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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...

Entries Tagged as 'Faith'

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.

The High To Keep You Satisfied

Posted on: Tuesday, March 7, 2017

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 always suffer because of dramatic tribulations, but small things that compile, constant weariness that takes a toll, the routine cruelties of human beings that build up over time and shut us down by centimeters. Daily life can leave our spirits unbearably parched.

As we grow older, we begin to realize that ice cream, summer vacations, and the annual cooperation of Santa are not enough to satisfy us. We become disillusioned and search for other things. This search is really the key to so many human decisions, from using drugs to getting married to establishing empires. We are always on the hunt for a high to keep us satisfied. But life continues to let us down.

Some people search for happiness in success, others in security, others in respect. Many search for it in love, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote:

“And in the end, we were all just humans, drunk on the idea that love, only love, could heal our brokenness.”

This past year, I have been searching. I wish that the books I’ve read and the sermons I’ve heard over my lifetime about the sufficiency of Christ could have clicked for me at a heart level. But for some reason, I was fairly sure that God had missed something. Yes, yes, inHispresenceisfullnessofjoyandinHisrighthandarepleasuresforevermorePsalm16:11, I know. But I’m pretty sure this friendship is also crucial to my happiness. Also, this guy. Also, my family. Also, having a lot of fun all the time. Also…..

But recently this left me in a desert, tired and drained and lifeless. My sources of security had failed me. I was spending my money on sawdust and working for things never meant to sustain the divinely-thumbprinted human soul (Isaiah 55:2). I’d been trying to stay alive on muddy water from a puddle, ignoring the living water that was mine in Christ (John 4:10). I had been shackling myself to dependency on things meant only to enrich my life but never to define its meaning, chaining myself to the fear that I would be broken if my heart was broken, when I was actually free in the Lord to live and give and love while all the time remaining rock-solid secure in the everlasting belovedness that is my reality because I am His (Galatians 5:1).

When everything is stripped away, the follower of Christ will find that he/she stands. When life gives us no sustenance, we see without distraction the river of life in our souls. I never understood what John 7:38 means until right now.

In the past few months that I’ve been absent from blogging, this is what I have learned. The God who chose the desert nation of Israel as the stage on which to display His glory for the galaxies works through the desert of life on a fallen planet to bring supernatural, odds-defying peace and happiness to redeemed souls. From a desert, He has brought me to the highest place I have ever walked. I knew it, I believed it, but now I have tasted, seen, and found it to be true: Jesus is all I need. Everything else is a blessing, but no matter what happens in life, I can have joy. This world is a desert, but I will never go thirsty again. Has life left you disillusioned and drained? Come to the water (Revelation 22:17). This is what your soul was made to drink, and nothing less will fill you up.

Habakkuk 3:17-19:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
nor fruit be on the vines
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet like the deer’s;
He makes me tread on my high places.

 

Walk the Line of Grace

Posted on: Saturday, February 11, 2017

Humans are not good at balance. We live in extremes. Liberty to the point of lawlessness, or discipline to the point of asceticism. We boast in the flesh one way or another: in our ability to express it or in our ability to control it. We take pride in our sin or we take pride in our purity. We are the judge who condemns or the judge who pardons. In both extremes, we take the throne and play god.

Grace is the line that we walk, the one we fall off of on both sides when we stop looking at Jesus. And there is no self-glory in grace.

Grace exists because law exists. We stand in need of grace because God’s standards are high, fierce, and unbending. He is not permissive. He is not flexible. We broke the law, and if you are tempted to think the law does not matter, look at the cross and see the blood God bled for His law. Jesus Christ died because the demands of His law had to be met. We do not get a pass.

We don’t deserve this love and we can’t achieve it or buy it or earn it or win it back. Doing good deeds to earn God’s favor is like trying to polish the deck of the busted Titanic. We’re already sunk. 

Grace exists because we are not good. We get grace because we are so loved.

