O Come O Come Emmanuel (Part 2)

It gets better!  I just found that one of my favorite independent music artists – Lindsey Stirling – recorded her own rendition of “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” The violin has such a melodious sound and the piano provides a beautiful accompaniment.  Best of all is the music video with a very inspirational message. Check it out here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozVmO5LHJ2k

P.S. Yes, I do have one minor qualm with the video and would challenge the whole “Be true to yourself” message, but I won’t lose the forest for the trees. Again, I am thankful for this carol, the talented performances, the gifts that God has blessed me with, and the gift of His son above all else.

Video

O Come O Come Emmanuel

Hard to believe we have arrived at the end of another calendar year already, but it’s advent season.  That means, among many other things, that Thanksgiving has passed and it is now permissible to play Christmas carols!  My absolute favorite is “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”

For many, they would see that as an unusual choice because O Come O Come Emmanuel doesn’t fit the stereotypes of a Christmas tune.  The music is written in a minor key, which makes it sound mysterious and eerie.  It has no culturally relevant subjects, i.e. no Santa Claus, no tree trimmings, no bells or sleighs.  Yet it does have the same effect as many other carols which is to bring great anticipation to this Christmas season.

I appreciate the theological richness of its lyrics, how it not only helps me to reflect upon the birth of Christ but it also reminds me how desperately I need a savior.  This year I have fallen in love with the song all over again!  Paul Baloche has released a Christmas album in which he added his own original lyrics to the same melody.  One of them spoke to me as I sang it in church this morning, and it is so fitting to the intended theme of this blog. Take a moment to reflect upon these words to see how it applies to your own condition, go listen to the CD, and make it a point to draw near to Jesus this Christmas season.

Paul Baloche - Christmas Worship  O come, O come, Emmanuel,
  And ransom captive Israel,
  That mourns in lonely exile here
  Until the Son of God appear.

  O come, O Son of God most high
  Deliver us from sinfulness and pride
  Restore in us a childlike heart
  To consecrate and set us apart

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel has come to us!

Intelligence and Wisdom

There seems to be a correlation between a person’s intelligence and the amount of time it takes them to complete a task.  I learned this today as I was loading a new class set of laptops into their storage cart.  For each laptop I had to remove a tray and attach the power supply using a combination of velcro straps and twist-ties.  Then I had to label the laptop, its designated space in the cart, and its corresponding power outlet.  The first time I attempted this it took me nearly 15 minutes.  As simple as the task sounds, it took me awhile of studying the cart’s design and reading the instruction manual to figure out how everything fit together.  Securing and labeling the next laptop became much quicker because I had learned some of the basic steps.  Then I found ways to be make the process more efficient so that by the last laptop I had reduced my time to under 5 minutes.  Practice and routine helped, but truly it was a problem-solving approach that allowed me to speed up the process.  My knowledge of the materials – that is, my intelligence – grew.

There are exceptions to this principle, but I think we can find numerous applications beyond my own.  For example, a fluent reader is able to work their way through a text much more quickly than one who is developing their reading abilities.  An auto mechanic is able to change an oil filter much quicker than a new car owner reading their owner’s manual.  An experienced chef can execute a recipe and even serve a large number of people in little time.  And by this logic we might even evaluate the creative processes of this universe.  If the evolutionary science holds that chaotic matter spawned life forms over an extended period of time then what would those same scientists be confessing about a God who speaks life into existence within a matter of seconds?

Proverbs 9:10 says, “Fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”  This is not a troublesome cowering in fear, but a reverent awe-full fear.  A respect for God in His holiness but also a respect for God in His judgment.  He not only sets laws but He is the standard and will punish all violators.

My previous reflections on intelligence cause me to look at this verse a little differently.  If the wise man is one who fears the Lord, the wise man would, therefore, be one who learns quickly.  One who recognizes what brings glory to God and what grieves Him.  And the wise man not only has knowledge of these things, he furthermore acts rightly upon it.  We are all intelligent in our own ways, but wisdom is a higher calling.  Wisdom is a learned (and demonstrated) obedience.

