Wednesday, October 7

The Purpose of a Blog??

So I have three blogs . . . and two of them are largely unused. I still occasionally update "Different Fingers" because it's focus is poetry and I still occasionally write poetry. But I got to thinking . . . why am I doing this? What's the purpose of these blogs? And I realized this is my contribution to the ministry. Writing is what I do best, and I need to be doing it all the time, AND I need to be sharing it with the church. So here's what I'm going to do. "Different Fingers" will remain a poetry centered blog. Most of my poems these days have to do with Scriptural insight and/or observations about church, which is to say they're religious, or at least pertain to religion. And I like that and intend to keep it that way. "Practically Thinking" (which is intentionally NOT "Practical Thinking") was meant to be a more serious contemplation of Scripture and church issues, and I've decided to return to that by making it a devotional series. This is one of those things I talk about doing that may end up not happening, but I need to try. Need. That's what I'm about, and if I'm not using my writing for the good of the church, then I'm wasting that talent. My initial thought was to make it a daily devotional, a 365 devotional written over the span of a year. But I know myself. As much as I would like to commit to that, it would probably not last. Laziness, business, and forgetfulness would keep from doing it regularly. So I'm going to shoot for AT LEAST once a week, though I'd like to do it more often than that if I can. I'm also intending to make this available to both churches of which I have been a part (Grace Fellowship Church and Woodville Grace Brethren) so that my  contributions are not simply cyber contemplations, but practical uses of my gifts. As for "A Modest Proposal" . . . I haven't quite decided yet. I've realized quickly that it was a fun idea to which I am not truly committed. Even the piece on evolution, a concept which intrigues me, didn't hold my attention long. Perhaps it will simply sit unused. Or maybe I'll post writings there that lack a religious flavor. Maybe eventually, irony will return to me, and I'll find myself full of ideas for that site. Until then, I think I may just ignore it. My hope, however, is that "Different Fingers" and "Practically Thinking" will not be that way, but will be reservoirs of thought and insight from which others will glean practical and applicable truths.

Tuesday, April 28

The Original Match Restruck

At the ARC conference last weekend, I took "notes" during Ned Berube's Friday morning talk, but I put them in the form of a poem. So the following poem is a compilation of phrases from Ned's talk. I did, however, modify, rearrange, and occasionally supplement Ned's ideas. I'm still playing with titles. Originally, it was the title of Ned's talk, "Gifts, Generations, and Genders," but that's not really what the poem is about. I like the phrase from the poem, "The original match restruck," which I have considered as a title. I feel like there is something more summative, however, something perhaps containing all or some of the following words or concepts: alliance, rebuilding, resurgence, revolution, movement, starting again, roots, investigating . . . it's far too long a list to make into a workable title. I have settled on "the original match restruck" for now, but I am not a big fan of using a line from the poem as the title, so if you have any suggestions, I would like to hear them.

Getting a lens,
we feel weight,
the weight of deposit
passed on.
Every Sunday
could be it –
the future clear, shifting.
We need to adjust.
We’ve tried to hold the fort.
What are we doing?
Very specific things.
In this season of
repentance: by all means,
win some.
After so many years,
my care was not shown
in anything tangible.
There are places I have,
in my own heart, lost.
But Jesus is interested
in talking: “I’m not sure
about this.”
It’s too settled.
This is not the New Testament.
If we don’t pay attention
in a place of restoration . . .
He is deeply interested
in displaying in a continual way.
We focus to extremes,
becoming “holier” and forget
that we are here,
extended into the mission.
Not only His image physically,
but relationally – how we
live out the life of Trinity:
Father, Son, Spirit
in relationship.
My heart thrills
that I have needs.
This is what disciples are.
This is the ongoing mission.
This is who you are:
salt and light,
light uncovered.
What does it mean
to put the light on the stand?
Glory to the Father,
us becoming
more like Jesus.
This is why you’re here.
This, to me, is such
stunning expression
of the heart of Christ.
This prayer encapsulates
the image and mission
of God.
For their unity, for
their joy – oneness.
How hard is that?
It takes work,
complete unity.
Have you noticed
how we are doing?
If we don’t get there,
we’re going to be
ineffective. You can’t ignore
how you walk.
How are we doing
bearing? In love?
How long do I have to
be with you people?

