Peering Forward

New Year’s Eve isn’t usually an abnormally great time of reflection for me, mainly because I’m constantly reflecting- I’m always thinking over why I did something a certain way, or why God did something a certain way, or what’s to come.

But here we are on New Year’s Eve- when we look back at the old year and try to look ahead at the new one.  I was thinking- I don’t know very much that is certainly going to happen in 2010.  At first I thought, “No, I know that Dawn Treader is coming out on December 10.”  (I’m excited.)  But that’s not certain either- the date could definitely move.  Things that we have planned or that we think are sure to happen can always be cancelled or missed.  All I know is that God loves me and He’s going into this with me, so I try to base any resolutions that I make off of that knowledge.

I typically like to make resolutions as I go along, and not just on New Years’ Eves, but here’s a few ideas I have for the end of 2009/beginning of 2010:

1.) Make a “Gratitude List.” Write down every last thing you’re thankful for (this may take some time- mine has over 200 things on it right now, and I’m not done!). As you write things down, let God know how much you appreciate them.

2.) If you’re a resolution-maker, make a resolution! Someone once told me that one of the most common resolutions, according to statistics, are to “lose weight” or “exercise more.” I challenge you to remember that “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8) Maybe set a few goals for your spiritual life this year- like trying to spend more time in the Word or inviting someone to church. It’s important to remember, though, that our relationship with Christ isn’t just about winning prizes or accomplishing man-made goals, so such goals or resolutions should be focused on growing in one’s relationship with Christ and glorifying Him.

3.) Pick a theme verse for this year. I have a habit- I’m not sure if it’s a bad or a good one- of looking back at how I made it through the past year, then turning to God and saying something along the lines of “Yeah, God! We made it! Bring on the next year and all that comes with it!” Not surprisingly, the “next year” brings a great deal of challenge, and probably quite a few tears, and some frustration, and the “bring it on” attitude is nearly entirely lost. When I do have such an attitude on January 1, however, I usually whip out some Bible verse that’s incredibly encouraging and empowering. Last year, it was from Psalm 27. “I am still confident of this; I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” While that verse encouraged me several times throughout the year, I must admit that I completely forgot that those words were what I had kicked off 2009 for me. I wish I had jotted them down somewhere that I look often (as opposed to the place that I dug them up from to see what exactly it was that I said last year), because I know they would have lifted me up in the rough times that I was kind of expecting despite my “bring it on” attitude.

Regardless of whether you decide to share some of my end-of-year traditions, I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year’s Eve and Day and that God immensely blesses 2010 for all of us. It is my prayer that He will use 2010 to draw many, many people closer to Him. Happy New Year!

Christmas Songs!

A fellowship group that I’m in recently took a vote to decide which songs we were going to sing for our final week of worship before Christmas.

We could (a) sing a combination of our regular hymns, plus some Christmas songs, or (b) sing only Christmas songs.

The group chuckled a bit, figuring the vote would be unanimous, but a few people actually raised their hands for Option A- singing a combination.  The majority of the group however, opted for Option B.

I was one of those in the minority.  I love Christmas- it’s one of my favorite holidays, and I certainly love Christmas songs.  In fact, I have no problem with listening to them year-round.  That’s part of why I voted to sing not only Christmas songs for our worship time.

It wasn’t because I get tired of listening to the same catchy tunes all year long- it’s because I view Christmas hymns like I view all other hymns.  Some of them are reflections on something God has done for us and some of them are a way of speaking our hearts to God.

I don’t think that we should focus only during Christmas on how humbling and blessed it was of Jesus to come to earth in a teeny little manger, or focus only during Easter on how He died and rose again for our sins.  “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” should go right alongside “The Love of God.”  “Away in a Manger” can follow “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

Those “seasonal” hymns can encourage and help us just as much as much as the others can.  During a particularly difficult time in the past few months, a verse from “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” popped into my head.

“O ye, beneath life’s crushing load

Whose forms are bending low

Who toil along the climbing way

With painful steps and slow,

Look now! for glad and golden hours

Come swiftly on the wing

O rest beside the weary road

And hear the angels sing!”

Christmas was months away, but it was that encouraging experience in the middle of fall that gave that particular hymn greater meaning and fullness for me.

That being said, sometimes it’s difficult to remember all of these wonderful Christmas hymns at other times of the year.  I’m going to try to shuffle them into my music playlists.

