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Looking for Grass Greener

The last year of my life has been by far the hardest. I’ve overloaded myself, fallen short, and discovered that I need God’s Grace more than ever. But through it all, the latter has carried me. God has shown me not just how great He is, but also just how fortunate I am, whether it be the opportunities I gain or the suffering I endure, it is all for the sake of His Kingdom and His Ultimate Goodness.

I’ve focused heavily on humility, sacrifice, and servanthood; three ideals that are not easy to understand for any individual, let alone embody. A large part of what I’ve learned this past year stems from the idea that “the grass is greener on the other side.” This is a common slogan, but is it actually rooted in Biblical truth? I’ve come to learn that there is strength and joy in the journey and in the current. God wants to give us hope and optimism about struggles that plague us, and He wants to see us thrive when we are under pressure, tempted, and tried.

After all, we are commanded to pick up our crosses and follow Him—and it’s easy to be faithful and virtuous when the grass is green. So while this last year has been hard, the lessons I’ve learned will be especially useful in continuing to grow and mature in Christ.

In fact, it is through adversity and trial that God helps us see how much we truly need Him. He’s there for us, despite the feeling that he might not be: “Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble. The Lord protects and preserves them—they are counted among the blessed in the land—he does not give them over to the desire of their foes,” (Ps. 41:1-2).

God knows exactly how we feel, as there is a reason we are taking up the cross after Christ. We are not leading others towards an individualistic way of living; we are emulating Christ and His Love daily. There is no doubt that this is easier explained than done, but through the uneasy times and the relaxing ones, God is with us.

This recent wave, for me, was filled with overcommitment in the form of employment and studies that led to less of an opportunity to recreate, have fun, properly anchor myself towards Christ, and sleep. The latter two caused most of my problems over the past year. I didn’t know what I wanted, where I was going, or who I could really talk to about it all. I was struggling deeply spiritually because I didn’t want to acknowledge that I was. I didn’t talk about it, nor did I even want to think about it. Professionally and academically I felt comfortable and at a different level than I could be spiritually, but that was because I was sacrificing the latter for the former, and that can never result in flourishing.

But in the end, deep conversations with people I knew I could trust turned into truth—truths exposed about myself, and my relationship with God. The problem was that I couldn’t live with failure and my own mistakes. I thought I didn’t deserve grace and that I couldn’t possibly ever turn the corner. All I wanted in that moment was to see grass greener. I wanted to move past the situation and into a state of success.

But God wasn’t done with me yet.

God has taught me a lot, and mainly that while I am responsible for my own sin, he’s covered my iniquities and is willing to save me, even though I don’t deserve it. That part still amazes me, but I now understand that it’s a gift meant to be used, and not a puzzle meant to be questioned. You wouldn’t open a gift on Christmas and start asking questions, you’d read the instruction manual (Bible) and start trying it out.

That’s exactly what I need to do.

And now I know that God uses our rough patches for good, and that they can be spiritually enlightening if we rely upon Him and speak to Him. I wasn’t praying enough, I wasn’t reading enough, and I wasn’t devoting myself to His Spirit. I had to learn my lesson so that I could use the gift He gave me. I had to see what God was saying, in order that I could truly trust Him.

Looking forward, I have an exciting three semesters left of college, but these semesters are going to be taxing and demanding. The lessons God has taught me are going to serve as invaluable.

Now that I’ve lived through this year of struggle and challenge, I’m truly ready to finish up college and continue my walk with Christ. So remember, before you can cross the bridge to get to greener grass, think about why you are where you are. All you may want is to get there, but God has you in this place for a reason. He will use it to teach you, inform you, and strengthen you so that you are truly ready to extend His Kingdom and live for Him.

That’s Not How a Relationship Works

So often and too often I think my journey as a Christian is like a short-sprint. All I am required to do is set-up on the block and take off at the gun—once I cross the line, I’m done! But that is actually the opposite of how life should work. Life with Jesus is not a sprint, it is a never-ending marathon. We need him to keep going—he is our energy and our inspiration. I’m sure I’m not the only one that has made this mistake, but that doesn’t make it okay. Praying continually means praying when we wake up, when we eat, when we succeed, when we fail, and every other opportunity in between. We need to remember that Christianity isn’t just a religion, but a choice: the permanent choice to follow Christ and to love Him beyond all expectations.

There is no reward in following the law if we are unable to accurately portray the love of Christ and radiate it onto our fellow brothers and sisters. Likewise, Christianity isn’t simply a religion; it is a lifestyle, a choice, and a relationship with someone who has superior capabilities and god-like control.

Think of it like this: if someone is mentoring you, wouldn’t you like to talk with them, pray with them, and pour out to them? Otherwise, how do they know what you need, where you are falling short, or that you would like help? A relationship with equivalent to this in many ways—except that God already knows your struggles and he knows your strengths. But he won’t help you unless you ask for it, and we also should be worshipping and praying with God daily.

