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Musical Musing: Jonathan Coulton – “I’m Your Moon”

May 6, 2009

Jonathan Coulton is a musician. I like to call him a geek troubadour; I hope he’d approve of the moniker. He left a career in software programming to write music and now sings lots of songs on lots of topics, many of them near and dear to the hearts of geeks everywhere. It should be no surprise that this man struck a chord with my geeky little heart.

What is surprising is how deeply that chord is resonating. Sure, lots of his stuff is just silly fun (I’m not sure I can write anything of much depth based on Re: Your Brains, for instance, and if I ever do, I may just open the door and let the zombies in). But this man isn’t all fluff and nonsense, and if you dismiss him as such, you do him (and yourself) a disservice.

I will warn you, not all of his songs are “SFW”, or what the geeks call “Safe For Work”… there’s some, how did Star Trek put it, “colorful” language in there (though always in good fun, and I’ve never heard anything vicious). But the song I want to talk about today is completely clean, so you can follow all of my links without a shred of guilt. (It’s just if you continue to explore that you might find some of the more colorful material).

At his concerts, Coulton introduces “I’m Your Moon” with some backstory. You see, you and I grew up with nine planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. But in 2006, astronomers decided to officially define for the first time what it meant to be a “planet”… and in defining “planet”, they excluded Pluto. Pluto was redefined in a new category, called “dwarf planet”. There’s been an outcry and an uproar about the decision… but this isn’t about whether or not Pluto is a planet. There’s more science (stick with me). Pluto has three moons… two tiny little dust balls and Charon, which is nearly the size of Pluto. In fact, Charon’s “status” is up in the air… the same astronomers that labeled Pluto a dwarf planet may do the same to Charon, making Pluto and Charon a dual dwarf system. Neither one orbits the other, either… they orbit a point outside of them both. The two bodies dance around each other, orbiting one another. In a way, they are each the moon of the other. It’s in light of these facts that Coulton wrote the song “I’m Your Moon”; Charon is consoling Pluto after the declaration of Earth-bound scientists (who’ve never even had a satellite pass close enough to give them close pictures of the system), changing its identity.

At it’s heart, “I’m Your Moon”, the song about Pluto and Charon, isn’t about those two moons at all, though that’s the fun that makes me laugh. What makes me love this song, that makes me want to cry, and that made me write about it, is that it’s about being certain who YOU are. It’s about knowing not to define yourself by what others say about you, especially those who don’t truly know you. In the end, there is one voice who truly knows you… there is one voice who can truly define you… just as Pluto, orbiting out there in the expanse beyond what we are certain of, where light takes hours to reach, could, arguably, only be “known” by its moon, Charon.

I have this odd definition of existentialism: we are before we are anything else, and we are defined only by what can be observed by outsiders. It’s an odd pairing, and it comes into play in an odd way with the ideas in this song. We’ll start with the second idea first: as humans, we categorize. We tuck things into little boxes and folders and make order out of chaos. We even do this with people. We need to categorize things, or sort them out, or figure out the relationships so that everything fits. But the only way for you to do that with me is with what you can observe about me. There are physical descriptors that you can use to categorize me, and there are behavioral ones: I saw her clear the trash off the table in the restaurant. She goes to church. You can’t know why I do them, or don’t do them; that’s inside my head. I could tell you (ah, but how do you know I’m not lying?), but only what you can see for yourself is provable data. All of these things allow you to form some idea of who I am, what I am, and they let you categorize me for yourself. That’s basically all the scientists were doing with Pluto: based on the data they had, which box did Pluto fit best?

But there’s another side to my little definition of existentialism, the one that Charon reminds Pluto of in the song, the one we must all remember, even as we sort people into our boxes. Before we are any of the things we can be observed to be, we are. The essence of what we are, church goer, table clearer, tall, short, fat, thin, male, female… is all preceded by our existence. We exist. We are. There, Beloved, is the crux of the matter… and it is there that you and I must find our identity, and it is there that we must remember to love and respect others.

Now granted, the analogy falls apart: we’re assigning sentience to spatial bodies, and expecting scientists to love and respect them like living, breathing, knowing things? Not exactly. But if you take the same idea and apply it to your life… remember that who you really are, your own identity isn’t based on someone else’s conception of who you are… well, something strange happens. You begin to realize that no matter what someone thinks of you, says of you, there’s one thing they can’t change: who you are.

There is only one voice that has ever known you inside and out, who has ever seen your motivations and your actions. Pluto has Charon there to encourage it, to remind it who it really is, to affirm its identity when the definitions of others confuse. You and I have the same benefit… Someone who has been with us faithfully through all the ups and downs of life and doubt. When you find yourself confused by the definitions others have placed on you… when you aren’t sure who you are, and you’d really like to be the person you were born to be, the one He says you are… well, you only have to talk to Him. He’d be happy to lend an ear, to help you sort it out. Your Creator, the Intelligent Designer, wants to go ’round and round with you.

I’m not sure Jonathan Coulton found this in his song. I’m not sure he knew I’d find it in there. But down there, in the orbit of Pluto and Charon, as they go round and round, I found my God winking up at me. The Lover of your soul is waiting, arms wide, for you, and He’s asking you to remember who you are.

