Sunday, March 1, 2015

All is Not Lost!!!

I have not written a blog in a long time and my life has been interesting since my last post. I recently got married, graduated college, rented out an apartment, got a job, etc. It has been a great couple of years with a lot of ups and a lot of downs, both spiritually and emotionally. I began recently to dive into my bible again; however, not just by reading it and doing devotionals on youversion (which have been awesome), but by digging deeper through study. I am currently going through the book of Ecclesiastes and if you are reading this, I want to invite you to dig deeper with me. I hope you enjoy it. I am not a Bible scholar, I am just trying to apply the tools available for all of us to go deeper than the surface of the text. I hope you enjoy!

Ecclesiastes begins on a very depressing note. It states "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity." (Ecclesiastes 1:2). The preacher says that everything is essentially lived in excess, but it is still empty. All is empty no matter what it is. He then begins to get a little poetic but makes a new note, all things are also full of weariness! (1:8).

If we look at our daily lives, doesn't this ring some truth? Everything we experience becomes either empty or weary. Think of the things that you love doing: playing games, watching TV, exercising, reading, dancing, etc. Everything gets tiring. People can only do something for so long before it becomes weary. Also, with these things mentioned, in the long run they just lead to emptiness. They lead to vanity. Do you begin to see how depressing this book seems. I mean, lol I feel depressed just writing this out. However, before you conclude and want to stop reading, there is this message of hope in this book.

"That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away." (Ecclesiastes 3:15).

Everything has already been done and experienced essentially. When we consume our days with these things spoken above we become empty and lost; however, what does this verse state? It states that God seeks what has been driven away. Driven away, is synonymous with being lost! Either if you read this blog or read this book on your own, you might have this feeling of loss. This verse holds hope. God is seeking you out when you realize this truth "Life without him is empty." When you come to that conclusion, you can begin to filter out all that clutter in your life that distracts you. Beginning to see the truth that God is chasing you this very minute!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Beauty of Scripture

It has been a little while since I have posted, and to be quite honest, I have really missed it. I miss telling you all my thoughts, but the more important thing is that during this time of absence I have been on my own journey; I have been rediscovering the beauty of Scripture.

Now you can call me crazy, but I have this theory about Christianity, and maybe even most other religions/ beliefs. My theory is that most of the populace don't take time to read their scriptures. Now I can really only speak about Christianity and this is what this devotional pertains to. Most Christians that I encounter, don't seem like they read their Bible all that much and I think there are many problems with that, but I won't get into that lol. My point is that I have rediscovered the beauty of the Bible. It is not just the Beauty found in the Gospels and the Letters of Paul, James, Peter, etc., but it is also the Beauty found in the Hebrew Scriptures as well.

The Bible in its entirety is a beautiful work. There is something in it for everyone. It is filled with stories of God's love, peoples anger, wrath, joy, war, death, social justice, pain, laughter, redemption, forgiveness, etc. It seems to stretch across every possible way of life, belief, etc. The Bible is full of so many things, and yes, I will admit that it even has its fair share of controversies. This is what I find so beautiful about it. This (in my opinion) is an ideal text for someone who wishes to seek God out. At times during your readings,  you might find yourself screaming "WHY GOD?!?!" And at others, you might with tears in your eyes, have that sigh of relief saying "Thank you so much for your Love God."

I just wanted to encourage you all to pick it up and read it. If you are a seeker of God, give it a try and see where God brings you. If you are a Christian, I encourage you to dig through this and experiencing the molding  and growing process that will begin to happen. It really is such a beautiful thing.

Anyway peace out homies

"For you have been a stronghold to the poor,
a stronghold to the needy in his distress,
a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat;

for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall," -Isaiah 25:4

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dang Son, Put on Some Deodorant!!! You Be Rank!

"For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are saved being saved and among those who are perishing." - 2nd Corinthians 2:15 

This verse is awesome; and even better, for those who don’t enjoy reading long spiels, this one is really short. It is just a simple challenge to my fellow Christians out there. What aroma are you giving off? Is it really the pleasant aroma that Jesus gives or is it the one that is truly rank and rotten? Sometimes we get lost in judgment, exclusion, anger, etc., that we tend to forget about really represent Christ to the people around us. These people include family members, friends at school, co-workers, bullies, teacher, and so on. When we don’t represent Christ to people we are in danger of doing the complete opposite, repelling others. Take it from me, when I start to sweat or get gassy, people really do not want to hang out with me!

