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The Relationship

Man and woman outdoors clasping hands, close-up

Connect. For the love of God, connect.

There is a person I know whom God has put on my heart, an unbeliever so far from Christ it seems impossible she could be saved.

But all things are possible for Him.

This person speaks out often against religion and is committed to atheism. I’ve been praying and waiting for the right moment to speak, for speaking at the wrong moment can spell disaster.

Recently, this person said something and the Spirit said, “Speak. Speak now.”

The person said, “Religion is destroying the world. People are ruined by it and they don’t need it or any other silly superstitions.”

I said, “So you have no beliefs at all beyond the natural? For you it’s just survival of the fittest? Your immediate needs and that’s it?”

“No,” the person replied, “I do believe in karma, that people end up getting what they deserve.”

“So? That’s a religion. There’s no “god” or whatever, but you believe in something more. Something beyond the natural, because science says that’s bunk. There’s just what’s in front of you.”

“Well, I’d call it a belief system. It’s not a religion.” the person explained.

“Oh, then we may have different definitions of religion then. Sounds like your definition is like rules and rituals and so forth.” I said.

“That’s right.” the person clarified.

“In that case I’m not religious either and I agree with you as well. What I am a part of is about a relationship. I believe there is a Being who transcends everything and Who created everything. I believe the most important thing in a person’s life is to have a relationship with this Person.”

“Oh,” the person said, “Well that’s different, that’s good then.”

For all the miles this person has to go before they are even close to responding to the Gospel, we moved an inch today. But I praise God, because due to our human nature, that person shouldn’t have moved at all.

But that’s not why I am posting this. I am posting this because as I drove home something hit me.

I am religious. I observe rules and rituals. I have not been pursuing God as a relationship.

A fire that had long lay dormant within me kindled, and I began to weep. I pray every day, but how long had it been since I was so enraptured with His presence that I had to be torn away from it? I read the Bible almost every day, but how long had it been since I opened my Bible with eagerness the way a wife embraces her husband after he has been on a long journey?

Too long.

Takeaways:

  1. Engage the Lost. You will learn as much from bouncing what you believe off them as anything else. We Christians are far too good at patting each other on the back.
  2. Forget your problems. God actually commands this of us. We should focus on our relationship with Him. All good works will flow from that relationship. We don’t do good to know God, we do good because we know Him.
  3. Check your affections. How much affection do you have for Christ? This is something we should check on a daily basis as we should with our spouses.
  4. Relationships are of highest importance. God first, and others second, but for the love of our Lord, connect. I feel like I’ve kept everyone, including God, at a distance. Do not do this. God is all about relationships. That is what matters.
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Posted by on August 19, 2015 in Sanctification

 

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Not Safe, but Good

I grow tired of people who believe in a milksop God and a milksop Jesus. God is dynamic and powerful and dangerous and loving and deadly and mysterious and violent and playful and serious and funny (yes, funny).

God reveals Himself to us in His Word. He pulls no punches. The Bible is R-rated. He makes people alive, and He kills people. He raises up nations and leaders and champions, and He tears down civilizations and drives leaders to madness and allows champions to fall into ruin.

Along the way God makes no apologies for His actions and makes few explanations. He demands obedience and unyielding fealty to His name.

For this reason, many doubt His claim to love us and His goodness. Perhaps there would be cause for this if not for this:

“For a good man someone might dare to die. But while we were yet sinners, He died for us.”

This immeasurably powerful, all knowing, all consuming God who demands perfection, does not tolerate uncleanness and hates sin with a perfect hatred. This God put aside His rights and came to live among us in the flesh. He provided the perfect life Himself that we failed to provide. He died the death He declared we should die for us.

“So in this way God loved the world. He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

And He defines just what that is.

“This is eternal life. That they know you intimately, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

He wants us. He wants us to be with Him such that He died to bring us close to Him. There can be no greater love, indeed He says:

“Mortal man knows no greater love than this. That he lay down his life for his friends.”

