Friday, December 27, 2013

Musings on the Mount, Part 1: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

I've been slowly mulling over the beatitudes, inspired by a friend of mine who has just recently done the same thing. For all of my years in church, I haven't really meditated on Jesus' words much, and never have I meditated on his sermon on the mount. Now, Spurgeon's sermons? Picked them apart. Tozer's sermons? Dissected. Francis Chan's sermons? Devoured them. Jesus' sermons? Not so much.


While I don't anticipate doing an in-depth write-up of each verse due to my relatively immature (but growing, I hope) understanding of them, I will be thinking "out loud", as it were, and marking down my thoughts and research here.

DISCLAIMER: I am just a layman, not a trained theologian. I am here presenting to you my journey into knowing Christ deeper. I may say some (unintentionally) heretical things along the way (correction of which I welcome), but I am happy to have those who would join me in this pursuit!

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there's is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3

I take "blessed" to mean what it usually does, "how happy are..." or "how enviable are...", in this case, the poor in spirit. The poor in spirit have a position in life that should render them happy; and is also enviable, that should be desired by those who are not in the same position. But why should anyone a) be happy with being, or b) want to be, or c) recognize themselves as being poor in spirit? "...For there's is the kingdom of heaven". These "poor in spirit" have given to them, within their grasp - even at their fingertips - the kingdom of heaven.

"Poor" has two general meanings, "lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society", or "worse than is usual, expected, or desirable; of a low or inferior standard or quality". The first definition matches that of the general sense of the Greek word πτωχός (ptōchos), "reduced to beggary, begging, asking alms". In other words, there is an actual, substantial, measurable lack of something that must be provided to them. Namely, spirit.

What does it mean to be poor in spirit, though? I think this can be answered by looking at what Jesus offers as the answer to their disposition. Their disposition: being poor in spirit. The answer: the kingdom of heaven. What the poor in spirit lacks, the kingdom of heaven has. What is the opposite of poor? Rich. So, by inference, their are riches in this kingdom that the poor in spirit lack. What are the riches of the kingdom of heaven? What wealth is contained in heaven's vaults and treasuries? Not gold, for the streets are paved with it; not pearls, for the gates are constructed from them; not jewels, for the walls are built with them; spiritual lack cannot be provided for in material abundance. So, what are they? What are heaven's riches?

I believe that, in a word, the riches of heaven are actually one thing, or rather one Person: Christ. That seems like a nebulous answer, I admit, but think about the term Jesus uses: the poor. What do the poor need?  Food, water, shelter. These are all things that any human needs in order to sustain their life, and none of those things are found intrinsically or, for the poor, are even at their immediate disposal. Their waning life-force, the one they were born with, wasn't even obtained by them in the first place, but was given at birth. And so the poor person goes forward as a beggar, desperately asking others to provide what they cannot in order to sustain the life that they are slowly losing. Likewise, the spiritually poor have no way of obtaining or sustaining spiritual life unless the necessary sustenance is given to them. Who is the source of spiritual life? Jesus! Who is the sustainer of that life? Jesus! Who gave his life to us that we might live? Jesus! Part of the puzzle is that the spiritually poor need life, and we have briefly stated (presupposing that Jesus words are true in John 14:6) that Jesus is the life they need. But what does that have to do with Jesus being the riches of the kingdom?

In the Old Testament, "riches" are used almost exclusively in a material sense, occasionally within contexts that show the spiritual consequences of those who rely on these riches over God. But the New Testament, while often using this same sense, also refers to riches as: the glory of God (Rom. 9:23; Phil. 4:19 - here, Paul says this glory is in Christ), salvation (saved from death to life) for the world and the Gentiles (Rom. 11:12), and God's grace (Eph. 1:7, 2:7) and mercy (Eph. 2:4) among other things. These are all described as being God's riches, and all of these are fulfilled in Jesus - he is the radiance of the glory of God (Heb. 1:3), he is the salvation of the world (Matt. 1:21), he is God's grace and mercy manifested and given to us (Eph. 2:5, 2:8; 1 Peter 1:3). All the riches of God, who dwells in heaven, is visibly seen and made tangible in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In summary,

  1. the poor in spirit are lacking what the kingdom of heaven has; 
  2. the kingdom of heaven has Christ, who, among other things, is life (John 14:6) and offers that life in abundance (John 10:10), and who is the riches (grace, mercy, glory, salvation) of God made manifest; 
  3. therefore, the poor in spirit are lacking Christ
Blessed are the poor in spirit! How blessed are they, for they receive, as an answer to their spiritual poverty, Christ himself, the riches of the kingdom of heaven!

What does this mean for the unbeliever?

If the unbelieving person is willing to acknowledge to God that they are actually lacking something in their spirit, namely life, the kingdom of heaven and all of its riches, namely Christ, will be theirs.

Are you tired of fighting, friend? Are you ready to admit that you have nothing to offer, nothing to give, nothing to bargain with? Are you willing to come to Christ as a beggar so he can give you all the treasures of the kingdom of heaven: grace, mercy, and life? As soon as you call for him, you'll find that he has been calling for you.

What are some practical applications of this truth for the believer?
  • Practice identifying every instance where God is displaying to you his riches in Christ: forgiveness, grace, mercy, love, kindness, patience, gentleness, knowledge, wisdom. Imagine how that situation/circumstance would have been different if God had not been merciful, gracious, etc. towards you. Alternatively, if any of these qualities are manifested in you (you are kind, forgiving, loving, gracious, merciful, etc. towards others), imagine how those times would have been different if you were still in your spiritually impoverished state. Afterwards, thank God that he has given you everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
  • Prayer, prayer, prayer. Although we have been made to live in Christ (Gal. 2:20), we are still not the source of life. Every second we are still in need of Jesus. If he were to take himself away from us we would return to spiritual poverty. So pray, not that he would stay with you (we already known he will, cf. Heb. 13:5), but that he would make known to you how deeply desperate you are, and that this would in turn result in worship. If you find yourself lacking grace towards others, go to God as a beggar, "Please God, I need more grace"; if you lack humility, "Please God, humble me"; if you lack wisdom, "Please God, give me wisdom"; if you lack love, "Please God, help me love". Remember, "it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
I suppose that, to conclude, I would say this: we have nothing apart from Christ. Yet in him we are given life, and that in abundance, the very life of God himself - the same life that can make light shine forth from inky darkness, that can raise the dead to life, that can heal the sick of their diseases, and that can establish overwhelming peace in the midst of chaos. This very God is for us, and gladly takes in those who will come to him, poor in spirit. 

