Taking Flight

Mercies instead of blessings

(Photo by Siddharth Kothari on Unsplash)

For some reason, it feels a bit like cheating, piggy-backing off of some thoughts from a book. The past two summers the college group at church as done a book club so every week we read a chapter from the book and then discuss it. This practice has been hugely influential for me in my faith as I ponder new ideas with my brothers and sisters. But there is nothing new under the sun so I feel somewhat safe continuing.

A few weeks ago, we were reading the chapter in the book that was all about God’s compassion and graciousness proclaimed in Exodus 34.

And I found it interesting that these qualities of God (compassion and graciousness) can also be translated to mean mercy, a word that is related but still distinctly different from the synonym.

This, for some reason, got me thinking about those words you’ve used so many times in a term paper that you end up looking for the fanciest synonym to replace it a few times. After all, you have to make sure your professor thinks you look smarter than you are.

Or at least that your vocabulary is more robust than it is.

Admit it. You’ve done it.

While technically there are similarities, there are also important discrepancies that give each word a specific identity, a unique identity that changes how we interpret the surrounding words and the overall meaning.

Language and semantics are complicated and messy. And I love it.

And mercy has some complicated and messy connotations, if you will. On the positive side of the coin, I think everyone would agree that mercy is a wonderful thing that we love to be applied to us in great abundance. We love the moments where we scrape through by the skin of our teeth and barely avoid what we had coming for us and sigh a relieved “That was a close one.”

When the police officer lets you off with a warning, when someone seems to believe the lie or half-truth you nervously squeaked out, or when gossip gets back to the “gossipee” and she chooses to let it slide, your relief fills the atmosphere and sits heavy like humid Oklahoma-summer air. Your body tingles with the adrenaline of “phew.”

But the word “mercy” is a double-edged sword. Because in any situation in which mercy is doled out there is a certain amount of baggage that preceded it.

There’s a reason that we receive mercy and never is it a response to good.

Mercy is not a response to perfection. It’s a response to our shortcomings, to our missing of the mark, to our flat out defiance and rejection to Perfection.

Mercy is not a response to good but a response that labors to bring good out of bad.

Because we all know receiving mercy is wonderful, but giving it…not so much. Giving mercy is a labor and much like forgiveness it is something you have to choose day after day after day after day. Mercy is not only forgiving someone the moment they wrong you, but also it is overlooking that wrong the next day and the next day and the next week and the month after that and so on.

That is hard, backbreaking, spiritual labor…

…because if you’re anything like me, forgiveness in the moment is trivial. It’s like that tough workout that as the day goes on the pain fades. But wake up the next morning and your heart is screaming with anguish and frustration and confusion. And all you want to do is give that person a piece of your mind and rip them a new one.

I’ve probably just struck a deep cord in everyone who reads this. I’d almost be willing to bet that all of you instantly pictured someone in your mind. Because that’s how hard mercy is.

And our God doles that out

every

single

morning.

Nothing we have in this life or the next have we earned. We like to think we deserve all the good things that come our way. We like to think our blessings are a result of our works…or at least that a portion of them are because we were good. But if I’m speaking honestly, our blessings are all colored by a tinge of mercy’s hue.

Blessings are more than just presents or God saying, “I just thought I’d do a nice thing. Just because.” Every good thing we have in life is probably a peace offering from God, Him saying, “I forgive you. Now let Me show you so you can come to Me and know Me.”

The author of Lamentations was inspired to proclaim this very truth in chapter 3.

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Changing our view of blessings to mercies could be life changing. Like eternal life changing. It could mutate the very spiritual DNA that has been evolving in us since we became a New Creation.

Changing how we forgive others.

Changing how we approach the Father. May this draw us closer to Him.

 

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Taking Flight

When “I” gets in the way of “Him”

ben-white-165037-unsplash

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

In the past few weeks, I’ve become acutely aware of my usage of the first person pronoun “I.” I’m not sure why exactly I’ve suddenly become so cognizant about this part of my speech, but it has become like an annoying clicking sound in the background. On a scale of one to narcissist, I’m in the ballpark of wherever self-conscious would fall because I’m noticing it all the stinking time. “I did this. I do that. I, I, I, I.” In my head, I sound like a dolphin or those annoying birds from Finding Nemo that can only seem to say the word “mine.”

