Sunday, December 9, 2012

Ten Thousand Beside

            One of the greatest joys that the end of a semester brings is the opportunity to look back over the last four months and reflect on what I have learned and how I have grown. Although it is easy to fly through projects, papers, juries, and final exams without ever pausing to consider what the Lord has done in my life, it is absolutely essential to take the time to contemplate specific ways that I have seen his faithfulness as he has shaped and molded me throughout the semester. Consequently, before I race through finals, throw a pile of clothes in my suitcase, and catch a plane to Minneapolis, I would like to share the unique challenges, discoveries, and joys that have characterized the fall semester of my sophomore year.
           Near the beginning of the semester I had many upperclassmen girls inform me that sophomore year was their most challenging, emotionally speaking. While I would not necessarily say that this year has been more emotionally draining than last year, it has definitely brought its share of weariness, loneliness, and discouragement. Near the beginning of the semester, I was reminded that discouragement is not an excuse to lack joy. Life frequently brings seasons of discouragement, times when we are overwhelmed or just plain tired. But that does not mean that we cannot have joy. The joy that we have in Christ is absolutely independent of circumstances, and even in those times of weariness we can rejoice in the glorious truth of all that Christ has done on our behalf. In seasons of weariness we can also realize that maybe the people around us are just as discouraged or lonely as we are. And as we seek to encourage others who are weary, somewhere along the way we may discover that we are not quite so lonely or tired anymore.
            Another important theme this semester has been that God’s plan is so much better than my own. Near the beginning of the semester a certain professor reminded me over lunch that when you examine your life, if something isn’t happening the way you think it should be, it’s because what God has in store is better. He mentioned it in the context of relationships, but the concept applies to all aspects of our lives and has been important for me to recall throughout the semester. Although I know Romans 8:28 as well as the next person and have always been taught that God has a perfect plan for my life, there is frequently a disconnect between what I know to be true and the practical working out of my beliefs. This semester as I’ve wrestled with what I want to do with my life, questioned where I am headed, and wondered if I really am where I am supposed to be and doing what I am supposed to be doing, this was such an important reminder for me. I can come up with endless ‘what-ifs’ and theoretical paths that I could have taken, but the truth is that God has me here and what he has for me is better. I have been challenged to consider that perhaps God’s plan for me is bigger than I am capable of dreaming and maybe he has so much more for me than I ever dared to hope.
            This leads to the next lesson, which was perhaps one of the more uncomfortable ones for me to wrestle with. I cannot recall what the circumstances were that laid this upon my heart, but a simple journal entry from a few months back has served to be a difficult but extremely important reminder: “die to the dream of a controlled life.” Somewhere in the mid-semester busyness, in the midst of homework woes and trying to figure out what it is I am actually doing here I always seem to reach a moment when I am overwhelmed by all of the things that I cannot control. This semester I was confronted with how ridiculous that is. The glorious truth is that my God is sovereign over each and every detail of my life and that leaves me with no reason to be anxious about anything, whether it be homework, friendships, church, juries, or my future. When I am willing to die to my dreams of being in control of my own life, I can find the perfect rest and peace of truly and deeply trusting God’s sovereign hand.
           Perhaps the most crucial things that I have learned over the course of this semester have been in regards to holiness. Certain events throughout the semester have reminded me that none of us are immune to temptation. It is na├»ve to think that I am not capable of falling into sin and disqualifying myself for ministry. It is absolutely crucial to take holiness seriously and to pursue Christ in every way. Every single decision I make, no matter how big or how small, is taking me towards holiness or away from it, and each decision in the wrong direction so easily leads to a series of wrong decisions until the problem has produced unbearable consequences. No sin can be taken lightly and I must live each and every day clinging to God’s grace and striving to become more like him.
           This lesson has also driven me to my knees for my brothers and sisters. When confronted with the reality of how ugly sin is, I realized that I must daily be on my knees praying for my fellow students, for my professors, and for my pastors. I am blessed to be surrounded by people who are doing amazing things for God’s kingdom and will continue to transform the world. However, we must all realize and understand how quickly our witness and ministry can be lost if we do not guard ourselves and pursue holiness in every way.
           Finally, throughout the semester I have become increasingly aware of how much I do not understand. It is often true that the more we learn the more we realize how much we still have to learn, and this has certainly been the case for me this fall. I have encountered countless things that I cannot yet grasp and endless questions that my brain has been unable to sort out. I have found great encouragement in the words of Anselm of Canterbury, “I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but rather to believe in order to understand.” I will forever encounter things in this world that I simply do not get and questions that I do not know the answer to. Sometimes I will not understand how the Lord is working or why he has placed me in a certain situation. In those times, it is okay to step back, to stop trying to understand everything, and simply praise God for his sovereignty, understanding, and faithfulness. The list of things that I do not understand is endless, but I believe that God is good, that he is faithful, and that his plan is so much better than I could possibly imagine.
           As this semester comes to an end my heart is full. Although there have been difficult moments and at times I was not entirely sure if I would make it, this semester has brought incredible blessings and countless joys. My mind has been blown by the faithfulness of my God and the promises he has given me. As I look ahead to the future and praise God for what I know he will do, the final verse of Great is Thy Faithfulness rings in my heart:
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
Amen. Great is his faithfulness, indeed!
 
