10 Steps to having a Perfect Marriage (or, Whatever)

Per usual, any time after I preach I like to share ten things that helped to inspire, inform, or encourage further discussion on that morning’s topic/scripture. So look no further:

TEN STEPS TO HAVING A PERFECT MARRIAGE
(or, whatever)

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1. As I was preparing this sermon I listened to the following playlist. It’s full of some of my favorite love songs (“Your Song” by Elton John, “What is Life?” by George Harrison, “I’m In Love With a Girl” by Big Star), songs that are not technically love songs but have a lot of sentimental value, and every song from our wedding ceremony.

A few short anecdotes on some of the songs:

“Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol – Alyssa is a big fan of the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy” and now I am too. If you’ve ever seen the show you’re familiar with the song. While we were dating I told Alyssa I was going to make her a mix-tape with only “Chasing Cars” on it. It’s a running joke in our house.

“When I Fall In Love” by Sam Cooke – Before we told each other we loved one another but we both knew it privately we would drive around and listen to music. I’ve always enjoyed jazz aplenty so I used that as a cover to play just about every version of this tune I could find. Because I’m subtle.

“These Days” by Mates of State – After getting lunch one Sunday before we were dating Alyssa and I were driving to meet some friends at the beach. This song came on my playlist and it got us to talking about the films of Wes Anderson (the original version of this song was featured in The Royal Tenebaums) which led to her finding times to his most recent film and to me asking her out on first date.

The following songs are from our wedding:

  • “Messiah/You’re Beautiful” by Phil Wickham for when the bridesmaids entered
  • “Holy (Wedding Day)” by the City Harmonic for the processional
  • “He’s Always Been Faithful” by Sara Groves for communion
  • “We Are One” by Wilder Adkins for the recessional
  • “The Nearness of You” by Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong was our first dance

Anyways! I really love – pun absolutely, 100% intended – this playlist. Enjoy!

2. The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller

I’ve mentioned this book several times. It’s the book that convinced me to buy a ring and propose. Everybody, married or otherwise, must read this book. It is incredible. Tim and Kathy Keller are beyond wise. Some choice quotes:

That gospel message should both humble and lift the believer up at the same time. It teaches us that we are indeed self-centered sinners. It perforates our illusions about our goodness and superiority. But the gospel also fills us with more love and affirmation than we could ever imagine. It means we don’t need to earn our self-worth through incessant service and work. It means also that we don’t mind so much when we are deprived of some comfort, compliment, or reward. We don’t have to keep records and accounts anymore. We can feely give and freely receive.

“Fear” in the Bible means to be overwhelmed, to be controlled by something. To fear the Lord is to be overwhelmed with wonder before the greatness of God and his love. It means that, because of his bright holiness and magnificent love, you find him “fearfully beautiful.” That is why the more we experience God’s grace and forgiveness, the more we experience a trembling awe and wonder before the greatness of all that he is and has done for us. Fearing him means bowing before him out of amazement at this glory and beauty.

… when the Bible speaks of love, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give of yoursef to someone. How much are you willing to lose for the sake of this person? How much freedom are you willing to forsake? How much of your precious time, emotion, and resources are you willing to invest in this person? And for that, the marriage vow is not just helpful but it is even a test.

…the Bible sees God as the supreme good – not the individual or the family – and that gives us a view of marriage that intimately unites feeling and duty, passion and promise.

3. In the sermon I said that: “Christ is the foundation on which God, the Father, is building His home and the Spirit is calling to us, ‘Come in! Come in! Come home!'” After saying this I toyed with the idea of reading the following poem. I had read this to Atticus before bed this past Saturday. Alyssa, in her great wisdom, advised against it because it disrupted the flow of the sermon and I agreed with her. But! It is a great poem. Perhaps the Spirit is nudging you now as I share it here:

Invitation
Shel Silverstein

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

4. What Romance Really Means After 10 Years of MarriageNew York Magazine, Heather Havrilesky

There’s strong language if that kind of thing bothers you but I found this article just absolutely fantastic. Some more choice quotes:

But once you’ve been married for a long time (my tenth anniversary is in a few months!), a whole new kind of romance takes over. It’s not the romance of rom-coms, which are predicated on the question of “Will he/she really love me (which seems impossible), or does he/she actually hate me (which seems far more likely and even a little more sporting)?” Long-married romance is not the romance of watching someone’s every move like a stalker, and wanting to lick his face but trying to restrain yourself. It’s not even the romance of “Whoa, you bought me flowers, you must REALLY love me!” or “Wow, look at us here, as the sun sets, your lips on mine, we REALLY ARE DOING THIS LOVE THING, RIGHT HERE.” That’s dating romance, newlywed romance. You’re still pinching yourself. You’re still fixated on whether it’s really happening. You’re still kind of sort of looking for proof. The little bits of proof bring the romance. The question of whether you’ll get the proof you require brings the romance. (The looking for proof also brings lots of fights, but that’s a subject for another day.)

