Converge http://convergemagazine.com Thu, 30 Jul 2015 04:50:11 +0000 en-CA hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.3 From Buddha to Christhttp://convergemagazine.com/from-buddha-to-christ-16863/ http://convergemagazine.com/from-buddha-to-christ-16863/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 03:42:58 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=16863 From Buddha to Christ by Touray Kungkagam

I am the son of a Buddhist father of Chinese and Thai heritage, and a Pentecostal African American mother from...

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From Buddha to Christ by Touray Kungkagam

I am the son of a Buddhist father of Chinese and Thai heritage, and a Pentecostal African American mother from New York City. My home growing up was multicultural, to say the least.

At a young age my father briefly served as a monk in Thailand. As an adult he would occasionally go to the temple, and he had a little Buddha statue, but that was the extent of his devotion. Very rarely did my father talk about what it meant to be a Buddhist; like many, Buddhism was more cultural than personal.

My father was a very proud man. He emigrated from Thailand, pursued a masters degree in engineering, eventually working for the Boeing Corporation nearly 25 years. He achieved the ideal American dream. He loved to work out, watch football, and eat healthy foods.

He always assumed he would live a long healthy life, until the day he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Suddenly a man who had much confidence in himself became frail and weak. For the first time in my father’s life he wanted to go to church with my mother. He started saying and doing things that he had never done before.  He began to wake up early and get ready for church on Sundays, before my mother. Instead of her telling him he needed to get ready, he was telling her she needed to get ready. The imminence of death changed him.

In the final year of my father’s life he prayed to receive Christ. In the last few months I remember still being worried for my father’s spiritual state. The night before he died my mother decided to stay up with him — she prayed with him one last time to receive Christ in his heart. He repeated those words with her and went to sleep with a reassured peace.

The next morning my father lay in the bed, weak and feeble. I remember grasping his hands one last time. He held onto me tightly, as though he knew this was the last time we would be together. As he lay in his bed, he appeared at peace. Slowly falling into a deep sleep, he passed away surrounded by family and close friends.

My father was not a perfect man, but I watched him transform through the years. God used the tragic circumstances of terminal cancer to cause him to open his heart. He showed my father the reality of eternity, and he responded. I believe that my father knew in his heart there was no comfort or hope in Buddhism.

Christianity shares many commonalities with Buddhism. Both teach good values and compassion for others. Buddhism teaches that suffering is caused by desire, and freedom from our reality of suffering is attainable only by following the path. The “eightfold path” is not a list of commandments; it is simply a guideline, summarized by right actions, wisdom, and the right mentality. The culmination of this roadmap is the end of suffering; by eliminating desire, we ultimately eliminate suffering.

The Buddha himself epitomized this self-detachment by leaving his life of luxury, his wife, and his family to pursue enlightenment. By contrast, Jesus Christ willingly embraced suffering because he loves humanity.

There is no God in Buddhism, no heavenly father — simply a series of steps to escape this existence. Ultimately you have to save yourself.

My father turned to Christianity because Christ offered hope in knowing a personal God who offered grace over works. My father found that there was “someone out there”, a person that transcended all cultures, traditions, and religion.

Jesus knocks at the door of our heart. He wants us to know him and live in communion with him. He brings hope, peace, and rest to those who ask. That is the power of the Gospel.

 

Photo by (Flickr CC): Roberto Trombetta

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Being Earthly Minded for Justice’s Sakehttp://convergemagazine.com/being-earthly-minded-for-heavenly-good-15819/ http://convergemagazine.com/being-earthly-minded-for-heavenly-good-15819/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 03:20:44 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=15819 Being Earthly Minded for Justice’s Sake by Michelle Sudduth

Someone asks you to help at a charity function or to support a local or overseas organization. You recognize that...

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Being Earthly Minded for Justice’s Sake by Michelle Sudduth

Someone asks you to help at a charity function or to support a local or overseas organization. You recognize that an invitation to help someone in need has just been handed to you. You think about it, and while you know it would be a good thing to do, you let the opportunity pass by. “What could I do anyway? My small effort isn’t going to change much of anything. And how relevant is social justice to my faith in the first place?”

Many of us have a deep-seated misunderstanding that being “fishers of men” means doing whatever you can to get people out of an eternity in hell — which is only accomplished by saying the sinner’s prayer. Hell happens later, after death; in the here and now, the duty of the Christian is to sell heavenly insurance for the ultimate retirement in the sky.

