The following is something I wrote on November 14, 2006 as I waited for my flight out of SEA/TAC airport back home to Fort Worth.

Airports are such lonely places.  I wonder if the folks who design them realize that they feel that way.  I mean, nobody is supposed to feel at home in an airport, but at least they could make it a little more comfortable.  It’s all stainless steel, antiseptic white, and fluorescent lights that are set in ceilings that seem to go up into oblivion.  Then there’s the cafes and magazine shops that scream “hey, come on in and get yourself a cup of joe or a Field and Stream…” all the while they’re ripping your wallet apart at the seams.  And sometimes the curt politeness of the airline staff seems like a charade that’s meant to corral your anger, frustration, or fatigue and keep you sedated with movies and classical music just long enough for the drink cart to come around in hopes that you’ll grasp your can of ginger ale and pretzels (too many people freak out about allergies to peanuts) and magically all of your worries will fade away.

Yeah, there’s something so impersonal and businesslike about airports, and it’s all centers around the longing to get somewhere, but having to wait around until your flight leaves.  In a lot of ways, I think this reflects what life on earth for a Christian is like.  Just a few more minutes of waiting at the gate and then we get to board the plane that’ll take us home.

And in the same way, I think there’s this longing, this gnawing feeling in the back of a Christian’s mind that something isn’t quite right, and that things aren’t what they should be.  It’s kinda like when you get halfway to work or the grocery store and you realize you’ve forgotten your wallet.  Only your wallet in this case is the innocence that was lost in the Garden of Eden, and this trip back involves lots of painful memories, frustration, and the humility that comes with repentance.

So we sit at our desks or in our beds and we think, we scheme, we plan out how things need to go for the right stuff to fall in line so happiness will finally break through the clouds of fallen frustration, but that’s never the way it goes.  Crap happens, things break, plans change, and it rains.  Especially in Seattle, which is where I’m at right now.

Anyway, the Bible says that we’re supposed to live like Christ is coming back tomorrow, or in the middle of the night.  I like that… it gives me a sense of urgency and purpose with where I’m going… makes me study harder for my seminary classes and be more intentional with my conversations.  But in the mean-time, I’ve got papers to write, phone calls to make, and that cup of joe that cost me half my spleen has hastened a trip to the bathroom that I hadn’t planned on.

But God also says that Jesus will return someday, riding on a white horse with an army of angels hot on His heels. He’ll save the day and the whole earth will be judged, some going to heaven, some going to hell. I don’t speak of this lightly, but I do think of it as something that is intangible… incredibly hard for me to understand. And I’ve realized after reading and thinking about the book of Revelation for a long time that my time is much more effectively spent studying the same things i’ve read a thousand times but still haven’t been able to live out. Or praying for my friends and letting them tell me what’s going on in their lives, because in doing so I learn so much more about God (through their eyes) than I ever thought possible.

So I find myself sitting in this airport, hanging out, waiting for my flight home just like everyone else and I catch myself wondering where everyone else is headed.  Some are going to Denver, some to Chicago, some to Alaska… but everyone at terminal A8 is going to Dallas, connecting over to Atlanta.  I sit, reading and studying my time away trying not to let this dull ache of loneliness seep too deep into my bones.  I wait, like creation, with eager expectation for the last boarding call, then the plane door closing, then for my plane to finally break through the clouds into the clear night air as I’m on my way home at long last.  Only then will I get to rest my eyes a little while, and then spend the rest of the evening at home with friends, laughing and sharing stories of my trip as well as theirs.

I can’t wait till we get to heaven and we can share our stories with each other by the warm furnace of God’s throne.  Then and only then will we be truly Home.

These woods are lovely, dark, and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep
— Robert Frost —
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

“In an airplane are kings and common men
at the window side by side, their view is now the same.
Some relax and rest their eyes; some sit on the edge
as we all break through the clouds into the light of day…”
— Bethany Dillon —

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Jesus and His Bride (Part 2)

Continuing on from yesterday’s post…

We also see that Christ lays down his life for his bride.  Paul tells us this in Ephesians 5:25 – that a man is to mirror Christ in laying down his life for his wife.  So Jesus loves his wife so much that he gave himself up for her so that she would be sanctified and would not have to suffer.  This got Jesus killed.  Men, in what ways are you dying to yourself, giving yourself up for your wife, and laying your life down for your wife so that she would not have to suffer?  What is she ‘putting up with’ or ‘tolerating’? I’m not saying you have to sell all of your guns and take up knitting, but I am saying that if you’re not willing to die a little bit to yourself, then you’re asking her to die for you.  Let me be clear on this:  this is in no way the gospel.  You die, she doesn’t.  And sometimes dying to yourself will feel like death – it’s not pleasant.  But you do it for her, and you do it for the gospel.  It’s not about you.  Single men:  Is the way that you structure and lead your life making it easier to die to yourself in the future, or are you ingraining in your life selfish indulgences that will cause you pain and anguish to rid yourself of them later? Asked in another way, are you becoming more selfish or more selfless?

