Renewing Christmas Music Part 2

Here’s another contemporary Christmas song for your enjoyment: How Many Kings by Downhere.  I love the lyrics in this song, and how they reveal Christ as the King who stooped down to become human and restore the relationship between humanity and divinity.

How many kings stepped down from their thrones?  How many lords have abandoned their homes?  How many greats have become the least for me?  How many gods have poured out their hearts to romance a world that has torn all apart?  How many fathers gave up their son for me?

Only One did that for me… and for you.

Actually, I don’t think Jesus really abandoned His home, but instead He experienced it in a new way.  The Son’s home is in the Father, and the Father’s home is in the Son.  On earth, Jesus experienced this relationship with His Father through new eyes and new skin.

But Jesus also entered humanity as a baby to fulfill the Father’s eternal purpose to express Himself (His life, love, and light) in the earth through humanity.  It was the divine intention to build a spiritual temple in mankind, which was interrupted in the Garden of Eden.  The entry of Jesus into the world as human continued God’s campaign to reconcile the fallen creation to Himself.  Jesus was successful, of course, and we can now live by His indwelling Spirit which enables us to partake in divine life!

And now, the church, the body of Christ, continues His ministry and mission through the life of the Spirit.

Is there a call today for the church to become the least, to romance the world, to give up ourselves to make Christ known in the earth?

Renewing Christmas Music Part 1

If you’ve been out shopping lately, you’ve probably realized that the Christmas “season” is upon us.  Complete with the typical Christmas tunes playing in your favorite establishments. 

Over the past few years I’ve become kind of a nut for non-traditional Christmas music.  Let me ‘splain.

A few years ago, I started looking for some Christmas music to play at home, at work, on my iPod, etc.  What I realized is that 90% of Christmas music is made up of a small pool of songs.  And those songs are playing on the radio and in the stores throughout November and December every year.

Result: I’m really tired of those songs.  So I started looking for new or non-traditional Christmas songs.  I’ve found some real gems over the past few years, and these are what I mostly listen to at Christmas time.  Some of these are new arrangements of classic Christmas hymns, and some of these are brand new songs that I had never heard before.  And many of these songs point to Jesus Christ as The Perfect Gift and The Reason for the Season.

So between now and Christmas, I’m going to share some of my favorite off-the-beaten-path Christmas songs.  I hope you enjoy them.  And, if your tolerance for the classics is as low as mine, maybe this will help you renew the joy of listening to Christmas music that tells the story of The Eternal King who was born as a lowly child.

Today I’m sharing “Christmas Song” by Martha’s Trouble.  This song really captures the spirit of what Christmas is supposed to be about: not presents under the tree, but the presence of a humble, loving, giving Savior.

There was a present that was sent on Christmas ‘morn

It didn’t come under the tree, it came in baby form…

And He is the Peace, the Joy, and the Love

We sing about at Christmas time

Not just here and gone for the holiday

He’s the Way, the Truth, and the Life

Mary Has Chosen…

“but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42

I have just a short meditation today on choices. It seems to me that the Christian life, a life lived by the indwelling Spirit, is a life of choosing the good, better part. Because we are still mingled with our sinful nature, we must constantly choose to put those desires down and partake of what is better: the indwelling life of Jesus Christ.

I have found in my own life that I often choose what is worse because I am accustomed to it. For example, I choose to eat unhealthy food because I am so used to a specific flavor or feeling, despite knowing that eating healthy food is better. I grow frustrated with myself when I fail to choose what I know is better food that provides a healthier life. Perhaps there is some fear that the healthy food really won’t fill or satisfy me as though it should. And so I turn back and choose what is familiar.

When my wife and I talk about eating healthier food, I get excited thinking about the benefits and determine to never eat unhealthy again. But this is mostly an emotional response. When reality confronts me, I realize that I have not yet chosen to build the habit of eating the better food. Habits are not built magically through emotional responses; they are developed over time by consistently choosing what is better.

Mary walks right past what she is supposed to do, where she is supposed to be, and what is familiar to her. She breaks the Jewish customs of the day that disallow women to be disciples of a Rabbi. She sits with the men in their space. Mary recognizes and chooses her Lord, despite the risk. And she is praised by Jesus.

