Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How Could I Ask For More?

The word on the street is that the 90s are making a comeback. From fashion to movies to musical styles, everything old is new again.

It's a fairly common occurrence, actually. The sitcom Happy Days, set in the 1950s, was hugely popular in the 70s. That 70s Show was a hit in the 90s. And now, 20 years after the fact, surprise-surprise, here come the 90s again.

As far as music goes, it kind of leaves me in the dark. I pretty much stopped listening to Top 40 radio after Billy Joel's 1981 album, The Stranger (which was the last vinyl record I ever purchased). Not because that wonderful collection of songs scared me away, but because...well, I'm not really sure why. I had become a father and was going to Bible college to prepare for a life of vocational ministry and maybe I no longer had a desire to dedicate any time to that portion of popular culture.

None of which has any effect whatsoever on how glad I was this week to stumble on a song from 1992 by Cindy Morgan, How Could I Ask For More?

It's a quiet, thoughtful recounting of some simple pleasures...things that make life sweet and hearts happy.

Truth is... some of the best things in life are free. Not a new thought, but one that's good to be reminded of, no matter what decade it is.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

For Fast, Fast Relief, Insert Prayer Here

Even people who don't believe Jesus is the Son of God tend to weight his words with a certain level of importance. So when He says something like, "You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it," (John 14:14) a guy might want to pay attention.

The devotional book I was reading (Why Did I Lose My Job If God Loves Me? by Rick J. Pritikin) used John 14:14 as the basis of a particular day's thought, but wisely brought in the verses around it...

I decided to look at the context of the promise by reading several verses before and after John 14:14. In verse 13, Jesus said, "I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son." In other words, Jesus will give me what I ask for in his name if it will glorify the Father. This isn't about you and me getting whatever is on our wish lists. God isn't a celestial vending machine. Rather, our requests should glorify him.

There's more. In verse 15, Jesus went on to say, "If you love me, keep my commands." In today's sales language, that's the "kicker." In other words, you and I can't expect to get what we ask for in prayer unless we are walking in obedience to the Lord and unless the fulfillment of that prayer will glorify God.

All of which led me to write the following in my journal:

This is still a tricky thing. It could become, "If I push the right buttons or cross off the right items on a to-do list, then God has to give me what I want."

Yes, verse 13 is important. If my request would bring me glory instead of Yahweh, it most probably will be ignored. But I'm not so sure verse 15 is part of Jesus' paragraph on prayer...and actually, the paragraph isn't about prayer; it's about the unity of God the Father and God the Son and that we are invited to enter into that unity.

And that's the thing! If I am united with God through Christ, it means I am "in [His] name," not my prayer. The point for Jesus is not for us to say the words "in Jesus' name" before "amen". The point is for us to be in Jesus's name, immersed in His character and authority.

Yes, of COURSE that means being obedient to His commands, but it's not as simple as keeping a list of rules.

Truth is...the NASB and Amplified versions render verse 15 as "...you will keep my commandments", coming across as more of a prediction or promise than a command or threat.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

This Singer Could Really Speak

This Saturday marks the 18th anniversary of the passing of the talented singer-songwriter-ragamuffin, Rich Mullins. I've taken this space before to point out the depth of his lyrics and the freshness of his perspective. (Just click on the "Rich Mullins" label below, and you'll see what I mean.)

This time around, I invite you to take a break from the noise that surrounds you and let the Spirit of God take these scattered quotes from the mind of Rich and apply them wherever He sees fit. (My thanks to the Facebook page, Rich Mullins Quote of the Week, for having posted these gems.)

