for one reason or another, maybe my non-conformist pride (jk but not really) ive often stayed out of the trends and culture of the church… but over the past couple weeks, ive been diving into what we know as “christian culture”. the phrase carries a certain negative connotation, but nahh. i say we are blessed with so many speakers, writers, musicians, artists, bloggers, all passionate for the advance of the Gospel and the Word-based/applied betterment of the family of Christ. in no way do i put this down, there is a lot to learn from wiser followers and students of God.
but i can also see how easy it is to feel sustained by others’ expressions of the Word, how easy it is to build up one’s entire faith on secondhand revelation, on others’ passions and knowledge and attributions of God and applications of the Gospel.
i say this especially for myself.. let us make the effort to go straight to the source. though the following are all blessings to learn from, may we be built not on the temporary teaching of men, on the lyrics of worship songs, on the language and habits of the Christians around us, on emotions or logic or on anything else, but may we be built up on the goodness of God and His grace by the cross, as fully revealed in His unchanging Word.
Now when I had mastered the language of this water, and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry, had gone out of the majestic river! I still kept in mind a certain wonderful sunset which I witnessed when steamboating was new to me. A broad expanse of the river was turned to blood; in the middle distance the red hue brightened into gold, through which a solitary log came floating, black and conspicuous; one place along, slanting mark lay sparkling upon the water; in another the surface was broken by boiling, tumbling rings, that were as many-tinted as an opal; where the ruddy flush was faintest, was a smooth spot that was covered with graceful circles and radiating lines, ever so delicately traced; the shore on our left was densely wooded, and the somber shadow that fell from this forest was broken in one place by a long, ruffled trail that shone like silver; and high above the forest wall a clean-stemmed dead tree waved a single leafy bough that glowed like a flame in the unobstructed splendor that was flowing from the sun. There were graceful curves, reflected images, woody heights, soft distances; and over the whole scene, far and near, the dissolving lights drifted steadily, enriching it every passing moment with new marvels of coloring.
I stood like one bewitched. I drank it in, in a speechless rapture. The world was new to me, and I had never seen anything like this at home. But as I have said, a day came when I began to cease from noting the glories and the charms which the moon and the sun and the twilight wrought upon the river’s face; another day came when I ceased altogether to note them. Then, if that sunset scene had been repeated, I should have looked upon it without rapture, and should have commented upon it, inwardly, after this fashion: “This sun means that we are going to have wind tomorrow; that floating log means that the river is rising, small thanks to it; that slanting mark on the water refers to a bluff reef which is going to kill somebody’s steamboat one of these nights, if it keeps on stretching out like that; those tumbling ‘boils’ show a dissolving bar and a changing channel there, the lines and circles in the slick water over yonder are a warning that troublesome place is shoaling up dangerously; that silver streak in the shadow of the forest is the ‘break’ from a new snag, and he has located himself in the very best place he could have found to fish for steamboats; that tall dead tree, with a single living branch, is not going to last long, and then how is a body ever going to get through this blind place at night without the friendly old landmark?
No, the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river. All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat.
mark twain, on becoming a riverboat captain
____________ a friend of mine asked why my tumblr has been so impersonal as of late (which very much is representative of my words in real life hah) so I will challenge myself and talk about my life a little more intimately.
the first time I read this quote, what seems like many years back, it was about music.
I remember the first chord I played on my dad’s old classical guitar, how what was torturous at 7 had suddenly become like magic. place my fingers in certain places, make those strings vibrate, and six individual sounds combined to become one. magic. but by the first time i read twain’s words, I had played millions of chords, studied and struggled through thousands of riffs, learned progressions on progressions in many keys. I had scrutinized all my favorite tracks, paused and dissected and imitated each instrument, studied and analyzed and experimented upon. I had played and led many worship sets, a thousand times told the drummer to keep tempo, the bassist to keep it simple, the guitarists to watch volume, taught harmonies to vocals, did eq in the sound booth. I went on to plan, record, produce, and master many different tracks, went through the long process of adjusting mic gains, treating rooms, cutting through takes and retakes, quantifying for tempo and pitch, notching out for vocals, panning, adding reverb, darkening tone, balancing instruments, sampling, converting to mp3 and re-eqing there, relistening and nitpicking again and again. no longer could I easily listen to music without automatically breaking it down, analyzing each layer of the cake, reading each part of it like twain “read” the river. by the first time I read twain’s words, I understood them because in many ways, music had lost that magic, had become like a science.
the quote comes back today because this morning I feel these words are no longer just about music, but about most of my life. in observing things so many ways, in trying to work out how to best love, serve, be faithful, in analyzing and interpreting and learning by experience how to do my life better, I have lost much of the wonder with which I once saw my relationships, opportunities, and even myself
not to say that considering and being intentional about one’s life and efforts is a bad thing; i consider it very important to think and contemplate and ponder before doing anything, so that everything I do is my best offering. but surely there is a way to retain the simple joy and almost ignorant wonder of a child as I continue to grow in wisdom and knowledge, both theoretical and experiential. but I haven’t figured it out yet, and as of now my knowledge is only weighing down my heart.
