Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Glimpses of Future Blessing

            I used to hate roller coasters. Absolutely hate them. They scared me to death because I hated going fast and not being in control of where or how fast I was going. I disliked the idea of being forced onto some predetermined track and then being shot into unknown territory by way of sharp turns and dark tunnels. It completely baffled me that people would find them in any way thrilling or fun. It wasn’t until high school when on a church trip I went on my first real roller coaster (Viper at Magic Mtn) to impress a girl so that she wouldn’t think I was a wimp. Even after that I still didn’t like it completely, but it wasn’t as bad as I originally thought it was going to be. Screaming helped a lot.
            The last few months have felt like a really smooth roller coaster, almost like the Monorail at Disneyland. Things are, for the most part, looking pretty optimistic. I’ve received some major guidance from God and He’s been really gracious to me in over and abundant ways. The last week, on the other hand, has felt a little like that first real roller coaster. You see, He still has completely laid out my bath before me yet. He’s pulled back the curtain just a smidge and there are rays of light, glimpses of future blessing, peaking out. When I see them I get really excited and anxious and just want to scream, “JUST PULL IT ALL THE WAY ALREADY!!” Within the last week God has answered one of my major prayers: my wife Molly has been really stressed out for the last 6 months, mainly over her thesis. Lately, she hasn’t had any motivation to write it, and in all honesty I don’t blame her. I mean, who wants to just up and write a 50-page research paper? I understand that it would have been a wonderful trophy and something to be really proud of; and Lord knows I would have been first in line to congratulate her. However, she was stressing out over it so much because she just couldn’t seem to find the time or the energy to go research. It didn’t help that she was working 2 jobs and going to school, either. Anyways, I was praying and praying that God would provide a way out because I just couldn’t stand for her to continue on stressing like this. I wanted to see her enjoy her education like she used to and to simply enjoy learning. It wasn’t at all that I didn’t think she could write it; on the contrary I had full confidence that she would be able to do it. I just didn’t want it to be overly difficult, especially if she it didn’t have to be that way. Well, the Lord was merciful as He always is and provided a way out, and already the old bubbly Molly is back again, footloose and fancy free. It’s absolutely wonderful and I can’t thank God enough. (Just to clarify, Molly is not dropping out, she’s just choosing to write the comp exams instead of the thesis. She’ll still be Master Molly Keating at the end of this year. Stoked, bro…) Even better, she’s decided to get back into doing ministry at our church. I’ll let her tell you about it when she’s ready, I don’t want to jump the gun.
However, He has still reminded me, by way of unseen sharp turns and dark tunnels that have popped up in the last 2 days, that this is the way that He best prepares me for the journey ahead: one part Monorail, one part freaky loopy roller coaster. Uncertainty is, without a doubt, God’s greatest tool for shaping his disciples. If He told us everything we would have no reason to trust Him and without Him to trust, the only thing we have left to lean on is ourselves, which is the ultimate folly (Prov 3:5-6). So…the Lord hasn’t completely pulled back the curtain, and I don’t think He will for a while. And even when he does there will only be a small production set in place, with another curtain behind that. His full plan for my life will be unveiled in stages, with the final act being the most glorious. I won’t lie, there are times when it really irks me. Those glimpses of future blessing that he shows me every so often are sometimes like a teaser trailer for a movie I’m really looking forward to (Harry Potter 7.2!!), but other times they’re blurred road signs along a dark path that are frustrating to me. And then there are other times when I think I’m fooling myself and I begin to doubt his glorious and blessed plan for me altogether and I think that I’m reading too much into just random circumstances. And as much as I hate the uncertainty of it and the fact that to some degree it’s predetermined, it’s not as bad as I originally thought it was going to be. Screaming helps a lot.  

