DEVOTIONAL || Luke 9.33-36

As the men were parting from Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses, and one for Elijah”–not know what he said. As he said these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

This passage follows the Mount of Transfiguration, where see Jesus revealed in glory, "his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white." Peter, John, and James alone were there to witness this event where Jesus’ divinity was revealed and where Moses and Elijah came to speak with the Son of God. It stands almost completely unique against the backdrop of the gospels where Jesus’ miracles are signs of his preeminence over the things of this world. Here instead Jesus is shown to be preeminent over the things not of this world as well, over the things that are holy and divine.

So why is Peter so wrong? Why can’t we all stay on the mountains where Jesus’ divine presence is made clear and manifest in our lives? Peter has just witnessed Jesus, His rabbi answer any possible doubt there may have been. Jesus has be transformed before his eyes and has been chatting it up with Elijah and Moses, the two most important historical religious leaders in Israel’s history. He makes the reaction that many of us make in these mountain top moments: lets just stay here.

Haven’t you done it too? That summer at camp with your youth group. That one dinner with your whole family where no one is fighting and everything just clicks. That awesome Christmas morning where dad made breakfast and mom had *already* started making desert and you got all the awesome presents you asked for. That quiet evening out over the backyard watching the sun set and the swallows swooping back and forth clearing the skies of bugs and displaying their quiet agility. The camping trip with friends where the low crack of the fires gives way to secrets and confessions and immortal bonds are founded under stars and warm glowing embers. We all have these mountain top moments that we never have to leave, but stretching out the mountain tops is not what God wants for any of us.

God responds loud and clear to Peter and at the risk of a paraphrase says, “Shut up, just listen to Jesus, He is my Son and He is the Messiah!” In that moment, like a flash, the dream is gone. Elijah and Moses are gone, the cloud of glory is lifted, Jesus returns to his familiar appearance. And His first reaction is, “Let’s go back down the mountain.”

God was not shutting Peter up to make Him look foolish, He was allowing Jesus to take charge and return the apostles back to the task at hand. Jesus leads them off the mountain to go back down to reality because there is a job to be done. At the base of that mountain where glory was revealed a crowd had formed. In that crowd was a man with a demon possessed son who desperately needed Jesus to heal him. He had asked the disciples for help but no one was able, only Jesus could help. Now we begin to understand why it was so important to come down off the mountain. You are no good to God and no good to anyone else if you just stay on your mountains. You are even worse if you are just seeking the path from mountain to mountain. Life is lived in the valleys, where you bring down the glow of God’s grace and glory and help to pour it into other people’s lives. When you seek the shortest path from mountain to mountain you make your life useless because you are neglecting the call you have to be poured out.

We all have our faults, we are all in one moment or another like Peter, just wanting to stay on the mountains. Just imagine a life where you did the opposite though, desiring equally the mountain and valley, the refreshing moments of resting in His presence and the all important opportunities to pour out His presence over the people we meet in our lives. Heck, even just apply this practical wisdom and day to day life. You eagerly look forward to your weekends, but why? Do you leverage the rest and the laughter to springboard your connections in the coming work week? Do you take the elation of a night out with friends and use it to motivate you towards bringing laughter into the lives of coworkers and customers? Do you seek out a good night’s sleep so you can be comfortable in your bed, or so you can be refreshed for a productive day to follow?

Simply put, God has an economy of grace where He pours into us, so that we may pour into others. We are blessed to become blessings. Do not deny the call to do life in the valley. These valleys need what grace you are given as much as you, and in this way we mirror Christ coming out of His heavenly mountain to dwell among man.

TL;DR - Are you taking advantage of your mountains to glorify God in the valley?

DEVOTIONAL || Proverbs 18.1

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire…

This is going to be a bit of a devotional, a bit of a confessional. Unsurprisingly, like most young men who have grown up today I have struggled with pornography and masturbation. I am not proud to say that I still struggle in the fight against both even to this day. There are victories. There are failures. And there are lessons to be learned.

In my struggles against these addictions I can tell you with 100% certainty that being alone makes habitual sin more difficult. It’s sort of difficult to watch porn if you are in a coffee shop. It’s not easy when you are living in dorms with guys constantly walking around. It’s not easy at home knowing your family is just a few footsteps away. Simply put, it is harder to sin when you are living in community. There are the obvious fears of embarrassment over the sin, the shame of being caught in the first place, the self-doubt over how people will look at you once you get caught, and the annoyance of having people address it with you for weeks, months, even years to come. It’s just not worth the risk to sin when there are people around. So the wisdom seems sound, if you are seeking to cut yourself off from people for the sake of pursuing sin, you have a serious sin problem and probably have an addition issue to whatever you are afraid to share with others.

