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Thursday, July 28, 2011

The last stretch is the hardest.

My favorite hike in LA is climbing Griffith. It takes you right past the observatory and to a peak that allows you to see the entire city of LA. I try to hike it at least once a week, but I'm going to try and go up at least three times a week during this 62 day project. I've already hiked it twice and it hasn't been easy because the temperature has been close to 90 degrees. Its been brutal and the first time I went up, I took the long windy (but nearly flat trail) with my buddy Alex. We pretty much strolled up the hill whistling as we went up. The second time I went with my buddy Dave. We decided to go up the hard trail. It was tough, but I found it much more rewarding.

Griffith, if you take the "short cuts" (hard trail), has 4 major stretches. The first is the hike up to the observatory. The second and third ones are dusty trails that allow you to cut through the long windy trails. By the second leg, I'm usually panting. By the third one, I'm usually cursing under my breath trying to convince myself that I'm not crazy for doing this in 90 degree weather. If the weather is cooler, the hike is significantly easier, but if not, the hot sun beats down at you like a bad parent to their helpless kid. The fourth leg is brutal. Not only is it the steepest of all the legs, but it has the softest dirt beneath your feet making it feel like you are hiking a sand dune at times and it comes when you are already tired from hiking 20-30 minutes uphill in the heat. The thing is, there is no satisfaction that comes like the satisfaction that comes from hiking all four of the "short cuts" together. You can mix and match, and decide to go up the easier trails at the end of each leg as the two intersect at multiple points, but no matter how many times I've hiked Griffith, I have only found myself satisfied when I hike the four "short cuts" - especially the last leg.

I've been noticing these parallels in my faith walk too. I have found that I don't have to push myself in my faith, to have a great fervor and urgency to know God more and deeply, and be fine hiking the easy trails of my faith. However, as I am pushing myself to new limits in my faith, I am seeing the greater reward of knowing God more intimately through it. I liken it to going through truly difficult circumstances with people. I've never gone to the military, but if I did, I would reckon that my sense of brotherhood and friendship with the people I served with wouldn't be nearly as solid or deep if we had just regular civilian friendships. Most people don't have the type of friendships that I see veterans have with each other. My friend Tim (who I consider the younger brother I never had) has this band of brothers that he is always there for. They may be a little crude, but they have each others best interests and backs at all costs, even death. I think its only because they went through some really tough times together that they developed an incredible sense of value for the other person and have seen the other person pull through for them, constantly covering their backs for them.

I can't really say that my hiking analogy is the same as going to war, nor is my devotion to spending more time with God, but it will serve a purpose for the time. When I pray, I find myself at a point when I no longer want to pray and most of the time have nothing else to pray about, yet I know its because I am just distracted, tired, or lazy from praying that I feel this way. I have been trying new things out where I am reading more scripture during my times of prayer at the intersections when I can either choose the easy trail or the harder "short cut" and then praying through the Bible. It definitely takes more time and much more discipline, but I am finding God in new ways as I simply choose to take the road that requires more discipline. At each intersection, I am finding myself wanting to quit or give up, and many times, I do. But the days which I push through to get to know God, God always shows up. He meets me where I am at, shows me more of himself through the process, and displays His love through my emotional and cognitive life. There is a greater sense of peace, a higher sense of joy, and a perspective that I gain into my deficiencies as a person and my abundance in Christ. As I choose to go to battle with Him (or hike the more difficult trail) God covers me completely and pushes me uphill. At the end, as I am looking down on the city, I find myself more grateful and in awe of who God is.

All I know is that God honors every little effort we make to just spend time with Him. We always have a choice regardless of how busy we are; its a matter of preference and discipline. We should prefer God because he is preferable. After all, what can compare?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why wearing white is so revealing

There is nothing worse than wearing white and getting a stain on it. Anyone that has worn white to something important knows that the absolute worst thing that can happen is to get even the smallest stain to divert the attention from how good you look in the white garment to beg the question, "what the heck did they eat?"

As I am continuing to walk along this journey, purity has become elevated to one of the items at the top of the list. I'm realizing that purity is the easiest thing to compromise as most of it is just murky due to all that we are surrounded by in society. We look around and see that the rest of the world is getting along fine living their lives as they please irregardless of whether they call themselves Christian or not. And as we see the world around us live a certain way, we begin to live the same way putting ourselves in compromising situations, spending what we have recklessly, and doing things that we really ought not to.

The thing is, no one really likes to be told what to do and when we go to church, that is often what we hear first since it is the easiest thing to point out in any one's life - bad behavior is easy to preach against. The interesting thing about purity is that it will come from a desire to know God and a desire to keep knowing God. Ultimately, purity comes from a regular relationship with God. When I lived like I wanted to drinking and partying as I pleased, I recognized that my heart was closed off from God. I literally reserved a special area of my life as "my choices" and lived and did what I pleased. I said, "God, you can control every other aspect of my life, but in order for me to be relevant in this world, I've got to be able to get along with everyone in this world, and that means being able to hang with the Jones'" As I kept telling God that I could be Christian while partaking in some of these activities, I noticed that the area of my life labeled "my choices" started growing. It quickly became more important for me to be "cool" than to know God. I began to put more importance on my popularity and acceptance by friends than I did on God. This led to even more compromises and then eventually, looking no different than anyone else.

