[Estimated reading time: 3m0s]

Noah had never seen rain, much less a flood.

He’d never seen God either.

He believed in the latter in order to survive the former.

So he showed up and built exactly, and only exactly what he was told to build.

My first mistake was thinking that God’s call on my life would happen automatically.

“You want me to be on a boat during the flood, God? Great. I’ll go chill and you can build it—yes, yes, I believe the boat shall appear in my bank account in 5, 4, 3, 2…”

Nope. You have to show up every day and build. One piece at a time—build. They’re mocking you—build. 

You don’t just climb Mount Everest.

There are large payments and permits involved. You need help from the real heroes: Sherpas. What I find most fascinating of all, however, is this simple fact: the oxygen density varies depending on which of the camps you’re at.

When you arrive, you need to stay at basecamp for a while so your lungs acclimate to the lack of oxygen in the air.

Basecamp: Less oxygen than at sea level. Wait there to acclimate.

Camp 1: Less oxygen than at basecamp. Wait there to acclimate.

Camp 2: Less oxygen than at Camp 1. Wait there to acclimate.

Camp 3: Less oxygen than at Camp 2. Wait there to acclimate.

Camp 4: Less oxygen than at Camp 3. Wait there to acclimate.

Summit: Less oxygen than at Camp 4. Spend a half hour atop the tallest peak in the world before your brain starts to shut down.

Here’s why that’s interesting:

Noah showed up and built. The floods came. When the earth was sufficiently flooded, it says in Genesis that Noah and his boat were several feet above the highest peak on the earth.

We now know that peak to be Mount Everest.

My second mistake was the other extreme.

“So I can’t sit back and watch God build it all for me? Fine. I’ll build it all for him.”

Noah had specific instructions and he did exactly as he was told.

Except, of course, what about that pesky door? God never said anything about the door! That’s the most important part.

What’s the point of all this work building this big ol’ boat if the door isn’t closed?

Do we tie some rope to the elephants and potentially harm what we’re called to protect in order to make God’s will come to pass? (Hey Abram, Sarai, and Hagar—so glad you could join us).

If we don’t get that door closed, this isn’t a boat: it’s a house. A house with an open floor plan.

My second mistake was manipulating God’s instructions to ensure I had control. Let me use people God has entrusted to my care in order to further the call of God on my life.

Problems with that:

  1. The doors God has called you to build are doors only he can open/close.
  2. You’re going to hurt whatever/whoever you try to fit into God’s costume. If you’re manipulating your God-given gifts or God-entrusted people, everyone will get hurt (and who among you have not seen someone prostitute their talents in hopes of trading them in for love? Who hasn’t been hurt by an overzealous leader with good intentions?)

God will tell you when you’re done with the mundane task of building your ark. He’ll elevate it when he puts his hand on the door and closes it.

How do you get the boat up above Everest without suffocating Noah and his family? And those animals?

If you stay at each camp for a certain period of time to acclimate, that means God’s elevation of the ark was strategic enough to get them up above Everest, without oxygen masks, without killing them. He elevated them one drop of water at a time.

I’m trying to tell you that this is how God will elevate you:

1. Show up and do the mundane work, the kind that’s mocked at times.

2. Refuse to manipulate your giftings to “turn these stones into bread” or shut the door to the Ark.

3. Move up high at the exact pace he’s predetermined. Elevate any faster than He moves you, one drop at a time, and you’ll lose your head.

4. At the proper time, God will set you down atop a mountain you never had to climb.

Enjoy the view. Jesus earned it.



[Estimated reading time: 3m13s]

I can hardly articulate what’s happened in my life since I wrote here last.

It’s gone by quickly enough that a lesser version of me wouldn’t notice.

But the version of myself I became in the fall of 2018 noticed every single ingredient on the plate. I savored because I’d genuinely forgotten how to rush. I remember it even less now.

I don’t know how to not notice all the goodness around me.

When you’ve lived in the desert, you fantasize about every square foot you hope to someday inhabit.

And when it starts to happen, you notice every square inch. You rub your hand over every ounce of stitching in the carpet.

You know what ungrateful means, but you’ve forgotten what it smells like.

And you’re okay with it. You’re smelling every other ingredient on the plate.

You used to beg to be heard. Now you wait to be asked.

You’d dream and try to flesh out every possible idea—now the best ones are lines of dialogue you hear actors embody and deliver emphatically.

You’ve watched people cry after hearing words you wrote.

They clap.

Their mouths open as their jaws drop.

And you leave the room without waiting for them to see you or tell you how great you are.

You’re actually just happy for them because you know they’re experiencing what you did when you wrote it. The joy of familiar themes clicking in a new way. Fresh.

You love God. Like, you actually love Him. You actually believe his way is best and you’re disappointed by the notion of doing anything else because you know it won’t work out.

Your repentance is genuine. You don’t even consider repenting for the sake of what people might think orrrrrrrrrr that awful version of diet-repentance that’s solely occurring out of hope that God won’t delay your destiny aka your rich-and-famous et ceteras.

How’d this happen?

You’re happy even when you’re sad. You’re content even when you’re angry. You’re obedient even when you feel rebellious.

I remember going through a very different time.

I wrote my current self a letter back in May of 2017.

Listen to what that guy said:

“Don’t you dare forget that there was a day where it was just you and God alone in the car, not talking, but sitting in silence because you didn’t want to talk to him and couldn’t continue existing if he got out.”

Or this

“without God, I fall apart. With God, I’m torn apart.”

Whoa there, younger Arv. Easy now, you’re sounding rather profound there.