Monday, April 4, 2011

Heaven, Dear Reader

I’ve been thinking a lot about heaven recently. Lets be clear, these are not suicidal thoughts in any way. I would never be that selfish. Let me give some context as to why I started thinking about this. We were in church about a month ago and it came time for communion. The elder chosen for prayer said something in his prayer about having peace because our sins our forgiven. It got me started on a train of thought that was so glorious. The more I thought about it the more excited and peaceful I felt. I should have eternal peace because of the salvation that I’ve received as a result of Christ’s atoning death. My soul, the most important and valuable thing I have, has been taken care of. It’s security in eternal paradise has been bought and guaranteed. If God can handle the weight of my sin and purify my eternally iniquitous soul, it follows then that he is powerful and gracious enough to handle my pitiful day-to-day trials. This gives me great comfort because like most people, I get overwhelmed with the trials of this life. I get tired and weary of everything that I see and experience on a momentary basis. I’m tired of working, and I’ve been in the country’s work force barely a decade. I’m tired of temptation and sin. I’m tired of seeing human suffering on a world-wide scale. I’m tired of politicians and their sneaky and dishonest ploys. I’m tired of seeing the ones I love struggle and fight for joy on a daily basis. I’m tired of pain and worry. However, the more I contemplate my soul’s guaranteed fulfillment, the more this life and it’s struggles seem to fade in importance. The eternal, as always, matters more than the temporal. I long for the eternal. I long to be united with my Savior and spend eternity being overwhelmed by his glory and goodness. My soul is consistently hungry for eternal peace-it was created there and it’s knocking at the inside of me, begging to go home, reminding me that this life is not all there is. As the old hymn goes, “This world is not my home I’m just passin through.” Let me give you a concrete example of this. I live in Orange County but the rest of my family lives in San Diego County. Every time I go home, I unfortunately have to take I-5, but as soon as I get to the San O power plants and I see the sign that says “San Diego County Border”, I get this overwhelming sense of peace deep inside. It’s like my heart is whispering, “You’re going home. You’re almost there.” It’s a wonderful feeling and I imagine that the moment I pass from this life I will get that feeling on a much, much grander scale. I often think of that old Sunday school song, “When I get to heaven gonna walk with Jesus. When I get to heaven gonna see His face. When I get to heaven gonna walk with Jesus: saved by his wonderful grace.” Every time I sing that song I can’t help but grin. I get somewhat giddy too and I get this great feeling of anticipation and expectancy. Often times it brings a tear to my eye. I really want this feeling to last. It gives me peace in times of struggle to know that this pain will only last a little longer. Most likely I’ll live for another 60 years, but even that isn’t that long in comparison to eternity. It also gives me wonderful hope.
There is, however, another side of this that is hard for me to consider sometimes and I know I’m not alone in this. I know for a fact that pain increases my trust and faith in God, that I'm perfected through weakness and suffering. Christ himself “learned obedience by the things that he suffered.” Furthermore, I know that this life is not completely useless and I shouldn’t just throw it away and wait for Christ to return or for death to occur. I must take advantage of this life, since I only get one shot at it. Also, my salvation is bought with Christ’s blood and to waste my life would be to waste his death. One can’t underestimate the eternal value of Christ’s blood. I’m also very confident that God has some very great things planned for my future, some of them probably very painful, but still good in the end. I’m identifying a lot with the apostle Paul when he writes about being torn between this world and the next. This is the balance and tension that I believe every Christian should consistently seek. It gives one great hope and stimulates one towards perseverance, at least that’s the effect that it’s had on me. As the brilliant author Shaun Keating once wrote, “Hope, true hope, the kind that you sense almost physically like steam rising from your mouth; the kind you know has soaked in the misery from which it promises to save you–does not appear and disappear at random. It also cannot be conjured by any will or inner meditation. Hope is as much a part of human existence as breathing. The very fact that we exist and have free will and free minds: incites us to hope. We hope and have hope because God loves us and, secondarily, that we can improve our station in this world or at least our outlook on the station to which God has assigned us.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. God help us all…to live in hope and to celebrate Christ’s purchasing of our souls, in preparation for the ultimate celebration in the next life. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”