Categories
Adventure

A Strategy for Seeking After God?

I’m going to bring you into some “inner circle” communication I sent to a few of the guys in my small group, formatted and a little more fleshed out for a blog post.

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It’s been on my mind over the last couple months to have a plan or strategy for being focused on seeking after God by Scripture and prayer the coming year. This is coming out of finishing up Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks, which I have been haphazardly reading since mid-2013. (You can read the post where I started that here —> https://thelongroadtozion.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/the-weak-to-make-war/)

This was the last time I approached any devotional reading strategically enough to come up with a plan. None of this is overly complicated. The very simple skeleton is read a Psalm then read a section from the book, or vice versa. Leading out of the readings that went with my Precious Remedies plan, the framework of my focus for 2018 is two fold:

memorize Psalm145

pray through Valley of Vision using Joe Thorn’s prayer guide http://www.joethorn.net/valley/

Why Psalm 145? Originally, my plan was to memorize Isaiah 55, which is a marvelous passage of Scripture that captures a pillar of what this blog and my motivations stand under if you’re inclined to look it up. (It is also the content of the second half of Andrew Peterson’s amazing song The Sower’s Song). The picture Isaiah paints of the coming of Zion is a sweet balm to my soul when it is weary and distracted. However, while reading Psalm 145 in accompaniment with Precious Remedies, it seemed to be like an unusually timed wealthy mine, turning up a new jewel every time I turned to it. I then heard a sermon expositing the Psalm (Longing for Jesus @ EastNorth Church), and felt inclined to marinate in it over the coming year.

Please ask me about it, and pray for me that the Holy Spirit would help me push back against the darkness and distractions that keep me from seeking fellowship with God. Really, as moody and distracted and caught up in myself as I can get, if at any time you wish to pray for me, especially if you do not know how or what to pray for, please refer to Psalm145. Pray all or a section of that Psalm over me that God would make it true of me and my life.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. – James 4:8

Do y’all have any specific plans to focus your seeking after and drawing near to God in 2018? For all of us, whatever we plan to implement, we can’t forget to pray and ask God that he would make that work fruitful. We are dependent and can’t build this house on our own.

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Psalm 145 , English Standard Version (ESV)

1 I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.

2 Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.

3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.

4 One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.

5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

6 They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.

7 They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9 The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.

10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you!

11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power,

12 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. [The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.]

14 The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.

15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.

16 You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.

18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.

20 The LORD preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

Categories
comics

Thoughts on Judas 1:4

“Every story needs a villain.”

A couple months ago, I first saw the solicitations for a new mini-series from BOOM! Studios. Having read a few different mini-series that BOOM! has published (like Warlords of Appalachia and Bill & Ted Save the Universe), I was familiar with the quality and attention that goes into their art form. Seriously, a whole comic that isn’t half advertisements? Plus, this may seem a small thing, but the paper quality gives the book a tactile richness that most Marvel or D.C. books don’t have.

Immediately, Judas was a title that caught my interest. Especially that it was a mini-series, which tells me the author has a story to tell. Any story that had Judas front and center is bound to be controversial to someone. Going into it, I wanted to make room for any theological disagreements I might have to try (while also not picking those points apart) and understand the story Jeff Loveness and Jakub Rebelka are trying to tell.

The first panel immediately drew me in.

The gravity to that statement, Did you know it would be me?, lays out the premise for the story. Judas sets himself up as the lynchpin of Jesus’s plan to glorify Himself and rescue people. Judas is wrestling with his predestined path as the fall guy. It all depended on his sacrifice to make God’s plan go forward. Enter discomfort.

Within the first few pages, I found myself wondering what this book is trying to say? Judas begins with questioning, and the tone escalates to accusation. There is a part of that that makes me cringe, and then there’s a part I find as brilliant storytelling. Is this accusation a sentiment that Jeff Loveness shares, or are we only pulling back the curtain and getting into the mind of Judas Iscariot, the most famous traitor of all time?