I’d be done,
as He’s getting ready
to die.
And He washes
their feet.
That’s bearing.
That’s extending
into lives undeserving.
There is only one
oneness. We have to
keep working on this –
repentance, Christ
calling us into these places
until we attain to the measure
of the stature of the fullness
of God.
Not the silliness of titles,
edging in front of others.
Rather, speak the truth
in love. We’re pouring
into for the purpose of
releasing. The resonant
gifts are insufficient.
Analyze the stuck places.
(You do have stuck places.)
It’s a little uncomfortable.
To our great benefit,
we’ve heard objectively:
maybe you shouldn’t
do that anymore
.
In the context of relationship,
feel free to irritate.
Because I’m trying to say
too much, there’s something
to pay attention to.
Cultural segmentation
and disintegration:
the curse of fatherlessness.
People are not being healed.
We find the
extension of brokenness,
the devastating effects.
Now we are living with
ramifications in full bloom.
A steep learning curve.
I just feel unmatched.
We all have to learn
what we are loving.
We all have to learn
what we are living
among, what’s going on.
The strength and vitality
of a younger generation,
the wisdom of
an older generation
working together,
the last thing Jesus
taught before He died.
The lost tier is
uninterested. Checked out.
But you don’t really care.
The repentance of saying,
“We haven’t done this well,”
is a volatile beauty.
We are the most unlikely
to reach out.
The direction doesn’t change
in a really smooth way.
Is that the best exegesis?
Turned hearts?
I’m still repenting!
It became an issue
of talking to people.
We read the book,
we took the notes,
but it’s not enough.
We have to keep
pressing towards it
till we look incompetent.
We want to be
too all-knowing.
There’s no future in that.
There’s inconformity
to Christ.
Repentance and faith and
empowerment and mission
don’t change.
You have to become.
This is the heart of Christ.
This is the space,
the substance, the liquid.
Nobody resists being loved.
How we receive love
is an issue.
You can’t
do this alone.
Forget about you and
me. Together, somehow,
we do it.
A gray organization
living something
clear, giving something,
passing it backwards.
One point of repentance:
I want to change.
I’ve got to pay attention
to the original match
restruck. Not the exact
same thing, but roots.
I hope we have not
become conservative,
holding on. Let’s
give it away.
Engage it again.
A lot of what God is doing
is giving Samuel to Eli.
The anointing comes on,
the clothes to become
who we are.
Get Samuel ready.
He might have
something to contribute.
Everyone tracks back
to relationship,
how we understand
fatherhood. Do you
think Jesus prayed this?
Meant this?

Friday, April 10

Peter's Prayer

Verse 1:
Don't you think you might
have made a mistake when you called me Peter.
I don't feel like a rock sometimes.
But all of my short-comings are nothing
compared to tonight's underachievement.

Chorus 1:
A classic example of misunderstanding,
I'm giving the rooster three chances to crow.
I'm sleeping in gardens when I should be praying.
The spirit is willing, but the rest of me's weak.
So maybe I'm not a straight forward Judas,
but sometimes I feel this pretension is worse.
And questions arise as my loyalties waver.
I'll be looking for answers at the foot of cross.

Verse 2:
Don't you think you might have made a mistake
when you called me to follow.
My credentials were questionable.
And tonight I have proved my disqualifications
outnumber my strengths.
I'd like to resign my post.

Chorus 2:
Denial is bitter and clings to the conscience.
I did what I swore I never would do.
I made compromises till any progress was forfeit
from humiliation that shouldn't exist.
Your crucified body will call me deserter.
The wounds you sustain should've also been mine.
You called me disciple and I called you a stranger.
I hope there's forgiveness at the foot of your cross.

Bridge:
And it seems so ironic I'm cutting off ears
when I don't seem to listen myself.
You said all along it would happen this way,
but I'm drawing swords nonetheless.
And if that had been the extent of my sin
I could've forgiven myself,
but my treason runs deeper; I've disavowed all knowledge
of You to save my own skin.

Verse 3:
Don't you think you might have made a mistake
in trusting my heart.
I don't feel redeemable.

Thursday, April 9

This Is My Hallelujah

Here are the lyrics to the song I played at the evening advent service last winter.

Verse 1:
This is my hallelujah,
the forced verbatim of regret
when all my wounds are predicated by my faults.
This is my hallelujah,
when whispered pleas cannot be heard
amidst the raucous of my insurrection.

Verse 2:
This is my hallelujah,
when falling is a frequency.
My heart is far too calloused to be redeemable.
This is my hallelujah,
when battle cries are choked with tears
and understanding is a desperate prayer unanswered.

Chorus 1:
This is where hands and knees
find themselves on equal ground,
and there's no antidote of words
to make this hallelujah sound.
All the wishing in the world
could never be the magic touch
for the saving of this life.
I'm not asking for that much
amazing grace.

Chorus 2:
We hold our breath and cut our losses
waiting out subconscious storms,
never counting on redemption
or the penitence it forms.
All the guise of optimism
still could never be enough
to bring life to empty tissue.
Am I asking for too much
amazing grace?

Verse 3:
This is my hallelujah,
the only way that I can say,
"Life is hard, but it's what I've been given,
and who'm I too complain."

How Great the Love

Verse 1:
How great the love by which I come,
my head bowed down, before the Son.
Let everything be thrust aside,
for this I know: my Savior died.

Chorus:
How great the love that pardoned me,
my ransom sure, my Savior He,
who died upon that man-made tree,
when all my sins, He bore for me.

Verse 2:
How great the love of sacrifice
that frees my soul and justifies.
My everything to Him I give,
for this I know: my Savior lives.