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Musical Musing: Ben Harper- “When She Believes”

May 5, 2009

Early in my marriage to my husband, our church had a sunday school class for newlyweds. We covered a variety of materials, but one of the things we discussed was Gary Chapman’s study, The Five Love Languages. The ideas we learned in that book have gone farther than just our marriage, but the biggest thing it may have done for us was to teach us something about ourselves while giving us the vocabulary to communicate that information to our spouse.

The heart of Chapman’s book is that Love is “spoken” in five “languages”, and we all give and receive love in one (or at most two) primary languages. We demonstrate our love for others in the way we most want to receive love. The flaw with that model is that not everyone we encounter is wired the same way we are… so they may not want to receive love the way we do. It’s like trying to communicate, but neither of you speak the same language; you might occasionally luck out and do something right, but most of the time, it’s going to be an exercise in frustration if not futility.

Worse, as we are going through life and marriage, we are pouring ourselves out for our mate, giving of ourselves and putting ourselves on the line, hoping and trusting that it will be rewarded. If we go through this cycle of frustration and futile attempts at communication that seem to end in failure every time, or more often than not, eventually even the most patient among us grow weary, emptied of all our good nature and hope. Chapman calls this our “Love Tank” and compares it to an air tank for a diver; without a constant flow of fresh air in, the drain of what air there is will kill a diver. So too, in a relationship; without a fresh intake of love, the relationship dies.

This, though, is only the diagnosis. If you can learn to identify your love language, then your spouse has a fighting chance of knowing which language to use to love you. Likewise, if your spouse can identify theirs, then if you can learn to speak theirs (and yes, it’s a learning process), then you have a means of communicating the love that sparked your relationship in the first place. The other thing we learned to do, despite how silly it might seem, was to do a sort of systems check. We’d ask each other “How’s your love tank?” and then “what can I do to help fill that up for you?” It was a way of communicating our satisfaction with our marriage in particular, but also with life in general. There were days that our love tanks were low, but it had nothing to do with what either of us had done; work had just been awful that day, and neither of us knew of a way to refill the way work had drained the joy from our lives. I honestly think it helped the early days of our marriage immensely, building a foundation for us to work from for the years that have followed and those yet to come. (If you’re interested, I’ve linked Chapman’s site here, and his book is on Amazon.com here.)

As powerful a tool as the Five Love Languages is, and it’s amazing… as I said before, I’ve found that I use it outside of my marriage, in my relationships with other people… it’s not the only tool in our toolbox, nor is it the one that came to mind first when I first heard this song. Emerson Eggerichs added to the toolbox in another of our sunday school classes in 2007 when we studied his book “Love And Respect”.

If we could borrow Chapman’s language, then Eggerichs teaches that respect is a sort of 6th language… except, while we’re all taught that we should love one another unconditionally, we’ve missed the need of our men to be respected unconditionally.

I know that what I just said is radical. There are some horrible men out there. Trust me; I’ve put at least one of them in prison- I know there are BAD BAD men. But men aren’t pigs, they aren’t irredeemable, and when we treat them as the butt of every joke, as disposable and stupid, we destroy the one thing they need most. If they had one language they speak, it is respect. If there is one thing we are systematically robbing from our men, it is respect. Why?

If love is the very air we need to live, respect, Eggerichs says, is the air men need. The men in our class agreed heartily. But our society has taught us that men are buffoons and fools. They are good for sex, sports, and little else. Fathers are shown in movies and television as being clueless at best. Even Cliff Huxtable, who was a respectable role model for a man, a doctor who knew how to guide his children into adulthood and responsibility, was written as a bit of a fool who served cake for breakfast as an acceptable nutritional choice (it has eggs, flour and milk… it must be ok, hyuck). Granted, we’ve all laughed at the sitcoms… but where are the role models for our men to follow?

Have we forgotten the power in our words? Have we forgotten the power of our expectations? We tell cockamamie stories about how we dare not risk bruising the egos of our students by giving them failing grades or letting teams actually win or lose in sports… but we can destroy our men by mocking them endlessly? We tell our children “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” knowing the whole time that it’s a lie, that the first time they told us they loved us, it was life-giving, and the first time they told us they hated us, it wounded us to the core… and then turn around and bad-mouth their fathers.

In the book of James, we are told of the power of the tongue. It is likened to the rudder of a ship or the bit in a horse’s mouth. This tiny piece has the power to determine course for an entire transport! So too it is with the tongue. We know that verbal abuse has an enormous impact on a child’s life; why do we think that words are somehow powerless against our men? Because they’re bigger than we are, they can “take it?” What kind of thinking is that? If you could see the damage your careless words were doing, would you be so glib with them? James says that the tongue is full of deadly poison. Proverbs likens reckless words to a sword!

I warn you of these things because I’ve seen the damage of careless words. I was verbally abused growing up, and while the tools Chapman gave us were amazing, the damage done by the abuse was powerful, too. I repeated what had been done to me. There is no excuse for the verbal abuse I heaped on my loving husband.

