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The True Power of Christians

(photo used courtesy of Darrin Hamlin)

This idea of Christians having power has been swirling around in my head for a little while now. Honestly, the grasp I have on it is nowhere near complete. What you’re reading is my processing, which is asking for your consideration. What if it’s true?

People lust for power. Culturally powerful people will give those without power things they want in exchange for more power. Power is a loaded word, and like most words, can be backloaded with meaning to where we’re not talking about the same thing. There are more buckets that could be used to define power, but I’m going to try to use a “not this, but that” way as I think is appropriate for a Christian talking about power. I’m not talking about the American evangelical religious right having enough power to sway votes. I’m talking about the power of God and the Gospel at work in the hearts of believers that flows out of them.

Suspend Disbelief

I’ve already published a couple posts (on intentionality and being two-faced) which this one seems to be a natural extension of. Where I’m going here could be thought of as the relevance of either of those.

Many may think the Bible is an antiquated book, and many may think it’s dry and irrelevant by how much they marinate themselves in it. Well, the time spent reading the Bible is good, but maybe a better way of thinking about it is do I think the Word of God is irrelevant when I spend a lot of time reading it but not a lot of time wrestling with it? Or when I approach the Bible, which one of us is the anvil that the malleable is being molded against? Who is the authority in the relationship? I think for me, some want had crept in where I couldn’t acknowledge that I’m just not getting some parts of it. Maybe I had molded the mysteries of Scripture against my pride versus allowing my doubts to be molded against Scripture. Wherever you stand with your view on the Bible and the authority it has, I’m point blank asking you to suspend your disbelief and follow where I’ve been processing.

Power in Offense

You did this to me. You hurt me. You ignored me. You left me out. You embarrassed me. You made me feel less of a person than you are. You let me down. You didn’t do what you said you would do. You broke an agreement. You betrayed me. You didn’t meet my expectations. You damaged what was mine. You took what was mine. You set me back. You messed up my plans. You did these things to someone close to me. The list could co on and on. An offense is a wrong committed.

Think about how you talk about someone. Can you hear even the slightest offense against them left in even your tone, let alone your words? Any mocking? Any dismissal? I can in mine.

Thinking about situations close to me and far from me (meaning if you feel this post could be about you, it may include you but it is also bigger than you), it seems like there is a lot of power in the hands of the offended. Whether or not the offense is real or perceived, whoever is the offended can wield that offense in an way that creates motion. Offense is a force, for better or for worse. It says, “What has happened is not the way it should be.” Offense calls for repentance. A change in heart that leads to a change in direction, not just behavior.

Three Powerful Forces

There could be more forces at work, and I’m not certain an argument for why I believe forces at work in the hearts of man can be distilled down into these three things is valuable here on a blog. From my Christian worldview, entertain for a moment that this is what is.

Love. Guilt. Forgiveness.

Love. Maybe we would define love as acceptance. Maybe representation. Maybe having a place at the table. All those things I would say they are part of love, but not the whole of it. From the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV) describes love this way. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Has this verse become so common that it has lost its weightiness? Love is power, but a shell or veneer of love is not.

Guilt. I like to talk about guilt either by saying we are all train wrecks, or we all walk with a limp. Offense is widespread because we simply aren’t good enough to walk through the journey of life without offending someone. Try it. “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good,” says C.S.Lewis. We’re going to do it, even if we are milquetoast or passive or figuratively walk on eggshells trying our best to avoid a conflict. Are you aware of micro-aggressions? Then there is another complicating and destructive dynamic. When I act like a jerk to someone, I naturally want to create distance between us because the guilt of whatever I’ve done is strong. When we do offend someone, we are powerless to reconcile that guilt. We can do our best to live at peace with others, but as the offenders, we are at the mercy of the offended. We can say I’m sorry and further ask for forgiveness, but until that forgiveness is made manifest, the offense remains. The offended holds the power. The question though, is this power satisfying, or is it a false power? Guilt is a lot like fear with motivation, or fear with dividing momentum. I would think fear is the root of it. It would seem that timeless truths are not antiquated. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18) How can we be loved perfectly when we know we’ve fallen short, though?

Forgiveness. This is power. Recalling back to our 1 Corinthians verse, love keeps no records of wrongs. Love is not resentful. Forgiveness is not the denial of a wrong done, but a love that sees the wrong yet chooses not to hold it against them anymore. In a sense, it is a law broken, and then a law released. It is saying, I will no longer bind you to your offense. Forgiveness is release and freedom. We see this potently in Luke 23:34 while Jesus was being brutally murdered in a public spectacle. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The power was not in the men who were killing him, but the power was in the hands of him who had every right to be offended, to say the least, and yet chose to extend love and forgiveness to his murderers instead. Further, we have denied the authority of the Bible and made it malleable against the anvil of ourselves, yet in love, God the Father (the offended) sent God the Son so we might be reconciled to Him. Power.

The Power in Christians

If you are not trusting in Jesus as God who forgives our sins, can you offer this kind of forgiveness to your offenders? Can you love someone beyond a surface level to where you will not hold their wrongs against you? But what of justice? How can we extend forgiveness when justice must be met? In Christ, Christians have not gotten what they deserved. They have offended man, but even deeper they have offended God. They have been forgiven, and proven God’s power might. Trusting that God is loving them, not holding their wrongs against them because Jesus met the demands of justice with his death on the cross, and that his resurrection proves it to be true is what makes a Christian a Christian. God is undoing the wrongs of this world, offenses against his holiness, with his love and forgiveness. I realize I am only one man and my capacity is only so high. Am I willing to love God and love others, others in my immediate circle and trusting the ones outside of that to God? Not that we aren’t to widen that circle of love to include whole people groups, but how can we love the whole world if we aren’t loving our closest neighbors in our own houses and streets?

Who are you to tell me this, anyway?

I’m someone who is processing a journey, too. Over the course of the few days that I’ve written this, there have been multiple offenses lodged in my own heart. It’s not satisfying to gratify these offenses. It’s like twisting the knife in my own leg trying to get it to heal. I’m saying this as someone who has tested the power of holding offense and found it wanting, yet somehow returns to it again and again, like a drunk who hates his drunkenness. A recent two weeks of comparison fueled depression drove some deep spikes into my mind. There’s no power in me myself. I’m someone who needs a savior, who in perfect love, casts out my fear to return to him after I’ve forgotten that he loves me. Again. And again. And again.

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Christianity

On Christian Hypocrisy

I’ve been part of conversations that have included a statement that is something to the effect of, “I don’t go to church because it is full of hypocrites.

Why you do or don’t go to church is something we can talk about if you like. I am not going to sit here and type out why you’re right or wrong, even if it’s not hard to believe that you experienced hypocrisy. By the very nature of what the Church is, there are bound to be confused and messed up people inside her walls.

What I do want to explore here is my own tension with hypocrisy. I don’t know the depths of any other person as I know the depths of myself, and even then, assuming I’m fully aware of my depths is a stretch. Let’s not allow that to keep us from going diving, though.

What’s the problem?

The Bible is full of laws, and Christians have been called people of the book. In the Old Testament, God very specifically had laws which allowed his people to relate to him in light of his holiness. Failure to relate to God on his terms resulted in judgment, which God is not in the wrong for as Creator over his creation.

Fast forward to the New Testament. God fully becomes a man, while remaining fully God, which boggles the mind in full mystery. Jesus is not a new loving and kind version of God, but actually elevates the expectations of the Old Testament law.

The great evils we commit – that I commit – are forsaking the source of all satisfaction and life, and seeking satisfaction and life in things that can never provide them (Jeremiah 2:12-13). All of the judgment that we deserve for not loving God or loving our neighbors was poured out on Jesus. He took that, so that I don’t have to.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21

Jesus fulfilled the debt of sinners. This is the gospel.

Jesus was resurrected to life after being dead for three days, and then ascended to heaven some time after that. This is the Christians hope.

Because of Jesus, men and women can be reconciled to God. God, the offended party, becomes the solution to the offense and bridges the gap. He becomes the rescuer.

What does all of this have to do with hypocrisy?

Wrapping your head around the gospel will go a long ways in helping you understand the inconsistency of hypocrisy. A reading of Luke, Acts, and Romans in the Bible will give you a far more robust knowledge of the gospel then the brief snippet I just condensed.

A lack of understanding the gospel is what leads to hypocrisy for the Christian. It is not even a matter of we don’t practice what we don’t preach, unless we are still preaching salvation by the law apart from Jesus.

Meditating on a mind-bending verse from the New Testament is where these kinds of things began to unravel for me: For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. – Galatians 2:19-21

The question I have to ask is who or what is my faith in? In what do I place my trust to save and satisfy and justify me? This is not something that, upon becoming a Christian with saving faith in Christ, becomes fully realized. The late theologian R.C. Sproul said, “The doctrine of justification by faith alone is easy to get from an intellectual standpoint, but to get it in the bloodstream takes a lifetime.”