All I’m saying here is that it was all beyond worth it. Everything you did in that season to endure was beyond worth what you get to experience now—even in your day-to-day state of being.

Your former self wouldn’t understand this, but boy he would definitely think he did. And that’s good and well—good for him, actually.

But I can’t describe to you what it feels like to have lived decades inside a bubble convinced you had a disease called CHRISTIANITY that forced you to stay safe in the bubble ONLY TO REALIZE that on the outside of that bubble, the CHRISTIANITY you thought was your handicap was actually your biggest advantage and your deepest joy.

Christians used to distinguish themselves by the music and movies they didn’t listen to and the cigarettes they didn’t smoke—but the more I walk around and observe people, the more I realize what sets me apart is something no more complicated than peace. The lack of stress. The inability to be bothered.

I don’t know if you can hear me and the point I’m trying to make when I say this. You see, I thought unbothered and unworried people were dumb. I thought you had to be low-IQ/low-EQ to not get furious over whatever lot you did/didn’t have in life. But, and I hope you understand what I’m trying to say: But…I’m smart. The kind of smart that tends to be a disadvantage. I’ve lived fully capable and indoctrinated in misappropriating my genius IQ to misinterpret others intentionally and imagine scenarios so devastating they leave me with real hatred and fear.

And now, most of the time, my imagination enjoys dreaming up new concoctions of service I can provide others because…(Oh, my, really? I’m saying this?)…because I’m…I’m good?

I slowed down to the pace of what God was doing in my life.

I focused on it so much, I forgot how to rush.

It was worth every minute.

10/10. Would Recommend.

Do Recommend. Am Recommending.

You Can't Predict Hindsight

You Can’t Predict Hindsight

[Estimated reading time: 3m37s]

December 10, 2017. I turned 25.

I wake up to a text with Isaiah 43:2. “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.”

What my dear friend Sara didn’t know was that I’d been reading the first half of that chapter for several days in a row.

Speaking of deep waters,

What do you think it felt like to be the last Israelite to exit the Red Sea? Just before the water-walls came down and destroyed the Oppressors?

How’d it feel to barely make it?

As anyone who’s been to church will tell you, we Christians love stories like the one about my birthday text. We call it “confirmation” when the same scripture shows up in several different, non-coincidental places.

But what do you do with “When you go through deep waters…”?

I mean, who cares what comes after the comma? It’s a promise that deep waters are coming.

I decided not to help it happen. I’d tried to predict hindsight before and wasn’t about to do it again.

You know what I mean. You notice a few patterns and start assuming you know exactly what God is doing. Perhaps you’re like me in that you even considered certain initial events to be the voice of God. Oh, surely that’s what God is about to do. You proclaim what you’ll do with the forthcoming 5 talents, but then you’re given 1. 

There’s a word for that, and it’s not faith. It’s mistake.

This may just be my solipsistic projection onto the Israelites, but I’m convinced they had in themselves the same human urges we have today.

I consider it fair to assume they had their own tiered-class-system. The people at the front of the line, those at the end, and all the whoevers inbetween. Clamoring and climbing for position and proximity. I’m most closely following Moses and I’m most assuredly better than everyone behind me.

If they’re willing to complain against God and Moses, surely they’re willing argue and compete with one another—especially when the Egyptian army is fiercely approaching. Moses has to tell them to be still. Do you say that to someone who’s already standing still?

We have here a large group of people whose ribs are bruised from the elblows (blows from elbows). These are people who fight for what doesn’t matter (God got them all out safely, not just the ones who got across first) and they don’t fight for what does matter (when God shows up to meet them, they ask Moses to take notes so they can sleep in).

Position. Proximity. Competition. Self-preservation. Panic. Sound familiar?

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.”

The deep waters came.

As it turns out, what comes after that comma does matter:

It matters when you’ve heard the worst news you can imagine about a loved one’s situation you can’t control.

It matters when you’re rejected with dismissals like, “I can’t date you because you’re too patient with me.”

It matters when you decide your attitude after you’ve been handed 1 talent even though you already told everyone what’d you’d do with the 5.

It matters when even the whoevers get together to decide you’ll be the last in line because you’re most dispensable.

It matters that the second part is God saying, “I will be with you.”

How’d that guy get all the way to the back of the line. Was he the weakest, thrown back by everyone else?

Or did he simply stop clamoring, climbing, and competing?

Maybe Isaiah could write “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you” because he considered the story where the last man (or woman) to leave the Red Sea was given a front row seat to God destroying all those who’d oppressed him before.

As it turns out, the last became first.

Who had a better view than that dude?

Whose heart was beating the hardest?

Who knew God was with him the most?

They all lived through it, but who felt more alive?

December 10, 2018. I turned 26.

My dear friend Nicole, who has no idea what Sara texted me a year ago, or what verse I’d read every day that year, gives me a photo album with a verse on the front.

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.”

A not-so-subtle nod; a front row seat to God’s faithfulness interrupting mine.

Just before the Israelites enter the Promised Land, they go through more water. This time it’s the Jordan River. And this time, several people get in first, before the water even stops. They stay in the riverbed the whole time, totally certain they’re safe.

How do they know?

Perhaps their ancestors told them the story of the day they climbed and clamored and competed to get across the Red Sea first…when they turned around and watched the last guy mosey across just as God destroyed what’d oppressed them before.

Maybe they’d been told that competing and fighting for position and proximity actually ensure you’ll end up last…with the worst view for seeing how God shows himself faithful.

And maybe it’s worth it to let go of what doesn’t matter and fight for what does.

Embarrassed & Encouraged

Embarrassed & Encouraged

[Estimated reading time: 5m31s]

Just after the Ides of March. 2014. Atlanta.

