In the chaos of faith, rebellion and obedience

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Pushing Through the Block

Posted by justicetabernacle on June 6, 2012

not posting since october is just despicable. period.

living in berlin, germany certainly does not leave one for a lack of thoughts.  it is a very good muse and a challenging place where one can ponder a lot of things about life, faith, culture, the church, society, and on and on.  there is simply a lot to write about.  but in a way, maybe it has been too overwhelming.  the extreme overexposure to non-stop inspiration and instigation creates a sort of ironic block.  in spite of this though, if i do feel that writing is something i should do, this block is something that needs to be pushed through and attacked.  in the end, it is spiritual.  slothfulness is not something that we often consider in such things, but it is a very real and relevant thing in our lives and in the spiritual realm of things surrounding our being. 

in light of this point, living in service to the Kingdom of Christ abroad can be a tricky thing.  i recently tried to describe it to someone recently and found it to be very difficult.  the litmus test of ‘how well’ you are working, making the most of your time, being a good steward of your wage, talents, etc is so nuanced and complex.  i suppose anyone who is supported by a body of believers financially to work (home or abroad) feels a sense of this always- but i think that living abroad heightens it.  it gets uniquely catalyzed.  then if you add in the advent of technology, which has simplified communication, travel and connection, the inner wrestling gets only that much more complicated. 

even boiling it down to the simple line of: at the end of the day it just comes down to sacrifice and/or willingness to sacrifice… there just seems to be a downright silliness that emerges.  it slips very quickly into superficial comparisons.  it leads you to start thinking about your life in a way that helps you create plenty of “first world problem” hash tags.

so then you try to boil it down to a heart level- thinking about humility and restraint within.  this is perhaps getting closer to a real solution.  it, at the very least, gets you to a place that begins to allow you to assess yourself in light of you are in regard to Christ, not others.  but even in this, you have to be careful not to pendulum swing too far, where life and faith becomes an isolated vacuum of a relationship between you and God.  we live among others and in communities.  people watch us and there is a testimony to our lives.  the testimony however is deep, not shallow.  the overflow of inner being that has a connection to Christ is the only thing that really counts as the testimony on the outside.  the outside in and of itself is not a testimony if it is not the authenticated God-touched piece of our soul.

so i am working on it.  i am trying to keep order to all of these thoughts and feelings.  i am trying to get better at organizing the random pieces of paper, smart phone notes, and things where i say to myself ‘i can’t forget to write that down later.’  my hope is that order will be the result, and that some of these things will find themselves here, once again.  but man, i feel rusty.



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Fake Faith

Posted by justicetabernacle on October 7, 2011

ok, maybe fake faith is a bit harsh- but sometimes we really need to dig deep and ask ourselves what it is that we really believe.  this is the first year in five years that i have not been able to attend the catalyst conference in atlanta-  though there are plenty of things i ‘don’t’ miss about catalyst- i do miss the 3 or 4 really butt-kicking messages that i heard there every year.  thanks however to will johnston, i can read the summary notes of the sessions.  the kid has freakish note-taking gift- and i’m for the first time truly grateful for it.

he posted the notes from pastor judah smith’s session on Jesus being sufficient, and the core and fulfillment of everything we need.  that we need not compare ourselves to anyone else- or even to ourselves- but that we just need to rest in the reality that Jesus is the full revelation of God and is enough for human kind to overcome the world and all things in it.  but what does that mean?  do we really buy it?  as christians, a lot of time i think we get fired up about the idea of salvation- or new life- all good things… but do we think Jesus is enough?  do we think He knows what is best?  i know for me, at times i have used Jesus as a kind of ‘personal consultant.’  you know, someone  you just run things by-  like a good golf caddy- you discuss the club to use, ask how the wind is blowing, etc, but in the end you are in control.

in the notes from judah smith’s session he mentioned something about how he had to come to realize the fact that Jesus cared more for things like his city, etc.  and i have to say that i too had a similar revelation.  some years back, i was very frustrated about the way people were (or were not) responding to pressing issues of poverty and social justice in the church.  though i felt like i was not ‘judging’ them, there was a level of comparison that was happening.  and i remember saying to Jesus- what’s up?  only for Him to respond to me the following:  ‘do you think that you care about these issues more than I do?’  then He said: ‘you worry about loving me and being faithful with the things that i have revealed to you and you are passionate about.’

and that was a huge monumental shift in my thinking.  no longer was it about who cared more or less- it was about the fact that Jesus cares more than anyone ever could- and the important thing was to follow Him and be faithful to the things He was revealing to my spirit… and if i went alone on the journey or 100 people joined me, it did not matter, as long as i was being obedient.  this is a very important place to arrive in our faith.  because it is really the tangible expression of faith at all.


