Monday, December 31, 2007

Restrospect: n., a survey of past events

It's been a long one. Trying, stretching, difficult, painful (oh, so very painful!) - and good. The best, in many ways. Impossible to sum up, but worth looking back upon to see how far God has brought me, all he has doen in the riches of His grace and mercy.

The year breaks down into three sections, all of which themselves further break down. Spring semester, summer, and fall semester. The first semester was probably the most trying time of my life, and the culmination of some incredibly intense times in the year preceding. The summer, spent at Focus on the Family Institute, was one of the most refreshing and encouraging times of my life. The fall was a plateau, challenging and far different from anything I expected.

This spring was a time of God casting a vision for my life like I had not known before, and of conviction at a level I had not known before, and of healing like I had not known before. It was, without a doubt, the hardest few months of my life spiritually that I can recall. Simultaneously, God worked in my heart things I could never have imagined without the pain I experienced.

He began by opening my eyes last year to the penetrating need for the gospel - and for its incredible and overwhelming truth, one which we too often miss in the business of our lives and the manner in which we so readily take His work for granted. That Christ would come and live among us, sharing in our afflictions, modeling for us a better way, teaching us all that we need to enter the kingdom of heaven is beyond our comprehension. That he would then choose to suffer and die in our place is further amazing. His resurrection is then the capstone to the incredible become credible, the faithful God rescuing His faithless children: the incomparable deed for which all our praise is a mere fraction of all He deserves, utterly incommensurate with the price He paid for us.

The late months of winter were a flowering in my mind of this slow-building notion: that if we truly knew and understood the gospel, we would live lives radically transformed - indeed, we would live lives that were actually Christlike, that dared to see worked out the Sermon on the Mount and His constant call to a life of service. If even the Son of man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), then how much more ought we who are but His servants (incredibly invited to be the children of God, coheirs of the kingdom with Christ) be dedicated to service!

As this season progressed, I continually asked God to break my heart, show me the depths of my own depravity so that I could know Him more. And He answered. After months of my attempting to respond to His conviction (brought through faithful friends for who I am incredibly grateful and through parents for whom I am even more grateful), He pressed in hard and, as I said to my family earlier, "beat the tar out of me." He refused to let me stay in my sin - my pride, my egoism, my selfishness, my need to be right and to win, my folly. Thanks be to Him who rescues us from ourselves! And how incomparable a God we serve who does not leave us in our sin, but calls us forth - indeed, steps in to save us from our desperate state.

The time was not that long that He dealt with me in the severity of His grace. (That is in and of itself a concept worth wrestling with: the severity of God's grace. Because it often is severe.) It was perhaps two months. All the time since then has simply been the slow but steady working out of all that He poured into my heart, and the adjustment to all that He removed (and that I sometimes, to my great dismay, still occasionally find cropping up in my heart). Those were, however, two of the most significant months I can remember in my life in terms of spiritual growth and maturing - not least in seeing just how terribly far I have to go.

Working through the end of spring semester, the vision God had given for the advancement of the gospel mingled with the conviction He had worked in me to found in me a passion for holiness: for our own mirroring of His righteousness, and for the delight we ought to have in that mirroring. It is from our love for Christ and by His redemptive power in our lives that we are transformed, sanctified, remade in His image - that is, in the image we were first meant to have, that we have distorted in sin. And with our growing holiness, we will share the gospel.

This passion carried over and continued to grow as I moved into the second season of the year: summer. The almost eight weeks I spent at Focus on the Family Institute were incredible. They were refreshing, awakening, sharpening, and delightful. The friends I made have been among the best in the world. (Which is a reminder: I must needs call several of them, and soon!) The community we shared was incredible, beyond description - and a clarion call to me of what we ought to seek always. Though there were elements of the "mountain top" experience in our time there, it was more the sense that "this is how things ought to be - always."

The most important things I learned at FFI were not from our course material - they were from friends, and from my own personal study of Scripture. From friends, I learned immensely about so many things in this life, not least about myself. From Scripture, I began to catch glimpses of this God we serve from a new angle: seeing Him as the God of glory, and beginning to recognize the glory of God. I have not words for all He has revealed to me of Himself in that slow search and growth. It is beyond description, and my heart years to return to that word study, though I am temporarily working on other things in Scripture.

That time of refreshment, like all such times, gave way to a time of diligence and practice and application. The fall semester was a challenging one, and in new ways. I began work as a Resident Adviser in the dorms, a job filled with delights and frustrations all its own. I was in a new ministry team, again with excitement and challenges all its own. I was in a setting absent most of my closest friends and relationships from previous years, for a number of varied reasons.

God taught me a great deal about His faithfulness and about simply trusting Him - and about diligence when in the midst of trudgery (if you will - a word my father coined a week or so ago when we were talking about this very subject): times of trudging on through things which are not necessarily drudgery but are not emotionally exciting either. He demonstrated His goodness even through the end of the semester, when I wanted nothing more than to be done and to see my family again, granting me better grades than I had expected (or indeed even dared to hope for in one case). In all of this, He simply drew me close to Him. There were no earth-shattering revelations; nor were there any "aha!" moments. Rather, it was a time of slow but steady working out of all that He had revealed in the first eight months of the year - a process that continues even now, and likely will for some time.

Other things of significance happened this fall which shaped me and surprised me and - in one case - delighted me and apparently made me happier than my friends at OU have ever seen. But those bear commenting on in other circumstances and at other times.

For now, I will simply leave you with this thought: that above all else we can rest secure in the incomparable faithfulness of the Father's love, the Son's intercession, and the Spirit's conviction and encouragement in our life. This year is a picture painted of His goodness, my life for a canvas and my actions for a masterful symphony: working even my discordant entries into something grander than I could have imagined.

I cannot wait to see all that God has in store for the year ahead.

May God bless you and keep you, and make His face shine upon you. May you delight in His word and rest in His loving arms.

In Him,

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

True Fellowship

I was struck by a thought while working through some passages in Scripture this evening. I'm still struggling with the right way to word it. As best as I can manage, the thought runs thusly:

We desperately need to be in communities of active sharing and encouragement regarding the spiritual parts of our lives.

When we are in close Christian community, growth is natural. We naturally pour out to the people around us the things the Holy Spirit has been working in our hearts, and in so doing we continually stir one another up to love and good works. The things God is teaching me will likely differ from those He is teaching you, but the two will always be complementary, for there is no division in God.

Most of the time, however, this is something we must work for, strive to attain. Rare is the community that is so close, so active, and so overflowing with the work of the Spirit that growth naturally comes out of it. I have experienced it, but not frequently. I experienced it this summer. We were all united in common vision, in pursuit of a common goal, and all of us were people dedicated to the study of the word and to drawing ever closer to our God and King. Conversation focusing on what God was teaching us was the norm, and it required no special or particular effort to be challenged by the ways God was moving among us: for it was openly on the table, all the time.

I have wondered why I have struggled in the months since then to keep passionately engaged with some of the ideas that so fired my soul over the summer. I realized that there are two components: first, the fickleness of my own heart, and second, the absence of that sort of community. In the gap left by our leaving, I know many of us did not find ourselves so engaged again. We have not necessarily been out of fellowship - but we have not had the sort of fellowship we experienced there and that God calls us to have everywhere. But in that absence, we can easily let slip our vision, our hold on our passions growing more tenuous as we are not heard by people passionately interested in the things God has been teaching.

The question, of course, is how we can attain that sort of fellowship. Most Christian interactions seem to be divided into two categories: that of the intensely spiritually focused (e.g., church services, discipleship, bible studies, etc.) and what we frequently call "fellowship" but can really range from not even slightly spiritual in focus to as deep and meaningful and spiritual as those intentional activities. I realized that my times of fellowship this last semester have simply been shallower than I would have liked: they have focused more on events and people than on the person of God.

It is not that people or events are bad; they are necessary and indeed good! However, our understanding of events must always be informed by their relation to the person of God and His work in our life. Moreover, this is to be at a level deeper than simply saying, "Here are these events in my life; I know God is working in me through them and drawing me to Him." Rather, we should be continually seeking to integrate the experiences of our life with the picture we gain from Scripture of the character, nature, and personhood of God - the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

This summer, I was passionately devoted to the notion of the God of glory - this God who defies comprehension, yet invites us to know Him deeply and intimately. Since then, I have struggled to maintain that fire. Today it became clear that part of the struggle, in addition to the normal travails of maintaining any vision, has been lacking people who were as excited by the notion as I am around me. Times and places that could have been opportunities to share that truth were missed, and most of the spiritually focused conversations I had in time of fellowship were about our cirucmstances, not about the character of God.

I do not begrudge those times, but I am committing to change that pattern in the months ahead. I believe we need times, dedicated times, where we simply come together as a group and turn our hearts toward God - fellowshipping not only with one another but also with Him: times of worshipful reflection together. Not forced or artificial, but born out of our deep love for Christ and for each other. Not an "accountability group," because the focus ought to be less on our failings and sins and more on the greatness and glory of Christ.

We are social creatures: we mourn together, rejoice together, live together. We must grow together, and we must join one another in excitement - as we each pursuit Christ passionately. When we try to walk alone, our excitement fades. When we walk together, we stir it up in one another, encourage each other, impassion those around us.

