Monday, July 27, 2009

My peace I leave with you...

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:27 (NKJV)

I can't seem to move away from John 14-17 in my Bible reading. I don't know precisely why. It hasn't been that I cannot look elsewhere in Bible reading and study, because I have been all over, but for some reason I continually return to these chapters of comfort and assurance constantly over the past six months. There are so many nuggets of joy, of peace, or assurance. It feels so very intimate. Jesus talking to His friends just before He leaves them. Giving them all of these wonderful promises and gifts that they don't even understand why they will need. But I need them. There is so much deep intimacy and love to be had as we seek after Christ. The peace of Christ is given to us, not as the world gives. The world always seems to want something back, something in return, some favor for future redemption. Peace, as the world can provide, has a cost, is merely a delay of oncoming conflict. Christ's peace is deeper, rooted in who He is and who we are to Him.
I love the promise of a Comforter. I don't allow the Holy Spirit to comfort me. I don't allow myself to see Him as such. First as a Person and second as a Person who sees what goes on inside and out and wants me to realize that my sole and entire need is for Him. There is a sort of self-forgetfulness about peace, realizing that the peace is rooted in Christ forces me to look at where I am in order to receive and live in that peace. What a comforting statement Christ makes upon discussion of the ruler of this world: "I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me." (John 14:30) Then I realize that I am in Him. The place that God has put me in Christ is a place where no evil can touch me because our enemy has nothing in Christ and that is where I am. (John 17:20-23; Eph. 1:3-14) What a blessing! These words wash over my mind and enrich every moment of my life.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Beautiful Identity

Rom 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.


Imagine I took a twenty dollar bill and then put it into a book. What would happen if I burned the book? The bill would burn up as well wouldn’t it? If I threw the book in the lake then the bill would become soaked. Once the bill is placed in the book its destiny becomes instantly and personally tied up with the destiny of the book. That’s what Paul is saying happened to you here. You were placed into Christ just as a bill can be placed in a book. What happened to Jesus happened to you. From God’s perspective you were crucified with Christ. You died to your body of sin, you died to the power of your sin nature. This is a wild truth and it takes eyes of faith to understand what it means. It means that the moment you believed you were placed into Christ. When you read through the accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection you are reading a part of your own personal history.


What is the importance of this? You have been identified with Christ in his crucifixion and his burial and his resurrection, so what? You can remember it happening? You were there in the spiritual sense (which is the real sense) but as far as your day to day life what difference could this possibly make? Here is the point. Before you believed in Christ your body was capable of one thing: Sin. You may have done something that seemed nice, but the fact is that it was coming from a wrecked source. Imagine a stream that looks beautiful and clean, you might think that because it looks clean that you can take a drink, however if there were a poisonous snake that had died in the pool right above the stream a single drink would kill you. The stream looks clean but the water is poisonous. That is what our lives are like apart from Christ. Ever since the fall we are ruined creatures, unable of making anything good because we are separated from God, and God alone is good. However, in Christ we are able to be useful to God once again.

Separation and Unity

In The Bible the word “death” is used to mean separation from God and life is used to mean knowing, or being united to God (John 17:3). Before a person comes to Christ they are united to their sin nature. The picture of marriage is a great example. While a woman is married to one man she cannot also be married to another. In order for her to be married to the second person her first husband must die. While this is not a perfect illustration it gives us a picture of the situation that we were in. In order for us to be freed from that dark slave master of Sin who owned us we had to be freed by our own death. When a person puts his faith in Christ he is regarded by God as having died and we were freed from Sin. This means that believers are now able to walk in newness of life, and exist in joy and peace as we were made to be by God.


