A Desert Soul, Part 1

I have seen many strange and fantastic sights, I have embarked on many noble adventures, and I have learnt lessons both grand and small from all of my escapades. Here I will submit to you now one such tale of morality which I find not only entrancing but more importantly, nourishing. I mean that in a spiritual sense, of course, and I hope you come to agree with my word choice. So read, dear friend, and be satiated.

My word of advice to the reader is to not close your mind the moment you come across a thing that upsets you – and they will come, believe me – rather, engage with that upsettingness and ask yourself ‘why does that upset me?’ and then dig even further and ask yourself ‘why’ five more times until you come to the very root of your upsettingness. You see, in this world of vast information, one truly finds themselves in this spot of ‘too much’. There is no limit to engaging (and uningaging) content! An unfortunate result of this is what I am calling the ‘don’t like it, won’t read it’ sensation, though others who are smarter than me call it a ‘filter bubble’. The ‘don’t like it, won’t read it’ sensation describes the moment one comes across not only something upsetting, but even something difficult to understand, and the result is an unfortunate letting go of that content and a search of content which agrees with their already-formed presuppositions. There are many works of study on filter bubbles out there on the world wide web, so I am content to leave you with this little understanding of it here and move on with my preamble.

And so I begin my account with some context. I live in an unnamed city (naming it would do one of two things: one, it would ring a bell within your mind and you would exult because you know the place of which I am speaking about; or two, you would shake your head in silent disappointment because you have no idea the place of which I am speaking. Thus, in not wanting to isolate the many for the sake of a few, I leave my city unnamed.) So like I said, I live in a city on a street called ‘Happy Lane’. For a majority of my life, I have made it my aim to seek personal happiness and, once I have found it, to grip it with such tightness as to never let it go. This has been my sole purpose in life: my own happiness. That is why I found it fitting to live on Happy Lane, and truly I believe that living there has increased my overall happiness just an iota. The scenery around my house is urban; yards are small, houses are close together, there are few trees, except those that line the street. Happy Lane is close to the center of the city and fairly trafficked by pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles alike. For me, privacy is secondary to a feeling of connectedness and closeness to the bustle of the city.

All these details are important because on the day my account began, I stepped outside my house expecting to see the sidewalk that leads up to my front door, a small gate barring my exit down to the mailbox, and beyond that the street where cars would be passing by. However, to my great shock, none of that was in sight. Instead, I was affronted quite abruptly by a barren wasteland. No longer was I in bustling urban city; now I was in a sandy desert with no civilization or any settling thing in sight! My first thought upon leaving my home was that it was cruelly and unbearably hot (for it was winter on Happy Lane!) Indeed, I was covered in warm clothing from head to foot; a hat, scarf, coat over long-sleeve shirt, pants, heavy socks, and casual boots! Within seconds I was sweating and overly aware that something was not right. My second thought was that I must be in a dream, and so I turned around to open my door and re-enter my abode. However, I was met with an alarming complication – my house was no longer there! Indeed, when I turned around, I was met by nothing more than sand as far as the eye could see! I did a sort of 360 degree spin around, searching, wondering where–how–where indeed has my house gone off to? As if my house could just disappear like in a magic show! Oh the absurdity and horror I felt in that moment! I must be dreaming!

It was then that I heard a voice address me from behind (whether ‘behind’ was in the direction of where my house once was or any of the other 3 directions, I did not know, for as far as I knew I was teleported to the middle of the desert with no markers indicating direction. I was completely discombobulated.) I whirled around to face the voice that invaded my unexpected feeling of isolation.

–––––

“Good day!” I said to the fellow that stood before me. I am sure my face expressed my shock and confusion, for the gentleman let out a gentle guffaw.

“Might I ask where I am and how I got here and–”

The man stopped me with an upheld hand. “All in good time, my friend.”

I looked at him, waiting for some sort of explanation, but none came, at least right away.

“My name is Jack and I have been sent by God to take you on a journey of discovery. But first, why don’t you shed a few layers of clothing; you’re perspiring quite heavily!”

“Sent by God!” I guffawed a little too loudly, and I was met by a gentle frown from Jack.

You see, I have never been one to believe in God. I am what you might call a materialist – one who believes only in things the human eye can see. No ghosts, no angels, and no gods. Everything that has happened in my life has been a direct result of my own previous actions. It’s a simple ideology, down-to-earth, no-nonsense, and most importantly, it frees me from rules. Ah, rules! How I despise moral rules. Of course, in the correct context, rules are valid, even necessary! But when it comes to the actions of an individual which affect no other human being, well that is nobody’s business except his own. And so, when confronted with this tall fellow’s words (for he was tall, even taller than me, and I’m above average!) I could not help but let out a guffaw of my own.