When you choose to spend time with the Lord, focus on Him, love Him, serve Him, His Spirit grows in you. May the church today be one that chooses Christ above all else, moment by moment, just as Mary has demonstrated for us.

You Can Count on Conflict

Confession: I meet with a group of believers who have no pastor, preacher, priest, or clergy set aside from or above the rest of the church. There is not a designated human leader.  Our heart is to let Jesus himself be the head of the church.  Everyone in our meetings is free to participate in sharing with the saints and in leading the saints as the Spirit leads them.

However, that’s not really the point of this article.  I want to focus on something that I’ve observed happening because we meet and live together in this way: we all have to deal with each other.

When there is a specific leader in a group and a problem arises, the tendency is to expect the leader to deal with the problem.  So if one person hurts someone else’s feelings or wrongs them in some way, they go to the leader to get things sorted out.  The leader is expected to mediate everyone’s disagreements and arguments.

Interestingly, Jesus speaks of going directly to someone who offends you and working to sort things out privately (Matthew 5:23-24, 18:15).

This is pretty much what happens in our little body of believers.  We all have to deal with each other.  We have only Christ as our mediator, and sometimes a wise saint or two to help.  As various issues between saints come up we each learn practically how to live with each other with love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and peace despite disagreements, arguments, and hurt feelings.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.  Colossians 3:12-15 ESV

These court cases are an ugly blot on your community. Wouldn’t it be far better to just take it, to let yourselves be wronged and forget it? All you’re doing is providing fuel for more wrong, more injustice, bringing more hurt to the people of your own spiritual family.  1 Corinthians 6:7-8 MSG

In short, we learn to bear the cross with each other.  We learn to lay down our lives – our needs, plans, desires, preferences, ambitions – for our brothers and sisters.  And without someone in charge to keep things in check, there is plenty of opportunity for learning these lessons.  Though there are sometimes scars left behind, I’ve seen much maturity and wisdom bloom from these trials.

Some people consider this messiness of life together something to be avoided.  Honestly, I wasn’t too excited about this part of life together; I’m really not a fan of confrontation.  And wherever people are rubbing up against each other, you can count on conflict arising and the need for confrontation.  However, I’ve seen that this is the process that God uses to fit his children together into the spiritual dwelling place that he desires to have in this earth.  I’ve seen this process produce exactly the characteristics that Paul encourages us to put on, as long as we are willing to put on the character of Jesus.  Disaster ensues when we approach conflicts still wearing the old man who always defends himself above others.

You may be in a church that does have a designated pastor, but you can still experience this maturing process by trusting Jesus and dealing with conflicts directly and privately whenever possible.  But remember, as Paul wrote, to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, forgiving each other.  Remember that Jesus tells us to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves.  (Matthew 7:12)

Struggling? Remember this…

Do you find yourself struggling today?

We all struggle with many things: family, marriage, friends, jobs, finances, stress, health.

Whatever you may be struggling through, you can turn to Christ. He desires to prop you up with himself!

On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (John 7:37, 38)

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and over-burdened, and I will give you rest! Put on my yoke and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

The Way: Simplifying The Church’s Mission

Well, there’s another movie that has been on my mind that I would like to share about.  The movie is called The Way, and stars Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez as father and son (who are father and son in real life as well).  Emilio Estevez wrote the screenplay based on the book Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim’s Route Into Spain, by Jack Hitt.

In the movie, Daniel (Estevez) is pursuing a doctorate in cultural anthropology, but decides to quit the program at the dismay of his widowed father, Tom (Sheen).  Daniel tells his father, a doctor, that he’s tired of reading and studying about cultures – he wants to get out and experience them.  So he leaves to travel the world, with his father expressing his disappointment in him all the way to the airport.  Father and son grow further apart as Daniel travels the world.