He calls me friend. I am God’s friend.

So when my God does something I do not understand, even when He takes life or chooses to allow life to pass away from someone. Even if He slays me, still will I trust in Him.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
– The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

 

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Seven Years

So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
– Genesis 29:20

100_0775Sunday marks the seventh anniversary of my marriage to Gena Renee Cohoon. Words cannot truly express how grateful I am for my wife, nor how undeserving I truly am of her love.

Genesis 29:20 holds a special meaning to me because I meditated long upon it when I decided to pursue Gena back in 2008.

At one point in my pursuit of Gena, there was a very real possibility that she would go where I could not follow her. The decision lay before me, “If she goes, do you wait the two years for her to come back or give up?”

Though ultimately she did not go, my decision was to wait for her. I knew there could be no other by that point. I would marry Gena or no one else. So I would wait however long it took. If that meant she never came back, then I’d never marry. If it meant she came back when she was 50, then we’d start our life together then.

I’d wait however long it took, just like Gilbert Blythe. If you don’t know who that is, shame on you. Go read these.

For all my noble affections, however, I did not understand then that marriage is all about waiting. Rather it is about patience and endurance. The choice to wait or give up is one ever before me. Over the seven years we’ve been married there have been many trials for us. Sometimes they were trials from outside the marriage we weathered together and sometimes they were trials between us within the marriage we had to weather with the Lord praying for the heart of the other to change.

I’ve learned this about marriage in seven years, if anything. When you say the wedding vows, you aren’t saying you’ll get it right, because you won’t.

You’re saying you won’t give up.

Never, ever, ever give up.

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2015 in Sanctification

 

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Mother’s Day 2008

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Click to hear a love song. 😉

In May of 2008, Gena Renee Suggs and I were engaged to be married. Despite the fact we were not yet married and she was not yet a mom, I knew God willing one day she would be and one day she’d make a great mom. Seven years and two children later, she has not disappointed me. To recognize that, here’s the letter I wrote all those years ago,

What sort of man would give flowers to his betrothed on Mother’s Day? What sort of man would do this for a woman who is not yet a mother? It would take a man devoid of reason, filled with an unending love and passion for his betrothed. It would take a man who knew God would grant her the gift of motherhood someday. It would take a man who knew with all his heart his betrothed would be the best mother on earth. Yes, it would take a man with tremendous trust and faith in both his God and his betrothed to do such a thing.

And what sort of woman would merit such a gift at such a time in her life? It would have to be a woman who had already proven herself to be a caring, compassionate individual, a woman with true godliness and motherly instincts. A woman who is truly a “mother” to many people, a wise counselor, and a compassionate friend. Yes, it would take a very special woman indeed to receive flowers on Mother’s Day when she herself was not yet a mother, a very special woman indeed.

It would take a man as crazy as me, and a woman as wonderful as you.
All my love,
Jason

You’re still the one baby. Happy Mother’s Day, and I love you.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2015 in History, Sanctification

 

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A Tent In The Desert

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The Promised Land is the Lord Himself.

A tent in the desert with my God

Is better than riches or gold.

A tent in the desert with my God

Is better than pleasures untold.

And if to gain a greener land

A place of comfort to lay

I must leave my Lord behind

In the desert with God I’ll stay.

– Inspired by Exodus 33

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2015 in Theology

 

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The Love of Darth Vader

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Darth Vader. Arch-Villain or loving father?

Darth Vader was saved through his son, Luke Skywalker.

Those of us who are Star Wars fans remember that Luke was adamant after fighting (and losing) against Darth Vader in episode 5 that his father turned sith lord still had good within him and that Luke believed he could be turned back to the Light Side. Kenobi and Yoda were unconvinced and urged Luke to kill both Vader and the Emperor as soon as possible or all would be lost.

