Stained by sin are the tips of my fingers
Stalked by death the steps that I take
Proud is the heart that beats in my chest
Sin is what’s left in my wake
Broken are the bridges that daily I build
Flawed are the friendships I keep
There are no ways to undo what I’ve done
The debt I’ve incurred is too steep
Someone must cover the cost of my sin
Someone must pay for my life
Nothing I do or say will suffice
I need the one they call Christ
Jesus Christ is the very Son of God
And He’s willfully died in my place
He’s gone as the lamb is led to the slaughter
He’s bestowed on all sinners His grace
Perfect was the life that Jesus had lived
Undeserving was the death that He died
But unworthy a foe the grave did prove
For Jesus has risen, He’s alive!
Not even the clutches of death could hold Him
There is no power below or above
Christ will triumph again and again
There is no match for His love
What we deserve is a sinner’s death
But Christ died for you and for me
Death could not hold Him, nor will it ever
Thus by Christ we’re alive, we’re free
Psalm 30 – Thank you, O Lord, for… lifting me up when I’m down, answering my call for help, bringing me up from the grave, looking on me with favor, keeping me secure, making my mountains stand firm, turning my wailing into dancing, clothing me with joy, and allowing my heart to sing!
Psalm 136 – Thank you, O Lord, for… being good, doing great wonders, understanding and making the heavens, spreading out the waters upon the earth, making the great lights, protecting Israel your people, leading them through the desert, freeing us from our enemies, remembering us always, giving food to every creature, and loving us forever!
Ephesians 1:15-23 – Thank you, O Lord, for… supplying us with faith, hearing our prayers, giving us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, allowing us to know you, opening the eyes of our heart, revealing the hope of your glory, enlightening us, empowering us with your strength, raising Christ from the dead, granting Him rule and authority, and fulfilling us through Him!
Philippians 1:3-8 – Thank you, O Lord, for… giving us partners in the gospel, granting us the spirit of brotherhood, allowing us to pray with joy, giving us confidence, beginning a good work in us and carrying it on to completion, dwelling in our hearts, sharing with us your grace, abounding in love, and filling us with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ!
Psalm 100 – Thank you, O Lord, for… giving us a reason to shout for joy, allowing us to worship with gladness, hearing our joyful songs, being the one true God, making us and making us yours, ushering us into your gates, loving us with everlasting love, and being faithful through all generations!
Colossians 3:15-17 – Thank you, O Lord, for… sending the peace of Christ to rule our hearts, making us as one body, giving us reason to be grateful, sending the word of Christ to dwell in us, allowing us to teach with wisdom, inspiring us to sing and rejoice, being our every reason to give thanks, and accepting our thankfulness!
Thank you for the sun
And also for the breeze
Thank you for the sky
And for the clouds and the trees
Thank you for our breath
And thank you for the light
Thank you for the day
And also for the night
Thank you for movement
And thank you for stopping
Thank you for listening
And likewise for talking
Thank you for adventures
Thank you for the journey
Thank you for growing
And thank you for learning
Thank you for life
And even for death
Thank you for knowing
When we need to rest
Thank you for the blessings
We get to enjoy
Thank you for smiling
And for laughter and joy
Thank you for trouble
And for the hard times
Thank you for the lessons
That shape our lives
Thank you for freedom
For the choices therein
And thank you for saving us
When we choose to sin
Thank you for mercy
Thank you for grace
Thank you for Jesus
Who died in our place
Thank you for your pardon
For the power of your blood
Thank you for faith
And thank you for love
Thank you for being there
And thank you for caring
Thank you for your kindness
And for always sharing
Thank you for the past
For today and for tomorrow
Thank you for the days
That you’ve let us borrow
Thank you for choosing us
To live and to love
Thank you for the day
We’ll join you above
For now give us courage
Grant us peace and wisdom
So more souls might thank you
For all that you’ve done
We thank you, our Father
And Jesus, the Son
We thank you, Holy Spirit
All three, who are one
We thank you in earnest
We thank you from the heart
We thank you for your love
And for all that you are
The past few years of my life have been a whirlwind of craziness, adventure, challenge, and growth. I’ve done so many things in such a small window of time it’s hard to keep it all straight. Just two years ago I was finishing up school and looking forward to finding a teaching gig. I landed a few interviews but with the economy struggling there weren’t many teaching jobs to go around. That led me to consider other options, one of which was teaching abroad. Looking back it’s quite obvious to me that God put this all in motion a long time ago. And here we are, nearing the end of 2014, and I’ve since spent almost two full years in Chile. Like I said, those years have provided me with a smattering of life experiences and moments that have been both challenging and unforgettable. Without a doubt these years have left their mark on me, in the best way possible, and I’m coming out a better man for it. This year God has taught me so many things, and most of them fall into these four categories: perseverance, prayer, humility, and trust.