A few years later, Tom receives a disturbing phone call; his son has died in a hiking accident in France.  Tom travels to France to take possession of his son and his belongings.  While there, he learns that his son died during a sudden storm as he was embarking on a pilgrimage: the El Camino de Santiago, or The Way of St. James.  It is explained that many people walk this trail beginning in France and ending in Spain for many reasons, many as a spiritual pilgrimage.  The trail ends in Santiago de Compostela, where tradition holds that the remains of James the Apostle were carried and kept after his death.

Daniel’s main possession that Tom receives is his hiking gear: a large backpack with the essential tools to survive his pilgrimage.  Tom sifts through them, obviously not familiar with their purposes.  Tom then makes a dramatic decision: he decided to walk the El Camino de Santiago in place of his son.  He decides to have Daniel cremated and takes him on the journey with him.  At first, he is told that he is crazy.  He is not prepared or equipped for the journey!  Tom quickly replies that he has his son’s equipment, and that he was prepared for the journey.  He completely trusts in his son’s provision for the journey ahead.  As Tom walks the long trail, he stops and leaves portions of his son’s remains along the way.  He meets others on the same journey and builds relationships with them.  They stick together and support each other through tough and joyful times.  While they all came to walk the trail for various reasons, their true motivations are revealed as they walk the path together.

As I watched this movie, I found it to be a beautiful picture of the mission of the church: to walk the path the Son would have walked if he had not died.

There certainly has been much scholarship, debate, and writing in the last decade on the mission of the church.  While I have read some of it and truly appreciate all of the work and discussion, I wanted something that applies down in the trenches where groups of believers are following Christ and desiring to pour out his love, his life, his Spirit to the world around them.

Could the mission of the church in daily life be that simple?  To go about doing what was in Christ’s heart when he was here, walking the Father’s way and according the Father’s heart?

Jesus said that he did only what he saw the Father doing, and that he spoke only what the Father spoke.  Jesus knew the heart of the Father and he carried it out with unwavering determination.

As we, the church who is the body of the Son, walk by the Spirit, the very life of the Son, we can honor his heart’s desire:

The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  (Luke 4:18-19)

As we move about in our daily lives, especially with other believers, we can have eyes to see the poor, the oppressed, the blind, and reach out to them with the heart of Jesus Christ.  How do we do this?  We do it with the Son’s equipment and his equipping.  He has already given us everything we need!

And as Tom did with his son, we can leave a portion, a deposit, of the Son along the way.

Legalism Versus Chocolate

It has been on my heart lately to write down some thoughts on the legalistic nature that so much of Christianity seems to practice.  I’ve been exceedingly busy, so these have just been thoughts the past few weeks that I am now finding some time to get typed up in a more coherent format.  I wanted to start this series by pointing you to the movie Chocolat, released in 2000 with Juliette Binoche, Alfred Molina, Johnny Depp, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Judi Dench (all fabulous actors).

The movie Chocolat takes place in a small French town, where “everyone knows what is expected of them.  And if anyone should forget, someone would be quick to remind them.”  The town is very dark and gray with very little color.  It is controlled by the Comte (Count) de Reynaud, who is the mayor and who demands a strict adherence to the Catholic services and to the traditions of the town.  He even writes and critiques the priest’s sermons.  The town is held together through rigid obedience to rules and tradition.

One day, a lady, Vianne, and her daughter, Anouk, relocate to this town, coincidentally during the season of Lent.  Vianne and Anouk move from place to place as the “Great North Wind” directs them.  They immediately bring some color into the little town, wearing bright red cloaks.  She rents a shop and opens a chocolaterie (again, during Lent).  Reynaud immediately marks her as an enemy to the way of life he has sought to preserve.  He even tells her that his predecessor had successfully dispelled the Huguenots from the town and that she and her truffles presented much less of a challenge.  Reynaud spreads rumors through the town to poison anyone from associating with her.

Vianne, on the other hand, does not live in such a rule-oriented, legalistic manner.  She tries to get to know the people in the town and tries to help where she sees needs.  She accepts the people as they are, even when they have obvious problems.  She encourages them to restore relationships and to enjoy life.  Her presence in the town begins to awaken various passions in the people there who were otherwise, well, quite boring.

