Song of Eternity

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This morning we sang one of my favorite hymns.

155 years later and it’s still wonderfully powerful.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

As we repeated the words “Holy, holy, holy” there was a stillness in the room.  It was the sort of stillness that feels too big for the space you’re in.  It was vast and quiet and beautiful.

It was peace.  There was peace in the room as we joined together and called out, “holy, holy, holy.”  It felt like I was singing this song for the very first time.  I know the words and I love the melody, but today was different.  Today my voice joined the vast stillness of Forever, singing a song that Eternity already knows.  Isaiah and John describe their visions of the angels singing, “holy, holy, holy” day and night without ceasing.

For three minutes, we joined that song.  Our voices broke through the walls of the space and met those that have and will sing this song forever.  It’s an incredibly peaceful moment when you join the song of eternity.

Maybe you’re sitting by the grill all day, maybe you’re recovering from a long week, maybe your greatest plan today involves a nap.  My hope is that you can find time today to enter into the vast peacefulness of God’s holiness.  Join the voices of Eternity and sing, “holy, holy, holy”.

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Plans and Steps

Most of my time spent the last 9 months of not writing on this site has been spent making plans and taking steps.  As some may know, my family and I realized last Fall that our time in Southern California was swiftly coming to a close.  We made a plan for a clean exit of Orange County and the Lord directed our steps to the Central Valley – Porterville, CA to be exact.

Since then we have tried to work out what the next steps are.  In that time I have renovated a home, completed a Master’s degree, moved my family to Idaho, raised 6 chickens, bought a dog, and lost a job.    Other than knowing I will have 2 fresh eggs and a wagging tail to greet me each morning, there are few certainties about our future.  The loss of a job was a hard kick in the shins for our financial situation – and my emotional situation – so needless to say, it’s been an straining few months.

Because I grew up in a “pull up your boot straps and figure it out” sort of family, I am determined to make plans.  I love making plans.  While I drive, I think through odd circumstances and how I would respond so that I can have a plan someday.  Each night I mentally check off where a flashlight and my shoes are in case I need to get my family out of the house in a jiffy.  I notice the quickest exit to every room I’m in, just in case.  I plan out what I am going to say before I say it (sometimes to my wife’s chagrin) and I always check my engine fluids and tire pressure before a long drive.

My next big plan, get a job.  The question is: where?  Our ultimate plan is to continue to move north to the Treasure Valley in Idaho.  We’d love to land in Meridian/Eagle/Boise area next summer so we are planning accordingly.  But the plan is only half the battle.  The other half is the excruciatingly painful practice of waiting and trusting on the Lord to direct our steps.  Proverbs is smart like that: a man makes a plan but the Lord determines his steps (16:9).

So what now?  Look for a job in Porterville to get by for half a year and then look for another job in Idaho to continue the move North?  Or….look for a job in Idaho now and make a temporary, solo move, a few months ahead of my family.

“Adult-ing” is difficult.  It demands far more emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical investment than we imagined when we were young.  The good news is that each of those investments are supported by the Lord.  If we allow Him to help us make a plan, we can trust that the steps we take are of His direction.

So I plan.  After I eat my 2 fresh eggs, pet my dog, and stir in a giant dollop of faith in my coffee each morning, I plan.  And hopefully the next step we take will not be mine, but His.

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The Syllabus and Secondhand

Suddenly you look up and realize your life is dictated by syllabi.  Your ‘syllabus’ of life; creating rhythm and structure, due dates and responsibilities, tasks and schedules.  Our syllabus of life dictates everything we do.  Even if you aren’t in school, you have a written syllabus structuring how it is you order your life.  Our bills are due by the 15th of the month.  The trashcans need to go to the curb on Thursday nights.  We water the lawn once per week.  We shower and dress before work.  We make sure to feed our children.  We regularly watch our shows.