This makes me one thankful, happy beggar.

P.S.: Again I admit to you that this is a fresh thought to my mind, still in need of development, and still in need of the Holy Spirit's light. But it is one that God has been making real to me over the past 3 or 4 days, and I wanted to share it with you, too. I welcome your thoughts, insights, and experiences in the comments.

P.P.S.: It's also interesting to note that Jesus did not say, "blessed are the poor in spiritual knowledge". There are many who have knowledge of spiritual realities, but that does not mean that they have spiritual life. To put it analogously, just because I know how the lottery works does not mean that I automatically possess the winnings. In the same way, knowing about spiritual truth and knowing what spiritual life is does not mean that one possesses that life (and all that flows from that life: grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, wisdom, discernment, etc.). 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Construction Paper & Mickey Molds

Weighing heavy on me recently has been the realization that I may not know or be known by God.

Sure, I know about him, and I can discuss propitiation VS expiation, or the natural headship of Adam VS the federal headship of Adam, or define justification or righteousness or holiness or many other theological terms, but I'm not sure I've ever been...transformed. Completely changed. Had my spiritual deadness exchanged for spiritual life in Jesus.

So what gives with my Christian appearance? I think of it in two analogies, both of which fail to truly nail the core issue. What I'll do then is briefly summarize what the Bible says on the issue.

1. The Construction Paper Christmas Tree

Since I'm contemplating this around the holiday season, it was only natural that my mind would lean towards Christmas-y thoughts.

When I was in elementary school, around this time of year we would begin cutting out the shapes of Christmas trees, ornaments, tinsle, stars, angels, and presents from brightly colored construction paper. After juxtaposing all of the shapes in various positions, it's time to bust out the Elmer's glue and lock in the final design. After a period of allowing the freshly-glued tree to dry you had something you could proudly display on the refrigerator at home: a carefully crafted construction paper Christmas tree.

However, once my craft is hung on the fridge, I'm not going stack presents in front of my refrigerator door, am I? Heavens no! How would I get to my eggnog then?! No, the fact of the matter is that my craft-time creation is NOT a Christmas tree. It looks sort of like one, with the same basic shapes and colors, but it is not actually a fir tree purchased from a lot or cut down from the Pacific Northwest. I have simply conformed my paper to represent whatever image I wanted - in this case, a Christmas tree.

What's the spiritual picture I'm trying to draw?

The construction paper is me in my spiritual deadness, my sin, my old man, my flesh, my unregenerate self. The Christmas tree shape is analogous to the "Christian image", and the real Christmas tree would be the real, born-again Christan.

Having grown up in the church, I have had plenty of time to figure out what a Christian should look like, and I have been able to carefully adjust myself to look like a born-again believer. A snip here, a clip there, paste another embellishment or two, and voilà! A Christian! But...not really. I'm not REALLY a Christian at this point, right? I've just conformed my deadness to look like life. The problem is that I've done this with really big construction paper, and because I'm life-sized, I can't tell myself apart from actual Christians, and so I grow to believe that I show all the signs of a true believer.

Now, this analogy breaks down because construction paper (for the most part) is made from trees. Construction paper and a Christmas tree have more in common, by virtue of their tree-ness, than a spiritually dead person and a spiritually living person.

2. The Mickey Mouse Mold

If you ever travel to EPCOT at Walt Disney World, you'll have the opportunity to purchase a guided tour called "Behind the Seeds", which takes you into the wonderful world of gardening, hydroponics, and farming. On this tour, Guests are shown something quite spectacular: pumpins shaped (more or less) like Mickey Mouse's famous silouhette. How is this done?

When the hydroponically grown pumpkins are still quite small, they are placed inside of a specially-designed mold. As the pumpkin increases in size, its rind conforms almost perfectly to the mold. The result? A pumpkin that, in the wrong lighting, could be confused for the Head Cheese himself.

Spiritual picture? Glad you asked.

The pumpkin is me in my spiritual deadness. The mold is the Christian image, and Mickey would be the actual Christian.

When I was born, I was born in sin, and that sin produced death within me. Because I grew up in church, I was able to conform my outward appearance to look very Christian-like, but there was never any life inside of the shell. A true Christian, however, is self-authenticating: he looks like a Christian because he IS one. Mickey doesn't have to try to be himself, nor did he grow in a Mickey-shaped mold; he looks like himself because...well, because he's Mickey.

This analogy is a little better, but it still breaks down because both a pumpkin and Mickey are alive (I realize Mickey is a cartoon. Just humor me), whereas a spritually dead person, not matter how shaped or formed, is dead, and a spiritually living person is alive.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is this: I have spent a grand portion of my life crafting this image of myself, growing into a Christian mold, and all the while there has been nothing but death and decay on the inside. Jesus said to the Pharisees that they were "white-washed tombs", pristine on the outside but full of bones and rotting, stinking flesh inwardly. Boy, can I ever relate to that!

The Bible, in no uncertain terms, states that we are not in need of outward conformity to divine or moral principles; what we need is a total transformation from one thing (death) to an entirely different thing (life). You can keep cutting and coloring that construction paper from now until Christmas of 2391 AD, but it's never going to be an actual Christmas tree. Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21 that in order for a person to see the kingdom of God, he must be born again of the Spirit. He says elsewhere that to receive this new birth what one must do is repent of their sin and believe his words, trusting him fully.

I suppose all I'm saying is that God is opening my eyes to the fact that I need something in me, something beyond anything I can accomplish. I could have told you that when I was 5, but's becoming a reality.

I can cut some paper and make it look like a tree, but only God can produce a tree from nothing; Disney can mold a pumpkin to look like Mickey, but only God can call light out of total darkness; I can conform my outward image to feign the presence of life, but only God can spark and sustain true life in me.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Good Works: Why do we have them?