I'm going to be looking for opportunity to do this, and regularly, with close friends, both guys and girls - because we need it. (Ultimately, I'd love to be doing it with people of all ages, too... but we'll get there when we can.)

Grace and peace with you all.

- Chris

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Part 3: Broken and Spilled

I stand, trembling. He is here. Now. Why could he have not chosen another Sunday? My grip is weak, my knees trembling. I have heard of men so afraid their knees clattered together - and thought the notion silly. Weak men, I thought.

I am weak, I suppose. In more ways than I thought. My mind, which I once dreamed would catapult me to wealth and success and fame, I now find both incapable of defending me from outside attack, and traitorous itself: neither denying external torture nor itself bringing aught but fear and shame. No matter how severe my discipline, my mind fails me.

The screaming has never stopped, and it comes again, louder, now - at the worst of all possible times. It always comes at the worst times. There is no escape. No reprieve from the accusations and the torment and the guilt. No path out from under the weight of condemnation. And as loud as the voices scream, the quiet knowledge of my ultimate culpability is worse - unshakable and undeniable: true.

I try. I strive. Over and over again, I beat my head against the walls of this, my prison of shame. Sometimes I beat my head against the walls of this, my physical home, trying to clear my mind. Sometimes I wish the pain I have inflicted on my body might bring some relaxation of the burden on my soul.

And what good is this cup that I hold? This chalice of wine we pretend is blood? And the bread we call flesh? If they cannot release us from guilt, what can?

My hands tremble more, now. Because mingled with my fear and guilt is anger. This is not what I was promised. There was supposed to be freedom from all these things. A light yoke and an easy burden. Where is that in this world? Nowhere! My jaw clenches. And he had to come today of all days. The first time. And he had to come to voice his disapproval.

They're staring at me, now, wondering why this is taking so long. I'm trying to say the words, but my hands will not stop shaking. The pent-up emotions have chosen this moment to express themselves, and have chosen for their vehicle my limbs.

The cup falls. My face falls faster. My heart races them both toward the pit of hell. I reach for it. Miss - of course. I would. Of their own accord my eyes fall shut, my jaw clenches, my hands form into fists, and my shoulders drop. A flicker of a glance at my father as my eyes reopen, embarrassment spreading red across my face. Laughter in the crowd - and disappointment mingling with fury, writ large on my father's brow.

I turn, fleeing from the room, from this horror that is my current existence.

I am failure. I cannot even perform this simple duty.

How could the Eucharist avail me, who cannot even perform it properly?

When I find my father outside, he will barely speak to me. I feel it in his gaze; I can hear it in his tone; I can see it in the way his shoulders are set and his hands clutch tightly at his cloak: he has not, and probably never will, forgive me. He set me on a path that I could have followed. Maybe I should have. The hell I was bound for then is the same hell I am bound for now. One mortal sin, and all this is for naught. The blood, the sacrifice - meaningless. He turns and rides away, out of my life - again. Forever?

I don't know. I don't know anything anymore. I don't know why I'm here. I don't know what anything means, least of all my life and my existence. I gave up a career in law - and for what? Nothing.

I walk back to my cell. Alone.


Note: this is part of an ongoing work of historical fiction.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Perennial meanderings of the mind

I'm in the office, and it's quiet, and I'm pondering. I'm on rounds for the last time this semester - on the second to last night anyone's in the dorms.

I have normally tried to take time to reflect here on the passing of a semester, a year. I don't know that I can do that yet; I don't know that I fully understand this semester - or indeed, understand it at all. It has surprised me; it has been nothing like I expected. I am used to being surprised, but this has been different in ways that I could not have foreseen. Nothing new, there, but it will be interesting to see how this particular chunk of time fits into the path of my existence.

My sense of time has been odd this week - dilating and contracting at odd and unpredictable intervals. Normally at this time of the year, the weeks as a whole seem to pass quickly while individual events can drag on interminably. Not so this time: the week has a whole has been incredibly long, but no single part of it (save certain individual hours of studying) have dragged on; to the contrary, most individual parts have flown quickly by. It is a strange feeling.

I am ready to be home, to see my family again. I am coming to a point where I miss being there for all that is happening. I was thinking about various possibilities for Christmas presents for my youngest sister, and I realized - in a moment that defined for me the status of our relationship in some ways - that I have no idea what sort of music she is listening to at the moment. A tiny detail, inconsequential in most ways. But it highlighted for me how little I know of her beyond whatever the newest major ups and downs. I don't want to miss out on these parts of her life. That makes me sad. I need to find ways to plug in better - but things like that are inevitably going to be missed unless we're talking far more than either of us has time to. My parents are slowly moving along in their own courses; my middle sister is working her way through college. And here in Oklahoma, I miss seeing them, talking to them, just being physically with them. Thus, I am anxiously awaiting the 23rd of September.

At the same time, I know that I will greatly miss being in Oklahoma the two weeks I am gone, and even the two weeks I am here but school is out will be very odd. I will miss people a lot, though I will also be very busy.

My friend Devon will be in town a little, and that makes me nearly giddy; she's been a good friend to me for a long time, and has been out of country this semester... seeing her will, I know, brighten the time immensely.

I've been reading Isaiah recently. It's interesting. There's a Christological picture painted that is very captivating. Isaiah paints a portrait of a God who is righteous, fierce, judging, holy, and angry - and also gentle, merciful, loving, compassionate, and tender. There is a tension here we can easily miss: a tension between the Holy One who condemns those who sin and thus distort His creation and the representation of His character, and the Redeemer who makes atonement for these sins and forgives His people - for His name's sake, not because they deserve it. Not because we deserve it - because we don't. Yet His glory is revealed as He strives, over the ages, to make Himself known to those who have chosen to forget Him, to draw as many to Himself as is possible.

I'm excited about the potential time I have over break: I plan to read through the rest of Isaiah, and couple that with reading through all the gospels and Hebrews. Coupling the clearest picture in the Old Testament of God's historic work and the person of Christ with the accounts of His life, death, and resurrection, and the primary Jewish theological exposition of Christology in the New Testament promises great reward in knowing God.

My mind seems to be wandering a lot of late in my blog posts, unless I am intentionally focusing in on a particular topic. I don't know whether that's a new phenomena or whether I'm simply more aware of it lately. I also don't know whether it's good, bad, or simply neutral. For now, it simply is.

I pray all is well with all of you. Merry Christmas!

- Chris

Thoughts drift, like snow; v.2

Thoughts drifting, like snow.

A single flake suspended in the air, an updraft
momentarily halting its
Sparkles. Tumbles. Falls,
swaying to and fro as it
falls - no longer caught in the gust,
drawn inexorably
to the clutches of

Infinitely spread about me.
They drift. They fall. They rise
in moments of whirling splendor as,
like the exhalation of some ancient dryad
the wind sweeps them
from the earth
into the sky
from which they came.

Tart, sharp, biting, piercing, icy, a blend of smell
all but impossible to describe: this is the
world in which I walk – winter.
Incomparably pale blue
skies tangled with skeins of cotton-white cloud,
then a sweeping
storm of equally pale gray from which
the wonder sweeps down, and
like a child
I am caught in amazement,
my eyes riveted on the heavens
and the mystery drifting toward me.
Each one unique, crafted
in a perfect crystalline design, mingling
together as the wind blows harder,
coalescing into an mass
through which
no light
penetrate, darkening the world.

The sun is falling: less seen than felt
as the darkness deepens, trees creaking
under the weight of heavy burdens of perfect white diamonds
of water. Their ever green needles and brown wood
stand in stark opposition to the dusk and
the beauty falling from it. My steps crunch
on old snow turned to ice
over a layer of long-shed bark and needles and winter-dead grass and
brambles torn by the family of deer that passed this way
sometime earlier in the day.

I am alone.
There is mystery,
I am not
There is peace.
A kind of silence – silence
that is quieting and not
It is right.
This is solitude, but not
Like the muffling
of every sound
through the gently
falling snow,
my thoughts are
and stilled.

This is no daring etude: rather,
a tender nocturne, though it is not yet dark.
Viola set against the dark texture of a low piano –
but no chords: single notes
struck against the background of silence,
calling out some melody
unheard before in all man's long history,
the imagination of the divine painted on a canvas
grander than any made by hands of man.
Fluting wind against softly groaning earth, the trees
a tapestry and painting finished all in one.

A stream in the forest, quietly murmuring
as it rushes under what will be
a starless sky of perfect dark
in an hour. Cold and clear, it slides
across pale tan rocks worn
smooth by the steady passing
of the years.
Little crystals born of heaven fleet across it,
just above its surface, caught in the eddies of
air born off the water. They touch its surface and
vanish, subsumed into its flow. Or they dance again
into the heavens to tangle with their brothers, vanishing once more
into the fairy waltz.

The night
begins to deepen.
The forest has become
solemn, still, awaiting the
long cold night ahead with a sort of
a wondrous anticipation that
about me
with every step.
No fear, nor restless excitement:
but a still and contemplative
anticipation of the beauty
to come. A foot of
white perfection
will coat the ground,
on every
branch and stem,
come dawn's first pale golden gleam.

