Tasked to Testify

Taiwanese Elantris cover

My sister, Rachel, and I are about as different as two people can be.  Rachel is very extroverted, recharged by her time spent with others and adept at handling small talk with exuberance and poise.  I, however, am immensely introverted, thrilled by the thought of a quiet, uninterrupted afternoon to write or read and naturally introspective.  Sometimes I wish things were the other way around, but in general, I’m thankful that Christ designed us in the way that he did.

Why am I thankful?  Well, although Rachel is two years younger than I am, I have looked up to her and learned from her example for several years.  It’s not that I don’t like who I am or am seeking to become exactly like her.  Rather, because Rachel and I are so different, we’re each able to examine and implement the godly qualities that the other exhibits.  And, usually, the qualities that we try to implement are not those that we naturally possess.  So, it’s a good thing we’re so different because, otherwise, we wouldn’t have nearly as many chances to grow.

For example, Rachel has told me that she admires the fact that I can speak truth, sharing my genuine opinion when I think it’s necessary.  She has admitted that she speaks too quickly, without thinking it through, and occasionally talks in a way that doesn’t describe her true feelings so she can avoid hurting others’ feelings.  I don’t think that’s always a bad thing, but it has gotten her into trouble a few times.  In the same way, though, I know I’ve offended some people when I’ve spoken too honestly.

I, on the other hand, admire Rachel’s tendency to share what God has been teaching her with passion.  Many times, she will send me a text message with a Bible verse and her thoughts on it, or will simply walk up to me and ask if we can discuss what she is learning from God through Scripture, everyday life, and other Christians.  Rachel even makes the effort to ask others about their walk with God—and she truly wants to know.  Seeing as she and I share a room, there are times when I wish she would wait to talk to me until the morning (which I’ve laughingly told her before), but our conversations often ignite a fire within me, leading me to greater affection for Christ, stronger respect for my sister, and a desire to know God in a deeper, more powerful way.

This quality that Rachel has of declaring God’s work in her life to other Christians is not one that comes naturally to me.  I usually journal about what I’m learning and keep it to myself, but now, after examining Rachel and her lifestyle, I’m learning that telling others about the evidence of God’s deeds and grace in my life is important—maybe even vital—for my growth, as well as for other believers.

Let’s see what the Bible has to say about this, starting with a passage from the book of Psalms.

But as for me, it is good to be near God.  I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

Psalm 73:28

And consider these verses from Acts, spoken by Paul when he discussed his future in Jerusalem.

[In] every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Acts 20:23-24

Now, some might feel that these verses apply more to the subject of evangelism, specifically for the sake of others’ salvation in Christ.  In response to that, I should note that I’m primarily writing about Christian-to-Christian discussion in this post, but this is not to degrade the need for evangelism, for I know that every believer is called to spread the aroma of Christ, as I’ve written before.  Additionally, I would point to this passage from 1 Chronicles:

Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.  Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

1 Chronicles 16:23-24

By reading these verses, I do not believe that testifying to God’s deeds should stop with unbelievers.  It should also extend to Christians, for we, too, are living “among the nations” and are included in “all peoples” just as unbelievers are.  Plus, even we need a reminder of God’s goodness and perfection every once in a while, and, in my experience, those reminders often come from other Christians—from we who have experienced God’s grace most radically.  This can be seen in the Bible, as well, such as when Nathan came to David in 1 Samuel 12, reminding him of both God’s hatred for sin and his complete forgiveness.  And just take a look at Paul’s letters!  That guy was so wise, and he packed his many letters to churches with all kinds of reminders about Christ and his Body.  All in all, then, I would definitely say that testifying to God’s work is something that we as Christians should do for one another.

So how does sharing about God’s work in our lives (and, equally important, asking others to share) help us to grow?  To illustrate, allow me to introduce you to Prince Raoden.

Raoden

Raoden is a lead character in the book Elantris who is struck by the Shaod, or the Transformation.  The Shaod once transformed people into godlike figures called Elantrians, who possessed magical abilities and were sent to the elaborately beautiful city of Elantris to live in luxury.  Now, for reasons unknown, the Shaod transforms its victims into undead creatures who are shunned and balding, whose skin is patched and hideous, and who are declared dead by those who knew them.  Still, they are sent to Elantris, which is where Raoden discovers a city that is coated in sludge and filled with many hurting and hopeless citizens who either wander the streets or join one of several factions.  He also learns that he has no heartbeat, no body heat, and has lost the ability to heal, living in eternal pain from even such tiny wounds as a scratch until it proves too great, leading many Elantrians to insanity.  So, yeah.  Things are looking pretty bad for the former prince.

