When God Calls Us to Trust Him

I am revisiting something that I wrote six weeks after Denise and I married, and two weeks after I left UPS for a new life of trusting God with my talents and efforts. It is true that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it in you.

SingerTenor

If I could describe this summer by using two words, I would attribute to it both love and trust. At first glance, these words may come across as rudimentary or even as if I were trying to gloss over something less-than-pleasant. However, truth the must be told is that with love there is pain, and with trust there is risk. Often in my life I have been know to dwell on the pain and rejection that can come with love, and the anxiety in the fear that my trust will be all for nought. Yet, to love another human being is to place your heart at a place of vulnerability for a loved one. To trust someone is to place your vulnerability in someone’s hands.

I have learned a lot in the last few months about loving another person. With love comes expectation. You may hope that your loved one will never…

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Why I’d rather lose my religious liberty than vote for Donald Trump

My thoughts are very much in line with Dr. McNall. My only critique is that a component is missing to brother McNall’s argument. I would add that under Trump, I am concerned that many vulnerable people will be marginalized; but these will not only be Christians. He realizes that Christian persecution in the United States is over-stated. Will the marginalization of the poor and people who are not White who will suffer damage to their lives ever be a reason to oppose Trump? Finally, what McNall puts well is that concern over Trump is not an endorsement of Hillary.

joshuamcnall.com

“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

And while Donald Trump said this of women, it’s been more true of his relationship with the Religious Right.

In short, Donald Trump has treated the bride of Christ just like the other married women in that disgusting audio recording. Yet unlike more honorable brides, some evangelical leaders have done nothing to resist his self-serving advances.

This, indeed, is a profound mystery. But I am talking about Trump and the church.

prolifememe

To be honest, I thought I’d written my last post on this subject.

Then came the audio of Trump bragging about his sexual assaults. And yes, that is the proper word for it (You just “Grab them by the p—y; you can do anything!”).

So here we are. Once more unto the breach.

In past posts (for newcomers):

  • I lamented the fact that democracy gives you the candidates you deserve (here);
  • I predicted that despite playing coy…

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A Reflection on Shane Koyczan “To This Day”

A Reflection by Robert Nowlin on “To This Day” by poet, Shane Koyczan

18 Jan 2016

The differences in how we read this poem reveals once again how someone’s background influences how they read it. I was personally very moved; Shane’s anger very much reflects my feelings as I dealt with this as a child. Healing takes a long time; often a bullying victim must stare in the mirror and reclaim that what was created was done for good. I love how a popular Christian skit evangelist duo called “The Skit Guys” puts it: “God doesn’t make trash.” Adults need to hear this. Children need to hear this. I find that a large portion of the adult population in the United States and worldwide is stricken with belief that what the bullies have told them is truer than any other message about them.

I watched the video first. In the video, the illustrations enhanced the magnitude by which I was involved in the poem. While I heard Shane express these words, the emotional connection became very evident.

As I read the poem, I still listened to the audio as I followed along. His use of the personal pronouns in a single line was interesting to see in print. I wondered about his purpose in isolating the “he” and “she,” at the beginning of a new stanza. Interestingly, too, was that said pronouns would be the last word spoken of the previous phrase. This is very difficult resist analyzing; I feel that there is an intended message in these layers of meaning that Shane wanted to communicate. Perhaps, the act of reading aloud by overlaying the first “he” or “she” of the stanza with the previous stanza is a message of interconnectedness of all of the individuals spoken of in this poem. Additionally, perhaps the isolation of the pronoun at the beginning of the stanza gave him an opportunity to name the person. And it makes me wonder if Shane is confronting identity issues, both in terms of who he is, who others said he was, and who he was made to become. The mirror analogy at the end is a real life symbol of identity crisis.

As a Christ-follower, I can use this as a way to give a real testimony of how I call myself today. In public school there are creative ways to do this without imposing my own Christian faith while never ceasing to show Christlike love.

In summary, while I watched the video, I was able to get a better grasp of the emotions felt and the most important parts of the text based on the inflections as the poem was read by Shane. While I read the poem on the second time, I was able to see the meaning constructed through the text spacing. The spacing gave me a window into his emotions that allowed me to deeply analyze the poet’s purpose in this poem.

I think that Shane’s purpose in this poem is the pain and the struggle with identity faced by many victims of bullying.  It is definitely more complex than this, but, I find that this is the central theme.

Shane identifies this identity conflict within himself. His bullies called him things that made him believe that he was less than human. Yet, he declares the bullies as “wrong” and takes on a “new” name. His name is “overcomer.”