Unexpected Blessings

The last three years of my life have been…well, less than ideal.  At one time I had a certain anticipation of what I would be doing, where I would end up, what my life would look like.  Since graduating college, those visions were obliterated and now, three years later, my prospects of achieving those dreams are no closer to reality.

Today a number of decisions and trials caused me to reflect upon my station in life and all that has transpired.  While I never would have asked to be where I am today, I can still be thankful for where God has brought me.  Here’s a quick snapshot of some unexpected blessings:

MCC_Cook Auditorium

Past Wish: Attending traditional, perhaps even liturgical church
Present Reality: Attending modern, multimedia heavy church


Unexpected Blessings:

  • Participating in a church where attitude of love, unity is highest priority and lived out to fullest extent
  • Opportunities to get involved with or support countless ministries, missions
  • Ability to observe church growth strategies
  • Healthy social outlet built among many other young adults where I may not otherwise have found such treasured friendships

Teacher ClassroomPast Wish: Career in ministry, youth pastor or discipleship pastor
Present Reality: Career in education, school teacher


Unexpected Blessings:

  • Work in a Christian environment has expanded my knowledge of scripture and strengthened my faith
  • Teaching enables me to present Biblical truths on a daily basis while pouring into the lives of many students – same as youth ministry but with a more consistent schedule
  • Perhaps feeling more appreciated than in any other job/work environment

Monopoly ManPast Wish: Modest but comfortable income to establish independent lifestyle
Present Reality: 
Low income to require dependence on others and forced fiscal responsibility



Unexpected Blessings:

  • Multi-dimensional perspective to see, understand, even experience obstacles affecting those in poverty/impoverished communities
  • Necessity to balance and prioritize living expenses, professional development
  • Greater trust in God’s continued provision, whether in plenty or in want

Home OwnershipPast Wish: Home ownership
Present Reality: Living at home with parents



Unexpected Blessings:

  • Increased appreciation and love for family
  • Support in all the typical household tasks which I have been unable/set as a low priority
  • Ability to save, become better prepared for future independence

Fingers IntertwinedPast Wish: Steady relationship and/or marriage (with kids?)
Present Reality: Prolonged singleness


Unexpected Blessings: 

  • Appreciation for gift of singleness (unhindered focus on loving people/loving Christ, flexibility in schedule/commitments)
  • New eyes to sympathize with, understand emotions or trials of others who are single
  • Ability to learn about love and relationships, avoid some of the pain in sin and heartbreak by observing these through others
  • Numerous experiences to filter through good and bad counsel, to compare worldly models of dating with Biblical standards

So as not to misunderstand me, many of these desires are still very real and present.  Whether they are to be achieved soon or never, I put this list into writing to say I have a lot to be thankful for!  How could I imagine trading this life that God has blessed me with for a mere fantasy that I would have created on my own?  Granted, I am not where I want to be, not even who I want to be, yet God has placed me in a position where He could mold me into someone better than I was before.

What I’m Thankful For This Year

This year at Thanksgiving I am changing my tune, thanking God not for what He has done for me but for what he hasn’t done.  I can recount a number of occasions in the last 11 months when I made a prayerful request and He answered… in the form of denial.  Or there were occasions when I have taken an action and He restrained me, not allowing me to go any further.  These realities have been painful in the moment but, in retrospect, beneficial to my personal and spiritual growth.  Whenever God says “no,” I have been forced to realize (and to accept) that it was for my good.  His plan for my life is far more complex and grandiose than I can see in the present.  To say “yes” would be to cheat me; He has something better in mind.

I am thankful for what God has done for me.  Under those circumstances I experience His blessing.

I am also thankful for what God hasn’t done for me.  Under those circumstances I experience His grace.

How to Turn Oppressive Government to Praise

I am currently listening to an audiobook by Tony Evans entitled, “How Should Christians Vote?”  (If you’re curious, it is free to download this month from ChristianAudio.com)  Figured it is a timely book for this election season, possibly giving me justification for my candidate of choice or perhaps challenging me to think more about my rights as a participant in this American democracy.  Even if I don’t learn anything new or don’t gain any new perspectives, it might help me to reorganize my thoughts as a civics teacher.

