how much it destroys you, it’s love! And when you love someone, you just don’t stop. Ever. Even when people roll their eyes, or call you crazy, even then, especially then!"  - Ted Mosby, Season 9: Episode 17
No where else have I seen such an accurate description for love. There are so many different kinds of love and I think this one quote covers them all. When you truly love someone you don't think of yourself as much as you think of them and their happiness. Love is irrational that way. Don't agree with that definition of love? Well, maybe you aren't looking at the right places. As humans we can't love people properly. We sin and we make mistakes. But Jesus showed us love in the perfect form. Jesus showed us love that is irrational. It didn't make sense for Jesus to love us but that didn't stop him. Jesus paid the price for us because he wanted it all for us even though it cost him greatly. And Jesus never stopped loving us - not ever. Jesus taught us about love originally but How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) reprises that teaching and teaches all people what love truly should be like.

"Because sometimes even if you know how something’s gonna end that doesn't mean you can’t enjoy the ride."  - Ted Mosby, Season 2: Episode 14
Life is often unpredictable but sometimes it is not. We know that certain things will come to an end. We know on our freshman year of college that four years from now it will all be over. We could choose to not engage with it because it will be over eventually. That certainly is an easier route. It hurts less to do that. But just because something will end doesn't mean we can't enjoy the time we have with it. Life is better when you engage in it and HIMYM teaches us that.

"The littlest thing can cause a ripple effect that changes your life."  - Ted Mosby, Season 2: Episode 15
It is amazing to me looking back at my life how one person, one conversation, one place can so drastically alter the course of my life. For instance, six years ago I met a girl named Zoe. She told me about Eagle Brook Church (EBC). At the time my family was looking for a new church so we went for Christmas services. We continued going there and have been attending there for over five years. It was because of EBC that I became a follower of Christ, decided to pursue a degree in pastoral ministry, first stepped onto the UNW campus, joined youth group, led a small group of middle school girls, and have gone on two out of my three mission trips. Zoe led me to EBC and that has changed my life dramatically. From where we are standing we often cannot see how our current actions will affect our future but looking back we can better realize the effects of our actions.This show reminds us of that.

"Look, you can’t design your life like a building. It doesn't work that way. You just have to live it… and it’ll design itself."  - Lily Aldrin, Season 4: Episode 24
As much as we try to plan out our lives for ourselves things never look how we think they will - whether that is for better or for worse. People come into our lives and change things. Opportunities come into our lives and change things. Disaster comes into our lives and change things. We can't write in pen in our planners because when it comes down to it things will change. We just have to trust that everything will be alright in the end and learn to take things as they come. How I Met Your Mother is a show filled with the unexpected and none of their lives go exactly as planned.

"You can’t just skip ahead to where you think your life should be."  - Lily Aldrin, Season 5: Episode 20
We often get to places in our lives that we just want to skip. For instance in the show Ted often wants to skip the 'looking for someone amazing' part and just get to the 'found someone amazing' part. As a romantic, I often identify with Ted. But that's not how it works. We have to experience the scars and the waiting in order to truly appreciate the 'someone amazing' when they come around. This rings true for everything in life I think. I used to have thoughts about what it will be like when I finally get to move to New Orleans but if I just skipped to that part of my life I would miss out on the amazing college experience I am getting now at UNW. We can't spend our time wanting to skip parts of our lives because you never know what you may be missing. So rather then spending your time waiting, engage in your life now. You may find it to be the best time of your life simply because you changed your attitude towards it. So many people need to hear this and so I think HIMYM really does well to talk about it.

"The future is scary but you can’t just run back to the past because it’s familiar."  - Robin Scherbatsky, Season 6: Episode 24
Looking towards the unknown can be frightening. The past is familiar. That's why we turn to it. But that is often not good for us. No matter how hard it is we have to keep moving forward and not look back towards the past simply because it is comfortable. You never know what beautiful thing could be waiting for you in your future. How I Met Your Mother reminds us to keep looking towards the future and to lean in to the unknown.