I’ve come here for spring break with dozens of other students to prepare for the summer. Each of us is a leader taking teams on mission trips all over the world this May.

To prepare, we’re divided into teams and assigned projects to accomplish throughout that week. Each day, a different team member will lead the team. The rest of us will provide feedback.

I embarrass myself several times during this week.

On the day I’m to lead the team, I decide to take everyone to Starbucks so we can bond, journal, and read. I GPS us to the only Starbucks close enough for our time constraints.

Embarrassment #1: The Starbucks Arvin picks is in a grocery store. The seats are wooden and janky. The loud refrigerators full of milk and eggs are closer to the sitting area than the “baristas” and their malfunctioning cash register.

Obviously, the team takes it in stride. One young man has even opened up his Bible and is journalling vigorously. I’m baffled he’s found himself capable of focusing when shoppers’ screechy carts keep bumping into the back of his chair.

I peek over his shoulder to try and see what he’s journaling. I can’t read his handwriting without staring intently at it. I wonder, Could God be talking to him in this grocery store?

I can’t tell, but his Bible is open, his eyes are focused, and his pencil is moving quickly.

Encouragement #1: In spite of my mistake, one young man on my team made the most of our time.

How it came to happen, I’m not sure. But one evening, our entire group is at a Nepalese restaurant. They happen to have an aux cord and a stage area. After everyone has eaten, someone starts playing music.

Remarks are made about the exercise I do in my car when I’m alone and need to decompress—freestyle rapping.

I enjoy this activity because I’m often too analytical and coin my phrases far too carefully. But when a beat is on and you have to hit a mark, you can’t afford to censor yourself. I often find out what I really think about something by rapping about it.

It’s never as good in public as it is when I’m alone. Regardless, I end up on stage. A beat is playing. And people are cheering me on as I rap about traveling around the world.

Embarrassment #2: For the sake of the rhyme, Arvin raps insensitive and inappropriate lyrics in front of 3 dozen missionaries and various other random guests.

Nevertheless, we moved on.

The mission our team has this week involves an after-school program in an area full of refugees. Our team leader that day led the charge of mentoring kids in reading and math.

He came up with games that entertained and informed them. He tutored them. He made them laugh. He looked beyond their situation and spoke to them as though he already loved them.

I was particularly cynical about Christian leadership at that point. I was intimidated by that day’s team leader, not because he came off as impressive or a big deal, but because my skepticism and sarcasm didn’t hold up anything against his integrity and character—I’d walk away from a conversation with him convinced he thought I was impressive. He treated others like they were the big deal.

That day’s team leader was the same young man who’d journaled in that grocery store.

Encouragement #2: There are honest, passionate Christian leaders. You can tell who they are by how well they initiate you into your own role as a leader. I reread my journal from March of 2014 and remember that to be the week the bonds of cynicism were broken off my life.

Crying in front of strangers is not ideal. At the end of that day, we sat in our white 15-passenger van as a team and gave him feedback.

He sat in the front passenger seat. I was in the back. One by one, we talked about how well he’d prepared for our time with the kids, how no moment fell idle and no child felt unloved. As the conversation moved toward the back row, the topic went from feedback on the day to what we’d imagine him doing in the days that were to come.

Embarrassment #3: Arvin is so deeply moved, both by the integrity he’s observed and the insecurity he’s been given permission to let go, he cries as he tells John Chau about the severe anointing on his life.

“Sorry I’m crying, bro.” Why am I crying, though?

Hall of Faith. It’s the term given to Hebrews 11, where those whose great faith is praised.

v 32-33  “How much more do I need to say? …by faith, these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them.”

But there’s a second part to that chapter. It’s one we hardly ever hear about because, well…look:

v 34-39 “But others were tortured, placing their hope in a better life after the resurrection. They were jeered at, cut open, sawed in half, killed with the sword…they were too good for this world.”

Encouragement #3: Could God be talking to him in this grocery store? As the world has found out over the last several weeks, the answer to that question is yes. He was talking to him long before that, and he still is.

And why was I crying?

I didn’t know at the time. I couldn’t read his handwriting that day in that “Starbucks.”

But this past week, I finally stared at his handwriting intently enough.

“Watching the sunset and it’s beautiful — crying a bit…wondering if it’ll be the last sunset I see before being in the Place Where The Sun NEVER Sets. Tearing up a little.”

“My life is in your hands, O Father, so into your hands I commit my spirit.”

“I miss…someone I can talk to and be understood.”

And now you have that, John. The One who reserves the right to understand his children has perhaps already told you what none of us may know in our lifetime: “WHO WILL TAKE MY PLACE if I die?

Now I know why I was crying back then, John. My tears weren’t of sorrow or fear, but of reverence.

Embarrassment #4: I’m embarrassed by how nonchalantly I’ve claimed to love the same Jesus this man loves.

Ultimately, I am left with the memory of our last conversation.

Summer came and it was the morning our teams were to leave for South Africa (John) and Burkina Faso (me).

We sat on a couple benches during that time in the morning when the Oklahoma summer heat has hit the snooze button a couple times. We talked about what was coming up next.

We laughed about a young lady who didn’t want to date me because she wanted a man like him. I teased him about ruining it for the rest of us.

But John, you really have ruined us for anything else. After watching you, how can any of us not be embarrassed and encouraged as we examine the lives we’re left to live?

I read the things people say about you and don’t feel anything. I know how you’d handle cynics because you loved me out of my cynicism.

I know how you stayed out of meaningless arguments because you were ruined for anything but what mattered—God’s love for all people.

