Categories
Christianity Fellowship Gospel

The True Power of Christians

(photo used courtesy of Darrin Hamlin)

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

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

Suspend Disbelief

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

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

Power in Offense

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

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

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

Three Powerful Forces

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

Love. Guilt. Forgiveness.

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

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

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

The Power in Christians

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

Who are you to tell me this, anyway?

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

Categories
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.
Categories
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.
Categories
anger Christianity Christmas cynicism depression Emmanuel Eschatology frustration Gospel Grinch Hope http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Sin Songs

The Best Christmas Song Is..

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

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appears

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

O come thou Dayspring, come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadow put to flight

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

This is where we live. It’s where I live, at least. A Christmas song just does not seem appropriate unless it is brimming with hope-filled sorrow, like a single light against an infinite background of darkness. But that’s what Christmas is, isn’t it? It’s not Santa Claus. It’s not shopping. It’s not snow. Tullian Tchividjian tweeted recently that “Christmas is the beachhead of God’s campaign against sin and sadness, darkness and death, fear and frustration.” That is the truth. I don’t have any hope in my being a good person, and probably by this point you don’t have any hope in me being a good person either. My only hope is that God inserted Himself into this world in the form of a baby who would grow up living a perfect life and die a scandalous death and be buried in a grave that could not hold the innocent when He was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven as ruling Sovereign of all existence. The Bible says that if I trust that Jesus has done this, His life and death and resurrection and glory will be credited to me, and my sin and fear and anger and faithless hopelessness was credited to Him in a brutally crushing crucifixion and God the Father’s rejection. His righteousness, mine. My sin and unrighteousness, His. Jesus, rejected. Me, accepted. Scandalous.
This is the Gospel. Jesus is the Gospel. He isn’t an accessory to a good life. He is all I have to hang onto. I’m not a good and decent person, I’m an undeserving grace-getter. In several places in the Bible, God’s endgame is revealed. One selection that has been in front of me this past week is Isaiah 51:11 ESV And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. This is the day I long for. This is not my experience now, but as I remember the Gospel, the day I long for enters into the day now. Because I know Emmanuel has come, and like those in exiled Israel, hope in the day when He will return and bring His ransomed to Zion with singing, I can translate that joy not yet received into the here and now. I know the bad news, I remember the good news, and the light of anticipation can pierce the darkness. It can even pierce the veneer of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. My heart says, “Why?” Jesus says, “Because the day is coming when death will breathe its last breath.” 
There are days I forget the Gospel. Many days, in fact. There are days I forget that Emmanuel has come, and those are the days I suck it up and smile through a plastic veneer, at best, or am miserable to be around and take it out on those around me, at worst. On those days, may my inward groaning coax my heart to sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. In that, there is rest for this weary and anxious heart.
Should you be in the mood to listen to O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, I offer you a few of my favorite versions of the song. Thanks, internet. 
By Haste The Day
By Dustin Kensrue 
By ThePianoGuys (instrumental)
By August Burns Red (instrumental)
By For Today (revisioned lyrically)
Categories
Bible Christianity contentment Gospel Hope http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Idolatry Jesus Psalms Reconciliation Rich Mullins Sanctification Seeking soli Deo gloria