As a follow-up to that first point, Christ deals with and takes on his Bride’s sin.  Second Corinthians 5:21 tells us that God make Jesus who was sinless to become sin on our behalf.  Practically speaking that means that as men we must take on her sin as our own and help her war against it as a useful husband.  To be clear, this does not mean that we ‘fix’ her or make her our project.  Do be a student of your wife and mirror Jesus by preparing to fight her sin (and your sin also) with her, but do not try to be Jesus and atone for her sin.  Only Jesus can and does do that.  To my single brothers:  Are you able to help your future wife deal with her sin in a Christ-exalting, gospel-centered way?  Can you tenderly help lead her to repentance when she is convicted, and continually speak the truth of reconciliation into her life? This, to me, is one of the main aspects of pastoring a home (did you know that you’re supposed to pastor your home?).  It doesn’t mean that we wear a cape or arrogantly school her in theology.  But it does mean that we walk with her and lovingly treat her delicately as the man who is spiritually responsible for her (see 1 Peter 3).

Another thing that I’ve seen is that Jesus makes preparations for his bride’s sanctification.  Ephesians 5:26-27 says that he washes her with the water of the Word so as to present her blameless and pure.  Isaiah 61:10 says that God covers his people in righteousness.  So as men we are to ready ourselves to lead a woman spiritually to her benefit and God’s glory.  This means that we must deal with our own junk, put to rest our own pet sins, and lead ourselves spiritually before we can with good conscience ask a woman to follow us.  So face down your pride.  Realize that your porn addiction is killing you spiritually (whether you realize it or not).  And know what it is to lead spiritually.  Obviously none of this happens overnight, and nobody is perfect.  But if we’re following the model of Christ and his bride, by all means we must hold ourselves to that standard so as to show the manifold wisdom of God to this world.  Do you know how to lead a woman spiritually?  Are you growing and are you prepared to help her grow in the Lord?

As Jesus intercedes on her behalf, he also makes preparations for her future prosperity.  By that I mean that he acts in such a way as to ensure that her future is bright, hope-filled, and joyous.  Revelation 21:9-27 describes the ornate and beautiful city of Jerusalem (which 21:9 says is the Bride), and that it is bejeweled, holy, has many pearls, gold, and precious stones.  As the description goes on, we find out that the city’s foundation stones are the Apostles and the people of Israel. Christ himself discipled the 12 apostles (minus Judas and including Paul) who then discipled others who laid the foundation of the early church.  So Jesus was intimately involved in planning and ensuring his bride’s future and prosperity.  Furthermore we see that Jesus in John 14:1-3 tells his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for us (the bride).  So between now and the time that Jesus comes back for us, he’s busy making sure that everything is in order so that it’s perfect in heaven for his lady.  So for those of us who aspire to marry someday, what does this all mean?  The question I’ve been asking myself is whether or not I’m making plans and ensuring a bright, hope-filled future for my wife or not.  Are you making plans to rid yourself of debt and help her pay hers off?  Are you putting into your life habits and structures that ensure that she is worry-free about the future?  Do you have insurance and steady gainful employment? All of these things are very practical, but are also important in preparing for marriage (at least as far as I can tell).  Mostly idea is that as men we must have some view and plan for the future, and it must be one that brings joy and hopeful expectation rather than dread and burden.

As Jesus readies himself much like a groom in that stuffy storage closet room that they always give the guys to get ready for the wedding in, he is pursuing his bride with godly intent.  He glorifies the Lord in everything, and he acts with conviction, passion, selflessness, and joy at the prospect of his wedding day.  He stays pure for her (see the model of Boaz in Ruth, Hebrews 7:26, and Revelation 19:11), and eagerly awaits her arrival.  And none of this is contingent on her past, the many suitors who have led her astray and into sin, or anything else for that matter.  She is his girl, and he is completely devoted to her.  Her ‘flaws’ or ‘imperfections’ are beautiful to him because they showcase the glory of God in her life (in her weakness she is strong in Christ).

I’ll end with this… we have no idea what Solomon’s bride in the Song of Solomon actually looked like.  We don’t have her picture or a likeness of her – and that’s not important.  What we do have, and what is immensely important is that we know how Solomon saw her.  She had certain features that were more prominent (her neck, for example, was like a huge tower) – and he praised her and doted on every aspect of her.  He lavished upon her compliment after compliment in some of the most scandalously and beautifully erotic language in all of Scripture.  So it didn’t matter what Solomon’s bride looked like.  And Jesus doesn’t care what his girl looks like – he knows she’ll be beautiful and unique and precious to him on his wedding day and for eternity.  So should it matter, then, what my bride or your bride looks like?  Maybe the most important thing is how we choose to see her rather than what features or accessories she’s sporting.  She is our standard of beauty, not some airbrushed, digitally ‘enhanced’ work of fiction designed to pull the maximum amount of money out of your wallet.  Jesus only has eyes for his girl – she’s his standard of beauty.  I’m going to do the same.