[soli deo gloria]

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Glory of the Lord

    In many Christian circles today great emphasis is placed on the personal aspect of God’s character. We love to talk about our God who loves us, cares for us, and is intimately involved in our daily lives. We find great strength and security in the awareness that he knows us deeply and relates to us. This is both beautiful and necessary. However, too often God’s immanence is emphasized at the expense of his transcendence, the part of him that is beyond physical existence and comprehension.
    For awhile we can talk about his transcendence. When we speak of him as Creator we enjoy contemplating his creativity and love of beauty. We like to recall that he is everywhere, that he knows all things, that he is the sustainer of life. But keep going and we begin to get uncomfortable. Begin to contemplate his holiness, his righteousness, and his justice, and suddenly we get squirmy. We know that these are important aspects of his character, but we don’t want to dwell on them too long, thinking about the implications. We don’t want to think about the fact that our God is so holy and so just that he cannot be in the presence of sin. We don’t want to think about the fact that he is so far above us and so powerful that we cannot stand in his presence, but must fall on our faces. We throw out the command to fear the Lord by arguing that it probably means something more along the lines of ‘respect.’
    But the reality is that any theology that doesn’t include our God’s power, justice, and holiness, which we cannot even look upon, is severely lacking. It is dangerous to forget that we must revere and fear (yes fear) our God, that his glory and power are frightening to behold, and that he is absolutely just and holy. First of all, if he is not powerful and just, he can no longer be a good and perfect stronghold. He is a stronghold because he is powerful, and he is good because he is also righteous and just. Second, if we forget these aspects of God’s character we are in danger of slipping into a life of licentiousness that doesn’t take holiness or obedience seriously. And holiness and obedience are a really big deal. If we start living like some sins really aren’t that big of a deal we will lose our footing and slide down that slippery slope before we even realize we’re going downhill. If we don’t contemplate the more difficult aspects of God’s character, check our pride and realize how small we truly are, and give him the honor, fear, and reverence he demands, we’ll be headed down a dangerous road.
    So let’s leave room in our theology of God’s immanence for his justice, power, and holiness. Let’s realize that our obedience is essential, and rely on his grace to get us through every second of every day. Let’s pursue holiness and honor our good, loving, gracious, kind, just, holy, and powerful God.
 
"Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face." -Ezekiel 1:28 
 
Soli deo gloria

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Beauty in the City

I believe that God loves the city.

That’s not to say God doesn’t love suburban and rural areas. He certainly does. But I think sometimes we lose sight of God’s heart for the city. There’s no fresh air, it’s noisy, the traffic is insane, parts of it aren’t very safe, it’s hot in the summer and nasty slop is everywhere in the winter, and there’s no nature. When we think about all of these things, we often forget the beauty of the city. But the city is beautiful for several reasons.

First of all, there are no bugs. Sure you may get roaches if you’re apartment is a pit, but if you go for a walk outside, you will see absolutely no mosquitoes, you will not get any cobwebs in your face, and you won’t get a single tick. That is beautiful.

Second, there are sidewalks. You can walk anywhere that you need to go. You don’t have to worry about freeways, putting gas in your car, or those weird twisty neighborhoods where all the houses are the same. Fantastic.

And one specific to Chicago, we have one of the Great Lakes. Seriously, could it be more awesome than that?