And my thoughts drift, like snow, in the night.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Thoughts drifting, like snow

Thoughts drifting, like snow.

A single flake suspended in the air, an updraft momentarily halting its spiraling downward float. Sparkles. Tumbles. Falls, swaying to and fro as it falls - no longer caught in the gust, drawn inexorably to the clutches of gravity.

Infinitely spread about me. They drift. They fall. They rise in moments of whirling splendor as, like the exhalation of some ancient dryad the wind sweeps them from the earth into the sky from which they came.

Tart, sharp, biting, piercing, icy, a blend of smell all but impossible to describe: this is the world in which I walk winter. Incomparably pale blue skies tangled with skeins of cotton-white cloud, then a sweeping storm of equally pale gray from which the wonder sweeps down, and like a child I am caught in amazement, my eyes riveted on the heavens and the mystery drifting toward me. Each one unique, crafted in a perfect crystalline design, mingling together as the wind blows harder, coalescing into an mass through which no light can penetrate, darkening the world.

The sun is falling: less seen than felt as the darkness deepens, trees creaking under the weight of heavy burdens of perfect white diamonds of water. Their ever green needles and brown wood stand in stark opposition to the dusk and the beauty falling from it. My steps crunch on old snow turned to ice over a layer of long-shed bark and needles and winter-dead grass and brambles torn by the family of deer that passed this way sometime earlier in the day.

I am alone. There is mystery, here. I am not lonely. There is peace. A kind of silence - silence that is quieting and not disquieting. It is right. This is solitude, but not loneliness... Like the muffling of every sound through the gently falling snow, my thoughts are gentled and stilled.

This is no daring etude: rather, a tender nocturne, though it is not yet dark. Viola set against the dark texture of a low piano - but no chords: single notes struck against the background of silence, calling out some melody unheard before in all man's long history, the imagination of the divine painted on a canvas grander than any made by hands of man. Fluting wind against softly groaning earth, the trees a tapestry and painting finished all in one.

A stream in the forest, quietly murmuring as it rushes under what will be a starless sky of perfect dark in an hour. Cold and clear, it slides effortlessly across pale tan rocks worn smooth by the steady passing of the years. Little crystals born of heaven fleet across it, just above its surface, caught in the eddies of air born off the water. They touch its surface and vanish, subsumed into its flow. Or they dance again into the heavens to tangle with their brothers, vanishing once more into the fairy waltz.

The night begins to deepen. The forest has become solemn, still, awaiting the long cold night ahead with a sort of delight, a wondrous anticipation that flurries about me with every step. No fear, nor restless excitement: but a still and contemplative anticipation of the beauty to come. A foot of white perfection will coat the ground, piled on every branch and stem, come dawn's first pale golden gleam.

And my thoughts drift, like snow, in the night.


At the close of the semester

I'm done with finals. I either did spectacularly well or merely all right on the one I took this morning. Here's hoping for the former.

I'm wrestling with sin, seeking its destruction. God give me strength and grace.

I am somewhat frustrated. Having 24-quiet hours during finals is an understandable policy - but, in my opinion, extending it to all first-floor social lounges is not. People need to be able to relax and wind down between (and after) finals; taking that away from them hinders, rather than helping.

I miss having a piano in my room. Someday, when I have my own house, I will have a piano to go with it, and that will be a joyous day indeed.

I'm tired of screens. I want nothing to do with them at the moment. Ironic, then, that I find myself here, writing - in front of a screen. I need to escape my room. Not sure where to go. I'm going to try the practice rooms, but I'm not sure I still have access; there seems to be some confusion on the computer as to my status as a music person these days. Understandable: I'm no longer taking the classes in sequence to get a degree. I miss them, though.

Composition is going well. I'm nearly done with all my work for Jamin and Danielle's wedding - which is good, seeing as it's two weeks from tomorrow. The odd part? It doesn't really strike me as odd that my four of my good friends - three of them my age - are going to be married in less than three weeks. I will be at 3 weddings between now and December 27th, and I'll be the best man in one of them. I feel as though that ought to be a strange feeling - but the only thing strange here is that I have no such odd feeling.

I'm not feeling terribly profound in my writing today. That's alright. Sometimes we of necessity must simply expurgate the overflow of our minds with the banal. Sometimes we simply need to take a break, rest, understand that the trivial and mundane are good things. It would be nice if we could always delight in the exceptional. Someday, we will. Until then, we continue in this existence - not drearily, but not so beautifully as we will eventually walk.

Weather has been odd here. Trees were cracking on Monday from the weight of the ice. There are entire sections of the city still without power. All because of water and cold temperatures. Funny how we can be so powerful and yet so helpless before the elements of nature. They sky proclaims end to end all that God has done, and it is worth remembering that, like the wind, we do not know from whence he comes or to whither He goes.

My heart breaks over the shootings in Colorado on Sunday. I pray that God be with those people affected (and they are many). The prevalence and destructiveness of sin in the world grieves me immensely. I long to see the people around me freed of all that binds them - indeed, though rejoicing in the grace shown me, I long to delight in it all the more, being truly freed of all the sin that used to so easily entangle me.

I am tired. It has been a long semester, and I am ready for a break. My eyelids have drooped a good deal these last days.

That is all - for now. Perhaps tomorrow I shall post more of the fiction I've been working on. For now, I go to (hopefully) practice piano for a time.

Grace and peace of our Father and Maker be with you.
- Chris

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Stir gently... explosions else

I very much need a break. One is in sight... but not here yet.

I'm at a loss on something. Could be just emotions, could be real. I am not well able to judge at the moment.

I do not want to spend 8 hours at work tomorrow. I don't feel well, and I'm not sure how well I'm going to feel in the morning, but I don't know that I can manage that and then still have enough energy for our Ministry Team Christmas party.

Life is a lot of work right now. It is hard, and in many ways not rewarding.

Faith ofttimes entails - indeed, at some level is - a pressing on despite a lack of visible accomplishment for one's efforts. True faith is pressing on in the works that God has set before us though we see no hint of fruit. I have a long distance to go before I attain that kind of faith.

I love my job as an RA. Sometimes, however, I wish I could simply take it off - because anytime I am on campus (and sometimes when I am not), it is there: an invisible but ever-present weight settled inconspicuously about my shoulders. Not heavy enough to cause me to fall: but heavy enough to wear down my reserves of strength and endurance.

I am tired. I am weary. I rejoice in this: that Christ is my shtrength, my song, the joy of my salvation. I am contented in knowing that His grace is sufficient for me, because His power is perfected in weakness. It is in these times when I have the least to give that He shines brightest.

Oh for the courage to let myself be ever this weak, and indeed weaker: to be able to fall completely into His strength and trust Him to the uttermost!

Grace and peace be with you....
- Chris

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Without nostalgia

We were younger, then. More innocent, some would say - but that is nonsense, of course: we were more depraved, less regenerate and sanctified. Less knowledgeable, perhaps, less understanding of the depravity of the world. But not less innocent. I am not sure there is such a thing as innocence as we define it. Innocence of knowledge, but not innocence of character of heart.

I've been reminiscing, today, for reasons I can't identify. Remembering things past, friendships gone by, moments that defined me. I have been thinking on all that has changed in the last two years. Two years ago I was nearing the end of my freshman year of college. I hardly recognize myself. I was barely forming some of the friendships that have since been most meaningful to me; I could not see the painful year that lay ahead, nor the depression that would take me for a time, nor the purging of my soul that God would bring, nor the agony of friendships lost. I was, in many ways, still a boy, though so sure of my own maturity.

I've matured enough since then to see how much maturing remains ahead of me, how far I have to go in a quest to become an authentic representation of God's design for manhood.

I've lost friendships I held very dear. I've gained some of them back. Others remain gone, and probably will stay thus for a considerable time. New friendships have been made. Others have deepened. Others have simply faded with the slow steady passage of time, like the washing of the cliffs by a salty sea.

As I have waxed meditative and contemplative on my past today, I have noted with interest that I have in no way simultaneously waxed nostalgic. Looking back, there is little or nothing of that time that would draw me back to it. Though I wish some of the friendships I had then remained as strong today as they then were, I do not and would not wish away the experiences that have led us where we are. God's sovereign hand has been at work in our lives, and He does know best. That I can not see the ultimate fruit of His design in no way diminishes its excellence and grand supremacy. (Perhaps, to the contrary. But that is another post entirely.)

I was on my old floor tonight. It was a strange experience, not in being on my side of it, but in being on the side so many of the young women I've been friends with lived on - opened up after renovations again. It was almost eerie, walking again down the halls we had spent so much time together in, but with none of them there; every face a different one. And it was a trifle sad, for most of us have drifted apart, gone our separate ways, shall I borrow another tired metaphor to describe the changes wrought in friendship by the passing of time?

