Loud Hearts

A friend stumbled. He fell hard.

This is the story of the many who “fell away”. It is a burden to see, and it is impossible to live in content as loved ones turn from the Gospel. Yet the big question I ask myself is if I would end up in the same place, whether or not I would return to the pleasures of the world rather than seeking first the Kingdom of God.

The mistake we often make as “church goers” is the fact that many of us are just “church goers”. When we take one step back, we can see how messed up things are, or can be. I taste the lukewarm-ity, feel the emptiness, and who knew (sorry for cliche) that the silence could be so loud? When we strip away all the logistics of weekly church, what do we see? Nothing? Well, very close to that.

On Sunday morning, I walk into the church building and I hear the smooth guitar and deep drums. Many in the pews squint their eyes in reverence and sing with power, and sometimes even with the bonus hand raising. Nice, I thought, as I walked down the aisles. Oh, and then the pastor walks up and delivers a message of faith, and each individual nods their head, possibly adding a personal comment to the friend  next to him. The pastor cracks a few jokes  that helps the moment relate. It’s all good. Then the worship  musicians come back up and ask people to come forth out of the pews to sing and praise God. The people do, some don’t, but the few matter right? So they stand shoulder to shoulder, faint smiles of content, and eyes sparkling as they stare into the projector screen. Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! The people shout, arms high and “hearts abandoned”. Church is dismissed, and guess what? Rerun next week.

Many might ask, “What’s wrong? Seems normal.” Nothing’s wrong, but I want to look beyond the fluff of a service, and look deep into each individual’s heart. You see, the friend of mine came quite consistently to both Youth Group and Sunday Service, and in the corner of my eye, I see him with his hands raised. On occasions he even asked to pray for me during my struggles. Guess what? People know the right words to say, and people know the right things to do in order to look like a “good” person. But however, when I encounter them outside of the weekends, they are just like the rest of the world, sometimes even worse.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. -James 3:9

You know what this tells me? I could very much be that person. Can’t we all? Take the step to look at your life, and find what you believe. Are we just living in the fluff of church? Are we playing the part of a Christian “religion”? Or are we really leaving the world behind and doing all things by faith, because of who Christ is?

It takes more than watching the actions of brothers and sisters to know them, for if their hand raising and poor feeding is for the purpose of playing “good”, then you just gotta ask what they believe. Yeah, actions speak louder than words, but the heart will drain both out, producing greater actions and words.

This is why the Church must examine what people really believe, for the appearance of many are very decieving. So we ought to be a body of Christ that flees from weekend Christianity, and find that dying hunger inside.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled-Matthew 5:6

We need to look for this hunger and fill it with Christ, following his Word and loving all. Only then can we help others to fill the hunger. Many have filled their souls with legalism, sin, and even works! And that is why so many fall away: they were never founded in the Gospel. And the scary thing is, did they ever believe at all?

I remember talking to the friend about faith and worship, and now, looking back, it hurts to know that he really didn’t have faith, only a realistic mask.

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God-1 John 3:9

Do we believe that? If so, then it is joy to make disciples of Christ in the Church, and have an anguish for the sake of those who are lukewarm or who are those weekend Christians. Yeah, it will take rebuking, and it may drive those to turn away, but what God calls us to do is to be His Church, a holy body that lives for Him.

The biggest takeaway is for us to examine ourselves. And hey, there will be tons of garbage and sin! But what separates a “good” person from a Christian is that the follower of Christ will turn back to the Cross, running towards Christ for forgiveness, and actively seek a more Godly life. And that is what we ought to encourage our brothers and sisters with.

Plant seeds, and continue to grow yourself, so that when Christ returns that glorious day, He will smile and say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

That our breaths may be taken way by You, my Lord and my God

At the Winter Olympics, I was entranced by Yuna Kim’s figure skating performance. At only nineteen, she has the ability to captivate millions with her gracefulness on the ice. The synthesis of music and dance with the fluidity of skating is an aesthetic dream made real – every eye is on her as she twirls and spins, arcing and gliding to a near-perfect record on the most rigorous scoring system yet.