"If you’re not scared, you’re not taking a chance. And if you’re not taking a chance, then what the hell are you doing?" - Ted Mosby, Season 5: Episode 1
Life involves risk. A lot of people are scared of risk because they cling to the times when they took a risk and things didn't work out but the best things in life often come out of us taking a risk. Asking that girl / boy out, applying for that job, going to that college, going on that trip, etc. Everything worth having is worth taking a risk for. It may not always work out but at least you tried. Sirius Black once said "what is life without a little risk?" How I Met Your Mother tells us it is okay to be scared and that we must take chances.

"Whatever you do in this life, it's not legendary, unless your friends are there to see it."  - Barney Stinson, Season 9: Episode 17
Friends make life complicated but they also make it more meaningful. You can be successful in the world's eyes but if you don't have people who you care about you there when you do something amazing then it isn't worth much. HIMYM showed the value of friendship throughout the series and what we learn in the series can be summed up pretty well in this one sentence.

Additional Quotes
"So really the biggest mistake would be not to make that mistake, because then you’ll go your whole life not knowing if something was a mistake or not."  - Lily Aldrin, Season 1: Episode 21

"We gotta wait for the real thing, no matter how tough it gets" -  Ted Mosby, Season 7: Episode 11

"The great moments of your life won’t necessarily be the things you do; they’ll also be the things that happen to you." -  Ted Mosby, Season 4: Episode 22

"We spend so much effort trying to keep parts of our lives hidden, even from our closest friends, that in those rare times when we do open up, it's amazing how minor those secrets all end up being." -  Ted Mosby, Season 1: Episode 15

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

My Interview with a Muslim

I recently conducted an email interview with Abdulah Mohamed, a young man from Indonesia. Although I didn’t get the chance to speak with him in person, all of our email exchanges were very pleasant. In fact, emailing him felt as though I were emailing an old friend (perhaps because he was an old friend of my good friend Bianca). Mr. Mohamed was more than willing to share his story and his beliefs. He was able to teach me many things about Islam and his answers to my questions intrigued me greatly.

The first question I asked Mr. Mohamed was how he viewed Jesus. Mohamed started off by saying, “Muslims respect and revere Jesus… They consider him one of the greatest of God’s messengers to mankind.” Mr. Mohamed went on to say that the Quran confirms that Jesus was indeed born to Mary, a virgin, and he performed many miracles during his life. They do not, however, believe in Jesus’ crucifixion. They believe people planned to crucify Jesus but that God saved Jesus and another man that looked like Jesus was killed instead.

Then I asked Mr. Mohamed about sin and how it is dealt with. He responded by saying that in the Islamic faith if someone asks God to forgive them then He will.

From there I asked about the five pillars of Islam and asked whether all Muslims follow them. Turns out, they do (as long as they are physically able to). Mr. Mohamed also listed them out for me. I compared his list to the one in my textbook and found them to be exactly the same in every way. While not exactly seen as necessary, Christianity also has “pillars” of sorts when one thinks about it. Essentially the five pillars of Islam are a list of things that are important to the Islamic faith. Prayer, giving, reading the Bible, being baptized, and (of course) belief in God are all seen as important in the Christian faith. However, in Christianity these things are not seen as necessary for going to heaven. The Bible is clear when it says that faith is all that is required of one in the Christian faith.

I also asked about how many Muslims there was where he lives compared to the number of people of other religions. Based on my knowledge of the family-centered culture in Asia and what I read in I Dared To Call Him Father, I figured it was likely that there is a heavy percentage of Muslims in Indonesia. Mr. Mohamed’s response showed me I was correct on that assumption. His response was the following: “I would have to say that Islam is 90% and Christian is maybe 5% and Hindu is 3% and the other 2% is other.”

The question I most wanted to ask was this: do Muslims feel persecuted for the Islamic extremists that dominate the news? As a Christian, whenever I see extremist Christians on TV I get very upset because it often feels like the news exploits the extremists. Even though we are of different religions I thought the same feelings may very well run through his mind too when he sees news reports about Islamic extremist groups. Mr. Mohamed responded by saying “what the media does show is not the true Islam”. Islam is not accurately portrayed in the media much like all other religions.

Another thing I was eager to know was why Mr. Mohamed converted. He grew up as a self-labeled “moderate Christian” and converted to Islam as a young adult. Before his conversion he had been going through a hard time and a friend told him about “a better way to get through life”. Mr. Mohamed learned about Islam and decided to convert.

