Friday, February 26, 2010

Mmm Good

I'm enjoying a steaming cup of coffee with a splash of cream. I'm enjoying the earthy serenade of Jack Johnson in the background. I'm enjoying the crispness of the morning, ushering in a day that has never happened before. And more than anything, I'm enjoying God.

I recently realized how often my prayers begin with the phrase "I'm sorry." In view of God, I'm always sorry for something. I'm sorry I did this, I'm sorry I didn't do that, I'm sorry I'm like this, I'm sorry I said that, I'm sorry I thought that, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. If it's not one thing then it's another. Moreover, I've realized how much of my Christianity is compelled by guilt rather than love. And how much I try to add to the work of the cross and earn forgiveness by punishing myself and undergoing a non-stop cycle of self-flagellation. So often I misplace the heart of my faith. I begin to see God as a tightly-wound referee ready to blow the whistle on everything I do wrong. Nobody likes referees, and it's hard to love a God like that.

There is certainly a place for being sorry. The Bible says that godly sorrow brings repentance. But the whole point of repentance is to throw open the curtains and let forgiveness shine in. I wonder at what point do we simply walk in the confidence and freedom that we are completely forgiven and declared innocent forever? At what point do we get past the pummeling waves of condemnation and out into the open sea where we lay back and relax in the calm warmth of God?

You don't have to attend church for very long before the "do's and don'ts" of Christianity worm their way into your soul. Don't sleep around, don't get drunk, don't cuss, don't lie, don't steal, don't kill people (it's not polite), don't read Harry Potter. We get it. But we often lose sight of the reality that beyond the rules, ultimately, we were meant to simply enjoy God. It is a miserable thing when obligation chokes out adoration. A kiss of duty is hardly loving.

It's interesting that God created so many delightful things in this world. For instance, He created food, not only to serve a practical purpose by keeping our bodies alive, but He gave us sensitive taste buds to savor the myriad of mouth-watering flavors, the delicate nuances of spices and sauces. Food is delicious, and we enjoy it. And He created sex to be enjoyed within the fire pit of marriage. He could've created sex simply to serve the purpose of reproduction, instead He designed it be hot and passionate. He created the aesthetic of nature to be pleasing to our eyes. The Bible says that we can see the invisible attributes of God in His creation, like any piece of art that is an extension of the artist. He handcrafted food and sex and nature, and they all speak of the reality that God is to be enjoyed. He is truly good. The next time you address God, hear Him hush your guilt-ridden words and feel Him snatch you up, tossing you into the air and catching you in His kind arms. Laugh. Live. Breathe. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Big Fat Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is almost here. Alas, I don't have a Valentine. But don't worry, this isn't going to be a "poor me" sort of blog. The truth is that I've never liked Valentine's Day, even when I've had a girlfriend to celebrate it with. It always brings with it so much commercialization and pressure and competition and letdown. I'm not sure I understand the point of it all. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for romance, but why do we need a holiday to exploit it? Must we profane the sanctuary of the heart with cheap novelties? Do I sound bitter? I'm really not. Hmm, I just realized that I feel the same way during Valentine's Day as I feel at a wedding. I don't feel jealous or depressed or anything like that, I just feel cornered and interrogated. I ask myself many merciless questions like: Ryan, why are you single? After all, singleness really is a choice. I could be with somebody if I really wanted to be. That's not prideful, all of us choose singleness one way or another. Some of us are holding out for the best, some of us have been hurt too much by past relationships, some of us really enjoy our liberty, some of us are too scared to put ourselves out there. At times like this, I also question what exactly I'm looking for.

At the risk of sounding overly quixotic, I'm looking for a girl that causes me to stop looking altogether. I'm looking for a love that carries our hearts to new heavens. I'm looking for that delicate hand that fits so perfectly in mine, as if it was there all along. I want to love someone completely, so as to gladly exile myself into the silk of her eyes. I hope that each kiss will unlock a deeper yearning to be closer and closer still. I want a love that will never stop laughing and singing in the face of life's brooding tempest. I want an immortal love. Is all of this too much to ask? Am I a fool to suffer such high hopes? I hope not. If none of this is possible then I'd rather not love at all, for it has nothing more to offer. And yet, I choose to believe in many things that are foolish. I do believe in love. A married man might say that I don't know anything about love. But I'm not convinced that married people are experts on love just because they're married. Look at all the marriage counseling, not to mention the divorces. Let's face it, nobody has love figured out. As for me, I choose to believe in a love that defies the odds. A love that abides at the threshold of heaven and earth. I choose to believe in a love that unveils a much better world. Not a love with an expiration date. Of course, God agrees with me on all of this. Or I agree with God. Either way, we're both right. Anyway, I guess, Jesus will be my only Valentine this year. Sorry, too bad, I asked Him first.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Our church has been fasting together this week. Yeah, it's a little weird, like most spiritual things, but it's biblical. I think that anytime you do something out of the ordinary then it gives opportunity for the extraordinary. So, we are interrupting our routines hoping that God will do whatever He wants to do. We are huddled on a slippery precipice, looking foolish in order to see something amazing. The expectancy is raw and electric.