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Seeing Double

Posted by justicetabernacle on August 30, 2011

oops- i think i forgot to write for a while  🙂
i usually slack on writing in the summer- but my hope is to start posting again-  here’s a start.

i’ve been really trying hard these days to get back into a normal bible reading routine-  something more consistent and regimented.
the last two mornings i feel like the Lord has spoken one very clear message- and is one about faith, and the promises fulfilled through the work of Christ’s death and resurrection.

yesterday i was led to galatians 3
and then today ephesians 2

in both of these, paul is deconstructing the world as people were seeing it- divided, with artificial lines drawn-  the who is in because of this and who is out because of that.  in it, he is saying, in the Kingdom of God, in His great house and temple- all are welcome to come in.  that His work through the sacrifice and raising of Christ was a work to bring unity and peace among all people.  in Christ there is a power- a rebirth- a re-creation of the world.

this is mysterious, but clear- an interesting tension for those people then, and still for us today.  the Gospel is something that is very simple, yet intensely complex.  it is simple, in that it shows that God is in control and has a plan- yet it is complex because it counteracts all of the natural yearnings inside our hearts- the desires of our bodies and minds.  it is complex because it causes us to let go of the things we hold so tightly- the things that are rooted in selfishness and greed.  it is the laying down of our possessions and our ‘pre-concieved’ notions.  it is the re-posturing of our intentions, one that is others focused, and ultimately God-focused.

that is why i believe paul writes about faith.  it is why God used an example of abraham to set the tone for what it would mean to embody faith.  the law, would subsequently, always be there to merely expose our depravity.

if we never understand our wayward journey, it will be difficult to celebrate the good news of redemption- without a confrontation of our own fallen being, the good news is laughable, or as the bible says: foolish.

if this is the case- how do we make the good news again about redemption, peace and reconciliation?
if our culture today longs for these kinds of ideas- the body of Christ has a great task of linking them together.
that is our great cause in our mission.

we must allow for people to see the true Gospel- and then decide if it is foolish, or something in which to put their whole lives into.
the Gospel calls people to truly expose their intentions and true hearts- do they really love peace?  do they really aspire to overturn injustice?  do they really want to live humble, simple lives?  if so, the Gospel is truly an amazing revelation to their hearts’ desire: which leads to faith-  if however, these aspirations are laden with selfishness and self-righteousness, then in the end, they will be exposed, and the Gospel of the risen Christ will indeed, remain foolishness.

let’s get to it and see…


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Paradox Persecution

Posted by justicetabernacle on June 27, 2011

the more i’m out and about in this crazy city in which i live, the more i come to this realization… while some christians may look at a city like berlin and immediately begin to discuss how ‘dark’ it is- or how hard it is for ministry to take root in a place like this, i have begun to find a major positive in it all.

because the church is so irrelevant in this place, and in a lot of ways has really been neutralized, there is great potential.  i have come to the conclusion that because the church, and a body of Christ-centered people is so rare in the culture, that it is much easier to talk about it in normal conversation.  basically, because the church is more ‘neutral’ it is far less polarizing on the surface.  so when you bring up the word christian in normal superficial-conversation, you very often will not get any kind of push back, and there is not an immediate wall that you encounter.  people may find it ‘odd’ but there is not a violent hostility toward it.

this is a very tricky place to live out faith.  on the one hand, it is encouraging as you do not feel a lot of immediate persecution.  on the other hand, you can also, if you are not mindful and careful, float along in this place of ambiguity for a while.  you can almost be wooed into a lackadaisical faith- one that is not challenged directly, but also one that is not invigorated.  the positive is that there is a low bar, easy entry kind of thing that happens-  the danger, is that things do not go deeper and there is a lack of general true commitment to anything.

this is why, even as i meet together with my team for the project, that i consistently talk about how we have to have to create a place where the doors are flung wide open…  so that all are welcomed in- experience life and love.  but also, that we ourselves, have to be well equipped and strong in faith.  that we have to challenge ourselves to go deeper and anchor ourselves in truth- being connected and guided by the Holy Spirit- so that in the place of ambiguity, we can have substance.

berlin will not chew you up and spit you out (unless you are a moron that antagonizes people on street corners) but it can lull you to sleep- or gently lure you away from your path, in the most friendly and damaging way.


