Pressing Into Heaven…

This little devotional has challenged me in more ways than one. A. W. Tozer’s Born After Midnight  is bold in drawing the reader towards renewal and revival of the soul. I haven’t read much of Tozer before but in reading this little devotional it is very evident that his writings are a depth of knowledge, and I have barely skimmed them, desperately needing to go deeper in. He is a powerful writer and has a way of making the reader ponder the truths of Christ.

On the back of this book, he asks a simple question. This question has haunted me since I read it; it’s caused me to ponder the most mundane aspects of my life. He asks, “Will you press into heaven at the expense of earth?”  What does it mean to press into heaven? It seems so simple, but yet vague as well. How, on this earth, do I press into heaven?

The answer did not become clear to me until I paired it with my recent study of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This man has become a hero of the faith for me. He is someone I will always look up to. He did so many amazing things during World War II; it made me think, “I want to be like him! I want to do big things!” Now, Bonhoeffer fell in love with theology at a very young age. He was also a very talented musician. Once he was of age, he was forced to decide between the two, which one he would attend university for. He decided for theology. He attended a very liberal theology school in Berlin, Germany. It would still be a few years though, until he fell in love with God. He loved debating with his professors and colleges while holding a very conservative stance, but he still lacked a love for God. After some traveling, and a few other events Dietrich fell in love with God, and it only brought action to the great theological knowledge he possessed.

For the rest of his life, Dietrich would spend at least thirty minutes in meditation on a single verse of Scripture. He always prayed at the same time each morning, 6 AM. He eventually taught his brothers in the faith to do the same thing, creating a unity among them each morning. Even as war spread them further apart, they all knew that each morning they would arise together in prayer. Besides these things, Dietrich would study and write for hours on end. Even with this though, it is evident that in his life the two most important things he did each day were to pray and mediate on the Scriptures. Dietrich was pressing into heaven.

It is through the spiritual disciplines that one presses into heaven. These gifts of grace God has given us only wet our appetites for the eternal. When we read our Bibles, when we pray, when we meditate and memorize Scripture, we are pressing into heaven. It is only because Dietrich was so faithful in these “little” things that he could stand for his faith amidst one of the darkest times and places of history. Because of prayer, and Scripture reading he was able to die for his faith; he was able to thrive in his faith even in a prison cell. He pressed into heaven at the expense of earth.

Whenever you decide to wake up early to pray, you are pressing into heaven, but you are doing it at the expense of earth. You could just sleep in. Whenever you decide to do one thing, you are also deciding not to do another thing. That is the whole point, each time we chose a spiritual discipline to practice, we are choosing heaven over earth. This tends to bring momentum to your spiritual life that hopefully continues until you enter into eternity. The spiritual disciplines are meant to bring us closer to God and to a greater love for him. If we are faithful in these disciplines, if we press into heaven daily, God will create in us a longing for heaven itself, to be in the presence of the King for all of eternity. This place is not our home.

So I ask you, just as Tozer asked me, Will you press into heaven at the expense of earth? 

 

Advent Journal: He Is Faithful

“Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob” (Matt. 1:2a).

I have heard many people share their dislike for genealogies in the Bible. Why are they even in there? I mean, who cares who begot who and whatnot. I too have thought these very things until God revealed something to me while reading this genealogy that begins the book of Matthew.

The second verse in the entire book of Matthew is so important. It begins the genealogy, the family line, that would bring about the Savior of the world. Not only that, but it shows God’s fulfillment to the promise he gave Abraham so long ago in Genesis. “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2). This is the very fulfillment of this promise given to Abraham. And the fulfillment of this promise came against all odds. Abraham was old and his wife, Sarah, was barren. They could not have children. Not only this but twice Abraham gave his wife into the possession of another man, when if God had not intervened, the father of Isaac could have very well been in question. God was faithful to Abraham.

Circumstances can very easily destroy a family line. We’ve seen it many times in history: war, famine, or plague sweeps through and kills off an entire family line. God was faithful through all of life’s circumstance, through the mistakes made in the family. He preserved the line for Christ to come. This genealogy screams of the goodness of God. He worked through a messed up family to keep them together to bring the Savior to the world.

Not only was he faithful to Abraham, but he was faithful to all mankind by fulfilling his promise in Genesis chapter three: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). God is faithful to his word. Never once did he stray from his promise. The genealogy is a map of God’s faithfulness, showing how he preserved each person, each child, each family to create a scarlet thread woven through history to the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

The Christmas story starts here. It began with God’s promise the garden of Eden just after the entrance of sin. It began with his promise, and it was fulfilled through the family line of Abraham. The genealogy is so important to the Christmas story which is why it is the very beginning of the New Testament. It shows God’s goodness as he faithfully preserved the family of Abraham through forty-two generations to the coming of the Prince of Peace.

