Monday, April 26, 2010

A Personal, Ecclesiastic, Postmodern Psalm

I was going through an old journal today from my second year here at CSULB, and among the daily-update sorts of entries I stumbled upon a rather interesting poem that I wrote. I thought I'd share it :)

A few notes on the poem. First of all, I wrote it in December 2007, but revised it a tad today. I changed the break between lines three and four and substituted "But" for "For" in line changes the meaning of the line significantly I think.

Also, I'm 99% certain that I was reading a LOT of T.S. Eliot when I wrote this-the poem almost reeks of his influence haha. I feel that it's a response in the same manner as Jon Foreman's response to T.S. Eliot in "Meant to Live," which is why I included a line from the song. So without further ado:

A Cautious Optimism

We were meant to live for so much more
Have we lost ourselves?

Where to turn?
Where to look
When nothing new sits 'neath the sun?
Where to run? Where to head?
There is no way around or through
That has not been explored, rejected.

The past is fled,
The present bleak.
The future holds no certain promise.

Amid the ruins
Beneath the towers
Lofty, dreary
We spin in circles, round and round.

Will I hear the whimper when it all ends, bang-less?
The end is near. The end is near.
But now, I choose instead of death
Life. instead of fear

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lord I give You my life, I give You my all

There is a tension that runs through the narrative of the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation: Obedience versus Sacrifice.
It's the theme of first and second chances (and third, and fourth, and so on). Read any book in the Bible and the conflict between these two ideas jumps right out at you. It's inescapable.

Out of the two options, God has a preference for which one we give to him. When rebuking Saul's choice to disobey God and not wipe out the Amalekites but spare some of their herds and offer some as burnt offerings, Samuel asks this question: "Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD?" (1 Samuel 15:18, NASB). Saul is confused. What did he do wrong? It's not as if he was keeping the flocks for himself-he spared the flocks for a burnt offering, after all! "I did obey the voice of the LORD" (v 19, emphasis mine) he responds. He destroyed the Amalekites to the man and the things that they kept were to be sacrifices to God. Where is the error in that? Samuel's response leaves little doubt as to what Saul's mistake was:

"Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams" (v 22).

Obedience is better than sacrifice. Disobedience, even for the sake of sacrifice, is not acceptable. One of the other numerous passages that deal with the tension between these two ideas is found in Jeremiah 7:22-23:

"For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, 'Obey my voice, and i will be your God, and you will be my people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.'"

Obedience predates sacrifice. The first recorded command in the Bible comes in Genesis 2:16-17, where God commands Adam not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The first recorded sacrifice is found in the next chapter, Genesis 3:21- "The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them." God killed animals and made clothes from the skin for Adam and Eve. Because of Adam's sin, it is impossible for us to fully and completely obey, thus the necessity of sacrifice.

Sacrifice covers the shame that comes from disobedience. In the case of Adam and Eve, the first sacrifice literally covered their shame, their nakedness. In the same way, all future sacrifices served as a temporary covering for shame and sin.

Obedience and sacrifice were finally reconciled on the Cross. Just as Abraham's obedience involved the sacrifice of his son Isaac, Jesus' sacrifice was the ultimate obedience to the Father. Before his sacrifice, we had no hope of measuring up to the Law and obtaining salvation through obedience. Now, however, "[We] have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer [us] who live, but Christ lives in [us]; and the life which [we] live in the flesh [we] live by faith in the Son of god, who loved [us] and gave himself up for [us]" (Galatians 2:20).

We can still fall into the trap of trying to cover our shame and sin ourselves, via sacrifice. The good old Gospel of Works is never far away from our thoughts and attempts to please God. That's why Paul doesn't stop with verse 20 in Galatians 2, but continues: "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly" (v 21). By reverting to a works-based attempt to save ourselves via our own efforts and sacrifice, we invalidate Christ's sacrifice.

"Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship" (Romans 12:1). God wants our hearts and our obedience, and through the Cross He's enabled us to give it to him. What's holding you back?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Not Quite A Chiasmus, But Close

Today at the Men of The Beach Barbeque, Mike Hildebrand shared some of his insight and experience with the topic of finances.
While I enjoyed everything he had to say on both the specifics of the difference between a 401k and a Roth IRA and more general Biblical principles for handling money, something he said about his attitude and experience fundraising for his upcoming position as head of staff with the Navigators at UCSB really grabbed me.

Mike was quickly explaining why he was rather dressed-up compared to the rest of us: he'd had a funding appointment that morning. Mike lives in Arizona at the moment so he's knocking a veritable flock of birds out of the air with this trip out to California. Like I said, this was just a tangent and not at all a main focus of his talk, a small eddie in the flow of the conversation up to this point. But Mike's comments about the reason he's so dedicated to fundraising just might have been the most impactful thing for me personally as I'm preparing to do EDGE.

