Friday, December 16, 2011

When Will We Be Home?

I lived in the same house my whole life until I left for college. In the three years since then, I have lived in five different places. I still consider the house I grew up in, the one I will return to on Monday for a couple short weeks, to be my home. Yet I also call this house I'm sitting in now home. It seems strange how normal that is to me now, though for the last couple days I have not felt at home.

What defines home for you? Is it the house itself? Perhaps it's the items that you recognize - your bed, the kitchen table, the ugly couch in the living room. Maybe it's the people; after all, home is where the heart is right? That would explain my comfort in calling two places home. My family is in Richmond, while my closest friends are here in Boone. In fact, that even clears up why I have felt like I am in a foreign place all day. Some of the people whom I love most have left town, as the semester has finally finished and Christmas break is here.

Am I sad that they are gone? Of course. Even the knowledge that we will be together again in a month doesn't replace the fact that right now I am apart from those who mean the most to me. When I leave Richmond to return to school in January, it will be the same. Although my family and I will not be separated for an unusually long time, there is a certain emptiness that accompanies that separation.

Doesn't this completely describe our lives here on Earth? Our God, our Father, our Love is in heaven. And while He is present with us on Earth in the Spirit, this is not our home. John Ortberg discusses this thoroughly in his book Faith and Doubt, in what is easily one of the best chapters I have ever read. Just a couple quick thoughts he shares:

"Maybe home is where God is. And maybe it will be awhile before we feel at home."

"We long for home because we know we are not fully there yet."

These made me consider Christmas in a new light. When Jesus came to Earth, He introduced something that had not existed here since the beginning of time - perfection. I imagine that to be with Christ while he was on the earth would not have been unlike being with someone you love in a place you would not normally call home. The world was still full of sin, and man was still unable to stand perfect before God as in the beginning. But even though our nature remained sinful, Jesus came to redeem us. And He came to us so that we would later be able to come to the Father.

We may have to wait a while before we are with God, but as I have said before, it should be something we anticipate eagerly. As we look forward to Christmas, not only can we celebrate Christ's coming but we can await the day when we are home. Any pain, disappointment, sadness, or despair that we feel in this world should serve only as a reminder that one day we will no longer be away from home.

No more disconnection
Show me revelation
And shine a light onto the road
Though I know salvation
There is separation
And my heart it cries for home
~ Paul Colman

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Colder Than A Bald Penguin

Winter is finally starting to settle in! I am much more excited about the cold air than many people, even though the snow hasn't quite taken over our town yet. I find it much easier to be optimistic about a decent skieason when I'm not able to wear short sleeves in December though, so this last week has been quite nice.

I always find it difficult to find things to do once it gets colder. The mountains provide plenty of activities during the warm months, but unless you're skiing there aren't too many options when it's below negative freezing. Here are a few things we've been occupying ourselves with these past few cold days.

* Video games. We're guys, what do you expect? When you have some down time, shooting aliens or kicking around a soccer ball (read "pushing buttons") is a great time waster without having to face the frigid air.

* Jigsaw puzzles. Another great way to spend free time, if you have the patience. Fortunately my roommate and I both enjoy them, despite our general lack of any notable attention span. While some people may find them frustrating, for me it's been a wonderful means of keeping stress down as exams approach.

* Bringing Christmas to the home. My sister was kind enough to find a tree proportional to our house, and it has been a great reminder of the approaching celebration of Christ's birth. Not only that, it compliments our always-present Christmas lights around the room and the smell is always an excellent addition to any home. Of course we had to decorate it appropriately!

How do you keep busy when it's too cold to go out?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Waiting On Our Feet

What are you waiting for?

I, along with thousands of other college students, am currently waiting for the next two weeks to be past. The semester is coming to a end and the stress is everywhere, between exams, papers, shopping, and holiday plans. To say it's a busy time of year would be a gross understatement.

Waiting rarely involves simply sitting around until something happens though. Think about something you've had to wait for. What did that process look like? Anticipation? Fear? Impatience? Excitement? Depending on what you're waiting for, there can be quite a variety of emotions involved.

