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.

 

Standard
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.

 

Standard
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.

Standard
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!

Standard
Taking Flight

New year, new site…sort of

(Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash)

So, I feel like I should explain all this moving around and junk that’s been happening with Taking Flight.

If you’ve been following this site by WordPress Reader for like three years and wondering why I’m showing up on your feed again, then you’re questions will be answered shortly.

If you subscribed by email for forever and a day ago and you’re all of a sudden getting email updates when I post after receiving two years of nothing from me, then you’re in the right place.

If you’ve noticed that I’ve been posting articles that are old but mysteriously have never been published on this site, then just hold on to your seats.

If you’ve been keeping up with Taking Flight through my various social media channels and you’re wondering why my link has suddenly changed or why the site has a fresh new look, then stay tuned for just a teensy bit longer because I’m about to answer all the little inquiries you’ve kept in your noggin for the last few weeks.

For those who follow Taking Flight blog on Facebook (shameless plug…please hop on over and like that page real quick if ya don’t mind), you probably saw my post about going back to WordPress.

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 11.24.00 PM

About two years ago–almost to date–I decided I wanted to try Squarespace. I was starting to get really serious about my writing again, and I had big ambitions about taking my blog even further. Honestly, at the time, I anticipated having a full time job and being out of college at this point…or at least not going right into grad school after my undergrad. So, even if Taking Flight wasn’t…well taking flight quite like my ambitions had anticipated, then at least I would have a decent income to support my hobby until it might take off a little more.

Fast forward two years later, I am in grad school (which I love…mostly) with not a ton of time to write and not a ton of income either. Not to mention that before making the move back I took about a 5 month break from writing, which resulted in readerships tanking and social media algorithms leaving me behind in the dust. Thus, I decided that it might be time to leave my cushy and official domain and Squarespace behind and go back to freely blogging without a fee.

But there would be a downside to leaving Squarespace other than losing the super easy CMS and fancy shmancy domain–I couldn’t sync anything from Squarespace back to WordPress like I could when I switched from WordPress to Squarespace.

So, before canceling everything, I quickly copy and pasted every article I wrote and published on Squarespace to Word documents so that I could sporadically add my old articles back here. Which explains why you’ve been seeing old dates in parentheses along with some blog posts. It’s kind of turned out to be a win-win because I won’t be losing content that I worked so hard to create AND that content gets to work overtime without the pay…a great ethical tactic as long as no humans or living things are involved.

Well, there you have it! That’s what’s up with Taking Flight, and I hope you stick around to read more awesome posts to come or that you’ll jump back into Taking Flight and be part of all the fun!

Standard
Taking Flight, Writing

Confessions of a Blogger

Confessions

The title of this post is “Confessions of a Blogger” but could just as easily be confessions of a millennial or confessions of being human.

This goes with out saying but I love blogs! I have a blog (duh!), I follow a lot of blogs on a regular basis and I read a lot of other random blogs here and there.

This blog has been a ton of fun for me! I get to do what I love, which is writing, and use that passion to share the experiences and thoughts I have as a 20-something college student. Blogs are a fun way to share what’s going on in your life with family and friends, to share ideas with people far and wide, and to learn about other people and their views.

But while blogs can be used for great purposes, there is one struggle that I and many bloggers like myself all share and that is the struggle over numbers. We struggle to be authentic and I am no different. I struggle with writing to what will get the most likes or shares. It’s not just about writing something people will like, but sometimes you just want them to love it and a lot of the time they don’t love it. They merely enjoy it and that should be enough.

I struggle to share real life – my very real and imperfect life – with y’all. There is a line between being brutally authentic and keeping some things private. It’s so easy to write the “5 things” kind of post and they can be a lot of fun to write, but people want to feel. I want to feel and I want to know that other people want to feel, too. And maybe they want to feel the same things, too.

The internet is not always the best place to share some of the most vulnerable and tender parts of your soul that are best kept between you and a friend over coffee or put in God’s hands over prayer. But there’s something to be said for being able to put into words the pain and struggles that other people can’t always express. It’s a blessing. It’s a gift. To not use it would be to disgrace God. I would be no different than the servant who was given the one talent to invest in only to bury it for safe keeping.

But more than anything I struggle with what people might say when I decide to write in a very raw and brutally authentic way. People won’t always like what I write. Some might honestly hate it – find it insensitive or too sensitive. Some people will think that I just need to get over it and not get too caught up in X, Y or Z, but for every person who thinks an article is “too (fill in the blank)” there is someone who I have encouraged, someone who feels heard and represented instead of falling through cracks of a planet with 7 billion people on it.

So I must speak. I must write and not for the likes and shares. But I must blog with all the authenticity I can muster.

What does being authentic mean in your life?

(Originally published to my former site, thetakingflightblog.com, on February 15, 2016.)

Standard