“Breaking the silence” or “Potpourri”

I guess it’s time to break the silence.

I’ve neglected to post the past few days simply because I wanted to keep my intro message up top for a day or two to catch late respondents to my invitation. But enough is enough. The blog must move on.

I haven’t done much true “blogging” but have been quite reflective in my first few weeks. I could again be reflective because I of course of stuff on my mind to journal about, but I’ll save that for another time.

So here are a bunch of random thoughts:

STILLAFAN: How in the world did the Lions manage to win their final preseason game vs. Buffalo? Have you checked the stats? A true miracle indeed…

BACKTOBACK?: Fantasy football season is just around the corner…along with the regular NFL season. I’m pumped… I’m the defending FF champ in two of my three leagues… I bought four tickets for the Lions / Arizona game. Not sure who’s on the invite list yet, but feel free to plead your case…

BLESSYOUBOYS: SAU Day at Comerica Park is this weekend. All you Arbor alums are welcome to call for free tickets…

NOCTURNALNOISEMAKERS: Killed basement-dwelling crickets Nos. 2 and 3 tonight. Can’t figure out how they’re getting in… Also can’t figure out how they can make SUCH A RACKET!!! Noisy little things; also tough to track down. Squished them with my sandal this time rather than the 2-foot square.

HECKOFADEAL: I’ve been in the market for some good speakers to put in my bedroom so I can crank my laptop. Looks like the Logitech Z-2200’s with a $50 mail-in-rebate is about as good as it gets. THX-certified…200 watts… Mmmmm… I can hear it now… Surprisingly, Dell’s the best place to order them from since they have free shipping…

“Welcome” or “Joel: What the heck is a blog?”

So now that I’m officially “launching” this site, I guess I’ll type a greeting entry.

Welcome to my blog.

I don’t know what your expectations are. There are surely plenty of different ones out there given the diverse mix of people I’ve invited to check it out: family, friends old and new, co-workers, church acquaintances… Each of you know me a little differently; maybe checking in on my life from time to time through this blog will help flesh out your understanding of who I am.

This blog will contain a variety of stuff, the core of which will be commentary on everyday life–odds and ends that happen, sometimes in detail, sometimes intentionally vague. Some entries will be submitted at 2:13 a.m., others at more reasonable hours. Pretty much whenever something pops up that I feel like sharing with the world–and when an Internet connection is handy (which is quite often given the wireless networks I have at work and home).

But as you’ll see as you wade through the content that is already here, my blogs tend to get quite reflective. While some people keep theirs light and happy, I’ve found myself delving into life purpose and calling–the stuff my inner mind is continually processing and reprocessing. Feel free to post comments if my blog is becoming one big yawner to you. I’ll heed your input, but probably keep writing them anyway because it’s therapeutic to a certain degree. I just may end up annihilating my entire audience sans my mother.

So, that kind of stuff will fall into the “Weblogs” category.

Other commentaries I plan to post are sermon reflections and old writings I’ve done over the years, such as papers assigned at Spring Arbor University and Focus on the Family Institute. I’ll try my best to filter them and post only the stuff I think you might find interesting. Check the “Spiritual reflections” category for that kind of stuff.

I’ll probably tweak the categories over time, so if you become a regular visitor you might see things change. Hopefully it will always be an improvement.

The last direction I see this going, for now, is with photos. I’ve posted two galleries for launch: “Vanity” or “Boredom Solution”–which simply is four self portraits–and “Twig of Life” or “Senior Art Show”–which is self explanatory. More information is available within the respective galleries.

I plan to upload my travel photographs and other stuff I take. If you see something you like, feel free to get in touch. All will be available as prints.

So, I’ve typed long enough. Feel free to click around.

“Frustrations” or “Knowing my role”

I created this blog not as a public, online journal, but as a fun means I could keep my writing edge and allow friends and family some insight into my day-to-day life. I planned it to be more light-hearted that it has been. So bear with me as I go off on another life-reflection. I’m honestly not trying to be melodramatic here.

So there are some “situations” in my family that are really eating away at me. I want them to be resolved so badly and they just continue to linger in the background of my family like a weak AM radio station. Sometimes the noise and interference is subtle, sometimes not so subtle.

I’ve come to terms with that fact that I’m not going to be the solution to the problem, not matter how much I desire its resolution. For the longest time I dreamed and schemed how I could bring about healing. But as I’ve grown in maturity and faith, I’ve realized that some things are simply out of my control and no amount of brain power or wisdom will bring about change.