God hasn't done any magic tricks yet. Nothing phenomenal has happened so far, at least nothing visible. At church, we sing about fire a lot, but so far nobody has spontaneously combusted. One time, the fire alarm went off during a Sunday morning, perhaps God was taking us literally. Anyway, if people want a good firework display then they should go to Disneyland. The fireworks there are crazy awesome, full of lasers and fireballs and a flying Tinkerbell. But it seems like God rarely works like that. Even when people claim to be healed of something, usually you can't really see it. And when someone is born again, they usually look pretty much the same on the surface, except that there is an air of love and peace about them that wasn't there before. It seems that God is more concerned with what is happening underneath it all. He's always been preoccupied with the condition of hearts. He wants to go deeper than surface level symptoms. He wants changed hearts, not just good ratings. This week, the tone of many prayers has been that of heartfelt yearning. Yearning for God-knows-what, just something that only God could do.

I know for me, my growling hunger pangs for God have been louder than usual. I think it all starts there. With desire. We must first nurture the desire for more. We will not see God do miraculous things with us if we don't desire it. And in order to love madly, we first desire to love. Our passions for earthly things must me rerouted toward God. That is why we cannot serve two masters. Our passion is so one tracked, it's more like obsession. We feed our imaginations until they find an open door into reality. In the end, our deepest desires navigate us. That is why we are fasting. Of course, eating food is not bad. But we slave for the whims of our flesh all too much, and sometimes we must remind our flesh that it is not our God. We prove that Jesus is our first love when we are willing to give up other loves for Him. It would be ridiculous to have girls hanging on both my arms and tell them each that they are the only one for me. Love is never content with halfheartedness. What if we became obsessed with God? There's really only one alternative. . .

Monday, February 1, 2010


I think I might be the last person to watch "Fireproof." I watched it yesterday. I put off watching it because I didn't want to watch another cheesy low-budget Christian movie starring Kirk Cameron. That and I'm not married (that's not a cry for help). Anyway, it exceeded my low expectations and I found myself vicariously engaged in the plot and characters even though I couldn't relate. For me, it further unraveled the intricate mysteries of love. More than anything, I was freshly awed by the power of forgiveness. I was reminded that forgiveness is to be given even when it's not deserved. Especially, when it is not deserved. A relationship that steps to the rhythm of forgiveness will walk all the way to the pearly gates.

Many people who watch this movie will think that it was the "Love Dare" that saved the marriage, but that's not true at all. It was forgiveness. It would've been a much shorter movie had it all started with the asking of forgiveness. If only they had started with talking through hurts, instead of pretending that they weren't there. But Caleb had to recognize the generous forgiveness of God in order to both forgive and receive his wife's forgiveness. Forgiveness is so unnatural. From a young age, we have a visceral sense of what is fair and what is not, but forgiveness changes all of that. It is a call for a truce when the only alternative is a vicious cycle of revenge, where everyone loses in the end. Forgiveness is asylum for those who are tired of fighting and have forgotten what they are fighting about. Forgiveness is a pact to never mention those offenses again, they were debts that couldn't be paid and so they were canceled. They were pages that have been torn out of an immortal story.

I believe that forgiveness is the greatest healing of all. Jesus not only came to heal infirmities, but more importantly, to heal souls. He always told people that they were forgiven. He dished out forgiveness like He was giving away money. He enjoyed it. And those of us who have forgiven someone, know the levity of its freedom. It is the feeling of a long winter sighing at the sight of spring.

It is hardest to love when it is not given in return. But that's when love burns the brightest. As I type this, Don Henley is singing an oldie on the radio. He's singing "I've been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter, but I think it's about forgiveness. . .forgiveness, even if. . .even if you don't love me anymore." Amen, Don, amen.