It is not natural to rest in the good news that I am fully reconciled to God by faith in Jesus alone. It is natural for me to forget who I am in Christ. When Christians forget, when I forget, there you will likely find the hypocrite. We forget who we are. This is true of many Christians, not just myself.

The Two-Faced Christian

And now here we are. How can I look in the mirror when I am, as Martin Luther phrased, simul justus et peccator? Simultaneously righteous and sinner? This is more mystery that I must be comfortable with as a Christian.

I am righteous in Christ. By faith alone am I righteous in Christ. “Yes, yes, but don’t you have to do something?!” Yes, I do. I have to trust that Jesus is all of the righteousness I have.

I am also a sinner. I still experience anger that is out of love for myself, not love for God or my neighbor. I still look to be satisfied in things that can never satisfy. I forget which Kingdom is satisfying, and fall back to my old ways of thinking that the self-focused kingdom of Josh will make me whole.

Ted Dekker explores this idea in his stylized fiction novel The 49th Mystic. A group of people called the Elyonites have been made justified, rescued from their disease, yet remain in fear. Eternally, they are secure. In the here and now, they submit themselves to their fears, try to justify themselves by their own laws and do not live in the good of their eternal hope. I wonder if this is a scathing commentary on the contemporary Church, but that rabbit trail is for another time.

I agree that the law is good, yet I fail to fully submit to it. I agree all the approval I will ever need is found in God, who I am reconciled to, yet I crave that approval from others. I am justified and righteous before God, but still struggle to live in every way that reflects that.

How can I live in the tension but not be a hypocrite?

This past week, a memory showed up on my Facebook. It is a quote by Matt Chandler. “We want to be known as these kind of fake mirages instead of who we really are, and when we enter into who we really are then all of a sudden the group has a shot at genuine empathy and compassion because there’s no reason to have empathy and compassion when everyone’s awesome. In no way does being awesome lead you to prayer and the word of God.”

I can come to grips with that I am not obeying every jot and tittle in the Bible, even if they are good and worth obeying. In no way is that a dismissal. It’s an admission of where I’m really at. I struggle with identity, an impulsive lack of self control, fear of what people think, and running to things that can never satisfy. The law is good and I am not. This is why I need Jesus to begin with. If the law was good and I could fulfill it, then Jesus died for no purpose. Remember Galatians?

I think I fall into hypocrisy when I put up some fake front of actually fulfilling the law apart from Jesus, when I claim awesomeness in a state of not-awesomeness. When I fake peace but am wrestling with doubt.

Hypocrisy is God gives the law, and I can fulfill that law. I live like I don’t need the mercy of God because I am good. Except I can’t, and everyone will see that gap except me. Fear. If you think about it, this kind of thinking extends even beyond Christians.

The Christian life is that God gives the law, I admit of falling short of it, and cast myself on the mercy of God. I don’t have everything in a polished state of awesomeness, free from doubts and struggles, but I am reconciled to God in perfect love. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

Free of fear, I am free to live.

Free of fear, I am free to love.

I submit to you that there is only one source that can love you so perfectly as to free you from fear. If you are in Christ, remember who you are. This, I believe, is a primary function of gathering in a local church, because we forget who we are so easily and submit ourselves to old chains and fears.

In Christ alone can we live and love free, even if we are a mess ourselves. My hope is in Jesus, not in me. This is how I believe a Christian can live in tension without being a hypocrite.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1

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Face to Face

Some things have been rattling around in my mind over the last few weeks. I’m just trying to figure some of this life and myself out. You could look at this as a sneak peak into the internal thought process of analysis and decision making.


I need the Lord. Desperately. Subtly, I feel I’ve gone in a “just me and Jesus” direction. I may be on the verge of coming out of that, but it remains to be seen at this point. One of the ways the Lord makes himself known is through his Bride, the Church. The Holy Spirit ministers to his Bride through his Bride. Through fellowship. Relationships with other believers is more important and life-giving that I’ve given a credit for this year. I feel it’s easy to say bitterness has rot my posture toward the church.

Face-to-face time. This has been front and center at my attention over the past couple weeks. Not that I focus on it, really, but that it keeps popping up in conversations, podcasts, blog posts, sermons, etc. Relationships cannot grow, they cannot thrive without face-to-face time. This can be derailed in lots of ways. How much face to screen time takes away from face-to-face time? How many conversations that could knit two people closer together are lost for the sake of eavesdropping into someone else’s online drama or someone else’s white washed social media? Or just shopping and consuming? I don’t want to come to a place where I reject technology, but rather I want to start asking the question, “How can I harness this technology to where it enhances face-to-face time instead of creating a void in the relationship?” This will likely be a balance I will never achieve, but I must never cease to aim for it.

Time. I’m a finite creature. My capacity is only so high before things I engage in begin to suffer and I make halfhearted investments in others. Time is a limited resource, and one I will never get back. When it’s wasted, I feel the seeds of bitterness beginning to root.

When I say yes to something, I say no to something. This is where God, the church, relationships, face-to-face time, and stewardship all come together. What will I say yes to? Bitterness? Laziness? Anger? Prayer? Relationships? The Lord? My wife? My children? If I say yes to staring at my phone or some other screen beyond appropriateness, I say no to play and story time with the kids, board games, deep conversations, honest and open and lighthearted and laugh-filled and scary and fearful conversations? Just some examples. I have several behaviors that I need to change.

Who will I invest in? Who will have access to me? I realize that may sound cold, but I have to be realistic about my capacity.

My wife and kids will have the greatest access to me. This is going to mean they do not get crowded out by others, who will have lesser degrees of access. This has to start at home and branch out from there. Texting, email, social media, etc. Those screen time conversations that can enhance face-to-face time need to take a backseat to my own family. However this has to be the expectation set with the relationships I’m in.

I need the Lord. 

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”
Psalm 127:1 ESV

My wife. 
My children. 
My fellowship of believers. 
My family.
Everyone else.

Fellowship of believers. Those relationships in the church by whom the Holy Spirit minister’s and the father reveals himself. Few are long-term friends, and there are several who are in what I’ve been calling an “ember” stage of friendship. I feel what it looks like, as far as setting expectations, is to tell those closest and ember and beyond relationships my struggle to spend time with the Lord and face-to-face. To explain to them the enhance/void dynamic of technology, and that means I may be spotty in response to them because I’m trying to invest in my family. They will have higher access that most, but not above my wife and the kids. I must be pursuing the Lord above all. I guess this blog post will serve that purpose to those who will slog through it to this point. There may be times my excess ability is extremely limited because my phone may not even be with me. It may be *gasp* in another room of the house or in a drawer somewhere.

Rest is not something I can say I’ve had much of lately, physically or mentally or spiritually. As crazy as it sounds, it sometimes seems like the Lord calls me in the night. “Seek me. I am your rest.”

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
John 15:5 ESV

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In Honor of my Friend, Erich

