A Gift Of Joy

Before this semester began, I had coffee with my friend Caleb who spent a good portion of this past summer on a missions trip in Greece. During our time together, he told me about his time there and the opportunities that he had to share the Gospel with others. One story in particular stuck with him (and with me) about a young man who actually came to understand and accept what the Gospel really meant for his life through their interactions together. This was a really exciting moment for Caleb and something that he had never experienced prior to this moment. He also told me that during his trip, he bungee jumped into the Corinth Canal (pictured below) which is a 260 foot (79 m) drop and a crazy rush for adrenaline junkies.

Corinth Canal

Although that jump was an incredible experience, Caleb told me that the rush of excitement that he felt in response to his jump was of no comparison to that of playing a part in seeing someone come to understand and experience the Gospel the way this man in Greece did. I have been thinking about his story this past week and a half as God has put opportunities in my life to share my faith in the Gospel with others – both believers and unbelievers. And this is quite assuredly an answer to prayer. I often ask the Lord that he would give me opportunities to share my faith, that He would give me the ability to recognize those opportunities, and that He would give me the courage to embrace those opportunities while putting my faith in Him and His Word. We even had two mormons come by our apartment last week and spent over an hour talking to them about both their beliefs and ours.

I have not seen anyone hit their knees and cry out to God with a broken and repentant heart as a response to these opportunities that I have had. In fact, some of the people with whom I have conversed verbally disagree with my faith and my belief in Christ. But I am so joyful in those moments because I know that I have been obedient to my calling. For all the times that I have written about the purpose of the commands of the Bible being so that we might find our greatest joy, that does not quite make sense until you actually try it. One of the core principles of my church is living in risky commitment with others. What that means is that as a church, we commit to taking risks in our lives with people, circumstances, and opportunities having faith that God will both protect us and provide for us in those moments. And He has for me.

As a sinful man, I am inadequate and unable to do anything that will contribute to the kingdom of heaven. When my efforts are wasted on myself and my own perceptions of what is good, I have wasted the gift of my Lord and Savior. But when I humble myself as a servant, I know that God can use me in great ways. And that is because my ambitions and my desires are laid to waste as a response to His will for my life. We are all broken people and that is how we should view one another. Not through eyes of judgment, pride, arrogance, or elitism. We are all sinful. We are all depraved. Salvation is a gift of grace from God and not something we deserve or earn. As Christians, we are called to live on mission and preach this to everyone we meet. It is not by my own efforts. But Christ alone. And there is no greater satisfaction than living in obedience to this fact.

Just ask my friend Caleb.

“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:20

Advertisements

The Gospel Is Not A Rule Book

This semester, I am taking a class called “The Bible and History.” Coming in, I was prepared to hear some things with which I disagreed. The professor is Jewish and I could tell right from the start that he treats the Gospel as a book of rules to be obeyed rather than the living word of God that changes hearts and lives. He doesn’t seem to believe that Solomon wrote Song of Solomon and I get the feeling that he needs the validity of the Bible to be reinforced by additional historical pinpoints. When he refers to “the Bible,” he is speaking only of the Old Testament. I think he is an incredibly nice man and would make an amazing grandpa (he talks about his grandchildren all the time), but I see him misrepresenting the Gospel in many subtle, but dangerous ways to those who do not know any better. The very first day of class, he told us students that there is tag-line, or proverb if you will, that must go along with our reading of the Bible in order for it to be cohesive in its message: “If you obey you prosper. If you disobey, you are punished.”

Moments like that make me cringe a little bit. Because it completely misses the purpose of creation. In the eyes of my teacher, our purpose in life is to try and be God by being pure according to His law and living up to His standards. And it is easy to believe that when you disregard the New Testament which preaches plainly that it is by God’s grace and not our works that we are saved and that it is Christ who is Lord over our lives. The laws in the Old Testament are not simply dos and do nots – they are the character of God revealed to us. Scripture says that all of humanity was created in the image of God and sin cannot exist with God. We find our most joy and satisfaction in a true pursuit of God and His will. We fall into the hands of brokenness and disappointment when we pursue our own sinful desires. Therefore, the law is not calling us to become holy by visible action and it is not out to take away our fun or independence. Psalm 19:7-8 says,

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

The fact is, you can live independently. You can live in a way that does not honor God or His law. But in doing so, you will not find joy. You can go get drunk every night if you want, but you will still wake up in the morning with a headache, an absence of responsibility, and stuck in a rut of your life. You can have sex with anyone you want, but you will still wake up in the morning alone and without a true sense of what it means to know joy in a relationship. You can live in pursuit of anger, selfishness, impatience, and control, but all you are going to find is that loving yourself is a lonely place to be.