I also asked Mr. Mohamed about the Islamic holidays. He listed three holidays to be the most important ones - Eid al-Fitr, Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha. The birthday of Muhammad and New Year are also mentioned in the list of holidays in the Hopfe textbook but not by Mr. Mohamed as an important celebration. Ramadan is a month of fasting and reflection. Eid al-Fitr is a celebration after Ramadan has ended. It is a time of feasting and spending time with family. Edia al-Adha is a time when Muslims remember how Abraham was faithful and ready to sacrifice his son to God. While no holidays are the same, there are some similarities between Islamic holidays and Christian holidays. The time of Ramadan has similarities to Lent in that it is a time of fasting (or giving something up) and reflection (although admittedly for different reasons).

My experience communicating back and forth with Mr. Mohamed was a wonderful one. He taught me about the Islamic religion through what he said but also by how he said it. He was also very encouraging and wished me good luck. The Islamic religion is often portrayed as a very violent one (and surely there are very violent Muslims) but I believe a majority of its followers are very kind and peaceful people like Mr. Abdulah Mohamed.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Why Your Children Should Read Harry Potter: The Valuable Lessons Of An Incredible Series


Now that that is taken care of it's time to get to the post...

It is surprising to me the number of parents who still disapprove of the Harry Potter series. I understand that they don't want to promote witchcraft and sorcery and the like but Harry Potter isn't made to promote it and I have never met a person yet who got into sorcery because they read Harry Potter. What I have seen though is people who fell in love with reading and learned valuable lessons because of it. The Harry Potter series made me personally fall back in love with reading. While I could discuss that point more, I won't because that isn't part of my purpose today. My purpose today is to convince you of this: the Harry Potter series has infinite value. Here is why...

Judging Others: Harry was wrong
about every one of these
Harry, Hermione, Ron, Fred, and George were just a few of the many characters who showed us true teamwork. In my mind, Fred and George are the ultimate team. They work together on everything and they show us that two can be a whole lot better than one. Also in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the famous trio (Harry, Hermione, and Ron) need the strengths and expertise of each of them to keep going. They have to cooperate and work together to stay alive. They have to trust each person to lead them in the right direction and to keep them safe. In the final book there is a battle at Hogwarts and it takes everyone working together to defeat Voldemort and the Death Eaters. The "good guys" work together and come out victorious while the Death Eaters don't because while they are working for one cause they don't cooperate very well. They are constantly struggling for power and when it comes down to it they are not at all willing to make sacrifices for one another. So not only does the series show us the qualities of a good team but it shows us what will make a team fail in the end. For a large part of my life I have been one to always try to do everything on my own, but Harry Potter and his friends taught me that you cannot master everything and sometimes you need someone with a different skill than you to do something. For more about HP and teamwork, read this.

Judging Others
When I think about the series and the topic of judgement I jump right to Harry and Snape. Harry made judgments about Snape throughout the entire series and yet in the end we learn that all we thought about Snape was completely false. Snape was a hero in many ways but we don't understand this until he is dying. Snape is not really how we viewed him for most of the series. I think many of us can learn from this because I think all of us do what Harry did. We make judgments about someone and later learn something about them that completely changes how we view them. This one truth will stick with me forever mainly because of Harry Potter: things are not always as they seem. This is clearly illustrated by the photo on the left. Harry was ridiculously wrong on all of those assumptions yet he still kept making them. We look at Harry and say 'get it together'. Then we often go and make our own wrong assumptions about others.

Lightness and Goodness
In many books and movies we are told or shown who is "good" and who is "bad". I think the Harry Potter series does an excellent job at showing us that people are very complex and cannot be accurately described as good or bad. Sirius Black once told Harry, "the world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters. We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are." In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore says that we must choose between what is right and what is easy. I think that this ties into choosing what side of us we will act on. What is easy is often not what is good. It is often much harder to do the right thing, which is why we make so many mistakes in life. Another wise quote from Dumbledore relates to the topic of lightness and darkness is this one: "Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light." The series teaches us to act on what is good and right.

