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

Radical

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)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Go and tell

The first command Jesus spoke after his resurrection was to Mary Magdalene. Standing outside the tomb, weeping for loss and confusion, Mary asked the man she thought had moved Jesus' body where it had been put. The Man answered her by calling her name, and when she awestruck moved to cling to Him, He told her it was not yet time, and then spoke his first command as the Risen One: "go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'" (John 20.17). His very first command as the one who had made purification for sins (Hebrews 1.3) was sending Mary to tell the good news.

We see the same pattern in Matthew's account. Jesus appeared later to the other women who had come to the tomb, but who had not returned with Mary Magdalene, and told them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me" () His command was to go and tell. Tell what? That his brothers would see him, risen from the dead. These were his first words to his own mother!

Jesus' final words spoken to his disciples on this earth are recorded in Matthew 28 and Acts 1.
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and in the name of the Son and in the name of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to do all I have commanded you. Behold, I am with you to the end of the age." (Matthew 28.18-20))
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.(Acts 1.8-9)

Jesus' resurrection carried with it immense consequence for the lives of those who believe in him. No true belief in Christ can but proclaim the good news at every opportunity. He is risen! We must grasp, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the magnitude of that news.

Imagine the women who went to the tomb that early Sunday morning, Jesus' own mother among them, sorrowful and yet still seeking to serve the one they loved by taking care of his body. They arrived to find the stone rolled away, the linens neatly folded, and angels inside telling them that Jesus had risen from the dead. They ran and told the disciples, all but two of whom dismissed the tale as rubbish (Luke 24:10-12). And then Jesus appeared to them. He was not dead anymore.

Read that sentence again. He was not dead anymore.

For anyone we love to be no longer dead but alive would fill us with joy incommunicable, would so overpower us that we would tell everyone we could find. Death overcome? A person who was undoubtedly gone now returned? This would warrant much attention in any individual.

But this was not just any man. This was Jesus Christ, the Messiah. This was the one of whom the Hebrew Bible spoke, the Man of prophecy, the Second Adam, the Deliverer, the Kinsman Redeemer. This was the reality of which there had been so echoes and shadows through history. This was the one in whom they had placed all their hopes and dreams, the one they believed would set them free.

He had died. He had been scourged within an inch of his life and then hung on a cross until he died. He was laid in a tomb, dark and cold.

And now... now he was alive.

This was news of incredible value, infinite import.

He told them to go and tell others.

They went.

So shoudl we.

Do we grasp the immensity of this news? Do we taste even the slightest bit the greatness of the proclamation for which we are trusted to be ambassadors? Do we live as though we really believe that Jesus Christ, for the joy set before him, humbled himself to take on a human form, to be marred beyond human semblance, and then rose again to life, conquering and sitting at the right hand of God? Do we?

Do you really believe that what you believe is really real? Do you live it?

Faith without works is dead. Those who love Christ keep his commandments.

He said go and tell.

Go and tell!

Monday, November 17, 2008

In the last week and a half, I've...

In the last week and a half, I've...

  1. Contracted a nasty stomach bug.

  2. Written a paper based entirely on original research into media influence on isolationist sentiment prior to Pearl Harbor. [Fascinating stuff, enough so that I'm borderline interested in doing some real research on this at some point. History is fascinating.]

  3. Contemplated, somewhat briefly, what it would take to actually write a decent novel over the course of the next year.

  4. Prayed for some of my friends, for my family, for my fiancée's family, and for my fiancée. None of them as much as I should have.

  5. Slept a normal amount most of the time, and a ridiculous, though necessary, amount the last several days.

  6. Helped carry an upright piano out of one house and into another several miles away. (Don't worry, there was a trailer along the way.)

  7. Watched The Dark Knight again. Yes, it really is just as good (and maybe better) on the second viewing. No, the morals of the story aren't as confused as people seem to think. Some explanation on that sometime in the future. Maybe. If I don't get really busy.

  8. Read a good bit of World War II history. Fascinating war. One of the only unarguably "good" wars in history, at least as fought by the Allies. Except that the Russians were brutalized as deeply as the Germans were, and the Pacific conflict was pretty ugly, too. It may have been for a noble cause, but like all wars, it was really, really ugly.

  9. Looked forward a lot to being married. Accordingly, flirted a lot with my wonderful, beautiful fiancée.

  10. Missed my family back in Colorado a lot.

  11. Missed mountains, though not so much as my family.

  12. Enjoyed the smell of fall, as it's at last arrived. (Yes, it takes till mid-November here in Oklahoma, alas.)

  13. Played guitar three times.

  14. Missed a composers' recital that had a piece of mine performed in it, and performed really well by all accounts (go Corey!).