We all remember that, at the last moment, Vader was saved. When he saw his helpless son being electrocuted by Palpatine’s force lightning, he seized the Emperor and threw him into a pit before dying himself.

None of this is news, but I have a theory that has grown within me as I’ve watched the films since I was a boy.

Darth Vader always loved his son, and he never intended to kill him.

Let’s examine the facts.

In Episode 3, Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. When he awakens in his metal body, Palpatine lies to him and tells Vader he murdered Padme in his anger (and thus any children she was carrying). Vader is now under the assumption he has nothing good to live for and wholeheartedly devotes himself to the Dark Side.

In Episode 4, many things happen concerning the Death Star we will discuss later. What is important to focus on is that he does not know Luke (or Leia for that matter) are his children. He’s so filled with hate and they are so weak in the force he can’t feel them even though he’s very close to Leia for long periods of time. It’s only when Luke finally opens himself to the Force to put a proton torpedo right in the pickle barrel that Vader suddenly senses, “the Force is strong with this one…” Still, he’s unaware this boy is his son and in fact does try to legitimately kill him.

However in Episode 5 the opening crawl explains that some time has passed and Vader is now obsessively searching the galaxy for….what? The Rebels? No, for Luke Skywalker himself. He’s scattered probe droids all across the cosmos looking for Luke, but why?

It can’t be revenge. Vader didn’t really think the Death Star would work, as indicated in this scene. It seems that Palpatine, dark lord of the Sith that he was, didn’t see the Force like Vader did. This was probably due to Vader’s extensive Jedi training. Vader understood the Force wasn’t just a neat tool in his bag of tricks. The Force was everything. The Death Star was impressive, but it wasn’t anything compared to the Force. Palpatine put his trust in giant weapons of terror and pride, much like Hitler did. Vader knew that if the rebels had anyone who could communicate with the Force, this ridiculous plan would be undone. And he was right. One teenage boy with the Force on his side in an X-wing brought the entire thing down. Vader clearly felt this was a waste of time and that attitude can be felt throughout the film. He clearly didn’t have a lot of emotional ties to the project, and while he would have been miffed when it got destroyed, I don’t think it would have driven him to some kind of manhunt to find the single man responsible.

So why Luke? Well it’s clear that by this time, Imperial spies have found out the name of the rebel who fired the winning shot, and for all of Kenobi’s efforts to hide Luke, he didn’t bother changing his name. When Vader heard his name was Skywalker, and knew his rough age, the fact he was a crack-shot pilot and strong with the Force….well lets just say Vader isn’t an idiot. This had to be his son, or at least it could be.

When the Imperial army lands on Hoth, Vader ignores the battle and aggressively searches for Luke within. Now, you may say, this doesn’t prove Vader loved him. In fact, its more likely he was obsessed with finding this young Force user to put him down so that he has no chance to become a Jedi. That is a valid point, considering how Vader knows how dangerous a single Force user can be if he’s trained up. But there’s more.

In the asteroid scene, Palpatine contacts Vader directly with an urgent message. In this message Palpatine reveals to Vader that the young rebel who took down the Death Star is none other than Luke Skywalker, son of Annakin. This conversation is crucial for a number of reasons. 1. Palpatine reveals this information slowly to Vader. He clearly believes Vader does not know this information yet and is approaching him carefully with it. After all he’d told Vader his kid had died. 2. Vader acts surprised, letting us know he’s keeping the emperor in the dark. Vader has known for some time that it was Luke and that Luke is his son. For all his so-called loyalty, he’s kept this fact from Palpatine for as long as he could. 3. Vader’s tone. Vader says, “How can that be possible?” in a tone that surely makes me think he’s grinding his teeth. The unsaid second phrase is, “You told me my child died.” Vader is angry at Palpatine, but he holds back, because he’s got a plan. 4. Vader asks that Luke be spared. Palpatine doesn’t say it, but he doesn’t have to. Luke must die, lest he become a real Jedi Knight. Vader proactively asks that Luke be spared on the condition he be turned to the Dark Side. He masks this with, “He could become a powerful ally.” Now they both know the Sith rules: two there are, no more, no less, a master and an apprentice. Palpatine agrees, because Palpatine believes Luke will be a stronger apprentice than Vader, who is growing old and weak. (This is proven in Episode 6). Palpatine probably knows Vader wants to use Luke to assassinate himself, for this is the Sith way also. Nevertheless, Palpatine decides to take the risk.