I recently sorted my former “Christmas” playlist into two playlists.  One is “Christmas” and one is “Holiday.”  The Christmas playlist has Christ-centered Christmas carols and a number of contemporary hymns all mixed together.  The “Holiday” playlist has those same Christmas carols, plus some popular Christmas tunes like “Let It Snow” and “Christmastime Is Here.”

I hope you have a very merry and very blessed Christmas, and that it is filled with reminders of all sorts of how very, very much God loves you.  Merry Christmas!

p.s. If you have a chance, leave a comment and let me know what your favorite Christmas songs are, and why, if you have a reason.  I’d love to hear from you!

A Personal Jesus

With Christmas coming up, we’re often reminded that Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace- we know that He is our Savior and our King.

And those are all important characteristics of the King, but that doesn’t cover everything.  I don’t think any list we could try to make would cover everything.

I was talking about how God is our Father with a friend, and we discussed how we tend to think of God as far off.  We know that He isn’t, that He plays a big role in our everyday lives, but we still somehow don’t feel it.

That’s a shame, because I think that if we would fully accept our relationship with the Creator of the universe, our lives would be much more fulfilling.  Our heavenly Daddy loves us, and we are His children.  Why don’t we always see ourselves that way?

It can apparently be incredibly amusing to watch me read the Bible- sometimes I’ll laugh, or say “awwww.”  These are some of the passages that emit such responses:

  • “Then Jesus’ disciples said, ‘Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech.  Now we can see that You know all things and You do not even need to have anyone ask You questions.  This makes us believe that You came from God.”  “You believe at last!” Jesus answered. (emphasis added) John 16:31
  • “For I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid… O little Israel, for I Myself will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13-14)

o      (This is one of my most favorite verses in the Bible.  I imagine “little Israel” sitting there completely distraught, when her Lord and Father comes, gives her a hug, holds her hand, and says that she doesn’t have to be scared anymore.)

  • “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right.” [to one of Job’s friends in Job 42:7.]
  • “What you have just said is quite true.” John 4:18b

Can you see how personal God is in each of them?  He didn’t say that He loved us, die for us, forgive us, and move on.  He still loves us more than we can imagine.

The Bible has a lot of winding sentences, stuffed to bursting with prepositions and additional clauses.  I mean, we have verses like “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but I hate what I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do…”  And I think we hear a lot of the Bible in what I call a “Jesus voice-“ sort of a very soft spoken, but deep and secure voice.  You know, the voice that just about anyone who has ever portrayed Jesus in a movie uses.  And that voice seems to make Him seem further off.

While it is completely true that we are talking about God, and He is therefore not at all your everyday person, He does want to relate to us.  I don’t think one would leave the beauty and peace and perfection of Heaven to spend time with people that don’t treat them with any respect, much less appreciate them, if one didn’t love them and want to relate to them.

It’s sort of like running a day care.  People do not get down there with small, rather helpless little people who cry, and throw up, and get mad about nothing; step over who-knows-what-that-wet-spot-is-on-the-floor; and patiently pretend to be a dragon (typically a person over five feet somehow curled under a 2.5-foot-high table saying “roar”) if they do not love children and want to relate to them to help them make the best of their childhood.

I have no doubt that God loves me and is more than happy to be my Father in more than a disciplinary sense and my God in more than a controlling sense. He wants His child to soak in the words He’s saying.  Beyond just listening to some epically-spoken words, He wants me to actually hear Him.

Riches

So last week I talked a lot about how Christ made Himself nothing, so we have no right we to think we are “something” better than everyone else.

But I left out a very important part of an examination of humility.

We need to remember that God should be at the forefront of our lives in every way.  BUT God doesn’t just sit around thinking about how awesome He is (though He is awesome in the most literal sense of the word)- He loves us.  He treasures us.  We are worth something to Him.

Worth: being of value.  What things are worth the most to me?  I think it’s easiest to explore this question with the ages-old “What few items would you save in a fire/bring to a desert island/etc” question.

Here’s my picks:

1.) My mini Bible

2.) Some way of listening to music

3.) Is there any way I can shove all of Louisa May Alcott’s books into one volume?  I’m bringing it.  More points if the entire Chronicles of Narnia can also fit.

These things, among others, have great worth in my eyes.  I noticed that when you ask parents this question, they often say that they’d bring their family.  I’ve never had a child, but a number of people have told me that it’s once they have children that they begin to understand even more exactly how God loves us.  And as we can see in their responses to the question- their family is worth more than anything to them.

