anger Christianity Christmas cynicism depression Emmanuel Eschatology frustration Gospel Grinch Hope 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)
Exodus Gospel gratitude 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.

Christianity Sin soli Deo gloria the glory of God the Gospel

soli Deo gloria

Glory to God Alone.

I have been hearing this Latin phrase soli Deo gloria, and it struck me. The Lord, Yahweh, I AM, Maker of Heavens and Earth, is where the buck stops when it comes to glory. He is big. He is mighty. He is what it’s all about. Do the mountains and seas and skies and valleys have any glory? Only that which is given to them by the Father.

We seek glory and majesty. We have to have mountains. We have to love near the water. We want the sunrises and sunsets. We have to have sex (where we behold the glory of another AND seek our own). We have to present ourselves in ways that lift ourselves up. We have to have a promotion. We cannot bear shame, scorn, or the truth that we fall short in any area. We are not God, nor or any of the things we put in his place (read: idolatry). God alone is able to withstand and bear the weight of glory. Every thing that we try to make God that is not God will crumble under the weight of trying to be God. Try fulfilling all of the characteristics of God to your spouse and see how long it takes for you to realize you are not.

James 1:16-17 says, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

As I love the outdoors, which is much of what I cover here, this is something weighty to consider. When I stand on the cliffs of the Linville Gorge and behold sights that take my breath away, it is not enough to merely be in awe of the scene. If the glory of Linville is an end in itself, it falls short. The infinite God of the universe has carved this rugged and majestic gorge out by simply stating it “Be.” Our amazing daily paintings of sunrises and sunsets in the sky are simply because God said “Be.” If we behold the glory of creation, we are doing it and God wrong if we do not finish our sentence with soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.

God is glorious. God is also holy. This means that he cannot bear the presence of sin, like when you and I have failed to ascribe glory to him when it was due, and gave that glory to something else. THIS means that we have said to ourselves and God that he is not worth all glory, and belittled the name of the One who has formed the cosmos. Matt Chandler says in his book The Explicit Gospel, “you cannot be sinful and get near God. It doesn’t work. God’s holiness will incinerate you.”

So what is the problem? Jeremiah 2:12-13 tell us. “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.”

Glory to God alone… So we are in trouble when we assign glory to men, women, children, money, mountains, oceans, beaches, valleys, fame, fortune, reputation, relaxation, security, houses, cars, alcohol, smoking, knowledge, science, celebrities, politicians, the government, policies, causes, sex, relationships, Buddha, Maher Baba, Mohammed, the Virgin Mary, being a good person, methodology, parenting, vaccinations, immunizations, schedules, homeschooling, our good works, the environment, the wolves, the whales, dogs, cats, events, work, play, recreation, respect, health, wealth, prosperity, our business, freedom, traditions, preferences, fear of what other people think, writing a blog, or a host of other replacements mankind is constantly inventing. We have forsaken God, and sought our hope and glory and pleasure in anything but him. So now what, that we have all offended our Creator? Romans 2 tells us that if we continue on in this manner and presume on God’s kindness to save us because “that’s what God does”, we are storing up wrath for ourselves. Who’s wrath? The wrath of the one we have offended. Brothers and sisters, we are ALL in deep dookie here.

But there is hope! It is revealed to us in Romans 5:6-8 that, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This means that the chasm between God and man, created by man’s offense, has been bridged because Jesus Christ the Son of God, fully God and fully man, has paid the penalty that was ours to pay.

You have heard people say repent, and I will say it again, shouting it the loudest at myself because I have repeatedly offended the Creator of the Universe. Repent means to turn away, turn around, a reversal. It looks like saying, “God over all! I have given glory to things that do not deserve it, and ascribed glory to things to which glory was not due. All glory belongs to you alone! I am guilty. The Bible tells me that you sent your son to die on a cross, bear my wrath, take the penalty I deserved, and rose from the dead for my life. Father make this true for me. Forgive me for trampling all over your great and glorious name, and help me to live this out by your power alone, not mine, so all glory will continue to be given to you alone. In Jesus name, amen.”

So now here is the kicker. Lets retrace briefly: you are a sinner who has robbed God of his glory, which God will regain either by pouring his wrath out on you or out on Jesus. You trusted in Jesus! Now, instead of bearing guilt over your cosmic treason, you now rejoice in your cosmic adoption into the family of God! We learn in Galatians 4:4-7 “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Further yet, we can lay claim to verses like Psalm 16:11 because we are no longer enemies of God and can approach him with confidence as his children: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” There is rightly no more fear of God for those who have trusted in Jesus. Now instead of the glory of God being the weight of the case against us as sinners, the glory of God is our pleasure, and this pleasure is not one that is fleeting. It is not but for a moment like standing on a mountain top, and then fades as we long to once again stand and behold a behold a reflection of glory. The pleasure of the glory of The Lord is ever satisfying. Drink.

John Piper restates the Westminster Confession and says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” May that be true of all of us, and if it is, it is to the glory of God alone.

(All Scripture quoted is from the ESV, English Standard Version)

Bible Christianity Focus Gospel Grace Idolatry Life Sanctification Sin

I am a Poor Pathfinder

(Paris Mountain State Park)

I’m a poor pathfinder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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