Most of my time here in Chile has flown by. And I’m not exaggerating. It feels like I’ve blinked maybe three times since February and it’s almost October. Both this year and last have been filled with amazing experiences, but they’ve had their share of struggles as well. There were days I didn’t feel like getting out of bed, days I didn’t want to go to work, days I felt overwhelmed, and days I felt misunderstood or alone. But boy was I wrong. God has been with me the entire time. Those moments where I felt a certain weight on my shoulders were due to any number of factors. Homesickness, eternal winter, isolation, exhaustion, and even illness at one point. In each of these situations, among others, there were instances where I took my eyes off the Lord, the result of which left me feeling alone in whatever I was facing. The weight grew infinitely heavier when I tried to go it alone. But when I focused myself on the help and the hope that were always within reach, the problems I was facing slowly grew smaller and I gradually gained more faith that I would overcome them. Moments like these are bound to come, regardless of whether or not we lose sight of the Lord. Frustration, loneliness, and exhaustion are things that happen in life. What matters is how we react under such circumstances. God has taught me again and again the value of persevering. This was the first year in my life that I worked full time and lived on my own. Complicating things even more were visa issues, language barriers, and the fact that I worked independently the whole year. For the first time I had to pay all the bills on my own: rent, food, internet, cell phone, transportation, and the like. There were numerous moments where I barely managed to scrape enough together to pay all the bills. Private English classes were my main source of income but they were hardly reliable as my students could cancel at their own will. It was no loss to them, yet to me it made all the difference. Moments like these were tough for me. But pressing on in these moments develops character, and it prepares us for future challenges. It also helps us to get through the hard times quicker. I now know never to give up because I have it within me to press on. I have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside me and I have God on my side. In no moment was I going it alone, and never will I have to. With the Lord’s help I know I will overcome.
I’ve also been taught a lesson or two about prayer. And let me be up front here; I’m not simply talking about asking God to do things in your life. That’s a vital piece of prayer, but a piece nonetheless. God genuinely cares about what’s going on in our lives. He wants us to succeed and he wants to help us. He also wants us to come running to him, whatever the situation calls for. Be it for help, a shoulder to cry on, to celebrate, or to ask for forgiveness. God is our Heavenly Father and he wants us to seek him out. I admit that there were stretches during these past two years where I fell away from devoting time to prayer. And those stretches were most likely when the lowest moments occurred. It wasn’t that God had stopped being faithful, or that I had hit a stroke of bad luck. It was my own lack of faithfulness to God. My own laziness, or whatever excuse you’d like to plug, prevented me from feeling close to God when I needed him. And that’s on me. Prayer is sometimes made out to be a chore. It’s like a checklist item that we feel obligated to complete at some point during the day. And while it should be done daily, it shouldn’t be a burden. From all of the examples of prayer in my life, too many of them have been in moments of hurt or need or desperation. It’s like we only resort to prayer if nothing else is working out. I am really bothered by this. God has been helping me and showing me how to restore joy to my prayer life. I look forward to speaking to him. Even if it’s at night before I fall asleep, I love telling him about my day. I love praising him and telling him how much I appreciate him. Sure, I ask him for help as well. I’m always going to need it and frankly he’s the one I most want to receive it from. But God is so gracious, and so good, that prayer should be joyous. It’s a privilege that we can speak to him freely and a massive blessing that he listens. And he truly cares! So pray faithfully and do so joyfully. You won’t regret it.
Humility. Man, are these fun lessons to learn. I’ll be flat out honest and say that I’ve always thought myself a pretty humble guy. I can’t stand showing off or bragging. I don’t revel in the spotlight. I try to never come across as arrogant or ungrateful. But sometimes I am way off base, and I know it. These lessons are the kind that sting at first, but for me it feels so good afterward. I’m thankful for the episodes over these past few years where I’ve been put in my place, so to speak. There were various moments in which I was shown what true humility looks like. I’m talking about the kind of humility where you submit yourself before others, even when they don’t deserve your time or respect or help. It reminds me of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. He’s the King of Kings and he had no reason to be washing the dirty feet of men that would later betray him. But he did wash their feet. This is the kind of humility that very few people are good at. I am trying to get better at it. I think our modern-day society possesses a very subconscious but firmly set idea of elitism. We are always comparing ourselves to the rest, aiming to stay above some meaningless standard we set for ourselves and others. As long as we stay above that line, we’re better than the rest. I have very gratefully come to realize that I am only the best at one thing, and there is no reason to compare myself with anyone else. Care to guess what it is? I’m not the best at soccer or hockey. I’m not the best at Spanish. I’m not the best writer. I’m not the best teacher. But I am the best at being me, and that’s precisely what God created me for. He didn’t make me to be any other way but the way I am, and that is perfectly good with me. I am made in God’s perfect image. I am made to glorify the Lord, to serve men, and to love them both with a humble heart. So in humility, I will ever attempt to do these things to the best of my humble ability.