Bridge:
I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever.
I will sing of the mercies of the Lord.


God Who Saves

People have commented that they like the content of this song, so I thought I'd post the lyrics.

Verse 1:
You are the God of second chances,
when Your children seek Your face.
You are the faithful rescuer.
You are the God of the week and broken.
Even the undeserving find
You have grace enough to save.

Chorus:
For Your grace is everlasting
and Your mercy never fails
and Your love is farther reaching
than East and West.
You have mercy on the humble,
You uphold the penitent,
and the contrite in spirit
find hope in You,
the God who saves.

Verse 2:
You are the God of unthrown stones
and Your redemption is enough
to save me from myself.
You are the God of endless favor - 
friend of sinners, saving grace.
None can fall beyond Your reach.

Bridge:
Your mercy is enough to save a wretch like me.
Your love is greater than my need could ever be.
Your faithfulness, oh God, could mend the sinner's ways.
Your blood will never fail; it is still enough to save.

Thursday, September 6

Surrender

A few Sundays ago, Rick Jacox said, "What he's calling you to die to is going to kill you anyway. But if you willingly die, He will give you life." The truth of this astounds me even now. We are so afraid to surrender what God is tugging on, so afraid to be crucified in the specifics of our lives, that we fail to understand that life, not death, is the result of surrender. Too often we allow the immediate sting of loss to dictate what we will and will not surrender, or as we justify it to ourselves, what we can and cannot surrender. I am reminded of the lion with the honey in it that Sampson discovers. Out of death comes life. All concerns aside from Jesus lead only to death, but when we lay down those concerns willingly, when we die to them, we find life springing out of those same places. Each time we die a little death, life abounds correspondingly.

Tuesday, August 21

Transfiguration

A week ago I took the youth group up to Mt. Jeez to do a lesson on the transfiguration. I think a lot of what I said was probably familiar to them. The comparison of the transfiguration to a mountaintop experience is not a new one. The thing that struck me that I had never considered before is how God's statement, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him!" fits within that comparison. Moses wrote the Pentateuch and led Israel out of Egypt and Elijah was probably THE preeminent prophet of Old Testament times, the one for which Israel was awaiting. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the prophets," so it seems reasonable to consider Moses and Elijah as representative of those two categories. But on the mountain of transfiguration, God doesn't say, "listen to Moses," or "listen to Elijah"; He says, "Listen to [my Son]." The question that may immediately spring to your lips then is, "Does that mean the Old Testament is no longer valid or relevant?" As Paul would say, "May it never be!" All Scripture points to Jesus and Jesus Himself said He came "to fulfill" the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17). What strikes me is that God distinguishes between "listening to Jesus" and "listening to Moses and Elijah." Yes, all Scripture points to Jesus, yes, Jesus IS the Word, but even Scripture can become an idol. I'm reminded of a story I heard when I was younger: our relationship with God, often, is like a child visiting his mentor, but when the child arrives at the mentor's house, instead of spending time in the living room having fellowship with the mentor, he goes into the mentor's study and begins reading his diary. He wants to know about him, rather than actually knowing him.
It is possible to READ Scripture and get nothing from it. The goal is to grow closer to Jesus. Knowing Scripture well helps with that, but knowing it is not enough. Matthew 5:20 says, "I tell you the truth, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." The Scribes and the Pharisees had the Old Testament memorized and yet Jesus tells them that it wasn't enough. Ezra, "a Scribe skilled in the Law of Moses," (Ezra 7:6), one who knew the Law inside and out, tells us the other components necessary, components that are often overlooked. He writes in Ezra 7:10, "For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord and practice it and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel." Ezra doesn't just know the Law; He understands it, he puts it into practice, and he teaches it to others. It's not enough to read the Word of God; even memorizing the whole Bible would not necessarily draw you closer to God. The call to us is to "Listen to Him!" As is often pointed out, listening is different from hearing. We need to assess what God is calling us to do and then we need to DO IT! Our faith requires action! This is, I think, what James is talking about when he says, "Faith without works is dead." If you really believe it's true, you'll try to live it.
I've often wondered if we really have the faith we say we have. Scripture is transformational! If we really believed what it said, completely, utterly, and with no reservations, wouldn't our lives look at lot different? Wouldn't they, at the very least, look different than the lives of our non-Christian friends? We spend so much time trying to be "in the world," that we forget not to be "of it." After the disciples left the mountain of transfiguration, the first thing they encountered was a demon possessed man who they were not able to help. Life, friends, is difficult. Very little of our lives are spent on the mountain. More often, we dwell in the valleys amidst the depraved and destitute. As you wander through the valleys, remember the word spoken on the mountain: "This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him!" It is the only way to survive the difficulties of everyday life.

Friday, November 18

Devotional - John 1:7

"He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through Him."

