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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)
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Christianity Eschatology Heaven hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina Table Rock Wildfire the Gospel

When All Is Made Right OR Why I’m Not Upset About The Table Rock Wildfire at Linville Gorge

As I write this, Linville Gorge is on fire. 
The wildfire that presumably started by careless campfire practice has brought a lot of attention to Linville Gorge, and to online groups (such as the Linville Gorge Facebook Group, which I help moderate).  This wildfire and the back fires set to contain it, it has consumed more than 2,200 acres of Table Rock, The Chimneys, NC Wall, Spence Ridge, Chimney Branch, and was heading towards Shortoff. A lot of people love Linville Gorge and consider it their sandbox and playground. As people are passionate about something they love, their opinions and feelings are often passionate to follow. Aired on the internet in placing of social networks, forums, and discussion boards, those words that are felt and let out seem to become just as ferocious as the wildfire itself. Which I’m not really surprised by.
What I’m surprised by is my own reaction to this fire. People have often joked and lovingly suggested to me that hiking in Linville was an idol (read: false god) to me, and I think that those suggestions were valid observations. What surprises me is that I am not more upset than I am. I’m really not upset at all. Am I sad to hear the Gorge is burnt crispy? Absolutely. So what am I getting at?
I believe this wildfire is a lesson in eschatology. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it’s a fancy way to the study of the last things. But let’s back up, and start hoping I don’t rabbit trail here.. I’ll try.
Christians especially – if not more than anybody – should be considerate of being environmentally conscious as stewards of God’s creation. This planet should be cared for and fought for so it doesn’t end up looking like…quite frankly…a lot of our lives. But in all honesty, just as our lives are messed up and we haven’t been good stewards of all that we’ve been given, so also will that fault translate into the world around us. Relationships are destroyed, finances ruined, health fails, wildfires start, resources are squandered, nature is devastated, people are lied to, and so much of everything just falls apart. I mean, really, look at the world around you. Can any of us say with integrity that we never look at the world around us and hopelessly feel like this is not the way it’s supposed to be???
There’s a reason for that. It’s because this is NOT the way the world is supposed to be. God created man (Adam & Eve) and he rebelled against God. That rebellion against has translated down the gene pool all the way to me and you, and it’s called sin. We choose our ways, make them god ways, and reject the true God’s ways. This sin of Adam not only translated us, but essentially knocked all of creation off its axis as sin entered the world and devastation began. The world was not as it was supposed to be.
But there is hope.
From that moment of the Fall, God spoke of his rescue plan. These are the words God has for Satan after tempting Eve in Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Satan may strike a blow to God (the cross) but God would make that same blow crush Satan forever. 

We are living in the now but not yet.

Satan and sin have been defeated on the cross, where the fully-God and fully-man Jesus was crucified, and took the penalty that we deserve for all of our sin. That means what we have coming to us from not obeying all the law, God poured out on Jesus. On the flip side, the Christian gets what Jesus deserved! After Jesus was dead for 3 days, he was resurrected to newness of life and ascended to heaven. Not myth. Not lore. Fact. His resurrection validates his work on the cross, and gives all those who hope in Christ hope for their own resurrection from death into eternal newness of life!!

As if this was not exciting enough, once the “not yet” finally gets here, once death is dealt its final blow and claims no more victims, once the final chapter in sin-marred human history closes… it will all begin. Zion. New Jerusalem. Heaven. However you want to call it. To those who have rejected that they can stand righteous in front of God on their own behavior and accord, and trust wholly in the grace and mercy that is in Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection… THEN, not only will we be made new, but so will all creation. That includes the Linville Gorge, which exists to and for the glory of God.

One day, Linville will see its full glory again. We cannot go to the Gorge, or anywhere else for that matter, to find God. God is fully displayed in his revealed word to us, the Bible. We cannot find God in nature, but because of God, we can find more joy in nature. We can see the fire scars, fallen rocks, and devastated landscapes and know that one day, Jesus will return, and all that is crooked will be made straight. All that is wrong will be made right. It will all be held together by Jesus, who is the glory of it all. 

So fight the fires, however you choose. Keep a clean camp. Educate others. Leave no trace. Be a good steward of our natural areas. These are all good things, unless we make mini-gods out of them, then they become bad things. Hold them, but hold them loosely. We aren’t in control. God is. He is bringing a hope, a future, a kingdom to those who wait for him. Only in Christ can we find true satisfaction. We are not God. We are not sovereign. One day, God (and only God) will make everything right.

This is a pretty big topic, obviously larger than one post can cover. In January 2014, I plan to begin to study the book of Revelation in the Bible, as well as the broader topic of eschatology and future grace. I hope to post my notes on this blog. 