  15. Finished writing an orchestra piece for the first time in several years. (Yes, that's a live link, and yes you should take a listen.) As well, printed the score and held it in my hands... now that's a rather giddy moment, let me tell you. There's something quite unique about holding an orchestra score in one's hands, especially one as pretty as this one turned out. Modern notation software really can work wonders for printing pretty scores.

  16. Tried really hard to praise God and glorify Him no matter what. Didn't get it right every time. Praised Him for His grace when I didn't. I look forward to the day (in Heaven!) when I do.


Someday I'll be back with normal, regular posts. By which, as you all know, I really mean pages long ponderings of important things. That day is not this day. And that's okay. Mundane things are good, too.

- Chris

Friday, November 7, 2008

Experiment

I'm currently seeing if I can integrate the majority of my online work into a single location, making use of some of the very rich features of iGoogle. Currently I've integrated my Gmail account (one of two I primarily use; the other is my school e-mail address), my Calendar (which I've now synced up with iCal on my Mac, and which would readily support integration with a capable phone if I so desired), my Astronomy Picture of the Day, and even a Google Maps gadget. Thoroughly handy.

Oh, yes, and I should mention that I'm publishing this from one click on that same page, which immediately takes me to my "Create Post" page here on Blogger.

I'm finding myself fairly thoroughly impressed with this. Good work, Google. Between your superlative efforts and the ongoing encroachment by Apple on territory that Microsoft long dominated fairly effortlessly, the technological world is looking rather different these days than it did five years ago.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The everlasting God

There are many times in this life when we find ourselves tired, weary, broken by the hurts and pains that surround us and by the storms that buffet us. We walk through a world that is sad and lonely, that is filled with lives bereft of hope or expectation of deliverance. Pressing in are the needs of the tedium that is too often our existence: work, or school, or various chores about the house, or some pressing social engagement. All of them good things, and all of them so everyday that they can become a source of boredom and frustration, and we can lose sight of the eternal value of our lives. Worse, we can lose sight of the eternal consequences of our actions as we become increasingly consumed with the mundane.

Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord


Yet we do not have to be caught in this place; we need not forever leave our eyes on the things of this world. Make no mistake: this world is a good place, subjected though it is to frustration for our sins. But we look to a better place, to a city that has foundations and to a kingdom that cannot be shaken. As we walk through our days, it is not our own strength that sustains us, for if it is we will fail and we will fall. It is impossible for us to conquer the enemies and the travails that assail us every day in our own feeble strength. Praise be to God! We need not strive of ourselves, though every day we must press on in Christ. He who lives in us has already overcome the world. As we wait on him, we will receive strength, not for our own ends but for his. His purposes, his goals, his vision: when these are the defining elements of our lives, then we will have strength.

Our God, You reign forever
Our Hope, our Strong Deliverer
You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won't grow weary


He is not a small God, not a limited God, not a puny or helpless God. He does not change; he is the same through all eternity. He is the omniscient, omnipotent one. He defeated death - by dying, and living again. Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having made purification for our sins. Now we look to him who is crowned with glory and honor on account of the suffering of death and recognize his lordship and sovereignty. We behold his glory in part. We anxiously await the day when we shall see it in full. (Or we do not, but we ought! If we are not anxious about the coming of that day, then our faith is feeble indeed.)

Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our Strong Deliverer


Jesus Christ delivered us. He stands ready to deliver many more, and he works tirelessly to achieve his ends. He will not be thwarted. His power is not small. His arm is not short. His hands are not weak. His wisdom is not limited. He is more than able to accomplish all of his purposes in this world - in the lives of every human being walking through their days, so many unaware of his touch. Even those who claim to follow him often miss his works, so caught up and distracted by the world as they are.

You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won't grow weary


And we are his ambassadors. He does not have need of you or me, but he delights in using us to accomplish his ends. Jesus sent his disciples into the world just as he had been sent by the Father. He prayed for them, and for us, to be made one just as he and the Father are one; he prayed for all who would follow him to be kept in the name of the Father so that many more might be sanctified by our work, just as we have been by his. As Christ is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, so we are to be his. The church of Jesus Christ - the body of Christ, his representation on the earth in this present age! Oh, that we might have a vision of who and what we are, of the magnitude of the honor we have been given: we bear in us the image of the invisible God, and are privileged to be a picture of him to a dead world!

You're the defender of the weak
You comfort those in need
You lift us up on wings like eagles


This honor is not for our own sake, but so that his name might be made great. We daily choose our ends: to make much either of ourselves or of God. In the former choice is death; in the latter life everlasting. Eternal life is simple. Eternal life is knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ whom he sent - ushered into fellowship by the work of the Holy Spirit.