An acquaintance of mine recently asked this question via Twitter:

"Why do we have works? Is it for outward performance? Or is it inward, an issue of the heart?"

Definitely a valid question. And these are my thoughts.

I believe that the answer is: both. Good works are both inward and outward; they have a single purpose, but are complex in their makeup; good works seek to achieve one goal, and they do so when a couple of different parts, namely that which is visible and that which is invisible, work together. What is visible is the good work itself - cooking for someone, working on someone's house, community service, etc. What is invisible is the heart and goal behind the good work - hypocrisy, authenticity, pride, humility, jealousy, and the list goes on and on. When the visible and invisible line up properly, the God-designed goal of good works is achieved - glorifying God by way of loving people.

The Visible

What is more glorifying to God than accurately representing him to a world that has never seen him? We have eyes that were created to behold the glory, beauty and love of their Creator, but so few eyes have actually rested on them. It makes sense. "...All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). There is no individual who, by virtue of their broken humanness, naturally displays the essence of God to the world - love (1 John 4:8). But thankfully, we have a Messiah who came to restore that which was broken, and believers have not only been fixed by God, we actually have his presence dwelling in us, and his love has been poured into our hearts (Rom. 5:5). So now, even though "no one has seen God at any time", "if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us" (1 John 4:12). There is a very real sense in which when believers love people, God himself is manifested to them through the love of the believer. This is the visible portion of a good work, and it's ultimate end is that people may a) see God, the one whom they were made to see, by way of b) actually seeing, receiving, and resting in the love that is manifested in the lives of believers. This makes God tangible and brings God glory.

The Invisible

But then there is the invisible portion of the good work - our motive. Nothing is done without some kind of motive behind it. Is our motive in doing a good work to be seen by men? If so, we fit Jesus' definition of a hypocrite (Matt. 6:1, 2, 5, 16). Is our goal in serving someone to give ourselves proof of our own salvation (in accordance with Phil. 2:12)?** Then the good work rings hollow, and we make God to be disingenuous (not in a substantive way, but in an apparent way to the unbelieving world). In other words: if our goal in loving people is anything other than actually loving them, we not only display an inauthentic affection that leaves a bitter taste on the tongue of those who taste it, we also misrepresent God. If I treat people as tools to assuage my own insecurities regarding my salvation, in my manipulation I actually portray God as manipulative & disingenuous; a fraud. Instead, genuine care for others is self-authenticating - it will appear genuine by virtue of its genuineness. God does not just appear to care for people; God actually cares. When we actually care, this authenticates God and brings God glory.

(As you can see, it is difficult to talk about the invisible without speaking in terms of what is visible, and it is difficult to talk about those without speaking of what they are accomplishing. I believe that's how it should be. And as difficult as it is to speak of them separately, it is actually impossible to live separately. The inner life and outer life are inseparable.)

What are they for?

Analyzing our own good works should be, I believe, a retrospective exercise. Instead of serving someone to verify for myself whether I am saved or not (which warps the purpose of service and displays a misunderstanding of justification), service and good works should be flowing out of my life as a fruit of my Gospel-rooted love and compassion for people; and then, weeks and months down the line, I will be able to look back and rejoice that truly "it is God who is at work in [me] both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). We are, in fact, made for good works (Eph. 2:10), and we can look forward to walking in those works for the glory of God which, as a byproduct, does bring a deep satisfaction. As we walk in righteousness, people will see a true expression of who God is, which may then result in their glorifying our "Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). 

So what's up with good works? Are they for outward performance or are they an inward issue? I say they are for both. Outward - for the visible glory of God; inward - for the heart-exalting glory of God; in total - for the glory of God.

What do you all think? 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pondering. Praying.

Let's be honest here: most Christians would rather get an hour long deep-tissue massage from Ironman when his repulsor blasters are malfunctioning, or pet a cat, or pour Tobasco sauce in their eyes, or do anything else rather than pray.

Actually, that's not true. I could only do 30 minutes, not an hour.

Or perhaps a more accurate statement would be, "most Christians would find it easier to endure [insert something horrible and outlandish here] rather than pray". Biblically, we read that this should not be so; but practically, I think we can all relate to this inner tension - a desire in our renewed selves to pray, but the overpowering resistence of the old man against our spiritual endeavour. In the Christian there is a Spirit-born desire, in the core of his being, for prayer. We know that prayer is powerful, that it is effective, and that it is essential to a flourishing Christian life; we know that it is a spiritual weapon with which we wage spiritual warfare; we enjoy theorizing what it would look like to lead a life of deep prayer; we study and analyze the great prayers of Scripture, from Nehemiah to Jesus to Paul, in order to correctly formulate prayers; we read the literature from those great Christian mystics who have reckoned prayer as necessary for spiritual life as their very breath for physical. But then...

...we don't pray.

Let me make it more personal. I don't pray. At least not very often. You may pray on a regular basis, and if you do, I commend you for it. I really hope to be like you one day very, very soon. Surely you are seeing God move in your life and in the lives and situations of those for whom your are praying. Surely God is manifesting himself to you through those intimate times. If that is you, I beg you: press on! Keep praying! Do not grow weary in performing labor that sends ripples through the fabric of the spiritual realm! God hears your prayers; indeed, he even inclines his ear towards the prayers of the righteous person. So please: don't stop. Please continue to set the example for weaker brothers and sisters; for those who are struggling; for me.

So, if I'm not praying then what am I doing? What else is there to do? Well, I am a ponderer. I ponder things. I get an intense joy out of thinking about things deeply, mentally disassembling every cog, wheel, bolt, and spring of a matter in order to understand its inner workings and thereby form my own opinion of and more thoroughly appreciate that matter in its entirety. I especially enjoy pondering theological matters, as theology is an attempt at describing God and everything that is related to him, which is...well, everything. In him we live and move and have our being; he holds all things together with the word of his power. If God is the reason for all of the existing universe, then I can't see there being any other subject as being more worthy of my intense, focused pondering.

