Letters

Examples of Mystical Experiences in Scripture

I’ve been thinking about whether it’s reasonable to ask whether  mystical experiences should be normal for Christians. So I dug deeper into the Bible to see more of what the Bible has to say about them.

I was raised to think these were foreign to Christianity, contrary to the Bible, and were only experienced by people oppressed by demonic influences.
 
It turns out that our heroes in the Bible experienced some pretty significant “mystical experiences”:
 
• Daniel, Peter and Paul experienced trances. (1)
 
• Jesus and Paul took day trips to Heaven. (2)
 
• Folks burst out prophesying unwillingly (3)
 
• Philip, Jesus & Elijah were transported from one location to another (4)
 
• Visions were common for God’s people throughout the Bible. (5)
 
• Many people had God appear to them in a dream. (6)
 
• Many people heard the audible voice of God. (7)
 
• How many people in the bible had encounters with angels? (8)
 
• I’m reminded of people who walked with God (9)
 
These are just the easy ones to find. How many people experienced his comfort, his presence, whether in their souls or in their natural senses. How many believers have had conversations with God, been given knowledge or instructions by God.
 
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” [Jesus, in John 14:2]
 
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” [Paul, in 1Corinthians 11:1]
 
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” [Paul, in 2Timothy 3:16-17]
 
I’m thinking that we should be learning from the example of Scripture and stop fearing “mystical” or other supernatural experiences and maybe even embrace them. We can be confident that these experiences are indeed Biblical. We are indwelt by a supernatural God who loves mystery, after all.
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Footnotes:
1.      Daniel 8:18, 10:9; Acts 10:10; Acts 22:17; 2Corinthians 12:2.
2.      John 3:13; 2Corinthians 12:2
3.      1Samuel 10:11, 19:24; Numbers 11:27
4.      Acts 8:39, 40; John 8:59, 12:3; 1Kings 18:12
5.      Genesis 15:1; Psalm 89:19; Isaiah 1:1, 6:1-10; Matthew 17:9; Luke 24:23; Acts 10:3, 10:11-17; Revelation 1:12ff
6.      Numbers 12:6; 1Kings 3:5; Matthew 1:20, 2:12, 2:13, 2:19,
7.      Exodus 3:5; Deuteronomy 4:33; 1 Samuel 3:4-11; Mathew 3:17; Mark 9:7; Acts 9:4; Revelation 1:10, 4:1
8.      Genesis 21:17; 2Kings 1:15; 1Chronicles 21:30; Matthew 1:20, 28:5; Luke 1:13, 1:30, 2:10
9.      Genesis 3:8, 5:24, 6:9; Micah 6:8, 2Corinthians 6:16

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Letters

Wielding Your Imagination With God


What part of your being do you engage in order to think things through? We're talking about study and fact-finding and evaluating details, here. What do you do that work with? Your mind, yes? A lot of us engage the world primarily through our mind; American culture teaches us to do this.

What part of your being do you engage in order to feel things? That's the emotions, right? We talk about engaging people's emotions when we write or speak, and for many among us, this is the primary way that they relate to life; American media teaches us to do this.
 
And there are a relatively smaller portion of the population that engages life through their will: through choosing, through following through with their choices. I hate to say it, but an awful lot of American religion teaches us to emphasize our will and our choices.

You can often tell which of these components of their soul that people use most, relate most with the world, by listening to them talk for a bit. Sooner or later, you'll hear about "I think this," "I feel like," or "I did this."
 
Those are all well and good. In point of fact, a healthy human being will use all three components in their everyday life. It's my own understanding that the best choices are made, not with the emotions, and also not with the mind, but with the will, counseled by both mind and emotions, but that's a conversation for another day.
 
I want to talk for a minute about how to make use of the tool that God has given us called our imagination. I suspect that this is one of our more precious gifts from the God in whose image we're created.
 
I'll go so far as to say this: there are jobs that we are called to do which are far easier, far more effective to do with our imagine than with any other part of our being.
 
Let's clarify: this is not the same as daydreaming or wishing or fanciful creating imaginary worlds. Those are very often the result of an undisciplined, untrainned, lazy imagination. "I'm imagining myself winning the lottery!" Yeah, that's not it. Let's put our big kid pants on and look at the work of disciplining the imagination.

This list is NOT complete:
 
×  Dreaming with God. What a wonderful thing it is to share hopes and dreams with God. Absolutely, we need to share our hopes and dreams, if for no other reason than to hear his opinion and solicit his help bringing them into reality. That's a valuable use of our imagination.
 
But we also need to hear his hopes and dreams. This is a normal and healthy part of a love relationship. We learn so much more about his heart, his values this way. I suspect this one alone is worthy of several books!
 
×  Hearing God's voice. Yeah, God does speak audibly once in a great while, where we can hear him with our natural ears. And certainly, he speaks through Scripure, where we hear with various tools (our spirit, maybe our mind or our imagination, etc). But if we're ever going to get to that place of actual conversation with the Almighty that we all long for, we will hear him most of all through our imagination. It takes practice, training is helpful, but this is within reach.
 
"My sheep hear my voice," Jesus said, "and they follow me." Are you his sheep? OK, then either you hear his voice, or he made a mistake. Or you haven't learned how to exercise your imagination to recognize his voice. I know several books have been written on this.
 
×  Dreams and visions. Look, if you don't want to have dreams and visions, I'm sorry for you, but get out of our way. The rest of us want to experience all that we can with God, and this is part of it. Trances, too (see Acts 10:10 and 22:17).
 
In fact, if you look at the effects of these experiences in Scripture, you'll see where God revealed major revelation, where people saved their lives (and the life of the Christ child!), had formidable gifts imparted, all through dreams, visions and trances. Seriously, go look for it; it's actually hard to miss, once you're looking for it.
 