Just like speaking to a girlfriend/boyfriend, God needs to talk you daily. He wants your attention, and he wants you to thrive. But if we don’t give God what he needs, how can he help us?

It would be the equivalent of asking a teacher/professor to boost your grade after the final exam had already been taken. They offered review sessions, their office door was always open, and you had all of their contact information. But you thought you could do it on your own; you thought you had the necessary tools. That’s not how life works! After all, why would you be taking this course called LIFE 101, anyway? Because God wants to teach you and help you, but he can’t do anything for you if you don’t seek Him until it is too late.

That should be our end goal, anyway: to praise Him daily, pray continually, and love others as He has loved us.

After all, that’s what Heaven will be like, and don’t you want to be prepared? Well, it’s highly unlikely we’ll reach Heaven if our first ever contact with Him is: “So, did I make the cut?”

Knocking Down the Pins of Life

I’m the type of person who likes to see results. I like to see how much I can improve, what I can accomplish, and what I can do better. In many ways, the culmination of my life was surrounded by what I had accomplished and what I saw myself doing in the future—that is, until I realized that I had it all wrong.

I stayed at a college friend’s house over Thanksgiving this year and had a great weekend, but I felt a little bit off the entire time. Something wasn’t clicking, whether it was my relationship with God, or my own inhibition.

Regardless, my break ended with us bowling with some of his friends in the area, and that’s when I learned something I couldn’t help but share what happened next…

The entire time I was bowling, I had pinpoint accuracy. I was bowling right down the middle, but I couldn’t purchase a strike to any avail. I watched as the people around me were finding strikes with seemingly minimal effort. It felt like I was bowling at the same speed with the exact same accuracy, and yet, I still couldn’t find success.

So, as I went up to bowl, again, after two games of strike-less bowling, I prayed to God and asked Him for strength. Not necessarily because I cared that much about bowling, but because I sensed that this game was heavily connected to my life as a whole in that moment. And when I released the ball, it just felt different. I could really feel God’s presence. I could feel His Strength.

In that moment, despite how irrelevant bowling really was in the scope of things, God spoke to me. He said, “Truly, truly, I tell you, you can’t knock down all the pins by yourself—but you can with my help.” That’s when it hit me: you can appear to succeed on the surface, but true success can only be achieved in Christ and through Christ.

Statistically, I was hitting 9/10 of the pins, but the last pin left me insatiable and seeking more.

You see, I had been trying to knock down the pins of life by myself, under my own power. That’s why I had felt so drained, and why that last pin had always reared its ugly face. I had been trying to juggle a multitude of tasks and a plethora of responsibilities for with no real purpose, and I didn’t want God’s help in doing them, and I was after the wrong things.

It’s about giving to Christ first out of the realization that He is greater, and that we need His help to seek truth and abide by it. This was more than just an epiphany that I need to work harder; it was a time when I came to grips with my death-designating desire to be independent from everything and everyone when all I ever needed was dependence upon God and His Word.

And that’s how I learned one of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned through something that would otherwise have been just another ordinary evening.

Hopefully this can serve as inspiration to some of you, or perhaps a caveat to others. Don’t try to knock down the pins yourself—allow God to guide your stride.

Justice is Not Relative

2017 has been a year of divisive speech and political outcry. While this is probably not news to most of you, it seems strange that “justice” has been exposing this. Why did we not notice before all the protests, natural disaster, and uproar? Well, because I’d argue that ‘justice’ is a very relative term.

What exactly do I mean? Well, in order to administer justice, you must have some type of foundation to comprehend exactly what is just, and more importantly, what is not.

You can use the Bible as your lens for justice, or you could use philosophy or the law. And if done properly, you should be fighting for the safety, salvation, and equality of all beings—at least that is my Christian mindset speaking. But recognizing injustice and justice is rather easy, once you learn. The real challenge is separating the two, and then actively seeking to end the injustices you see.

How exactly do we do that? There’s probably thousands of theses that could be written upon the topic, but there is one situation I’d like you all to think about today.

There is no question that there is plenty of injustice throughout the world—I’m not at all questioning that. But we should really corner ourselves with this question: Are we really fighting for justice if we only attack certain injustices? Inherently injustice can only exist if there is an absence of justice, so why would we waste time dissolving some cases and leaving others to exist and multiply?

I fear that in our world today, we sometimes become too wrapped up in our own identities, our own ideologies, and our own aptitudes to the point that we are blinded to what is actually wrong, and what is actually right. We stress certain injustices over others in the hopes that the ones most relevant to us will be addressed. Is that not injustice in itself?

I see a lot of these manifestations in political debate about religion, but I also see a lot of this in arguments against democrats/republicans. We see someone we don’t agree with, so we wish them ill instead of well. This the exact image I am attempting to paint. Muslim or Hindu, white or black, conservative or progressive, young or old, woman or man, we should not fight only the battles that are relevant to us.

