remembering that night and day for

Earlier this week, spent some time with a Catholic priest for research purposes. Left that meeting with a feeling in my heart I couldn't readily identify. Thinking about the past is always interesting, and so want to ponder the past in the next few posts.

As I type this out in the madness of insomnia at 3 in the morning, I'll simply relate one aspect of the feeling in my heart: fondness. I love the Catholic church, despite the theological differences I have with it. I love it for its sense of divine reverence. I love it for its near-OCD attention to ritual. I love it for its foundational tradition. But most of all, I love it as a married couple loves that recounts their courtship:

I love it because it was there I fell in love with Jesus.


for My sake, as a testimony to

I posted about the "I Am Second" movement two weeks ago, so this is more an update than a post. But I finished the book, and it was everything I hoped it would be. I posted a review on another site, but here it is:

I try not to let my faith influence my reviews because book reviews aren’t the appropriate venue for proselytizing. But when you’re reviewing books about your faith, it’s impossible to do. I Am Second is the book form of a larger movement aimed at getting people to put God first in their life. Their website has a collection of videos of mostly-famous individuals sharing their testimonies about how and (more importantly) why they became Christians. This book shares these same testimonies, but the written form of these testimonies provides more context and is not simply a transcription of the video clips. The book does a great job of sharing testimonies of different people with different struggles all redeemed by God – from the former lead guitarist of Korn discussing how he didn’t find fulfillment in fame/fortune/drugs, to MMA fighter Vitor Belfort discussing how he struggled with pain and happiness, to a couple who overcame divorce through their faith, to a soldier discussing faith and war, to a former prostitute discussing how faith got her off the streets, and more. And while there are only 20 testimonies in the book, there are QR codes that link you to videos of a host of other testimonies. These real people and their real problems all send the same message: that there is a real God who delights in redeeming people who put Him first in their lives. I Am Second presents flawed believers, warts and all. The media likes to sensationalize accounts of professed Christians doing bad things (e.g. Josh Hamilton, who also has a testimony in this book) as if to proclaim the message that Christianity is full of sinners. Well, that is in fact the Gospel message. I highly recommend this book for all Christians; it affirms what you already know is true. If you’re not a Christian, but you’re struggling with big issues, this book shares stories of struggle and the inspiring accounts of people overcoming big issues; I’d recommend this book to you as well. I usually reserve five star ratings for books with exceptional prose telling incredible stories. This book doesn’t have exceptional prose, but the stories are beyond incredible, and because they resonate with my faith, this book is among my favorite books ever.  


might have been set free if

UPDATE on yesterday's post. The clip below is the official video for the song 27 Million. Possibly not your cup of tea, but it's message should be...


to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk

The trailer above is for a song released this week by Matt Redman whose purpose is to raise money and awareness about slavery still going on in the world. The song premiered at Passion 2012 a few weeks ago, and what I like about the song and its debut at Passion 2012 was the intent of Redman and Tomlin and others to inspire this generation of young believers into action.

This past week, was learning about human ecology and the role man plays as God's steward to creation. Gen9:9-10 are verses post-Flood where God renews His covenant to Noah, and what the verses let us in on is that God's covenant was not just with man but with all living creatures on earth. The word "dominion" or "rule" from Genesis 1 is improperly taken to mean brute power over nature. Rather, the word implies representation, as in man is representing God's control over Creation. If Gen9 is true, and the interpretation of "dominion" is also true, how does that impact our relationship with nature? Some people think it means a greater role in caring for the environment.

Whether the issue is slavery or the environment or the equality of women or ending poverty, Christians need to have a greater voice in matters of social justice. Not because it's the cool thing to do in emergent churches. Not because culture is important. Not to attract unbelievers. No, we are to act on these issues because Christians need to value what God values. Our hearts need to break for the things that break the heart of God. God's people should not be letting secular organizations take the lead in social justice.

