Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Our Deepest Sadness...Our Deepest Joy?

Brief musings on some of the paradoxes of the Christian life... life in a world of dying-- itself a paradox. "And the music of the mountains is still keepin' me awake,/ Yeah, but everything that rises falls asleep!/ We are not alone/ We are more than flesh and bone./ What is seen will pass away/ What is not is going home..." (~"Lay Me Down [To Die]," Andrew Peterson)

Had this thought-line at the concert-- "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!!" (John 1) as Handel set it to music is very different from how John the Baptist first said it... So, which should it be? A dirge? A herald-cry delirious with joy? Both?

Our sadness is redeemed.

"Sing out with joy for the brave little boy
Who was God, but He made Himself nothing
When He gave up His pride and He came here to die
Like a man." (~Andrew Peterson)

That song is so happy-sounding, and we all think of Christmas as sooo joyful-- the wisemen rejoicing with "exceeding great joy," the shepherds hearing "good news of a GREAT joy," a sweet new life beginning, a little family safe and warm, "the one born, King of the Jews...." But He came to die. That isn't so very happy, is it?

Then again, none of us were meant to die. When mankind was made, they were meant to live forever. Death is wrong, but it's the way to Life...

Nothing polished, just some thoughts.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Lawless

I mentioned in my last post that I've been feeling strange lately...out of sorts... like there's something not quite me rattling around in my body, or maybe in my heart. I think it's the old man, not so at home in the new man-- sin isn't natural to a new creation. I was talking about some of this to Val the other night, and she asked "Do you think you've been being disobedient?" I answered in the affirmative. And she answered, "Hmmm...aren't we always?"

Hmmm indeed. While there are periods of more obedience, I think she's right. Sanctification is a "work" not an "act" of God's free grace. It takes time. So, I think that my own thoughts on the matter are worth a post; I like what I post to be at least somewhat widely applicable.

Have you ever hesitated to pray because you weren't worthy? Or wondered how to even start repenting, because you don't feel sorry enough? It's like you have to make yourself feel bad enough before you dare approach... but the problem is that the longer you wait, the more guilty you feel, and so the more reluctant you are, so the longer you wait... Is this ringing any experiential bells for anyone else!? I've a sneaking suspicion some of that's been at work in my heart the past while, and this passage in 2 Chronicles is one thing God's been using to draw my heart back to Him:

This takes place after Israel and Judah split, after Israel's been mostly wiped out by the Assyrians, but before Judah is plundered by Babylon. Judah, while blessed with at least a few good kings, certainly better at keeping the Law (aka a heart for Yahweh alone) than Israel, hasn't exactly been a paragon of righteousness either, and the temple and the religious calandar have fallen into disrepair. The new king, Hezekiah, however, loves the God of Abraham with all his heart, and has led Judah in a moral and religious reform, repairing the temple, re-appointing priests & temple singers, and finally, re-instating the God-mandated schedule of feasts and sacrifices. He sends messangers throughout Judah and what remains of Israel, calling all who are able to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, for the first time in several generations. The Passover, you might remember, was given to commemorate the time God delivered the Israelites through MANY miracles from the Egyptians, judging them while sparing the Israelites, who had painted blood of lambs on their doorposts. There were specific rules surrounding how the meal was to be eaten, who was to eat it, how it was to be prepared, etc. Ok...all that was context for this passage:

"For a majority of the people [...] had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying "May the good LORD pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the LORD, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary's rules of cleanness." And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. And the people of Israel who were present at Jerusalem kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with great gladness, and the Levites and the priests praised the Lord day by day, singing with all their might to the Lord. The whole assembly of Judah, and the priests and the Levites, and the whole assembly that came out of Israel, and the sojourners who came out of the land of Israel, and the sojourners who lived in Judah, rejoiced. So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. Then the priests and the Levites arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard, and their prayer came to His holy habitation in heaven."
[II Chron. 30:18-27]]

Did you catch that!? Lots of the people didn't keep the Law even as they tried to start keeping the Law!! They started to obey, aka they ate the Passover which was commanded, but they hadn't been able to obey all the laws surrounding how they were supposed to eat it. And God didn't strike them dead! Rather, He was pleased! Their prayers reached His Heavenly Jerusalem, and the people were filled with joy such as they hadn't seen for hundreds of years. It seems that God deemed it more righteous for them to hurry to come to Him, hurry to obey, than for them to hang back and wait until they "had it all together." Hmmm. Do you see how this was encouraging to me?!

Over coffee yesterday, Grant Beachy, associate pastor at Redeemer Pres in Traveler's Rest and our interim RUF campus minster at Furman (of sorts), reminded me that "You can never need, or get, more grace than what you have." What was it Dustin often would say? "On your best days, you're not above the need for grace, and on your worst, you're not out of its reach"? Something like that.