John was sent out by God as one having already seen the Light to those still in darkness. Imagine being sent to a people who lived underground in complete darkness with the message, "Come to the light!" They would not understand. All they've ever seen is darkness; they don't know what light is. Trying to expalin it to them would be like explaining color to a blind person. This is what we are called to do. We, like John, have seen the Light, but we all have friends and relatives, neighbors and co-workers who are still living in darkness. It is not our job to convince them that there is light. We are simply called to testify about what we have seen. We are to bear witness about the Light that we have seen. We cannot convince the cave-dwellers that there is light while they sit in darkness. Our job is only to arouse their curiousity, make them say, "What if he's right?" because the next step is always, "I need to see this for myself." Once they leave they darkness and enter the Light, our job is done because the Light speaks for itself.

Wednesday, November 16

Devotional - John 1:6

"There came a man sent from God whose name was John."

God's calling has the holy annoyance of failing to take into account the fact that I am just a man. We are to be found fighting the call of God with lines like "who am I?" and "I'm just a man," and often, like Moses, we say, "send someone else." God is unconcerned with who we think we are. He knows us better than that. We may be just average men and women, and we may be poor ones, but in the thing to which God has called us, we are more than conquerors. God does not call us to the thigns we can't do. He does not call me, for example, to be an artist because he did not give me the gift of art. God always calls us to minister through our gifts, through the things that He has given us. So when the calling comes no matter how not you it may feel, God has prepared you for it. Simply substitute your name for John's and you will see that you are able to do whatever God is calling you to do, because He is already present in the situation. To say, "there came a man whose name was John" is dangerous, but John was "sent by God." He was just a man, but his sending was divine. When God has placed Himself in our calling, the safest place to be, no matter how overwhelming it feels, is in that calling as well.

On the other hand, it is important to remember that we are only men and that God's calling is the important thing. It is dangerous to hesitate when God calls but equally dangerous, if not more dangerous, to rush in without God's call, or to rush in with God's call thinking ourselves more than what we are. The calling is always reliant on God's power, not on our own ability, though God does not call us to things for which we do not have the ability. Thus when the impulse comes to do this or that, there are two important considerations to make: First, am I only a man? That is, have I lowered my estimation of myself appropriately (or am I going to try this on my own power)? Second, am I sent by God? If either is out of place, the whole enterprise will collapse around us.

Sunday, August 14

Ask God: Excerpts from an Advice Column

This was actually a paper that I wrote for class. It was enjoyable and enlightened some issues that are critical both to teenagers and to people in general.


Dear God,
I’ve been wondering for some time now about popularity, or as we call it, “coolness.” You seem to have a great understanding of just about everything. Can you tell me what coolness is? Maybe if I understand it better, I’ll be able to do it easier.

-Trying to be cool

Dear Trying,
Strictly speaking, coolness is a gauge of temperature, but understanding what you really mean, I would suggest that the coolness which you refer to, the gauge of popularity, works very much the same as does its counterpart. Coolness, in terms of temperature, does not actually exist. All temperatures are measured in heat, thus, what you call “cool” is actually an absence of heat. Likewise, coolness, in terms of popularity, does not really exist. It is simply the absence of wisdom. Anticipating piles of mail filling my inbox with questions about why it is wisdom and not some other trait, I will simply address the issue now. Popularity, as you will discover later, does not matter nearly so much as you presume. When you are young, it is everything, but as you grow older, it loses its significance and you realize the important things are character, friendship, love, charity, etc. It takes wisdom to recognize true value, however, which is why some never truly do escape the felt need for popularity. If you can accept now that popularity is not important, which is a wise thing to do, you will find that it stops mattering to you.
To specifically answer your question, “What is coolness?” I will say that cool is nearly as undefinable as I am. Of course, everyone understands perfectly what it is. You interpret it at face value. It is its own definition. Cool is cool. Its meaning has morphed so many times that its true character is hardly decipherable. It is nebulous, constantly shifting, one day meaning one thing and the next day meaning the opposite. That is why it is so hard to define. It’s almost like Calvinball, it never means the same thing twice. In addition to changing meanings frequently, its meaning also varies by culture and clique. Most closely, it is simply a gauge of popularity, as I have said before, but of course even that definition is lacking because different groups, who are not popular with each other, find entirely different things “cool.” For example, football players really think their sport a noble art, but there are many artists, writers, actors, and computer techies who think football is comparable to losing a tooth. Those football players, in turn, can’t grasp the interest these others take in their respected fields.