Yesterday was the first day of class for my Summer Term.  I was sitting in class just after the professor handed out the course syllabus, listening to a reading of Matthew 11.  It was difficult for me to listen and pay attention to the reading of Matthew.  The gospel of Matthew was fighting the annoyingly consistent ‘tick-tick-tick’ of the secondhand on the wall, while simultaneously competing with the course syllabus on the desk.  Tick, tick, tick, the rhythm of the clock on the wall.  The course syllabus outlining the rhythm of my next few weeks.  And the words of Jesus trying to restructure those rhythms into His.

I’m not yet sure how to participate in this.  Jesus is asking me to enter into his rhythm and take up his yoke.  The yoke of Jesus is ‘easy and light’.  This is to say, the yoke of Jesus exists.  He has one.  He does not say, “leave the yoke of the world and take up my nothingness.”  Even Jesus understood that we cannot escape a secondhand and syllabus that orders our life.  Jesus has a rhythm and structure to life that operates differently than the clock on my wall and the syllabus on my desk.

I don’t think He meant that we need to abandon our work or he would not have invited us into His yoke.  The very existence of a yoke implies that there will be work.  We cannot escape this.  But approaching our life through the yoke of Jesus will reorient the end result of our work.  If we align ourselves with Jesus – the most loving, creative, gracious, diligent, compassionate being in the universe – the process of working through the rhythms of our life becomes easier.  The work does not decrease, but maybe it becomes easier.

This is my ‘task’ over the Summer: in the midst of the noise from the clock on the wall and duties of the syllabus on my desk, I must learn to put the yoke of Jesus around my neck, and continue through the rhythm and work of my life.

My Final Paper: A Parable Retold

For the final paper in my Theology of Jesus class, my professor asked us to write 1000 words on how our thinking has changed during this class.  He didn’t give us any other direction and said we could write however we wanted.  I decided to tell a story:



 

There is one word that can summarize this story: unbearable. It was unbearable to lay there across His shoulders for miles in the hot sun. It was unbearable to talk with Him and try to make Him understand how unbearable He was being. It was unbearble to lay there bouncing cross His shoulders all day trying to convince Him how right I was. It was unbearable to be set down on the ground at the end of it all and realize that I was wrong.

I’m not wrong often, but this time I was wrong in a big way. Typically I’m not wrong, not for any cleverness of myself, but simply because I do not need to make many choices. My choices are made for me, guided and directed by Him. He calls and leads me to eat and drink when I need to. He shows me where to lay my head to sleep at the end of the day. He points me in the direction of safe paths. He chooses my friends and whom I spend my days with. In essesnse, he sets up the framework for most of my decisions, I just need to participate in them.

It was on this unbearable day that I decided to help. So, I left. I left it all behind. My entire family, all my friends, all of the comforts He provided, I dropped them all and set out. I did not have a specific place that I was headed, I just thought that I could help. There were a lot of mouths to feed and it was just He that looked and found food. There were a lot of us to keep safe at night, so I left to find shelter. There was a lot to do, and I felt that I needed to participate in accomplishing those “to-do’s”, so I left.

I did not plan on going far. Initially I thought that if I stayed within eye-shot of Him I could come back easily when He called. But when I did not find what I was looking for within eye-sight of Him, I ventured a little further, and a little further, and a little further, until I was gone. I could not hear Him, I could not see Him.

I will not bore you with the mundane details of where I went and what I saw, for it was very little. Frankly, I do not fully remember what I did see simply because it was so unremarkable in contrast to what I did not see: I didn’t see Him. And His absense was much more vivid than what was in front of my eyes.

Thinking back, it seemed like ages had passed since I was with Him. It felt like much longer than it actually was, but the void of His presence made everything else seem askew. It was the sound of his gasp that brought me back to the normal rhythm of time and distance. I still do not recall if he actually gasped or if it was simply the exhale of relief in his embrace, but the ‘whoosh’ of his arms around me was frighteningly loud. And in one swift motion, he was carrying me. And so, our unbearble conversation began.

“Little One,” He said to me, “I have searched long for you. It’s going to be OK. I’ll show you the way back home.”