Referring to the amount of money he raises, Mike said, "God isn't keeping track of what I get, but He IS keeping track of what they give." Hearing those words, my mind immediately went back to the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, a story that God's been teaching me a lot through recently. Both Lazarus and the Rich Man die, but Lazarus goes to heaven and the Rich Man goes to hell. The biggest lesson I'm learning to understand from this parable right now is something the pastor at Rock Harbor said several weeks ago when they covered this story.

It's true that the poor need the rich. The poor need everything the rich have-money, food, shelter, clothing, access to medical care, etc. It's all too easy to shove this truth to the corner of our minds and just not bother thinking about it, but it doesn't make it any less true. However, it's not the poor that are the only ones that need other people.

The rich need the poor just as much as the poor need the rich. In 1 Timothy 6:9 Paul writes, "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction." He goes on to call money a root of all kinds of sin and says later in verse 17:

"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in god, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life."

I want to take hold of the life that is truly life AND to help others achieve that. God, in areas where I'm rich, help me to give away freely and generously. In areas that you've given me a responsibility to invite others into a relationship where they can do what you've commanded and give generously like fundraising for next year and EDGE, give me courage and humility to walk forward in Your confidence and grace.

Monday, April 12, 2010

From Mourning to Morning

In Psalm 57, David is in the midst of difficult times. Trouble surrounds him and he has nowhere to turn except God. Anointed as the rightful king of Israel but waiting on God's timing, David is pursued by Saul through the desert again and again, day after day. "My soul is among lions," he says. "I must lie among those who breathe forth fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows and their tongue a sharp sword" (verse 4).

David's first thought is not to focus on himself but rather to exalt God. How easy would it be to curse God for orchestrating where he finds himself? Does not God make everything come to pass? Could not God have kept David from hardship and danger? Why doesn't God make David king now instead of later? But David doesn't take this path, perhaps because he's already been there time and time again and it has become part of his character to respond in this manner to God. He's already tended his father's flocks and protected them from the bears and lions. He's already slain Goliath, armored and protected by the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel. But whatever the reason, instead of lashing out and losing faith, David praises God. "Be exalted above the heavens, O god; Let Your glory be above all the earth" (v 5).

David is prepared to wait for what God has in store for him, and joyfully at that. "My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing, yes I will sing praises" he proclaims (v 7). Nothing can move his heart and steal the faith and joy he finds in trusting the Lord. Nothing can keep him from singing out the praises of the God who has been with him and who promises such good things to him.

David's heart literally overflows with praise for God and he cannot contain it. This is my favorite part of the Psalm-David stirs his heart and soul in a jubilant cry of praise and exaltation. "Awake, my glory! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn" (v 8, emphasis mine). David sings in the dark of night, ushering in the morning with his strains of melodic praise. How can David sing so jubilantly? How, when it's so dark all around him, can he eagerly expect the breaking of the dawn? The answer is that the morning symbolizes God's continual faithfulness and love for us.

There's an old adage that says it's always darkest just before the dawn. David therefore sees the growing darkness around him as just a precursor to God's glory breaking through. The current troubles are just a prelude to God's might and power displayed for all to see. The darker it gets around him and around us, the brighter God's glory will be when He acts. And the morning is coming-there's no way to stop it!

David sings a song of Truth and a song of Hope-he knows the end, and so do we. Let us therefore sing along with him, extolling the Lord our God even (especially) when we don't even have enough light to see.

"For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for a lifetime;
Weeping may last for the night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning."
~Psalm 30:5

Friday, April 9, 2010

Break My Heart for What Breaks Yours

Last night some friends and I saw Fee, Family Force Five, David Crowder Band, and MercyMe (there were a few other acts too) in concert. It was an amazing time, although I wish that Fee had not opened but played longer instead and that David Crowder had headlined. But that's neither here nor there. What really stands out to me is the worship.

There were two distinct moments during David Crowder's set that stand out to me. I didn't expect this to be a necessarily profound time of worship-just a regular concert of sorts. I am a fan of David Crowder, but wouldn't consider the band to be in my top 5 of either straight up worship bands or bands in general.

As expected, they played their cover of "How He Loves." While it was John Mark Macmillan that wrote the song and Kim Walker that started popularizing it, it's David Crowder that's responsible for really bringing this powerful song to the forefront of contemporary praise music and onto the lips of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people worldwide.