After a decade of marriage, if things go well, you don’t need any more proof. What you have instead — and what I would argue is the most deeply romantic thing of all — is this palpable, reassuring sense that it’s okay to be a human being.

Now let’s tackle something even darker and more unpleasant, the seeming antithesis of our modern notion of romance: Someone is dying in their own bed, and someone’s spouse is sitting at the bedside, holding the dying person’s hand, and also handling all kinds of unspeakable things that people who aren’t drowning in gigantic piles of cash sometimes have to handle all by themselves. To me, that’s romance. Romance is surviving and then not surviving anymore, without being ashamed of any of it.

Because survival is ugly. Survival means sometimes smelling and sounding the wrong way. It’s one thing for a person to buy you flowers, to purchase a nice dinner, to PROVE that they truly, deeply want to have some good sweet-talky time and some touching time alone with you, and maybe they’d like to do that whole routine forever and ever and ever.

True romance, though, is … Two deluded, lazy people face a bewildering sea of filth and blood and gore together, but they make it through somehow, some way, without losing their minds completely.

You are not better than you are, though, and neither is your partner. That’s romance. Laughing at how beaten-down you sometimes are, in your tireless quest to survive, is romance. It’s sexy to feel less than totally sexy and still feel like you’re sexy to one person, no matter what.

5. When Almena was sharing how she and OJ met she had mentioned that he had been reading poetry in their school’s courtyard. Then she said it was the 70’s as if poetry stopped being hip post-’79 but I think poetry is still great. Here’s a famous love sonnet from a long time ago:

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways.
Elizabeth Barret Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

6. Every CS Lewis book is my favorite CS Lewis book. But for the sake of this post The Four Loves is my favorite CS Lewis book. Two more choice quotes:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

7.I’ve suggested it before, I’ll suggest it again: Go watch Parenthood. Netflix has every season now. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. Etc. Etc. Etc.

At one point when one of her daughter’s marriage is on the rocks something fierce the family matriarch, Camille Braverman, explains the essence of marriage: “You know what marriage is sweetie? You know what it’s about? Forgiveness.”

Yep. Go watch the show and cry your tears.

8. St. Paul says marriage is “…a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Throughout the scriptures God’s relationship to his people is often described amorously. You see it in Ephesians, Hosea, Revelation… But one book is especially rich (and uncomfortable): Song of Songs

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.

9. Twenty YearsThe Rabbit Room, Russ Ramesy 

There is only one human relationship we come know in this life that is meant by God to be intimate in affection, proximity, and purpose until death itself separates us—the marriage relationship. In marriage God gives a gift of incalculable worth—a sworn partner for life.

This is a short and lovely reflections on twenty years of marriage. Loaded into this piece is the idea I brought up about never ceasing getting to know your spouse. Which OJ so wonderfully illustrated when he told us that after 38 years of marriage he just recently learned Almena enjoys buying and using power tools.

10. With This Ring, I Am Dead. Mockingbird, Stephanie Phillips.

This sacred covenant we’ve entered appears constantly threatened by the desecrating forces of my own sin and inadequacies. But it’s not. The union holds; the institution remains; the vows are intact–and none of it is made less beautiful in the end, only more real. This is a battleground where the distinction between my efforts to obtain approval through the law (armed with a toothbrush and expectations) and the “it is finished already” truth of the Gospel are writ large and daily. There are failures; oh so many. There are wounds. At the end of every day, there are two people lying in a home that often doubles as a battlefield, casualties of our own characters.

But there’s also this: the waking to each other, still here. Nobody disappeared in the night. (Yet.) And, to be mildly spoilery, the awareness of the gift we give each other, echoed in that TV narrative:

You stayed?!

Which echoes the gift given to us on the cross, at Christmas, and throughout the history of grace: He stays.