Notice, there is nothing for you to do here. The application here isn’t to crucify yourself with Christ, or remember to crucify your desires each day. The real application here is found in the last verse: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11). The word “consider” has an element of the concept of belief. If you want power over sin and to know the power of the life of Christ in You the secret is believing and trusting in what He has done. Believing that you are freed from Sin and you never have to fulfill the awful demands of your Sin nature ever again by having faith in the work of Jesus is how God wants us to live. We were saved by believing that Jesus died on the Cross, paying the price for our sins, trusting Him for what we are unable to do: Pay the price for our own sinfulness. We continue our lives in the same way: Believing in Him and trusting Him to do what we are unable to do: live out our daily lives out for us, in us and through us as we trust in Him.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Every Trial, Every Trial, Every Trial

"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." James 1:2-3 (NASB)

The Passage
A couple of interesting little insights about this passage:
1) Consider - This word has two primary meanings. One is to lead, rule or dominate. The second is to consider, reckon, account or credit. Obviously the second is the meaning that is meant here. But the two are not totally unrelated are they? Both suggest a level of authority. This is one of those "impossible verses." We must be resting in Christ, but the fact that this is given to us as a command in scripture tells us that it is within the power of the believer who is resting in Christ to view his or her trials, difficulties, failures, annoyances and problems as joy.

2)All joy - Other teachers have brought this "all joy" as "perfect joy" or even "ultimate joy." Ultimate joys in our lives may be a wedding, the birth of a child, a graduation, the day we got a job we wanted, or got a raise because of how our performance was noticed. But none of these things are being discussed - trials are.

3)Trials of Many Kinds - Many here is the Greek word that we get the word polka dots from. Polka dots are a bunch of dots of various sizes. Big dots, little dots, medium dots and everything in between. Great stuff. These are the trials that James is talking about about here. The little trial when you stub your toe or your car doesn't start the first time, and the big trial when you lose a job, have a major health problem, or lose a loved one. All of those trials (shockingly) are reasons for pure joy.

It would be a misapplication of this verse to say that you cannot be joyful and morn. You cannot be joyful and weep. That is confusing "joy" with happiness. True joy, God's joy, goes far deeper than circumstance and far deeper than emotion. It is rooted in neither of those things. So you are not violating the spirit of this verse when you mourn your loss at a funeral, when you are sad to lose a job you love, or when things don't go your way. What this is talking about is that we are never left to the complete darkness of it. When we step back from those emotions and the pain we are able to rejoice on the deeper level of knowing that we are being moved closer to our Lord, being cradled and held by our Savior, being watched over and conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

Believe it or not I got a chance to see this one very much not in action me! Our two kids are in the same room now. Cadence is on about a two week cycle of "I stay in bed and go to sleep when I'm put to bed" and then two weeks of "I get out of bed like my electric blanket is plugged into the toaster!" You can imagine this is frustrating. But Finn is also having trouble accepting the loving hand of Sleep when she comes to caress him with the sweet oblivion of careless infant rest. Thus, once he's down we get agitated by anything that may wake a klutzy two year old plowing jumping off her bed and plowing across the room to swing the door open and run down the stairs for no reason whatsoever.
This all came to something of a head this evening when Cadence had been up 3 times and woke Finn on the 4th. Tempers were lost, punishments were given. I rocked Finn; April rocked Finn. Cadence got up again. Nobody slept. Tempers were lost. It is hard in retrospect not to see the humor in the situation. Two children, one of whom feels it is her personal mission to do ninja flips out of her bed each night and see if she can set a personal record for how many times she can be out of bed before absolute exhaustion takes her and causes her to drink her portion of calm and surrender to the demands of sleep. And another child of less than a year whom the God who created the universe also happened to install a secret button on the back of his head that causes his eyes to fly open whenever he is placed on his back to sleep. It is clear that the Lord and I will have a good laugh about this when I get to see Him face to face (sooner than later if the kids keep this up), yet my lack of perspective will not be the good part of the joke.
My prayer is to be able to hold the children, discipline as is necessary and glorifies the Lord, and dance through these trials that will only be remembered with fondness. I'm sure there will be a time when rocking my troubled children to sleep is far more complicated than simply holding them, swaying, and humming softly. I know I will wish for the time when hurts could be kissed away and hurt feelings can be mended by a nickel bag of gummy treats. But how can I hope to rest in Christ and consider those upcoming trials pure joy, if I can't consider these trials pure joy?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I love this picture. I took it of a flower that came with many other flowers that I bought April (she deserved it, she puts up with me all the time!). This flower was very small, perhaps the size of the last two joints of your pinky finger. It has no real powers, no real abilities. You can't eat it (at least I don't think you can eat it), and it won't change your life. But it is beautiful. Isn't it strange that it is, at least in part, the perfect inability of flowers that make them so beautiful? Small and practically useless, this wonderful little photo of this flower that probably died a few days later still reminds me that there is beauty in the world.
This all comes to me because I am reading a book now that is about the deification of man. How great, how powerful, all we can achieve, all that we can do! Focusing on this group of people who are ultra powerful, ultra competitive and wanting to move the world. The futility of their mindsets and their actions is sad to me. The author so badly wants to make them out to be heroes, but they are so sad and small and lost that she can't do it. All of the accomplishments of man come to nothing. Isaiah 40:22-23 says:

It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in: That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.

Interesting! So what of the people who are living like their accomplishments are the center of this whole thing? This book glorifies them for all they have done, worships them as the ones who are greater than the others, yet to the Lord, that's nothing. Their glory, and their money and their power will all dry up and blow away. I am just so thankful to be reminded by this truth by this sad author's foolishness that I am small. Though I swim in a sea of hundreds of millions of stars on a ball of mud that flies through space with utter disregard to my will in the matter, and though I cannot control the weather, nor the economy, nor the politics of this world, I am valuable. I am a small cove of beauty that the creator made and placed (for the time) in Denver Colorado, and one day he will come and collect this flower and take it to a place where it will forever bloom for His glory and goodness, and nothing else will matter.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ever Deeper

One of the things that I love about the Lord is the endless depth that there is to a relationship with Him. The moment you think you have come to the bottom the bottom drops out and there is a whole deeper level to go to. Each day, each month, each year, is a new and deeper experience. I read through my old journals and I find myself praying many of the same things, praying over many of the same people, and yet they are more real today then they were before. The endless depths of walking with Jesus constantly amaze me. I never knew that I would see temptation as an opportunity to choose to be in fellowship with my Savior. I never imagined that I would be able to look at a day of work that I don't want to do and praise Him for what He is doing in and through me. I would never have imagined that there was so much deeper to go, so much further. Yet that is what it means to know the infinite God. We spend our time here in the adventure of going deeper and deeper with Him until we feel like we may just be crushed by the immensity of His wonder, His love, His grace and His holiness.
Then when we are just about to suffocate we blink and look up and find ourselves safely within our Father's arms. Those arms that created us and carry us and comfort us and find us even when we are too ashamed or scared to ask for help. How can we come to an understanding of that? How do we come to grips with this God who has loved us, graced us with salvation, protects us, and yet grows us in spite of our own foolishness. I hope to experience fellowship with my Lord more and more with each passing day until I can be united to Him eternally.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Artists that are Christians, not Christian Artists

