Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What does being a Christian mean to you?

A friend posed the question "What does being a Christian mean to you?" to our Missional Community group recently. I took a bit to gather thoughts and respond. I really felt strongly about what I wrote last night, so I thought I'd write this post and share it with y'all:

When I think about how God has changed my life, man, it's unreal. To think that someone like me who has been so dang selfish and self-centered and self-righteous for his entire life could possibly experience the glory that God has provided; it's unreal. When I think about the decisions I make in my life and realize that basically every choice is made for my own benefit, it makes me wonder if I deserve ANYTHING that God has provided. A family that loves me, friends to rely on, the ability to play music and write and read and think; these are gifts far beyond anything I deserve in the world. And I haven't even mentioned the new Jerusalem and the everlasting life provided by Jesus! dang.

Being a Christian, to me, means the gospel of love. How can we not be on board with that? A gospel that preaches to love God and love others. That's it. Pretty dang simple, but, of course, endlessly complicated. How do we love everyone all the time? The jerk co-workers, rude people at the grocery store, or self-serving politicians and businesspeople we spend all day complaining about. How do we love these people? Think about it, really, though. It is possible. It is SO possible to love the unlovable. All we have to do is put them before us. That stuff is not out of reach. We do it all the time when we say hi to people we pass on the sidewalk, show grace to friends who we can't rely on, or occasionally give money blindly to someone asking for it.

The fact is that it's possible through the Holy Spirit. ANYTHING good that we do is led by the Holy Spirit. That feeling we get when we feel completely satisfied by following a gut feeling to do something out of our comfort zone or even something within our comfort zone. When we talk to someone sitting in the corner of a gathering by him/herself or offer prayer to someone who really needs, even if they don't believe in prayer, those are the times that the Spirit works through us. Now, think about how that feels, how possible it is to act through the Spirit, and realize that Christ ALWAYS acted through the Spirit. Always! Dang, how great would that feel? It would feel so magical and surreal to completely live within the guidance of the Spirit. That was Jesus.

You know, I feel a certain amount of connectedness through Christianity, as well. Living in the Northwest, we encounter people all the time who find connectedness through some agnostic spiritual experience aside from Christianity. I don't know about you, but those people make me feel like they're missing something badly. It's hard to explain (aside from the Holy Spirit), but I really feel a genuine gap in their life experience. That gap is a lack of Jesus. Their depravity has not been exorcised like ours has. Rather, it has been exorcised, they just don't accept that exorcism. I don't have a concrete explanation here, but that's what I feel.

In closing, I want to leave you with some scripture that Abe used a couple of Sundays ago when he was preaching about God's love for us. In 1 John 4:9-11 and Romans 5:8-9, John and Paul write about how God sent His son, Jesus, to die for us. That's some cool stuff. Or John 15:12-13, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." That's so rad.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, check out 1 John 3:1 from the Message: "What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to." Whoa! That's some serious stuff! This is all about FOLLOWING BY BLIND FAITH. Faith is faith because we can't see it or touch it (not for the last 2000 years, anyway). If we understood God and everything He had planned, what sort of God would He be?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Respectful Dating

I recently contributed a guest post to my friend's blog regarding the topic of dating. She had been posed a Q&A prompt from a young lady who asked why she would flirt with a man and receive the flirtation back but not receive pursuit from the man in any other way. My response can be found in the link below!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Autumn Away from Home

In my 13.5 months in the Pacific Northwest, I have learned a handful of things. Rain makes me sad, people here don't care about sports as much as in Pittsburgh, and fall is my most nostalgic season. Today was filled with struggle as I donned a Pitt sweatshirt while doing some park clean-up in Tacoma for the second Homecoming Saturday in a row. Just like Jack allowed the fear to overtake his emotions for 5 seconds before completing difficult surgery, I'm going to take a moment to get some nostalgia out of my system before I go back to enjoying this season of my life that God has presented tactfully.

Fall is my favorite season. I love everything about it except the rain. The weather is cool, but not cold. The leaves are changing colors, which is beautiful in WA and PA, although PA tends to win in the lack-of-rain department. The music can be depressing. My playlist consists of Brand New, Kevin Devine, and Bright Eyes because it feels alright to shell up in your house and watch the leaves fall outside.

Saturdays in the fall at home were the best. I played football by myself every Saturday afternoon (and several other afternoons) all through my childhood. In high school I remember driving past an open field and thinking it would be a great place to play our (what seemed like) weekly pick-up football games.

