Gosnell & the Gospel

Until three days ago, I had no knowledge of Kermit Gosnell. The abortion doctor. Serial Killer. Murderer. For whatever reasons, his trial for malpractice and murder didn’t seem to generate much of a blip on the news radar. Nothing was brought to my attention by the major syndicates. I discovered the story only by clicking on a link posted on Facebook. Little did I know about the monster whom I would be unraveling.

I had to face the horrid details about the grisly practices that went on for decades in his clinic. The botched abortions, the un-sterilized instruments, the actual deliveries and cold-blooded murders of premature babies. I was sick to my stomach. For the rest of my day, I had trouble digesting this story and what it meant–for our nation, for our pregnant mothers, and for what I thought I had believed in. I was as much infuriated as I was disgusted by what I had read. How could one man take all those lives? All the born, the unborn, and the unsuspecting patients he was supposed to care for. It didn’t matter, they were just numbers, trophies, dead weight. I wanted to strangle that man. I wanted him to burn and rot forever. I wanted justice to be served.

After a moment of calm, I realized I was faced with something as equally unsettling: the gospel. It is a gruesome story about how God delivered his only begotten Son to be abused, shamed, and crucified. He was abandoned, first by his closest friends, then on the cross by His father. He died a criminal’s death all so that those who believe and repent might be saved from serving our rightful sentence. If I truly claim to believe what I believe, then that means apart from Christ I am in no better spiritual standing than Gosnell. For I can never do enough good to not need grace, and yet the work of men is never so evil that God’s abounding grace cannot cover them. The root of evil runs deep, the chasm is wide, but God’s love covers all.

This is the scandal of the cross that I had so conveniently forgotten. This is scandalous, unsettling grace. In my indignation I had called for justice. But if God were to be completely just, He wouldn’t have sent Jesus Christ. He would have rightfully punished us all. But thank God, He was not fair to us. No, He has dealt bountifully with us.

The Gosnell story is an example of mankind at its worst, what people can do if the greed, anger, lust and envy in their hearts are left unchecked. But I would like to take this story as a caution and encouragement to us all. What Gosnell has committed with his hands is what God says we are all capable of doing in our hearts. Spiritually speaking, we are no better.

Dear reader, until you realize your Gosnell moment, you will not fully recognize your need for the gospel. That was what I was confronted with eleven years ago when I first believed. And that’s what I come back to at the end of the day: the cross–where total depravity is kissed by absolute grace.

Germany, Gospel and Last Samurai

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There are some trips you take that help you to recharge, perhaps to break away from normal routine if nothing more. Then there are others that exist to merely entertain and indulge your senses. Still there are a few that seem to mark your life in a significant way, trips from which you take away lessons or impressions that will stay with you long and true for the next leg of your journey.

When I initially flew out to Germany, I didn’t think it would be that kind of trip. After all, the primary reason for the visit was business, and I was spending only a week in town. I figured, if anything, I’d book an extra weekend so that I might actually explore Germany beyond the view from my office window. To be quite frank(furt), I wasn’t expecting much other than to say I did my 40 hours and stuffed myself with brats and bier. But sometimes these things hit you when you least expect it.

I guess it starts with the country terrain. The land alone is beautiful. Lots of trees, mountains, rivers. (I say this knowing fully that I only explored one region [and a half, I suppose, if you count my day in Heidelberg] and that there is so much more to see.) But as Friedrich would show you, the Germans are inseparable from mother nature. Germany is a biker and hiker’s dream. In addition, there is a lot of history contained in the country, as evidenced by several castles, cathedrals, and government buildings. Not to mention, the people are friendly–most of them speak decent English–and the food was wonderful. If the trip consisted only of this, I’d have been plenty satisfied.