×  Snuggle Time. OK, that's not a scriptural term, I admit it. But God wants to manifest himself intimately with you even more than you are looking forward to resting intimately with him. Snuggling. Or call it whatever else makes you feel more comfortable. (Read the Song of Solomon. When you're alone.)
 
But this sort of very real experience with God happens through the means of your imagination. Logic just ain't gonna get you to this one, I'm afraid.
 
Somebody's going to worry here (thinkers, I'm looking at you! Heck, I Am you! This was my issue for decades!)
Yes, there are some dangers with exercising our imagination with God. Let's be honest: we can get into trouble with just about anything if we misuse it; why would our imagination be any different?
 
The solution is simple: don't be stupid. Well, that and learn to wield the gift of discernment that he already gave you when you first came to faith. You have that gift for a reason: use it! (See Hebrews 5:14.)
 
But just because you're afraid of your imagination (some people are), or because you don't know how to use your imagination as a tool (that's a whole lot of us Western Christians), or because your imagination is out of your control and runs off with your mind and your emotions without your permission (like mine used to be), that's no excuse to not learn to exercise self-control here.
 
You know how to communicate with God with your mouth. You know how to interact with God and his word with your mind. You know how your emotions experience things with his Spirit sometimes. You know when you need to make right choices.
 
Let's become as skillful with interacting with our Daddy who loves us with our imagination as we are with our other communication skills. 
 

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Letters

The Manipulation of Outrage

Offense does not make you powerful. Offense to the point of outrage does not actually grant power. If you become outraged, if you are offended, you don't actually have any more power did you get before you were offended. You still don't get to choose for other people. You still don't get to deny others their rights, their freedoms, their choices.

There are some environments, some groups, that want you to believe that outrage gives you power. They are mistaken.

What outrage does give you sometimes is a attention and maybe irritation, not unlike how the toddler's temper tantrum in the grocery store gives the child attention and embarrasses her parent.  (It's worth noting that a child who is sick or well past nap time is a whole other issue.)

The outrage, the temper tantrum, does not actually imbue power; that screaming toddler cannot actually force her parent to comply with her wishes. But the attention and the irritation that the outrageous temper tantrum displays might actually succeed in manipulating a tired Mom to give her what she wants in order to shut her up. The power is a lie.

Outrage is manipulation. And like all manipulation, it only works if you allow it work on you.

The reality is that when someone is trying to wield outrage against you, it is you, not they, who has the position of real power. Their power is only the temper tantrum, attracting attention and deploying irritation in their bid for power.  But you hold the real power. You hold the power of choice.

In the public arena, when the media gets involved, things shift a little, but the principles remain the same. We've seen far too many times when the media focuses their not insubstantial attention on the children having the temper tantrums in congress or on the streets, amplifying the attention, amplifying the irritation and embarrassment adding to and working hard to justify the manipulation.

It's still our choice about whether we ourselves will succumb to that manipulation. It is not, on the other hand, within our power to choose whether the rest of society will chose to resist the manipulation, or whether they'll succumb to it. The best we can do is help them to see it for what it is.

It is my observation that outrage is the argument of choice primarily when reason or sensibility don't bring the desired result. It has been said that "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." Outrage surely must be the last step before the violence, and in the news these days, the two seem to be operating hand in hand.

In fact, it seems apparent that if outrage (or, for that matter, violence) is the argument employed to persuade, then it is a pretty reliable conclusion that whatever they're trying to persuade us about should be examined very closely, as the folks selling it clearly don't believe in the cause enough to trust their case to a reasoned appeal.  If they have resorted to outrage, they already know their argument is not rational.

It has not escaped my attention that I am writing for a community of people who are not generally found throwing temper tantrums in public. (I have observed an awful lot of believers, however, amplifying the outraged temper tantrums of others on their Facebook or Twitter feeds, more's the pity.)

My reason for writing this is to give us the opportunity to recognize outrage when we encounter it personally, to see it for what it is - an attempt at manipulating our will to do what the outraged want, and to choose to make our choices ourselves, not on the basis of manipulated emotions or fear of embarrassment or violence.

If someone describes their offense, engages their outrage toward you, stop and recognize that either they are too immature to communicate like an adult, or they're too injured, or they realize that their argument won't stand up to a reasonable conversation.

Recognize their attempts to manipulate you. Resist the manipulation, and choose for yourself.  Make up your own mind.

Never give up your free will to choose for yourself.
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Letters

Which Gifts From God Don’t Need God’s Power?


There are three lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament.

The list that gets most of the attention is the list of gifts from the Holy Spirit:

“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit [of all]: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another [different] kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” - 1 Corinthians 12:7-11

A lot of people are more comfortable with the gifts that Father gives:

“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think [of himself] more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. ... Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, [let us use them]: if prophecy, [let us prophesy] in proportion to our faith; or ministry, [let us use it] in [our] ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” - Romans 12:3, 6-8

And then there’s the gifts that come from Jesus, from God the Son:

“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. ... And He Himself gave some [to be] apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” - Ephesians 4:7, 11-13

I was out walking with God recently, and our conversation drifted to the subject of teaching, since that’s one of the gifts that I work in. We were talking (well, I was talking; that’s how these conversations go a lot of the time) about how teachers come up with the material for their teaching.

I was raised in a couple of traditions. I grew up in a fairly liberal denominational church, where you could preach on whatever you wanted to; it was nice if you could justify it from the Bible, but it wasn’t necessary.
                                                             
Then I was trained in inductive exegesis (let the Bible teach you what it says; teach on that) in a solidly evangelical tradition. In that tradition, if the Bible didn’t say it (and twisting scripture to make it look like it was saying it was verboten!), then you shouldn’t generally teach it.

Since those years, I’ve discovered that God actually speaks to his kids, and he is not unwilling to speak to me. The most un-nerving is when he teaches me truths that I can’t easily find in the pages of Scripture. For some decades, I was warned against the dangers of teaching from personal revelation; “That’s the way cults are started! <gasp!>”)

[Bunny trail: I’ve since gotten over that. I’ve discovered that a good bit (not all) of the New Testament epistles come from Paul’s own personal revelation. And he worked to make sure my revelation is consistent with the teaching of Scripture, never contrary to it. That seems like a solid standard.]

