Archive for the ‘Musical Musing’ Category

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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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Draw Me Nearer

January 21, 2009

I am Thine, oh Lord, I have heard Your voice
And it told Your love to me
But I long to rise in the arms of faith
And be closer drawn to Thee.

Draw me nearer to the cross where Thou hast died
Draw me nearer to Your precious bleeding side.

Draw me nearer, Draw me nearer.

Consecrate me now to Your service Lord
By the power of grace divine.
Let my soul look up with a steady hope
And my will be lost in Thine.

Draw me nearer to the cross where Thou hast died.
Draw me nearer to Your precious bleeding side.

Draw me nearer, Draw me nearer.
Draw me nearer to Your precious bleeding side.
There are depths of love that I cannot know
‘Till I cross the narrow sea.
There are heights of joy that I may not reach
‘Till I rest in peace with Thee.

Draw me nearer to the cross where Thou hast died
Draw me nearer to Your precious bleeding side.

Draw me nearer, Draw me nearer.

Draw me nearer.

This is a newer arrangement of a hymn by Fanny J. Crosby, a blind woman who wrote many, many hymns in the 19th century. I stumbled across it because our choir is singing it (so there’s actually some “oooo”s and rounds and layering of voices in there that I didn’t reflect here… you have to hear this arrangement to get the true beauty of it). But the message of the song is solid… from the original hymn to this arrangement, and it speaks to where I am right now.

Worship has been so beautiful of late. I can’t put into words for you how it feels to sing songs and really believe the words I’m singing, to be in the midst of them. I don’t know that I’ve gotten through a service without tears streaming down my face, and I’m not sure that’s really a bad thing. I doubt I’ll get through this song without tears streaming down my face either, and again, I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing.

You see, Beloved, in these past months, I’ve been living in a place where I’ve had no choice but to be the Lord’s, to be broken and listen for His voice. And oh, Beloved… His voice, the soft whisper to my broken heart, is consistently the same thing. It’s consistently His love for me, it’s consistently His faithfulness, His provision for me even when I can’t see them. It’s Him going before me to smooth the path before my surgery, and providing a doctor who would reassure me and help me make right decisions not only for right now, but for further down the road.

Every step of this has been difficult, and I feared the day before my surgery that things would go wrong again… the hospital didn’t have record of both procedures being done, they had the wrong date, they said my surgery was “on call” instead of the scheduled time I’d been told… and every time the hospital had been involved up to this point, there had been similar problems, so I really didn’t have much faith that things would go well. But I got to the hospital that morning, and when there was a problem with the paperwork, the lady doing my admission just fixed it, without me having to do or say anything about it. The nurses were able to fix problems as they came up. They worked hard to find a good vein, and then worked hard to be sure they’d get in on their first try… and did. They drew their blood work out of the IV line… and drew extra, to be sure I wouldn’t have to be stuck again. The anesthesiologist ordered a breathing treatment to be sure that my asthma wouldn’t cause any issues, and everything just went right. They wheeled me into surgery, and while the surgical nurse and the anesthesiologist got me connected and settled in, my doctor stood there with me, just holding me, looking into my face, silently comforting and reassuring me. She never said anything comforting, never said anything, but just her being there with me was such a comfort and a relief. And I woke up better than I expected, easier than I expected, and was going home within 3 hours from the START of the surgery.

Before the surgery, I’d trembled in fear on the day of a test. I read Isaiah 43, and found the 18th&19th verses: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the dessert and streams in the wasteland.” When something went wrong again, as it did all the way through, I silently prayed in frustration “Oh, God, I don’t see it… I feel like I’m blind, and I can’t see at all!” The hospital personnel said they had it sorted out and sent me out to wait (not convinced that it was fixed) and I found the following on the previous page of my Bible… Isaiah 42:16: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

Beloved, the day of my surgery, God went before me to lead me over ways I did not know. He made rough places smooth. He did not forsake me. Though it takes some faith to say “I am Thine” to God, I have been experiencing the rewards. When I have longed to rise in the arms of faith, He has been faithful to draw me nearer. He has been faithful to cradle me close. I weep in this first verse, because I’m living it.

And that brings us to the second, where we pray that God will set us apart for Him through His grace. It pleads for a steady hope… and here’s where my having learned the hymn first trips me up, because I want to sing “Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope” (instead of “steady hope”). It’s a prayer that our wills would be sublimated, aligned, lost in the will of God. That we would come to a place where what we want for our lives is completely aligned with God’s will so that our desires are God’s desires for our lives.