But Raoden is an optimistic man, one with the natural ability to lead and inspire those around him, and he slowly starts to reshape the hopelessness found in the city, sharing his vision of a more cheerful and unified Elantris.  Even Galladon—his closest, most pessimistic, and usually grumpy Elantrian friend—begins to look on the bright side of things as Raoden speaks of hope and rebuilds the community both mentally and physically by creating a new, cleaner part of town: New Elantris.  Sadly, Raoden and his companions are often faced with strife, such as when Raoden nearly gets his friends killed and grows discouraged after unfruitful negotiation efforts with a faction leader.  But check out this development in Galladon here, found about halfway through the book:

“I’ve failed [our friends],” he said quietly.

Galladon shook his head.  “We can’t always get what we want on the first try.  Kolo [agreed]?  You’ll find a way—I would never have thought you’d get this far.”*

And here, soon after, when Raoden and Galladon walk through the now uninhabited streets of New Elantris after events take a turn for the worse:

“Sad.  Kolo?”  Galladon regarded the now clean, but empty, houses.

“Yes,” Raoden said.  “It had potential, if only for a week.”

“We’ll get there again, sule [friend],” Galladon said.*

Did you catch that?  In both cases, Galladon is unconsciously optimistic because of the influence Raoden has had on him.  And I think this is exactly what sharing about God’s work in our lives will do for us and the people with whom we share.  You see, just as with Raoden and his consistent reminders of hope, our declarations of the evidence of Christ’s grace may very well bring others to notice the same in their own lives, as Galladon noticed the hope in his.  Pointing out the hope and grace in life leads others to notice it where they never had before.

Testifying to God’s work in our lives does much more than that, however.  These are a few more of the changes that I have noticed in my heart when I testify and ask others.

  • It points my heart to Christ, giving me a sense of awe.  It leads me to think, “Wow, God does so much for his children”, and it reminds me that he is the one who does everything—growth, blessings, trials, and whatever else is best for us (Romans 5:8).  He’s the one who is totally in charge, and I am utterly dependent upon him.
  • It makes me more thankful.  God is really gracious to work in our waning hearts and mold us to be more like him.  We definitely don’t deserve that (seeing as we can be very stubborn), so it’s seriously awesome that he takes the time to teach us.
  • It gives me a sense of unity with fellow Christians, reminding me that we are all in this together.  It leads me that to realize that we need to lovingly keep each other accountable in order to point each other to Christ and better avoid Satan’s pitfalls, because it can be pretty hard to do that on our own.
  • It reminds me of God’s glory and the lack of my own.  Just as it teaches me that God is totally in charge, it shows me that he’s the only one who deserves to be—and that that’s a good thing.
  • It wells up in me a desire for Jesus.  All of this makes me to want to know more about Christ and to know him more deeply (which I think is very important indeed).

I could probably have listed many more changes, but I’ll stop here so I can add one last thing.  I’m not saying that you have to testify about God’s work in your life verbally.  There are many other ways for you to share, such as through texting (as Rachel has done many times), social media, or even blogging, obviously!  However, I do think there is something superbly rich in sharing face-to-face with another Christian.  Ever since I’ve started trying to do so more often—even though it’s been uncomfortable for me at times—I’ve definitely noticed growth in my life.

Either way, no matter how and when you choose to testify about God’s work in your life, or whether or not you try to ask others, I want to leave you with this:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

1 Peter 2:9

I love this verse.  It brings so much to mind, like the fact that you and I, brother, are radically blessed—that you and I, sister, have so much for which we can praise God.  We have been brought from the worst of scenarios into the wonderful light of Christ, and that’s reason enough to shout out some declarations, for both our sake and others’.

So let’s go!  Let’s go and declare the praises of God, remembering who we are—chosen, special, royal—and what we are called to do.  And above all else, may our words bring glory to he who saved us, to the God who is so good to bring us into his work—to the gracious King who has tasked us to testify.

 

 

*Sanderson, Brandon. Elantris. New York: Tor, 2006. 308-40. Print.

Note: Cover image found at http://brandonsanderson.com/books/elantris/elantris/elantris-cover-gallery/, and Raoden image found at http://www.deviantart.com/art/Raoden-Elantris-286544265 as drawn by CrisMarVaz (http://crismarvaz.deviantart.com/)

Chasing Fantasies

snape and lily 2

Ever heard of PewDiePie?  AmazingPhil?  Tobuscus?  I could tell you all about them.  Way too much.

