The Secret God

Originally posted to MySpace on:

April 10, 2006:

For most of my life, or at least most of my Christian journey (and what is that exactly?), I heard the term “personal relationship with Christ” flung around pretty loosely. Not so loosely that it loses all resilience entirely, but loose enough that it sort of misses the mark that I’m sure it’s supposed to reach. In other words, it’s supposed to mean that…well, before I get too far ahead of myself it’s supposed to mean several things, but in the context that it’s often shared, it’s supposed to mean “having Christ in my life,” or quite simply, “I’m saved.”

Okay, fine. I can accept that. It’s a reasonable way of understanding the meaning of having that personal relationship. Sounds easy—mysterious and a little out there, but easy.

But why call it that? Why not just say that Jesus covered my sin with His blood and leave it at that? What’s this relationship thing all about? For something that’s supposed to be “personal,” it feels too much like a “standard,” a “basis,” or even a “requirement.” In the realm of salvation, these things may be true. But what does that have to do with a “relationship?”

Okay, I threw out a lot of quotation marks there, so maybe it’s time to make sense of them. Salvation is only the beginning, not the end all of the Christian life. I think a lot of people treat it as the end all, but this journal isn’t about that. It’s about that next step, that step that says, “okay, now what?” Or more specifically, the step that follows “okay, now what?”

To put things back to the opening mindset, the personal relationship I’ve been taught about in various seasons of life means just what it sounds like. It means having a personal relationship with God, with Christ, with the Spirit. It means walking, talking, and sharing life with the One who gave me life. It’s part of the Christian life that begins after salvation. Sort of like walking along the beach with a friend and talking about whatever the heck you want, but that friend being the Lord. For those who are unfamiliar with this, this probably looks incredibly like a Sunday School teaching…kinda nice, sort of, but mostly vague and unapproachable. After all, this is God. Who am I to walk along the beach with Him? What makes me so special? The thought of walking with God feels like a fairy tale, and the thought of being important to the Creator of rock stars, movie stars, sports heroes, and presidents—people who are clearly too important to hang out with me; there’s no way that I’m that special.

And yet, that’s what I’ve been taught. My whole life. Sure, there were plenty of easy Sunday School lessons in that mix, but come on, what am I supposed to get out of this “personal relationship with God”? It’s a statement wrought with such a high paradox. It’s approached with such weakness but entails such greatness. What am I supposed to do with it?

Many of us who have stood in this position, asking this very question of why this is supposed to be so powerful and amazing, and yet feels like it’s nothing particularly impressive at all (stuck in the middle of the paradox as I’ve been for so long), have more than likely spent an entire life feeling rather insignificant, and certainly underused. Likewise, those who have been introduced to God, but don’t really know the significance of being in that relationship with the Lord, probably don’t have a clue about the depth of heart and life in which they’ve been invited. The whole thing just seems devalued. Who am I? Really, who am I?

A great struggle of mine these last few years has been understanding the voice of God—is it a silent whisper, a conversation in my head, the counsel of a friend, the Bible itself? I’ve heard it described so many different ways, but have had difficulty in pinpointing how it reaches me. Sure, the Word of God is absolute, and anything spoken to me from there is truth. But, it speaks to me through stories that have applications clocking in at over two thousand years old. Sure, I can plug in yesterday’s circumstances with today’s very similar characteristics (we all still eat, drink, fight, flight, and love, so it’s not that different). But how does that help me to decide where best to live, or who to befriend, or all those little specific things that shape the daily progress of life? Yeah, I’ve been given the ability to make decisions for myself, and believe me, I make those decisions all the time (usually in the form of what I’m gonna have for lunch), but there are still some things that I’d appreciate counsel about. Counsel I would only trust coming from God. Stuff that includes those major life decisions that the Bible might not be clear about.

And therein lies the speed bump of my Christian walk. Trusting the voice of God. Yes, the voice of God is trustworthy—it is after all THE VOICE OF GOD!!!!!!!!! It’s not the Voice of Uncle Lou (who is no uncle of mine for the record, it just sounds appropriate for this discussion). The voice of God will only offer truth and what needs to be known: nothing flippant, fluffy, or farfetched. But I’ve struggled with the problem of listening to the voice I thought was God and ended up finding out later on that the “voice of truth” was rather a “voice of my own will,” and seeing as how my will wasn’t in tune to God’s will, that voice led me down a road of heartbreak.