I found myself reflecting on how some teachings can be intellectual or emotional in its foundation, and other kinds of teachings (and here I reflected on prophetic revelation) requires more: it requires a supernatural element that other kinds of messages don’t.

And this is where God brought me up short.

“Hang on there, Son. Just which gifts and abilities from a supernatural God don’t actually need supernatural power? Which of these gifts do you think you can accomplish all on your own, anyway?”

Oh dear.

If I’m honest, I’ve considered that gifts like prophecy and miracles need to be supernatural, but a whole lot of others just need to be well-trained. In fact, while I’ve seen hundreds of training tools for various gifts (I remind you of my history), only a few gave more than lip service to the idea that supernatural empowerment was actually for the gifts they’re training.

In reality, I think the church is getting past the idea that the gifts of God, even the “less spectacular” ones like serving or teaching or evangelism, can function from skill, rather than from the power of God. But the idea is still ingrained in at least a few of us.

I need to say it a couple more times just to make sure I’m getting it:

• The gift of teaching, without the direction and empowering of the supernatural grace of God, is a mess. It would be a work of the flesh, and that would lead people towards a fleshly destination.

• The gift of pastoring, without the direction and empowering of the supernatural grace of God, is a mess. It would be a work of the flesh, and that would lead people towards a fleshly destination.

• The gift of mercy, without the direction and empowering of the supernatural grace of God, is a mess. It would be a work of the flesh, and that would lead people towards a fleshly destination.

• The ministry of helps, without the direction and empowering of the supernatural grace of God, is a mess. It would be a work of the flesh, and that would lead people towards a fleshly destination.

• The gift of teaching, without the direction and empowering of the supernatural grace of God, is a mess. It would be a work of the flesh, and that would lead people towards a fleshly destination.

• The gift of giving, without the direction and empowering of the supernatural grace of God, is a mess. It would be a work of the flesh, and that would lead people towards a fleshly destination.

Everybody should know that there’s a reason that “The Love Chapter” [1Corinthians 13] is smack in the middle of Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts: we need to use our gifts with love. Which also leads us to:

• Love, without the direction and empowering of the supernatural grace of God, is a mess. It would be a work of the flesh, and that would lead people towards a fleshly destination.


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Letters

It’s Just Like Riding A Bicycle


Do you remember when you learned how to ride a bicycle? Your world changed that day.

Before you knew how to ride a bike, you were a pedestrian. You had to walk (or run) everywhere, or have someone else take you where you wanted to go. You were limited.

After that day, you could still choose to walk (or you could still ask someone to take you), but you had a new choice: you could ride your bicycle! You had access to new forms of transportation. You were powerful.

And ever since, you’ve had that ability. We even use it as an aphorism: “It’s just like riding a bicycle,” we say, when we want to describe a skill that you never really lose.

Father used that illustration with me recently. “It’s just like riding a bicycle. Once you’ve got it, you never really lose it.”

Let me back up a bit.

Have you ever had a particularly intimate or especially satisfying experience with God?

A friend of mine has had some remarkable experiences with God in what appears to be a garden. I’ve had some encounters in a big paneled library. Others have met him in worship, on quiet walks or in other experiences with him.

Pause for a moment, and think back to one of those times when you experienced God in a special way. Hold that memory in your mind. Have you got it? Now consider:

That was not merely an experience to be remembered (though it was memorable). That was an invitation to come back to that place again and again.

There’s a very real sense in which “It’s just like riding a bicycle.”

In my early experiences of this kind, they happened at God’s initiative. I was just minding my own business in prayer, doing what I regularly do, and the experience or the vision just showed up. It was all his initiative.

Recently, however, my sense has been that this is more up to me now. “I showed you what’s possible. Now it’s your turn.”

And the more I think about the nature of God’s relationship with his children, the more I see him training us for participating with him in the Kingdom we are inheriting with Jesus.

For example, Hebrews 12:8: “If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.” Remember that the word for “discipline” is” παιδεία paideía, pahee-di'-ah: tutorage, i.e. education or training; by implication, disciplinary correction.”

So he initiates the encounters with us the first time or the first few times. But he wants heirs, partners, not servants or perpetually-immature babies, so he invites us to initiate our encounters with him.

Since this is part of God’s training of us, I draw these assumptions (and they are assumptions) from the lessons:

• It’s going to be more difficult for us to initiate those meetings than it was when he did it for us. (See Hebrews 12:11.)

• It will get easier the more we practice. We will eventually get good at it.

• He’s still very eager to meet us. But he’s so committed to our maturity that he’s not going to short-cut the process; that would not be for our good.

So here’s some practical counsel:

○ Review your memories of your favorite or most profitable encounters with God.

○ Exercise your will, and probably your mind’s eye (not unrelated to your imagination) to re-visit that place; not the event of the encounter that you remember, the place. Look for a fresh encounter in the same place.

○ Don’t give up when it’s difficult, or when your experience isn’t what you are really wanting there. Keep pressing in.

○ By my counsel, I’d say stay verbal in the process. Keep talking with God throughout the process. Be transparent (“OK, this feels weird,” is healthy conversation).

○ If this is the first time you’ve tried this, do NOT let yourself be discouraged if you mess up, or if others accuse you of messing up. That’s the joy of a God like ours: we run TO him, we don’t hide from him, when we mess up.

Remember, It’s just like riding a bicycle.


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Letters

Prayer Isn’t Enough


I’ve been hearing an awkward phrase for a while now.

“Prayer is not enough.” I think I’m hearing it from God. “Declaration is not enough.”

This morning, he went on:

• If you sit around the house all day eating bonbons, praying for weight loss, do you think I’ll believe you?