As the mental movement of Judas dives deeper with each question, it culminates that there is a personal pain that makes each question twist like a knife in his back. We hear the classic thought of God, if you are good, then why is there suffering in the world? None of these questions are unexpected, or even unreasonable for any doubter or seeker among us.

There is one particular series of panels that have Judas evading demons in pursuit of him. What makes this page particularly the most uncomfortable for me is the overlay of Isaiah 53:3-4 across the panels: He was despised… and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” The juxtaposition of those words describing Judas and/or Jesus is heavy. Coming to a close that is to be continued, we find Judas at the feet of another in another parallel that sends me back to wondering what is going on.

One thing I wondered about that is not in the comic is Peter. He also betrayed Jesus, but instead of 30 pieces of silver, it was for his own skin and reputation. They were both traitors, yet one of them ran to Jesus for grace and forgiveness, and the other was self-condemned and hung himself. This is something I’d like to see explored more, if not in the series, then at least conversations.

As a graphic and visual medium, the art is wonderfully dark and feels representative of the reeling dizziness in Judas’s own head. Jakub Rebelka has done a masterful job here.

In the Bible, Jesus asks his disciple Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” I don’t think that this comic is telling us who Jesus is, though that Isaiah bit feels like it’s dancing on a boundary for me. I think Judas 1:4 is an imaginative and speculative exploration of Judas. In addition, it raises questions our culture is asking, and I think it would be detrimental to not look those questions straight in the face. Do I have all the answers to every question or doubt that could ever be raised? No. There are gaps in what I comprehend. However, I have every reason to believe, even in spite of those questions, in the goodness and trustworthiness of God. Questions and doubts are not a threat to Jesus. He can handle them. That being said, even if controversial, I feel this book is a good gift. Judas, as a comic book mini-series, is an overlapping of circles. The conversations that can come out of people reading it could be so beneficial.

Judas is a four part mini-series, and I’ve already asked my LCS (Local Comic Shop) to put it in my pull box. I’ll check back in every month as the story unfolds. If you’re reading it as well, let’s talk about it!

Categories
Adventure

A new step on the Long Road

It’s been almost 18 months since this blog has seen anything new. In that time, I’ve thought several times about how to move forward with it, buying the domain name, how I can increase traffic, what I could post to get new content twice weekly, how to narrow my focus so there is some cohesiveness to all of this, how to manage social media, how to make the blog easier for me to manage, etc. I was thinking consumeristically. How can I make The Long Road to Zion an asset that generates an income? Ahhh, that very statement reveals in itself how I have lost my way.

Do I have something to say? Maybe. I’m kind of a scattered dude. Stuck in my own head and tangled when I open my mouth. I do like writing, though, and this gives me the opportunity for that. There are things I wonder about, and maybe if I’m wondering about them out loud, someone else is wondering about them, too? Things strike me as interesting.

One of those things has been social media, specifically Facebook. A few months ago, I left because I was so distracted by it. Then I grew proud that *I* wasn’t using it, so am I nullifying any benefit being away had? I’d also increased my isolation. As I reactivated my account again for the who knows how many-eth time and began to post, I noticed circles of friends.

It’s interesting, but somehow frustratingly compartmentalizing (and maybe even self-focused?), how I can kind of guess who may like what. Family posts get their set of likes, outdoor posts get their set of likes, geeky game and comic posts get their set of likes, theological posts get their set of likes, and so on. I’d love to see those circles blending into each other. This could be where the self-focus comes in but, all of those topics are from the same person. I don’t want to show one side to one group and another side to another group. It’s all me.

A few years ago, I was given the advice to write about what I love. Sometimes I’ve written propaganda on here. Go ahead and look back through the posts, you’ll figure it out. The last few I wrote on Seek the Kingdom turned to curiosity and wondering. I don’t want to try to get you to do something. I don’t have it all figured out. Some things I do believe make sense as they’ve remained solid in the midst of my shakiness. What I want to say if you’ve felt that manipulative propaganda from this blog or me in person, I’m sorry. You are a person, made in the image of God, and deserve better than a blog post to try to move you from one point to another.

