Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Point Form Rebuttal (For now)

- It seems righteous for God to cleanse our memories, but I don't understand how we can better serve Him by not knowing how we came to.

- Christ told His disciples that the least on Earth (presumably the one who kept the least of himself) would be the greatest in heaven.

- Obviously, Christ was the one to give the most of Himself, giving up His entire self on our behalf. I think it fair to assume that the He who overcame sin, surviving three days in hell, will bear none of the person who entered it so that we might not be inherently condemned to it. This new, reborn version of the LORD Himself is the one we'll meet when we stand to be judged. As humans, even our sense of victory is limited. Christ not only defeated sin, He did so in such a pure, superlative manner that it's as if He never touched the stuff. This, if nothing else, I believe.

- I think I understand more than I'm acknowledging but have been indoctrinated with a concept of identity that is trying to preclude me from finding true salvation. This may be part of the journey and not a reason to abandon it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

My Final Post?

Not to sound cocky, but I think I've stumbled upon the ultimate Christian test. After reading behemoths like Isaiah, I guess I assumed I'd tear through the New Testament. In truth I'm crawling, but it's humbled me in transcendent ways I couldn't begin to describe. Reading the sermon on the mount, I was darn near overcome with tears-- I've never read such a loving encapsulation of how selflessly and purely this world should function. Like all Scripture, it interconnects intuitively: the only way to be one with Christ is to love one's brother and neighbour, to never deny anyone, and how else could His suggestion to "let tomorrow worry about itself" ever bear fruit? The con: it would work perfectly if the whole world embraced it. The pro: it would work perfectly if the whole world embraced it. Let us never assume that this world needs to be the greed-centric cesspool it is. That's what humanity collectively chose for itself. I digress.

"So what's his freaking point?" you're wondering. All the laws and rituals and covenants are about as meaningless as your fingerprint. I finally understand what Solomon was talking about in Ecclesiastes when he dwelled so much on that term: meaningless. The fact is, by living a flawless and perfect life, you become what Christ describes equally as the greatest and the least. Least in that you have nothing: not your possessions, not your will, not your memories, not even your identity. Greatest in that you have everything: Oneness with Him. Ironically, I'm not sure I've ever met someone mature and faithful enough to truly take up the cup. Here it is, 824 pages into my Bible, the first verse I can't accept:

Matthew 22:30
At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

Like angels in heaven. What do we know about angels in heaven? Well, firstly, they rendered it imperfect. God, in his divine foresight, could have prevented all forms of anguish and pain had He simply chosen to do one thing differently: not create Satan. Of all the things God chose to permit, that's the one that set the little clump of snow rolling down the hill to eventually become a cataclysmic ball of destruction. We'd like to think that God, in His holiness, didn't invent evil. Perhaps He didn't. Then again, I didn't create dynamite, but I were created with a mind bent on destroying things, and subsequently handed a stick of the stuff, who truly sets it off? So let's be fair: whether we want to credit the LORD with evil's creation or not (moot point, in many ways), we must acknowledge one great truth: without it, there would be no means of testing faith. Christ said as much:

Matthew 18:7
"Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!"

Not evil has come. Evil must come.

And so, as we finally coast into my point (it wouldn't be a me post, were it not verbose), what must you surrender to be spared damnation? Absolutely everything. And, please, don't think in terms of the physical world. Instead, think of your most precious memories, the people with whom you've shared everything this world has tricked you into falsely justifying with emotion. Virtually everything you hold dear, from the tangible to the esoteric, your principles, your personality, the silly notion that you might meet loved ones in heaven, surrender it all. Once you do, you become nothing in yourself and everything in Christ.

Matthew 22:23-32
23That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24"Teacher," they said, "Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. 25Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27Finally, the woman died. 28Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?"

29Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."