“So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations” (Matt. 1:17). 

Advent Journal: Immanuel

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” 

                                                                                                                                                         Isaiah 7:14

How do you view yourself? This is perhaps one of the more important questions you can ask yourself. Most of us, myself at the top of the list, think of ourselves much more than we think of anyone else. How do you think of yourself? Not just your appearance, your actions, your thoughts, but what do you think about your inner being, your heart? The truth is that no matter how hard we may try to be good, to do good, to think good, we are entirely evil creatures.

Mankind, all of it, is totally deprave. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). This is a vivid picture that Jeremiah paints for us. Even those that do good outside of Christ have a sick heart. Any deed done outside of Christ is black and empty. Void. If our physical features became a forecast for our inner motives and actions we’d all look like a horde of miserable wretches out to ruin and destroy anything and everything good. “The whole head is sick, and whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil” (Isa. 1:5b-6).

Reality is that we cover up our wicked deeds quite well. We hide the fact that our evil hearts motivate our actions. We hide our thoughts, we hide many of our actions, we tear others down to make much of ourselves. We are self-consumed beings; everything we think and say and do revolves around us. It is ingrained in us to be this way, passed down all the way from Adam.

While we might be able to hide some of our evil from fellow mankind, we cannot hide it from God. He sees our sin as “bruises and sores and raw wounds.” It is despicable to him, he hates the sight of our sin, so much so that he cannot even dwell in our presence while sin is ruling. This is why we have advent. We have no hope in ourselves; there is no possible way to purge ourselves of our sin. We cannot crawl out of the depthless pit we’ve created for ourselves. Our sin nature is rooted deep within our souls, and the damage has been done. God’s requirement is perfection which is so far beyond our reach. As soon as life is conceived, sin takes its reign and there is an impossible barrier between man and God. This is why we have advent, because we need help. We need hope.

The promise of Immanuel’s coming is mind-boggling. The word Immanuel means “God with us.” God came to dwell with sinful mankind. Don’t take this truth lightly. Those who sin constantly, consistently against Him are the very ones He came to dwell among. He left the glory of heaven, His Father’s side, to suffer on earth among mankind, coming to rid the world of its darkness, to crush the sin in our hearts once and for all.

He is our hope, our only hope. He is why we have advent; we need help and he is the only one that can bring change. Heaven met earth in one beautiful, strong, powerful word: Immanuel.

“Yes Lord, we greet Thee
Born this happy morning
Jesus to Thee be all
Glory giv’n
Word of the Father
Now in flesh appearing

O come let us adore Him” 

Advent Journal: The World He Entered

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, thought he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” – Philippians 2: 5-6

Fall is a beautiful reminder of the condition of the world we live in. The vivid green shade of the grass slowly fades into a muddled brown. The leaves of the tree turn brilliant oranges, reds, and yellows, then in a days time change to a lifeless brown. The air turns colder, the sky becomes cloudy. The delightful lively times of spring and summer pass into a melancholy monotony. It is a slow fade, a sad goodbye. Everything in fall points to the true condition of our world: everything is a slow fade to death.

You might have just gotten that new promotion, you may have just had your first child, you may have just won the lottery, but all of life’s circumstances are a slow fade to the end. The trees you see will die. The building you live in will crumble away. People that are born, will die. This is how life works, everything slowly fades into the sad goodbye.

This is why we wait. We wait with the hope that is set before us, that the Light might enter the darkness. It has been written on our hearts that we are in the darkness. We do not live oblivious to this, knowing only the darkness. The conscience that God gave us reveals slight hints of the Light. We know there is something more, but we do not know who it is. We cling to the promise. The promise that one would come to set things straight, to point us to the way, the way of Life. We fight against our self-absorbedness, looking up for the Light.

This is the world he entered into. A waiting world. A world longing for change, to be drastically called to new life in the glory of God. He also entered a dark world, where so many were not waiting, only blinded by the darkness, not trying to be changed from it. It was a world at war with itself, where injustice ruled and unrest is the only sure thing. The Light entered a world almost completely dominated by the darkness.

The Light entered this world.

He did not enter it haughtily or proudly. He did not enter it with dominion, condemnation, or conceit. He entered the darkness as pure light would with brilliant love, unspeakable joy, remarkable patience, beautiful faithfulness, eternal peace, selfless kindness, humble gentleness, powerful goodness, and grace upon grace.

A Prayer of Thanks Before The Big Day

Father,

I thank you for your church, your bride. I thank you that she can stand pure before you. She has been s encouraging to me. She has lifted me up when I am down. She has guided me to grow to love you more. She began with milk, soft food, easily broken down. Then, slowly, she gave me solids, harder to break down but more nourishing and enduring. She has prayed for me, walked with me, and guided me. And I have been a part of her.

