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TRAVEL

Travel: The Judean Wilderness

Travel: The Judean Wilderness

The desert is clean physically & spiritually because the sun shines in every place and bakes it sinless. Nothing can hide from its righteouRead More...

FAITH

The High To Keep You Satisfied

The High To Keep You Satisfied

This is an archived Sky Blue post originally published in May 2014. Not every difficulty is a storm: sometimes life is a drought. We do not aRead More...

INSPIRATION

Home Sounds: Chris Stapleton

Home Sounds: Chris Stapleton

I first became a fan of Chris Stapleton's voice during my bluegrass kick. He was the front man for The SteelDrivers at that time, and that voRead More...

WORLD

Ears to Hear: How Does the Gospel Speak to Racism?

Ears to Hear: How Does the Gospel Speak to Racism?

Will Rogers once said: “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” We all have drums we like to beat. But never doubt the capacity of the human hearRead More...

After the Northern California Fires

Posted on: Monday, October 16, 2017

(Reposted in the wake of the October 2017 Northern California fires that affected our community here in Mendocino County. Originally written January 19, 2015.)

Growing up in California, you know about wildfire season. This is the time of year when helicopters circle the sky and the night lights up with smoke and flames and firefighters camp out in small towns like mine that border national forests. Sometimes during really bad years, ash falls in sheets for weeks, and you wake up with your car covered in it like snow. The city officials cancel Little League because children shouldn’t be running in that air. Smokey the Bear comes to your elementary school classroom to remind you that “only you can prevent forest fires.” Small diners provide free meals for weary fire crews.

Despite this annual devastation, the forests in California are green and beautiful all year round. There are places near where I live, where I can stand surrounded by nothing but miles of trees and feel like I just discovered the world.

This is because God designed forests to grow again after wildfires. Without the heat of those flames, the seeds beneath the soil would not release and grow. The fire that kills the old forest gives new woods life.

Every day, in and out of fire season, we pray for peace. We pray for a calm and even existence. Certainly no one in their right mind would wish havoc upon themselves. But when those seasons come, we should not be surprised.

This world isn’t the utopia you were promised. These are the Shadowlands. When I stand on a mountain and see nothing but God’s majesty for hundreds of miles all around me, it is marvelous to think this is just the scar tissue of the world that was, and is nothing but a shadow of the one yet to come. This, I think to myself at the Yosemite Valley, the Pacific Ocean, the Grand Canyon, the Marble Mountains—somehow this is a fallen world.

So in the meantime, there are earthquakes, famines, floods–the seizures and sobs of a broken world fighting its Maker. We suffer loss and pain. These are the fires of our lives.

And in those fires, many are consumed. Adult hearts grow small and hard, eager to bite back at the cruel world before it can sink its teeth into frail human flesh again. We bend and finally we break. Our selfishness becomes cemented. Our self-love grows roots and vines and becomes more subtle, more clever, more all-consuming. We lose our innocence, our trust, our hope. This is the fire apart from Christ.

But in Christ, we are new people. We have the capacity to love no matter what because we ourselves are loved. Not because we are better or stronger, but because Christ works in and through us, we are not consumed in the fire. Instead, He uses the heat to burn the old and to grow the good works and the virtues He planted in our hearts.

Whatever you are going through today, know that it is not random. If you belong to Jesus Christ, He is faithful to use the fire. Nothing is without purpose. This, too, is for your good. Let Him use the heat of your circumstances to soften your heart instead of harden it. May you become more loving, more selfless, more giving, more generous, more compassionate, more humble in the same fire that would have made your former self bitter and brittle and angry and hateful. This is the great work of God in the hearts and lives of the redeemed: We are not lost in the fire, we are only refined.

Home Sounds: Chris Stapleton

Posted on: Saturday, May 6, 2017

Chris and Morgane Stapleton

I first became a fan of Chris Stapleton’s voice during my bluegrass kick. He was the front man for The SteelDrivers at that time, and that voice is unforgettable. When his solo album Traveller came out in in 2015, I had it on repeat for months. I couldn’t get over it: This album was golden old-school country happening now. Then I realized Stapleton is also one of the most successful songwriters in Nashville, behind many of the most recognizable and successful songs on country radio for years.

Of course, Chris has become something of a phenomenon since launching his solo career, especially after his duet with Justin Timberlake at the 2015 CMAs, where Stapleton pretty much cleaned house awards-wise. I saw him in concert the week after at The Fillmore in San Francisco, a historic music venue where tickets are typically pretty cheap. This time, I heard of tickets going for $600, and standing close to the stage was pretty much a life-and-limb risking situation. Chris plays every show with his wife, fellow singer and songwriter Morgane, and her harmony can be heard on his albums as well. Hearing them live made me feel extremely lucky; I think they’re the closest thing to Johnny and June I’ll ever get to witness in my lifetime.

On Thursday, Chris released Volume A of his new two-part album, From a Room. So I’ve been playing that non-stop.

Chris comes across as a genuine, humble, and generous artist. He never seemed too invested in his own fame or desire to be front and center–as Morgane told the New York Times, ““I think it’s why he’s always got a beard.” But his talent is absolutely out of this world. You should fall down a rabbit hole of his live videos on YouTube sometime–you won’t regret it. Chris is able to celebrate and carry on the traditions of country music effortlessly but his ego isn’t so wrapped up in himself as a “real country” artist that he can’t get out there and burn the house down with Justin Timberlake at the CMAs, or write a Top 10 track for a pop-country artist. He’s the real deal and I’ll be listening to whatever he and Morgane create for as long as they create it. Thank God for the Stapletons. 