Dear God,
I attend a Christian school, and I always have. After reading last week’s inquiry, I realized that coolness in the Christian school is very different from coolness in the public school. Most Christian school kids are considered uncool by those from public schools. Why is that?
-Curious about cool

Dear Curious,
The reason for the difference in understandings of coolness in the public and Christian schools is a difference in what they esteem. The Christian school puts a good deal of emphasis on me, an emphasis which the public school does not share. A fair number of public school students do not even believe in me, and they consider anyone who does to be very daft indeed. It is no wonder they do not equate the same things with coolness that you do. You do not share the same ideals. People who live in cold climates have an intimate fondness for warm clothes, while people in warm climates like to wear as little as possible. What they each imagine as ideal, the other finds abhorrent. Similarly, you cannot expect people whose beliefs do not involve me to find anything related to me worthwhile.
On a deeper level, Christians have perpetuated their own unpopularity. For reasons that make very little sense to me, Christianity is the only selective culture of which the members are proud to be a part only when they are with other members, and even then, sometimes, they are ashamed of themselves. Those outside the culture have simply accepted the Christians’ self-appraisal. In other words, if you want to be called Sam, your friends will probably call you Sam. But it is interesting to note that the rules of their religion and the ashamedness associated therewith change as they move away from the context of their culture. It is as if a turkey sandwich were only a turkey sandwich when it was still in the deli section with all the other turkey sandwiches and once you take it out of the store it becomes a bratwurst. As one of your own television shows has said, “A horse is a horse of course of course,” and the underlying warrant is that it never becomes anything else, a fish or camel or head of broccoli, but that is of course what Christians sometimes wish to do. I might revise the song to say, “A Christian is a Christian of course of course, unless of course that Christian is amongst his nonreligious friends for then he will amalgamate.” I don’t think the syllabic rhythm of that will work as well, however.
Notwithstanding that, this principle plays out in Christian students by making them feel the dichotomy between their religion and what is, by common definition, cool. A lot of teenagers think that I am uncool, but Christian students have been raised to believe that I am very important. Their problem then, as you can probably identify from experience, is that Christian students don’t know how to be Christian and popular at the same time, since the two seem to be at odds. They grow up learning to love me, but the world tells them that that is uncool. They don’t want to be uncool, but they don’t want to be impious, and they can’t find a balance between the two. It is difficult for teenagers to embrace Christianity because, in their minds, it dilutes their popularity. They have identified, in some vague sense, what is cool, and they believe that, by definition, I am not cool. They want to be liked by other people and they want to be liked by me and they don’t know how to do both at once, so consequently, they do neither very well at all. What this leads to is only hypocrisy – a lot of people saying one thing and then living the opposite, people who pretend to be religious to please me and pretend to be unreligious to please their friends. In other words, turkey sandwiches trying to be bratwursts or horses trying to be rocks. Your generation has an inordinate number of people vying simultaneously to say, “I am Christian; hear me roar,” and “I’m not with them.” In the end, what it amounts to is precisely what I told Trying in last week’s column. Stop worrying about cool and cool will stop worrying you.

Dear God,
I read last week’s column through several times, and I think you’ve missed a very key point. There is a very real difference between reality and perception. What I mean is, there are a lot of Christian students, at least, the ones I know are like this, who feel uncool because of their religion, but people actually like them very much. Their view of popularity is almost a form of “voluntary poverty,” as Paul Bettany said in “A Knight’s Tale” (do you follow movies up there?).

-Thinking you’re losing your touch

Dear Thinking,
You make an excellent point. I did not address it last week because Curious did not specifically ask about it. There is a definite distinction between how cool Christians are to those around them and how cool they feel they are to those around them. In the end, it is really inconsequential. You will only ever be as cool, or as religious for that matter, as you want to be. It is very much in the mind. It actually is, though many will deny it to their graves, possible to be both cool and religious at once because the thing people don’t like about Christians is that, either, they, Christians, condemn them, nonChristians, for every questionable thing they do while doing equally questionable things themselves, or they, Christians, live the way they should but shove the Bible down other’s throats. I never prescribed either of those methods, but people are desperate to invent their own canon. You may see from this illustration that the best balance is simply to be yourself and let others be themselves. If you are Christian, be Christian, and let those who are not Christian, be not Christian. By insisting on your own ideology, you simply drive others away. You shouldn’t worry about them finding me; that’s my job.

Dear God,
I’m a Christian school student and I’ve been following this column for several weeks now. Someone recently asked me, “Have you ever done anything wrong ever in your entire life? Ever lied to your parents? Ever cheated on homework? Ever been angry at your brother or sister? Ever wondered what it felt like to be drunk? But those are stupid questions. Obviously, you haven’t. Your angelic sheen is a dead give away.” You and I both know that I’m not perfect (you probably know better than I), but how can I be good without being a goody goody.

-Confused about goodness

Dear Confused,
What you are asking is essentially, “Is it ever alright to place the importance of coolness above the importance of goodness?” Phrased that way, I think you will see that the answer is no. But to address the issue at its root, they are either bitter because they cannot be as good as you and they would like to be, in which case you should continue to be friendly and they will come around, or they are not interested in me at all, in which case you should not worry about what they think. As a general rule, you should never worry about what anyone thinks. That is perhaps the greatest downfall of the Christian school. There are a great deal of people worried about what a great deal of other people think about them. They want to be the shoe that fits the foot perfectly, but they don’t know what sort of foot they are approaching. In other words, a lot of people spend their time trying to be what other people want them to be when even these other people do not know what that is. And, of course, simultaneously, this second group of people is trying to be what the first group wants them to be, and the whole conglomerate of them becomes something like a dog chasing its tail. Except that the dog is also telling its tale to become, intermittently, a turkey sandwich and a bratwurst.