As I go to add to a conversation with a personal experience, the sound of “I” echoes in my mind. It feels out of place, forced — like I shouldn’t have said anything at all but simply listened in silence.

As I answer a question, I begin with “I” and yet somehow it feels wrong.

I might be blowing this way out of proportion. In reality, my degree of “I” usage might not be as narcissistic as it sounds in my head. Or maybe it is, and at this moment, I desperately put the desire for a more selfless me in the hands of my brothers and sisters who I hope are brave enough to rebuke me if this is in fact the case. I pray that they would love me enough to kindly correct me.

But more and more I’ve become hyperaware of this single-syllable, mono-letter word that is so incredibly small yet so freely scattered throughout our conversations and internal dialogues.

While this utterance is so incredibly small, it tends to fill a large number of our daily word count.

Part of me wonders what would happen if we all collectively had a transcription of every word we said in the last year or so and punched “command+f” (or whatever the equivalent is for PC). Part of me wonders how many times the word “I” would appear. Part of me wonders what the percentage of our “I” usage would be. And then there is another part of me that’s okay with living in ignorance because I might not like the results.

We can definitely chalk this up to the flesh and our desire to be first. After all, it is called the first person.

Every shortcoming can be traced back to our humanness. However, I would also throw in the subliminal parts of our culture and syntax that feed our flesh.

Fun Fact: “I” is the only pronoun we are taught to capitalize when we’re in grade school. And what else are we doing when we capitalize something other than emphasizing or bringing attention to something?

And Fun Fact #2: What’s actually really fascinating in a very disheartening way about this is that in “proper” writing, there are times when using the first person (“I”) is acceptable. But even when referring to Deity, to God, capitalizing the third person pronoun Him like I just did is incorrect, frowned upon, a big no-no in more formal writing.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Doesn’t that define culture as we know it? Because culture says, the world says to put all of the emphasis on “I,” on one individual before him or her or them and especially Him. Culture says it’s all about boasting in me, in my accomplishments, in my abilities, not in anyone else and especially not in Jesus Christ.

 

Over spring break, I went on what I like to call a mini road trip. My high school best friend and I decided to go to Waco, Texas for an overnight stay – something that would get us out of Oklahoma and away from the stresses of school. About a week before we left, I realized I hadn’t made arrangements for where we would stay. I had thought about it in my head, but for anyone who knows me knows that sometimes I think about doing something so much that I have actually convinced myself that I’ve done it. Just one of my minor character flaws.

For this trip, I had an idea of who we could stay with. We had options, but it was last minute. We ended up staying with my Bible school teacher from when I was a kid. Her husband is a preacher there at Lake Shore Church of Christ, and I thrilled at the idea of getting to spend some time with them even if it was for only a couple of days.

Our time with them didn’t disappoint. Even though it was a little last minute, she was ready for us. She said she never knows when she’ll be having people over night so she’s always prepared with freshly made beds though she warned us about the possibility of finding cars and other toys hidden under the covers. Her grandchildren like to play on the beds.

Instantly, she welcomed us with Zimbabwe tea and cheerful conversation, but what was so amazing about the conversation is that nearly every word was filled with Jesus, a concept I had heard of all my life but had never seen to such magnitude until that week. Every point of conversation pointed back to Christ. And she wasn’t trying to squeeze Him in. That is just who she is – a boaster of Jesus Christ.

Never have I seen Paul’s preaching of boasting so clearly demonstrated. Being human himself, Paul understand the fleshly compulsion we have for the word “I” especially in context with building ourselves up and making us seem more than we are. While Paul boasted about others (2 Cor. 7:14) and “boasted in our hope” of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 3:6), he warned against boasting about ourselves and in our own abilities and actions.

In spite of all the reasons he had to boast in his flesh, Paul did quite the opposite.

“On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—”
2 Corinthians 12:5

I think most of us would much rather talk about all the good things about ourselves than the parts that look more like a rat infested sewer. I know I would rather talk about all the countries I’ve gone to or how I’m getting an advanced degree or all the books I’m reading or have read. But Paul said to boast about the stumbles that make us humble. Basically, I need to boast in how I’m super jealous sometimes, in how I’m overly cynical, in how I have a tendency to be a little judgmental especially about other’s intentions, in how sometimes I assume the worst in others based on very little concrete evidence because I forget that my intuition is not infallible. (Side note: I feel like I’m describing a crazy person right now.)