Friendship is something that does not seem to come easily. At least, it is not maintained easily. I believe the story of my friendship with Erich Johnson is worth sharing.
Jenny and I had just come back from a great weeklong vacation celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary in 2009. I was working as a technician at a Toyota dealership, and on my first day back to work, there was word of a new tech starting. My first reaction to Erich was probably similar to most people’s first reaction: this guy is huge. Not in an overweight way. In a crush your skull way. Erich and his wife, Kjersti, and their two kids had just moved here from Washington state. Making small talk, I found they were Christians and had been missionaries overseas. They did not go on mission trips; they were missionaries. They lived with natives in Iryan Jaya, Indonesia for a year, and in the mountains of Haiti for a few months. The stories of these trips and the hopes they brought would color many of our conversations in the following years. However, there was one key event beyond that. One day at work, I see Erich at his toolbox fidgeting about with something. When I walked over to see what he was up to, he asked, “Coffee?” He was making Sumatran coffee in a french press at his toolbox in the shop. It was that moment when I said to myself, “I am gonna love this guy.” And I have. 
Erich and I camping Burrell’s Ford in SC with (not pictured) our friends Chris and Matt, and all of our daughters,
After only a month of working at Toyota, Erich left to work for a family auto repair store on Wade Hampton Blvd., but we would keep in touch.  A couple months behind him, I also left Toyota when he was able to get me a job at the family’s downtown Greenville location. We would regularly meet in the middle between the two stores for coffee, Mexican, fast food, barbeque, coffee, Japanese, Vietnamese, or coffee. In 2011, I was able to transfer to the Wade Hampton store where we would work together again on dirty, burning hot cars during the blistering un-air conditioned heat of the summer. While there, we further built a love for coffee. We would get Counter Culture Coffee from Coffee & Crema and make coffee experimenting with different grinds and brewing mehods. I imagine it may have been interesting as a customer to walk into a family auto repair store to find the technicians brewing coffee in a vacuum siphon over a flame burner.
Erich and I getting ready for some climbing on Crowder’s Mountain, NC.
Not only a Christian, missionary, and coffee lover, but Erich was an adventurer. Originally from Pickens, Erich had worked downtown Greenville at the (no longer there) Rocks and Ropes climbing gym. Over our many lunches and coffees, he began to ask me to go rock climbing with him. Climb @ Blue Ridge has just opened, and after the first time, I dove in. He told me about a store in Traveler’s Rest called Sunrift Adventures where I could get my gear. We were going to Climb @ Blue Ridge semi-regularly, and sometimes we made the drive down to Anderson because Trailhead Climbing had a 50ft wall. Then came the day when Erich suggested we get out on some real rock. We planned for the morning to drive up towards Charlotte and go rock climbing at Crowder’s Mountain. I will remember walking into Starbucks in Gaffney that morning, dressed in moisture wicking shirts (a new thing for me), and the barista asking how we planned to spend our Saturday. Beaming, we said, “Rock climbing.” That would be the first of many outdoor adventures for us, but what solidified my love for the outdoors would come the following year. 
Erich and I on top of the Endless Wall at New River Gorge, WV
We planned to take a long weekend and drive to the New River Gorge in West Virginia. We left right after work on a Friday night for the five and a half hour drive to Kaymoor, WV. After 1:00am, we rolled in to Roger’s Rocky Top Retreat, where climbers were camping before a morning at the crag. For $6, we each got a campsite, showers, a table to cook breakfast at, and a memory that we still talk about to this day: how bad the outhouses smelled. We spent all Saturday climbing ladders and rock walls, through tunnels, and sitting on cliff edges of the Endless Wall. We stopped early and drove up to Summersville Lake because we read there was free camping there at the base of the dam. After a hot day of climbing and hiking, we thought a wash off in the river would feel great. Let me tell you, the water that flows out of the channels of a dam from the bottom of a lake are some of the coldest waters I had ever felt. As we were fixing our dinner, the skies opened up and rain began to pour on us. In what was probably not the best decision, we knew our climbing was shot so we packed up and decided to head home. We were exhausted, and the drive that took us five and a half hours to complete a day earlier would take us over 10 hours to complete this time. That included a consolation steak dinner at Outback, swapping driving every 30 minutes because we were exhausted, and trying to sleep for an hour in some Virginian WalMart parking lot. We were a mess, but we made it back to his house in Pickens safely. We tried a morning hike to the overlook of Raven Cliff Falls, but it was so foggy we couldn’t see past the observation deck.
Erich and I almost to the top of Cabin Trail in August, on our first trip into Linville Gorge, NC.
To recount all of of our adventures even in abbreviated detail would take far too long for this post, but many of them are already in reports on this blog. We would make a return trip to Crowder’s Mountain. We would plan for the Raven Cliff Falls loop, but reroute to DuPont and Table Rock once we found the trail closed due to ice. A third attempt would be my first trip to actually see Raven Cliff Falls. We would hike Carrick Creek Trail at Table Rock State Park with our kids. Eventually, we began to attend church together, and even serve on the ushering team together. We would go on a guys backpacking trip up to TurkeyPen near Brevard, NC, which was a really rough trip because it became a forced march out after the group got separated and had to make up time so one of our guys could get back home for an event. We would stay up late playing Halo (beating it on legendary!), Left 4 Dead, and Gears of War over Xbox Live. We took our daughters to a Greenville Drive game and watched one inning before taking them to the playground and leaving after that. We met our friends Chris and Matt for a daddy-daughter backpacking trip at Burrell’s Ford where we would camp and hike in the rain. We rode the Swamp Rabbit for the first time together. Erich was with me on our first trip into the Linville Gorge, where an ambulance drove past us on Old 105/Kistler Memorial Highway and yelled at us out the window, “Don’t do it!” He was with me on my first hike on Rock Jock in Linville Gorge, where we began planning our first hike along the Lower North Carolina Wall to the Sphinx a year later. Erich was with me on our first steps in the Tuckaseegee River in Panthertown, when we climbed up on the blade of rock below Red Butt Falls and named it Coffee Rock (see the video below), because we made coffee on it in a Jet Boil on a hot August afternoon. We have run the Moonshiner5k night race at Paris Mountain together. We have run the Goodwill Mud Run together, with our friends Chris and Matt. We did The Gorge zipline canopy tour in Saluda, NC together. We revisted Babel Tower to climb down Avatar’s Rib together. Those are some of the places we went and experiences we had that would be some of the contexts in which our friendship would happen.
Life happens. Our families grew, and we would rejoice. Our families would shrink, and we would be full of sorrow. Our families would have dinners together. We would have arguments and disagreements. I eventually left the family repair store to work for Lexus, and Erich would ramp up his schooling to work towards becoming an RN, so our outdoor adventuring together would become less frequent, but that was not what our friendship was based upon any way. Erich left the family store for a large retail chain that would allow him to work second shift while he chiseled away at his degree. Telling me about the benefits of the chain, I skeptically applied to see what would happen. Next thing I knew, we were working side by side again.
Erich and I at Hacker’s Point along Rock Jock Trail on our second trip into Linville Gorge, NC.
Unfortunately, during this time, what began in a short conversation over coffee exploded over several weeks into an escalating sharp and very passionate disagreement. He was temporaily moved to a mid-day shift, but the few hours we were at work together, we would go on for the next several months barely speaking. What conversations we did have were surface at best. On my end, it was an extremely rough and difficult time, and I had no idea how to walk through it. I sought some advice from others in what to do, but it felt mostly superficial and unhelpful. The “you can still be friends” type comments that don’t really help deal with anything. During this time, my daughter Skylar was born, on Erich’s birthday no less. Our families were not at a place where we could share that joy together. I hated what was going on, passing each other daily at work with barely a nod. His family was hurting. My family was hurting. I think we took it out on each other instead of helping each other through it. Instead, we both lost the battle.
Fast forward a few months, and I was back in Linville Gorge to hike L.O.S.T. Our friend Chris was with us, and on rocky outcrop over lunch with Little Seneca jutting out in front of us, with the Sphinx across from us, memories of times I had spent with Erich at several corners of the Gorge, Chris just asked how it was going with Erich. So I told him it has been hard. Without trying to fix me, fix Erich, or fix the circumstances and situation, Chris just heard me and felt that ache with me.
Now convicted of the way I’d been acting, I began to make some forward effort instead of the stand-offish resistance I’d been giving. Erich had just bought a new home, and one of my steps towards reconciliation was helping him move. I wasn’t trying to make up for past hurts, get out of debt to him, or anything like that. It was more of a clearing of the fog from my vision to where I had not been seeing clearly, and stepping back into the friendship to say, “This is what we do under no obligation, because you’re my friend and brother.” There’s nothing to brag about in that, because the steps I took to come to that place were shameful. It is what it is.
Erich and I at the Greenville Drive game
Erich then moved back to second shift and we were working together again. This time was one of the sweetest periods of our friendship as our conversations began to form around finding satisfaction in God. I realize as I type that out, there seems to be a hollowness to it. On the outside looking in, how could that possibly be an interesting thing to talk about? Yet, our conversations swelled with it for months, continually building. It was like a complete reversal was happening, where one conversation escalated into division and sin, the other built into fellowship and glory to God. I can’t even say that if you’d like to have that conversation, I’d be glad to have it with you. Rather, the best way to see this mystery would be as a bystander hearing the two of us having this conversation, entering in if you so chose to. Nothing forced, only the beauty of satisfaction in who God is. That is a crazy concept that is also a wild and untamed truth, and more unpredictable and amazing than any mountain, river, or canyon that we had explored together. 
Erich and I at Elbow Falls on the Tuckaseegee River in Panthertown Valley, NC.
Now, I have moved to a different work shift. If we are to see each other, I have to stay late or he comes in early. We don’t even pass. School is demanding, and our families are a priority. We don’t go to the same church as we once did. We still talk some, but not as much as when we were working every day together, getting coffee together. We are still friends, and we are still making effort to invest in our friendship. Why this post? Well, I miss him. Beyond that, though, I believe our friendship has been one that truly reflects what so many Christian circles call fellowship. It has not been the surface level “how has your week been?” It has been messy, but so much good comes out of the messes.
As I look back on the history of my friendship with Erich, it is smooth and it is rocky. There have been easy times, difficult times, mundane times, extraordinary times, joyous times, and sad times. His family has helped us, and we have helped them. We’ve enjoyed each other, and have been mad at each other. We have given each other good advice and terrible advice. If we had a friendship built on any one of these things, I believe it would have never recovered from the difficulties that have happened. We both find our hope in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Because we have been reconciled to God through Jesus, we can be reconciled to each other. That is where our deepest bond is anchored. We may not always be able to have coffee, go on adventures, or work next to each other. We will always belong to the Lord, and we will always be brothers in that. 
So here’s to the honor my friend, Erich, who I love as a brother. I hope this is not merely a nice story or a mushy recollection, but points you to Jesus in whom all satisfaction is found.
Erich on a spire of rock near the Sphinx below the Lower North Carolina Wall in Linville Gorge, NC.
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Christianity Daffodil Flats God Heaven http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina reflection the Gospel Zion