Following this thinking leads a person to respond apathetically to injustice. If being a believer is about getting people out of an eternity in hell, there really is no urgency or vision for getting people out of the hell of their present. If today is merely a waiting game until souls get to be carefree in heaven, the present hell of an impoverished individual comes second to ensuring their eternal home.

Furthermore, our current era holds separate the physical and the spiritual, making us wonder what our faith has to do with dirty drinking water, lack of nutrition, or sexual safety. A lingering mistrust and even hatred of materiality — the “flesh” — has caused us to neglect the sacredness of being embodied in a beautifully created world. Because our Christian culture has overly-focused on “personal” relationship with Christ, we don’t often see ourselves as a worldwide community with a deep attachment to our most vulnerable family members.

Throughout the Old Testament, God mourns the injustice taking place in the kingdoms of the world. Isaiah 58 captures how God’s love pours forth liberation and healing from all forms of oppression and brokenness. In the New Testament, Jesus proves God’s care for the created, material world by coming in a human body, to a place here on earth, and miraculously healing physical diseases.

Jesus’ death broke the power of darkness and injustice in every realm: physical, emotional, spiritual, cultural, political. All of these injustices are marks of oppressive kingdoms that oppose God’s righteous love. Jesus brought with him the reign of a new kingdom, one of liberation for all those in every kind of bondage. Indeed, God is interested in saving people from every kind of present hell.

It’s probably safe for all of us to accept the possibility that we haven’t been equipped to engage the darkest places in our world. We can feel overwhelmed because we don’t know if and where social justice fits in our “personal relationship” with God, if getting involved really matters in the end, and how to handle the difficulties and discouragements that arise.

“Justice is what love looks like in public,” Cornel West brilliantly writes. God isn’t sending you off to heal the world; instead, God is inviting you to places where the Spirit is already at work, places that require human hands and feet to unfold restorative purposes. When you accept only your part, trusting that God is at work, there is no need to be overwhelmed, even when injustice seems to be winning.

Link arms with others, and ask God to give you the power and courage to follow where the Spirit is inviting you. God is faithful to give you the ability to extend yourself to those who are in need if you are open to being led. And let us all pray, the way Jesus taught us to pray: that God’s kingdom would come to earth, as it is in heaven.

 

Originally published in Issue 20 of Converge Magazine.

 

Photo (Flickr CC) by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

 

 

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Beauty is Conditionalhttp://convergemagazine.com/beauty-is-conditional-16848/ http://convergemagazine.com/beauty-is-conditional-16848/#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 15:57:53 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=16848 Beauty is Conditional by Meghan Mellinger

Beauty is conditional. It is conditional upon the color of your hair, your weight, the symmetry of your facial features,...

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Beauty is Conditional by Meghan Mellinger

Beauty is conditional.

It is conditional upon the color of your hair, your weight, the symmetry of your facial features, the size of your lips and hips, the length of your eyelashes and skirt, your height, your bra size, your jean size, and the flawlessness of your skin.

Beauty is present when (and only when) all of these conditions are “satisfactorily” met.

At least, that’s what our culture tells us.

Sitting at a table during our lunch break, my friends and I commiserated over our flaws. A tall blonde. A petite brunette. A curly redhead. We turned the mirror upon ourselves and critiqued the myriad of conditions we failed to meet. Not enough hair. Too much weight. Just enough unflattering frown lines.

To cheer each other up, we made sure to affirm the conditions we did see in each other: stunning eyes! Full lips! Gorgeous smile! But never once did we mention inner beauty. Never once did we talk about each other’s character, personality, or gifts. Because inner beauty isn’t tied to our worth, only outer beauty is.

At least, that’s what our culture tells us.

“There’s no way he would ever be interested in me. I’m not pretty enough.” “He only befriended me on Instagram just so he could see what I looked like first before our date.” Our self-talk revealed that the few opinions others had of us impacted our self-worth. And since we believed we didn’t mark all the items on the beauty checklist, we were unworthy.

This kind of self-talk is like candy the devil throws out at a parade. One lie I consume leads to another and another—and before I know it I’m sick to my stomach. And the devil likes to buy his candy in bulk.

As Christians, we are taught to fight these lies with God’s truth. To hold up His shield at the devil’s parade to deflect the shower of bite-sized despair. Our worth is not found in the affirmation of a boyfriend or the perfect Instagram shot that shows our best side. Our worth is found in The One who died for us—The One who values our heart not our makeup.

