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Let the Redeemed Say So

Our pastor preached on Hebrews 10 last weekend, highlighting the holiness of God and the importance of getting rid of habitual sin.  This was a message I’d been longing for, as you can tell by some of my past posts.  I started writing him an email to thank him for preaching it, and the following is what came out:

Thank you so much for preaching that message last weekend!

That “spiritual steak and potatoes” was exactly what I’ve been craving for months.  Even as I felt the atmosphere in the room get heavier, I found it hard not to smile.  Inside, I was jumping up and shouting, “Yes! Preach it!” (It crossed my mind to actually do that in the service, but I didn’t think people would quite understand.)  It’s been a long time since I’ve heard anyone preach about the majesty and holiness of God, and I think many (especially American) churches have lost the reverence and holy fear that those qualities require of us.  I feel we shy away from those attributes because we’re afraid (with the bad kind of fear).  We fear to think of how God truly sees us, so we have to keep preaching on His love, mercy, and grace.  Don’t get me wrong–those attributes are essential, and I am SO grateful for them.  But we tend to lose sight of God’s holiness, justice, and power.

Like I said, I think we’re afraid of how God really sees us.  And I think that stems from an improper view of ourselves.  We are constantly taught that we are “sinners saved by grace.”  And that is true, to an extent; that is not all that we are.  The most awesome thing about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is that by His actions, we are redeemed.  God doesn’t stop with forgiveness.  He redeems us and sanctifies us.  He became sin for us–He took all of our sin.  Once we’ve been cleansed by His blood, He no longer looks at our past sins; He has removed them as far as the east is from the west.

Once we have accepted His forgiveness and His transforming power, He no longer sees us as sinners.  He calls us saints and His children.  And that is what He calls us to be.  The whole reason He can call us to be holy is that He has removed our sin, which means we don’t have to (and shouldn’t!) carry it around anymore.  As a friend of mine says, “When you’re climbing a mountain, you don’t look back except to see how far you’ve come.”  God says to us–and this is the whole point of Hebrews 10–“I have transformed you.  Start acting like it.”

A friend of mine posted the following on facebook yesterday:

“Women are not the weak, frail little flowers that they are advertised. There has never been anything invented yet, including war, that a man would enter into, that a woman wouldn’t, too.”
History is Herstory too!
Happy International Women’s Day!!

Putting objections to grammar aside, I still felt a rage welling up in me.  Every time I read this, I feel a new anger because Satan has so filled this world with lies that even Christians believe the lies without even realizing it!

OK, you probably think I’m some Chauvinist bigot.  You certainly think I’m over-reacting.  “I mean, come on,” you say, “all it’s saying is that women are strong and important.  What’s wrong with that?”  Nothing is wrong with saying women are strong and important; they certainly are, and I’d be the first to admit it.  In fact, I commented on this post that “there has never been anything weak or frail about being feminine.”  But that’s not what this quote is saying.  Look closer.

This quote is claiming to celebrate women while simultaneously telling women to become men.

It’s possible that this quote strikes such a chord with me right now because I’m reading Wild at Heart and finding so much truth in it.  But I think I would feel the same way if I weren’t.  (I’d just have less ammunition for this post.)  What is wrong with a woman being a woman?  Why does a woman need to be a man?  After all, isn’t Woman the crown of creation?  I mean, God kept making creation better and better—land is nice, but plants on the land is nicer; a fish is great, but it can’t compare to a horse—and Woman was the pinnacle.  Man was “not good” without her.  So why would she want to become less than she is?

Don’t get me wrong: men are great, and I quite enjoy being one.  It is no small thing to genuinely be a man, especially in a world full of boys and guys.  But women are a different sort of greatness.  And why is that bad?  Why should a woman need to be a man?  I would argue that any man who really loves a woman loves her because she is not a man.

Take my relationships as an example.  I love my mentor.  Ryan is a man’s man—a solid and steady figure who seems more at home on a mountain than on the couch.  He is a hunter who has killed animals—with a gun or a bow—that I’ve never heard of.  He works hard at a job I don’t know that I could do, deeply loves his wife, and to his four children, he seems to be a better father than any man I’ve ever known.  [Having just written and not reorganized the preceding sentences, I am amazed at the levels of priority imposed by my subconscious mind.  I wonder if a woman would have used the same order.]  He’s the kind of man I want to be someday.  I enjoy spending time with him, hunting, playing cards, debating theology, or just talking.  But I’d go nuts if I were around him every day.  Life would seem like a constant competition, and I’d never be able to measure up.

