Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Center Stage

I'm always so encouraged when I find music that is truly Christ-centered and biblically sound... even in the so-called Christian music industry, this is seldom the case.  I recently discovered Jimmy Needham, an artist who is intent on making Christ famous.  I enjoyed playing some of his tunes today while running my brother and I to music lessons.  The air conditioning wasn't working, so the other drivers got to hear some truth through our open car windows. ;)  Sure beats a lot of the offensive stuff we hear on the streets in the summertime!

I'm really enjoying the album Nightlights, because it has so much variety... each of the tracks has its own blend of styles.  I love the lyrics in "Grace Amazing".  I'm not sure if I've ever heard a song that puts the words of Ephesians 2:1-5 so plainly... "you were dead in your trespasses and sins".  Jimmy Needham wrote a blog post about the song, and I'd highly recommend reading it (here) and listening to the song - it truly is refreshing and powerful to hear that marvelous gospel truth of God's grace, without all the "fuzzy stuff".  "Part the Clouds" is another song that has some really solid lyrics.

This living water will not quench us
If it's watered down
It's not our place to hide again
This treasure that we've found

We might as well just fold our hands

If we can't call a spade a spade
Cuz we will miss the heart each time
If we won't ever shoot them straight
These pleasantries shading me and you too
Let's part the clouds
And show the world the Son

Anyways, the music may or may not be your style, but I'm enjoying it, and I'm thanking God, who in His grace has raised up servants to speak truth in this dark world.  Needham himself has said, "the most dangerous place for the human heart is on stage".  I pray that ambassadors for Christ who have been called to that position would seek to bring God glory and not themselves.

This poem is the last track on the album Nightlights, and I think it has the power to convict each one of us of our infatuation with self.  May God alone receive the glory!  He needs to take center stage - we're just the stage hands, who are called to shine our "nightlights" to point to the blazing Son.

Be Thou exalted over my reputation
‘Cause applause is a poor form of soul medication
And I’ve tried it for years but my symptoms remain
Still fretting the day that they’ll misplace my name
Still selling my soul for American fame
Treating the promotion of Jesus like a well oiled machine
Advancing His kingdom just to snag some acclaim
Now, I’m both comforted and haunted that it isn’t just me though
I see a nation of people needing to feed their own egos
Parading status like steeples
Do we not know it’s evil to love ourselves more than both God and His people?
But see, here’s where you turn this poem on it’s head
‘Cause the greatest among us came as servant instead
And You humbled Yourself to the point of Your death
Apparently love for the Father’s glory runs red
So friends, will we point to the Son till our own flames grow dim?
Will our bright lights become merely nightlights near Him?
Words echoed once, let them echo again
Be Thou exalted over my reputation

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Grad Weekend!

What a lovely weekend it has been... and yes, I do realize that it's Wednesday already.  Time flies!  God blessed all of us grads with beautiful weather and a good time of celebration and fellowship.  Being part of an online school meant that most of us had to drive a fair distance to the ceremonies at the campus school.  Some had to travel 20 hours or more, but we still had a decent turn-out of 22 graduates and their families.  Thankfully it was only 3 hours for us. 
I love family road trips, even when they're short.  We always listen to music and do read-alouds... and generally end up having some good conversations about politics or Christianity.  This time we were listening to Jimmy Needham's CD, Nightlights (my favorite right now), and reading The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich A. Hayek.  (You can read the cartoon version here.)  Good stuff.

It was so nice to reunite with friends again, and meet some of my other classmates from around the province as well.  There were only two who I had previously known in person, although there were a couple others I had talked to online or on skype.
It still feels unreal to have graduated! (Although I won't officially graduate until next year, because I've elected to take extra courses.)  I'm really thankful for the opportunity to actually cross the stage and do the whole cap and gown thing, even though I'm a homeschool grad.  It was interesting shaking the superintendent's hand for the first time!
I had already met most of my teachers, and got to know a few quite well on the Europe trip last year, but it was nice to meet a few more as well at the banquet.  I'm glad I won't have to leave them for another year yet - God has truly blessed me with some wonderful, challenging teachers and mentors.

Oh yes, and I have to share one picture of me in my dress, don't I? :)
Both sets of grandparents came out to support me at the graduation, and we were able to spend some time together enjoying the city and waterfront.  I can't leave this post without a big thank-you to my parents.  You were my first and greatest teachers - not to mention the most patient!  Thanks Mom and Dad for following the Lord's leading and homeschooling Nelson and I.  Mom, you have been my primary teacher for many years, and as of late, my proof-reader extraordinaire!  Dad, thanks for challenging me to think deeply and biblically, and for your amazing lectures! :)  I love you both so much!  And above all, I thank God for the many blessings He has given, and for the things He is continuing to teach me on this journey.
A three-generation photo - my Grandma, Mom, and me :)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sitting the Fence and Toeing the Line

How much do you love Me?