But we don’t want to hear that. We want a man to tell us we are beautiful. We want a man to desire us. We want a man to tell us we meet his conditions.

We don’t want to be just the “girl with the great personality” or “the funny one” or [insert any other characteristic that emphasizes the inside in an attempt to deemphasize the outside].

We want earthly affirmation, not the heavenly kind.

At least, that’s what our human nature tells us.

Never mind that we are, in fact, created in the image of God and of out of the entirety of God’s creation, it wasn’t until he created us that He deemed all his creation very good.

Never mind that God created our inmost being and says we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Never mind that wrinkles are inevitable and “beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Prov 31: 30).

Never mind that God says our “beauty should not come from outward adornment” but instead “it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4).

Never mind that the tall blonde is confident, intelligent, strong, and dynamic. Never mind that the petite brunette is compassionate, thoughtful, sweet, and spontaneous. Never mind that the curly redhead is warm, witty, goofy, and energetic. Never mind that we were actually the girls with the great personalities, the funny ones, the [insert any other characteristic that actually emphasizes our true beauty by revealing our true character].

Except that we should mind, because God did. We were of so much worth to Him that He created and executed a grand story of redemption before the beginning of time with us in mind. With you in mind.

We are not mistakes. Our outsides or our insides. Our worth is not found in a checklist of standards our magazines and unrequited crushes tell us we should have. Our real and true beauty is in the makeup of our hearts, of which God himself created and has always desired since the beginning.

Our worth isn’t conditional because we belong to an unconditionally loving Father.

At least, that’s what our God tells us.

 

Photo by (Flickr CC) coloredgrey

 

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24 Hours Without My Smartphonehttp://convergemagazine.com/24-hours-without-my-smartphone-16838/ http://convergemagazine.com/24-hours-without-my-smartphone-16838/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 05:58:38 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=16838 24 Hours Without My Smartphone by Hannah Collins

My phone crashed to the ground yesterday. After trying everything I knew to restore life to the black, cold iPhone,...

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24 Hours Without My Smartphone by Hannah Collins

My phone crashed to the ground yesterday. After trying everything I knew to restore life to the black, cold iPhone, I surrendered. I almost cried. Embarrassing, right? I went the next 24 hours without my phone. Just 24 hours. But I learned a lot in that one day.

I learned that I truly have forgotten how to be a human. I’ve forgotten how to work my way through an awkward conversation, or pass through a storm of depressing emotions. Normally I would reach for my phone and check any and every social media venue in the face of awkwardness, sadness, or anything uncomfortable. My phone is my own personal security blanket, and I fear that’s what it has become for most of us.

When life’s lulls come or when depressed feelings wash over us, we can dive into our phones. We try to lift ourselves up by looking at artistic Instagram pictures or try to feel reconnected by keeping up with everyone on Twitter. We are too busy trying to speak our minds in 140 characters or less that we are missing out on real conversations and real moments that will bring a lasting fulfillment.

So for a day I had to be human. I couldn’t escape my thoughts or feelings. I made myself be present in everything and actually wrestled with things. Instead of running away I faced any negative feelings that came over me. It wasn’t easy. But, in pressing through, I found I was able to reach these pocket places of rest, true happiness, and joy that were waiting for me.

So… I’m committing to putting my phone down more. I realize that technology isn’t going to move backwards no matter how ironically hipster vintage our culture tries to become. And when I put my phone down, I get to look up. When I look up I can see there’s a lot going on, a lot I’ve been missing.

It’s plain to see that we have become bound to our phones — they have got us captive. We need to break free from their subtle power over us. Even though our smartphones are a gateway to everything we can think of, they are robbing us of a certain freedom. This freedom is only felt by living in the real world. Remember this truth: “it is for freedom Christ has set us free.” Let’s not be bound to anything, no matter how accessible or acceptable it may be. That, my friends, is true freedom.

 

Photo by (Flickr CC) Pablo Fernández

 

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Why we Prayhttp://convergemagazine.com/why-we-pray-16825/ http://convergemagazine.com/why-we-pray-16825/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 04:43:39 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=16825 Why we Pray by William Philip

As a pastor, I had often felt I ought to preach a series on prayer. But I have to confess...

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Why we Pray by William Philip

As a pastor, I had often felt I ought to preach a series on prayer. But I have to confess that I had always been put off doing so because so many of the sermons I have heard about prayer have made me feel rather depressed.

