First Day in India

So, I decided to make this little blog in order to document this trip to India of Craig, Logan and I. My goal with it is to start with simple observations and leave the “heavier reflection” until I get home. But, we’ll see. One thing I’ve learned from only being in India a day is that a changed plan does not have to be such a big deal. I also want to write in this every day but, again, we’ll see.

I could write a whole book on our travel here, but I’m just going to say a few things. First, it was so cool to have our friends with us at the Cleveland airport as we departed. We really are so fortunate to be in such a loving group of people. Second, the London airport sucks. Our flight was delayed for about five hours, but Logan and I were lost for two or three of them. Somehow we had to go through security twice… One would think it would be easy there since they speak English BUT NOPE. Ha. But, it wasn’t that bad. We made it to India.

A guy named Michael and another man, whose name I cannot pronounce, picked us up in Bangalore. The drive to Sharon Gardens, where we’re staying (which is in Salem), took around four or five hours. Below are some things I saw, heard, and thought that I tried to jot down in my journal as we drove on the bumpy roads:

Noises… Smells… PEOPLE… Honking… Temples… People staring… Unfinished buildings… Advertisements everywhere… vendors… Big statues of gods/goddesses… I wish my phone didn’t die so I could take pictures… People walking and urinating wherever they damn please… Monkeys on the side of the road… Beautiful mountains…

Logan is writing in his journal next to me and he said the “word of the day” for him would either be “humbled” or “I’m a rich a-hole.” Funny, but so true. Seeing all the immense poverty as we drove down the streets was something I have never experienced. I’ve seen poor people throughout our country, but this seems so different. I wish I could post a picture of what I saw but, again, my phone was dead. Soon, hopefully. But, I cannot overemphasize the drastic difference between where I come from and where these people live. I read all about that in multiple books leading up to this trip, but seeing it for yourself is incomparable.

One specific instance that brought this to light was when we were waiting in line at a toll booth. A pregnant women, obviously poor, came up to our window holding her hand out looking for money. We had all read in books, and even talked about before, that we shouldn’t give money to people because a lot of the time they are being used by bad people as a front and if we give them money we are perpetuating the cycle. But when we looked into her hurting eyes it was just too much. None of us really even spoke a word to one another, we didn’t know what to say. For myself, I was thinking about all the thousands if not millions of hurting people in this country and throughout the world. Seeing some of it up close and personal was almost too much to handle. How are we to keep ourselves from becoming numb to all the poverty and pain in the world when it is EVERYWHERE?

I don’t have many answers yet, but one thing I came to be thankful for is that we are not here on some feel-good crusade against poverty. If that were the case, it really would be too much to bear. Instead, our only mission is to help spread God’s love a little more to people who desperately need it. If it were our own humanitarian help we were offering up it would be oh so limited. It’s true that the problems we’re seeing are overwhelming to the point of us realizing that we cannot do much at all. Thankfully, though, that’s actually a good position to be at with God. He’s the one doing the work, anyway. And I trust Him.

That thought reminds me of 2 Corinthians 3:4-5

      “Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.”

Even though it has only just begun, I think I’m thankful now more than ever that I don’t have to rely on myself to love people and that Jesus died and came back so I can live through Him. Although all of this really is so new, different, scary, and overwhelming, it really isn’t that bad at all in knowing that the loving creator of the universe is there alongside of you.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Sorry if that was sort of stream-of-consciousness-ish. It’s all still so new.

On “Out of the Silent Planet”

So, I just finished reading C.S. Lewis’ “Out of the Silent Planet” and realized that I need to reflect more. Often I simply finish a book, story, etc. and quickly move on. I like to think that I reflect “in thought” about the things I read but usually the distractions of living keep me from doing so. A lot of it is laziness, I’m sure. Regardless, I want to write more. I like writing. It helps me come to grips with what I’m thinking. One of the problems I have with writing is that I’m worried what people will think about it (and probably more-so, me) if they get their hands on the piece. However, I’m coming to realize that it just doesn’t matter. I need to reflect. Without reflection, will I ever really learn anything? Or be able to share with someone what somehow impacted me? The answer is an emphatic “No,” so I am going to reflect.