I know some people are gonna wanna jump in here at this point and tell me that sometimes God will bring us down that road of heartbreak to build our character and ultimately bring us down a road of joy. To those I say, “hold your horses.” I know that, but it’s not the point I’m going for here. The point that I am reaching, I’m almost there, but it’s just taking me some time to set it up, so bear with me.

So far we’ve opened the door about the “personal relationship” and the “voice of God,” but how do these correlate into the Christian walk (which, by the way, has plenty of intricate details to discover; it’s not just one or two basic, yet hard to comprehend things)? Okay, to go back to the original point, I’ve never felt particularly caught by this notion of being significant to Christ. When I’m told that He loves everyone, it’s hard to believe that I could have a personal relationship with the God that wants to have a relationship with everyone. It’s like the middle child of a family of twenty trying to stand out to his parents, or the sixtieth boyfriend of an unsatisfied woman trying to be something that the other fifty-nine guys before him were not (and ultimately finding out two weeks later that the girl has to clear him out to make room for boyfriend number sixty-one). Trying to cry “Abba Father,” or “Hey Daddy” to those who don’t know what the first term means, for that much desired, much needed attention from God the Father seems like a futile attempt when, even though He somehow listens to me, He does so as He’s listening to millions of others that very same moment (and probably more if half the world wasn’t fast asleep that very moment). I can appreciate the fact that He does hear me when I call, but how is this relationship personal? Why am I supposed to feel significant when the real world physical aspect of it is like going to a birthday party where forty or more people are there for one person, and the thought of making time to be a friend to that one person is completely absurd (because there are thirty-nine others vying for that same attention and offerings of praise the same time you are). Truly, who am I to be significant in this swallowed up desire to share a personal intimacy with the Creator?

After wrestling with this concept for longer than I care to think about, God finally spoke to me the other night about it (using the voice of the conversationalist—which has been the method I’ve been most skeptical to listen to). Usually when something about the Lord strikes me in a special way, and yes, despite the tone of this journal those moments do still happen, I feel compelled to write them down and share them with whoever will listen. Sort of like what I’m doing now. Not that I expect the world to read them, or even most friends for that matter, but I still like to write down what I’ve learned so that I don’t forget about it later. Because it’s there, I sometimes feel like sharing it with those who I think would appreciate the message. I really can’t gauge other people’s moods though, so I don’t know who all spends the five minutes or so it would take to read one of my journals. But anyway, I choose to write them down, and then I move on, and then I wait for the next great revelation to set me along my path of uncertainty (and inevitable joy if one is to accept the fact that brokenness can turn to joy when placed in God’s hands).

The other night, I felt the Spirit urge me to reconsider that compelling need to write everything down (as I’m doing now…ironic in context, but I think this is a case where writing it down is appropriate). In my deep investigation for God’s will for my life (Seek ye first the Kingdom of God), I felt my spirit shaken around left and right to the point that my whole realm of complacency fell (not that I wanted it to stand anyway), and in my shattered moment I heard the Lord whisper the answer to that long sought, but hidden question: “The personal intimate relationship can be found; you just have to discover it as you discover Me.” The exact words, I don’t remember entirely, but the meaning of the context came across that way, with the emphasis added to the word “discover.”

A few years ago, a friend of mine threw a curveball at me. In one of our spiritually related conversations, he brought up the mention of a video game he had once played called Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. For those who know nothing about Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, or about video games in general, it was a game for the Nintendo 64 about a hunter who treks around a 3-D world hunting dinosaurs (as the title implies). Back in the mid-90s, the onset of 3-D gaming was still new, and despite what jaded gamers may say now, it was still cool. But, the story doesn’t end there. When he and I were discussing the use of reaching kids through media (he was a youth pastor at the time), he brought up this example the Lord once gave him while he was in the middle of playing this game. “You see the world I have before you? I gave you this world to explore it.” Just for reference, the world in the video game was savage, lush, and full of cliffs and rivers and all those majestic landscapes that make a landscape majestic. Much like our own world can be at times. Pretty mighty message for God to pull out of a Nintendo game.