Now, wonderful as these things are, I don’t think that’s why God loves the city. I believe that God loves people, and the city is full of them! It’s where things happen, where culture is changed and defined, where ideas and dreams become realities, and where beliefs are shared. The city is where you learn and understand what different people are really thinking and believing, how the culture is changing, what people are dreaming about, and how you can really be an effective witness and impact the world for Christ. I believe that God wants to reach the city and transform the people here. God’s heart is to care for the poor, to love the lost, and to heal the broken. The city is full of people who are poor, broken and lost, and his heart is to reach those people!

What an amazing opportunity it is to be living in the heart of downtown Chicago! As I sit in my windowsill, drinking Korean tea, watching the traffic below, enjoying the view of the beautiful architecture, and listening to all the sounds of the city, I can’t help but be excited. God has a heart for the city and I can’t wait to discover more of what that is and how I fit into his plan for this city.

Soli deo gloria.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Moose Hunting and Chocolate Milk

    After weighing the pros and cons of becoming a nun, I long ago decided that it was not the path for me. This summer I decided that an excellent alternative would be to become a gypsy with some nun-like qualities. However, after some deeper contemplation I have decided to move to Alaska and live with the Seven Dwarves. Although the Seven Dwarves are axe murderers (this is what actually happened to Snow White), they will immediately recognize my superb moose-hunting abilities and decide to keep me around to help them hunt moose. There I will spend the rest of my days, exploring the beautiful Alaskan wilderness, knitting mittens, and hunting moose. And of course drinking chocolate milk, because we all know that the Alaska pipeline is actually filled with chocolate milk, rather than oil.

Bring it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Redeemer

    Lately more and more days go by that I am simply saddened by the world around me. As I watch people live lifestyles that can only lead to hopelessness and self-destruction, hear horrifying news stories of senseless violence, see the sick and helpless get abandoned and forgotten, and learn of deep personal tragedies in the lives of loved ones, my heart aches and longs for an answer. I want to know why there is poverty in our world, why the helpless get oppressed, why people die of starvation, why the elderly get forgotten or taken advantage of, why people self-destruct, why innocent people are killed for no reason, why families get destroyed, why people are hurting, lonely, and lost,

why all the injustice

and how long will it go on?

    Some days the world around me looks so desperate and hopeless that all I want to do is sit down and sob for every broken heart, every torn relationship, every lost, hungry, and oppressed soul. And I want answers. I want to know why God allowed this, that, or the other, where God was when so-and-so prayed for this, and what is being accomplished through all of this?

    I don’t have an answer. I could eloquently state some good theological concepts about suffering or talk about how we live in a fallen world and therefore injustice exists or say something about how it’s all for a reason. But at the end of the day, even though these things are true, that’s not what anyone wants to hear. The bottom line is that I don’t know why injustice and suffering happen and I don’t know how long it will continue.

    But I know my Redeemer.

    I know that the God I serve has promised that one day he will undo all of the wrongs, all of the suffering, and all of the injustice. I know that my Savior chose the path of suffering for himself, and if he was willing to enter into our world and experience pain and suffering then he must have a good reason for allowing it to exist. And I know that my God is able to do all that he has promised.

    I have hope, comfort, peace, and joy, even in the midst of a badly broken world. I don’t need to have all the answers and I don’t need to explain it all away. I know that my God is able and will redeem this world and that here and now he walks with us in our pain and our suffering. He chose to suffer himself and he chooses to come alongside us in every hardship, every trial, every tragedy. While it would be nice to have neat, tidy answers to all of these difficult questions, I have the only answer I need in the hope that God is working redemption in this world. I have his promises of present comfort and grace to walk with him through any circumstance and future redemption of all pain, suffering, and injustice. And I have the hope that in the light of the future glory that awaits us, even the most horrible pain and suffering imaginable will seem small. Take heart. We serve a great Redeemer.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
– 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

[soli deo gloria]

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Quiet Desperation...Breath of Assurance

    In the comfort of familiarity, it’s easy to feel safe and in control. One feels as if their bases are covered, they have a handle on things, and they are secure in routine. Independent. Composed. Protected.

    But once our routine gets rocked around, we are driven headfirst into something unfamiliar, or something comes along that we can’t control, our feeling of independence is shattered. We realize that we’re never in control, we cannot find our security and safety in ourselves, and no matter how collected we may look on the outside, there will always be times of inner turmoil.

    We realize we’re desperate.

   My summer has been crazy so far. Save the first couple weeks after my semester ended, I haven’t spent more than a week in the same place. I’m constantly running from one thing to the next, trying to be prepared for whatever is next on my agenda. And somewhere in the stress and chaos, I see it.

