Fifteen Years

I wrote the first draft of this on Sunday, September 11. Normally I write, edit, and publish in the space of a few hours at most, but I decided to hold off on posting this that day. I wanted to give myself time to reflect, and to let a few others read it and give me their thoughts. I really wanted to make sure I was communicating clearly, and that the message that is most important is the thing that’s getting through. I’ve really questioned whether I should publish it at all, but I—and those I shared it with—think it is an important perspective to share. I hope I am able to effectively communicate the way I see these things.

So you’re probably aware it’s September 11. Fifteen years on, it seems like much of the internet is paying tribute in some way. Honestly, I’m pretty tired this weekend and don’t really feel like writing right now, but as we were praying for the families of the victims both before church as the worship/production team, and again at the end of the service with the entire congregation, I found myself thinking about it and feeling like maybe I should chime in with my perspective, which—as with most things—is a bit different from the average American’s.

As I said, many, many people today have already called that day a tragedy, and prayed for the families of victims, first responders, and others affected. I agree with all of them, but I’m not writing to say what has been said a lot today already. What struck me today is what’s happened in the fifteen years since. How the world has changed. The loss of thousands of lives that day was tragic, but that tragedy has rippled across the years, in many more thousands of lives lost, in the way people think, and in the way people treat those around them. And frankly I think that is just as tragic if not more so.

You may be aware I grew up in the Muslim part of the world, but we happened to be back in the States in September 2001. By the time we went back a year later, air travel and airport security had tightened up like never before. The US had sent troops into Afghanistan, which affected that entire region, including where we lived. And Americans had become far more suspicious and fearful of the rest of the world, particularly Muslims—a trend that has only continued in the decade and a half since.

Since that day my family and I have been torn between two worlds—the country my passport says I’m from and where I’ve found myself living for the past six years now, and the country that at least a part of me still calls home all these years later, even though most Americans seem to think we’re crazy to have lived there. And I’ve seen a lot of misunderstanding, distrust, even hatred from both sides towards the other. Many Americans now equate Islam with small, right-wing, militant groups of Muslims, assuming all Muslims are out to kill them. And many Muslims see America as the country that has deployed troops and drone strikes against much of the Muslim world—killing their friends and loved ones, civilians who happen to be near the militants.

But the stark, night and day difference is that the Muslims who we lived among never once directed their anger at America towards us, but instead welcomed us into their homes, fed us, called us guests in their country. How many Americans who claim to follow Jesus have done the same for the Muslims who live among us and feel more isolated and vulnerable than ever right now?

In the fifteen years since 9/11, I’ve seen the world rally around not only New York, but Paris, Haiti, Japan, and other places where tragedy has struck in the form of either violence or natural disasters. And yet when disasters or extremists strike the Muslim world,1 the rest of the world either (a) doesn’t notice, or (b) shrugs and says “They’re all terrorists anyways.”

Or worse, expresses the sentiment that this is somehow God’s judgment on the unbelievers.

I can’t really think of anything that makes me more angry than reading that. (Though maybe it was my fault for being in the YouTube comments.)

When we say that, how are we any better than the fundamentalists we fear, yelling “God is great; death to the infidel”?

And now, to top it all off, we have running for president a man who is not only praised for his blatant racism, but has built a platform that takes this fear of the outsider to its natural conclusion—throwing out foreigners, building a wall, separating ourselves from the rest of the scary, scary world, and punishing people for things they had nothing to do with, things done by others who claim to follow the same beliefs. What’s shocking is not that such a person exists. What’s frightening and disturbing is that enough of the country agrees with him that he is one of two people with a shot at the White House in two months. I hope to God this country is not so hateful and fearful as to let him get there. I hope we all realize the danger of electing such a person and vote for someone else.

