Monday, September 17, 2012

The Struggle part 5: The Struggle. Haha.

"I wish someone had told me sooner. I wish someone would have just articulated it in a way that I could understand. I wish I had actually read the Bible. I grew up in church and went to a Christian school, but somehow I completely missed the freedom that was being offered to me from Christ Himself.

"Hallelujah we are free to struggle, but we're not struggling to be free."

People freak out when you say something like that. "Free to struggle!!????" They think you'll take it as license to do whatever you want. And you know, some do. Some say, "Oh, it doesn't matter what I do, cause God will forgive me!" But just because there are some who pervert the grace of God, doesn't mean we should shy away from preaching it. Yes, some people don't understand what they've been saved from.

They don't realize how audacious it is to presume upon the redemption of God, because they don't realize what it cost Him to forgive us. They also must not think about what they've been saved from. It's not just our guilt He saves us from, it's also the power of death over us. Why on earth would anyone ask Jesus for salvation and then willfully run back into the arms of the very things that were killing them?

I can't say that I know. I don't understand why I do it, so how could I begin to understand others?

But this I do know. His grace is so big and so vast that Christ went lower than the lowest. He bore our sins on the cross, and it is no longer up to us to carry that weight. We no longer have to atone for our mistakes. They were atoned for us. And not only is there an ocean of grace that we fall into when we fail, but there's also a grace so majestic and strong, that it's actually powerful enough to heal us from our vices and free us from our prisons.

Christ came to forgive and to free us. I hope you know that, deep down. You can screw up and know that there is always mercy to rise again. And not only that, but you can know that the same power that raised Christ from the dead is living inside you, So you don't have to do those things you hate anymore.

Free to fail. Free to change.

It's quite an amazing concept isn't it? There's mercy for your failure, and there's liberty from your sin. You don't have to pay for your sins, and you don't have to sin anymore. This is what it means to be saved.

And my only prayer is that the church would grasp both of these ideas, because we can all be a bit one-sided can't we? We tend toward extremes. One only needs to count the number of Christian denominations to know, we're not always the best at balance.

In the American church we can be good at one of these platitudes, but usually not both. We're either focused on preaching grace or intent on preaching victory, which ends up doing one of two things. We pander those caught up in sin, or we Bible beat them cross-eyed for not walking in the victory they ought to be.

Brothers and sisters, let us grasp them both. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, and there's also no more chains to keep you from walking with Him. Both. And.

Comfort those who are staggering, because we all struggle in different ways. We may look different, but our hearts are all the same. Be tender with one another. Correct each other with gentleness, knowing we're free to struggle. But also, let us not let each other off the hook. Remind each other, that we're not struggling to be free. Call each other out. Lift each other up. Push each other forward. It is for freedom we have been set free."

This is my favorite song on the whole album! Check it:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Struggle Part 4: Shadows

Hey guys :) I have a few more Tenth Avenue North posts to share with you everyday for 4 more days.

After the 4 days are up, I'll have to share the details of MY ENGAGEMENT TO DAVY on the blog! Yay!

God is treating me gooooood.

Now to the next Tenth Ave post:

"I grew up thinking Jesus wanted to ruin my good time. No seriously. Everything I wanted to do, it seemed like Jesus was always telling me I couldn't. My friends would get drunk and party; I wasn't allowed. All the other kids were sleeping around. Jesus said I had to flee sexual immorality. When people wronged me it felt so good to be bitter and lord it over them, but there He was saying, "Forgive seventy times seven."

So when I went to college and started hanging out with kids who actually enjoyed Jesus, it pretty much blew my mind. I mean, my friends growing up "loved" Jesus, but certainly didn't like hanging out with Him. We knew the right answers and we knew we were supposed to do what God said to do, but these kids at my college were different.

They wanted to obey God. They liked obeying Him. No one was making them. No one told them they couldn't get freaky at clubs or drink til they threw up. They just preferred being with God. They'd get together and worship Him for the fun of it. The fun of it? I thought "fun" and "Jesus" were contradictory terms.

To be honest, I had a lot to learn. I still do. But my world changed forever my freshman year of college when Christianity changed from something I had to do, to something I wanted to do. How? I experienced Psalm 16:11 first hand.