In taking the matter to the Lord more passionately and sincerely than ever before, He revealed to me that I simply have a ROLE to play in the situation and that playing the ROLE is his will for me. He’s not calling me to be the all-encompassing solution. So often I want to get my hands on something and fix it, all the while completely looking past what is really being asked of me.

I was so fixated on what I thought the end product should be and how to create that end product, I neglected to see that I more immediately needed to become part of the manufacturing process itself. I had made myself unavailable.

What relief this revelation provides. It removes so much of the pressure I was placing on myself. And it places the burden squarely on God’s shoulders–where it belongs. He’s the only one capable of carrying the load. And best of all, he wants to. He wants to usher in healing. All he needs are some willing and available legs to carry out his good work.

“Over the hump” or “CORE 300 reading response”

This paper was written in the spring of 2001–my junior year at Spring Arbor University. It’s a reflection on three books we chose to read during the class and how they changed, or didn’t change our thinking. “Core 300: Christian thought and worldview” was the class title.

I’m over the hump. No, I’m not 40 years old and half way through my life on earth. I am simply over half way done with my undergraduate degree. My junior year of college is nearly complete. Starting this year, I had no idea how drastically my attitude toward life would shift.

Being a junior caused me to think about things I had not given much consideration before. I began worrying about a job after school. I began worrying about bills and where I would live. I began worrying about finding a wife. But at the same time, God provided me with counters to my worries. He set my mind at peace about my future occupation. He provided support for my lonely soul. He filled my mind with more important issues. Among those issues were, what do I truly believe? and what am I doing about what I believe? Both Introduction to Philosophy and Core 300 helped me wrestle with these issues brought to the fore of my life by the Lord.

Chuck Colson’s How Now Shall We Live? helped guide me in answering the first issue I faced – what I truly believe. I began reading Colson’s book with high expectations. Last year, Scott McFarlane gave all Ormston RA’s the book for Christmas and told us we had to read it within a year of our graduation from college. I was pleased to see it on Core 300’s reading list because I wanted to read it but felt I wouldn’t get around to it by the time I graduated.

I have always had an interest in apologetics. How Now Shall We Live? provided a great foundation for defending the Christian worldview. Colson’s set up solid reasoning for choosing Christianity over any other religion or philosophy. Reading the book encouraged my faith. It provided reasoning outside the Bible to believe in God and Christ. I feel better equipped to provide answers to those searching when the situation arises. I pray God will take advantage of this and give me situations to glorify Him through sharing what I have learned.

Lee Stroble’s The Case for Christ accomplished much of the same. Stroble wrote the book after converting from atheism; he researched Christianity in response to his wife’s conversion. Stroble’s book is quite impressive. It records interviews with many of the nation’s top scholars. All defend the authority of the gospels, claiming the information held within is historically accurate.

Again, the reading encouraged my faith significantly. What I believe is true, I thought. A lot of evidence supports my beliefs. Yet, at the end of the book, I couldn’t help but feel I had read a slightly biased account. Stroble did not interview any opponents of Christianity. Although he did attack all he interviewed with popular arguments against evidence for Christ, he never allowed non-Christians to make their case against Christianity.

Despite this shortcoming, The Case for Christ accomplished a great deal in my life. I became outfitted with hard evidence to defend my faith. This evidence is, according to Stroble’s trained eye, strong enough to stand up in a court of law.

The last book, which I have only read the first half of, is Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. Taking a completely different approach than How Now Shall We Live? and The Case for Christ, The Divine Conspiracy suggests Christians need to interpret scripture slightly different than today’s typical pastor. Willard points out Jesus’ focus on “the kingdom” and says our lives need to be focused on kingdom works rather than love and forgiveness. These both come with the kingdom, Willard says, but should not be our focus.
Willard’s argument may very well have had the greatest impact upon my life. It provided a fresh look on Christianity — one I needed to hear. Willard asks the reader to recall the last time they heard a pastor preach on the kingdom. Outside of Ron Kopico, I could not remember such a sermon.

At one point in the book, Willard tells of influential Christians who have skewed perspectives concerning a Christian’s calling. One felt the single factor determining salvation was belief. Absolutely no crossover exists between a person’s normal life and belief in Christ, this person said. Belief leading to salvation is an isolated detail carrying no influence into personal life. How sad, I thought. At that point, I asked the Lord to make me a person of influence. I want eyes to be on me so I can shed the true light of Christ upon people. I want people to analyze my actions and beliefs and realize they line up with scripture.