My wife, on the other hand, makes me feel at home—she is my home.  I don’t have to compete around her.  She makes me feel like I am the kind of man I want to be, and she inspires me to strive to be even better.  She is the very essence of femininity—beauty, grace, and mystery.  I love being around her because I don’t understand her; she is so wonderfully different.  She captivates my eyes, my heart, my very soul.

And anyone who thought her weak or frail would get flayed alive.

Around her, I know I am strong because I have to be strong to guide her strength.  Like Beatrice, she says, “He who is less than a man, I am not for him.”  She makes me feel like I could take on a grizzly, barehanded, and win.  Why?  Because if a grizzly threatened her, I would.  I’m not saying she can’t fight if she needs to; I’m saying she doesn’t need to.

This world has bought into the lie that to be a woman is to be weak.  The truth is that women are strong.  Women have a strength that men can never understand.  “You’re going to bring up childbirth, aren’t you?” you ask.  Yes, I am, but only because it is the most visible example of this strength.  Again, I’ll use my wife as an example.  When we have children, she will carry each one inside her—a literal part of her—for the better part of a year.  Then, each child will be removed, torn away from her, leaving her with excruciating pain (even with modern medicine).  Men, imagine your left arm just decided it was time to come off, and other people were standing around, pulling on it, shouting encouragement to it—this is how I imagine childbirth feels.  Oh, it gets better.  After they’re out, she’ll be subjected to constant frustration, anxiety, and hurt because she loves them so much and they keep turning away [parallels to God are deliberate; He did it, not me].  For nearly twenty years, each child will be ripped farther and farther away from her, and then they’ll move out and have lives of their own and maybe have enough time to call her on occasion.  (Right, Mom?)

Now, you might say that fathers have to participate in most of that, and you’d be right.  But fathers have an advantage (if it can be called that) in that they will never have as deep an emotional connection with the children because they never had that intense physical connection; they will never hurt as deeply as mothers.  Consequently, men will never be able to bear as much hurt, as much pain, as women do.  The irony is that it is a man’s natural desire to prevent a woman from having to feel pain.  Like I said, she can fight, but she doesn’t need to.

The word womanly never means weak except when it is applied to a man, and then most every man can look at the situation and know something isn’t right.  Likewise, the concept of a manly woman inspires revulsion, or at least comedy (look at Starla in Napoleon Dynamite).

This post is growing obscenely long, and I know you stopped reading about seven paragraphs ago.  Yet I must go on because I have yet another point to make.  The above quote (the one that started this whole rant) brought up the topic of war.  Allow me to refresh your memory:

“There has never been anything invented yet, including war, that a man would enter into, that a woman wouldn’t, too.”

What’s wrong with this statement?  Surely, women have proven that they are just as capable at soldiering as men.  Indeed, they may be.  I don’t have any statistics, but it is undeniable that many women have and do serve in the armed forces (in the U.S.A., anyway).  For all I know, those women are great soldiers.  But my point is twofold: female warriors are not the norm and, more importantly, war is not something to be desired.

First, let’s take a look at history’s female warriors.  The Greeks had Athena (more famed for wisdom than war; and anyway, sprung full-grown from the mind of Zeus, and so, I suppose, the ideal any manly woman could aspire to).  The Norse had Valkyries.  There was the Anglo-Saxon Queen Boadicea.  And then there were the Amazons.  (You’ll note that most of these are at least half-mythical.)  Now, I’m sure I’m missing a few because I never was a great student of history, but I’d have to be missing an awful lot if this list were to compare with the number of male warriors.  I could say the same about the comparison of female to male rulers.  You might argue that women throughout history have been oppressed.  And I would say that’s a different topic.  We’re talking about occupations, not status.  But occupation can be an indication of power or status, true.  So let me point out that in many of the world’s cultures—take Rome, for example, with almost exclusively male rulers and warriors—women became merchants and priestesses, both of which are certainly positions of status and power.  I don’t think the “oppressed” argument holds water.

While an individual woman might choose to fight, it seems that the majority of women do not.  And why should they?  War is an awful, frightening business, as any soldier can tell you.  I don’t know of any man who has actually experienced war who is eager to experience it again.  It is not a thing to be desired, as that quote suggests.  Of course, men do “enter into” war.  They go because they must.  They go to protect their nations, their homes, their families.  They go because they need to.