Be Still



For the last few weeks, I’ve had this sensation like something was going on. There was movement occurring. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it. Maybe I still can’t. 
Any user of social media can tell you that people present causes, ideas, viewpoints, and a host of other things that become points of tension. Sometimes we are witness to the clashes, and sometimes we take part in them. Sometimes we take sides in them and become emotionally invested, spending our energies and time and resources. Sometimes the opportunity for comparison becomes overwhelming and we gives ourselves over to it. Sometimes you are just addicted to the news feed. I’m guilty of all of that. My heart is especially prone to crave the praise of others, and I’m guilty of constantly checking texts, this blog, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, and e-mail hoping for a morsel of that praise. How many followers do I have? How many times have my posts been read? Beyond that, I’m currently struggling with rampant materialism and desire to be satisfied with things. The thing that is consuming my time and thoughts and energies right now is a mountain bike that I don’t even have the money for. It’s suffocating to want things so badly, yet I try to breathe in stuff instead of fresh air. There’s so much noise in life!
“Be still, and know that I am God” reads Psalm 46:10. This is the verse that started whispering to me, beckoning me to quiet myself, about a week ago. Trying to do this, I find that I hate the stillness and quiet. It’s like I’m addicted to noise. I feed on arguments. In a frustrated moment last week, I Tweeted “So many voices in Christianity! Maybe I should just read the Bible instead of blogs.” So noisy, it’s hard to think straight. In sitting down to write this post, I checked out Psalm 46:10 in a few different versions of the Bible -ESV, NLT, and HCSB. I found it interesting to read the HCSB, which translates it as “Stop your fighting – and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.” The context of this verse is speaking to the nations, but I believe that can easily be dialed to speak to how I – we – can be in noisy conflict and scattered attentions daily. Mowing the grass today, in the noise, somehow I was quieted.
The first verse that came to mind was 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12. Sticking with the HCSB: “But we encourage you brothers, to do so even more, to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, doing as we commanded you, so that you may walk properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone.” Is this running through my posts and statuses and shares and tweets and pins? I’m convicted that it is not. I’m convicted that my heart loves to act like some dungeon master of noise, versus being still to know the Lord. I love the turmoil, if I’m going to be really honest. This is the fruit of my own hands, and it’s not good. Yet the mere fact that I’ve even become aware of it, which is purely revelation as opposed to self-discovery, gives me hope. Here the law once again crushes me, and it is only by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone that I am lifted up out of this empire of dirt. It’s not just big sins that Jesus deals with, it’s subtle ones like my life seems to be permeated with. Ones I don’t even see always. That I don’t always see my sins and error is that much more evidence I can only despair of my own goodness and throw myself on the mercy of God, that my sins were paid for by Jesus when he died on the cross, and I have hope for life because Jesus rose again to life and doesn’t remain in the grave. Grace grace grace alone, because by the law alone I’m hopeless.
The final verse that bubbled to life while doing yard work was Psalm 34:8 (HCSB): “Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!” Ultimately, that is why this is even showing up on this blog. The mission statement of what I post here Eternity has been written on your heart. Fight to taste it. Much of that takes place in the wonder of seeing God in creation, but even though creation tells me about the nature of God, displays God’s awesome creativity and testifies to God’s existence, it doesn’t offer me any hope. That is only found in the Bible, the revealed and kept word of God. The mountains and streams cannot quiet the noise for good, but the Lord can. How? By telling us that it is in tasting and seeing that he is good. I want happiness in a hike, in a bike, in a lawn that appeases others, in peoples opinions and praises, in turmoil, in things. Happiness is only found in tasting and seeing that the Lord is good, and taking refuge in him instead of a hike, or a bike, or the praises of others, or things. 
Whatever is happening right now, whatever revelation is coming into view, and whatever sanctification that is so dramatic in my life that I can sense it taking place… that started sitting on a log in my backyard after midnight. It started when I was able to quiet myself. Beneath all the crazy places an things I run to for satisfaction, I know they will never satisfy me. I know, deep deep down in my once dead heart of stone that has been brought to life by the grace of God, that the Lord is the desire of my heart. I know because in Psalm 16:11 says of God “You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures.” Do I revel in that? More often than not, I find myself on the judgment end of Jeremiah 2:12-13 – “Be horrified at this, heavens; be shocked and utterly appalled. This is the Lord’s declaration. For My people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned Me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that cannot hold water.” I try to live and find that happiness in researching mountain bikes, or fighting bushes for a waterfall, or gaining the praises of men or more acutely followers on Twitter. God help me to fight to taste the eternity that you’ve prepared, which is full of and out of your goodness!
So what comes out of all this, and how is it working out? I’m going to try and cut back the noise. No deleting any accounts, but definitely a scale back of their use. I’ll be maintaining this blog, still updating it with trip reports from The SC Project. I’m deleting the apps off my phone, because that is a huge source of noise for me. I want to not be so glued to my phone, hoping to scrounge a praise for myself or satisfy the lust for a new notification. I’ll be keeping Facebook Messenger app, so for those who contact me through that can continue to do so. “Oh this is legalism and duty!” you may be thinking. Not really… though I can’t do anything with 100% pure motives (even this post is mixed and there is a level of wanting people to know!), I just want to taste and see that the Lord is good. I want my happiness and joy to be found in Him. I want any adventures I have to merely be arrow that point the praises to the Creator. I want the praise of God to be ever on my lips. Even as I type that out, the thought is savory and satisfying. I want to clear the noise. I want to learn to be still. I want to throw myself into whatever God is stirring in me. I want to deepen and strengthen the relationships around me instead of pollute them with phone distractions. I want to fight to taste the eternity that has been written on my heart so badly that my wife and kids and our friends want to taste it, too. That is what I want.
Categories
Focus Gospel http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Jesus Reconciliation Testimony

