Formation: The Explorers

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I’ve heard it said (as you probably have too) that space is the final frontier. But is it really?

With the recent discovery of gravitational waves in deep space and last year’s pass by of Pluto in our own cosmic neighborhood, exploration is, once again, in the forefront of our minds. From the dawn of mankind, we have longed to seek out and discover new ideas and territories. Our checklist is relatively impressive: the seven seas, the deepest caves, the tallest mountains, the furthest edges of our own Solar System. You get the picture: Man has a thirst to know – to explore -“to boldly go where no one has gone before.” It is one of our endearing characteristics, no doubt drafted into our blueprint by the great Architect, Himself.

God has designed us to explore. But why?

Perhaps the answer is simple. Maybe the Creator has placed exploration at the core of our beings with the primary intent of finding Him. Certainly, he wants us to seek out His will and to discover, as the Apostle Paul said, “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” Paul didn’t stop there, though. He also said that the purpose of knowing this inconceivable love is so, “that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-21)

When I was a child I thought that one day, when I got to Heaven, I would know everything. I had this notion that, upon entering those Pearly Gates, I would be, somehow, omniscient. All the mysteries of the cosmos made known in a split second! As great as this may seem, I no longer think I was right. Now I realize that the only one who knows it all is God. No, it seems more reasonable to think that we will eternally be exploring the characteristics of God, all the while discovering something new about Him that we didn’t know before. I think this is the primary reason we have been wired to explore.

When writing about what Heaven might be like in his final installment of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis spoke of a grand and endless Kingdom. As some of the characters enter this Land they travel at the speed of thought, flying across expansive plains, oceans and mountain ranges, alike, always headed ever inward. They are met with a profound understanding – that this Kingdom is, in fact, endless and that they will always be traveling “Further up and further in,” thus showing that there will always, always, always be more of God to discover! This is, perhaps, the crux of why we were created – to know God and then continually discover our Maker as we praise Him forevermore!

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Rythms: The Evening

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The older I get the more clearly I see the patterns and rhythms of my life. Each recurring season I welcome these patterns back around with open arms. Some seasons of the year are more conducive to creativity than others. Some bring deeper contemplation (For more on our families winter rhythms read my new book, Good Winter). But some patterns in life are meant to be continual, not just seasonal. These, of course, include spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study, but I believe we should also make practices of more seemingly menial tasks. After all, it is in these daily routines that we really live out our lives. We also find comfort in such habits. As parents, JoAlison and I, want to make sure our children feel safe and loved in their home environment. In fact, the name of our home, Hill Hårow, means “Hill Sanctuary.” We feel (as I know most Christian parents would) that in such an atmosphere our kids will thrive and become more confident in the Lord and in themselves. After all, one day we will send them out into the world to do the Lord’s good work, God willing, and we want them to be ready to face it with the confidence that comes from a strong faith and a strong family.

One pattern that we try to maintain in our family’s life is regular evening practices. This time has been precious to us. It has brought a certain level of identity to who we are as a family unit. While brushing teeth, bathing and praying together are certainly a part of the nightly rhythms at Hill Hårow, the thing I want to highlight is the time that we spend reading together. This pattern began when there were only two of us. In our early years of marriage, JoAlison and I spent literally every night of the week forgoing the screen (smartphones weren’t a thing yet so I mean television) to read to one another. The discussion this brought out helped us to know each other better. Now we try to impart the same thing into our four children as we share in nightly adventures with Frodo, Eustace, the Lambent twins, David, Paul and even Christ, Himself – just to name a few. This time is dear to us. We have been known to spend hours at it. In order to instill a similar love for this rhythm in our kids, we have the bigs – Ethan and Eisley – read to the littles – Evangeline and Emma. Of course, we are not perfect in keeping with our beloved practice. For instance, when a new child comes along things get a little out of rhythm for a while but eventually, things fall back into place. It reminds me of a record needle holding steady in its groove on the vinyl, then something causes it to jump out of place. We just have to put the needle back where it belongs. I’m happy to say that this is the case right now – the song is playing fine. Cherish the daily routines that your family cultivates. Again, it is in these rhythms that we spend most of our lives.

I would value the stories of your evening rhythms in the comments below!

Good Winter: Super Blue Blood Moon

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One of the subjects of my new book is the night sky, which is seen most clearly in the winter time. For more on that subject pick up a copy of the book (now available on Kindle as well!) The Super Blue Blood Moon is a fairly rare event, the last one occurring in July of 2015. In reality, it is just three more common events rolled into one. The Super Moon is simply the Moon in its closest orbit to us, which makes it slightly bigger in the night sky. The Blue Moon is when the full Moon occurs two times in the same month and the Blood Moon is a lunar eclipse. But the conjunction of these three events is worth getting out to see if you can. The best view in North America will be from the West Coast but if you get up before the sunrise in the east you might catch a portion of the Earth’s shadow crossing the Moon’s face.

Recipes & Remedies: Elderberry Syrup

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We are deep into winter now and though I have just published a book about some positive aspects of this cold season, a big negative still remains, namely, flu. Many of our loved ones have had or currently have the flu. While our family and church community remain in constant prayer for the sick we are taking precautions to remain healthy as well. Less handshaking, less beard stroking (this one is particularly difficult), more hand washing, more dietary preventatives like elderberries. Besides the fact that the elderberry sounds incredibly epic and akin to the Elder Wand from that book series about wizards, it is also epically powerful. Elderberries have more vitamin C than oranges and they have been used throughout history to treat ailments ranging from the flu to cancer! In addition to watching our children twice a week so that JoAlison and I can spend time alone together, my mother is really good at making healthy choices about food! She comes from a long line of Appalachian Mountain folk that have learned to harness the benefits of God’s green earth for the betterment of His image-bearers. A timeless craft, to be sure! She came to church last Sunday bearing gifts in the form of elderberry syrup and jam to keep the Higgins family on the up and up. It works like a natural Tamiflu. We are very thankful!

