Tag Archives: Authenticity

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Cradles of Grace

I said a long goodbye to my Grandma this weekend, and I can’t help but think that it’s times like these that reveal what we truly believe in.

There isn’t another angel in heaven, and Grandma won’t live on in our hearts. These sentiments, while a valiant attempt to deal with our pain, reflect a belief in nothing at all. If we claim to follow the Christ but our best attempts at comforting the bereaved originate in the script of the latest Pixar movie, there’s a big problem. If that’s all the hope we have to give, we’d best keep our tithe out of the offering plate and invest in Hallmark stocks.

We believe in Jesus, and the resurrection of the dead.

Granted, in today’s society this presents some problems. For example, death is a prerequisite, and that’s just unacceptable. We want all of the “he who believes in me will never die” and none of the “whoever loses his life will find it.” The Bible tells the story of three noble gents who got tossed into a Babylonian furnace because of their convictions. We give lip-service admiration to faith like that, but prefer to be saved from the flames instead of being protected and preserved in the midst of them.

I’m no better. My desire is to be able to write from a place of understanding and strength. Instead, today I come to this ministry world-weary and misunderstood. I’m tired. I want all of the “my power is perfected” but have had quite enough of the “in weakness“, thank-you-very-much.

But that’s where we’re at sometimes, isn’t it?

The good news is that God is here too, and maybe that’s enough.

Crosses, flames, graves, divorce court, doctors’ offices, and even (gasp) the back doors of abortion clinics: the bland and pasty god that we often make in our own image doesn’t belong in places like these. He’d rather stay clean and sanitary up in his stained-glass window.

But to the One True God, the Ancient of Days, these places of failure and death are the cradles of grace. He spoke once through the prophet Isaiah, who wrote,

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.””
Isaiah 57:15 ESV

Hope is born here, when we come to the end of ourselves in the shadow of the crucified Messiah.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:3 ESV

Less Cowboy Hat, More Crown Of Thorns

marlboro-manThe first superhero to ever make my jaw drop in awe was Marlboro Man. From the first time I saw him, all I ever wanted for Christmas was a saddle and a lasso. I begged my mom to buy me cowboy shirts from Lammle’s Western Wear, and wore them proudly with my baby blue Nike sneakers.

Marlboro Man gave me hope. With my weak chin lifted high, I imagined that one day I might not be ashamed to be an introvert; if he could be content with a saddle for a pillow and a horse for a friend, so could I.

His brooding charisma spoke louder than even Jesus. While the Son of God wore a bathrobe and dangled little girls from his knee on some saint’s flannel-graph, the Mustached Wonder girded his loins with rawhide while gazing squinty-eyed into the rising sun.

I wanted to be tough, resourceful, and comfortable in my own skin.

Instead, I was a bed-wetter.

Time changes things, and offers us perspective. Apparently, Marlboro cigarettes were originally marketed to women with the slogan “Mild as May”. Being one of the first brands of cancer-sticks to be filtered, men were concerned that smoking them made a guy appear weak.

Being nothing but a two-dimensional cover-up for something originally feminine, even the Marlboro Man with all his machismo was never able to lay upon my skinny shoulders the mantle of manliness. Just as I learned to stop soaking the sheets all by myself, I eventually learned that nobody was going to tell me when I reached manhood. I was going to have to figure it out myself.

Some women might not know this, but guys literally wonder when exactly they can begin identifying themselves as men. The overwhelming majority of males in our society have this critical question answered with ominous silence, and it’s a void that suffocates us. (Just a head’s up – you’d better have a really good relationship with your man if you plan to ask him about this.) When the cavity in our souls screams that we aren’t real men, we are forced to become something else: posers, victims, or monsters.

I was in my early twenties when I simply decided to quit questioning my manhood. I still didn’t have an answer, but figured it was time for me to grow up and start faking it. A frail, emotionally incontinent part of me has been in acting classes ever since, puffing out its chest and taking a drag on filtered spirituality.

Jesus offers us something better, guys. This man, who walked in a sure, solid line toward his own crucifixion, is anything but two-dimensional.

When he says “follow me”, it’s an invitation to die. Jesus put the posers, victims, and monsters in a grave and invites us to start shovelling dirt. If we have eyes to see it, it’s a chance at liberty.  Let’s keep in step with him: less cowboy hat, more crown of thorns.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Galatians 2:20
English Standard Version (ESV)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
2 Corinthians 5:17
English Standard Version (ESV)

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Good Grief

Lately I’ve been given the opportunity to collaborate on the creation of some worship songs. It’s a development that has me both trembling with anticipation and strangely melancholy.

In my youth I was caught up in the rapture of music born out of the Vineyard movement. I found myself dancing in the rain on the Oregon coast, my 20-pound Sony Walkman belting out tunes by Brian Doerkson. Through this music my heart was ushered from years of dusty academic theology into a living, breathing faith in a transcendent, holy God. More recently I’ve appreciated the poetic offerings of the Getty’s and the fire coming out of Hillsong. I grew up Baptist, so I don’t usually use the word “anointed”, but…well…there it is. These artists have the Gift.

Whatever else they have written, the songs that have become popular are the psalms of joy, victory and power; they tell the story of resurrection. We like those tunes. Seriously, nothing should give us greater pleasure than to lift our banners high and proclaim that our God reigns! Amen? Amen!

So why the sadness? Because in the midst of the glory of the Kingdom of God there is a part of my spirit that craves the sorrow of repentance, and music that reflects this fulcrum of Biblical restoration. I don’t think I’m alone in this; recent songs like “Need You Now” by Plumb and “Redeemed” by Big Daddy Weave testify to the heart’s cry of a whole demographic that feels broken and is crying for a way to express that reality. We sing with “arms high and heart abandoned” of Jesus, but so rarely have corporate moments where we are first driven to our knees.

Call me old fashioned, but something seems to be amiss when we can create ninety nine songs about God’s holiness and glory for every one that genuinely says, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”

We’ve decided it feels better to skip right to the forgiveness part. Jesus died so that we could feel good about ourselves again, right? Godly sorrow is a slippery slope that might lead to shame, correct? So let’s not give the devil a foothold. Instead, let’s camp out on Easter Sunday and let Good Friday take care of itself. (Insert loving slap here).

I suspect if we truly humbled ourselves before God, some of what we are currently composing and singing might reflect that humility. If we were convinced of our hopelessness without Jesus, perhaps then we could hope to create original music of a penitent nature instead of being forced to blow the dust off “Create In Me A Clean Heart.”

I miss Keith Green. His music helped make repentance a standard part of the Christian experience, and I think we’ve lost that. In our race to end our church services on a high and encouraging note we’ve relegated holy grief to a place with those things we find inconvenient and messy.