What does all of this have to do with this blog? Where I want to go with The Long Road to Zion, going forward.

1. Relationships. This is what the circles taught me. If you’re reading this, it’s because you’re in my family, my church, my work, my hobbies, or the places I frequent. I doubt that this blog will reach past those narrow lanes of local traffic, however, it’s in those lanes that my life is in. If that’s you, I want to make The Long Road to Zion a place of hospitality that invites you in. Not in to agree on all things, but in to relate. Maybe our circles can start overlapping some more for the sake of the community we find ourselves in. Maybe this can be a tool that helps us love and understand and empathize with each other better. That would be awesome if that fruit came from this.

2. Space to figure stuff out. As I alluded to earlier, articulation is not my strength when I’m talking to you face to face. It seems like one thing I do is to set up straw men and end up trying to figure out things that aren’t really what’s bothering me in the first place. I don’t even have myself figured out, let alone those people close and closer to me. Binary thinking is a topic of conversation these days, and already being prone to an all-or-nothing way of thinking myself, I want to push back on that. I want to see if I can look at things and see them in a different way. Not an untrue way, but from an angle I haven’t seen them before. With every circle comes its own culture that can give us tunnel vision. In the Bible, Jesus sums up the greatest commandments as, “Love God, love your neighbor.” How can I do either of those if my eyes are only focused inward to what I know and am comfortable with?

3. A move to WordPress. Perhaps the most boring of all. As Google removed mobile support for Blogger, I found their desktop site on mobile to be difficult to manage. I don’t like loading up my laptop for much more than loading up my iPod. Trying to save all my “great” content from old site to this new site has not been functionally the smoothest. As I’m caring less about what I can preserve or how I can streamline it to a cash flow, but still need to technical support of an app so I can have my blogging preferences met, I’ve set up a redirect from the blogspot address to this WordPress address

I hope as I use The Long Road to Zion to capture some of the progress of a pilgrim, that you will continue to walk with me, and that God will crack open some of what’s eternal and bring it into what is present and common.

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A few words of thanks to those who in my circles have inspired me to be creative. Jenny, my wife, your faithfulness to love me at my worst is the clearest reflection of the Gospel I have. In addition, one way you love me is by always supporting the ideas I have, even if I never get them off the ground. You are an encourager. Jason and Justin from work, you guys have encouraged me to write. Matt, Ryan, Stan, Nathan, Paul, and Steve from church, y’all have walked the long road with me as I’ve walked and stumbled and fallen. Jack at The Cardboard Herald, you’ve celebrated creativity and inspired me to feed that. The staff at Borderlands Comics & Games, y’all have shown me how to not be so stuffy as an adult, but helped rekindle my love of art and story.

Categories
Adventure

Seek the Kingdom: Sorrow and Sighing Will Flee


“And the redeemed of the Lord will return

and come to Zion with singing,

crowned with unending joy.

Joy and gladness will overtake them,

and sorrow and sighing will flee.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭51:11‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

I feel that regardless of one’s worldview, suffering and pain, sighing and sorrow, are present. As for me, I find identity not as someone who has earned any right to God’s favor, but as an undeserving object of mercy who had no claim to any kind of redemption. Yet, here I stand, many times weak and wavering, but with hope in the Lord who is never wavering. His Kingdom is coming. In the book Pilgrims Progress, author John Bunyon refers to the Kingdom of God as the Celestial City. Our sorrow and sighing will not outlast our Savior and the City he is bringing us to. The pains we go through are real, but because of Jesus, they will not last forever. Rest WILL come!

If I have not to look forward to Zion, the Kingdom of God, where Yahweh, his bride – the redeemed church, and his creation all intersect, where sorrow and sighing are only memories that increase the joys we will have, what good is my hope? My hope is that in Christ, the dwelling place of God is with man. God will bring his kingdom. We will have the Lord, and with the Lord, we will have all that is good. Zion without God is no Zion at all.