I’m realizing now this has become way more politically charged than I first intended when I sat down to write what was meant to be a tribute—not just to the violence of fifteen years ago, but to the war-torn and distrustful world that has resulted from that in the years since. I meant this to be more wholesome, more contemplative. But I guess as I got writing, a lot has come out that I’ve felt the need to say for a long time now. I hope what I’ve said isn’t too distasteful on this day, though it almost certainly will offend or even anger some people.

But for those of you still reading, join me in praying—yes, for those affected by the attack of fifteen years ago, and for the people who continue to be misled to think these things are right, but also for those who face persecution simply because they are Muslim or appear to be. And ultimately, for peace, for God’s kingdom to come, his will to be done. For love and reconciliation to win out over fear and hatred.

Come, Lord Jesus

  1. I feel the need to point out that terrorists have killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims worldwide. At the same time, most mass shootings within the US—all of which are acts of terror—have been at the hands of non-immigrant Americans. Though the media seems to reserve the label of terrorism for violence committed by Muslims.
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Where is your sting?

You may have heard of the explosion that rocked Lahore, Pakistan, yesterday. Having grown up in that part of the world, it hits pretty close to home for me.

The sad thing is that it isn’t even an unusual occurrence. The sad thing is how, well – mundane – these blasts have become in the region. How often I feel a buzz and look down at my wrist to see yet another news alert with yet another body count. And I have to wonder at just how detached I’ve become. I look down and all I see are numbers. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism. If every one took an emotional toll it’d be too much. But then once in a while, something makes me take a step back and feel that emotional reaction to the evil and tragedy of it all. And it breaks my heart.

And yesterday it hit harder than it has in a while. Because yesterday those buzzes on my wrist came literally as we were singing that Christ has risen, that he is victorious over death. That he brings light to the darkness. While out there in the world it’s as dark as ever, and death is still very, very real.

I feel like there should be some takeaway or something, but I got nothing. The thing is, this is where we are right now. On the one hand we proclaim Jesus’ resurrection and victory over the evil one and death itself, and on the other we’re still waiting for the final, utter vanquishing of evil, and for the restoration of creation to be completed. And until then we live in a world where a bomb will kill dozens even as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.

So as I stood in that auditorium yesterday, as the alerts came in with the climbing death toll, I sang through the tears that were welling up, “You give life, you are love, you bring light to the darkness.” And I sang it praying that his light would pierce through the darkness hanging over Lahore right now.

Because as dark as it seems right now, the darkest day in history was that Saturday two thousand years ago. But when all hope seemed lost, Jesus came back. And the very thing that seemed to have beaten him is what clinched his victory. So we celebrate that victory, we proclaim it and live in it, even in the face of unspeakable evil. God’s light is breaking through the darkness, and we are carrying it, knowing victory is ours.

Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?

1 Corinthians 15:54-55

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I’ve started a new blog. I’m starting to get serious about software and web development as a hobby and potential side business, and I wanted a place to discuss that—both the technical stuff, and the more macro narrative of starting into this new venture, and lessons learned. I thought a lot about whether I should continue to use this blog for that, but I’ve realized that in spite of what I said at the very beginning of this blog—more than two years ago—that I wanted to be use this blog to discuss any topic that interested me, the reality is that this blog has, for the most part, focused around matters of faith and personal thoughts and struggles and such. The people who read it have, I assume (pretty safely), come to read that content. Not about apps and code and servers. These are two very different topics with two pretty different audiences—though there may be some overlap. And this was even before I started putting “seanlunsford.com” on my ministry materials, effectively cementing the focus of this site.

So from now on, thedarkroast.com is my home for discussing the world of tech, development, and Apple. I may occasionally link to some of those posts here, if it’s something more along the lines of social issues around technology (like I’ve shared a few times before), which I think would be interesting or beneficial to readers of this blog. If you want to see all the technical stuff, follow me there.