Learn to Swim

The other night, I heard a song by Tool on the radio that I once loved. To my surprise, even though it has been nearly 10 years since I last heard the song, I still remembered 90% of the lyrics to it. The lyrics describe his disgust with a certain section of California and the people who live there, climaxing at hoping an earthquake will cause the land to go down into the ocean carrying the inhabitants with it. Flush it all away. He sings “One great big festering neon distraction, I’ve a suggestion to keep you all occupied – learn to swim.” 

As I listened to the song jam on, I remember thinking, “Wow, this is dark.” I mean, I knew it was then, but maybe I’m just seeing it with new eyes. It was so pointed, full of venom and hate. This is what I fed myself. This, and worse, was the preaching I listened to in the late 90’s/early 2000’s. Growing up in a Christian home, I would have told you my heart and mind and mood wasn’t affected by it. This was straight rock and roll, and to be honest, it really does jam. I’m not going to sit here and type out lies to you that the music doesn’t have any appeal to me, because it does. The problem is that there is heart poison on that apple. Feeding on these things over several years gained me a worldview that could be summed up succinctly by Marilyn Manson, another old favorite band of mine: “I wasn’t born with enough middle fingers, I don’t need to choose a side.
This is who I was. Outspokenly cursing the world around me, and add into the mix a full blown unapologetic racist and bigot, waiting for the ground to give way into the open water while I nihilistically stood over the population in judgment sarcastically counseling them, “Learn to swim.” With fist high, digit raised, I was letting people know what I thought of them. That was life.
In 2005, God interrupted that life. Since, I have learned that people are created in the image of God, each person uniquely (though still tainted with sin) reflecting attributes and facets of our Creator. Each person is due respect and dignity, because every man and woman and child is made in God’s likeness, bearing his image, broadcasting to the world around them ways that God is like. Can you see how grievous sin is? Don’t you think this would put me in debt with God, committing these treasonous crimes against his name? Even without being a Christian, I still bore the image of God and with my life I was telling people that God is saying to us, “Learn to swim.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. While we were drowning in sin, Jesus took on human flesh while remaining God to offer himself as a ransom for a people who had only given the world around them false and distorted images of God. In Jesus, God gave up his son into the hands of evil men so that some may be rescued. That is a far cry from telling humanity to learn to swim. That’s throwing the only lifeline.
So what was I living for? This has really come around from originally wanting to say how things affect you (I’ve been humming that song over 24 hours now), and how we are all listening to preaching in some form or another, whether through music, movies, the news, advertising, and more. It’s turned into a filleting of myself. I can’t really come down on some music for its content when my heart was full of more darkness than what is visible from a few minutes of singing. An old school punk band Crux once sang, “Where I focus my eyes is where I’m led in time.” There is a lot of truth to that. A lot. Read it one more time. “Where I focus my eyes is where I’m led in time.
Each of us holds two worlds in their hands, and we weigh Jesus against everything else. We can hold onto (in my case) self-righteousness, greed, sex, and misanthropy. Those were the altars I worshipped at. We have to ask ourselves, like I did, who do I say Jesus is? Since I’ve been quoting a lot of lyrics in this post, why stop now. More recently, Theocracy sang: “For if the key to life is right here in my hand, why would I trade it for an hourglass of sand?” Why would I trade Jesus, who is of infinite value, for a life of misanthropy? I can’t tell you why I thought my hate was worth it, other than my eyes were blinded. I once was anticipating the destruction of the world as it went up in flames; now I am anticipating the restoration of the world, where wrongs are made right and that which is crooked is made straight. This is not being a good person, or getting a little religion; this is “God happened to me.” Who do you say Jesus is? 
We give Jesus our sin, Jesus gives us his righteousness. What I laid at his feet was not any sacrifice for what he laid on me.
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:20b-21, ESV)
Categories
Exodus Gospel gratitude http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Jesus Sin Thankfulness

An Exercise in Thankfulness

I am typically a discontent person. Even when handed a gift, either it is not just as I would have it or I am displeased with my portion.