You know the kind of thing: somebody will tell you, with fervent emotion, about a great preacher getting up at four o’clock every morning and praying for six hours before breakfast, and if only you would do the same, it will be the secret to unlocking the spiritual blessing in your life. I’m afraid I just find that sort of thing really disheartening. I find I’m doing very well indeed if I can manage to pry myself out of bed at all before breakfast, never mind have hours of prayer. That kind of pious exhortation, which no doubt is genuinely intended to make me determined to go on praying and not give up, well, it just makes me want to give up altogether even before I’ve begun.

I may well simply be more perverse than you are, but that’s the effect that kind of sermon has on me. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that many Christians feel the same.why we pray

Some time ago, however, as I was thinking about how I could encourage my Christian brothers and sisters in prayer rather than discouraging and depressing them, I was reading a book that I found to be one of the most helpful I can recall ever reading on this subject. It was not a light book; it was a substantial biblical theology of prayer, with plenty to excite the neurons and tax the gray matter. But the reason I found it so helpful was that in looking at what the whole Bible teaches about prayer, it reminded me of something very important: that we learn most about prayer simply by learning about God. That is a great thing to be reminded of, because the real truth about God is never discouraging. The Lord himself is never depressing as some very well-meaning and over-pious Christians often are, or can make you feel.

So after reading that book on prayer, which really turned out to be a book about knowing God, I found for the first time that I really did want to preach about prayer, because I thought I could prepare for it without getting depressed, and I could perhaps preach on it without depressing and discouraging others. (There can surely be no worse crime for any preacher than to depress and discourage the people of God.) I discovered that as I focused the congregation on God himself, asking the most basic question of all—Why do we pray?—we found immense encouragement in our relationship with the Lord and real help in the chief expression of that relationship, which is prayer.


Content taken from Why We Pray by William Philip, ©2015. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

 

Main Photo by (Flickr CC): Ryan Wiedmaier

 

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You’re looking for the wrong person to marryhttp://convergemagazine.com/wrong-person-to-marry-5734/ http://convergemagazine.com/wrong-person-to-marry-5734/#comments Sun, 19 Jul 2015 19:00:02 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=5734 You’re looking for the wrong person to marry by Tim Chan

After spending the last decade surrounded by people in their 20s I’ve discovered the topic that occupies the majority of...

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You’re looking for the wrong person to marry by Tim Chan

After spending the last decade surrounded by people in their 20s I’ve discovered the topic that occupies the majority of their thoughts is relationships. They think about how to find the right person to marry and they wonder whether the person they are dating is their soul mate.

Where did the notion of a soul mate come from anyways? I went to Google to find the answer. Apparently, Plato came up with the idea (way back when the earth was flat).

He introduced it in The Symposium where one of his characters tells the story of how humans originally had four hands and four feet, and a single head with two faces. But the god Zeus feared the might and strength of these humans and split them in half, leaving them to spend the rest of their lives searching for their other half or “soul mate” to complete them.

When I overhear discussions of how to find a soul mate, a frequent theme that comes up is compatibility. Does the person have the same values and outlook on life as I do? Does he or she have the same interests and hobbies as me? Does the person make me happy and make me feel good about myself? Are we headed in the same direction and want the same things in life? Do I like his or her friends and family? The list of questions goes on.

Well, I have a bit of news for you:  If you are looking for a soul mate to complete you, you are looking for the wrong person to marry.  If you are looking for someone who will be compatible with you, you are focusing on the wrong quality.

“But doesn’t God want to bless me and make me happy?” you might object. Yes, God does want to bless you and fulfill you. And if you do get married, then God can use your marriage to bless you and make you happy.

But God never intended for your spouse to complete you or be the ultimate source of your happiness. Actually, God’s plan is that your spouse will cause you trouble and at times make you unhappy.

Mark Gungor, pastor and author of Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage writes,

“God wants to kill you. Not the physical you, but the selfish you. Jesus taught us that if we don’t die to our selfish nature, we will never be able to experience all the blessings that God wants to bestow on us. Well, if there was ever an institution designed to kill the selfish you, it’s marriage. In fact, it is virtually impossible to succeed at marriage if you don’t learn how to let the selfish part of you die.”

God’s plan is to help us become less self-centered and more selfless. In marriage, you have daily opportunities to learn and practice putting your spouse’s needs above your own. It doesn’t come naturally.