Two hundred years ago, John Newton and William Wilberforce -- Christians first, social justice advocates second -- led the anti-slavery movement in Britain. They didn't do that out of political motive, but out of Christian reaction to God's calling them to be His hands and feet. Why can the bride of Christ not do such a thing today?


on bread alone, but on every word

Heard an incredible story yesterday evening when gathered with the brethren. A missionary to Africa told a story that began in 1974. A famine hit an African nation, causing a particular nomadic Muslim to head from the desert where he lived towards the cities to find grain. While in the city, he heard the Gospel message, believed it, but having no other Christians in his area, was forced to keep that faith to himself.

A decade later in 1984, another famine hit and two other nomads were driven to the cities in search of grain. These two men heard the gospel message and immediately accepted the Savior. Meanwhile, the man who heard the message in 1974 was sitting under a tree when he looked up and saw two birds in the branches. He immediately received a message from the Lord that two men would be bringing him truth. Along comes the two men who had just been saved, and when they come to the first man, they stop to chat, and the Lord's plan unfolds. The first man finds out that these two brothers had decided to follow Christ, and without hesitation, realizing he had fellow followers now, was finally able to proceed with his heart's desire. Nearly three decades later, those 3 faithful have grown to 1000 faithful.

The best part of the story was the first man's description of what occurred. As he explains it, "God loved me so much He sent me two famines." Did you catch what a remarkable statement that is? African famines literally take away everything a nomad has: his crops, his livelihood, his livestock. And yet two of these extreme events were proof of God's love. It is similar to Paul's declaration in Phil3:8 "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord".

More and more I encounter testimonies of remarkable faith and am reminded of my great lack of it. I am learning that God is sending me these encounters not as means of discouraging me, but rather as reminders that I am not alone.  Even without these examples, was I ever?

faithful also in much; and he

Do yourself a favor and read THIS ARTICLE. It will be the most important thing you read this week, I'm certain of it. This faithful servant has been in the prayers of many for the past year, and will remain in those prayers until he is possibly called home to the Father as a martyr. If there is a greater example of courage than his response "I cannot" when told to return to the religion of his ancestors, I haven't seen it. And comfortable Christians in America complain when someone wishes them a "Happy Holidays" and call it persecution. If you're one of them, maybe you should read that article twice.

scattered, each to his own home

Heard a beautiful new song this morning. Video is below:

I love all of the lyrics, but especially those of the third stanza that go:
Hear the Savior calling home Every soul that's lost their way See them turn away from sin As they call out the Savior's name 
It reminds me of the hymn that I quote in my testimony whose first stanza goes:
I sought the Lord and afterwards I knewHe moved my soul to seek Him seeking me.It was not I that found, O Savior true;No, I was found by Thee.
These verses are stirring reminders that we are built for eternity; Eccl3:11 tells us so. Our image is in God, and only in Him will our hearts feel at home. And God knows that that ache in our soul that looks for completion will seek to fill itself in the evils of the world around it, and so He is constantly calling for our attention, calling for us to come home. There is no place I'd rather be. 


transformed the beauty of His

I can't remember if I wrote about this movement or not, but if I did, they deserve to be written about again. Everyone needs to visit I am Second and watch all of the video clips. The wondrous one got me the book for Valentine's Day, and I can't wait to read through testimonies though I've already seen them in the video clips. These are people publicly declaring their secondness to the One.

There is no more beautiful thing in all the world than the testimony of a believer describing how he/she came to Christ. Absolutely nothing more beautiful. The greatest miracle is not some surprising healing; it is not the parting of a sea; it is not the exorcising of demons. No, the greatest miracle is a depraved soul becoming redeemed. And no matter the path taken to that redemption  -- whether it's a sudden heartchange after a lifetime of evil, or whether it's the lifelong following in a household of faith -- every path requires God to turn blindness into sight, death into life, lost into found.

No, there isn't anything more beautiful than that.


they are stains and blemishes

The embedded clip below is a modern version of the classic hymn "Just as I Am". Take a listen:

The underlying message of the original hymn is that we come to God in a broken state. The new version adds a chorus with beautiful lyrics that emphasize this central theme:
I come broken to be mended. I come wounded to be healed.I come desperate to be rescued. I come empty to be filled.I come guilty to be pardoned by the blood of Christ the Lamb.And I am welcomed with open arms, praise God, just as I am.
No one enters eternity without having first looked at the sorry state of their soul, realized the gross imperfection of it, and begged the Almighty for a renovation. The proud will be turned away when they admit no soul weakness. The defiant will be turned away when they rationalize their soul's stature with an empty defense of being good enough. Down the path of defending one's imperfections lies failure.