What’s even more amazing about Paul is that when he wasn’t boasting about his faults and short comings, he was pointing a flashing arrow in neon lights at our Savior in order to bring as much attention to him as he possibly could. Because Christ was made strong in Paul’s weaknesses and he is made strong in my weaknesses and the shortcomings of every believer.

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Galatians 6:14

And as I finish this blog, I wonder if I used “I” too much, and I pray that the message of Jesus resounded louder than the empty, hollow, and powerless “I’s.”

 

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Taking Flight, Writing

A long way from God

Tears streaked down my face as I sat cross-legged on my couch and at attention to the Lord. Please, God, just take control. I don’t want control anymore, I prayed. That’s what I wrote in my prayer journal as I sat at a crossroads with the next step I should take. I remembered all the conversations I had had with God to make his plan for me abundantly clear. At this moment, I was sure he was shouting at me. Not in the way you would when team USA is lagging behind in speed skating because they keep making mistake after mistake. Come on! Can’t you see him! He’s right there! He was more so screaming it the way your coach would if you made a devastating fall in the short performance. Come one! Get back up! You can do this! This is what you have trained for! Just jump right back into the routine!

It was in that moment that I resigned control over to God to do what he must to bring me back to where I needed to be. And it would be the very next day that I would be met with a crushing blow of reality – that in my gradual shifting away from God, I had traveled a million miles away from Him.

Because that’s generally how it works. While some people make the dramatic flight from God, most people stumble and crumble to their lowest because they made a series of baby steps away from the smooth path he lays for us.

For a brief point in my life, I began to surround myself with not the best people. Actually, I had welcomed a wolf garnished in sheep’s wool into my life. The disguise was convincing. That much I’ll admit. So I let the beast stay longer than I should have, even after I started to see the menacing fangs and hungry eyes beneath a sweet grandmother’s cap. Like Little Red Riding Hood, I saw the big hungry eyes behind the wire frame glasses and the menacing fangs that dripped drool in anticipation for the kill.

Briefly, I accompanied the wolf thinking it was just a sheep on the edge. Nothing much to worry about. But with each passing day, I only became more critical, more pompous, more like the wolf with whom I kept company. I was hateful. I was judgmental. I thought of myself as more than my brothers and sisters. I do little out of love and most things out of selfish ambition.

Thankfully, the Good Shepherd saw what I couldn’t. He saw what I didn’t until the wolf had run off and a trail of wool was left in its wake.

Sadly, I still see remnants of how the wolf effected who I am, how I see people, and how I see the world. It is in the moments when my pride starts to rear it’s ugly, pompous head or that I say something so biting and bitter that I realize how many baby steps I took away from God and how they eventually amounted to thousands of miles.

When I first surrendered my future to God, I felt like a rug had been ripped out from underneath me. For that moment, it seemed like God was the incompetent magician who whips a table cloth out from under a fully set table only to fling every piece of precious China and polished silver to the ground leaving what was once beautiful and precious scattered on the floor. This wasn’t what I asked for, God, I thought.

But God is anything but incompetent.

And nothing He does is a simple illusion.

Though the state of my faith and my focus on God was the China and silver atop the fancy table cloth, the problem with my perspective was that everything wasn’t as beautifully set as I thought it was. In fact, it would have been better for Him to decimate everything on its surface than to mask the chips in the China and the scratches on the silver and pretend like the tablecloth hadn’t been tarnished by my own arrogance, my own pride in my plan, the plan I was certain had to be God’s, too.

But the moments where we are miles away from God are the moments we accuse Him of leaving us and leaving us for dead.

God wasn’t destroying order. What I thought was order ended up being chaos, and when I thought he had only created chaos, He was actually restoring order. He was clearing the table so he could make my heart orderly and full of love again.

 

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Taking Flight

Thoughts on the book of Matthew | Part II

So, we’re back for Part II for some thoughts on the book of Matthew! In no way is the blog post summative or a theological analysis. These are simply passages that stood out to me and thoughts I had while reading through Matthew this time. It took almost all of January since I’m reading a chapter from the New Testament a day! As I said in the last post, one of the best and easiest ways for initially digging into the word is to read and intentionally look for something you haven’t noticed before about that passage or maybe you remembered it differently from how it’s actually written. Ask questions! Be curious about the behind the scenes stuff that’s going on behind all the Jewish culture and the society that Jesus lived in 2,000 years ago!