• If you pray for finances, but don’t go looking for a job, shall I take you seriously?

• If you pray for godly leaders, but don’t expend the effort to research and vote, do you really mean what you’re praying?

• If you fill your mind with the ravings of the fearful, then ask me for peace in your soul, I will question your sincerity.

• I could think of a thousand other illustrations.

The thought was, “If you don’t take your prayers seriously, why should I?”

Nepal and Baltimore: When Prayer Isn’t Enough – The HaystackIt seems that God is more interested in invested partners, in full heirs in the kingdom, than in needy, dependent toddlers.

If we’re heirs in the Kingdom of God, then we’re participants in the exercise of the rule of the Kingdom. He wants to work with us, not against. He is more willing to work with us than against us.

Our words have power, yes. But our actions are also powerful. Best to have them working together.

For a long time, we thought our words were powerless but we’re learning better now. It appears that we’re swinging too far in the direction of relying on our words.

That’s a truth, but it’s not the only truth. If we want to live as mature sons and daughters, we need to know more than just one truth.

The saying is, “Prayer works,” and it’s true. But it goes both ways. Prayer accomplishes things.  But prayer sometimes has work to do. Not instead of prayer; in addition to prayer. As part of the prayer.

We’ve got a job to do.

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“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ “
‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing.
He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. - Matthew 21:28-31


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Letters

Scripture Interpreting Scripture: Eternity

You know how some things are better when they’re together? There’s more goodness when the right things come together. Cookies & milk are like that. Red wine & good cheese. Garlic & onion.

I always enjoy finding new combinations of things that belong together, that I had never considered together before. Sometimes that happens to me with Scripture. This is called letting Scripture interpret Scripture, and it’s known to be a good way to interpret the Bible.

When two or three passages are put together, sometimes they mean more than they did when they were apart. And since “all Scripture is God breathed, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” we can be confident that it’s a legitimate use of the Bible to use all of it for teaching or correcting our understanding of God.

For example, consider Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That’s kind of a big statement. It’s basically just a big list of stuff that cannot separate us from the love of God. There’s a lot of comfort in those verses.

Recently, two of the items on the list stood out to me: the first one (“death”) and the last one (“nor anything else in all creation”) also cannot separate us from the love of God. That’s a big deal.

And as I was reflecting on how we can’t be separated from God’s love by death or nothing else, another verse drifted through my mind. (It had my Father’s fingerprints on it.)

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” [Revelation 21:8]

Wait, what? If death can’t separate me from the love of God, then the second death, the “fiery lake of burning sulfur” cannot separate me from the love of God.

But wait, there’s more! recently, God has been speaking to me through John 12:32, so let’s bring that one into the mix. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” How many people is he drawing to himself? It doesn’t say, “I will draw some people,” or “many people” or “144,000 people” to himself. It says “all.” Whoa.

It also does not say, “I might draw” all people to himself. It says, “I will draw,” and we studied that word to discover it was indeed a forceful drawing, like drawing a sword, or drawing a bow, or drawing a boat up onto the shore. “All” is a big word.

We can certainly argue that the promise of Romans might be only for believers; I know because I’ve done it, trying to make God exclusive. But God isn’t terribly exclusive (though his people certainly are), which makes that application difficult. Possible, but difficult.

And we can certainly argue that the warning of Revelation only apply to unbelievers; I used to teach that too, though if I’m honest, I know believers who fit every one of those qualifiers for the fiery lake, which kind of messes up that argument.

But John’s verse, now that little word “all” throws a pretty epic wrench in that whole “us vs. them” thinking.

So here’s where this whole line of thinking leads me: if there are people in the lake of fire, then the love of God is there with them, right there in the fire with them, doing what the love of God does: drawing people to Jesus.

That’s an unnerving conclusion. At this point, I cannot set this down as “What I Believe.” I can’t say that I’m confident this conclusion is an accurate representation of God (though I’m pretty confident that my previous beliefs were drivel and malarkey, only suitable for fertilizing the tomatoes).

All I’m saying is that if the whole Bible is true (and it is), if all scripture is God breathed (and it is), then I need to consider this carefully, seriously, in the light of the “whole counsel of God,” [Acts 20:27] and also in light of “the exact representation of [God’s] nature” [Hebrews 1:3].

My tentative conclusion is that God is not nearly so interested in smiting as we’ve tended to think he was. No, let me say it another way: God sure appears to be way more committed to the people he loves, and I think that might be everybody.

I think I’ve believed too little of him.

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Conditions On Inheriting My Promises


I’ve been reading in the Book of Numbers recently. The story of the twelve spies.

Moses Sends 12 Spies to Canaan - Numbers 13, 14:1-38 - Bible StoryToday I was struck by the fact that all twelve of them saw the same information. And all twelve of them agreed that what they saw was indeed awesome.

But most of them listened to the fears, and concluded “We can’t do this.” And God said, “OK. You can’t.”

God had brought them all this way specifically to fulfill this promise for them, but because they were moved by their fears, their words really did limit them, and they could not inherit, could not enter the promise.

They died in the wilderness, having been kept out of the promise, ultimately because they listened to their fears.

The other two, Joshua and Caleb, heard the same fears, but they didn’t listen to them. They listened to their trust in the God who had made the promise. They declared “We can do this!” even though they didn’t know how yet. And God said, “OK. You get to do this. But because the other ten wouldn’t believe me, you’ll have to wait until they die before you get the chance.”

• I observe that my ability to inherit God’s great and precious promises is dependent on my willingness to listen to him, to trust what he says, even when the media is shouting fears and anxiety at me.

• I observe that if I listen to the fear, if I speak from the fear, then I keep myself out of the promises that God is getting ready to give me.

• I observe that if I listen to the fear, if I speak from the fear, then I also prevent the people around me from experiencing their promises, at least until my fears and I get out of their way.