Willard’s book contained other content that challenged me as well. His interpretation of the sermon on the mount was one I had never heard before. He says the beatitudes were not meant to be seen as a new “how to get blessed” list. Rather, Jesus wanted to show how far the grace of God reaches. In the eyes of the world, the beatitudes describe the least of all people — a “holy roller” one could say. But that is exactly the person Jesus wants working for his kingdom. No longer do I wish I mourned more so I could be comforted (v. 4) or was persecuted more so I could obtain the kingdom of heaven (v. 10). Rather, I strive to be a worker in Christ’s kingdom. I desire to exhibit meekness when Jesus wants me to be meek. I want be a peacemaker when the situation arises. And if I am obedient in these situations, God will bless me.

The insight Willard offers in the proceeding chapter opened my eyes even more. Willard continues on the theme of the sermon on the mount, focusing on the “you have heard it was said…but I say unto you…” passages. His explanation of these teachings was very unique. Once again, Jesus is focusing on the kingdom with his words and not establishing a new law. He was telling how the mind of a kingdom-seeking Christian would operate. Not only should a Christian not have sex before marriage, but also a man should not look upon a woman with the intention of desiring sex with her.

Willard states it: “So far from being additional laws to crush us or show us we can’t make it on our own, the separate parts are distinct perspectives on the sweet life of love and power, of truth and grace, to those who count of Jesus can even now lead in his kingdom.”

What freedom one can have over sin! Jesus offers escape from natural desires. Sure, beautiful woman will catch a man’s eye. That isn’t sin. But with the kingdom at work a person’s life, one can appreciate the beauty of God’s creation and leave it at that.

Willard gave an appropriate example. A man desired to live purely and decided to isolate himself from all women. He did not want look lustfully upon a woman as the verse says. The man certainly accomplished his mission by not looking upon women; he never had the opportunity. But he wasn’t living in the freedom of the kingdom. He forgot his heart is the source of sin. Jesus doesn’t want to change our acts as much as change the source of our actions. With Christ living within a man, he can function within society normally and not have to worry about sinning through lust.

While reading the first half of The Divine Conspiracy, a picture formed in my head. It was a picture of a tightrope walker, holding a long pole in both hands for balance, high above a net. I asked myself, is Christ my pole, or my net. Is he controlling my destiny or securing my destiny? Am I living in his kingdom now, or am I just living to get in his kingdom. Christ’s life, death and resurrection made God’s kingdom available to us now. I must live in it now.

God knew and met my needs. He knew what I would face my junior year of college and placed information in my path to help me deal with the problems. What do I truly believe in? I believe in God who created the universe with the intention of showering his love upon it. One of those acts of love was to send his son into that creation to die, only to rise from the dead and conquer the sin created by man’s rebellion. Those who chose to accept and live for Christ can join in Jesus’ triumph over death and live for eternity with the creator of the universe.

And what am I doing about what I believe? Well, I wish I could say I’m doing more. The readings I encountered this semester challenged me to take my commitment to Christ to the next level. I want to live in the freedom God makes available to me as His follower. I want to live a more pure life, my mind and actions being kingdom-driven rather than self-motivated. I want my natural desires and reactions to reflect the heart of God rather than the sin of fallen man.

“Legalism” or “Westwinds sermon refleciton”

I’m going to start posting some older stuff I’ve written–papers, sermon reflections, essays, articles–and for the most part, they’ll be filed in the spiritual reflections category. I’ll occasionally cross-list stuff in both my regular blog and the spiritual reflections category if the topic fits. An example would be Sunday’s sermon reflection that served as the day’s blog.

Sermon series title:
Reaching out of the Shadows

Sunday, October 26, 2003
Part six of 12
Matt. 15

We’ve all heard of legalistic Christianity. That’s being like those Pharisees, right? Well, it might touch closer to home than most of us would care to admit. Sure, the Pharisees did practice legalism as you and I traditionally think of it. They made up rules and then forced themselves and others to follow them — all for the sake of “the law.”

But what about our own rule books. They might not contain strange eating and clothing regulations, but they probably house church attendance and prayer time check lists. Maybe a bible-reading quota or fasting calendar.

What are the things that we hang our hat of salvation on? Are they biblical? Do they draw us into deeper relationship with Christ, or do they act as a net we can fall back on when we doubt our faith?

Nothing against spiritual disciplines, but when rules begin to replace relationship, that’s when things have gone sour and legalism has grabbed hold. Where in our lives have we become more concerned about rule-keeping than we are about entering into true relationship with Jesus Christ?

When Jesus called his disciples, he didn’t give them a “to do” list. He just told them to follow him. He knew that as they spent time in fellowship with him, he would begin to rub off on them and they would change. He certainly gave them things to do, things he knew would raise the character bar in their lives. But never did he present a magic recipe for holiness.