We’re in This Together

You may or may not have heard of the controversy that’s erupted around Michael and Lisa Gungor, the Christian musicians who’ve caused an uproar by saying that they don’t believe in a six-day creation or a literal Adam and Eve. I’m not about to wade into the creation-evolution debate, and I know Christians are increasingly on both sides of the fence on the topic, but I have a few thoughts about how I’ve seen this news about Gungor unfold and the reactions of many Christians to it. Actually, these are all things that bother me in general, and this specific episode has just been the latest example of how these play out every time this kind of thing happens.

First, it really frustrates me that a lot of people seem to be all worked up over this without even having read the original post itself, except as quoted by those criticizing it. Now, I don’t know for sure that people aren’t reading it, but from what I can tell, and from what I know of human behavior, many or most haven’t.

The original blog post, What Do We Believe?, was actually written back in February. I don’t remember hearing anything about this back then. It’s only in the last week or so, after some Christian site picked this up and wrote about it, that it’s suddenly become a huge deal. Ironically, the whole point of Gungor’s post was that we shouldn’t be so quick to pass judgment on each other for our differences in belief.

In the last couple days, Michael Gungor has written two follow up posts, I’m With You and Part 2.

I don’t think anyone should be commenting on the issue without reading all three of these in their entirety. This is really just a general principle, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a bad idea to jump to conclusions about anything, let alone voice them, based solely on second-hand information. It’s irresponsible and can really end up making you look foolish.

Today Ken Ham’s response to “I’m With You” showed up in my Facebook news feed. Until this morning, I’d heard bits and pieces of this whole controversy, but hadn’t really paid much attention or looked into it myself. But today it was all over Facebook, so I started reading up. The first link I saw happened to be Ken Ham’s, so I started there.

He takes all the quotes out of context, making them seem far more unreasonable, aggressive, or even crazy. But when I clicked through to the full post, I took those same words in a completely different light in context. People have way too much power when quoting to cast the quote in almost any light they want for readers to rely on the quotes as an accurate representation of the original.

Another thing that bothers me is how a lot of Christians react when another believer, especially a well-known one, even begins to ask questions about things we believe or consider other interpretations of Scripture than the traditionally held one. Especially about certain topics—this being one of them. People get not only defensive, but aggressive. Again, I’m addressing a number of times this has happened fairly recently. Several months back, Dan Haseltine, the frontman for Jars of Clay, started asking questions about the Bible and homosexuality on Twitter, just looking for open and honest discussion. The response was venomous. This has happened again and again. I mean, is it wrong to ask questions? Look at the Psalms. How often do David and the other psalmists question things, even God himself? But what we see is that through that, they and their faith come out the other end stronger.

Another article I read this morning was on Relevant, titled Why Are People So Upset About What Gungor Said? The whole thing is a really good read, and makes a lot of good points that I won’t repeat here. But one passage in there says:

I use this analogy often, as Christians we tend to act like we have a belief system that is like a bubble: It is fragile and easily popped if anything even touches any part of it. We think we have to protect our bubble.

But when did the Christian faith become so fragile? It is OK to ask the tough questions, to question our beliefs to find them to be true (and if not true to find the truth God is revealing to us).

I mean, really, if we believe what we believe is true, why should we be afraid to question or discuss it? Aren’t we confident that it will hold up to scrutiny? And if it doesn’t, should we be believing it at all? I know a lot of people in the church will disagree with me here, but in one point at least I agree with Gungor: our faith should be intellectual. If the Scriptures are true, the evidence will back them up. If the evidence doesn’t support our particular interpretation of Scripture, maybe we need to think about another interpretaton that makes more sense. This has happened time and time again over the centuries. And it was not popular in the church when that paradigm shift began, but over time, it became taken for granted. When was the last time you heard someone arguing for a literal intepretation of the Bible’s references to the corners of the earth or the sun going around the earth?

