Sunday, December 28, 2008

Getting serious about sin

God spoke to me rather profoundly last night. About sin. Again.

There has been a great deal of this of late. Perhaps He is trying to make a point... Here, of course, when I say "perhaps" I actually mean "most definitely."

There are a number of areas in my life in which I perennially struggle with sin. One of them cropped up again this week. I've been attempting to deal with it. Attempting. Not really dealing with it as seriously as I ought. Making half-hearted attempts to prevent its rearing its ugly head in my days again, but not really seeking its active destruction. John Owen, a Puritan writing hundreds of years ago, rather accurately observed that if we're not killing sin, it's killing us. A rather chilling thought, and one that we all would do well to grapple with.

I wasn't grappling enough. God decided to make the point a bit more clearly. (I'm grateful. My heart really is deceitful and wicked, and I can and do deceive myself on a regular basis.) I had a conversation with Jaimie, and she spoke of how a person had hurt her. My anger flared, and rightly. The person had done her ill, had caused her grief and pain because of sin and unredemption, had flung that sin even in the face of God. The anger aroused in me was righteous. It was born not merely of emotion or of empathy, but of the deep sense that wrong had been done here. We've all experienced that. I experienced it powerfully in that moment.

Then God spoke.

Sometimes He speaks clearly; sometimes He speaks in a whisper so quiet we must be truly listening to hear Him.

This time was the former. Clear as could be, I knew the Spirit was saying: "That anger you feel at this sin? All well and good. But my anger at your sin is infinitely more than this. And you should hate your own sin so violently as this, and more." I simply sat there quietly. Jaimie wondered if something was wrong. There was indeed something wrong — with me.

I can grow so callous to sin, and here I had. God is glorified in our pursuit of Him. This was something less than pursuit of Him. It was perhaps a lolligagging wander in His direction, haphazard and caring little about the many extra weights I was bearing. He in His grace called me out of it.

We are not allowed to tolerate sin. The moment we begin to tolerate sin, we begin to become inured to its presence. We build up an immunity to the prodding of the Holy Spirit. We start to slowly embrace the sin. And in time, it gives birth — to death. The only ultimate fruit of sin is death; it can never produce anything else. So the fact that I was playing with this sin put me in a far worse position than playing with fire. It put me in the position of a man burning off his nerve endings so he is unable to feel the pain any longer, unable to recognize the clear signs that this is bad.

But God is faithful! So many times, Scripture cries out that magnificent "but God!" and speaks life where only death could reign — as here in my own life. But God is faithful, and will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation, will provide a way of escape, so that you may bear under it! We have this hope in us: that it is not we who sanctify ourselves but Christ Jesus who is our sanctification as well as our propitiation and justification. We are not saved once by grace, at the moment of conversion: we are saved daily by His grace as He transforms us from death to life.

And so we, like Paul, can learn to say, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. This life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave me himself for me.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

After Christmas, thinking...

It's strange, sitting down to type and wondering what to say.

I've alternated between periods of prolific writing and posting and periods of posting hardly at all. I'm not really sure what the difference is.

Some of it is simply circumstances, of course. The difference it makes to be dating and engaged is... immense. There is a time commitment that is simply absent when one is single. I recognize in this the seeds of Paul's comment that he wished all were single, "as he was". There's a great deal more time that must be devoted to the one we spend our life with. And, to be clear, this is a good thing. A married couple can reflect the gospel in ways that a single person alone simply cannot. That is, after all, the very reason marriage exists, as Paul reflects elsewhere.

So many things I have pondered of late. A sampling:

The greatest miracles in history:
  • The Incarnation of Jesus Christ - God takes on human flesh... permanently.
  • The death and resurrection of Christ - God the Son bears the wrath of God the Father, separated from the presence of God the Spirit, bearing the punishment of the sins of mankind.
  • The salvation of any one soul to the kingdom of God. (We miss this one more than we ought. It's big. Really. Stop and think about it.)

The purpose of marriage: to be a living reflection of the way that Christ wins the Church to Himself, and of the loving response of the Bride to her husband and Savior. I will never be Jaimie's savior, and she will never worship me as the Bride does Christ. Nonetheless, herein lies a glorious reflection of the way that Christ and His beautiful, redeemed Bride will relate for all eternity. And this I am honored to be a part of? Incredible. Undeserved, to be certain, this gift.

Family: a treasure of incredible value. I haven't words to express beyond that, and so I will leave it there.

The profundity of the goodness of God. I hadn't realized how deeply God had impressed this on me until conversing with my family the other day. We act in our own will - we disobey - we sin - because we don't truly believe that God is who He says that He is, and because we therefore do not trust His word. We do not believe that He really is sufficient for all our needs, and that His ways truly are higher than ours. We (I!) thus embrace lust and pride and selfishness because we (I!) do not believe that God's plan for sexuality and His call for our humility and His instruction of utter devotion to Him are really better. That ultimately amounts to a horrifying sin far deeper than those: we don't believe He is who He says He is. We don't believe He loves us - though He says it - and we don't believe that He is good - though He says it - and we don't believe that the reward of obedience is better than the immediate pleasures of sin - though He says it. In short, we don't believe Him God at all.