    Desperation.

    Try as I might, I will never come to the place where I can do it all by myself. I will never quite have a handle on things or be able to rely on my own abilities and strength to get by. My attempts at perfection will always come up short, and anything I try to bring to the table will never be enough.

    But this desperation doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It shouldn’t be a bad thing, because our desperation is meant to bring us to dependence. When we finally reach the breaking point and realize we could never handle things on our own, the door opens up for God to come in and breath his assurance that he is our strength. He is our provider. He is our joy. Our peace. Our Savior. Our life. When we come to the point of realization that we truly are desperate for him, we can truly begin to depend on him.

Desperate. Dependence.

[soli deo gloria]

Friday, June 1, 2012

Off-Kilter

    Perhaps the biggest miracle of the last few months is that I finished my first year of college. Somehow, I survived another piano jury, scraped by with some pretty good grades, and managed to build deep friendships and get plugged in at an amazing church. In big and small ways God has shown his goodness and faithfulness over and over again this year as I’ve begun an incredible new chapter of my life.

    The past few weeks I’ve been readjusting to life at home in beautiful Minnesota. As I’m finally getting settled in, it’s time to head off again tomorrow morning. I will be spending a week in Haiti, working at a mission that my parents have been connected with since they were in college, and then I’ll be counseling at a girls Bible camp on and off all summer. While I’m excited for all that’s ahead, it’s easy to feel like my life is spinning out of control, with something new flying at me just as I’ve begun to adjust. But I think God plans it that way on purpose. Before we get too comfortable he sends us just a bit off-kilter again, reminding us of how badly we need him. Indeed, we must rely on him with our entire being and cling to him, knowing that we are completely and utterly dependent on our heavenly Father.

   Simple truths. Easily stated. But how difficult to live them out! To truly surrender to God and let go of every last detail, knowing and trusting that he will come through and be sufficient in every circumstance. Always, when we begin to feel like we’re getting there, something comes along to worry us or stress us out or cause us to doubt. And I am convinced that each of those somethings were ordained by God to remind us and to cause us, once again, to cling tightly to the hands that created all things and hold all things together.

“I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.” – Psalm 16:7-9

[soli deo gloria]

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Entitlement

Whether or not we are intensely aware of it we all have a sense of entitlement. Some people it is more noticeable than others. Once in awhile you meet a person how doesn’t appear to feel entitled to much or if they do, they tend not to exercise their rights very often. But it’s still there. I am generally a fairly laid-back person who doesn’t mind being stepped on once in awhile because really, in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t that big a deal. However, I do still have a sense of entitlement. It doesn’t show itself very often, but it’s there.

It most often comes out when I am in a crosswalk.

Living in the middle of downtown Chicago, I find myself in crosswalks rather frequently, which is probably why I’m becoming more aware of my feeling of being entitled to something. When I am in a crosswalk I expect cars to stop for the red light or stop sign behind the crosswalk so that I don’t have to walk out into traffic to get around them. If they fail to do this I generally walk straight at their car, turn at the last second to walk around it, and then cut back very close to their vehicle in order to walk the rest of the way across in the crosswalk. If I’m in a bad mood I’ll throw in a sideways stare as I walk around them. Sometimes if I’m with a group of people we joke about things one could do to make the driver of the vehicle aware that you are unhappy with them for stopping in the crosswalk.

Last week as I was walking up to church I was somewhat irked by a car that decided to park itself in the crosswalk right in front of me. Seconds after my initial irritation I was struck by the thought that really, I had no right to be even slightly upset. First of all, it’s just plain stupid to be even a little bit irked by something so small and ridiculous that makes no difference whatsoever in eternity. Second, am I really justified in thinking that I have the right to cross the street safely or walk where I want to? Do I really have a right to anything? Isn’t it ironic that I think I have the right to walk in a vehicle-free crosswalk but then turn right around and question the right of the Creator of the universe to do whatever he well pleases? Isn’t it strange that I hold so tightly to my ‘right’ to be comfortable, to be safe, to do the things that I want God to call me to and not what I’ve actually been called to do? Isn’t it ridiculous?

My prayer would be that I learn to let go of the rights I think I have and entrust it all to the One who has the right to place me wherever he pleases, no matter what the cost may be. His ways are so far beyond mine that it is absolutely ridiculous to try to hold onto my ‘rights’ in place of his good and perfect plan.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9

May we, like Paul, lay down our rights in order to follow the path that God has called us to, and be a part of his work of redemption, his plan that is going far beyond what we will ever be able to see or understand.

“Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 9:12  

May we lay it all down in order to gain Christ and take hold of that which is truly life.


[soli deo gloria]

Friday, April 6, 2012

Smoothies and Silverware

On Tuesday evening I had an embarrassing moment that I've been trying all week to relate to some deep and profound truth about life. However I haven't been able to come up with anything, so you'll just have to read it, smile, and find your own lesson to take away from it.

I was on my floor going over to my dear friend Emma's room so we could go on a smoothie date when I ran into Chelsea, who was just walking into the kitchen. Knowing that Emma wouldn't be ready on time anyway, I took a brief detour to the kitchen to sit with Chelsea while she finished making some pasta. As she was pulling the pasta out of the microwave she asked me to hand her a fork. Trying my best to be helpful, I walked over to the silverware drawer, pulled it open and began my search for a fork.

Now, retrieving a fork from the silverware drawer should not be a difficult task. However, there was not one immediately visible when I opened the drawer, so I began rifling through the various utensils to find one. I still could not seem to locate a fork so I went to pull the drawer open a bit farther so I could see all the way to the back. Little did I know, the drawer had nothing to stop it when it got pulled out so it just kept coming, spilling knives, spoons, and serving utensils all over the floor. But still no forks.

I stood there for a moment, surrounded by a pile of silverware, holding the empty drawer,  and feeling ridiculous, uncertain of what I should do. Chelsea had of course heard the commotion that the dislodging of the drawer had caused and had turned away from the microwave to stare at me.

"Did you really just do that?"

Oops.

[soli deo gloria]

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Glimpse of Home

    This week I was blessed to have my parents visit as well as my pastor from my church back home. Faces from home are a wonderful sight when you’ve been away for three months. However the visits are always far too short and with the joy carry a hint of sadness. Once you’ve been refreshed by a taste of life back home it’s hard to begin another ordinary, and perhaps slightly dreary, week of school. And there’s always a small sense of uncertainty. After finally acclimating and settling in to life in a new place, you get a glimpse of the home you left behind and begin to feel confused about where exactly home is.

    I love my school and I wouldn’t trade the opportunity to study here for anything. In one sense Chicago has become my home and I have many good friends here who have become my family. But whenever I get a taste of my home in Minnesota there is a part of me that longs to be there, that can’t wait until the next break that I’ll be going home and enjoying the presence of my family, the church I grew up in, and the familiarity of the place I lived the first eighteen years of my life.

    Today as I was considering this it occurred to me that the sense of uncertainty that we feel in this world and that lack of ‘home’ in our lives here is a good thing. Although the insecurity can be frightening, it’s a reminder to us that we are longing for and hoping for something so much better than what we’ll ever taste in this world. Once we’ve caught a glimpse of who God is, we will never really feel like we’re ‘home’ until we dwell in his presence for all eternity.

“Oh taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”
– Psalm 34:8

    Having tasted his goodness and seen his great love for us, we can never be satisfied with anything else.

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
– Romans 8:22-25

    In the midst of busy days, long to-do lists, and a life that seems to go by faster and faster each year, it’s easy to lose focus and forget what we’re waiting for. But if we fix our eyes on Jesus and look toward the day when we will see him face to face, even the most dreary and ordinary days are filled with joy because of the hope we have in him. Even in the uncertainty we know that our hope is sure. And so with confidence and joy we press on, striving to become more like Jesus and give others that glimpse of what’s in store for those who have trusted in Christ.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
– 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

[soli deo gloria]

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Whatever is Lovely

There is so much joy and beauty to be discovered each day, not just in the major events or the world-altering experiences, but also in the simple, the short, and the small. Everyday occurances and details that warm our hearts and encourage our spirits. Little moments and ordinary events that give us strength and courage to press on, reminding us that life is beautiful. They bring the sparks of color and bursts of joy that we need to keep going.

A few things that encouraged my heart this week:

Lunch with profs - because they speak profound words of wisdom and truth without even realizing it.

D minor - because it aches with sorrow yet communicates a deep sense of peace.

Crumpled paper - for reasons unknown.

Bach - because I get lost in the complexity and overwhelmed by the beauty.

Timely notes of encouragement - because words are incredibly powerful.