My career field has been the subject of much of my complaining. As an automotive technician (because “mechanic” sounds too lowly), I am paid by what is called Flat Rate. This means if I do a brake job and receive 2 hours of my hourly wage, I get 2 hours of wage whether it takes me 2 hours, 30 minutes, or 6 hours. The plus side of this is that I can usually beat the time and get another job in, and my paycheck is happy. The downside is that if there is no other job waiting, or no brake job to start with, I don’t get paid for jobs that I don’t do. So I sit at my toolbox not being paid. I tell people I’m on 100% commission, but it’s different. Anyways.. I am frequently temped to complain and be discontent.

I don’t have any work. I’m not seeing my family.
I don’t like this work. I don’t get paid enough.
My tools cost too much. This job pays too little.
This job takes too long. I’m here too many hours.
That guy makes more money than I do.
That guy gets better jobs than I do.
That guy has a bigger toolbox and nicer tools than I do.
That guy can afford more tools than I can.
These SUV tires are too heavy; I want to work on cars.
This spiff bonus money is too little on that job.
There are only powdered gloves left to protect my hands; I only like the non powdered kind.
I had to take a late lunch because I was so busy.

But it doesn’t stop at work. I bring it home. I bring it in the car. I bring it to the store. I even bring it when I’m out hiking or camping.

I didn’t get enough sleep. I spend too much money.
I made a bad decision. I’m tired of eating out.
My kids are up past their bedtime. My kids are awake before I am.
I don’t like to play dollhouse. I don’t like to empty the dishwasher.
I don’t like to get up and pick out one of the dozens of DVDs from the shelf; I want to stream Netflix and Hulu.
I don’t have the right glass for my beer.
My flat screen TV’s speakers are too quiet.
My BluRay player sometimes doesn’t talk to my TV.
My books take up too much room; I need a Nook.
My tent is no good; I need a hammock.
My hammock is no good; I didn’t make it myself from ultralight materials.
My iPhone data stream is too slow.
My 600 fill goose down jacket I bought for less than half-price is being repaired for free and it’s taking too long.
I live in Greenville; I wished I lived in Asheville.
I drive a 2007 Toyota Matrix that is paid for and has no problems; I want to drive a Subaru Outback.
Facebook makes me mad at people:
I’m drinking “work” coffee because I can’t afford “good” coffee.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I’ve been reading two things lately, the book of Exodus in the Bible, and The Greener Grass Conspiracy by Stephen Altrogge.

In Exodus, the Israelites were under intense and brutal slavery at the hands of the Egyptians and God sent Moses as His spokesman to set the people free. God brought 10 plagues against the Pharaoh and eventually the people are set free to worship God in the desert. The Pharaoh’s heart grows hard, once again, after the Israelites begin their exodus from Egypt. God dramatically parts the Red Sea, the Israelites escape, and the walls of water crash down and destroy the Egyptians pursuing them. God works powerfully and visibly in their midst and on their behalf, yet they soon begin to charge God with bringing them out of Egypt only to die. In long suffering and patience, God even gives them food from heaven and water from a rock. The passage that really stood out to me for this was Exodus 17:1-7, should you choose to read more on your own.

Instead of summarizing what I’ve been reading from The Greener Grass Conspiracy, I’ll just quote a couple spots:
“When I complain, I’m declaring that I serve a helpless, bumbling God. That my life is out of control. That he hasn’t been faithful. That he isn’t using circumstances for good. I’m smearing God’s character and forgetting his past faithfulness. I’m telling the world that God is a pathetic, disorganized deity who can’t seem to get my life straight. I’m telling a lie about God.” (P.106)
“Complaining sucks the joy out of life. The complainer can’t even enjoy the good things he has.” (P.109)

So, being influenced by my readings, and having listed out some of my complaints already, here is an exercise is thankfulness and what I have to be grateful for. It will by no means be exhaustive.