Wednesday, January 26

Devotional: John 1:5

"The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it."

Darkness and light are not equal opposites like we sometimes suppose them to be. Darkness is simply the absence of light. Do you feel like you are in darkness? It is because there is an absence of light. Wherever there is darkness, there is no light, but as soon as you turn on a light, the darkness is gone. Light is the absolute death of darkness, but not vice versa. Darkness is a servant of the light. Darkness can never overcome light, but light pierces darkness immediately, and the darkness has no answer. Satan, for all his cunning, cannot comprehend the Light. Darkness and Light cannot coexist. They are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as a "light darkness" or a "dark light." Where there is darkness there is no light, but simply turn to Jesus and allow Him to be a Light to your dark places and you find those dark places are no longer there. It is reassuring to realize that, no matter how deep your own darkness seems, it is not an entity in itself, but exists only as the absence of light. Not only that, but it is reassuring to realize how quickly light fills a dark room, when a lightswitch is flipped. Often, in our darkest moments, Jesus seems very far away, but it only takes a instant for his light to permeate our circumstances.

It is also interesting to consider that another form of darkness is shadow. Shadows are the lack of light resulting from light being blocked by an object. Sometimes, we are in the dark because we let other things get in the way of our source of light. We stand in the shadows of our own idols. We would be humble were it not for our pride. We would be generous were it not for our greed. We would be loving were it not for our selfishness. When darkness settles around us, the first thing to check is, "Is the light on?" The second check is, "Am I hiding behind something?" We have to surrender all our idols and gods to see the light clearly.

FEAR NO DARKNESS!

Friday, December 10

Devotional: John 1:4

"In Him was life and the life was the Light of men."

We know, or at least, we have heard it said hundreds of times, that our lives are not our own. It is so, and to an extent that we have difficulty grasping even in our best moments. Before anything was created, before man had the ability to live and pass on life to children, true life was in Christ. We think of life as a human attribute, something that belongs to us, and we assume that God is somewhere outside of that, in some greater plane. When we come to it, what really belongs to us, what is really a human attribute is death. We exist in the domain of death. Life is the attribute completely belonging to God, in the same way holiness and justice and sovereignty are. We can attain them, but they are not inherently ours. The only place life really exists at all is not here on Earth, not of itself anyway. It is in Christ. We will all die physically, but Christ tells us, "He who believes in me will never die." He is the way, the truth, and the life, as in, the only way, the only truth, and the only life (or to combine them: the only true way to life). We lay such a claim on this "life" that is really not ours because it is the thing we want more than anything. What humanity, in general, wouldn't give to overcome death! For this reason, life, the desire for it, leads us to Christ. It is our light in a dark place. We want life desperately and any sincere and honest search for it will lead us inevitably to Jesus, the only true source of life.

Wednesday, December 1

Four-Way Stop

I was going through a four-way stop the other day and it struck me just how much like our self-perception it is. The way we look at ourselves is such a narrow ledge, with self-doubt a chasm on one side and pride a chasm on the other. We either think too highly of ourselves or too lowly. Satan has really done well drilling a false idea of pride into us. We have come to believe that humility means thinking less of ourselves and degrading our own talents. Humility is that narrow road we walk stepping neither to the left nor to the right. It is the perfect balance of self-image, in which I believe myself to be neither more or less than I am, but exactly what God has made me.

So to return to the metaphor: I'm often shocked at four-way stops at peoples sense of themselves. Some people rush through, going in front of cars that were obviously there before them. Others will wave you through even if they were clearly there first. This is the perfect picture of our flawed self-image. When we deserve to go first, we don't, and when we don't deserve to go first, we do. We can't objectively look at ourselves and decide where we fit. We either think we arrived earlier than we did, or we think we arrived later than we did. Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is finding your place. If you are good at something, it's lying and self-doubt to say you're not. But it's pride to say you're better than you are. Tell it like it is, you'll find the balance. If it feels like boasting, remember that God gave you your talents, so reflect the praise back to him.

Thursday, November 25

Devotional: John 1:3

"All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being."

What things came into being through God? Make a list: trees, water, man, animals. John is establishing the Deity and sovereignty of Jesus Christ, and often our list of things that came into being through Him falls drastically short. Here are a few you might have left off your list:

1. Circumstances - Even the place we find ourself in came into being through Him. That is either very comforting, if your heart is in the right place, or very disconcerting if it is not. Consider the unsatisfied man: he says, "My circumstances are too bad to be from God," and by "too bad," he means "not what I want." Obviously there is merit to that argument since we deserve to get what we want right? We're in charge and everything revolves around us right? It is fortunate that God does not always give us what we want but, instead, what is ultimately good for us. Consider Job's circumstances. They weren't good in his eyes, and yet they came into being through God. God allowed him to suffer, and in the end, He worked it out for good. It ought to encourage us to realize that God engineered our circumstances. If they seem really bad, God intends to make something good of them (Romans 8:28). If they seem good, praise the Lord. No matter what our circumstances are, God is a part of them with us, and He will work it out for good.