I know you made the most of your time, whether it was in a grocery store in Atlanta or an island off the coast of India.

You really were “too good for this world.”

Encouragement #4:

“I think I might die — tomorrow even…I pray that you will never love anything in this world more than you love Christ. Stay strong, keep the good faith, and may your life be continually filled with His grace and peace and might. I’ll see you again…and remember, the first one to heaven, wins.”

You won, John. See you soon.

Free to Get Hurt
You Can't Predict Hindsight

Free to Get Hurt

[Estimated reading time: 3m49s]

Half-asleep writing can be the most revealing. It’s as if my guards have clocked out and gone home for the night. And since I was already in the toy store when they locked the doors, I’m free to walk around and play with whatever I want. I can investigate and hear myself say things I usually need metaphors to stomach.

I’ve been on a recent streak where I press further than I’ve been strong enough to go in the past when it comes to vulnerability. I start to feel that pull of gravity—that sort of “!!!” you feel when plunging down on a roller coaster—it says to me, “Okay, you can stop now. Good job.” But I keep going. I’ve been bypassing the guards to see if their threats are true.

If they’re guarding something, how valuable must it be? What’s the difference between protecting me from what’s outside or protecting the outside from what’s in me? I’m starting not to trust these guards—these voices that tell me vulnerability is “a nakedness for which you’ll earn nothing but humiliation.”

They’re not completely wrong—there’s been plenty of humiliation.

And they’re right about the nakedness as well. What doesn’t add up is the phrase “nothing but.”

At crucial moments throughout the last several years, I’ve found myself in that room no one wants to enter in their own soul. It’s the room where you’ve kept all your most severe wounds—no one enters with excitement. And yet, no one leaves without gratitude.

Of course, there is the route of Disappointment: bitterness and jealousy, envy and entitlement, self-deprecation, or worse: “self-improvement.” But that’s not actually an exit from the Wounded Room. It’s a closet.

Surely you know what I mean—perhaps you understand this only in those transcendent moments where you realize you and the people around you have crafted a crutch that allows you to play the role of functioning adult, anxious to find an example to regurgitate and an example at whom you can safely roll your eyes—just so you feel cozy in some kind of context. People above you doing better than you; people below you doing worse.

Surely you know, perhaps only in the thoughts you thought while half-asleep, you, me and the others who’ve successfully found a socially accepted mental crutch are kidding ourselves. There’s no one above or beneath us. That’s not really a ladder you’re climbing. You’re shoulder to shoulder—in a Disappointed Closet in a Wounded Room.

I knew it would hurt, but I did it anyway. I risked my heart over and over in various contexts to see what would happen. When I felt that nudge of gravity saying to white-knuckle the seatbelt of my rollercoaster, I lifted my hands instead.

When I was betrayed, I lifted my hands instead.

When I was rejected, I lifted my hands instead.

When I slept alone next to a rifle and thought about white-knuckling the trigger, I lifted my hands instead.

Robert Frost claimed it was his decision to walk the road less travelled that made all the difference.

I decided I was going to be vulnerable at the risk of everything the guards warned me about.

I knew it meant getting hurt in ways as big as being betrayed behind the scenes while maintaining my betrayer’s integrity in public,

or as small as that subtle rejection I feel every time I’m talking and I see the person to whom I just listened attentively for 31 solid minutes glance down at their phone to see if someone liked the instagram photo of the coffee I just bought for them.

“Two roads diverged in a wood…”

And on the other side of the road less travelled, the one where you can only move forward by being vulnerable. I’ve learned this:

Despite its reputation, vulnerability is a superpower.

Facing a recent rejection, on the other side of the road less travelled, I caught myself laughing.

What are you gonna do? Crush me?

Isaiah 53 describes the process of Jesus’ victoriously brutal crucifixion in the past tense, even though it wouldn’t happen chronologically for a long time. Perhaps we can foresee our future wounds the same way. I know it’s going to happen. And I know I’m going to win.

“It pleased God to crush Jesus.”

Why is God pleased by crushing His own Son? Could it be because in crushing Jesus, God was enabling humanity to enter into vulnerably presenting yourself, knowing you will be betrayed, wounded, and hurt, but never again crushed?

Who can crush better than God? Is there a powder more fine than the one God has just ground?

I’d like to see you try. What are you gonna do? Crush me?

There’s an air of being indestructible when you make peace with being broken.

You are going to get hurt, friend, and you’re going to be better for it. Do not not hide in the Disappointed Closet where you’re free from the sight of your wounds but suffocate from their scent coming through the door.

You will be mistreated. Your impenetrable kindness will be taken for weakness of which others will take advantage. And all the while, they will not realize they’re doing you a favor by weeding themselves out of your life. They’re setting the temperature too high for them to endure.

But you’ll endure—because your fists will not be fists, yours knuckles will not be white, and your hands will stay lifted.

That. I bet that will make all the difference.

The Furthest Frontier, PT 2
Embarrassed & Encouraged

The Furthest Frontier, PT 2

[Estimated reading time: 5m15s]

You’ll notice just about every blog of mine is divided into sections. Two ideas put up next to each other so their contrast will create friction that’ll create sparks that’ll create a fire that’ll illuminate an idea in your mind.

I write this way because I think this way. And I think this way because I grew up this way. Between things.

Persians think I’m American vs. Americans think I’m Persian.

Worldly folks think I’m religious vs. Religious folks think I’m too out there.

Behind the scenes of international TV ministry vs. obscure and invisible face in the crowd.

When the tension between these points became too tight, I’d escape to my imagination.

I’ll give up anything, God, but let me think about whatever I want.