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Culture and Spirituality

Posted by justicetabernacle on June 15, 2011

ministry in a cross-cultural context is a topic that i thought a lot about in the past year- i even took a course on it-  and part of me thought it was silly for a few reasons.  first of all, i didn’t really see germany as that ‘foreign’ of a place, given that i had lived here for almost 5 years in my 20’s.  on top of that, in my worldview of thinking that we are all part of a ‘global citizenry,’ i tended to always downplay our differences and focus on the fact that we are all human and have very similar tendencies and longings; and that in the end, we are all created in the image of God.

while i still hold true to most of those things, especially the latter part, i have indeed encountered some moments where i felt the distance of nations and language.  this was made especially clear to me yesterday, as i was talking to a mentor.  we were discussing a recent struggle i had encountered in trying to explain a deep theological conviction of mine to a group of germans.  i was telling him how frustrated i felt about not being able to aptly communicate my idea to them-  now you have to understand that i am usually intensely grateful to the Lord that i am able to speak german so fluently, and often talk about how important language is- and how it’s important to be able to communicate at a deeper level…  so as you can imagine it was even more frustrating to me that i was not able to do it.

and the response i got from this mentor of mine was insightful.  he said: ‘this is great- you are finally beginning to inculturate your spirituality.’  hmm.  i had not really thought about this before.  you see, because of my past experience living in germany, i had very few problems getting situated in language, cultural norms, etc… but one thing that i never experienced before in all my years living here, was doing full time ministry.  this time around, is the first time that i have had to truly incorporate my spirituality and theology.  and this experience i recently had, was just that-  it was a matter of integrating my theological convictions and my understanding of God into the cultural context in which i am living.

so i am grateful for the objective view on a situation that i thought was just frustrating.  it is why it is so important to have people in our lives that can look in on things to see the true value and help us realign our perspective.  so now, something that seemed just annoying, actually was an important step in an ongoing process of inculturation.


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What I Learned From Acts Today: Part 2

Posted by justicetabernacle on May 28, 2011

this is part 2 of my thoughts on an interesting part of the book of acts.  like spiritual gifts, God’s sovereignty is something that is very difficult to wrap our minds around- but it is something that paul writes on in his epistles.  again, his experiences along the way most likely shaped his thinking on these topics.

God’s Sovereignty

Acts 23:11
The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

at the moment of reading, this little promise to paul might have seemed insignificant- but based on what was to come over the next period of time, it was a statement that paul had to cling to in order to trust that he was going to survive.  it most likely also gave him boldness to speak to rulers and authorities with conviction- knowing that because God had promised he would speak in rome, he would not be killed or held captive for too long.

then, in a sort of prophetic way- and facilitating his own way to rome, he, in his defense as a roman citizen, paul appeals to caesar- which under the law, assured him a hearing in rome.

Acts 25:11-12
If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them.I appeal to Caesar.” Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”

in strange irony though, we watch the behind the scenes banter between the roman governor festus, and king agrippa- basically they talk about how paul ‘could have been’ sent free, if he had not appealed to caesar.

Acts 26:30-32
“Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, ‘This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.’ And Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.'”

this is amazing and should teach us something about what is happening in our ‘lives’ and what God’s plan is.  God’s bigger plan was to get paul to rome to preach the Gospel- yet here, we, in our worldly thinking, may think that paul ‘missed out’ on the chance to be free, which in a real world kind of way, was indeed a missed opportunity.  that was my initial reaction when i read it.  you kind of get this gut feeling of ‘man, if he just had not made that statement about caesar, he could have just walked.’  but paul’s continued imprisonment from that point on, and eventual shipwreck on the way to rome, was all for the greater good of the Gospel.  this is a really great example and reminder to us, that we have to be sure to trust in the greater promises God makes to us- and to seek those out- not becoming distracted with worldly comfort and solutions.  paul was to go to rome, and he was going to get there as a prisonor, on a ship.  he did not ‘miss out’ on anything- he was just on the right track of where God was getting him to go.  if he had been let free, who knows how/if he could have ever made it up to rome at all.  paul was unwavering in his faith of God’s promise to him.  let us all build that kind of trust in the Lord- and not be so quick to judge our current predicaments.


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What I Learned from Acts Today: Part 1

Posted by justicetabernacle on May 24, 2011

in many of paul’s epistles that are incorporated in the new testament, he wrote a lot about the gifts of the Holy Spirit as well as the sovereignty of God.  and while these passages are at times difficult to read and understand and cause a lot of debate in the church today, he seems to have been able to write them with ease and conviction.  today, as I read in the book of acts, i think i discovered a little bit of the reason why.

this is going to be a two part post.

