This road of being a Christian is a rocky one, full of mountain highs, valley lows, hidden pits, stinking bogs, and open fields. Where I’m at right now is kinda like where I was 10 years ago right after God interrupted my life, but different. Then, I hardly knew God beyond His saying, “Trust me.” I didn’t know what that would mean then. Now, I still don’t really know what that will mean in the days ahead, but I do know God a whole lot more. I know that God is good, and I know AND feel that God loves me. I may not know what the next step will be, but I know the Lord. Beyond that, there is a little bit of clarity for me in what’s going on because certain themes have just been present.
One of the resources I found helpful, outside of the Bible, is a book I read a few years ago called Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, by John Piper. It’s available as a free download if you wish to read it for yourself. My plan is to reread it again this year, as the theme of being satisfied in Jesus is at the forefront of where God has me right now. The Digital Age sings in their song Captured, “I’ve never felt more found than when I’m lost in You.” That is where I’m at, and it is a place of wonder and marveling. They also cover a song called Fall Afresh, which is what I’m desiring my prayers to look like: “Spirit of the living God, come fall afresh on me. Come wake me from my sleep. Blow through the caverns of my soul, pour in me to overflow.” Yes… that is simultaneously where I am and where I am not yet, but desire.
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.”
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.
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.
“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
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.