We have the words of life. We are alive, and there are so very many dead. We bear in us the image of God, and so are filled with hope and purpose and joy.

Let us go! Let us not be caught in the mundane or in the folly of this age. Let us run towards Christ with all we are and all we have so that in our every breath we might glorify him and make his name great! Let us live every day of work, every hour of study, every long moment of cleaning, to the glory of him who lives. Ours is a God who never dies, who never sleeps, who never fails; who ever lives, who ever loves, who ever stands victorious. Let his praise ever be on our lips; let our lives be a song to him.

You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won't grow weary

You're the Defender of the weak
You comfort those in need
You life us up on wings like eagles




- Chris

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hellfire and Brimstone

Sin is both far less and far greater a thing than we make it. Far less, for there are many things that are sins that we rarely think of as such. Far more, for it is a far more hideous thing than we have made it out to be.

Our concept of sin misses the mark by a wide margin. The concept of sin in the Bible is rather different from the concept that we have labeled with the word in American Christianity. We conceive of sin as being some egregious violation of a moral code, something beyond a mere mistake to a great ethical failure. On the other hand, we have little sense of sin as something truly terrible. It is simply a bad mistake, a larger error that is significant enough to earn punishment rather than forgiveness.

And so we have set the bar too high in qualifying sin and far too low in evaluating its worth.

Sin is any deviation from the will of God, any variation - no matter how infinitesimal - from a life perfectly reflecting the glory of God. Our purpose, in so many words, is to rightly reflect the image of God, and when we fail in even the slightest of ways to do so, it is sin. The word in Greek which we translate as "sin" is a technical hunting term (hamartía; ἁμαρτία), meaning simply, "to miss the mark." While many of us are aware of this, we rarely stop to consider the meaning strongly suggested by the use of this word - especially in a language that has words corresponding to moral failures of the sort we more frequently associate with sin. The New Testament authors, and before them, the translators of the Hebrew Bible from whom they took many of their cues, chose to use a word that means not moral failure but simply missing the mark. One might strike near the target or far away from it, but if one did not perfectly strike the center, it was a sin. The qualification for something to be a sin is simply any imperfection in our reflection of God. That means that any act, no matter how small, that we do not for God's glory but for any other reason, that any even good act that is not in accord with God's will, that the best act in the world done without God in mind, is sin.

Even this, however, does not sufficiently impress us of the need to take sin with greater seriousness. Without a conception of the magnitude of the evil of sin - any sin, no matter how "small" - we can neither appreciate the necessity of Christ's sacrifice nor take the true measure of its great worth. It is as though someone turned the Taj Majal into a house of prostitution, or the Pyramids into casinos. It is as though someone shattered Michelangelo's David, as though someone smeared dung across the Mona Lisa and then baked it in. It is though someone made pornography from the Odyssey. It is every great work of art desecrated and set to the most horrific of purposes, in complete opposition to the original ends of their maker. And it is worse. The horror of every great work of art turned against its maker's intent is still but a fraction of the infinite evil that is one, little sin. The most awful desecration imaginable is infinitely less than the worth of a little white lie.

For God is the great artist, and we are his great art. Our purpose is the reflection of his glory, the showing forth of his image. And when we sin, no matter how little we might in our fallen human wisdom deem that error, the consequences are incredibly grievous: that most incredibly precious image of God in us is broken, shattered and warped. This horror - I can think of no other word - ought to rock us to our core. Though we cannot now conceive of the depth of the evil that sin is, we ought to daily seek to deepen our understanding thereof. Few of us understand the evil of sin deeply enough to feel that it does indeed deserve death. That "little white lie?" It deserves death. That one piece of candy in the store? It deserves death. That single lustful glance at a woman's body? It deserves death. Because it is not "just" a lie, not "just" a piece of candy, not "just" a glance: it is a desecration of the very image of God.

To desecrate the image of God, to defile the picture of his glory placed in us, is a terrible thing indeed.

When we know this, when we in our heart of hearts recognize that daily, hourly, minutely, we deserve death and many times over, then we begin to first rightly conceive of why a just God is so very wrathful over sin and how utterly incapable we are of saving ourselves. Not only are we deserving of death so many times over that we could never repay, but even our ability to reflect God has been damaged in such a way that we are incapable of repairing it. And so God, in his great mercy, to display not only his wrath but his compassion and love, has done the impossible for us, knowing we could never do it for ourselves. And he thus shows himself the great and awesome God: we who are evil are saved not only from evil but to good, and are not only saved from death but raised to life. We can once again display the excellencies of the glory of God, and when perfected we will once more perfectly bear the image of the great King.

