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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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Christian Hedonism God http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Jesus love reflection rest satisfaction soli Deo gloria Testimony the Gospel

What Is Happening 10 Years Later

This road of being a Christian is a rocky one, full of mountain highs, valley lows, hidden pits, stinking bogs, and open fields. Where I’m at right now is kinda like where I was 10 years ago right after God interrupted my life, but different. Then, I hardly knew God beyond His saying, “Trust me.” I didn’t know what that would mean then. Now, I still don’t really know what that will mean in the days ahead, but I do know God a whole lot more. I know that God is good, and I know AND feel that God loves me. I may not know what the next step will be, but I know the Lord. Beyond that, there is a little bit of clarity for me in what’s going on because certain themes have just been present.

If you haven’t read how I got here, you may wish to read about what happened 10 years ago and what has happened over the last 10 years. If not, that’s OK, too.
Last year, my pastor challenged the church to consider that we had lost our first love. We had lost sight of Jesus, like the church of Ephesus we read about in Revelation. This was the case for me. As a Christian, for years I have been chasing trying to get better, when I ought to have been chasing Jesus. Let me explain.
A conversation sprouted a couple months ago around being satisfied in Jesus. I’m not sure I can really explain what that is like, but if you have tasted and seen his goodness, you will know it. On a much smaller scale, think of the feeling of standing near a waterfall. Beyond the roar of the water and the coolness of the mist, there is something that is difficult to express in words, but you know what it is. That is what God and satisfaction in him is like, in the sense of being difficult to describe.
I had been looking to people to satisfy me, essentially making gods out of them. No man, other than Jesus himself, or woman can carry that weight. I have looked to all kinds of places and people to quench my thirst, and that can only be found in God. There are plenty of times I don’t believe that, until He makes himself and his love known in some unbelievable – and satisfying – way. Knowing God is supremely satisfying, but sadly, I still wander. I still seek to find some sliver of satisfaction in things like buying stuff, relationships, harboring bitterness, and meeting some set of extra-biblical standards I heap on myself. That stuff may lessen the thirst for a moment, but to quench it? Not so much. In the New Testament book of John, Jesus has a piercing conversation with a woman. Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14 (ESV) Jesus is keeping with the imagery of water used in the Old Testament when he speaks to Jeremiah (in chapter 2, verses 12-13) and says “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord ,  for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” I think this is pretty pointed for me. Jesus is telling me that he is the direct source of all life and satisfaction. He is the spring of life. He is beckoning, “Drink deeply, and be satisfied.”

In the midst of that, I’ve been wrestling with what does it look like to really obey God? I think it’s to follow Psalm 34:8. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (ESV) The goodness of God. I am called to rest in the goodness of God, but it’s so hard to rest. I gotta be doing something, I gotta be moving, I gotta be going to the next place. I gotta move. A verse that came across my path a few weeks ago is Hebrews 4:9-10. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (ESV) It’s worth reading in context, but what I think the writer of Hebrews is getting at is not about Sundays. It’s about realizing that when Jesus said ,”It is finished!” while he hung on the cross, he meant it. Jesus is the better and more satisfying Promised Land of the Old Testament. I need to rest from trying to come into God’s presence by how well I’m navigating the ship of life and rest in Christ’s finished work on behalf of those who are his. The ESV Study Bible comments on the verse this way: “The promise of entering now into this rest means ceasing from the spiritual strivings that reflect uncertainty about one’s final destiny; it means enjoyment of being established in the presence of God, to share in the everlasting joy that God entered when he rested on the seventh day.” How this resting connects with obeying is that if I am drinking from the well of God for my satisfaction, I will be living in obedience because I will not be tempted towards idolatry of trying to find satisfaction in something lesser. That’s not to say lesser things cannot be enjoyed, but if they are elevated to the point where I am seeking to be satisfied in them than in God through them, I will be in disobedience, which is sin.
As I read Romans, the essence of sin is not that I did a bad act or deed, but that I exchanged the truth for a lie. The truth of God as all satisfying is discarded, and the truth of anything else being made as all satisfying is lifted up. Living in the lie and trying to be satisfied in it is a life of sin and disobedience. Trying to reconcile myself to God on my own terms instead of his is a life of sin and disobedience. God loves me. The Father knew me. Jesus died for me. The Holy Spirit stirred me to faith in Jesus, then guides me in faith. The gap between me and the Father has been closed, not just to reconciliation, but to adoption. I am in the family. I can exhale. Living in light of that is the essence of rest.
But God does not gift righteousness to a child to allow them to remain in the lesser pleasures of sin or the chains of fear. I woke up on Monday, February 9th 2015 to the still quiet voice of God. “You’re afraid of what people think of you.” The culturally Christian thing to say would be, “I’m going to work on that. I’m going to fix that.” All I can say is that I want to spend more time with Jesus, and I will cheerfully take whatever results come from that. If that’s where I find living water that forever satisfies, and delivers me from all fear, that’s where I want to drink from.
How am I going to do that? I had thought that gap was to be filled with reading about Jesus in Scripture. I had recently watched a sermon preached by Mattie Montgomery of the band For Today, and I reached out to him on social media to tell him I was encouraged from his sermon to spend time with Jesus by reading the Bible. He replied, “Hey man!  Just to respond to your statement: You don’t discover the things of Christ by the scriptures, but by the SPIRIT. Obviously scripture is VITAL, but as you’re reading it, beseech the Spirit to guide you and instruct you while you read. According to his function in the life of believers, as Christ explained in John 16:1-15.” I don’t put that in this post to name drop, but really only to preserve the counsel so I can come back to it. It’s very easy for me to approach God in a mathematical static way (If I read about Jesus, then I will love Jesus) instead of a malleable dynamic way (Holy Spirit, give me a heart that delights and is satisfied in Jesus).