This is where I’m praying… because I’m losing hope. It’s hard to hope where I am… not because I’m cradled in the arms of God, but in the constancy of my physical suffering. I’m afraid to hope that I’ll be better soon, because if I don’t get better, than the blow of not getting well is even more soul-crushing than the constant drain of not being well… so I have a choice of hope and risk complete heart-break, or don’t dare, and live in a state of constant despair. So I’m praying instead that God will bring me to a place where I can find joy and hope in Him. That I can be renewed in Him, because there’s nothing in the temporal to refresh me right now. I know that’s depressing… trust me, I know. But that’s my prayer… to someday get back to a place where I can dare hope again. “Oh, God… let my soul look up with hope…”

And then we come to the third verse. I’ve always thought of this one as speaking of eternity, and certainly, that first statement supports that idea. But the second… oh, that second is beautiful, and it’s making me cry again, because I think maybe I might be there in some ways. “There are heights of joy that I may not reach until I rest in peace with Thee”… Oh, Beloved, why do we have to be dead to rest in the peace God has to offer us? Right now, God’s peace is the only rest I have, the only real rest… the place where my wounded soul and weary spirit is refreshed, where my breaking heart is offered healing, and I can sob for joy at the Love my God has for me. Beloved, I think it’s safe to say that there are heights of joy I could never have reached until I was brought to this place, where I had to be broken to arrive, this place of restoration and rest. And while it is certainly true that are yet greater joys to be found on the other side of this life, to say that we cannot rest in peace now is to unfairly limit God and deny yourself an amazing peace you need.

I would never pray that you be as broken as I am now. It’s heartbreaking, this place I’m in. It’s so beyond discouraging. But I am also almost supernaturally aware that I am not alone here. My Lord is here, and He’s answering my tearful prayer, and he’s drawing me nearer. He’s ready to do the same for you… if only you’ll ask it of Him.

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Carry You To Jesus

January 4, 2009

I will not pretend to feel the pain you’re going through
I know I cannot comprehend the hurt you’ve known
And I used to think it mattered if I understood
But now I just don’t know

Well, I’ll admit sometimes I still wish I knew what to say
And I keep looking for a way to fix it all
But we know we’re at the mercy of God’s higher ways
And our ways are so small

But I will carry you to Jesus
He is everything you need
I will carry you to Jesus on my knees

It’s such a privilege for me to give this gift to you
All I’d ever hope you’d give me in return
Is to know that you’ll be there to do the same for me
When the tables turn

And if you need to cry go on and I, I will cry along with you, yeah
I’ve given you what I have but still I know the best thing I can do
Is just pray for you

I’ll carry you
I’ll take you to Jesus on my knees

There are no words to express how impossible this time of my life has been. The depression, the despair, the disappointment at every step dogs me and drags at me, trying to drown me. I’ve asked for prayer in ways I’ve never asked before, been more open with people than I’ve ever been before, and been more broken than possibly I have ever been, or at least than I have been since I lost my father. The one constant question I get asked by family and friends, the one thing I hear over and over, is “if there’s anything I can do for you, just ask”… or “I just feel so helpless to do anything for you…” And the truth is, I’m not sure what to ask you to do for me- because the physical burden is one I can’t share, and it’s the one that triggers the emotional and psychological burdens.

But this song, from Stephen Curtis Chapman, this song speaks better to what I can ask you to do for me in this time than anything else. And not just me- I’m not the only person you know suffering impossible pain. Somewhere, right now, a mother is grieving the loss of her child. A spouse is freshly widowed and heartbroken at the loss of their mate, wondering how to go on in life. Someone lost their job, their livelihood, and doesn’t know how they’re going to make ends meet. Someone else lost a pregnancy, someone lost a promised adoption, and another woman is facing a pregnancy she didn’t plan for and doesn’t know how to cope with. Someone just lost their parent, their grandparent, their brother or sister, their best friend. Someone was betrayed by the person they trusted most in the world. Right now, as I write these words and you read them, someone you know, many someone you know (maybe even you) is going through an impossible situation and in all of them, you’re struggling with what you can do to help.

Maybe it’s coming along side of them and bringing them a meal, or providing for material needs. Maybe someone who has no energy needs someone with energy to do the million and one small things that need doing for them. Or maybe, just maybe, they need the distraction of the mindless everyday, the ordinary that has to be done without thinking about it, keeping busy so that they don’t have time to fall apart. I can’t tell you what the someone in your life needs beyond this: Carry us to Jesus.