“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭23:1‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

In the classic book Precious Against Satan’s Devices, Thomas Brooks explains on of the devices that Satan uses to keep the saints in a sad condition. Surely our sighing and sorrow adds to that. In losing the comforts we have had in the joy of our salvation and redemption, it is a gentle slope to feeling hopeless and discouraged. To forget who we are is in need of a remedy. We must not lose sight of our hope! One of the remedies that Brooks gives the reader echoes Isaiah 51:11.

The fifth remedy against this device of Satan is, to consider, That God will restore and make up the comforts of his people. Though your candle be put out, yet God will light it again, and make it burn more bright than ever. Though your sun for the present be clouded, yet he who rides upon the clouds shall scatter those clouds, and cause the sun to shine and warm your heart as in former days, as the psalmist speaks: ‘You who have showed me great and sore troubles, shall quicken me again, and shall bring me up again from the depths of the earth. You shall increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side’ (Psalm 71:20, 21).

God takes away a little comfort, that he may make room in the soul for a greater degree of comfort. This the prophet Isaiah sweetly shows: ‘I have seen his ways, and will heal him; I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him, and to his mourners’ (Isa. 57:18). Bear up sweetly, O precious soul! your storm shall end in a calm, and your dark night in a sunshine day! Your mourning shall be turned into rejoicing, and the waters of consolation shall be sweeter and higher in your soul than ever! The mercy is surely yours—but the time of giving it is the Lord’s. Wait but a little, and you shall find the Lord comforting you on every side. See Psalm 126:6, and 42:7, 8. 

May we all find our rest in remembering that we are redeemed in Christ, and he will bring about his kingdom that will know no end. Sorrow and sighing will flee. Our joy and happiness and singing and gladness will know know end, because Jesus will know no end.

Categories
Adventure

Book Review – If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty by Eric Metaxas

After the construction of the Constitution, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Do we have a monarchy or a republic?” Franklin replies, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Echoing the words of Benjamin Franklin, Eric Metaxas is helping the reader to remember that we cannot simply take America, or the promise of America, for granted. Yet, many Americans have fallen asleep to what that even means. While reading If You Can Keep It, I went through a wide range of thoughts. I nearly felt fickle as I tried to decide what I thought of If You Can Keep It as I read it, but couldn’t make up my mind. For this review of the book, I want to try and sort out some of those thoughts. I’ll begin with sharing one of my favorite quotes from the book, then go from there.

“If one’s thoughts were regulated by the power of the state, 

how could one really be free?” 

~ Eric Metaxas

America. Based on your story, on the narrative that has been part of your life, just to say American is bound to bring up all different kinds of thoughts and feelings. Am I proud of my country? Disgusted with my government? In an election year where nobody seems happy with our choices, considering what The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty is seems very timely.

One of the major themes of the book is American exceptionalism. Admittedly, I am working through my own thoughts on this. In America we have freedom, democracy, liberty… well, at least some of us do. Can America really be exceptional with all of the blood on her hands? Let’s face it. There have been a lot of atrocities that have occurred on American soil and by Americans. Metaxas says to focus only on America’s successes while ignoring her faults is as much as a fallacy to avoid as to only focus on her faults without acknowledging her successes. He handles this gently while never dismissing any one persons or groups plights and sufferings.

There are so many issues today, it can feel like there is no point in trying to be an influence. I believe the approach Eric Metaxas takes in If You Can Keep It is a macroview assessment of America. We must balance all of our experiences, the truth of America’s history, against not who the USA is on the world stage, but the PROMISE of America. The promise that the Statue of Liberty reminds us of.

“Give me your tired, your poor, 

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, 

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.