One of the resources I found helpful, outside of the Bible, is a book I read a few years ago called Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, by John Piper. It’s available as a free download if you wish to read it for yourself. My plan is to reread it again this year, as the theme of being satisfied in Jesus is at the forefront of where God has me right now. The Digital Age sings in their song Captured, “I’ve never felt more found than when I’m lost in You.” That is where I’m at, and it is a place of wonder and marveling. They also cover a song called Fall Afresh, which is what I’m desiring my prayers to look like: “Spirit of the living God, come fall afresh on me. Come wake me from my sleep. Blow through the caverns of my soul, pour in me to overflow.” Yes… that is simultaneously where I am and where I am not yet, but desire. 

What a ride it has been. This is all swirling around, not merely for my own souls satisfaction, but to be a loving overflow. In January 2005, God loved me, then he stopped me, and said, “Trust me. Rest in me. Follow Me. Love me. Be satisfied in me.” The most loving thing I can do is to ask you… will you do the same? Do you feel the tug on your heart? Do not try to extinguish what God is stirring, but ask God that he would give you the eyes to see and a heart to love and rest.

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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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God Gospel reflection soli Deo gloria Testimony

What Happened To Me 10 Years Ago

At some point during the January of 2005, my life completely changed.
This January of 2015, I have been a Christian for 10 years. The milestone has brought me to reflect upon my life, where I was, where I’ve been, what I’ve been through, where I’ve changed, and things like this. Some of that reflection is what this post is, and what you could call my testimony.
My becoming a Christian did not occur when someone handed me a tract or hassled me about coming to church. Rather than being someone who responded to an altar call, I was much more like Jean Valjean in Les Miserables after the bishop scolded him for forgetting the candlesticks as well.
“What just happened to me?”
Hold on for some back story. I grew up in a Christian home, had Christian parents, and went to church. When I was 14, I got baptized because I had never been. When I was 18, I went on a youth retreat to Colorado and didn’t really care about the mountains, if you can imagine that. (We even went to Rocky Mountain National Park.) I went down the aisle and said a prayer, and got baptized again, thinking that was the key to heaven. At best, I was a deist. I believed that God existed, but I knew very little of things that were true of God. Let’s stop and talk about that for a second. I believed a Christian was someone who said a prayer that was equivalent to magically saying “abracadabra,” someone who was a good person most of the time and said “Forgive me, I repent” when they were a bad person, went to church, got baptized, voted Republican, only listened to “Christian” music, avoided movies that were rated R, and was what we called in the late 90’s “straight edge” (didn’t drink or smoke or do drugs).
I was still living the same way I always had, seeing myself as the anvil to which the world around me must be hammered out and formed against. There was only bad fruit from a bad tree, to use some language from the Bible. My roots were still dead, so all of my actions grew out of that, twisted and gnarled. Did I ever do anything “good”? Maybe, but the motive behind any of that was surely how it would benefit me. Not so good, really. I knew the lingo and could say a lot of religious stuff. I even recorded my own album at the time, and it was very religious sounding. I was only building an empire of dirt that would crumble. I went to church, but had no idea what the preacher was saying. I counseled with the youth pastor, but all that really was about was changing my behavior. My days consisted of the self-righteous pursuit of whatever pleased me, whether that be lazy indulgence, berating people for my own amusement, or fueling my deeply rooted misanthropy. I had tried to “be a good person” and learned soon enough that wasn’t working out for me. I had heard that you find God at the end of your rope, so at some level I suppose I set out to find it, even though I dismissed God in the process. The details of that descent aren’t that important so I will spare those gory details of what I was involved with, but perhaps if we are ever sitting around a campfire together and the opportunity comes up, it would be a story to be told. That being said, I don’t particularly like remembering who I was at that point in my history.
It was during this time that I met Jenny. She truly is an instrument of God’s grace in my life. I met her in March of 2001, and we got married on March 20th, 2004. Jenny was indeed a Christian, loving the Lord and walking with Him. She was (and still is) a woman full of grace. We were both under the impression that I was a Christian after that walk down to the front of an auditorium in Colorado, and though a lot of my behavior had changed, my heart had not. I was more engaged in covering up who I had been.