Bear with me now: the reason we don't feel the loss of those we don't get saved, is because even our very identities die on the cross. The reason our lives are meaningless, as Solomon wrote, is because we answer to this ultimatum: keep yourself and let it suffer eternal anguish, or forget yourself and live in Christ. But how many of us hold dearly to the selves through which our eyes gaze? How many of us want heaven to be a meeting place for the individualities we create on Earth, a place for us to convene with fellow believers and worship and serve God forever? To me, if I am to be replaced with an angelic being, I question this whole notion of self. I question whether heaven and hell are just slants, not opposities. New lenses through which an unknown me might have the privilege of existing forever. We think about damnation as punishment, but it seems to me that what Christ tells us through Matthew that our ultimate fate is more a matter of station, not bliss or oppression.

In case you haven't realized it yet, this is absolutely the greatest hurdle I expect to encounter on my Christian journey. So much, in fact, that I feel it can't continue until someone picks me up and places me on the other side of this hurdle. Selfishly, when I first read the above passages, I was somewhat embittered about my self-instilled belief that our lives are better when shared with a soulmate. (Thanks, Disney!) I felt that, while I may experience joy in this world, that it could be tenfold, or more, if shared with a trusted confidante. Ever since I was five, I wanted someone like the heroes in those animated films had. It didn't have to be as glamourous, but it had to be as real. And when I first read Matthew 22:30, I felt robbed of that. But upon reflection, I feel robbed of my very identity. This in spite of the fact that I realized quite some time ago that Christ wasn't asking for me to clean up my lifestyle. No, God wants us to be living sacrifices to Him, not for us to sacrifice earthly things but to be sacrifices ourselves. And yet, in my selfishness, I chose to limit that to things I do or act or think. I often fail, but that's where I had drawn the line in the sand. Didn't realize I was the line.

So, tell me, if you dare, how does it sit with you? Maybe my interpretation of the above passages are completely bonkers, but it seems to me that I couldn't sit here and think of anyone in my life who I could cite as an example. I'm not meaning that to sound condescending; I'm a complete failure at what I've interpreted. Not enticed by hedonism, mind you, but pretty sour on the idea of salvation, at least for the time being. I don't mean to throw in the towel, but I fail to see the joy of serving God and worshipping Him forever if He needs to replace me with a perfect automaton-- though I should have clued in much sooner; all imperfect things in His holy presence are instantly vaporized. That is how it seems to work. Even the way He projects Himself via clouds and fire can destroy those who enter His holiest rooms without consecrating themselves. As to the promised land, all we can do is strive toward becoming nothing, and thus earn a place at His table. So, I think I understand how it works now. What I don't get is the point of it.

It's like I just told a friend: I'd be honoured to attend your birthday party, but, after it's all said and done, if I won't even know you existed or had a birthday, why bother? Can I give up vices and sins (or try to) to be with the LORD? Yes. Can I give up James? I don't know yet. Why should one even care about morality and laws and principles if they're just illusions to distract us from complete submission?

Anyway, I won't contribute another word to this blog until I render a decision there.

EDIT (and I'll make this the only one):
Says my friend: We do have to sacrifice everything to enter heaven, James.
Says I: But we don't get to. The one doing the sacrificing never knows heaven.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

James Wood Proverbs

I can't say whether these thoughts have been stashed away in my subconscious, whether my inner mind is merely resurfacing enlightenment I gathered long ago and subsequently turned my back upon, but I maintain to the best of my knowledge that I discovered all of these by myself:

1. Impatience is the ambition of the disobedient. Those who follow God's path carry the moment on their shoulders; those who embrace their doubt cave under the weight of a lifetime.

2. Feelings, like all things alive, will perish if you starve them. But he who denies his heart and not his stomach endures a torture as unrelenting as hunger.

3. Bother. Just because.

4. Time heals all but curiosity.

5. Feast in accordance with your hunger. On a given day, read four pages of the Bible for every one you dare not swallow.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Biblical Milestone #1

Saturday, 12 January 2008, approx. 11:18 p.m., less than three months since I started reading the Bible: Finished the Old Testament.

I believe I'm on the homestretch. Praise goes to the LORD for keeping me focussed on the prize: Himself.

In closing, let's just post the most recent verse I saw fit to jot down in my notepad:

Zechariah 4:6
"This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Attitude is a Choice

I first heard that expression when I was working at a call centre in Halifax. If I could hazard a guess, I suspect all such workplaces use it. It's not that I don't believe the adage that attitude is indeed a choice, but I'd almost make an exception for the courageous souls who'd rather tackle irate service calls than take the simpler approach to life, i.e. doing anything else under the heavens.