There is a quote from Matt Chandler that I heard about a month ago that is so clear on this issue:

And the hope that we have in the triune God of the universe is that all His commands and all His leadings are leading us to life and not begrudging submission to His power simply because He could command what He wanted to command. That is not our God. It is not the God of the Bible. So even if it feels like it’s pulling…it’s something that feels so much like it’s yours that if you let it go you wouldn’t know how to define yourself anymore; that if you let it go you would be naked and afraid. Those commands are leading you to life. Not to death. He is not trying to take anything from you but what would eventually destroy you. Even if that feels like it’s impossibly woven into who you are as a person.”

If we turn the Gospel into a rule book, we turn the Gospel into something that is about us and we place the responsibility of becoming holy on ourselves. But when we look at the Gospel and see Jesus on every page, we see what the Gospel was truly meant to be, we realize there is nothing we can do with our hands to deserve Christ’s sacrifice or his love, and we submit ourselves to God because we see how much He truly loves us. And we come to embrace joy in the midst of this.

In my last post, I wrote about the band Oh, Sleeper and their brand new album that came out on Tuesday. This past Saturday, a few friends and I had the privilege of seeing them live in Waco. The show was amazing. I got to sing/scream into the microphone multiple times, losing my voice in the process, and then we were able to spend some time with the band after the show. There were two moments that I thought were really touching that night and I wanted to share them quickly. First off, all of the band members’ parents came to the show. After the show, the parents of the vocalist, Micah, walked over to him. They looked like the typical parents who try to support whatever their kids are doing but just cannot quite fit into the fix. But it was so great. His mother was dressed in somewhat of a business casual outfit (slacks and a nice blouse) and his dad walked in with blue jeans, an aged kind face, and an Oh, Sleeper t-shirt. And Micah lit up. They walked over to him and hugged and kissed their sweaty metal head son. And they looked so genuinely proud of him. That was a great moment.

The other moment I thought was cool came while we were talking to the drummer, Matt. We asked him how they went about writing the new record. Was it music first, lyrics second? Or the other way around? And he told us they usually write their music first then Micah goes off on his own in solitude and takes time to simply pray and seek God until the lyrics and ideas come to him. Now you have to get the significance of this to me. We had never met this guy before. He had no idea where our affections were spiritually. Yet he did not even hesitate in telling us that the thing Micah is sure to do when writing lyrics is pray beforehand for ideas and words that will glorify God and proclaim His Word. I think that is awesome. And I have a whole new respect for Oh, Sleeper. Those boys are legit.

Below are pictures of us with Micah (the vocalist) and Matt (the drummer). And check out the video. Luke and I get the microphone from 2:27 until 2:31.

IMG_5066

IMG_5067

Awake, Oh Sleeper

Oh, Sleeper came out with a brand new album this past Tuesday. They are a homegrown Texas band straight out of Fort Worth and I have been a fan of them since before their first album was ever released. As a preface, I am all for everyone who reads this to go out and buy their music and become huge fans, but they are a very heavy rock band with lots and screaming. So be warned. Their first album was called “When I Am God” and it was phenomenal. However, this new one is on a whole new level and I wanted to write this entry for two reasons:

1) To plug Oh, Sleeper

2) To try and explain why I listen to the music that I do because most people don’t understand my reasoning

l_ee16440a047846f1b57c732b8ac92203

l_4fe1d248aff14418a3bcd4f7f036f5ab

The picture above is a shot of the cover of the album which is called “Son of the Morning.” The album itself is a story led journey through a spiritual war. The opening song is the title track and it is a battle cry from Satan towards the heavens in which he verbally jaunts God for wasting his grace on the cowards of the world who will belong to him in the end anyway. Amid the cries, God responds saying:

If you could see like me you’d see you haven’t won anything
If you could see like me you’d see it’s by my grace you’re breathing

As the album progresses into the second track and forward, it plunges into the troublesome road of humanity after conversion. The electric feeling of realizing your immortality in God’s hands, misguided hopes we place in the idolized leaders of the world, the hopelessness we find in the works of our hands…it climbs up the hill and plunges into the valley. It’s a desperate journey of humanity leaning on its own abilities only to find that they cannot sustain unless they are surrendered to the Lord. However, the album reaches its conclusion with a song called, “The Finisher.” This entire song is devoted to being a response from God to Satan’s claims in “Son of the Morning.” I think the lyrics are too complete to simply allude so here they are to read:

THE FINISHER
Do you mean to challenge me?
Because your speech is threatening to the writer of your history,
Through a future perverted by envy.
Your whisper may sway the weak, but when I speak it roars the sea.
Your challenge has been met, because with a breath I could snap your neck.
This won’t be like the first time you tried,
Because my patience and mercy for you has run dry.
You’ve watered among my bride and started seeds to feed your throning flight.
I will sing to the world your storm is capturing
And the angles will join me…
We will sing to a world reborn from suffering.
But mark my words,
Because if that tree keeps them from seeing me
I will burn off your limbs and you will never shade again.
You will bow at my feet or I’ll rip out your knees
And make of your face all the carnage you crave.
I am the Finisher and I am Forever.
I will sing to the world your storm is capturing
And the angels will join me…
We will sing to a world reborn from suffering.
From the armories the angels sing. You will see them end this suffering.
From the armories the angels sing. You will fear them when they lift their wings.
They will sing to a world reborn.
They will sing as I cut off your horns.
I’ll cut off your horns.

The album begins with a torrent of anger from Satan himself, plunges through the chaos of the human struggle, and ends with God standing tall and holding all of creation, both the heavens and the earth, in His hand with control and authority. The last lines are so powerful to me. As Christians, we are a part of a spiritual war that is being waged and to know that in the end, despite all of Satan’s deception and all of his lies…knowing that he will have his horns cut off is a deeply encouraging thought for me. Because it is not up to us. Our duty is to follow God’s plan for us and to let Him do the rest. These final lines are also indicative of the album cover. If your powers of observation serve you well, you may have noticed that the cover art resembles a portion of an inverted pentagram. It has many religious connections in its upright position from Mormonism to Judaism to Christians originally using this symbol as a representation of the five wounds of Christ in his crucifixion. But pagan cults and satanic sects have since flipped the symbol in order to convert it into something that would represent a rebellion to authority and the opposite of God – Satan.

Pentagram_with_one_point_down_(de_Guaita)This is an image of a satanic pentagram. As you can see, inside the triangles is a picture of a goat which is often used as an animalistic representation of the devil. Oh, Sleeper chose to use the particular image that you see on their album cover in order to illustrate a new symbol of hope that echoes the final lines of their album – Satan with his horns cut off. The top two triangles, which represent the horns are absent. I love this idea because it also illustrates something else – Satan is not the opposite of God. He is the enemy, but not the opposite. Because to be the opposite of God, you have to equal God. But when you are a part of His creation, you are at the mercy of His hands. For all of his rebellion and defiance and treachery, Satan will not win. Because God will sing to the world his storm is capturing. He will break through the shade of his deception. And He will cut off his horns.

I am astounded by this album. It will not be appealing to everyone’s ears, but that is what I love so much about music. Now I will freely admit that I consider myself somewhat of a music snob. I have listened to a lot of music in my nearly twenty-one years and I have found nothing that speaks to me quite as deeply as the artists some would term, for a lack of a better title, “Christian rock.” There is nothing for me in rap, pop, country or whatever else is out there right now. The bands that truly captivate me, and there are only a handful, belong to this genre. Oh, Sleeper is one of these bands. Everything fits with them. The vocals, the melody, the lyrics, the beat – it all becomes a cohesive movement that rings so true in my heart. But it is the honesty which I prize above all. I am very critical of most mainstream rock bands because they are in it for the fame, the fortune, and the girls. They exploit rebellion, selfishness, pride, anger, and lust for their own momentary pleasure and they push further and deeper to gain that new high. Oh, Sleeper does not do that and this new album affirms this. They are living on mission proclaiming the finished work of Christ and the victory of the Lord over everything. Their music dives deeply into the lessons of the Gospel and they offer that to all who are willing to hear. Sure, they scream and fans mosh and slam dance (Youtube it) at their shows. But those fans also hear the Gospel preached boldly (and loudly) through an amazing use of the art of music.

I get so turned off by mainstream music because it has become so incredibly shallow. Nobody considers the idea of a conceptual album from beginning to end anymore. It’s all about that one hit. That one moment that will land you a big tour that will set you atop the industry for your moment of fame before you fade into the forgotten. Forget all of that. Give me something with depth. Give me something with meaning. Give me something with hope.

Son of the Morning by Oh, Sleeper: Check it out here.

Our bodies yearn to live life endlessly, so now we rise. We rise in mutiny.
We make our stand here between the angels and animals.
We fear nothing here, where we can beat any feat set to keep us crawling.
………
So grip your fist and swing until your knuckles bleed.
If you are the new breed scream, “I am immortal!”
We can’t sit quietly because there’s more to life than we see.
So if you are the new breed scream, “I am immortal in You!”