 

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10 Steps to having a Perfect Marriage (or, Whatever)

Our Hidden Hallelujah

I didn’t grow up with this thing called liturgy and with the church calendar. Clearly along the way I became something of a fan. I don’t currently serve in a liturgical tradition but I do let my novice understanding have influence on how I plan services and how I order my private spiritual life.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. As I understand it this is a season of corporate repentance. Or, this is the time when we, the big-c Church, say we’re sorry and turn from our wicked ways. In some Ash Wednesday services some churches will “bury” a banner that reads “hallelujah” and will spend the next season mourning. The cross in the church will be draped in black and nary a whisper of PTL! will be heard those forty-six days leading up to Easter Sunday.

Lent is a time to recognize our own mortality, that the odds are not in our favor. Most people die. And those who do, well… For the wages of sin is death. Lent culminates with the events of Holy Week – Palm Sunday when a king is announced, Maundy Thursday when a kingdom is inaugurated, Good Friday when the king is killed, and Holy Saturday when we sit in disbelief. The Lenten season ends remembering that God has gotten His feet dirty with the same dirt we do and ultimately has died the death we’ve earned.

And so Christians of all stripes will be taking the next few weeks to fast and confess. In the words of Kendrick Lamar: I am a sinner who’s probably gonna sin again. Lord, forgive me. Lord, forgive me.

So, I know the Bible says we should pray and fast in secret but… Stop reading my diary? I’m not sharing this so that you’ll think I’m super spiritual, though my sinful nature does hope that. Forgive me. And I’m not fasting to gain any favor from God or to get anything from Him, I don’t think that’s how fasting works.

My hope in writing is that it’ll act as an invitation to join me this year in focusing on the finished work of Christ on the cross. That you will join me in carving out some sacred space in the year to reflect on what God has done because of what we’ve done.

Last year Alyssa and I abstained from meats and sweets to middling success. Lent isn’t really about being successful. Quite the opposite, really. This year we’ll also abstain from alcohol.

There’s a rich symbolism in what we eat. Meat, sweets, alcohol all suggest feasting. And feasting suggest some sort of victory. But the war between Satan, Sin, Death and God was not won by our efforts but by the willful death of Jesus. In Deuteronomy the Israelites are reminded of when God was victorious for them over Egypt and Pharaoh, this was quoted by Jesus while he fasted in the wilderness and was tempted by Satan:

[God] humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8.3 NIV

When we fast we’re reminded that victory belongs to God and God alone.

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1954 Food Ad, Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer. May 11,2014. Classic Film, Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.

 

Let us say something about fasting, because many, for want of knowing its usefulness, undervalue its necessity, and some reject it as almost superfluous; while, on the other hand where the use of it is not well understood, it easily degenerates into superstition. Holy and legitimate fasting is directed to three ends; for we practice it either as a restraint on the flesh, to preserve it from licentiousness, or as a preparation for prayers and pious meditations, or as a testimony of our humiliation in the presence of God when we are desirous of confessing our guilt before him.

John Calvin, Institutes, IV.12, 14, 15 

Join me this Lenten season in making some time to remember what Christ has done on our behalf.

Glenn Packiam, the songwriter behind “Forgiven Forever”, wrote in his blog yesterday that… “the point of starving one appetite is to feed another. The void created by expelling our demons (figuratively speaking) must be filled by ‘whatever is pure and noble’.” James KA Smith in his book Desiring the Kingdom writes about the Christian tradition of confessing that “…the practice does not leave us in despair, but rather gives us hope, assuring us of forgiveness and reminding us that the curse is being rolled back.” (181)

This season we’re entering is a hard season. A time of reflection, repentance, and confession. It is difficult to recognize fault, harder yet to admit it. But we’re not without hope. Though we enter into a season where we confess from the ashes we’ve come, to the ashes we’ll go and though we’ve hidding our hallelujah the sun will rise on Easter Sunday, Death itself will start working backwards, and we’ll sing once again Jesus Christ is risen today! Hallelujah! 

It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.

– Aslan (CS Lewis) The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

 

Our Hidden Hallelujah

Hallelujah! Oh What a Savior!

Walking off the platform after we were done singing in Sunday’s service my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. There was much joy in the room.

There was an attempt to write a nice devotional review with thoughts about theology and scripture and all that but it wasn’t any good. So instead I’d like to to confess some sin, no joke, and give you a sneak peek into what goes on in the heart of this worship pastor, particularly this past weekend. Don’t continue reading if you’d rather not see me at one of my many worsts. Remember this is basically my diary. Except manlier. Much manlier. I have a beard.