My friends with the house in the middle of nowhere have a gate you couldn’t possibly get through without an access code.

Behind this gate sit acres of land that’ve remained largely untouched for over a decade. Vegetation and gardens grow without any unwanted visitors. Blades of grass that’ve never felt the sole of a shoe.

After decades of co-existing between extremes, I learned how to dance on the tightropes using my imagination as my balancing rod. Every other vice became easy to avoid.

But, of course, Jesus never comes for the idols you don’t have.

“I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied, “What else?”

Be careful about asking God, “what else?” He might take you at your word.

“One thing you lack, go and sell all you have.”

Give me your imagination, Arvin.

These friends of mine were brilliant to build their house where they did. And perhaps the most genius feature of all is how far their gate is from their front door.

For most of my life, I’ve kept my gate on the line of my actions. I wouldn’t vet or investigate any thought until it suggested an action. In case the metaphor is too unclear, you might recognize the results of having your gate close enough to your heart that any passerby can infiltrate your imagination and throw rocks at your front door:

Thinking you’ve heard the voice of God when it’s actually just a random thought.

Hearing opinions about your appearance or self worth and thinking they’re true just because you heard them.

Setting your hope on one event, relationship, or role.

Move your gate to the other side of your imagination.

It might sound confining to set boundaries on your imagination, but don’t forget you don’t get to build anything on public land without someone else’s permission. And how do you give God what belongs to him when you’ve made it free domain for anyone else?

I started vetting my imagination and noticed immediately which idols I’ve been hiding in my pockets up on this tightrope.

No one gets to my friends’ home by accident. The gate is far enough from their house that their garden remains untouched and uncrushed. They built it that way on purpose.

And, by the way, they had a lot of help building it. They hired dozens of people. Plumbers, contractors, carpet installers, electricians, etc.

Not once have I seen them waste a minute wishing their electrician hadn’t left.

I’m looking around these days at the people who’ve left—who decided life within my gates wasn’t for them.

And I’ve begun to think of those conflicts and pains as the very means by which God has built me.

The plumbers and contractors went out to my friend’s home to do a job and leave. They didn’t stick around because they weren’t supposed to. The only one meant to stay is Jesus. Anyone else is employed by him. And who am I to hate those he hired simply to knock down idols I built in my head?

Put your gate on the other side of your imagination and you’ll quickly find God is eager to give you perspective like this as soon as you give him a landscape broad enough to build what won’t be torn down by the mob in you.

Suddenly, perspective. And, oh my God, what is that over there? Is that gratitude? For them?

Instead of escaping from stress by imagining myself as victorious over all my enemies, inspiring envy in those who left me, or whatever the hell (trust me, hell is the only appropriate word here) else, I started feeling grateful.

I saw rows and rows of tall, hearty GRATITUDE growing in my imagination—

For the leaders who broke my stride, tragedies that broke my bank, women who broke my heart, and the events that broke my spirit.

This is what happens when I give God my imagination? What else can you build?

One thing you lack…

God I’m pretty sure I’ve given you everything.

Sure—but here’s the furthest frontier for you: Your imagination. I want it. Exclusively.

“My child, search for insight and understanding as you would lost money or hidden treasure.”

Lost money:

Something you had that you lost. Mental health and peace in your thoughts. You can get that back.

Hidden Treasure:

Something you didn’t know existed that God’s hidden on purpose so you can go discover it together.

To be frank, I thought the sole benefit of consecrating my imagination to God would be freedom from lust and sexual immorality, but that turned out to only be the LOBBY of what he’s actually been building.

Thoughts that used to plague me went away. Impossible worst case scenarios that sparked wildfires of anxiety were nowhere to be found. Worries that used to stop me dead in my tracks or inspire some sort of pre-emptive self-sabotage were met at the gate of my imagination with a request for an access code—

Where is this in God’s word? It’s not? Well, I’m not sorry, but you can’t come in.

And friends, it actually worked. The cliches made a comeback.

Not only is there freedom from the thoughts you don’t want to think—but, oh my God, look at what God will do with all that empty space.

All the land being taken up by jealousy, gluttony, and lust now has a gate around it. It’s been redeemed to house a level of gratitude for which I used to mock others.

And, oh my goodness—am I actually crying over God’s love for me? Me, the cynical pastor’s kid whose overfamiliarity with Christendom has fostered a distaste for all things emotional? How am I finally gentle and sincere, content to be obscure and invisible?

One thing you lack…Give me your imagination.

I was shocked when God uprooted my life and took my soul out to the middle of nowhere.

What I didn’t realize was he’d buried treasure out in a field large enough for him to build a place where we’d both dwell together.

And Arvin, there’s treasured buried all over this land. Your job is to dig it up and give it away.

Whatever your furthest frontier may be, I hope you’ll realize the rest of us need whatever God’s hidden in your heart. I hope you’ll venture out with God and find your heart. Here’s a hint, the closer you get to it, the less you’ll be able to distinguish your heart from God’s.

“One thing you lack, go and sell all you have.”

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.”

The Furthest Frontier PART I
Free to Get Hurt

The Furthest Frontier PART I

[Estimated reading time: 4m7s]

I have some dear friends who built their dream home out in the middle of nowhere. It didn’t make sense to me at first. Their careers and schools, friends and community all demand at least 45 minutes of driving.

If you live in a bigger city, that commuting time might not sound too crazy, but these people have decided they want the Tulsa life without one of Tulsa’s biggest perks: proximity. They keep everything at a distance they consider appropriate while the rest of us wonder how many tanks of gas they go through every week.

