Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New Things

I was talking with a friend tonight, and it stirred up two emotions that prompted me to check this blog. She's studying abroad in South America and was talking about blogging to capture it all. It reminded me so much of my experiences at Summit Semester, which resembles a semester abroad more and more when I think about it. She also talked about how exciting my life is right now, with the changes that have happened recently. A lot of days, I'm just living, and it's easy to forget how exciting these changes actually are. But seriously:

In the past two months, I've returned from an awesome mission trip to Romania, finished college, visited S2 friends, toured a seminary, read the Harry Potter books, watched friends/mentors transition to new stages of life, started working part-time at the church, purchased potential play-off tickets for the Rangers, and begun investing in a small group.

Obviously, some of those things are more significant than others, but they all make me very happy.

I came back from Romania excited for the future, but it was founded out of trusting God and being encouraged by what He was doing in other people. But since then, He has thrown open doors, almost before I could ask, and definitely beyond what I could ask or imagine. While I still find myself having to fight getting ahead of God, it has been very encouraging. In the midst of all this, I have to remind myself to trust and wait. I have to remind myself that God is good. And I think that's the main reason I write blogs like this, to look back at standing stones and remember.

Zakar - remember and live, because God is faithful.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Waiting On God

EDIT: This is a couple weeks old, but still worth posting, I think.

I find that I can grasp a better perspective when I'm flying at 30,000 feet. The matters that are so pressing on the ground are mere specks, and I wonder what the whole universe must look like when God looks down. Sometimes I need to be reminded He's got the whole world in His hands.

Anyways, while flying home yesterday, I was journaling. I won't bore you with most of it, but something really stuck out to me.

See, for the past several years, when well-meaning people have asked some version of that dreaded question - what do you want to be when you grow up? - I've sketched the broad goal of my life as I know it and usually finish with something like, "I'm waiting on God to see what's next." And I've had multiple, unrelated people say almost the exact same thing: "Well, waiting on God is very good place to be in."

I smile and nod, because I know it's true, but the impatient part of me wants to mutter, "Oh yeah? It'd really be nice to know what's going on..."

But I think I've realized why I've never gotten it before. Here's what I wrote last night.

For far too long, I've been waiting on God to do something - to reveal His plan, or at least the next step, to open up a door, to direct friendships and relationships, or just to speak. But if I'm waiting on anything other than God Himself, I will never be satisfied, for nothing else can satisfy. But if my desire is God Himself, nothing else matters - where I am, who I'm with, what I'm doing. I'm not waiting for the next big event or a list of instructions or for the right people to show up. I'm listening for God Himself and what He wants me to do in this moment. I'm walking in step with the Spirit, covered in the dust of the Rabbi. Indeed, waiting on God is a good place, a good state to be in. Waiting on God to do something I think He should do is a miserable state to be in, for it, by nature, cannot satisfy. Only God Himself can do that.

Psalm 62

5 Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
7 My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Discipine and Delight

Delight must be pursued through the process of discipline.

Or in other words, discipline facilitates delight. Discipline helps me create a well-ordered heart so I can love Jesus well. And I think that's what's really central to this whole idea. Discipline continually prepares my heart for worship.

My life can look really good on the outside, and my heart can be a mess. I can be disciplined - going through the motions, checking off Bible reading and church attendance, and my heart can be dead. Or there are times when I can be super excited about God, but experiencing no real growth because the excitement is emotional and ungrounded. Real, sustainable growth requires both discipline and delight.

About five months ago, I put down a tile floor in our house. It's the self-stick tile, so it wasn't that complicated, but I was proud of tackling my first major home improvement project on my own. Recently, some of the tiles in the bathroom have been pushing up, and we've noticed a little water on the floor after showering. Though I caulked and everything was theoretically sealed, water would seep through some of the tiles. Over the past month, we've taken extra care to avoid dripping water and cleaning it up. The water stopped seeping through and everything seemed okay.