One of my most favorite Bible passages comes from Psalm 73 and part of it says, “Whom have I in heaven but You?  And earth has nothing I desire besides You.”  That’s quite a bold statement.  The speaker is entirely disregarding everything but God.  The only person or thing that is most worth something to him is his Lord.

I terribly fail at showing God that earth has nothing I desire besides Him- mainly because my priorities are often distorted and I do desire things on earth besides Him.  But I am sometimes overwhelmed by all that God has done for me, and I know that He is worth so much than I could ever fully imagine.

It is our great honor and joy that the Creator of the universe reciprocates those emotions… times infinity and perfection and eternity.

In Isaiah 43, God tells us that His people are “precious and honored” in His sight.

YOU are precious and honored in the sight of the most holy God.

So much so that He was willing to send His son to die so that you wouldn’t have to be separated from Him for eternity.

So much so that He blesses you with what you don’t deserve- the very definition of grace.

So much so that He forgives you when you mess up for- oh, who even knows how many times it’s been?

So much so that He gives your life a purpose for His pleasure.

The world’s offerings pale in comparison to God’s.  In fact, the world does a much better job of telling me that I’m worth anything at all- beyond the point of humility to communicating that I’m not useful here or loved here because of my appearance… my background… my differences…

But my God’s arms are wide open.  He’s reminding me that He is King, but I am His, and He loves me.

Rags

Humility, I think, is one of those things that we often believe we’ve achieved.

We consider pride and humility opposites, so if we’re not excessively proud, we think we’re humble.  At least, that’s the mindset I had.

God decided to spend a lot of last year, and this year as well, showing me how I am not humble.  There are lots of things I didn’t even think of:

1.)  A newspaper highly edited my article before publishing it and I was indignant.  How dare they change my work!  I failed to consider that maybe their version was better and that they knew what they were doing with some of the edits.  I realized that I was initially angry because they didn’t think what I had done was good enough.

2.)  One of the most frustrating aspects of humility (for me) comes with music.  I listen to a lot of people that aren’t very well known.  One of my favorite artists, only a few months ago a relatively unknown musician, suddenly exploded onto the mainstream music scene, and now many, many people love the artist’s music.  Instead of initially being thrilled for the artist, I was a little bit bothered- this was my underground discovery.

3.)  I’m bothered sometimes when I’m having a rough day, but I hold the door or something for someone anyway, but they don’t even look at me, much less thank me.  I’m a person, and it’s not like I’m one of those little wooden doorholders and this is my job, I remember thinking once.  (I must inject here that if Jesus didn’t do anything unless He knew He was going to immediately get a “thank You,” we’d be in quite a conundrum.)

I’m far from achieving the kind of humility that Christians are called to.

Philippians 2 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, 
he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

I think that’s pretty intense.  If Christ was only human, we would have found that to be Him in a completely pride-less situation when He died on the cross for other people, people who didn’t even love Him back.   Imagine how much more that is magnified since He is God!

So what are we to do?

This reminds me of a conversation that I had with one of my friends the other day about one of my favorites actors.  I marveled at his portrayal of one of my all-time favorite characters and then moved on to the actor himself.

“He makes his movie, does a few quiet interviews, and then sneaks off to [his hometown] to study and do internships and stuff. He’s so humble!” I remember saying.

“That’s because he doesn’t have anything to be proud about,” my friend retorted.  (The friend does not share my admiration of this actor.)

I thought about this for a minute, and then said, “Neither do the rest of us.”

I should alter that statement.  The rest of us also have nothing to be proud about outside of Christ.  He is the only thing we should boast in and the only thing that we should put first.  He is the only one that truly gives us life.  We can do all the “awesome” things we want here on earth- but when we’re face to face with God, and He’s considering our deeds alone as “filthy rags,” how cool we were won’t matter much.

It’s definitely hard, but I want to work to follow Christ’s example.  My pretentiousness doesn’t help anything.  But when I stop thinking about how important, or special, or cool I am, I can focus more on how glorious and beautiful and perfect God is, and I can let Him shine through me instead.

Later in the Philippians 2 passage that I referenced, the author tells us that we should “shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.”

One theologian says that the author, Paul, is referring to the fact that he can’t wait to rejoice that his ministry in, through, and for Christ resulted in “lasting fruit” for his Lord.  Even then, it’s not about him.  He’s happy that he’s doing what he can for his Best Friend.

And we, in the meantime, are shining like stars!  It’s quite a leap to go from being filthy rags to shining stars.

I suppose it might have to do with acknowledging that we are small, and God is God.