It says, "In your presence is the fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."

The fullness of joy? Pleasure forever? Have you ever even considered that God is for your pleasure? Now, this seems quite counter intuitive doesn't it? I mean, isn't Jesus all about self denial and what not? Isn't Christianity just putting your head in the sand, grinding it out, and keeping your nose clean?

Friends, nothing could be further from the truth. You see, when Jesus says to deny yourself, He never asks you to do that as an end in itself. He says to deny yourself so that you can follow Him! And everything that's promised us when we get to Him is an appeal to our pleasure.

But the tough part is realizing that in order to get the fullest joy, and the greatest pleasure, you have to do things His way. You have to wait. Often times you have to go without. But you go without so that you can get something better. It's like McDonalds versus a fancy steakhouse. The steakhouse may take quite a bit longer, but in the end, it's far more rewarding than a quick fling with Ronald and his super sizing ways.

So then, we flee sexual immorality so that we can know the trust, rest, and joy of a sexual encounter protected by the strong walls of covenant. It takes denial, sure, but as a means to a lifetime of more reward. It can seem like Jesus is against our pleasure because we've believed the lie that the things He's created are what will give us what we want. But whether it's sex, ambition, rock n roll, isn't it actually God we're after?

This one thought changed everything. That every beautiful thing I get enamored by, is just a reflection of the one who made it. Any beauty I'm dazzled by or promise I'm lured by, it's always Him my soul is hungry for. And when I can see that, all other temptations lose their power. To understand all that I love is merely a mirror pointing me upward, frees me to let those things go. I don't have to have them. I have to have the One who made them. And the pleasure and reward his presence offers far surpasses any drug or buzz I could get. Crazy huh?

Friend, don't sell yourself short. Jesus wants to give us life. It is Satan who's out to steal, kill, and destroy. Sadly, we too often believe it's the other way around. Don't fall for the lie. His commands to us are the pathways to pleasure. They are the way to joy.

All this world could offer you is but a mere shadow of the glory of the One who is behind it all. Don't grasp the shadow. Follow it to the source. He is the source."

Hear Shadows here:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Struggle Part 3: Losing

"Have you ever stopped to wonder why forgiveness is so hard? Seriously. It's such a pleasant ideal in theory, but in practice it's the quite possibly the hardest thing to do on the planet. Why does it seem so down right impossible? Why does it feel like losing?

Well, I guess that's because it is. To forgive someone you do have to lose. Whenever there's injury, someone has to live with the pain, and to forgive means you accept it, and the offender goes free. Even though you're not at fault, if you're going to turn the other cheek, you have to absorb the pain so that you don't turn around and inflict the one who hurt you.

I suppose you could liken it to falling on a grenade. If you have a grenade thrown at you, you can do one of three things. You can run, but then who knows who'll end up collateral damage. You can throw it back, which I must admit is quite alluring, but that can't stop the fire from spreading, it just redirects it. There is one other thing you can do though. You can fall on it. Absorb it. Take the explosion and die the death. Let everyone around you live.

And you know, whenever we forgive there's always a death involved. Isn't there? That's why Jesus had to die for us. To let us be counted right, justice had to be paid. The bomb had to go off. But instead of throwing it back and giving us what we deserve, He wrapped His arms around us and took the hit Himself.

"He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed." -Isaiah 53:5

You see, the reason grace isn't popular or easy is because it's not cheap. To give grace costs us our right to be resentful. It robs us of our privilege to be bitter. It requires death. But friend, if Christ said to forgive the very men who drove nails through his wrists, and the same power that flung Him from the grave lives in us, then surely, surely He can give us the power to lose, so that our aggressors weapons are rendered useless. Rob your enemy of their ability to offend you, by gladly taking the full brunt of their attack. It is then, and only then, that hostility is defeated and love conquers death.

Remember who you are. Remember how you have been forgiven. You're only going to feel like you have the right to be bitter if you think you're better than them. "Oh no," we say, "I would never…" Never? Really? Remember what it cost Christ to redeem you, and may that knowledge drip down so deep in your heart that it becomes your joy to accept the cost of forgiving others.