In case you aren’t aware, PewDiePie, AmazingPhil, and Tobuscus are popular YouTubers, each of whom post weekly (if not daily) videos about video games, comedy, and everyday life.  And they have become all-too-familiar faces to me this semester.

I’ll be honest—this semester was one of my hardest.  I had very little motivation to do well in my college classes, and I spent more time than ever immersed in entertainment and social media.  In the midst of tests and homework that I kept pushing off, I started to watch several new television shows and to spend many, many hours watching YouTube videos, when I had much more important things to be doing with my time.  This was not a good combination with the fact that I was taking a couple of classes that were pretty challenging for me.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love YouTube.  I like social media.  I enjoy entertainment.  (I mean, for real, I’m a college-age geek).  But there is definitely a potential for spiritual warfare in the wake of all of that, and I really faced it last semester.  I fell time and time again to the temptation of chasing fantasies.

Check out this bit of Scripture.

Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.

Proverbs 12:11

I read this Bible verse a few weeks before I finished the semester, and I thought to myself, “What in the world have I been doing?”  All those hours watching television, playing video games, watching YouTube videos…I had been chasing fantasies the whole time, when I should have been working the land.

What exactly is the difference between working the land and chasing fantasies?  To me, to chase a fantasy is to chase something that isn’t real, or that has very little quality or substance.  Basically, it’s a big waste of time, and working the land is exactly the opposite.  To work the land is to sow what is needed so that growth occurs—in this case, spiritual growth—and to make the effort to provide the revitalizing nutrition that your body needs.  Also, perhaps more importantly, it is to trust that the cultivator of the soil will allow the food to come forth in abundance, according to the work that you put into it.

It might be helpful to examine Severus Snape’s undying love for Lily Potter.

snape and lily

I love Snape as a character. Unfortunately, although his and Lily’s story is tragic, he is one of the prime examples of chasing after a fantasy.  (Harry Potter fans, I would understand if you hate me for what I’m about to say, but hear me out, and believe me when I say that I am one of you!)

To help prove my point, let me share with you a portion of the seventh book in the Harry Potter series, when Harry was sifting through a few of Snape’s memories in the Pensieve at Hogwarts.

And next, Snape was kneeling in Sirius’s old bedroom. Tears were dripping from the end of his hooked nose as he read the old letter from Lily. The second page carried only a few words:

‘…could ever have been friends with Gellert Grindelwald. I think her mind’s going, personally!

‘Lots of love, Lily’

Snape took the page bearing Lily’s signature, and her love, and tucked it inside his robes. Then he ripped in two the photograph he was also holding, so that he kept the part from which Lily laughed, throwing the portion showing James and Harry back onto the floor, under the chest of drawers…

(Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, chapter 33)*

Now read that last part one more time.

Snape took the page bearing Lily’s signature, and her love, and tucked it inside his robes. Then he ripped in two the photograph he was also holding, so that he kept the part from which Lily laughed…

By reading this section of the book, it should be clear that there was more to Snape’s feelings for Lily than a simple crush.  Snape was fanatical, even to the point that, as a grown man, he would tuck Lily’s signature into his robes and rip her family’s photo apart in order to keep part of her for himself.
This was an incredibly unhealthy attraction, and the effects were clearly evident throughout the book series.  Snape may have been one of the good guys, and he may have done some noble things in his lifetime, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he constantly exhibited both verbal and physical cruelty toward the students at Hogwarts because of his feelings.  Snape’s love for Lily and his fantasy of being in a romantic relationship with her drove him to do some very unkind things.

This is just one example of what it looks like to chase after a fantasy, and this has been my problem for the past five months.  This is why I haven’t posted on this blog all semester, why I have watched too many YouTube videos, and why little growth has occurred in my spiritual walk for a while now.  This is all to say that I should have been working the land and investing in my spiritual growth because the Bible tells me to.

For instance, take a look at this verse.

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…

Philippians 3:8

The most valuable, worthwhile thing I can do is to know Christ.  Everything else—every time I invest in things like entertainment when I know I should be doing something else that will help me to love God more—is simply garbage, because, although it can be fun, it’s not going to do me much good in the long run and could lead to many negative side effects.  It certainly lead to junk in my life this last semester, like procrastination, anger, and impatience. This is why I need to strive to be like the believer exemplified in the following verse.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.