When I read those words, I love them. But can I say this is my American experience? Even as I’m here because my great ancestors saw those words for themselves and came to America’s shores in search of liberty, it is not my experience that many people carry that sentiment. I haven’t. I think that is Eric Metaxas’s point: we have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten the promise of America. When we forget and cease to live by these virtuous truths, when we cease to live for others and live for ourselves instead, we cease to be America. We will implode. Metaxas is encouraging us to remember who we are, a nation who exists – in promise – to bring liberty to our neighbors.

The urgency of If You Can Keep It is to love our country. That may seem difficult with a look at the headlines of today or the past. The praiseworthy should be praised, and the hideousness should be acknowledged and repented from. We must not forget. If we the people of America further forget who we are intended to be, we will cease to be the fullness of who we were meant to be and become a shell. America in name only.

How can we remember? What did our founding fathers want? They were escaping from the tyranny of oppression coming from Britain. They wanted to be their own people group with their own freedoms to govern themselves. Despite their many faults, this should strike a chord with many of us. We desire the freedom and promise of America. Too good to be true, you say? We are not there, but we must remember and believe in THAT America.

Personally, as a Christian, there is some tension for me while reading the book. I see that I am in exile in this world, and where I’m at in this world is America. My true kingdom is God’s country, and He will bring it about. At the same time, I need to acknowledge that what freedoms I have here are God given and a foretaste of that great country that awaits for me. America may or may not become a shell of the true American promise, but whatever happens, America will always be a shell of God’s eternal city. I don’t know what role America will play in the timeline of history. I don’t believe that America is a continuation of God’s people of Israel in the Bible, though I would be curious to know what position Eric Metaxas holds on that thought. Regardless, the best of what is America should make us long for heaven, and allow us to enjoy God through the gift that He has made America is to its people. With eternity in mind, as a Christian, we should seek to bring as much of the future into the present as we can. We should fight to taste those eternal shores of the justice and truth of God’s country while we are still waiting for it. Eric Metaxas did not go this direction in the book, but it is the direction and extent that I would take with what he wrote.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase of being too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good. I propose that if you are of no earthly good, you are not heavenly minded enough. It is with one eye on heaven that we should proclaim “all men are created equal!” and seek to bring the future into the now, even though we know full reality of reconciliation between God and man, and man and man, will not occur until heaven.

One of the main threads Eric weaves through If You Can Keep It is the Golden Triangle, inspired by Os Guinness. The three points of this are freedom, virtue, and faith, all of which are dependent on one another for a truly free society. I found it interesting how even Benjamin Franklin was a part of this, as he did not seem to have a faith of his own. The section on leaders and virtue was excellent.

Some of the other discussions I thoroughly enjoyed were on Nathan Hale, statues in Central Park, and the veneration of heroes. The exposition of The Midnight ride of Paul Revere made me realize just how much I had forgotten the promise of American liberty. Later in the book, the section on Abraham Lincoln and his leadership on the brink of the Civil War was truly inspiring, especially on how America will either live forever or die by suicide. The Lincoln quotes that Metaxas gives us are a wealth of wisdom. Even on a microlevel, I was convicted and encouraged at the same time with how can I specifically love my brothers and sisters here.

As the book was coming to a close, I found myself thinking, “This is all great and inspiring information, but what am I supposed to do with it?” What Eric Metaxas proposes we do with the information he gives us in If You Can Keep It is surprisingly simple, but profound and impactful. How can we love our country, love the liberty we have, and exist to use our freedoms for the benefits of others? It will go beyond how we act in the public square, but will get right down to how we will inspire and govern ourselves as individuals.

For me, I found myself asking the question, “How now shall I live?” The answer, which I believe is a natural extension of If You Can Keep It, was found in the book of Micah in the Bible.

He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 ESV

You can read more about If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty at http://ericmetaxas.com/books/if-you-can-keep-it/

*Disclosure: I was accepted to be part of the Launch Team for If You Can Keep It by the publisher. I was asked to give my honest thoughts, but in no way did this require a positive review for the book.