The poem “To This Day,” by Shane Koyczan, can be read and listened to at the following address:  http://www.tothisdayproject.com/the_poem.html

 

The poem, “To This Day,” by Shane Koyczan, can be viewed with illustration at this address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltun92DfnPY

When God Calls Us to Trust Him

If I could describe this summer by using two words, I would attribute to it both love and trust. At first glance, these words may come across as rudimentary or even as if I were trying to gloss over something less-than-pleasant. However, truth the must be told is that with love there is pain, and with trust there is risk. Often in my life I have been know to dwell on the pain and rejection that can come with love, and the anxiety in the fear that my trust will be all for nought. Yet, to love another human being is to place your heart at a place of vulnerability for a loved one. To trust someone is to place your vulnerability in someone’s hands.

I have learned a lot in the last few months about loving another person. With love comes expectation. You may hope that your loved one will never hurt you. The hope is that love equals everything that you want for yourself in a relationship. However, shortly after my wife and I became engaged, I learned how expectation can hurt the vulnerable places that your loved one places before you. My pastor advised us of the importance of loving each other without such expectations when my wife and I started dating. She becomes unpleasant when she expects me to hurt her as someone once hurt her in a past situation. Then, I become unforgiving because I can expect her to avoid conflict with me. In truth, love is trusting that your loved one will love you even for worse–not just for better. I find that my marriage to my wife consists of trusting her with the parts of me that I don’t like along with offering the parts of me that are pleasant. As a result, I have realized a deep, intimate love, toward another human being that I never had known before I met Denise. I fall in love with her again and again–especially when our unpleasant realities come out of us. Perhaps our love is on its way to becoming a reflection, albeit imperfectly, to the love that God has for humanity.

God requires of me to trust Him through intimacy toward Him as well. When I give God my worst and my best, I trust Him to all of the fear and mistrust along with my feelings of anxiety and self loathing when life doesn’t meet my expectations. Just as my marriage to my wife consists of trusting her with the parts of me that I don’t like, my relationship with God extends all parts of myself even when I do not like the reality of my failures.

For the last several years, I have had many moments where God has pulled me aside to convict me of my rudimentary level of trust in Him. I recall telling my friend Emily, who is now married to my friend Danilo, soon after they started dating, that I did not trust God enough. Something was brewing in me then that is only culminating after six years of long and earnest prayer, devotion, and searching. In a journal entry that I wrote in September of 2013, I was reflecting on God’s wish to be my primary source of security. I recall the moment of conviction very well. As I rode my bike up to the river, I had known that God had been eager to communicate something to me. And, somehow a vista over the Missouri River would be the place where God would take the opportunity to do this. In my journal, I wrote the words:

“George MacDonald, in ‘Creation in Christ,’ equivalates lack of forgiveness or refusal to forgive, with ‘spiritual murder,’ through heart-centered-hatred.”

I also had written, “Unforgiveness is a form of hatred,” followed by a quote from Carlo Carretto:

“We must face and go among the cause of our evils, not by defending ourselves, but by suffering in silence as Jesus did.”

Carretto is probably urging his reader to confront the patterns in our lives which lead us to fear the ugly and unholy parts of our existence. Furthermore, our silent suffering is likely a call to solidarity with our loved ones through better or worse, rather than holding in a grudge or keeping all protest of evil bottled up. Unforgiveness is the opposite of love because it is a form of hatred. Jesus expressed his anguish through his solidarity with people in sin and in distress. Denying himself pride in his deity, he took his obedience to the Father to the point of the cross.

As such, I was convicted with what I already knew–that is, was my old, well-paying job, was a way of my refusal to enter into an intimacy with God. At that moment, I knew that dependence on Him meant turning over even my fear and anxiety, and even the parts of me that I dislike. However, was I taking pride in myself through a job that gave me material wealth, and was it creating a condition, or my own terms, by which I expected God to call me to his service.

Only two months after God spoke to me on a bike ride, I met Denise. Less than two years later, she became my wife. God has used her to reveal the pattern of unforgiveness that had been eating away at my faith in God and others. As such, my impaired capacity to love and trust God was exposed in the early months of our relationship.

Nearly two years have passed since I wrote that journal entry by the Missouri River. The step that I made this summer was of faith in the context of intimacy with God and with my wife. I am taking the step of faith that God has been urging to me for years to come. Perhaps God’s purpose was to give me a helper to support me as I take this step. As recently as yesterday, I found that I need her to compensate when my mood impaired my reasoning. In struggle with anguish and feeling tempted to play the forgotten victim in the reality of my medical condition, it is with great trust in God that I step onto the path of new uncertainty. Yet, with great faith that He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it, that He will do immeasurably more than I could ask or imagine (God already has by leading me to my bride) and calling me to a place of not anxiety or fear, but of constant prayer and seeking of God’s goodness, that my request will be known, and that God will respond in supplying me peace as I trust that in His love. He will never leave or forsake us.

May it be so. Amen.

