New Year Thoughts

I have a lot of hopes for 2009. Since we are officially acclimated to the New Year, I thought I would share some of my hopes and challenges I am sure I will fact this year:

With regards to my personal/physical state:

I want to be a lot healthier. I am not saying “lose weight” though that would probably become a natural reality if I were to care a lot more about how much I consume and what I consume on a daily basis. I think health is important – I only have one body – so I have come to realize all the more important eating better and watching how much I eat is for my health.

I also want to focus more on sleep and how much I attain. Right now, I probably receive between 6-7 hours of sleep a night. Though it isn’t horrible, I have noticed how much I struggle late in the afternoon – especially when I am at work – with co-workers and others. My attitude is greatly affected by it as well. Due to the responsibilities I have placed on myself, I still hope to receive a solid 9-10 hours a sleep a night. Those extra 2-3 hours could show itself to be just what I need in order to maintain a positive attitude – especially when it is most difficult.

With regards to my personal/spiritual state:

I want to make my relationship with God a lot stronger. I have seen over and over again how much I have become relaxed in important areas of my life. I could go through and name every one of my downfalls, but I feel that would only make me feel worse about it rather than be helpful. Needless to say, I could always spend more time with God – in His word and in worship – rather than doing mundane things that are quite simply just a waste of time.

So this month (January 2009), I am reading the book of Philippians over and over again. In the past two days, I have read through it or listened to it on a CD four times. Tonight I hope to read it through once or twice. After this week – the first week of January – I am going to take notes on what I am learning and hopefully apply principles to my personal life. It is a great book with a lot of stuff in it. Paul’s missionary letter to the Philippians is exactly what I need right now in my life.

I am also beginning to set aside a period of time for prayer. Not long – it is intended to be an opportunity to hear God’s voice and communicate with Him. As an aid, I am reading a book by Hudson Taylor and Thomas Merton. These guys understood prayer and have challenged me to be more about prayer. It’s a big deal.

With regards to my personal state:

I am going to work on being more positive with regards to myself. I am going to attempt to feel more confident in who God has made me to be and in whom I am. I think that’s really important. I don’t have the best self-esteem. In fact, my self-esteem is really lacking right now. Perhaps some of the above things, which have been listed, will aid as well in my personal view of myself.

For now, this is what I have to share. As the days and weeks progress, I will share more. Happy New Year.! This journey is challenging, but my redeemer lives. He is so good. Thanks for reading.

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Acne Drives me Nuts

Growing up, I struggled with acne. I think most kids struggled with it but, for some reason, I struggled with it hardcore. I used to get made fun of for my condition that I couldn’t control.

I was told the reason I had acne was because I had too much chocolate and sugar growing up. I later found out that was a myth. I was also told that I don’t wash my face enough so I decided to wash my face three times a day. I figured if I kept my face cleaner, perhaps I wouldn’t have acne anymore. That wasn’t the case though. I had a cleaner face but the acne still decided to show up, especially when I wanted to impress a girl. This is not what I signed up for when I went through puberty.

I wish I would have gone back and researched why acne occurs when I was younger. Perhaps I would have kept it under control better had I known the important aspects about it.

Acne occurs when the natural oils of one’s skin is blocked by the growth of hair follicles. Since the follicles get in the way, the oil in the skin build up due to blockage and creates a pimple. Since there are many follicles in the face back and chest, acne often shows up all over the face, chest and back. Another important thing to remember is that some people’s bodies produce more oil than others. If this is the case, pimples can and are often found.
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So what can we do to help our natural occurrence? There are a few things: (1) There are three vitamins you want to look for: Vitamin A, C, and E. These three vitamins are important for healthy skin. (2) Treat your face kindly: Don’t scrub your face until it turns red. Allow your face to dry naturally or pat your face gently with a soft towel. (3) Make a mask – one with oatmeal and water. Wear it two times a week. The oatmeal will help open the pours and unblock natural oil flow (yes guys – you can do it too and still be “normal.”) (4) Look for products that have the word “Biotin” or a variant of that word in it. Products with this in it help opening pours as well.

Acne has made dating harder for men throughout much of a teenager’s life. I am one of those teenagers who had to experience acne in my life. I am learning more about how to take care of that issue. Being informed is important. Knowing what things work and don’t work are important as well. Don’t just take any product – they don’t all work.

Embracing Hope

“We have what we seek, it is there all the time, and if we give it time, it will make itself known to us.” – Thomas Merton.