Friendship and Loyalty
Those who know me know I am not really a crier. I don't tend to cry at movies or songs or even books. It's rare for me. But nothing makes me want to cry more than Dobby's final words. "What a beautiful place to be with friends. Dobby is happy to be with his friend...Harry Potter." Dobby is probably the most loyal friend one could ever have. He shows us what a true friend is and in the end, he dies saving his friends. Dobby is not the only character that shows us the true value of friendship and loyalty. Hermione put a lot of emphasis on doing well in school but she always showed us that friendship comes first. In the very first book Hermione said this: "Books! And cleverness! There are more important things -- friendship and bravery." The Harry Potter series made me (and probably many others) want to have friends like Harry, Ron, and Hermione so in many ways the series encourages to make new friends and keep them central in our lives.
Harry Potter proves that love is the closest thing we have to magic. Nothing can stop it. Lily's love protected Harry even after she died. Hermione, Ron, and Harry took risks for one another out of love. Dobby risked his life for the trio out of love. Snape protected Harry out of love for Lily. Love is shown by so many characters throughout the series it would be impossible to list them all. Many characters show love for others to their deaths. The series does make this clear though: the ones that love us never really leave us. The series helps us cope. It shows us how to move on but it also shows us to treasure the love we are shown and also, to show love back.

Life can be incredibly hard. The HP series does not shy away from conflict or death. It embraces them head on. There are over 20 major deaths in the series. Harry grows up as an orphan living with his unloving and uncaring relatives. Snape loses the love of his life to the man who bullied him in school. Tonks and Remus died just when their lives together were beginning and Teddy grew up an orphan. Arthur and Molly Weasley lose a son. Hogwarts loses Dumbledore. Harry loses Sirius, the one family member not lost to him already. Neville's parents lose their sanity. There is so much reality in this series about a fictional world. The Harry Potter series teaches us that life isn't fair, people we love will die, and things will never be happily ever after. But that doesn't mean life isn't a wonderful thing.

Other Good Lessons
A. Our words have power - “Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.”
B. Live in the present - “It does not do to dwell on dreams, Harry, and forget to live.”
C. We are the same in many ways - "Though we may come from different countries and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one"
D. Watch how someone treats their inferiors - "If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."
E. Living without love is more pitiful than death - “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.”

The Harry Potter series is seen by many as simply a series about witchcraft and wizardry but it is not just that. It is a series that promotes teamwork, shows the importance of not judging others, tells us that there is no such thing as good people and bad people, gives us a picture of true friendship and loyalty, demonstrates the importance of love, and gives us a realistic perspective on life. If you haven't read the series, then do yourself a favor and read it. You won't regret it.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Your Chains Are Already Broken

"Lord, I falter and I fall down and I hold on to the chains you broke when you came and saved my soul" - "The Struggle", Tenth Avenue North

So often we hold on to things that we have done and ask God to forgive us over and over again. While the Bible calls us to ask for forgiveness of God, it never says to dwell on our imperfections. This is something I have struggled with for a long time and I honestly don't believe I am alone. I think the reason we don't always feel like once is enough when it comes to asking forgiveness of God is because that it's not that way in this world. When we ask someone to forgive us rarely can we just do it once and it'll be done. There will still be hurt and unresolved feelings. So we come to think that the God of the universe is this way too. But He is not.

In Psalm 103:12 it says "He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west". Then in Isaiah 43:25 it says "I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." The Bible says it loud and clear - when we ask God for forgiveness He gives it to us.

God has never been one to keep anything from us. He gave up His own son for us. So many of us wear crosses around our necks but then we go and forget what it means. The cross means we are loved and forgiven. The cross means our chains are broken. There's even a song by Chris Tomlin called "At The Cross" that talks about Jesus' love and how at the cross His love ran red and our sins were washed white. How powerful is that picture! Your sin is washed white and your chains are broken. There is nothing our God would not do for you.In verse sixteen of Psalm 116 the author says "O Lord, I am your servant; yes, I am your servant, born into your household; you have freed me from my chains".

Jesus broke our chains for us 2,000 years ago. We need to keep that in the front of our minds because there are other voices trying to tell us differently. I wrote an entire post about how the devil tries to trick us into believing we aren't good enough. But the devil is dead wrong. I love what this tweet from Trust In Him says: "Christ has already broken your chains. Don't let the devil fool you into thinking you're stilled locked in."