With what they spent building that home so far from town, they could most definitely have found a spacious spot within city limits with more feasible proximity to their daily lives.

But no. They’ve deemed it best to do what is utterly impractical.

A famous passage in Isaiah, one that’s repeated near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the new testament, admonishes us:

“In the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

You remember the rest—raise up valleys and lower the hills…etc.

You might’ve been aware of this your whole life, but it seems my Bible Belt was tied too tightly around my head for me to consider what’s being said here. Prepare a way for the Lord? A highway for God?

If you’re going to build a highway, you must first consider where it needs to end up.

Is there a place in which God is not present already?

Where is God trying to go?

And why does he need my help to get there?

We spend a lot of time talking about the journey on which God has placed us—but Isaiah 40 has me wondering for the first time,  What journey is God on?

They’ve built a gate as well. After 45 minutes of driving, praying your GPS isn’t wrong, and slapping yourself for forgetting coins for the toll booth, you arrive at an all-encompassing gate.

The gate is nowhere near their front door. In fact, you can’t even see their house from behind the gate. That’s right, not even Uncle Rico in his prime could throw a football from their gate to their doorbell. Why do they even have a doorbell? No one gets down that curved, tree-ridden gravel road toward their driveway unless they buzz them in a quarter-mile away.

If you lived in dorms during college, you understand the annoyance of unwelcome, unwanted neighbors popping in whenever they want. That never happens to these folks, no way. No one gets into this house by accident—they’ve made sure of it.

This is about the sort of terrain God encounters when he pursues you. The journey God is on starts in his throne room and ends in the one place into which he will not force his presence—the human heart.

Isaiah’s admonition is about tearing down whatever obstacle course we’ve put between ourselves and God. Jesus’ destination was the cross, sure—and he made certain that curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. The reason his resurrection didn’t mean the removal of all evil from all the word is that he’s given us utter access to himself. It is on us, however, to give him access to us.

Of course, this is where your eyes glaze over at the insulting suggestion that you’ve been reading something aimed at reaffirming your belief in our need for salvation. No, this is not that. This isn’t about your journey. This is about God’s.

My friends have to go through several highways and loops just to get to their jobs or school every day. I am writing to ask that you’d join me in considering what sort of journey we force God to go through to get to us every day.

What have I put between him and myself? Sure, he’s faithful to break through and deliver peace and provision, attention and understanding—but I’ve erected quite the array of detours.

I wanted to get rid of the obstacle course. I didn’t want to be God’s furthest frontier, the “Out West” his Lewis-and-Clark heart has to risk everything to get to each day. I figured I could pray it away. “God, please remove the obstacle course I’ve put between us, that you would have the sort of access to me you’d prefer.”

Of course, God does things his way.

When prompted to remove the obstacle course of a life I built for myself, full of delightful distractions and decadent detours, he didn’t touch any of it. He didn’t move the obstacle course, he moved me.

He interrupted my journey to have me join him on his.

Where are we going, God?

To your heart.

But God…I’m right here?


Wouldn’t that mean my heart is here as well?

It used to! That was the original idea.

Then where is it?

Wherever we build it.

It makes sense only now—that God removes us from the busy city where we’ve made a nice little life for ourselves—often leaving the obstacle course of careers and mundane details just as they are while moving our soul to a place that seems to be out in the middle of nowhere.

The younger son in Luke 15 “came to his senses” and realized he had it better back at home. Until we come to our senses about the heart-lobotomy we’ve inherited, we might mistake those one-bedrooms in the noisy cities of society to be all we were made for.

Where are we going to build it, Lord?

Out in the middle of nowhere. Far away from that cute obstacle course you had me going through and those distractions you’d deemed worthy of your time.

Oh, that’s right…

“In the wilderness, prepare a way for the Lord.”

Why out here?! So far away from everyone and everything?

Because, friend, it has to be big enough to fit us both. That’s what you wanted, right?

The Mob In Me
The Furthest Frontier, PT 2

The Mob In Me

[Estimated reading time: 4m9s]

I like the way I grew up. I was handed dozens of cosmic questions with their answers already attached like training wheels. I was preaching about the answers before I even asked myself the questions. Everything fit into a nice box of either good or bad. But the God of 2018 has apparently deemed us worthy of looking back on golden eras with better glasses.

I’ve been eavesdropping on conversations and stories that have me thinking the good old days weren’t all that good. Lots of the gold was actually a rusted-yellow.

Despite the counterproductive nature of those training wheels, we can’t deny they got us here. Yes, regardless of the wear and tear of prior generations’ worldviews, I am grateful, truly, for all of it.

Had we lived during another era, perhaps that of Israel wandering in the wilderness, we may have felt then the way we feel now.

(A necessary and practical side-note—I’m referring to the state of our world. I’m talking about seeing the two opposing headlines on two opposing news networks on two TV’s next to each other as I run at the gym. About the two men I see on the two treadmills in front of me, one looking at his TV and scoffing at the other while the man next to him watches his TV and scoffs at the first guy. Both of them are convinced they’re right. Both of them swear God is on their side. Both of them are trying to outrun each other, and both of them are tired because neither of them is getting anywhere. They’ve been running in place for a very long time.)

Nevertheless, if my adolescent years occurred in the desert instead of our good ole’ Buckle of the Bible Belt, I might’ve thought the same things I think today.

Was it worth it, carrying all that heavy gold out of Egypt, if you were only going to melt it into an idol that’d keep you from your real reward?

This can get mighty self-righteous real quick, but like I said, I’m grateful for all of it. If the generations before us hadn’t idolized whatever they idolized, their sins might’ve become ours. Sadly, they still might.