Yet what stood out most was the people. The Germans are a very direct people. They will be upfront with you when pressed with something, and when they say something they mean it. My roommate Matt told me not to greet Germans with “How are you?” because over there it is not a trite greeting. “If you ask, expect an answer that is anything but good.” Because they will tell you how they are doing, really. It was refreshing because I didn’t have to second guess their intentions or what they were really trying to say. Their words are measured carefully. (Which reflects heavily upon me as a man. Do I measure my words carefully? Do I mean what I say, do I follow through on my commitments, is my word my bond?)

So, the few people I met there who considered themselves “Christians” really meant it. They lived out their faith. Their words and actions validated their claims. It was none of this going-to-Sunday-church-but-living-godless-Monday-to-Saturday business. When they say they are committed to being a disciple of Christ, they show what it means to have a definitive break from the world. It means they will say yes to doing some hard things, no to some others, and that persecution from family and friends is expected. They understand they will look weird to the world. They have counted the costs and determined that he is worth it.

Throughout my week, outside of work, I felt like I was on a missions trip, with the main difference being that the mission was me. I felt a bit like Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, where I was coming into contact with a new culture and people that reflected a way of living I had not known before. I experienced sincere kindness from people who consistently sacrificed time and energy to share their lives with me. On a pizza & movie night, I witnessed how a man devoted himself to loving his wife and four kids. I thought to myself, He’s got it right. I want to be like that one day. The German believers made me reconsider how I was living and approaching life, and the beauty in their lives inevitably led me to rediscover the beauty in mine.

What’s more, I think it made me reconsider my bearings on the gospel. Do I truly believe in what Christ has done for me? Do I believe in his power to change my life? How am I reorienting my life–how does it look different–if I claim to be a disciple? I say I believe in God’s all-sufficient grace, but I’m afraid I still live most days with an identity wrapped around what I achieve and what others think of me.

There is still much to process, but I’m thankful for trips like this. God not only gave me what I wanted, but what I needed. It’s like a kid who expected action figures for Christmas and got a shiny bike instead. He went the extra mile to surprise me. Thanks, God.

Only time will tell where this bike will take me.

soul food. 2012

“Until you take the journey of self-reflection, it is almost impossible to grow or learn in life.” – Iyanla Van Zant

I’ve finally had some time to settle down and reflect a bit on the year that was. I’m usually pretty deep in my own head, but believe it or not I wish I had done more reflection this past year. About who I am and who I’m becoming, where I’m going, why I’m chasing after the things I’m chasing after, that sort of thing.

Certainly this past year went by in a flash, and initial indications have me pretty happy at how things turned out. I have no regrets about how 2012 went down. I’ve tried my hand in various things–failed at some, succeeded in some. Sure, I won’t lie, it feels good to reach some of those dreams I’ve had hanging for so long above me. I could probably feel proud about myself. But it’s not so much that.

More than what I did or didn’t achieve, more than anything else I think I’ve had to learn the hard way that character is far more valuable than anything I could ever accomplish. It’s hard to take in, but I had to come to terms with my own fleeting youth. I’m not trying to imply that I’m an old sap or garner sympathy points or anything, but I’m trying to get at this growing awareness that I become more of each decision that I make, whether good or bad, and that the stakes are only getting higher as I mature and take on more responsibilities. It’s at this point that I truly felt like I took a step back this past year. I’ve made some immature and selfish decisions that end up making some things messy further down the road for myself or somebody else. And it’s exactly this, knowing that your decisions aren’t made in a vacuum–they affect everyone else around you, whether or not they are conscious of it–that could cause unnecessary drama or tension in life.

This lesson is nothing new that I hadn’t known or learned before. But for whatever reason, it just seemed to be amplified more loudly in 2012 than in years past. I felt like I was rubbing up against this desperately wild “me” that wanted to cling onto the immaturity and squeeze every ounce of instant gratification. That little devil whispering, “Hey, you only get the chance to do this once before you’re really too old.” (I’m not talking about that YOLO crap–though it might have a little to do with FOMO…) And in a sense, why not, right? It seems so much easier and fun in the moment. Society’s pushing you to do it, people around you all seem to be doing it, even your closest friends are giving you crap for not doing it.