I was confused at this remark. What did he mean, “it’s going to be OK”? Of course I knew it was going to be OK. I was never in any danger. I was not lost – per se – since I did not have an end-destination in mind. I knew I wasn’t with Him, but that didn’t necessarily bother me at the time.

“Of course I’m OK,” I replied. “I know where I am, I know what I’m doing, and I know why I’m doing it. I have always been OK.” This seemed like a perfectly succinct answer me. Surely He would l set me down to continue what I was doing.

“Little One,” he continued, “and where do you think you are, and what do you think you are doing, and why are you doing it?”

“Well Sir, currently I am sitting on your shoulders. It’s rather unbearble, to tell you the truth. It’s hot up here, and I would prefer to walk.”

“But Little One, if you walk, how can I bring you back?”

This reply perplexed me. Back? Why would he take me back? I left for a reason and it seemed like He was simply getting in the way. I said to him, “I don’t think you understand what I’m trying to do out here.”

“By all means, Little One, explain it to me.”

So I began, “Sir, my family and I have many needs. We eat much more than You, we drink much more than You. We need more space to walk and run and sleep than You. And everyday You are walking around showing us where to eat. You point us in the direction of water. You keep us safe while we sleep. You show us where to walk, run, climb, and play. This is a lot of work for just one Sir.”

“You are quite correct,” replied He. “It is a lot of work indeed.”

“Well, we are in agreement then, Sir. Kindly put me down so I may continue.”

“But, Little One, you have not yet told me what you are trying to accomplish.”

At this point I was frustrated. I was frustrated with the heat on my back. I was frustrated with the joints of his shoulders pressing against my front. I was frustrated with the conversation and his apparent ignorance to understand what I was actually trying to do.

“Sir,” I continued, “You have a lot to do. I thought that if I were out here, I could help you do all that work. I can help find water, food, and a safe place to sleep. You need me to participate in helping You with your work. Don’t you understand that if I’m out here, I am helping you do the work?”

“Yes, Little One, you are helping me do the work. But so far out here, working on your own, how will I participate in that with you? If you find a place to sleep with shelter and warmth and a soft bed, then what? You have worked yourself apart from me.”

“But, you will have one less thing to do,” I argued.

“And how will you share that with me? You still do not understand who you are to me.”

At this point, my frustration hit a breaking point. Surely he was over-worked in the hot sun to ask such an unbearably simple question!

“Sir, of course I understand who I am to you. I’m a sheep. I’m herded, I’m sheered. I am a member of your flock. I’m a sheep!”

“Little One, are are quite correct. You are a sheep. But that is only what you are. Who you are is of far more importance to me. You see, you are a member of my flock. You live with me, you eat with me. You run, sleep, and travel with me. You learn from me. Your value to me is not as a sheep, but as a member of my flock.”

“Am I not acting as a member of your flock when I’m trying to help you do your work?”

“Yes, Little One. But I do not desire simple participation in my flock. I desire relationship with my flock. You have been distracted by what you are and have forgotten who you are. The goal my my flock is not participation, it’s relationship. I desire to be with you. When you leave me, even if it is to ‘do my work’, you are still apart from me. Do not be distracted by participating in our work and forsake participating in our relationship.

It was as he said this that we arrived back to the flock. I realized that I had been trying to work so hard in accomplishing the tasks of the Shepherd that I forgot about the relationship with my Shepherd. I had been wrong. I had been wrong to get caught up in all the “to-do’s” of membership in the flock and forgot about the relationships within the flock. He didn’t scold me for working, He scolded me for forsaking our relationship.

Quietly, and unbearably ashamed, I said, “Sir, I’m sorry that I went out on my own.”

In reply, he set me down with a smile, embraced me, and called to his friends and neighbors, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep!”

Stand. Step. Walk.

Each week in church I hear the summary of the Law.  This might look like recounting the 10 Commandments, but typically we hear the passage from Matthew 22:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Simply put: “Love God and Love Others.”

But how the heck do we actually do that?  How do I participate in loving the humanity that is around me?  To make my case, I shall use my incredible 14-month-old son, Noah.