He recovered from his frown quickly and with confidence addressed me once more, “That’s right, good sir, sent by God. I am here to usher you into the journey that God has for you. Won’t you join me?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sure you mean well, but I have a full day ahead of me and simply can’t be bothered by a silly dream.” At this, I looked down at my wristwatch so as to affirm that I was in a rush.

“You will notice by glancing at your time keeper that in this realm, time stands still. As soon as your journey is complete, you will return to your doorstep on Happy Lane, having lost no time or energy. You see, this is no detour at all, and if I’m being blunt, you don’t have much of a say in the matter. What God has willed, let it be done.”

Indeed, my watch showed no indication of progress and I looked back up at the gentleman, quite baffled.

“Certainly there must be some natural explanation for all this,” said I, circling around myself once more to search for a break in the scenery which would provide some sort of clarity. Of course, I ended up back where I started, staring at this man named Jack, wishing very much that all this would end and I could go on about my day.

“Come on then,” said Jack, noticing my fading determination to get myself out of this, “shed your coat and let’s begin!”

“You’ll only steal it, for it’s a perfectly good coat and don’t you just look like the thieving type!”

It was a rather cruel thing to say I admit, and I didn’t much mean it, for in fact he did not look much like the ‘thieving type’, whatever that means; however, I was flustered and flustered people say things they regret. Jack just shrugged and with a curt “suit yourself”, turned and began to walk into the wilderness. I had no choice but to follow, though I did so with much reluctancy.

I noticed right away that Jack walked much more effortlessly through the sand than did I. His tread was light and his pace quick; I sunk deep into the sand with each step and I felt heavy and sluggish. When I asked him about it, he told me my clothing was weighing me down and if I were to shed my layers, I would walk with the ease that he walked. I refused as I did before and kept laboring behind him.

I was drenched in sweat by the time we reached our first destination – a deep, long trench.

Doubt

Lately I have been doubting God’s goodness. I read the book of Nahum, which is all about how God is going to bring judgment on the people of Ninevah, who were a corrupt and evil people. To give you a picture of what Nahum sounds like, here is how the book ends:

“O king of Assyria, your shepherds slumber; your nobles lie down to rest. Your people are scattered on the mountains with no one to gather them. Nothing can heal your wound; your injury is fatal. Everyone who hears the news about you claps his hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?”

Dang! That’s harsh! Did the God that I serve seriously inspire these words??

These are the questions that have been going through my mind lately. I believe that God is merciful and kind and loving. I also believe that he is just and fair, but Nahum just seems to take it a little too far.

So I’ve been talking to a few people about these ponderings and I’ve gotten a few different answers and opinions, but nothing seemed to satisfy me. All that changed this morning though.

This morning I read the book of Habakkuk, which comes right after Nahum. Habakkuk was a prophet but his book does not show him preaching at Israel to repent, it’s more of him complaining at God.

Here are the words of Habakkuk in chapter one:

“Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.”

Sounds like pretty serious problems happening in that time, huh? And what’s crazy is I’ve wondered the same things about the time period I live in:

God, why do bad things happen to good people?

God, why does evil get its way?

God, why is corruption in politics tolerated?

God, why don’t you do something about terrorism?

God, what about human trafficking?

God, do you even care?

Fortunately for Habakkuk (and all of us) God answered and His words in this book have changed my perspective. What I’ve learned can be summarized into these bullet points:

  • God sees the corruption of the world
  • God uses good and evil people alike to fulfill his plan
  • Just because God uses evil does not mean he condones it
  • All actions have their consequences, whether good or bad
  • One day, all evil will be overthrown and justice will prevail and that day will be glorious
  • Because of the previous bullet points, I will wait patiently for the Lord

This is how the book of Habakkuk ends, and this is what gives me the most hope:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Lastly I want to confirm that doubts are okay: it is natural to doubt the supernatural. But when you doubt, will you choose to bring those doubts to God or will you choose to turn away from God and abandon faith?

HUMAN

I’m so human

I’m so broken 

God please show me

Where to go from here

 

Why is His love not enough?

What more is there to gain?

I keep wasting time on substitutes

And it only ends in pain. 

 

I’ve had enough of this world

I’ve seen enough to know

That it only leaves you broken

And wanting so much more

 

And that’s what He came into

He met us where we are

Just to prove that He

Can handle all our scars

 

He took the weight of sin

Which God knows I can’t bear

And killed it on the tree

My shame was His to wear

 

Yet somehow still

I grip this world tight

I refuse to let go

And accept what I know is right

 

I’m stuck here in my failures

But I know they’re not true

I’m only human

But my future lies with you

You Can Trust God

I’ve learned a lot of lessons in my life, some of them important, some of them not so important. I’ve learned how to do laundry and how to make my bed. I’ve learned how to talk to people and how to make friends. I’ve learned how to keep a job and how to talk to co-workers. I could go on like this for hours and the truth is, so could you. We’re always learning things, that’s our nature. But when it comes to God…

It’s not so easy to identify the lessons he’s teaching us, is it? If you’re like me, you fear going to church and having to talk to those older fellas that always want to talk to you in the lobby after the service. They always ask hard questions like “what has God been teaching you lately?”