There’s been a lot on my mind lately and a frenetic sort of anxiety behind the scenes so coming to Sunday morning I was not totally spiritually or emotionally ready. The service felt prepared in haste and though Thursday’s rehearsal went well and the tunes that were picked were enjoyable I wasn’t expecting much of the service. It had fallen to the periphery.

So showing up to church to set up and rehearse Sunday morning I was unprepared for what would happen. I was a bit curmudgeonly as we practiced and we worked our way through the tunes quickly. “It’ll be a good service if not a bit forgettable,” I figured. When there are 52 services a year they can kind of blur together. The biggies stick out – Christmas Eve, Easter, Baptism Sundays, etc. – but typical weeks can be a bit rote. Not that there’s a problem with that, one can appreciate a good routine. But, God’s surprising grace – and isn’t grace always surprising? – took me this past week.

We read the first five verses of Psalm 105 to begin our time singing:

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
    tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
    seek his face always.

Remember the wonders he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,

Psalm 105.1-5

Let those who seek the Lord rejoice. In all the frenzy and worry I’ve not done well seeking the Lord. The work that needs to be done, the calls that need to be made, the plans that need to be executed, the meetings attended have crowded out what God has been doing in our midsts.

But, trusting the band this week eased some worry about how the team sounded. Usual worry quenches the Spirit’s work faster than a speeding bullet on Sunday mornings. Playing music and leading a band is an incredible task. If I can whine for a moment: At any given moment my hands are doing opposing tasks at the same time akin to rubbing you stomach and patting your head, my feet are as well – one is keeping me balanced so I don’t fall over and the other my pedal work – it’s a bit like hopping on one foot for 20 minutes; I’m reading music while reading lyrics while reading the crowd; I’m singing – which means not only am I thinking about what notes I’m playing and when I’m playing them I’m also thinking about what notes and words I’m singing and when I’m singing them and I’m thinking about what each band member and vocalist is doing and cuing them telepathically; all the while I’m supposed to be thinking about just how swell Jesus is.

Sorry for complaining, really sorry, all that is to say that a worship leader can be like a duck kicking my legs beneath the water. When I let my prideful heart take over – which is 99.99999999% of the time – I get consumed by the physical and mental task. And it is sinful love of Self doing that. I think the success of any given Sunday is dependant not on the finished work of the cross and the Spirit ministering to us through song, word, and deed but on mine and the band’s musical performance. And that our performance as a team is dependant on my musical and leadership skills. It’s not, but my heart is so addicted to the sin of Self that I think it is.

But like what was mentioned earlier I gave into trusting the band and not worrying so much this Sunday. It wasn’t a noble trust, more just a distracted giving up. So – still sinful. But in giving up my worry we played excellently. Not that the music ultimately matters. What matters is that in our singing we were able to remember God’s wonders, miracles, and judgements as Psalm 105.5 directs us to.

Before each service the band gathers on the stage to pray and because I like routine we pray some version of the following:

Father, thank you for the gifts you given this band. Let the work of our hands not be to our glory but to the glory of Your Son. Open our eyes and lift our heads to behold your glory.

Something like that.

And this past week – like He does every week, even though I may not be paying attention – He did just that.

The Holy Spirit took shocking advantage of my inattentivness to Self. He took what was unintentionally meant for ill and used it for His good. He answered that usual prayer loudly. He yelled in my ear – God is so good! God is so good! God is so good! Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always and He pried open my eyes that I would look on His wonderous deeds and rejoice.

And it was perplexing. Flummoxing. In light of who God is and what He’s done little is left to say. The songs we sang this weekend gave life to this flabbergasted amazement that is best expressed simply – Grace, what have you done? Too much to make sense of it all! ‘Man of Sorrows’ What a name! Hallelujah! What a savior! Hallelujah! What a Savior! Thank you, God, for saving me! THANK YOU GOD FOR SAVING ME! THANK YOU GOD! THANK YOU GOD!

There is great joy in Self-forgetfulness especially when the object that replaces Self is God. It’s too much to make sense of it all. It’s overwhelming. Like that first kiss at the altar it leaves you breathless. In His grace and kindness is inexplicable joy. There duty and work become play and dance. It makes you smile. So what left is there to say?

Hallelujah! Oh what a savior!

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[073/365] Joy. August 25, 2009. Leland Francisco. Some Rights Reserved.
If you’d like to keep singing, and who could blame you, here’s the songs we sang this weekend: 

  • Say the Word by Hillsong
  • Scandal of Grace also by Hillsong
  • Man of Sorrows by David Potter
  • Thank You, God, For Saving Me by Chris Tomlin and Phil Wickham
  • Glory is Yours by Elevation Worship

Now go buy the songs and may God cause His face to shine upon you.