Olive and I have been married for four years. Early on in our marriage I learned a lesson on the difficulty of being selfless. There was one night when we had just gotten settled into bed, all cozy under our comforter.

I was just about to fall asleep and drift into dreamland when I heard Olive’s voice in the darkness: “Tim? I think the hallway light is still on. We should turn it off.” We? I thought to myself. It’s so confusing when she uses the word “we” when she actually means “you” – especially late at night. And if she noticed the light, why couldn’t she get up and turn it off?

Right then, I knew I had a choice. I could either put my needs first and pretend to be asleep, or I could put my wife’s needs first and drag myself out of bed to turn off the darn hallway light.

Being in relationship with Olive has made me realize how self-centered I can be, which surprised me, because I thought I was a pretty kind and considerate guy to begin with. But really, it was very natural to think about myself first. Through my marriage I am slowly thinking a little less about my needs and more about hers.

That night, I did get out of bed to turn off the hallway light. It was a small win in my journey towards selflessness.

Here’s the beautiful thing about marriage: it shapes you to become a better person: a person less consumed with your own happiness and more able to rejoice in making others happy.

So when you are looking for someone to marry, don’t look for someone that will make you happy. Look for someone that you can make happy.

 

Flickr photo (cc) by Varin Tsai

 

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The Secret to Living the Everyday Good Lifehttp://convergemagazine.com/the-secret-to-living-the-everyday-good-life-16006/ http://convergemagazine.com/the-secret-to-living-the-everyday-good-life-16006/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 04:40:43 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=16006 The Secret to Living the Everyday Good Life by Michelle Sudduth

What do I want to order from your ten-page menu, Mr. Waiter? You have no idea the inner turmoil you...

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The Secret to Living the Everyday Good Life by Michelle Sudduth

What do I want to order from your ten-page menu, Mr. Waiter? You have no idea the inner turmoil you are creating by giving me so many options with only three minutes to self-diagnose my food craving! The decisions of everyday life, much like selecting from a large menu, can be overwhelming even for you non-over-thinkers out there. “Isn’t it nice to have choices?” we think as we peruse vacation destinations, churches, car dealership lots, chewing gums, and television channels. The question is, when did more become better? While it is a gift to not be forced into decisions due to lack of alternatives, have we made the mere presence of many options a pinnacle of the good life?

Discernment isn’t something we practice only when deciding what to buy or where to travel, and it is a much more complex practice when we face the endless options of our daily lives. A constant search for alternatives to the difficult or uncomfortable, or even just the routine places we find ourselves in can diminish our spiritual growth.

It is easy to want to avoid what is naturally given in favour of other, more fulfilling, more glamorous options. Sometimes we start looking for new horizons when what we are given is not “the very best imaginable,” as if we are entitled to the very best car, microwave, small group, job, or burger every time.

Our choosiness can short circuit the nourishment, training, wisdom, and traction that are the grounds for the rich spiritual life we are offered in every circumstance, whether “good” or “bad.”

Our inclination to control our lives is powerful: we want to avoid disappointment and the feeling of powerlessness. But trying to stand outside of our lives to judge whether or not we “need” the circumstances we’ve been given is often fruitless. If we allow our lives to bring maturity and wisdom, every situation can be rich.

The question for spiritual growth is, how or in what way do I need what is being given here? This is answered through prayer, the guidance of trusted friends, and a working knowledge and interaction with God’s Word. When we can’t answer these questions, we are invited to a deeper trust that God knows what we need, and even brings purpose and good out of the most confusing and senseless of circumstances.

For those of you who are in a season of abnormal turmoil, be assured that accepting the reality of your life is not excusing the injustice of any evils that have come your way nor is it assigning to God responsibility for these disasters. No, we battle with God against these evils. But the normal, every day difficulties we face contain many wonderful and wise secrets for the betterment of our lives, should we be humble enough to receive them.

When we attentively and prayerfully engage with life as it happens, we walk towards wisdom. Let your conversation with God about the reality of your circumstances tell you something true about life and about yourself, humbly receiving things that you wouldn’t choose, don’t understand, and that are the opposite of the high life “promised” by North American culture.

Your freedom will not be found in a storehouse of options but by receiving from God what he desires to give you in the real stuff of your everyday, ordinary experience. So, I ask you, in the circumstances you find yourself in today, are you ignoring something that God wants to engage with you about? Or are you willing to be in prayer, seeking wise council, or meditating on God’s word so that you can hear what He has to say to you today? In merciful, restorative love, God invites you to the only option for true fulfillment — a life found in Him.

