I feel haunted by the ghost of a future I want and a past that I miss. The din of cars outside the window, the occasional honking horn. As I lay and wonder, in-between dreams yet not fully awake, flashes of memory light up and I see crowded streets.
Red stains of Betel-nut. Grey water from the Canals. The gritty sound of loudspeakers. Laughter, lens flare, freedom.
I am falling in love all over again. I am feeling the invasion of nostalgic thoughts. I miss Taiwan.
I really, really miss Taiwan.
Today, I awoke and combed through website after website of local churches. I read pastor Bio pages, I saw the trendy words and vocabulary. I spent hours reading and sifting to find connections. Half the time I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just doing it. It’s exhausting to raise thousands of dollars, be newly married, about to move once more, looking for a job. It feels as if I’m stretched in a million miles and yet it isn’t desperation or pressure that stands on my shoulders. I wish it was.
Sometimes I wish that external motivators could push and prod me to success. That I would be so desperate and afraid of failure, I couldn’t help but call churches and submit resumes. Greatness is easier to grasp when your motivator is a pin-cushion of pain. I’ve always been better in a pressure cooker. Sixteen hour days and constant work tend to force my life into a place of order from chaos. The risk of failure, standing on the precipice of defeat. It’s strangely exhilarating and motivating. Maybe I am addicted to conflict.
Which brings me to now.
I am in one of the hardest phases of life.
My needs are met, I have everything I’ve ever wanted. A beautiful wife. A reliable Car. Good friends. Netflix. I have a good life.
I am no longer between a rock and a hard place. I’m on a rock or some hallmark card saying like that. It is not in the desperate motivation to jumpstart my life that I must find solace.
I must be self-motivated. I have to get up and pursue this desire to serve the Lord because I wholeheartedly believe in it. My belief must motivate me, not my emotions.
It’s so easy to be motivated when we need something. Cravings, be it hunger pains or dopamine addiction force us to pursue a course of action. Yet, this is different. What happens when the cravings leave?
I have to want this.
I have to want Taiwan, more then I want laziness. I have to want Taiwan more then I fear rejection from a kajillion more churches. I have to want our mission.
I have to want it.
Our thinking can be so one-dimensional. I often hear things like, “I don’t like Chinese Food.”
Really? So you are telling me the culinary needs and desires of over a Billion people are so simplified that the one time you had a bad experience with an MSG filled food disaster, the entire several thousand year history of Chinese cuisine was ruined? Perhaps… we are thinking a little too simple here.
The truth for the sad one who does not lust after Panda Express is that at some point a desire was not met properly, and in time it has been eradicated. Or worse, been replaced with disgust. There is no desire for Chinese food left in the poor soul who has sworn off noodles and dumplings. So the natural conclusion is that ALL CHINESE FOOD IS BAD despite a minimal exposure or my goodness, even multiple tries! The entire category of asiatic food was lumped into one thing and tossed asunder (Because we all know most Americans believe all Asian food is from China.) The unfortunate hater of cuisine will walk by Din Tai Fung, nose upturned, never knowing what he is missing, yet believing he fully knows it.
Belief becomes a hinderance to experiencing a huge part of the world we live in.
And that’s the funny part. We leave so much of our destiny in the hands of desire when it should lie in the realm of belief.
Desire isn’t something we particularly control. Like planting seeds, desire is grown over time through proper care but it is hardly in control of the unlearned sower. Cultivating it takes time and effort.
I have to know what I believe before I engage things in life. Growing in love for Taiwan, It means watching youtube videos on Boba Tea and celebrating Mandarin Mondays. It means studying Chinese for fun, going to the International District, learning to cook Roti. Emily and I set up Mandarin Mondays, where we keep the focus on Asia. We spend intentional time getting to know the country we are headed to. Emily and I have to believe that Taiwan is far deeper and richer then even a decade of daily experiences could show us. This small discipline has reignited a love for Asia.
Every Monday Emily and I Celebrate our Sabbath by experiencing Chinese Culture. We call these restful days Mandarin Mondays, and they help keep us going strong with our vision for Taiwan.
I’m falling in love all over again. It motivates me. It gets me up in the morning. The thought of being able to reach the people of Taiwan, to bask in the glow of a unique and strange culture.
I think there is a lesson here.
I think most of us can look at our walk with Jesus and point to times that it was not sincere love or desire motivating us. He was our Get-Out-Of-Hell Card, our Make-Life-Better Genie, our P’s and Q’s before the day begins. Instead of a sincere love to know God, instead of reading the word and watching youtube videos on Israel, instead of learning to cook mediterranean meals… Religion becomes motivated by our need to have fluffy positive desires. Religion becomes an identity we can’t give up and yet don’t feel anything for. Religion becomes a stale marriage in need of passion. Our need to have an idol. Our need to survive.
Don’t you wish the desire for God was motivated by want? Some at this point merely give up, they say that Christianity was never for them, wandering back to comfortable one-dimensional thinking. God becomes less this vast universal creator who can somehow know and satisfy the needs of 7 Billion people. God is no longer the master artist who sculpted squirrels and llamas. God becomes a thin veil in the mind of the disillusioned. Yet it has to be different. If God created all of this, if He made heaven and Earth, and I find myself watching Husky videos on youtube with awe and reverence, can’t He sustain me a little bit more then the Youtube? Won’t He be far more fascinating then memes and television?