The evidence really starts to mount at Cloud City. First, Vader tests the Carbon Freezing Unit on Solo first because he doesn’t want, “the Emperor’s prize damaged.” Now I believe part of Vader’s plan was to turn Luke into a Sith and overthrow Palpatine. At this point Vader is nowhere near what we’d call “good.” He’s still very much evil, and he is totally plotting to make Luke his apprentice and overthrow Palpatine, but underneath it all there is a dormant love for his son that even he doesn’t realize yet.

Vader pleads with his son.

Vader pleads with his son.

When Luke confronts Vader, Vader doesn’t really put his best foot forward. He could have crushed Luke easily, but doesn’t. This is not surprising given his goals of overthrowing the Emperor. However at the edge of the bridge overlooking the chasm in that famous scene we all know and love, something happens I find illogical. Luke is defeated and disarmed (literally). Yet he is nowhere near being defeated spiritually. He is not giving in, and its pretty darn clear. Vader, however, doesn’t kill Luke. He didn’t hesitate 20 years earlier with any other Jedi, even the children adawans. There was no mercy,no parley. Yet he pleads with Luke to surrender. Pleads. You can hear it in his voice, he really, really doesn’t want to kill Luke. This whole fight he’s risked everything just to get Luke to this point where he’d have no choice, and yet Luke chooses death rather than join him. Still Vader relents. Finally Vader tells Luke that he is his father, at which point Luke understandably loses it. His last words to Luke are not harsh, but almost tender, “Join me. It is the only way.” You can almost hear behind it, “Please son.” Luke lets go.

Vader wastes no time. He knows Luke doesn’t die down there (he can fully sense his presence now at all times) and heads for his ship. As the Falcon makes its dramatic escape, Vader continues to plead with his son via the Force.

Now at this point, we still really don’t have anything really conclusive. But it is worth noting that Luke himself is convinced. He will insist to both Yoda and Kenobi when he meets them that he felt good in Vader at Bespin. He felt his father’s love.

Alright, on to Episode 6 and the good stuff. In the scene where the Emperor arrives on the Death Star II, he tells Vader he senses that Vader wants to continue searching for Luke. Vader seems almost annoyed at this, and I believe he was trying to keep Palpatine from knowing this. A little later, Palpatine tells Vader to wait on the command ship for further instructions.

Here’s the big one. When Luke flies in with the rebels on the Tyderion, he senses Vader on the command ship and Vader senses him. Luke knows they are hosed already. “I shouldn’t have come.” he says. Vader immediately goes to Palpatine, who is annoyed Vader has disobeyed orders. Vader explains that the rebels have landed on Endor. Palpatine waives this off, “Yes I know.” It is all according to plan. “Skywalker is with them.” Vader continues. Palpatine looks visibly worried, “Are you sure?” he asks. “I have felt him.” Vader replies. “Strange that I have not,” Palpatine responds “I trust that your feelings on this matter are clear Lord Vader?” “They are clear.” Vader assures him.

OK! So this is really important. Vader can sense Luke whereas Palpatine cannot. We know that Palpatine is by and large the stronger in the Dark Side of the two, so it’s not possible Vader was doing something with the Dark Side that Palpatine could not. So how did Vader sense his son? Through the Light Side. Vader, for a moment concerning his son, was channeling the Light Side of the Force again. Palpatine confirms this through his question, “Are your feelings clear?” He knows Vader channeled the Light Side, which could only have been done through some sort of goodness or affection towards Luke. In other words, love. Palpatine is concerned Vader actually loves his son. If that’s true it could undo everything (and as we’ll see, it does.)