Discernment from the Holy Spirit

in acts chapter 23, i was amazed by the way that paul used the Spirit of discernment in the face of grave danger.  around this time, we are seeing that paul is causing quite a ruckus among the religious community of the jews, due to his teaching and preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  in this scene, he is being held in front of a religious council under the protection of the roman officials.  as he examined the angry mob around him, which was trying to have him silenced and killed, he perceived something in his spirit:

Acts 23:6-10
Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks.

this is brilliant- because he perceived that the crowd was a mix of pharisees and sadducees, he spoke out a clever statement about the resurrection that ended up causing discord and confusion among those who were gathered to do harm upon him.  he created disunity in the group, distracting them, and in essence exposing their unorganized case against him.  as the crowd got more an more out of hand, the roman guard decided to remove him, thus most likely saving his life.

how often do we have the opportunity to spoil the evil plans of the enemy, merely by being perceptive and listening to the Spirit?  would we not be able to be more effective in the mission we are on if we were to employ the gifts available to us?  let this be a challenge to us to be open, especially in moments of trouble, to the gifts of the Spirit.


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The Unbelievable Hardness of the Human Heart

Posted by justicetabernacle on May 13, 2011

i remember once when i was in middle school- i came across the story of the rich man and lazarus in the bible.  i could not believe it!  it agitated me…  after i finished reading it, i immediately called my aunt, who i thought would be the best person to ask about such a perplexing passage.  i recall anxiously grilling her on how in the world this could be true?  how could it be that people would not come to believe the ‘truth’ if a person came back from the dead to explain everything: that there was an afterlife and that there was a hell… and that we need to truly believe and trust in Christ…
i don’t remember exactly what her answer was, but it was something along the lines of understanding the hardness of our hearts as human beings.  that if God does not awaken and soften our hearts, we can never really perceive Him and trust that He is good.

i have never truly been able to be settled on this point.  i believe that it’s true- but something inside of me always wants to think: “if there was just more evidence, people would believe…”  “if they could just really see what is to come, they would turn to God in repenetence…”  but at the end of the day, i have to come to grips with the idea of God’s grace- and how He, in His mysterious plan, grants that to us.  and that it is only  through His grace; not our apologetics and pleas to people, that will cause them to cling back to Him.

and then- in my study on God’s wrath the past few weeks- i ran into this passage below.  and again, the hardness of the human heart was so clearly and hauntingly displayed to me.  the passage sits in the middle of the book of revelation, where the tormenting and plagues are being explained.  and here, right in the middle of intense suffering, and a clear display of God’s power, sovereignty and wrath, we see people still refusing to repent.  in a way it is unbelievable- right?  how could they not be convinced in these moments?  but nonetheless is a poignant reminder for us all- to check our pride, idoloatry, and the state of the hardness of our hearts… and pray for God’s grace.

revelation 9: 17-21
(boldness mine)
And in my vision, I saw the horses and the riders sitting on them. The riders wore armor that was fiery red and dark blue and yellow. The horses had heads like lions, and fire and smoke and burning sulfur billowed from their mouths. One-third of all the people on earth were killed by these three plagues—by the fire and smoke and burning sulfur that came from the mouths of the horses. Their power was in their mouths and in their tails. For their tails had heads like snakes, with the power to injure people.

But the people who did not die in these plagues still refused to repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. They continued to worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that can neither see nor hear nor walk! And they did not repent of their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts.


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Christ in the Middle of it All

Posted by justicetabernacle on May 10, 2011

it’s been a few weeks of moving into my new apartment and something about starting anew in a place like that just seems to suck away your time.  not to mention not having good internet connections, etc.  my lack of writing has been the result, though it is not descriptive of a lack of thought.  i have had more theological pondering in the last 2 weeks than i have had in some time.

most of it has been a result of me helping think through themes and attributes of God for the upcoming ‘God anthology’ series at ncc.  we have been very meticulous about how the songs for the series are being composed- being sure that we are ‘saying’ and ‘teaching’ the right things.  it has been a fun process and challenging for all involved.  in the end the project is going to be a fun composition- the product of many God-inspired voices, and the amazing musical talent of our team.

