Thursday, December 31, 2015

The New to Come

Here we are, on the last day of the year.

We'll pull apart party poppers (say that three times fast), drink sparkling grape juice, make resolutions we sort of intend to keep, and make a big deal out of everything because "it's the first of this year!" And then there are those people who are always like, "remember last year, when..." and then go on to describe something that happened five minutes ago (okay I confess that person is me).

I hope you had a good year, even if was a hard one. In some ways, I think the hard years are the best years. They're the ones that help us grow, that make us better. 

For me, this has been a long year. On the outside, they don't look too different. but everything feels so different than they did twelve months ago.

I'm ready for this year to be over. It's kind of like Christmas. It's great and wonderful, but only for a limited amount of time. If Christmas lasted any longer than it does, it wouldn't be as special. That nostalgic feeling, that anticipation leading up to December 25 wouldn't be the same if it lasted all year (sorry, Buddy, I'm not going to treat every day like Christmas). It's like how Frozen was so over-commercialized that even I got sick of it.

I think a new season of life is about to begin for me. Honestly, I can't wait for this one to end. I'm tired of this semester, this year. It's go on so long it's overstayed its welcome.

I'm ready for a new season, I think.

I'm braver than I was twelve months ago. I'm closer to God, which is the best thing that happened. I'm more okay with who I am. And with who other people are. I know myself better, but I also learned that's it's okay to not know exactly who I am.

Everything that happens adds more to who I am. Every heartbreak, every happiness, every conversation, every blog post, every yes and every no make up big and small pieces of who I am.

I'm really grateful for this year. The opportunities, big and small, that God has given me have helped me to become a little bit braver. More honest, graceful, and confident.. More who He made me to be.

That what we writers call "character development."

Even though this year has been good (albeit hard and long), I'm ready for it to be over. I'm ready for this season to end and for a new one to begin. I'm excited for the coming year.

I'm going into it with the Lord as my strength, confidence, and song. I'll let go of the past to take hold of a New Year. All the same, there are memories and lessons I want to hold onto.

To the memory of hurt and the low places, to remind myself that I can make it through the dark.

To the memory of exhaustion--emotional and physical and spiritual--to remind myself that I'm stronger than I think.

To the memory of insecurity, to remind myself that I am more than what I see.

To the joy, happiness, and excitement, to remind myself that every good thing is from God, and should be cherished.

To the encouragement and love poured into me by friends and leaders, to remind myself that I am not alone.

I want to remember this. The very end of a long year. A vulnerable blog post. Words God gave to give me hope for the future. The expectation of unexpected hope. The end of a season that has overstayed its welcome.

The beginning of something, God only knows what.

I know that I will chose to love, to hope, to give grace and receive it, to be honest, to be confident. To be a little bit more brave.

I hope you'll come with me.

It's a New Year, and that's what's up.

>hg<

|| "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." 2 Corinthians 5:17 ||

Monday, December 21, 2015

Waiting for Joy


|| O come o come Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears ||

A nation in exile.

A nation in exile again and again and again.

A nation waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting.

A nation losing hope.

Until hope appears.

*~*~*~*~*~*

I love Christmas. I love the entire season, as it eases in from the beginning of November, growing up until Boxing Day. To me, it really is the most wonderful time of the year.

I love the music and the traditions and the cheesy Hallmark movies. Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of the shopping. I like being at home, or at parties with my friends, looking at Christmas lights inside and out, listening to Michael Bublé and drinking hot chocolate. It's just so wonderful and lovely and joyful.

Because that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

It started with a promise of hope glimmering in the darkness.

That glimmer rose and fell. Hope seemed to come and go to the nation of Israel. God's chosen people turned away and turned back time and time again.

It turned into a steady pace of waiting.

Waiting for things to change, to get better, to finally get this one right, waiting for joy.

And so one day, the Savior Israel had been hoping for, the King the world needed, Emmanuel, was born to a young girl. Born in an unsanitary cave behind a full inn in an overcrowded city. Born to the most unusual greeting ever.

Hope was born when no one was looking.

Joy arrived when everyone was ready to give up.

The Savior of the world came when the time was right.

So when you wonder why now? Why not now? Why haven't You showed up yet?

Hold onto hope.

Hold onto joy.

*~*~*~*~*~*

A nation waits for joy to come.

The greatest joy arrives.

A captive people wait no more.

Freedom, small and crying, enters.

Not with flashing lights and arrows.

A baby. The greatest destiny.

The greatest joy.

|| Rejoice 
Rejoice
Emmanuel shall come to thee
oh Israel ||

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

An Expectation of Hope

|| "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring." Proverbs 27:1 ||


Nothing this year went how I expected it to.

For instance, I did not expect "man buns" to become a big thing (unfortunately they did). Or for people to demand that I watch them do a stupid dance move (I'm proud to say that I have never whipped or "nae naed"). Or for people to demand to know what my shoes are (that was probably the most annoying thing). Or any of the other weird things that have happened this year.

But more seriously, there was a lot of disappointment. In different ways, with different things. That's not to say there weren't great things that happened, because great things did happen. Like, I got a cat and went to NITOC. But not so great things happened too.

Maybe it's just me, but I always have these unspoken expectations at the beginning of each year. At New Years, at my birthday, at the beginning of the school year. I expect all the things I've been waiting for to finally happen.

But a lot of those things didn't happen.

Some of them almost did, but came one step short. Or a lot of steps short. Some things faded away, other things grew in ways I didn't foresee.

Things have changed a lot in the last year. My priorities, my friendships, my relationship with God. Everything feels different.

I expected things of other people, I expected things of myself, I expected things of God.