The good news is that we get to choose what voice we listen to. Free will really is that powerful!

“We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

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Reflecting On Rules


I was thinking about the rules. God didn’t create the covenant with all the rules. He wanted something much better (Exodus 19:6).

But the people used to slavery rejected that proposal and substituted their own, based on a priesthood and obedience (Exodus 20:19 & Deuteronomy 5:27).

15 Personal Finance Rules You Should Know by Heart | The Motley FoolI was thinking that Jesus was not all about “Keep the rules better, dammit!” He didn’t reveal an angry god ready to smite miscreants, not even a little bit..

Instead, he was all about “come to me,” “love one another,” “he appointed twelve that they might be with him.” That kind of stuff. 

Jesus was all about relationship (Hebrews 1:2&3). He still is, I think.

I have learned that I have really misunderstood about sin. I think the idea that God doesn’t want us to sin is solid, but why? Why does God not want us to sin? I think I’ve had that part wrong.

I grew up thinking that it was because a grumpy God was concerned about the rules and the smite stick. I think I was deceived. Frankly, I think I was deceived by people who didn’t know any better. They had grown up with grumpy god theology, too.

Rather, God doesn’t want us to sin because sin breaks relationship. Sin opens the way for the world, the flesh & the devil to come between Him and me. It doesn’t really (Romans 8:35), but we think it does, so we run and hide from God (see Genesis 3:8). And always God comes looking for us.

Dad doesn’t want anything between us. Even “We want to sit at your right and left hand” (Matthew 10:37-40) is too much separation for him. It seems that the Creator of the Universe would rather die than put up with a damaged relationship with his favorite part of creation.

So he did. It seems he really is that much in love with us.



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Rethinking What God Drawing Us Actually Means


I’ve been looking at how the Bible uses the Greek word, ἕλκω, helkō. It’s an interesting word. Fundamentally, it’s about “to draw by inward power, lead, impel.”

Here is the word in use:

• He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to *haul* the net in because of the large number of fish. [John 21:6]

• When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and *dragged* them into the marketplace to face the authorities. [Acts 16:19]

• The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they *dragged* him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. [Acts 21:30]

• But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are *dragging* you into court? [James 1:6]

• Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, *drew* it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. [John 18:10a]

Pretty forceful word, isn’t it?

Think about these examples, the force that’s involved. These are all involving a fair bit of force,
aren’t they? Yanking people or things from where they were to someplace else, without their participation. Interesting. . .

Think about who is wielding the power in these sentences; who’s making things happen here?

Now buckle your seat belt. Let me draw your attention to the ONLY other verses that use this same word that’s used for “haul” and “dragged” above:

• “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will *draw* all people to myself.” [John 12:32]

• “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me *draws* them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” [John 6:44]

I’ve always looked at this statement as if Jesus were talking about gently wooing folks, like warm and fuzzy marketing campaign, or like a young mother with a toddler. “Come on, all people, you can do this! Here we go! Upsy daisy!”

But that’s not the word used here. The word used here is a forceful word. It’s the word that is used in every other situation to describe yanking people or things from where they were to someplace else, without their participation, without asking their permission.

I’ve always been a huge supporter of the idea of free will: God gave us a mighty gift when he gave us free will. But these statements remind me of how powerful God’s pursuit of us is.

I think this might change how I pray some. I might be asking Father to helkō some folks, rather than just gently persuading them.


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Discipleship Before Conversion: A Testimony

Back in the 20th century, I managed a business for a friend. This was my “tentmaking” job while we were planting a church.

Barry was a salesman working for me. He was a great guy, an effective salesman, and he was focused on his #1 goal in life: becoming a millionaire as soon as possible. I loved his honest transparency.

As a part of our job, he and I had a “sales meeting” every week. Those were remarkable meetings.

These meetings generally lasted a couple of hours and we met in the food court of a local shopping mall.

We always started out with reviewing his sales work. He’d give me the signed contracts that he’d earned over the last week. We’d discuss the accounts and then talk about the coming week’s sales strategies. That took at least a quarter of an hour.

Barry’s vehicle of choice for reaching his millionaire goal was a large multi-level marketing group he was excited about, so we discussed how that was going for him. That took maybe a third of an hour.

Then came the good stuff. I pulled out my Bible, and we discussed our experiences and beliefs in things of eternity. Barry wasn’t a believer, but he was an honest thinker. “Because the Bible says so,” wasn’t convincing to him. But, “Well, the Bible says this, and here’s what I’ve experienced there,” meant a lot.

He wasn’t afraid to push back on a subject if he thought I was wrong, and if I was, I had to be real about it, or these brilliant conversations would be gone.

That was back in my stick-in-the-mud evangelical hard-liner days. I was convinced that being rich – and therefore aspiring to be rich – was evil. Barry, the non-believer, reminded me that a lot of the guys in the Bible (Job, Abraham, Joseph of Arimathea) who were wealthy. And he pointed out that aspiring to wealth wasn’t condemned; it was just a path full of dangers and traps (see 1Timothy 6:9), and he fully acknowledged the dangers.

We talked in terms of “Crossing the bridge” from living for yourself to living in relationship with Jesus, and we both discussed it as a “when;” we didn’t approach it as an “if.” But we both knew it was going to be a while for him.

That season in my life ended abruptly when I was suddenly fired by the business owner (after acknowledging he was impressed with the work Barry & I had done to make his business remarkably profitable).  

Legally prevented from other work in the country, we packed up and moved back home and, with our tail between our legs, moved in with grandparents to lick our wounds. The economy was tough; it took a year for us to get a job and find a home.

As we were moving boxes into our rental, the phone rang. I didn’t even know it had been hooked up yet.

It was Barry. “I wanted you to know that I crossed the bridge. I knew you’d want to know And I wanted to thank you for your time and friendship.”

Life wasn’t through kicking us around. But that one phone call gave me strength to keep on keeping on for quite a while.