If we don’t eavesdrop to hear of God’s issue with their Golden Calf, if we don’t memorize the look on their faces when the ground opens up and their heroes fall, we might not catch ourselves doing the same thing. Perhaps the heroes and golden calves we’re creating for ourselves now are next to be swallowed up while we’re too distracted clinging to how proud we are that we chose them and we crafted them and they are utterly ours.

I fear many of us are already in line to slide down hills that look awfully similar to the ones on which we’re watching our parent’s generation kill-and-be-killed.

God didn’t punish the Israelites because the Golden Calf wasn’t made well enough—he punished anything and everything that might convince these Israelites to stick around in the wilderness and not press on to the Promised Land.

Today’s climates aren’t God’s punishment on us for not forming our “Golden Calf” (our idols, or opinions, or whatever new set of training wheels you’ve been happy to attach to your thoughts) well enough, either. It’s not about how good your idols are or which TV your treadmill is facing. It’s not about how “yours” your training wheels are or how “yours” your worldview is. It’s about actually getting somewhere.

I appreciate the intentions behind the “it’s the journey, not the destination” sentiments—but I can’t look around at everything going on in our world today and be content with a God who sits back saying, “Yes, yes, it is about the journey. Who cares if the Promised Land even exists?!”

Before Israel was a massive mob of people, it was just one person. Jacob’s name didn’t become Israel until after a long night of wrestling with God.

If we keep that same mentality throughout Israel’s journey in the wilderness, we’ll be shocked by the mirror in front of us.

Imagine: all that outrage, idolatry, and desperation for God’s heart wrapped up in one single person. I hope you’ll remove your training wheels and instead attach those contradictions to yourself. I hope you’ll go through with it because there’s a destination on the other side of our idols.

Moses sent 12 spies into the Promised Land. Only 2 of them believed they could move forward and win. Everyone else formed a mob ready to stone Caleb and Joshua.

In times like ours, is it at all possible that you don’t know what I mean when I tell you that mob and those 2 spies exist in me simultaneously?

There’s a mob in me screaming to demolish and destroy those initially microscopic portions that suggest God’s destination and dream for my life are possible and inevitable if I’ll trust him.

On the other hand, those microscopic minorities have grown and will keep growing—through 2018 and 2020 and 2035—until it’s finally safe for everyone to enter the Promised Land without any more internal civil wars.

I’m convinced our destinations exist and coincide. I’m convinced this can happen for you and me—I’m convinced it is happening in 2018, but we can hardly see it one year at a time because it’s much larger than we know to expect.

In the end, only Joshua and Caleb made it to their destination.

And they didn’t have to fight the mob or outrun the other guy on the treadmill to do it.

Defeating the mob in me turns out to be as simple as that. Proclaim the truth even when they yell over you, show up and be faithful, and know that someday you’ll cross the finish line to your destination only to look around to realize the mob didn’t make it.

That’s right: you don’t defeat the mob, you outlive them.

Invisible Inbetweens
The Furthest Frontier PART I

Invisible Inbetweens

[Estimated reading time: 3m10s]

Imagine if they didn’t put you under anesthesia for surgery.

Adam was asleep while God removed his rib. I think a consequence of the Fall we’ve yet to dissect is our immunity to God’s anesthesia. I think we wake up and freak out when we were meant to rest and trust.

If surgeons and anesthesiologists didn’t put us under before they operated, there’d be a lot less surgery. Fewer people would be willing to endure the pain. And even among those who would, fewer would be able to stay quiet while the surgery is happening.

I bet surgeons would hear some pretty crazy things in the operating room.

Take Jeremiah, for example.

He wakes up mid-operation and says, “Lord, you deceived me.”

Now, there’s a tattoo idea.

It happens often enough to no longer be eligible for coincidence. God gives a promise and a dream, followed by a lengthy, confusing series of events that has every participant wondering, Okay, surely I’ve missed it.

God doesn’t author confusion, but he’s also not the only author. There’s no Psalm that says, “The Lord is quick to answer all my questions as soon as I ask them. He refuses to tolerate any of his children ever being confused for even the slightest amount of time.”

Mid-op observations never line up with God’s word.

When you wake up mid-surgery, you’ll wonder 2 things.

First, you’ll doubt the surgeon wants to help you. He’s got you cut open, for Christ’s sake.

Second, you’ll doubt yourself. If you can muster enough faith to believe the surgeon is good regardless of the pain you feel, you might start wondering what you did wrong to deserve this pain.

“Jesus, this blind man—why’s he blind? Who sinned? Him? His parents?”

“No one. This happened so the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Think about that the next time you’re making a mid-op observation—you gave him your life.

Your logic will betray you—If the worst criminals are simply executed, then what sort of crime have I committed that merits they lay me down and tear me open like this?

There was a short period between Nabal the Fool’s death and Abigail’s marriage to David. We look at her situation as entirely positive, but we don’t know what that inbetween looked like.

“But she’s marrying King David! Why would she be upset?”

She went from wealth and opulence to wilderness wandering almost overnight. You have the advantage of over 2 millenniums’ worth of history to point out she went from being married to the guy who partied like a king to marrying the actual king, but you’re overlooking the invisible inbetween where she had to plan a wedding and a funeral.

As it turns out, the only one who can see your invisible inbetweens is an invisible God.

Adam was put under before God took out his rib, but Jesus felt every millimeter of the spear that pierced his side. He reversed the curse so we could emulate his example—so your surgery could even be possible in the first place—but you better believe your flesh will feel every ounce of every spear and scalpel that’ll be used in your operation.