The hard thing is to constantly resist. There’s this little voice that would come in at just the right moment to remind you of who you are and what you’re living for. It’s not to chase after money or skirts or self-glory. It’s about living for a Kingdom that is bigger and greater than yourself and will live on long after my days are done. And I have to trust this is something that will ultimately satisfy me, because God says so–and that’s enough–even when I don’t believe it in the moment. (“Never trade what you know for what you don’t know.”) Yet, it’s scary to realize that I am hearing that voice less, and if I try hard enough, I can even tune him out. Which words will I choose to feed on this year?

I’ve never been much for resolutions because I believe most of them are based on good intention and nothing else. (I even wrote a long allegorical story about it.) Certainly it’s good to have dreams, to have things by which to measure your life. But I believe most of the work needs to be done in the deep. Everyday I have to wake up and make a conscious decision about who to follow (myself, others or God), what to live for, who I want to become. And all this takes much reflection, prayer, study, self-discipline and people who are willing to call you out on your BS. It’s so much easier to just mail it in, clock-in / clock-out, and waste my days away behind the tube. But I don’t want that story–anybody else could write that. I want my life to be great, I want my life to tell something meaningful.

So I guess I’m writing all this to say that we should all take stock of what matters most. Decide on what’s important to you, and be prepared to make some sacrifices and devote your time and energy to it. You become what you study, you study what you love. So love the right things.

I wish you all a wonderful and enlightening 2013. May we all come back at the end of this year and sing of the many great ways we’ve changed the world around us–and how we’ve been changed in the process.

Cheers & blessings,

MY

Newtown. in remembrance

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I am crushed.

Those are about the only words I could muster in the wake of the unthinkable tragedy that struck Newtown. In my adulthood I have been well acquainted with grief. I have observed it, felt it scratching and digging at the very fibers that string my life together. Still it is a language I could never capture. I suppose I’m not the only one. There are no words that can quite hold such weight of pain, loss, despair.

The news was both shocking yet all too familiar in our nation’s recent history. A man walked into an elementary school and gunned down 26 people, most of whom were children ages 6 and 7. Just like that. Kids who woke up that morning thinking about their next game of handball at recess, or daydreaming about the end of the day so their parents could take them to see all the nicely decorated houses and trees in the neighboring town–gone. Kids whose lives had just begun, their futures now violently robbed. Hughes spoke of dreams deferred; these bullets demolished them.

That same night I had been asked by my pastor to do a reading of my children’s book to the kids at our church staff Christmas party. Could I tell you how it felt to look into those precious souls and consider that it could have been any one of them? In one demonic fit of madness it could have been Grant or Wes or Jaron or Natty. Or all of them. I sat there, going through my words, turning page by page, reading from a book that I had written to build education and inspire life. I had always considered the war to be fought in the battlegrounds of the heart and mind; never did I think we’d have to protect our classrooms from madmen and their bullets. I wonder if I’m in the wrong business. If I’m supposed to explode guns and exorcise men who are battling some serious demons.

Newtown, I observe you, I remember you, but I have no words for your grief. I know your pain is immeasurable beyond that. I can only pray for brighter days, a greater hope, a comfort that transcends understanding. Perhaps my sentiments are best echoed by our president when he says: “Whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide … Newtown, you are not alone.”

Carlen the Courageous

Dear blogging world,

I just published my first children’s book, Carlen the Courageous! It features illustrations from a very talented artist named Samantha Woo (you can check out her work here) and it’s a story about a bird learning to conquer his fears. (Contrary to popular opinion, it is not about obesity!)

I’ve been working on this baby for nearly a year and it feels wonderful to finally get it out there! I would love to share this part of me with you all.

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A happy reader =)

If you are interested in purchasing a copy for $15, please visit the site here (it’s kinda ghetto, but it’ll have to do for now). Parts of the proceeds will go towards rebuilding inner-city schools and communities. Thank you friends for inspiring my words!