Barry got a running start into the Kingdom. I was not the only man discipling him before he came to faith.

Consider: Jesus did not require a confession of faith before he called his disciples. Why should we?



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What Makes You Married?

Here’s an awkward question: what constitutes a marriage?

The Bible has lots of wisdom about how to make your marriage good, and a fair bit of discussion about whether marriage is the right choice.

But it never says, “This is what you do to become married.”

I know how people get married in my culture: there’s a marriage license from the state. You involve either a preacher or a judge or officiant of some kind. There are some vows, and a declaration of some sort. But not one of those is in the Bible, either as instruction or by example.

From a Biblical perspective, how do you actually become married? What do you do that makes you a married person now, instead of a single person?

I had reason to search this out a while ago. A good friend of mine, a person of faith, had begun to share a household with a woman he cared deeply about. That happens a lot, yes, and maybe we’re too quick to judge. I’m becoming convinced that being a Christian is more about loving people than judging them, so I focused on loving them, and not judging them, even in my mind.

And I saw things I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

The first thing I saw was that they had clearly chosen this relationship, and this was a relationship of love, not of convenience, not of sex, not of whatever.

Beautiful Wedding Couple, Bride And Groom Holding Hands Looking Stock Photo - Image of lovers ...Over the weeks and months that I knew them, I realized how committed they were to that relationship. They’d never done a ceremony, so nobody had asked them the traditional question, but I watched them live it out: “Do you promise to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to her, for as long as you both shall live?”

They did that well.

In fact, I had to acknowledge that their relationship was a better illustration of what I think a marriage should be like than an awful lot of couples I knew that had gotten the license and the preacher and the service.

I had to confess that this confused me.

I couldn’t, in good conscience, refer to her as “your girlfriend,” because there was so much more than that in that relationship. Made-up terms like “significant other” or “partner” felt, well… made up, insufficient to describe this relationship.

Honestly, the word that fit was “your wife,” because that’s what she was in his life. Except that she wasn’t.

I was more confused now than before.

So I searched the scriptures. The question that drove me was “What is it that makes a couple ‘husband and wife’?” And the scriptures were remarkably silent on the topic. People got married all the time, and it talked about marriage all the time, but what they did to become married was never discussed. Genesis 29 shows a glimpse, but no more than a glimpse.

So the best I can come up with from the Bible is four components of creating a marriage. If you’re going to get married, as I see it in the example of the Bible (it’s not even mentioned in the teaching), you apparently have to do four things.

1) You have to make some sort of public statement. “We’re getting married” seems like it should be enough. In other words, this is something you declare in your community, not something you go off privately or do secretly.

2) Apparently, you have a party. There’s a bunch of people, they eat and drink and celebrate. If Jesus is around, apparently there will be good wine (see John 2).

3) You go to bed together.

4) Then you live together; you make a household.

I can’t find any more than these four in Scripture, which tells me that the other 99% of what we do in American culture is cultural: the best man, the bridesmaids, the ceremony, the “officiant” (whether preacher or justice of the peace), the certificate, the honeymoon. All of that is mere fluff. Some of it’s nice fluff, but it’s not part of what gets the deed done.


So I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but I began referring to my aforementioned friends using the word “husband” and “wife” where it felt appropriate. At one point, I explained that they did a better job of marriage than a lot of officially-married couples I knew, and we moved on. In other words, I blessed them in their relationship.

Some months later, he pulled me aside while we were all hanging out together. “So… would you like to do a marriage ceremony?” There was much rejoicing, a little bit of planning.

A few months later, in a gathering of their friends in the back yard, they spoke out loud the commitment that they’d been walking out for years.

Then we had a party.

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More Thoughts on Job and His Sorry Friends

The more time I spend with Job, the more I’m impressed, both with the man and with the lessons that his book teaches me.

He started out as the richest, most influential man in the area. He was a godly man, and his godliness cam naturally; it wasn’t a performance.

Then disaster struck and took “everything he [had]” from him. What a mess. You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy.

Job starts out whining and feeling sorry for himself. His focus began as “Why God? Why me?”

Forty chapters later, Job still didn’t have the answers to that question, but he stood in respect of God rather than in accusation of God.

God’s response to Job’s “Why?” questions was essentially, “Son, this is above your pay grade.” I infer (and it is an inference; the Book doesn’t say it outright) that essentially Job didn’t know enough for the real answer to his “Why” question make any sense. I that’s true for me sometimes, too.

This morning, a couple of thoughts stick with me from Job:

• I find myself wondering if it would be wiser to bypass the self-pity and “accusing God” stage and just skip to the end: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted…. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore … I repent.”

Still chewing on that one. I’m not sure that’s actually a real-world option when you’re actually in the thick of it. But it would have saved Job so much pain had he been able to go there. Which leads me to the next observation:

• When satan took “everything he [had],” he didn’t take Job’s three self-righteous friends with the funny names (“Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite”). And listening to how they were “helping” Job, I can understand why: they were part of his trials, not part of him getting over his trials. Their “counsel” was part of why it took Job so long to actually connect with God.

I have decided I don’t want to be one of that kind of friend any more.