Oh, my friends, my family, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, there are not words enough to express how valuable this sort of intercessory prayer is for us. Let me put it in terms of battle, because Beloved, when we’re in impossible situations, we are in the midst of spiritual warfare, and winning a battle is exactly the mindset you should have.

The Spartans of ancient Greece built a phalanx. They had a shield that covered each man from neck to thigh when held correctly. The soldiers would come together and work as a single unit. Those on the front line held their shields together to form a solid wall in front of the unit, making it nearly impossible for arrows to penetrate through the wall and get to any one soldier. Those on the side would similarly shield the sides, locking the shields to form walls on the sides, and the ones in the middle would lift their shields over their heads and cover them all with a roof of protection. In so doing, these men formed a solid hedge of protection over themselves.

When you come before the Father in intercessory prayer, you are lifting your shield high, Beloved. You cover me, you cover the one you intercede for with your shield, hedging them in. And each other believer that prays comes along side of you, locking in with you, firming up that line of defense. The more men and women interceding for someone, the more coverage you offer them, the better they are shielded from the attacks of the enemy in this time of their brokenness and weakness.

I know how ineffectual prayer can feel at times; I’ve been there. I’ve felt like my words and thoughts were going into empty air, falling flat and pointless. But Beloved, your prayers are never wasted. Each whispered word, every brief remembrance is a shield hefted high to defend against the principalities in this dark world.

I’m hoping that this imagery will help encourage you. I know it’s been an encouragement to me. Whenever I’ve asked someone to pray for me, I’ve thought of them in this way, as a warrior lifting high a shield to cover me when I’m too weak to shield myself. When someone has said they’re praying for me, I’ve found encouragement in that, picturing the phalanx of soldiers hedging me in above and below, before and behind, on all sides. I marry the image of these soldiers covering me with the one of God interposing His body between mine and the enemies, and I feel very safe in my brokenness. I know that I can afford to be weak, because God is strong, and you are covering me.

And Beloved, when you are where I am, utterly broken, beyond hope, clinging desperately to anything you can find to find enough to get up for in the mornings… remember this again. Because when you are where I am, Beloved, then you are cradled in the arms of God, and I will be in your phalanx, holding high my shield, and returning the favor.

Thank you, Beloved, for carrying me to Jesus. After all, He really is everything I need. I know it may not seem like enough, but it is so much more than you can imagine.

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2000 Decembers Ago

December 18, 2008

Did it feel like a night any different
Then at least a million before
Was there any rare expectation
Like there was some kind of somethin’ in store
Did the sky have to hold back the thunder
Did the moon find new reasons to glow
Could the children somehow sense the wonder
2000 Decembers ago

Were the sheep as amazed as the shepherds
At the new star that lit up the sky
Did the willow trees whisper excitement
To the rivers and streams passing by
Did the joy ricochet off the mountains
‘Til it filled up the valleys below
Did all the world sense love abounding
2000 Decembers ago

Was anyone able to look at the stable
And not see a child but a King
I wish I could hear back over the years
As heaven and nature sing, heaven and nature sing.

Did the walls of the barn start to tremble
With a glory they could not contain
Did anyone wake with the feeling
Of peace that they could not explain
Oh the love must have been overwhelming
As it warmed everyone in its flow
For all of the earth is still telling
Of 2000 Decembers ago

Was anyone able to look at the stable
And not see a child but a king
I wish I could hear back over the years
As heaven and nature sing

Was anyone able to look at the stable
And not see a child but a King
I wish I could hear back over the years
As heaven and nature sing, heaven and nature sing, heaven and nature sing
Oh the love must have been overwhelming
2000 Decembers ago

I know there are those reading over these and wondering about where December 25th comes into this whole story. To be honest, there’s no biblical reason to place the birth of Christ in December at all, much less on the 25th, but that doesn’t change the impact of Christmas for me. You see, Beloved, Christmas isn’t about the date, but about the fundamental shift in man’s relationship with God that occurred with the birth of this child. So while this song asks about “2000 Decembers ago”… well, the “December” part of it isn’t essential to the question being asked, is it? In fact, it’s possible that it’s phrased that way in order to make the lyric fit the rhythm of the music, and could have just as easily been written “2000 years ago” or “2 millennia ago” or “20 centuries ago” or “200 decades ago”… this one was just catchy and it fit.