Hallelujah! Oh What a Savior!

When All Things Are Made New

Jesus, having been baptized and thoroughly tempted by Satan, walked back to his hometown and went to church. As one does. For what I presume was a morning service Jesus stood up and read the scroll of Isaiah, his first sermon:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppresed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Looked up from his reading, staring into the eyes of the gathered, he said: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” and dropped his mic.

Like all prophets who proclaim good news for the poor, the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed and the downtrodden the congregation tried to kill him. And, in a way, they eventually would. When the powerful speak for the weak it is a death sentence.

Jesus had the audacity to quote Isaiah quoting Leviticus, the law of the Lord. Which states that every seven years was The Sabbath Year when the land could rest as the people were to rest on the seventh day. And on the seventh Sabbath Year, year 50, was Jubilee, The Year of the Lord’s Favor.

A nice symmetry. God makes all things and on the last day He rests. He tells his people to rest on the seventh day, the last day of their week. And every cycle of seven years the land rests on the final year. And on the seventh Sabbath Year there is Jubilee.

The Year of the Lord’s Favor: when the trumpet would sound on the Day of Atonement, when God and Man were reconciled, and freedom was proclaimed throughout the land to all its inhabitants. Good news to the poor, liberty to the captive and the oppressed, the blind receiving sight. When all things are made new.

But we hate Jubilee. Let’s just be honest. In Israel’s long history not once did they celebrate the Year of the Lord’s Favor as commanded. Isaiah, some 700 years before the birth of Christ, prophesied it and still no follow through. Then Jesus says that he is the Lord’s favor! And they try and push him off a cliff. Then they nail him to a tree.

You’re reading this in my future. Neato! It’s a sci-fi world and we’re all just cyborgs in it. In your past, my present, I’m writing on Monday, January 18th, 2016 – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day –  and I’m listening to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. I’m thinking about yesterday’s message about Jubilee and reading one of Dr. King’s sermons: Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.

Dr. King writes:

There can be no gainsaying of the fact that a great revolution is taking place in the world today. In a sense it is a triple revolution: that is, a technological revolution, with the impact of automation and cybernation; then there is a revolution in weaponry, with the emergence of atomic and nuclear weapons of warfare; then there is a human rights revolution, with the freedom explosion that is taking place all over the world. Yes, we do live in a period where changes are taking place. And there is still the voice crying through the vista of time saying, “Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away.”

Those words were written in 1968, almost 50 years ago. It would seem that we’ve doubled-down on his triple revolution. Since Y2k we’ve seen the proliferation of technology – free wifi at your local coffeeshop and in your bedroom, everybody and their 10,000 digital friends, the iWhatever, one year for Christmas I got a robot dog. The world is all the more armed, remember North Korea may have just successfully tested their first hyrdrogen bomb and there’s a gun for every man, woman, and child in America. And the Human Rights Revolution seems to trudge along – better, but still so very far to go.

Dr. King continues,

Modern man through his scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. And our jet planes have compressed into minutes distances that once took weeks and even months. All of this tells us that our world is a neighborhood.

Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.

John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: “No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” And he goes on toward the end to say, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” We must see this, believe this, and live by it if we are to remain awake through a great revolution.

Secondly, we are challenged to eradicate the last vestiges of racial injustice from our nation. I must say this morning that racial injustice is still the black man’s burden and the white man’s shame.

It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of white Americans, spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle and sometimes not so subtle—the disease of racism permeates and poisons a whole body politic. And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly—to get rid of the disease of racism.

In Matthew 25.31-46, Jesus says that on the final day when he, the Son of Man, comes in his glory and sits on his glorious throne he will gather all the nations and will separate people from each other as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep to the right, the goats to the left. And to those on the right he will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. You fed me when I was hungry, gave me drink when I was thirsty, welcomed me when I was a stranger, clothed me when I was naked, visited me when I was sick and imprisoned. Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me.”

To those on the left, “Depart from me. Whatever you did not do for the least of these you did not do for me.”

Dr. King continues,

Something positive must be done. Everyone must share in the guilt as individuals and as institutions. The government must certainly share the guilt; individuals must share the guilt; even the church must share the guilt.

We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing “In Christ there is no East or West,” we stand in the most segregated hour of America.

The hour has come for everybody, for all institutions of the public sector and the private sector to work to get rid of racism. And now if we are to do it we must honestly admit certain things and get rid of certain myths that have constantly been disseminated all over our nation.