-MY

jeremie. life after

It was a weird time, if there ever was any, to go on a missions trip. Over a year ago, when I first heard about the opportunity, it sounded good. I sponsored a child in Port-au-Prince and I was intrigued by the chance to visit him in his native land. I was further motivated by the devastation brought upon by the earthquake that struck two years earlier.

But much can change in a year. In that span, I’ve lost friendships and rekindled old ones. I’ve had to deal with my waning passion for church work and reassess my direction and vision. And somewhere in there plans to visit my sponsor child fell through. On top of all this I was tired of traveling–this would be my fifth trip in two months.

This all hit me the night before I prepared to depart. My life was busy, but worse, I possessed a busier heart and mind. I was wrestling with a raging man inside of me who gave little sense of purpose and offered no rest. What was my reason for going? What did I expect to discover? Would I actually do more harm than good?

An unbelievable calm came over me once I got on that plane. If but for a moment, all the questions were settled. Love was the answer. “As I receive and extend loving grace through Christ at home, I look to receive and extend loving grace in Haiti.” That was what I had stated as my mission–now I just had to go out there and do it.

My time in Jeremie, a small town along the western coast of Haiti, would challenge me on this very front. During the week I was there, I spent five days on a medical team working intake (triage) for our physicians. This required recording patient vitals: blood pressure, temperature, pulse, height, weight, and general diagnosis. It was sad to see the extent of their pain. Some were seriously sick, many were sick simply because they were hungry and malnourished.

Yet in spite of hardship, the Haitians are a strong and resilient people. They’re no stranger to suffering, and perhaps it is because of it they are able to love and embrace life more openly. More simply. They don’t take for granted the small things. And in many ways, I was envious of what many Christians there possess–a purity and passion to their worship. I won’t over-romanticize it, because they have their own flaws and shortcomings, but when I was around them I didn’t worry about how I dressed or how much money I made. I was reminded of how similar we are, how we all need love, healing, redemption and purpose.

It is hard to admit that I have a very small capacity to love. I thought I loved people, but what I had discovered was that my love was limited: based on my own terms, within my bounds or comfort. When the orphans ran up to me and played with my hair, I was afraid I’d get lice. I wanted to keep them at a distance, at a place where I could love them yet still be safe.

That’s the thing about God that trips me out. I think C.S. Lewis had a great quote about this. “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” To not be safe. As many reasons as God has to not love broken, sinful people, He still does. He reaches out and gets dirty. He does so with no guarantee that love will be returned. His love knows no conditions, no reservations, no bounds.

It seems like God is constantly reminding me to look at the bigger picture, to understand His purposes and live life with a kingdom focus. It is difficult, knowing that inside I am divided in many ways. Pursuits of success, comfort, popularity and other desires. You might think that would change after a trip like this, but really, I don’t think it is that easy. I’m being placed back into the very waters I’ve been swimming all my life. Selfishness is what I breathe.

I don’t know what to do with what I’ve experienced and what I’ve witnessed. I guess things like this aren’t meant to be figured out right away; like they say, it takes time. But I just know that I can no longer come before God and say “I didn’t know.” I hope I figure it out. I hate missing out on a good story, especially the one God is trying to tell through my life.

To all my dear friends, family and fellow bloggers–thanks for reading and thanks for your support. Thoughts of you kept me strong during my time away. I covet your prayers as you so remember. It is a broken place, this world, but let us not be counted among the ones who did nothing to fix it. Godspeed in your journey.

Thanks Bruce

To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion, to be worthy, not respectable and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently act frankly; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. In other words, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. – Bruce Lee, Oct 20 1963

It is hard to swim upstream. It is hard not to feel like I have to keep up with the rest of what society is selling. It is hard to dig when you only have the energy to rake. It is hard to turn the other cheek, walk in their shoes, give without getting in return. It is hard to wake up each morning knowing it’ll be a fight.

But, this is where I might find the real essence of life.