This newfound appreciation for reflection is actually one of the main things I took from reading “Out of the Silent Planet.” On page 74 of the book, Hyoi explains to Ransom how beings, or hnau (I think), on his planet Malacandra do not constantly seek out pleasure because they are content, or even happy, with simply remembering. He says, “A pleasure if full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hman, as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing.” I like this thought a lot. On merely simplistic grounds, this section of the book shines light on the idea that we find pleasure in remembering, and that if we do not remember we will be bound to repeat ourselves over and over again. It seems to tie memory, or reflection, with contentment. I find this to be true, which is partly why I decided to jot down some take-aways from my reading of this book. Hyoi then goes on to say “and how could we endure to live and let time pass if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back? – if we did not know that every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory and that these are that day?” (75-76). Anyway, that was really just a part of the book I liked the most, so I wanted to get it in here somehow. So, yes… reflection, reflection, reflection.

Moving slightly backward, now I’d like to take a look at the overall message of the book. After reading it, it’s pretty obvious that it’s one big metaphor for us as Christians fighting against the devil’s strongholds. However, it’s more than that, too. I especially like the commentary on how evil, or “bent,” we as humans are. Lewis’ use of dialogue between the different types of beings on Malacandra and Ransom does such a good job of depicting just how silly some of humanity’s problems are. Here are some of the lines of such a conversation-

“…They were astonished at what he (Ransom) had to tell them of human history- of war, slavery and prostitution. ‘It is because they have no Oyarsa (god),’ said one of the pupils. ‘It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself,’ said Augray. ‘They cannot help it,’ said the old sorn. ‘There must be rule, yet how can creatures rule themselves? Beasts must be ruled by hnau and hnau by eldila and eldila by Maleldil. These creatures have no elida. They are like one trying to lift himself by his own hair- or one trying to see over a whole country when he is on a level with it- like a female trying to beget young on herself’” (102).

Another passage from earlier in the book does a good job at showing our problems, too. Here, Ransom is attempting to ask if Hyoi and his people experience war (and in doing so has to describe what war is)-

“It was difficult to explain. ‘If both wanted one thing and neither would give it,’ said Ransom, ‘would the other at last come with force? Would they say, give it or we kill you?’ ‘What sort of thing?’ ‘Well- food, perhaps.’ ‘If the other hnau wanted food, why should we not give it to them? We often do.’”

In such a simple way, Lewis shows just how trivial humanity is at its core. Our world is filled with conflict and strife. Why? Because some groups of people have what other groups want, and then said group goes and tries to get it. It’s like we’re all stuck in elementary school or something. Lewis knows that this problem arises from us being “bent,” or fallen, or, in other words, imperfect and in need of rescue. He does such a good job of showing this simply though that even if I was not a Christian I would be inclined to take on his worldview.

One other aspect of the book I want to touch on is the “resolution” Ransom makes on his journey to Meldilorn. Right before he makes this resolution, Ransom is experiencing widely ranging emotions that, at times, make him seriously contemplate halting his trip. Ransom realizes this, though, and decides something- “He made a strong resolution, defying in advance all changes of mood, that he would faithfully carry out the journey to Meldilorn if it could be done” (85). So, even when Ransom later goes through these different emotions, he sticks to the course. This small, little part of the plot is hugely significant to me as a Christian. It reminds me of both the “second decision” and simply having real faith. As people, our emotions vary too often to even realize. At least, that’s the case for me. So, if we let these emotions run our walks with God, we’ll end up essentially embarking on a path in the midst of a maze. Instead, if we have made such a decision to trust in Him no matter what we “feel,” things just simply work out. I’ve seen this time and time again. I love how Lewis explains this through Ransom, later saying that “But all the time the old resolution, taken when he could still think, was driving him up the road” (88).

I want to talk about that last thing further, but honestly I’m getting tired. It’s late, and I’m at my parents’ house for winter break. My first winter break post-college, actually. It’s quite odd. Nice, but definitely odd.