Jesus died for every man, every woman, and every individual that would choose to believe and follow Him. If we only choose to fight in the wars against injustice that will benefit us, we are truly missing the point.

Being Christian does not mean you have to hate the Muslim or the Hindu, and being conservative does not mean you have to hate the progressive. Instead, it means you have to love when it is hard to love, and fight for injustice even when you don’t necessarily agree. After all, attacking people when they attack you won’t heal any wounds, it will only provoke more hurt.

Think about this: fighting injustice is a lot more powerful when you do it for others out of selfless, humble love. It’s rather easy to join a group that fights injustice in our day, but if you are causing injustice on your route to “creating equality,” are you actually doing any good? I’d say not.

I Am

At some point in your life, God will reveal to you His Greatness. You will revel in His Grace, and you will realize the power behind the statement “I Am.” As my walk with Christ has progressed, I’ve had epiphanic events of this strength more than once. One of those occurrences was today at my church. My pastor, finishing the church’s 11 month series, spoke on Revelation and the joy that we might experience in heaven if we give our live completely to Christ. To conclude the sermon, he unveiled a large check and invited us to sign away our life to Christ—emphasizing the fact that redemption was free, and all we had to do was sign it. It is a large decision, but one that is inexpensive for the value you would receive in return. Without hesitation, I signed it, and I have put in place some routine check-ups to make sure I don’t seek to rip up that very check I signed.

In Jesus’s statement, “I am the way the truth and the light,” there is so much more significance than initially evident. In Latin, the word for “way” is via, which means road. At that time, roads weren’t just composed of tar and yellow lines—they were complex layers of rock that became necessary for trade, travel, and even safety. As one might expect, these roads were not always perfect, and likewise we can expect our journey with Jesus to be a little bumpy at times. The road we are following Jesus on is not the Yellow Brick Road, and it surely isn’t a path straight to heaven. We can expect robbers, holes, detours, and unexpected stops to thwart our plans at almost every turn—but if we continue to trust Jesus and follow Him, we will always reach our destination. He allows us to stop and spread His Good News, learn new skills, fulfill our vocations, and ultimately grow in virtue and in spirit along the way.

The final destination, heaven, will be glorious. You can expect a perfectly paved road once you enter this territory. There will be no more robbers, sickness, disease, depression, or sin here. In order to get there, however, we must submit wholly to the Holy One. Jesus does not require that we pay him anything; he only requires that we follow him and sign our life over to Him. So the question remains: Are we willing to sign the check containing the balance of our lives to Jesus, or are we going to walk down the road alone?

Love is a Decision, Not a Feeling

After many talks with friends and lots of reflective thought, I think I have finally have come to disagree with the idea that love is strictly based upon emotion, attraction, and fleeting feeling. That seems to be the ideal our society would push today; but that sells love short. Christ didn’t sacrifice his life for us on the Cross because he was “attracted” to us in our sin—he did so because he made a selfless, humble, and obedient decision to show grace, even when we didn’t deserve it.

Likewise, Christian relationships on earth should seek to conform to that same standard. We shouldn’t love our neighbors strictly when they do what we agree with; we should love for the sake of the Gospel and because we were loved first. Although I am perhaps pretentious to say that divorce rates are up because of this very concept, I am persuaded to believe that marriage can only last when both parties understand exactly what love is.

So while we can choose to believe that true love is an uncontrollable, chemical attraction reaction, that simply isn’t always the case. Some may be convinced by this model that true love is nonexistent, as I once was. However, it’s rather difficult to prove it as such, when you can feasibly experience it through God’s grace. That is true love; and it’s form is not a red heart; it’s symbol is the Cross. True love is recognizing our own failures and our own sin, but loving anyway because we have already been forgiven by Christ.

While that may not be convincing, know that attraction is still a real entity. But also recognize that lust and attraction, although tangibly real, stand no chance against true love.

Accepting the Truth Means Rejecting Ourselves

If it’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I find it hard to accept and follow what I know to be true. And that’s because of my inner-self belief that I know what is best—it conflicts with what I know to be the truth. And that’s why accepting truth is a difficult feat; we first have to acknowledge that we are not of truth.

On route to discovering truth, we have to vividly assert that there is only one form of ultimate truth: Jesus Christ. We can’t find the truth in ourselves, and we shouldn’t find comfort in our identity unless it is rooted in Christ’s very being.

Furthermore, why should we care what people think of us? God died for us. Isn’t that enough? I shouldn’t care if people like me, or if people arbitrate my legitimateness. God has already secured my spot in eternity with his sacrifice—is that not enough? We sometimes get caught up in relative truth—but I assert that there is no such thing; there is only the truth of God, and nothing else matters.

Essentially, what I’ve realized, is that we find ourselves when we surrender to Jesus. When we give up our ways in favor of His, we are on the right path to truth and our true-selves.