Yeah I know it feels like losing, but it's what forgiven people do. As the old saying goes, "Hurt people, hurt people." Well, "Forgiven people, forgive people."

"To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because Christ has forgiven the inexcusable in us." -C.S. Lewis"

Listen to "Losing" by Tenth Avenue North here!


Friday, September 14, 2012

The Struggle Part 2: Don't Stop The Madness

"I'm sitting in a small airport in Montana right now, sleep deprived and delayed. I've been gone from my family for what feels like forever and just want to get home. You know that feeling right? When you just want to get home? But as I sit here on the floor and stare red eyed at my computer screen, I have to remember one thing. God seldom works in the easy and comfortable.

Can He? Sure.

Does He? Sometimes.

But more often than not, the times that shape me, the times that make me more loving and more gracious, aren't usually what I look back on as "good times." Isn't that strange? I mean, sure we all want to be considered "gracious," but who wants to have to go through being wronged so that they actually have the opportunity to grow in grace?

So I'm left in a bit of a conundrum. Sitting here on the floor, killing time watching people beat the snack machine, I have a choice. I could do the easy thing. Do what I'd usually do in this situation. I could moan and whine, complain that there's no reason our plane is delayed, and disdainfully announce that I will never fly this incompetent airline again; or I can take a step back.

Take a deep breath. Do the impossible.

By His grace I can take the hard road that leads to life. I can think on the sovereignty and goodness of God. Think on His promise that He is able to work everything together into something beautiful. Yes, even this seemingly meaningless inconvenience might just be the hand of God at work to grow patience, kindness and goodness in me.

We don't like to think that way though do we? I don't. It's hard. It's complicated to reconcile a God who works through pain. It's tough to trust in a Lord who allows suffering and inconvenience. It'd be a whole lot easier to mindlessly promise myself that Jesus always wants to make life easy, but I don't think that's how He works. If anything, Jesus uses dark colors when He paints. He's into streams in the desert and life out of death.

Just take one good look at the cross and that ought to convince you that the God the Bible speaks of is a God who uses horror and injustice to His advantage. The cross is evidence to our minds, and balm for our souls that our God is a God who brings beauty out of pain.

Art out of chaos. Beauty out of ugliness.

Or as some of the poets have said, He conquers death by death itself. Our Redeemer beats Death at his own game. Hope rises.

When we trust Christ, and the mysterious work on Calvary, we trust that He's always up to something good even in the darkest days. In fact, that's probably when He's up to the most good, because that's when the most good grows in me.

So hey, I'm delayed, I'm uncomfortable, but if this is the path the Lord has brought me down, then I say, "Don't stop it Lord. Redemption was born on a far darker day than this one, so bring the chaos. Bring the madness. Do whatever you've got to do to recreate my heart." After all, it's me that needs to change, not my circumstances."

Listen to Don't Stop The Madness  by Tenth Avenue North here:

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Struggle.

Hey guys. I want to share encouraging things with you, but I've been struggling with my writing lately. Especially because I read other religious blogs and get a little discouraged with my own writing.

However, because they write so well, it's uplifting to many people, including myself. I have to accept the fact that, sometimes, God isn't going to work through me for everything.

This leads me to present a thought that just occured to me a few minutes ago as I sat indian-style on my chair, staring at a blank passage and blinking cursor.

I think I just need to let my favorite writers do the talking.

If you didn't know, Tenth Avenue North is one of my favorite bands. The lead singer, Mike Donehey, is absolutely brilliant. He is one of those guys that just hits the nail on the head. Every time. His writing is simple, clean-cut, and so easy to relate to and understand.

So for the next week or so, I'm going to just let him speak. Until God moves me.
I'm copying and pasteing from Mike's blog, SeizedByAGreatAffection and the Overflow Devo he did on the Youversion app and bringing it over to my blog.

Yesterday was a big day.
Two years of writing, rewriting, crying, high-fiving,
yelling, demoing, and recording
finally came to a head when our band released
our new record, The Struggle.
I will not say much more than that,
but it is an incredible privilege I’ve been given
to make music that blesses others and teaches me.
The songs I write teach me.
Czech this verse.