On days like this, I'm reminded that no matter how much I might struggle with this assignment or that, I'm in a much better place than I was just a few short years ago. It's funny how quickly time passes, how minuscule and negligible our existence really is. And yet, as fast as my life might crumble into the precipice of changing seasons, it feels like an eon ago that I lived for myself. I've only been a practicing Christian for less than three months, and it feels like I took the decision to commit myself to God in a former, distant life. I'll never be perfect, but I do make a sincere effort to overcome my limitations and live out the revelations and epiphanies I've had over the recent weeks. It's just a little surreal to see how many pages my bookmark has traversed through my Bible and how much the experience of reading it has humbled me.

Last night I finished the book of Daniel, and I couldn't begin to describe the feelings that swept over me as I was reading it. Ditto Isaiah and Ezekiel. There's something about reading prophecies, knowing when they were written and just how accurate they were, that thrusts me into a state of humility and fear-- the good kind, not the imaginary fear that so vehemently tries to govern my life. I'm not going to post interpretations yet; these books demand extensive study. I remember one passage in Isaiah where I felt a strange urge to Google some information on Topheth, a valley south of Jerusalem where those who strayed from God offered human sacrifices to empty idols--their own children, no less--and after I read that it had a two-pronged effect on me: 1) it completely changed the way I understood that verse, which I might have otherwise glossed over; 2) it reinforced just how important it is to read beyond the text. But this is just how much I've changed. Where I used to want to impose my own meanings into things, where I once had to complicate life and try to extract purpose and depth from the simplest pleasures, I now believe that life is something to discover, not to mold.

This morning I had an interview in Meteghan at 9:00 AM. When I woke up, it kind of irked me that I had scheduled it so early. Although my job bestows me with very flexible hours, I had a bout of insomnia throughout last week. In spite of the fact that my body was warding off influenza and its residual effects, it was taking me anywhere from three to five hours to fall asleep-- this during a time when my body was utterly zapped. One night I went to bed at 10:30 and didn't fall asleep until 4:00 (ish). My mind was racing. It's as if I was contemplating in advance all the points God was going to hurl at me through Pastor Jim on Sunday morning. And let me tell you, with the utmost sincerity and humility, I got absolutely lambasted this past weekend. I know that none of the pastors write their sermons intent on addressing any one person, that they pray over these things and let God do the talking, but it felt as if I was placed into the stocks, wheeled onto the stage, and was getting my whole life drawn in chalk on a blackboard. It was as if God seized me by throat and spelled out exactly what I had to do to find everything I was searching for. As much as I might have wanted it to be an insurmountable challenge, a cosmic decathalon that would require months of prep work, it was the most elementary thing imaginable: 1) Stop convoluting life. 2) Stop thinking everything to death. 3) Live for the moment. 4) Forgive yourself.

This morning, as I trudged my feet to the car, sinuses acting up, realizing it wasn't quite as mild as I expected, I knew that God was with me, but I didn't understand just how much He cared about me knowing it. In spite of all the sleep I lost last week, which I'm slowly making up for, I was relatively on time for my earliest interview in a while. Given the distance, I'm excluding an 8:00 AM one that was practically in my backyard. I won't get into detail about the interview except to say that no matter how hard it is to walk into these things, 19 times out of 20 I end up leaving with a good impression. People here can be a little lackadaisical about how beneficial, scratch that, crucial it is to market their businesses, but once I sit down with them they most always impress me. We have good workers here who are generally inept at tooting their horns about it. That's where our magazine steps in. Anyway, as I walked out of that interview, I felt a calmness envelope me.