Going before us is our great high priest, Jesus Christ, who has suffered under every temptation but without sin, and who has suffered not only the great humiliation of taking on human flesh but further suffered death - and who has risen again to life to prove that sin and death are conquered. The lamb that was slain now stands the triumphant victor who daily destroys evil and will one day demonstrate the fullness of his conquest. And this is a conquest not like any we have seen, for it involves not merely the destruction of the enemy, but also many enemies' redemption.

We must know the horror of sin, and must recognize the depth to which it penetrates our lives, so that even many seeming trivialities are desecrations, before we can at last offer to God an acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Art lives

Once a week. That's my goal. Just once a week. If I can make that, I'll look to start upping it again. But once a week is important to me.

Why? Because I've recognized in the last week that writing is important in my life. Some of the largest breakthroughs I've had spiritually have come because God has used things I've written to turn around and smack me in the face; journaling and blogging have been a significant part of my existence since I came to college.

That doesn't mean I need to blog religiously; if blogging stops being useful, or if it's getting in the way of other, more productive things, it goes away. Frankly, though, until I'm spending the time I would otherwise spend on blogging on a book, and doing so seriously and with some committed drive, I don't think it's a good idea for me to stop blogging. It's healthy; it's a release for me; it focuses my thoughts in a more coherent manner - not only for writing but for life - and it helps me a hone a gift God has given me.

So you should all spam me quite ferociously if I don't have a blog post up every week by Sunday night at the latest.

---

One of the consequences of my not having blogged regularly for the last two months is that there are almost innumerable thoughts tumbling about in my brain, most of them so jumbled together that I find it difficult to separate them out sufficiently as to make this a coherent and intelligible post. I will, however, do my best.

---

I've been writing music for symphony orchestra for the first time since early my freshman year of college. When I was in high school, nearly everything I wrote was for orchestras of some size or another; I had never written a non-improvisatory piece of solo piano music before I came to college. Nor had I written any chamber music pieces of any scale or substance; I had written a small piece for the equivalent of a pop ensemble minus a singer and that was as close as I'd come. That's not to say that any of those things were bad; I simply composed in a very limited range.

And then, for three years, I didn't. Since I started taking private composition lessons during the spring of my freshman year, I've written
  • a flute solo,

  • a duet for flute and bassoon,

  • a brass quartet; a trio for piano, oboe, and viola,

  • a serial woodwind quintet (my least favorite piece of music, and the one from which I learned the most),

  • a string quartet,

  • a suite for piano,

  • a setting of Psalm 142 for tenor voice, flute, clarinet, french horn, cello, harp, and percussion,

  • a setting of Psalm 67 for choir, harp, two guitars, and a harpsichord,

  • an oboe solo,

  • several pieces of "popular" music for piano and vocals.


I wrote one very brief and very small-scale orchestra piece for a project for a friend - a minute long, with very restrained orchestrations. And that's it.

And I learned something quite striking this week as I pondered this new piece for orchestra that I've been working on over the last six weeks. Not writing orchestra music for the past three years has been incredibly good for me; indeed, it has improved my composition for orchestra more than I would have thought possible. Having written for the broad range of ensembles listed above has pushed me immensely as a composer, has required me to refine and sharpen my technical abilities, rather than simply relying on my ear and my instincts and the incredibly broad scale of an orchestra to accomplish my ends.

You see, an orchestra is large enough and thick enough in texture that one can hide a lot simply by having decent orchestrational ability - and if you've listened to enough John Williams growing up (I did) that's relatively easy to come by. But you don't become a masterful composer without learning how to write for each instrument. The orchestra is more than the sum of its parts, and that's one of the most profoundly satisfying aspects of writing for it. Yet no piece of music truly exceeds its weakest point, and so an understanding of all the parts of the orchestra is important if one wishes to master it.

My mastery of the orchestra is somewhere a few millennia down the line, and I'm quite content with that. I am aware, having written over 6 minutes of orchestra music in the last 6 weeks, that I can do things, can think and hear things, that I simply could not have heard even a year ago. So, I am incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity to compose in a myriad of other style and for a wide variety of other instrumentations; had I not, my composition would have grown far less than it has as it is. And I am grateful for the professor who I've had - a man with whom I frequently disagree, yet from whom I have learned much.

I've also learned again that my soul as a composer and a creator lies in the sound of the symphony, indeed in the symphonic poem (a technical term describing the sorts of programmatic music I've always written). I tell stories. And, like a novelist who learns the craft of the novel better by writing short stories and nonfiction, I have learned to use the orchestra more effectively by composing for everything but. And now I'm telling stories on a grand scale again.