I know, not all wives are verbally abusive to their husbands. I was an extreme… an unacceptable one. It is a miracle, and a testament to John’s love and our commitment that we’ve made it as far as we have… that we got to the class in 2007. By the time we got there, I knew what I’d done wrong… we were more than 2 years into the healing process. But I also know there’s a lot of careless, thoughtless, disrespect happening… and I know it’s destructive to our men. What I did may have been destructive by feet… but that doesn’t mean that the general attitude towards our men isn’t killing them by inches.

 And that brings me back around to the song I heard by Ben Harper tonight. “Nothing is as beautiful as when she believes in me.” I’ll be honest; I don’t know if he’s talking about his wife, his daughter, his mother, or someone else. But I do know this: John and I’s marriage is never better than when I build him up. When I show him respect, give him specific examples of reasons why I respect him, nothing makes him smile brighter. I’m not saying we have a perfect marriage; does anyone? But when I make a point to speak life into him, to use my words to build him up instead of tearing him down… I see a difference in my husband, a difference for the better. He’s a better man. People say we’re a cute couple. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because we’ve learned that nothing is as beautiful to him as when I believe in him.

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Musical Musing: Every Second, Matthew West

April 16, 2009

Happy
I have been blessed to have been a sort of newlywed for nearly 11 years now. I don’t mean to say that my marriage hasn’t had it’s rough patches; we certainly struggled through some ugly days and rough patches. But somewhere in the almost 11 years we’ve been married, it feels like we never lost the magic of those days when we were first married, or even before that, when we were “just” dating.

I look at my husband, and I marvel that this man has chosen to make me his, to include me in his life forever, to commit all his tomorrows to ensuring I’m in them. I don’t know what I did to win the heart of this marvelous man. This is the man who went out before I was awake to get me chocolate milk, knowing it would delight my heart. He is always looking for ways to light my face with a smile, to make my day better, to make my life a rewarding one. It has been his encouragement that pushed me to finally really launch my writing career, and it has been such a delight to me to watch him get as excited about the projects and challenges ahead of us as I am about my writing.

I still remember after our first date how I found myself thinking about him, how I wondered what he would think of what I was doing, what he would have ordered at dinner… I was out with my sister and her friends, but my mind was hundreds of miles away, with him. As we continued to date, I found that when I thought of travelling, I always thought of coming back to him… or better yet, turning to him as he stood beside me, to share it with him. I couldn’t picture my life without him in it.

Have you ever loved that way, Beloved? Have you ever been so crazy about someone that you just wanted to spend every minute of your life with them? Did you find yourself forgetting that you had a life before your lover, or incapable of conceiving how you’d cope without them? Have you ever had a love that so changes your life for the better that you never want your old life back? Have you ever been loved so completely?

Actually, the last one was a trick question. Sorry. The truth is, you have been loved so completely, you just may never have received it. I know, until you receive it, it hardly feels real, but that doesn’t change the fact that someone, right now, loves you with a love far better than even what I described earlier. You have a lover who has been pursuing you since before you were born, and who will pursue you until you die. Every sunrise brings a fresh hope for new smiles on your face, a new chance to delight you as you’ve never been delighted before. Your lover wants to just be with you, to walk with you, to talk with you, to just build a relationship with you. Your lover is committed to you, and is just waiting, hoping, that you will return even a fraction of the affection.

You see, Beloved, my marriage, like all marriages built on Biblical principles, is a portrait of the relationship between God and His people. The way John loves me is a picture of how God loves me-selflessly, unconditionally, and always with his heart aimed for my best. The way I love John is a picture of how we are supposed to love God, too. Our relationship with Him can be much like mine with John; ever new, ever refreshed. Just as I can’t imagine how I lived my life without John in my life, or how I will ever cope if I were to lose him, when I think of how life was without reliance upon my God, I fall into a stunning, heart-breaking depression.

At my wedding, the pastor who married us (John’s youth pastor) said something that I’ve remembered as “Love multiplies joys and divides sorrows.” My life with John has certainly proved him right; my life is marked by joy more than it has ever been before. I’m told I have “infectious laughter”… I have to attribute that to the lovers of my soul… my Lord and my husband. It’s easier to laugh when your lover is sharing his joys with you, is sharing your joys, is helping carry your burdens, and when you’re plugged in to the Lover of your soul.

And just as I’ve been like a newlywed for the past 11 years, so too can you keep the spark in your relationship with your God. Lamentations, a book of mourning, says that God’s love never fails; it is new every morning! In the midst of the sorrow of Lamentations, there is the hope and joy of the faithfulness of God’s unfailing love. Every day, He’s working to woo you again.

You don’t believe me that God is trying to woo you? Listen to some of the things in the second chapter of the Song of Solomon:

He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.

My lover spoke and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.’

My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.

My lover is mine and I am his;

If those aren’t the sorts of things a lover says to his beloved, or that beloved says of her lover, then I’ve been watching the wrong romance movies… because I’ve heard lines similar to them in all the blockbuster romances. And that’s just one chapter in one book!

The fulfillment I’ve found in the embrace of my Lover is unlike anything I’ve ever had. Nothing compares to the joy of being accepted for who I am, aside from what I do, who I know, what I can accomplish. To be loved just because I am is unspeakably amazing. I just want to spend every second with the Lover of my soul. And yet, this is an unselfish love… I want you to know how good it is, how good it can be.