One is the myth of time. It is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. And there are those who often sincerely say to the Negro and his allies in the white community, “Why don’t you slow up? Stop pushing things so fast. Only time can solve the problem. And if you will just be nice and patient and continue to pray, in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out.”

There is an answer to that myth. It is that time is neutral. It can be used wither constructively or destructively. And I am sorry to say this morning that I am absolutely convinced that the forces of ill will in our nation, the extreme rightists of our nation—the people on the wrong side—have used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”

Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So we must help time and realize that the time is always ripe to do right.

One day we will have to stand before the God of history and we will talk in terms of things we’ve done. Yes, we will be able to say we built gargantuan bridges to span the seas, we built gigantic buildings to kiss the skies. Yes, we made our submarines to penetrate oceanic depths. We brought into being many other things with our scientific and technological power.

It seems that I can hear the God of history saying, “That was not enough! But I was hungry, and ye fed me not. I was naked, and ye clothed me not. I was devoid of a decent sanitary house to live in, and ye provided no shelter for me. And consequently, you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness. If ye do it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me.” That’s the question facing America today.

There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of goodwill to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “We ain’t goin’ study war no more.” This is the challenge facing modern man.

We’re going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands. And so, however dark it is, however deep the angry feelings are, and however violent explosions are, I can still sing “We Shall Overcome.”

We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

When the trumpet sounds and the roll is called up yonder, that final Jubilee, the Son of Man in his glory being surrounded by the winged warriors of Heaven will sit on his throne and declare, Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away. 

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” The Son of Man will say to those on his right, wiping every tear from their weary and heavyburdened eyes. He will welcoming them home, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

God grant that we will be participants in this newness and this magnificent development. If we will but do it, we will bring about a new day of justice and brotherhood and peace. And that day the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy. God bless you.

BRAND_BIO_BIO_Martin-Luther-King-Jr-Mini-Biography_0_172243_SF_HD_768x432-16x9.jpg

Please take the time to read the entirety of Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution. If you will, let it offend you. Then do something. Have a conversation. Change your mind. Become conscience of your neighbor. Be an extremist for love.

When All Things Are Made New

When We See Ourselves As We Are

In the beginning God created everything, His Spirit hovered over the chaotic waters, He spoke and by His Word pulled the chaos together and created Something.

Where dark and chaotic Nothing existed His voice called into being light, the starry night and summer sun. His Word separated land from water, telling the mountains how high they would go and the seas where they would cease their raging. He dug the deep roots of the cypress tree, crushed stone into Sahara sands, formed the Cumulus clouds. He crafted the birds of the sky, beasts of the field, and every creeping thing. At the center of it all He planted a Garden full of trees with every kind of good fruit, all free for the taking save two trees He commanded to be left untouched. In the middle of that Garden He formed a man from the dirt and from the mudman’s rib he formed a woman of striking beauty, enough to turn him from dirt clod to poet. In the cool of the day God and His man and woman walked in the Garden.

But like toddlers told not to touch something the mudman and his bride ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Their eyes were opened and they saw themselves as they were: naked.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Genesis 3.7

At the sound of His voice Adam and Eve hid amongs the weeds, ashamed of what they saw of themselves. As God called out in the cool of day, “Where are you?” the man responded, “I was afraid at the sound of Your voice and I hid because I was naked and didn’t want You to see me.”

God, grieved, explained to them what would become of them because of what they had done. To the lying, twisted serpent he would be cursed to crawl in the dust and one day he would bite the heel of a Son who, being bit, would crush the snake’s head. To the woman, as the Earth would groan for this coming Son, she would groan in the unbearable pain of childbirth. To the man, he would toil in futility, digging his hands among the thorns that would pierce the Son’s head, the noontime sun burning his back as he produced what little fruit the stony ground would yield. The Garden that had been theirs for the taking was now closed to them.

When they saw themselves for what they were, two naked and shamed humans, they feebly stiched together outfits of brittle fig leaves. But God, looked on them in their mess, out in the open cold, and fashioned for them garments of warm skins, clothing them against the cruel elements.

wheatfields-under-thunderclouds-1890.jpg
Wheatfield under Thunderclouds1890, Vincent Van Gogh.