2 Corinthians 2:14

I want to be more like this.  I want to be led by Christ, captivated by him and living triumphantly.  I want to learn how to work the land, rather than chasing fantasies, so I can spread the appeal of his aroma wherever I go, because that’s what I need to do (as shown in Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8).  And how can I spread that aroma when I’m so focused on the things that don’t really matter?  I have to focus “on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2) so I can truly grow and spread his fragrance.

With that being said, I need to make it more of a priority to work my land.  It’s going to be hard, especially because it’s summer break for me now, but I want to spend more time in the Word and in prayer, and less time in entertainment.  I want to cut back on the stuff that doesn’t really matter.  After all, refusing to run after pointless dreams any longer may lead to a few trials, but it will most definitely lead to growth.  (And maybe it’ll lead to fewer guilt-ridden blog posts).

So here’s to working the land.  Here’s to knowing Christ.  And here’s to saying “goodbye” to the fantasies that can only hold us back.

 

——

 

*Copied from http://readfreeonline.net/OnlineBooks/Harry_Potter_and_the_Deathly_Hallows/Harry_Potter_and_the_Deathly_Hallows_33.html

Alone Together

A Light in the Dark

I bestow upon you, reader, a brief and humble poem of my own creation! It’s a little different from what I usually post, but I hope you get something worthwhile from it. Enjoy!

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Alone Together

A single light shines among many alike,

The solitary heart feels and shifts and learns.

One mind fingers thoughts that were cherished in times long since past, or only days before,

By another being strangely similar, and intimately separate.

All watch as cars flash and people fleet, driving and living and doing what has already been done, yet

Few remember that all shine together, that

Every light emits its essence from the root, from the base which has given what we mindlessly accept.

This light, this feeling, these thoughts, this essence and emotion,

Comes from a giver called higher power, intelligent being, creator, who made these things that

Cling to one soul and the next and every other.

Easy enough to forget, our distant unity is idolized in strife, and pushed aside

When we choose to believe there is no other path, but to be alone,

Producing inside a dark virus, a web of depression and sickness, sewing feet to soil and coating eyes with plaster,

Blinding a servant to the truth of existence.

“Worthless” and “scum” and “stupid” are sewn over the face of those diseased, forever to remain until

Ripped away by the surgeon who placed within what we often come to hate, reminding us of beauty, and gently whispering

Of the unique stamped on every seeker, of the irony of the likeness we share.

A paradox of an alien kind speaks of fellowship and purpose, revealing an unsolvable and acceptable mystery to all,

To all who live in isolation and traffic,

To all who live alone together.

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Similar to Weaving, a poem that I posted a while back, I have a few questions for you to consider:

Are you reminded of any geeky characters or stories?

I am reminded of both Harry Potter and Aragorn (from The Lord of the Rings), along with many other heroes or heroines who often doubted themselves and who, at one point or another, felt they had to fight the battle alone.  Is it just me, or do we all think like that sometimes?

Does this have any spiritual significance to you?

I wrote this poem after considering a strange irony—the fact that we are all separate, living our own lives, and, yet, we all are intimately connected, all being created by the same God and possessing similar brains and bodies and emotions.  I love irony!

What are your thoughts?

As Good as Your Word

LOTR walking fellowship

I bet you’ve heard it before.

A man is only as good as his word.

I bet you’ve faltered, as I have, in that your actions have at least once failed to match what you said—that your word was, at one point or another, not so good.  I bet some of you struggle with it as much as I do.  And I bet some could relate to what I did a few days ago.

“Can I borrow your earphones for, like, twenty seconds?”

My brother, Connor, gave me a skeptical look.

“No, really, it’s literally twenty seconds.  It’s just one video.”

He sighed in a joking kind of way, and handed them to me as a slight grin danced on his mouth.

“Thank you,” I gushed.

I knew it wasn’t entirely true from the start.  I knew I would probably find another video to watch, and that I probably wouldn’t tell him when I clicked “play”.  And I was right.

“Uh, Kelly?”

I fingered with the earphones as my conscience quivered.  “Yeah?”

“It’s been more than twenty seconds.”

“Um, yeah, I know.”  I removed them.  “Here you go.”

He wasn’t upset, but I felt bad.  Not for long, though, as I soon forgot that it even happened.  This wasn’t the first time.