It's my soul laid out in notes on a page, in sound in the air: a sense of the grandeur of life, and of destinies and of hope, of terrible loss and ultimate victory, of the greatness of being a creature in God's world, a part of his story. It's the fire that runs in my veins blasting from the bell of the trumpet and singing from the sweet winds and calling out from the strokes of the strings.

---

Here, then, is a taste of worship as it ought to be: the heartcry of our soul, poured out with utter abandon to the God who creates, in whose image we have been fashioned even in this. The human heart is drawn to art because in it we see - broken, as ever in this life - a reflection of the One who made us. In the strokes of Van Gogh's brush, in the sound of a Rocket Summer concert, in the gentle curves of a vase, in the flowing motion of a dance, in sweet song and in choked-out monologue: we see a picture of the Creator-God, the Artist-King who made us. And our hearts burn, ache, expand as though to burst out of us as we glimpse the tiniest hint of his glory: as in the strains of Mahler's 2nd Symphony, or in the brush-colors of the Sistine, or in the whirl of the Nutcracker, we for a moment are caught up in transcendence and recognize the joy that our God has in creating, in making us works of art that reflect their creator just as every piece of music its composer displays.

As much as glory, our great and terrible brokenness is here revealed. Every piece of art reflects its maker. Not only is there a great deal of very broken art in this world, but every piece of Art in this world - every human being made to reflect the one true Artist - is broken, destroyed. And in the butchering of our music by musicians too busy to work hard on it, in the tear in a precious painting, in the broken shards of pottery, we begin to feel in the slightest measure the depth of pain that God has in our rebellion, our sin, our rejection of our one purpose in this life: to reflect him. For the broken pottery can no longer show its maker's hand, the painting can no longer show the painter's mastery, and the music can no longer show the loving craft of the composer. Just so, we no longer show for the goodness, the holiness, the love, of God - nor indeed do we show as we ought any part of His glorious character.

And so in art we have a picture painted broad, a poem writ large, a symphony screaming to be heard, of both the transcendent purposefulness and glory that our lives were meant to be and the broken emptiness that they are.

There is hope, though. Oh, yes, there is hope.

How? Because while the orchestra cannot be corrected midconcert; the painting never quite like it was, the pottery never put back together, we serve a God who not only can but every single day does do that with his broken creations.

What artistry this! What marvelous hands do now reshape the clay? And to a form not only as it was before, but better? Incredible, you say? Yes, I say: yet credible, too, for it is our great God and King, for whom no task of restoration and renewal is impossible.

Art lives.

Our lives.

- Chris

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Staple in My Head; or, The Manliness of Anthony Plopper

So, yesterday afternoon, my head encountered something much akin to a razor blade and began bleeding profusely, leading to my taking a trip to the emergency room and having it stapled back together.

This is not as random as it may perhaps sound, and one should not actually be alarmed that my head encountered something much akin to a razor blade, for that something was simply the elbow of my friend Anthony Plopper, whose manliness is simply too great to be contained by something as small as skin. No, his elbows are like razor blades, his ankles like great walls of steel (you'll have to ask Cody for some explanation on that one), and his feet like great and terrible monsters ready to come bursting out of any shoes containing them. Broken toes, lacerated heads, bruised femurs: all these are within his great and terrible power.

And that's when he's having fun.

In seriousness, for those looking for a tale of my head injury, it runs quite simply, and thus: yesterday afternoon, after the OU/TX game, a good-sized group of people was playing a pick-up game of Ultimate. It was an excellent game: very competitive, but also very friendly, with both teams playing quite well. In short, loads of fun. After about 45 minutes of play, my team (also Anthony's team) had the disc and we were moving it down the field with considerable aplomb. Our friend Cody Piersall launched the disc in a very lovely throw down the length of the field as I cut across the length of the field. I thought he was throwing it to me. Turns out I was wrong, as I discovered as I glanced back toward the disc, continuing my widthwise cut across the field and discovered Anthony and whoever was covering him (sorry, I didn't really have time to notice your identity, whoever you are) moving toward me - or rather, toward the disc - or rather, it made not a whit of difference for we were all to be in the same place very soon - quite rapidly. This elicited a moment of thinking, Bad! and then a rather longer and more painful moment of tangling bodies, connecting limbs, and general tumbling through the air, at the culmination of which I was aware that my head hurt about as badly as I've ever felt it hurt and that I was suddenly terribly sweaty. I found myself kneeling on the ground, wondering why I was perspirating so much more than I had been, holding my head. Someone commented that I was bleeding, and badly, and I thought, Nonsense! I'm not bleeding. I'd know it if I were bleeding. At which point I saw blood drip off of my nose and realized that all the extra liquid on my face wasn't sweat.