Yet, as I noted, I have no sense of nostalgia. I do not like the boy I was, and I do not envy those times, "simpler" though they seem in some ways. Even those things which in some ways seem "better" I know are truly not. Easier, yes; more straightforward, yes; more glorifying to God - no! I do not wish to go back. I look behind only to see how far Christ has brought me, how great His redeeming work in my life, how marvelous all He has accomplished is. This day is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Look back. Dare to see how far the Holy Spirit's work has penetrated your life. Be encouraged by all He has done, convicted by all that you have allowed to creep back into your life by laziness and negligence. But do not dwell in the past. Allow it to inform you, and above all to point you back to the supremacy of Christ who is our King, and to demonstrate the His all-sufficiency. But dwell today, where He has put you, with hope in all He will do in the day ahead of you. Let your mind think on Him and His attributes - whatsoever things are true, honorable, just, pure, commendable, lovely, excellent, worthy of praise - not on a rose-tinted picture of the past. Do not dare to trade, even mentally, the place that He has brought you to for one that He ahs rescued you from.

That you might know Him and the excellencies of His glory more,
- Chris

Sunday, December 2, 2007


I have, of late, pondered much and written little. There has not been time: or, more properly, there has not been time made. It is late, as I write - pleasantly so. Sometimes thoughts that have idly wandered in the mind crystallize in the night, in the darkness and the silence and the solitude. Sometimes prayer is most fruitful in the still watches of the passing seconds between the twilights. So also it is with meditation on the very Word of God: and on the Word revealed in flesh, communicated therein.

Silence is a discipline we perhaps do not practice enough. The same is, sadly, true of solitude. We have forgotten how to be alone, to be still, to rest in the quiet and to simply draw near to God. The West knows not how to be still and know that He is God. And lancing at the context of that verse, I am struck by this thought: perhaps it is because we do not see the power of His arm, or comprehend the reach of His grasp. If we truly understood, we would be still, for we would then know that we are secure in Him: that all the affairs that so trouble our hearts, that drive us not to be still, not to be comfortable alone with Him are all His, are all in His hands, are all already known by Him - are all being divinely crafted for His glory and our good.

And perhaps some of it is from fear. If we are quiet and still in the silence far from the noise of our lives: that static, that crashing white blur that we ignore yet never escape... if we dare to be alone, absent our technological regalia and incessant chattering of acquaintances (and yes, even friends)... Then we might find ourselves confronted by the Incomparable One, find ourselves face to face with His reality, His immensity, His holiness... His glory: the very fullness of His being.

And what then? For if we find ourselves confronted by that, we will no longer be able to function as we have in the world around us! We will no longer be able to live as unchanged men and women, comfortable in this existence. How could we be comfortable in that which is broken, unhinged in every sense, a pale reflection of what ought to be, what was, what will be? No, our hearts would yearn, truly and deeply for a city that has foundations: and even more, for the One who designed and built that city. We could not rest in a land where we are but sojourners, foreigners present for a time but certainly not staying: for our greater country awaits us, and our King there reigning supreme.

And if that is what awaits us in the solitude and the silence, it is easy to see why it terrifies us: that will shake us to our core, alter everything of how we live, leave us with a missional outlook and a life that must be surrendered, not held tightly in the grip of absolute autonomy. These are indeed frightening prospects for a human soul still wrapped in the grip of sin.

We forget, sometimes, in the pursuit of holiness, that it is indeed a pursuit: not a moment of achieving, not a single instant in which we have overcome and arrived, but a lifetime, a journey, a great traverse across the wilderness. But it is the wilderness which hones us, which sharpens us, which makes us as we ought to be... transparent, a perfect reflection, yet unique and distinct in the manner of that reflection.

So we should delight in the journey, and recognize that though we shall one day be perfected, we are not yet arrived at that moment. There is, as has been sung, a joy in the journey, a light we can love on the way. Yet sometimes, I think, we struggle, wrestling with our purpose, our plans, our future: seeking to understand, as another man asked in song, what precisely is our place in this world?

And the answer is so simple to say, so difficult to understand, so impossible of ourselves to accomplish. We live to glorify God: to make Him known to all the nations, to share His love and His delight with all - with people of every tribe, tongue, and nation - and to delight in Him above all else: by delighting in Him in whatever we do.

So I sit awake at 2:34 am. I think. I pray. I meditate. And sometimes I write, pouring out my heart and my thoughts. And I meditate on His word, on the sufficiency of His sacrifice and His perfect priesthood. I look at His nature, His glory, His character, His perfect intercession... and I am still. If I speak, it is in a whisper, awed and reverent: for who am I that I may enter His throne: and with confidence? And yet I know the answer: I am His child by right, righteous by the blood shed for me.

And I encourage you as well, to sit awake in the dark watches of the night, to keep tryst with God Almighty, the Holy One: a perfect Father, the first among many Brothers, a perfect Comforter. Rest in silence, be at peace, let your heart go still, and come to know the One who is.

- Chris

Friday, November 23, 2007

Part 2: Gray Walls

Note: the following is a first person historical fiction, not my own inner thoughts.


Every surface is gray. Walls. Ceiling. Floor. Today, even the sky through the small window is a murky shade somewhere closer to black than white. Not a hint of color to relieve the monotony. If my vision were worse, I might not even be able to tell where one begins, where another ends. Thank God for my good vision, my good health.

Though I wish - I wish that I had vision beyond these walls, to see and understand. Because however strong my eyes may be, my heart remains shrouded in darkness. Hopelessness. I sing. I pray. I beat myself. I cry out to God. And still I have no hope. How could I? I, a sinner, a wretch, a vile man who is an affront to the Creator who made me. And why has He made me like this, unable to be holy, unable to be right, unable to stand before Him? No, I cower - like a whipped dog, an oft-beaten cur that knows only the well-deserved wrath of its owner.

For I am God's slave. He owns me. He saved me, that night, in the blackness. The terror of it - it still comes pressing in. The sheer, overwhelming terror of my depravity. The shrieks of condemnation tearing at my mind. Lightning searing both body and soul. I dream about that moment - often. If you can call them dreams: they are nightmares, really, an agony of the mind that I wish I could forget when I awake, but which remains ever with me, vivid: that God saved my life. I wonder why I did not die. Why did He give me any longer to live? I deserve nothing.

I wonder if hell will be something like that moment of fiery pain, but stretched out into eternity. I wonder if somehow, perhaps, I will merit enough to spend only a century in purgatory, if I will somehow do enough good for God, conduct a deep enough ablution of my heart to earn the absolution of my soul. I feel - I fear - that I will not: that I will spend an eternity cursed to burn in hell. Because I know myself enough to know that I deserve nothing else than that. Hell.

And if the torments of my own mind were not enough... other torments there are as well. Tormentors that will not leave me be. Tormentors that claw at my consciousness, at my understanding, that whisper soothing doubts in my mind that I know to be lies but which are oh so terribly seductive. They call out that I am a fool for abandoning my brightly glimmering future, that there is no God, no judgment, no torment of everlasting fire - and they hurl insult at my wounds, flaming darts at my soul's weakest points, jabbing blows against my vulnerabilities: calling out my every failure, every weakness, every faltering step.

And there is nothing I can do. I know this. I have done all that I know, all that my brothers have spoken of and recommended, all that the holy father has commended to me for ablutions. I have fasted; I have wept; I have beaten myself. None of it avails.

I want to please God. I do not know how. Because my heart is black, and He is perfect light. He is holy; I am depraved. He is righteous; I am wicked. He is good; I am bad. There is no gray here. There is the black stain on my soul and the pure white glory of God, and no bridge I see between the two.

I would in an instant trade my perfect spotless glimpses of this world for a right understanding of the spiritual one. I would give up my ability to discern between these shades of gray if I could thusly grasp - truly and firmly - the distinctions, the delineations, the degradations of the spiritual realm. If I could but for a moment understand why God so angrily torments us - those He created, and for whom He has left no escape - then I would readily trade a life of seeing clear the tepid hues of the world I now inhabit.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Part 1: The Storm

Note: the following is a first person historical fiction, not my own inner thoughts.


Flash. Again. Flickering. White black white black white black. And then, a deep shaking that pounds through ground and body alike.

I can't see. Between me and the next step is a sheet - alternating invisible and particulate streams of light - that would blind me even were my eyes able to adjust between the sky-searing blasts of brilliance. The sheet has drenched me, left me shaking, shuddering, unable to halt the furious clattering of molars as my body contorts against the frigidity surrounding it.

I am alone, in the dark, with the terror.

And behind me, it comes. Accusing. Screaming. Penetrating my mind with jabs that I cannot counter, that leave me dreading the future far more than this terrible darkness. Declaring my utter finitude and inability to save myself from this storm, much less the one to come. Always present, that declaration of my guilt, my iniquity.

The flashes are closer now, striking faster. I can see the gray sheet as though under a candle flickering in the night.

Searing pain. Whiteness. Agony. Blackness.

I come to slowly, shaking with the cold, extremities numb but trembling.

I should be dead. I lived? I came through that?


My mind whirling. How? Why? What purpose?

The world is no longer drowning. I, however, can find no sure grip, nothing to hold, and so am sinking under the weight of my mind.

I do not understand.

For I could as readily ask those questions of every moment as this one. Perhaps less spectacularly so. But no less truly: for those questions remain unanswered in my existence. Save for the pale and heartless litany: "Me. Me. Me." My own strength. My own reasons. My own desires. No other answers.