2. Salvation - We were dead in our transgressions, but we have been made alive through the death and resurrection of Jesus. When John says, "we came into being through Him," it has a double meaning. Firstly, He created man. Secondly, He brought us out of death and darkness and into being (true existence) through His sacrifice. He provided a means of salvation, so it is only through Him and the covering of His blood that we can find true life, that we can "come into being." Before Christ died and rose from the dead, we were hopeless. Now, we have a new and living way, a chance at real life because Christ conquered literal death and our own personal death (that is, the dying present in our living). Never neglect to be thankful (especially on a day like this!) that you have been made alive through the work of Christ on the cross, which is the only way to be made alive.

3. Love - Imagine a world without love. Who would want to live there? Fortunately, we love. And it is because God first loved us that we love. Love was inaugerated by God, not by us. We did not invent love, although we have invented many cheap imitations of it, and have attempted to redefine it. From the beginning, God loved us. Consequently, the ability for us to love Him in return and to love each other came into being through Him. When I think of love, I'm always reminded of Keith Green's song, "You Put This Love in My Heart," and God really did put this love in our hearts. It was not there before Him and would not be there without Him. When was the last time you appreciated the ability to love? God wanted a creation that would love Him and worship Him, and that's what He created: men and women with the capacity to love and worship. It is a wonderful gift from God that we nearly always take for granted.

Friday, November 19

Something to think about

The following is by no means authoritative and should definitely not be viewed as "from the mouth of God" or even as true, necessarily. It's really just pondering questions that are pinging off the insides of my head. I've always enjoyed philosophy, so questions are natural but answers are scarce. That's what's great about a weblog though: I don't have to have the answers and I don't have to be right either.

I said in the devotional from John 1:1-2 that God had a plan for our salvation even before He created the world. I think that's true, but it raises a lot of interesting questions.

1. Can we really be perfect? God created us with a plan for salvation in place, so he must have known, long before our fall, of our imminent failure. We like to say that we were created to be perfect but messed it up, but is that really true? Could Adam and Eve have remained perfect? Could they have overcome sin? Or was this whole creation just a way for God to show off his amazing grace and salvation? This leads me to think of Paul's defense to the Christians in Rome: "You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?' On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this," will it?"

2. Where does Satan really fit in this picture? This whole issue raises some problems with Satan. First, did God create Satan? I think the answer to that is yes. I don't think the angels are eternal like God, otherwise they would be gods. That leads to, "did God create Satan knowing what he would become?" I think you have to say yes to that too, otherwise you are left with saying that either God did not know, a direct blow to God's omniscience, or that Satan outsmarted God, in which case, this whole world is doomed. That leaves us to believe that God created Satan knowing exactly what he would become. I wonder further if God did not create Satan specifically for this purpose. What if God's plan from the beginning was to create a race of people (us) who could bring Him glory, and the best way to do that was to offer them the choice between Him and something else? Is Satan, perhaps, a necessary evil, that God created as His antithesis (not that Satan is God's opposite, because that would make them equals)? All this really leaves us in uncharted waters, because the next logical step is, "God created sin." Well, ok . . . maybe that's not the next logical step (and not exactly accurate either); I think I may have skipped a few steps, but I think you can see how I got there. God wants to bring glory to Himself so he decides to create a race of beings that can do that, but it's not very glorifying if they don't have any other options so He creates Satan - and remember, He created Lucifer as a good angel - knowing that he would rebel and lead His creation astray, giving them an option other than Himself so that, when they do choose Him, it would be more glorifying. So God did not directly create sin. He just created the potential for rebellion (that is, He created choice - all the Calvinists out there will lynch me after this); Satan created sin, at least, he was the first to do it and is the one who tempts us to do it.

3. What does this mean in terms of everyday temptation? I read in a devotional book once that "every temptation is a chance to wave our Savior's victory flag." I don't think I can say it any better than that. If all that I said above is true (mind you, that's a big if), every temptation is a device of God's ultimate plan to bring Himself glory. He foresaw the rebellion of Satan, and created him anyway, and he foresaw the fall of mankind, but created them anyway, and he foresaw all of your own individual failures, but he created you anyway. Why? Because we don't fail every time (perhaps only by His grace and binding of Satan - remember the story of Job) and when we don't, we bring Him glory, and that is our ultimate purpose. Every temptation is a chance to glorify our Maker. With that in mind, let me leave you with three lines from a song that can change the way you view yourself, sin, guilt, shame, fear, love, grace, etc. Consider these three things, and the amazing fact that they are all true. The combination of the three is almost unsettling.

And you know who I am,
And you made who I am,
And you love who I am.

Tuesday, November 16

Devotional: John 1:1-2

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning."