[Here’s where the Eldrige influence really shows up.] Conflict, struggle, and competition are part of a man’s nature.  Look at the games that boys play.  Almost every boy, at some point in his childhood, wants to be dangerous.  He wants to wrestle with Dad.  He wants to climb the tallest tree he can find.  He would love to get a sword, a six-shooter, or a BB gun for Christmas.  Even in video games, he prefers the shooters, fighters, and adventures.  Those manly desires can be corrupted, beaten out of us, or buried (as in my case) by the world, particularly by the male role models in our lives.  But the point is, they exist.

I won’t give the specifics of my story, but I will say that I chose to bury my manly desires because my parents’ relationship took a turn for the worse when I was very young.  I still remember the night it happened.  But I knew deep down that if my dad was a man, that was not what I wanted to be.  So I hid, and I learned to enjoy playing House and to hate P.E.  I stopped taking my younger brother on adventures through the “jungle” in the corner of our yard, and I started having adventures only in my head, assisted by books and video games.  [Wow.  I’d honestly never made this connection before writing it here.  This is heavy.]

[After some time to process the last paragraph]  Though I had buried my desires, I have discovered them again.  But it took a long time growing in my faith before I found them.  And it is that process—the finding after growing in the Lord—that truly convinces me that a difference, a fundamental and good difference between being a woman and being a man.  To come back to my point, war is not a thing a man fights because he wants to.  A woman may choose to go to war.  A man goes to war because if it exists, he needs to fight it.

As a final parting shot:

So God created man in His own image . . . male and female He created them. ~Genesis 1:27

If God made a distinction, it’s probably important.

De-Activating Activity

You may have noticed that I hide all of the Recent Activity posts on my Facebook profile.

Or you may not have. After all, who notices that stuff? Anyone who looks at your profile is looking for posts and comments there by you and your friends. Nobody reads those little blurbs.

Exactly my point. There are three reasons I hide the Recent Activity.

  1. Content Death. I’ve heard it said (by @copyblogger), “You’re only as good as your last post.” This is an expansion of that idea. When I post on my Wall, I want people to see it. If I share a link, I want them to follow it. Naturally, older posts get pushed down, but the last three or four are still visible “above the fold.” When Recent Activity posts pop up, my own posts are pushed down, decreasing the likelihood of being seen.
  2. Wall Clutter. I’m on Facebook a lot—posting, commenting, and liking probably 30-40 things a day. If even half of that stayed on my Wall, even I would have a hard time looking at my Wall. And these posts show up in groups, diluting my content. 
  3. Irrelevancy. As I said before, who reads those snippets? You could argue that Recent Activity shows engagement of your audience, but I would counter by saying that Comments on your posts (and your responses to those Comments) are far more effective. Plus, it’s not as if I’m deleting my post; that’s still visible on my friend’s Wall—where I posted it. And, as Facebook reminds you every time you hide a Recent Activity post, only mutual friends (who can already see the post on my friend’s Wall) will see this snippet anyway.

My one exception to this rule is when I Like a Page. When I Like a Page, I want everyone to know. I’ve found value in what that Page represents, and the very act of Liking is an effort to promote that Page. Since Facebook has buried Likes under my Profile’s Info section, they’re not readily visible, which means I don’t mind giving my Likes a little bit more publicity.

What about you? Do you have a similar strategy? Or do you disagree—is Recent Activity really useful?

Looks like I’m out of chalk again.

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

Sometime in the last year, my mentor and his wife got a couple of goats and offered us some goat milk. This got me excited to make goat cheese. I love cheese of almost any kind, but goat cheese I find almost irresistible.

So my wife bought me goat-cheesemaking stuff for my birthday and Christmas, including a cool-looking book about small-scale production of goat cheese (translated from French and originally written by Canadian nuns–awesome).

OK, I get into the book and find it’s a scientific treatise on production of cheese. I got to the first cheese “recipe” last night, on page 44. The preceding chapters discussed definition and composition of milk, maintenance and sterilization of equipment, production and use of bacterial cultures, and all sorts of other related stuff. You wonder why it took me two months to read through 44 pages?  Totally worth it, though. And the book will really come in handy when we build Rivendell (our dream home).

Anyway, I got to the first cheese recipe yesterday, and I’m pretty excited to make cheese. It still may not happen for another month, but we’ll see.

The Fear of God

You can find the same link on my Twitter feed via @Image_Journal, but since it gets updated far more often than this blog, here’s the link again: http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2011-02/expect-whirlwind

It’s an amazing article on the same feelings I’ve been struggling with.  Have we lost the fear of God in our worship?

I find it significant that all the newer versions of “O Worship the King” have changed the lyrics.