Pondering, thinking, meditating; whatever you want to call it, the activity that takes place in the grey matter between our ears has a significant place in Scripture:
  1. The one who meditates on the laws of God are compared to a tree who is planted by streams of water, whose leaves never wither and whose branches bear fruit in its season,
  2. We are encouraged by Paul to dwell on heavenly things, things that are just, lovely, pure, excellent, and worthy of praise,
  3. Paul also tells us in Romans to be transformed by the renewal of our minds,
  4. Peter likewise places a large emphasis on the thought life in 1 Peter, and
  5. In one of the most well-known passages of Scripture, we are told to love Yahweh our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
The Christian life is one that is lived and fought primarily in the mind. It is the thought life of the believer that often determines whether a particular skirmish - with the flesh, with sin, with the devil - is won or lost. It is with our minds that we mull over and analyze and understand the precious truths of Scripture. For example, when I come up against a battle with my lust, it is with my mind that I dwell upon the verses that deal with lust and sexual immorality; it is with my mind that I understand the perverse nature of pornography, and its correlation with the sex trafficking industry and other sexual crimes; it is with my mind that I perceive the pain that my lust brings to my wife, and the offence that indulging in lust causes God. I then determine that gratifying my lustful desire is not something that is beneficial for anyone. It is with my mind that I am able to receive information in order to make use of it.

But to only think is not the full picture of the Christian life that we are given in the Bible. It is prayer that calls down fire from heaven; it is prayer that changes the hearts of kings and rulers; it is the prayers of the righteous that God responds to and delivers them out of their troubles, it is prayer that heals men of sickness and demonic influence. And yet not prayer, but the God to whom we pray.

With our minds we can do the work of a tactician, correlating information to make a plan; but it is with prayer that we invoke the presence and power of God to set that plan into action. A plan is great, but what good is a plan if it is never acted upon? Jesus said, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:17). And how can we do divine work without divine power? We can't. And because we cannot, we pray that we might be able to. By his grace, God responds if what we are asking him to accomplish is in accordance with not only his nature, but also his will.

What am I saying? In a nutshell, just this: I tend to think a lot, but I pray very little. I reckon that if I had split my time 50:50, or even 70:30, between thinking and prayer, I would have experienced much more victory, power, growth, and maturity in my life than I have thus far.

My desire is to pray more. Not to show you that I am a spiritual person, or to make you esteem me any higher. No, I desire to pray more because it is in the presence of God that we are humbled and made to be a more useful tool in his hand; I desire to pray more because I desire to accomplish his will here on this earth; I desire to pray more because for the rest of eternity I will be in his presence, and if that will be my position for eternity it makes no sense to not be in his presence now. If we cannot enjoy the presence of God on earth, what makes us think we will enjoy it in heaven?

If, when you think about prayer, a back rub from Ironman still seems like a better alternative, then I pray that God would meet you in those moments and show you the value of prayer. It is my prayer that we would not only do the important work of pondering, but also the powerful work of praying.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Belief in Christ vs Belief in Belief

Today, on Facebook, well-known pastor, author, and conference speaker John Piper wrote:

One cannot be wholly believing while watching oneself believe. Hence assurance comes not from looking at faith, but Christ.

I don't agree with Pastor John on everything, but he is most definitely a brother in Christ, and God has most certainly given him a great amount of wisdom, and for that I am very thankful. This sparked a conversation in the comment section (as his posts normally do), among which was this question:

So-my question is how do we look at the book of James and 1 John where works are an essential fruit of true conversion, but still look fully to Christ for assurance. How do we keep that in perspective?

That is a wonderful question, and one that deserves much thought. This was the response that I offered:

"Belief" assumes an object, and for the Christian, that object is Christ. We have the God-given ability to think about what belief & faith are, but when our belief & faith become the object of our belief (if that makes sense) in place of Christ, we crash and burn because our belief is no longer "plugged in" to the One who provides us the strength to endure in that belief. Our own belief is limited in its sustaining power, so making belief itself the object of our belief seals our failure. Our belief, then, depends on Christ to endure through all adversity and trascend through all time, because Christ himself endures, transcends, and is forever.
To put it analogously, imagine a tree that has the ability to walk back and forth on the earth. This tree can inspect his fruit and know that it is there, but cannot depend on the fact that fruit is there right now to mean, of necessity, that fruit will be there later. Why? If he travels across the land, and takes nothing but the fruit of his branches to eat on his journey, he will be sorely disappointed when he reaches up to his own boughs to discover that his fruit ran out. Instead, he must keep depending on the presence of the farmer, the water, the right weather, and the nutrients in the soil; he must stay rooted in the presence of the farmer to continue bearing fruit. The tree is us, staying rooted is our belief in Christ, wandering & eating his own fruit is believing in our own belief and what it produces, and the weather conditions, soil, water, and farmer are all Christ. If Christ is present and our belief is in him, we can be sure that fruit will likewise be present.

Perhaps I'll develop that concept into a poem or a short story...

I don't know if the commentor ever saw my response, or if he ever will; but if he did I hope it was edifying, and I hope that this also provides clarity for any of you that likewise struggle with the balance between the presence of works and faith in Christ. This obviously is not the final say on the matter, and I am by no means a theologian (many of which disagree about this very thing), but my prayer is that it may ease some minds as they are turned back to Christ again.

If I do end up writing a story, I'll be sure to post it here.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

My Letter to August

First of all, I realize I'm a little old, at 23, to be writing a letter to Santa. Much older than the average believer, I'm sure. I hope, because of that fact, that you will actually pay closer attention to what I have to say rather than dismissing it.

Second of all, I know this is a little early in the year seeing as it's August, but I figure this is when you probably get through a bulk of your letters. Or maybe, if Arthur Christmas is any indication of the truth, you have a team of letter readers and responders. In any case, closer to Christmas seems like the time to work out Present Delivery and other important logistics. I hope this isn't a bother.

You see, Mr. Claus, I absolutely love Christmas. I've already been listening to the season's music since the beginning of July. It's a time that I hold fondly in my heart, and that I think about quite often. I'm going to be a first-time-father in October, and I can't wait to introduce my little girl to one of my favorite times of the year. My wife and I have many traditions we hope to introduce to her, and I can't wait for her to grow up and understand how important you are, sir.

I don't write this letter to ask you for something (at least not something for myself), but instead to apologize, to thank you, and hopefully to encourage you.

