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

The Best Christmas Song Is..

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

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appears

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

O come thou Dayspring, come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadow put to flight

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

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

On a Personal Note: Mirrors

It feels like I’m two different people sometimes.

The other day at work while I was on a test drive, I had a realization. I’m a… grinner. (Watch the episode of Man VS Wild when he’s in the Baja desert for that reference). Of all things in life, this is what I am the best at being. That isn’t reassuring.

Maybe I’m not two people, but one person who hides half of himself with different groups of people. One group hears how I am in need of grace, yet doesn’t see how I need it. The other group sees how I am in need of grace, but doesn’t hear that I need it. A third group, which would be very small, sees those two overlap.

I look at myself and see so many areas in need of growth, and maybe this introspection has become morbidly acute to the point where I cannot see the grace of God and the good news of Jesus life, death and resurrection that covers those areas. I wish I would live my life in a way that everyone sees the overlap, but I’m pretty sure this would require me to live perfectly, which I can’t. A chorus by The O.C. Supertones captures this perfectly: “Who I am is in between, what I wanna be and what I am.” In another song of theirs, they sing, “I’m somewhere in between Canaan and Egypt, a place called the wilderness.” That’s me.

Although I cannot live as someone who is in no need of growth and change, I can, however, imagine what it might be like to have no need of growth. Now, I realize this image is quite likely flawed, but I can imagine some version of it. Looking at myself in the mirror, truly looking, requires humility. “This is who I am. This is what I have done.” As a Christian, and typically where I fail, it is imperative I see beyond myself. My reflection should look something like “This is who I am and what I have done. God sent His Son to die on a cross and pay the penalty for who I am and what I’ve done. What I see is a scoundrel who has been made righteous in God’s eye by being captured and made new in Jesus.” This whole Gospel and grace of God thing is a mind-bender for me.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV)

One day, it will not be dim. One day, the veil will be lifted. One day, sin and death and suffering will be no more. One day, every tear will be wiped away. One day, I will be finally home, because I have been captured for Zion. Hopefully as I walk along this road, I will reflect him in a much more balanced way.