We as human beings are acutely sensitive to beauty. Our every sense is fine-tuned to feel pleasure in the heave of music, the sway of dance, the fragrance of wildflowers – we are a beauty-seeking people. We search for it in nature and in each other, and we strive to develop it within us. And yet, quite often, we forget to trace beauty to its original source – God Himself. Psalm 27:4 says:

One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.

When I think of the “beauty” of the Lord, I usually picture something like the sun – a bright, golden, shimmering light that I can’t look straight at without blinding myself. Indeed, Psalm 27:4 used to make me picture something like that – a great light flooding through a white-pillared temple. There might not be anything wrong with that image, but recently I’ve come to understand God’s beauty in a more subtle way.

Perhaps the key word to look at in this verse is the last word “temple.” I always understood this to mean a building, but it occurred to me that we as Christians – as imitators of Christ – are God’s temple.

It is almost a frightening thing to think that “perfect in beauty, God shines forth” (Psalm 50:2) in the temple that is my heart. One of the first questions that hit me upon this recognition is, “Okay, what do I do with this?”
Thank God for the Bible.

Ephesians 5: 19-20 and 25-27 gives us a pretty clear idea of what God desired his beauty to look like in us. First, in verse 19 and 20, we are encouraged to “19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What fascinates me in these verses is that God desires for us to greet each other in the same manner we would greet God Himself – with music and thanksgiving for each other and God within us. I have trouble imagining a more desirable, beautiful community.

In verses 25-27, “25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
I don’t know where to begin – we have here evidence of sacrifice (Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her), a purifying of the body and soul (make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word), and a bride’s radiant, unblemished, unashamed presentation of herself to her husband, “holy and blameless” before him.

As we look at these commands, we must remember that God cares about how we act because when we are crucified and raised to life in Christ, our every action is a reflection not only of what God does, but of who He is. We are human lenses through which the world will see God. I firmly believe that the clearer our lenses are, the more the beauty of God will be visible through us.

Ephesians 5:1 calls us to “1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

In sacrificial love, we are shining God’s love in a dark world. But what excites me more than anything else in this verse is that I have a chance to bring a single fragrant gift to God – myself. It overwhelms me to think that God recognizes and delights in what offering we can give – we who can but count our righteousness as rags before Him. Out of our rags, Christ-centered love can make a fragrant aroma that God can delight in.

The most awe-inspiring verse for me concerning God’s beauty is Psalm 104:32, that God is one “who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke”

Maybe it’s just me, but I picture a young bride trembling under the gaze of her lover and quivering at his touch – that is the full effect of the unveiled beauty of God upon this earth.

Now, when I think about the beauty of God, I think of a few things. I like to think of an early sunrise, where the first flare of sun, with its golds and yellows, contrasts with the purples and the violets of the moon and the night clouds still fading on the other side of the sky. I like to watch an athlete like Yuna Kim spinning into the air in a flurry of snow, ice, and the hope of a nation on her skates. I like to see into the eyes of an eighty-year old couple who are more in love than ever before. This is God’s beauty captured, moment by moment, on this earth. And when He comes again, wearing light as a garment, to take us home…I look forward to having my imagination blown away by His glory.

Psalm 16: A Textbook Example

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. – Psalm 16:1

More often than not, I read the Bible like a textbook. I’m always trying to dig information out of it, looking for some life application, expecting it to tell me what to do and how to do it . In my constant attempts to draw truths out of this book, I forget that the Bible contains the Truth that draws me into itself. It is the living word of God, the basis of my relationship with Him.