Saturday morning coffee dates - because we all need motivation to wake up on a Saturday.

"He has made everything beautiful in its time." - Ecclesiastes 3:11


[Soli deo gloria]

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Winter Winds

This morning it snowed in Chicago.

I was walking to church. The snowflakes stuck silently to my plaid skirt and grey pea coat. Salt crunched under my boots and the fierce wind twisted my long, straight hair into a massive blond tumbleweed. The dampness of the air crept through my cotton tights and up the sleeves of my coat making me shiver.

I love winter. It’s beautiful. Harsh. Romantic. Inspiring. Cruel. Depressing. Wonderful. Cold.

Each year I’m overjoyed by the first snowfall. But somewhere as the coldest depths of January turn to icy February I begin to long for springtime – for colors, scents, warmth. With each step on the frozen concrete, as my nose and cheeks grow numb and I curl my fingers tightly into fists inside my mittens, I grow more and more impatient for the life that will again grow when spring comes.

Often life feels like winter. We enter seasons where the world seems cold, uninviting. Things are bleak, depressing, and harsh. The roads are slippery with ice and the unrelenting winds whip around us. We long for the beauty, warmth, and life that spring will surely bring.

But as we continue to plod down the cold street, sometimes walking straight into strong winds and icy snowfall, we find an open door, a warm haven inviting us inside. Unlike the locked doors behind bolted gates lining LaSalle Boulevard that I pass on my walk to church, there is one door that is always open to us. God softly, gently call us to himself. He invites us in, and we leave our baggage, soaked through with snow, by the door and come. He draws us into his presence, allowing us to sit with him while we warm ourselves by the fireplace of his love.

The harsh winds still rage outside and the icy snow continues to come down relentlessly. But we are warm. Safe. Near to God, resting in his presence.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

[Soli deo gloria]

Friday, January 27, 2012

Give to the Winds your Fears

    This morning as I flipped through my hymnal to find something to sight-read I came across this hymn by Paul Gerhardt (translated by Charles Wesley):

Give to the Winds your Fears

Give to the winds your fears,
in hope be undismayed;
God hears your sighs and counts your tears,
God shall lift up your head;
through waves and clouds and storms
he gently clears the way;
wait for his time, so shall the night
soon end in joyous day.

 Far, far above your thought
his counsel shall appear,
when fully he the work has wrought
that caused your needless fear.
Leave to God's sovereign will
to choose and to command;
with wonder filled you then shall own
how wise, how strong his hand. 

    After playing through it and reading the words carefully, I found my teacher’s collection of books containing stories behind many cherished hymns. I learned that the writer, Paul Gerhardt, experienced many painful things in his life (the death of four children while they were still in infancy, and the death of his wife after only thirteen years of marriage). When he wrote of storms, tears, and night in this hymn he had very real, very painful experiences to draw from.

    Now I don’t know about you, but the idea of giving my fears to the wind, realizing that fear is unnecessary is somewhat difficult for me to grasp. But Scripture confirms that this indeed is what our attitude should be: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God” (Isaiah 41:10).

    It’s interesting to me that God doesn’t use any qualifiers in this command. He doesn’t say, “Fear not unless things get really hard and scary” or “Fear not when you feel assured of my nearness.” He tells us not to be afraid simply because He is with us and He is God. The fact that God is with us is enough to make all fear absolutely unnecessary. Our fear is needless, as Gerhardt says.

    That doesn’t mean this is an easy concept to grasp or that we’ll always want to believe in God’s sovereign plan and purpose. But even when we don’t understand we are free to trust him, to give our fears to the wind and cling to the unchanging promise of our Almighty and Faithful God:

I am with you.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea…Be still, and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:1-2, 10


[Soli deo gloria]

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Piano Lessons

    9:00. Monday morning. Doane 408.

    Undoubtedly the most exciting hour of my week.

    The first thing I notice when I walk through the door is the fresh, clean Aloe-y scent that fills my piano teacher's office. Looking up from his desk my teacher greets me warmly, as if it's been a month since I've last seen him, even though it's been only a few days. He's often wearing purple and is always wearing socks that are interesting but subtle. I set my book bag on the chair by the piano, arrange my books on the music rack, and take my seat at the piano. My teacher sits next to me in his swivel chair and my lesson begins.
    For the first five minutes of each lesson our conversation would seem quite normal to anyone listening, as he asks me about my week and reminds me of performance class, student recitals, and any other essential information. After a quick word of prayer the normality ends abruptly.
    As soon as he begins working on music all formality or reservation is thrown out his fourth floor window. He sings, dances, and gives odd and sometimes slightly gruesome analogies, and I never leave his studio without feeling like I've been through a whirlwind. I never know what's coming and half the time if someone told me what to expect I probably wouldn't believe them.