I am in Christ. He died and rose again, lavishes grace on me, and tells me it’s sufficient for me.
My marriage is growing sweeter by the day instead of bitter.
My kids run to meet me and latch onto me and scream in delight when I come home from work.
My kids ask me and want me to spend time with them.
The Lord promises to meet my true needs, and has proven himself faithful to keep me at a good average the 16 months I’ve been here.
I get to work for Lexus, and take pride in my work.
My shop has air conditioning in the summer and heated in the winter, which not only increases my comfort but lessens my severe allergies.
I’m not in any tool debt.
Even though I work 10 hours a day and every 3rd Saturday, getting time off or getting out early has never been an issue.
During downtime at work, I have the freedom to read the Bible or other good books.
I work with another Christian.
My work is satisfying, to maintain or repair something and see the fruit of it.
My health is good enough to go on outdoor adventures.
My hammock system is warm at night and I sleep better there than in a tent. My tent also allows me to bring in new guys to adventures who don’t already have any gear.
I am getting my down jacket repaired at no cost to me, and have other warm jackets in the mean time.
I have an iPhone period, which allows me to stay in contact with my family and small group throughout the day in conversation or asking/being asked for prayer. It also allows me to listen to biblically sound podcasts and audiobooks. It also allows me to plan and research adventure trips.
I have eyes to see my wife and kids and cars and the earth and to read books.
I have glasses for when my eyes get tired and strained.
I have hands and fingers to type and write and climb with.
I have The Lord, who promises to never leave me of forsake me.
I have the Bible which tells me of the Lord’s faithfulness and the Gospel.

My complaint list and blessing list could both be way longer. God has blessed me beyond measure, with the Gospel and beyond, and I still frequently have the audacity to figuratively charge Him that He’s brought me out into the wilderness to die. It’s no wonder sin makes sinners into cosmic traitors. When we complain and doubt God, we tell the whole world that God is not faithful, that God cannot be trusted, that God is not good, that God is weak. We slander his name and then curse him for it. Thanks be to God for the Gospel!

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

That’s one to memorize.

Categories
Bible Christianity Focus Gospel Grace http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Idolatry Life Sanctification Sin

I am a Poor Pathfinder

(Paris Mountain State Park)

I’m a poor pathfinder

Every day life is difficult to navigate, especially when I start to see how painfully weak I am in the day to day. As a Christian, it is my desire to see the Gospel permeate every aspect of my day to day, and not simply showing up for church on Sunday out of some lame excuse like “showing respect.” That’s garbage. So what are some of the things that demand part of me and what are things that grasp as the leftovers, and where do each of those things overlap or usurp the other? Already, it’s becoming clear that much wisdom is required to navigate the day to day paths of life. Wisdom I seem to not have…or at least not use.

I’d love to see my priorities line up in this order: Christian, Husband, Father, Employee (I stole that from Mark Driscoll). Then everything else falls where it may. Unfortunately, that is far from reality. I will typically top that list out with Myself. Then while in church yesterday, instead of connecting with the truth we were singing about, my heart was far from God and my mind was focusing on the upcoming Linville Gorge LNCW trip, and then stayed there for most of the remainder of the day. At least I wasn’t giving into covetousness and thinking about all the ways I can get an iPhone5, right? Wrong, I’m pretty sure.

It’s difficult to navigate life as an idolator. I know. I am frequently lost, bypassing God, stepping on those around me and pushing my family aside like they are some sort of obstacle to my true passions. If that sounds horrible, it’s because it is.

Last week, I awoke to a rare moment of Scripture being the first thought in my head. “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” (Jeremiah 15:16 esv)

A joy to me and delight of my heart. Isn’t that what I chase after in any thing? Isn’t that what fuels my pursuits in relationships, adventures, and finances? “If only…then I’d be happy.” Here, God is promising that joy and delight is found in the Bible, the direct revelation of God himself to humanity. This passage goes on to say that joy is found by being called in God’s name. This verse is a really good place to camp out, because you could unpack it and the ramifications for a while.

What does any of this have to do with pathfinding, other than I am totally lame at it when it comes to life and things that TRULY matter (unlike which ledge I should use in an upcoming hike). The Bible gives us these revelations in Psalms:

For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness. (18:28 esv)
Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. (119:105 esv)
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (119:11 esv)

What can I conclude from all of this? If I am pursuing God by finding joy in the Bible as I learn more about who God is, I will sin against him less (LESS, as I will be a winner until I see my God Jesus face to face). If I am sinning less against God, then I will be sinning less against my wife, kids, friends and co-workers, because all sin is first and foremost an offense to God (another good place to camp out). I will not pursue vain idols and interests and hobbies and pleasures to the expense and neglect of God and my family.

There was a punk back back in the 90’s called Crux, and one of their songs closed with the lines “Where I focus my eyes is where I’m led in time. Please I plead give freely to the strength I need to keep my eyes set on You.” Amen.