As God started to call me back into His arms, I would have to assess my own soul as dark, distant, and dysfunctional. I could barely go before God and I realized that for a period of time, I was ignoring God all together. I would hear Him nudge me, and I would act as if I heard nothing and turn my head and walk away from Him. As I kept my head turned away from God, I started to hear His calls louder and I chose to keep ignoring it. The call wasn't an audible call, but it felt more like an urge in my heart to turn from my ways of putting my own selfish desires as a part of the world and just merely start looking back towards God. This persisted for some time, but after a while I stopped hearing His call altogether, I think this is when I got scared. As soon as I faced toward Him, I noticed that I didn't just have my back towards Him, but that I had run 5000 miles away from Him.

The interesting thing is what happened next.

I experienced God running to me to quickly close the gap between us. All I had to do is gaze upon Him and the love that He had for me and within no time, He was right in front of me, with arms wide open, telling me to receive the embrace of His great love. This was the beginning of purity once again.

Immediately, it was as if God had put a white shirt on me and told me, "Ray, we are going to a special banquet and you are my guest of honor." It was all very exciting. Then, as I started re-engaging with God through quiet times and prayer, I noticed that certain situations started calling me again, I started getting pulled by former desires and distracted by things that kept me from focusing on God. Most of them weren't evil, they were small things like "let's go grab a beer" or even just socializing with friends. Some we're larger like the temptation that women can be on men or even conversations that seem to be rooted in evil.

One interesting thing I noticed were that conversations run on two tracks - one that is God glorifying and the other that elevates everything else to the status of God in our lives. For me, the biggest temptation is and has always been money. I elevate money as a great source of security, pleasure, comfort, prestige, and status often. It doesn't help that I have a lot of friends that make a lot of money - some worth tens to hundreds of millions. I look at what they can afford, the life they can life, and I want it for myself. And that's where the switch happens. Like the fork where train tracks change the direction of a moving train, it's as if my pursuit of purity transforms into the pursuit of money. I quickly start scheming at ways I can make my own millions and begin to take God out of the equation because I stop pursuing God when I pursue money. I am not saying that money is evil, but I do believe that it is harder to follow God when you are under the assumption that you are self-reliant, only subject to the whims of your bosses and markets. But this is probably another post for another time. What I am trying to say is that in my heart, I know when what I say comes out of pure intention and when it comes out of a need which I am looking for the world to fulfill and not God to fulfill. It takes me a while to look around and remember that God is the God who created the universe, holds the world in His hands, and has known me from before I was in my mother's womb. The same God that transcends any system or law of the world.

Purity is initiated through a love act from God then continued through a love relationship with Him. The great thing about purity is that it allows us to continue to hear God's voice and keeps us aware of what pleases Him. Purity is certainly a choice we have to make and a hard one (especially for those in romantic relationships as sexual purity is probably the hardest thing to maintain), but it certainly is possible and God certainly has grace for those who keep seeking Him.

One thing I know is irrefutable is that the more purity becomes important in my life, the more I need to cling to God. The closer to God I get, the higher my definition of purity gets. The higher my definition of purity gets, the more I need God to help me maintain that purity. Its like going from 10k gold to 18k gold to 24k gold. If we look at romantic relationships, I have a hard time not struggling with lust with even a touch from a girl I am attracted to. Kissing used to be the gateway drug, but now, its turned into even a gentle brush on the arm. It makes everything harder because it makes me feel like a crazy person, but I wonder if this is what we are all called for, to be so pure, so set apart, that when we marry the person we will spend the rest of our lives with that everything is new, everything is fresh, and everything is exciting. I see the parallels in my relationship with God as I continue to walk with Him and it makes me need Him in more ways than I have ever known before.

Every time I open my mouth or start to pursue something that isn't godly or do something that satisfies the desire for sin in my life, I get a stain on my white shirt. As I walk with God however, I am noticing that God has many spare shirts for me and regardless of the size of the stain, He has one ready for me as I walk with Him. The interesting this is when I decide to run ahead of Him or walk down a road I shouldn't. When I start engaging in conversations from a heart motive that isn't pure, or when I go into places that really have no redemptive value, or when I simply want something more than I want God, I see Him simply wait for me to stop getting distracted, come back to Him so He can give me another shirt to change into, so that we can continue to walk and talk together to the grand banquet.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The glacier of God

Learning to walk with God is tough.