I just wanted to encourage you to check yourself today; to put it in another phrase, take a big whiff of how you are living. If you are one of those who is stankin then grab some Jesus spray and represent like you should.

Peace out homies!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

People should be aware

I usually avoid putting up articles and such as a blog but this really broke my heart and I really feel like there is a need to share it. I received an email today from an organization that I follow called World Watch. Their goal is to be a voice for the little guy that seems to be constantly drowned out by many different people. It is mostly a Christian organization and the look out for those types of groups; however, don't let that turn you off to this post. For those of you that might not be Christian and find yourself on this blog it is still important for you to read. It is about the Syrian conflict and it shows that there are other factors that are involved. There are not just the 'rebels' and Assad's regime. There are other people caught in the cross fire. Some of them find safety under Assad's banner. Most of these are about non combatants. Anyway, here is the email. It is another viewpoint on this matter.

"Viewpoint: A troubling call from Syria

Nuri Kino is a Sweden-based independent journalist. His report, titled ”The Camp,” which examined the construction of a massive refugee camp for Syrian Christians inside Turkey, appeared May 5 at World Watch Monitor.

Aug. 26

Early this morning I received a phone call from Mary, a friend in Sweden who was born in Syria. She wanted me to check my Facebook account. A young Syrian woman, Nour, wanted to become friends with me. I accepted the request. A minute later, Nour wrote me her first message. She had pictures from Tabqa, a town that was totally emptied of Christian Assyrians. Nour also had the contact information of victims of fundamentalist Islam. They, the victims, want the world to know what has happened to them. A group of non-Syrian Mujahedeen drove them out of their homes.The message from the perpetrators was ”convert to Islam or leave”. I called one of the victims, and heard horrifying stories about religious and ethnic cleansing.

Christians in Syria are a vulnerable group. They comprise approximately 12 percent of the population. Tabqa used to be a modern city with cinemas, hairdressers, fashion boutiques and restaurants. Now it is driven by men in beards who no longer allow any of that.

An hour after my interview with that refugee, US Secretary of State John Kerry declared ”there must be accountability” on behalf of the victims of a chemical weapon attack. Considering all the evidence emerging from witnesses, from images, from human-rights groups and from medical information provided by Doctors Without Borders, Kerry said ”these all strongly indicate” that ”chemical weapons were used in Syria,” and that they were fired by the Syrian government.

Doctors Without Borders didn't  appreciate its medical reports being used as a justification for possible military action. It issued a statement stressing that only ”an independent investigation” can determine whether the hundreds of bodies arriving at hospitals Aug. 21 were killed by chemical weapons, and that the organization has not placed blame anywhere.

While I tuned in to YouTube to listen to Kerry’s speech again, an Assyrian refugee who has taken shelter in Lebanon called me. Ninos wanted to know whether I thought NATO will bomb Syria. His family remains in Syria. They fled from rebel-controlled Homs to regime-controlled suburbs. They feel safer in areas where the regime can protect them, where al-Nusra or other fundamentalist Islamists can’t persecute them. Ninos said he’s afraid that, if the U.S. and its allies enter the war, Christians will be suffer doubly, and that they will be bombed along with Alawites, a Muslim sect that 15 percent of Syrians, including President Bashar al-Assad, belong to.

At the end of his speech, Kerry declared the US must protect the most vulnerable. I wondered if he, and the American allies currently expressing outrage, have thought about Christians like Ninos, his family, and Nour. They have not killed a single soul. They definitely have not gassed anyone. And they are the most vulnerable Syrians of all."

I just wanted to encourage everyone to be aware of what is going on. Please pray for these people in this country, and if you can do so, email your representative and oppose what is happening in this country. Think about the consequence of more arms provided by our country and even oppose that if you think it is a problem as well. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Don't Forget About Love

I just wanted to encourage you not to forget about love. It seems that love is all to easy to forget. We tend to focus on other issues all to fast. If you look at the popular discussions in Christian circles, it seems that they are full of controversy. Gay/interracial marriage, religious violence, racism, war, abortion, immigration, etc., seem to be the popular topics these past few months. These issues may be or may not be (depending on who you are) that important, this is not about that; however, what we need to remember is love. We need to come to talk about our concerns (what ever they may be) in a way that is loving, not hateful. This is especially true for Christians because unlike the rest of the world, we are called to represent something so much bigger then us: the message of Jesus. When we don't speak and act out in love, we are actually damaging that representation, and the result is the spread of what I like to call, the anti-Gospel. Are you spreading the anti-gospel?