ELDERBERRY SYRUP RECIPE

  • 1 cup dried elderberries
  • 3 cups filtered water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 tsp chopped ginger
  • 3 cloves (1/8 tsp ground)
  • Simmer on low for 40 min
  • Let cool to room temp
  • Strain berries
  • 3/4 cup of raw honey
  • Mix well and bottle
  • 1-3 tbsp a day

Lost Songs: Break My Fall

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I’m starting a new series on the Hill Hårow blog called “Lost Songs.” I wrote or arranged these songs in the past and I never really felt they had a home among the albums. Some of these songs were well produced but just didn’t fit the genre of music I was writing at the time. Some of these songs were just scratch tracks that I never did anything with beyond the initial recording. While much of my focus has turned toward writing in these last few years (with the exception of the American Pilgrim EP) I thought it would be fun to give you a window into my creative process and perhaps show a more vulnerable side of myself in doing so.

This first track is one that I wrote and recorded over ten years ago. At the time I was still in the band Like Isaiah. Our music was raw 90’s alternative rock. Though the electric guitarist, Mike Sherrard, worked to create this song with me, it never really felt like it had a home. It has always been (as several of the lost songs will be) from the Island of the Misfit Toys. Also, Break My Fall was much darker in tone than the rest of the music I was writing in those days. This was necessary in order to marry the lyrics properly. This is a song about the idea of hidden or unconfessed sin finally being met by the darkness-killing Light. It is a song that shows a level of vulnerability that I was uncomfortable displaying to the world in my twenties. It could be for that reason alone I might have decided not to release it until now. I, like every other believer, am a work in progress.

Pain, let me go
Fear, you have no hold

Here I am again
Here I am tonight
Here I am in desperate need of sight

Jesus, break my fall
Concluding that without Your love
I am weak and small

He who lives in my heart tonight
hear the cries in my head
May You find me true
in everything I do
And sin, replaced with love instead

Love overcomes all
It’s laced around my life
as I am living out Your call

​Here I am again
Here I am tonight
Here I am in desperate need of sight

Jesus, break my fall tonight
hear the cries in my head
May You find me true
in everything I do
And sin, replaced with love instead

Formation: We the Trainers

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Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6

…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. – Matthew 18:6

I’ve been thinking a lot about a recent evening spent with my son, Ethan. He’s 13 and he has been a Christian now for a while. In the words of the folk-band, The Innocence Mission, “Where does the time go?” My wife and I sat by the fire with Ethan, after the girls had gone to bed. In the low light, we reclined enjoying one another’s company. Our conversation naturally wandered toward our Maker. We discussed God’s sovereignty and our part in His unfolding story. We talked about the problem of pain and evil and many things that this subject entails for our faith-walk. Ethan’s comments were carefully considered and mature. In some ways, I felt like I was talking to a peer, rather than a 13-year-old boy. I wondered how this had happened? It feels like just yesterday he was a small boy wearing that red cape his mother made for him, running around shouting, “Duh, duh, duh! I’m Superman!” But now we can sit together and discuss theology? How? The answer is simple. Ethan’s elders, be it his parents, grandparents or church family, have poured into his life a steady stream of Truth. You might have heard the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” or something of that nature. I think this is true. Whether we have our own children or not, we are influencing the younger generations for better or for worse. Today I ask myself, “What in my life would lead a child away from God and what would lead him or her toward God?” The things that would lead them away must go. They must be pruned (John 15:2) from my life. I pray that you would join me in this endeavor, dear reader.

Formation: White as Snow

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“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
-Isaiah 1:18-20 (ESV)

This morning we woke up to a snowy world! This is a rarity and a treat in the Piedmont Region of Georgia. Our schools were canceled and we all crept into the day. Well, I say, “we all crept,” but Eisley and Evangeline were up with the Sun and ready to get in the snow! The rest of us crept. After coffee and a fruit smoothie, lovingly made by JoAlison, we all ventured out into the snow for a brisk and eventually wet-toed walk around the property. The horses were lively and quick, bucking to and fro across the fields. Our dog, Nugget, was just as fast running around and around in circles. Eyes were bright and smiles, big!

As we crunched across the land I thought about the freshness of new-fallen snow and how it just seems to cleanse the earth. I got to thinking about what Isaiah once had to say about the snow. In Isaiah 1:18-20, the prophet speaks of God’s desire for Israel to be made clean by living obediently to the law. Sadly this was not to be the case. Isaiah also speaks of the One who would come to cleanse us! Christ’s blood cleanses us from all unrighteousness, washing us whiter than snow and keeping the law where we could not! This is not a pass on holy living though. We are still called to be obedient to the Lord’s commands. Over and over Christ speaks this truth. In John 14:15 Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Then, in John 15:14 He says something similar: “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” This is the heart of what God was getting at in Isaiah 1, that Israel’s love for Him was evident in their obedience to the law.

Christ has also commanded us to keep the law. In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ says,  ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:37-40) To undergird these commands John records Jesus saying, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) Here, Christ is saying that if we are to be known as His followers then we must love others as He does. It’s all about selflessness – living for our God and our neighbor rather than ourselves. This is part of what it means to live obediently. It is a lesson I am personally learning and learning to practice even now. I’m thankful that the snow has reminded me of this truth today.