Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The older siblings aren't so sure...

Hard to Get, Part 2

In regard to a previous post on Christian music and where all the good music went, I have been pondering what music I listened to in the 1990s.  Clearly, the most listened to musician for me in the 90s was Rich Mullins.  In a sad turn of providence he was killed in a freak car accident on September 19, 1997.

Fortunately, before he died he recorded a demo cassette tape of songs he wrote for an upcoming album.  He recorded the tape with just himself, a piano, a guitar, and a cassette recorder in an old church building on an indian reservation.

In 1998, the two disk album was released, titled The Jesus Record.  Disk one was Rich's actual demo tape, and disk two was a monstrosity of covers by Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, et al.  They really shouldn't have.

Regardless, Rich's song Hard to Get is clearly one of his best songs ever.  The church recording is haunting in its simplicity and touches the soul at a deeper level than anything that would have been produced by a record company.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hard to Get

you who live in heaven
hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth
who are afraid of being left by those we love
and who get hardened by the hurt
do you remember when you lived down here
where we all scrape to find the faith to ask for daily bread
did you forget about us after you had flown away
well I have memorized every word you said
still I'm so scared I'm holding my breath
while you're up there just playing hard to get

you who live in radiance
hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin
we have a love that's not as patient as yours was
still we do love now and then
did you ever know loneliness
did you ever know need
do you remember just how long a night can get
when you are barely holding on and your friends fall asleep
and don't see the blood that's running in your sweat
will those who mourn be left uncomforted
while you're up there just playing hard to get

and I know you bore our sorrows
and I know you feel our pain
and I know that it would not hurt any less
even if it could be explained
and I know that I am only lashing out
at the one who loves me most
and after I have figured this
somehow what I really need to know is

if you who live in eternity
hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
who can't see what's ahead
and we cannot get free from what we've left behind
I'm reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
all these words of shame and doubt, blame and regret
I can't see how your leading me, unless you've led me here
to where I am lost enough to let myself be led
and so, you've been here all along I guess
it's just your ways and you are just plain hard to get

Rich Mullins, The Jesus Demos, 1998.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cry Out to the Lord: A Meditation on Psalm 107

One of the most comforting words that God has spoken into my life the last two months has been this psalm. It begins with a rejoicing cry, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” The very next line is a cry to all those who trust in God, the redeemed, to echo this truth, “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so!” But the next clause brings a hint of what this psalm is about, “whom he has redeemed from trouble.” In this psalm it is obvious that redemption is not related to redeeming coupons or paying off a promissory note. Instead it is clear that redemption here means being saved from something. And that something is defined as trouble. Therefore, there is something that these redeemed ones should be thankful about. The Psalmist is strongly encouraging them to be thankful to the LORD for redeeming them from a sorry situation.

Now the Psalmist probably had specific groups in mind, but in speaking to those groups he does something that is very helpful to us. He gives us four distinct examples of the type of redeemed people who can say, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” And more than that, he tells us exactly how those people were redeemed in the first place.

First, Ps 107:4-9 describes those who were exiled and wandering in the wilderness. Many of us, who have wandered and felt alone both in a physical and spiritual sense, can relate to this group of people. Notice Ps 107:6, “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble and he delivered them from their distress.” They did not work for their deliverance. They did not read their Bible more or get up earlier or work later or serve more or tithe more. They cried out to the LORD and he delivered them.

Psalm 107:10-16 describes another group of people. While in the first group nothing was said about how they ended up wandering and looking for a city, this second group is in much deeper trouble because of their own actions. “Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High” (Ps 107:10-11). Their own rebellion got them into serious trouble. They rebelled against the words of God. That is serious. They also spurned the counsel of the Most High. That, too, is serious. What would you expect to happen to these people? Look at Ps 107:13, “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” What did they do in order to be redeemed? They didn’t do anything, instead they cried out. What kind of God is this who redeems rebels when they cry out to him?