There I was, out of my cage, i.e. my office, standing in the sun on a mild January morning. The air was soothing, and there was a dewey glaze on the road. As I got into my car, I felt as if life was timeless, just as it is for God. I didn't want to take the highway home, I felt like meandering along the coast. I felt like taking the scenic drive home and intersecting all the rays that seep through the boughs to decorate the road like one of those heart monitor machines. In the end I chose not to, thinking that I could replicate the experience on the highway, and I did. I turned up the music, sipped away at a large double double, and just floated home as if the very moment was a charming drug. For whatever reason, I felt as if my current place in the universe, in spite of how it might look on paper, in spite of how others may look at me and say I haven't accomplished much (or have)-- I felt as if none of that mattered. God is with me, and God will guide me through every step and decision and hurdle that comes my way. I don't want to lose sight of this. I don't want to rush through any part of life. I don't want there to be a fast-forward button anymore.

For the longest time, I told myself that I would pay my dues young and reap rewards later. Now I believe that paying one's dues is a reward of itself. Life is a due. Anyone that doesn't bestow himself or herself with life is indebted to God for breathing existence into us. You know what? That is absolutely all that matters. So yeah, no scriptures to cite today. They're very important, but they'll never be a substitute for how you put them into practice. God willing, I'll soon have an opportunity to discover them with other like-minded folk. But that's for another moment. For now, I'm just going to soak in this little stint of warmth amidst the coldest months. I guess the LORD knew I had some traveling to do this morning and ordered up some unfrozen roads for my journey. When I look back on life, He blessed me through every minute of it. Through illness and health, through feast and famine. God hasn't withheld a thing from me. It's time I stop questioning why. Yes, I think I'm on the road to healing. I may not be indestructable, but God's plan for me is. But He can't enact it unless I let Him. Ladies and gentlemen, attitude is a choice. Be your own ally and life will act in kind. But if you're anything like me, that's probably way too simple for you to compute. I genuinely pray that God unravels it for you just as He's been doing for me. Ironically, for someone as immeasurably strong as God, for a righteous and holy being who can move the very mountains, I think it's the molehills that He most often has to explain to us. I can chuckle at it now. And if I can, anyone can.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

What God Wants in Black and White

Ezekiel 33: 10-11
10 "Son of man, say to the house of Israel, 'This is what you are saying: "Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?" ' 11 Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?'

I don't know how to hear God's voice. I am so lacking in self-confidence that I even question it when it's crystal clear. When God offers me a blessing, I feel inclined to acknowledge Him out loud, to tell Him that I am honoured and delighted to receive something from Him, that if He'd be patient with me I would strive to reach a point of worthiness so I might accept His grace with clear conscience. That doesn't just stem from the humbling existence I've led since I accepted Christ, that is how I've been for as long as I can remember.

Notice how many times I referred to myself there?

In the last church service of 2007, Pastor AJ put out the question: Do you ever sit in God's presence for the sole reason of getting to know the person of Jesus Christ? It's great that God offers blessings to believers, but I how often do you simply bask in His radiance? If you remove salvation, peace, and all other forms of grace, how many of us would approach God and just simply want to know Him? Honestly, that notion perplexed me. For the longest time, I've felt like life is a crucible, like we're put into a situation of forced decision, like we need to choose life or death and only the fool would choose to die. But wouldn't it be great to die and leave our corpses and just be free souls to do as we please and wander the universe at our own leisure? In 1999, I discovered God for myself, through experience. But with every blessing, with every bit of truth comes responsibility. I realized that I couldn't live a life that would exploit my fellow man, that I had to be a "good person". If you read the surrounding verses in Ezekiel 33, as well as the surrounding chapters, God refers mostly to human practice. He talks about the actions the Israelites take. That is such a minute part of the story, though.

Idol worship--God detests it. Not because people are bowing to wooden idols, but because they are placing faith into empty sources. Hope, faith, and love: the greatest virtues in existence. How many of us consider this disclaimer, though: if you misplace them, they will rock your foundation and absolutely destroy you. If you bow you head to something empty, you make a declaration in front of everyone that you have placed your faith in it. There's no question that as Christians we are living representatives of Christianity, but that doesn't mean we're good ones. As such, when we place faith in something empty, like the Israelites did for generations, inciting God's wrath, it profanes God's name in front of the nations and all watching eyes. But that is just half the story, as I said.