I recall an October cross-state road trip a few years back that I have thought as the best weekend of my life. Several of my closest friends and I drove to Philly to see the Avett Brothers and visit the families of two of our friends, Mike and Lindsay, to celebrate their recent engagement. The joy that so many of us felt as those  Pitt grads in Pittsburgh, Philly, and DC united in one place for the first time in so long has been unparalleled. Celebrating with two AMAZING families as a family of friends was a memory that I'll never forget. Also sharing our love of the Avett Brothers unifying music styling has been a celebration only possible with one band.

Another autumn afterward saw a beautiful road trip to eastern PA again for two bachelor parties and a wedding. On this trip I had the chance to reunite with several friends, including a few who hadn't seen one another in quite a while, to celebrate Rob's bachelorhood, spend a night with an old high school friend, Brandon, over quality music, visit with some old Suncrest folks at Eastern University who had grown from campers into adults and real friends of mine, celebrate Rob and Chelsea's wedding with good friends, and close out with another bachelor party for a good friend, Ben, who had moved to CA.

As I listen to this music I speak of, I am reminded of certain glorious instances over the last 10 years that have shaped who I am. Listening to Deja Entendu reminds me of being a Pitt freshman trying to find my way. The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me reminds me of the bonding I made with one of my closest friends, Andy Armstrong, when this album was being leaked for the first time after intense anticipation. These tunes remind me of times sitting in someone's living room playing guitar; whether it was Ben et al in Centre Plaza, the Cornerstone worship band in Bellefield Church, or Armstrong or Andy Redfield in any number of places. These are memories that I miss dearly when I'm sitting in my living room playing Kevin Devine over a can of PBR by myself.

Other memories creep in that are not as pleasant, though. Last autumn was a dark time (emotionally and physically) of searching for who the hell I am while acclimating myself to a new place 3000 miles away from home. I spent a few weekends in bed for all of daylight just waiting for Monday to come and work to give me something useful to do. Tunes like Owen and Bon Iver gave me plenty of introspection and, at times, seclusion from the world. My extroversion created an exhausted person at the end of these interactionless days.

Finding my identity in this place has been an ongoing struggle that seems neverending. There have been times, including today, when I've wanted nothing but to return to the city of Pittsburgh where I know who I am thanks to those around me. Days like today where I go to serve with my church community and am greeted by barely anyone because they don't know me can be exhausting for a social butterfly who draws energy from constant interaction. The thought ran through my mind several times that no one would notice or care if I left (even though that's not true) and that I missed being able to do autumnal things with close friends who would call me before I called them. Moving across the country has humbled that narcissistic person who thrived on the affirmation of others.

In the end, this day of nostalgia has led me to one conclusion; my identity lies completely in Jesus Christ. I am not who I am because it's who people say I am. I am who I am because Jesus died for my sins and the sins of the world. I am a servant of the Lord. I serve because it is God's will in my life. I play music, write blogs, spend time with friends, spend time by myself, because it is how I am called to serve God. On the surface, I have the opportunity to create the identity that people see, but why should I create a new identity when my identity is already created? If I can alter who people see so often, then I am not living in the identity that Christ has provided. My identity in Christ is consistently loving. If I am not loving, then it's Jake and not Christ. That's no good because Christ is perfect and Jake is not.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Following the Spirit

Sometimes life comes at a million miles an hour. Where you are today is not where you were a year ago, a month ago, or even yesterday. Your plate was empty last week but it is certainly full today and you don't think you can handle it. Desperation sets in and you want to shut down, pack your bag, and head to the wilderness for a while until people forget that you exist and have to maintain responsibilities. What your selfish flesh once wanted has now been dumped in your lap all at once and you should be happy, but you are confused and don't know how to make decisions anymore.

Weren't these good things that you wanted? Attention, opportunities, responsibilities? Your selfish desires have resulted in an overwhelming scenario that you can't handle. What's worse, you haven't been provided the OTHER good things that you also wanted. "Why now?" you wonder. And, "how do I get those other things like money or time, because they will surely make this journey simpler?"

It's times like these when God has given us what we need, not what we want, and we must seek the Holy Spirit to guide us through. When we feel overwhelmed, it's because we are trying to accomplish things on our own and not relying on the Spirit to carry us through. We cannot complete anything on our own. God is the only one who can. When we seek the Spirit, things get completed, our selfish desires seem less important, and the Lord is served in ways that we couldn't think of serving on our own. So today, take a moment to seek God in the confusion and chaos. He's provided these things because He wants us to seek his guidance in using them for His glory.