Tuesday, January 2, 2007

A blog worth reading...

Here's a blog I'd recommend reading if and when you have the time. This man stumbled on my blogs, and as I went back to look at his I was greatly encouraged. I pray you will be as well.

Job's Tale

His and mine are two very different blogs, by very different people, in very different places in their lives - but both with a heart to glorify God in their use of art.

Peace with all of you.

- Chris

Looking back, looking forward

How does one sum up a year? How does one even begin to describe all that has occurred in the previous 12 months/52 weeks/365 days/8760 hours/525600 minutes/etc.? Too much has happened. Even a 2000 word essay would not begin to describe all that has happened in this year - nor even all that I have learned in it. No, there is so much that happens every moment, so much that we learn in our daily conversations, that no single post could hope to explain all that has occurred. I can, however, describe in some detail the kinds of changes God has been steadily working in my heart, at least in the broad strokes, and that is, I think, of far more worth than any lengthy description of the sequence of events of this year. After all, what are the events but the vehicle for the accomplishment of God's purposes and for the glorification of His name?

With everything that has happened, particularly in the last six or seven months, it's almost difficult to remember one year ago as being only one year ago. It feels much longer, much farther back along the track of my life. The first several months of the year really set the tone for what was to come, though I wasn't yet aware of it. I faced severe stress from my scholastic schedule, combined with serious physical ailments (a week of excruciating migraines and dizziness, a still-unexplained but severe pain in the abdomen, and some of the worst cases of sinus infections I've ever had being the standouts). I was still working through various difficulties in my friendship with Danielle, which would only end up intensifying as the year went on. The first several months consisted spiritually of a very dry season - and my failure to press on in spite of the dryness. I was increasingly feeling as though I had no real relationship with my Father, regardless of how much time I was spending in the Word or praying; and eventually I began to simply do less and less of both, out of frustration and busyness. I was also feeling very lonely. For the first time, the newness of college was wearing off and I was beginning to understand how much work it was to build solid, meaningful relationships with the people at OU. It wasn't something I'd really had to deal with that much, thanks to growing up with a group of three exceedingly close friends. I recall one conversation in particular with Travis where I expressed both those sentiments, at length.

In His infinite grace and mercy, my Father intervened in March, when I went to Glorieta. I can honestly say that the days on the road with Travis, combined with the six days at Glorieta, listening to the teaching of some very Godly men, refocused me, and set me on fire on again. Wednesday evening, Travis, Ryan Bentick, and I sat down to watch a DVD presentation in which Louie Giglio elaborated on some of the sentiments behind Chris Tomlin's song Indescribable. As we were led to consider the magnitude of the work done by Jesus Christ on the cross, it was if a wall broke down in my heart and I was simply washed in the Spirit's presence. It was the first time in months I'd been so aware of the presence of God in my life, and it broke my heart in so many ways. I came away from Glorieta energized and ready to go forth in a new way: I had a vision like I'd not had before; I had a sense of God's purpose starting to grow in me; I had the surety of His reality and His presence; and I had (I felt, for the first time since getting to OU) some true, deep fellowship. From there, as Travis and I visited my family and church in Colorado Springs, there was increasing excitement in me to go and do as God was leading: in discipleship, in pursuing a deeper knowledge of Him, and in dedicating all I did to His glory. Those three goals really became the themes for the rest of the year spiritually - along with an increasing awareness of God Almighty's all-sufficiency and my own inadequacy.

The rest of the semester was challenging but extremely enjoyable and rewarding on many levels. Friendships were burgeoning and growing in depth and spiritual intimacy in ways I'd not known. Schoolwork was going well. I was relatively healthy. I was delighting in my composing and being involved in the musical community. Now that my crisis of decision - early in the semester - about what degree to pursue was over, I found a great deal of peace in everything I was doing. In the music I composed, in the physics problems, in the church activities, in my friendships - in everything! - I was finding great joy and peace, knowing that I was in line with God's will. For the first time in a long time I was able to simply be at peace with being single and in waiting for the Lord's timing - to be truly content in where He had me. Those last few months of that semester were probably some of the most enjoyable months I've ever had. More than happiness, though, I was very much in joy and peace from the security I was finding in knowing that I was following after God.

The summer ended up being very different from the end of the semester. It started out decently enough. The first few weeks were calm enough, though they certainly hinted at what was to come. First, I started having to confront what could probably be diagnosed with clinical depression. (That lasted until much more recently, and that's been part of what I've had to deal with in recent months, making already difficult circumstances even harder. God's faithfulness is amazing, though!) I started work three weeks in, and by that point I'd already had the relationship difficulty start. Looking back, I can see how God was preparing me for the rest of the year then, and I can see how much I failed to put my eyes on Him. The first is encouraging, the second still breaks my heart. How easy it is for us to get caught up in what the circumstances look like and then becoming frustrated at God because our expectations are not being met. His plans truly are so much better than ours. I increasingly became frustrated with the work situation - both because of my own heart and because of the circumstances. Then, after six weeks of work (nine weeks into the summer) everything started to seemingly fall apart: I got pretty badly hurt, straining my back. And relationships started to sour. More and more I was finding myself emotionally torn apart and weakened. And again, I put my eyes on that quite a bit, instead of focusing on God Almighty, who was allowing these things for the edification of many, not only myself. In hindsight I can see how powerfully God was orchestrating all these things to work for the good of those who love Him. It's quite remarkable, though it really shouldn't be a surprise to me, having watched Him do precisely that all my life. By the end of the summer, I just wanted to get away from Colorado Springs and the pain that it represented to where my life is.