Ezekiel 33: 1-6
1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 "Son of man, speak to your countrymen and say to them: 'When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, 3 and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, 4 then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head. 5 Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning, his blood will be on his own head. If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself. 6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.'

What, pray tell, is the difference between wickedness and blood? Both are held shoulder to shoulder, according to the scriptures. I believe that this is the difference between what a man does with his hands and what a man feels in his heart. In other words, I can give up vices and impurities, all of which are snares, but I can still fall into the pit. God doesn't just look at what we demonstrate to other people or how we treat other people, but He searches our hearts and weighs our intentions. If Satan digs his talons and pricks his thorns into my side, and I remove them through God's grace but then hide my wounds from God's eyes, like a cat who runs off to die in the shade, I am no better for having removed those thorns. If, on the other hand, I trust in God to heal me, and permit Him to heal me, I WILL be healed. There is no problem or challenge in existence that God can't fix with His will. He doesn't need to so much as nod or snap His fingers; God is of limitless strength and can reduce kingdoms to ashes or build kingdoms from ashes. Earlier this week, someone asked me where the proof was. History is the proof. All prophecies through God's representatives have come true. They were uttered before the respective events and were manifest in pristine proficiency. Satan has a word for that: coincidence.

You know what? God tests us all, especially once we know Him. But God does not inflict pain on the faithful. Most of the things we struggle with--addictions, weaknesses, etc.--are not from God. But God does have a role in them; He wants to heal them for us. He stitched us all a certain way that we might express things in our unique perspective and thus all come together like the most complicated movie plot that was ever written. We perform acts that seem elementary to us that can profoundly impact the lives of everyone who is touched by the people we touch. It's an exponential domino effect that can spread across the whole world before we could decide what to have for dinner. And the truth for me, my truth, is that I have been so twisted and polluted over the course of my life that I have reached a point where I'm fearful of being healed. It's wrong, but I find myself grounded by the things I don't let go of. It's as if I'm clinging to a branch that is attached to a tree that will sink with me into quicksand, but in terms of my relational clinging to the tree, I feel safe. The fact remains that everything in the physical realm is not just destructable, but it will destruct. Our souls are the only thing we'll ever have, and yet so many of us place all our stock in the natural world. Man alive, am I ranting here, but I believe every syllable of it.

God, I ask you, in front of everyone who reads this, to remove all the internal mechanisms that have been placed in me to distort my vision. Not the way I see the world reflected but the very way I approach it. Let me release my knuckle-white grip on everything I thought was real and fully embrace Your salvation. Let me stop trying to move mountains that step aside at Your command. Let me stop trying to destroy myself for a world that would not only destroy me but will itself be destroyed for its wickedness. Don't give me daily peace and comfort but eternal rest in knowing that I have eyes but can't see the future. LORD, you see all that was, is, and will be, and You can choose things for me that I don't understand that will pay eternal dividends. Not because I need a reward for knowing, but because knowing you is itself a reward. Perhaps that still is selfish, but I sure as life believe that anyone who knows you without an ulterior motive will only know peace anyway. But, God, if I do nothing else for you in my time on this planet, let me know You so that I might convey your true nature: You are not some puppetmaster who relishes in the struggles of His lambs; you are a shepherd who genuinely cares for all His sheep. Your embrace is never exhausted; you always have room for another hungry lamb that thrives on the glory of Your being.

Satan doesn't want me to fall by the sword. He doesn't want me to die of famine or illness. He wants me to implode. He wants me to recede so far into myself that I can never serve You, O LORD. Today I openly acknowledged that. I am not healed yet, but I am a willing party in it. It's just such a lambasting experience to know that I don't need to simply mend my ways but that my very essence, my very way of being is self-destructive. Worst of all, I've known it for ages. Knowing is not enough.

There is no greater suicide, no greater anguish than to destroy that which can't be grasped. There is no greater pain than the dissection of that which can't be sundered: the spirit. It is the slowest and most painful death of all, and I was an inch away from it when you intervened in October, LORD. Perhaps some thought it dramatic when I said that 2007 was the year that would have destroyed. It was, and it almost did. And I knew it. And knowing is not enough.