God reminded me of this statement the other night in this exploration of Him and of His will. There is something to explore here, and all those nice little Sunday School messages need not apply. Yes, the personal relationship starts with salvation. Yes, it involves the long walks on the beach talking to the One I can’t even see directly (the ocean splendor is the best thing I have at my immediate disposal to even suggest that He’s there). Yes, it includes those daily prayers to get me, my friends, my family, and those random souls I don’t know but might see flicking someone off in middle of the highway, through the day. But there’s far more to go on than that. This personal relationship, or rather, this intimate relationship goes deeper than that.

Discovery seems to be a great part of that. God gave me His Word as a basis for exploration, but never stopped there. God gave me His creation (both world and people) as a means to understand His intent for exploration, but still offers more. God even gave me a chance to hear Him directly (which I’m still trying to grasp, though it’s been incredibly difficult—due primarily to my skepticism of knowing Him over the voice from my own thoughts). But these things don’t quite measure up to the one-on-one intimacy that He claims I’m supposed to have.

“There’s no need to write and share everything you learn from Me. [Close friends do not often share each other’s secrets with the world.] A wife would not tell the world of something that only she was to know of her husband. [A parent would not post his child’s most embarrassing moment on the Jumbotron at a football stadium.] Some things I share, I intend only for you to know. I may share the same things with others, but that is for them to discover on their own. It’s what makes Me personal to you. Not everything has to be a message to the world. I reveal Myself in different ways to everyone. That is what makes your relationship with Me unique. I reveal Myself to you in a way that you’ll understand.”

In a way this journal may seem like a complete violation of the very thing God has spoken to me about. The fact that I’m writing it down—the fact that I’m sharing it must mean I’m not applying the message. But, some things God does intend for me to share, and I think this may be one of them. In any case, the message helped me to discover my worth in this grand adventure with God. Sure, I may be one of millions upon millions who share in this great adventure. But the fact that the Lord can still find a way to keep my part of it unique is just another thing to add to the amazement scale He seems to display so well.

If not for that, I don’t know if I could ever fully convince myself that I’m unique in Christ, or that I’m worthy of being an intimate part of some grand adventure. I don’t know; I’m sure many of us have questioned the significance of our lives in this matter. There’s no way that I’m the only one asking this question. But, hopefully this can add some understanding to those who might share in this feeling of insignificance. Granted, I’m sure God has more for each of us to learn, but that’s something for Him to reveal to each of us in His own way. I just hope I might inspire a jumping off point for that personal deep investigation of God that I know He wants us to dive into.

A Case for Beauty

Originally posted to MySpace on:

April 2, 2006:

Referring to points made in the book, Captivating, by John and Stasi Eldredge:

I’m the first to admit that I don’t read as much as I’d like. It’s a shame too because there’s a lot to learn from reading. I suppose there’s a lot to learn from watching the Discovery Channel too, but the point still applies. I just don’t do enough of it. Not that I need more knowledge or anything—I barely use the knowledge I have. But it’s a shame to waste away the knowledge that I do have, or avoid the knowledge that I could have.

I think the area of advice might come into play here for a moment. “Ironic” by Alanis Morrisette has a line in the chorus (in the midst of a list of ironic things) that states, “it’s the good advice that you just didn’t take, and who would’ve thought it figured? Isn’t it ironic?” My response, of course is yes, yes it is. What almost seems miniscule in the sight of lines and stories that include spending an entire life being afraid to fly, just to have the plane crashing on the first flight, or sitting down after a hard day to drink an elegant glass of Chardonnay, just to find a freakin’ fly swimming in it (I guess wine drinkers are picky about that sort of thing), or meeting the person of your dreams and then meeting the spouse; a line about good advice seems almost cheesy. But, if that good advice can change a life, and it’s not taken, what then? Well, it sucks actually.