I can't tell you what it feels like to have walked with God all my life since 1. if I assume that I live an average length of time, I am not even halfway there and 2. I haven't walked deeply enough with God for a consistent amount of time.

I remember hearing John Piper say on numerous occasions, that the greatest act of love that God can do for us, is to not withhold Himself from us, but to allow us to know and commune with Him. I've always liked the thought of it, but it was hard for me to experience it regularly. I like to describe my relationship with God in the past as serious, but not intimate. I would also take my relationship with God seriously, and I have certainly walked a long time with God, but the depth of my relationship with Him isn't nearly as intimate as many of the human relationships I have. It has always been easier to rely on people for support, encouragement, and companionship than anything else. I've seen some people get lost in video games for hours and days and weeks on end, others I've seen find consolation in their favorite sports, and others in their own respective "stress relievers." It all boils down to where we can pass time in a way that is pleasing to us. Of course, now that we are older, most people have established careers which they either love or hate and have decided to exchange a higher level of stress for a higher amount of money. This isn't a problem as long as your entire identity falls into your work.

But walking consistently and deeply with God is a completely different thing. What I can see is that God is constantly attempting to reveal His nature and character in our lives through whatever means possible. This is for the simple fact that He wants to bless us with a knowledge of Him that truly surpasses all wealth and treasures of the earth. If you talk to people who have known God deeply for a long period of time, they will gladly say that nothing compares: no amount of money would they exchange, all the luxuries the world can offer pales in comparison, the best job in the world becomes inadequate in producing the same level of joy, and having the hottest and most considerate man or woman in your life becomes a side dish to the main course of knowing God intimately. Or so this is what I hear.

The truth is, my faith has always been one where I go to God for just enough time that I charge my "battery" about 10% so I can go ahead of God until I run out of juice. Then, when I'm depleted, lonely, and tired, I just wait for God to recharge me until I have just enough energy to run ahead of Him again. This cycle has kept me from experiencing each step with God and has only allowed me to experience God in my retreats away from the world - partially why I am doing this 62 day project.

I don't think I've walked this consistently with God in a long time. Everyday, I've been able to go before God and just enjoy my time with Him. The more I do this, the more I am beginning to experience how God is intricately involved in our lives. I heard so many sermons in the past going over the various names of God in the Bible, names like God is provider, healer, master, helper, friend, king, shepherd, protector, etc. However, when I look through my walk over the years, I've known God as a minimal healer, a minimal protector, a minimal friend, a minimal master, a minimal provider, and so on and so forth. I never took the tip of the iceberg that was apparent to me and dove into the water to realize how massive the glacier was. Instead, I just took the little He gave me and then walked away until it melted to go back and get another tip that had surfaced. I never jumped in the water because I never trusted that what God really just wanted wasn't my works or my good deeds, but was to just hang in the perfect waters with Him, in Him. When we soak in the waters of God, what I notice is that it permeates through all of our being. Little by little, the waters work to heal our wounds, to protect us from harm, to provide us with nourishment, to surround us with love, and to meet all of our needs in abundance. All we need to do is jump in and stay in.

It's hard to see God in hard circumstances. We have so many needs and so many fears, so many frustrations and so much uncertainty in our lives that we sort of get lost in our own situations. But these are the times we have to push for God the most. God listens to prayers so just sit with Him, calm your heart, and pray. God speaks to us through His Word, so open the Bible, remove all distractions, and see what God has in store for you. As I continue to walk with God, I am beginning to see more and more that the glacier beneath the tip of the iceberg is big and it is good. There is no better option than God.

Monday, July 25, 2011

God knows how to pursue you

God is a very realistic God. He always has been and it is clearly evidenced through the scriptures that He always will be.

These days, I've been seeing how God's realistic (yet awesome) movements display how infinite He is; infinite in His wisdom, infinite in His knowledge of us, and infinite in His love towards us. His patience is overwhelming me daily and I can't help but see God in nearly everything that I am doing.

As I have been going through an Experiencing God workbook, it has kept me keen on how God is teaching me to serve and then stick with Him for the energy to keep serving, to lead and then stay close to Him for the capacity to maintain the ability to do so. For the most part, it has kept me focused on how God communicates to us in very real and realistic ways to draw us into the greatest relationship we can ever experience.

For some, I do believe that we need a harsh wake up call. We need a wake up that will send us to the hospital, make us something we love, or put us in a situation that we come to the realization that we can't do it on our own. Sometimes, we just go so far into a self-destructive pattern that our decisions, our lifestyles, and our hearts are completely closed off to God. I don't think this is for everyone, nor do I believe that God is the direct cause of everything that happens negatively to us as we live in a fallen world. Of course, these are theological issues I don't plan on delving into. One thing I do know is that if we hold onto something so tight that we aren't willing to let it go, it often slips between our fingers or we suffocate it to death. I think we do that with money, relationships, lifestyle, comfort, material things, image, and so many other things. Since God is a God who knows everything, He knows what makes us tick and in which manner we will respond to Him without diminishing His Godness. He works in ways that we can understand, not in some alien language. He speaks to our hearts. God is very realistic in what He expects from us and how he can get our attention. God knows us much better than we know ourselves.