But here I am forced against the wall, leaned up against the edge of the parapet and forced to stare into the abyss beneath me, to truly comprehend the dizzying ebony fall beneath my feet should they but slip a little.

I swallow.

I know why I am alive.

The reason is not mere reason. It is a Person who is Reason. I have run from Him. He will not let me go. He has chased me even here.

But does He truly demand this of me? A promising career? A perfect bright future?

And condemnation sears again, for what have I to offer Him? Me? This puny wretch of a being, tormented by despicable thoughts and tortuous conniving? Nothing!

And how could He ever accept me? What hope have I of salvation?

Like flashes of torment in the dark the searing truth hammers again and again into my brain: that there is no hope for me, despicable man that I am. The storm is gone, but the terror has not passed.

No matter.

I know why I am alive.

I will go. He has saved my life, so I will give it to do with as He wills.

Darkness, only, now. The lightning is gone with the rain, and I am left alone in the cold, in the mist, in the impenetrable shadow of occluded night.


Sunday, November 18, 2007


It has been a challenging but very good week. Challenging academically, challenging emotionally, challenging spiritually, challenging relationally - and good in every one of those areas. God is moving, as always, and at the moment I can actually see a little bit of how His hand is moving.

It is enough - more than enough, really. Faith is, after all, the essence of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen... and faith and trust are deeply intermingled. I can and will trust Him regardless of whether I can see.

I'm praying a lot. More than I ever have in my life. It's not enough. God is continuing to call me deeper, to a greater faithfulness to serve that way. I have so much to grow in.

I am not going to be home for Thanksgiving. I will probably be with a friend here in the OKC area. (Previous plans fell through.) I miss my family like crazy - more than I have at any point in my college career. I wish I could be there for one who's hurting right now, wish I could simply be there with the rest... For the first time, I am really struggling with being so far away, being so removed and so unable to help or to contribute to the family. It is not that I have not felt these things to any extent before, but I feel them deeply, strongly, passionately for the first time since coming to college. I wish I were there.

I miss FFI folk... many are at a reunion right now, and I am glad for them. I wish I were with them. They are a family, too, of another sort.

I have a great deal of work yet to do this semester; not least among that load is the composition for a wedding.

Another pair of friends got engaged tonight. I am incredibly glad for them. (If you read this, congratulations!)

I am lonely, in so many ways, right now. And yet, I am very contented. Funny, how the two can stand together so easily, not opposed at all. I trust God with where I am right now, and that diminishes the desire for deeper companionship not in the least.






Trepidation. Even fear.




All mixing together in a single churning mass.

Different from before. Not for the same reasons - and for exactly the same reasons. I look back a year, and things were so different. I was so different. I hardly recognize myself. I look back two years, much less three, and I do not know the man I see in my past. Praise God.

A year ago, I asked out the first girl I'd asked out since coming to college. She said no. I'm glad - not because I think ill of her at all, but because of all God taught me through that. 52 weeks to the day. Looking back, I shake my head in awe of all that the Spirit has done in me in the time since, and even all He did in the weeks immediately following. The whole last year is like that; that instance is but one memorable example (and neither the strongest nor the worst).

Many of my friends are dating or engaged. Others have recently broken up. For some, there is perhaps a relationship on the horizon. For others, there are neither prospects nor overwhelming desire. For some, there are broken hearts and frustration. For all of us, there is a need to trust God with where we are.

God has blessed me richly in every way. I am learning to thank Him for that instead of dwelling on what I do not have in a particular instant. We have been given much.

I have a busy day tomorrow. I have church in the morning, lunch with an old friend from high school in the early afternoon, several hours of composition (I'm hoping to get about two minutes of music written) in the later afternoon, final dress rehearsals in the early evening, dinner, and then a Student Composers' Recital. I'm terribly excited about all of the above, most particularly the lattermost. Few things are so rewarding as hearing one's own compositions performed. And I have many friends coming, for which I'm incredibly grateful.

All that to say, God is good, though my mind is a tumbled mess at the moment. I bid you all a good night. May Christ rule in your hearts forever!

- Chris

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

We were warriors, once

We were warriors, once. Princes on valiant steeds, soldiers marching forth to war, cavalry dashing to the rescue, martial masters with a noble call. Gallant knights and heroic princesses joining hands to save the day, evil defeating at every turn. Kingdoms lost and won, desperate battles and life-threatening escapades, fantastical romances. Sometimes we died and were resurrected by the power of love. Sometimes we simply died, casualties of the war against enemies, against sickness, against whatever foe confronted us in that dire hour.

We were children, then.

Imagination came easily to us in our youth. It was no difficulty to believe that we were those people. That our adventures were not real meant nothing: it was no hindrance to us, no stumbling block to our joyous embrace of imagined destiny. Our minds, loosed of the bonds of the mundane, were free to conjure whatever world, whatever adventure, whatever fate we desired. We could as readily be Jedi as cowboys, princes as paupers, soldiers as fathers, futuristic explorers as ancient heroes. That we were in the back yard of a house or on bicycles in the street or anywhere ordinary meant nothing: in our minds, we were wherever and whenever our imaginations had taken us.

We are children no more. No longer do we soar through the sky on airplanes consisting of cardboard boxes and paint; no longer do we slay dragons with sticks or destroy enemy spaceships with lasers made of broom handles; no longer do we wed royalty in elaborate ceremonies that change the course of nations.

Those things are not real, and what is real overwhelms that which is not. We can no longer dissociate ourselves so thoroughly from reality: it ever crashes in against our consciousness. Should we attempt to imagine again in the way that we did as a child, it would fail: for we would be continually reminding ourselves of the ridiculousness of our actions, confronting ourselves with the absurdity of our imaginings, and condemning ourselves with the impossibility of that which we imagine.

Yet I sometimes wonder if perhaps we saw more truly in those moments of imagination that we do now in our mature understandings and penetrating analyses. I wonder if Christ did not call us to childlike faith for precisely this reason: that children believe without regard to possibility. As adults, we do not. We see the world in terms of what is possible with the variables at hand. We assume a closed system. Our imaginations no longer excel the real: we are trapped in the comprehensible and that which can be viewed. We have no conviction of that which is unseen.

We no longer conceive of the world as one of possibilities and open windows, but as one of impossibilities and closed doors. We think not of what can be, but of what cannot. We understand our limitations, but our understanding is limited for it converges to those limitations, forgetting that God is not limited. When the sum of our comprehension is of what cannot be, when our imagination is constrained to what is possible, it has ceased to be imagination and has become simply hyptothesization.

And faith can never be born of hypothesis: for it confesses a priori its reliance on a Being unbounded by the constraints of our reality and existence. We confess with our mouths that God can do anything, but we often believe otherwise, for we no longer imagine His doing the impossible.

We need a childlike faith: one that is supremely confident in what God will do because it knows no bounds of what God can do.

We do not have that kind of faith anymore -

but we were warriors, once.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Working for beauty

I want to write something beautiful. I'm not sure it's going to happen. Sometimes I feel that way about music, too. And sometimes it just comes out, almost effortless, glorious. Sometimes it is just work - and lots of it. What the difference is, I don't always know. It's not preparation, mental or spiritual: it simply is. Sometimes things are just work. Perhaps that is simply life: that while it has its own beauty, it is often a beauty that is muddled and obscured by the drudgery of accomplishing it.

Writing is hard work. So is composing. Both are completely different from the sorts of hard work I spend most of my time on in the world of physics. Physics drives the mind forward logically, in coherent progressions that, while beautiful in their orderliness, are concrete and the results tangible: a right answer, or a wrong one. The satisfaction is in having successfully derived a solution that is accurate and complete and correct, and in having done so with the power of one's own mind.

Writing and composing are both far more abstract than physics in practice. I wonder at times, though, if we have not abstracted them both more and less than we ought in our conception of them.

More, in the sense that while there are many differences between them and physics, there is something much the same, as well: that our end desire is to accomplish something that is truly right, not merely neutral. The definition of "right" varies somewhat, of course: but here we are thrusting at truths equally profound (and sometimes far more so) than those at which we probe in the world of hard science. For this physical world is not the sum total of existence; nor is the equation the final result of the examination of the heart. We strive in writing and composing to touch the heart, and to do so in true way, not merely any way.

Humanity is not reducible - and we should not expect it to be. For God is not reducible, and man, however fallen, remains a reflection of the very nature of God: imago Dei. It is in this sense that we make writing and composition less abstract than they deserve: for they are, in their truest form, stretching to describe the indescribable, to evoke in the mind of the reader or listener the faintest hints of the majesty and splendor that are divinity: divinity from which we are sundered by our own decisions: a gap far too terrible and wide ever to be bridged by the mere stretching of human ambition. And here, again, we return to the notion that writing and composition are more concrete than physics: for they are striving to illuminate a reality that is more real than the laws of physics. The very nature of reality.

What is real?

The existentialist has answered "myself" and the nihilist "nothing;" the postmodern embraces both and all: "whatever" his ultimate declamation, no less suicidal than the nihilist, but a suicide that is prolonged and stretched across the surface of a pallid existence.

The theist answers, "God," and the Christian answers, "the Trinity." A perfect, consummate being, self-sufficient, in perfect community: unity and diversity in unadulterated harmony, incomparable and incomprehensible yet ultimate and necessary: as Anselm might say: that which greater than Himself, nothing can be imagined.