Just a few of my thoughts.  Let me know what you think.

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Jesus and His Bride (Part 1)

I’ve heard lots of wonderful teaching about how Christ relates to the Church is a beautiful metaphor for earthly marital relationships.  I’ve also heard lots of good teaching about following Christ’s example as a chaste and holy unmarried man and the ensuing practical steps for the single life.  What I haven’t heard much at all about Jesus preparing for his marriage.  Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about some heretical Dan Brown-esque idea that Jesus got married and had kids or anything like that.  Rather, a while back I made it a point to take a look at how Jesus is preparing for his Bride, the Church, in hopes that I could learn something about this season of life that I’m in, i.e. being single with the hopeful expectation of marriage someday.  So here’s what I’ve learned thus far.

First, Jesus loves his Bride very deeply.  From the many metaphors in Song of Solomon to his earthly and heavenly actions, his sacrifice, and the beautiful teachings in Paul’s letters we see that Christ is deeply and passionately in love with his Bride.  There are several places in Scripture that speak to this precious relationship, but one of the neatest is in the first five verses of Isaiah 62. God declares to his people in verse 4 that he will change their name from ‘desolate’ (or ‘Shemamah’ in Hebrew) to ‘my delight is in her’ (or ‘Hephzibah’) which shows his redeeming love for Israel – also known as Christ’s love for the Church.  The next verse draws a sweet metaphor along the same lines saying that in the same way a groom rejoices over his bride, so God rejoices over his people (Christians).  Do you have, and are you cultivating in your heart the capacity to deeply and passionately love your wife? This is not something that you channel through sports or competition – it’s something that you cultivate by spending time focusing on dying to yourself, giving of yourself to someone else, and serving your guts out for the glory of God.

Jesus also waits for his bride – his love is pure and wholeheartedly for her, and he awaits the beautiful wedding day that we see in Revelation 21 (see Matthew 26:29, cf. Mark 14:25, Luke 22:18).  Jesus won’t ‘take the cup’ or celebrate again until the consummation and celebration of the ‘wedding supper of the Lamb’ – or more clearly, when we (the Bride) are reunited with him in heaven.  Therefore Jesus waits for his Bride, and we anxiously await his return.  Therefore, in mirroring Christ, I must wait eagerly, patiently, and purely, reserving my love only for my future wife.  There are a myriad of ways in which to do this, but the main idea is to mirror Christ.  Are you waiting expectantly for your wife? This shouldn’t be boiled down to Facebook stalking or pining away alone in a pitiable state on a Friday and Saturday nights, but rather in preparation, in discipline, and with confidence in the grace of Christ to provide everything that you need when you need it.

One of the really cool things we see Christ doing for his bride that is a bit more subtle (but is immensely important and practical) is that he prays and intercedes for his bride on her behalf.  We see this specifically in Romans 8:34 (Christ died and is interceding for us at the right hand of God the Father), and in Hebrews 9:24 (he appears in the presence of God on our behalf).  Men, do you pray for your wife?  Do you seek to intercede on her behalf in the presence of God? This is a most precious ministry that we are given, and we must bear it well for the sake of our wives, and for the sake of the gospel.  Pray for your wife, and do so regularly.  If you’re single like I am, pray for your wife, and do so regularly.  Pray for her purity, her salvation, her friends and family to encourage and sharpen her, and pray for your children.

(I’ll post part two tomorrow…)

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The following is something I wrote on January 29, 2007 at the start of my second semester in seminary.  It is precious to me for a couple of reasons – first, it reminds me that God provides in dry times, and second, because I look back on that time with a joy that comes from seeing many of those prayers and longings answered.  Praise God for being a loving and gracious Father to his children!

Lately I feel like I’ve been wandering in the desert like Moses and the children of Israel.  After the exodus from Egypt, God had the Israelites wander so that He could lead them and purify them, preparing them for the Promised Land.  This time in Israel’s history follows their deliverance from slavery in Egypt and the giving of the Ten Commandments.  Israel has seen God make good on His promises to rescue them, they’ve seen Him perform many miracles (the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea), and they’ve been given His commandments. Why, then, does Israel need time in the desert?  What is wrong with them? They’ve been given explicit instructions for how to live (Commandments and Mosaic law), and yet they can’t uphold those requirements.