  • I don't know how you feel close to God. And no one I know that seems to be close to God knows anything about those feelings either. I know if we obey, occasionally, the feeling follows. Not always, but occasionally. I know if we disobey, we don't have a shot at it.
  • But the nice thing about getting older is that it bothers you less and less how stupid you are. Because you hang out with smart people long enough and you see that they have nothing that you want. It's more important to be alive than it is to be smart. Better a living dog than a dead lion, I guess.
  • The problem is that we in America trust institutions so much that we have all these other organizations doing the work of the church. And because they do this, the local body is robbed of the joy of actually involving themselves personally. I think that a lot of people want the Christian music industry to be an evangelistic or nurturing thing. People are looking at the Christian music industry and saying, 'Feed us! Convert us! Make us what we want to be!' And that is not the job of any industry. That's the job of the church.
  • I personally have a real problem with really slick music and really slick lifestyles and people who are dressed in all the right clothes and all that - you know, being very "in" - because I think Jesus reaches to the people who are very "out".
  • I get this all the time - "I'm so glad you came because I'm in such a spiritual low. It's been three months since our last Christian concert and I'm just starving spiritually." And I go, "Well babe, you're starving worse now than ever, because you just got a lot of candy. That's all I can give you. If you really want spiritual sustenance, go to church."
  • We try to make Christianity attractive. And that's like saying I'm going to make the Rockies attractive. How are you going to do that? By letting them be what they are. I think nothing is more compelling than to see people who have the Spirit living in the Spirit, and not trying to advertise, just being what they are.
  • Your friends that have kids and on their refrigerators, they have those really horrible scribblings that their kids do. And they're really proud of them. And you look at them and you go, "How can you possibly put that up in front of other people for them to see?" I think that a lot of us think that someday we're going to become the Van Gogh of Christianity -- that we're going to paint something truly, truly beautiful, and God is going to be so impressed that He's going to hold us up and say, "Here's an exemplary Christian." But you know what, I think God just likes people to scribble however awful it comes out. And then He goes, "This is my kid's."
  • I feel like God's leading me out so I'm kind of sleeping with my shoes on. When God parts the sea, you don't want to say, "Oh rats, where are my sandals?"
  • I think that all these doctrinal statements that all the congregations come up with over the years are basically just not very worthwhile. I don't mean to sound mean toward the people who came up with them. I understand in the past there have been many heretical movements, and we still need to maintain sound doctrine. But I think our real doctrine is that doctrine that is born out in our character. I think you can profess the Apostles' Creed until Jesus returns, but if you don't love somebody, you never were a Christian.
  • Start realizing that your ministry is how much of a tip you leave when you eat in a restaurant; when you leave a hotel room whether you leave it messed up or not; whether you flush your toilet or not. Your ministry is the way you love people. You love people when you call your wife and say, "I’m going to be late for dinner," instead of letting her burn the meal. You love people when maybe you cook a meal for your wife when you know she’s really tired. If you are a Christian, ministry is just an accident of being alive. I don’t know that you can divide up your life and say, "This is my ministry," and "This is my other thing," because the fruits of Christianity affect everybody around us.
  • And then he [Job] went to God and wanted to know why the righteous suffer. And Beuchner points out, God never gave him an answer. That God merely gave him Himself. And when Job had encountered the Almighty, the questions lost their power over him. And I think that a lot of us are real interested in some easy answers, and some "Wow, if I can, if we can come up with some kind of an easy answer to make life comfortable...." We're much more interested in answers than we are in the Truth. And the Truth is always going to be a mystery. It will always be a paradox. It will always be a little beyond our grasp. And if we're uncomfortable with that, that's okay, because a little bit of discomfort will keep us moving.
  • The end is that God made man. He created him in His own image. He created him out of dust. He breathed into him the breath of life. Man became a living soul. He gave man sexuality. He created them male and female. And He gave man work. And I am just doing my work. I am not trying to write great albums. I'm not trying to write great songs. I'm not trying to do any of that. What I'm trying to do is be faithful. If I were a plumber... most plumbers don't say, 'Man, I'm going to come up with the most original arrangement of pipes here.' But when you flush your toilet, if things go the way they should go, you are very thankful that the plumber was doing their job.