No worries, my friends! Head wounds are like that! You see, blood flow to the brain and thus to the head in generally is exceptionally high as compared to the rest of the body; the high blood flow is necessary to meet the exceptionally high demands of the brain. Thus, any wound of any significance at all on the head is likely to bleed quite profusely. And so it was in my case.

As it turns out, in midair Anthony's elbow connected quite firmly with the upper left part of my head, opening a cut in it approximately 3/4 of an inch long, and perhaps 1/8 of an inch across. This led to my bleeding. Also: a rather remarkable headache that persisted for quite some time. I maintain that no human elbow is capable of delivering such a cut, and therefore propose that Anthony be required to subject himself to regular scans for abnormal body enhancements, including but not limited to x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, mammograms, and fistograms. These should readily ferret out his methods for inflicting injury on people. I'm convinced he's an X-man, with adamantium ankles and retractable elbow-mounted razor blades at the very least.

All of that to say: I'm quite all right, thank all so very much for asking, being concerned, and praying for me. Other than a very slight headache (I've had worse ones after a hard sneeze), I'm doing quite well. I only required one staple in my head, and it should come out in around 10-14 days.

In this, as in all things, I know that God is being glorified and will continue to be. What precisely that looks like, I know not, but I know it to be true nonetheless.

May all of you be blessed!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Miscellaneous Details

I'm feeling unwell; I hope I'm not getting sick, though I fear I may be. Not something I can afford at the moment. If God allows me to become ill, however, I know He will supply all the grace and strength that I require.

---

I proposed to Jaimie Dawn three weeks and two days ago.






This is the first time I've had a chance to post pictures, but they're here now!

It's the most incredible thing in the world (slight case of hyperbole; that honor actually belongs to salvation and the opportunity to glorify Christ with our lives) to be engaged to this wonderful woman. She blesses me, encourages me, challenges me. And she's incredibly beautiful, and one fantastic kisser!

---

God is challenging me and growing me in ways that are unexpected. Which was expected. I am increasingly coming to appreciate the ways He works, and to simply relax and go as He leads instead of focusing on my own wisdom and plans. Too often my wisdom and plans fail because they lead away from Him and His ways.

---

Classes this semester are good and challenging in new and interesting ways. I'm taking my capstone, which is research - continuing the project I started this summer - and a Quantum Mechanics class, which are my only forays into the world of physics this semester. On top of that I'm taking music composition lessons (huzzah!) in which I'm working on an orchestra piece for the first time in several years, which is incredibly fun and exciting. (I'll post a sample or even the whole thing when I'm done with it.) I'm also taking a World War II history class, which is incredibly interesting - indeed, fascinating. Last but not least, I'm taking Introductory Greek (that is, of the classical variety), and that's easily my favorite class. There's something incredibly elegant and beautiful about the structure, word construction, and general flow of the language. Far more so than English. Trust me, you'll be hearing a lot more about this over the coming semester! (Along the way, I picked up a classical Greek keyboard, set; hopefully this'll show up properly for you: βίος τὸς κάλος. [Life is good/beautiful.])

---

I'm attempting to memorize the book of Hebrews this year. I'm crazy excited. It's easily one of my favorite books in the Bible; the picture it presents of Christ is incredible and I love reading it. Having it memorized would be hugely exciting and immensely helpful. It's also going to be pretty challenging... and I like challenges.

---

This whole post feels rather thoroughly incoherent. That's okay. I just needed to get it out, to get an update out, to have the keys under my fingers again. Eventually the feel of writing will return to me properly, but it's going to take some time.

God bless you all; may His grace and peace keep you!

- Chris

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Meditation on Sin and on Christ

I sit here and I do not know what to write. It is as though, having failed to exercise for a month, one attempts to run again and finds that much of one's endurance has faded. Like the body, the mind requires exercise. And mine has been exercised much, of late, about many things, but it has not gotten much exercise at all when it comes to writing. Much as I have longed to write, the time has simply escaped me. And I can feel it: I can feel the ways in which my mind, now a bit unused to creating with words in the same fashion, has altered, step by step and day by day.

And I see in that truth a metaphor for a greater truth. So it is with our walk with Christ, as much and more as it is so with our physical bodies and with our minds. We can so easily let our spirit atrophy, let our pursuit of Christ falter... and it is a slow creeping thing. The backsliding that we tragically see occur even in strong members of the body of Christ is never an instantaneous event: it is the consequence of a long and slow, a terrible and tragic slide that begins with one seemingly-small choice. The moment we choose to ignore a sin, to let it slide - the very moment that we have decided that one sin, no matter how seemingly trivial, is inconsequential or irrelevant or even simply not that important: that is the moment in which we begin a terrible fall.