    Although my piano teacher never ceases to surprise me, he also never ceases to inspire me. His dreamy and slightly forgetful nature are quite the opposite of my methodical and organized mindset, but the contrast makes a perfect springboard for learning. While he often doesn't recall all the details (I often hear things like, "someone said they started working on a duet with you. That's just wonderful! I can't remember who it was..." or "did we lay out all the pages of this piece side by side to look at the form, or was that with someone else?"), his sense of purpose and the attention he gives to big ideas reminds me to always keep the main goal in focus. I'm challenged to not get bogged down in all the details and lose sight of why I'm making music: to glorify God and reflect his creativity. I'm reminded of the joy it is to make music and I'm encouraged to pursue knew heights of excellence and greater depths of beauty.
    I've never left a lesson discouraged, and most weeks I'm running to a practice room as soon as I can to try out whatever crazy things we talked about in my lesson. Each lesson is more exciting than the last and each week I praise God that I have a teacher who brings joy and warmth to my heart, sets an incredible example of excellence, creativity, and joy, and pursues Christ in all he does.

"Whatever you do, do all for the glory of God." - 1 Corinthians 10:31

"The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life." - Proverbs 13:14

[Soli deo gloria]

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Faith like a Child

    How could God, if he’s truly good and truly sovereign, allow…? Fill in the blank with the world’s most recent disaster or a personal story of unbearably painful events.
    Something inside of us just wants to know why. Deep in our hearts we wonder, can we really trust that God is good? Sovereign? Is he truly faithful? Or has he forgotten?
    Yesterday I was speaking with a dear friend, Leola. A number of years ago she had some sort of accident and part of her head is gone. She now lives in a nursing home, and although she is able to function and interact normally, she has trouble remembering things and it can be difficult for her to hold a normal conversation. She knows that something is wrong with her, but she doesn’t know what happened. She often expresses a deep desire to communicate on a deeper level, but is unable to. Yesterday we were talking about God’s goodness and faithfulness even in the difficult and confusing seasons of life. I stated that sometimes it can be challenging to trust that God is sovereign and good when we don’t understand our circumstances.

     Her reply?

   “No. God is good.”

    What?! Why do I make things so complicated? Why do I seek to understand completely the intricate plans of the Almighty God whose ways are infinitely higher than mine? Why do I let the smallness of my own perspective and understanding cloud my trust in God’s faithfulness and goodness?

     “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God.” – Psalm 73:16-17

    Why do I forget how simple it is? Why do search for answers instead of just seeking to be in the presence of God? Why do I get angry and cry out that this or that isn’t fair instead of praising God because his plans are infinitely beyond my understanding?

    No.

    God is good.

    Faith

    Like a child.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Library

At the moment I am sitting.

In the school library. I am struck by how a place overflowing with both information and art can be so effective at crushing inspiration. Sure you may be inspired by what you read here, but the place itself crushes even the smallest bit of creative energy that I may have had when I walked in.

First of all, our library is a basement.

With pink and grey walls. As in most libraries you have to be quiet here, and the rows of brown shelves, brown desks, and brown chairs can sometimes overwhelm you with a sense of...brown. It feels small and enclosed and even people watching is rather uninteresting here since everyone is just quietly studying and doing nothing eccentric. The only good people watching is when someone does something embarrassing such as trip while running too fast down the stairs or get stuck in the turnstyle because their fob didn't work. And since I'm usually the one that things like this happen to, I don't get the opportunity of watching from afar as these embarrassing events transpire.

So. The library is not really the place for me. I much prefer to do my studying in busy coffee shops,on a noisy train, or in a colorful park. The pink and grey walls do little to encourage me in my academic and creative pursuits, especially when compared to the wonder of the wide open blue sky, the smell of leaves and grass in the fall, or the plethora of interesting people that one sees out and about in the city. While oftentimes these things can be distracting, I think that distractions are sometimes helpful, and more often than that they are inspirational. I certainly have never been inspired by staring at a grey wall or a beige copy machine, but rather by my encounters with other people and in experiencing the beauty and magnificence of God's creation.