Today a quote stuck out to me and, for a rare moment, I will say that the context is not as important as the immediate words themselves.  Tony Evans is quoted saying, “An overextended government, an overtaxed citizenry limits the freedoms of individuals to pursue their callings under God…”  Indeed, there is more meaning to his words (in context) than I am about to share, but the personal application of that quote led me to many thoughts.

This is a fair assessment, in my opinion, of the United States’s government in 2012.  Politicians have overstepped their boundaries as established by the Constitution and the government has assumed far more responsibilities than the divine institution of civil government is designed for.  The political body has well intentions, but instead of liberating the citizen base and empowering them with self-sufficiency it binds them with dependency upon the state.  Excessive taxes stifle economic growth and cause more anxiety than necessary for the average American.

I fall into that category as a college educated individual, working long hours but making a low income.  I don’t blame the government for such struggles because my situation is a personal choice; I sacrifice pay for something I love and feel like I am making a difference in students’ lives.  But I do feel the economic pressures as a typical consumer.  Prices are rising while salaries are stagnant.  Politicians are calling for an increase in taxes to account for the climbing national debt and record numbers of welfare recipients.  The list could go on, but I am no economist.

I don’t understand all of the ins and outs of our economic woes but, like many others, I do feel the strain on my wallet.  Tony Evans’s quote made me ask myself, why do I allow monetary issues to limit my effectiveness as a teacher?  A friend?  A lover?  A warrior?  When I carry angst over the physical or the material, I am submitting to the government system as if it owns me when in reality I have been called apart from the world and pledge loyalty first and foremost to my God.  There is no problem or limitation of money that is too great for God to address.  Even if I don’t see how something will work, I can be assured that God will carry out His work.  He only asks that I trust Him and obey.

It is easy to criticize the government and lament about oppressive rule.  Putting faith in things that are unseen is far more difficult.  But if the government were more liberating, if the economy were stronger, then when I do accomplish the work I am called to do, who gets the praise?  The state.  Temporal powers and earthly rulers.  Instead, God can do mighty works in spite of a bad economy and in spite of  crooked government.  Under those circumstances, the God who can make something out of nothing deserves and will receive the praise.

Repetitiveness and Abounding Vitality

An excerpt from Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton:

It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork.  People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact….

The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. 

A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. 

For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE.

Thanks-giving Post Script

This comes in response to my post on Nov. 20th about Thanksgiving.  Apparently I am not the only one contemplating these thoughts.  Here is an excerpt from a recent email that Ben Cachiaras, senior pastor of Mountain Christian Church, shared with the congregation:

Friendz Overnighter brown

A wise old saying reminds us “It’s a terrible and lonely thing to feel gratitude and not know whom to thank.” Okay, it’s not really that old, because I may have just made it up. But it’s true, isn’t it? One of the things I love about being a Christian is the way it totally orients my life toward God. I have a moral compass bearing, a constant sense of direction to my life, a consistent purpose to fulfill. 

And I always know whom to thank. “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, creator of all the lights in the heavens. He never changes, like a shifting shadow.” (James 1:17) If you are grateful for ANYTHING, don’t rack it up to random luck, hard work, or anonymous blessing that fell into your lap by chance of evolutionary process. Direct your thanks to God.  

And if you are in a difficult season right now, finding it hard to be thankful these days – because of your finances, your health, or some other hardship or hurt – remember that gratitude is not just something that comes flowing easily and naturally out of our hearts during times of plenty and blessing. Thanksgiving for God’s people sometimes must come out of our minds, because we decide to be thankful, even when circumstances are not all that great. We can be thankful, even in our times of struggle. It’s a strong person who can do that, and Jesus shows us that the worst life can bring is not too much for the Father to turn around into a reason for thanks. 

Life’s hurts and hardship can make you bitter. Or they can make you better. This Thanksgiving, let God make you BETTER, even in your hurt and hardship, by directing to the LORD a great big, hearty offering of thanks and praise. 