My job at the time had me working in near isolation. Out of an 8 hour day, I was alone for at least 6-7 of those hours while my engineer supervisors were busy figuring out new methods and materials for research and development. Sometimes I’d be building jigs, painting booths, running wire, or wet sanding aluminum molds for hours on end. When I wasn’t doing that, I’d busy myself with small tests, other small projects, or riding the fork lifts around the warehouse. That much time spent alone makes for opportune times to hear from God. Make no mistake, though, I wasn’t wanting to hear from God. I wasn’t seeking Him, and I wasn’t praying to Him. If anything, I was giving Him the finger. In that quiet and isolation, I had listened to all there was to listen to, read all there was to read, done all there was to do. Just me, alone, with the quiet. Over the months, I came face to face with who I was and who I had been. I don’t know how long it was, but over the course of time, there was what I could call a tenderizing process in me. What was built up was being torn down. What had grown deep was being uprooted. What was established was being crushed. Where I was proud, I was being humbled. While I was not pursuing God, I encountered Him, and I was undone.
Very clearly, as clear as I can remember hearing from God, in a way that was not audible and I have no words to explain further, I was stopped in my steps and presented with, “Josh, you have two choices for your life. You can trust me, or you can not.
To which I could freely but only respond with, “God, I don’t really even know what this means, but I trust you.”
And I didn’t really know what that meant beyond a surrender. I don’t know if I could articulate what the Gospel was at that point. I only knew something had happened to me, and I was not the same anymore. Looking back, I guess you could say that it was my first step on the long road to Zion. It would be over the next 10 years that I would discover more of what all that would look like, but that is another blog post.
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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. 

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Christianity Freedom God http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Idolatry Jesus Life Seeking the Gospel

Can Freedom Be An Idol?

Before I start, let me say this post is not directed at anybody specific. If anyone, it’s introspective; however, the theme of freedom has been playing out in several conversations I’ve had with several people lately, so it’s time to ask some questions because I think in all honesty this pertains to more than just me.
A lot of things come to mind when I hear the word freedom, but a quote from Dave Ramsey, which I’ll paraphrase since I can’t  remember it exactly, seems to ring the loudest: “What does one do when they don’t have any debt? Anything they want to.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty dang good to me, especially since I feel like I’m wearing some of those shackles myself. 
We spend our days and months and years fighting and clawing for that which we think will give us our freedom: money, savings, retirement, medication, success, education, promotions, a house in the mountains or at the beach, vacations, cruises to exotic countries, or a giant pool in our backyard. We label those things freedom, and we make them idols, sacrificing to get them. And for what? A family that barely sees and knows you, a huge pile of stuff, a giant property that takes your freedom because you either have to maintain it or pay someone else to, and you’re still left wanting. We can think of idols or demon gods like Molech in ancient times that people sacrificed their children on the altars of, but are we really any different? We sacrifice our wives, husbands, kids on the altar of career and education and more stuff. I sacrifice my family so I can do __________. Sounds like the same ballpark.
We all want freedom so badly. Whether it’s freedom from work, sickness, debt, addictions, suffering, depression, pain, mortgage, government, taxes taxes and more taxes, we all want to taste the sweet air of freedom. This is something we all share. I propose that we all share this because we all share something even deeper, that we are living in a world where sin still exists. Martin Luther defines sin as “the self bending in on the self.” Sin is chains and slavery and the opposite of freedom.
In all honesty, I don’t think our deep desire for freedom is a BAD thing. Mark Driscoll has said that when a good thing becomes a god thing it becomes an idol. An idol would be something that we give ourselves to in hopes that it would provide heaven from our hell. It’s when we go about looking to find a savior that cannot save is when our worlds start crumbling. Or maybe it’s a case of wanting the created over the Creator. Is it that we ultimately want freedom more than we want the only One who can offer it? That would be like marrying someone only for the sex without building any relationship. 
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 ESV)
This is the message that Jesus gives. He is saying “Come to me, and I will give you freedom.” While many good things can give us some rest as gifts from God and foretastes of heaven, nothing will ultimately give anyone rest like Jesus. It is worth noting, however, that Jesus will never give us our idols. He will never allow us to be satisfied with that which cannot. We will never find freedom in that which enslaves.
If you are wondering what that is all about… the best counsel I can give is another from Jesus himself.  Either this or the previous verse would be excellent places to start.