You want that new romance again? You want that love that captures your heart and sweeps you off your feet and changes your life forever? Would you like to know the lover of your soul? Do you know, Beloved, that the reason I call you “Beloved” is because even now, the Lover of your soul is looking at you, loving you, waiting eagerly to see if you will love Him back? I call you Beloved because that is who you are, who you have always been, even if you never knew it, even if you never accept it. You can be loved in the dramatic, life-changing, heart-filling way I’ve described. You are loved. Will you risk accepting it?

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Musical Musing- Switchfoot “I Dare You To Move”

February 26, 2009

Dare You To Move

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

We are our one of our worst enemies. Pair that with our other great enemy, the one whose name means “the accuser” and you have a recipe for defeat and disaster, one that has been cooking longer than we’ve been breathing. But tonight isn’t about spiritual warfare, it’s about confronting the one enemy we can do something about: ourselves.

Failure, left to itself, breeds more failure. It takes effort to overcome. If I’ve tried something once and failed, it’s easier to just give up than it is to talk myself into getting up and trying again. It’s why we’ve got the tired and clichéd phrases like “get back up on the horse” or “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Let’s face it; every time we fall short, it’s far easier to just lay there than it is to get up. It’s safer-you don’t have as far to fall if you never got up, right?

Wrong.

You see, the better picture isn’t one of falling off your horse (or your bike) and laying on solid ground that isn’t going anywhere, but of falling out of a boat into moving water. There is no standing still, or laying still, in life. If you’re not moving forward, you’re being dragged backwards.

Have you ever been on a beach as the waves rolled in? If you stand on the shore, you may not realize what’s happening, but if you were out swimming in the water, you probably found yourself carried farther out than you realized faster than you intended. It’s called the undertow, and it’s the backwash of every wave. See, as the waves crash forward with all of that power, they’re actually a circle of current, and the energy carrying them forward circles backwards, too. If you’re not aware and working to counteract it, the same energy that carried the wave to land will carry you out to sea as it returns the energy back out. So you can’t fall down and stay down; you fall down, Beloved, and you get swept away; you drown.

Makes failure even harder to overcome, doesn’t it? Now you not only have to overcome your shortcomings, but you have to work against forces that would pull you deeper and deeper… no wonder depression is such an overwhelming and prevalent problem.

Paul talked about this problem of being overwhelmed in Romans. He knew what was right. He knew what he was supposed to do, but it was so hard to do it, and once he messed up, it was often easier to keep messing up rather than start over. It’s like being on a diet and blowing it… it’s easier once you’ve cheated to justify cheating the rest of the day, then the rest of the week, then the rest of the month… then you’ll start over next year… it just spirals out of control. “I have the desire to do what is good,” he said, “but I cannot carry it out.” What’s worse, he added, “the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing”!

I’ve known that feeling of life seeming to spiral out of my own control. I know what I should be doing, but for whatever reason, I just can’t seem to bring myself to do it. Or I know what I shouldn’t be doing, but for whatever reason, I can’t bring myself to stop. It tastes too good. It’s too much fun. Who cares why I do it… I know I shouldn’t, and I do it anyway.

So all of this sounds like fatalistic bad news, right? We mess up, we’re stuck. We get caught up in the undertow, we’re going to be dragged out to sea and drown. Paul was no different; why should we even try to live the “Christian” life? Why should we try to be good if we’re only ever going to fail? “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”

Oh, come on, like you couldn’t guess where I was going with this? Absolutely you should NOT! Look at the title! I dare you to MOVE! I’m challenging you to overcome your own stagnation, your own tendencies to failure, and calling you to fight the undertow. I’m invoking the clichés: Get back on your bike and ride! Try, try again and again and again. Ignore Yoda… if all you can do is try, keep trying, Beloved!

Yes, I know, I just spent an entire page telling you that failure breeds failure. I just told you how the undertow drags you out to sea to drown you. I told you that if you fall down, you don’t lay still, you get dragged backwards… I made very clear how difficult it is to overcome your failures. Hopefully, I also made clear how high the stakes are. Your life is on the line, Beloved! Get over yourself and GET UP! MOVE before stagnation is your death!

But that’s not the end of what I have to say tonight. You thought I forgot that second verse, didn’t you? I didn’t, and while that’s the second half of tonight’s challenge, it’s also the best news I have to offer in the midst of this despair.

Where does “west” end and “east” begin? How far is it from the west to the east? How far can your mind fathom? That’s how much distance God promises to put between us and our sins. Not certain that’s good enough? What about this: “I…blot out your transgressions… and remember your sins no more”. God chooses to not remember our failures. Beloved, that’s like falling out of a boat in a storm and discovering you can walk on water! You don’t get dragged back by the undertow because you’re above it. God’s love and God’s grace gives you a chance to actually overcome your failures… not by your abilities, but by His grace!

That just leaves me with one last point: if God chooses to forget your failures, who do you suppose is the one trying to drag you down under the waves by reminding you of them? Either you aren’t letting them go, or you’re letting the Accuser win battles in your life by dragging you under waves that God set you to walk above. You get a fresh start every time you confess your shortcomings to God… don’t throw that away by dragging out dirty laundry He’s washed clean.