The library is useful.

But the rest of the world is beautiful. Chicago is my campus, and most of my learning happens outside of the pink basement walls of the library. I could continue.

But I'm in the library.

Friday, January 13, 2012

How then ought we to live?

    Well, I have survived the first week of a new semester. I can’t say I enjoy getting my whole life turned around every four months, but even in the midst of the changes that a new semester brings there’s something that feels routine. My schedule is different, people have changed over break (some drastically, others not), there’s snow outside, and I haven’t yet figured out how to balance my new coursework, but the food hasn’t changed a bit, my piano teacher still brings joy and warmth to my heart every Monday, I’m still getting lost trying to transpose my homework for keyboard harmony, and most importantly God is still faithfully orchestrating all the details of my life each and every day. Some things feel drastically different and at times that’s uncomfortable, but I’m still here and I’m still excited to see all that God will do.



    In the middle of the stresses of week one there’s still been time for long conversations on the beach, late night walks with friends, piano dueting, and getting re        acquainted with my favorite study spot. Despite syllabus shock and music theory woes there’s much to be excited for this semester, and I’m reminded of how blessed I am to be here. The question I want to ask this semester is not will I conquer theory IV or will I pass all of my classes with flying colors, but who am I becoming? Am I being a good steward of the time that God has given me here to learn from some of the most amazing instructors, to be surrounded by wonderful friends who challenge and encourage me, and to prepare to serve him with my life? Am I truly seeking him and striving to become more and more like Christ each and every day?



    I can complete any number of academic tasks and graduate with an impressive GPA but, as one of my favorite professors liked to say, when I’m working in ministry nobody is going to care about that and nobody is going to give me a theology test. But they’ll be watching how I live.



    So who am I becoming? Who am I seeking to reflect?


    “What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?” – 2 Peter 3:11-12

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Oak Trees and Soggy Noodles

“Feelings and faith are always governed by the truth of God’s word.” – Pastor Greg Braly



    Although I’ve had my share of mountaintop spiritual experiences and would like to pretend that I feel absolutely confident and sure of my faith and trust in Christ all the time, let’s be honest: on an average day, I rarely feel like an ‘oak tree’ Christian. I often feel more like an overcooked spaghetti noodle, weak and wobbly, ready to be beaten into a pile of mush by any wandering fork that comes along to challenge my trust in my Savior. And even though I have been taught my whole life that salvation comes by grace and not by our ability to cling to God’s promises, stand unshakable in the face of various challenges, or whatever else, some days it’s just plain hard to believe that God hasn’t given up on the plate of wet noodles that my life sometimes is.

    But salvation is not based on whether or not I feel assurance, and the truth of God’s promises doesn’t change depending on whether I feel like they’re true in my heart. Our emotions ebb and flow but God’s faithfulness does not. In 1 Corinthians 1 we find what I believe to be some of the most comforting words in the whole Bible:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge – even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 4-9).

God promises that those who place their trust in him will persevere to the end. He has made himself responsible for us and he will never, ever let go. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, not even ourselves; you can bank your life on it.

    God also promises that he is working all things together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). Not that when we feel good God is working all things together for good, but that he is always working all things together for good.

    In Philippians 4 God calls us to not worry and instead present our requests to him and leave it in his hands (v. 6-7). Not to trust him when we feel sure and confident in our faith, but to trust him in everything, even when we feel like a ‘soggy noodle’ Christian.

    Nowhere does scripture tell us that we have to feel like something is true before we place our trust in it or that if we’re living for Jesus we’ll always feel good. Rather we trust and believe God’s promises, even when don’t feel like it and even when we don’t necessarily understand why certain things happen. And when we truly, deeply trust and cling to God’s promises, our emotions will eventually follow and we will feel assured of the reality of what we believe. But even when our emotions don’t follow and we don’t feel like God hasn’t just given up on us, his faithfulness and his promises haven’t changed. He is sovereign and in all circumstances he is shaping, molding, and transforming us to make us more like Christ. Even as we struggle to trust him and let him have control, God is not giving up on us or abandoning the work that he has started. He has made himself responsible for us and he will see his work to completion. He is and always will be who he says he is.

    He is God, and we’re not. Will we continue to love him and trust him, even when we don’t feel like it and even when we don’t understand?



Will I let him be God?



“And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.”

-        2 Corinthians 3:18-4:1