Reflections in Daffodil Flats

Daffodils by Mark Houser. Used with permission.
“[Daffodil Flats is] The best possible and easiest to sell excuse to bring people to Linville Gorge.” Spencer Clary (@canyoneer_engineer)
Every year during the late weeks of February and the early weeks of March, a seemingly insignificant flat patch of land in the south eastern end of the Linville Gorge erupts into a magnificent yellow field of daffodils. Jenny and I were able to visit just before peak bloom in 2013, but unfortunately missed it this year. Several friends of mine went, via several routes ranging from hard to harder to hardest, so I got to see Daffodil Flats blow up my Facebook feed for a couple weeks. It was during this time that it occurred to me there are many parallels to Daffodil Flats. It acts as a sort of foreshadow of Zion. Not the national park, or even heaven, but when the final chapter of this age is over and the beginning of eternity writes its first page in the New Creation. The kingdom of God that is everlasting. The place the book of Revelation tells us about when, in the presence of God, every tear is wiped away, and death and suffering are no more. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Have you ever heard it said of someone that they were so heavenly minded, they were of no earthly good? This seems to me to be an impossible statement. I submit to you for consideration that if a Christian is of little or no earthly good, then they are far too weak when it comes to being heavenly minded. Does any of that make you think of any Christians you know? What are we known for?
Well, we are known for a lot of things. There are plenty of things I could say here, but odds are that you already have a list in your mind if you haven’t given up on me already. Thank you for sticking around! A couple months ago on a Sunday morning, my pastor asked the following question: What if Christians were known for what they were for instead of what they were against? (Matt Rawlings) What if… just, what if… the men and women and children who claim to follow Christ were known for their supercharged vision of a Kingdom and Age to come? Zion. It’s like we are in a slumber, so busy rolling lazily about in bed that we do not see the adventure that awaits. Yes, the road is long and the winters are cold, but spring is coming!
Let’s bounce back to Linville Gorge. Daffodil Flats is located just off the Linville Gorge Trail, over a mile south of one of the most notoriously brutal trails in North Carolina. Pinch In Trail. From the top to the bottom, the trail takes you 1.5 miles through the rough forest, down a rocky and exposed sunbeaten ridge, to a near mudslide embedded with roots until you finally get to the river 1700 vertical feet later. The Linville Gorge Trail is then far from flat with dead blowdown sometimes covering the trail. I mentioned that there was more than one way down, but that is the fastest, most accessible, most direct combination of footsteps to get there. Then you get out the same way you came in, and it’s brutal when PinchIn Trail makes your heart feel like it will burst from beneath your breathless lungs. That trip to Daffodil Flats is one of the hardest stretches of six miles that North Carolina has to offer. People see the daffodils and whimsically say, “I want to go there! How do I do it?” The response, no matter what directions they’re given, always includes the warning: count the cost. The reward is great, but the road is full of obstacles and difficulties. However, we still love to tell people that the difficult road is worth it. Indeed, it is.
My wife Jenny hiking down PinchIn
As a Christian, how do I see Zion? If I am of little heavenly mind, I will think of this Kingdom with little enthusiasm. Do I have to just be good and hope I get to some ethereal cloud city of harp playing goody-two-shoes? Let’s consider Daffodil Flats as we know it. It’s amazing. It’s awe inspiring. It’s a field of flowers that captures us with a passion to see them for ourselves, despite the path to get there. We who have been there tell those who have not that it is amazing and worth it. This Daffodil Flats exists in a world that is under the curse of sin. Sin is not just doing a bad thing. It is a prison that holds us and this world – including our gorges – in chains and bondage. The world will be made new – including our gorges – and this world will be our world redeemed and set free from the thick and oppressive entropy of sin. To quote Matt Chandler, “All creation is eagerly awaiting its liberation.” The field of yellow that we marvel over every year is like trying to see the real thing in a mirror that is fogged over. Spring is coming.
If Daffodil Flats is what we see in a mirror dimly, what is beyond? What is to come? What is in store for this earth (and us, for that matter) when it ceases to be a hope and literally, physically becomes where God dwells with man? Does that sound like a dream or a drag to you? We read in Psalm 16:11 (ESV), King David (Slingshot Goliath slaying David) saying to God, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” If Daffodil Flats is a joy and pleasure that we behold, yet begins to fade as we turn our backs…what will Psalm 16:11 joy and pleasures mean? How could we as Christians not be excited to tell everyone we know about this? Our excitement for Zion should be an amplified excitement for Daffodil Flats! We tell people to place their hope and trust and joy in Christ with all the same excitement of telling them that it’ll be a good decision to get their wisdom teeth pulled or ingrown toenails removed. Our hope for eternity with God is lackluster. After the hard winter of life, Spring is coming. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Every spring, after the cold icy winters, the daffodils emerge in a field of glory like tiny prophets who proclaim to the world that a resurrection is coming.
Daffodil Flats, at nowhere near full bloom
Maybe part of our slumber, what keeps us in the warm bed of not thinking about too much beyond today, is that there is some bad news involved in the good news – that pesky thing of sin that costs Christians to be shunned with the names of bigot and worse. If you’re still reading and rolling your eyes at me, can I ask you to spend your disbelief very briefly? I saw this thing called sin in a new light this past week. We know from the Gospels in the Bible that Judas betrayed Jesus over a measley 30 pieces of silver. Also, the Gospels tell us that Peter, one of Jesus’s closest friends, denied him to save his own skin. I heard a song this week, and it really struck me. It is perhaps one of the most honest songs I have ever come out of music.
He sings, “Judas sold you for thirty. I would have done it for less. Peter denied you three times. I’ve denied you more. What have we done?” We are all in either the shoes of Judas or Peter. Once they saw themselves as a wreck, the only difference between them is that Judas attempted to atone for himself on his own terms by committing suicide, and Peter came to Jesus for atonement on Jesus’s terms of asking to be forgiven. Sin is not merely a stain on our record, an F on our report card, or a mistake we once made. Sin is our prison, and it can even be a prison that we love. Its presence is still at work in every aspect of life, especially the indwelling remains in my own heart. Sin wrecks havoc against us in pain, death, and heartbreak. You know how all that feels, and you don’t need me to flesh it out. Sin separates us from God, puts us at odds with him as enemies, and the only way to be reconciled is through Jesus. He is our mediator. I’m here to tell you what I am for. I am for where God is. I am for being where God says he will be, dwelling with man, and I want you to be there too. I get no notch on my belt. I don’t get an A on my report card. I don’t get any brownie points for telling you. Jesus is the only door, which stands open. I want you to go, so you can feel what it feels like at Daffodil Flats without the burden of a curse. I am not asking you to behave yourself and straighten up. I’m telling you that there is a Good King, and a great good is coming. That is what I am for.
2000 years ago, when Jesus was crucified, we are given a window into the scene. We read in Luke 23:39-43 ESV – One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

I realize you may be doubting at this point. You may be like the person who has never hiked yet heard reputations of the Linville Gorge. You’re saying, “No way am I going down there.” From someone who has started walking the road, let me say with the most confidence I can give, that the journey is worth it. Yes, there is a cost. Yes, like Daffodil Flats (or any other place in the Linville Gorge, for that matter), it is difficult and takes effort and cuts and scrapes and exhaustion on the long path, but it is worth it because of the wonder and delight that is set before us. The King is a Good King, and he gives us reflections and signposts of Himself and His Kingdom. Reflections and signposts of paradise, unfading and unperishable joy, pleasures at his hand. That’s a key, though. The pleasures are His. If we reject Him, we reject everything, and gain nothing. If we, like the thief crucified next to Him with nothing to offer, only ask Him to remember us in His Kingdom, then we gain everything. We are adopted by the King, become His sons and daughters, and gain everything. That Jesus died to be the door to Himself for us is indeed great news.
When you see the rays of the morning or evening sun paint the skies, or the dance of the Aurora Borealis dance beneath the stars, do you see the reflection? Do you see the reflection in Daffodil Flats of when everything will be made new? That is why we celebrate. Happy Easter to you, dear friend. Resurrection is coming. Jesus’s has already happened, and ours will be next, either to life or death. May your long road take you to the Good King and the paradise that accompanies Him alone. Please, let’s talk about it together.
Let me close with one of my favorite quotes ever, from the late since rising writer Keith Green. “You know, I look around at the world and I see all the beauty that God made. I see the forest and the trees and all the things…and it says in the Bible that he made them is six days and I don’t know if they’re a literal six days or not. Scientists would say no, some theologians would say yes. It doesn’t matter to me…but I know that Jesus Christ has been preparing a home for me and for some of you, for two thousand years…and if the world took six days and that home two thousand years, hey man, this is like living in a garbage can compared to what’s going on up there.”
Some people are far more eloquent and more fully minded towards eternity than I am. A few of those resources are…
Appreciating Creation While Anticipating New Creation (Episode 87) #AskPastorJohn 
Easter Breaks Our Heartbreak (Episode 565) #AskPastorJohn 
Easter Breaks Our Sin (Episode 566) #AskPastorJohn 
Easter Breaks Our Mediocrity (Episode 567) #AskPastorJohn 
How Does Delight in God Fuel Delight in Creation? (Episode 452) #AskPastorJohn 
Tales of New Creation (Part 1) – The Rabbit Room Podcast 
Tales of New Creation (Part 2) – The Rabbit Room Podcast 
Tales of New Creation (Part 3) – The Rabbit Room Podcast 
Heaven. A book by Randy Alcorn
Mere Christianity. A book by C.S. Lewis
The Explicit Gospel. A book by Matt Chandler
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Christianity God Gospel http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post justification reflection Sanctification soli Deo gloria Testimony

What Has Happened In The Last 10 Years

My pastor, Matt Rawlings, baptizing me. Photo used by permission from Bev Peeples.