I have to be honest and say that I have read very little of Thomas Merton. In fact, if I were really honest, besides the few times I have looked up quotes like the one mentioned above, and the few times I have heard his name mentioned in a sermon or a paper I had read, I haven’t really interacted with any of his writings. Today, I read this quote. I don’t know what to do with this quote because it seems simple enough but hard to believe.

I wonder what Thomas Merton is referring to here in this quote. Is he talking about world peace or the end of AIDS? Is he talking about racism, bigotry, hatred, or poverty? Or is he talking about stuff that is more personal – the selfish stuff that we continually ask God? Is our future wife or husband ‘just around the corner’ or is he perhaps talking about wealth?

In all honesty, I don’t think Merton is talking about any of that. As I said, I really have never interacted with Merton’s writing. I only know what I know through a couple of quotes like the one written above. Yet, I have a proposition that is perhaps, a better answer to the question of, “What is Merton talking about here?”

I think Merton is talking about hope. Hope is one of those things we overuse. Hope ultimately defines who we are as people. For most of us, we run after hope, trying to capture it like a butterfly in a net. Hope for some of us though seems more like trying to catch the wind in our hands than capturing a butterfly in a net.  For some of us, we start off looking for hope, only to quit. We become frustrated. We become angry – with God and ourselves. It seems as though hope has found a way to run off without us, leaving us confused and hurt.

Merton’s words though are comforting to me. “We have what we seek, it is there all the time, and if we give it time, it will make itself known to us.” I think when I am tired of trying to make sense of live; I can trust that there is hope even when I can’t see it. All I have to do is give it time and it will make itself known. Hope to Merton is not a wishful fulfillment but an expectation of its arrival. Time is the only factor that separates me from hope. If I am willing to wait, time will give me the hope I so long for. It will allow me to see that hope exists and that I am able to go another day. I can have hope if I am patient enough to receive it.

I am learning to hope. I am learning to be patient. I am learning to lean on time’s shoulder and expect its arrival. For me, learning to hope is new and almost exciting. The more hope manifests itself; the more my faith will be tested and grown. I know love is the greatest thing that remains (1 Corinthians 13) but one of the three that remain is hope. Without hope, I am not sure we can do the faith thing well.

I hope we can learn to embrace hope. Hope is like a beautiful flower. The more we look at it and embrace it, the more beautiful it looks. And, when we learn to embrace hope, the results of faith, love, and truth look so much clearer and enjoyable. Let’s learn to embrace hope together. Cause, ‘it is there all the time, and if we give it time, it will make itself known to us.’

Practicing Patience and Praying Hard

I usually attend a Bible study on Friday night. I didn’t attend this evening though because I had a friend in from Wisconsin at his parent’s house for the weekend. Since I doubt I will be able to go out much, I wanted to take the time I have and spend it with he and his wife.

Jathan and Becky is a unique couple. I say that tongue-and-check because Jathan has become a great friend of mine over the past couple of years. Before he got married and moved to Wisconsin, we used to hang out a lot together. We would talk about God, do meaningful studies together, and play volleyball somewhere in between. He knows a lot about me and I him. It is a great friendship to have.

Seeing Jathan and Becky happy is a great thing. I am glad they are married. At first, I thought perhaps they were running too fast into marriage. Knowing someone for a short amount of time and getting married quickly is not always the best thing to do. It definitely takes a certain someone and a clear moving of God to do something like that. Seeing them together this weekend confirms in my mind that it was a God ordained marriage. They really do look happy together. They kiss a lot, which is weird for me seeing Jathan kiss someone since he has never kissed a girl before Becky. I can tell that Jathan wants the very best for his wife and for his marriage. It is a beautiful thing to see played out in their relationship among family and friends.

Sometimes it is hard though seeing people married and such. It isn’t because you would want them to be single. As I said, I am glad they are married and together. What is hard though is being single while all your friends are getting married around you. You are extremely happy for them and truly desire for God to bless them with happiness and joy in Christ for many long years. It is during those times where, for me anyway, where I start to ask myself a ton of questions.

Questions include: “Why am I still single? Is there really someone out there for me? I know God loves me but why does it feel like He is holding out on me? Why is it so hard to trust that God has someone out there for me who will love me and care for me? What if God really wants me single and I am missing His signs? Why is it so hard to be happy and content with God? Will I ever meet someone who cares enough for me to want to be with me?” I have asked these questions all the time – not every day – but enough that I have them memorized quite well.