By no means does this mean that introverts or homebodies are all wicked sinners who stay indoors to hide their vices. I love, absolutely adore sitting in my room with a good book. I basically have solo-date nights where I make some fancy meal for myself and essentially just treat myself royally. I crave time for introspection and examination and love to just be by my lonesome. Even scripture encourages private time. (Remember Jesus’ call to praying in closets and time alone on mountains with His Father?) ((Which reminds me…)) The reality is that while all of us will be alone in one sense, we are all called to embrace community. I am not backtracking on my belief that we are all alone. I believe it could best be put this way: while we are all destined to be alone, we are all called to embrace community. 

Community. Community. Community. (#SixSeasonsAndAMovie) ((Sorry, I couldn’t resist the opportunity…)) Why is it better to be with people? People are annoying. They smell. They make loud noises when I want it to be quiet. They don’t agree with me. They are idiots and fools sometimes. True. True. Double true. People aren’t always the easiest to be with, but being around people makes it more difficult for you to embrace your secret sins. However, being around some people will make it easier for you to embrace socially acceptable sins. The old saying stands true, "Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future." Not all community is created equal.

So what should I do? Trade one sin for another? By no means! But fight the present darkness with the weapons you are given. Are you addicted to secret sins? Then surround yourself with brothers and sisters. Are your brothers and sisters making the family look bad? Find some distance. Do you have a friend who seems to be running away? Ask them about it, but know that they may be leaving you because of your sins, not their own.

TL;DR - When people give each other too much space it may be a sign of sin, either within the community or within the individual. In order to reconcile the community relationship all parties must examine themselves for fault and repent.

We are all destined to be alone, we are all called to embrace community.

BACK BURNER || “PBR&B” (or) “How Drake Taught Me How to Empathize”

    At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I was never a fan of mainstream music. Even back into my early high school years I would rather listen to Australian hip-hop than Chris Brown. There were notable exceptions however to my often offbeat music tastes: I was always a huge Kanye fan, and even Kid Cudi did something for me. (His collaborations with Ratatat definitely drew my attention.) However it was in my senior year that I began to have a bit of a shift in my perspectives on more mainstream music, specifically Drake. As a senior I had a fairly open schedule and would spend an open period in my afternoons finishing over-ambitious art projects that I couldn’t finish in my mornings. The trade off was I had to share that time with a freshman art class. Most of my time in that class ended up being spent not on art, but talking about music with some of the girls in class. It was over those conversations that I first heard about Drake and his new mixtape “So Far Gone.”

    Suffice it to say after I had went home and downloaded it, I was hooked. Out of nowhere this kid-turned-actor-turned-artist-turned-radio sensation became one of my most repeated plays on iTunes. “Best I Ever Had” was an instant classic and fairly endearing (if not overly sexual) love song, his remix of Lykke Li’s “Little Bit” was beyond bashful and brilliant, and the opening trio of “Lust for Life,” “Houstatlantavegas,” and “Successful” was too good to pass up. This was unique, I never knew that hip-hop/R&B could be so heady and atmospheric. It felt more like British underground and trance than Usher’s Confessions. It was 4 years ago this past February that Drake released the mixtape that I fell for and almost two years since Take Care, the album that has defined him as an artist, was released.

    Take Care, a long, carefully produced album stands as the epitome of what Drake and his collaborators can make of an album. It’s dark, heavily atmospheric, brutally honest, and thoroughly sensual. The hooks are easy to catch, the lyrics are memorable, and quotable, and the list of guest appearances on the album almost tops a Jay-Z or Kanye album. But where the album shines is in “Marvin’s Room,” and more specifically the heart of that song as it was written.

    For context, in 1976 Marvin Gaye locked himself away into his studio to record a brutally introspective album where he hashed out the remains of his failed marriage, his financial struggles, and addiction to cocaine. It was a commercial flop, but set an important tone for critics of R&B to look to as a standard for honesty. This same approach was taken by Drake for not only this song, but the album as a whole. Following in the footsteps of Marvin Gaye, and more recently Kanye who launched an era of introspective hip-hop for our time, Drake painstakingly examines the feeling of lost love, the high of success and riches, the lows and pitfalls of alcohol abuse, the realities of sex and fame as they wear away on what you thought you were. When I first listened to the album I realized again how little I had in common with not only Drake, but many others my age who experience similar highs and lows. I’m a virgin, I’ve never tasted alcohol, I’ve never experimented with drugs, and I’ve never even had a girlfriend. My experiences and my relatable life experiences are almost nonexistent as it stands with the common 21 year old college student. This summer I preached over half a dozen times in jails and churches and rescue missions for the homeless. My life is nothing like those people I’ve tried so hard to reach out to.