Today I went to glue down the tiles that hadn't stuck well, and realized the whole bathroom area floor was soaked. Mold was growing, and none of the tiles were usable. From the outside, it still looked fine. There were a few flaws, a few tiles that appeared to need minor damage control, and a small problem that needed extra care, but nothing indicated a huge problem. And yet it's the inside that counts. I don't know how we hadn't smelled it yet, but once the water and mold was fully revealed, there was no denying the issue. Minor touchups were no longer on the table. Full force replacement was now necessary.

My heart can be the same way. My life can look pretty good on the outside, but once you get past the minor exterior damage, nothing short of full restoration can satisfy.

Discipline is a process that allows good maintenance. It makes me aware of the issues that need to be addressed in my heart before they come spilling out and damaging everything I'm involved in. This isn't to say by practicing the disciplines I fix myself, but rather, I am intentionally and regularly presenting and surrendering myself to God, expecting Him to be at work in me.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Duty, Delight, and Discipline

"Often, discipline has to jump start desire."

The Christian life shouldn't revolve around duty, things we have to do to check off a list or get God's approval. Indeed, as Piper and Lewis have noted, we should find true joy and delight in knowing God. "In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him," writes Lewis, commenting on the catechism. Piper tweaks the catechism itself: "The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever."

In my original post, I was contemplating the statement "If I learn to love, then I will obey" and how my focus needs to be first on loving Jesus before a checklist of things I should do. And that's still true. But this is where discipline comes in.

Discipline allows my heart to keep my focus on loving Jesus, because I am prone to wander. Loving Jesus doesn't just happen most of the time, at least not if I want to love Him well. Loving Jesus means being intentional about studying the Word and making time to listen to His voice and surrendering myself and taking up my cross each new day.

Discipline isn't an added burden to the relationship of Christianity. It's an essential part of what allows that relationship to exist in the first place. Friendships just don't happen. They have to be intentionally cultivated. There may be seasons of closeness and joy, and seasons of separation, but throughout it all, there has to be some intentional interaction for the relationship to continue.

Discipline isn't easy, but it should become a delight and not a duty. If I want to delight in playing a sport, I have to be disciplined about how I exercise and eat and practice the game. The discipline allows the sport to be delightful, but delight must be pursued through the process of discipline.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Duty and Delight

"When I surrender everything to Him and focus on just loving Jesus, my checklist isn't so important, and sanctification takes care of itself."

This is a concept I've wrestled with a lot the past three years, as I've sat under Jeff, the current youth pastor at church. His life verse is Philippians 2 - "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose." His emphasis is that our work is to surrender and do nothing - not try to fix our selves or become better Christians - and let God do what He will in us. He says that as American Christians, we really struggle with works based salvation, regardless of what we profess to believe. And I can't deny that American culture certainly elevates independence and Lone Rangers and pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.

I disagree mildly about how Jeff applies this though. He once told the youth group not to read their Bibles until they wanted to. His point is extremely valid, especially for kids who have grown up in the church with a checklist of dos and don'ts. And I think it's a great exercise, for a set period of time. Because when it comes down to it, human hearts are prone to wander and to desire things that shouldn't be desired. Far too often, as Lewis explains, our experiences with joy leaves us chasing more stuff instead of pointing us to the only source of Joy.

I want to delight in God and in communion with Him through serious study of His Word. But sometimes, the delight just isn't there. And while I agree that resorting to duty isn't the point of Christianity, there has to be a balance. I'm coming to discover that often, discipline has to jump start desire.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Love and Obey

For some reason, the Bible songs I learned as a little kid have been randomly skirting through my head. I guess after 10+ years of lying dormant in the dark recesses of my mind, they wanted to be remembered. Particularly, a Donut Man song has made me ponder recently.

Picking up my socks, hanging up my clothes, helping with the dishes, doing what I'm told. It's just another way of saying "Lord I love you."

You teach me in your word, to love is to obey. And if I learn to love, then I will obey. It's just another way of saying "Lord I love you."

To love and obey, it's the only way, even if it's not the easiest thing to do.

Wow. I'm a little impressed with my memory. Didn't know until just now I could whip out the whole song. It's just this one line that has kept me thinking

And if I learn to love, then I will obey.