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and then man sinned in the garden and God scrambled for a way to fix the problem, consulted with His manager, and held an emergency pow-wow with His heavenly cabinet, right? No! John tells us that Jesus was with God in the beginning. When the whole idea of creation was contrived, God knew about sin. It didn't take Him by surprise (after all, can we say that Satan outsmarted God? Or that God does not know all things?). For that reason, when God created the heavens and the earth, He already had a plan to save the man He was creating. Isn't it amazing to realize that Christ intended to die for us from the very beginning, before creation, before sin even? From the very beginning, even as we were being created, He knew our hopeless state and prepared His Son to die our death. This whole thing we call creation is God's rescue mission. God created us to bring Him glory. He wanted us to be perfect but knew that we would not be, so He engineered this amazing plan of salvation, whereby sinners who deserve death could live, and not just live, but live richly in the goodness of God's grace. God's love for us, from the very beginning, did not spare His only Son. How will He not give us all good things?

Monday, November 15

A Recent Prophecy

This is something I sent to Juli Parsons in an email sometime ago. She recently read it Sunday morning, and there was good response, so I thought it appropriate to post.

Hold fast to the truth when the skies have dried up and the desert surrounds you. Stand in firm confidence of the coming flood, for the mercies of the Lord are a great tidal wave and His grace a thunderous waterfall. His cleansing washes over His people and they are renewed. The Spirit of the Lord is moving. He is a raging bull, a hungry lion tracking its prey and He will not be denied. He will have His way. He will bring you out of Egypt and into His promised land, a land rich with the mercies of His love. You who lay bricks beneath the whip and build other men's cities will taste again the freedom that comes only from the Lord. He has chased away the enemy from before you; even the wind retreats at the sound of His footfall. Take courage oh Israel; your strength is not your own, for nations rise and fall but not a single day dawns apart from the Lord. He is a strong tower and a rallying banner and He is calling you forth from hiding and into battle but fear not the battle for the Lord, who formed the heavens and the earth, will fight for you. He will be your sword and your shield and the enemy will flee before you. You will take back the ground that has been stolen from under you and will advance into the enemies territory, conquering any that stand in your way for the Lord is a consuming fire, eager and willing to protect His children. Do not be frightened by the fire of the Lord, for it is death to your enemies and purification for you souls. Stand firm in the mercies of God, knowing His grace is bigger than any stronghold, than any shortcoming, that any failure, for the love of the Lord is enduring, perfect in every way, casting out the fear that corrupts, and restoring the wounded heart. The Lord is a mighty warrior; who do we have to fear? Is there one who can stand against the God of creation? Or who was there when He set the stars in place? Surely our God can save us in our time of need and surely, with Him, we are more than conquerors.

Sonnets

The following are old poems that were based on sermons or verses that I thought would make a good beginning to this.

Of Name Unspeakable
My God of name unspeakable, You are
somehow eternally blood appeased and sac-
rifice saturated though I am far
myself from appeasing and filled the more with lack
than have. For all the want in me for You,
I am ever sin-seeking, ever sin-
sought, as one wave to beach yet due
or magnet to magnet drawn, the serpent's kin
itself, not only fallen but creating fall
as well. You look, with innumerable mercies past
the blood and death I owe that stand to call
inadequate my righteousnessless cast.
For all of me that can't be what it ought,
the price is paid, the debt already bought.

A Once Perfect Image
By definition flesh is flawed for we
have blemished it, perverted what was made
in God's own theme, what was created to be
perfect. We, in our supreme crusade
to die, have deperfected the divine
reflection that once was cast from heaven's throne
upon the waters below. That decline
of flesh, frail, by nature both eager and prone
to sin, sponge-like in a legionous sea,
the viral host itself of all opposed to God,
God assumed for us, but sinlessly,
blemish unimbibed or fleshly flawed.
For that which is sin's home but not its native,
He, sinless, died that we might, sinful, live.

Passing Through Fire
You men of faith, whose inner fires dwindle,
whose spirits tremble with timidity
at the thought of stirring up the dark, rekindle
what lies dormant somewhere underneath
the burned out soot and ash, cool and grey
that we have learned to tolerate and ignore.
Rake aside the embers that died away
and bring to air the underlying store
of warmth and energy. Fire has not
a neutral spirit. We were made to burn,
not to sit in shadows, but in hot
response to God, and let our fanning turn
to flame. For that which waits to be relit,
may God's consuming fire kindle it.

The Great Divide
What faith can man employ to keep in frame
the things beyond our flesh, the things outside
of time and reason, which we can never claim
to circumvent, which can never be denied
by flesh. God, Himself, has built these feet
beneath us, and, with onward-heralding call,
He asks for faith of us, still incomplete,
that stands apart from these. It seems a small
thing for God, who is not marred by our
restrictions, to understand the sweeping span
of time all at once while we yet lack the power
to find, in even this moment, a trace of Your plan.
You who know eternity so well,
remember us, whom time and reason fell.