Lord, help me to love You more, because I am weak and wicked and prone to wander. Grant me desire and not through Your word and knowing You, so that I might reflect You brightly instead of my sin so shamefully. Help me to keep my eyes and heart set on You, and let me be filled with You, that I may love You and enjoy You forever.

Categories
C.S. Lewis Christianity Gospel Heaven Randy Alcorn Recommended Reading Zion

Heaven. Zion. My home country.

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”
― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

I finished listening to the audiobook for “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn. What started as merely a book that I had heard about to download from audible.com because I had a credit became easily one of the best reads (listens?) that I have gone through.

I have been a Christian for over 7 years now, and much of that time has been spent discouraged, condemned, depressed, confused, self-righteous, and mired in sin. There have been uncountable talks with fellow believers about fighting sin, sinning less, understanding the Gospel, “putting on” good works, etc. “Is THAT what being a Christian is all about?” you may be asking if you are seeing the stained glass windows from the outside. The answer is NO. That’s not what being a Christian is about. Being a Christian is about Jesus and his kingdom.

I’m not a good person, let’s just get that out there. There is so much in my life to be condemned for, and I believe the devil, who is called the Accuser, lives up to his name in every regard. I know the law of God, and I agree that it is good. I also know that I do not live up to the law of God, which allows for plenty helpings of condemnation. The Accuser will take every opportunity to remind me of this, reminding me of my shame. The Gospel, which is the good news of Jesus Christ that the Son of God lived in a way that fulfilled the law perfectly yet he was put to death as a criminal and bore the wrath of God that sinners like you and me deserve so we can stand clean in front of the one Holy God, sets people free from the chains of sin. From the chains of condemnation.

Here is the good news: you can be free to live in a way that brings you ultimate joy in every circumstance, even though sorrow will sometimes walk beside you as well.

I am convinced that there is indeed a slumber among the ranks of Christians (to borrow from Ted Dekker), myself included. We are so caught up with being offended, being lazy, self-focus, self-help, setting up securities or stressing over the lack of security, sinning secretly, watching the clock, what’s going on with Israel, not being religious, worrying about what to blog about, enjoying “Christian liberties,” or droning away on Facebook and YouTube that we are not jazzed for what we are really meant for. We are meant for Zion, brothers and sisters. Setting up our own tiny kingdoms or white-washed tombs will only result in ruins.

If we set our eyes to Heaven, the New Earth, Zion, New Jerusalem, our home country, we will be less intoxicated with the trappings of the world we live in that lies to us, even as we know deep down that it is a lie, that life here and now is what we were meant for. But, are we to be intoxicated with thoughts of clouds, harps, and hymns?

Perhaps a couple sections from Scripture (which are good places to start reading if you’re unfamiliar with the Bible) are helpful here: (Psalm16:11) You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
(Luke 23:42-43) 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.”

So let’s break this down. Heaven is where God is. In God’s presence is the paradise of extreme joy and endless pleasure. As humans, we are sinners thanks to our forefather Adam, and are at war against God. God sent Jesus to live the life we couldn’t ever live and die the death that we deserve, so that is we may believe and trust in Him and enter peacefully into the presence of God as sons and daughters, instead of traitors to the crown of God. Spending eternity in the presence of God is an eternity of ecstasy, not boredom.

I am one such traitor, who was made a son, who has fallen into a slumber. O Christian, awake. Do not doze off with silly things that rob you of the joy that is to come. Let us restore each other in gentleness, reminding one another that we are meant for Zion, the great city of King Jesus, who is surrounded by marvels we could not fathom fully in our wildest dreams. Failure to give our minds to the joy that is set before us will beckon and hasten our slumber. Allowing thoughts of Heaven, opened to us through Jesus, to flood our minds will get us even through the most miserable day. Fear not, today there is sorrow, but soon there will be joy forevermore.

I have heard it said that for Christians, this life is as close to hell as they will ever get. For those who do not place their trust in Jesus, this life is as close to heaven as they will ever get. Do not take eternity lightly.

One day, we will close our eyes, only to awaken face to face with Jesus. Do you long for the day when your faith will be made sight, and are welcomed by Jesus himself into paradise?

“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Randy Alcorn’s “Heaven” will jazz you up for the morning. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Categories
Christianity God Gospel Heaven Hope Jesus Recommended Reading SmartWool Zion Zion National Park

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