Mr. Claus, I'm sorry that, especially here in the United States, there is so much obsession with "stuff". It must be hard for you to slog through the affluent areas of the country & world, knowing that the poorer areas are barely being thought of, let alone taken care of. There are certainly organizations and individuals that care deeply about those places, but they are the exception rather than the rule.
I'm sorry that we have forgotten the spirit of the season and have traded it for something that looks like Christmas, but has had the true meaning carved out by consumerism and replaced with vain materialism.
I'm sorry that your name, which once stood for the protection and provision of young children (among others), is now the hallmark of a consumer's holiday.
I'm sorry that we have missed the point of what you did: you gave, not on the basis of a child's relative "good"-ness or "bad"-ness, but out of a zealous compassion that was stirred up by the child's need. You set an example for us, patterned after the One whom you followed, and we've missed it.
I'm sorry that people reject the Object of your passion, the Inspiration for your actions, and the Source of your joy, the joy that now permeates and characterizes the season. I'm sure this reality hurts your heart.

But thank you for continuing to do what you do despite people's rejection of the One in whom your heart delights so deeply.
Thank you for quite literally being a saint.
Thank you for your service to and love for our Lord Jesus.
Thank you for taking such special interest & care of children (and others).
Thank you for allowing the overwhelming compassion & love of God to shine through your life.
Thank you for being a tangible expression of the care of God to those that have never experienced it.
Thank you for manifesting God's heart to those that don't know him or believe in him.

And now I have one Christmas wish, Mr. Claus: seeing as I already have my two front teeth, all I want for Christmas is for you to keep pointing people to our Savior. Keep giving, keep loving, keep making people warm and joyful, and keep introducing people to the true origin of these things, to the One who is the source of every good and every perfect gift: God in Christ.

Thank you for taking time to read this letter, Mr. Claus. May you have a very merry Christmas, and a happy new year.

Monday, August 5, 2013

I'm gonna die.

...Is that morbid? Perhaps.
What's even more morbid is a Google Image search for "death". Don't try that one if you're home alone.

You see, I was looking for a picture that I feel resonates with how I view death, a topic that seems to settle on my mind quite often. The morbid, grotesque, and caricatured anime renderings of death don't sit well with me. I view it more like...sunset on an autumn day.

In autumn, darkness blankets the sky at a noticeably earlier time of day; most plant life has reached its prime, is bearing or has born its fruit, and is now beginning its steady descent into the barren winter months; shadows slip out of hiding and join together in a haunting dance, happy to be rid of the sun's all-revealing light; details that were once razor sharp become eclipsed, made dull by twilight's softer glow; vivid oranges, yellows, and reds burst forward, a desperate swan song before being enveloped by the cimmerian all points towards the nearing, inevitable end of the day.

Death, the end, is something that my generation doesn't think of enough. Well, allow me to re-phrase...we think about it plenty, but we don't think about it happening to us. We are inundated with death from sensationalist media, from film and entertainment, and from music (Neyo advises: "...for all we know, we might not get tomorrow / let's do it tonight..."), and from games. We are told stories about mass killings, terrorist bombings, black-hearted murders, and medical failures. We have laws against drunk driving, texting and driving, driving without our seat-belts, and a multitude of other distractions while driving. Why? Because we could die. Any one of those reports, stories, or broken laws could be us. But when we say "us", we have managed to somehow dissociate our individual selves from that pronoun, and in doing so we dissociate from the subject the pronoun was being linked to: death. "That news report could have been me, but it wasn't," our subconscious speculates, "and since none of those reports have ever been me, they probably never will be." Subconsciously, we falsely affirm our own immortality. So now when we say "us", we really mean "everyone else". Death affects people, but not me. It may come to a family member, but not to me. It might happen to a friend from high school, but not to me.

Furthermore, we have developed the ability to suppress our subconscious musings, never allowing them to bubble up to the surface, never thinking them on a conscious level. If someone asked me, "Nathaniel, have you ever thought that others may die, but you never will?", up until the last few years I could honestly answer, "No, I have not". I had never thought that phrase to myself. At least, I hadn't until people that I knew started brushing against death, while others fully embraced it. A handful of examples from my life:

  • An acquaintance from high school, Richie Herskowitz, died from Cystic Fibrosis before he could celebrate his 18th birthday. He was the youngest ever recipient of a double lung transplant when he was only 6 years old. 

  • My grandfather almost died last year at age 75 when his gall bladder died and festered, without his knowledge, not long after a triple bypass surgery. The infection threatened his liver, stomach, and kidneys, but the doctors caught it before it caught him.

  • Another acquaintance, that I met and spent time with on my summertime visits to California during high school, got involved with people that he should not have and was recently (within the last few months) shot and killed execution style in a field. If he had not taken the bullet himself, harm would have come to his grandmother, wife, and baby daughter.

  • One of my favorite pastors, Bob Jennings, a man that I regard very highly, died this last November from pancreatic cancer. Reading his journal from the time he was diagnosed until he was on his death bed really affected me. There was a weightiness to his words, a vivid understanding of his own mortality, that shook me to the very core of my being.

In a moment of revelation, after pondering the death that had touched my life, it hit me like the proverbial sack of life-snuffing bricks: I'm gonna die. Not now, perhaps, and not even in a week or a year; but soon, very soon, I'm gonna die. "I am about to go the way of all the earth..." (1 Kings 2:2). All the earth is headed that direction, without exception, without partiality. We all die. Even you, friend, and even me.

In light of that reality, what matters should we be concerning ourselves with? Is all existence temporal and finite? Are all things truly vanity? Or is there something beyond the grave, that transcends death itself? If there is, that is what I want to concern myself with.

That something, I believe, is Christ Jesus and his kingdom. When my name is forgotten from history, when every last person I knew and who knew me has likewise died, and any memory of my existence has faded from the earth, Jesus, who brought all things into being for his pleasure and glory, remains. How many billions of people have walked this earth, breathed the same air, drank the same water, and then passed into obscurity? But Jesus was before time, is present in time, and will be forevermore. He holds all things together by the word of his power, and before he brought me into being, Jesus was there. When I fade, Jesus endures.

If Jesus is what matters, and he, his kingdom, and his people are the only things that last beyond the grave, then why not labor for the death-defying matters of a Christ-centered eternity?