The third group were not rebels, but fools. “Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction” (Ps 107:17). They were sinners, to be sure, but they aren’t described as rebels, just foolish. They foolishly sinned and reaped the consequences. So, what did this group do? “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction” (Ps 107:19-20). It is the second sentence that brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. He healed them and delivered them from their distress. Again, it was not their doing but their crying out that brought redemption from trouble.

Clearly there is a pattern here. The fourth group (Ps 107:23-32) is made up of business types in shipping who are caught in a storm that comes upon them from the hand of the LORD. They are frightened to death and react in an evil way, at least initially. Then they, too, cry out to the LORD, and he redeems them from his own storm. “He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed” (Ps 107:29).

The main point of this psalm is that these people are redeemed and therefore they should “give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.” But clearly something else in this psalm is absolutely critical to our eternal existence. This psalm includes the greatest good news that you will ever hear. The LORD is a redeemer. In other words, he is in the business of saving people. He saves people who are wandering and looking for a home. He saves rebels who have spurned his word. He saves people who are fools and sin foolishly. He saves people who are living their lives and encounter the power of God in natural calamities. He saves people who cry out to him in faith.

If you are in trouble, if you are wandering or in prison or a fool or simply living life, cry out like the tax collector in Luke 18:13-14. Jesus said, “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” Whether you are wandering or rebelling against the word of God, whether you are a fool or simply doing your job, I beg you to cry out to the only one who can redeem you. Then, when he delivers you and heals you and leads you by a straight way and brings you out of darkness, you too can say with the redeemed, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”

Friday, October 17, 2008

You Basically Ruin the Book for the Reader

My son's reason for not writing a book report longer than one page. Double-spaced.

Do You Worry About Nuclear Holocaust?

Apparently, there are still people who worry about nuclear holocaust and the extinction of mankind, including some prominent American politicians. Read Chuck Colson's article on Breakpoint.

I remember growing up during the height of the cold war, and not being too concerned about the Russians bombing the US with nukes. I figured if there was so much devastation that the human race is nearly wiped out, a lot more is going on than some crazy politicians pushing big red buttons. Read Revelation 9:15-19.

I mean, really, dying in a nuclear holocaust is not so bad if you trust in the sovereign Lord of the Universe. The problem is surviving one.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

God is Not Mocked

My oldest daughter came and sat on my bed last night, while I was sitting at my desk grading her latest essay. She saw some blog post on my screen about politics and asked me who I was going to vote for. I answered that I wasn’t happy about McCain, but I certainly wasn’t going to vote for Obama. This began a decent conversation with my 13-year old child who is learning how to think for herself. This is something that I desperately want to encourage in her, because I didn’t start thinking for myself, I mean really thinking, until much later in life. I want there to be a weight to her, not a lightness of being.

It seemed obvious to me that in her perception, Obama is the cooler choice. He is young, seemingly hip, and doesn’t look like McCain. However, she is not so light in her thinking that she doesn’t realize that real issues are at stake. While I was trying to read her, she asked me another question. (Kids want to understand. They are watching. They want to know what you believe and why you believe it. This was a good conversation.) “Why won’t you vote for Obama, Daddy?”

I could feel pressure around my eyes as I answered in a whisper, “Fifty million babies.” My eyes continued to well with tears as the thought of 50,000,000 dead babies filled my imagination. Never before have I felt the emotion over abortion that I did last night.

I have studied the biblical basis for a pro-life view. I have seen videos from that turned my stomach. I have thought about the inconceivable numbers of deaths since Roe v. Wade. But never before did I feel what I felt last night. I cried. My daughter watched me cry and I was happy about that.

But now, long after the conversation, I am trying to understand why I felt that emotion. Is it because Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion presidential candidate ever? Is it because he is the most extreme pro-abortion senator ever? No, I don’t think so.

Instead, I think my tears were a mingling of sorrow over a nation’s sin. I finally felt the weight of a nation’s sin. I have four wonderfully beautiful healthy wanted children. I have never been close to abortion. It has always been in the abstract. But a series of circumstances have brought some things to mind that are causing me to recognize that there is a lot more going on.