Good advice can come out of reading a book. Strange but true. If you read a book about finances, it’ll probably offer tips about how to invest wisely. Chances are the book wouldn’t have gotten published if the author didn’t know what he was talking about. Researchers and experts in the field typically research that stuff before it hits the shelves, so odds are high that the methods described are sound (maybe not the best—there are after all a number of books on the same subject, but still reasonable). And that would be a fine indicator that the advice given would be advice worth following. And for someone to deny the advice, and ultimately end up in the poor house, might be a good indicator that the advice should’ve been followed.

Okay, so what does all this have to do with beauty? Well, I think it has more to do with reading at the moment. Last night I read a chapter of the latest book by John Eldredge (co-authored with his wife), to which it talks about the beauty that God made into woman. It points out the subtle fact that most art down the ages portrays woman as a work of beauty, but doesn’t do the same for a man. If I were to thumb through an art book right now, I’d probably have to agree with them. For every portrait of a man out there, there are probably at least twenty-five to a hundred portraits of a woman. If I were slow on the draw, I might fail to see the truth in this.

According to the Book of Genesis (that’s in the Bible for those who are unaware), woman was created last, as the pinnacle of creation. That’s actually quite impressive, now that I think about it. This book I’m reading describes it as the crescendo to a great symphony. But it also does more—it describes woman as the image of the beauty of God. Where we (men) are supposed to be the warriors of God (and boy do I feel like I’ve fallen off the wagon in that department), women are supposed to be the romance of God—the part of God that says, “take me with you, get to know me, etc.” By the time I got to the end of this chapter (after having to stop many times to meditate on how much truth I’ve overlooked most of my life), I realized exactly what it was that I’ve missed with God. I’m so busy expecting him to be the father I no longer have, that I forget that he just wants me to investigate his glory, explore it, and take it with me. That he wants to be recognized as the source of healing beauty, and as all the other attributes that define beauty. I don’t want to go into too many details about the other points made because that would basically ruin the beauty of the words written (summaries tend to do that), but it got me to realize what I’ve been missing.

I suppose that’s one reason why I like to visit the beach so much (or rather why I go there when I really need my heart back, after wasting it on stupid things). It’s a place where I feel refreshed—where God’s natural beauty restores me. If not for that, I’d be a mental case. Thanks to work, and pettiness, and stupid gossip, and all the other things that surround me or pick at me, my will to walk into the next day steadily decreases. But, thanks to the beauty God has allowed to step before me (in this case the beach and sometimes the park), I have a chance to recharge.

So far I might not be saying anything particularly impacting. So far I’m hyping up the beauty of God without really making it real. I suppose anyone and everyone has his place, but I know there’s so much mud in the world that it’s often hard to see true beauty. I’d like to hang out in that rolling field in a mid-summer’s evening, but a train wrecked nearby, and I can see it from the hill. I’d love to sail off the coast of Hawaii, but the frequent shark attacks have turned the water red. I’d love to spend an evening hanging out with this physically attractive woman, but her chain smoking makes me sick (and her boyfriend probably wouldn’t appreciate it anyway). It seems wherever I’d like to find beauty, something’s out there trying to ruin it. Even when the burden of my heart becomes so weighted that I can’t even bring myself to the beach (because this time it just isn’t strong enough), it becomes overwhelming. In those times I have to force myself to let go of the baggage. If I can’t let go, I can’t really appreciate what I have around me. And how am I supposed to think about the beauty of God when I can’t really see God, just his creation?

That was the point in my reading when I had to stop for awhile and think about this. The beauty of God—what is that really? I’ve never seen God face-to-face, so how can I know what true beauty is, if everything in my world is only an image? Only an image? The ocean, the sunrise, the rainforest, the tiger, the zebra, the desert, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand? Only an image? Woman? Only an image? What the heck have I been ignoring? If these are only the images, then how beautiful, pray tell, is the source? If an Elven forest like Lothlorien (in the Lord of the Rings movies) is merely an image of a mind created by God (in the same way that a political cartoon is only an image), then what level of amazement comes from the source?