in it all though- especially the themes that i have been thinking through most- the centrality of Christ has been unavoidable.  and not that this is any real surprise, but in a way, i feel like i rediscovered something about His centrality, that perhaps had been weakened.  in that rediscovery, the most important part of the ‘centrality of Christ’ was the consistent revelation that Christ, the way we think about Him, must go beyond our picture of Jesus on the earth.  while the time of His incarnation was vital- and it is the part that we can perhaps most closely relate to, as He was here as God in the same form, that is human, as us… however, if we only focus on His life on earth and miss his transcendence, in that He was present at the creation of the universe and will be present at the time when all things are recreated in the end- then we miss the complete truth of God.

aside from helping with the theology of the songs- i also had a chance to talk to our ncc greece missions team about orthodoxy.  the great part about the orthodox church is this very point- the centrality of Christ- and specifically the ‘resurrection.’  in searching out the ‘mysteries’ of God, the journey and discovery always begins and ends with Christ.  nothing can be known without Him- and the things that we end up knowing, are Him.  He provokes our curiosity to seek Him, and in the end, the thing that we find, is Him.

in the vein, i will close this post with a quote i came across yesterday.  i love this… it is from-

Mother Maria of Normanby:
“Truth for us is not a system of thought. Truth is not created. Truth is. Christ is the truth. Truth is a person. Truth is not limited within our appreciation of it. Truth transcends us; we can never come to the full comprehension of Truth. The search for Truth is the search for the person of Christ… Truth is the Mystery of the person of Christ; and, because it is a person, the Mystery is inseparably linked with the event; the event of the encounter. Mystery and event are one… The Mystery, for the Orthodox mind, is precise and austere reality. It is Christ, and it is to meet Christ.”


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Beyond the Symbols

Posted by justicetabernacle on April 24, 2011

i love it when God rocks our worlds in the moments where we think that we are being most pious.

because my journey of faith has been a meandering one- one that i believe even started when i got dunked in the orthodox church as an infant- i carry along with me a rich tradition of faith from a variety of denominational perspectives.  in addition to my orthodox roots, my other grandmother took me to lutheran vacation bible school, i had a crazy faithful baptist aunt, evangelical christian friends in college- i’ve been a part of vineayard, baptist, pentacostal, jesus freak punk churches across the u.s. and germany…

around easter time however, i really like to relish in the orthodox traditions.  they have some of the most powerful imagery of the passion and resurrection.  they uphold Christ’s ultimate power and glory in a way that few other traditions have been able to capture in the history of the church.  so on ‘holy saturday’- i always attend the anastasi service around midnight, followed by the full divine liturgy of st. john chrysostom.  it has been a most meaningful night for me for as many years as i can remember.

so this year, i got to experience it in berlin.  it was a bit sad riding the subway alone to a church that i had never been to (wasn’t even sure if it still existed based on the random internet listing where i found it)  but nonetheless, i went, and it was good.  however, on the ride there, my mind began to wander a bit.  there i was, all dressed up, heading to church at 11:30 pm on holy saturday, my thoughts directed toward the final moments of Jesus, dead in a tomb, reflective… and wouldn’t you know- at that hour on a saturday, in berlin, i was not the only person using public transportation.

my 23 minute ride on the u and s-bahn was shared with a group of all kinds of different people.  mostly they were young- on their way to party, or already engaged in it.  and for a moment, i found myself thinking- ‘what irreverance…’ on such an evening-  i even thought, about how i too enjoy the berlin nightlife, but not on this night…

and then- i caught myself.  almost instantly.  i was crushed with something like the weight of a ton of pharisaical bricks-  really!?  how are these people supposed to hold something reverant that they have no category for?  and isn’t presenting them hope and grace and mercy, what the resurrection was all about?  and it was that good kind of  conviction.  not that my reflective mood, thinking about participating in a symbolic service representing the epic rise of Christ from the grave, was bad- but just that it is not more important than real life and real lives.  those kids on the train are more important than my participation in a contemplative church service.  how did that even for a moment, slip my mind?  i repented.

and that is the tricky part of devotion.  that is the thing that we as the church have to be most mindful of and most careful.  let us relish in our traditions and symbols.  let us celebrate our most sacred days of rememberance.   but in that, let us go beyond all the symbolism and make sure our hearts are really in tune with the mission we are surrounded by all day every day.  let us live the sacred message we hold so dear.  singing and praying and celebrating Christ’s victory on the cross and through the resurrection only have power, if that miracle of God and the power of the that victory and resurrection are alive and at work in our souls- bringing the light of Christ to the world around us.

so if on your to or  from celebrating on this easter day- you seem an irreverent child-  do not be dismayed- nor should you scoff.  instead, think about how you might be able to share the light and the hope of the risen Christ with them- so that that child- a child of God, might be reconciled back to their Creator and Father.


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