In the sermon Pastor Joe encouraged us to see ourselves as God sees us and not as we see ourselves. If we’re honest with ourselves it is easy to see us as we actually are: self-possessed, fickle, irresponsible, ashamed, lonely, hiding in prisons of our own making, afraid of what would be said of us if we were ever found out. In our navel-gazing we’re prone to worry, anxiety, and depression. Like Adam and Eve, when they looked at themselves with honest eyes, we too try and clothe ourselves with the feeble dried leaves of good works, fake smiles, can-do spirits, and believing in ourselves.

But God, and aren’t those the two sweetest words in the English language?, looks at us differently. Where we see only nakedness, God sees His creation, His sons and daughters freezing in the cold, hiding from the warmth of His presence. And He calls out, “Where are you?” then seeing our scantily clad nakedness with His eyes of ever lovingkindness He wraps us in warm robes of His righteousness:

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations. 

Isaiah 61.10-11


This weekend we sang the following songs:

  • Holy is the Lord by Chris Tomlin
  • Father, You are All We Need by Citizens & Saints
  • There is a Fountain by William Cowper, lyrics; Lowell Mason, music; Norton Hall Band, arrangement.
  • Say the Word by Hillsong United
  • God is Able by Hillsong Worship

Here’s a playlist with each of these songs. But, really, go buy them:

 

When We See Ourselves As We Are

Worship Review AGAIN! 10.25.15 – GUEST POST!!!

Today is the first guest post featured here, and I’m super pumped. Steve led an awesome worship set this past weekend and here are some of his thoughts on the matter. So without further ado…

Also, Sam Jeet made the artwork for this sermon series. More from Sam hopefully this week.
Also, Sam Jeet made the artwork for this sermon series. More from Sam hopefully this week.

Well this is a first FROM me and a first FOR Tommy I believe. It’s an honor to be able to lead God’s people in worship of Him on a Sunday morning, and an honor to share with you the story behind the music. Tommy has shared at length what his process is in choosing songs for our corporate worship service, so I won’t bore you with details. We have a similar process, but our thinking can be quite different. Obviously our prose is quite different, which you’ll see as you read.

We started off at the top of the service with an exclamation, a declaration. We didn’t declare it, but Jesus did when he breathed His last breath on the cross. It Is Finished, was our opening declaration, and we made it joyfully. The rhythms, the upbeat tempo were all intended to be celebratory and joyful. Like a train barreling down the tracks, metaphorically like us often in life, going full steam into our own destruction, we needed God. Our frenzy for an answer to how we can be saved has a simple answer: “There’s no deed that can redeem us, there’s no rite, nor magic word. Only by the work of Jesus can salvation be secured.” We acknowledged our own fruitless pursuit for salvation, and that Jesus is our only hope. The chorus reflects our declaration plainly, “It is finished, He has done it”.

In rehearsal on Thursday we talked about this idea. The idea that He has done it. We didn’t say, He will do it. We said He HAS done it; past tense, complete, finalized. Jesus ended the power of the grave, the power of destruction and brought salvation to all man, Jews and Gentiles. So at this point we should be celebrating, right? I mean, Jesus came and did it, so I don’t have to do anything else. All I’ve gotta do is sit back, watch t.v. and live the easy life…right? Sadly, no. We live in the world, and we have to continually work at our relationship with our Savior. Sorry kids, Santa Clause isn’t real…wait, maybe we’ll save that for a Christmas article in a few months.

Dear Refuge (Come Quickly) put the focus on us and how we respond to God. We already stated we have no power, only He has the power, and now we’re stating, God, we need You. “Come quickly, come quickly, here to my rescue.” I know what you’re thinking, “Steven, I’m not helpless”. I’m sorry, my friend, we most certainly are and we most certainly were. As much as we love to watch stories about super heroes and secretly fantasize that we have super powers; it’s just fiction. It’s just not true. But, good news; Jesus is true, and what He did is true! He forgave us, forever.

Again, that sense of infinite is there again. He died on the cross as the one sacrifice, for all time, for our atonement. We were and are, Forgiven Forever. So much in this song points toward the cross, and the sacrifice Jesus made. “Beautiful the blood, we are forgiven forever…Jesus is risen, Love has overcome.” You might say, “How can blood be beautiful? I’ve seen car wrecks, and pictures of bombings and shootings, and it sickens me Steve.” The answer is simple. Jesus blood washes us clean, and we are covered in it, so that is cannot be washed off. We sang, “No death, nor life, no present or future, no angel, no demon, no power, no creature can take me away from the love that’s in Jesus Christ.”