The semester itself opened amazingly, and it was an extremely welcome respite from what I'd just been experiencing. God provided a wonderful job for me, one that far exceeded my expectations; and with it He provided the opportunity for me to get a new car, one that also far exceeded my wildest dreams of what I could be driving. Arriving in Oklahoma meant reuniting with many friends. New friendships started growing. Discipleship opportunities presenting themselves - both for me to be discipled and to be discipling. Open doors for witnessing. Places to serve. It was a huge blessing, and extremely exciting. I was overwhelmed with the sense of being exactly where I needed to be - of being home. Spiritually, I was just beginning to seethe fruit of preparation that God had been doing at the end of the previous year and then throughout the summer. Then everything started to fall apart circumstantially. And God began to be truly glorified in my life. I hurt my right arm, preventing me from using it for almost a month and a half. Friendships began to fall apart or vanish. I began to become aware of just how horribly and terribly fallen huamnity is, and how far I still have to go in the process of sanctification - and how utterly unable to accomplish any of that in myself I am. My pride became glaringly obvious to me, and has continued to. My selfishness was revealed in its ugliness. My disregard for the lost, my sharp tongue to all those around me, my doubt and disbelief, my callousness toward my fellow believers... all of it has been thrown into sharp relief. In the midst of it, I've seen God changing my heart. He pours out conviction, and then requires immensely of me. And it is the most incredibly exciting process I've ever been through. I prayed months and months ago - probably in about September - that God would mold me to be wholly His, that my every action, word, and even thought, would be for His glory; that He would do with me what He willed, regardless of what that looked like, regardless of the cost to me. And He is starting to show me what that road looks like. The more trials come, the more I find I can simply point to Him, because my own strength does not suffice. Likewise, in every gifting He's given and every blessing He's poured out, I am more and more able - thanks to the work doing in me - to simply point to Him and say, "To God alone be the glory. This is of Him, and not of me." Everything that He's allowed - whether it seems good or ill in the moment - has been for marvelous purposes. Whether it be so that others may be encouraged, I be called closer to Him, both, or even things I know not at this juncture, every event He has allowed is and will be used for His glory and for the accomplishing of His will. That is a marvelous perspective to have.

I have begun to learn what joy is. I have begun to grasp the meaning of peace. I have begun to understand what God meant when He said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness." How marvelous a thing it is to see our weakness, our insufficiency, and our inability to please Him, and to be able to rejoice in that! It's something that cannot be communicated by words alone, but only by the living out of it. Truly, the more He becomes my all and all, the more I see how marvelous His plans are. Though sometimes my emotions scream out and my flesh wants to rebel, I know that I know that His plans are better than mine, that His ways are perfect, and that His timing and purposes in my life will far exceed every expectation I could have. Too, I am slowly learning to be content whatever my circumstances, knowing that they are what God has allotted for this time. That contentment, He is teaching me, is not merely a wearied and resigned acceptance of one's circumstances but a delighted embracing of what God has decreed for this time and this season. That's a hard thing - an impossible thing in the flesh, but all things are possible through Christ who strengthens us! Last (but certainly far from least) I have been increasingly convicted of the absolute need for us to be going forth and sharing the Gospel. There are so many dead and dying - and so many who've never even heard the Gospel. If we really know God, and we really understand our salvation - if we truly understand what we have been saved from and what we have been saved to - then nothing will stop us from actively proclaiming the Gospel wherever and whenever we can. It is too important not to. And so often we don't, because it isn't convenient. But He has told us to go and make disciples of all the nations. I don't know exactly what that looks like for all my life, but I know that in my day to day existence right now, it means actively telling those around me. Should He call me to go elsewhere and proclaim, I will. I don't know what His calling on my life is exactly, just yet, but I know that He will show me in due time.

Looking back, I see again and again God's perfect purpose, His will, His absolute faithfulness in my life and in the lives of those around me. How can we doubt Him when He proves Himself over and over and over again? It breaks my heart that we do. So here's my New Year's Prayer:
I pray that You will be glorified in my life ever more. I pray that You will teach me to rely on You fully and completely. I pray that You will show me Your ways. I pray for Your joy and your peace as a testimony to those around me. I pray for boldness to proclaim Your truth in love to those who are dying and need you. I pray that You will continue to open my eyes to my sinfulness and break my heart at how I rebel against You and defame Your name. I pray You will continue to reshape me in Your image. I pray Your will be done in every part of my life. It's in the name of your holy Son, Jesus Christ, that I ask these things, Father God, in the power that You've given me as You indwell me in the Holy Spirit. I love You. Amen.

- Chris

Monday, January 1, 2007

Good reading

Some recommendations here for your reading leisure (and edification, I hope!). I'll be putting up reviews of several books I've recently read soon (hopefully tomorrow, though I'm honestly not sure), and I'll also be putting up an end-of-the-last-year/beginning-of-the-new-year post, hopefully later today.

In the meantime, here are some links to articles by Ravi Zacharias on the differences between Christianity and Islam, and the uniqueness of the Christian message. Ravi Zacharias is an apologist who grew up in India and became a Christian at the age of 17 after an attempted suicide (elaboration in the articles), and because of his unique background, felt called to go share the gospel with non-Westerners, because he understands where they are coming from culturally and religiously. I hope you're blessed by the reading.

God's perfect peace be with you all!

- Chris