If we do not repent of our sin, if we think it a light thing, if we call the destruction of it a pursuit for some other time, we fail to recognize sin for it actually is. The simplest "white lie" or the most heinous of human butchery alike defile the image of God in us; alike in kind though not in order, every varied kind of sin has at its heart - indeed, is at its heart - the disregarding of God himself, the failure to count him as being as worthy as he is. Each time we who are believers refuse to seek the active destruction of sin in our lives, we devalue the work of Christ on the cross; we devalue Christ himself, for it was his worth, not the cross itself, which makes his sacrifice so powerful. And to be scorning that sacrifice in any measure, no matter how - to human eyes - great or small is to be scorning Christ himself, to be calling him of little worth, to call the temporary pleasures of sin as being greater than the worth of God himself.

And this is a heinous crime. The worth of God is infinite, the worth of Christ, the image of the invisible God, is infinite, the worth of the Holy Spirit who has come from the Father to teach us all things is infinite; we scorn all three when we do not take deadly seriously sin itself - not merely its effects or consequences in our lives, but the sin itself. For we defile the image of God and refuse him the glory he is due for our lives; and we desecrate the worth of Christ as displayed in the incarnation, his life, and ultimately his death and resurrection; and we reject the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, without whom we would be blind to our sin and dead in our trespasses. It is no small thing to be grief to the God of all, the one who made all things and for whom all things were made, in whom all things find their purpose and their end.

So we dare not let sin take hold, we dare not let it have an inch. As the Puritan theologian John Owen wrote, centuries ago, if we are not killing sin, it is winning. That is - or certainly should be! - a truly horrifying thought. If every moment we are not vigilant and on guard against that insidious creeping, if we are not ever standing firm in the Lord and the power of his might, fully armored with the tools he has given us for the overcoming of sin, we will fall and fail. And it will be an invisible thing until the day in which we see that thing which we have coddled, nurtured, or simply ignored come bursting forth in all its terrible horror - and the ruin of our lives will be not merely consequence but also picture of the magnitude of the grievance that is sin. The destruction of our lives is not the reason we ought to fear and avoid sin: sin itself is the reason we ought to flee it. Its consequences in our lives are but the shadow of the great evil that it is - an evil so great that the only remedy was the death of one person of the Trinity. Sin is infinitely evil, for only a sacrifice of infinite worth could destroy it.

But praise be to God! We are not left to ourselves or our own devices, and we are not condemned to lives utterly foreign to their original design. We may be restored to grace: we may be restored to our purpose: we may bring glory to God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our Father in Heaven has sent his only Son in human form to redeem for himself a people, and that Son took on flesh and counted the humiliation as nothing and obeyed the Father even to the point of death, and in His resurrection he purchased our souls with his own blood. And now we are being made again in his image, the dragon-scales being ripped from us by lion-claws as the Holy Spirit penetrates our hearts and minds and sets us free from the overwhelming power of sin.

Rejoice, oh you who believe! You have been set free from the bondage of sin and death. No more are you a slave to the sins that you have committed; no more do you wear the shackles of your great shame. Christ has come and now lives forevermore, making intercession before the throne of God on our behalf! The Holy Spirit now indwells you, fills you, makes you increasingly like Christ so that you may rightly be a mirror of the light of God in this world. You have been chosen and saved to be a part of bringing the Kingdom of God into a world that has known only hell, to be an agent of the coming of light into a place of utter and grievous darkness, to be an ambassador of the King to a world that has rejected him. And by the power of the Holy Spirit you can and will cast aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles you and run so as to win the prize that awaits you: the prize of the upward calling on your life of Christ Jesus! You have been redeemed, bought with a price incomparable, and now give glory to your God and King! Be holy, as he is holy, not of your own power or ability but by the power of God in you, as the Holy Spirit sanctifies you and sets you apart. Be obedient, for to believe in Christ is to obey him. Love one another, for in this the world knows that we are his disciples.

And praise Him every day, every hour, every moment: with your words, with your thoughts, with your deeds, with your life. Praise him for all he has done. Praise him for all he is doing. Praise him for all he will do. Praise him most of all for who he is: the righteous and mighty God is does save, the wrathful judge and merciful redeemer, the humble brother and the great king!

Monday, September 8, 2008

The One (He'd Prayed For)

He spent the better part of twenty years alone
He spent the better part of twenty years waiting for her
But when she walked up that day
He had no way to know
That when she walked away
She'd be taking his heart

Though every day he doubted it could be
Though every day he doubted, still he dared to hope
When he asked her on a date
He was trembling inside
And as he wondered what she'd say
He knew deep in his heart

She was the girl of his dreams
She was the one he'd prayed for
And he fell to his knees
He got down on the floor
And he started to pray
With tears in his eyes
Could she be the one?
Lord help me tonight!