Truth is...in addition to being a great songwriter and a well-read, profound thinker, Rich can also make a person laugh. Even in the midst of making a sincere point, the funny bone can be engaged:

"And people often ask what inspires songs, and I always hate that because you know, I have all my pagan friends and you try talking about the inspiration of the Scriptures, and I think when you just throw the word 'inspired' around loosely like that, it becomes very confusing to them. So I always like to say that my songs are not particularly inspired. The Scriptures were inspired. My songs are provoked."

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Devil Made Me Do--Oh Skip It

There's something missing from your Bible.

I'm sure Paul meant to include it in one of his letters to the Christians in Corinth, but it just slipped his mind or Satan threw a fiery dart at just the right time...or wrong time...or...well, you know what I mean.

Here's the thing: in one of the lists of spiritual gifts, there should be mention of "avoiding personal responsibility". And by that I mean, the ability to pass the blame for my own muck on to something or someone else.

You can thank Jonathan Acuff for bringing this thought to the surface when he wrote the piece in his book, Stuff Christians Like, titled "Throwing the Devil Under the Bus for Everything":

Sometimes I think we Christians throw satan under the bus for things he might not have been involved with. For instance, if your band at church sucks one Sunday morning, it might be really easy to say, "The enemy sure was attacking service today. None of the songs worked well, and our timing was completely off. What a mess. Satan sure was pressing in on all sides."

I agree, that's one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is that you guys didn't practice. Nobody showed up on time to rehearse the songs, and when they did, they ended up joking around, pretending they were Lincoln Brewster, or just grumbling about all the songs they'd like to play if the senior pastor would release his death grip on what's "big-church" appropriate. So when Sunday showed up, you sounded about as good as you practiced, which was awful.

Did satan do that? That's debatable. Was he down in hell watching the service saying, "Watch this: The drummer's got a completely different rhythm going and it's killing the bass player's sense of self confidence and timing. My master plan has come to fruition!" Doubtful. I think more likely he was somewhere sinking ships or punching old ladies in the kidney when a demon came and reported, "Hey, Truth Rising Baptist Church had horrible worship music today." To which he responded, "Awesome."

Truth is...I do pretty good at fouling things up without the devil's help. In fact, I make his job pretty easy. Not to say he isn't involved, but when it comes down to who is really responsible...

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Celebrity Sightings

Last Thursday and Friday, I was involved in all-day meetings at my new place of employment. Team members from all over the country had flown in so we could hammer out final details on some documents that I was responsible for making look like something other than the literary equivalent of a platypus.

The conference room tables were arranged in a U, and I was editing on the fly as points were pondered and decisions were made.

At some point around hour 10, the man sitting next to me, Mark, was talking and gesticulating and I got distracted by the fact that I was apparently sitting next to Dustin Hoffman. Seriously, something about the gleam in his eyes, the carefree flip of his hair, the shape of his nose...

And then I got to looking around the room.

There was Ben Stiller (Zoolander), and sitting right next to him was Matt LeBlanc (Joey from Friends) and Jack McBrayer (30 Rock's Kenny the Intern). To top it all off, the corporate Vice President in charge of the whole shooting match was a dead ringer for Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Patrick Stewart.

I could not look at ANY of them without thinking of their celebrity doppelgangers.

It made me think of a song that's on Beloved's third CD, drenched in HOPE. It's written by Pete Carlson and Amy Roth (no relation) and titled Do They See Jesus in Me?

Is the face that I see in the mirror
The one I want others to see?
Do I show in the way that I walk in my life
The love that You've given to me?
My heart's desire is to be like You
In all that I do, all I am

Do they see Jesus in me?
Do they recognize Your face?
Do I communicate Your love and Your grace?
Do I reflect who You are
in the way I choose to be?
Do they see Jesus in me?
©2001 Matters Most Music/A.L.Roth Publishing

Truth is...there is a much older text that carries the same message. Here are a few lines from what is known as Saint Patrick's Breastplate:

Christ with me
Christ before me
Christ behind me
Christ in me
Christ beneath me
Christ above me
Christ on my right
Christ on my left
Christ when I lie down
Christ when I sit down
Christ when I arise
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me
Christ in every eye that sees me
Christ in every ear that hears me