Sunday, March 30, 2014

I'm Already Home

Enough of the "far away from home" life.

It's an easy trap to fall into, considering I am away from home in a way. I'm not currently living in the town I call home, not able to see my family or friends often. In fact, I live thirty miles from the nearest gas station. My life right now very much bears the stamp of an extended mission.

I've been on my knees frequently for the past month or so, praying for a handful of things that are close to my heart. There are a few friends I've been lifting up. I pray daily, multiple times a day, for the salvation of my students. I think often of my mom and brother on the coast, asking for blessings on them. Most relevant to today's rambling blog entry, I'm hankering hard for a job closer to where I do call home.

Now this isn't the only content of my prayers. I make sure to include loads of thankfulness, loads of truth from Scripture about who I am in Christ. That precedes everything. Balance. But my requests of God are still near to my heart and still very potent.

It's easy to wind up in a place where you see life as "over there", and not right here.

Once I get THERE, everything will be better.

Once God moves in THIS, things will look up.

Once he gives me THIS thing, I'll be content.

Rarely do we intend to wind up thinking like this. It just sorta happens. The things for which you're praying tend to gradually swell if you're not watching, make claims on your mind you hadn't planned. We tend to subtly shift the definition of what we're looking to as "home". The parameters of "what will bring my heart joy and peace" keep trying to shift sideways on us like a crab.

I have to constantly remind myself of where my home truly lies...and it's not far away at all.

"The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." - Psalm 18:2

My true home is God.

And God is right here through the indwelling Christ.

I'm not far away from home at all. I'm already there.

No gift, no achievement, no change in circumstances or calling, no blessing is the ultimate goal - but Jesus is already here with me. He's waiting for me when I go home at night. He's at work with me too. He's my counselor, my comforter, my strength, and my guide. He offers his ear, his peace, his wisdom, and his presence.

Maybe that sounds all corny and religious to you. Trust me, it's not. Peace is amazing. Confidence in his nearness is a treasure.

It's not that my desires are unimportant to God. They may come. But reaching those things is not "arriving". When I find blessing and victory, he'll be the true joy of it. And when I'm waiting, or when I experience loss, he'll be the rock that steadies me.

Still, I have a lot further to go. Paul says "as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord." So I have an even homier home waiting for me, towards which the pilgrimage of my life reaches. But Scripture has made clear that my life in God has already begun, even now on this earth. Even now, I have access to the throne. Even though I still see through a mirror dimly, what Christ offers through that mirror is still longer-lasting and more sure than anything else. That's how powerful his grace is.

I don't have to feel like a stranded malcontent while I wait and see about those other things. Jesus is right here. I'm already home.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

He's Noticed Your Deeds

I dig my church. I get love, teaching from the Bible, and no-punches-pulled exhortation to live my life well for Christ. I wouldn't have it any other way.

But I've found the enemy has a strategy for a lot of things and a lot of situations. He likes to put his spin on things. What he pulls with me (disclaimer: this is not the church's fault) when I listen to sermons at my church is this:

You're not doing good enough. There's always something else for you to work on. God's never satisfied with anything you do.

It's not exactly words, just like a vague feeling. The bugger is that it's true that there's always something for me to work on. Pursuit of Christ is a constant striving. The apostle Paul keeps calling it a race. We're never perfect.

But the strongest lies always have a grain of truth in them. We work, we serve, we fight, and it gets exhausting. Maybe we grew up in critical homes or we're just the self-critical kind of person - sometimes that vague accusation creeps up. God never notices what I do. It doesn't matter, certainly doesn't stack up next to my failures. Isn't it more spiritual to just zero in solely on my shortcomings?

Some people get sick of this feeling and leave good churches. Others just wind up mired in inadequacy before a God who made us more than adequate through his Son, Jesus.

Then you read Revelation.

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary." - Revelation 2:1-3

Those are some pretty big compliments, and they come from God himself.

I read this and something in me sighs with relief. God notices!

