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?


    God is good.


    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