So as we write, as we compose, as we stretch for beauty and find it fleeting, ever outside our grasp, ever abstract, it must always be with the remembrance that it is our very finitude in contrast with the infinite expanse of He who is truly real.

Beauty cannot be summarized. It cannot be pinned down. It cannot be reduced, understood in its entirety, categorized, or bottled for future use. It is. Because beauty is a part, one corner of that multifaceted gem, of the glory of God.

And so, like our faith, writing and composing, in their effort to set before the mind's eye a conception of the transcendent, are at times of necessity hard work. If it is so in our pursuit of holiness, in our pursuit of a true and deep knowledge of God, why ought we expect it to be otherwise in our attempts to reflect one aspect of His nature?

And in this sense, physics, writing, and music are all the same: for all are, ultimately, attempts to grasp at emanations from the Ultimate. Order. Transcendence. Beauty. All combining. Words without order are meaningless; notes without structure are cacophony: simply tones. Physical equations absent transcendence are, in their final form, a sum that yields only a crisis of meaninglessness.

When Bach signed his manuscripts soli Deo gloria ("to God alone be the glory"), he was signing works that were transcendent struggles, unmatched splendor born of sweat and perseverance. Sometimes true beauty is born not of inspiration but of dedication. There are moments of inspiration: but it is a dedication in the moments absent inspiration that allows those moments of unparalleled insight to flourish, to blossom, to grow beyond a mere flash of light into a beacon that illuminates a small measure of Truth to the mind's eye.

We, in our culture of instant gratification, have not remembered how rewards follow work; nor have we understood how the natural consequence of laziness is destruction. And in all of this, we have lost beauty: not because it is not there to be discovered or created, but because it is elusive, and discovering it, like discovering any of the other deep things of God, requires us to toil and strive.

But more, it requires us to let go our own straining, our own wisdom, our own understanding, and realize that we are fallen and blinded beings who could not have seen the sum in perfection, and certainly cannot now in this downcast state.

We must understand that writing, composing, and physics are all opportunities to worship; and we must revel in glorifying God no matter what we do. We must come to our knees and surrender our own thirst for recognition and accolades, choosing instead to surrender our every attempt to the all-consuming fire of the glory of God and the supremacy of Christ.

We must seek to make the Real become real in the understanding of those around us. And for that, we are insufficient. The Spirit of God, however, is more than sufficient: He is indeed the Light that illuminates the world. And when He is controlling us, then we are indeed servants of the secret fire, bearers of Truth: honored witnesses to Beauty.

- Chris

Monday, November 5, 2007


It's been a while since I've written, and I've many things I would like to say... but I am tired and probably should sleep instead. I've no idea, still, why I am so tired (the options the doctor gave are that I'm getting over mono, that I have a sleep disorder, or that I have some other random source of chronic fatigue). It doesn't matter, really: God is my joy, my strength, my peace... my song.

Interesting how far He's brought me in a year. Similar conditions and situations a year ago left me completely depressed. Now, I delight in His strength: Christ-strength instead of my own. So far I still have to go, but it is always a joy to see how far He has brought me. Glory to God!

May Christ fill your days with joy, peace, and the glory of His presence, so that whether you be happy or sad, you may be at rest in Him.

- Chris

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Accountability in discipleship

Some thoughts on accountability in discipleship and the standard to which we are held when discipling. (And these are just that, my thoughts, mostly pulled from a conversation with a friend.)

First and foremost, I think accountability in discipleship very much depends on the relationship in question. Different relationships have very different parameters: one might be simply for the sake of learning about a particular aspect of faith, whereas another might be a complete spiritual submission one person to another.

I don't know that either of those is inherently better than the other, but they do differ. In the former case there will (somewhat obviously) be less emphasis on accountability than in the latter, and I think correspondingly less responsibility. At the same time, I think that anytime we're in a position of spiritual authority, if we see issues and do not hold people accountable, we are in a place of responsibility. Tempering that is the realization that it is not our job to fix people, but rather the work of the Holy Spirit.

For me, in the discipleship relationships I have, I know there's a fine line that really varies from case to case as to where I bring up issues I see and where I don't. With one hypothetical guy, if I see an issue, I might bring it up, within a few weeks if there's some concern as to how I need to handle it. With another hypothetical guy, I might not bring it up at all if we're simply not in a place in our relationship where he's willing to hear from me at that deep and possibly painful area. In that case, my responsibility is to ask questions to get him thinking, and to comment on areas God has convicted me, and to spend a LOT of time praying for him.

(That, by the way, is where I think our gravest responsibility is in the context of discipleship: prayer. If we are not faithful to pray for those we are leading, how will we ever be able to effectively pour into their lives? How could we presume to try to bring accountability or correction to someone we're not faithfully praying for?)

One thing I think is important is to establish at the beginning of any relationship of that sort what the ground rules/expectations are. I let any of the guys I meet with know that I don't see the meetings as just a time to hang out - though we do that as well - but as a time focused on spiritual growth. But, I also invite them to tell me what their expectations are, and I really try to work with that. So, if they tell me they have a big need for accountability, that'll be a much bigger emphasis, whereas if they say, "I'm really just looking to read the word of God and study it together," that'll be the focus. There would still be accountability, but it'd be a lot less a focus.

There's also the standard accountability relationship, where the whole point of the relationship is simply to stand beside each other, of course, and in that case all the emphasis would be there.

So far as I understand, the place where we are really accountable before God is where we lead people astray, or where we do not speak a warning when we have been clearly instructed to do so. That's a really fine line, in a lot of ways: what does "clearly instructed to do so" mean for us? We obviously don't have God speaking directly in the same way Ezekiel did. I think the Ezekiel example, though somteims taken out of context, is worth paying attention to: if the watchman doesn't call a warning when the enemy is coming, people's blood is on his hands.

In practice, for me at least, that means that if I've been down a path and seen it cause pain and anguish - and particularly if I know it's a sinful path - I will say, "Hey, I've been there, please don't fall into the same sin trap I did; don't make that mistake."

Another relevant passage that comes to mind is Christ's warning to those who would cause a child to stumble (which is probably applicable not only to children in the ordinary sense but also to those in the spiritual sense). I'm also reminded of His comment that we will be judged for every careless word we speak (Matthew 12:35-37), which, while not directly applicable, certainly speaks to the responsibility associated with our words. Last but definitely not least, there are numerous cautions to those in authority throughout the epistles to be careful in our handling of the word of truth - particularly in 2 Timothy and Titus. That doesn't directly speak to the issue at hand, but I nevertheless find it fairly relevant. Combined with the admonition that "Not many should presume to be teachers" because of the increased responsibility of that position (James 3:1-2). We will be judged more strictly. And we are explicitly commanded to deal with our brothers when they sin: see Luke 17:1-4 and Matthew 18:15-20.

All of that lays a foundation, but Scripture never explicitly says, "If you don't hold a person accountable for sins in their life, you will be held accountable for those sins." As such, we should be careful making sweeping statements of that variety. Of course, if we're in the position of teaching someone, we have a great responsibility for that person, because he or she (and God) has entrusted himself or herself to our care, and as such are somewhat relying on us.

The problem with following that argument too far is that, unlike in the Old Testament, each of us as believers has the Holy Spirit personally speaking conviction into our lives, and we are responsible ourselves for the way we respond to His correction: others' input is secondary to His direct work on our hearts.

The problem with not following that argument far enough is that it can really put us in the position of saying, "Well, it's not my responsibility to try to fix his/her sin," when very clearly that's part of the function of the body of Christ both corporately and on an individual level with one another. We are responsible for each other even as "regular" brothers and sisters in Christ; how much more so when discipling someone!

In my own relationships, I really distinguish not only between the relationships but also between the issues in a believer's life. I'm not responsible for every issue in the heart of a guy I'm discipling (that's crazy!). On the other hand, if I see a guy who is sleeping with his girlfriend, I had *better* say something - but I'm probably not going to be spending as much time worrying about relatively minor sins in his life at that point. If I'm dealing with a fairly mature believer who is largely doing well, but has niggling sin issues around the periphery, I'll be dealing with those more intensely. If I see a deep pride issue underlying those, I may address those issues and simply pray for his heart - or I may, after prayer, directly address the pride issue.

That's a long pseudo-answer on the topic of accountability in discipleship, and I don't know that it necessarily clarifies that much, seeing as it's something of a big, "Sort of!" I believe that we do have considerable responsibility toward each other, simply as brothers and sisters in Christ, and the more so in the case of discipleship relationships. We are held accountable when we are teaching for those under our authority. I think, however, we must be careful to judge whether another believer is or is not fulfilling their accountability responsibilities: that's really between them, God, and the person they're holding accountable. It's an issue we should teach on, to be sure, and one we should be mindful of - but not one we should let become an issue of contention. Ultimately, the responsibility is on each individual believer, because we have the Spirit speaking into our hearts. Any other culpability is secondary.

- Chris

Monday, October 29, 2007


I am ready for October to end. I am ready to catch my breath.

That is all.

- Chris

Friday, October 26, 2007

Another note...