I know that for myself, I spread the anti-gospel by not necessarily spreading hateful speech but by inactivity. I don't speak when I should, nor do I act when it is important. I am part of that sleeping giant who needs to wake up. I tend to get easily distracted with things in my own life that I end up ignoring what is going on around me. My contribution to the anti-Gospel is not showing the opposite; the true Gospel about the Love that God has and that we should have as individuals. Many of you fall into this camp as well. I hope that you can make a commitment with me and stand up in love!

"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. " - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Monday, July 29, 2013

My Indonesian Experience in a Nut Shell

If I was to be honest, when I arrived in Yogyakarta, I was really nervous and a little frightened. I was excited to get the Luce Scholarship; however, that moment was also bitter sweet. Before coming to Indonesia, the longest that I have ever left the United States was a week, and even in these trips, I was always with friends who shared common beliefs and goals. My experience in Indonesia was completely different; I left my comfort zone alone and for a very long period of time. I entered a foreign country where I had no familiarity either culturally or individually. This was my most difficult challenge to overcome; however, with the new friends that I made as well as the cultural experiences, the homesickness was cured. Once that was accomplished I began to realize many things about myself, life, and especially Indonesia.
            My religious background is Christian, but I attend Florida International University and am a student in religious studies. My primary focus in my studies is Islam and this made Indonesia a great opportunity for me to visit and study. Prior to my experience in Indonesia, I fell into the same trap as many other people do concerning Islam. I always thought that Islam mostly revolved around the Middle East. I thought that the Middle East was what all of Islam represented. Thus, this was one of my first lessons in coming to Jogja. Indonesia is the largest Muslim majority nation in the world. It contains more Muslims then every nation in the Middle East combined and within it is a multitude of voices and interpretations of Islam.
            The reason why I chose to study Islam is because I have a desire to share with the masses. There are many people that look at Islam in a negative aspect. When some hear the term Muslim, terrorism and Osama bin Laden comes to mind. Indonesia destroys this misconception. Islam is not a monolithic story; there is not just one interpretation. On the contrary, Islam is more of a Mosaic that holds numerous interpretations and outlooks. This is true when it even comes to the interpretation of the Quran. Some people in Indonesia look at the Quran as promoting exclusivism, while others see it as promoting pluralism. Others see Islam as a perfect way to govern society, while others see flaws that will bring injustice and corruption.
            There is one specific event that exemplifies this during my stay in Indonesia. One evening, a group of Luce students went to see Cak Nun speak. It was a very powerful evening. None of us realized the honor that we were given to be in the presence of this very famous individual. Cak Nun led an event that reminded me of an evangelical conference. There was music, jokes, preaching, etc. There were also hundreds of Muslims in attendance. There was a lot that happened during this evening; however, there are not nearly enough pages to record its entirety. What stood out were the beliefs of Cak Nun. He categorized himself as a Muslim; however, he stated that even claiming that he was a Muslim did not really come close to what he really believed. He believed that once you categorize religion, you categorize God. His view was that God is so much more then Islam, Christianity, Judaism, etc. In actuality, all these religions were manifestations of truth that attempted to describe God and the ways of God. Not even the Prophet Muhammad had it all together. This is definitely not an orthodox way of thinking.
            This event also helped confirm an idea that I already held: salvation and faith is a complex phenomenon. I know many people who are very exclusivistic in their ideas of faith and salvation and there are plenty who would state that Islam, or any other religion for that matter, is a lie. In some of their interpretations, Muslims’ are deceived and in the end will be judged by God. Before coming to Jogya, I held a conviction that salvation and religion is not so simple; on the contrary, it is very complex. During the time with Cak Nun, there was a major prayer session where hundreds of Muslims were crying out to God during a prayer of intercession, many of which had tears streaming down their face. It was a beautiful and powerful moment. To hold a view of salvation and religion with such simplicity is a major error. It reveals a deep ignorance (or maybe even arrogance) of the individual. Though I am not Muslim, there was no doubt in my mind that those individuals were experiencing something very powerful. It was their desires, hopes, dreams, etc., put into a powerful cry to Allah. This event for them was not a lie, nor a deception, but an experience of the Divine.
            The problem to seeing religion as exclusive is due to the fact that the majority of these individuals don’t personally know people of differing faiths. This is something that I explicitly learned from my trip to Indonesia. When an individual has no interaction or relations with people of other religions, it becomes easy to reject their ideas, culture, and religion as a fallacy. It is a completely different situation when these different ideas or religions have a face associated with them. This was one of the main points in my interfaith class that I took at ICRS. Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., have something very powerful in common; they are all human. Each individual, both religious and nonreligious, are trying to figure out meaning and purpose for their lives. They are all on a journey and find hope in different things. Some find it in Allah while others find it in Krishna or Jesus. This actually resonates deeply with me because I personally believe that it is impossible to ‘know somebodies heart’. It is easy to make a fast judgment on someone; it is much more difficult to try to understand them.
            The last thing to be discussed is another interesting element in Indonesian society: syncretism. From my observations, there seems to be syncretism in almost every religion I encountered, at least to some degree. I was previously familiar with religion syncretism with culture, and I encounter it a lot in America; however, I never really experienced religion syncretizing with religion, I mean I was aware that it occurred, but I never seen it practiced. One example was found in an outdoor catholic church. From my experiences in Catholic churches, there are usually a plethora of Christian symbols being represented. There are crosses, statues of saints, and other religious symbols being represented all over the building; however, at this Catholic Church, there were only a couple of Christian symbols that I could see. Most of the symbols were of Hindu and Javanese ( a large culture within Indonesia) origin. It was very interesting and this church was a very popular one. Also, outside the Church was a Hindu temple, and usually within the temple there is a statue of a deity to whom people will pay their respects to. Within this temple was not a Hindu god or goddess, it was Jesus! That honestly blew my mind. It seemed like it brought multiple cultures together into communion. It was really fascinating to experience.