The glory of His grace: that for His glory and our good, He saves us from sin, from death - which we have ourselves [i]chosen[/i]! It is by grace we have been saved, through faith, and this not of our own doing... it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast! He has done this to the praise of His glory, not because we deserved it. Not by our works are we saved.

Yet His salvation is efficacious! It accomplishes something real. He freely gives us grace and faith that we might believe. And when that faith is given, it births rebirth and new life... it births works, as a clear and apparent sign of what God has done. The fruits of the Spirit are present in ever-increasing measure in the life of the believer, that God's glory might be shown in His mighty transformation of persons following Him. What was dead is now alive, and that by the selfsame faith given so freely. Praise be to God who has saved us with a mighty salvation indeed!

May the glories of God consume us! May we be daily more devoted to Him. May we deepen in our love for the Church, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and our passion for together honoring our God and King. May we hunger for all the world to know Him as He is!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Meditation in Brief

I wish I had the words to express this, or music deep enough. I don't. I haven't the intelligence, the wisdom, the ability, to communicate truth as it ought to be communicated. It's simply beyond me.

Yet by the grace of God, I will spend my life speaking truth and living utterly and completely dedicated to the glory and the fame of Jesus Christ. I cannot know what the outcome of my speech will be. I cannot know, for that matter, what exactly will be the fruit of my life. It doesn't matter. My reward is not the praise of man, nor his approbation, expressed or otherwise. It is the knowledge of Jesus, my Savior, my God, my King. More than that: Savior, God, and King (no my necessary).

I will spend every day of my life dedicated to making clear in word and in deed the proposition that we were made for God. We were not made for the pitiful, puny things on which we base our existence, and we were not made for the little boxes into which we fit ourselves to keep from seeing the grand and terrifying reality of the world. We pretend that we can shut away the horrors of sin and the terrifying grandeur of God by hiding in our little patterns and ruts, and in reality we simply break our already broken hearts that much more deeply.

We were not meant for boxes and ruts. We were meant for God. We were not meant for brokenness. We were meant for God. We were not meant for shallow relationships with pitiable exchanges of trivialities for conversation. We were meant for God. We were not meant for mediocrity. We were meant for God.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Missed notes

It is 2:22 am as I begin writing. Piano music by George Winston plays softly in the background. I have just finished - or rather, nearly finished - a quantum mechanics assignment, the final such assignment of my undergraduate career. Next semester the sole physics class I shall be taking is capstone; I will in a week have finished the coursework proper of a bachelor's degree in physics - no small thing, and certainly a thing not accomplished on my own merits.

And I find myself in a reflective mood. I suspect the music has much to do with it: long have I found George Winston's piano work to be among the best for inspiring quiet contemplation and thought. Not for nothing did I often model my early improvisatory playing on the piano after his playing. He captures ideas of seasons better than any similar modern composer I know of. Though not of great repute, though of simple style and developmental method, his works are of great value. They help me think.

In these hectic days, music that leads me to pause and ponder, to think... such music is a good thing.

This has been a busy and difficult semester, and it has flown by. It has been over three months since I proposed to Jaimie and she said yes, made me the happiest man in the world. It has been nearly a month since I finished the "final" draft of Destiny and Hope, my first orchestra piece in years. It has been four months, nearly, since classes began this fall, and it has been five since I last saw my family. I miss old friends that I see little of this year. I have learned how horribly selfish I am through the mirror that is my relationship with Jaimie, and I have seen God do great and mighty things in, between, and through us as a couple. I have seen my relationships with young men I care about deeply flourish in ways that surprise me, though it should not. I have been blessed to be a part of a ministry team in a ministry where God is moving - a ministry that, though my heart longs to move on to working in a church setting, is where God has put me, and where I thus work and work hard in this time.

God has taught me patience and endurance in some small measure this semester. More, He has taught me reliance on His grace in new ways, quieter and subtler than those that came before.

Often, come this time of year in this stage of life, it is easy to look back and see some grand sweeping changes in one's life, in one's character and constitution. Not so for me, this year. I see grand changes in my circumstances. Within, I see God working on my heart, less dramatically but for that the more deeply and more transformingly. He is rooting out sin, and driving me to my knees, forcing me to confront the terrible effects sin has, but more than that the evil that it is in and of itself. He has opened my eyes a little more to the sinfulness of sin. And He has continued to pour out His glory, to show Himself, to reveal just how great and how incomparable His splendor is. He has, in so doing, continued to transform my mind, shaping it to be ever more consumed with His agenda and His ends - to ultimately be utterly devoted to the glory of Jesus Christ above all else.