Reynaud realizes this and works even harder to destroy her.  He crafts the priest’s sermons to specifically target Vianne and her chocolate treats as temptations from Satan.

A lady in the town who is physically abused by her husband comes to Vianne for help.  Reynaud comes to retrieve the lady, defending the husband until he sees the marks left on the lady’s face.  Vianne proceeds to restore and heal this woman by befriending her and sharing life with her.  Reynaud on the other hand is determined to convert the husband into a gentleman through coerced repentance and classes on manners and religion.  While the husband struggles with strict rules, his wife flourishes in a place of love and acceptance.

At this point in the movie, Count de Reynaud is further frustrated by river drifters who port at the city.  They live on houseboats and sell various trinkets to the townspeople.  Again, the Count sees a challenge to the way of life he is preserving in the town.  They call them River Rats, and Reynaud begins a campaign in the town to “boycott immorality” and abstain from doing any business with the River Rats so that they will move on.  According to the Count, these “ruthless, godless drifters” would “contaminate the spirit of their town”.  Again, Reynaud reveals his legalistic mindset by only being willing to accept someone else according to how willing they are to keep his rules.

I won’t spoil the ending in case you haven’t seen the movie.  I encourage you to watch it with these ideas in mind.  I have found Chocolat to be a rich picture of the life of rule-oriented legalism versus a life of loving, accepting, and forgiving others.  I’ve been unlearning my tendencies to be legalistic and judgmental the last few years.  These are usually not easy things to lay down.  (At least it hasn’t been easy for me.)  Some Christians are determined to rule over others by forcing them to maintain a set of “laws”.  These may be particular behaviors to perform or avoid, or beliefs that must be shared.  Regardless the form that these laws take, they are completely inflexible.  Breaking of the laws is grounds for ending relationships and often slandering the person seen as the offender.  And the legalistic lifestyle leads directly to self-righteousness, which Jesus clearly detested in the gospel stories.

I’ll post a follow up to this article soon, which will be a look at why Jesus was called the “Friend of Sinners” and why he was often harsh with the religious legalists of his time and culture.

Stop Striving, Abide in Me (and new music)

For just as the branch cannot bear any fruit unless it shares the life of the vine, so you can produce nothing unless you go on growing in me. I am the vine itself, you are the branches. It is the man who shares my life and whose life I share who proves fruitful. For the plain fact is that apart from me you can do nothing at all. (John 15:4-5, Phillips)

The past few years I have been learning, often painfully slowly, to abide in Christ. Thankfully, he is a good and patient teacher. When I strive to do things, to fix things, to be something that I’m not, his reminders come sweetly and gently to remind me: “abide in me. Share my life. Let me live through you. It’s really much easier that way. Do you remember me telling you that my burden is light and my yoke is easy? Trust me. Rest in me.”

I recently stumbled across a new artist (to me) on noisetrade.com: Jenny & Tyler. Their simple, honest, humble music struck a chord in me (pun intended). I downloaded the album Faint Not on noisetrade, and was notified of their new album that released on April 3rd called Open Your Doors. I strolled over to iTunes to check it out, and this song called Abide really hit home with me. I love the music and I really love the words to this song. There’s a great line in the song: “The labor of God is to trust in the Son.” I feel like it captured much of what I’ve wrestled with. Reading further about the album, I found that the whole album was written around this theme of not striving in our own power and abiding in the life of Christ. I downloaded the album and have not been disappointed!

Click here for Jenny & Tyler’s website.

Here’s a video of Jenny & Tyler playing Abide live.

Another song: Faint Not

An Interview with Christian Smith on “The Bible Made Impossible”

If you are frustrated by the WWJD mentality, or have run into the mindset that the solution to every situation you could possibly face is explicitly spelled out in the Bible, then you may appreciate Christian Smith’s book The Bible Made Impossibe and the interview below conducted by Frank Viola.  The real gem of the book is actually part 2, where Smith presents the framework for a re-newed (Jesus and the apostles used the OT writings this way) view of all Scripture as a compass pointing us to Christ.

Read the complete interview with Christian Smith on “The Bible Made Impossible.”