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condemnation depression despair despondency http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Jesus reflection Romans the Gospel thought process

Free Range Despondency

The black dog. Depression. Despair. Melancholy. Despondency. Down. Moodiness. 
Does any of that ring familiar to you? Do you, like me, allow some of your thoughts to run free and unchecked? Does the narrative in your head tell you to give up, that it is hopeless? The mind can really be a tangled mess of thoughts, experiences, assumptions and behaviors. I’ve struggled with this kind of thing for several years, so before going to the medical community to address anything chemically off in my body, I sought pastoral counseling to see what the Gospel had to say.
It turns out a lot.
The details of what led me to this point aren’t relevant for this blog, but some of the counsel I received is. The Bible was written for more than just me individually. My pastor walked me through Romans 5, 6, 7 and 8. I’m not able to articulate this as skillfully as he did, but after capturing my reflections and applications of those chapters in Romans in my journal, I felt part of that reflection would be valuable to share here. If you are reading this and feel lost, I suggest reading those four chapters just mentioned to help fill out some of the gaps you may feel in my thoughts, as I am responding to those chapters.
I am either dead under the law or alive in Christ. To the law, I am weak to fulfill it. I am weak to even do the good things I desire to do. The law is good. I agree with it, yet can’t fulfill it. 

Ah! There is Christ!

My condemnation under the law has been poured on Christ, and none is left for me. I am now alive. Yet I am still weak, and look for identity in strength. Poor me, wretched me, hopeless me… FULL of weakness. It is in this gap that I find Christ to be strong. I am so weak that many times I cannot even find words to pray, but the Spirit intercedes on my behalf to the Father, as I am whole in Christ. I am God’s adopted son, even as I am weak. 

God works all things together for my good. All things includes my weakness, struggle, failure, depression, apathy, pride, arrogance, anger, vain pursuits and thoughts. The Father is mine, and in/by the Spirit, I am being transformed more into Christlikeness day by day. Consider who you were 10-15 years ago? I am being made new, more like Christ, but so slowly I can scarcely perceive it. Many times I feel the weakness so fully and tell myself that hope is lost. I become my own judge and forget Christ.

(This next bold/bracketed section is the breaking down of Romans 8:34)
Who is the one who condemns? 
(I do!!)
Jesus Christ is the one who died,
(when it should have been me!!)
but even more, has been raised,
(proving His standing in my place and taking all of my condemnation was efficient to reconcile me to the Father!!)
He is also at the right hand of God
(not condemned Himself, sin has been defeated, death is no more, and Jesus reigns in life!!)
and intercedes for us.
(He is my mediator between God and I, and if Jesus is my advocate when He is the only one to condemn, condemnation left me as Christ left the grave clothes in an empty tomb!!)

and now I say… I AM FREE! I AM FREE!


Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 ESV)
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Christian Hedonism God http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Jesus love reflection rest satisfaction soli Deo gloria Testimony the Gospel

What Is Happening 10 Years Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Freedom Be An Idol?

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

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

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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)
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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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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.

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God Heaven Hope http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Jesus North Carolina Shortoff

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.

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
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.