O worship the King,

All glorious above,

And gratefully sing

His wonderful love.

That last line used to read “His power and His love.” Don’t take my word for it, though. Go open one of those dusty old chunks of bound paper… what were they called, again? Oh yeah, hymnals.

I can appreciate that some people really love “praise songs,” and I am afforded plenty of chances to “prefer others” (as our pastor is wont to say) by participating with them. And God is certainly working on me to get me to look past the song and find Him.

But at what point do I lose sight of the fact that “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31)?

Drunk in the Spirit

I’ve been wrestling with musical worship styles lately.  I find it somewhat odd that I’ve been getting hung up on that issue, when–taking this morning’s Bible study for instance–I’m able to accept and embrace the predestination/free will conflict as a paradox and move on.  But I guess it just goes to show me how God has made each of us differently, with different questions and different needs for answers.

So, as background for this topic, here are the facts:

  • My church presents a very contemporary musical worship style.
  • My preference is for a more traditional style.
  • I love my church and support the leaders in their decisions; ergo, I don’t generally make waves about my preferences.

That being said, many little things about our worship style and particular songs have irked me in the past couple of months.  Unfortunately, I had gotten into the habit of storing up these little annoyances.  This storage left me with an ironic attitude in every worship service, which meant that I was unable to worship honestly.

God has changed that now.

Toward the end of last week, I began making a list in my head of all the little things that bugged me about our worship style and songs.  I wasn’t sure why I did it at the time.  Spelling and punctuation on Powerpoint slides, grammatical errors in songs, lyrical changes to hymns, overpowering sound of instrumentation, seemingly endless repetition of words/lines, improper focus–all of it went on the list.

Then I burned it.

I started a (metaphorical) fire in my mind, and I burned the list on Saturday.  The list burned quickly, and along with it burned my right to be angry about trivial details.  (I don’t mean to say that some of those issues aren’t important; they are just not as important as truthfully worshiping God.)

Then, also on Saturday, I was practicing to play bass with the worship band Sunday morning.  I was having trouble with a song and played through it with a CD a number of times.  As I played, my brain started getting fuzzy, and I found it harder and harder to keep time with the music.  My fingers started responding sluggishly, so I played the wrong notes or the right notes too slowly.  And I started shaking–literally trembling.  I got to the end of the song, shaking so badly that I could hardly hit the Stop button, and I stood up, only to find that my knees were weak and wouldn’t support me.  I stumbled over to the bed and fell to my knees next to it, throwing off my sweater as I was overcome with warmth.  I could do nothing but thank God–and I wasn’t even coherent enough to know what for.

I believe my Charismatic/Pentecostal friends would call that experience being “drunk in the Spirit.”  It is something that has never happened to me before, and I’m not really sure what to do with it.  One thing I do know: God told me in that moment, in no uncertain terms, that the most important part of worship is focusing my heart on Him, and external things should not distract me from that.

So will I still be critical of bad lyrics and poorly made Powerpoints?  Of course.  As Christians, we should always strive to give God the very best in everything, to honestly bring Him glory.  After all, Christ calls us to perfection; excellence is the very least we can do.

But I won’t get bent out of shape about the places where we fall short.

The Peace of God

I read a Facebook post today from my friend Isaac about dwelling in God’s peace.  I think it’s worth your time.

 

Answered Prayers

God, you astound me.  Why do you care?  I mean, I’m so small; I shouldn’t even be worth your time.  How can you even hear me when there’s so much other noise in the world?  Why would you even consider anything I ask you?  Why would you even want to listen?  But you do.  And you answer–the little things and the big ones!

You brought COTN into Haiti a bare two months after I asked you (I don’t want to question your methods, but I wouldn’t mind an explanation of that one someday).  Nin had cancer, but she seems fine now.  Through jobless times, you’ve provided for Bizzy and me financially–we’ve never even missed a payment on anything–and you’ve even allowed us to increase our giving!  You constantly protect us.  You replaced our Xbox for two dollars.  You gave me a dream job and let me help make others’ dreams come true.  You’re causing our company to grow when people are getting laid off everywhere.  You kept the power on last Monday night until the cornbread was finished baking.  You brought the power back Tuesday and kept it on.  When the water shut off Thursday morning, you provided wonderful friends to share Thanksgiving with, who brought us water in whatever containers they could find.  Then you brought the water back Friday morning.  And you worked out all the details so the Greens could sign their contract today.

You’re so awesome, and just saying that doesn’t come within a parsec of what I really mean (which is not even a shadow of what I should mean if I really understood what I was trying to say).