I had forgotten how essential music is for my soul, how deeply interwoven melody is with my being: how much an evening spent praising with my fingers and my voice helps me turn back to my God and my King. There's a reason David wrote songs we call Psalms... and there's a reason God has wrapped music around my heart. To worship Him.

In peace...
- Chris

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How could it be?

I am a person of dark heart, depraved mind, and stubborn will. I have, for a time now, been rebellious and unfaithful. Not in big ways. But in lots of little ones. God is dealing with me. I'm thankful for that.

It throws His holiness into sharp relief, when we see our own unrighteousness. His glory contrasted with the darkened surface of the mirrors we are made to be but have so sinfully dimmed... His glory revealed in the sanctifying work of cleaning those mirrors to show Him as He truly is. His incomparable mercy and the riches of His perfect love in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. For you. For me. Even me when I'm like I have been: recalcitrant and wanting my own will, though I know that His is best. What a God we serve.

- Chris

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

3 Seconds: The Power of Thinking Twice review

I (finally!) finished another book I've been meaning to read and review for a while, Dr. Les Parrott's 3 Seconds: The Power of Thinking Twice. The book was published by Zondervan earlier this year, and is one of many books by the author dealing with the basic topic of succeeding in life. The book is relatively short, at 193 pages (I'm not including the promotions for other Les Parrott books at the end), though not so short at the last book I reviewed. Parrott is a widely published (and widely read) doctor of psychology who founded the Center for Relational Development on at Seattle Pacific University. This particular book examines how one can live a more meaningful and impactful life by choosing not to immediately respond to one's first impulse and to embrace six patterns Parrott believes characterize successful people.

The book's length is broken down into a brief foreword by John C. Maxwell, an introduction in which Parrott lays out his thesis, six chapters corresponding to his six important impulses, and a conclusion summarizing his arguments. Parrott's thesis in essence is that taking three seconds to pause and re-examine one's decision: rejecting a primary impulse and embracing a secondary, less natural but more effective, impulse. The chapters cover the following negative and positive impulses:

  1. Empower Yourself: "There's nothing I can do about it," vs. "I can't do everything, but I can do something."

  2. Embrace a Good Challenge: "It's too difficult to even attempt," vs. "I love a challenge."

  3. Fuel Your Passion: "I'll do what happens to come my way," vs. "I'll do what I'm designed to do."

  4. Own Your Piece of the Pie: "It's not my problem, somebody else is to blame," vs. "The buck stops here."

  5. Walk the Extra Mile: "I've done what's required, and that's that," vs. "I'll go above and beyond the mere minimum."

  6. Quit Stewing and Start Doing: "Someday I'm going to do that," vs. "I'm diving in ... starting today."

In each chapter, Parrott dissects the initial impulse, analyzing its appeal and how and why it leads to failure, then follows up with his own second impulse and provides both statistical and anecdotal support for his solution to the problem. Woven throughout each chapter are not only motivational stories but referenes to Scripture (typically without direct, in-text citation, but typically also direct quotes).

Parrott's style is that of the counselor; his background as a psychologist comes through clearly. He deals primarily in the realm of human issues and speaks clearlywhen it comes to our mind's patterns. His writing is clear and simple. He doesn't have a distinctive voice, instead opting for a largely neutral tone that is informative and concise. While this doesn't lend itself to a particularly memorable style, it also keeps any idiosyncrasies from becoming overwhelming or annoying. Each section clearly states the thesis, expounds on it, and then neatly summarizes the ideas presented, along with several anecdotes for each chapter. Parrott doesn't spend a great deal of time dealing with things from a Scriptural perspective, focusing instead on the issues at hand from a psychological perspective (more on this below).

The merits of the book are its clear and concise writing, its skillful use of anecdotes, and its accuracy. As I noted in the stylistic analysis, Parrott's writing isn't particularly stylish, but it is simple and as such has a certain elegance. It's not cluttered, and this works to his advantage: the book gives you the information you want in a way that is easy to read, easy to understand, and easy to remember. The anecdotes presented bring the concepts to life in a way that help ensure that they do not remain mere abstractions. One interesting point in the book's favor, interestingly, is that the book is really not explicitly "Christian." Parrott is a psychologist, and a good one - but he is no theologian, and he makes no claim to be. He cites Christ at several points to build his case, quoting directly from Scripture, but the book is of the sort that it could easily be read by a non-Christian who would still come away having learned something. Perhaps more importantly, the book could easily be read by a non-Christian without feeling like Parrott was beating him or her over the head with the Bible in an attempt to Christianify, if you will, notions that are simply not terribly theological (though of course theology has implications for them). This might strike you as odd, but I see it as a huge advantage to the book: it is general enough to appeal to a broad audience, but has sufficient scriptural hooks to perhaps interest the non-Christian in taking a deeper look at Scripture.

The demerits, interestingly, parallel the merits: they are in the writing style, and the use of anecdotes. The downside to Parrott's lack of a distinctive voice is that the book, while informative and useful, is not terribly memorable. I didn't remember the principles presented without explicit review when I sat down to write this selection only four days after finishing the book. The book's emphasis on pure psychology absent much Scripture, while advantageous as noted above, could prove a turn-off to many Christians (though this is a less a demerit of the book than of the Christian publishing bubble, in my mind). On a related note, explicit referencing, even in footnotes, of the relevant passages would have been a huge boon to the book insofar as it does reference scripture.

I applaud Parrott for having written a credible and useful piece of non-fiction that is simply a good piece of work: that is, for being a good psychologist whose view is informed by his relationship with Christ, not a good Christian psychologist whose work is made irrelevant to the non-Christian by his lack of quality work. Too often I've seen authors who know their Christian audience will buy their book because it's by a Christian, instead of turning out quality work informed by their faith. While I can't say that the book should be mandatory reading, per se, I do think it's worth picking up if you have time. I know the Holy Spirit used it to bring me conviction in some of the areas Parrott addresses, and in so doing motivated me to pursue Him and His will in my life to a greater degree. If you've got some leeway in your schedule (or perhaps more importantly if you don't), you should consider this as one possible read.

- Chris

Sunday, October 21, 2007

3:16 - The Numbers of Hope Review

I just finished Max Lucado's most recent book, 3:16 - The Numbers of Hope. The book was launched, auspiciously, on September 11 as a hopeful note to counter the five-year commemoration of the /11 attack, in what Zondervan deemed one of its boldest publishing moves. I agree, though perhaps not for the reasons they intended. The book is a short text followed by a forty-day devotional. Lucado created the book as an exposition on what is perhaps the single most-quoted and well-known text of the New Testament, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." The text is a remarkable one, to be sure, and Lucado spends each chapter discussing either some aspect of the passage or ideas suggested by it.

The text itself is short, around 160-175 pages of general text followed by about 60 pages of devotional material. Each chapter is quick reading in and of itself, almost devotional length at my quick reading speed, but probably about 35-45 minutes reading for the average reader. The book itself took me only about an hour and half to two hours to read start to finish. Lucado essentially steps through the text of the verse in question, inserting several chapters that diverge from the text itself but follow related concepts and ideas. He also brings in a considerable number of anecdotes from present-day life to contemplate his meditations on Nicodemus' questions and Christ's answers.

The text reads much like what I imagine Lucado's sermons sound like: conversational, low-key, and very down to earth. This isn't high-brow theology; it isn't even low-brow theology: it's basic exposition, which is often an area neglected by preachers who either run towards deep theology or, on the other end of the spectrum, simply jump off into helpful advice with little reference to Scripture. His style is more that of a speaker than a writer; his words are quick-flowing and conversational. He integrates exposition on Scripture with his own stories, typically using the former as introduction to and conclusion to the chapters and the latter as filler. The devotionals are quick and snappy, filled with short thoughts that, while not directly related to the text, are also expository on the text and intended to inspire reaction to the power of the words of John 3:16.

The merits of the book are its focus on the incomparable grace of God and His work in our lives. Lucado draws our attention to the power of the words of John 3:16, which have been heard so many times that they have perhaps become something of a cliche in Christian circles, to the point where we miss their meaning. His meditations on the passage are always Scriptural, which is a pleasant change from some other books I've read recently which bordered on (or outright crossed into) heresy. This was particularly valuable when he spoke about Hell, pulling no punches about Scripture's clear demarcation of the line between salvation and condemnation. Most of the stories he offers as helpful commentary are fairly fresh and engaging. There were few to no grammatical or spelling errors in this book (a pet peeve of mine).

Unfortunately, the demerits of the book outweigh its merits. While Lucado's intent was apparently to take a fresh look at John 3:16 and invoke a new sense of wonder at the text - something well worth doing - I don't believe he succeeded. Indeed, I wonder if this book won't simply reinforce the very stereotypical and trite views of many Christians. Why? Because Lucado offers no profound insights here: he simply hashes through the verse, and instead of taking the time to dive into Scripture's riches, he relies on his own anecdotes. Anecdotes are great, but they are not living and active and powerful, nor do the pierce even to divide between the thoughts and the intentions of the heart. He rarely if ever references Scripture outside of John 3:16 itself, and this is usually set-up for his thoughts on the matter, rather than for looking at God's grace displayed throughout history as recorded by Scripture. Moreover, the time he spends on expository teaching is minimal, as compared to the feel-good anecdotes that, while nice, unfortunately take up most of the space in the book with what is ultimately neither convicting nor inspiring by and large. They may not be hackneyed cliches, but they are also not soul-piercing metaphors for our existence. The book is too short, and the unrelated nature of the devotionals to the rest of the text makes their addition seem an attempt to fill out the short text length. Lucado's lack of skill as a writer also comes through, for better or for worse. While nothing he writes is terribly egregious, and he doesn't make any terrible mistakes, his writing was incredibly bland - to the point where I had to force myself to keep going at points.