I have a hard time believing (with amazement) at how quickly God has recaptured my heart. Just a month ago, I felt like I was distant, stone cold, and in every way trying to turn away from God as I kept holding onto the desire I had for God to pursue me. I was so blinded by my own ambitions to have God send down a cloud of fire to grab my attention that I ignored how He kept running in front of every road I ran down with arms wide open. I was looking for a roaring thunder or the flashes of lightning to send me messages in the sky instead of paying attention to the quiet whispers he spoke through the gentle winds. He had been nudging me with memories of His goodness, His provision, and the joy a relationship with Him had brought to me throughout my entire life. I just chose to ignore it.

I feel like a totally different person and I think my life is taking shape in such a way that it collected all my experiences and studies in the past and have brought me to a place where my heart has translated much of what my head has known throughout the years. My prayer life is real and addictive, my time in the scriptures are becoming more enjoyable, and my time with people have become much more fruitful.


I'm beginning to redefine wisdom. As none are truly wise, I've been thinking upon what makes someone wiser than someone else. It seems like wisdom is getting to the heart of the matter more than anything else and discerning what to do from there. As we don't really know the extent of the darkness of our own hearts and the extent of the light that God truly brings to it, it seems to be calling me into a greater desperation to hold onto God as the source of that wisdom. It leads me to obedience as I don't want to be apart from Him and it leads me to peace as I know that He will not lead me into a place He doesn't want me to be in. It's pretty amazing how God creates points of dependency where we need to go to Him for everything.


Friday, July 22, 2011

When things seem to be going wrong

The few days before a wedding truly falls into the essence of crunch time.

I'm standing as the best man for my friend Jason's wedding. It has been a crazy few days running around getting ready with the tuxes, the rehearsals, the dinners and lunches, and just the coordination of everything that is wedding. Mega (Jason's fiance) is a coordinator so she took it upon herself to utilize her expertise in planning their own wedding. I feel like I'm running around more up here than I would in Africa if I was running from lions and cheetahs. The thing that stands out to me in all this is how calm and relaxed they are in preparations.

Yes, they are physically busy, but there is a peace inwardly that keeps them on an emotional cruise control through this wedding. I've known so many couples that literally freak out through the wedding process that we can't even make any requests or changes to the schedule, but not with these two. If something comes up, then they just quickly adapt and change towards it. No bridezillas or groomtroopers here.

As I've observed them, I've noticed what it was that was keeping them calm. There is a saying that "happy wife = happy life" and I can certainly say that is true on so many levels. But beyond that, I see a level of care for each other that seems to be able to transcend the entire situation when the situation gets sticky. I literally see them completely zone out the rest of the universe for 1-3 minutes when something goes wrong and just communicate their care to each other. There is no therapy session necessary, just a few "I love you's" and a few re-realizations that they are going to get married! It's a nuance that I have a hard time explaining, but if I had to put it into an analogy, it would be a scene in a movie where there is a war going on around them and everything seems like its going to fall apart, but they just hold each other in the midst of it and just experience the love they have for each other. It's a beautiful thing.

I can't help, but see God in it all. I feel like we all get bombarded with busy schedules, unhappy moments, situations that seem to pile up against us, and conflicts that we don't create, but God is there, ready to embrace us so that we can experience His great love for us. Man, life is good!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Set apart some time

"I set time apart with God not in order to know Him, but because I know Him."

I've noticed that when you really care about someone, love them, or hold them in an important position in your life. You will take the schedule that you have and carve out time for them. That time will obviously look different depending on the person's existing schedule, but it will not deviate significantly from the recipient of the time feeling like you are setting apart valuable time for them.

I made a fatal mistake in a relationship I was in doing the opposite of what I just wrote. I didn't realize how much my actions would hurt her and I spent a lot of time just replaying some of the conversations we shared in the moment of it. All I wanted to do was spend some time with friends, but I failed to realize that I was neglecting a very significant relationship in my life. Of course, I knew this in my head, but I failed to truly empathize the situation in my heart. And with the lack of empathy and consideration, I failed to move into an action that would've alleviated much of the hurt I had created.

The scary thing in all of this is that nothing was malicious or done in evil intent. I never not wanted to spend time or just hang with the two of us. I think that it was just my super-extroversion that kicked into high gear and wanted to socialize. There was no deliberate ignoring of the requests, instead, it was more of a move towards wanting time to myself. I think that this happens a lot (especially to guys) and they just aren't aware of it. Some days, as men, we just want to go do guy stuff. That is totally normal. I am not saying that people don't need time to themselves, but sometimes, we must put our "me" time aside as an act of service and love to someone we care about. Sometimes, doing the guy stuff will get in the way of truly being there for someone who has a greater need. No one likes the idea of having to sacrifice themselves, but I believe that love makes sacrifice a joy. And unfortunately, I failed many times at this very thing.