I love when people try and quote scripture like they are being helpful. The one I hear the most is, “Tim, remember what Jesus said: Keep seeking, knocking and asking. Eventually you will find, the door will be opened and you will have answers. It’s a promise so cheer up!” Don’t get me wrong. What the person said is true – very true in fact. The problem is that it isn’t helpful. I can’t tell you how many times I have sat there and thought about how much I have knocked or asked God. So often, it feels like God isn’t even there to open the door or answer my call. I feel like He is busy or has something better to do – like fixing up other people as couples so they can get married. It is so easy to be cynical when you feel like the possibilities of married are slim to none.

I used to think it was an outer appearance issue – the whole, “You’re not good looking enough” syndrome.  The only problem with that is that we are all messed up in some manner. There are no perfect people. Don’t get me wrong. I have to continually work on taking care of myself so I can be attractive for my wife. I can’t be lazy and look like a slob. I don’t think I am. I dress well and smell nice. That definitely helps a lot.

Maybe this sounds like I am venting – and in some ways I am. Sometimes one has to just get it all out and then all seems right with the world – at least for a little bit. Truth be told, I do believe God has someone out there for me. I don’t know who it is or where she is. Maybe I have met her in my past or maybe she is someone I have yet to meet. I know God has His best for me and I need to be patient. I don’t like being patient. It takes too long to be patient. I am learning though and trying to focus on my relationship with God so that I can be a great husband and leader one day.

So in closing, I hope, for those who are in the same boat I am, that you will continue to have faith in Christ and believe that He truly has the best for us. He wants to bless us and not hurt us at all. That is the hope I am leaning on. I hope you will lean with me. Perhaps together, we can be strong enough to be patient and wait for the wife or husband for us.

Snapshots: Embracing Identity

This past Sunday, I was asked if I would take 7-10 minutes and share what God has been doing in my life at Church. I have to admit I was nervous. I don’t get many opportunities to address people in this fashion – especially a personal fashion. When I found out that I would be sharing, I took a lot of time to consider how I was going to approach this service. Here is what I basically shared with the Church with a few extra thoughts along the way.

Have you ever taken a picture that, after you took it, you showed off to all of your friends? We are always so eager to share the pictures that come out beautiful with others. We rarely show off the pictures that have our thumb in the way or are blurry. Those are the pictures we would rather delete from our cameras. We have that luxury now in the digital era to remove a picture from our memory disk and save room for that next National Geographic photo.

I think we do the same thing in our lives. We have some great snapshots of our life that we love to share with other people. They make us look good after all. They are pictures of beauty. Meanwhile, we have these snapshots of our life that we would rarely show to anyone else. They embarrass us. They are pictures that make us look as those we are a failure. The only problem though is that we are unable to remove these snapshots from our mental disk. They are forever etched into our craniums and often rear their ugly head when we are less than prepared to deal with them. Since deleting these snapshots are a no go, we attempt to store them away in a private album that collects dust in the back of our minds – at least that is what we hope. I have come to realize though the mix of good snapshots, along with the bad snapshots might not be such a bad thing after all. At least, that is what I am learning.

I have a lot of great snapshots I could share with you:

I was adopted when I was a baby. I lived through a heart surgery that I was not supposed to live through. Confessing Jesus as Lord when I was 9-years-old. I joined a marching band and played the drums. I had my first kiss, which was awkward at first. I didn’t know how the nose and the lips worked together. Being apart of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Going to Bible College. Meeting great friends. Finding a great home church.

These are great snapshots of my life. Though only a few, I would never have a problem showing you these snapshots. They are beautiful. I have other snapshots though that I would struggle to show you:

Finding out I was a rape baby when I was 12. Hating God. Wondering why all of my friends were getting married while I was still single. Dealing with sins that included but are not limited to: lying, anger, and lust. Then there were the times of feeling abandoned, times like I wanted to give up. I would never show you those snapshots of my life because they are ugly times in my life. They are messy. As I said though, both the good and the bad snapshots of our life are mixed together and I think perhaps that is a good thing.