I fear I will reach the autumn twilight of my life without ever having flourished, without ever having done anything that was lasting, and with the shadows skipping and leaping around me, that I will slip into the darkness of night. I fear my leaves will fall from barren, fruitless limbs. I fear that no harvest will have ever been reaped from my life.

I don't fear being forgotten; I fear not being worth remembering.

I look forward to being with my Savior, and I know that for me, when I fall asleep on this earth, I will wake up in Christ. But I pray that, in the meantime, my existence will not be a waste of time, a waste of space, or a waste of life. I pray that when I reach my autumn twilight I will happily embrace the falling darkness, knowing that the sun has set on a life well-lived, and that the next light I see will be his presence on eternity's horizon.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Priesthood of Jesus: Priest, Sacrifice, and Inheritance

In this post I'm going to discuss in relative, although not exhaustive, detail how Jesus was the perfect fulfillment of the Levitical priesthood: he is the perfect priest, the perfect sacrifice, and the perfect inheritance. If details bore you and you just want to skip to the conclusion, scroll down to the section "Jesus" and read from there. If those points don't make any sense...suck it up and read from the beginning. :)

When God led the descendants of Jacob (who was renamed "Israel", see Gen. 35:10) out of Egypt, he promised to take them to a land that was flowing with milk and honey (Ex. 3:7-10). This land would be their home and their inheritance from God, a land for their own possession where they would have peace from their enemies on all sides, where they would prosper, and a land in which the people of God could actually dwell in the presence of their God (Ex. 29:45-46). While still in Egypt, the families of the twelve sons of Israel grew in number to the point of making their own distinct tribes, and after the exodus (Ex. 12:33-42) and wandering in the desert (Ex. 13:1- Joshua 2:24), each tribe eventually received their portion of the land as God had promised them (Josh. 13-19). Below is an approximate rendering of how the tribes may have been distributed throughout the land of Canaan in ancient Palestine.
Question: Which of the twelve tribes was not included in the distribution of land? Or in other words, which of the twelve tribes had no land inheritance?

Distribution of the 12 Tribes through Canaan


Did you guess Joseph? If you did, you're right in noticing that his name is not present, but he is represented by his sons Ephraim and Manasseh (cf. Genesis 48).

Answer: Levi! The Levites are missing from the above map. They had no inheritance of land, but were given cities to live in among the land of the other tribes (Num. 35, Josh. 21). "Why is this? And what in the world does this have to do with Jesus being a priest, sacrifice, and inheritance? And what in the world does this have to do with me?!" Great questions! As I meditated on the way Christ perfectly fulfills these three aspects of the priesthood, I had no choice but to worship God for his wisdom and his powerful ability. My mind = blown.

The Levitical Priesthood, as far as I can see, had three main components: the priests themselves, the sacrifices and offerings they mediated as priests, and the inheritance they received from God.

The Priests
The Levites were appointed by God to be the only ones allowed to set up, tear down, and work in the tent of meeting (Num. 3:1-4:49). God anointed the priests for the work, and then consecrated them through a ritual cleansing that involved their own offerings and sacrifices, resulting in their being atoned for, granting them the holiness required to step into the tent where God's presence dwelt (Num. 8:5-19). Inside, they did work which included: offering the sacrifices and offerings brought by the individual people, families, tribes, and the nation at their appropriate times (Lev. 1-7), caring for and trumpeting the silver trumpets (Num. 10:1-10), cleansing lepers (Lev. 14:1-32) and unclean houses (Lev. 14:33-54), testing for adultery (Num. 5:11-31), and the most important among other duties was actually caring for "all that concerns the altar" and that which was "within the veil" (Num. 18:7). In fact, this was so serious that "any outsider who comes near [the altar and the items within the veil] shall be put to death", but since somebody had to step near in order to offer sacrifices and make atonement for the people (Heb. 9:22), and not just anybody could, the Levitical priesthood was given by God as those somebodies. By their privileged access atonement was made by offering...

The Sacrifices
Because of sin and it's role in humanity, both in separating us from God and in it's law-breaking nature (thereby making us estranged enemies), God mercifully instituted a sacrificial system in which sin could be atoned for on both the individual (Lev. 4:3, 22, 27) and corporate/national (Lev. 4:13) level. Without going into a huge amount of detail, suffice it to say that the sacrifices and offerings that God instructed the people to offer (and the priests to mediate) were very poignant pictures of God's requirement of perfection: each ingredient and animal, each carefully calculated cut, each drop of blood sprinkled, each limb washed, each organ removed and precisely placed on the altar, each heap of ashes reverently removed to the outside of the camp. The worshipers would lay their hands on the head of the bull or lamb, identifying with the animal and thereby transferring their guilt to it so that when it died its gory death, it was as if the worshiper was actually dying. These all satisfied certain demands required by God's own perfection and holiness, and by painstakingly partaking in this gracious provision for sin, the sons of Jacob from every tribe (via the mediating work of the priests) were allowed to maintain their citizenship within their tribes and nation. By maintaining citizenship, they would also receive...

The Inheritance
Promised by God to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-9), to Isaac (Gen. 26:1-5), and to Jacob (Gen. 28:4, 13; 35:11-12), the inheritance that they were promised from God would be a national identity, being a blessing to the whole world, and a land in which they could live as God's people (cf. Scripture references above next to the names of each patriarch). As God's people, they would have the distinct privilege of making the one true God known to the rest of the world, and as a bonus (as if you could top living with the presence of the creator of the universe) they would have their own land to do this from! [Not a bad deal, not a bad deal at all.]
Some of the upsides to having their own land would be: freedom to live by the righteous requirements of God's law without hindrance from foreign rule, land and possessions to pass down to their descendants, and because they owned land, this meant they could farm and pastor their flocks, maintaining their means of sustenance. But, as you remember from the graphic up above, the Levites were left out of the "land" portion of the inheritence, which begs the question: what the heck?!

If the Levites were one of the twelve tribes, included in the promise of an inheritance, but they didn't receive what was obviously part of Israel's inheritance, then what did they receive? Numbers 18 gives us the answer...