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  

Luke 11:5-13, ESV

On Pentecost: God the Spirit as an Outpouring of Life

25 May 2015 Monday after Pentecost Sunday Psalm 150; Deuteronomy 6; J.M.T.: Gloria in Excelsis Deo—Cave of the Heart

The Spirit of the Lord has fallen upon this place and has given us a great awareness of God’s presence around us. In the singing and playing before God, in the teaching and fellowship (all in the context of a congregational gathering) we sense that God is doing something in us and through us. As the church gathered, we may read the words of the Palmist as a reminder of the celebratory purpose of praise through song (Ps. 150). As the church scattered, we go into our homes and to our places of work, and into public places and private with our work as unto the Lord our God. For, we are called as the people of Israel were called. That is, as we enter the Land of Promise our call is to focus on the primary commandment: to “Love the Lord your God with your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5).

Hans Kung, in his book, The Church, stresses the end-of-time nature of Pentecost which coincides with the messianic era. That is, the disciples of Christ, under the leadership of Paul, were aware of the significance of this outpouring for scriptural prophesy. As such, the arrival of the Spirit was a sign that God keeps God’s promises, just as He did with Noah, Abraham and his descendants. And it was so with the disciples who walked with Christ as He ushered in a new era in redemption history. God is no longer untouchable. Rather, God is relational and even willing to live in poverty amongst us if it is so required. Furthermore, the Spirit of God is a continuation of God’s relational nature. God remains so intimately present amongst us as God the Spirit. God the Spirit (the Sanctifier) is the present-tense revelation of the Gospel demonstrated amongst us in God the Son (the Redeemer), as sent by God the Father (the Creator).

God the Spirit shares with the Father and the Son the central aspect of who God’s very being—that of God’s holiness. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit’s distinctive presence over and above any and all other spirits (human soul or demonic) is that of the Spirit’s perfect Holiness. Hans Kung says this well as a reminder of one notable lesson from my own seminary classes on theology: “The Spirit is not some magical, mysteriously supernatural aura of a dynamistic kind, but God himself in his especially personal and self-giving aspect: as a power which creates life” (Kung, The Church, italics mine).

In the neighborhood which is the geographical location of my home church, Hope Community Church, lies therein a concentration of darkness and a threat to life as significant as any human city or human establishment is able to create. Evidently, humanity’s redemption is not yet complete, thus, we gather in an urban atmosphere at times seemingly less sanctified than others. I find, too, that darkness (demonic) and desirability often coincide. The less desireable a city block becomes, the more likely it is that human sin has advanced and a spirit of darkness has threatened to take over if not swallow up her inhabitants. A city with darkness shows its human despair. It is not always a life-giving place, as my fiancée, Denise, has noticed firsthand.

However, as the disciples proclaimed the arrival of the Spirit of God in the Pentecostal outpouring, a new Hope arrived amongst the human race in order that even the sectors of human society which seem to be the darkest and least likely to give life are not unreachable by God’s life-giving Presence. As Christ ascended to heaven, He promised to send the Holy Spirit as our empowerment to proclaim His Gospel; we can so entrust our deepest fear of these dark places to God’s everlasting light. Demonic and human forces of darkness are no match for the baptizing and renewing nature of God the Spirit. As such, God redeems all sectors of human existence through this outpouring, so long as we are willing and ready to see it. As we see it, we are subsequently called to participate in its ushering in amongst us, in the same way that God came in human form amongst us to move into the darkest places of our lives.

When I see God moving in my life, it is only because inside me is dwelling God the Spirit. The presence of God is no more present in me than it is in anyone who has called on the name of God to be saved. As such, the Deuteronomic author has made it clear what God requires of us: that is, to “Love the Lord your God with your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). And according to Saint Paul in his letter to the Galatians, we are only able to obey God’s law when the Spirit of God is dwelling in each of our hearts. It is not enough to merely be born into a Christian family or to sit in a church pew once, twice or even ten times per week. Rather, God must be present in your heart and proclaim you as His child. Then and only then, shall God make you new the new creature in Christ as Paul so describes in his second letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 5:17).

May God pour His Holy Spirit upon us as a quenching of the darkness within and amongst us.  AMEN.

Broken Stairs Makes way for us to be Flexible to God’s Purpose

4 May 2015  Monday before the 6th Sunday of Easter  Psalm 126; Psalm 98, Isaiah 63:1-9 (7-9)

I need to confess and ask forgiveness for the reality that I have not spent as much time alone in devotions and prayer as I should.  As I work toward the numerous changes  coming up in my life, I have dedicated much emotional energy into gaining a foot hold on the business of planning with my fiancée our wedding, coming June 20th, working on essentials in our relationship which will set the course of our new life as a married couple.   