But I’ll be honest, I didn’t pick this song to pick on the date issue (though I didn’t want to ignore it completely). I love the idea that is proposed in this song, that recognizes the impact of the arrival of Christ and wonders, if you knew what to look for, if you knew how to look, would you have known that something exceptional had happened? The idea that creation itself announced the birth of Christ, announced the physical arrival of the Creator, is exciting to say the least.

If you’ve read my work before, you may have encountered this idea before-I’ve posited that if you could but listen with the right ears, you’d hear God’s glory being proclaimed in every gust of wind, in every bird call, in every drop of rain falling on the earth. If you could see with the right eyes, you’d see God’s fingerprints all over the earth, and see His glory being proclaimed by the stars blazing in the heavens. If our eyes were opened, if our ears could hear, if we could but understand, then our understanding of this world we live in would be very different. I believe that someday, we will have our eyes opened, and we will see… and when we see the truth, we will fall to our knees in awe and wonder.

Oh, the beautiful imagery… “Did the sky have to hold back the thunder… Did the joy ricochet off the mountains until it filled up the valleys below?” Maybe I love this song so because it speaks so beautifully of an excitement and joy and love that changed everything, so big, so massive, so far-reaching in its impact that it feels as though the earth itself had to have reflected it. I hinted at it earlier. Let me say it again, though, and listen closely this time.

In a small stable, surrounded by animals and hay, a young girl and her groom, displaced by a governmental order, welcomed a baby into their arms. But this was no ordinary baby. This was the Creator. This was the Someone who had called EXISTENCE into being… out of nothingness. This was the Creator, who formed the planet upon which his body now spun. This was the Creator who formed the stars and moon that shone down on Him now. This was the Creator who caused the mountains and valleys to exist, who called dry land from the seas, who CREATED everything. This was the Uncaused Cause. The Unmade Maker. The Unmoved Mover. The Creator put on the flesh He’d created and came to the earth He’d created to redeem the people He’d created.

World shaking doesn’t begin to describe it, Beloved. The sympathetic fallacy, that leaves us expecting rain at funerals and sunshine at weddings, demands that the earth respond to something of this magnitude. That’s what this song is asking: was all of creation as blind to what was happening in this moment as we were? Or maybe, just maybe, was this so big, SO massive, that even though it could never be explained, did the earth have an answer when God Almighty deigned to set foot upon it?

Maybe you’re wondering what this has to do with having a relationship with God. I mean, I’ve been speaking a great deal about that being the whole thrust and purpose of Christmas-so what has this to do with that? Good question.

Have you ever had your trust broken or betrayed? You’ve feared to trust again, been afraid to fall freely into the arms of another because of the way one (or many) treated you. You’ve got ample excellent reasons to doubt. Your mother abused you. Your stepfather raped you. Your mother belittled and destroyed you psychologically. Your stepfather threatened to kill you or have you killed. Your classmates mocked you or beat you. Why would anyone trust after that? Who wants a relationship with anyone when relationships are so painful?

Because the One I’m asking you to build a relationship is the One who shook the earth when He set foot upon it. Because the One I’m asking you to risk trusting is the One who created the earth you’re spinning on, and then came to that same earth for you. Because the One who is even now calling you to Him, because the One who is wooing you so tenderly to Himself was willing to come to the one He created for love of you. Because, Beloved, no matter what you’ve been told every day of your life, no matter what lies you’ve come to believe about yourself, you were born to be loved, and you have always been loved… and God proved it long before you were born, before your parents were born. He had you in mind 2000 years ago, Beloved. He came to earth to win you to Himself, even though it meant coming as a helpless baby in a dirty stable to a young virgin and her doubting groom.

I love this song, Beloved, because I’ve only begun to grasp the edges of the love of my God for me, and yet it awakens this sort of excitement and expectation in me. I write these musings, Beloved, because I cannot go through my life and see others, like me, who did not know who they were born to be, and not speak the Truth to them, the Love. I call you “Beloved” to open your eyes to who you were born to be, who you were created to be, to the purpose for which you were called-to be loved, and to love. And that’s what Christmas is to me. Fooey on Valentine’s Day… Christmas and Easter, Beloved, are Love lived out in ways we can only begin to grasp, in ways that change our lives for the better every day, that gives us peace and hope and an abiding joy even in the midst of troubles.

Oh, the love must have been overwhelming… because I am still overwhelmed by it today, and I invite you, no, I plead with you to join me. Love is the one gift you’ll never be sorry you opened.