The thing I realized here was that everyone at the end of his or her life will see this beauty, experience this healing, be overwhelmed by this joy. And some will be invited to enter in and share with it forever. Lying down next to a crystal waterfall, the woman you love in her best sundress next to you, God smiling down at you from all around, and no one bugging you to pay your bills, or your taxes. The freedom of flying without a plane, or the freedom of racing without a speed limit. And those are just appetizers. And yet, many others won’t get that far. Many others will catch that glimpse of God for only a moment before finding out that he never knew them, and that they missed their chance—that they ignored the good advice.

In the case for salvation, I’ll admit that I’m not the best warrior in town. I’ve let friends and family come and go without ever sharing the glory of God. When I’m too busy complaining about how much I hate my job, or too busy hyping up my own works (an offshoot of pride if I’m not careful), or too busy judging someone wrongly, I fail to see the avenue in which to speak up and say, “hey, your constant partying and empty promiscuity really won’t add to your life—and you’re better than that. Why don’t you explore the true source of your joy and beauty instead?” Nope, it’s a lot easier to talk about Spider-Man (another creation from a mind created by God—beautiful and adventurous and heroic and unique).

And it’s no wonder that people are afraid to warm up to this. God is often seen as the “man upstairs” (i.e. the man who sees, but isn’t with you; the man who observes, but looks down on you). No one thinks of him as the “being who shares,” or the “being who pursues,” or if we’re referring to the feminine characteristics, the “being who captivates,” or the “being who heals,” and the list goes on. And why shouldn’t we be afraid? It’s a frightening thing to experience true beauty. On a personal note, I finally realized the reality of this last night when I thought back to a moment a year ago when I couldn’t contain the beauty in front of me. At first I saw the beauty (yes, we’re talking about a girl here, not a waterfall or anything) as something unique, but not necessarily “pretty.” Even though the prettiness was there, it wasn’t safe. It’s actually kind of hard to explain, but think of it as a lioness. Lionesses are beautiful creatures, but they scare the hell out of you when you see them face-to-face (assuming there’s no cage between you). I had the same reaction when I really stared this beauty in the eye. It was like the beauty was there and evident, but my eyes were so allured and ultimately made dizzy from the reality of beauty that I could no longer look this beauty in the eye. It actually became too much for me to handle. Sometimes it’s like that with majestic things like mountains and oceans. Sooner or later it becomes too much. I often fear God in the same way. It’s no wonder that in our sinless state, we are physically unable to behold God in our sight, and that to do so would mean death. And yet, when this life is over and we enter into the next one, we’re able to see exactly what true beauty is (and can handle it, and embrace it), and want nothing more but to experience that forever.

So, it sucks when those of us who rejected that beauty in life for the safe pleasures of money and other temporary things face this reality, because what can they do then? Beauty becomes reality for a moment, but is promptly taken away, as a thief steals away one’s priceless possessions, and can never be reclaimed. Life thereafter is a life of mud, maggots, and complete darkness. Beauty may be dangerous, but it’s nurturing. Maggots may be easy to behold, but they’ll eat your eyes out.

People will always make excuses, but deep down we all want beauty. Sooner or later we’ll be able to behold true beauty, but we have to decide on that now. Beauty wants to come with us, but we have to invite it. Beauty wants to heal us, but we have to accept it. There’s no time for screwing around—that’s something that I can see clearly. Too much time has been spent in misery. Not enough has been spent in beauty. Even if I can’t see beauty’s source at the moment, I can still see beauty’s many images, and I think that’s motivation enough to pursue beauty’s source as a prince would pursue his tower-bound maiden.

What would I really have to lose?

Anyway, there’s still more to explore and more to read. But, so far this question of beauty has inspired me to stay persistent. I might have my days where I’m just not hanging in there very well, but fortunately, beauty is also a fierce warrior that doesn’t give up or let go. If somewhere along the line I should fall (and I will because I’m just so good at it), that heroic beauty will pick me up, and say, “here, brush yourself off and get back on the horse. There’s an adventure out there waiting for you.”

Something about that comforts like being under the covers in the middle of a rainfall with a cup of hot coffee by the bed. It’s the kind of thing that increases my desire to keep moving and to be a “man in motion”—the area of art where men are best portrayed.

God, help me embrace this and move with it. I’m tired of taking this stuff for granted.