Ears to Hear: How Does the Gospel Speak to Racism?

Posted on: Thursday, April 27, 2017

Racism and the gospel

Will Rogers once said: “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”

We all have drums we like to beat. But never doubt the capacity of the human heart to be self-centered even in its pursuit of justice. As passionate as we may feel about certain causes, and as eloquent as we may wax, we tend to be most passionate about our own reputations. We come by it naturally: When Adam and Eve were confronted with sin, they tried to deflect. “It’s not me, it’s them!” Our knee jerk reaction is self-defense; listening with humility feels less important in the moment than asserting our own innocence.

That’s why talking about racism makes us uncomfortable. We prioritize self-justification over self-examination. We can’t listen when, like Pontius Pilate, we are more eager to wash our hands than to stop an atrocity happening on our watch.

Does the Gospel Say Anything About Racism?

If you believe the gospel, you must hate racism. The question is, why would you otherwise? Racism, sexism, classism, nationalism, tribalism—every ism—make sense in a godless world. If it is true that we owe our existence to victory in a long struggle against other life forms, there could be nothing more natural and right than taking pride in power, fighting for superiority, and clinging to those similar to us. If the law of the universe is survival of the fittest, then love is an indulgence, tolerance is a weakness, unity is frivolous, and kindness is illogical.

But followers of Jesus know that humans are not cavemen fighting for survival, the byproduct of millions of years of violence. We are God’s children. But we chose to walk away and disobey Him. Every type of hate, including racism, is a symptom of the sickness infecting our broken world. Even stereotyping is completely selfish and wrong, carried out in the interest of feeling superior or protecting ourselves.

The world knows racism is wrong. We can see that inner war between humanity’s status as beings created in God’s image and the choice we have made to take up arms in rebellion against Him in the fact that even nonbelievers who deny Christ and accept a dog-eat-dog model of existence intrinsically realize that racism is evil. As believers, we know why racism is wrong. We have the language to explain it. Apart from that truth, there can never be reconciliation and there can never be peace.

Unity in a broken world can only be accomplished through Christ. Jesus died to save men and women from every tribe and tongue and people and nation so that in Him “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) The Bible teaches that we are all created equally. We stand before God, made in His image, precious in His sight, but sinners and rebels by our own choice. Jesus died to save everyone. The Book of Revelation predicts a day when His throne room will be filled with redeemed representatives from every people group on the planet (Revelation 5:9-10).

So if you think the gospel has nothing to say about racism, you don’t know the gospel. And if you are a follower of Christ and you are not taking action against racism, you are withholding grace from a world that has no other way of achieving it.

Love Doesn’t Look Away. We Must Learn to Listen.

When a brother or sister tells us about their experience of racism or sexism or discrimination or prejudice, that is a good chance to shut up and listen. Christians understand sin; we know that our world is full of pride and hate. So why would we deny racism? We should expect a fallen world to use any and every opportunity to oppress. Oppression is present in every place. Wherever you live in the world, don’t be fooled: Sin and hate are present in the fabric of your culture. If you don’t see it or experience it, that simply means you are among the members in your society with power.

We have to get better at listening to people in our congregations and our communities who feel disenfranchised. We have to suppress the urge to justify ourselves. We cannot be content to relax in the status quo, more interested in preserving our view of ourselves than rocking the boat. We must follow the command to bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2). We must ask ourselves tough questions about our own complicity or culpability. We must pray Psalm 129:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart…see if there is any hurtful way in me.”

We are Fellow Heirs of the Gospel of Peace.

This matters, because it matters to Jesus. We are His family, and some of us are hurting. We’re not supposed to wash our hands, proclaiming our innocence, walking away while people suffer, enjoying the benefits of a sinful culture. We’re supposed to get down and wash each other’s feet. Jesus blessed the meek (Matthew 5:5). So may the well-being of our brothers and sisters matter more to us than our pride. Instead of an opportunity for blind comfort, may we desire to turn any power or privilege we have been granted into an opportunity to be a platform for the voiceless. Let’s pray for eyes to see, ears to hear, and grace to change. May the world witness our unity, our compassion, our humility, and our love for one another, and turn to the Prince of Peace.

Travel: The Judean Wilderness

Posted on: Saturday, April 1, 2017

Israel desert

The desert is clean physically & spiritually because the sun shines in every place and bakes it sinless. Nothing can hide from its righteous eyes.

After a week in various wet cities where the rain matted down globs of wet trash on the sidewalk, to be strewn in goopy crumbs by people’s feet, I was thankful to be in such a hot and holy place.

I love the austerity of the cliffs, so severe and immutable they do not look real, they look like paintings of themselves.

The sand is washed out and the sky is blanched around the sun’s broad halo, only turning blue right before disappearing behind the sand cliffs to the west and the sloping mountains of Jordan to the east.

Between them, the Dead Sea catches the sun and shimmers dolphin blue, spitting intricate, lace-like sand deposits on the shore and then loping back in a gentle, glutted tide of weighted water.

That sun changes everything. It makes some hard and others humble. It bleaches your bones and your soul. In the leaves of Eden, Adam and Eve believed they could hide from the eyes of God. In the desert there is no hiding, which inevitably brings mans’ mind to God. That’s why the desert is full of temples.

Judean wilderness

Judean desert

Masada in Israel

Israel desert

Masada

Chalk cliffs in Israel

Ruins of Masada

View from Masada

Israel desert

Masada in Israel

Israel's wilderness

Driving in the Israeli desert

There are a lot of posts on this blog about traveling in Israel. Click here for more.

 

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