I had a lovely breakfast with a friend and a brother in Christ this morning and we were of the same mind on something that is very important to me. Art. It is marvelous to realize that we are, in fact, created in God's image. One of the things that God is, in His very character and nature, is a creator. God is creative. And as creatures of His, and the only that are said to be made in His image, He made us to be creative as well. Obviously, our creation can be nothing like His, we are shadows of His hand, we can only aspire to express the level of creativity that He has created us for. But it is, nevertheless, part of what He created us to be and do.
So, what does that look like? As my dear brother and I noticed, there was much religiously based art and creativity going on prior to the 20th century, and it is all beautiful and genuine. The music of Bach is breathtaking. It doesn't feel like the stuff that you hear on the "Christian" radio station. It has texture, depth
, it has inherent value that demands response. It is Art in her full beauty of passionate expression. It was written (as all Bach's music was) Soli Deo Gloria, Only for God's Glory. Bach was a hard worker, he strove to use the gifts that God had given him to the best of His abilities. Not to produce some simple tunes that would keep him fed for a day, but real deep and powerful art that would challenge people in their relationship with God, and music, for years to come.
Now there is sacred and secular art. The Christian art is usually the type of art, or music, that couldn't make it outside of the "christian" subculture. Generally, it has the feeling of producing something cheap, slapping a Bible verse on it and then mark it up %300. This becomes a sort of vicious cycle because then people see that this is what it means to be a christian artist and then assume that it would be wrong for a christian to be a real and genuine artist who expresses things outside of the cotton candy world of Christian bookstores.
These thoughts are all rehashed, remembered, and derived from Schaeffers' book on art and L'engle's book Walking on Water and it is a real challenge for me not to say that every human should read it, but I will say that most every human would benefit from reading it. I just want to offer my humble "amen" to her exhortation to all Christians to create! Live, feel, love, fight, and add your little trickle to the stream of real art and deep, thoughtful expression to the great river that flows to God's glory. I believe deeply that it is one of the most powerful ways that the unsaved see Jesus. Simple plastic veneer art made for Christians and mass produced can only be for Christians. If you are letting the Creator create through you by resting in Christ it will be something that has the power to draw people to Him. Even if it never draws a soul, the Lord will be glorified and that would seem to be the great purpose and highest calling of our existence (Eph. 2:7).

Friday, July 3, 2009

Making Melody in Your Hearts

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:19-20

What a marvelous thing! The Holy Spirit gives us instruction on how to speak to each other. We are told to communicate with each other (I don't believe this is a restrictive's not Sunday School Musical!) Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs. It seemed such a big topic, not too long ago, what sort of music a church played. As a musician, I don't find the idiom to be particularly important. But this verse always draws to mind all of our nice, organized worship services we do. It is not a bad application of the principles taught here. Of course there is a good corporate application, but it also seems more individual and unorganized than that. When was the last time you sang a song for someone? When we think of the big service we are always all singing together, this says speak to one another this way. It may seem whimsical to sing a song for someone who is feeling blue, or to sing a song that communicates some truth, but why not? Other cultures sing freely with and for their friends. It's not a talent show, nor is it American Idol (blech!). God gave most everyone a voice (if not, I don't think that people using sign language are excluded from this important passage), most everyone has some kind of ear for music (itunes is making too much money to deny it!). Chances are someone could be blessed by a song sung especially for them that meets their need at the moment.
Looking back to the verse we have three different types of music represented here:

Psalms - In reference to the book of Psalms we find that the Psalms are mostly filled with verses in prayer TO God. These are the specific songs that we direct at our personal, loving Father-God.

Hymns - The sense here is mostly songs ABOUT God. Telling us about His character, His love, His actions, or His desires. Songs about the great and wonderful Savior Jesus would fit here. Songs about the wonderful indwelling Comforter and Helper the Holy Spirit are also of this type.

Spiritual Songs - These are songs of a spiritual nature. They may be mixes, they may be about other wonderful and encouraging things that the Lord is doing in our lives, doing through us, doing around us. Songs about our relationship to the body of Christ, and a thousand other topics.

Notice - ALL THREE are talked about here. Not just one, not just my favourite of the three, but all three have a place in our day to day lives as believers.
Where is this singing and melody to come from? From our hearts. If we have even the vaguest understanding of all that our Lord has done for us. If we have understood even a shadow, or a whisper of His great love for us, then we have a song to sing! As long as we are resting in Him the songs will rise up within us. It is natural for humans to sing when they are really joyful, really filled, really whole. It is just something that we were made to do, and God has give us the capacity to do it, the reason to do it and more than ample motivation to do it. All surrounded in thanksgiving and a grateful heart, because He has done so much for us. Let's sing our songs!