I feel like sometimes in the midst of all the things I do, I forget that at the end of the day, my only duty and delight is to love Jesus. When I surrender everything to Him and focus on just loving Jesus, my checklist isn't so important, and sanctification takes care of itself. For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.

Chesterton has this great line about if you have a fixed heart, then you have a free hand.

It all comes back to the heart. Orthokardia.

Monday, May 9, 2011

"Take Heart"

Take heart
His love leads us through the night
Hold on to hope
Take courage again

All our troubles
All our tears
God our hope
He has overcome

All our failures
All our fear
God our love
He has overcome

All our heartache
All our pain
God our healer
He has overcome

All our burdens
All our shame
God our freedom
He has overcome

All our troubles and
All our tears
God our hope
He has overcome

All our failures and
All our fear
God our love
He has overcome

God our justice
God our grace
God our freedom
He has overcome

God our refuge
God our strength
God is with us
He has overcome

"Take Heart" from Hillsong United's Aftermath. It's been on repeat today.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Good Day!

Today was a really good day.

I've had this song on repeat the past two nights, and it's finally starting to sink in. God has made me a new creation, and though I've known that for a long time, my heart is just now starting to rejoice in the understanding of it.

Today I started a sprint through the Bible. Reading about 14 chapters a day, I should finish the whole Bible cover to cover, in the next 90 days. The plan is found here, though I'm tweaking it a little because I'd much rather read another ten verses than split up the middle of a passage. It's one of those context things that bugs me... But I'm really excited to get an overview of The Story quickly - and to focus on the context of the whole Gospel.

And last and regrettably least by eternal standards, today was Opening Day for the 2011 Defending American League Champion Texas Rangers. I couldn't have been more excited. It was a great game, with our offense finally showing back up and a win of 9-5 over the Boston Red Sox. And after Borbon's error in the first play of the game, it was fitting that David Murphy pinch hit and broke the tie with a two-run double. I was happy.

Thank you Lord for your faithfulness and days that are just plain fun!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Happiness v. Holiness

It's not about my happiness. It never has been! It's about holiness - mine becoming like His - so that He may be glorified.

If only I could remember the simple things like this...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Small Enough Worldview

I am grateful that the Christian worldview is big enough for the world. It’s big enough to sustain questions of eternal destinies, and it’s big enough when disasters seem to question God’s sovereignty and His goodness.

But tonight, I am particularly grateful that the Christian worldview is small enough for the mundane things of life. “God is so great that all things bring Him glory if we mean they should” – even chemistry problems that have to be re-taught three times and vocab words that are never quite pronounced right. So often I forget that there’s more to it than trying to help kids not fail a class or getting them caught up to the right reading level. It’s about bringing God glory in everything – especially in the seemingly trivial stuff, where I’m so tempted to think it doesn’t matter.

Life isn’t lived on the mountaintops, but that isn’t to say I spend my time walking through the valley of the shadow of death either. Most of life seems to be just walking, one foot in front of the other. From what I understand of parenting, for all its joys, there is also a whole lot of exhaustion from sleepless nights and endless dirty diapers. From what I know of being a student, the joy of acing a final and moving on comes only after memorizing endless lists of proximate causes for meaningless wars that never should have been fought, much less remembered for posterity. But we change the diapers and learn the facts because it’s not just about the here and now. There’s something much bigger at stake.

There’s this Kingdom of the Now and the Not Yet, and it gives me great hope. For even a cup of water offered in the name of the King is worth rewarding. The smallest and the least of these are not cast off; it is not only the important and the daring acts that are remembered. A King is coming, redeeming every part of life and work and society, and someday, in His Kingdom, He will make all things new.

Until then, there’s a tension we’ll never escape. And because of this tension, my head might always wonder that the supplementary angles and the perpendicular lines I taught today really aren’t as important as what the next guy is doing for the Kingdom. But it turns out that faithfulness and obedience are more important than racking up cool and impressive points. It turns out that even the littlest things that bring God’s rule and reign to life – a smile, an intentional moment of encouragement, a perseverance in doing the right thing – are important, because there is nothing that escapes the Lordship of Christ. He is King of chemistry just as He is King of Cambodia.