That's the question God has been asking of me lately.  The Bible clearly shows how much God loves us.  Romans 5:8 says, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."  Most Christians are pretty comfortable with verses like that.  We like to think about the love of God, don't we?  I'm concerned that we often take truths like the love and mercy of God, and forget the rest of the redemption story - the power of His love to transform our lives.  Whereas under the Old Covenant we were under the commands law as a means of achieving a right relationship with God, we can now enter into the New Covenant, bought by the blood of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit.

This Covenant was prophesied in Ezekiel 36:26-27. "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances."  That newness of life requires the death of us.  The old heart of stone that is bent on "my desires" and "my happiness" must be removed and replaced with the life of Christ planted in us. Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Also see Titus 2:11-14 and 1 John 1:6-7)

It's a practical reality that you will walk in the direction you are looking.  I know from experience that even if I have set out in a straight line towards my goal, when I begin to look to the left or the right, my feet will begin to unconsciously stray in that direction... and often end up entangling my companions.  When something other than the goal catches your eye, it is all too easy to be enticed by it, even if only by curiosity.  That's not always a bad thing when you're out for a stroll in the park, but if we're talking about a toddler who is blithely chasing butterflies near a cliff, that's another story.

Often when I write, I feel like I'm speaking to myself more than anything.   So please realize that I'm not preaching as someone who has it all together (because that's far from the truth), but more to share what God has been placing on my heart.  The Lord has been reminding me that my heart needs to run to Him, to cling to Him, and to esteem Him above any earthly treasure.  This is all too easy to say, but far more difficult to accomplish because our flesh so often dulls the spirit's response to obey.  Ah, yes, there's the important part!  If we love Him, we will obey Him, as Jesus said in John 14:15.

image credit
This leads to the message the Lord has been leading me to again and again these past weeks.  James 4:4 says it plainly - "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God."  Oh how convicting those words are!  How often I fail to live with my eyes intently focused on the lasting glory of the King.  So many Christians in our culture are concerned with not "crossing the line", but such an attitude is far from the abundant life Jesus called us to!  Just because we are dutifully toeing the line - going to church, reading our Bible once in a while, and praying before meals - doesn't mean much when the rest of your time is spent flirting with the things of the world.

Our postmodern society likes to live life on the fence.  We look out at that expansive view and like to say we have it all.  "Oh yeah, God's my buddy.  He doesn't mind if I mess around a little - in the end I'm still a good person.  He's a God of love, after all... He wants me to be happy."  On that fence, we can look out and see a world that promises happiness and fulfillment... and a way to somehow get to heaven at the end of it all - and if not, at least to make our own heaven on earth.  "Follow your heart" and "Follow your dreams" are the mantras of today.  Those who preach one Way are dismissed and ridiculed as being judgmental and closed minded.  Elisabeth Elliot sums up that worldly mindset in her book, Passion and Purity, by saying, "Everybody's equal. Everybody's free. Nobody is hung up anymore or needs to deny himself anything. In fact, nobody ought to deny himself anything he wants badly-it's dangerous. It's unhealthy. It's sick. If it feels good and you don't do it, you're paranoid. If it doesn't feel good and you do do it, you're a masochist."  May it be that we would instead obey Christ's call to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him. (Luke 9:23)

One thing that hit me a while ago is that the fence doesn't exist. Do we realize how eternally devastating it is when we are undecided about Christ?  Jesus said, "He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters." (Matt 12:30) There is no fence... all too soon, those who make their lives there will find it dissolving into an abyss.  The whole idea of justification has been turned upside down to mean that we can do whatever we want.  Rather than being justified by grace through faith and entering into the freedom of being God's slave, many nominal Christians are "justifying" their carnal thirsts as harmless while claiming to follow Christ.

At the end of all this, am I calling Christians to work harder?  To follow stricter rules?  Certainly not!  It's not nearly so simple or so difficult as all that.  It's all about looking towards the goal of our salvation - our Savior Himself.  The radiance of His glory is the only thing we should be running towards, and by His Spirit alone we can be freed from the desires and lusts of sinful flesh.  We are redeemed to be pure reflections of Him.  The question lies in our allegiance.  We cannot serve two masters, nor can we succeed in obeying God while living as if He does not exist.

I know that I must continually put off attitudes of duplicity.  More and more, God is teaching me how wrong it is to justify time spent in worldly pursuits and thought patterns, or time not spent renewing my mind in His word, in prayer, and in praise.  Slowly, faithfully, God is turning me from my spiritual ADD to realize that I must continually be in a spirit of prayer, to be truly captured by His love so that my feet do not stray from His footprints.  I cannot perfect myself, but He is doing the work in me.  So I can joyfully say, "Living for Christ will be the death of me yet!"