The one thing that bugs me is that in moments, you can be fully engaged in a relationship and in other moments, you can have one foot in and another foot in something else. It really is hard to split our time and attention with a billion things when we have only a certain amount of hours in the day. This is why we need to set time apart to fully engage with those we truly care about and those we serve with our time and energy.

It just seems to be logical then that if relationships require time alone, then the same is true for our relationship with God. At the beginning it may be awkward and uncomfortable, but if you give it enough time, like with any relationship whether it be platonic or romantic, you will find that the time you spend with God is just as good (and better!) than any human relationship. After all, you are spending quality time with the God who created the world and everything in it.

These days, I just look forward to spending time with God. Everyday I get a buzz from engaging with Him and I get excited about getting the chance to just sit still alone and communicate with Him. Some days are certainly stronger than others, and I expect that some weeks will find themselves to be more enjoyable the the rest, but overall, I know that my time alone with God has been some of the best times I've had.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When God comes along next to you

This weeks sermon at church was about the Father's love. I've always had difficulty with understanding God's love for me and how God is involved in everything that I do. I've dabbled in and out of trying to comprehend it especially since, I don't really understand how a love like that can exist. And as much as I try to figure out how God loves me, I struggle with trying to figure out how God works through me and with me as I walk in His will. So I prayed that God would reveal that to me.

This morning, I woke up around 6:20am. I lied in bed staring up at the ceiling hoping to fall back asleep. That did not happen. So I got to praying. My prayer times have started to increase. In the past, I noticed that I could barely focus for 2-3 minutes at a time. Now, I can pray for 30 minutes and enjoy every moment of it. There's something awesome about communicating with God through prayer. During my prayer however, I asked God to allow me to experience the Father's Love and how exactly he operates in our obedience to His will.

After I prayed and read the Bible, I decided to wash my car because it had a whole bunch of bird poop on it. I looked around the house for my dad and sister, but they weren't anywhere to be found (I found out that they were grocery shopping later on). As I finished washing my car, my dad and my sister pulled up into the driveway. My dad then told me that I needed to wash all the cars. My initial reaction was "DOGGONEIT!" but then I remembered asking God to teach me how to serve others and this seemed like a perfect outlet to do so. Then I prayed that I would be able to bring glory to God while washing the cars.

The thing is, I hate doing any sort of manual labor. I like doing intellectual or relational labor - stuff that requires thinking or talking instead of waxing on and waxing off. But with the opportunity, I just said ok. I went back inside to gather some extra towels and went back and forth from working with joy to complaining under my breath as I struggled with the idea of enjoying washing 3 cars! Then I just said, "God, I'm going to wash these cars as an act of service and love. Please give me the strength to do it with gratitude." As I started hosing down the first car, my dad came out and said, "you scrub, I'll spray." We washed the cars together. As I scrubbed, I just smiled at how simply God showed me that not only does He come along side me, but that He makes work more enjoyable.

The interesting thing about all this was that I had just asked God in the morning to reveal to me how He works in our lives. I asked Him specifically, do you just tell us what to do and give us the training required and then want us to come back with a progress report? Or do you tell us what to do, get us ready, then watch us march confidently out the door knowing that you are following right behind us? I realized that it was neither. God told me what to do, prepared me to do it, then asked me to take a step of faith. As soon as I took that step, He immediately covered me to walk both in front of me, next to me, and behind me at every step. By my dad coming out to wash the cars with me, I realized that the way God operates is in a similar manner - to call us to do something then to do it with us.

Thanks dad for demonstrating an attribute of God today.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Distracted by Grace

My mornings are beginning to feel uneasy without spending time with God in prayer. I don't think I've ever had a prayer life like the one I am embarking on in this journey. My prayers feel like they have more weight and I sense that I am actually communicating with God instead of throwing up empty words. As time progresses, I will make it a point to write more about it. For now, I just feel a sense of calm in my heart after spending time praying.

I went to my church in LA yesterday. It was great to see many of the faces I haven't seen in a long while and sit in my usual seat. I felt like I was on the cast of Cheers and my pastor is Ted Danson. The more I visit my usual places, the more I realize how much I've missed it in LA.

As I sat in church, I realized the extent to which EVERYTHING on this earth seems to fight for your attention. Both animate and inanimate objects, people, trends, technology, and even your own body calls to you for attention. As I am trying to spend more time with God, I am realizing that I am balancing and having to shorten my time with friends, watching TV, and even reading. Fortunately, I don't have a job consuming most of my days so I have a lot more leeway to schedule things into my daily activities.