Set yourselves free, everyone. Not with your eyes or hands or minds but with your hearts.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Me, In Exile

Today I came across many passages that reminded me of myself. I've been told by greater writers than I that I often speak and write in metaphor, that I need to control my language if I wish to be understood, and I understand that it's a truth I must learn to deal with. If the purpose of communication is to be understood, I can't express myself in the eccentric ways of my youth. I should even mention that this post is a severely edited version of the same idea I sat down to write earlier this evening.

In summary, what I read this evening brought me a great deal of comfort. I've noticed many parallels between the Old Testament and events in my life and human history that are too similar to be coincidental. As I've said before, that's one of the reasons the Bible has been such a surreal reading experience for me: not only is it divine in its authority and great truth, but it's written in such a way as to be relevent to every generation of every civilization that would succeed its composition. God did not write for the people of any given era but for all people that would exist. In earlier days, I would have foolishly sought after that standard. Tonight's post might have been one such example.

Since I moved back to Tusket in 2003, I've been asking myself one resounding question: "Why?" Why had I chosen unhealthy things that left me with so much uncertainty in life? Why had I always been so different, even in my youth? Why was I so unworthy of common things like more friends or my own family?

See, I had many things going for me for quite some time. I've always been eccentric, but toward the end of adolescence I had finally gathered an entourage of fellow intellectuals and deep thinkers. I didn't have to censor myself with these people. The Curse of James had been exposed for the lie that it was. This posed quite a dilemma for Satan. There was a great risk in me, a chance that I might open my mouth and express certain things. There was a lot of potential for me to see myself through the eyes of others, and that would have greatly contrasted the image of myself that Satan presented me with. Instead of loathing the uniqueness of my character, I might have learned to celebrate those differences, as I did where it concerned everyone but myself. And so, playing off my insecurities, Satan led me to believe that sharing oneself was the greatest vulnerability in existence, that loneliness wasn't pretty but it was darned safe. "You can't be serious, James," he would say. "The world that ostracized you would only destroy you. Perhaps you're unworthy of them, but if you march by your own beat, you will achieve singular greatness. Then you may approach them and dish out the humble pie."

I had an interest in writing, and that seemed the most logical approach. Through enough observation, study, and introspection, I could probably write something that just might change the world a little. "Change the world, huh? Give it enough time, and you just may do that."

I had been divided, and I was about to be conquered. I started to spend less time with my confidantes and more time experimenting with things I should have avoided. I made my bed with those who didn't understand me. I fled.

"You need experiences in order to write the truth, James. These might not be pretty, but they are very relevent to this world. You must understand this world to save it."

It was kind of relieving to indulge in certain vices. It dulled the mental multitasking that had consumed my mind since youth. You've heard of the scatterbrained? The artist prone to procrastination? I was that to the Nth degree. My head felt like Los Angeles at rush hour. Millions of thoughts, none channeled properly. I remember waking up the morning after I first got drunk; my brain felt logjammed. Aside from being kind of scary, it was soothing to just ooze intoxicants upon the synaptic eight-laners, to cover it all in a smoggy veil and forget reality for a second. Satan was okay with that; I couldn't spend every instant learning about the world, after all. Even the greats needed to repose at some point.

My time in the city was rife with transgressions. Prior to moving there for university, I hadn't so much as touched an illicit substance. Not a drop. For a while, my life followed that course. I treated university with the same nonchalance I had exhibited in high school. I dropped out in 2001, and things got a little messy over the next couple of years. I moved around the province quite a bit. In 2002, I made one last ditch effort to salvage a failing relationship and to eke out an existence in the city. I lasted just over a year before God had enough with my aimlessness. I had been greatly blessed in life, and certainly misled. Perhaps I was too weak to best my demons, but God must have believed that I was also unlike them enough that He could justify saving me. One thing was certain, though: the LORD had seen enough.

Jeremiah 24: 1-7
1 After Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and the officials, the craftsmen and the artisans of Judah were carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the LORD showed me two baskets of figs placed in front of the temple of the LORD. 2 One basket had very good figs, like those that ripen early; the other basket had very poor figs, so bad they could not be eaten.