But, as it turns out, I'm really bad at predicting things. Unfortunately for me, I day dream. A lot. I like looking ahead to the future, even just the near future. This leads to expectations. Expectations, too frequently lead to disappointments.

I misunderstand things and misinterpret things. I say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I ask the wrong questions, I put pressure on myself and other people. That's not fair of me. It's selfish. You don't owe me anything, any explanations. I have no right to ask, to expect that much of you. I'm sorry I have.

I want to be right about things. I don't want to be surprised, but that's usually the case. Life moves slowly, but when we look back it feels like an instant. Memories can be deceiving like that, and memories fuel expectations.What has happened, what people have done, change how we expect them to continue.

I have expectations for next year, even if I'm not sure what they are. But I have no idea what will happen next year. I can control so little. What I can control doesn't usually feel like enough to make any difference.

I guess that's why we have to live in the present. Worrying about the future doesn't change it. Worry keeps you from taking action. Worry holds back more good than bad.

So the expectation I choose to have is that of hope and faith. Hope that I'll make it to the other side. Faith that God holds the days of my life. Hope that extends beyond disappointments. Faith that is stronger than fear.

Sometimes the plans we make and the plans God has are two different things. We have to be willing to release our expectations, to have faith that His calling is greater than your five year plan, greater than the college we've had you've had your heart set on, greater than what you think you're capable of.

The future will come, and when it comes it will be different than how you expect. But nothing lot surprises God. He saw that plot twist a mile away when I didn't notice it until after it happened.

I don't know what's gonna happen next, but I know I'll need grace to get through it. That's what's up.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

The Gospel Actually is Good News

If you've ever spent time in a Sunday School classroom, you know that 'the gospel' means 'the good news.' And obviously the Gospel (Jesus coming to save the people of the world from their sins so they can live with God forever) is good news. So what's the big deal? What's the point of this blog post?

If you've ever spent time in the Youtube comments section ... you know that some people take "sharing the gospel" as "reminding someone that they're a horrible person who deserves to go to h-e-double hockey sticks" without giving these people any hope.

At the same time, we see Christians who are like "yah do whatever you want Jesus loves you he just wants you to be happy" and neglect to actually remind them that there is a big problem with just doing what you want.



So many modern day Christians have fallen into the trap of one of these two ideas:

1. You're All Sinners Who're Going to Hell Heck


This isn't necessarily false. It's true that we're born sinners, and thus we're born destined for Hell. But when this is the only message we teach people, no one is going to want to follow Christ. It's a fear tactic, and can actually have the opposite intended affect. People hear this and think "well, if I'm going to hell anyway, I might as well live how I want to."

Yes, the people of this earth are born sinners. But when sharing this message, we forget the message that should follow: there's hope. We're born sinners, but we can be born again children of God. In our race to get the first half out, we forget to mention, "oh, by the way, you can be saved from Heck because God loves you that much."

In our rush to judge, we forget to love. While people do things that are wrong all the time, spewing a bunch of hate at them isn't going to help. That makes it sound like God wants to send people to Hell, as if He takes pleasure in it. But that's the opposite of the truth! God doesn't want anyone to go to Hell which is why He sacrificed His Son so that we don't have to go to Hell. That's the point of the Gospel! That's the goodest any news could be!

But sometimes, people take the "good news" to mean "feel good news." Which brings us to number 2

2. God Just Wants You to be Happy


This kind of message is very popular in mainstream culture. Every time I go shopping I see at least one t-shirt in every other store that says "good vibes only." We live in a feel-good culture. Wondering why sex sells? Because sex feels good (for a little while). Why do people party? Because alcohol and drugs feel good (for a little while). This is why mainstream Christianity is so accepting of everything. It makes Christianity attractive. It takes out all the hard parts of following Christ so you can go to Heaven with all the benefits of living an earthly life.

This type of Christianity is super inclusive and sounds great on the surface. Mainstream Christianity is feel good Christianity, and feeling good feels good. How do you become a part of the Feel Good Gospel denomination?

Step 1: Take a verse out of context!

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord. 'They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11 - AKA the only verse in Jeremiah. (Unless you ask the super fundamentalist Christians from the first point. Then Jeremiah 17:9 is the only verse in Jeremiah.)  

Step 2: Interpret the verse to fit your opinion!

Well, since God's plans for me are good, then that means my life is gonna be awesome! Nothing bad is ever gonna happen! Whatever I do, it's good because God said so right there in Jeremiah!

Blimey Cow may have done a video on this already...

Step 3: Tell everyone how great Christianity is!

You can do this with inspirational Instagram posts, clever tweets, and fluffy blog posts! Just don't mention condemnation of sin or anything,  Those are major turnoffs for potential future members of the Church of the Feel Good Gospel.

Step 4: Feel great!

Now that you and everyone who sees your inspirational Facebook posts are encouraged, go on living your life exactly how you want!

In all seriousness, God wants us to be happy. But we don't know the best way to make ourselves happy. He does. And more important than our happiness, God wants us to have a relationship with Him that goes beyond reading the verse of the day and snappy tweets. The Good News is that the gap between us and God was bridged by Jesus's sacrifice. You don't have to water God down because the Gospel is better than any feel good philosophy mainstream culture has to offer.

What I'm trying to get at in this really long blog post is that the Gospel, at its very core, is the absolute best news you'll ever hear. Because of that, it's only natural that we share that good news with others. Not out of a legalistic obligation, but because we care about others, and we want them to hear the good news too.

The greatest commandments are to love God with everything you have and to love others like you love yourself. If you want the good news, you should want others to have the good news too.

The Gospel is the best news; that's what's up.