That is the balance of grace. It’s a law that matters, and it’s a love that covers. It’s not taking away the law and not adding to it either. You don’t need to help God out by removing the commands that are unpalatable in the 21st century or by hedging His rules with extra rules to be on the safe side. God doesn’t need our help. Follow His law. Obey your conscience. Trust that He is able to lead and convict your brothers and sisters without your licentiousness or your legalism. Walk in love, because you are loved. Look around. You’re swimming in grace. Don’t despair. You have hope, victory, and resources as a child of God. Look down. Have you fallen off the way? Has your heart built callouses that let you indulge in the sins for which your Savior died? Are you subsisting off of pride in your culture, creed, and browbeating way of life instead of drinking deep from the living water of truth: the truth that you are loved in spite of, and not because of, who you are; the truth that your identity is “beloved sinner;” the truth that Heaven will be filled with whores and thieves and other people despised by the Pharisees of the world who are there on the same exact merits as you, dressed alike in Christ’s white robes, welcomed into the embrace of God? And then look up, look at Jesus, and walk the line of grace.

Peace on Earth: Christmas 2016

Posted on: Thursday, December 22, 2016

We may be keenly aware of the darkness as Christmas 2016 approaches. But the darkness is always there.

The general consensus is that 2016 was a rough year (for many families in middle America, it felt like business as usual). Depending on your political views, the situation in the U.S. may seem optimistic, uncertain, or just bleak. Elsewhere, there is less room for debate: In Syria, children are being killed by their government, and there is no “good side” and there is very little hope.

When I am in my hometown (and not my apartment in San Francisco), I am more conscious of nighttime. There are always lights in a city. But nighttime is impressive outside of city limits. A full moon is not mistaken for another streetlight. It is shocking and beautiful and clear as a diamond.

I drove home the other day, winding through the hills on an empty highway, and the night was so dark but the waxing moon was almost full and lit up the treeline. I thought of Psalm 125:2“As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people, from this time forth and forevermore.”

I close my eyes and I can see Jerusalem. It is surrounded by mountains, a city on a hill. I can see all the towns where Jesus grew up, where He spent His time. 

One of the best things about familiarity with Israel is getting stripped of the idea that the places where Jesus lived are picturesque. Footage from Aleppo reminds me of Bethlehem and Nazareth. These are not sweet villages, they are just difficult–hot and dirty and crowded and poor. When you watch the news and you see the streets of Aleppo, think about Jesus as one of those children on one of those streets, because that’s what Bethlehem is like, and that’s what Nazareth is like. His home, too, was war-torn and threatened, full of people under bondage, people afraid for their lives and the lives of their children. That was the dark place where the Advent happened.

In dark mountains, unblinded by yellow fluorescent bulbs and screaming neons, I see a million stars and my breath is taken by the moon.

In a dark world, no longer confident in the goodness of humanity or rendered complacent by comfort, I see Jesus Christ. 

If you feel overwhelmed by the bleak state of things, know two things: First, you are right. Mankind is worse than you thought. But, God is better. He is better than we can imagine.

Into this place, His light shone, and His salvation was glorious. 

False lights keep us blind; seeing eyes rid us of complacency. No more false hope. The truth sets us free. There is one light that came into the world–one hope, one message, one justice, one salvation, one victory, one peace. Born in a dark place, born for a dark earth. Don’t backlight the manger or minimize the stink of a barn and the coldness of a desert night. Don’t ignore the injustice of an innkeeper sending a woman to a stable to give birth. Don’t bury your head in the sand and ignore the serious nature of world events and what those events tell us about who we are. See all of this with wide-open eyes, because this is the darkness that shows the incarnation for what it is: shocking and magnificent. We are the shepherds on a hill, living lonely lives of labor, and angels came and sang to us. We are kings in a foreign land, following delusions, chasing our intellect in circles, and a star shone and God opened our eyes and we were made to worship the King. Into our worst mess and our most stonewalled pain, God came down and He walked with us. We saw Him and we felt His presence.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

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