In January 2005, I was fast asleep. Perhaps more appropriately, I was dead asleep. God knelt down, got right in my ear, and gently said, “Wake up!” I was disoriented, and wondered what the heck had just happened to me. My path was altered, my life was lovingly interrupted, and I had no idea where I was going.

Jenny and I had been married for almost a year, and we were living in Michigan. My behavior leading up to this point had cost me more than one friendship. I have since heard people talk about giving God part of your life and keeping part of it for yourself. First step on this new path was the crushing blow of coming clean about who I had really been. I think this is what is meant by the phrase God must increaseand I must decrease. Humility 101, I suppose.
So here we were, living in Michigan. I knew part of what I was to do was to start going to a church. We went to a few different ones, and I struggled in a huge way. One of the sermons I remember was about forgiving and forgiveness of sins and how if I don’t forgive and ask forgiveness for everything, then I won’t be forgiven, and I was really confused. Are you telling me that if I don’t confess every single sin I do, and have ever done, that I won’t get into heaven? The checklist was growing to be impossible. I thought God was just on the sidelines, as some kind of cosmic cheer leading genie.
I didn’t know what to believe. We weren’t having much luck on the church front. Jenny had grown up in Daytona Beach, Florida, and was a part of the same church movement her entire life. We were convinced that what they believed about the Bible and God was true, and a church plant had recently happened in Greenville. South Carolina. Her parents were considering making the move there to be a part of the church, even as we had already begun talking about moving to Daytona. We needed a place to learn about God and the Bible, and we wanted to be closer to Jenny’s family. I was also wanting to go back to college, so the combination of church, family, and school brought us to Greenville on September 23rd, 2005. Two days later on Sunday, September 25th, we attended the church that was one-third of our reason for moving here. The church was meeting in a Seventh-Day Adventist building and I said to Jenny, “This place is a cult.” (The SDA church met on Saturday, and they let us use the building on Sunday.) I came in with a thick coat of cynicism, and what we saw was foreign to me. The pastor then, Jim Britt, was playing an acoustic guitar, all by himself. I found out that this was less than satisfactory to a lot of people, but my church experience had been “worship leaders” performing a cheesy entertainment show on stage with some silly shuck and jive dance moves. The whole thing with Jim and the acoustic guitar was so simplistic, so unentertaining, that it was like God crafted it to specifically speak to me in a way I needed to hear, and it was there my cynicism began to melt. The sermon was from the book of Mark on the unpardonable sin. To be honest, the point on that message is kinda foggy to me now, but I remember that’s what the message was about. 
Then we met Rick Thomas, who helped us get plugged into what the church called care groups. These were basically small group meetings held during the week to discuss what we heard on Sunday and seek to apply it to our lives, as well as build relationships and actually do life with other Christians. People were bringinh meals to each other when they were sick and everything. To hear the Bible preached at church was a new thing to me, as ironic as that is. I would learn that is called expositional preaching, where over the course of weeks or even months, the pastor works through an entire book of the Bible. I was finding that I even remembered what the sermons were about week after week and was able to connect them with each other.
We learned about church membership, which is an up in the air topic in Christian discussions and arguments anyway. I will just leave it at Jenny and I definitely wanted to be official members of the church. It was during this time that I really began to learn what the Gospel is. During our interview process, Rick was asking if we needed to be baptized, and I responded for myself, “I think so.” He asked, “Why do you think so?” My answer was very revealing: “So I can get to heaven.” Turns out that this mindset had permeated much of the way I operated.
This is what’s called works righteousness. Basically what that means is that I thought I got into heaven by checking all the right boxes. As I was discipled by my peers and, more importantly, read the Bible, I found that this is the exact opposite of what the good news of Jesus really is. What the Bible reveals is gift righteousness. That means that all my boxes were checked by Jesus, and I believe it. That’s a double edge sword, because it’s simultaneously very offensive and the best news ever. Offensive because, seriously? The Bible sets the bar infinitely high and then says I can never reach it. It is also the best news because God’s rescue plan is that Jesus came to reach the bar on our behalf! This is why I came to believe the Bible was true, because if it was merely the words of men, men would have made the bar high but still reachable. Man makes much of himself, and I cannot believe man would naturally think and make the effort to put himself in the place Scripture does. “You are hopeless on your own, no matter how hard you try” grinds too hard against the way the human race operates that the message must indeed be a revelation beyond us.
But back to baptism. In 2007 (I think), I was actually baptized as a Christian by my friend and pastor (at the same church), Matt Rawlings. I learned that it’s a public declaration that, follow the symbolism here, you have been raised to new life, and your sin has been washed away by the blood of Jesus. One of the verses that I kept going back to was Galatians 2:20-21, which says I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Admittedly, that takes some chewing on to figure out, but it was where I started to understand what was going on. So, baptism doesn’t save anybody. I had it all wrong. All those submersive dunks did for me when I was 14 and 18 was make me a wet pagan. All that real baptism did for me as a Christian was make me obedient to a command that ended up being a huge means of grace to me that physically helped me see what Christ indeed has done in me. Grace to me, benefit to me, but no saving effect.
Two big words that I would learn and have difficulty separating were justification and sanctification. Justification is legally being made made right with God, reconciled with God, through the work of Jesus. It’s by faith alone that this happens, not by being good enough for God. Sanctification is the getting better process, where we become more and more like Jesus, but doesn’t do anything to make us right in front of God because that’s already been done when we were justified. Sanctification is a lifelong process of changing, putting sin to death, repentance, and hoping and delighting in who Jesus is and what he’s done. It’s important to make distinctions between these two, because tangling them together didn’t do me, or anyone around me, a lick of good.
Raised to new life. Once dead in sin, now alive in Christ. Then, sorry Carrie Underwood, but I took the wheel. It became about me, and my efforts to get better and become a better person. Losing sight of what Jesus had done and making it about what I had to do only made more of a mess out of me. In my attempts to “be a leader” in my home, I became overbearing, passive aggressive, and frustrated. I tried to learn all the right answers, pray in a way that sounded spiritual even though I was not very spiritual, and be a religious know it all. What is interesting about becoming a Christian, and I think a lot of people don’t see this, is that while some areas of behavior may improve, others decline. You never really get better or become a better person. Maybe in one area or another, but not wholly. I’m not trying to make an excuse, it’s just reality. I may have grown in an obvious area, like swearing less, only to find out that anger has manifested itself elsewhere, and then my inner sailor reemerges (especially in the last year). I wish I could remember who said this, that we are like sponges with ink in them. I can keep the ink in as long as no ones is squeezing me, but the second I’m squeezed by something not going my way, the ink (the sin that still resides in my heart, though forgiven on the cross) comes oozing out. Indeed, I am a desperate man in need of a savior. I came to see somewhere in those middle years that living by “Christian virtues” was really not the point of Christianity at all. During the movie Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce’s taking on of the slave trade in England, John Newton (who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace) says, “I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior.” Living in light of THAT truth, day by day, is what I came to see that being a Christian was really about. It wasn’t about getting better, although that may happen. A few years ago, I read an excellent quote by the author Bill Clem who eloquently stated that “The Gospel is about identity transfer, not identity improvement.” This was huge to me. This was probably the pivot point for me in this period of my life. Instead of trying to force growth, force my life to be a certain way, force my family to be and act a certain way, my focus shifted. What has Christ done for me? Was I basing my identity on ME, or was I basing it on who I was IN CHRIST? (For an exercise, check out the book of Ephesians in the Bible, and underline every time “in Christ” appears, for a study on identity.) I knew as a husband I was supposed to love my bride as Christ loved the church, and what does that look like? Jesus gives the church grace. He lovingly leads, and he pours out grace on his bride, the church. I can honestly say that grace is not a word that could be used to characterized how I interacted with people during this time of my life. Yep, I heard the Gospel. I heard that Jesus died for my sins, and believed it. At least on the surface. Functionally, I was still living under the law of works righteousness instead of the freedom of gift righteousness. For years, I hated Father’s Day and my family’s attempts to celebrate it because I didn’t measure up to my self-imposed qualifications. I was miserable and miserable to be around. Self-salvation projects really make for me being unpleasant, so for the record, if I am being unpleasant (and I have a long history of it), you could ask me how I’m trying to save myself. I may not be, but it’d be a decent question of a friend to ask of me. What was the remedy? Well, the Gospel, really, but I forgot so easily.
Books played a huge part in my life as a Christian, and I’ve read dozens. I had made a few attempts to read the Bible cover to cover, and I never made it past 1 Chronicles in the Old Testament. Most times, I would make it into Joshua and then burn out. Finally, in 2013, with the help of YouVersion, I was able to read through the entire Bible chronologically in a year. The Bible isn’t written in chronological order, and there are all kinds of different literature styles penned by different people all under the same divine inspiration of God. I was able to get a context for what the story line for the Bible is, and I really began to see it as God’s rescue plan for mankind. Outside of the Bible, there are three books that I think really stand out as meaningful, even life-changing, for me over the last 10 years. The first is Romans, by R.C. Sproul. I took an entire year (2011 or 2012?) to slowly crawl through the book of Romans in the Bible, and R.C. Sproul held my hand. There was a short pause in that to read his book The Holiness of God, which I only mention for the chapter on the Insanity of Martin Luther, because that spoke to me right where I was at in my vain works righteousness. Romans helped me to really dig into the Bible and learn what it had to say, even parts that I didn’t like. Sproul also said in this commentary something that stuck with me. “The doctrine of justification by faith alone is easy to get from an intellectual standpoint, but to get it in the bloodstream takes a lifetime.” The second, which I actually listened to on audiobook, is Heaven by Randy Alcorn. I’ve heard it said that eschatology – the study of last things – is the crown jewel of Christianity. Not the end times, Left Behind style, but what can be anticipated as the flyleaf of this era is turned and the rest of the never ending book of eternity begins. It’s not that I hope for heaven most strongly, but what comes after heaven when this earth is made new, and sin and suffering and death and injustice are all at an end. Zion. The third book is One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian. To learn that God’s love for us is one way was mind blowing to me. I wasn’t earning my justification. My sanctification was frustrating because surely, I wouldn’t struggle with things like anger, lust, greed, and pride. I took the presence of these sins in my life to mean that I hadn’t been justified by Christ’s work on the cross. However, when Jesus died on the cross, he gave the proclamation for all who would come to call him Savior – IT IS FINISHED. Am I to continue living any way I want, doing away with all of the laws of God? No, as reading New Testament books like Romans and Galatians would show with a quick reading. But, as I read the law, read what God requires of people blatantly spelled out by Jesus (“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” Matthew 5:48), it becomes painfully clear that I can’t keep the law, no matter how hard I try. I was coming full circle back to why I believed the Bible in the first place. It is finished. Now those were sweet words to my soul. To rest in the Gospel, to rest in that Christ died for my sins and was raised again, to be free from trying to do the impossible of trying to be perfect as God is perfect, that is sweet freedom, I learned that God is holy, and I am not. I need a mediator, and Jesus is that mediator (2 Timothy 2:5).
In C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity, he talks about Christianity being a house with a long hall and many rooms. The hallway, what he refers to as mere Christianity at its most basic, is where he spends his time. Denominations, doctrines, and other things people like to identify with and disagree about are what the rooms are. I’ve purposely not spent any time delving into which room I’ve found myself in, because the important thing is that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. If that’s not good enough already, he was raised again on the third day and ascended to heaven so that I can have hope for the same. The purpose of this post is not to be a convincing argument for Bible doctrine (there are books for that), but to relay to you a snapshot of what this roller coaster has looked like over the past 10 years. It hasn’t always been pretty, and I’ve acted out poorly in a lot of ways. I’ve had to make a lot of apologies to people I’ve hurt and said and done sinful things to and against. I’ve learned even more so that my hope is not in myself, but my hope is in Christ alone. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but quite frankly, that’s a big part of why I believe it, too.
The past 10 years, I have been a mess. Not as much of a mess as the first 23 years of my life, but I’ve still managed to bumble through the Christian life. I’ve learned my hope is not in myself, I’ve learned that I’m still going to sin (simultaneously a saint and sinner – wrestle with that one) and I need the humility to fess up to it when I do. We are still at the same church, Redeeming Grace Church. I’m still married to the same woman, Jenny, who has lived the Gospel in front of me more vividly than anyone else. We’ve had rough times, and great times. We’ve had three healthy children together, and we’ve had three heartbreaking miscarriages. I’ve worked jobs I’ve hated, and I’ve been broke. I’ve poorly managed resources. I’ve made and lost friends. I’ve struggled with depression, and then I would refuse to communicate anything other than “I’m fine.” I’ve yelled in anger. Again, my wife Jenny has been the most vivid display of the Gospel I have seen, loving me even when I am unlovable, just as Jesus has done. We have thrived, and we have suffered. All of this stuff I’ve learned about the Gospel doesn’t happen in a vacuum. How do I navigate life with it? Only by the grace of God. He’s not a God sitting on the sidelines, but actively involved working together all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8). In the midst of that, I know this fire of sanctification is burning away the impurities I am prone to wander to. I’m not good enough for religious people, and I don’t even perfectly live by the Golden Rule, so I’m not good enough for secular people. I’m not really that good at all. But God is. My hope in the Gospel is not that I can act good enough for God, but that Jesus died and rose again to make an enemy His friend.  Learning to be satisfied in him is where I’m at right now. I can’t be satisfied in how good of a job I’m doing, because I’m not really pulling it off that well. My hope is in Jesus, who loved me and died for me. Learning to rest is a difficult thing. More on that in the next post.
If you missed how I got to this point, be sure to read about what happened to me 10 years ago.
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anger Christianity Christmas cynicism depression Emmanuel Eschatology frustration Gospel Grinch Hope http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Sin Songs