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13 ESV)

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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. 
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One of my favorite conversations

When I went to Shortoff Mountain in the Linville Gorge last October, I had the pleasure of William “Wigg” Faulkner serving me as a guide. He has been visiting the Gorge for years and years, and over the last few years he has been systematically exploring the Gorge’s many rock outcrops, springs, and canyons. Linville Gorge has many secrets, and as another explorer of the area has said, it does not give them up easily.

One of the scenes I had the privilege of seeing, the pond on top of Shortoff, is not a secret nor is it difficult to get to. it is not hidden away along some scraggly rabbit trail, with torn and windblown surveyors flagging hinting at its existence. The pond is right along the main trail, the Mountains to Sea Trail, which extends over 1,000 miles across North Carolina.

This was the first time I had been on Shortoff, and I had heard about the pond on top of the mountain. As we stopped, Wigg told me about the pond and shared fond memories of it. Wigg told me how the pond used to be bigger than it is now, and in recent years, there was a fire on top of Shortoff that scarred and destroyed much of the area. With a longing in his voice, my friend said, “I don’t know if it will ever see its former glory.” To this I replied, “One day, it will.”

Two short sentences. Major theological implications.

The pond on top of Shortoff, like the rest of creation, is subject to futility and hardship and entropy under the curse. The sin and fall of man in the Garden of Eden did not only bring death to man, but all of creation. Once there was Eden, and now it is fallen. Now it is decaying, just like you and I. Thistle and thorns have overtaken the garden, and if you’ve done any off-trail exploring in Linville, you definitely know this to be true. But also like the rest of creation, the pond on Shortoff is groaning and aching for the day when Jesus Christ returns and the great reversal occurs. Sin and death are defeated, eradicated, and will only remain in stories as conquered foes of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. All creation will be made new and restored to its original glory. Not the glory of pictures we’ve seen from a hundred years ago, but glory of when man was not at odds with God. The glory of when all was right in the cosmos. Like Christians now, like the nation of Israel prior to Jesus Christ’s birth, the pond on Shortoff and the rest of creation is desperately singing “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”

Perhaps you’re wondering where I’m getting all this, and you’re right to think so because I am certainly not smart enough of a man to figure it out on my own. What do you expect from a guy who likes to wander through the woods to say, “Ooh! Pretty !”? The Bible has many places in it that speak of when all things are made new, but I will only get you started:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope
21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
Romans 8:18-23 (English Standard Version)

Also, I highly recommend the book Heaven by Randy Alcorn for further study on the topic.

Matt Chandler says in his book The Explicit Gospel, “The aim of the Scriptures is to direct our worship to the one true God of the universe, and the universe itself is designed not to occupy our worship but to stir our heart of hearts to behold its God. The heavens do not declare the glory of themselves, after all, but the glory of God.”

An analogy I thought of while thinking about this is that it is like my marriage. I love my wife, and I love her baking, cooking, parenting, creativity, photography and many other traits and talents…but these all stem from her. I love HER, and many things come with that. If I only love the cookies she makes or the pictures she takes, but spurn her? That is no love at all, but hostility. With Jesus, I long for the renewal of creation, the sinless existence, the amazement of heaven, but without Jesus all of these things would not be. Love Jesus, friends. All good things stem from him.

Next time you are out, and you see creation subjected to futility and decay and death, be reminded that the Lord will one day make all things new. Yet even in that, the renewal of creation is not our hope, but Jesus who brings this renewal.

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Captured for Zion

Captured for Zion. What exactly does this mean, anyway?