            These few things that I mentioned barely cover my experience as a whole. I also learned a lot through relationships with people of differing faiths and even from the unique architecture of different temples. Stating everything in writing is too vast for this little report; however, this experience is something that I will never forget. Through my trip to Indonesia I have become more knowledgeable in my field of studies, but even more importantly, I have become a better and loving person because of realizing that people are just that: people. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pain and Loss

On July 24th, 2013, my cousin Joe Sweeney passed away. He left behind a wife and children. Currently my family is mourning for a loss that weighs on their hearts. I am also in this category. I have not seen my cousin for about 10 years, but I remember the joy and even the trouble he would bring when I was little lol. I also know that he was very loved by my family and I know how close my family is in the North and I know that they are all feeling pain. My heart breaks along with them and my prayers will continue to go out for them.
  Losing a loved one is traumatic and there is no word to describe the pain and heartache that follows. While the world continues to turn, it seems that your world suddenly stops. When my best friend, and who I still consider my brother Devon Monivis, passed away, my world again froze. People would offer their sincerest apologies but their lives would continue to move on. The fact of the matter is that loss happens every day, from the controversial death/murder of Trayvon Martin to the person who just died of starvation in Africa with the ending of this sentence. Death plagues our society. Yes, some of it is natural; however, much of it is not. There is too much murder, too many ‘accidents’, too many rapes, too many drug overdoses, and too much violence. There is too much pain, and yet, while all of these things happen, the world moves on virtually unaware of the morbid reality that millions (if not a couple of billion) face.
  Jesus calls us to mourn with those who are mourning. In order to mourn, one has to try to understand that pain. There are those ‘fake apologies’ that really bother me when a loss happens close to home. These are the ones who just say sorry for your loss like it’s an obligation. Then there are those who really put in effort to help bring comfort. They will cook you food, spend time with you, etc. Maybe the way that will help us to truly mourn with others is to place one of our loved ones in the shoes of the deceased. How would you feel if your child died of a drug overdose, how would you feel if there was a horrible car accident with someone you love in the car? What would you do if your mother or brother was dying from cancer? What would be your response if your newborn child suddenly died from some complication? Even with these thoughts, it is only a start to feeling the pain. No amount of imagination (unless you actually have experienced the same type of loss yourself) can come close to the reality of the pain. Yet, Jesus still tells us to stop and mourn with others. He does not want us to ignore the people dying in poverty; he does not want us to ignore the homeless or the drug attics. He wants us to be proactive and help them. He wants us to bring comfort to the hurting, healing to the sick, and clothing to the naked. So I encouraged you today, be aware of someone’s pain , pray for them and sincerely seek to love them.
  I also want to encourage those who are hurting at the moment of reading, comfort will come. Though the loss will always be there, the pain can be healed and love can fill that gaping hole. =)

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” –Mathew 5:4