A Paralyzing Light

It was only a lifetime ago when I saw the glare.

Truthfully, it was a moment ago when I saw the glare.

It shone upon me, presumptuous in nature and foreign in existence,

with a demanding pull which stretched the room from end to end.

Its tangible touch caused the depths of my soul to tingle;

Moreover, its abstract unfamiliarity overpowered my emotions.

My gut-reaction was to close my eyes, as a child splashing in ocean waves.

The others in the room had the same reaction.

Not one of us moved. Not even one.

We wanted to change … from being lukewarm.

We were urged to follow the archetypal Light.

Urged to live as the Light designed.

.

The whispers of the shadows were permeated with darkness.

They were poison by nature but delectably delicious in taste –

with a subtle push that my soul could barely detect.

The deceptive push brought about an alluring temptation to my flesh.

Eventually, I allowed the whispers to take control of my mind.

My focus began swaying away from the promising light.

The others in the room had the same disposition,

I could see that everyone was emotionless. Paralyzed.

Not one of us moving. Not even when the church service ended.

Remnants of Revelation 3:16 echoed as The Light waned and Darkness silenced.

We, the Laodiceans, were left to choose –

Warned to choose.

Urged to choose the joyful light,

but drawing closer and closer toward the alluring darkness.

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The Praise of Cute Babies, Ryan Gosling’s Abs, and Holiness

There we sat in the movie theater, with about 200 other people, just in time to see the opening of Crazy Stupid Love. With this being in the genre of a romantic comedy, it is safe to say that the female gender took the majority count in the room, ha. Midway through the movie we finally approached the imminent flirtatious scene between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (my future wife). What happened next turned out to be hilarious – Ryan Gosling takes off his shirt… and on the 32-foot tall, 75-foot wide movie theater scene, 200 people received a full HD view of his 8-pack abs. I kid you not, every girl in the theater automatically gave some type of audible reaction. 70 girls gave a deep gasp, 70 other girls giggled, and 30 other girls clapped. The 30 guys in the movie theater just smacked their teeth in a jealously retorted gesture. However, the reactions from the girls were priceless. There was a warm delight that triggered in their eyes and bubbled up into a spontaneously audible reaction. An external praise.

ImageNow, let us ask ourselves a question: Why is it that there was such outward expression givien off by those girls? Why did they not just feel the delight and keep that feeling to themselves? We know that their reactions to Ryan’s abs were not forced out but, on the other hand, were naturally performed. That action is slightly weird when you think about it, is it not?

Another example – In the church that I attend we have experienced this “baby boom” over the past 10 months. Literally, there are babies everywhere. I am scared. (I have a prophetic theory that the babies are going to take over the church and turn us into their slaves… but that is neither here nor there). One established fact is that the babies are awfully adorable. I mean my goodness they are precious.  They turn heads like it’s their jobs. People are continuously complementing the babies, continuously gathering around them, and continuously telling other people about a new baby that they must see. What is it that causes us to react like this? It is not as if we haven’t seen a baby before.

The answer happens to be the exact same reason that God asks us to praise him. All throughout the Bible we see numerous instances where God says to give him joyful praises.  C.S. Lewis, who used to be a staunch atheist until his conversion, used to hate Christianity for this reason. He felt as if God was this old beggar-woman asking for praises all the time. After his conversion, he realized the truth behind why God demands that we praise him:

C.S. Lewis –

Just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ‘Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?’…

…“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”

What Lewis is saying is that the reason girls in a movie theater naturally give an external reaction to Ryan Gosling’s gorgeous abs is because their joy in those abs does not feel complete until they let it out. The reason we tell people about cute babies is because we have to share this news in order to complete the feeling. The initial joy is fuel that leads us into some form of obedience to achieve the full joy. We see this with Instagram and Facebook as well. We post pictures of the coffee we’re sipping or the delicious meal we’re eating because we must tell someone. Weird, huh? We do it all the time. We are by design worshipers and want people to join us in that feeling of gratification. God wired us for this. God’s demand to praise him is not meant for Himself.  God does not need our approval. He tells us to praise him because in the act of praising we walk into a fulfillment of the eternal-like joy that we were created for. If God loves you he would want what is best for you. What is best for you is Himself. In order for your joy to be naturally completed, it must be expressed. The scriptures are hinting to us, “do you want fullness of joy…do you want everlasting peace and freedom…then praise God in all things with all your heart.” Isaiah 25:1, Psalm 150:2, James 5:13, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, etc.