Anyway, I really did enjoy reading “Out of the Silent Planet.” I was going to touch on this further, but another of its great qualities was how vividly Lewis describes the scenery of space. Er, wait, the “heavens.” Damn. One last thing. That whole “space” vs. “heavens” thing was also helpful to me. Ransom makes the distinction between the two, saying he thinks he thought of the vastness outside our own planet as “space” before because of his fear for the unknown. Now, though, he prefers to call it the “heavens” because of how beautiful it is and how it’s actually OUR planet that is to be feared. I like that and think it’s partly true. I think we call it “space” because we think what WE are is good and whatever is out there, unknown, is bad. Maybe what we need to realize is that we aren’t actually that good. Maybe once we realize that what we need is something we can’t provide, something that is outside of ourselves- things will start to make sense. Maybe “space,” or emptiness, despair, unknown fear, is innately inside of us & we need to reach out to the “heavens” for the cure.

 

Death, God and Funerals

Why do people change their otherwise-indifferent attitudes to God when they are faced with the reality of death? How does it make sense that most would rather not discuss God on a normal day, but fleet to churches for funerals? Are people actually interested in God but are only awakened to this concern when death occurs? Do people not see that people are dying every day? So, then, are the questions of God not present/worth considering every day as well?

These questions I hope to answer, or at least address, with what follows. You may ask, “Why?” My answer: Because death has been on my mind. Recently I have attended two funerals, one for my grandmother and the other for the father of a high school student I study the Bible with. Let there be no mistake… funerals can be devastating. Death can be disturbing. Beyond the tears that fell and the emptiness that was felt at both these funerals, one persistent idea came to mind: why are we talking about God?

To start, it seems most people lead a life as if no God exists. There, I said it. I’m not saying my grandmother or my friend’s father did not believe in God, their examples merely serve as a jumping point. Instead, I’m placing my claim onto people as a whole. To test my theory that most people live as if no God exists (or at least as if He is insignificant), try to start a conversation about God with someone. Not just a superficial, short, nice-to-meet-ya conversation either. Try starting a deep conversation. Chances are, it will not be easy. Why is this? Simply because people tend not to care.

Why do they not care? I mean, the Bible says people are being shown that God in fact exists:

“…because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Romans 1:19-20

This passage describes how people innately see that there is a God. Evidence abounds. Here lies a possible answer to the funeral question. Death both shocks and awakens us. We realize, deep down, that there must be something afterward. How can life just end? So, when death occurs, people (with their innate knowledge of God) revert to Him. Although they may have been living as if He does not exist, death is too sharp of a reminder that He most likely does.

However, the passage goes on to say how many people react to this truth in their daily lives:

“For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…” Romans 1:25

Although God makes His existence evident to us, not all people choose to believe. Since we are prone to living selfish lives, it becomes almost natural to live as if no god exists. While this is philosophically easy enough to practice on the daily level, when a hardship such as death occurs the sentiment comes up dry. It is simply not enough to base life on. Do we all just live, die and feed the soil we are buried in?

Here’s where the good news comes into play. We don’t have to just rot after death:

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God…” John 1:12

Simply put, God wants to come into a relationship with you. He wants you to experience a full, significant and eternal life. All you have to do- all you can do- is ask for His forgiveness and for Jesus’ death to count for you. After that, you are set. You are then viewed as His child.

If a person has done this, his or her family has something real to put their hope in upon death:

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

This is amazing! Instead of a sense of utter despair upon death, we can delight in the fact that the person (who put his or her faith in Jesus) is going to heaven. Sometimes, I think the phrase “good news” puts this too lightly. It is amazing, awesome, beautiful news.

Overall, I guess the whole purpose of this little blog is to hopefully serve as some sort of wake up call. Instead of considering God’s existence when dark times arise, why not do so now? The sad fact is we all are going to die. Luckily, though, it does not have to be sad.

Predicting the Future

Wouldn’t it be cool if God gave us verifiable evidence that He has a plan? I think so. I mean, imagine if the creator of the universe was like, “hey, so uh, imma send my son down to save all ya’ll in exactly 476 years. Just sayin’.” I mean, that would be pretty awesome.

Alright, so I guess I tricked you. This actually happened… for real. God straight up told us, through prophecy in the Old Testament (Daniel 9), when Jesus was going to come. It’s not a fairy tale, I didn’t make it up, it’s real.