Beloved, it’s time to get up and move. It’s time to live as though you’ve never failed… because if you’ve confessed your failures to God, He’s giving you the chance to start over, just as if you’ve never failed. This could be your life, covered in the extravagant love and stunning grace of God. Just get up, Beloved. MOVE.

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Musical Musing: Casting Crowns – Set Me Free

February 16, 2009

Set Me Free

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33b)

I’ve have something working away within me for a few days now, and I’ve not sat down yet to work it out, partially because I’ve been working on a dozen other things (including the launch of humjah.com!) But as I read “Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic
” by Anne Jackson, something clicked with me, something I’ve known all along, but that I needed to see again, in a new, fresh way.

You see, I’ve quoted that promise from Christ before; it’s one I quote often, actually. It’s a promise I live my life by. The version above says that we may have life to the full, but other versions, other translations, such as the New American Standard and the King James say that Christ came to give us life “abundantly”. Dictionary.com defines “abundant” as “present in great quantity; more than adequate; oversufficient” or “well” or “richly supplied”. I love this idea, and it’s one I’ve staked my life on.

The problem is that I’ve often ignored the first half of the verse. This abundant life, this richly supplied life is an answer to a problem. It’s almost ironic, really, that I’d ignore the presence of the problem… as much of my life as been marked by problems, how could I ignore them? But it’s tempting to go glibly along, latching onto the promise of abundant life, wearing rose-colored glasses that function the way a horse’s blinders do, and keep us so focused on positivity that we’re blindsided by problems.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating a life marked by depression and pessimism, of always worrying and looking for the worst possible outcome; indeed, that lifestyle can only shorten your life. But I think it’s possible to ignore the basic fact that the promises of abundant life and victory don’t come without a precondition; you’ll need abundant life and victory to survive and overcome the battles that are coming.

You read that right. “To survive and overcome the battles that are coming.” And not just coming once, or once in a very great while, but constantly. That’s the first part of that verse in John 10:10. The enemy comes ONLY to steal, to kill, and to destroy. The enemy has a single-minded focus: your complete, total, and utter destruction.

“Why can’t we just be friends?” you ask hopefully, doubtful of the existence of any “enemy” or “devil” like I’ve described. “Can’t we all just get along?” The problem is, he’s counting on your hope, on your disbelief, on your optimism, on your blindness to him. As long as you remain disbelieving and blind, he can sneak up on you… and sneak attacks are so effective.

The narrator in the story sung in this song has suffered from such a sneak attack. Once, he was free. Once, he was hopeful. Once, he was optimistic. In this song, he’s literally demon-possessed… but who’s to say that can’t be speaking of anyone who’s demon-oppressed… not lost to the control of demons, but still so weighed by their presence that it marks everything they do?

Or, and here’s a radical thought: what if it’s someone who’s depressed? Or overworked, overstressed, overburdened by health-problems and the struggling economy. They’re working as hard as they can just to make ends meet, but no matter how hard they pinch, no matter what they do without, ends aren’t meeting, and they’re about to lose the house they dreamed of owning forever and bought a few years ago. Their son, the delight of their life, is seriously ill… maybe it’s a childhood cancer, or a genetic disorder, or a tragic accident that stole their baby’s health from him. The medical bills are piling up, and the time that the wife misses from work to take care of the son, shuttling him to the myriad doctor’s appointments, is threatening to take her job from her.

That’s just the bad-luck of life, right? I mean, that’s not the fault of the devil! Surely, if anything, it’s proof that if God exists, he’s neither good nor all-powerful. I know you’re questioning him. It’s OK. He’s open to your questions.

Except see, Beloved, that can be the Enemy, too. It doesn’t have to be, but it could be, coming by to find ways to kick them while they’re down. Because the enemy doesn’t play fair. He doesn’t play nice. He doesn’t play by the rules. His ONLY GOAL is to steal, and kill, and destroy. The enemy looks at this struggling family and isn’t satisfied when they curse God. He’s not satisfied until they curse God and die in so much debt that it drags their neighbors and extended family down with them, until the doctor treating the child questions why he ever thought he could possibly make a difference and leaves medicine convinced he’s a complete failure and kills himself… the enemy is looking for utter destruction AND collateral damage.

So where is the God I say is so good, and so all powerful in the midst of this? Let’s rewind a little. The family is still struggling, the son is still burdened by terrible medical problems, and mom has actually lost her job because of it. We’ll even take the house away… yeah, I’m being really ugly here. Because you might be right, and sometimes, this is just life happening. But now, let me show you how God steps in and begins to offer them victory over their problems and the abundant life over the enemy who wants nothing but total destruction and collateral damage.

The house payment was way more than they could afford; they’re forced to move into a small apartment, but because of their son’s illness, the apartment manager gives them a disabled-equipped unit. It’s easier for their son to get around on his own, and his despair and hopelessness begins to lift. They’ve lost mom’s income, but now she doesn’t have the stress of getting her son to school and to his appointments, and she can actually spend more time with him, and can focus on helping him with his physical therapy. Maybe he has some recovery. Maybe not… but she gets the quality time she couldn’t before, and in the few days they will have with him, every moment is precious. Their childcare costs go down, too, because they don’t have to worry about having someone to stay with him after school. Because their housing is smaller, and less expensive than their dream home, their housing dollars go farther… so while they’ve lost income, every dollar stretches farther than it did before.