Lastly comes trust. In today’s world trust is quite a rare commodity. There are very few people that we entirely trust. Be it with our belongings, our secrets, our past, or our lives. In order to give out trust we require others to earn it. Sadly, we hold God to this same standard. We don’t fully trust in him until he proves himself. We’re all about the proof. And even when he does, we sometimes rescind that trust because he didn’t come through in the way we wanted him to. Well, shame on us. God doesn’t need to earn our trust. He should always have it. God has provided for us in so many ways it’s absurd. He put us on this earth. He put breath in our lungs. He gives us free will. And he gave up his one and only Son to save us because we screw up all the time. So yeah, God deserves our trust. But what God has done this year is show me again and again, time after time, that he wants me to trust in him one hundred percent, all of the time. God has opened so many doors, just at the right time, that I can’t even count. He has also closed doors that needed to be closed, exactly at the right moment. And even when there were no doors to be opened, but he wanted me to get somewhere, he opened a timely window. I can’t even fathom or come close to explaining how incredible everything has been. God has guided me right to this very moment. What I’ve learned is to lean on God through everything, and to never doubt. If he wants something to happen, it’s going to happen. He always finds a way. And if not, no worries. It wasn’t meant to be and he’s got something even better in store. And that’s the fun part. If we trust in him, let him take charge, and team up with him, we’re in for one wild and fun ride. It may bring tough times and obstacles. In fact, it most certainly will. But when we trust in him there’s nothing to worry about. Trust in him, even when you have no idea what’s going on. Because he does.
As you can see, I’ve done a lot of reflecting on all the growing I’ve been doing. Maybe you got bored and skipped ahead or maybe you spent the whole time nodding in agreement. Maybe you’ve already learned all these lessons or maybe they’re on their way to you right now. Whatever boat you’re in, I challenge you to take a step back from life for a moment. Life is so crazy and we get so busy that we forget to consider this stuff. Hopefully you haven’t forgotten to consider God. But even if you have, it’s okay. He’s right there, waiting for you with open arms. And if you have been relying on him, take a moment to think about all he’s done for you lately. Reflect upon what you’ve learned. Sometimes we forget that the lessons that God sends our way are meant to help us grow into better people. And if we forget to work on these things, his lessons just go to waste. So again, I challenge you! What has God done for you lately? What have you learned from him, or from others? And finally, I encourage you, to never stop trusting in him. Never stop asking him for help or celebrating with him. And never ever stop learning from him. He’s a pretty awesome teacher to have.
The world and I are not alike.
The world spins at the same pace, day after day after day. It never speeds up. It neither slows down. It remains constant, ever steady. I, on the other hand, am not constant. I can sit still no longer than a moment. I may run quickly but surely I will tire. I am fast and I am slow, but I am not steady.
The world and I are not alike.
The world is neatly divided. It has its Northern and Southern Hemispheres. It has its North and South Poles. It has an equator and lines of latitude and longitude that clearly separate and define. I, on the other hand, am not neatly divided. I am part boy and part man. I am one part strong and the other part weak. I am both proud and humble. I am one moment serious and the other giddy. But while the world is black and white, I am grey.
The world and I are not alike.
The world is dominated by the fittest. The weak are brushed aside to the fringes and stepped on while the strong succeed and survive. The world has no mercy on the lesser man. The world is unrelenting. I, on the other hand, am unfit. I would prefer not to step on the weak but rather to give them a hand. I would rather not be first, but actually last. Greed is something I try to avoid, and not collect. I am in favor of mercy, of forgiveness.
The world and I are not alike.
The world is a created place, a landscape. It is also a canvas, so to speak. The world is lived on by many people, and those creatures paint the earth, sometimes beautifully and sometimes with ugliness. I, on the other hand, am a created being, a person. I am also an artist, so to speak. Both the world and I are creations, but I am made in the image of the Creator. Therefore, I can also create. I am not painted on but I do the painting. I leave my mark on this world, in whichever way I choose to do so. It may be beautiful, and uplifting, and meaningful. Or it may not be. That is up to me.
The world and I are not alike.