But the good news of God is that no soul comes so broken, no soul comes so wounded, so empty, so guilty, or so dirty that the love of God cannot bring it back to glorious life. The cross fixes that broken. The cross binds that wound. The cross fills that empty. The cross, the empty tomb. The cross frees the guilty, replaces it with a Son. The cross cleans that dirty through the blood of the One. Just as you are, redeemed by just who He is.


do not know what He is

I hope it's clear from my post the other day that I am a big fan of the new Jason Gray song "Remind Me of Who I Am". My listening to it about twenty times in the last 24 hrs might be the other clue. So it pains me to say this: the song is fundamentally flawed.

The issue is that the song is self-focused. God is mentioned; the song is a direct plea to the Lord certainly. But God is not the focus of the song. The focus of the song is the individual. The spiritually mature understand that the Christian life should lead you to a place that is 100% Him and 0% us. As JtheB puts it in John3:30, "He must increase, and I must decrease".

Moreover, getting an individual to understand who he is in Christ is a good starting point, but better than that is getting the individual to see the greatness of God. We grow as believers not when we are reminded of who we are, but rather when we are reminded of Who He is.

Remind me of Who He is. Oh, that's right. The Almighty Sovereign One. In that case, I surely, surely must decrease...


of Christ—I who am

There's a message bouncing around my head about identity, somewhat related to yesterday's musings. There lies within our souls a need to identify itself -- it's the reason so many hippies talk about taking sabbaticals and traveling the world to "find themselves". And if you find hippie speak ridiculous, hello pot, kettle wants your ear. We all place our identities somewhere. Sports fans paint their faces and buy team gear to say something about themselves. Type A career-focused folks think their toil translates into wealth and private comfort and careers that say something about the toiler. Models think their skin-deepness is deeper, that it speaks to an inner person. What is Facebook if not our public declaration of "Look at me! I'm somebody!"

In the end, our activities will fail us. Our toil will tire us. Our looks will fade like the wildflower. And all the social network contacts we have will not construct a true image of who we are. There is no human self-identification that will last beyond the memories of friends or history books, nor mean something at an eternal level.

Except who we are in Christ Jesus. And who we are in Christ is not rooted in something within us, but rather in something within God. That we are His beloved, the apple of His eye, His children -- these all emanate from His central nature as perfect love rather than from the less-than-perfect nature of ourselves.

You can chase those championship rings and that next promotion and that extra-smooth skin and that 500th friend. As for me, I am my Beloved's and My Beloved? My Beloved is mine.


the beloved of the LORD dwell in

Please watch and listen to this new song by Jason Gray:

Listening to it on repeat and there rises in my heart the familiar feeling, the one I had when I first turned my soul over into the hands of eternity. Similar to a lesson I've taught twice now on Luke 8. Every human being will be forced to confront the reality of Jesus Christ and respond in a way that will reflect what they come away with. Many will turn away in disgust and anger and reject Him outright. Others will shrug and go away, an end result no different from the ones who left in disgust and anger. Some will accept Him intellectually. Or out of fear of damnation. Both will see heaven's gates, but miss out on the great joy of the best response.

That best response is seeing Jesus for the first time and looking into your heart and noticing an emptiness that had always been there and upon seeing Jesus realizing that what that emptiness really had been was a God-shaped hole, a Christ-shaped hole, in reality a hole from where love leaked out of your heart. And here was love personified, filling that leak and telling you the greatest of news, that no matter what the world thought of you, He thought of you in only one way, the only way that mattered. That He loved you. That you were beloved. That you were priceless to Him. And you run into His light and you finally admit to yourself that no matter how much you found yourself unlovable, love personified did not.

Sometimes, sometimes I need to be reminded of that.