I noticed at church, that I was constantly turning around (as I sit in the second row) to see if there were other people I haven't seen. I also couldn't help, but be distracted by the guy sitting in front of me constantly checking his phone. Then my butt and back started to get sore so I was distracted by how uncomfortable I felt sitting there. Then drops of water started to fall from the condensation of the pipes in the ceiling and I couldn't focus on what was being preached through that. Towards the end, all I could think about was how hungry I was. Within a span of one hour, these, along with the temperature of the room, the people walking in and out, the light that glowed from the speakers, and even the movements that my friend who was taking notes next to me kept diverting my attention away from the objective of paying attention to the sermon so that I can listen, think, and apply it. Everything seems to want your attention.

The same thing happens outside of church. Having made the decision to focus primarily on God has been quite difficult simply because I am such a social being. I barely spend time at home, I'm always out and about with people, and I am regularly swapping schedules around so I can reconnect with the people I haven't seen while I was in Korea. The interesting thing is that now, I am weighing how I am spending my time on a moment by moment basis. When I am with people, I do my best to full engage with them, but now, I am making a conscious effort to make sure that as people allocate their resources like money to the things they value, I will do the same with time.

I think that the closer people get to God (or the more they want to) the more they will arrange everything in their lives to be oriented to Him. They will spend their money in ways that is oriented towards God, they will spend their time in ways that is oriented towards God, and they will spend their energy in ways that are oriented towards God. I've been trying for several years now to move towards getting the best of both worlds. Living in the world and being of it and simultaneously walking with God. At least, this is the conclusion I came to when I decided to be honest with myself. If there was ever a time I did so, this was the biggest crap I ever took on God. What I said by telling God that I want Him as well as all the things that the world could offer essentially was saying that God wasn't enough - when the greater reality is that He is MORE than I could ever hope for.

Distractions seem so normal that we brush them off like they are nothing. Just a natural byproduct of living in a busy place. But I wonder if they have a spiritual element. I feel most sleepy when I am about to read the Bible and pray. Its not like I don't enjoy reading the Bible (although until now, I can't say I really enjoyed praying), because I actually do. I am fascinated by the wisdom and the timelessness of the scriptures, but more so because the Word actually brings peace and truth to my life. And yet, I find myself distracted by the yawns and the call of the bed. In the movie, The Matrix, there was a scene when Neo first enters the Matrix by getting plugged in. Everything seems the same as before, except he is now aware that nothing is real except the mission at hand. Then he comes across a woman in the red dress. He turns his head to follow her with his eyes and when he turns around, gets his head blown off only to return to full consciousness on the ship. He then becomes informed that the woman in the red dress was installed to distract him. This is what life in so many ways seems like - as much as we are called to focus on one thing, we are instead distracted by millions of women in red dresses.

The one thing I am learning is that being distracted doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. The average "Christian" probably spends 2 hours with God a week - the time they spend at church. They will turn to God when they encounter a crisis or hit rock bottom, but most people have their focuses set on their careers or their relationships or their lifestyles that they find God a distraction from it. And for this I am so glad.

We are sinners saved by grace and as sinners we just want to pursue our own desires. As long as we feel like winners at the end of the day, we don't really care what we have to do or give up. Sacrifice becomes selfish and acts of service becomes self-oriented. The idea that we can be distracted by grace is truly amazing. It means that God cares enough about us to disrupt our lives as much as Satan tries to disrupt our focus on God during that short time at church. Our options are to respond or ignore. I've tried to ignore God's calling for the last few months, but the more I tried, the louder He got. I turned by back towards God and started running like Forrest Gump, except I flew clear across the Pacific Ocean and hid in the streets of Seoul. Yet, God found me. He distracted me to a point where I was overwhelmed with His grace because I missed walking with Him so much. Now, I'm recovering from what it feels a fatal accident that I was revived from and learning how to walk once again.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

All I wanted was a nice car

The discipline of spending time with God is difficult. But I'm learning to push through my own laziness and my own lack of discipline. I realize that if I just push a little more, I end up in a flow that lasts for 2 hours easily with God. My fears are that I will give up.

"There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. (v.15-16) For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (v.21-23)" - Mark 7

All I wanted was a nice car. Living in LA, you realize that (at least for Korean Americans) that the car is the symbol of wealth, status, and social standing. In LA, you can find with near certainty at each corner a person renting an apartment and leasing a car that costs 1/4 to 1/3 of their monthly wage. Definitely something Suze Orman would not condone. However, with college and even high school kids now getting Lexuses, BMWs, Benzes, and Audis, its almost embarrassing not to have even the lowest level luxury brand automobile. Cars define people in LA as much as the jobs people have do in New York.