When Luke surrenders to Vader, Luke is now the one pleading. He believes there is good left in Annakin yet, but he overestimates this. He believes Vader loves him too much to expose him to Palpatine, but he underestimates Palpatine’s hold over Vader, and is taken to the Throne Room. Some important things are revealed, however. One, Vader is impressed with Luke’s lightsaber. One can almost sense pride in his voice. In addition, when Vader rejects Luke’s pleas to turn away from evil, he says, “It is….too late for me, son.” Vader wants to run away with Luke, but he believes that the Dark Side is an inevitable force he cannot escape nor be redeemed from. Palpatine’s lies, like the lies of an abusive parent or spouse, have sunk deep within him. Vader can forsee a future with his son, but only one that lies in the Dark Side. Now that he’s going to the Emperor, Vader believes this dream lost. “He is your master now.” Vader doesn’t believe he can best Palpatine.

When Vader and Luke finally cross blades, we see Luke is much improved, but Vader is still clearly better. Anyone can see Vader is holding back, taunting Luke in an attempt to arouse his anger so that Luke will channel the Dark Side. At first, Luke does the Jedi proud, and refuses to even meaningfully engage Vader. Then Vader searches Luke and discovers Leia. His taunts about turning Leia are too much for Luke, and he flies into a rage.

At this point, Luke is channeling Dark Side. He aggressively attacks Vader with hatred. He feels betrayed. Luke now believes what Yoda and Kenobi said. Vader is irredeemable, and in his foolish quest to save him, Luke has now betrayed everyone. Luke strikes out again and again until at last he throws Vader down in ruin and chops off his hand. Luke is about to land the death blow when he sees the cyborg stump that was his father’s hand. He looks down at his own cyborg hand. Suddenly he realizes he is becoming just like Vader. Bit by bit, he’s becoming a Sith. He sheathes his weapon and turns to the Emperor. “Never.” he throws the saber away, “I’ll never turn to the Dark Side. You’ve failed your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” That bit about him throwing his saber away always bothered me as a kid. Why throw away your weapon? Because Luke finally realizes what the real battle is. It’s not the battle for physical survival, but spiritual survival. If he kept his weapon, perhaps he could have defeated Palpatine. But even if he had, he would have smoothly taken his place as Lord of the Sith. By throwing the weapon down, he threw aside temptation to do more harm and rejected the Dark Side (unlike in the cave in episode 5, where he chose to fight). He was now a Jedi.

"So be it. Jedi."

“So be it. Jedi.”

The Emperor now realizes this brat has cost him everything. Vader is useless now and probably not going to survive and his chosen successor is now a stinking Jedi. He raises his hands, and pure hate turns to kinetic energy made for killing. Force Lightning. Luke is quickly overcome and falls to the ground writhing in pain. Vader gets up after a fashion to watch this unfold. I believe he was expecting the torture to provoke Luke to surrender and turn at last. I think Vader knew his time was up, but maybe his son could live on as Palpatine’s new apprentice. But Luke holds on, and on, and on. Soon, the pain does get to Luke, but not at all in the way Vader expects. He begins to plead, like a child, “Father, please! Help me!” Vader hears his son’s pleas and looks at Palpatine. All he sees there is pure hatred. At some point, Vader snaps. He grabs Palpatine while he’s still channeling, and you can see that the lightning is hitting Vader all the way to the pit, causing severe pain and damage, but Vader makes it and throws him in. Heck yeah!