This was a strategy I learned in Bible class last summer so I can’t take credit for it, but I certainly can attest to how much it will bless your study when you implement it! I’ve used this in Bible study and when I’m rereading a book or piece of literature for class. Without fail, the best works of literature, including the Bible, always show their different dimensions with strategies like this.

With Part I, I left off talking about how Jesus establishes, or rather reveals, his authority in Chapter 8. We learn that he specifically has the authority to heal – to heal us physically, to heal us spiritually, and to heal our situations and the circumstances that surround us. He takes our heartbreak, our brokenness, our pains and frustrations and then mitigates all of it when we are walking with him and trusting in him. As we get into chapter 9, the Word reveals another area where Jesus has the ultimate authority. He is our great example in all things but especially here.

Jesus has the authority to forgive sins.

This seems so obvious. We know Jesus forgives in abundance, and we can always learn how to forgive better and more fiercely from him. But it wasn’t so much Jesus’s ability and authority to wash away our sins that started all the cogs and wheels for me here in chapter 9. It was the reaction the scribes had and specifically their criticism of Jesus forgiving the sins of the paralyzed man that did it for me.

In this small snapshot of Jesus’s life and ministry, we not only get a really life account of how Jesus gave lease on life spiritually and physically, but also we get a broader metaphor for sin.

Because sin paralyzes. Our sin can cripple us from dusting off our mat of deep despair and pain, from taking Jesus’s nail-scarred hands, and from allowing him to gently lead us down the path of discipleship. Sin has a way of creeping into our system and rendering us immobile for the cause of Christ. Sin is that trauma, that severed vertebrae, those damaged nerves that disconnect the muscles of our souls and preventing us from responding to the messages from the brain, the Head, the Savior. Because of sin, we cannot walk with Jesus. Because of sin, we cannot walk with Him on water. Because of sin, we cannot walk.

Jesus not only saw this man’s paralyzed body but also his paralyzed soul.

The scribes only saw one of those. The obvious, the physical, as they beheld the man who’s legs were rendered useless. They failed to see the wounds that went so much deeper, the paralysis that was so much more crippling.

“Who then can be saved?”

Fast forwarding to chapter 19, the story of the rich young man got me thinking here. Right now, I have a friend in Austria. She’s there doing mission work, but she’s reaping the harvest in a place where the ground is extremely infertile. There, she faces the same difficulties we are starting to face in America when it comes to winning followers for Christ. The same difficulties we have been facing her for quite some time actually.

Simply put it is really difficult to acknowledge our need for God when all of our needs are met.

Like the rich young man, most of us in Europe and America have all of our basic needs met. Nearly all of us have a home with four solid walls and a roof to match. Nearly all of us get three meals a day. All of us have access to clean drinking water on a regular basis. Nearly all of us have an iPhone, Xbox, TV, you name it. Nearly all of us graduate with a high school education. We have all that we need physically and so much more.

But while we have all of this wealth in the world we fail to see the families that are falling a part, the senseless killing of children in schools, the half-hearted commitment of that brother or sister who says it is simply enough to walk through some doors and take a seat in the front pew. Some of these problems we even acknowledge, but we don’t acknowledge the act of following Jesus – I’m talking actually leaning on him, clinging to him with all our might – as the solution to the problem. We fail to see this in our own churches, in our own families, in our own lives.

We have checked all the boxes, but our souls are still yearning for more. Just like the rich man. We keep the commandments. We punch our attendance time sheets. We make sure we do our one church duty. We cry fitting tears over the next news cycle. But our hearts do not trust God anymore than they did before. Our hearts have not turned any closer to God.

But – so we can end positively here – let’s look for things in our life that need to be cut out, that are put to better use being given to someone else. Let’s intentionally put ourselves in a situation where we have no other choice but to trust that Jesus will give us what we need at the right time.