The Best Christmas Song Is..

Christmas Shoes. No wait, that’s a lie. Jingle Bells, Holly Jolly Christmas, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Christmastime is full of seasonally saccharin sweet songs. Is this really how people feel about Christmas? People like the decorations and snow (if we see it in the south) and sweaters, but does singing Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer really put people in the Christmas spirit? OK OK, I’ll admit to liking Sleigh Ride and Mr. HeatMiser.
There are even songs from Christendom that are lyrically good, but seem to wear on the ears. For whatever reason, Mary, Did You Know? seems to catch a lot of flack on social media. Call it terrible, but I’ve never even been a fan of Silent Night. As a Christian, what could be more appealing to listen to than Silent Night? Joy to the World and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing are not even favorites of mine. At this point, you’re probably thinking… You’re a mean one, Mister Grinch.
And you’d be right. I am a mean one. I get sour and rail against commercialism, then engage in it. I get overwhelmed by life in general, by my own poor decisions and life that just happens. Sickness, snotty noses. This year I’ve been especially bad and grumpy. I fed and pruned genuine bitterness in my heart towards those singing Christmas songs and putting up their trees and lights before Thanksgiving. When the Bob Cratchet’s of the world have asked for the proverbial sonic lump of coal for the fire (which sounds a lot like That’s Christmas To Me by Pentatonix), I’ve given a Bah! Humbug! This season, I have been so gloomy that I have even lost desire to do things that I would normally enjoy doing, like hiking and exploring the outdoors. In past years, I’ve loaded up my iPod and listened to Christmas music the entire month of December leading up to the 25th. Not this year. My wife and kids love Christmas, the season, the songs, the decorations, the lights, the food. I have been like Jim Carrey’s version of the Grinch: “self-loathing at 2’o’clock.”
So why rail against Christmas songs that sound like they were taken out of a holiday version of Sugar Rush from Wreck-It Ralph? Because I feel like people are whitewashing their attitudes, building a veneer against what they really feel like. Don’t let me fool you. I can suck it up and smile, but heart business is dark business. My heart business is a cold cynic. This world is a cold and broken place filled with pain, frustration, suffering and death. As morbid as it sounds, to be restrainingly honest, there are a lot of times I’d like to just curl up and die with it. I’ve not been pleasant to be around. I have had all the tender sweetness of a sea-sick crocodile. How the Grinch is described really is fitting for me: Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots. What does this have to do with Christmas, or songs, or anything like that? In the words of Jesus Himself, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Cue the best Christmas song.
I like this Christmas song because it sounds sad. It’s the best song because it relates to a sad world. It relates to me in my brokenness. In many ways, it’s the cry of my heart.
What do you know about Bible history? The nation of Israel, God’s chosen people to whom He revealed Himself to over and over again, is driven into exile because for the umpteenth time they didn’t follow through with their end of the bargain when they said, “God, I’ll never do this again if you get me out of this mess.” They had spend years building a temple where they could worship and relate to God, and that place has been destroyed, and they were driven out of their homeland. They blew it. The prophet Isaiah, among other prophets, has foretold of a child named Emmanuel (which means “God With Us”) that will make all that is wrong with the world right. In their exile, we can imagine the nation of Israel singing…