Now, please, before you jump on me, I am not agreeing (or disagreeing) with Gungor’s stance on creation. I am intentionally trying to steer clear of that debate, because it is beyond the scope of this blog and frankly I just don’t feel equipped to tackle that issue in such a public venue. But my point is that, in this area and others, I don’t think we should be afraid to look at the evidence and let it inform our faith, so that our faith can grow and become stronger. I know a lot of people will think that’s counterintuitive. But I know when I look at the sciences and the way the world works—from the way these mathematical equations and constants keep showing up again and again in nature, keeping the world spinning and functioning, to the miracle of our bodies, how they are constructed and how they work all the way down to the most microscopic of details, to the vast cosmos full of stars and galaxies more massive than we can possibly comprehend, and nebulae, pulsars, black holes—my mind is blown again and again, and I can’t help but stand in awe of the God who made it all, and set it up to work the way it does. (Especially in light of how hard it can be for me to make a few lines of code work the way I want them to.) And maybe I’m skating dangerously close to the edge here, but honestly, if it turned out that he chose to use the mechanics of evolution to create it all, that wouldn’t hurt my faith a bit.

Now, all that said, the Gungors aren’t just asking questions, but openly already believe something other than the traditional six-day, young earth creationism of orthodox Christianity. But that brings me to my next, and most important, point: How much does that matter, really, to the rest of us? More importantly, does this trump the unity we should have with them as the body of Christ? They still believe and follow Jesus, and all the essentials held up for two thousand years as the core beliefs of Christianity. I would hope everyone reading this would agree that there’s no reason this disqualifies them from being followers of Jesus. Because it doesn’t. And if they’re followers of Jesus, and we’re followers of Jesus, we are one. Whether we like it or not. Jesus said we would be known as his disciples by our love for each other (John 13:35). When I look at the perception of the church—especially in the West—by most of the outside world, that doesn’t make the top of the list. I don’t think that even makes the cut. Not only that, he prayed that we would live in such unity that the world would know he was sent by God (John 17:21). All of our disputes and venomous attacks and hatred for each other over these issues fly in the face of these verses.

If you take nothing else away from this post, take this: we are following Jesus. Jesus, who came to earth and turned the world on its head. He turned the Pharisees’ worldview on its head by challenging the centuries of pointless moral code they had built up that was only making themselves feel good and oppressing everyone around them; by telling them that more important than any of that, we are to love God and love those around us. And then he lived that out by hanging out with everyone from the Pharisees to the most despised people in society. He turned the world’s social order on its head by choosing fishermen, tax collectors, and revolutionaries as his disciples, and teaching them to love each other and to live by serving others. And then he sent them out to change the world. He turned justice on its head by suffering and dying with our sin on his shoulders, and then conquering death, so that we could join him in this new way of living. We need to live by keeping our eyes on him, and by helping the guy next to us who’s also trying to follow him, regardless of our differences. We’re in this together, and Jesus is our guide, leading by example.

Missing Out: a response to “Look Up” and the argument that my iPhone is evil

So this post is a bit different from what I usually write here, but I’m feeling the need to get on a soapbox about something I’m seeing a lot of these days. It’s probably not what you might think. It’s about attitudes about our use of technology, and people’s fear of it turning us all into zombies at worst, or poor wretched souls with no life who will one day die alone, at best.

(Disclaimer: I’m feeling more sarcastic than usual.)

There’s a video called “Look Up” going around. Its point is that we’re too absorbed in our screens and we’re missing out on life going on around us. That “social media” is making us antisocial. Sound familiar? The more ubiquitous Facebook and smartphones become, the more I keep seeing videos, tweets, and blog posts telling us to sign out of Facebook and Twitter, turn off our phones, and live life. (Also a little ironic.) But the more I hear this message, the less I agree with it.

The sentiment is valid. It’s entirely true that we can spend too much time looking at our screens. There’s the classic scenario of a group of people sitting around a dinner table, all looking at their phones and not talking to each other. And yes, this happens—probably more often than it should. But I don’t think that makes our phones bad. Or social media. Or the internet. I think it’s healthy to keep our use of these things in check. I’ve taken steps to do that myself. But I think these videos, and this one in particular, can take the message too far.