"8 Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, “Behold, I have given you charge of the contributions made to me, all the consecrated things of the people of Israel. I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual due. 9 This shall be yours of the most holy things, reserved from the fire: every offering of theirs, every grain offering of theirs and every sin offering of theirs and every guilt offering of theirs, which they render to me, shall be most holy to you and to your sons. 10 In a most holy place shall you eat it. Every male may eat it; it is holy to you. 11 This also is yours: the contribution of their gift, all the wave offerings of the people of Israel. I have given them to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it. 12 All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the firstfruits of what they give to the Lord, I give to you. 13 The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it...20 And the Lord said to Aaron, 'You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.'"

What does this mean? It's pretty straightforward: when the people brought their bulls, lambs, fruits, grains, and wines to offer to God, God was then giving a portion of each of these to the Levites. In certain sacrifices, a portion of the meats and grains were not burnt on the altar, but were instead set aside, and it was these set aside pieces that the Levites could eat. So, even though they had no land they were inheriting (and therefore nowhere to farm or harvest), they were being provided for directly by God. It looked like this:
  1. God provided a harvest, the increase of the crops, and healthy cattle to the people,
  2. the people brought their crops and animals to sacrifice to God,
  3. God would then take of those sacrifices and give it to sustain the Levites.
And in this sharing of what belonged to him, God said, "I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel" (Num. 18:20). God was sustaining the lives of the Levites through his portion of the sacrifices (if you don't eat, you die, right?), and God is also the source of life itself (he is the one that gives food it's sustaining ability), which gives us this picture: "I (God) = life. I give you myself = I give you life". So what was the inheritance of the Levites? Physical life and God's presence.

And now, there's Jesus
  1. As priest: Just like the Levitical priesthood, Jesus was appointed to have access into the temple, but unlike the Levites, he was sinless, and therefore had no need for atonement. For this reason, he had no fear of stepping into the presence of God to perform his priestly duties where anyone else would have died for daring to step so close.
  2. As sacrifice: Whereas the Levitical priesthood had to enter into the tent/temple over and over and over again to atone for sin, Jesus stepped in once. The writer of the book of Hebrews poses it like this, "...would [the sacrifices] not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" ( Heb. 10:2-4). In other words, a bull cannot truly die in place of a man; man has sinned, therefore a man must die for man's sins. But what man can die for his sins or any other man's sins, since the blood of all sinful men is sin-tainted? Sin-tainted blood does not please God. For this reason, had we been left to ourselves, we would have been doomed; but Jesus came down to earth in the form of man (cf. Phil. 2:5-7) to offer his perfect, sinless blood (cf. Phil. 2:8). His blood accomplished in one sacrifice what all the blood of all the bulls ever sacrificed could not do: washed away sin. And not just one man's sins, but the sins of the whole world (cf. John 1:29). And his blood not only washes away the sin of those who place their hand on his head, but Jesus' blood has now set us apart for holy work, even as the blood of the spotless lamb consecrated the priests to do holy work.
  3. As inheritance: As discussed above, the Levitical priesthood was sustained by the gracious provision of God from the sacrifices that were brought by the worshipers. As life itself, God gave the priesthood life through the set-aside portions of the offerings and sacrifices. Jesus, as the true sacrifice, has now become the portion that we as the priesthood receive from God; God has given us life through Jesus. The Levitical priesthood received physical life through what was rightfully God's as well as access to his presence, but we receive eternal life through what is rightfully God's: Jesus. And in Jesus, we have the fullness of God himself.

Priest Sacrifice Inheritence
Levitical Priesthood - Appointed by God to mediate for the people
- Required atonement to be a priest b/c of priests' own sins
- Sprinkling of the sacrifical lamb's blood on the priests atoned for them and set them apart for service
- Bulls, rams, goats, lambs, doves, fruits, grains, and wine
- Offered twice daily (once in the morning, once in the evening), once at the beginning of each week, and once at the beginning of each month (on top of the required sin and trespass offerings and any other freewill offerings)
- required for the people to temporarily stand rightly before God, but did not make them righteous (Heb. 10:4)
- Life AND God, by way of sharing in God's portion of the sacrifices and offerings: eating the meat, fruit, and bread/grain offered
- they inherited God in a true, yet symbolic, way
Church - Jesus appointed by God to mediate for people
- No atonement needed for Jesus to become priest, no sin
- Sprinkling of Jesus' blood on us now atones for us and sets us apart for service
- Jesus
- Offered once for all time as a fulfillment of the Levitical sacrifical system (Heb. 9:26)
- required for people to permanently stand rightly before God, and does make us righteous (Heb. 10:10, 14, 22)
- Eternal life IN God , by way of sharing in God's portion of the sacrifice: Jesus (Matt. 26:26; John 1:12-13, 3:16-17)
- we inherit God in a true, full way

What the Levitical Priesthood embodied in shadow, Jesus embodied in substance. Jesus is the perfect priest, appointed by God to enter into the temple of God when nobody else could, in order to stand before God on behalf of the people, mediating the blood of the sacrifice, sprinkling it onto the offerers and cleansing them for all time; he is the perfect sacrifice, the spotless lamb whose blood satisfied God's wrath and justice for all time, whose scent rises up to God for a sweet smelling aroma, bringing peace between God and man, and sanctifying for himself a priesthood to do his work; and he is the perfect inheritence for he is God in the flesh, and when we (by faith) unite with Jesus, entering into the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), and receive him who is God's portion of the sacrifice, we truly receive life- we receive God himself.

I've spent so much time writing all of this, organizing my thoughts and words, and I feel that my words are nowhere near adequate enough to represent how weighty this is. And I am also aware that I may have gaps in my understanding of the priesthood, the roles of the priests V.S. the high priest, and the worshipers. I welcome correction and enlightenment.

No amount of bold, underlined, or italicized words can accurately portray how awesome Jesus is. I hope that the depth of what has just been discussed will inspire praises to form on your lips, and that it will give you an even deeper appreciation for what Jesus has done for us on the cross. By sprinkling his blood on us, he not only cleanses us from our sin, but he also sets us apart for holy work: we are a part of Jesus' priesthood! As priests, we now get to proclaim to the world, "if you will only place your hand on Jesus' head in faith, your sin will be transferred to him and his righteousness to you, and you will be forgiven and cleansed of your sin, made perfect in the eyes of God"!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

5 years.