The world is a temporary residence. It is finite. It will have an end. I, on the other hand, am not temporary. I have a soul, and that soul does not have an end. It is everlasting in its being. When the earth has long been dissolved, I will still be, in some other place. I will be alive and well, not because I deserve to be, but because it has been offered to me and I´ve accepted. The world ultimately ends in destruction, as will all who choose the world over their souls. The world, at its core, is wicked. But in my core, should you pry open my soul, dwells one we call the Holy Spirit. And he is the stamp of everlasting life, the seal of the Almighty God, and by his word I will not perish but have eternal life.
The world and I are not alike.
Two months out from a big race and I decide to go for a training run. I get ready, mentally and physically, plug into my running playlist and take off. There’s a route I like that heads toward the highway and crosses over into a peaceful countryside. It’s sometimes louder, colder and windier, but to me it far outweighs being chased by dogs in the town center. So, I cross the bridge over the highway and get a glimpse of the trail ahead, beaten down on by warm rays of sunshine. It’s a welcome sight after a few days of rain kept me from heading out. I round the corner fronting the fields and run parallel to the highway, looking not towards the sporadic passing of trucks but towards the country, and towards the sky. In this moment I see the clouds part and the sun burst through in a way I haven’t seen in some time. People say not to look at the sun, but I can’t refuse. It’s as if the heavens are opening up. The warmth that’s beating on my chest and face is indescribable, and I’m filled with an overflowing peace and joy. An infectious wellspring explodes within me and I begin to rejoice as I run. I’m literally pointing to the skies and jumping, leaping and fist pumping. It’s as if I’m celebrating a goal at the World Cup; a goal that I’ve scored. That’s the kind of elation that I’m feeling. There exists this thing that people call a “running high,” a sort of euphoria experienced by distance runners when they reach this point of pure bliss and feel an extra jolt of energy. There also exists this thing that people call a “spiritual high.” This high refers to a place of spiritual satisfaction, peace, understanding and joy, often brought upon by retreat, meditation, or witnessing some miracle or conversion. And while this was likely somewhat a combination of the two, it was certainly more of the latter. I was high on running, on life, and on the Spirit. As the skies parted before me I witnessed a coming of light that I’d never seen before except in my soul. In my own heart, soul and spirit I’ve experienced bursts like this before, but this time it was different. It coincided with an explosion of light before my own eyes. The way the light refracted through the clouds amplified it in a way that made it otherworldly. I literally felt as if God was beaming down on me, lifting my spirit, warming my soul. He was cracking through the skies like a beacon, sweeping aside the darkness of this world as dust is taken by the wind. And there I was, leaping and rejoicing along the side of the highway, celebrating the grace that He pours down on us. I felt energized and relaxed at the same time. Despite the fact that I was salted with sweat, I felt cleansed. The joy that came over me was pure. The way my soul was renewed was breathtaking. And all that I felt was directly from God. As I continued running I dwelt on that moment, even as the clouds rolled back over the sun. That moment, that sunburst, that high, lingered in my soul, beneath my breast. And it still does some two days later. I’m consistently reminded and blown away by the mercy of our God, the way He renews us and cleanses us, the way He provides and cares for us. But above all, I’m flat out astounded at the way He loves us. Whether it’s apparent or not, I’ve spent days trying to formulate the words to describe this experience, and I’m still struggling to find them. Words aren’t sufficient; they fall short. And they will always fall short when we attempt to use them to describe our God, our Creator, our Savior, our Redeemer. I’m still blown away by this moment that I was gifted, but there is one thing that saddens me. The more I think about it the more I realize that God deserves that celebration, that jubilation, at all times. We should be on fire for Him, incapable of keeping His magnificence to ourselves. But it’s more often the opposite. We struggle to motivate ourselves. We lack the boldness, the gall, the strength, to step up and say something. Being loved and saved by the Creator of the universe deserves a celebration and euphoria far beyond that of a World Cup goal, or any other petty thing that we rave over. But we get things mixed up. Our priorities are wrong. We’ve got it all backwards. We give God ten percent and the world the rest. In reality, we should give God all that we’ve got. He deserves more than our lives are even worth. But instead He comes down to earth. He descends from on High, and dwells among us. Then, to top it all off, He dies in our place. We have life because He loves us to the grave. We have breath in our lungs and hope in our hearts because that grave cannot hold Him. Death cannot hold Him. He is greater. He is far greater. And now He’s exalted on High, at the right hand of the Father in heaven, and His Spirit dwells within us. In moments that are all too rare, we take notice of what this Spirit within us is saying. In moments like the one I experienced on my run, we realize that we have things backwards. So, I will continue to rejoice. I will continue to skip and jump and pound my chest and pump my fist and exalt the One who deserves all praise, the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings. Rejoice. I will say it again: Rejoice!