July 2015

July 24, 2015

How to Keep the Vacation High Going



You know when you get back from vacation and there are those precious few hours between arriving and really settling back into daily life when the vacation-high still lingers? You haven't quite gotten back into the swing of things, but you're still at home with laundry waiting in your suitcase and grocery shopping needed to fill the empty fridge, with a day at the office looming tomorrow -- all of the normal routine chores that every day life presents us with, creeping their little shadowing fingers over the sunshine we just enveloped ourselves in for the past week or so.
Well, I'm there right now, and as I fight the urge to ease into the choppy waters of the everyday, I find myself fighting for slightly nobler reasons than simply the lament of rest and relaxation. I just got back from a vacation that was filled to the brim with family time, extended and immediate. It was great being with people we don't get to see that often, and particularly sharing our daughter with them. Laughter, fun and even family crises brought us closer together, adding up to what I would count as a vacation for the record books.
But as we left the massive beach home and our parents' houses, returning to our modest apartment with no air conditioning, I can't help but somehow appreciate this life more than ever. Getting away from everything and seeing people we love has somehow left me with a feeling that life, as a whole, is wonderful, and the people we get to spend it with are what make it so sweet, especially the ones I get to see every day. I love my wife and daughter and our simple life together, and somehow taking a break from what is normal has re-framed my thinking as such.
And so, as the drudgery of work and responsibility tumble down into my psyche, I guard this feeling with gusto. It's easy to take life for granted when we are consumed by the everyday, lost in tunnels of routine with blinders of what-needs-to-be-done-and-when blocking our vision. But in reality, the everyday is what makes life so special, and appreciating each mundane moment we're given will lead to nothing less than a happy and joyful existence. Sometimes it takes a vacation -- stepping back -- to really see the beauty of the everyday.
And so I charge you, reader, as you head home from your week at the beach, don't lament your return, but thank God that you have a home to return to, and people to return with. For this is the place where the greatest pleasures of life are lived, and gratitude is the only lens through which you will see them for what they are: a life well-lived.
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. (1 Timothy 6:6-7)

July 11, 2015

Contentment



I have a really wonderful wife who grounds me time and time again, whenever I fall down some rabbit hole of self-doubt or self-pity. I've been in a bout of reconsidering my life lately; what I'm doing, whether it's all worth it pursuing a creative career. It's been sparked by a topic I covered here, and, through a whittling down conversation with my wife, has led to a realization that I have a "point of arrival" in mind and am feeling frustrated that I'm not there yet.
You know when you say someone's "made it?" That's my arrival, my destination. For me, it's doing a job I enjoy and getting paid handsomely enough for it to afford a comfortable life by the beach where I can work from home alongside my family (including my wife, who doesn't have to work because I make enough). Lofty goal, right? Well, what is that job? Five years ago it was making movies. At the moment it's writing books and maybe even songs. I know, I know...I should have gone into finance.
And so, with that goal in mind, I have spent the last decade or so laboring towards lofty dreams of abundance and pleasure. It was birthed out of a resolution way back in high school to not devote thirty years of my life doing something I hate just to make a living. But it's manifested itself in a state of restlessness that has kept me from enjoying far too many "present" moments.
What I mean is, my endless pursuit of the goal has kept me from enjoying the very moment I have. Every free second has been spent taking some productive step towards that creative endeavor, or at least feeling like I should have been taking a step, or maybe even just feeling guilty about not walking at all. The result is a restless existence of discontent, an ever-squeezing grip on the illusion that I have any control over my time, a pair of blinders that has both hindered my acknowledgment of what's around me, but also what's directly in front of me -- overlooking the present moment.
What my wife reminded me of tonight (and it's not the first time), is that all we have is the moment we're in, and to live a life of contentment means to exist in this moment with all the gratitude and appreciation that a thankful person should have, that a redeemed person should have.
 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)
Paul hits the real crux with that verse: Christ is our source (in everything), including contentment. To learn to be content is to be close to our Lord through daily communion with Him, in the present.
I'm a big fan of Judah Smith, and once heard him say that we endeavor our lives towards goals that we think will satisfy, but when we get there (and he's one that's certainly "got there"), we realize it's not enough. And so, instead of re-prioritizing or re-evaluating, we simply set new goals and a new "there" to head towards. The cycle never ends until we realize that God is all we ever wanted or needed in the first place (our source and our goal); but sometimes we never even get that far.
“Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord.’ It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.” — C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
I must let go of any illusion of control and any restless endeavor towards a goal that will not satisfy, and live in steadfast communion with my Lord, as He directs me and trusting that He provides. When I am in want, I need only patience and trust. When I have plenty, I must give. And when I am tempted to put too much stock in the future, I must thank God for the moment I am in now, because that's all I've been given; and that's enough.

July 4, 2015

The Source and the Goal


to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God...
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow into him who is the Head, that is Christ.
Ephesians 4:12-13a & 15
The unity of God's church is beyond important, so much so that it was one of the last things Jesus prayed for before he died. Here in Ephesians, we get a glimpse of two very practical ways to work towards this:
  1. Serve

  2. Speak the truth in love

Jesus exemplified both of these in His day-to-day service of the disciples (i.e. - washing their feet), and His often hard, but true, words to His disciples (i.e. - telling Peter, "Get behind me Satan!"). In examining His life, we have both the key and the goal to fulfilling God's purpose in this matter: knowing Jesus.
...so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12-13)
Unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God -- the entire goal of God's church is summed up in this verse -- God wants us to believe in and know God's Son. God's purpose for us is more than faith in Him for salvation, but rather that we know Him. Love Him. Be loved by Him.
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:22-23)
That verse always scared me because it features a lot of people who did seemingly big things for God, but then Jesus will not allow them into His kingdom because they do not know Him. If this is the case, investing time and energy into our practical relationship with God must take precedence over everything, even our works in ministry. And here is why:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge -- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)
Notice the order of things there: we are strengthened with power through the Spirit within us (Who is there only because of Christ's sacrifice), so Christ can dwell in our hearts (love). Then, with love as our foundation, we may have the power (together with the church) to understand Christ's love. Love leads to power leads to love. Only through a connection to Christ's love can we even have the power to understand his love better, leading to a fuller knowledge of Him.
Love is both our source and our goal. And this is the "fullness of God," His purpose for us as His church.