That always gets me. I always want to have an answer to that question, because if you’re walking with the Lord, you should be learning, right? But that’s not always the case for me. Sometimes I just don’t know. I usually BS some answer to get them to leave me alone. Hah! it sounds strange to admit here and now, but I guess that’s the truth. Sorry older fellas!

The point of this entry, though, is to share with anyone who will read, what God is teaching me. Every day. 

All those life-lessons as we call them are important. Pay bills, take care of your car, work out, eat healthy, go to class… They’re all great, see? But one lesson trumps them all, and spoiler alert: it’s the title of this post. Here it is.

You can trust God.

That’s it. It’s a simple sentence, but not a simple concept. In order to believe that sentence is true, you first have to 1) believe in God, 2) believe that you can have a relationship with God, and 3) trust that God has your back.

I don’t know about you, but all three of those statements are very difficult for me. They all require faith, something that seems counterintuitive. Why should I believe in something I can’t see? How can I be sure it exists? What if I’m wrong?

These are questions that I don’t really want to dive into right now, but they are VERY important questions that everyone should wrestle with. 

What I’ve learned though, is that all three parts to that one simple sentence are true. God is real, I can have a relationship with God, and God does have my back. Therefore, I can trust God. And I’m choosing to.

Now, there’s one more thing. Although I can trust God, that doesn’t mean I always do. In fact, I’d say most days I trust myself more than I trust God. That’s what makes this lesson so important to learn… because I’m always learning it. Over and over, again and again. You see, unlike all those other life-lessons such as how to mow the lawn or how to write an essay, this lesson is always being learned. I never look back and say to myself: “oh yeah, I remember when I learned to trust God. Good times…”

NAH! Instead, it’s an every day ordeal. I wake up and force myself to say, “I trust you today, God. I trust you with my problems, I trust you with my relationships, and I trust you with my future.”

That’s not easy for me, but I’m learning more and more the importance of learning that lesson. The cool thing is, the more I choose to trust God, the more He proves himself trustworthy, and the more evidence I have that he is trustworthy. So then, based on past experiences, I choose to trust him more. 

Who do you trust more: the homeless guy that lives under the bridge by your house, or your best friend? Answer: your best friend. Why? Because you’ve built that trust over years of quality time and honesty. That’s what makes trust such a special thing: time.

Mercy

Some people live inside their head.

I cannot. 

I can’t because there’s anger and doubt and insecurity too. 

Maybe I’m scared of the person I’d find if I spent some time with him. Or maybe I already know who he is and want nothing to do with him. 

Maybe when it comes down to it, I despise the person that lives inside my head. 

He’s vile and slanderous; he’s an unfair judge; he’s hateful and wicked; he’s arrogant and deceitful; he’s consumed with lust; he’s a liar, a true scoundrel; there is nothing good about the man inside my head. 

And so maybe that’s why I live for experiences, to forget for a time the one above my brows. I don’t want to reason with my own inner self, so I hide in extraversion and friendly banter. I live for the distraction of human interaction. Others help me play off my own sin nature. “See, they’re no better than I.” 

Ah, there’s the heart of it! I hide behind my “personality” like a politician behind his smile. 

There. I admit it. This is who I am. 

This is the human condition, the cards we’ve all been dealt. We do what we can to mask the truth, but the truth remains. 

But this narrative would be incomplete if I didn’t mention the life of Jesus Christ because he was fully human and yet he lived a perfect life void of sin. He took the wrongdoing of everybody else and was murdered in our place. 

This is Dictionary.com’s definition of mercy: “compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power.”

So here is the truth of the matter: I have offended God by my sin; I deserve death. But instead of striking me down where I stand, he had mercy on me. He sent Jesus his son to live a perfect life as a human and to be murdered in my place, taking my past, present, and future sin, and removing it as far as the east is from the west.

He did it because he loves me and wants to have an intimate relationship with me.

This is the ultimate picture of mercy and I would be a fool to reject it. But that is what so many do. It deeply saddens me when I think of all those who never experience the joy of falling into the arms of the one who created them in the first place. 

Faithful

He was faithful then,

He’ll be faithful now;

Never has my God let me down.