The Lord wants us to understand that anything we praise that does not end in praise of the triune God will be fleeting (Job 7:6-7, Psalm 144:4, James 4:14). Ryan’s abs will not last forever, babies eventually reach the terrible twos, delicious sandwiches will quickly disappear, and Tom Brady will eventually grow too old for the game. Unless our everyday pleasures end in ultimate praise in Jesus Christ then those pleasures are restricted. Everything that is seen is transient. Our hope lies in focusing more on what is unseen. Jesus takes our sins, dies on the cross in our place for our sins, then rises from death. He gives us his righteousness. He gives us his heart. The more our affections are stirred for Christ, that joy will fuel our obedience to worship, to evangelize, and to naturally give off fruits of the spirit…freely. Not as a job or obligation but because we already feel his affections for us. Continually sitting underneath this Gospel story causes us to continually remember, which in turn, naturally triggers that “joy of eternal significance”. That joy that creation yearns for.

Let us adore Him. Let us praise Him.

Sources:

Reflections on the Psalms. C.S. Lewis. 1958.

A Tough Farewell

Mom and Dad came up to Raleigh with me the day after Christmas to help move me into my new apartment. I very much love that pair. It still baffles me at how I once thought they were demons sent here to give me chores. And now, we’re best of friends. It’s amazing how, as I get older, my eyes begin to open more to what my parents were doing – the bigger picture of their love for me and for my brothers.

Saying goodbye to family is always tough. This time, in particular, had a much larger meaning to me. I am not going off to college, still being in need of their assistance. This time I am starting my own life, far away from home. A new, professional career. An opportunity to make a wide range of mistakes and stumbles that will hurt me momentarily, while simultaneously growing me. After they finished helping me move in they got ready to head back to Atlanta (the goodbyes were in order). The goodbye to my mother was definitely more difficult.

You always hear of “father-daughter” relationships being awesome. “Mother-son” can be just as awesome. As we were hugging, I realized I did not want to let go at all. Letting go would somewhat symbolize that I am no longer that dependent child of hers that I once was. That “momma’s boy,” per se. I can only imagine what she was going through. In many ways, she was losing her first child. The first child she dreamt about having long before marriage. The first child she prayed for when her and my father saw a dim light of being able to even have children. The first child she held after giving birth. The first child that she had to potty-train. The first child she watched as he went to his first day of kindergarten & college. Her first child that she loved. She had to say goodbye now.

Please do not hear me wrong now, by no means will our relationship end here. Since that Wednesday I’ve spoken on the phone to my parents constantly. Lord willing, that will continue for a long time, with many many visits in between. I’ll probably even move closer to them eventually. The underlying point to all of this is something that I am continually learning and growing in:

There is nothing nothing nothing on this earth (or “under the sun” as King Solomon says) that can and will completely fulfill me or fulfill anyone else. I love my parents dearly, but I have to now be my own man and grow in my life and not rely on them to save me. If I place my parents as “ultimate” in my life, that leaves me no room for me to grow. Conversely, if my parents put me on an ultimate pedestal and think that I’m going to fulfill them, then they are drastically losing that battle right now and should be depressed because I am now 7 hours away and beginning my own life. And it goes on and on. If a girl places her boyfriend as ultimate in her life then she has doomed her boyfriend. He was not meant to bring her complete joy and he will disappoint her. Not only that, he will feel the weight she’s putting on him and will begin to pull away. Girlfriends too. Athletes can’t put their sport as ultimate either because they WILL get older, weaker, and slower. My beautiful MacBook Pro that I love will eventually be in a junkyard or garage sale one day. Neither can i place myself as ultimate. I can jog and eat healthy all I want, but I will still age. In my health and youth, I can still get cancer. There is some enjoyment in the many things we do and receive, but it is temporary and not eternal. It will always leave us wanting more. #DiminshingReturns

The Bible screams for us to hear this truth. Not only does the Bible do this, but so does the secular world. Every magazine has articles of “how to better our love life” or “stay looking young”. There are numerous self-help books on how to keep our family close, how to improve your workout plan, or improve your cooking. This occurs everywhere and in everything because at our innermost being we know that we are not fulfilled by anything on this earth. But we keep trying to fix it on our own. And each time we do so we fall short. There is never an answer for this issue besides the one, single answer that the Bible gives.

The book of Ecclesiastes, for example, constantly reiterates that we must look beyond the sun for lasting fulfillment. Jesus Christ is the only thing that will solve the issues that we have. Doing it our own way leads to death (Romans 8). What leads to life and peace is life in the Spirit. My new job will not heal me or complete me. My parents, whom I love dearly, will never fulfill me. I need something that will transcend my weaknesses. From Genesis to Revelations….Jesus is saying “I’ve got it. Trust me. Come to me. I’ve got what you need.” This is where our joy lies. The Bible teaches that God sent me to Clemson and now into Raleigh at this appointed time so that I would seek him further. For (1) the praise of His is glorious grace and (2) that I may find full joy in Him (Acts 17:24-27, Isaiah 46:8-11).

‘Oh the depths of your love God. May you continue to cloud me with your presence wherever I go and in whatever I do.’