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appears

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

O come thou Dayspring, come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadow put to flight

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

This is where we live. It’s where I live, at least. A Christmas song just does not seem appropriate unless it is brimming with hope-filled sorrow, like a single light against an infinite background of darkness. But that’s what Christmas is, isn’t it? It’s not Santa Claus. It’s not shopping. It’s not snow. Tullian Tchividjian tweeted recently that “Christmas is the beachhead of God’s campaign against sin and sadness, darkness and death, fear and frustration.” That is the truth. I don’t have any hope in my being a good person, and probably by this point you don’t have any hope in me being a good person either. My only hope is that God inserted Himself into this world in the form of a baby who would grow up living a perfect life and die a scandalous death and be buried in a grave that could not hold the innocent when He was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven as ruling Sovereign of all existence. The Bible says that if I trust that Jesus has done this, His life and death and resurrection and glory will be credited to me, and my sin and fear and anger and faithless hopelessness was credited to Him in a brutally crushing crucifixion and God the Father’s rejection. His righteousness, mine. My sin and unrighteousness, His. Jesus, rejected. Me, accepted. Scandalous.
This is the Gospel. Jesus is the Gospel. He isn’t an accessory to a good life. He is all I have to hang onto. I’m not a good and decent person, I’m an undeserving grace-getter. In several places in the Bible, God’s endgame is revealed. One selection that has been in front of me this past week is Isaiah 51:11 ESV And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. This is the day I long for. This is not my experience now, but as I remember the Gospel, the day I long for enters into the day now. Because I know Emmanuel has come, and like those in exiled Israel, hope in the day when He will return and bring His ransomed to Zion with singing, I can translate that joy not yet received into the here and now. I know the bad news, I remember the good news, and the light of anticipation can pierce the darkness. It can even pierce the veneer of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. My heart says, “Why?” Jesus says, “Because the day is coming when death will breathe its last breath.” 
There are days I forget the Gospel. Many days, in fact. There are days I forget that Emmanuel has come, and those are the days I suck it up and smile through a plastic veneer, at best, or am miserable to be around and take it out on those around me, at worst. On those days, may my inward groaning coax my heart to sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. In that, there is rest for this weary and anxious heart.
Should you be in the mood to listen to O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, I offer you a few of my favorite versions of the song. Thanks, internet. 
By Haste The Day
By Dustin Kensrue 
By ThePianoGuys (instrumental)
By August Burns Red (instrumental)
By For Today (revisioned lyrically)
Categories
apologetics Book review Christianity compassion Eric Metaxas God Miracles quotes science

Book Review: Miracles by Eric Metaxas

Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life was not the book I anticipated it would be. In any way. I hope to express to you, the reader, not only themes and thoughts of this book, but how it personally affected and challenged me in my own thinking. We won’t be lingering in the abstract.

What is Miracles all about? I do not think I could express it as succinctly as Eric Metaxas does in the closing thoughts of the first chapter, so I will let him speak for the book: “What if the half-truth of the desire for something beyond us could meet up with the half-truth of the desire for only what is really real and true, which we can know and see and touch in this world too? What if those two halves could touch and become the one true truth we were both looking for? This is a book about that.”

Miracles is presented in two sections. The first is the Question of Miracles. What are they, how do we define a miracle, how do miracles and science relate, and other questions and discussions of miracles. The second is stories of miracles from sources that Metaxas himself accounts for as trustworthy. It may be helpful to you, as it was me, to see a miracle as a sign. A miracle points to something other than and beyond itself.

In the first section of the Question of Miracles, I was caught off-guard, because this was part of what I didn’t expect. How everything that exists is even in existence is amazing. From the beginning of time until the present, the balance necessary to keep everything in motion is astounding. One of my favorite quotes from the first half of the book is this: “The more science learns, the clearer it is that although we are here, we shouldn’t be.” You will not read a dismantling of science here, but a confirmation of it. Metaxas is not dismissive of science, but rather that which is unscientific. I finished every chapter thinking to myself, “This is incredible.” The tone is conversational, not confrontational. What are we to make of science, the universe, the earth, water, life, suffering, Jesus, and the resurrection? Metaxas asks the reader to consider “what if…” instead of demanding “you should.”

One thing that I felt may be a stumbling block to Christians reading this is the discussion around the age of the earth. Whether you believe that the earth is billions of years old, or six thousand years old, to me, is not a hill to die upon. Do not allow yourself to get snagged on that bramble bush of cognitive dissonance, but consider what IS. Now let’s untangle and keep going.

Moving from the Questions in the first half to the Miracles themselves in the second half, I found myself moving from being amazed to being challenged. This is the next part of what I didn’t expect, as I thought when I started that the book may just be a download of data. What these miracles exposed in my own heart was what I’ve heard referred to as tribalism within Christianity. Eric Metaxas seems to operate outside of the tribes of Christianity. By that, I mean that he does not segregate himself by only participating with one group of doctrines or ideas, but seems comfortable among Episcopalian, Catholic, Presbyterian, charismatics, and Greek Orthodox in his conversation. Being narrow minded is not something you could easily accuse Eric Metaxas of. So what of being challenged? I’ll be honest here. I don’t have much struggle believing that God can create and hold together the unfathomable measures of the universe. But that God could actually work through a faith healer? That felt like an uncrossable chasm to me. I even talked to my pastor about it, who kindly told me that it is God who heals, not faith healers. Even within my own Christian walk, reading Miracles has laid me out as narrow minded. Metaxas gracefully shows us that God works where He will through who He will. God is not and will not be confined to any box that we attempt to cram him into. I could not help but think of the Beaver in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, commenting about Aslan that “He is not a safe lion, but he is good.” Indeed.

So what of this God, and what is he all about? I fell into a trap in the Miracles section. I began to see the miracles not as signs, but as stories of unusual events that happened. The author doesn’t present them in this way, but it is the mindset I carried into it. As I finished the “A Girl and a Squirrel” miracle, I realized something. In the beginning of the book, Eric Metaxas clearly says that miracles are meant to be signs that point towards God. Having read miracle after miracle, I lost sight of that. Eric tells us to read between the lines, but then I found myself only reading the lines. He’s inviting you to investigate for yourself who this God is that cares about the sadness (which we are tempted to call silly) of a 10 year old girl. That God is a God of compassion? This is certainly a challenge in the world where the truth is used as a baseball bat to beat people with. Eric Metaxas not once wields that bat, but is himself a recipient of that compassion. In his own testimony, he says, “God knew me infinitely better than I knew myself, and he had taken the trouble to speak to me in the most intimate language there was: the secret language of my own heart.” I love this.

Further, in the testimony of his own conversion, Eric describes a man he seems to recognize as “He wasn’t an angry man; there was a kindness and gentleness to him. He wasn’t someone with a theological ax to grind; he seemed to embody the peace of God, the way Christians are supposed to but often don’t.” This is another area where I was challenged. I have been that guy with a theological ax to grind, not embodying the peace of God. I’ve had relationships strained because of how dogmatically I have held positions and valued them over the actual person. To read this miracle story laid me bare. In direct contrast to who I have been, Eric Metaxas fits the description of the man he recognized as he writes this book. It was just as refreshing to me as it was challenging.

Miracles is not a book filled with Christian-ese cliches and platitudes. It’s not a theological hammer, crushing you against the anvil of doctrine. It’s not page after page of to-do lists. It’s not a book of fluffy “Chicken Soup for the Soul” stories that bear no weight in the real world. It’s a book you’ll actually enjoy reading. Who is this book for? People who have questions. People who doubt. People who have longings, wishing they knew more and wishing the world was better. People like me. Miracles has gently challenged me to reconsider things I had written off as wrong.

As I was reading the final pages of Miracles, I was sitting in the room with my kids while they watched the movie version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. As I set the book down, the scene was Reepicheep humbly approaching Aslan to say, “Ever since I can remember, I have dreamt of entering your country.” What I can say of Miracles by Eric Metaxas is that I see a little more clearly, like wiping a layer of fog off a mirror, that there is a God who is not only vast, unconfined and amazing in his power, but personal and amazing in that he would condescend to rest his arms around the shoulders of broken people like me. This God of compassion bids us to come and rest in him. The flames of my dreams of entering His country have been fanned.

You can read more about Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life at http://www.ericmetaxas.com/miracles/

*Disclosure: I was accepted to be part of the Launch Team for Miracles by the publisher. In no way did this require a positive review for the book, but I was only asked for my thoughts and quotes that stood out to me. 