And all of that is without considering if other people come into their lives to help out, or to ease the burden. All of that is without considering if Mom meets someone who offers to stay with the son once a week so that Mom can go out and just have a good cry to cope with the idea that she’s losing him. Or maybe someone offers them a vehicle. Or someone gives them money. Or groceries. It happens. God works in small ways to make big differences in lives every day through small gestures of kindness.

Christ came to give us victory, to give us life abundant. He came to set us free of all the chains the enemy would sneak onto us, the worry, the debt, the heartache. He promised us that we would have problems. He told us there would be trouble. He warned us that the enemy would come with one purpose in mind: to steal and kill and destroy us. Ignoring the enemy doesn’t make him go away; it just lets him pull the sneak attack and tear you down… until one day, you no longer recognize the face you see in the mirror. You’ve forgotten where your joy went. You forgot when you stopped saying “We’ll be OK, we’ve just got to make it to payday” and started saying “How am I going to tell her we’ve lost the house?”

So how do you go from chained to set free? The song answers the question beautifully, as did Christ. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” and, “the truth will set you free” and “you will be free indeed“! Paul told us that it is for freedom we were set free, and not to burden ourselves again with a heavy yoke (or chains). You turn to Christ.

You may, at this point, be objecting to what I’m saying. You may have some experience with christians or with christianity that has left you soured on the entire concept of God and Christ as you know it. Considering some of the things I’ve seen, I can’t say that I’d blame you. I’ve seen some things that turn my stomach, that make me ill. There are people who claim the name of Christ but have nothing to do with who He is at all. There are people who act in the name of God who would be shocked to find that God has nothing to do with what they are doing. (Jesus even tells us about those folks, too, warning that there will be a rude awakening).

But ask yourself this: If you’re right, what do you have to lose from reading some passages in a book? If you’re right, and there is no God, or He is unknowable, or He isn’t good and all-powerful, then reading the passages in a book… well, what can it hurt? Even holding a discussion with mid-air… if you’re right, the worst that can happen is nothing at all, right?

But what if I’m right? What if I’m not like any of those other “christians” you’ve met? What if the things I say are right, and the God I describe is real? What if there is an enemy as terrible as a describe… but a God as good and as powerful and loving as I describe? What do you have to gain if I’m right? You lose nothing if I’m wrong… but Oh, Beloved… what if I’m right?

Almost all of the links in this post will take you to Biblegateway.com. You can read the passages in context there, and if you have questions, email me. Even if I can’t answer them right away, I’ll FIND you answers. Read the book of John. Choose the translation that reads easiest for you (just tell me which one you were reading so I know what to reference), and learn about the man called Christ. Don’t take my word for it. Don’t take anyone else’s word for it. Read it for yourself. And the discussion with mid-air? I want you to talk with God. I know, you may not believe that God exists, or that we can know if he exists, or if God is knowable. But go into this with an open mind, and expect some sort of answer as you read John. Ask whatever you want. “Why did you let my great-aunt Mary die? Where is my cousin Sarah? Who are you? Do you exist? Are you the God that Heather claims you are? If you’re so good, why does hunger still exist? Can you make a rock so big even you can’t move it?” I don’t promise He’ll answer all of them… but I’m believing that if you open an honest dialogue with the God who created you to know you, and if you learn about the Christ who came to redeem you… well, you might be surprised at what you find out.

I’ve suffered from too many sneak attacks, and it’s time I remembered that I have an enemy out to destroy me. Chains are awfully heavy, and I’m not about to let them weigh me down. But what kind of “christian” would I be if I knew an enemy was out to get you, and I never warned you? If I am convinced that there is an enemy set on total destruction, isn’t it my obligation, my duty, to warn you? Isn’t that what love demands? As one of my favorite entertainers, a man I highly admire and greatly respect, and who happens to be an atheist and is utterly convinced there is no God, Penn Jillette said (speaking of a man who gave him a Gideon Bible), “…If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life, or whatever… how much do you have hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, that that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you, and this is more important than that…”

So you see, I have to ask you to try. Because I honestly believe that something much worse than a truck is coming for you, and I honestly believe that everlasting life is waiting for you, and I don’t hate you. Besides…

All you have to lose is your bondage.

*Note. As of the posting of the video, Penn still hadn’t changed his mind as to the existence of God, and the inclusion of his quote here is in no way meant to demonstrate that he supports the views or opinions, or even knows of the existence of this blogger. I think my quote keeps it entirely in context, and if he, or his lawyers, disagree, they can contact me by email and let me know and this post will be edited to remove it immediately. If you’d like to discuss your reading of John and your discussion with the “air”, and any questions you have, I’m also open to those, too… because you’re right… this is way more important than a truck (and I’m not quite built right to knock someone well over a foot taller than I am out of the way of a truck, but for the sake of your family, I’d surely try, and I don’t just say that to be nice.🙂 )

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The Metrics of faith…

January 31, 2009

I’ve been giving some thought to prayer lately, especially after what felt like rambling last night. I talked about intercessory prayer, and how if you pray that God will raise up someone to love those seemingly forgotten ones, someone to intercede for them, you are the answer to your own prayer. I really believe that, but I had a hard time expressing why I believe that, coming up with Biblical support for it. But as I lay in bed, talking it over with John, I think I found the answer I was looking for.