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Hark the Herald Angels Sing

December 16, 2008

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

One of the things I’ve really wanted to touch on in my discussion of the miracle of Christmas is the idea that Christ came to restore relationship. You see, Beloved, my faith isn’t based on religious rules of what I should do or not do, on rote memorization of creeds or prayers, or on someone else’s idea of what faith means, and I don’t want yours to be, either. My faith is a living, breathing thing, a relationship that I share with a living God. When you hear people contrast religion with relationship, they’re usually thinking of religion as a cold dead thing, something that you can go through the motions with without necessarily engaging in, especially when compared with the work it takes to keep a relationship alive and healthy.

That’s why it’s such a big deal that the baby born to ordinary parents was no ordinary baby. That’s why it’s a big deal that this was the Anointed one of God, the one promised as Emmanuel, God with us. This was the one God had anointed to restore a living, vital relationship between Himself and the people He’d created. Jesus was born to be the bridge between God and Man. Jesus is the way to have the relationship with God we were created for.

Do you have any idea how big this is? Have you ever had a relationship with someone that seemed broken beyond repair? Have you ever longed, desperately, to make things right with someone, just so you could get back to the friendship or love or relationship you once had? How many times have you despaired that the damage was done, and no matter what you did now, you might repair the relationship, you might restore the friendship, but the trust was lost, and things will never be the same, and you know it. Maybe it’s your parents. You did something once, and your parents caught you, and now the trust they had in you is gone. You’ve grown up over the years, but that wound of them finding you that one time is still there-and you just know they thought about it before they co-signed the loan on your first car or house. Maybe it’s your partner. One time you said you were working late, and you weren’t, and you got caught. Or maybe it’s just as simple as falling out of touch with a dear friend you moved far from. You both said you’d work hard to keep in touch… and neither of you has worked as hard at is as either of you promised. You’re starting to wonder if you’d have anything in common anymore… or if that failed promise would hang between you, an elephant in the room.

Broken relationships hurt. They isolate and burden us with guilt and heartache. Because we’re isolated, we’re weakened- we’ve lost the strength and wisdom of the other to draw upon, or the unique perspective to see things in a different way, to solve problems in ways we wouldn’t have considered. We were made to be in relationship with others; it’s why, when God saw man alone, it was the first thing He’d created that wasn’t good. God made a companion for man, so that man could be in relationship, and have an earthly mirror for what God had created us to have in Him.

God wasn’t content to have a broken relationship between man and God. Over and over God pleaded with His people to turn to Him. Still, God knew that we could not, by ourselves, reach Him. The gap was too wide. You see, Beloved, you can’t do enough good to undo your bad, to outweigh the evil. Every good thing you do, you should have done, so it doesn’t tip the scale to “extra” good. There is no “extra” good. By yourself, all you can do is fall further. By yourself, you can just mess things up more. It’s like when your partner tries to make up with you, but manages to mangle it every step of the way… brings you flowers you’re allergic to, with a bee in them, takes you to a restaurant that has lousy service and nasty food that makes you sick… every attempt to make up falls flat and fails.

So how do you restore relationship if you can’t do it? How to come back to that place of relationship that God created you for if the gap is too wide? God had to do it. God HAD to. It can’t be you. Your arms don’t reach far enough. God can. And Beloved, that’s what Christmas is. Christmas is the Creator of the universe reaching out past the gap that none of us can bridge, coming down from where we can’t reach to be God with us, so we can. Christmas is about the restoration of relationship. Christmas, Beloved, is about healing the one relationship that needs healing most but that by yourself, you could never heal.

When the angels appeared in the skies that night, they couldn’t fathom what they were announcing- God was doing this for Man? Look at all that we do! Look at how we mess it up! Look at all the evil in the world… and God is coming to earth to restore MAN to relationship? God’s love is surely amazing: nothing else explains so amazing a gift. They came down to sing God’s glory for His great love for us.

Oh, Beloved, hear the wonder. God and sinner reconciled. Jesus, pleased with us in flesh to dwell… the miracle of God with us, of Emmanuel. Can you really let this Christmas pass you without accepting the greatest gift ever given? Can you really let Christmas go by and leave the biggest, best present wrapped and unopened, and be content with your broken heart and relationship? All He wants is to know you, and for you to know Him, to be your friend and the lover of your soul. Oh, Beloved… won’t you know this Christ?