Some of you may know (or vaguely recall) how I asked Kayla out. It was an exceedingly awkward moment in time.

The characters:
  1. a pale-skinned male with perpetually flushed cheeks who (mistakenly) thought he was awesome and (correctly) thought he was about to score a total dish [a girl who has it all: looks, wit, intelligence, personality] who was obviously head-over-heels with him; his entire wardrobe consisted of 51 50 hats, muscle tees to show off his scrawny arms, chunky skater Reeboks, and poorly-patterned zip up hoodies; at the time, he thought he and character 2 were playing in the same league, but he would soon realize it was not so
  2. a deliciously sun-kissed, lightly-freckled, brown-eyed angel of girl whose laugh could bring light to dark rooms and whose smile could make you forget Newton's very well established law of gravity; her eyes could instill courage enough to face an army of dragons, and her words were more soothing than any ointment or salve; her clothing all was carefully calculated, always tasteful, appropriate to the occasion, and never out of style; she was the closest thing to heaven that character 1 would ever encounter in this mortal life
The date: July 27th, 2008.
The time: somewhere around 2 AM.
The location: a park by her best friends house, lying on the grass, hoping the sprinklers wouldn't turn on before I had asked her the fateful question that would change the course of my life...forever.

But before I could get the question out, I, rather unfortunately, vocalized my awkwardness leading up to that point, and it looked something like this:

Character 1: So, uuuuhh...I've kinda been wanting to ask you if, would want to be my girlfriend.
Character 2: ...okay.
Character 1: ...yeah...haha [see? awkward.]
Character 2: Well then, ask me.
Character 1: ...alright, then. Kayla, will you be my girlfriend?

I don't remember what words were exchanged after that point; all I know is that I am now married to her, so she must not have said "no".

Today commemorates 5 years since I asked her if she would go steady with me, and I write to  you now as a happily married, faithfully besotted husband and father-to-be. I can only thank God for allowing me the chance to spend any amount of time with this woman. She has such a deep love for people, for God in and through our Lord Jesus, for virtue and beauty, for family...she contains in her soul wisdom that she should not possess at only 22 years old. It is a joy and a pleasure to talk with her, to walk with her, and to live life with her. God in heaven has held her as a torch and set fire to my soul. And for that I am eternally grateful.

What have I learned? I've learned that I don't know too much. Not about life, about her, about myself, about God, about family, about...anything, really. Through her God has shown me dark, vile places in my heart that would have spread like a cancer to the rest of my being had she not labored alongside me to dig out the bad roots and plant good seed in their place. I've been humbled, very humbled. She knows so much about me, and she remembers so much about me to the very minutest detail, important or otherwise, but I have a hard time remembering what she told me just 5 minutes ago. It's difficult for me to think much of myself when standing next to someone who is so good at loving me as she loves herself. She has taught me so much, and I dare say that I would do better to model her life than most anybody else's.

It's my prayer that, should you desire someone to spend your life with, that you would find someone like Kayla. Someone that you can respect and look to as an example for your life, someone that challenges you to be a better you, someone that helps you realize and push forward to apprehend the purpose of your existence - to know and be known by God.

Darling, if you read this, I want you to know how special you are to me. Thank you for 5 years of loving, of learning, of failing, of growing; thank you for letting me be your nerd-bomber. I wouldn't want to be awkward with anyone else. And thank you for gently showing me that you, my bride, are way out of my league.

P.S.: My wife has some thoughts about today, too. Go check them out here.

why blog?

Good question.

I've tried journaling on more than a few occasions through my life and it just never seemed to stick.
Don't get me wrong, I love the smell of leather-bound, gold-edged pages just as much as the next bibliophilic journaling wannabe (and I have the collection to prove it!). I love separating the pages, feeling the ink slip out of my pen and onto the paper, leafing through to the next wide-ruled set of lines. Of the 15-20 or so journals I've bought since my teen years (I'm now 23), most of them contain a few pages of the familiar "Dear Journal" rhetoric, and then somewhere around 100 blank pages following. The exceptions to the usual "blank pages following" trend were those rushed moments that I needed to write down the confirmation number of the new journal I just ordered and couldn't find notebook paper, but my previous journal was handy and, wouldn't you know it, there was plenty of blank space for writing information down!

For some reason, I never became a regimented writer; just a collector of barely-used journals. Come to think of it,

I've never really been a regimented anything.

It's not like I don't have thoughts. I have plenty! Some of them are funny, some off color, some deep, some shallow, some small, some big. They come in different shapes and sizes, they strike different chords with different people, and they even effect me, the thinker, in different ways. And you know what they have the tendency to do once I've thought them? Disappear. Like a drop of Red #40 in a 50 gallon drum of Hawaiian Punch, my thought is lost among the high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and other natural flavors of life. I don't suspect that all of my thoughts should be saved, but the ones that have worth - that have the flavor of wisdom, that are fizzy with timelessness, or have an aftertaste of glory - I don't want to let those ones escape. It is those drops, those thoughts, that I hope to catch in mid-fall and preserve for future generations.

What would the thoughts of the great thinkers of yesteryear be to us if they had never been written down? What if they had not taken the time to spill ink after plumbing the depths of a great conundrum? What if the most profound questions, answers, and statements had never been accounted for? Perhaps those same thoughts would have been formulated by someone else. Of that possibility we can only guess. But what I do know is that I'm glad to have, written in journals and books, the great thoughts of great men and great women who dedicated themselves to leaving no great thought un-recorded.

I don't think my thoughts or my life could be considered "great"; but if they reveal a truth about God, about reality, about life or living, then they are great because of the object of my thought, not by virtue of my ability to think. There have been thoughts that I've thought in times past which excited me, awed me, humbled me, and moved me, and I wish that I could now remember them. I hope to never feel that twinge of regret, that "O, how I wish I could remember" feeling, again.

Therefore, I now blog (who knows for how long?). Enjoy my thoughts if you take interest in them. I will warn you ahead of time: I am very regular, boringly normal, monotonously...monotonous. But I promise to be real.

Why blog? Because on the off-chance that I say something profound, something worthy of remembrance, then it will remain, long after I have passed, to encourage and inspire a future generation.