I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’ Psalm 16:2

Recently, I’ve been reading and rereading Psalm 16. To be honest, I was disappointed, because it felt like I wasn’t getting anything out of it. I kept thinking to myself, “If I try harder, I’m sure I’ll be able to dig out one more fact about God, or me, or the world.” Sooner or later, though, facts run dry. Information itself isn’t infinite. But the beauty of a psalm is that it is a psalm, not a treatise, epistle, or a history book (though each is beautiful in its own right). My guess is that David’s primary intent in writing Psalm 16 wasn’t to convey some finer theological point, but to record an act of worship. Unlike an epistle, the addressee of a psalm is usually God rather than a human audience, but that doesn’t leave modern readers like us out of the loop. Instead, we’re invited to worship God with the psalmist through the psalm. We don’t draw out; we’re drawn in.

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. – Psalm 16:3

Now, I’m not saying that Psalms, or even the Bible, doesn’t contain information relevant to our lives, and I’m not spinning off into some mystical la-la land where it’s all about getting into some funky, irrational zone. There’s plenty of wisdom and truth readily available to those who are willing to dig deep. But even as I try to exegete a passage in my day-to-day reading, I’ve got to remind myself that I’m not dealing with a textbook. In the Bible, I’m encountering Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Communion with God is higher than knowledge and deeper than a feeling, and the way to get there is through His Word.

Stuff Christians Like Guest Post-a-Thon: “Is that contestant on American Idol a Christian? Scorecard”

I really enjoy reading certain blogs, and one of my favorite’s is Jon Acuff’s “Stuff Christians Like” Blog. It is not afraid to poke fun at Christians and some of the things we do, and yet, Jon can go pretty deep in his thoughts about our faith and relationship with Jesus. Without further adieu… here’s our part in supporting his blog:

Is that contestant on American Idol a Christian? Scorecard

41. They have a God themed tattoo that they manage to show every time they sing. = + 1 point

To add up your score with over a 130 other ideas on this scorecard, visit stuffchristianslike.net


What I Believe

Have you ever wondered how we make decisions in life? It may be the conscious decisions such as what I’ll have for lunch, or the ones we subconsciously make like when we place our entire weight on a chair (as opposed to “hovering” over it just in case it were to collapse).

Ultimately it seems as though the things we do result from some sort of belief inside of us that causes us to act in that particular way. I choose to order a particular meal because I believe it will taste good. I subconsciously choose to place my entire weight on a chair because I believe it will support my weight. Every action of ours results in some belief that we hold.

If those of us who say we believe in what God has done for us, in sending His son to die for us on the cross, then what are the “actions” that result from that belief? This is not to be confused with the misconception that we must earn favor from God through good deeds. Rather, have we become too comfortable in this world that will one day pass away and allowed ourselves to fixate not on Christ, but instead on earthly treasures?

Perhaps that is the reason why we consume ourselves at an early age with SAT scores, because we believe that will get us into a good college. Then we slave away for 4+ years of our lives because we believe that is the only way to secure a well-paying job. We then drown ourselves with endless hours at work because we believe that it will bring us a fortune. And then we allow the worries of financial stability to consumer our minds as we look to acquire one thing after another, because we believe that it will bring us security and ultimately happiness. It isn’t wrong to desire happiness, but I can tell you I have only found a temporal happiness in those things, a happiness that comes and goes.

And here we come to the crux of the matter. Do we simply see Jesus as the means to something wonderful, or is He that something wonderful? Because if He is the later then our lives would reflect that, as they did in Paul’s writings to the Philippians:

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith

Phil. 3:8-9

I believe that I was once enslaved to sin, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

I believe that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), separation from God for eternity, but that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:24).

I believe that there is nothing I could ever do to deserve this gift, but rather that it is “by grace you have been saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).

I believe that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

It is my hope and prayer that what we believe dramatically changes the way we live, how we relate to others, and what we value in life. Let’s encourage one another to have an eternal perspective, remembering that we are but temporary visitors here. And as Resurrection Sunday draws to an end and a new day starts, may we stand in awe of the One who gave it all.

Jesus is so much more than the means to something wonderful, He is that something wonderful.

That is what I believe.