To narrow it down, think about something that you specifically were eager about, but had to wait for. The first thing that comes to my mind is our family's annual beach trip. Every year we spend a week at the beach, the only part of the year that everyone is on vacation together for any extended amount of time. From the moment everyone arrives home after leaving to the day we return the next year, every one of us is looking forward to that week. In fact, I am already excited about it now, even though I have over eight months more to wait.

My anticipation of that week invokes a number of different feelings. I get impatient knowing that it will be quite a long time before I no longer have to wait anymore. I am excited thinking about the fun I expect to have. There is even a calming effect, knowing that although I have so long to wait, I will have an entire to week to relax and unwind. My anticipation of that week makes me long for the months to pass quickly so it will be here sooner.

One of the things that I love so much about the Christmas season is Advent itself. Looking forward to Christmas Day is very exiting for me. As I was reminded recently, we not only anticipate the celebration of Christ's coming to our world, but we also eagerly await His return. When we consider that as well, there is even more reason to be excited. Awaiting Christ should not be something we do in a nonchalant manner. His coming is appropriately viewed with uncontainable joy and excitement. If we so frequently find ourselves impatient waiting for things in this world, how much great should our yearning for Him be!

This has always been one of my favorite songs of the season, and the lyrics could not more accurately portray our desire during Advent.

Come, thou long expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel's strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Born thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a King
Born to reign in us forever
Now thy gracious kingdom bring
By thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to thy glorious throne

~Charles Wesley

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Are You Satisfied?

What do you want?

I know what I want, in fact there's quite a list of things right now. Here are the first few things that come to mind.

* Music gear. Some specific things, but really anything. I absolutely love playing around with new equipment.
* New skis. It seems practical since the season is approaching fast and I like to see how new technology applies to my favorite pastimes.
* Rest. Not necessarily sleep, but rest. I stay so busy, even though it's often with things that I enjoy, that I find myself simply worn out more and more often.
* Comfort. I'll admit it, my house is fairly cold. That's what happens when you're in college and have to pay for heat.

I frequently get frustrated by things that seem petty and unnecessary. Usually my first reaction to that is to focus on myself. What will make me feel better? How can I avoid dealing with this? Why am I involved in this in the first place? Such questions usually only lead to more frustration, and often a cycle develops and evolves into a day-long pity party. Recently I took an entire morning just to think and pray about a particular bothersome issue, and a few points stuck with me.

A contented believer is the sign of a satisfying Christ.

That sentence came up during a Bible study with the worship team over the summer, and has since been ringing in my head. Everything that I desire, everything I want at any given moment is extraneous if it is not Christ. Even when I become worked up and anxious about things, God is waiting to provide peace. When I worry about how to handle the situation, the Spirit is waiting to bring clarity. And if I sit here wishing I had a friend to talk to, He is waiting to surround me with love and comfort me fully.

Being content doesn't mean we can't desire things. I still wouldn't mind a new pair of skis, but that doesn't mean I'm not satisfied in Christ. However, the question that needs to be examined iswhat fulfills us? Is it the box with our name on it under the Christmas tree? Perhaps it's the people who are close to us, or our abilities that we take pride in. Even if those things provide some sense of happiness, how much greater satisfaction is waiting to be found in Christ? Or maybe we can still enjoy those things with the understanding that every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17). Our contentment in Christ can be shown in our acknowledgement that the things in this world which we love are given by Him.

We can still enjoy the things that we have in this world, but our satisfaction ultimately needs to be in Christ's sacrifice that redeemed us.

Monday, November 28, 2011

I'm Not Waterproof

I am absolutely terrified of water.

I'm not sure how this fear developed, but the thought of open ocean or the deep sea honestly scares the heck out of me. I don't have any problem swimming in the ocean when I'm at the beach, or showering in the morning, but when I think about the vastness of the oceans and how much water there is, I get chills. Consider this:

Many people know that 97% of the Earth's water is found in the ocean. It is also a well known fact that the oceans cover over 70% of the planet's surface.

Slightly less-commonly known is that there are over 300 million cubic miles of water on Earth.

One gallon of water weighs a little over 8 pounds.