The fact is, you can have too much of anything good. The fact that gluttony and the obesity caused by it are rampant, especially in the developed world, doesn’t make food evil. It’s entirely necessary to life itself. The other half of the world is suffering and dying from a lack of it. (Another huge issue that I’m not about to tackle in this post.)

Now, I can’t make the case that technology is necessary to life. It’s not on the same level as food, anyways. But technology is enabling so much life. It’s bordering miraculous what we are able to do these days because of technology and the internet. If we traveled to a couple decades ago with an iPad, it would blow people’s minds. (The time traveling probably would, too.) If people from a few hundred years ago saw us with our iPhones, they would think we were sorcerers. And lives are being saved every day by technology.

The human race, contrary to what these videos are saying, is more connected than ever. And the entire sum of mankind’s knowledge is available to us literally at our fingertips, almost anywhere on the planet—even to people orbiting it. And startups from Silicon Valley to Germany to India are coming up with apps and devices every day to solve problems and make life better for lots of people.

My friends and family are scattered across the globe. But because of Facebook, Skype, FaceTime, and iMessage, I can stay in touch with them in a way no generation has been able to, ever. Gone are the days where you send a letter to another continent by ship and get a reply months later. Now, if we coordinate time zones (technology hasn’t quite fixed everything yet) I can see a friend in the mountains of Asia face to face, and talk to them in real time.

The video goes on to make a distinction between being alone reading a book, painting, or doing something else “productive”, and being alone on the internet. Saying that reading a book is enriching and constructive and surfing the web is not. Because there’s nothing at all worth reading on the internet (including this post), and no mindless trash has ever been published in the form of a book, ever. (That was sarcasm, by the way.) And how are kids learning to code at a young age, learning the critical thinking and problem solving skills needed for it, and creating their own apps, not being constructive? Or children with autism who, given iPads, are able to express themselves and show creativity in a way they never could before? (True examples. Google them. The information’s at your fingertips, remember?)

The second half of that video tells the story of a chance encounter, where a guy asks a girl for directions, and they end up going on a date, and then getting married, and all about them becoming parents and then grandparents, and blah blah blah. But the guy would’ve missed all that if he’d been using his iPhone for directions. Come on, really? Keep that in mind next time you ask someone for directions. You might end up marrying them.

I’m tired of being told that all this technology is making me more disconnected from the people I care about, when I know for a fact that the opposite is true. I’m tired of being told I’m going to miss out on life because I have an iPhone and use it. Not only have I made lots of memories hanging out with friends, but technology has made it easier than ever to plan those times, coordinate meeting up, and capture those moments to remember them. I’m tired of being told that technology is bad when the world is so much better off because of it. Going back to the developing world—if the right technology could be made accessible and affordable in developing nations it could have a huge impact. I’m not talking about everyone being able to watch cat videos. I’m talking about being able to solve real problems.

So yes, don’t be a jerk to your friends and spend the whole evening playing with your phone. But if you do, that’s your problem, not your phone’s. What I don’t want us to miss out on or take for granted is the huge potential in those phones, and the way they—and all the technology we have available to us—are making the world a better place.

Checkmate

Tuesday is my fullest day of the week this semester, followed closely by Thursday. Both days I have back-to-back classes from 8 to 4:45, except for a break between 10:45 and 12:30. On Tuesdays I go straight to work at 5, and don’t get off until after 9.

At the beginning of the semester, I decided that break between classes would be a good time to read the Bible and pray. For the most part, that has worked out well. But in recent weeks, I’ve been finding myself using that time for homework more and more.