Categories
Christianity http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Reading Plan Satan spiritual warfare the Gospel

The Weak to Make War

How does the weak make war? I’m about to find out. It came as a revelation to me about six weeks ago that I had begun believing lies. I had grown sour over my perceptions, a friend came to me and tried to dig beneath the sourness in search of a root, and I began to regurgitate the lies to him. I didn’t even believe them as I said them, but that was how I was feeling. It all starts so subtly, I didn’t even realize that I had taken the bait until the words came out of my mouth that I couldn’t even trust myself! It is terrible advice to follow your heart, trust your feelings, and believe in yourself. It is when we start doing these things that we open the gates and leave ourselves defenseless. This is how the heart works, and we are given an accurate diagnosis of it in Jeremiah 17:9 ESV

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Taking advantage of my already dumb and dull weakness, Satan is an accuser. He is not so much one to play the boogieman ready to drag me into the closet and poke my bottom with a pitchfork, but that sly fox is a whisperer, sowing doubt, worry, and discontent. Hear me loud and clear: the devil didn’t make me do it. I am responsible for myself, my actions, and my believing of lies. If the Christian life is a walk, then Satan definitely tells us there is an easier path, a lighter load, and it won’t be of any harm to look back.

So what is to be done about it? Clearly I am too blind to spot the gaping holes in my armor, as I had succumbed so fully to the lies that I was believing. Disoriented, distrusting of myself, I need True North to find my way out of the tangled thickets of deceit.

It is with this, I need help. I have nearly abandoned all personal study of Scripture, pursuit of Christ, and defense of myself.  I have no strength of my own to fight with, because my own strength has been proven futile. Many times, I lack the resolve to utter even a weak prayer. It came to mind to begin a Psalm supported book study of Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, written in the 1600’s by a Puritan by the name of Thomas Brooks. The book is exactly what it sounds like, and as Satan means to work in the shadows, it seeks to drag him and his tactics out into the light so the believer might be able, by the grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit, to make war against him.

Precious Remedies has twelve sections on the Table of Contents, and I have divided those twelve sections up to be accompanied by a Psalm (some of my selection, and some of pastoral suggestion as I presented this reading plan) for each reading. So, if I read for 30 second or I read for 10 minutes, I’ll read the accompanying Psalm in an effort to store up God’s word in my heart that I might not sin against him (Psalm 119:11).

The Plan:
(Psalm 1) 
1. The Epistle Directory 
2. A Word to the Reader
3. Introduction
4. The Proof of the Point
(Psalm 23)
5. Satan’s Devices to Draw the Soul to Sin
(Psalm 42)
6. Satan’s Devices to Keep Souls From Holy Duties
(Psalm 50)
7. Satan’s Devices to Keep Saints in Sad Condition
(Psalm 91)
8. Satan’s Devices to Destroy & Ensnare
(Psalm 145)
9. Five More of Satan’s Devices
10. Seven Characteristics of False Teachers
(Psalm 150)
11. Six Propositions Concerning Satan and His Devices
12. Conclusion: Ten Special Helps and Rules
If you are one who struggles with believing lies and want to link arms with me, pray with me, trust in God with me, or if you just simply want to see what in the world it is I’m reading, you can download a free PDF of Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices and YouVersion offers a free Bible for your phone, tablet, and computer.  I use the English Standard Version primarily.
I pray that the Holy Spirit would be my power against Satan’s devices, and that in that power I might make war against the devil and his accusations.
Categories
Bible Christianity contentment Gospel Hope http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Idolatry Jesus Psalms Reconciliation Rich Mullins Sanctification Seeking soli Deo gloria

Be Still



For the last few weeks, I’ve had this sensation like something was going on. There was movement occurring. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it. Maybe I still can’t. 
Any user of social media can tell you that people present causes, ideas, viewpoints, and a host of other things that become points of tension. Sometimes we are witness to the clashes, and sometimes we take part in them. Sometimes we take sides in them and become emotionally invested, spending our energies and time and resources. Sometimes the opportunity for comparison becomes overwhelming and we gives ourselves over to it. Sometimes you are just addicted to the news feed. I’m guilty of all of that. My heart is especially prone to crave the praise of others, and I’m guilty of constantly checking texts, this blog, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, and e-mail hoping for a morsel of that praise. How many followers do I have? How many times have my posts been read? Beyond that, I’m currently struggling with rampant materialism and desire to be satisfied with things. The thing that is consuming my time and thoughts and energies right now is a mountain bike that I don’t even have the money for. It’s suffocating to want things so badly, yet I try to breathe in stuff instead of fresh air. There’s so much noise in life!
“Be still, and know that I am God” reads Psalm 46:10. This is the verse that started whispering to me, beckoning me to quiet myself, about a week ago. Trying to do this, I find that I hate the stillness and quiet. It’s like I’m addicted to noise. I feed on arguments. In a frustrated moment last week, I Tweeted “So many voices in Christianity! Maybe I should just read the Bible instead of blogs.” So noisy, it’s hard to think straight. In sitting down to write this post, I checked out Psalm 46:10 in a few different versions of the Bible -ESV, NLT, and HCSB. I found it interesting to read the HCSB, which translates it as “Stop your fighting – and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.” The context of this verse is speaking to the nations, but I believe that can easily be dialed to speak to how I – we – can be in noisy conflict and scattered attentions daily. Mowing the grass today, in the noise, somehow I was quieted.
The first verse that came to mind was 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12. Sticking with the HCSB: “But we encourage you brothers, to do so even more, to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, doing as we commanded you, so that you may walk properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone.” Is this running through my posts and statuses and shares and tweets and pins? I’m convicted that it is not. I’m convicted that my heart loves to act like some dungeon master of noise, versus being still to know the Lord. I love the turmoil, if I’m going to be really honest. This is the fruit of my own hands, and it’s not good. Yet the mere fact that I’ve even become aware of it, which is purely revelation as opposed to self-discovery, gives me hope. Here the law once again crushes me, and it is only by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone that I am lifted up out of this empire of dirt. It’s not just big sins that Jesus deals with, it’s subtle ones like my life seems to be permeated with. Ones I don’t even see always. That I don’t always see my sins and error is that much more evidence I can only despair of my own goodness and throw myself on the mercy of God, that my sins were paid for by Jesus when he died on the cross, and I have hope for life because Jesus rose again to life and doesn’t remain in the grave. Grace grace grace alone, because by the law alone I’m hopeless.
The final verse that bubbled to life while doing yard work was Psalm 34:8 (HCSB): “Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!” Ultimately, that is why this is even showing up on this blog. The mission statement of what I post here Eternity has been written on your heart. Fight to taste it. Much of that takes place in the wonder of seeing God in creation, but even though creation tells me about the nature of God, displays God’s awesome creativity and testifies to God’s existence, it doesn’t offer me any hope. That is only found in the Bible, the revealed and kept word of God. The mountains and streams cannot quiet the noise for good, but the Lord can. How? By telling us that it is in tasting and seeing that he is good. I want happiness in a hike, in a bike, in a lawn that appeases others, in peoples opinions and praises, in turmoil, in things. Happiness is only found in tasting and seeing that the Lord is good, and taking refuge in him instead of a hike, or a bike, or the praises of others, or things. 
Whatever is happening right now, whatever revelation is coming into view, and whatever sanctification that is so dramatic in my life that I can sense it taking place… that started sitting on a log in my backyard after midnight. It started when I was able to quiet myself. Beneath all the crazy places an things I run to for satisfaction, I know they will never satisfy me. I know, deep deep down in my once dead heart of stone that has been brought to life by the grace of God, that the Lord is the desire of my heart. I know because in Psalm 16:11 says of God “You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures.” Do I revel in that? More often than not, I find myself on the judgment end of Jeremiah 2:12-13 – “Be horrified at this, heavens; be shocked and utterly appalled. This is the Lord’s declaration. For My people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned Me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that cannot hold water.” I try to live and find that happiness in researching mountain bikes, or fighting bushes for a waterfall, or gaining the praises of men or more acutely followers on Twitter. God help me to fight to taste the eternity that you’ve prepared, which is full of and out of your goodness!
So what comes out of all this, and how is it working out? I’m going to try and cut back the noise. No deleting any accounts, but definitely a scale back of their use. I’ll be maintaining this blog, still updating it with trip reports from The SC Project. I’m deleting the apps off my phone, because that is a huge source of noise for me. I want to not be so glued to my phone, hoping to scrounge a praise for myself or satisfy the lust for a new notification. I’ll be keeping Facebook Messenger app, so for those who contact me through that can continue to do so. “Oh this is legalism and duty!” you may be thinking. Not really… though I can’t do anything with 100% pure motives (even this post is mixed and there is a level of wanting people to know!), I just want to taste and see that the Lord is good. I want my happiness and joy to be found in Him. I want any adventures I have to merely be arrow that point the praises to the Creator. I want the praise of God to be ever on my lips. Even as I type that out, the thought is savory and satisfying. I want to clear the noise. I want to learn to be still. I want to throw myself into whatever God is stirring in me. I want to deepen and strengthen the relationships around me instead of pollute them with phone distractions. I want to fight to taste the eternity that has been written on my heart so badly that my wife and kids and our friends want to taste it, too. That is what I want.