I think in those last moments, Vader came to accept two realizations. One, that Palpatine was never the good guy, despite the lies fed to him in Episodes 2 and 3. His way was not the right way, and all Palpatine had ever done for him was take away everything he loved and enslaved him. The spell Palpatine had put on Annakin had broken. Two, Annakin realized that his pretensions about training Luke to overthrow Palpatine to become the new Sith lords was just a cover for his true love that he held for his only son. Third, that whether he could be redeemed or not, there were things worse than death, and seeing your boy tortured to death by a madman while he pleas for your help is definitely one of them.

So in conclusion, I believe that Vader loved his son Luke from the moment he knew he existed. I think all of his actions and efforts in Episodes 5 and 6 were to save his son from death and to be with him, albeit for most of that time that relationship was to be one of Sith Lord and Apprentice. (The Dark Side twisted his love.)

Why is this on my blog? I am too tired now to make spiritual allegorical connections, so I’ll let you do that work yourself. 🙂

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2015 in Soteriology

 

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Two Stones

When I was abostoneut 7 years old, my parents took me to a history museum. There I met one of my great loves, history. I could go on and on about how I love His story, but that is not the point of this post. While I was there we visited the gift shop and I found a quartz crystal that had been cut into the shape of an ovum. At the time, in my limited experience, it was the most beautiful stone I’d ever seen. I asked my mom if I could buy it. “Why?” she asked. “I want to give it to the girl I marry.” I promised.

When I was 18 years old, I was driving down the interstate at night with a friend of mine. We were talking about life, as 18 year olds about to go to college do. “What do you want out of life Jason…like if you could have anything at all?” my friend asked. “The same thing I have always wanted.” I told him. “A family. But it’s never gonna happen. I can count all the relationships I’ve had on one hand and they were all terrible. So I guess a good career that has meaning would do.” From that day on, I tried to focus on landing a great career, but the pain was always there.

When I was about 25 years old I took part in a singles life group led by the Currans at Steven’s Street Baptist Church. It had been 18 years since I bought that stone, and yet my bride was not forthcoming. I was depressed at my life in general. The wife thing was not the only part that had not worked out as I’d hoped. The degree I’d earned in medicine might has well have been printed on toilet paper for all the good it was doing, and future prospects looked bleak. Only recently the year before had I returned from years of wandering to the Church, but my spiritual walk was a hobbled one.

Bill Curran handed each of us a stone. Just a plain rock. “Take this stone,” he said, “and pray over it. Take your biggest burden, your deepest hurt, and put it on the stone. This is your burden. Every day I want you to pray that God would take away the burden until it is gone.” I prayed over the stone like he said, but it wasn’t my failed career or lost prospects that came to mind, “I want to be married, God, but I am not, and it hurts so bad not to be and know I never will. So I place this burden on this stone, and I pray you will help me to be satisfied and not carry it anymore.”

Over the next year, God showed me how to be content without a wife. Nevertheless, content as I was, the stone remained on my dresser. Just because you learn to live with a burden doesn’t mean it’s gone.

At the time I knew a girl named Gena. Though we had started out enemies a year prior, we were now good friends, although we still got on each others nerves. Over the course of that year, things began to change between us. We talked more and more and more. There’s a lot of twists and turns and nuances I won’t get into here (but I’ll be glad to talk about it anytime), but eventually I came to realize the truth. I could not marry anyone else. She was it, or nothing. Realize now, that I did not believe I could not live without her, because I had come to trust that God was the only companion I needed. What I did realize was that Gena was the only girl I could ever marry, and no other. If I could not marry her, then I would not marry. I just knew it.

The time had come. Before I did anything else, I went to Cane Creek with my burden stone and I threw it into the lake. There was no turning back.

Gena and I talked about it and started courting shortly thereafter. We were engaged six days after we started dating. It turns out the same God was speaking to both of us. After I proposed, I got out another stone, the quartz ovum I had kept for 19 years, and I gave it to my future bride.

Two stones, one a burden, one a promise. One lies on the bottom of the lake, never to be seen again. The other lies in a special box on my wife’s dresser.

SDG.

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2014 in Sanctification

 

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