A healthy walk for a follower of Christ must include a mental, spiritual and practical harmony of all three temporal elements of our existence: past, present, and future.
We must remember our past… the rebellion and sin we were once trapped in, how we were “dead in our transgressions”, our depravity and hopelessness without Jesus. and we must remember His Gospel, the full redemption He achieved, the “divine replacement” of our sin with His righteousness, how on the cross our complete debt was fully paid, our perfect relationship with the Father was restored.
We must have full awareness of the present… the Kingdom is here but the Kingdom is coming, we are “ministers of reconciliation” to redeem a yet-fallen world, there is still much suffering and pain as a marred creation groans, we have been declared righteous but/so we still fight with the help of the Spirit to end the sin in our lives, God is still purifying our imperfect hearts, we have been filled with perfection, but we are still broken vessels in a broken world.
And we must long for the future… this painful world is quickly passing away. someday the Lord will return, will end all suffering and wipe away every tear, will renew His creation, will finish His work in us and make us perfect, will bring us home to be with Him.
an imbalance of spiritual attention to any of these, and the Christian is severely crippled, unable to perceive a third of His blessings in this way!
forget the past, and we have a christless Christianity. The cross’ freedom over us does not change, but we begin to operate as those still under the law, without the ultimate grace of the Gospel. Many who grow up in the church are all too familiar with this! we begin to work to earn the love freely given, to despair in our “wickedness” instead of remembering our righteousness won by Christ. Without a continuous reflection on the past, we quickly forget that our nature has been completely and irreversibly redeemed.
“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)
disengage from the present, and we have a Christianity without teeth. The criticisms against the church today arise from this theoretical, exclusive practice of faith… Focus solely on our positional righteousness by the cross and the promise of eternal life, and it is easy to neglect our fight against the sin in our bodies, to forget our struggle to become more like Jesus. not only do we miss out on our sanctification, but to the world we portray a distant, exclusive God who does not love. We tell the world our God is a god who came in the past and will come again, but has neither control nor interest in our daily struggles and joys, maybe even in our lives at all! By forgetting about the present, we grow calloused and cold toward the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of a still broken creation.
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)
cease longing for the future, and we have a Christianity that is hopeless. Much of Jesus’ teaching was about heaven because we as humans cannot continue to run the race without hope. Imagine all this struggling, fighting, and suffering - both Jesus’ and our own - with no end result, for nothing. Forget the future, and we will surely despair in the present: when we fall into the same sin yet again, when the evil prosper and the good suffer, when a thousand days of ministry appear to bear no fruit, when everything you love seems to be hanging by a thread, when this life’s hardship afflicts us… if we forget to hope for what is to come in the future, we will lose the strength to fight in the present.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
While I definitely am still working this out in my head, I am definitely beginning to believe it true… our purest worship, the way God intended it, comes from an understanding and meditation on each of these. The Father, in His perfect wisdom, has given us the unchangeable Gospel in the past to ground us, a broken world in the present for us to love, and a promise of future glory to give us the hope we need.
Don’t be in such a hurry to condemn a person because he doesn’t do what you do, or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.
I actually glanced over this quote on Tumblr and dismissed it this morning before church (I’m too much of a tumblr snob to reblog, LOL)… but I come back to it because this quote, surprisingly, very much relates to the Word at CCSC this morning.
“He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 10:18-19)
This is God’s command to His holy people, the Israelites: as He is a God of mercy, compassion, and justice, a God with a special heart for society’s mistrodden… as He is, as He loves, so must His people be. He commands the Israelites to love the foreigners, who were essentially social orphans, in remembrance that before the Lord’s deliverance, the Israelites werein that same place.
one possible application for us as modern day, born-again, new-creation new covenant followers of Christ:
Brushing elbows with hundreds of unbelievers in the dorms at school, I feel like it is especially easy to condemn the wrong, and unfortunately the wrongdoers, that are all around. You’re walking back with your buds from some ministry event on a Thursday night, and you see a bunch of girls shuffling back from frat row in heels and little to no clothes in 50 degree weather…. and we look down on them. “how can they live like that? they must have major insecurities/acceptance issues/negligent parents/etc… I’m so glad I’m above all that”. we view their sin with such terrible pride, such haughty self-righteousness. While we are indeed saved, made righteous, set apart, we posture our hearts as if our abstinence from their more blatant sin makes us any more holy than they are, when the reality is that the ugliness of our pride is equal with all of their sin. Was not much of Jesus’ teaching, especially his sermon on the mount, a condemnation of the religiosity, the outward “righteousness” without inward, emotional purity of worship?