This Tuesday started the same way. My 9:30 class got out at 10, so I had extra time. I started out by making my equation sheet for my steel test the next day. I was going to get started on one of my two assignments due today, but for both of them I needed books I’d left at home. So then I started to work on the recording from the message on Sunday. Most of the time I can do all the processing, editing, and exporting on my iPad. But some weeks, like this week, there is a lot of noise in the recording. To clean that up, I would need my laptop, which I didn’t have with me.

It was as if God had cornered me. So I prayed, “Alright, God, checkmate…what do you want to say to me?”

I was fully expecting something about my lack of discipline, about how I needed to be better about spending time with him, about how much I’ve been drifting away and not really living for him most of the time. Or something along those lines.

Instead, he said, “I love you.”

That was it.

It started to sink in. On the one hand, I’ve been more and more distracted lately by so many things, and I haven’t been focused on God much at all. In some things, I feel like I’ve just been going through the motions, and in others, I’ve been letting them slide almost completely. On the other hand, as I’ve been realizing this recently, I’ve been beating myself up over it, and telling myself I need to do better. To the point where that’s what I expected God to say to me when I took the time to listen.

But he didn’t. He just said, “I love you.”

I realized in that moment that I’d reduced him to a religion – one that I couldn’t even keep.

He doesn’t care about how much I’m following the rules if it’s just for the sake of following the rules. He doesn’t want me to begrudgingly give him time out of my day just to check it off my list. He doesn’t want me to serve at church and be a leader and all that if it’s not an outpouring of love for him. And he doesn’t want me to strive to do better in all those areas if I’m doing it on my own strength and because it’s what I “should” do. He loves me, and he just wants me to choose to love him. Everything else flows out of that.

It’s so simple, but so easy to forget. But in spite of that, he relentlessly pursues me. Until I finally listen.

In my mind I heard the lyrics from “One Thing Remains”:

Your love never fails
It never gives up
It never runs out on me
Your love

And it’s higher than the mountains that I face
And it’s stronger than the power of the grave
And constant in the trial and the change
This one thing remains

And on and on and on and on it goes
Yes, it overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever have to be afraid
This one thing remains

In death, in life
I’m confident and covered by the power of your great love
My debt is paid
There’s nothing that can separate my heart from your great love

No matter what I’m going through, no matter what I do, no matter what happens, he will never stop loving me. And he just asks me to love him back. And sometimes he needs to break through all my distractions and checkmate me to remind me of that.

Two Months

Remember how I wrote that I was going to blog every week…almost two weeks ago? Oops.

Last week was spring break, and I spent most of it writing – working on my staff application for NLCF. And now I’m back, for the final stretch.

It’s ridiculous how close I am to the end of school. My graduation is May 16 and 17. So two months from now I will have graduated and will probably be on my way out of town. As I was driving back to Blacksburg on Sunday, I was remembering the last time I was riding up a winding mountain road at the end of my final spring break, with my impending graduation two months away. That was four years ago, and I was on the other side of the world then, still not even sure what the four years after that graduation would hold. I didn’t know what school I would be going to, or what it would be like when I got there. I knew I had nine short weeks left at the boarding school that had been my home for the past four and a half years. And I thought time was flying then.

At the beginning of the break my family and I had spent a few days at a retreat with a bunch of other families who were going to be leaving the country. I remember one session where we talked about transition. Then we all went off by ourselves and asked ourselves questions about the upcoming transition, and thought about what we hoped to see in the years following it. Like I said, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t even know where I would be going to school yet. I just wanted God to use me, wherever I was, to make a difference in the lives of those around me.