Obviously, there are more lessons that I learned when reading through Matthew this time, but I think I’ll leave it at that. I’m finding myself getting a little overwhelmed with writing about a whole book and what stood out to me about it. Maybe you could tell that I was fighting with two strains of what could be powerful and perfectly independent blogs. While writing about the man who was paralyzed I found myself wishing I could go deeper into that story, but there were just too many other things to write about. Some goes for the rich young man.

I think from now on I may keep this to something more topical and take the Bible in more bit-size portions for blogging. It’s truly amazing that the scriptures lend themselves to such depth and magnitude, that we can always glean deeper from the Word! Just as Christ’s love never ends, the levels to his Word never end either. As soon as we think we have reached the end of the line, the deepest part of the ocean, we will always find that his love for us goes on still.

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Taking Flight

Thoughts on the book of Matthew | Part I

Just a few days after the new year rolled around, I made the startling realization that I had not made one single resolution. Not a one. Sure, I had pondered things in my mind that I wanted to work on in the new year, but it probably wasn’t a solid week after the impetus of 2018 until I put my goals down in words.

For anyone who is a follower of Jesus, it is so essential to our walk as disciples to immerse ourselves in the word daily, to really dig down deep and take root in the fertile, solid, holy ground that is the Word of God. It doesn’t matter what plan you use! Just find a plan or make one yourself. Through prayer and reflection, decide what you want and need out of scripture to grow in your walk with Christ and go from there.

When I made my resolution, I wanted and needed more Gospel, more of the life of Jesus, more of the early church. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Old Testament with all of it’s beauty and history. It’s absolutely fascinating to read the retelling of this tapestry God is continually weaving even to this day. However, I was not willing to wait until what might be August at the earliest before I got to the life of Jesus.

In my head, I can already hear the very wise and knowledgeable Bible teachers that I’ve been blessed to receive guidance and instruction from. Yes, Jesus was there from the very beginning. Yes, Jesus is woven throughout the Old Testament portion of the most amazing masterpiece to ever be crafted. But I craved to see the very life of Jesus – how he walked, how he talked, how he treated people. Not to be cheesy (but why not!), but I wanted to know what Love is…the very Love, perfect and true, that would walk the dusty decay of this earth in the flesh. I wanted to refresh myself and breathe in the sweet details of his story because we all have an amazing story created by God, but for me and any other Christ follower, that story always comes back to Jesus.

Now, without further ado here are some of my thoughts on Matthew. In the college Bible class last summer, we were studying how to read the Bible. Throughout the whole series, the main theme was to obviously read the Bible but to look for details you didn’t notice before. Part of me was like “duh! Why didn’t I think of that?” But it can be so arduous to refrain from slipping into mindless reading so we can tick daily Bible reading off the never ending To Do list. I’ll admit there were times in reading Matthew where I would zone out, exhausted from a day full of grad school and GA-ing or running to and fro trying to complete all of those other things on the never ending To Do list. Nonetheless, I wanted to share some moments from Matthew (where I wasn’t zoned out) that really stood out to me and some thoughts about those moments from the life of our Savior.

King Herod didn’t want baby Jesus killed because he denied that Jesus was the Christ.

Before reading Matthew this time, I’m not sure what I believed Herod’s motives were for wanting to kill Jesus. I suppose I never thought about it and just categorized him with everyone else who wanted to kill Jesus. But now as I think about it…their reasons were all the same.

Matthew 2:3-4 tell a different story than I thought. Let’s look at those verses.

When Herod the king heard this [of the birth of the King of the Jews…aka Jesus], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

Does anything peculiar stand out to you? A few things do to me.

First, I think it is fascinating that Herod was concerned that the prophesied King of the Jews had finally come. It says he was “troubled” that the Christ was here. This was something that had been prophesied long ago. It should have been no surprise. In fact, it should have come as a great surprise that the messiah was coming at this time, that the season for salvation had come upon them. This was what the Jews had been waiting for for hundreds of years. This was something that should have brought King Herod great joy, that his people would have their redeemer.

Second, not only was Herod troubled at the news of the three wise men, but so was all of Jerusalem with him. In my head I’m thinking that while it is feasible that one person who grew up knowing the prophesies and the holy scriptures could have the wrong reaction to what should be a joyous occasion, could a whole nation that had the same instruction really be so far off with their reaction, too?

Third, Herod got all of the people who knew the scriptures best to go straight to the scriptures themselves to figure out where Jesus would be born so that they could find and kill him.