But, just saying it’s true doesn’t mean it is. So, I’m going to attempt to go through the prophecy in a detailed, concise way with this post.

Daniel 9: 24 (New International Version) “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.”

The verse is saying this is a prophecy to end all prophecies. All sin is going to be paid for, what the whole Old Testament has been pointing to is finally coming. What has the Old Testament been talking about, though? The coming of Christ.

Micah 5:2 tells us that Jesus was going to be born in Bethlehem, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Isaiah 7:14 shows that Jesus’ mother will be a virgin, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

There is prophecy written before Jesus was born that describes His life. This is pretty cool stuff. Daniel 9 wraps it all up, telling us when Jesus is coming with precision.

Let’s look back up at Daniel 9: 24. What’s the deal with the “Seventy ‘sevens’” business? Before listening to this teaching, I had no idea. But, this type of language was actually common to the people of Daniel’s time.  A “seven” means a Sabbath. In the Old Testament, a Sabbath is generally referred to in years (not weeks or days). This is shown in Leviticus 25: 4 “but during the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard.”

The main point is that a “seven” in Daniel’s context means seven years. Daniel 9:25 gives more detail, “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.”

This verse is explaining when Jesus was to come! 7 ‘sevens’ plus 62 ‘sevens’ is 69. Each ‘seven’ is referring to sabbatical years (or seven years). So, we simply multiply 69 by 7 which leaves us with 483 years.

But, where do we start the clock? What date can we say is the first of the 483 years? There have been a few suggestions over time, but the only logical one is 444 B.C. In Daniel 9: 25, it says “the world goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem,” which means Jerusalem was in ruins and was beginning to be rebuilt. In Nehemiah 2: 5 it says, “…send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it,” which shows that Jerusalem was about to be rebuilt. The date of Nehemiah 2 is marked in verse 1, “And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes…” This isn’t just a made up dude, and this isn’t a made up date. Google search Artaxerxes and you’ll quickly find that his reign started in 465 B.C. So, his twentieth year would be 444 B.C.

Alright, we’re getting there. It’s really not that complicated. We already did the math from Daniel 9, which left us with 483 years. Now, we simply move the timeline starting at 444 B.C. 483 years ahead, giving us 39 A.D.

But actually, if we want a more precise date, we need to do a little bit more math. In Daniel’s time, people used the lunar calendar. Their months (and therefore, years) were based on the moon, which left them with a 360 day year. Presently we use solar years and have 365.25 days in a year. In order to be as exact as possible, let’s change our math to fit in with the 5 day difference in year measurements. Originally, we calculated 483 years. Multiply 483 years by 360 days to get 173,880 days total based on lunar years. Take those 173,880 days and divide by 365.25 days to get 476 solar years. To sum up, all we did was convert 483 lunar years to 476 solar years.

Let’s re-do the date we found, then. Starting from 444 B.C. and moving forward 476 years, we come to 32 A.D. But wait, there is still something wrong with this math. There is actually no such thing as “year zero.” Instead of going from 1 B.C. to 0 to 1 A.D., we go from 1 B.C. to 1 A.D. To fix our math, then, all we have to do is add a year, which leaves us with a final answer of 33 A.D. Woah… wait a second… didn’t something happen in 33 A.D.? Yes! 33 A.D. is the best educated-estimate of when Jesus was arrested and killed on the cross!

How about we take a step back from this? It might seem a little complicated with all the math, but it really isn’t. I just wanted to be as detailed as possible. But think about what this means! Daniel 9 LITERALLY predicts Jesus’ crucifixion to the EXACT year!

What does this mean? It means that God has communicated with us, that He has not left us out to dry, that He cares. Seriously, this is HUGE. God has spoken to us through the Bible. As a believer in Christ, this kind of revelation further cements my faith and, frankly, gets me excited. If you are not a believer, this is what God is all about. Believing in God does not mean one forfeits all the conventional styles of inquiry. There is evidence out there.

 

P.S. I’m open to any kind of conversation regarding the topic, whether you agree or disagree with my conclusion.