This is not a song that I particularly enjoyed before tonight. In part this is due to a small change from the original lyrics, but overall I just didn't consider it that great or interesting of a song. I remember hearing a ton of people really talk the song up and then listening to it for the first time and thinking "Really? This is the song?"

Tonight was different. I didn't notice it as first as they sang through the first verse and I sang along. But somewhere between the first and second times through the chorus and in between me singing the lyrics and thinking about them, a light came on. A huge, blinding, burning light that shone intensely through me, illuminating the enormity of my sin, my failure, my depravity, and my fallenness. This came up against the sheer magnitude of God, His love for me, and His methods (literally How He Loves). The Unstoppable Force collided with the Object Immovable Save by One...and prevailed.

My heart broke within me at the same moment that my voice failed, both suddenly shattered and gone. Tears seeped slowly out the corners of my eyes and down my cheeks as I mouthed the words to the chorus, still searching for a voice and a heart that had disintegrated with no warning. Slowly I gathered up the pieces and my voice returned along with my composure. But the effect of that moment lingered. That glimpse of understanding tarried long after my cheeks dried.

The same thing happened during one of their later songs. As I sang the words "O praise Him / He is holy" the same emotions washed over me, leaving me clinging to the truth of God's love for me for support and for sanity.

My eyes and my mind were opened just a fraction of a fraction to the grandeur and weight of God's love for me, and it wrecked me. God, remind me again and again of the cost of Your love and help me to live in light of it, not in spite of it. Help me to remember You always and forever. Remind me of how You loved me in the past and how you continue to do so today and forevermore. Help me, God. Help me.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Phenominal Cosmic Power...Itty-Bitty living space.

“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:5

As I read through Satan's temptation of Eve, I had a thought that I'd never considered before that was prompted by a note in my study bible. Whenever I'd previously thought about the Fall and Eve's sin in particular (as separate from and distinct from Adam's sin), the idea of wanting to be like God had always been lumped in there with the sinful thoughts. After all, that was Satan's original sin of rebellion, right? However, I realized today that that wasn't Eve's sin.

It's not wrong to want to be like God. In the long run, it's the whole goal of sanctification.

I'll say it again: it's NOT wrong to want to be like God.

Now let me clarify: Eve DID sin. But it wasn't her desire to be like God that was so wrong. It was her chosen method of accomplishing it. By directly violating God's command, Eve chose to attempt to elevate herself to a status that wasn't hers to take. While we are made in God's image, it's HIS place to decide for us what is best and our place to submit to that.

Living in a fallen world where we aren't even close to the perfection that Adam and Eve experienced for a brief while, it's even more important for us to want to be like God. But we need to be wary of Eve's mistake-there's no way that WE can do it ourselves, even if it seems as easy as reaching out and taking a bite. The good work of sanctification is GOD's to complete, not ours.

God, give me a desire to be like You but also a willingness to let You do the work and not to try to achieve it on my own.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hope Fulfilled

Less than nine weeks and then I walk across a stage, shake a few hands, and many different things that I've been waiting for move from the "not yet" to the "now." Needless to say, I'm excited! :) This past year has taught me a TON about the nature of waiting and hoping. Psalm 39:7 has become sort of a theme verse for this year: "And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You."

However, days like today remind me that there's much more to learn about the nature of waiting and hoping than I could ever learn in a year. Easter Sunday marks the fulfillment of THOUSANDS of years of waiting and hoping by humankind stretching back all the way to Genesis 3 where God promises Eve a descendant that will crush the serpent underfoot. But even with those millennia to learn, most of the Israelites STILL missed the point.

God, help me to wait on, in, and for You alone and not to miss the point or pass by the fruits of my patience when they come my way.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Top 10 Worship-circa April 2010

I was going through my playlists on iTunes, getting rid of the ones that were old or I didn't want/need anymore, when the inspiration came to rank my top 10 worship songs. So here goes: my 10 favorite (contemporary) worship songs as of now:

1. Only You Can Satisfy-Caleb Clements
2. With Everything-Joel Houston
3. From the Inside Out (Everlasting)-Joel Houston
4. Oh Lord, You're Beautiful-Keith Green
5. My Soul Sings-Martin Smith
6. Mighty To Save-Reuben Morgan
7. Lead Me to the Cross-Brooke Fraser
8. The Stand-Joel Houston
9. Your Love Never Fails-Chris Mcclarney
10. Cannons-Phil Wickham

Runners-up: Hosanna-Brooke Fraser, Glory to God Forever-Fee, Glory in the Highest-Al Gordon

I think it's pretty easy to spot that Hillsong DOMINATES the list, grabbing half of the top spots! What do you think? Which of YOUR favorite songs are missing from the list? Which ones haven't you heard before? etc.