My mind is all over the place as I try to piece together these observations. I reeled when I read these passages last month. Because it wasn’t that Herod or the religious leaders didn’t believe the validity of the prophesies. The thing is that Herod didn’t want to give up his power to a new King.

This reminds me of the parables about the bridegroom, how we’re waiting for him to return and how He will be returning very soon. And while some of us won’t be prepared to persevere through the long, dark nights that will come before the dawn of eternal life, there is a whole other group of us who will be unwilling to lay down our own crowns so that He can take His throne in our lives just like Herod.

I write that as if that time should come in the distant future, as if it’s an event that is coming an not yet here. But that moment is here and is in every day of our lives. It’s in how we rigidly cling to our own 10 year plan for our lives. It’s in how we demand that the church service should go this order and this order only. It’s in how we believe with our whole being that our way is the only way instead of remembering that Jesus is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

Often times we think of the New Testament as the more relaxed covenant. Instead, Jesus ups the ante and calls us to higher standards.

When I got to chapter 5, I noticed that the phrase “But I say to you…” is riddled throughout this chapter, scattered like rainbow-colored sprinkles on top of chocolatey brownies. Jesus kicks off this portion of the Sermon on the Mount by telling the crowd that he came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it.

And then he comes down hard with this hammer in verse 19:

“Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” 

Wait, what?!?! I think we like to focus so much on the grace and mercy that God gives us that we forget that maybe he is giving us that grace and mercy because of the higher standard he as calling us to. Yes, God gives us abundant grace and mercy and I am so thankful that he does, but take a look at every time the phrase “but I say to you” comes up. In fact, go ahead and take a few minutes to underline each one in your Bible right now. Jesus uses this phrase SIX times in one whole chapter.

Honestly, when I read this passage, it kind of reminded me of when I was a child and I wanted to do something that my friends were doing. Of course, I used the usual child rationale for why I should be able to do this thing when trying to convince my mom that I should.

“But so-and-so’s parents let her do that.”

You can probably guess that my mom retorted, “I’m not so-and-so’s mom. I’m your mom.” In many situations where that dialogue ensued, my mom was usually calling me to a higher standard. And as adopted heirs with Christ, God calls us to live to a higher standard, a standard worthy of our adoption as heirs with Christ.

Some sun andvitamin sea

Chapter 8 establishes Jesus as the one with great authority.

By the end of chapter 7, the crowds he spoke to recognized his authority through his teachings, but chapter 8 shows us his authority through action as he heals lepers, casts out demons, and calms storms. If you do a close analysis here, you’ll probably see that Jesus has been granted the ultimate authority to do one major thing: heal.

With close analysis, we learn that Jesus has authority to heal…

The body. From verse 1-17, Jesus is healing lepers, paralyzed servants, Peter’s mother-in-law and many more. Jesus had the authority to heal afflictions then and to this day. This is a little harder for us to comprehend since we aren’t physically taking ourselves to Jesus for various ailments, but this passage serves as a reminder that even our physical sufferings should be laid at the feet of Jesus for him to heal. Because on the day of the resurrection they certainly will be.

Situations. When it feels like we can’t hold out any more and like we’ve done all we can and the troubles of life are still barking at our door like a pack of ferocious wolves, Jesus is there for us to turn to for calm and peace. Not only that but he has the power to assuage the trials of life just as he did with the storm.

The Spirit. Jesus has the power to cast aside the demons that haunt us, the sins and struggles we can’t seem to shake. Walking with Christ in Word and prayer and allowing him to carry us through the storms of life will bring healing to our spirit caused by the situations we did not let him into before.

This part of Matthew speaks to Jesus’s sole purpose for making himself a little lower than the angels to walk with us in the flesh for just a short time. He is the balm to a broken world, the assurance of new earth. In Jesus, everything is made new once more. The healing we need to renew our decaying flesh, our broken relationships and circumstances, and our downcast spirit can all be found if we follow Jesus wherever he leads us (verses 18-22). There is no earthly home where this healing is found, but there will be healing nonetheless.

So, I’m going to cap this post off here – not because I’m done and this is all that I gleaned from this round of reading Matthew. Believe me! I would already love to dive deeper into all the nuggets of gold Jesus gave to us through the Word. But this blog post is starting to become obnoxiously long. There is so much more I want to share with you from Matthew’s account of Jesus’s life and ministry and I don’t want to wear y’all out. For now, stay tuned for scenes from our next episode!