    But that’s why Drake became important to me. I know my story is nothing like his, my life has never tasted that utter depravity I was bound for from birth. I grew up in a Christian home and actually bought into the faith from a young age. It was just what my parents taught me, I firmly believed it from a young age. I needed a way to have some measure of empathy, some way to feel what they felt, and understand where they were in life. Drake became that substitute. His introspection came not just in lyrics and confessions, but the tone of the music carried the emotional pains and glees with it. Where words alone would have failed, music supplied a medium that could carry the weight and burden needed. It wasn’t an infectious beat, it was atmospheric, heavy with tension and heart ache. This tone has been true for much of blues, but more recently has been taken in a whole new direction in what is being called “PBR&B.”

    PBR, the hipster beer of choice. Classically American, and cheaper than anything else, PBR represents that offbeat and alternative style of the hipster. (Not to my Dad, who constantly reminds me that he drank it in the Navy 30+ years ago.) R&B, a confessional music style that often styles itself from the painful realities and desperate hopes of African American music of a bygone era. This highly introspective, subcultural music doesn’t have the same market appeal as Jay-Z or Pitbull. There just aren’t as many hooks. When looking for the tone and atmosphere of the music, The XX comes to mind.

    A British group formed just a few short years ago that blew up into meteoric fame, much like Drake, which uses atmospheric and electronic tones to carry a dialogue of lyrics between male and female counterparts: Oliver and Romy. The lyrics often play off the tension (sexual) that exists in young physical relationships of insecurity and inadequacy, always striving to be better, have better, and make a better future (mostly sexually). Lost love and gained love set on bleak, minimal tracks of steady guitar plucks and slow drum machines. Sorrow and hope such as I haven’t felt in music with the exceptions of all instrumental pieces from classical composers and post-rock bands. What sets this genre of PBR&B apart from those voiceless choirs of guitars and strings however, is that each song is clearly defined by it’s lyrics and given depth with the music. That same swelling heartbeat you experience when listening to Chopin’s Op 28 No 15 “Raindrops,” or Explosions in the Sky’s “Your Hand in Mine,” is the same heart you feel in the music of The XX’s “Fiction” or Drake’s “Take Care.” Only Drake and The XX give thought to feeling, and give insight to those who have never been in any circumstance to match.

    For the 22 year old virgin, in all aspects of the sins of my peers I get a slight window in their world from these artists. I learned to empathize a little bit more, not just sympathize with a pat on the back and a glance of ignorance. I listen to music as a means to connect. I listen to music as a means to empathize. I listen to music as a tool for the Gospel.
This isn’t just about the music though, this is about the purpose. Why do you seek out the entertainment you do? Is it purely self-motivated? Or do you see another greater gain in your media habits as well?

    Heck, you might even find a reason to listen to “Call Me Maybe…”

DEVOTIONAL || Ecclesiastes 7

"It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."

We are all of us guilty of not truly seeking wisdom. Wisdom lays this to heart and rather than going out of the way to pursue pleasures, parties, and a good time at that one spot we all go to, wisdom seeks to separate itself. Wisdom, simply put, is different.

Right now I find myself in a position, literally where I am constantly in a house of mirth. I go from good time to good time, from comfort to comfort ignoring the reality that there is a deeper truth. Over two-hundred years ago Søren Kierkegaard was born. This Danish philosopher would turn individual identity and much of state-led Christendom on it’s heels with his reflections and writings. Essentially, he boiled our lives down to a simple idea: we are all alone. We are all alone in our relationships, in our pursuits, in our identity. We are alone, often seeking the same thing. To take a great liberty with his thoughts, a lot of our relationships play out like AA meetings. We are not alone in our disease, but we alone have the responsibility and power to change that. The power doesn’t come from the other members there in the meetings, nor do they take on our responsibilities. They may share and help, but the buck stops with us. We draw motivation and encouragement to reach our goals from our relationships. So too is our life in this world.

Today you have talked with coworkers, strangers, family, and friends. Today, you are still alone. Why? You will die. We will all die. We are locked onto a fixed path which ends with death. And we all have to remind one another of that. Denying it, creating a false sense of community, is a very dangerous thing. I am not saying there is no such thing as a true community, but we must be careful. Reflecting on our own personal end will drive us to pursue Christ and Christ alone, the man who was raised from among the dead ones. It is our personal salvation we receive. We are not saved in groups or ratios. Christ and us. Us as a community of individuals with Christ. This loneliness, this despair alone produces a heart turned upon Christ and bent upon Him alone for salvation. I am alone. I am alone with you. I am alone with Christ. We are alone as individuals with Christ. And that is okay.

BACK BURNER || A New Tag Cloud Arises!

In the interest of growing my writing habits and techniques I’ve been putting out these daily devotionals. Now in order to compliment what I am currently working on I am also including BACK BURNER.

I have written sermons and various articles over the years that helped me comfortable with the idea of launching STATEnotCITY. Starting today older pieces I have previously written will pop up on occasion. These do not necessarily reflect my current views (or grammar for that matter) but will help to fill out this blog and provide some depth (for all those who want to analyze how I get to where I am today.)

TL;DR - Throwback Thursday is called BACK BURNER here on STATEnotCITY!