Somewhere in high school, while I was living in PV, a seed was planted in my brain that led me to believe that cars defined the man to a degree that it was at the very least, necessary to pay attention to. I began to believe this and let the belief take a deep root in my core operating system. My high school parking lot was like a car show and I needed to have a car people would Oooooh and Ahhhhh over. In many ways, I felt confident driving a '98 Lexus GS300 in my junior year of high school, and felt utterly worthless driving a '92 Honda Accord and '01 Toyota Camry my first two years of college. Then my confidence hit a midpoint when I got a '05 BMW X3 and a brand new Nissan Altima during my last two years of college (a car in LA and a car in Chicago). When I returned home and my lease payments were up on the Altima, I immediately went on a tirade to get the car I drive now, an '07 Lexus IS250. Now it's 2011 and I am tempted with the same core beliefs that my worth is somehow proportionate to the car I drive.

When I look at the verses in Mark, I realize that evil thoughts include things that aren't just hostile towards God and people, but things that build walls up against God and people. I don't condemn nice cars or the people who are constantly upgrading them if they have the means - heck, I'm a dude who appreciates a well designed machine both behind the wheel and from the outside. But I do have a problem with the fact that I know how much of a stronghold owning new luxury car can have. The belief that you are somehow a more important member of society since you can have heads turn as you pull up is an addictive, yet very foolish belief. And every man with a nice car knows the feeling.

When I returned to LA and decided to sell my feminine SUV, I remember my biggest worry being not to be able to get anything better than this. I began to weigh options and then frantically started to search for options to fill the possible void not having this to fall back on would leave. It consumed my thoughts for days as I was in negotiations with this Chinese couple that wouldn't give me the extra $500 bucks I wanted. I just didn't want to fall lower in the social ladder. My self-worth was too connected to the car I drove and I didn't even realize how much it was upsetting me at the time.

The problem with this isn't whether someone has the means to buy a nice car or not, but the fact that their worth is attached to something so trivial. I'm sure someone who drives a Lamborghini would say, "have you ever felt the pedal under your foot?" But yea, the reality is, a car by any measure is a foolish investment (some may make money, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that a piece of artwork would probably be more sound an investment). It was truly myopic of me to think that my value as a person and as a social being had anything to do with the car I drove. It meant that people's impressions of me had more weight than the very substance I had to offer. But more than that, it meant that I had something in my life that defined who I was more than God. I allowed the car that I drove to define who I was more than I allowed God to, merely by the fact that I was more consumed with how people viewed me without a nice car than how God viewed me regardless of the car I drove. I let society's standards of acceptable determine whether or not I felt accepted without really noticing it because EVERYONE else in my circles was the exact same way.

Then, somehow, what began as simply wanting a nice car, turned into an obsession with material goods - to the point that I remember my friend's mom (who so graciously washed my clothes while I was staying with them) say, "does he only have designer underwear?!" I realize now that when I want something so bad that I get angry, frustrated, or sad about it, that it must have taken root as a defining object in my life. The scary thing is that it all began with a simple desire to be accepted and to fit in.

Today, I learned two things: 1. sometimes, my desires must be regulated so they don't end up defining me. If I can't function without something, it may be an idol I need to remove from my life. 2. Christ is enough. It's something I'm still learning, but who else do I need to be accepted by? I have God watching my back and smiling down at me. What more can anyone ask for!?

Friday, July 15, 2011

A character that can handle the calling

I just flew in from Seoul last night. I'm jet-lagged and delirious. I feel like age has finally determined that it has an affect on me. Waking up to do quiet time was easy, actually doing it was hard. My body and my mind didn't want to do it because my eyes are burning and my head is spinning. I wish I was adjusted back to this time zone!
I remember a 3 day retreat I once put together with some great people when I was a youth pastor in Orange County, our theme was from Character to Calling to Community. We spent a day (two sessions) on each of the things, but of all three topics, calling was the most intriguing to everyone - people simply begged the question, "What should I do with my life!?"

My friend who currently is getting his Ph.D at Oxford spoke on the first of the sessions on calling. He broke it down into a primary calling and a secondary calling: The primary calling is to love God and to love others and the secondary calling is how you go about doing that vocationally. Most people look for things they can do for God instead allowing them to simply be completely willing and dependent vessel for God to work through. Another friend who currently works as an editor for Sojourner's Magazine spoke on the importance of just waiting on God and walking in obedience.

I spoke on the importance of Community and how it works to keep you aligned with God. The significance of truth speaking in love and an engagement towards a singular purpose in loving God and loving others expressed in each individuals' unique manner. How community is both an act of influence through servanthood and an active decision to regularly subject yourself to the community you involve yourself in and allow the community to shape your decisions.

Character was the one thing that was easy to preach about and hard to sell. I also spoke on one of the sessions for the day on Character, essentially calling it the importance of being like Christ. Moral character just seemed to be the only thing I could really share about, but character seemed more descriptive without having any requirement to do anything except the right thing simply because it was the right thing to do (which is also very hard). I preached about how character was displayed through the fruits of the spirit, but it felt incomplete. I think my definition of character is beginning to change.