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我從台灣對外國人的偏見,了解到系統性的黑人歧視是真實的

[EN]

我在大學第一次接觸到美國的黑人文化,也因此,我成為了更好的人。慕迪聖經學院(Moody Bible Institute)距離Cabrini Green不到一個街區。我教Pierre怎麼游泳,他則教會了我如何原諒。我的室友Ronnie,曾是非洲人覺醒學生組織的主席。他花了三年試圖告訴我,問題是在系統之中的,「是系統,Jesse。它隱蔵在系統之中,我知道你並未察覺,但它充斥在我每天的生活中。」,我聆聽著,但我依然無法看到他口中的問題。

而在台灣生活了十年,打開了我的眼界。Ronnie,我看到它了。我終於不單單只是聽到它,我終於用我自己的眼睛看到它了。我也看到了,其他人沒看到,尤其是當他們身在其中。

如果有個人認為他不正義的舉動是可以被接受的,那就沒有任何方法在他這樣想的情況下告訴他他的所作所為是不正義的。藉此,我知道Rosa Parks感受如何。我完全贊同馬丁.路德.金恩博士在『從伯明罕市監獄發出的信』所提到的:

「到處都是不正義之事,不論在哪都對正義是種威脅。」

「我們再也承受不起與狹隘的、偏狹的『外部煽動』的主意共處了。」

「我們可以很簡單地同意,當時機到來時我們達到我們的期望。我在這裡是因為我被邀請至此。但更根本的原因是,因為不正義在此。」

台灣人們需要西方人。他們在他們的機場和市場歡迎西方人。但他們需要的是西式的訓練和西方的思考方式,工程師為了抵抗區域內強大的侵略者而建造屬於他們的防衛性武器。台灣需要英文老師­­;而更重要的是他們需要每天和英語母語者交流。然而,因為對岸那個巨大的威脅,以及過去被殖民的傷痛,台灣制定法律限制所有的外國人。台灣因為過去,而拒絕他們未來需要的朋友。我們都做過一樣的事情,對吧?

我接下來要說些很無聊的細節,請大家忍受一下了。在美國,工作簽證能夠給你居留權,五年之後外國人可以成為公民。相較於美國,台灣比較複雜,台灣在這方面有著許多奇怪的限制,例如:你如果在星期一被解雇,而你在禮拜三才找到新工作,你的五年就要重算;而且如果你被開單,五年也要重算;且證明這五年是有效的,需要多次的工作允許證來證明,但政府不直接給我,而是給我的老闆,而我的老闆從來沒有給過我。即便你上述條件都符合,你要成為公民還需要放棄你原先的國籍。

我的故事從12年前開始,我的老闆不給我我的工作許可,然而法律上只有要求但並非強迫他要給我,所以我只好把我的工作許可偷來,並藏在我的領帶裡,然後回家爆哭一頓。我遇到的下一個老闆,他依然不給我工作許可。因此我向警察和移民署求助,那個接我電話的警察大喊:「他們必須要給你」,然而他們就沒有後續的處理了。

很快的,在地的勞工督察找上了我,但是是在我不該出現的補習班找到了我,我當時在一間連鎖補習班工作,但我完全不知道我到底該在哪裡上班,我工作地址是用中文寫在那我從來沒收到過的工作許可上的,接著我收到了督察的傳喚,我的老闆超級擔心,叫我對政府單位說謊,我們甚至為了我要怎麼說謊開了一個會,老闆的老闆用奇怪方式和我握手,我感覺我的生命受到了威脅。我的公司的所作所為就是為了欺騙政府好躲過審查,當時我和我老闆坐在一起,對著勞工局的督察(一個人很好且在乎你,但沒什麼權力的人)撒謊,而我老闆的老闆則是進入了他們長官的辦公室,偽善的和他聊天著。那個長官看起來嚇壞了。最後,我為了那出於被威脅而說的謊言押上了我的指紋,我們就像什麼都沒發生的樣子離開了。

幾個禮拜後,我才知道原來那個詭異的握手是性暗示,我這才知道自己被性騷擾了,並且如果我不聽他們的向政府說謊和同意那個性要求,他們打算找他們的黑道朋友找我麻煩,而我拒絕了那個要求,或許這就是幾個月後公司想把我炒了的原因,且開除員工需要給付資遣費,而他們一向拒絕給付。

在合約結束前兩周,老闆基於我自願性的回報工作進度,他們突然說要進行一場考核,就為了找出為什麼我的教學進度落後一頁,而且他們表示絕對不會跟我續約。荒謬的是,正常情況下任何老師的教學進度都差不多落後表定三頁左右。

法律上,老闆應該要接受我的辭職,但他拒絕了。為此我去了兩趟警察局,但警察卻從不強迫老闆送出相關信件。接著,老闆舉報我無故缺席(這對外國勞工是違法的),然而聰明如我,我早就向勞工局提出我想要辭職的渴望,我給了那個勞工局的督察(上面提到的那個,人很好且在乎你,但沒什麼權力的人)寄了一封信件,裡面內容包含了我承認自己當時做了偽證以及證據,我還附上了一張CD裡面有著我老闆說:「我恨外國人的」的錄音。那個督察收到我的信件後,安排了一場調解會議,然後打電話通知我一定要帶上台灣朋友翻譯。

這場會議持續了三個小時,而結果以老闆接受我辭職收場。這是個突破,過往雇主和外籍勞工的爭執,往往都沒有達成協議,然後告上法庭或是勞工被驅逐出境,而我是台南的第一個成功的先例。

我問了那個陪我去調解的朋友,為什麼我的老闆一開始要在我的工作地點上說謊,我想不到任何理由要在一個事實並不傷害人的的情況下說謊。他回答:「因為文化大革命。老一輩的人受到了毛主席很大的影響,包含像他這樣說謊。」,他也告訴我那個大老闆控制了當地的「英文教學界的黑幫」之類的東西。

不久後我前公司的同事跟我說,那個人很好的督察在看到我的情形後,決定繼續觀察那間公司,然後那個補習班倒了三間,那間補習班突然間對我的那位前同事很好、很尊重他,他們過去也曾試著要開除他,我很開心她的處境有了好轉。