Part of you will feel at peace and at rest; the other part will fluctuate anxiously between blaming God and yourself for whatever it is that’s happening (or not happening) in your life.

Mark 4. A storm threatens the disciples.

“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

In other words,

“Who sinned, this man or his parents?”

In other words,

“God, where are you?”

“God, did you forget me?”

“God, what’d I do wrong?”

The portion of you that wakes up mid-op to make observations is on his/her way out. The whole point of surgery is to remove your Nabal, your blindness, and any semblance of questioning his goodness for you.

Of course, that wasn’t the last thing Jeremiah said.

Several verses/seasons/surgeries later, he goes on to say this,

“But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior.”

You might misunderstand Jesus’ heart if you think his warrior tactics are going to look like yours. You might think his sword is for you to hold, but it’s actually the scalpel he’ll be using on you.

As for what you’re supposed to carry, remember Mark 4:

The disciples are in a storm that makes them wonder the same things your storms make you wonder. They’re doubting the same heart we’re doubting.

And Jesus, setting the example, has brought nothing with him, except a pillow.

send me*
The Mob In Me

send me*

[Estimated reading time: 3m31s]

God: “Okay, write: ‘Now Moses was very humble—more humble than any other person on earth.’”

Moses: “Uhh, I’m supposed to write that…about myself?”

Much of my offense toward God has to do with the processes he reserves for himself. He reserves for himself the role of teaching us the truth, making us realize what’s wrong, straightening us out, and teaching us to do what’s right. Confusion is birthed when you try to do God’s job to the neglect of your own.

I want to do God’s job for him because the fool in me remains convinced I can hack the process and speed it up.

It takes Godly maturity (read: seasons of nothingness drenched in uncertainty) to finally ask: Wait, why do I event want to speed this up?

Here are two of my reasons:

1. I want to impress myself so I’ll feel entitled to sit next to Jesus—(James/John’s Mom, anyone?)

2. I want to impress religious people for whom God is gold. The more God I collect, the more at ease the Pharisee in me can be when he’s around other Pharisees. It’s called a Gold Rush for a reason. No one gets rich during the Gold-Be-Still-And-Know.

Moses: “God, pick someone else instead of me.”

I rarely hear people say this. Every other day, I’m seeing new ventures and ministries. I’m glad for this, but I’m confused by it as well.

Who’s out there telling God to pick someone else? “Don’t send me, Lord. I’m not good enough.” 

I’ve been raised on, “God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.”

I’ve been raised on, “God, send me wherever you want.”

But “Please send someone else, Lord”? I just don’t see it.

Until, Oh wait. Wow—yes I do.

I feel guilty over wanting God to pick me. Moses’ “Send someone else, Lord” taunts me because I don’t want God to send someone else. I want him to send me. I’ve heard others say the same thing for years.

Follow me carefully, though—you might think what I say next doesn’t apply to you, but it does.

I say, “God, send me.” But I don’t mean it. You don’t either.

We mean “God, send someone else,” too.

Moses’ “God, send someone else” was about a different person, someone whose name wasn’t Moses.

Your “God, send me” is about a different YOU.

You say, “God, send me,” but you mean, “God, send me*”

*a Future, More Cleaned Up and Stronger Version of Me.

“God, send a more developed, less dependent version of me; a version of me that doesn’t need you as much.”

I thought I wasn’t hearing anyone say, “God, send someone else.” But that’s actually all I’ve been hearing.

Our “Send me*” comes with caveats. “Send me, but first let the Pharisee-in-me have his/her way. Let them demolish and destroy any weakness within me that might keep me dependent on you moving forward. Send me, God. But replace yourself with someone more predictable, more malleable, more tame.”

God is not looking to be domesticated, nor is he interested in making us more self-sufficient. He’s looking to make us utterly dependent on him.

Which, by the way, is the actual definition of humility: To be utterly dependent on God. That’ll totally change your understanding the next time you read: “Moses was more humble than any other person on earth.”

Moses’ calling was far too important to remain dependent on any human. Yours is too, I hope you’ll remember that the next time you’re tempted to blame yourself or someone else for not being God.

To be utterly dependent on God sounds like a pretty weak place. A place far too tight for us to bring in any of our self-deprecating/self-improving/self-impressing tendencies. We’re kidding ourselves with these inner Pharisees whose self-regulation poses as holiness.

“God, send me” means the me I am now. The you that includes your dysfunctions and deficiencies.

I thought the closer I got to God, the stronger I’d get; the less dependent I’d get; the more developed I’d get.

But everything so far has been tearing the seams apart, demanding more vulnerability than ever. And my gifts? My gifts/talents have become an afterthought. What I thought would be the main course of my life has become the after-dinner mint. What I can’t help but stare at every day is a weak, broken individual whose only hope is that God would show up.

The more I’m forced to stare at the me I am now, the more I can hear my inner Pharisee saying, “God, you need someone else. Either a completely different person or an Arvin who has it far-more-together than me.”

It is painful to realize the same spirit that demanded the Pharisees crucify Jesus is at work in the same flesh I’ve been called to crucify daily. 

It seems God is beyond content with the version of his people who cannot send themselves, who’ve tried and failed enough to say, “I can’t send myself. And you know what? I don’t even want to.”

Invisible Inbetweens

I’m Arvin Sepehr (pronounced like Pepper with an “S”).

My family and I escaped from Iran after my Dad’s friends (Pastors, like him) were killed and he was made the next target.

Iran. Turkey. Cyprus. New York. And currently, Oklahoma.

I create things that tell my Story. Most recently, these things have taken the shape of books and films, but the mediums expand as my Story does.

Contact me@arvinsepehr.com