The more I think about what character is, the more I realize that character, like calling is two-fold: moral character and character of dependent obedience. We all know what moral character is at least on a basic level; the golden rule sums it up - do unto others as you would have done unto you. Dependent obedience is much more elaborate and much more interactive. It requires you to be in a place where you are living a life of moral character, but also constantly engaging with God as the source of your strength to stay "pure" and walk in a manner that creates an environment where our ears are open to be able to hear Him.

It's hard to think of doing thing in a manner that is counter cultural. We all hear the same advice: get a good job, stick it through, make a few career moves, get the house, have the kids, retire with a nest egg, then move to Florida to die. All good and well, but I can't help but think that if you walk with God, that God has something so much more incredible in store!

I can't help, but imagine what the potency of a life that is fully engaged with God can look like. People who literally look past their own circumstances to see where God is moving and then joining in on His work is always something that inspires. My hope is just that, that I can walk down that road; a road with so many unknowns, and a full certainty in the God who created the universe and carefully involves Himself in each of His childrens' lives.

It all begins with putting aside everything that I want due to how I was conditioned by the world to get the greatest thing I can get in the universe, an intimate relationship with the living God.

This is what I want: To be so enamored and engaged with God that I no longer have to think about what is right or wrong, but how close or how far I am with God.

God will develop my character to fit His assignment. In this, I have faith.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Project62

"If you aren't on fire for God, stop everything that you are doing until you are." - Francis Chan

Two sources. Through prayer and through a sermon, I heard the same message. You, Ray, are lukewarm. You are neither hot nor cold, and for that, I cannot use you. So I'm going back to LA for 2 months to get on fire for God.

62 Days. For 62 Days, I am going to track the progress of my relationship with God. I am lost, but I hope that I will be found by the end of the next 62 days.

I'm getting ready to fly back to the States to spend time in prayer and the Word. My fears are that I won't finish and will give up like I have in the past. My hopes are that I will find myself more dependent on God and clinging onto Him every step I take.

In the past, I feel like I've always stood at the cusp of breakthrough and walked away from it in fear that if I released all control to God, I would spin out of orbit. I'm at that crossroads again, and this time, I've decided to put all my trust in God and see where it will take me.

The back story: For the past 2 years, I've been making slow compromises away from God. They began with just going to the places that God isn't welcome. I've always had strong beliefs that everything (every decision, thought, action, and relationship) will either draw you closer to God or distract you away from God. There was nothing neutral. Of course, some of the things that bring people closer to God may also distract others away from God, but that requires each person to examine their own lives and have people speak truth into it.

My time in Korea has been far from Christ. More than anything, I've done things I never thought I would and have ignored God all together. But Korea was more of a culmination of the little compromises I've made that have brought me to this point, and what I have discovered by tracing back the roots of this backsliding, is a belief: God cares infinitely about the world, but not about me personally. This one belief translated into bitterness, testing God at every turn, and distancing myself from Him because I stopped believing that He cared about me in every way. Instead, I said, well, He LETS people choose the life they want to live (which is true), but I also forgot that He cares DEEPLY about whether or not we walk with Him. What I failed to realize is that God loves me more than I could ever realize and that He desperately wants to show me that love.

I've been pursuing a career in finance as a sales trader. Through the generous help of my cousin who is an executive at a foreign firm in Korea, I was able to meet many heads of investment banks here. Everyone in the industry has been nice and it was great to get to know them, but I've come to the realization that my motives for entering the industry would be to chase money and a lifestyle that would distance me from helping people instead of allowing me to engage with them. My motives for going into finance began and ended with the provision of my family.

Denying the fact that I would be doing this just to build a safety net for me and my family and creating excuses like "I can use the money I earn to do a lot of good for people" I realized I was just pursuing a comfortable life. A life where I wouldn't have to depend on God for much was one that felt safe to me. After all, I would only need to go to God whenever I NEEDED something from Him instead of going to Him for everything like children do to their parents. But then, I was convicted that a life of dependency was great as long as the person you were depending on was dependable. It isn't easy when you aren't used to it and all you hear from the pulpit is TRUST GOD, TRUST GOD, TRUST GOD, but I've noticed that the reason so many people (definitely including myself) have a hard time trusting God is because they haven't established a relationship with Him. Those who walk in dependent obedience to God have a quality that incorporates peace, joy and selflessness in all they do. But me, I've realized that the point at which I am required to say, "God, I trust you!" I end up walking away saying, "OK, I'm gonna do this on my own, my own way, but thanks for being my God anyway."

It feels like there is a great wall between me and God. I feel like my deliberate sins, my false beliefs, and my lack of gratitude have all built a wall that only the gentle love of God can break. My duty in this is to merely wait on my end of the wall hearing God shout over the wall, "Just wait a little longer. My love will break through the wall!"

I want God to use me. This way of living must end. Dependent obedience must begin.