 

Photo by (Flickr CC) tracy benjamin

 

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Lessons from a first lovehttp://convergemagazine.com/15-learned-first-love-7451/ http://convergemagazine.com/15-learned-first-love-7451/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 04:05:27 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=7451 Lessons from a first love by Sam McLoughlin

My first real, healthy dating relationship begin and end in the span of six months. I think I experienced real...

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Lessons from a first love by Sam McLoughlin

My first real, healthy dating relationship begin and end in the span of six months. I think I experienced real love, and when it ended, felt hurt like never before, and was a bitter mess for months. I learned a lot about myself and relationships during that time. Through the process of finding and losing love, here are some points of wisdom I gained from my first love:

1. You can’t be cool all the time

Sure, you need to be cool at the start. You can’t be dorky and awkward right off the bat. But after a while, you gotta fly your true colours and sing the Mulan soundtrack at the top of your lungs in a silly voice just because sometimes that’s just who you are.

2. Love is not a movie

Just because you’re wearing nice clothes, put the perfect song on and kiss doesn’t mean the credits roll and perfection is reached. You still have to say goodbye, and drive home, and deal with all the non-perfect moments that are sure to be coming at you.

3. Love does not equal engagement

Timing is everything. You’re not ready until you know you’re ready.

4. Don’t take love for granted

It’s actually quite easy to start thinking about your significant other as just a good friend that you occasionally make out with. But that’s not love! Love is something very special. Truly appreciating a loving relationship while you’re in it may be impossible until you’ve loved and lost and been fortunate enough to find it again. Remember that it could be over at any moment, so treasure it!

5. Love demands growth

Your goal should be to help the other person grow. If you aren’t even more in love with who they are becoming, and wants to become, than who they are right now, and you aren’t willing to give everything to see them reach their potential, then walk away. On the flip side, if you aren’t willing to grow into the sort of person who is worthy of the person, then walk away.

6. Remember your friends

They’re the ones whose shoulders you might be crying on later, so don’t abandon them. Also, they often have good advice to give, and can see things about your relationship that you may be blind to. Ask them to be honest with you, and trust them. You’ll thank them later..

7. Love makes you desperate…

…so desperate to hold onto it, that you’d trade all of your dreams, everything you’ve worked for, your friends and family and God. You’d trade it all, just to have it back. This is not healthy. Love can be good, but blind love can also deprive you of everything you are.

8. Break-ups are brutal

There is perhaps no worse feeling than being rejected by someone you love. At least it gives you a chance to press reset on your life, your other relationships, and your walk with God. One day those lessons you learned and pain you went through will contribute to a greater, deeper happiness with someone else.

 

Flickr photo (cc) by  LaPrimaDonna

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The hymn is back inhttp://convergemagazine.com/hymn-8301/ http://convergemagazine.com/hymn-8301/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 18:00:26 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=8301 The hymn is back in by Michael Morelli

These days, people are talking about “hymns” in the same way they talk about things that are “vintage”. They think...

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The hymn is back in by Michael Morelli

These days, people are talking about “hymns” in the same way they talk about things that are “vintage”. They think of hymns as being more authentic and countercultural — mostly because they’ve been around longer than ten years. But do they really understand what hymns are or where they came from? Probably not.

I have no beef people who are sincerely attempting to return to the roots of their faith through a worship expression grounded in Christian history (history they may not be aware of) and tradition. I go to church with many of those people. I love and am encouraged by those people. And, to a certain extent, I am one of those people. I’m a church history geek, growing up on at churches where hymns and liturgy were the only expressions of worship. And while I did make a shift in my teenage years to the sort of churches that had legit late 90s, early 2000s, contemporary praise music — “This Is The Air I Breathe”, anyone? – I’ve never lost my deep love for traditional hymns like “The Wondrous Cross.”

So why is it that the hymn is making its way back into so many of our church services?

For many Christians in their 20s and 30s, a point has been reached where the worship-in-a-vacuum approach of the “seeker-sensitive” movement isn’t working anymore. Perhaps there was a time when it was attractive to discount tradition and put hyper-emotionalism and personal experience at the forefront of our expressions of worship. But now that candle is burning out and is being replaced with the incense of traditional hymns mixed with contemporary instrumentation. And I’d say it’s probably for the better.

