Taking Flight

When “I” gets in the way of “Him”

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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

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

A Call to Teach

Many of the teachers I have had throughout my life often said that the best way to know you’ve mastered a subject or concept is your ability to teach someone else. Another thing I also heard from many of my teachers is that when you start teaching others, you often times turn into the student, learning something from people you never thought could teach you anything and learning in ways you never thought you would.

In my twenty years of existence, I’ve had some stellar teachers from school, Bible school, in my family and among my friend groups. All in all, these teachers have taught me to love the Word and to love words (which is saying something coming from an introvert). I could list these teachers and the many things they have taught me but to do so would take too long. Instead, I will just say that all the amazing men and women who have taken the time to teach me have affected my life more than I ever thought they would.

There have been many points in my life where I have seriously considered and toyed with the idea of being a teacher because of the extraordinary people who taught me. Starting in 8th grade, I told my academic counselor that I wanted to be an English teacher. Within a year I thought about being a journalist and then as I progressed in high school I wanted to do PR, but the idea of being a teacher never completely went away. I remember in my freshman year of college I seriously debated getting a degree in both public relations and English because I thought one day I would want to teach, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it right out of college. And now I’ve started to seriously consider getting a master’s and the thought of getting a master’s in English education has crossed my mind a time or two, but so has a master’s in strategic communications or mass communications management.

Though the plans of the eighth grade version of me have faded in and out of my mind year after year, my love for words has not. My mom likes to say that she never could get a football out of my brother’s hands and books out of mine (and that’s probably partly her fault). When I was first learning to read, I remember we would read about the hilarious adventures of Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park. It was a night-time ritual of ours because she thought I wasn’t reading at the level I should be. From that point in my life I became the kid who would take a book to recess or work on stories I was writing…I guess that was the hazard in helping me read so what I’m trying to say is that this is all your fault, mom! But I wouldn’t have it any other way because as I went through middle school and high school my love for words continued to grow. From seventh grade to my senior year of high school, the line up of English teachers I had is the academic equivalent of the 1992 U.S.A. Olympic basketball dream team. I’ll let them fight over who would be Michael Jordan in this scenario.

At a whole other level is a place special made for the teachers who taught me about the Bible. Regardless of the career I have, these are the teachers I want to imitate. Regardless of the career I have, this is one subject I hope I will always teach. Whether it be in an actual Bible class or in the way I live me life, I aim to be a source of God’s Word even to those who don’t believe.

Last week, I had the opportunity to both imitate and teach the Word at a church camp in south central Oklahoma. For a whole week, I was a counselor to fifth and sixth grade girls and these girls changed my life. People tell me I’m brave, but bravery as nothing to do with it. It takes a bit of patience and a lot of love and with that you can teach anyone. During a week where it rained non-stop for three days straight, it took more patience, or “bravery” if you prefer, to teach by example than to teach these young, squirmy and loveable girls in the two Bible classes I taught. It rained so much, I thought I would never be dry again, but the positive attitudes from both the campers and the counselors left me with lessons learned from young ten and eleven year old girls who I thought wouldn’t and couldn’t teach me all that they did.

If the question is to teach or not to teach, then the answer for me will always be to teach regardless of my career path.

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