I admit, “Yeah, God, I realize I need to read the Word more often,” and give my Bible a guilty eye before turning around to do things that are more fun and less demanding of thought.  I vow to my speech therapist, with words I barely believe, that I’ll do the exercises more often next week and things will go better because it’s Christmas break, and I do exactly the same as with my Bible reading.  I tell the church youth minister, for whom I’m interning, that I will complete the assignments that he gives me, and I don’t, knowing I won’t when he makes me promise in a joking and yet sincere manner.  I make appointments with college professors and counselors, and cancel them at my convenience when I realize there are more important things to do that I should have thought of before.  I tell, and I don’t, over and over and over.

I’ve got a problem, guys.  I realized this a few months ago, but it rarely crossed my mind, until a night not long ago, when my dad gathered my mom, siblings, and grandparents in the living room for a family Bible study.  He spoke of New Year’s Resolutions and of promises and of the power held by one’s words.  He spoke, and I was convicted.  I was convicted by ancient laws from Scripture that have been taken to heart and mind by many an Israelite.

When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.  (Numbers 30:2)

I was reprimanded by his telling of one portion of Solomon’s wisdom.

It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows.  (Proverbs 20:25)

I was moved by the reminder of Paul’s instructions to all believers.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.  (Colossians 3:23)

And all of this made it clear that I’ve been really dumb—that I’ve been sinning against God and hurting others, making promises that I never intend to keep.  It also brought me to think of someone who illustrates how to do just the opposite—someone who is truly as good as his word.  He is a Hobbit, and a gardener, and his name is Samwise Gamgee.

Check out that swag

If you’ve ever read or watched the trilogy known as The Lord of the Rings, you may have recognized that Sam is one of the most incredible fictional characters ever created, despite being often overlooked.  Why?  Well, in the first film of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, Sam and another Hobbit named Frodo left their homeland at the bidding of a wizard, Gandalf, to carry out a task of great importance.  At an early point in their journey, Sam panicked when the two Hobbits became separated in a corn field, later admitting to Frodo that Gandalf had asked him to keep an eye on him.  He added that he planned to carry out Gandalf’s request, affirming his promise to both Gandalf and Frodo in that moment, and the two moved onward.

The Hobbits soon formed an alliance with others who wanted to help them on their quest, but, after a while, Frodo decided in secret to continue alone, slipping away from the group to climb into a canoe.  Sam discovered this, ran off to find Frodo, and found him at the river, but could not make him return to shore, so he waded into the water.  Being unable to swim, though, Sam began to drown, and was pulled into the canoe by a startled Frodo, who asked Sam to explain himself.

“I made a promise, Mister Frodo,” he said.  “A promise.  ‘Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee.’  And I don’t mean to.”  He started to weep as he repeated his vow in earnest.  “I don’t mean to.”

It’s a good thing Sam stayed true to his word and chased after Frodo because life got rough, especially for him.  He was kidnapped, he was hungry and parched, he was wrongly presented as a thief and liar, and, in the last film (The Return of the King), he was pushed aside by Frodo.  Frodo told him to leave, to return to their homeland alone, and to give up, which must have produced in Sam a deeper kind of hurt and pain than I have ever felt.  After having kept his promise by helping and protecting Frodo along the entire way, he was harshly rejected by his closest friend, no longer able to do what Gandalf had asked.  Everything he had done was worthless.

And this is why Sam is so incredible.  Even after Frodo did this to him, Sam still stuck to what he said he would do.  He went after Frodo once more, saved him from a terrible fate, and stood firm until the end, going so far as to carry Frodo over his shoulders across the threshold of their final destination.  Because he kept his promise, the quest was completed, and Sam proved the vitality of sticking to your word. Sam showed that making the effort to keep a promise can change lives, save friendships, and alter fate, and that doing the opposite can do much, much worse.

There are many, I’m sure, who wish they could be more like Sam, who wish they could keep to what they say, and who don’t know how to try.  I’m right there with them, but I’m not going to stop there, and this time, I will push myself to mean it.   There will be forgiveness to be asked from others when I realize I’ve strayed from my word, and I will ask of it.  There will be grace and hope and transformation to be obtained from Christ, and I will take it with humility and thankfulness.

And when I forget to keep trying—when I don’t really care anymore—I will come back to this, right here.  I will read this, and I will remember.  I will remember the wisdom of my dad’s words, of Scripture, and of Sam’s actions; I will recall the awareness that my words mean a great deal more than I realize; and I will reaffirm a promise.  A promise to keep this one, and all others.  And I don’t mean to stray from that.  I don’t mean to.