Day in and day out I’m trying to encourage him to walk.  (Other parents out there are screaming at me, “NOOOO!!!  Crawling is so much easier to manage!)  While it may be true that crawling is easier to manage, I simply cannot wait to go to the park across the street and see his little diaper butt waddle across the field and allow him to approach the playground and play where HE wants to play.  At the moment I’m simply carrying him around and showing him where he is to play.

Walk to the swings, put him in the swings, swing.  Walk to the slide, put him on the slide, he climbs the slide.  Walk back to the swings, put him in the swings, swing.  As entertaining as it is for him and myself, there is no choice on his part to swing, slide, or swing again.  It’s one-sided participation.  I know he can participate more fully.

So I take his arms, he stands, and we walkwalkwalkwalkwalk! (this actually what we say to encourage him every step he takes.)  Each day he is more and more confident and takes further and further adventures from couch to chair to footstool to gate.  Each day contains more progress.  He sees other kids walk and is entranced, he sees Mommy and Daddy walk and is excited.  He stands and takes a couple confident – yet wobbly – steps and down he goes with a diaper padding his fall.

Yet he still tries.  And why?  Because there is a tangible example of what walking looks like and he desires to participate in this activity.

Now, who we understand Jesus to be severely impacts our ability to follow his activity of loving God and loving others.  Unfortunately, I often hear the commandment to “love God and love others” framed within the context that this how God wants us to live because that’s what heaven is going to be like.  While I have no disagreements with the fact that heaven will redeem the world and we will be in perfect love with God and creation, I have major issues with simply framing Jesus’ greatest commandment as something that is only heaven facing.

Jesus came in such a way that contradicts this message and framing of the greatest commandment.  The opening sentences of the Gospel of John make this clear, “The Word was with God and the Word was God…the Word was made flesh and dwelt among man…”

Jesus, the actual historical human, lived and breathed in an actual living and breathing culture.  The historical references to the human Jesus are countless.  And John helps to explain that Jesus was the Word (Logos) and that this Word actually dwelt with man.  Completely divine, and completely human.  One what, two who’s.

Jesus lived and breathed this example of perfect humanity to show us that perfect humanity was possible now.  Yes, sin and evil make it incredibly difficult, but Jesus existed as the perfect human giving us a real example of what perfect humanity looked like.  If Jesus were simply one what and one who (the Word without the flesh), we would not have the tangible, living, breathing example of what it looks like to love God and love others.

And then what would we look to?  What would be left?  We would forever be crawling around the world hoping to attain the only other example of what God deemed righteous…Noah and Enoch and those dudes.  We’d have to grow beards and kill birds, and not eat meat, and….really we don’t know.  Without Jesus we would have absolutely no idea how to fulfill this commandment of Loving God and Loving Others.  We would simply see the commandment as a heavenly reality that nice to try on earth, but wasn’t really intended.

Thankfully the Word was made flesh.  Thankfully we know what it looks like, we’ve heard the words of the living, breathing, actual human that lived the example of perfect humanity.  We know how to love humanity because Jesus showed us how.  Not because the only real love is in heaven and therefore we need to practice before we get there, but because humanity is living and breathing around us.  Jesus desires that we participate in this humanity like he showed us how.

How do you love your neighbor?  Do you know your neighbor exists?  Do you know that Jesus existed in the world just as your neighbor did?  The incredible thing is that Jesus also existed as God.  So Jesus – commanding the world to Love God and Love Others – was simply saying, “Do as I do. Take my hand.  Lets walkwalkwalkwalkwalk.

Welcome to brianlyskoski.com

For the past few months I’ve desired to have a venue to connect with a broader sphere of influence.  Social venues like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Path, or Instagram have their pros and cons, but after time there’s just so much noise.  Plus, I would like to process some thoughts in more than 140 characters.  So here we are.  brianlyskoski.com: my general musings.  This will be space for thoughts and ideas within the scope of my life: fatherhood, marriage, grad school, the life of the church, and ministry in Southern California.