I’ve been wandering, trying to follow God faithfully through a wilderness season in my life.  I’ve struggled with prayer despite spending a good deal of time in the Word.  I’ve felt disconnected from God.  Why?  I honestly don’t know.  I’ve seen the Lord rescue me from my sins, I’ve seen Him work miracles in my life… the very fact that I’m writing this is testament to His grace!  Had I not experienced God’s redeeming presence in my life, I would have no taste for Scripture, no desire for redemption, and my soul would be on the path of destruction.  So I have been redeemed, I’ve seen God at work, and He has certainly given me specific instructions on how to live (Scripture).  So why, then, has God given me this time in the wilderness?

To answer this, I want to look back into Israel’s history.  Deuteronomy chapter 1 shows that Israel refused to enter Canaan.  They grumbled and murmured; lacking faith all along, so God sent them back out into the desert for a while to prepare them for what He had in store for them.  And this was a special time for Israel to be alone and undistracted in devotion to the Lord.  They learned an immense amount through experience and life to a point where God had finally prepared them to take the land that was theirs through His promises.

I think that college and seminary are a lot like this for me.  God is preparing me for ministry and for the rest of my life through my classes, my church, and through my ministry with BYX.  Every day I’m learning something new and seeing old lessons in a new light.  Someday, when God blesses me with a church ministry, I will be ready by His grace… but I will also look back on these ‘wilderness’ times and see them as a blessing from God.  In the same way, I’m preparing for marriage and family life – leading a wife and children someday.  Each day it seems further and further away, but still intimidating.

One thing, though… I don’t want to be too quick to think that my ‘wilderness’ is only limited to my educational career.  To be sure, many folks’ wilderness far outlasts their education, and many folks’ education far outlasts their time in the wilderness.  But to take a step back and look at things for just a minute, I’d say that in this life we’re never out of the wilderness.  We were meant for more… we were built for Heaven, and we spend out earthly lives preparing for our time in Heaven.  This is not to negate any ministry or opportunity here on this planet… they’re all wonderful.  But I do think that we need to put things into eternal perspective.  This earth is a training ground for eternity.  We spend our 60, 70, 80 years here and learn things from God, following His lead… and then we’re finally taken Home when He is ready for us to be ready.

The biggest encouragement for me is this:  the time in the wilderness is finite.  The children of Israel did wander for a long time in the desert, but they did finally make it to the Promised Land, just as God had promised.  In the same way, I know that God has built me for marriage and a family so someday my longings for those relationships will be answered.  I also know that God has called me into ministry… so my time in the educational wilderness is finite as well.  Someday I will be in a church or some other ministry serving Him, but not until He is ready for me to.

Another thing that I take heart in is that time in the wilderness is special time with God.  I’ll never have another time in my life where I am single and have relatively few obligations that I didn’t choose for myself.  I can be somewhat selfish, I have complete freedom; I don’t have a family tying me down.  Israel’s time with God allowed Him to purify their hearts and lead them so intimately in a time period that is unique in Israel’s history.  There has never been a time like that wilderness journey for Israel, much like in my own life.

I think I heard it best from Mark Driscoll up in Seattle, Washington one Sunday when I was visiting my old college roommate Jake last semester.  He said that the closest we Christians will ever get to hell is here on earth.  By sharp contrast, the closest that non-Christians will ever get to Heaven is here on earth.  What, then, are we doing with our time?  Is it preparing us for Heaven, or are our resources only being wasted on the here and now… our proverbial hell?  Our time here is finite.  It will end.  Heaven will not, and hell won’t either.

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Update – Recent Happenings

Hello blog-readers!
Just a quick update to let you know what’s happening at Death to Life…

First, Death to Life has successfully moved to WordPress!  I’m still learning the formatting and setting up the new features, but so far it’s way more user-friendly and cooler (in my opinion).  If you have any feedback or see any glitches as you read and explore the new site, please either comment on this post or send me an email and I’ll get it figured out.

Second, I’ve been working pretty diligently to set up a schedule for posting.  As such, I’ll put up new posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (hopefully).  The Monday posts will be things that I wrote during my seminary days (or thereabouts) but am just now putting on here.  The Wednesday posts will be new stuff that I’m currently writing (questions, other random topics).  The Friday posts will be a new kind of series called “Friday Throwbacks” which will be highlighting previous posts to keep them fresh and remind me of where I’ve come from.

Third, (get excited!) I’ve made some strides to host my blog on deathtolife.com – I purchased the url and am in the process of getting familiar with the way this whole thing works.  It’s a little intimidating for a liberal arts major to be working with so many acronyms, numbers, and strange words but it’s beginning to come together.  My goal is to have it live early next year if not by the end of this year.  I’ll keep you updated as things happen.

Lastly, thank you for reading.  It’s a joy to speak with you in real life and to answer your questions and interact on all of the different avenues we have in our infinitely connected world.  Please keep the feedback coming, and I’ll do my best to keep up with writing and posting as often as I’m able.

Grace and Peace,
– NJ

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