Thanks-giving

It is Thanksgiving week and that can only mean good things!  A two day work week for me, turkey and other seasonal foods, time with family, and more.  Every year plays out the same so I guess it is one marvelous 48-hour tradition that looks something like this:

Thursday morning I wake up early and prepare homemade egg mcmuffins for the family, casually watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade until I either get bored or annoyed with the frequency of childish pop stars.  My parents spend the next few hours (if not some time the night before) preparing a feast for the table, to which my aunt and cousin come over for a 2:00 lunch.  We socialize for a while, reflect on the year, and share what we are thankful for before travelling over to the living room where we watch a movie and/or football.  (This is probably the only game I get to sit and really pay attention to all season so that’s a treat in itself.)  Once half of the family has reached the end of the film and previewed one of the bonus features and the other half of the family has met their quota of time spent  snoring on the person next to them, we migrate back into the dining room for some pie or desserts.

The grand festivities end around 7 or 8 p.m., our guests proceed out the door, and we hit the sack.  Before I can process what happens next, the alarm clock is waking me up at 3:30 a.m. on Friday morning so that my mother and I can go hit the early bird specials for Black Friday shopping.  We race through our list, make out like bandits, head home with what little energy we have left, and sleep for the next 3 hours.  Whenever I finally reemerge to a state of consciousness, I spend the rest of the weekend preparing for school and the holiday draws to a close.

I LOVE THANKSGIVING!  It has to be my *almost* favorite holiday, second only to Christmas.  The traditions bring warm memories and the food satisfies my hunger until we do it all again next year.

The thing I find remarkable about Thanksgiving is that virtually everyone in the United States celebrates this holiday, no matter what age, race, heritage, or religion.  Everyone takes at least one day out of the year to give thanks.  We should do this everyday…but I’ll let it slide because that’s the message for another entry.

Let me reinforce that: Practically everyone in the United States observes Thanksgiving.   Have you ever stopped and considered the absurdity of that fact? What I find so peculiar is that in order to give thanks, you must have an object to which the thanks are offered.  So many people take up this cause as if  the sentiment were ingrained deep within themselves, yet at the same time so many people fail to acknowledge the God who is waiting to receive their thanks with open arms.  Is table fellowship and tasty food really that satisfying to inspire a universal attitude in the human race?  Is football really that influential?  Is consumerism really that powerful?  Maybe.  Perhaps American culture is truly that pervasive.  But I suspect there is a design behind the holiday far greater than any of these things because there is a God who makes us want to offer tribute. While we give thanks, whether it be one day of the year or every day of the year, we must remember the One who deserves these thoughts, praises, and prayers. Set him at the center of your table this Thanksgiving.

Introverts and Extroverts

I was thinking today about the difference between “introverts” and “extroverts.” Personally, I feel those labels are too narrow and the meanings they intend to convey are too broad.  It is likened to the “Type A” or “Type B” personality idea.  These terms don’t give enough particular information to understand someone’s personality or habits; it paints a wide brush stroke.  Not only that, but a stand-alone “introvert” or “extrovert” has significant flaws which the term glazes over.  There is no consideration to introverts who are looking to change their ways or extroverts who desire to be other than what they are.  And isn’t that our intended design? (Ref. 2 Cor. 5:17, Romans 12:2, and other verses that pertain to sanctification or regeneration)  But I digress…

So in my thoughts I figured two additional labels might help to better understand such characters.  I put together this chart which might define each and give better explanation to the so-called “introverts” and “extroverts” of pop psychology:

So what do you think?  Is this accurate or not?  Can you find yourself within these quadrants?  Or maybe I have used the wrong language in an attempt to clarify language.  Oh the horrific cycle!

Whatever the case, I lean more on the introvert side of the spectrum yet I hate being given that label.  In fact, if you were to look up the definition of an introverted person in the dictionary you would find everything ranging from a self-centered bigot to an autistic person.  Society puts such a negative spin on this category (into which many types of people would fall).  Feel free to correct my inner feelings: I am and introvert but I don’t particularly believe I am either of those.  So while I acknowledge my flaws and appreciate that God has made me to be a self-reflective person, I am not content with being a stagnant, introverted human being.  Instead of accepting the cultural outlook that I am a public nuisance or biological disease and instead of looking down upon myself for feeling mildly uncomfortable in large groups of unfamiliar people, I will give thanks for how God made me all the while striving to become better than the mess I am.

This is one of those many ideas I catalog away with the intention of writing a book someday that, in reality, I never will!  Your thoughts and inputs are appreciated in this silly matter.

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