For me, these snapshots make up my identity. They show – for better or for worse –this is who I am. I am learning to accept my identity though. It hasn’t been easy but I am getting there. That is why I am so glad that I am in a faith community like the one I am in. The friendships I have found there are powerful and awesome. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Embracing my identity is hard. I think that is one of life’s biggest challenges. This is what I have come to learn about this identity though recently: Sharing our snapshots is important. It helps us to be more of ourselves than someone else. Also, our identity can oftentimes be compared to a Polaroid photograph. It can take a little while for it to come into focus. Sometimes we have to take a small step and watch as God takes what is not so clear and adds light to our identity. I think the reason we often struggle with our identity is that we are never willing to wait for God to bring it into focus. We are so consumed with now that we often miss out on the image we are supposed to see.

In closing, I would just like to say that our snapshots continue to take. We can’t shut off the camera. Even if we were to gather all the snapshots of our life, we should never fully see the fullness of who we are through them. There are also the snapshots others have taken along the way that are essential to our journey in knowing who we are. They are valuable. That is why I find it so hard to understand God. We only have snapshots of who He is through His Word and through the Holy Spirit. We can’t and will never have a full image of who Christ is. What we have though is more than enough for us to handle.

I am not a rape baby. I am not a waiter at a restaurant. Those things do not adequately show who I am. I am a child of God. This is where my identity lies. He adopted me – He chose me because He loves me to death – literally. Being adopted has shown me that I have a loving family that cares and being adopted shows me that, for whatever reason, I am God’s.

I encourage those of you who read my site to embrace your identity and to share your snapshots with others. Allow the snapshots that are beautiful to be shown with the snapshots that are not so beautiful. Allow people to see who you are through the snapshots of your life. Embrace your identity and journey with me. Let’s struggle together and pray for one another in hopes that we will come to a place where the snapshots of our lives and our identities meet. In it we will find clarity and fulfillment through Christ. This is who I am. This is my identity. Care to share yours?

What a Great Day!

Today was an awesome day. David Congdon preached, what I consider to be his clearest and academically sound sermon I have heard. David took a theme – the mystery of God – and gave it feet. With great analogies and examples, David produced a sermon that broke down the essentials of the Gospel. His ability to tie things together makes him a great teacher and expositor. I will definitely be listening to his sermon, which was recorded a second time.

Another aspect of today’s events that was nice includes our farewell brunch for Brian, Ginger, Cameron, and Lylia Ware. I have had the privilege of knowing Ginger for about two years, having classes with her and learning with her. She led a book study on Flannery O Connor and has challenged me in many ways. Though she and her family will be missed, it was a great time of fellowship, conversation, and stories.

When I parked my car this morning, two people who drove up in an R.V met me. They said hi, and I said hi and we entered the building. Being tired, I figured my conversation with them would end at that point. Sometimes I keep to myself and let the day take care of it. Today would be different though as I was introduced to Tim. Tim and his wife, Jenn are from Oregon. Four months ago, God told them to sell everything they had and go on a road trip that would include this far, a 7,000-mile journey. Being in Philadelphia a few days, Tim and Jenn had not made any contacts. Thinking that perhaps they were to go somewhere else, they prayed that God would show what to do. So they went online and found our church. They saw that we minister to the homeless on Monday nights so they came on Sunday to check things out. This is how I met Tim and Jenn. I truly find it amazing how God brings people to our small community in suburbia. It truly blows my mind. So – tomorrow – Tim and Jenn are going down to the city with us to hang out with the homeless. During the day, they are going to see the homeless in suburbia – right outside our back door. It is awesome how people have stepped up to help them out. Oh – and their R.V. runs off grease. With a 70 gallon tank, they can get about 1,000 miles on a full tank. That’s pretty cool. If you would like to read about their journey, check out their site here.

Coming home after a great day at church, I got to hang out with my nephew, Dylan. He is almost 11-months – old and loves to laugh. I truly love to make him smile, which usually isn’t hard. Oh – and he is a great Phillies fan!

Finally, I am thankful that Philadelphia has come through to win their sporting events. With the Eagles winning, the Flyers winning, and the Phillies winning, this is a great day for Philadelphia. The question is of coarse, “Can the Phillies do it tomorrow night?” I personally think they can. At least they are playing like they want to win. With Ryan Howard delivering some big time hits and Rollings hitting the ball well, I think Cole Hammels will lead this Phillies’ team to their second ever World Series since their franchise began 120 + years ago.

All of this to say – my day was a lot of fun. Spending time with family, friends and new friends, eating great food, watching great sports, and enjoying a great time in worship with my community, I am not sure there could have been a better day to enjoy today.