You see, being an answer to your own prayer is a matter of metrics, just as works are a matter of metrics. No, I’m not talking meters versus feet, here, but rather a means of measuring and quantifying your faith. I bet you didn’t think you could measure or quantify your faith, did you? We tend to think of measuring as belonging to the scientific world, and as faith as its own thing, completely separate and divorced from science. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and I don’t think God wants it that way. Still… I’m in danger of going off on this whole faith versus science tangent, and that’s not what I want for today, so let me get back on track.

There’s this entire discussion of faith versus works, as if the two are diametrically opposed, as if they are polar opposites. I think instead one is the measure of the other. That faith is proved by works. I don’t do good things in a desperate attempt to earn my way into heaven, or as a means of proving that I’m somehow adequate to receive what I’ve been given. That’s the “works” philosophy of salvation. Instead, we are given an extravagant gift, something so exceedingly beyond anything we could ever possibly earn. Faith says that we accept that somehow, the God who created the universe, condescended to His creation. Faith says that we accept that God wants a relationship with His creation, and that He wants it enough that He would condescend to provide the way to make it happen Himself.

OK, so if God does all the work of salvation, then how do our works come back into it? How can our works prove our faith if faith gives us a gift far beyond anything we could earn? Works are a measurement of our faith. Our gratitude for what we’ve been given is demonstrated by the good things we do. We don’t do them to earn our way into heaven or to prove our merit… rather, they are a demonstration, a measurement of our faith in God and what He’s provided for us.

Have you wrapped your brain around that? Great. (If not, chew on it for a bit, and then try this next bit out). If works serve as a measurement of our faith, then the same could be said of being the answer to our own prayers and praying in the will of God. (Stay with me here, folks. I promise, I’ll make sense in a minute). You see, prayer is just a discussion between us and God. Any discussion… whether that’s a rant in anger at Him, a desperate plea for help, a wordless cry of pain, or a long involved discussion. Those are all prayers. And just as in discussions between people on earth, folks you can see and touch more easily than you can God, some conversations make more sense than others… they go more “smoothly” than others. Have you ever thought of measuring the success of a conversation? How would you do that? Maybe… maybe you could know that a conversation had been successful if the other person did something you were asking of them. That might be a good measurement. For instance, if I asked someone to raise their arm, and they didn’t, I might judge the conversation as a failure. If they did raise their arm, I’d know I’d succeeded in communicating what I was trying to say. Makes sense, right?

OK, so prayer is a conversation. So what about the times it seems we get no answer? Does that mean that the prayer wasn’t heard? Does that mean that my prayers were ignored? Not necessarily.  For instance, going back to examples we can hear and see and touch, a four year old can ask for an ice-cream sundae before supper, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to get it. His mother understood the request, the conversation was a success, even though the child doesn’t think so. But Mom knows something the child doesn’t, and is over-ruling the child for the greater good of the child. The child wasn’t asking for something in the will of the parent, and in this case, the will of the parent is going to win. So maybe it’s a case of bad timing. What if the child’s younger sibling sees something shiny and pretty and wants it now? He asks his mother, but Mom says no. Again, the child might view the conversation a failure (assuming the child were capable of such rationalizations)… but because he doesn’t know what a knife is, or that it can hurt him, he doesn’t know that Mom was just protecting him. Sometimes, God says no to our requests because there’s something He knows that we don’t, and if we knew what He did, it would all make sense. I also know that not all unanswered prayers fit into these simple illustrations… but they’re a good starting point, and it’s enough to lead me to the next point I want to make. Prayer is a discussion, and part of judging the success of the conversation is if what you ask for is in the will of the one who can grant it.

Which brings me to this last point: when I pray and I ask for God to do things that He desires to do, He’s more likely to do them. My prayers are more likely to be successful when I’m praying His will. So how do I know I’m praying His will? Well, I can make it a point to build a relationship with Him, with His word, and learn about Him that way, and that will help. There’s another way, though: when you can see your prayers being answered AS YOU PRAY THEM, you know your prayer is successful. You must have been praying into the will of God. You must have been asking Him to do something He wanted to do anyway. Just as doing good things become a measure of your faith in God, being an answer to your own prayer becomes a measure of your ability to abide and pray in His will.

Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart. It’s easy for Him to give you the desires of your heart… when what your heart desires is what He desires for you.

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Love her like Jesus

January 30, 2009

I’d like to tell you the story of a young woman you may never meet. She’s 13 years old, and she gets $25 CAD each month to share between her guardian and herself to meet all her worldly needs. For my American readers, that’s roughly $20. She’s been orphaned, and when she first was brought to the attention of my friend, she was only 12, had already had multiple sexual partners, and was being tested for AIDS. She was fortunate enough to test negative. She’s lived with various family members, and as my friend put it, “like any typical 13 year old, she’s got a mouth and an attitude and she uses both!” She’s been used and abused, left with many physical scars from multiple beatings from people who thought she hadn’t shown them the respect they think they’re due culturally.