First was a recognition, again, of the utter depravity behind Israel’s sacrificing their children. Ezekiel describes how God’s people had turned from him and sacrificed their children to idols. Move your mouse over these texts: Ezekiel 16:20-22, Ezekiel 23:35-39. Judgment fell on the nation because of this kind of abomination. Sacrificing their own children was not the cause of judgment, but a clear indication of how far their hearts were from God prior to judgment. The people had broken the first commandment; they had other gods before God. And they were so devoted to those other gods that they sacrificed their children.

Second, it dawned on me that modern-day abortion is really no different than ancient near-east child sacrifice. The idols are different, but the idea is the same. Instead of Baals and Asheroth poles, we have convenience and poverty. We have iPods and angry parents. We have the desire to be responsible to nothing, and hindered by nothing.

If we are honest with ourselves, how can we not expect imminent judgment from the God of the Universe? This cannot, I dare say, will not go on forever. God is not mocked.

I am afraid. 2 Chronicles 19:7, Proverbs 14:26-27.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Christian Music?

Okay, I have been driven to write this post because of what is going on in our house and the recent posts of 1) a friend, and 2) an acquaintance.

We have become tired of the “contemporary Christian music” that is played on the local radio station. It is fluff and family friendly and all that other blah. Most of it doesn’t seem to line up with the real Christianity that I read about in the Bible or live every day. Where is the suffering? Where is joy in Christ despite the crush of sin and oppression?

We have attempted to survive by turning off the radio and listening to good music with deep Christian themes from the likes of Derek Webb, Sara Groves, and Sandra McCracken. But I have noticed that the current iTunes playlist has more Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Hootie and the Blowfish, and the Wallflowers than Christian music.

So here are my questions: 1) where did the good Christian music go? 2) Which decade of secular music was better, 70s, 80s, or 90s? 3) Do you think I am a bad Christian because I actually stepped outside the box and have listened to secular music? 4) Why do most Christian radio stations play fluff instead of deep lyrics grounded in the Bible and theology?

I know that more than two people read this blog (the three of you know who you are), so I would love answers in the comments.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I mean, come on.

Okay, I am totally naive, know next to nothing about the financial crisis, and don't know who I am going to vote for, only who I am NOT going to vote for. It would seem then, that I shouldn't post anything here about what I don't know, right? It would seem. But, Doug Wilson makes so much sense, and I laugh out loud. How else can we survive these days if we can't laugh out loud?
When you are doing something crazy, and it causes problems, then stop it. If you are doing something big crazy, and it causes bigger problems, this should not be taken as an argument for doing something even bigger crazy. What is the way out of this mysterious crisis? Well stop doing what causes it. Or, to use the biblical word for it, we need a dose of repentance.

The bubble has burst, as every financial bubble in the history of the world has always done, and yet, somehow, all the cheerleaders of the bubblefication have not lost their credibility. They are still on the teevee, cheerleading for the latest rescue of the previous rescue of the first rescue. And someone like Ron Paul, who has been shown to be in the right about all this foolishness, talks sense for a few minutes. But everyone knows that that is not realistic. I mean, come on.

It reminds me of poor Jeremiah in Egypt. Everything he said about what idolatry would do to Israel came true, in agonizing detail. Every prediction, every denunciation, every tear -- every last one of them was shown to be, you know, true. And yet, once they were down in Egypt, up pop some wise johnnies who clearly saw that all this had happened because they hadn't worshipped the Queen of Heaven enough. Huh.
(HT: Douglas Wilson)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

That which is to be, already has been

I realize that there is a lot more going on in Ecclesiastes than meets the eye. Is there one writer or two? Is it Solomon or not?

Yet, there are nuggets of truth in Ecclesiastes that are beyond profound and require serious thought. So many of the arguments of our day wrestle around the doctrine of God's sovereignty. I have believed in God's absolute sovereignty for years now, and while I still wrestle with the ramifications of that belief, I find it very comforting.

Here is a nugget from Ecclesiastes that is worth our time pondering:

Ecclesiastes 3:14-15: I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.