Shout in the Streets

Having been back home (in Columbus) for the last few weeks, I have come to realize my immense deficiency in walking with God. After my final exams, I came back home with great hope for what the coming weeks could bring. There were so many people I wanted to hang out with, show compassion towards, and finally talk to about God. At the time, the word ‘optimistic’ would not have even come close to what I was feeling. However, as time evaded me, I realized how quickly my cowardice swoops in. Instead of going out of my way to build up or encourage, I would make a joke. Rather than talking about God, I talked about sports. These things are not inherently wrong, but Jesus definitely did not call for submissiveness.

He Himself said in Matthew 5:14-16 “’You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.’”

Here, Jesus was explaining to his Disciples that they needed to be bold in their sharing of the gospel.  This applies to us as well; there simply is not enough time to be shy. However, the fact remains that whenever I try to talk to someone about God, my inner introvert comes shining through. It does not have to be that way, though!

Paul says in Ephesians 4:21-24 “if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth”

Inherently, I am a pretty shy person. But in those verses it says that we are made into the “new self, which (is) in the likeness of God”! I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure God is not shy.  Thus, there is no need for me to be worried about what people may think. I have the all-loving creator of the universe on my side! And since I have accepted His awesome free gift of grace, there is no excuse for me not to share it with others.

Back in Matthew (7:26) Jesus says, “’Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.’”

To be blunt, it is selfish, lazy, and disgraceful to not share the knowledge of God’s undying love. Since we have been given this gift free of charge, it should be easy to let others know about it.

One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 1:20, where it reads “Wisdom shouts in the street, she lifts her voice in the square”

I don’t think the verse is saying we should become street preachers; instead, it is proclaiming how readily available God’s knowledge should be. Emptiness surrounds us as we walk through the city, but God’s love (and wisdom) is there screaming that the world does not have to be this way. As followers of Christ, we absolutely need to be spreading His love to the people around us. Although we will always struggle (me, especially), God has so much love and grace just waiting to be poured out amongst the masses

A Little Late

Well, I wrote this almost a month ago. But, it’s Easter this weekend, so I figured this somewhat applies to the moment.

Ash Wednesday

So, today is Ash Wednesday. To be honest, I was actually unaware of this until my little sister texted me and asked if I was giving anything up.  I’m not. According to Catholic Online,

“Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption.”

For Lent, many Christians give up a part of their normal life in order to reflect the sacrifice Christ made when going to the cross for the world’s sins. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, these people also do not eat meat.

American Catholic’s website states that

“In addition, all Catholics 14 years old and older must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent.”

The website goes on to say

“The obligation to do penance is a serious one; the obligation to observe, as a whole or ‘substantially,’ the days of penance is also serious.”

So, many Christians (or at least Catholics) are required by their faith to give up meat on certain days throughout Lent.

I was raised Catholic, and I never refrained from eating meat on any of those days throughout my childhood. Does this mean God is mad at me? Or, because of my eating habits on these “Holy” days, does God not care about me? Absolutely not! That is truly and utterly ridiculous. Ephesians 2:8, 9 reads

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Thus, God does not judge us based on our deeds. Instead, the only way we can come to know Him is by simply accepting His free gift of life. If you want this eternal life, all you have to do is pray for Jesus’ death on the cross to apply to you. That’s all, it’s so simple!

While Christian’s everywhere are giving up meat today, I (a vegetarian) considered eating meat. I have not eaten meat in two years, but it almost seemed right to eat meat today in order to prove a point (I decided to write this instead, though). It does not matter what we eat, it does not matter what we do, the only thing that matters is if we accept God’s free gift or not. James 2:10 says that

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking it all.”

We can go on trying to impress God, but like Kobe Bryant showcasing his basketball skills to a blind man, our efforts will be futile.

Now, I am not attempting to bash everyone who follows these regulations during Lent. I understand that for some, it may help their relationship with God. Romans 14:2-3 says

“One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.”

Still, I think the whole idea of Lent and giving up certain foods/habits reflects the Christian message negatively. Instead of focusing on these arbitrary rules, Christians should relay God’s message of love to the rest of the world. Romans 13: 10 proves that God (through his grace) simply wants us to love one another rather than focus on works (like fasting),

“Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”