 

My dreams are shattered,

My faith is shaken;

Lord help me in my unbelief.

Here I stand and choose

To revel in Your name;

God of all the world, you are my relief!

 

He was faithful then,

He’ll be faithful now;

My God, you never let me down

The Man Who Hadn’t Heard

“You a religious man?” The withered man asked.

I nodded. “A disciple of Jesus.”

“Sounds like a cult.”

“It’s not.” I assured him.

A long moment of silence ensued and the only sound was that of the train rumbling on and on and the air whooshing past not more than a foot away from us on the other side of the glass. It hit me then just how beautiful God’s creation really was sometimes. It impressed me so much just then that I let out an audible “Hm.”

“What?” the bearded man wondered.

I chuckled softly. “Oh, it’s nothing.”

“No, tell me.” He looked at me from behind his bushy eyebrows and it struck me just how soft his eyes looked, as if he was looking at a newborn baby – his brand new grandson perhaps.

“Oh I just noticed how beautiful it is.” And I gazed outside into the darkness.

“There’s nothing but darkness.” The man said, confused.

“Oh but there’s much more than darkness.” I smiled at the sophisticated way that I knew this was going to sound. “Would there be darkness without light? And would there be light without darkness? And would there be either without God Himself?” I almost laughed aloud at how ridiculous this sounded. Never before had I voiced these thoughts. Heck, I had just thought these thoughts moments ago! But I continued anyway.

“You see, in the beginning, God created everything. He separated the darkness from the light, and it was beautiful and he saw that it was good.” I paused, amazed that this was happening.

“Because everything God made was beautiful and perfect. And it all culminated together on the sixth day when he made you and me. Mankind was born on the sixth day of existence, and God loved Adam more than all his other creations, so He gave him dominion over the rest of it.” I looked into the man’s eyes. They were intently fixed on mine, unblinking.

“But then man sinned. Yes, man sinned mere days after he was created. He ate of the forbidden tree, he and his wife together, and they realized their sin and they were ashamed. So ashamed they hid from God and when God came to them, they made up a story to cover it up.” Small pause. I couldn’t believe this guy was still listening. I expected him to get up and leave at any minute. But he didn’t. He stayed. He listened. He wanted to hear the end of the story.

“Man and woman were banished, expelled from the garden for their sin forever. And it wasn’t until centuries and centuries later that sin was paid for once and for all. It was paid on a cross, on a tree; it was a Roman custom to crucify their criminals on a cross, in public for all to see. But this man, Jesus, had committed no crime. No sir, he was spotless, sinless, perfect. He was God’s one and only son, sent to Earth to live as a man – to feel temptation, to feel persecution, to suffer pain and anguish, and to ultimately die a humiliating criminal’s death – ridiculed by all who witnessed it.” I paused and looked back at the man. Tears were streaming down his face, but he didn’t take his eyes off me. Not once did he wipe his tears. He merely stared, anticipating my next words.

“But Jesus was not defeated. No sir, Jesus conquered death. Merely three days after he was crucified, he left the grave a very alive man and ascended to heaven to live with God for eternity. But before he left, he appeared to his disciples, his friends and followers, and gave them one last command. ‘Go therefore and make disciples’ He said. ‘Spread the Good News’ He said. So that’s what I’m doing. And that’s what I meant when I said I was a disciple of Jesus. And no, it’s not a cult. It’s much, much more than that. It’s a personal relationship with the only one who can save your soul from hell. It’s a relationship with the savior of the universe. You can be his friend and talk to him the way I’m talking to you right now. Now how cool and amazing and beautiful is that?”

When I looked back at the man, his head was drooped into his hands and he was sobbing.

“No one has ever told me what you just told me.” He managed through the tears.

I was shocked. I was appalled that a man of his age – he must have been in his late eighties – had never heard the gospel before. I didn’t think that was possible. Everybody knew about Jesus. Everyone had sat through a lecture from their father, mother, husband, wife, girlfriend, step-father, grandmother, or baby sitter about how they needed Jesus in their life. But not this poor old man. Not once had anybody sat him down and explained to him what this whole “Jesus thing” was about. It took an eighteen-year old punk kid stranger for him to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And right there I wept with him. For him.

That day, the old man on the train became a disciple of Jesus Christ and a very good friend of mine. In the months to follow, I showed him the Bible, I prayed with him, I played cribbage with him; I loved him. And it’s a good thing somebody did too, because that same year, he passed away.

So now, every time I ride that train, I sit in the same place and look out the window into the darkness and think about my old friend who had never heard the Gospel. And I pray. I pray for other people in similar situations – other grandpas and grandmas and mothers and fathers and nieces and nephews and uncles and aunts and sons and daughters – who have not heard the good news of Jesus Christ.