This isn’t to shy away from the big things He calls us to, but to realize we are to be faithful with little, or what may seem little, until He entrusts us with more. God doesn’t waste time or circumstances. He’s never late, though He may miss many opportunities to be early. Looking at things practically, it seems Israel would have been better off if Moses had shown up with the Exodus 40 years earlier or if David didn’t waste half his life waiting to replace Saul. It seems Jesus could have done a lot more important stuff if He wasn’t fixing chairs and hauling around rocks until He was thirty. But there’s something about waiting, something about just living, day to day, in and out, that God must value. There must be something about living out His Kingdom in math tutoring and in the grocery checkout line and in paper pushing and cleaning up after kids. There’s something reassuring about realizing faithfulness isn’t how many mountains I can throw into the sea, but how I live in the daily life of the Now and the Not Yet – studying, working, eating, shopping, playing, resting – glorifying God.

It’s not to say I’ve mastered this; on the contrary, I’ve just been convicted. If there’s anything I habitually fail at, it’s the command to remember – zakar in Hebrew. It carries an understanding of not just a recollection of fact, but of an understanding that impacts how one lives. Remember the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth. Remember God and His goodness. Remember and trust Him. Remember and live.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A New Song

I sat down, intending to write a somewhat melodramatic blog. It seems those are the easiest to write late at night when I’m kind of beaten down and exhausted. But then God showed me something that completely blew my mind.

I have this question that lurks at the back of my mind. Maybe you’ve heard it before, too. It seems to come out when I’m particularly worn out and beat up.

Is this really worth it?

Is He really worth it?

And my head knows the answer without a doubt. My heart testifies to the truth as well. But sometimes even that seems shallow, a quick fix, Sunday school answer. Of course Jesus is worth it – whatever it may mean.

And then the Spirit directed my attention to Revelation 5:

9 And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”

And it struck me. All throughout the Psalms, we’re commanded to sing a new song to the Lord. THIS is the new song.

U2 has this awesome song simply called “40,” based off of Psalm 40. My senior year of high school I taught a chapel service based off the two. This is Bono’s version:

I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He lifted me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song

How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long? How long? How long?
How long? To sing this song?

The chorus of “How long?” doesn’t come from Psalm 40, but it’s something David asked God 22 times in the Psalms. How long? How long til I know Your plan? How long will this be screwed up? How long until You show up?

How long?

But if Revelation 5 is the “New Song,” then I know the answer to “How long?”

I will sing this song every day of my life, caught in the middle of the Now and the Not Yet.

Jesus has been slain and resurrected, and He has purchased men for God from every tribe and nation and tongue! But they don’t know it yet. And we are not yet a kingdom of priests reigning on the earth. But this is our hope! God will fulfill His word.

There are times when the tension of the Now and the Not Yet threatens to overwhelm me, when the only song my heart wants to sing is “How long?”

But then I am reminded that it is God who puts
“a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the LORD
and put their trust in him.”

So I will sing this song til the day I die or Christ returns.

He is worthy. Jesus is worth it. He has purchased men from every tribe and nation and language with His blood, and He will make us into a kingdom of priests reigning on the earth.

Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Be Ye Glad

In these days of confused situations,
In these nights of a restless remorse,
When the heart and the soul of the nation,
lay wounded and cold as a corpse.

From the grave of the innocent Adam,
comes a song bringing joy to the sad.
Oh your cry has been heard and the ransom,
has been paid up in full, Be Ye Glad.

Oh, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad,
Every debt that you ever had
Has been paid up in full by the grace of the Lord,
Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad.

From the dungeon a rumor is stirring.
You have heard it again and again.
But this time the cell keys are turning,
and outside there are faces of friends.

And though your body lay weary from wasting,
and your eyes show the sorrow they've had.
Oh the love that your heart is now tasting
has opened the gate, Be Ye Glad.

So be like lights on the rim of the water,
giving hope in a storm of the night.
Be a refuge amidst the slaughter,
for these fugitives in their flight.