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Taking Flight

Leaving Egypt: Freedom + Closed Doors

When I would hear the saying “when God closes a door, He opens a window” or some variation of God closing and opening some way of passing through into some other place, one image always came to mind.

I imagined a long hallway that seemed to go on forever. There was no end to this hallway. Not only was there no end, but it was small, the ceiling low hanging, maybe not even 8 feet tall and so narrow that two people couldn’t even walk side-by-side. The only light in this cramped hallway came from your standard light bulbs – emitting hardly enough light to see by as they hung naked from the fixtures above. There were no windows, no natural light. Only the dim, exposed orbs floating overhead. But there were doors. There were lots of doors, one right after the other as far as the eye could see in this infinitesimal yet infinite passageway spaced evenly apart, maybe every three feet or so, all looking the same – your standard wood door with your standard brass knob. Nothing to distinguish one from the other. Some are completely locked as if there were a deadbolt on the other side and the knob is locked, too. It doesn’t turn, doesn’t give at all. Some the knob turns, but when you push, there’s nothing. And then there are some that are a complete tease. The knob turns, it opens. And you get excited because finally there is a way out of that dingy, creepy hallway that never ends and seems to have no way out at all. You just want a little bit of sunlight, a little bit of something different, something good. All in one instance you push forward, you see that light you’ve been longing to see, and…

There’s a chain on the other side of the door that holds tight. What happened to knock and it shall be opened? You thought it was your turn. You were certain this was your door. The door you had prayed about. The door you had pleaded with God to open because all you want is a little bit of sunshine, even a small window to look out of would do.

If this image doesn’t scare you, if it doesn’t terrify you just a little bit and make you feel so small that a part of you feels like you want to curl up in a ball, it should. This should make you feel small and incapable and completely overwhelmed at this whole knocking on doors nonsense. It sure does me. In general, I don’t like small spaces and I’ve come to realize I’m not a huge fan of the indoors. I don’t like feeling closed off and isolated and I don’t like not being able to see a way out.

If this is the image you have of this saying we so often throw around, if you have the same image that I once had, then there are three things.

One, God has more than just a prison-sized peephole for us to look forward to. He set us free from slavery and He didn’t intend for us to go back. All too often we’re willing to go back to a form of slavery because it’s easier, it’s immediate, but it’s also misleading. The prison always gives the illusion of greener grass, but we’re not really free. We’re surviving, not thriving as Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan write in Wild and Free. But Christ bought our freedom and he intended for us to thrive.

“…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12:1

Two, I’ve learned that life isn’t the infinite hallway with no light, no hope. It’s the road out of Egypt.

Right now, there’s a door you’re trying to find and you’re seeking with all your might, both eyes wide open, but it’s desert or prairie – or whatever terrain is the best metaphor – for miles and miles. An oasis or natural spring would be nice about now. A village just over the horizon would be even better.

Right now, there’s a door you’re waiting to be opened. You might even be trespassing a smidgen trying to peek in through the windows and going around back to see if anyone’s home.

For now, be patient.

The village will come soon enough. Enjoy the journey even though it’s hard. Your throat is parched, but there’s Living Water for that. You’re starving. That’s good. It means you have an appetite for goodness. Stay hungry just a little longer.

The door will open when the time is right, but in the mean time take in the beauty around you. There are things that need to be done outside of that door, people who could use you and who you could learn a thing or two from. The whole world isn’t on the other side of that door; instead, there’s a whole world outside that door just waiting for you to explore it.

And three, because life isn’t a cramped and creepy hallway, there’s room for company. You aren’t alone. You are not the only one waiting, wandering, knocking and wondering.

(photo by Kathryn Patterson Photography)

(Originally published to my former site, thetakingflightblog.com, on June 24, 2016.)

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Taking Flight

On teaching while Christian

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(Photo by Aleks Dahlberg on Unsplash)

My thoughts for this post are difficult to grasp. Sometimes I feel as if thoughts and feelings are bottled up inside me and floating all around me just out of reach when it comes to the impetus of where my dream of teaching and being a Christian meet. I feel choked up by words that I am afraid to say because this is not an easy topic. Sometimes it’s as if I haven’t been given the appropriate vocabulary to navigate this. It’s not like I have anyone modeling what I need in grad school. For many of my peers I would imagine this topic might ere on the rocky edge of taboo. Excuse me as I imagine a sharp cliff with nothing but menacing waves and daggers below.