Got I.D.? (2)

I heard a story that was given in a sermon about a little girl who was waiting for her newborn brother to be born. She was very excited. Being almost five, she knew she would have tremendous responsibilities as an older sister. Finally the day had come and the girl’s mother gave birth to a healthy, little boy. Excited, the little girl could hardly wait for brother to return home. When the family returned, the parents introduced the little girl to her new brother. She then asked a very odd question, “Would you mind if I spent some time with my brother alone?” The parents were not sure what to make of this but thought about it for a moment and allowed the little girl’s request. The parents had placed a baby monitor in the baby’s room so they could hear if they would be needed at any moment. When the baby was placed in the crib, the little girl waited for her parents to leave the room. As they did, the little girl shut the door. The parents ran to the monitor and listened on the other end. Within a few moments, they could hear the little girl’s footsteps getting louder as she seemed to get closer to the crib. They then heard the crib squeak a little as the little girl pressed her body against the mattress. The whole time up until this point, the little girl had said nothing. At once, the little girl spoke to her newborn brother. “Can you tell me about God? I’ve almost forgotten.”

As I have thought more about what it means to know oneself, I read this story and relate to the five-year-old child who so desperately wants to remember God. I think when we are born we are imprinted with a memory of God that is lost early on in life because we have not held on to it strong enough. I think perhaps the reason we struggle to understand ourselves is because we really don’t know God, as we should. If we really knew the Creator then I think it would be a lot easier to live as His creation.  Thus or lives are given to the work of learning who God is and learning who we are in Him. The journey of knowing oneself is tedious. It requires more than just reading the Bible for the sake of knowledge. It requires more than just praying for personal needs. It requires more than just going to Church and networking with other people. It requires more than dumping 20.00 in the offering plate when it goes by. It requires a complete surrender of personal life. It requires a true relational framework – knowing God – loving God.

Scot McKnight came to Biblical Theological Seminary this past Friday and gave, what I consider, one of the most compelling talks on a relational framework in our approach of knowing God and, in a very real way, knowing ourselves. Scot said, “A relational framework separates God and the Bible. The Bible is paper and God is a person.” I understand that. When I get a letter from someone I know well, the way in which I read the letter is completely different than a letter I receive from someone I don’t know. I will read them both but one will resonate with me in a greater way because I have a relationship with that person. It really makes sense.

I had someone write me after I had posted my first few thoughts on identity and asked, “Where do you go from here?” That is a hard question to ask. I don’t fully know where I ought to go and how I should move forward. What I do know is that one’s journey in knowing one’s identity is very important. If we do not know who we are, we are unable to truly be who we are made to be. We cannot pretend to be other people forever. There has to come a point in our lives when our “playtime” is over and we begin to live out the life God intended us to live. I am on that journey now.

Here are some ideas and thought I have in getting closer to knowing our identity:

Know God. When we have a strong relationship with God, and He knows us, we in turn know ourselves better.

Know your story. I think it is important to know one’s story. Without our story, we have no foundation or basis to grow and move on. It is therefore important to run through the events of our lives that are significant – write them down – and share it with people often. Try to maintain your story within a time frame of 10 minutes. One of the famous lines from the movie Dragnet is when Friday said, “Just the facts madam, just the facts.” I think we would be wise to state just the facts as well.

Know love. I think that is probably one of the most difficult aspects I am currently dealing with in my walk with God. I know that I am loved. I also believe that I love myself. There are times though where I have allowed sin to hold me back from receiving God’s love and His grace. I feel I am not worthy of it and put myself down. For you and I, maybe we need have a trusted friend say over and over again, “Friend, you are truly loved by God.” Maybe after the ninth or tenth time, we will actually hear the truth and it will set us free.

Finally, know hope: One of the most important things that help us along the way is hope. Since hope is the evidence of things that aren’t seen, we hope in God that, “He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion.” As God continues to work on you and I, we have hope that He will do what He says He will do. It thus gives us reason to stand and walk boldly – in confidence. We serve a mighty God who does not forget about us but always keeps us at the forefront of His mind. That is where our hope lies.

Know God
Know your story
Know love
Know hope

In all of these things we can know so much more. We can know joy, pain, sorrow, and many other emotions, which we could list. Through all of this, we know ourselves. We know our identity – both who we are and who we are in Christ. God truly has a great plan for our lives. It is that we would know Him, that He would know us, and that we would know ourselves. This is the journey of identity.