My friend is a missionary nurse in Namibia, serving the people there as a registered nurse, loving them even as she meets their medical needs. But she doesn’t shrink away from meeting other needs when she finds them. When she and the other missionaries there realized this young woman had no home to live in, having been turned out of another relative’s home, they enlisted the help of a translator from the village church they attend and set out to intervene. The girl’s aunt agreed to let the crazy white people, the missionaries, build a mud hut for her on the aunt’s property. The catch? While the missionaries had helped mud a hut before, they’d never built one before. Not only that, this is the rainy season. If it rained while they were mudding, or before the mud could dry and cure, the entire venture would be, well, forgive the pun, a wash. But that didn’t stop them. They enlisted the help of others, and yesterday, they went to the aunt’s property and built this young woman a mud hut. Apart from a few spits and sputters in the early morning, before the mudding, there was no rain… and as of 6 am local time, there still has been no rain.

So, what’s the big deal? Why am I telling you the story of this girl you’ll never meet, the story of a young woman that even my missionary friend will have to leave behind when she leaves the country to come home in a few weeks? Why did the story of this girl stop me where I am, here, thousands of miles away, safe in an insulated home that is in no danger of washing away in a good rain?

Simple, Beloved. God loves her. God created her to love her. She was born to be loved. Right now, there is no one in her life who can love her the way God loves her. None of her relatives love her that way. She’s just another burden to them. Another mouth to feed. None of her classmates love her that way. They beat her if she doesn’t respond the way they want her to. Everyone in her life holds her up to some standard and finds her wanting… and as if that wasn’t bad enough, they beat her and scar her young body for failing their tests. She has no one in her life that will love her the way God loves her; unconditionally, without expectation, a pure, undefiled love that can’t be perverted or misconstrued for anything else.

The story of this girl catches me where I am because I know this child. I’ve been this child. No, I’ve never been this exact child, living on less than $20 a month in sub-Saharan Africa. And I don’t mean to somehow minimize the stunning poverty and need of the undeveloped world… because absolutely, this girl’s physical needs are stunning. But just as Jesus recognized with the paralytic lowered through the roof to Him, her spiritual needs, the emotional wound in her soul, is every bit as desperate as her physical needs. And in that, she is no different than you or I are. You know her. You may have been her. But you’ve met her.

Here’s the good news; Beloved, God wants to do big things to draw her to Himself. He’s calling her name, faithfully pleading for her to come to the One who gave all He is to love her. You may never see the big things He is doing in her life, but that doesn’t mean He’s not doing them. In the case of the girl my friend knows in Africa, God has been staying the rains in the rainy season. He brought together a church and a community to give her a home. He brought women into her life to show her unconditional love, and even when my friend leaves, she won’t leave her friendless… the other missionaries will remain a bit longer. I’ll be honest, Beloved, I can’t see the way His plan will be fulfilled in her life, but in my bones, in the deepest parts of who I am, I know that He is working in this young woman’s life right now. He is doing big things to call her to a relationship with Him. Someday, she will look back, and she will see the men and women who loved her the way Jesus loves her, who were faithful to love her unconditionally until she knew how to be loved.

I don’t know if there’s anything tangible you can do for the girl in Africa… but that’s not why I’m writing tonight. If you want to do something tangible for someone in need, there are plenty of places you can do that. What I do want from you doesn’t cost you a penny… but it does cost your time and it does ask you to invest your heart in people… and that’s a radical risk, but it’s one that Christ made for us, so surely, if we’re going to be called by His name, it’s one we can take, right?

Pray for her. Pray that God will stay the rains. Pray He will protect her, not only until she can move into her hut, but also from the beatings that have marked her life so far. More than that, pray that God will bring someone into her life that will love her like Jesus loves her, with a pure love that can’t be perverted and distorted. God loves Dophelia. He wants someone to love her the way He does, someone from whom she can receive that love. And as He brings to your mind His other children, the other Dophelias, the Heathers, all of the children who feel like they have no one, pray for them, too. Pray for someone to come into their lives to show them they were never forgotten.

And Beloved, here’s the beauty of intercessory prayer: as you plead with God for someone to intervene in the life of the forgotten, He’s already answering the prayer… in you. You may not be the final answer, you may not be the tangible answer, the one that a Dophelia finally knows, but by lifting her up, by remembering her and loving her the way Jesus does (because He, too, intercedes for us before the Father, remembering us before Him), we’re already providing the answer to our prayer. And the more of us that remember her, the more of us who intercede for her, the greater the covering we place over her, the more room we give the Lord to work in her life.

Pray unceasingly. It’s all I ask. Yet… oh, Beloved, the power in that prayer, when you pray and you’re certain of the will of God. And Beloved, you can always be certain that it is the will of God that we are are loved the way He loves us! So pray, Beloved, certain that He means to answer your prayer, and watch. Because He’s stayed the rains for her so far… and I know He’s just getting started in her life.