God looks down on the Ephesians, sees the hard battles they've fought, sees how they've clung to the truth in the face of hardship, and lets them know he's pleased. He treasures their deeds enough to record them for all time in the Bible.

And it's not like he's calling them perfect. He spends the next three verses handing down a dire warning about their diminishing passion.

But read through Revelation chapters 2 and 3 some time. God speaks through letters to six other churches besides Ephesus, and most of the time he opens with praise. It's a pattern. He wants his people to know that he's seen their deeds.

And he's seen yours. Nothing good you've done goes unnoticed. When we arrive before the throne, he'll remember a lot more than we have.

You. Yeah, you. You're doing great. If you're hanging in there and living well for Christ, he's noticed and he's going to reward you for it. I hope that gets your Monday off to a good start.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

These are the Tunes of the Kingdom

I don't have anything terribly original today.

About a year ago, I was driving through the mountain passes at 11pm, and my mood was as black as the sky. Things were not going well at work, and I was discouraged. The radio was set to KLOVE, and the comforting and encouraging songs were what I was after. But at one point, some song came on (I don't remember which one) that was just straight-up joyful and happy. A little too happy. It wasn't sympathetic and low-key like I was looking for.

I spun the knob and turned the radio off for that song. That doesn't match my mood, I harrumphed at God. Can't you see I'm frustrated here?

Unexpectedly, I heard God respond: These are the tunes of my kingdom.

I turned the song back on. It lifted me out of the dumps a bit, reminded me of what I'm really a part of. I'm part of a kingdom that isn't about...whatever I'm about at the moment. It's about victory and redemption. It's much bigger than me and my challenges.

God wasn't dismissing my emotional state. Not at all. He knew I was struggling, and he was meeting me there. It's just that when you spend long enough focusing on your troubles, sometimes you slip into self-pity. You rarely see when you cross that border; you just look around and realize you're there. We end up expecting God to attend our pity party and forget that we have an invite to the wedding feast of the Lamb.

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." - Romans 8:18

Sometimes we need our struggles to be acknowledged and addressed by God, and then sometimes we just need to punch it in the mouth with perspective. I love how disruptive God is sometimes. It's just what I need.

So this morning, if you're annoyed with things and expecting God to just keep hanging out with you there, here's a song perfectly calculated to get on your nerves. I personally haven't been able to get it out of my head for a month. Try it out this morning. It's a tune of the kingdom.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

I Hate Winter

I hate winter.

Sorry, winter fans. I'm finished with it. I was finished with it three months ago. Forget the frozen pipes and the hairy roads. My style is so cramped by the perpetual cold hands and the stiffness of the muscles. I don't enjoy the brownness of the earth, the gray skies, or my inability to smell anything. Some people feel more alive in the crispness of winter air, but for me it's the opposite. Winter is a season of dead. Give me one month to go snowboarding and make Christmas look right, and then we can be done. (Coming up at eleven: What my car thinks of winter - uncensored!)

What a relief that daylight savings time is here. Once the echoing void of galactic darkness starting at 4:30pm is behind us, it feels like planet Earth again. It feels like spring. A good friend once said, "it feels hopeful." I can say with confidence that I'm not made for winter. I'm a warm weather guy. Because that makes perfect sense.

And's a good thing winter comes.

The two previous winters have been pretty friendly to me - relatively warm, dry, and short, without too many cold snaps or treacherous roads. (That went spectacularly out the window this year.) And both times I've gone through such winters, I've felt a sneaky kind of glee. Glee because the winter doesn't get in the way too much, doesn't inconvenience me as much, doesn't last as long as it could.

And sneaky because I feel...kinda guilty, I guess? Because I know that every snowstorm could be a good thing. Necessary, even. It might melt and drench the high country, prevent future forest fires. It might raise the water levels in our lakes and rivers for the summer, benefit wildlife. It might insulate winter wheat from the lethal cold.