Wow, that’s a bold statement. Why, yes it is. It’s bold because it is truth. Jesus didn’t fain away from doing what was necessary to save us, and because of His boldness as an example, I say to Him, “You Make Me Brave”. We ended our worship service with this anthem. “You make me brave, You make me brave, You call me out beyond the shore into the waves. You make me brave, You make me brave, no fear can hinder now the Love that made a way.” “It Is Finished” was our opening statement, why? Because that was the beginning, that was the moment that life began for us. We declared it, and then we declared it again in our final line of worship, “Champion of heaven, You’ve made a way for all to enter in.”

We learned, through music and song, what God did, and we can’t thank Him enough. We can never repay Him for His kindness. We are full of doubt, and questions, and God knows this. Ryan brought us a sermon from Luke 5. A story where Simon (Peter) is told to go out into the deep waters and cast his nets again, even after they fished all night and got nothing at all. Simon even declares his doubt to Christ in Luke 5:5, “…Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your word I will let down the nets.” Simon did it, because the Lord asked him to, calling Him, “Master”. In verse 8, after catching so much fish that their boat began to sink from the fullness, Simon changed his tone. He said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” He went from calling Jesus, Master, to calling Him, Lord.

So let’s think about this. Master is a teacher, and we respect our teachers because we’re taught to. But let’s be brutally honest with each other. We didn’t give our teachers sovereignty over our lives. Simon, however, saw the difference and gave his honor to Christ, calling Him, Lord. A term for one who rules. I won’t go further into Ryan’s sermon, as I hope you kept notes and have been reflecting on it in your own studies.

To sum it all up, it was an honor to guide you through what was going through my mind as I chose songs and put together a worship service for you. My hope is that the music, and our songs, didn’t point to me, but pointed you to Christ. My hope is that God was glorified and edified through the talents and abilities of each of the members of the worship team: Jason Juan (drums), Max Reyes (bass), Jay Juan (electric guitar), Frank Long (percussion), and Candace Long (vocals). Our hope and prayer was that you learned about Christ and we did our job, which was simply to praise God. God bless you; thank you for reading.

Worship Review AGAIN! 10.25.15 – GUEST POST!!!

Things Too Wonderful For Me

Why does the God of the Old Testament seem so angry and vengeful versus the merciful and gracious God of the New Testament?

Consider it this way:

When God is pouring out his wrath in the Old Testament He’s holding back. Because God is ultimately holy and righteous He has the right to do whatever He wants. He has the right to punish bad behavior, and I mean not just destroy us but make it so that we were never created to begin with. God reserves the right and the ability to make us really suffer.

When Job takes God to task for all of his suffering God responds this way:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy? Job 38.4-7*

In an excellent New Yorker article from December, 16th 2013 titled, “Misery“, author Joan Acocella ends her discussion of the Book of Job with this:

God’s speech slaughters the moral, the what-should-be, nature of the rest of the Book of Job. It is the knife flash, the leap, the teeth. And despite, or because of, its remorselessness, it is electrifying. It is like an action movie, or a horror movie. Of course, Job is important in the story, but today he seems the pretext, the one who is like us, and makes the argument that we would make. As for God, he makes the argument that, at least as far as nature is concerned, is true.

William Blake’s “Behemoth and Leviathan,” creatures of an all-powerful God. CREDIT ART COURTESY MORGAN LIBRARY & MUSEUM
William Blake’s “Behemoth and Leviathan,” creatures of an all-powerful God.
CREDIT ART COURTESY MORGAN LIBRARY & MUSEUM

God reserves the right to do whatever He pleases. From our perspective He seems cruel in the Old Testament and kind in the New. But when God is punishing the people in the Old Testament He is actually showing mercy by limiting His wrath. Further so, that an all powerful, all knowing, infinited Creator would condescend enough to talk with and commune with limited, finite Creatures – regardless of what said Creator does – is a grace itself. By no means does God have to pay us any mind. That He does is kindness.

But God seems so much nicer in the New Testament.

It’s that old heresy, Marcionism, that says the Old Testament and New Testament God are too divergent from each other to be the same. The God of the Old and New Testament are one in the same. God is never more merciful or vengeful – He is consistently both, always existing as Love and as Wrath.

Jesus Christ is the sure fulfillment of all of this because Christ isn’t like God, he is God. God is simultaneously wrathful and loving on the cross. There he pours out His wrath but lovingly pours it out on Himself.

Then Job replied to the LORD:
“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know. Job 42.1-3


*I’ve linked to the final four chapters, all of which are worth reading for their sheer poetic beauty, if not for their theological weightiness.

Things Too Wonderful For Me