A church that fits me

While going through some old posts from an older blog of mine, I found a quote from C. S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters.” Every time I read this passage I think about what the point of church is. Is it important to find a church that fits you? Is it about something else? I’m really not sure of the answer, although sometimes it might seem obvious. Lewis poses some thought-provoking ideas.

In “The Screwtape Letters,” a demon and senior tempter named Screwtape writes to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter. The uncle provides advice to Wormwood, who has been assigned a man. His task is to prevent this man from following God. The “Enemy” referred to in the letters is God.

My dear Wormwood,

Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.

The reasons are obvious. In the first place the parochial organisation should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction. In the second place, the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy want him to be a pupil.

Your affectionate uncle,
SCREWTAPE

Discipline and commitment

As a musician, discipline is extremely important. You gotta schedule your practice time and stick to it. It doesn’t always work out as planned because you might have to schedule an important meeting like reviewing your literature review with your thesis advisor (coming up soon!). Or maybe you are just having a terrible day and don’t want to practice. Practicing is nothing like a performance; all the glamour just isn’t there.

Practicing is a demanding activity for your brain, if you do it the right way. Moreover, it can be boring and stressful. But you gotta do it.

Before coming to college, I was not disciplined with my practice, or with anything. All of a sudden, I had to develop this thing everyone admires but no one likes.

However, I think it is safe to say I am close to being a disciplined clarinetist.

Just as I have developed discipline to practice, I must do it in some other areas, and there is one that has been patiently waiting for me. Given all the pressure I feel at the moment, much of it self-inflicted, I need to spend time with God. Seriously.

Commitment has been on my mind since school began in August. I have many important decisions this year, both personal and professional. I really need some help, guidance and support. Maybe I would have all those things if I could be disciplined in my relationship with God.

And I’ve tried.

I’ve tried to make time for God at any time of the day. I’ve done it for about a week at  time, but then I start to think, Well, maybe I couldn’t do it today but tomorrow I will.

Perhaps I need to start by treating my devotional life as I do my clarinet practice: with seriousness.

If I have committed and developed discipline in my clarinet practice, this blog and the podcast, God can help me do it with my devotional life.

Perhaps I’ve been too relaxed about what my relationship with God should look like that I fail to see how much I’ve neglected it. Maybe that is why I am so afraid of the future. It might be the reason why I struggle with a deep-rooted desire for transcendence.

Can I really develop a healthy devotional life? God, will you help me? Will you help me get rid of these fears and commit to you?

Shabbat shalom.

I should not worry, but I do

It has been less than two months since I wrote about feeling so overwhelmed about graduating from college and entering a new phase that brings more responsibility. In fact, I couldn’t even bring myself to write about it.

I began my last year of college five weeks ago and I have not stopped worrying about what will come next. In these last two weeks, I’ve been unable to relax. The pressure is not external, though. It comes from my self-consciousness.

When I last wrote about my worries, I quoted Matthew chapter 11. Jesus said we could find rest in Him. If we just come to him, we can lay down our burdens and take his.

As I said last time, I don’t really need to carry all this pressure I put on myself. Yet, I still do.

This week in his daily devotional email, the campus chaplain wrote about the promise found in Matthew 6:33. Jesus says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

I’ve read this passage many times and I always find some hope in it. Before this well-known verse, Jesus tells us not to worry about food, drink or clothing. He’ll take care of that. He’ll take care of our basic needs. We just have to prioritize him.

The birds don’t work endlessly for their food, yet God feeds them. Wouldn’t He take care of us in this regard? The flowers show such beauty attained with no work in their part. Wouldn’t God make sure we have clothing?

God promises to take care of all our basic needs. Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

I can definitely agree with the last sentence and I believe the rest of it. But there is more to life than just the basic needs. I still want to have some kind of impact. I feel I was born for more than just having my basic needs covered.

This is where things get complicated when they should not.

If I can remember that my purpose is to be with God and whatever failures, big and small, surround my life really don’t matter in my relationship with God, then all I need to worry about are my basic needs. And if God will take care of them, I can just enjoy time with Him.

On the other hand, there is definitely a world that requires us to pay attention to what happens down here. A career is part of it, a family is part of it, church is part of it. These things bring stress, eustress and distress.

At the end, I know that if I prioritize God, I will have peace. Perhaps I’ll be able to quote Paul and say, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12).

Yet, I still I worry.

May God help me spend time with Him and stand on His promises.

Knowing

Some people want to know everything. I am one of them.

I wish I had even a basic understanding of chemistry, biology, physics, engineering, calculus and economics. Then, I would also like to have some expertise in symphonic repertoire, chamber music, community development, political science, peace and God.

Perhaps I’ll acquire some solid knowledge in some of these areas, but I don’t think I can do it all, especially with the market’s current demand for specialization. The market changes and demands more and more of people. It pushes for higher specialization but also for a varied set of skills.