For you are timeless and part of a puzzle.
You are winsome and young as a lad.
And there is no disease or no struggle,
that can pull you from God, Be Ye Glad.

Oh, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad,
Every debt that you ever had
Has been paid up in full by the grace of the Lord,
Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad.

Words and Music by M.K.Blanchard
© Gotz Music/Benson

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Holy Rest

I think God has been trying to get my attention about this rest thing.

Of the Ten Commandments, I think I break 1 and 4 the most. Perhaps it is precisely because I do not take the time to rest that I forget to remember the LORD and keep Him at the center of my life. It's so much easier for me to stay in charge of my life when I don't slow down for anything.

Often it is a bout of sickness that slows me down and forces me to rest. This time, God in His sovereign grace, sent an ice storm.

A crazy ice storm has hit North Texas, and schools have been closed four days this week. Facebook tells me many of my friends are bored and stir crazy, but I'm not. This week has been a much needed time to catch up on life, on just being instead of constantly doing.

One of the issues I've been grappling with recently is this idea of rest, ceasing work, giving up everything. It's so foreign to me as an American - not doing anything so that God can do everything.

And then tonight, I was listening to Phil Vischer's talk at the Children's Pastors Conference last month. He is one of my heroes, for many reasons. Part of what he said resonated with me deeply.

I was reading Paul’s letter to Galatians – “but the fruit of the Spirit it is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.”

And for the first time it appeared to me what Paul meant. I mean, I was familiar with the fruit of the Spirit, but I had always kind of looked at it as an obligation, a duty, something else I had to do while I was saving the world. If you’re a Christian, you have to act loving, you have to act joyful, you have to be kind and patient and self-controlled. I looked at it sort of like homework – oh great, something else I have to do.

But now I saw what Paul really meant. If you’re filled with the Spirit, these attributes will flow out of you whether you want them to or not. For an apple tree, producing apples is not an obligation – it can’t be helped. No apple tree accidentally produces grapes and then says “Oh darn it, I messed up again.” An apple tree produces apples for the simple reason that it is an apple tree. And the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer for the simple reason that He is the Holy Spirit. If someone is filled with the Spirit, these attributes will fall out of him naturally and effortlessly. It can’t be avoided.

At last week's service, something struck me. There is this great line in the first verse of "In Christ Alone."
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
It struck me that the two are related. My fears are stilled when I cease striving, and surrender everything I am to Jesus. It is by surrendering and trusting Him that I "work out my salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in me to will and to act according to His good purpose."

And so I hear His voice: Stop kicking against the goads. Trust Me. Let go.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Holy Respite

Tonight was a glorious respite from the insane busyness that has consumed me the past few weeks. Since Christmas break ended, I have been working nonstop. Between tutoring more kids than I can keep up with and helping with accreditation stuff at school, I've barely had time to breathe. Tonight, I was reminded why we are commanded to rest.

Of all things, a Facebook ad notified me that Tim Keller would be speaking tonight. I looked up the church, and as it was just a few minutes from where I would be tutoring, I decided to go.

A large, evangelical Anglican church was hosting the Anglican 1000 church planting summit. Tim Keller was speaking in two sessions of the conference and in the evening service open to the public. Many people came just to hear him, and left as soon as he finished. They missed a beautiful Choral Evensong service.

Tim Keller was great. I've read and listened to some of his stuff, and it's brilliant. Tonight was no exception. But I think the highlight for me was just the serenity and conviction of the Evensong service.

I love worshiping with drums and bass and electric guitar, blasting the latest of Hillsong or the like. But sometimes my soul needs the order of the high church service, not to mention the beauty of the organ and magnificent choir.

Stand, sit, and kneel with the Church universal. Soak in the the words that have been prayed millions of times across the millennia. Confess sin and rejoice in the truth of the gospel. Make a joyful noise and find hope in the peaceful silence. Be awakened to the glory of God and the beauty of His presence. Be still. Know that He is God. Know that He will be exalted in all the earth.

Glory to God the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end! Amen!