Jesus asked his disciples to enter into a relationship with him and get a taste of kingdom life. “I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly,” he said (John 10:10). Experience the liberty of living an unveiled life Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 3. “We are all…being transformed into the same image from glory to glory,” it says. Truly pursue relationship with Christ and leave legalism for the Pharisees.

“Can’t live without them” or “My blessed life”

It’s times like these I don’t feel like I’m wading through life, but rather surfing. Just really feeling the love right now–both from friends and the Lord. I’ve dumped all sorts of dilemmas on both of them over the past few days and they’ve pulled me through not only unscathed, but shiny. Truly amazing and a gift from above.

And by all appearances, my life is only picking up steam. This whole concept of surrender is nutty. I feel like I’m in less control of my life more than ever, yet I’m confident and believe in the direction it’s heading more than ever. What a relieving and peaceful feeling.

I’ll repeat a quote from the previous post simply because I think it’s worth repeating and hit me so hard.

“Your life can be unlimited only to the degree that it’s also surrendered…As long as we attempt to live our lives, we’ll be limited to our human strength and willpower to get things done.”

“silent message” or “I love my church”

Westwinds continues to amaze me. Despite all my church has gone through this summer–the resignation of the founding and lead pastor of 18 years, the leaving-to-church-plant situation with our worship leader/associate pastor couple and now the stepping-down of another staff person–core lay-leaders have remained resilient and committed to the cause. And God keeps bearing fruit through us.

Today’s service was a little different: there was no spoken message. It was media delivered. And being a member of Westwinds’ IMAGE team–and it being my weekend to work–I got to be heavily involved in designing the delivery. It was fun and rewarding.

But even more rewarding was having the opportunity to experience the message (which was delivered creatively via our computers/projectors) multiple times and have the Lord reveal more to me each time.

The core of the message? “Life isn’t about ‘us.'” It’s about being part of God’s greater purpose. It’s about engaging in surrender to His will and purpose.

Some key reflections/revelations:

“God isn’t necessarily looking for the ones who look the part and say all the right things. His eyes aren’t focused on people with shining resumes and killer endorsements…”

That’s been my life up to this point: pursuing glitz and glamour with my portfolio and resume, all the time believing that God will use it to expand his kingdom. It’s noble goal and desire; I think my heart is pure in it and that God will honor my desire. But at the same time, I fee he asking me to surrender that in return for something more. His overwhelming stamp of approval on my life rather than man’s.

You see, behind all those noble desires is a cry for acceptance and approval from man. Strong resumes and degrees and knowledge impress men pretty quickly. But they are just mean’s to an end for God. He can use them–but he doesn’t need them. He doesn’t rely on them.

“Your life can be unlimited only to the degree that it’s also surrendered…As long as we attempt to live our lives, we’ll be limited to our human strength and willpower to get things done.”

H U G E. How often do I rely on my own strength to accomplish stuff? From day-to-day things like fulfilling work duties to initating spiritual conversations with friends or whatever… I always judge a situation on whether I can handle it. I rarely dip into the Lord’s resources, which just so happen to be abundantly more plentiful than mine. I’M LIMITING MY OWN POTENTIAL.

“Every day, thousands of people accomplish thousands of self-imposed goals and still feel empty inside at the end of it all. Why? Because life isn’t about us. Before we were ever born, God designed us exactly as we are with His purpose in mind for us. Only when we recognize this at our spiritual core, and get our hearts in line with His heart, can we accomplish anything of genuine significance.”

I think I’ve lived quite intentionally these past years. I’ve been pretty clear in my goals and dreams. But I feel my focus has been off just a few degrees. To use the cliché, I’ve put God in a box. I’ve held the reigns. It’s scary to yield to God’s potential because getting there often requires messiness and discomfort. But it has to happen because people’s eternal destinies hinge upon it.

“And this is intentional living…”

“It all comes crashing down” or “Undertoe”

Amazing how life nosedives so suddenly. It’s not that something in particular has gone “wrong” or that I’m in a worse situation now that I was a week ago; I understand it’s a perception issue and that my mindset has shifted.

But really, perception is a pretty big thing–maybe the main thing. It controls attitudes and persuades beliefs; it drives motivation and synchronizes communication and develops mission. And right now at work I have a different perception than I did a week ago and I’m not on the same page with my boss concerning the stuff I just mentioned.

Frustrating. I want to be. I don’t want to have this distorted perception of my workplace. But this feeling is recurring on a more regular basis and I don’t see a near end. Of course, I didn’t see these coming in the first place. Last week was great. But this week seems to be a different story.

So I’m in the market for a better attitude and renewed perception/perspective. I’m not very effective–as a worker, as a friend, as a Christian–when I get this way. I really need to do a better job of separating work from life.