Even Law-breakers may approach the Holy One, in humilty & repentance. Even a disobedient child like me may pray-- approaching the Throne of Grace in confidence because it is just that, a Throne of Grace.

"Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requires is to feel your need of Him
This He gives you-- 'tis the Spirit's rising beam!"
("Come, Ye Sinners," Joseph Hart)

A Face in the Crowd

Well, Ashley's officially poked me into posting again. The intense pressure-cooker the adventurous among us like to call Furman Fall Term has finally given up the ghost, leaving us euphoric, shaky, and FREE!!! =D

So far the most welcome change has been sleep.

Second is not having to write up any more REFLECTIONS!!!

And I just want you to doubters to know that I talked with one of my Furman-alum friends in grad school, and he said that it's MUCH easier than Furman was. That made me feel a lot of relief.

Enough about me and my sense of being an overwhelmed underachiever. I need to savor some of that sleep I was just talkin' about, so this will brief. I just got back from the last stop on the Andrew Peterson Behold the Lamb Christmas Concert Tour-- a free concert (packed out!) at North Hills Community Church in Taylors. It was wonderful music...a great portrayal of the most compelling, meaningful "tall tale" ever told. God incarnate. The Unslumbering One of Israel lulled to sleep by an exausted teenage girl. Prophecies unfolding left and right, but in was that NO one expected them to occur. Every "type" fulfilled: the exodus, the exile, the prophets, the cry of every human heart, all crying one word: Deliverance!! And God answers with the cry of a hungry peasant-baby... where is THIS story going?? The angels didn't even understand. The page-turner of all history.

If you haven't heard the CD, I highly recommend it! The True Tall of Jesus the Christ, set beautifully to music. And you can even memorize all His ancestors (Matthew's Begats)! But I digress.

---Edit: Where this post was actually going... =D----
I stayed around a little afterwards with Gloves (aka Joseph Dowsley), Britt & Sarah (and Joseph's buddy Patrick), to talk to the artists. Andy Gullahorn is quite hilarious. So while they're happy to sign whatever we shove at them (CDs, posters, small children), and to smile & talk to us for a while, I know we're just faces in a crowd to them. I don't much like not being memorable. However, I am acknowledging that reality-- if I met Derek Webb on the street tomorrow, he wouldn't know the difference between me and a Viking (minus the pointy hat).

The past week I've been struggling with feeling "left out" of relationships-- whether it's running into that same old music-major-clique-brick-wall at the Singers Party, or enduring yet another class devoted to discussing Tour (which I did not go on), or getting the shaft from friends, or realizing that sometimes people aren't willing to change, or finding among old papers collaborations between myself and those I once counted so dear... people who have moved on and moved apart... it all's fallen into the simmering discontented sadness of my soul. I've felt off-kilter all week, unsure of why I feel what I feel, or even what exactly I'm feeling. Only that something isn't right. So I've been primed to pick up on the the sense of alienation, of separation, and therefore know better than to put too much stock in it. I don't like not being memorable, though. I don't like being expendable, excludable... worse! laughable. I want to be remembered, admired... made much of.

And I find myself another face in the crowd.

What do I do with that? Do I go the route of Rosamund, and whisper fiercely to myself that "I am Somebody! Quite likely the ONLY Somebody in the whole kingdom!" (George MacDonald's The Lost Princess)? Two things I think of, summarized into one: I want to be remembered? Let me remember who I am-- a sinner, saved by grace. I amn't memorable, really... in the grand scheme of things, I'm pretty expendable, except, oh yeah- for the level of ignonimity I aquired in taking part in the slaying of God's Son. Not exactly the memorability I wanted. Reading through Chronicles has impressed on me the dangers of pride-- of thinking higher of myself than I ought. I'm a sinner. What have I done to be proud of?

It's that second part that I treasure: "saved by grace." Sandra McCracken sang tonight "take all my regrets, give me grace instead." How well she sings the human heart! Oh for more humility to admit that I have regrets, mistakes, shortcomings, and ask only for grace, not some way to fix it all and come out the hero! Why do I worry about being "left out" when I've got Heaven promised to me!? Why do I wonder about feeling "unloved" when He pursues me every day, and pours out grace on me? How can I wonder where to fit in, when He's put me in covenantal communities where they HAVE to make room for me? (the church) A face in the crowd? Maybe. But He knows my name, and He is writing my story. Let me live for His glory.

"...and as you stand there shivering with your hands bunched in your pockets suddenly you remember that you're standing on a rock in the middle of space. Suddenly the notion that there's a Someone who made it all and knows us all no longer seems quite so far-fetched; indeed, it seems too good to be false."
--Andrew Peterson, liner notes to Love & Thunder