In the meantime, I recommend this reading to you:

– The Bible. It is the anvil that has worn out many hammers.
– Heaven, by Randy Alcorn
– The Explicit Gospel, by Matt Chandler


 
Categories
Christianity Eschatology God Heaven Hope Jesus Meditation Tattoo Zion

Zion: A new adventure, a permanent reminder

Zion. As I have been considering exactly what this word means and the hope that comes with it, I am driven to Scripture. Shorthandedly, I would have described it as heaven. In researching, the meaning is much richer, and much more broadly used. With connotations ranging from Christianity to Rastafarianism to one of Utah’s National Parks to The Matrix, it’s important that I consider and determine it’s meaning as it pertains to Jesus and His church.
Perhaps it all started after Jenny and I had two miscarriages back to back. It is difficult to remain hopeful in situations like that. The only hope I was able to find is that our 2 children will never taste sin and the fallen world beyond their time in the womb, and they will only know the joy of beholding Jesus. The verse I began to hang onto at that time was this: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (ESV)
Further reading of Revelation began to fill me with an incredible hope and longing for what I would have then merely called Heaven. Having gone through books like “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn, reading many books by Ted Dekker who constantly is weaving a tapestry of eternal hope, reading the writings of C.S. Lewis specifically the Chronicles of Narnia, listening to sermons, specifically by Jeff Purswell, on eschatology (which could be defined as the study of the last things) being the crown jewel of the Gospel, further reading of Scripture, and listening to great music written by a host of artists (Andrew Peterson, Keith Green, Jimmy Needham, The OC Supertones, Matt Redman, to name a few), I would say Zion is much richer than simply a synonym for Heaven.
As succinctly as I can describe it, which is probably not very succinct at all, is to describe Zion as the place in which God dwells with and among the unclean people whom He has made clean by washing in the blood of Jesus that was shed on the cross. It is where God’s people come to Him only on the terms of His grace instead of on the terms of His law, by which they could never come anyway. God’s people are assured a home there by Jesus resurrection, which promises that we too shall rise once death and sin and the curse are dealt their final blow. Zion is where Yahweh and His people will dwell together when everything broken and crooked is made right. It is where every year will be wiped away. It is where death and pain will be no more. Is it a utopia? Yes, but it is in the presence of Christ that the City of our God is even held together. It is far richer than a mere shallow post on a small blog can describe.
Several quotes have helped in developing  the richness of Zion, mostly pulled from Andrew Peterson linear notes. 
“We all long for Eden, we are constantly glimpsing it; our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, it’s gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of exile.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack, above the dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing; there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.” J.R.R. Tolkien
“God is at home; we are in thee far country.” ~ Meister Eckhart

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher says that eternity has been written onto the hearts of men. Now it’s also tattooed on my arm, a permanent reminder of what the Gospel is saving me and the rest of God’s adopted children to. As I’m having people ask about it, I’m forced to think harder about it, trying to capture it best as I can as quickly as I can. I’ve been stumbling over calling it the City of God, and trying to jam in how God is going to restore all things to the way they’re supposed to be. When I posted the picture on Facebook, I described it as follows: Zion is the city of God, the era of when all that is broken is made right, where every tear is wiped away, sin and death are no more, and we will see Jesus face to face in peace. Black to blue is symbolic of the curse giving way to peace, even richer, to shalom. One day, the curtain will be lifted, but until then we will sing with longing, “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”

Another passage that’s been rattling around my head is Hebrews 11:13-16 (ESV):

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.
16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

When I told one person that Zion is shorthand for Heaven, yet much richer, he responded by asking “For people who are good enough to get in?” That was extremely helpful for me to narrow down how to describe it.. 

Zion is home, the far country that we were all meant for. It is the city that God is making for Himself out of people who are not good enough to get to Heaven on their own
There are many passages in the Old Testament that develop the meaning of Zion, and many more that do not even refer to it by the name of Zion. Some that stood out to me as I searched the Bible for clarity are Isaiah 51:11, Jeremiah 50:4-5, Joel 2:31-32; 3:17a, Zephaniah 3:16-17, and Zechariah 8:1-3.
Yet the passage that stood out the most to me, which perhaps most richly defined Zion, is what I will close this with:
Isaiah 62 from the Bible, English Standard Version
1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. 
2 The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. 
3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 
4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. 
5 For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. 
6 On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest, 
7 and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth. 
8 The LORD has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: “I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink your wine for which you have labored; 
9 but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the LORD, and those who gather it shall drink it in the courts of my sanctuary.” 
10 Go through, go through the gates; prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway; clear it of stones; lift up a signal over the peoples. 
11 Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” 
12 And they shall be called The Holy People, The Redeemed of the LORD; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.