On top of wedding plans, I have been accepted to return to school, at University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) to earn a 3rd master’s degree and a teacher education certification so that I can start working in public schools.  I have written previously that I have been in discernment of how children are a key part of my call to the inner city, and that God’s conviction has hinged on their need for an education.  A third layer of work has come with much help from Denise, my fiancée.  2015-05-03 09.44.47A picture hIMG_3340ere shows her serving the Sunday School kids the remaining egg cupcakes—these were likely the only weekend breakfast that some of them might have.  Their school lunches give them possible weekday school meals, while they remain without viable meal options at times during the weekends.  I recall hearing an energetic, yet stoic, child say that he was hungry only after he had sat through our Sunday School AND Children’s Church.  Maybe he was just ready for lunch, 2015-05-03 09.42.12-1but his mother works hard to feed eight kids, some who are actually her nieces and nephews. 

To close this entry, cut and paste the Facebook post that summarizes our Sunday morning at Hope Community, yesterday, Sunday, May 3, 2015:

_____________________________________________________________

“When we got to church today, we discovered that the front2015-05-03 09.03.27 stairs to the Children’s house were not viable or safe. With no other way to get into the house, we quickly removed a table, chairs, and supplies from the house with great care that the stairs didn’t completely detach and collapse underneath me as I walked up and down once or twice.
Meanwhile, we had a Sunday School lesson and Children’s Church on the concrete porch of the neighboring Hope House. What a nice (but somewhat windy) day it was.
The highlight was when Denise took out her saxophone and I took out my guitar to play and sing “Your Love Never Fails” by Jesus Culture, while many of the kids used pens and pencils (one of our kids’ little brother did an awesome job keeping beat with a tambourine).
We felt God’s presence today as unplanned circumstances turned into an awesome way to keep us outside of our zones of comfort. Denise mentioned to me that she saw people out on their porch one house down the street, an at another house porches down–all residents of Denver Avenue. As we carried on with our Sunday School and Children’s church crafts, we exchanged greetings with pedestrians, one who was a woman with a child. Thus, Denise remarked that this was apparently a situation that God would use and that it is a practice that she could get used to if it meant better engagement with our neighbors.
As a person who has had a relationship with this place for several years now, the desire to dwell with these neighbors has always been a part of my journey at Hope Community.
May the LORD continue to mold us into the likeness of Christ, who emptied himself if his divine estate and dwelt amongst us, moving into a neighborhood of marginalized and forgotten people. May it be so. AMEN.

2015-05-03 09.43.54
John 1:14, Philippians 4:6-7″

Millennials in the Evangelical Church: a Response to Christena Cleveland, “Why Black Millennials Will Lead Us to a More Equitable Society”

A theology professor and author, Christena Cleveland, has drawn my interest in the cultural significance of the consistent attendance of millennials (individuals born 1980 to 2000?) in North America’s African American churches.  She warrants a hypothesis that African-American millennials will urge the American society toward a more just way of life for all.  This hypothesis states that nearly one quarter (24%) of the African-American church in the United States are millennials.  This means that the African-American church has more people my age and younger (age 34 or younger) than any other cultural or ethnic group amongst regular church attenders in the United States.

I googled the Pew Research Center to find another piece of interesting data.  Accordingly, the Protestant Evangelical church of North America is doing a better job at retaining their young people than Roman Catholic and Mainline Protestant Churches.  The 2007 statistics show that both Protestant Evangelical Churches in general, and African-American Protestant Evangelical Churches tended to retain in their services around sixty percent (60%), while the same percentage prayed and meditated on their own.  I do not intend to claim that I have made a conclusive study, but I do see a reason to believe that the Protestant Evangelical Church (regardless of racial and/or ethnic origin) is doing better than Roman Catholic and Mainline Protestant Churches.

I suggest research to determine whether the group of millennials who are leaving the Roman Catholic and Mainline Protestant Churches are merely ceasing their religious life, or some of the individuals are moving to Protestant Evangelical Churches.  May we hypothesize that some of the gains in the Evangelical Church are coming in part from changes in religious affiliation.  As such, there is probability that the strong difference in representation of millennials between the Roman Catholic and Mainline Protestant, and Protestant Evangelical Churches, is that these millennials may be moving from the former and into the later.  One example is the trend of Hispanics whose families are historically Roman Catholic who are increasingly becoming Protestant Evangelical.  The trend amongst Hispanics is most prominent in Latin America, while the the phenomenon is pouring across the border and into the Hispanic population of the United States.

Cleveland’s contribution suggests an optimistic prediction, nonetheless.  Perhaps the influx of persons into the Protestant Evangelical Church suggests a concentration of millennials for similar ideological purposes to what Cleveland suggests is taking place in the African American Church.  Perhaps there is a comparable act of justice within the predominantly white movement amongst Protestant Evangelicals under the International House of Prayer.  I do not claim to know whether or IHOP is worthy of serving in comparison to the African-American Protestant Evangelical Church, however, so I do not wish to imply that there is.  Perhaps Christena Cleveland has a resource already in place to help navigate this discussion further.