The OU orchestra recorded Destiny and Hope today. In that, in listening to them play and in listening many times over to the recording since then (12 times, according to iTunes), I catch a glimpse, though only the tiniest, of God's heart as an artist. I was awed as they played beauty where I had written beauty, as they captured quiet meditation and fierce pathos less than an hour after first hearing the piece. And I was sad, too, though not surprised, at how they missed notes. I marveled at how a single wrong note - an entry but a measure too soon, or a landing on a note a step too low - could destroy the carefully crafted beauty for that moment. I marveled, too, at how quickly they moved on once more into magnificent and compelling music-making. There is something striking and remarkable here: that we fragile little human people have been entrusted with the gift of reflecting the creative nature of God.

The universe sings. Most people thing such statements but flowery metaphor, but it's merely a statement of fact. (Perhaps merely is the wrong word.) Celestial objects, as they spin, have characteristic frequencies that correspond to pitches. I have often wondered, these last five or six years, if it would be possible, with some hard work, to synthesize from the relationship of perhaps the nearest 100 stars from the raw data into their connectedness and their musicality, and in so doing, to catch a glimpse of the symphony God has created for His pleasure. The stars never miss notes.

We, His great artistry, do. We live missed notes. We were made to reflect the very nature of God; His image is in us, placed there from the beginning. Now we are broken instruments, unable to be played properly; it takes the hands of a master maker to build us anew into beings capable of singing the Great Song.

My heart broke a little at every missed note, every gap in the music today. How much more does God's heart break when we miss notes with our very lives? How much greater is the the love - indeed, the Love - He has invested in us? And, as that orchestra did today, ought we not strive to play every note perfectly, to reflect rightly the intent of the composer?

I have missed many notes this semester. A recording would find my life a cacophony. Yet it would be a cacophony in which beauty emerges, not by the perfection of the instrument, but by the genius of the Maker whose instrument I am, and whose melodies and harmonies I seek to make my life's one song, as He remakes me to be a perfect instrument.

I pray you find yourself seeking harder after God Almighty in the days to come, that you are consumed once more with the mystery - for mystery it is - of the Lord of All come as a baby in a manger, the song of the heavenly host sung triumphant for the coming of God as a baby in a stinky manger. And I pray that you sing yourself the song of the redeemed, that you sing the glory of God with your voice and with your life.

- Chris

Destiny and Hope

Friday, December 5, 2008


Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his crsos and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ahsamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." (Mark 8:34-38, ESV)

We walk through this life amazed at the feats accomplished by so-called spiritual giants - by men and women who commit their lives wholeheartedly to Christ and shake the world. We shake our heads in awe at their radical faith, consider the sort of immense dedication to the cause of the gospel, and whisper to ourselves that we wish we had that sort of drive, passion, and discipline.

The call to discipleship is a call universal for Christians. It is not a call only for the most passionate, most motivated, most expressive people. It is not a call of convenience, nor a call of mere opportunity. It is rather a command. There is no opt-out clause; one does not have the opportunity to say, "No, thanks, not my cup of tea," or even "Wow, that's great for you; I just don't have the time."

Every believer is called to completely surrender his or her life to the lordship and headship of Jesus Christ. There are no exceptions.

And so, simply put, that which we call radical isn't. Or at least, shouldn't be. It should be the ordinary outworkings of a Christian life. When we know Christ as the glorious King He is - not merely some get-out-of-jail-free card, but as our great treasure and reward - then we live with an abandon that seems reckless to the world, that would be reckless were it set on any lesser being than God Almighty.

My parents sent me a gift of a book that I'm very much looking forward to reading, Crazy Love, about living with a love that seems crazy in our culture. And while I'm excited about reading the book - I'll review it when I'm done! - I'm sad that the sort of love it will be describing would seem crazy to a Christian. That we have so many books about living life "on the edge," with some degree of "radicality," from being "wild at heart" or "captivating" to walking with "crazy love," makes it painfully clear that we recognize our need but not the answer to that need.

The solution to the problem is Christ. If we make Biblical manhood or womanhood, or radical life, or discipleship, or any other object our end goal, we sin, and grievously so. More than that, we will always suffer from but never understand the deep sickness that afflicts our lives; we will always wonder why Christianity has not brought us the clarity of purpose and lighter burder that Jesus promises. We will ever be striving after some noble yet ultimately unsatisfying goal.

Because we are not meant for discipleship, for the pursuit of holiness, for biblical man- or womanhood.

We are meant for Jesus Christ.

To be clear, all of the above are excellent wonderful things. But they are excellent and wonderful for one reason only: because they reflect the glory and the excellence of the person of God himself. They have no worth apart from Him, and nor do we. We do not need to find our purpose in life, or seek out some grand vision: He has already found us. We do need to see Him as He is and so value Him as He is: the great treasure, priceless beyond words, of our eternal existence. When we do that, we will live the kinds of radical lives we aspire to live, different in the details and exactly the same in the broad sweep: the glory of God our all.

This isn't radical. Or at least, it shouldn't be.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
And again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46, ESV)

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-10, ESV)