不久後,我之前的直屬上司因為他們之前對我做過的糟糕事也辭職了。她改行去拿更多薪水而且還更少壓力的工廠工作。我也很為她高興。

然而,我的下一個工作的老闆告訴我,因為我的前老闆一直騷擾牠們,所以他們必須要辭退我。現在回頭看,我不知道我怎麼度過那段艱困的歲月的。我想是神的指引吧。

移民局的員工、市政府的工作人員、和兩個立委助理都問我:「為什麼我不搬去台北,那裏有更多工作機會,而且這樣你的前老闆也沒辦法找你麻煩。」

每當遇到有人欺凌,他們往往選擇屈服。這是過去蔣介石時代所留下的遺毒,正如以色列人因為受過埃及人的統治,就害怕前往他們的應許之地。這正是台灣人的困境!所以針對上述的問題,我的答案是慈祥的、有力的且令人安心的「絕不!」,可沒有任何一條法律禁止美國人在台南教英文,也因此政府應該要保護一個願意跟台南人民共處的美國人!而且台南人們的英文跟台北比起來也需要更加進步。台灣的政府依然不打算幫助我,而我甘願受苦是因為我愛台南。

而唯一給我幫助的,是一個了解問題所在但從來沒直接跟我說話的人­­­—那個勞工局的督察(上面提到的那個,人很好且在乎你,但沒什麼權力的人)。

那些用著孩子般天真的態度問我為什麼不搬到台北去的人們,他們並不知道他們這樣的言論不單單只是歧視我而已,同時也歧視了台南人們。許多西方人住在人口繁雜的北部,但在台南有著許多令人喜悅的事。台灣人以訛傳訛的以為因為它是個大城市,因此西方人較喜歡台北。但實際上,是因為勞動部對南部的小型的英文補習班和北部的有錢英文補習班有一樣的要求,造成了他們沉重的財政負擔,進而造成台南的補習班並沒有足夠的經費去合法的雇用美國人,所以他們需要從黑市找人,而傳聞我的前老闆控制了那個黑市貿易。儘管因為台北的法規,台南和台北不太可能有黑市方面的連結,但我看到更重要的是:

西方人避免來到台南因為當地的英文補習班市場被不可見的黑市控制了,而這不只傷害到我,也傷害了選擇保持無知的台灣人。

而我也因此知道,當非常接近問題的人選擇不正視問題,系統將會壓迫人們。事實上,台灣人並不知道勞動法規是怎麼殘害台南的英文教學。台灣人和我一樣都是系統性偏見的受害者,我上述的複雜情況(那些不合理的要求…),都在殘害著台灣人渴望的英文能力。但如果台灣對美國人就像美國人對台灣一樣:維護他們的權益和保護他們,問題將不復存在。倘若如此,許多美國人取得雙重國籍將可以讓他們有資格在任何地方工作(包含較沒經費的南部英文補習班等等….)。

然而儘管經歷了11年的請願,台灣政府依然不允許這種情況發生。並且,當因為台灣的邦交國紛紛跟台灣斷交,台灣在請求幫助時,他們並不知道他們對待移民的法律也是造成他們如今處境的一部分原因。

故事最精采的部分來了,我之前工作的那個英文補習班接受了美國政府的公共資金。我打給了他們的美國辦公室去通報這件事,但他們直接一聲不吭的把我的電話掛斷。而我不會透露消息來源,因為消息取得的方式是違法的,我想幫台灣人民,幫助他們抵抗那些政府睜一隻眼閉一隻眼的不誠實的企業。12年過去了,時日至今,我依然期盼一個對當年事件的回覆。

七年以來,我每個禮拜一都會寫一篇以客觀角度並且尊重台灣有事實主權的方式的社論,但我承認我有時候會偏袒台灣。2014年時,我稱讚台灣警察並沒有對闖入立法院的學生使用暴力,因為我在台灣我才了解,這跟華盛頓的警察形成了對比,那些闖入美國行政部門的學生就沒台灣的學生那麼幸運了。蔡英文總統曾說:「台灣是個充滿活力的民主國家,我們有許多問題,但都值得去解決。」,她借用了我寫給美國國會的信中的字。

在過去的12年,我從來沒有沒有公開過我的控告者的名字,也沒有發布可以從中知道我在何處的文章,我這麼做為的就是和平。我知道台灣需要時間去改變,但至今我依然沒看到改變,工作許可依然由老闆把持著,取得雙重國籍的權力依舊不存在。

我曾經兩次向政府申請永久居留權。第一次,委員會對此的投票結果是否定的,我可以證明那一次的會議是失序的,因為政府為了否決我而毫不掩飾把數分鐘的的會議寄給我。我以對媒體業的貢獻,並且向他們表達我未平息的冤屈以及我的耐心,還有最重要的—沉默,向他們第二次申請。對我的申請的回覆應該是90天,而移民署超過兩百天都並沒有對於委員會的投票給我一個正式的回覆。

我唯一的結論是愛,我無法因為這系統性的問題而恨台灣。黑人並不會因為我系統性的歧視而恨我,我並不知道我對他們做了什麼­­—因為我身在這系統之中因此我無法了解和看到它,我們不應該為我們自己找藉口,但黑人並非為了什麼目的而小題大作。我培養我成白人共和黨人,我必須學著去聆聽黑人就如同我知道台灣人如果想了解我是必要聆聽我所說的話。

這個訊息曾是我渴望讓美國人知道的:我們系統內看不到的不公義導致了貧窮!但我想,我如果這樣做將會傷害到台灣人,而現在,經歷了等待那期限應該是90天的回覆兩百多天後,我想移民署並不會在乎。

當然,我有很多我認為真的很好的台灣朋友,許多都是滑板人。為什麼我會選擇台南,一個在台灣滑板受到最多限制的城市(滑板場和法律)?台南有充滿天賦的滑手,就跟其他地方的滑手依樣有著好勝心跟天分。在任何系統中的不公義會影響每一個部分。面對問題,我從不逃避,不論是大是小。要離開朋友真的是一件很困難的事,尤其是他們用他們的耐心改變了我的人生,過去12年台灣打開了我的眼界,讓我了解了黑人艱難的處境,它讓我更了解我的家鄉,因為它不斷拒絕我得請求,並且我一直試著和他們溝通。

我無法拒絕台灣人,他們教我太多了。  · · · →

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