But let us continue to remember that like the Israelites in Egypt, we were all once foreigners, but to the Lord. We were once enemies to His will, we loved our sin, we worshipped ourselves and reveled in our self-indulgence. We were not His own, we did not have His favor or His Spirit, we had no knowledge or understanding of His love for us… and in this lowly state, spiritually worse-off than the Israelites in Egypt, out of His mercy He rescued us. He wouldn’t leave us where we were, but by His love was persistent in pursuing us; then, after we were saved, He continued and continues to change us, to refine us, to make us in practice more and more like His Son. Think of yourself five years ago, three years ago, just one year ago; it is a free gift from Him that we have come so far. By grace and grace alone, He rescued us from our spiritual orphanhood in Egypt, and has brought us into this growing, saving, fulfilling relationship with Him.
And if we truly understand this, if we’ve truly experienced encounter by His grace and Gospel, our heart’s response to “foreigners” will not be one of pride and self-righteousness, but of love. But not simply a passive, emotional love; the Word doesn’t simply command that we “must love foreigners”, but that we must show love. Our response to His grace is a supernatural love that overflows, love that is not content with sitting, but is moved to action.
May we all, especially myself, come before God in humility, asking to more deeply understand how great His love for wretches like us. An understanding of His grace that moves us to love as He loves.
The number one word I hear associated with Christian dating is: fear. Here’s the deal with that: God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear (2 Tim. 1:7). So if you’re afraid, that comes from God’s enemy. What God gives Christians who are in love is: gentleness, respect, patience, self-control,…
think you know a lot, think you’re pretty capable, imagine certain people to have nothing you can learn from? pray for change, and prepare to get rocked.
I don’t even remember if I asked for it, but by His grace, since spring ‘12 I’ve been humbled, HARD. all the control over my life, all the power and understanding i thought i had, has been revealed to be nothing. My weakness, my vulnerability, my sin, has been brought to the surface and made clear to me. and everything I believed about myself, everything I inwardly boasted in, has been taken and replaced with the truth: I, myself, know nothing, everything i do (even my “love”) is so selfish, I am incapable in nearly every circumstance, I am wisdom-bankrupt, I am always trying to nurse my overgrown ego, prone to worship myself…
but He took my pride, He revealed to me my smallness, stripped me of that which I gripped so tightly, to teach and reteach me the heights and depths of His unfailing love, bled out on the cross for me.
hallelujah! for His grace is more than sufficient for me, His cross is perfected in my weakness, and as He unceasingly reveals to me the perfect love of the Father, my heart and my life………slowly……… change.
“Butwhatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ”
This song is probably one of the top three most influential songs of my life. It is one of the means by which I first experienced, during my senior year, the richness of His Gospel of love.
That winter was a season of failure and disappointed. Everyone was expecting high things from me - my parents, my peers, my girlfriend, and even myself - but I would go on to fall short of all of their expectations. I questioned everything I had thought I knew about myself; every self-measure of my value was shaken.
It was in this time of vulnerability that the Father planted a seed in my mind and my heart: that my value was not a result or affected by my “performance”, not in my works, not in my obedience to the law, not in my successes or failures. that unlike everyone else in my life, His favor was based on the goodness of His Son’s life, death, and resurrection; His love was unconditional.
Here is the song that so blessed me, may it bless you the same!
I’ve tasted Your glory and I left it there You poured out Your Spirit and I didn’t care Still you loved me
I’ve lived for myself with nobody to blame I took what You gave me and squandered Your grace Still You loved me
Nothing compares to what You’ve done for me Nothing compares to what You’ve done for me
I could live for the broken and carry their pain I could die like a martyr or live like a saint just to love You I could sing like the angels and gather Your praise Be blessed beyond measure and give it away just to love You
Still nothing compares to what You’ve done for me Nothing compares to what You’ve done for me
My heart has been broken; I’ve laid out my shame Because of Your mercy All I can say is I love You And I will tell of Your story I’ll carry Your name I’ll live for Your glory Lord I’ll share in Your pain just to love You
For nothing compares to what You’ve done for me Nothing compares to what YouԶe done for me
Nothing can separate us Nothing can separate us Not death or life Or depth or height Or unseen power Now or ever