The book, to be perfectly honest, disappointed me. While Lucado came highly recommended, the book was not at a level that I find even slightly useful. I cannot recommend it, even to young believers for whom the content would possibly be informative. Read something better written and with more depth - and especially with a stronger call to pursue the glory of God.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Lots of things buzzing around in my head the last few days. I'll try to write them up shortly.

I just finished reading Dr. Les Parrott's 3 Seconds - pretty good book, I'll have a review of it up by this weekend. I also finished Max Lucado's 3:16: The Numbers of Hope last week, and should have a review up this weekend as well.

I'm going to start working more regularly on my book. I need to, if it's ever going to get done. I'm also working on a piece I'm going to try to sell; I need to make some significant revisions, tighten it up, and then send it to the folks I want to sell it to.

Speaking is something I love doing and I'm good at, and I'm starting to consider how I could actually go about doing it instead of just thinking about it.

Writing music remains a passion, and I need to sit down and do it more regularly, rather than in the spurts I do right now. Same thing with playing guitar and practicing piano.

For all of these things, I have the time. I simply need to discipline myself to use it effectively and well. That's a challenge, but one worth pursuing. (Interestingly, that fits right in with some of what Jon Randles spoke about tonight at Paradigm. It's unsurprising, given that I specifically prayed for God to reveal to me what areas I needed to work on. He always does.)

I'm going to make a list, either Saturday or Sunday, of my current goals both immediate and long-term, so that I can get a better sense of vision and purpose right now. I need to refocus on my passions: while I should be responsible in the areas I have been given responsibility in at the moment, that should not come at the cost of shirking my duty to pursue the passions that God has laid on my heart.

And I need to begin more seriously examining what I'm going to do when I graduate, because that point is rapidly approaching, and preparatory points are approaching far more quickly still.

Now I need to sleep so I can start making progress on realigning my schedule once and for all this semester!

May the peace of God guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. And go read 1 Chronicles 16; it's a fantastic passage!

- Chris

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

It fluttered, yellow...

It fluttered, yellow, just across my path, darted to touch me, fled as I twitched in surprise...

One moment I was caught in the mundane. The next, this other creature had jerked me from my stupor into a startled reverie. A flash of brilliant color and a touch on my finger... the day changed.

Just an instant in time, frozen now in memory, in the passing seconds of its happening an eternity of surprised contemplation: that of all the people in this butterfly's path, it landed for that fraction of a second on me. And then thrown out of my own considerations into a moment of marvel: at the pattern across the spiraling wings, at the wind-dance of green behind it, at the penetrating cerulean canvas this day has been painted on ever since the off-white curtain covering it was tugged away by the gentle hand of a golden sun. The air made me blink: it tasted clean, had a hint of a bite though it was warm, not so wet as the summer: fall in my nose and across my throat.

And then I walked on: plunged once more into insipidity. Stoplight ahead and cars flooding through it, crowd surrounding me, flurry of unceasing noise both external and internal, concrete beneath my feet. The background thrum of construction two streets removed, the vibrating echo of the jackhammer one down, the insistent murmur of the dozens on their way to or from class, the unceasing grind of gears in some machine, the dull roar of passing aircraft, the waxing and waning intensity of the swishing and humming of automobiles of every variety. A world of single colors - some bright, most dull - splashed in no particular pattern against a gray, black, and white backdrop which varies only in the distance between the cracks.

The contrast: striking, yet completely unnoticed and unnoted even in my stream of conscious thought. Two worlds coexist, so deeply intermingling and yet so utterly separate from one another: the one sublime, in every moment, the other - in which I nearly always walk - unrelenting almost unreal in its presentation of reality as we have made it.

Beauty is a fragile thing; and it is impossible to destroy: but not impossible to miss. Our perception of it hinges on the trivial, soaring in majestic flight the one moment and plunging to depths of obliviousness the very next, our minds captured by some detail one direction or the other. The transcendent transcends for a singular moment, is again vanished and mysterious the next.

Thoughts flicker hither and thither, dragged down into darkness or thrust up into dazzling light by a single alteration in the same event: test grade, conversation with girlfriend, job review, walk from lunch to dinner and interminable temporal distance between the two. Her frown, his smile, their approval - or not. Confusion at divine choices and befuddlement at mortal decisions. Splendor and tragedy painted on the same canvas and written on the same page - crossing paths and never seeing each other: certainly never realizing the ways in which the twain are one. The sky is bluer when spotted with majestic puffs of pearl. Air is never so wonderful to the lungs as after the rain.

Conversations propel us, thoughts impel us: always forward. Unceasingly unflinchingly unwittingly and all too often unconsciously. Reacting. Rarely acting. Tortured by our inability to control; tormented by our unbreakable grip. Basking in freedom and terribly bored. Loving our jobs and hating to do them.

Pausing? hardly...

Contemplating? rarely...

Meditating even the passing of a breath on the passing of a breath? ...never

We have a penchant for irony no less than for infinite self-distraction.

It fluttered, yellow, behind me into the trees. Forgotten.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Superlative Grace of God

It's been about a year...

Today was OU-Texas. (Not, as a friend of mine was surprised to hear, Texas-OU. It made me chuckle: who would ever put it backwards like that?) A year ago, friends and I were in northwest Arkansas, covering the beautiful expanses of the Ozarks. It was glorious.

It was also the beginning of a painful but exhilarating and life-changing period of time. I'm in awe, looking back, how much God has done in my heart, in my mind, in my life in the last year.

I was a jerk on that trip, to be blunt. It was a fun trip, nevertheless, but I was not in a good place. More and more certain habitual sins of mine (especially pride) were coming to the forefront. Arrogance. Argumentativeness. Anger. Irritability. That's a picture of a vile and depraved heart, one reveling in its own self-sufficiency and glorying in self-idolatry. It's me without Him. Me trying to do things in my own strength.

Praise be to God: that He has given me , loyal friends, faithful friends who never stopped seeking my good, even when I had hurt them grievously; that He has given me faithful parents who prayed for me and continued to speak truth in my life; that He has the heart of a perfect Father, ever calling us to Him despite our constant rejection. I am in awe of the fact that He is so good. And His goodness is made infinitely more apparent by comparison to my own utter lack of holiness.

It's funny... I wasn't expecting that set of conviction. But I'd been praying for weeks for God to start a move in my campus ministry, breaking our hearts and convicting us of sin. I explicitly asked Him to start with me. Amusingly, I don't think I actually expected Him to do so. The irony of self-righteousness and arrogance.

It's funny, because looking back I'm disgusted by the darkness in my heart a year ago. But it's also worth paying attention to, because it throws into sharp relief how much depravity remains in my own heart: there is much that God continues to expose on a daily basis. The way I speak. How ungentle I am at times. The still-present (though thankfully diminishing) tendency to win and crush others along the way.

God is faithful, even when we are not, and I am so grateful for His favor in my life, for His continued work, for His love demonstrated through continued conviction. If He has done this much in the year past, how much more will He do in the year ahead?

Again I return to the overwhelming sufficiency and adequacy and abounding nature of His grace. It amazes me, humbles me, shakes me to my core. His glory so perfectly displayed in a way that we in our finite minds would never imagine: by mercy and grace, by making us like Him rather than simply wiping the slate clean and eliminating us once and for all.

His grace.

- Chris

Celebrate victory

I was talking with a friend the other day, and we were discussing various battles with sin in our lives, considering how we work and struggle to overcome them. The Spirit brought to mind something I'd not thought of in quite some time.

We tend to beat ourselves up when we fail in a particular area we've struggled with - pride, selfishness, lust, anger, jealousy, whatever our particular weakness may be. We receive the conviction and heap it back on ourselves several times over in a self-inflicted mental penance. (That's a problem in and of itself. Christ already paid the price for our sins; we need not beat ourselves up every time we fall short. Come to a place of true repentance and brokenhearted-ness? Absolutely. But find some way to atone by beating ourselves up? No.)

But in our rush to chastise ourselves for our failure, we miss an important part of the way God dealt with the Israelites.

Namely, celebration.

Celebration of all He had done, celebration of freedom, celebration of victory.

So why do we not celebrate when we see significant advances in our battles against sin? I am not suggesting that we minimize the ongoing nature of those struggles. Rather, I am suggesting that we celebrate when God has given us victory: even when the war is not over, it is a good thing to celebrate the winning of a battle.

So he and I agreed: when we've both hit certain markers in various ongoing sin battles, we're going to have a party. It will involve pizza, ice cream, and praising of God, rejoicing in all He has accomplished in our lives.

Something to look forward to.

- Chris