I thank you for my siblings. I entered the scene onto turf owned by two toddlers, yet they loved me. Two more came after me, following in my footsteps. We’ve laughed together, we’ve fought together, we’ve cried together, we’ve grown together. The days of playing Nintendo games are over, the times for making movies has come to an end, the moments of trampoline jumping have been laid to rest. But, now, the long conversations have come; the nights visiting each other’s homes has arrived. We have grown to be tight-knit, they have drove me to love you more. They are your grace in my life.

I thank you for my two awesome parents. They loved me enough to correct my wrongs. They have guided me through the deserts of juvenile tomfoolery to the streams of wisdom. They taught me about the Light from an early age, so that I might not depart from it. They’ve laughed with me, they have cried with me, they have prayed for me tirelessly. I count it all grace, God. Where would I be without my parents?

I thank you, Father, for my bride. Alyssa has blessed me in ways I never dreamed. Through her, you have displayed such grace to me. She truly loves me, even amongst my failures, insecurities, and weaknesses. She loves me despite my sin. She is patient with me, she makes me laugh when I need it most, she is a woman of great strength. She walks in your ways and shines your light forth, all for you, God. She loves you first, even before me. You are her Father and she is your daughter. You have entrusted her to me, you have grown our souls closer together, until the day that they mingle into one. She is such a blessing and a gift to me that I am so unworthy of…

She is your grace displayed to me.

I thank you God for your salvation. I thank you that you first loved me and pursued me, making me pure before your sight. Even amongst my unfaithfulness you have loved me unconditionally. I sin against you hourly, but you do not depart from me.

How great is your faithfulness?!!!

I scream it into the sky, but no one has an answer. Your faithfulness is beyond my comprehension; this very question transcends human knowledge, reasoning, and emotions. It is unbelievable…

When the trials come, remind me of your faithfulness. In my darkest hour, remind me of this question. In the days of great joy, keep this question in my mind. When everything is awesome in life, remind me of your great faithfulness.

In all I do, let me worship you.

Identity Crisis

Identity.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines this word as “who someone is; the name of a person; the qualities, beliefs, etc., that make a particular person or group different from others.” This is a word that isn’t very common in our culture. I can’t think of many instances when someone would be able to use this word consistently. But still, it is a beautiful word. This word is the very essence of what makes up a person. Someone’s identity defines what they do, how they respond to a situation, their dreams, aspirations and hopes. Your identity reveals what you truly value. All of it stems from your identity.  Continue reading “Identity Crisis”

Silent Noise

This past week I had the privilege of traveling outside of the states for the first time. I drove with a couple of guys to Algonquin Park in Canada. If you are not familiar with this park, let me fill you in. It is basically a huge park made up of hundreds of small lakes. It is untouched by man. You are not allowed to drive motor boats, build buildings or docks, the water is uncontaminated and the wildlife untamed. We spent an entire week traveling the Algonquin and barely scratched the surface of the beauty there. It is vast, gorgeous, and pristine.

I left my phone behind, along with anything else that would be a distraction. Midway through the week we had a solo day. Our group of eight split up and spent the entire day alone. I brought along my Bible, journal, and a book I had been reading. I found a giant rock off the shore and set up camp for the day. I spent most of the day sitting on the rock singing, praying, reading, and thinking for the sake of thinking. It was an enriching time spiritually, a refreshing time physically, and a time of growth mentally. It wasn’t until reflecting on this time later that I came to realize the importance of silence.

Silence is grace given by God for us to grow to become like his Son. In Scripture, there is a pattern of men going out into the wilderness before important transitions or intense situations. Jesus went into the wilderness before his three years of ministry began. The Apostle Paul followed this same model (Galatians 1:17-18). Getting away from the distractions of life to focus on God is extremely important before a big life transition.

As many of you know, I am about to get married. This is going to be a really big change in my life that will come with its joys and struggles. With that being said, this trip could not have come at a better time. I was able to focus for an entire day on my Savior and what His sacrifice means for my life. It was refreshing and refocusing. I realized that a “solo day” only meant nine hours spent with the One who is always with me. I wasn’t really alone, but for aware of His presence. It was an incredible joy to sing with only Him listening. To read Scripture aloud among His creation.

I think a solo day is something I will try to recreate in my life. Many Christians harp on us if we spend time away from people. “You’re supposed to be the light,” they may say. “How are you going to accomplish that if you’re always alone?!” While I am not recommending you become a recluse living in a cave miles away from civilization. But in order for you to effectively be the light, I am convoked that you will need a day here or there spent entirely with the One you are telling others about. These moments of silence are where you will be able to experience God’s grace in ways you wouldn’t fathom.

Put away the phone. Get off the computer. Shut down your brain. Pick up the Book. Petition and sing praises to God. Grow in the grace of our Savior. I challenge you to find a day this month, and spend it entirely with God. You will not be disappointed.