The rest of that break I’d been at home, and I’d spent a lot of it thinking about the youth group back at school, that I was a leader of (one of maybe a dozen or so), and small groups in particular (which we led in pairs.) I had been feeling like the way small groups were being handled wasn’t as effective as it could be. I wanted them to be more closely-knit and consistent from year to year, and also to be more autonomous and less one-size-fits-all. I spent a good bit of time thinking and praying about it and drew up a rough plan for how I thought we should reorganize youth group to meet these goals. When I pitched it to the other youth group leaders after break, they didn’t really jump on it. My co-leader was completely on board, as he’d had the same concerns as me. A couple others liked the idea. But most didn’t see anything wrong with the way small groups were going. To be fair, our group was pretty different from the others just because of how the two of us led and who was in it. That’s part of why I was pushing for more autonomy, so we could have more freedom to lead our group better. The other groups didn’t really need this as much. The other leaders agreed to give it a shot though, for a few weeks, and see how it went. Unfortunately, it was so close to the end of the year, and so much was going on, that we only had youth group a few times before grad, and my plan never really got off the ground. I don’t know what happened to it after I left, but my guess is when they came back the next fall to start again, with me gone, they defaulted to the way things had always been done. Interestingly though, the Engage Groups we have at NLCF are similar in a lot of ways to my vision of small groups in high school.

Fast forward to this break. It’s been a lot of looking back and looking forward. I spent the first couple days backpacking with a group from NLCF. It was cold, but fun. Last time I was on a backpacking trip was in high school, so doing it again brought back those memories. We shared testimonies around the campfire, and I talked about my boarding school and my spiritual growth there. Of course it came up that I’d lived overseas, so then I went through that whole explanation to everyone who didn’t already know that. And looking ahead, another guy who was on the trip is applying to go on staff, so the two of us talked a lot about the application and about training and support raising, which are just around the corner after grad.

The rest of break I was with my parents, and I spent most of my free time working on the application. Parts of it were writing about my past – my journey to faith, experiences and individuals that influenced my life and spiritual growth, my calling to ministry. Most of these answers were from my boarding school years, at least in part. The other side of it was a lot of looking forward, thinking a lot about support raising and finances, and beyond that, to my expectations of my role as staff.

So all of this was swirling around in my head as I drove back to Blacksburg, Unlike four years ago, I was the one driving, and I was alone with my thoughts for a good seven hours. And my thoughts turned a lot to the nine weeks I have left. I still remember when I first noticed this phenomenon of each year going faster than the one before it. That was back in seventh grade. Since I’ve been in college, I’ve discovered that it isn’t a linear increase. The rate of acceleration is actually increasing. By the time I got to my senior year…man. I don’t even know what happened to the first half of this semester. The second half will be over in the blink of an eye. In the fall, all I could think about was graduating. But now it’s a little overwhelming how fast it’s coming, and maybe I’m not quite ready to leave just yet. I mean, yes, I can’t wait to be out of school. And I won’t exactly miss selling pizza. And the sooner I start raising support, the sooner I can come back to Blacksburg. But the reality is sinking in that I will still have to leave for a while, even if I am coming back. I’ll have to leave my Engage Group and my NLCF family. And I have friends who will be graduating or moving and won’t be here when I get back. And I will miss the pizza. This will be more bittersweet than I thought it would be.

So I’m praying for these less-than-nine weeks left. Sixty days, actually. Praying that I won’t miss them. That God would give me wisdom as I choose how to spend what little time I have left. That my time left with my Engage Group is good, and that God would continue to prepare them to carry on under new leadership. And that God would be preparing me to step – more like launch – into the next chapter of my life.

(I was going to make this short. I couldn’t do it.)

Of Blogs and Lent

So Lent began today. I knew I’d neglected this blog a lot recently, but I just discovered that I’ve only posted twice since last Lent. What happened to the past year?

Anyways, for the past week, I’ve been thinking about what to do this year. This is only the second year that I’m actually observing Lent. It wasn’t until I came to NLCF that I knew much about it or realized that it was commonly observed outside of Catholic circles. I think it’s really valuable though. Actually, I read a really good blog post by Eugene Cho today that explains that value really well, and also voices something that’s been on my mind this past week – that doing it just for the sake of doing it is worthless and empty. The value comes from wanting to intentionally seek God in it and let him transform you through it. From surrendering your life to him. I haven’t watched the video yet (yet – I want to in the next couple days, when I get a chance.) But it’s really worth a read. Seriously, go read it and then come back.