I’m not a teacher yet, but I’m going to be. Few professions carry as much baggage and dignity at the same time. Plagued with headlines about underfunding, emergency certification, growing class sizes, and standardized testing, teaching is not an easy job. So many factors have to converge on one another in just the right spot – teacher personality, the group of students, administration, community and school culture – or it all collapses.

Tensions are high when it comes to how education should be done. Everyone has an opinion but no viable solution. But tensions may be worse with the social climate.

In my first class of the semester, a group of seniors and some grad students sat in an awkward makeshift circle in a room that was not quite right for the class or the circle we tried to form so we could talk to each other. I sat between two of my grad student friends, but I wonder if they know of the waves and daggers I saw.

As class began, we started discussing moments in high school when we felt like we were soaring in the classroom and when we felt like we were falling flat on our faces. It came around to one student who started to talk about how it was during high school when he was coming out. It was a difficult time for him. I could only imagine it was. But there was a teacher he was very close to that he was most worried about finding out. He went on to explain that this teacher was very religious and how that contributed to his anxiety during that time. This same teacher was approached by students to be a sponsor for the school’s GSA, Gay Straight Alliance for those who are unfamiliar.

So, I sat in my seat but I felt as if I was standing at the edge of that cliff, the sight of ominous waves and rocks below. Muscles tense, breathing short, pupils dilated. The Enemy was using fear against me but jokes on him. Because I wondered, how much Jesus can I show my students?

 

I would never think to say anything harmful to my students but I am apprehensive for the day when a student approaches my desk and ask me to support something that I can’t. I’m anxious about the repercussions that saying no might bring, and I’ll carry them along with the rest of my cross if need be. I am prayerful that my students will understand that I am not trying to be mean or spiteful but that I cannot compromise the very core of who I am for anything.

 

So, right now I’m asking myself how does my religion as the teacher of a high school English class influence how I actually teach and how I go about other activities related to my job? Because it’s not as if I cease to be a Christian for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Faith and religion essentially should effect every aspect of our lives if we’re doing it right.

I’ve noticed that there are the parts of my being a Christian that people are okay with. They love to talk about the importance of love and how Jesus loved people. They love to arrogantly tell me that they are certain that Jesus was a socialist when they aren’t even a Christian and have hardly read an iota of the Bible. They like to bring up Jesus’s one violent outburst, but they don’t really care about his reasoning for doing so. They like to remember how Jesus spared the woman who was caught in adultery, but they like to forget that Jesus also said to her to go and sin no more.

And other parts of my being a Christian…well they probably would not enjoy much of that either.

Legally, I won’t be able to tell my students about Jesus in words. I can’t tell them about the magnificence of His grace or the power of His perfect and true love. I won’t be able to explain to them how Jesus saves. I can’t tell them about sin and what that means and what it is. And there is a part of me that is okay with that. I’m okay with that because some of my students may not be Christians and I don’t want to use my position of power and superiority to bully my students into Christianity. That’s not how any of this winning souls works.

I don’t expect my students, especially those who want nothing to do with Christianity, to be force feed a religion. Like any other human being, I don’t expect my non-Christian students to behave like Christians. That would be irrational and silly.

But it’s not like I stop being a Christian when I walk through the doors of the school. It’s not like I stop being clothed in Christ when I sit down at my desk or stand up in front of my students.

When I start teaching, I can’t teach Christianity but I can teach while being a Christian. And I can show students mercy when they act up and forgiveness when they cross the line and patience when they are just not getting it. I can show them grace and love and compassion. I can be joyful when I show up to teach them even when my life at and away from work may not be worthy of joy. I can do my best to create a peaceful environment in spite of the differences in my classroom. I can show them kindness. I can show them goodness. I can show them faithfulness. I can be gentle with them in my criticisms and feedback and general speech. I can be self-controlled in my anger when they are getting on my last nerve.

Because if I can’t tell my students about Jesus, then I plan to show him to them through my actions.

What challenges have you faced in the classroom because of your faith?

 

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