Eternity has been written on my heart, and I must fight to taste it.
I’ve been throwing it around in my head for sometime, even making it some sort of moniker for myself. It’s something I’ve been using to define a facet of my identity. I’m sure it’s no secret that I am an outdoorsman and adventurer, but I don’t want to flippantly ascribe those terms to myself to the point where my identity is solely found in that I strap on boots and a backpack and wander off into the woods. There has to be meaning to it. I can’t just slap on a pair of SmartWool socks because they’re decadent…which, they are, by the way. Let me do my best to help with this phrase captured for zion that I’ve given double meaning to.
Let’s start with something very obvious. I love the outdoors. I’ve only been this way for a couple years, as before that I hated the thought of camping… but that’s a good story for a later entry. This enthusiasm has taken Zion National Park in Utah as the symbol and centerpiece of adventure. I’ve read about it, poured over pictures of it, bought guidebooks and topo maps for it, and watched documentaries and movies on it. With it’s peaks and canyons, mesa and mystery, I’ve truly been captured by it. I long for and dream of going there. Every outdoor step I take is a step on the road that will eventually take me to Zion National Park. Yes, there are other parks with sensational scenery. Yes, there is Yosemite and Yellowstone and Glacier and Grand Teton and The Everglades and Capitol Reef and Rocky Mountain and Isle Royale. For whatever reason, Zion has become the crown jewel, if not a shadow of another jewel, and one day I hope to go there.
Let’s follow with something that may or may not be so obvious. I love Jesus, and the only reason I can say that is because He loved me first. Somedays, I falter in my love for him, as it’s obvious by my actions I still love myself, however I will trust that I will always love Jesus first and foremost because he has captured me. He has captured me for his kingdom to be one of his people, to Zion. There are many other kingdoms and cities that would have me build a home on a hill to die upon. There are idols that would have me bow to them, living my life for their lie that their city will bring me ultimate fulfillment and joy. To live under the curse of sin and the folly of idolatry, and to live under the burden of the impossibility of keeping the law of God, there is no joy. For reasons unknown to me, I’ve been captured for this city, this new Jerusalem, where every resident will finally rest in shalom. Zion, The City of God, is the ultimate crown jewel that rests of the head on the ultimate King, who my heart aches to be with. (For more information on being captured, slowly read from John 6)
So what does this have to do with hiking? What meaning does this bring to my feet that walk in socks that fit in boots that climb on rocks? What ties Zion National Park to Zion, the City of God? One day, this earth is going to pass away, not to extinction, but to the curse that our forefather Adam laid upon it. Like you and me, this world has been ravaged by sin and the effects of sin. While the death blow has been dealt to death and the grave, we are still waiting for the ultimate culmination of that renewal. When I venture into the outdoors, I still encounter briars and trials and thorns. Although there is beauty crashing through with every step and sight, the beauty is marred at some level by imperfection, frailty, and flaw. One day, the earth will be renewed even as citizens of Zion will be renewed. That is exciting news, and it makes every step a reminder that one day, all will be made new and restored to its fully glory that reflects the awesome Creator. Every ache, scrape and blister is a reminder that it will not always be this way. Every sliver and fleck of enjoyment I get from this life, whether its my wife, children, adventures or socks, is a foretaste of what Zion will be like. That really jazzes me up.
While I may dream about visiting Zion National Park one day, that is merely a shell of how I dream for Zion, the new Jerusalem, the city of God. The City of God. I believe this is the key to all of it. Zion is the City of Yahweh, a city that He has brought to full glory that does not beg His patience as our current dwelling does. I long to be in Zion because I long to be with God, and God’s country will bring him much glory, which he will delight to make it a home for it’s citizens, where Yahweh will be our God and we will be His people. What does this look like, though?

In this life, there is so much pain, sorrow, grief, strife, hardship, suffering, sin, sickness, death, deceit, heartache and a host of other words that everyone wishes they would never have to utter again. This is truly what I long for most of all:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 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 21:1-4 ESV)
A few quotes are helpful in this matter of longing for Zion:

“In the truest sense, Christian pilgrims have the best of both worlds. We have joy whenever this world reminds us of the next, and we take solace whenever it does not.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“If the ‘wrong side’ of Heaven can be so beautiful, what will the right side look like? If the smoking remains are so stunning, what will Earth look like when it’s resurrected and made new, restored to the original?” ~ Randy Alcorn

“Now I’m moving, moving to Zion where there’s rest for these weary bones. There on that mountain I’ll be rejoicing, for in Jesus I have found my home.” ~ Jimmy Needham
“Sometimes it’s good to look back down. We’ve come so far, we’ve gained such ground, but joy is not in where we’ve been. Joy is who’s waiting at the end. There is a road inside of you. Inside of me there is one, too. No stumbling pilgrim in the dark. The road to Zion’s in your heart.” ~ Petra
I would be remiss if I didn’t say how anyone has any hope of ever seeing those distant shores: 
 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 ESV)  Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20 ESV) 
A large part of this whole mindset has been fueled by Randy Alcorn and his book (or audiobook, as I’ve been experiencing it) Heaven. Also influential, although it has been a couple years since I’ve read it, is Ted Dekker’s book The Slumber of Christianity: Awakening a Passion for Heaven on Earth