I read another blog post last week about ways to think outside the box about fasting for Lent. This one is from a Catholic perspective, so some of the ideas aren’t as applicable to non-Catholics, but most of it is. I like to think outside the box, so this article helped get the wheels turning for me some. I think the key takeaway that shaped my thinking about Lent this year is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be giving something up, the way Lent is traditionally. It could also be taking something up – choosing to intentionally do something for Lent.

So what I’ve come up with this year is two-part. The first part is based on a couple of the suggestions in that second article I mentioned. I’m going to stop watching movies or TV shows on my own, except on Sundays. This semester I’ve been watching a lot of movies and TV in the evenings (not actually on TV, but on my iPad.) I want to spend that time reading – and at least some of that reading material to be spiritual content. To explain those two qualifiers – I think watching things with others is different. It’s about spending time with other people, not just how I choose to spend my own time.

As for Sundays, it turns out they’re not actually part of Lent at all. I discovered the other day that there are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter (I hadn’t actually counted them before.) At first, I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t adding up to 40. After doing a little research, I was reassured that I really can count (at least to 46) and discovered that it’s actually supposed to be like that. There are six Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Excluding these leaves 40 days. Apparently when Lent was extended to 40 days a few hundred years after Christ, they decided Sunday wouldn’t count because it was a feast day, to celebrate the Resurrection. So fasting (remember when fasting was about food?) was kept to the other six days, and the season of Lent actually ended up being 46 days long. (This is probably all explained in that video that I haven’t watched yet. And some of you probably knew this already. It was news to me.) I’d heard that sometimes people (in the present day) don’t count Sundays, but I didn’t know that this is why. Anyways, so when I was thinking about my own fast, I decided to follow this too. Not because it’s “right” or “more traditional”, but because I feel like in my case one day a week is a healthy limit, and this isn’t something I feel the need to go cold turkey on.

The second part is to revive this blog some. I’m going to commit to posting weekly through the period of Lent about something God has been showing me. My hope is that this will make me slow down and actually pay attention to things God might be trying to teach me, that I miss when I’m caught up in life most of the time. And hopefully the extra reading I’m doing will contribute to this. They probably won’t be long posts. Part of what keeps me from blogging so much of the time is that my posts tend to be upwards of 1000 or even 1500 words and take me hours to write and edit before finally publishing them. So to start a post is to commit a significant chunk of my time to it. I think keeping them to 300–500 words will make them a little more manageable.

I’ll kick off those posts with one either Friday or early next week. We’ll see how God works in me over the next forty-six days.

Prayer

A couple weeks ago we started a series at NLCF on Galatians. For this series, during the last worship set of each service, there’s an opportunity for people to have someone pray for them. The first Sunday of the series, my Engage Group was one of the groups on the so-called HUG (hospitality/ushers/greeters) team, who folds bulletins before the service, greets people as they arrive, and takes up offering. Before the service, the HUG leader asked if anyone on the HUG team would be willing to join some of the staff at the back of the auditorium during the last set, to be available to pray for people.

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What’s in front of me

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. In fact, last time I posted was early in the spring semester, which turned out to be my busiest semester since starting at Virginia Tech. Thanks to God and God alone, I not only survived the semester with my sanity intact (well, mostly…) but it was academically my best semester yet. Actually, it was a really good semester across the board, busy as it was. I also got an internship in the DC area over the summer, building a database system for a residential builder to improve their workflow and the flow of data – from subcontractor bids, to analysis of the bids, to award documents, to a historical cost database, and finally to budgets for new jobs. I really enjoyed the job, and they really appreciated my work. So it was a great experience for all of us. And now I’m back in Blacksburg, and classes have started up again – and it’s the beginning of my senior year.

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