And I don’t deserve these blessings.  In fact, I deserve curses.  But you bless me anyway.  I don’t understand, and I know I don’t really ever seem grateful.  But I do notice.

As Bryan Duncan would say, “Thanks for letting me share… Amen.”

One Year, One World

I saw a question today: if you had one year to change the world, what would you do?

It’s an interesting question but almost an irrelevant one.  After all, each of us, by our very existence, changes the world in immeasurable, uncountable ways every day.  And when we die, we continue to change the world (by our once having existed).  So my primary answer has to be: I would keep doing what I’m doing.  That’s obviously how I’ve been changing the world this year, so why not keep it up?  But, of course, that answer is boring, unmotivating, and uninformative.  So let’s see if we can do better.

If I had a year to change the world, what would I do?  Well, let’s assume that the only limit is on my effort, i.e., the world will not end in a year, I will simply be unable to change it directly any further.  Therefore, everything I’ve done in the year will still exist and be able to affect the world.  I’m sure several of you see where I’m going already.

Hmm.  One year isn’t much time to eliminate hunger or bring about world peace, at least not for little ol’ me.  Perhaps someone with more capital and influence could get it done.  I’ve got a couple good ideas for how I might start changing both, but even getting those ideas started would take more than a year.  Plus, anything I could bring about in these areas would only be temporary.  The world would sooner or later revert to its current state.  So we’re looking for something lasting.  Surely, you see where I’m going now.

If I had a year to change the world, I would write a book.  I would start with an idea–one simple enough to grasp in a sentence or two but complex enough to be worth writing several books.   But I would write only one because others would carry on my work and continue to write.  After my book was written–and assuming it could be published instantaneously (which we know never happens, right, Brian?)–after it was written, I would spend whatever time I had left in spreading my idea and getting my book into as many hands as possible.

That book, that idea, would outlast my year and continue to change the world.

So that’s one way.  What about you, dear Reader?  How would you change this beautiful, broken world of ours with your year?

I was talking with three of the guys after Bible study this morning, and our conversation touched on worship styles.  One of them mentioned that “the worship is better” at our church’s Saturday night services than the services on Sunday morning, and the other two agreed.  By that, they meant that the music is louder, with more “hard rock” feel, and they rarely sing any hymns (those they do are even more modernized than the ones in Sunday’s “Contemporary Christian Music” style).

Worship is more than music.  This is not my main point, and I merely mention it for clarity.  My use of the terms “worship” and “worship style” in this post are limited to music.

I countered to my friends with the statement that “better” is an opinion, and the style of worship I prefer is not a style that is or will ever be found in our church.  “Mentioning that you don’t sing hymns,” I said, “is not a way to encourage me to attend.”  If I had my druthers, we’d have an organ, and the choir would sing amazingly complicated chorales every week; they would wear robes, and we’d pull out those dusty old hymnal books.  But that will never happen.  For one thing, there’s no money for an organ.  For a second, our choir director holds the opinion that choir robes are of the devil.  (I’m exaggerating a bit there.)

His point is that he doesn’t want a separation between the choir and the congregation; people serving in worship ministries are no better than anyone else.  We’re all just parts of the Body of Christ, using our gifts as we’re able.  And that is a valid and excellent point.

My concern is that maybe we’ve lost something along the way.  There’s a big part of me that longs for the tradition, the ritual, the “smells and bells,” as it were.  I wonder if, in our quest to make God accessible and known, we may have lost God’s holiness, His separateness, His other-ness, His incomprehensibility.

Have we lost the sacred?

Frequently in our churches, we speak of God’s love and mercy.  But rarely do we hear of God’s power and righteous anger.  How often do you hear the story of Christ forgiving the woman caught in adultery (“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”)?  And how often do you hear the story of Christ clearing the Temple (“My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of thieves!”)?  In fact, how often do you hear the name “Christ”?  In our rush to claim, “Jesus is my homeboy,” do we forget the perfect holiness that Christ calls us to?

I’m not trying to say that He is two separate personalities.  In fact, just the opposite.  I’m trying to say that He is One and maybe we are polarizing our view of God, that maybe we need to remember He Himself is “more than we could ask or imagine.”

I love my church, and I accept that they choose to worship in the way they do for very good reasons.  And I will worship along with them and also support their leadership–even if I might prefer some different style (perhaps especially so, but that’s a topic for another post).

But I still feel we’re missing something.

What about you?  How do you balance this tension between the familiar and the sacred?  Does it even occur to you?