But a good number of people still aren’t clear on what constitutes a hymn. Which, in my humble opinion, is a great loss. Here is where Isaac Watts’s story can help provide a bit more depth to our understanding of what most people mean when they say “hymns” these days. Isaac Watts was a preacher and musician in the late 17th century who observed and actively responded to the poor state of worship in the English Protestant Church. At the time, people were singing direct translations of psalms with awkward musical structures, and consequently, had little idea what they were singing. That, and they were bored out of their minds.

Flickr photo // AjDele Photography

Flickr photo // AjDele Photography

It was here that Watts’ formation of the modern English hymn began: a song of praise written in the 17th or 18th century directed to God, rooted in the theology of the Bible and contextually expressed within that time and place — people singing praise to God in ways that are spiritually, logically, and emotionally engaging.

What followed in Watts’ wake was an explosion of hymn writers who used the new worship style to give new voices to the powerful truths being preached during the evangelical revivals. Watts trail-blazed the way for brilliant hymns from individuals like Wesley, Cowper, Newton, and Crosby.

Responding to my own condensed history lesson, I can’t help but think we are entering a period of worship reformation, whereby hymns combined with contemporary instrumentation will become the primary expressions of worship. This generation of Christians are searching for excellent expressions of music that reconnect us back to the origins of our faith and engage all facets of our life in Christ.

So does this mean we abandon contemporary praise music altogether and only sing traditional hymns in our churches? Does it mean we ditch our current places of worship for places that are more liturgical? No, I don’t think so.

As Christians we should be informed, not controlled, by the traditions and history of the universal church. We should seek to do what Watts did within his own context: write and sing excellent music to God, for God. We should seek to be the true worshippers with timely expressions of the heart and mind, characterized by God’s Spirit and truth.

Now that is a worship reformation I’d like to see.

 

Flickr photo (cc) by  theirhistory 

 

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Why we need fiery faithhttp://convergemagazine.com/fiery-faith-1784/ http://convergemagazine.com/fiery-faith-1784/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 15:55:48 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com?p=1784 Why we need fiery faith by Tracy Le

Fire is appealing. The bright embers can warm and even ignite us. Spiritually, this very thing can save a cold soul...

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Why we need fiery faith by Tracy Le

Fire is appealing. The bright embers can warm and even ignite us. Spiritually, this very thing can save a cold soul who has ebbed and flowed in a frequency of lukewarm faith. A lack of a fire can destroy our faith.

It’s natural to not maintain a steady fire for God — we are temperamental beings who are easily distracted. But it’s safe to assume, deep down in our gut, there lays a natural instinct — we know what we need. When it’s a rainier than normal summer, we grab an umbrella though it may be inconvenient. When we grab our cup of scalding hot coffee, we pause and skim the top with our breath to cool first then indulge that first perfect sip. And when our faith is weary, we (should) read the Word and seek our Father to gain back that fire that was once familiar and not so foreign to us. But this is more difficult than adding ice cubes to your mug, isn’t it?

The human spirit tends to travel and linger in the space of uncertainty that causes forgetfulness of who we once were — perhaps a stronger believer. Other things start to have the lure of “bright red”, replacing that Spirit fire. So we settle for it, becoming careless and forgetting the true flame that once existed. Any hint of spark we once had evaporates and this lukewarm faith is a muck we become stuck in.

Jesus says, “Everything is possible for him who believes. How can we be well while in a state of ignoring that invitation? God is prepared for our woes and for our uncertainty. He is equipped to wrestle with our unbelief. It will help us exceedingly if we recognize that. This God you may have forgotten has not forgotten you. Our apathy towards God and our wandering is not excusable just because we want to see or experience “more”. We lie to ourselves. He is more. When we start living for what’s in front and around us and not above us, our posture becomes contingent, which leads to a circumstantial faith. I want to challenge us to meditate on the certainty of God’s kingdom, daily. We cannot see it easily in this world, but if we seek it we will see it more and more. The glory of what we will see will far outweigh the glittering seductions that we see on the ground, here and now.

Though the human spirit is rebellious, we do not need to fall permanently into a lukewarm faith. And Jesus doesn’t ask for truly anything more than a seed-sized righteous faith, because with that “…nothing will be impossible for you.”

My hope is that we will strive to be people of the kind of fiery faith that’s recognized as the blood and body of the living God in this world; my challenge is for us to become the truly passionate ones — whose fire is truth and knowledge, not the reckless and feeble flames that man has to offer.

 

Photo by (Flickr CC) Zyada

 

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