And so, we go on and on wanting to know more and never being satisfied. There is always more we can learn. In school, you are expected to gain solid research skills for graduate school. You finish college and you feel like you know only a little more than you did before. What you are really aware of is how much there is you do not know.

You may have more experience and feel like a 21-year-old kid who thinks he can write because he bought a web domain doesn’t know a thing about knowledge.

You may be right. I don’t know a thing. When I begin to think I know something, I am quickly reminded of how little I know. I mess up constantly. I fail quizzes. I neglect people. I forget God.

I don’t know what happens with all the data that enters my mind. Where does it all go? Why do I keep messing up?

Each day I feel like I know less. Things get more complicated and I drown as I realize I don’t have the skills required to survive.

Sometimes I feel like I have no idea about anything. It scares me. Knowledge is power and each day I have less.

Nonetheless, I’m still trying to gain knowledge, constantly reminding myself that it’s now about knowledge for its own sake. That’s futile.

I know two things: God loves me and He has a plan.

If I can remember that all the time, perhaps the moments of hopelessness I experience will begin to appear less often.

Sickness

I’ve been sick for three days. I think I got the flu, but I am almost fully recovered. So I expect to feel great tomorrow.

On Wednesday night, I began feeling this really awkward pain in my throat going up to my left ear and I knew I would wake up the next day with a sore throat and other symptoms related with the flu.

As a music student, it is never a good time to get sick because I have to stop practicing and might get behind on learning a certain work. But the timing cannot be worse when you get sick two days before a performance.

Since Thursday, I spent a significant part of the day lying in bed so I could recover as soon as possible because I needed to get back into a practice room. But the fever and congestion made me slow and pretty much useless.

If practicing was not an option, at least I could listen to some symphonies I need to get familiar with. However, I felt too tired and fell asleep. By the time I woke up, two symphonies had gone by.

I went outside and instantly felt better. There is truly something magical about getting some sun and fresh air. (Okay, maybe it is not magical but you get the point). I walked over just one mile, and although I felt tired by the end, it really helped my mood.

During this walk, I though about sickness. I could not wait to get better. I wanted to feel like I did a couple days before. I wished to have the same energy and not feel so tired at 10 am.

While I was thinking about all that I would do when I recovered, sin came to my mind. Although seemingly unrelated, the topic had been on my mind thanks to a class I am taking in college this semester. We had been talking about Adam and Eve and how sin entered the world.

Perhaps this is why I thought, How would it feel to be without sin? I know what it feels to not have the flu, so I long to be healthy every time I get sick. I know all the things I could be doing and need to be doing, and I am aware of how sickness keeps me from accomplishing those tasks.

I have no idea what it feels to be sinless. Is sin like a handicap? Could I be doing more, better things if I was not being bogged down by sin?

Adam and Eve were sinless once. They knew how that felt. After they ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they became aware of their nakedness. As the snake promised, their eyes were opened.

I don’t know how they felt being kicked out of the garden, but I can imagine Adam and Eve wanting, longing to go back to how things were. They had become sick. Things were not so easy now. Sin came with its symptoms.

As I experience the last moments in my recovery from the flu, I think about how it will be when there is no more sin. How will it be to not experiences any headaches from all this meetings and tasks we put in our calendars and planners? What things are we going to do when are lives are no longer congested with materialism, envy and greed?

Right now I am sick. I am a sinner. Thankfully, that is not the end.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Revelation 21:4,5a (NIV)

Sabbath days (part four)

This is the fourth and last post in the series Sabbath days. You can find the previous posts in the archive. Part one. Part two. Part three.


Sabbath is meant to be a refuge, not a prison. It protects the needy, the displaced, and the powerless.

—Matthew Sleeth, 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life

My story with Sabbath from when I began college until now is completed. Yet, there’s still so many more Sabbaths I’ll get to live. So, really, the story is all but over.

I have decided my Sabbaths must change. I need to keep the Sabbath holy again and find joy in it.

When you are in school, your life is measured in semesters and breaks, and every new school years comes with an opportunity to do things differently. Perhaps even more than a new calendar year, this new school year came with many resolutions.

For starters, I need to study more and relax more efficiently. I want to practice smarter and enjoy my last year of college more than I have enjoyed the other three combined. More importantly, however, I want to develop a strong relationship with Jesus. If I prioritize these resolutions correctly, the last should be the first.

If I am only able to succeed in one of the above I want it to be my relationship with Jesus. If I seek God’s kingdom first, He will take care of the rest.

Last week, I stated I had a decision to make. I either asked God for help or I quit. I decided I would ask for help.

Countless times I’ve tried to change my ways. Over and over I have told myself I would spend quality time with God everyday and I would keep the Sabbath holy. Yet, I have not been able to keep those promises.

So, I must ask for help. God can help me spend time with Him. He can help me keep his Sabbaths.

Sabbath is a gift. Sabbath is a blessing. Sabbath is a weekly chance to remember who God is and to put our lives in His hands.

Sabbath is not about the law. Sabbath is about us and God.

May God help me keep his Sabbaths holy.