Imagine waking up and looking at the Bible as if it was Christmas morning and you had a present waiting for you. Imagine feeling that the single most enjoyable moment in the week was worshipping at the local church. I’d love to say we all feel that way, but let’s be honest.
Church is boring to us sometimes. Come on, come out and say it. You like sleeping in. You like watching TV. You like doing things other then sitting and listening. The Bible feels as stale as a communion wafer somedays. We’ve all been there. And if you haven’t then I’m excited to see you join the Sanhedrin soon you self-righteous lit-
Relationship turns into religion. We are so good at locking the summation of human existence into one dimension.
Then life happens, that terrible news, we readjust, we need God. Life gets good again. Then, surprisingly, Life happens. We readjust. It’s an obnoxious cycle if anything. Pressure is on. We are back in the Saddle, begging for God. And then we forget that we ever needed Him. Why this cycle?
The desire has been replaced by need. Need is a temporary fuel, a powerful motivator, and important. Need tells us when we are hungry. Need tells us when we need to make a change. Yet need doesn’t produce art and beauty. Need produces solutions. When you need food, you make a sandwich. When you desperately need food, you eat anything. When you desire food for pure hedonistic enjoyment, you barter between friends for thirty minutes until you decide what restaurant to go to. You learn to cook. You read about food. I know, crazy, right? Using real books in lieu of pictures! That’s dedication. When you want, really want food. Well, eating becomes an experience.
When was the last time your daydreams for God filled the heart? When Jesus was so beautiful you couldn’t help but grin? When was the last time God was a want, not out of necessity, but the pure pleasure of experiencing who He was? It’s easy to look at other people with jealous eyes and an empty soul sometimes.
“Why am I not that Pious? Why don’t I wake up and desire God like those reform theologians who discuss Westminster for entertainment? Why don’t I get all weepy when I think of Jesus, like that new believer, I mean, come on! He’s only known God for a week and I haven’t brought a tear out of this face since the last Prison Break episode.”
“I know the further I go, the harder I try, only keeps my eyes closed. And somehow I’ve fallen in love, with this middle ground, at the cost of my soul. Yet I know, if I stepped aside. Released the controls, you would open my eyes. That somehow, all of this mess. Is just my attempt to know the worth of my life” – Sleeping At Last
If you notice, almost everything Jesus did had a sort of invitational feel to it.
Come and drink and never thirst again. Come to me all who are weak and weary. Live how I live.
It’s bizarrely relational. In Church this Sunday we talked about how there is a huge difference between not doing something because it’s wrong and doing something because it’s right. Our culture is obsessed with not doing things. Rarely is it obsessed with doing. I can recall so many times I’ve heard a person try to quit smoking whilst saying, “I’ve been good this weak so I can have just one.” As if racking up “I didn’t commit evil,” points is the best form of self-growth. Obviously the basic human achievement of not smoking is where we start, but once we lower the bar, it’s so hard to climb up. Not doing things isn’t necessarily the best worldview. We related it to a relationship between husband and wife.
In view of the terrible people out there, it’s easy to justify ourself… “I don’t cheat on my wife. I provide money. I don’t get drunk. I’m not rude…” Husband of the year, right? The list can go on, but at the end of the day, relationships are about doing something for someone, engaging, entering into that. Relational living engages the person. This creates a deep and strange desire. Try it. Try spending all day writing encouraging letters to people you love. You find that you love them deeper afterwards.
Many Christians have turned the basic actions of going to church and reading the Bible into basic actions for required living. This belief turns the entire idea into a negative system, similar to the smoker trying to quit. “I’ve read my bible all week, I can skip one day, I’ve been good.” And BAM! We have a one-dimensional view of religion.
Church and Bible reading are supposed to be joy-filled times. They are supposed to be basic engagements with God. When doing those things becomes more about not disappointing someone in the sky then about actually engaging Jesus, then of course you won’t turn to them over television and video games. The Seahawks game on Sunday will inevitably sound better then church.
There are times that feel like winter. There are times God feels distant. Yet, that’s not supposed to last a decade!
If you aren’t encountering God. You’re doing it wrong. I’d venture to say you don’t truly belief you’d encounter Him if you tried. Stop the unbelief. Change the belief system. Reach, stretch, and pull your heart up to the place where you believe you can encounter God again.
I’m falling in love again with Taiwan because I spend my days thinking about Taiwan. Watching documentaries on Taiwan. Cooking like Taiwan. Talking about Taiwan. And it’s began to build this strange desire that is stronger then it has ever been.
Perhaps, one should try that with God. Have you ever tried to cook a Hebrew meal? Have you watched any neat Netflix shows on God? Have you listened to a sermon in the last year when it wasn’t Sunday? Dig deeper. When was the last time you wrote a letter to God? The last time you fell asleep praying? The last time you went somewhere isolated and sang to Him? The last time you felt connected? Have you considered visiting Israel? Have you considered reading new books on Jesus?
If you do it enough, if you sincerely believe… you can find God. Deuteronomy 4:29 claims that if you seek the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind, you will find Him. Do you believe the Bible is true?
Then don’t take that lightly.
Rather ask yourself… if you haven’t felt God recently… am I seeking Him? If I was crushing on someone, is this how I would act? How much I would think about them? How much I would try to learn what they like and see what they love?
Seek Him and your desires will change. Remember the romance of your first love, the maker of your soul. Go get dressed up for time with your Bible and Jesus. Be goofy, be cheerful, embrace the creator. Your life will change.
And at some point you will start falling in love all over again.