Our God loves us so much. What can we possibly do for Him? Here's what you can do: live for Him. Now, here's the deal. You can't live freely if you have chained yourself to a wall of sin and shame. So you have to let God's grace and mercy and love in. Let those chains fall off and run to Him. And while you are running to Him starting spreading His love and the hope only Jesus can bring to the world.

"Hallelujah, we are free to struggle, but we're not struggling to be free.Your blood bought and makes us children. So, children drop your chains and sing!" - "The Struggle", Tenth Avenue North

Thursday, April 2, 2015

This World Is Not My Home

This world is broken. Very few will argue that it is not. There's war, drug addiction, hunger, divorce, unhappiness, death, pain, cancer, and so much more. I would not want my life in this world to be it. Sure, there's a lot of wonderful things in life but I still wouldn't want this life to be my entire existence. And I don't believe it is. I believe in heaven. In the Bible, it says that all who believe in Jesus Christ will go there and there we will meet the one who created us and loves us. In Philippians 3:20 it says our citizenship is in heaven. This means that heaven is our final destination, our true home. Billy Graham once said it this way: "My home is heaven. I'm just traveling through this world".

I recently saw the first trailer of the movie "Paper Towns". It's based on a novel by John Green. I read it a few months ago and I am so excited for the movie this summer. I have seen the trailer at least four times and I have watched all other "Paper Towns" content along with it too. Similarly, our time on Earth is just the trailer of a movie we are anxiously awaiting (the one difference is that the movie will never disappoint).

Our time on Earth is like the monorail ride to a line-free Disney World. Or the dinner salad before a 5 course meal. Or the car ride to an endless Tenth Avenue North concert. In short, our time on Earth is just the beginning of our eternities. And when you are a follower of Jesus it only gets better from there.

Doubtful heaven can be that wonderful? I was too for a long time. But in the Bible heaven is described as a wonderful, wonderful place, In the gospel of Luke it talks about heaven. When Jesus is on the cross, one of the criminal tells Jesus to remember him and Jesus responds "today you will be with me in paradise". Heaven is paradise. In fact, Psalm 84:10 proclaims "for a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside". Imagine that. Picture the greatest day of your life. Even that cannot begin to compare to how incredible heaven will be. Revelation 21:4 says in heaven "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”. Later in Revelation heaven is described like this: "And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there."

Heaven is going to be incredible. But it hasn't always been an option for sinners like us. Jesus paid the price for our sins so we could spend our eternities with God. That's what we celebrate during the Easter season - the price Jesus paid and the gift we received because of it. Heaven is an incredible gift. In fact, it is our true home.

"Where I Belong" by Switchfoot

"Where I Belong"

Feeling like a refugee
Like it don't belong to me
The colors flash across the sky

This air feels strange to me
Feeling like a tragedy
I take a deep breath and close my eyes
One last time
One last time

Storms on the wasteland
Dark clouds on the plains again
We were born into the fight

But I'm not sentimental
This skin and bones is a rental
And no one makes it out alive

Until I die I'll sing these songs
On the shores of Babylon
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong

Where the weak are finally strong
Where the righteous right the wrongs
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong

Feels like we're just waiting, waiting
While our hearts are just breaking, breaking
Feels like we've been fighting against the tide

I wanna see the earth start shaking
I wanna see a generation
Finally waking up inside

Until I die I'll sing these songs
On the shores of Babylon
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong

Where the weak are finally strong
Where the righteous right the wrongs
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong

This body's not my own
This world is not my own
But I still can hear the sound
Of my heart beating out
So let's go boys, play it loud

On the final day I die
I want to hold my head up high
I want to tell You that I tried
To live it like a song

And when I reach the other side
I want to look You in the eye
And know that I've arrived
In a world where I belong
In a world where I belong
In a world where I belong

Where I belong
Where I belong

Where I belong

Where I belong

I still believe we can live forever
You and I we begin forever now
Forever now
I still believe in us together
You and I we're here together now
Together now
Forever now
Forever now
Forever now