Then the LORD asked me, "What do you see, Jeremiah?"
"Figs," I answered. "The good ones are very good, but the poor ones are so bad they cannot be eaten."

Then the word of the LORD came to me: 5 "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. 6 My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. 7 I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.

In August 2003, I reached the breaking point. Less than a month from finishing my lease, I was let go from work. The worst job I ever had. In fact, I never would have stayed there if it hadn't been for the fact my parents co-signed an apartment lease. My credit meant nothing to me, but there was no way I was going to allow my bum luck to slander their names. So I trudged on, even after my ex left me with an expensive flat. Thanks to kindly neighbours, I ate more often than I might have. God even provided me with many believers as friends in the months leading up to August. I listened to them. I considered what they said. I believed in the LORD, but I didn't want to accept all His ways. I guess my faith was enough for Him to preserve my life. When my bank account approached the red, I knew I had failed. It was back to my childhood home, back to the scene of the crime, so to speak. But then, wasn't every place I'd stepped been as such?

Since my recent conversion, I had reached a point where I could examine my situation and not loathe myself for some of the decisions I'd made. But I certainly wasn't happy. It never occurred to me until I read Jeremiah's words that perhaps me being in Tusket was God's doing. Perhaps He took me away from ready access to vices so that I might grow in strength. Just as Joseph son of Jacob said to his brothers: it was not because of their deception that he was carried into Egypt; it was because God had the foresight and caring to put him in a position to save himself and his family. This feels so familiar now, much more so than when I read it in October. (To a much smaller degree, perhaps, but it reminds me of me.)

Pastor Jim would say that the church doesn't expect perfection; it expects excellence. No one is expected to do more than his or her ability. But see, I've always felt that nothing short of perfection would make me worthy of others. I'm the guy who habitually told himself that he could have anything he wanted...later. After I'd earned it, that is. But that time would never come. Ever. I see that now. Of course, it only applies to things that truly matter to me.

I guess it's no real surprise that I can relate to Jeremiah; he was greatly misunderstood. My past pursuits might not have been in service of God, but certainly I understand what it's like to believe in something and be shamed for it. That's just a part of my childhood that I have to accept. I was surrounded by folks who made me feel grotesque for marching to a different beat. Whether that was intentional or not, that's how it felt. Perception is everything, my friends. Why else do you think kids bring guns to school with shells in one pocket and a hitlist in the other? I had never reached that point. Instead, I adopted a holier-than-thou mentality. I had determined that karma existed in some form and would unleash wrath on all those who mistreated me. I'm not the only one who experienced such moments of weakness (Jeremiah 20: 7-18).

But, as I've mentioned to some of my closest confidantes, something happened to me in 2003 that effectively nullified my entire past. Something was unlocked in my heart that proved to me, beyond all doubt, that I wasn't just alive but I had been forged and created by knowing hands. That God was truly real. But I didn't like the notion that I had contributed to my [potential] demise. I couldn't accept that all my years of anguish were partially my fault. At least Jeremiah had the LORD to guide him. I tried to go it on my own terms. Even though I didn't deserve it, God stepped in. I'm healing in ways I never thought possible. I'm not completely over myself. I still cling to certain mental habits. But I'll get there.

I'm finally starting to meet people for reasons other than school or work. Perhaps I'm not a holy man, but I sure as dickens am striving to be one. My eyes are fixed on genuine truth and real ideals. Yesterday morning I woke from a strange dream and I was actually in mid-prayer. I can't explain it, but the very second I regained consciousness, I was thinking about and talking with God. That was one of the coolest most inspiring moments of my life. It's progress, I tells ya.

You know what? We have minds and eyes and the ability to examine things, but it's not what we see that we should be judging, it's what our conscience says that matters. Our eyes were given to us so that we might navigate this world, but the inherent risk of that, as God surely knew, is that we actually become attached or resentful of what they show us. The heart, my friends, the heart alone is what counts.

In closing, my favourite passage, and likely to remain my favourite:

1 Samuel 16:7
"The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

(For those who don't know, that's what God told Samuel when he looked at David and thought, "Nah, this guy ain't no king.")