One square foot of water equates to about 62.5 pounds, so one cubic mile comes out to be just over 9 TRILLION pounds. Or 4.5 billion tons, if that's easier.

Now remember the one about there being over 300 million cubic miles of that stuff? See where this is going? Water is heavy, and there's a lot of it on this planet.

I think that's what frightens me the most. I get overwhelmed by massive amounts of anything, and water is such a regularly-occuring daily element that it's easy for me to get a good grasp of the enormity of the oceans. For example, it's been raining since I woke up and there is a local flood warning through the rest of the day. It would be impossible for me to walk outside and to my car without getting wet.

Is it any wonder that we so frequently use rain as a metaphor for things that come from God?

Rain down your love. Rain down your mercy. Let grace rain. The list could go on for days, and it could not be more a more appropriate representation of what we should desire. Think about walking outside during a total downpour. In mere seconds your hair is drenched, your clothes become soaked through, and almost instantly you are entirely covered in water.

Fortunately for us, this is the reality of God's love. We need to earnestly seek His goodness to overwhelm us, but we also should realize that He already pours out His heart on us. The Father's grace has been fully revealed in the cross, as has Christ's love. God's mercy surrounds us in the simple fact that we wake up in the morning, able to breathe praises to His glory.

I may fear enormous amounts of water, but this comforts me. Even though I am amazed by the abundant love and grace God pours on us every single day, I know that any fear I have is in reverent awe.

We're already drenched, so there's no point in trying to stay dry.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Be Still, My Soul

I recently brought home a new laptop since my old one is now officially deader than dead. Among the thousands of music files and pictures I came across a small collection of old journal entries. I read through a few out of curiosity and have since found myself in a very strange emotional state. These lyrics were included in a writing from one of the darkest times of my life, and I could not help but be completely dismantled at the realization of Christ's mercy and grace in my life. It will always be one of my favorite hymns, and the conclusion of the second verse in particular is one of the strongest reminders to me of the Lord's faithfulness.

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change He faithful will remain
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake
All now mysterious shall be bright at last
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below

Be still, my soul; though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away

Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last

~Katharina von Schlegel

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Relevant Worship

This Sunday brings the start of a new sermon series on the Kingdom of God. At rehearsal tonight, our worship pastor mentioned the thought of exclusively choosing "King" and "Kingdom" songs. What I didn't realize until a few hours after we finished was that he wasn't actually kidding.

While it wasn't obvious to me at the time, all of the songs we will sing Sunday morning point to God as the King. It seemed cheesy and funny when the idea was first shared, and because of that I missed both the reality of it and how appropriate it really is. I do think that it was smart to not make it too obvious (in case people like me in the congregation quickly become distracted by the irony), but it occurred to me this evening just how much the songs we sing at church really pair with the rest of the service to glorify God.

For discussing a topic such as God's Kingdom, it is pretty obvious that singing songs with comparable lyrics makes sense. But have you considered why? I believe the "worship is more than just music" nail has been hammered in enough for the most part, so I have been focusing on how music and teaching actually contribute to each other. Here are a few simple facts that helped bring things together for me.

1. Worship originates in truth- be it the Gospel story, who God is, etc. Worship starts with facts.
2. Musical worship at the beginning of a service is a good way to communally acknowledge our desire to further seek God.
3. Teaching allows God to reveal his truth to us while we are willing to listen (not that He needs to wait for that, but I have a feeling He appreciates when we actually want to hear Him)
4. Musical response gives us an opportunity to again sing truths, with new inspiration.

Do you see how these tie together? Singing about a specific theme, hearing a sermon on that theme, and then singing about it again allows it to not only be driven into our heads and hearts, but it gives us a better opportunity to realize the truth of that theme. In this case, the theme is God as King over everything. Take a look at the songs we have for Sunday, and if you have time I definitely recommend listening to them as well.

I don't think I have to explain how these are related, and since I realized all this I've been much more anxious to hear Sunday's sermon. You probably don't go to a church that is entering the exact same series, but the concept still applies. Next time you're at church, take a moment to meditate on how God leads us through worship to fully reveal Himself (even if the songs don't all share a single word). It's spectacular how in maximizing the focus on Him, the King draws all glory to Himself.