I want this blasted season to end, but I know full well there's a good reason for it.

"Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." - James 1:4

A season must accomplish its purpose.

Something in the childish part of me sinks and goes "Ehhh, great." I wish I had an easier time appreciating God's offer of growth. I have to force myself to do so. We've all got our winters. Unanswered prayer, waiting, sometimes from God's hand, sometimes now. And when I'm bare-white-knuckling my steering wheel just to keep from skidding off the straight and narrow - well, hang the rules, I just want spring to come.

But what if that maturity and completion could be a really good thing? 

What if it watered and preserved life for me later down the road? God's looking out for me. He wants me to be able to enjoy blessings and pass trials coming later on. I'm gonna need maturity to do either. I remember the fall of 2007, when the fires were so numerous and the smoke was so thick that hiking in Jewel Basin was a raspy chore and you couldn't see more than three blocks downtown. 

I don't want that in my life. It's back to the ol' "pay now or pay later" decision. God offers to irrigate my character and preserve me for great things later. 

I may be sitting here and eagerly watching the snow line creep back up the mountains every single day, and I know God doesn't begrudge me my eagerness. But he's got a spiritual water cycle that I'm really going to be grateful for later on.

So I'll persevere.

I just hope God helps me fix my windshield wipers. I think I yanked one of them out of alignment trying to thaw it the other day, stupid thing.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Difficult Week Ahead

I've lost something dear to me this season.

The loss is yet very close to me, so I will keep the details to myself. But it now looks thoroughly, irrevocably gone. It was something about which I'd prayed long and hard, had others rooting and praying, really felt God was moving. Now I don't know. I may never know the mysteries of all that now. I won't try to sort it out; that just gets you tied up in knots.

But the disappointment is real. It's not the worst that one could imagine - I know many folks whose trials make this pale in comparison. But it's real for me. (And it does not help that it's twenty below outside and my pipes are frozen.)

I want to do something a respected mentor and friend of mine did recently in a loss of her own: she asked others to "be sad with her". Seems like a small detail, but I admired her for asking. Many of us are fearful to ask that much of others. I sure am. But God's grace should be sought in every corner it can be found - including his church.

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." - Romans 12:15

So...I'm just gonna say it. I need love this week. (Heck, we need it every week.) I need friendship. I need a little hope and encouragement. Save your strongest prayers for those undergoing true trials unto death, of course...but even so, pray for me a little this week, if you'd be so kind.

I didn't get what I hoped for. But you want to know the miracle I DID get?

I know exactly how this would have felt just two years ago. Honestly, it would have been dark. I was in a difficult place. I'd felt abandoned and unheard by God for a long time. The disappointments and challenges of life were feeling like rejections on his part. Back then, something like this would have been an enormous weight, an intense despondency. It would really, truly have challenged my faith.

Now...lightness. Stillness. Tears within a calmed soul.

The hurt is still present, mind you. But something inside just knows God is here. It knows. It's not worried. The tears come and go, and I'll probably remain tender for a little while. But no despair has taken root. No discouragement has clamped on.

I know what this is. Something deep down has been healed.

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." - Psalm 147:3

For months now, I've been forcing myself to confess what I know to be true of God, out loud, when I pray and meditate. To challenge those unspoken lies that accumulate in the soul like mildew. It changes you. It shifts you deep down, carries power with it, renews your mind. There's zero power in praying to a Jehovah that doesn't exist...a distant one, an uncaring one, a powerless one, however the lies of loss, of religion, and of the world have painted him for you.

And now I'm seeing the work that truth has accomplished. It's night and day.

I still have questions. Where is God in this? What can be learned here? What does this mean for the future? But...they're just questions. There's no fear or grimness in them anymore.

God puts us back together. He binds up our wounds. And, like any wound requires, he then strengthens those parts of us so that they bear a load. What an incredible promise, even more than his perfect comfort. This is the life he offers.

Mourn with those who mourn this week. But there is something for which to rejoice as well.