Psalm 49:4
“I will incline my heart to a proverb;
I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre”

After 11 or so years of playing and writing songs,
I’ve finally come to understand that I don’t write,
because I know what I’m talking about,
I write precisely because I don’t know what I’m talking about.
I write to understand.
I write to unriddle my heart.

So all of you who’ve listened in on this process, thank you.
Thanks for investing your time and money on these songs,
and joining me on the journey.
Jesus has showed me so much
as I’ve sought to join Him in the creative process,
and I’m eager to see what lies ahead.
May He continue to unriddle my heart.
May He continue to unriddle yours.

Our band played a festival called Lifelight last night.
It’s a quite large gathering that happens every year in South Dakota.
Completely free, and completely crazy, this was the third time we’ve played there,
and needless to say, it didn’t fail to live up to our expectations.
The people who gathered in the field came ready to sing,
ready to dance, and in one case apparently, one girl was even ready to faint.
(Don’t worry, she was ok)

And it felt, for lack of better words, ELECTRIC.

From the first note, we knew we were going to be privileged to navigate
the energy that these people brought with them,
away from a stage, away from a band, and back up to the fixed gaze on a
Heavenly Father overflowing with love for us all.

“I am loved!”
“I am loved!”
“I am loved!”

I chanted it from the microphone and had the people echo it back.
We screamed God’s promises together.
We danced, we sang, and we were free.
For a few short moments in time, we lost our gaze on ourselves
and were unbound to fix our eyes on our God.
And walking off the stage 90 minutes later,
exhausted, spent, and dripping with sweat,
I was relieved that it didn’t matter whether or not God used me.
What mattered was that God moved.

Just 12 hours earlier, I sat on an empty stage, in front of an empty field,
coffee cup in hand, watching the morning fog rise from the grass and was
reminded of what God had spoken to me at a similar festival a few years ago.

Our band was huddled together back stage going through our pre-show rituals;
arm stretches, jumping jacks, vocal warm ups, and of course, prayer together,
when I felt, for one of the few times in my life, that God spoke straight to my heart.
I was in the middle of begging God to use us, as I almost always did,
when I heard a whisper over my shoulder.
“Hey Mike, I know you want me to use you, but what about all the other bands here?
What if I want to use them? Would you be ok with that?”

Dumbfounded, I came up short in my prayer.
I grew silent.
I opened my eyes and said to the four bandmate brothers surrounding me,
“Guys…I need to confess something.
Every show we gather together like this and ask God to use us.
Use our set. Use our songs. Use our talking….
Well, what I have to admit to you is that what I’ve really been praying was,
God, use us, and don’t use anyone else.
I’ve been using His using us as a source
of justification for me, and it’s robbed me of so much potential joy.
I think, well, I think what God wants for us to pray is just that He would move.
Whether He uses our set or the other bands’ sets, or the speakers or whoever…
I want to be ready to celebrate His moving.
Because isn’t that what really matters?”

And So…

Last night was incredible.
I felt like God was flowing through me and using me and it was such a humbling
privilege to be a hammer in the hand of the Carpenter pounding promises
back into people’s brains, including my own.
But let me just say, as beautiful as that sensation is,
what’s even more beautiful is to be free to rejoice when
God doesn’t use me.
When He uses that other band, or that other church, or that other ministry,
It’s incredibly freeing to know that what I can be just as excited for them.
After all,
God doesn’t need us.
He doesn’t.
Check out Acts 17:25.26 if you don’t believe me.
All that we have, all that we are, ALL IS GIFT.
Let me say that again:


And that’s such beautiful news friends.
It’s a major blow to our pride to be sure,
but it’s such a relief for our independent, “Just Do It,” praise mongering attitudes.
Like I’ve heard my pastor say,
“God can do anything without me, but I cannot do anything without Him.”
Or as Paul says in I Corinthians 4.7 “What do you have that you did not receive?”
Or in I Corinthians 3.7?
“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything but God gave the growth.”

So, if you would be so bold,
let’s stop praying that God would use us, and just pray that God would move.
Pray that He would use anyone and everyone to bring about his purposes.
It may not feed your ego,
but the joy of celebrating God’s work, will feed your soul.