Many months went by and they started to date
Many months went by and he knew for true
That he wanted to spend
The rest of his days
To walk on to the end
With her by his side

Though there were many days they made mistakes
Still there were many days they got it right
And they quickly came to find
They were deeply in love
And when they kissed the first time
He knew with all of his heart

She was the girl of his dreams
She was the one he'd prayed for
And he fell to his knees
He got down on the floor
Every night he would pray
With hope in his heart
Let us be as one
Let us never part

The day finally came and he knew it was time
He'd ask her tonight to be his bride
All his waiting was done
So with tears in his eyes
He sang

You're the girl of my dreams
You're the one I've prayed for
And I fall to my knees
I get down on the floor
One question remains
One thing left to say
Will you stay with me,
To the end of our days?


---

She said yes.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Untitled Poem

To stand at the edge, and look upon the falling path before
To stand at the edge, and look up on the ascending path before
Is to be almost alone
Is to be surrounded by masses

They tread not the paths
They tread not

Another way would seem easier, where there are no edges
An other way would seem better, where there are none but edges
And those who would tread beside
And those who would never dare

They fear to fall
They fear

To see the vista, to look upon the beauty from the peaks
To see the vista, to gaze up on the beauty from the valleys
Is to be daring and true
Is to be timid and unsure

They do not love the valleys
They do not love

Another vantage point would call, where the vistas are unnoticed grandeur
An other vantage point would follow, where the vistas are ever-noticed grandeur
And those who would tremble but walk
And those who would tremble and stop

They hesitate to strive
They hesitate

And there is love
And there is joy
And there is life

And there is apathy
And there is despair
And there is the cold of death

To fail to live
To fail

To dare to love
To dare

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A year

I stand at the juncture again: the beginning of a new school year. As long as I can remember, my life has been measured in school years. I have memories prior to that, but my sense of the progress of my life is measured thus. And I come now to the beginning of what may well be the end of my years in school. I know not exactly what follows this season - whether a job, or graduate school - but I know this: it will be very different from all the years that have come before.

And so I look into this year with expectancy of all that God will do, I wonder. I could not have seen all that came last year, nor even imagined most of it. I knew then that God had great changes ahead for me, and a deeper calling and vision than I had known previously. But most of what the year held I could never have imagined. And so it will be with this year.

Things I do see ahead:
  • Continuing to pursue Christ. What this looks like this year, I'm still learning, as ever I will be. But I know that it's going to be deeper, richer, harder, better.

  • Continuing to grow closer to Jaimie Dawn. I have a few ideas of what the next months hold, but given how much every day with her surprises and amazes me, I've no doubt God will continue to amaze us and challenge us.

  • Ministry: the details of which are slowly shaping up, but which will undoubtedly look different from what I anticipate. They always do.

  • Friendships: old friendships will continue, and undoubtedly a few new friendships will be formed. I am praying for God to move in this area in particular, and waiting expectantly to see how He answers.

  • Family: God has great things for my family, and for Jaimie's family, and I cannot wait to see how we get to be a part of that.

  • School: research will continue, and I'm looking forward to my classes. Undoubtedly here, too, there will be surprises. Hopefully they're good surprises. And hopefully - I pray! - I won't have any major physical travails this year.

  • Work: Continuing RA work, and hopefully finding another job as well, so that I can save money for major expenses that will come up very quickly after I graduate.

I've no idea how else God is going to move. I just know that He will, and that it will be good!

- Chris

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Milk

I don't know how to pray for myself as I ought. Of course, I don't know how to pray as I ought in general, but in particular, I don't know how to pray for myself. I have some idea of how to pray for others. But for myself - I realized yesterday that I don't have a clear picture of what I ought to pray, where I ought to start.

A striking recognition, that. It started to cross my mind a few weeks ago as I began to develop a daily prayer plan - and realized that I was including only prayer for others. I made a note to myself: develop a personal prayer plan.

That seems so elementary. Yet as I walked into the student union on campus yesterday, it was as though the Holy Spirit spoke to me. I didn't hear a voice, but I was powerfully convicted. You don't know how to pray for yourself. You almost never pray for yourself. I blinked, paused to think about it. You're right, Lord, I thought. I don't. I don't have any idea what to pray about.

We excel at asking for His help; we effortlessly pray for our needs to be met. We may even pray for direction and vision. But beyond that... What are the questions to ask? What is to be the focus of my prayers? How am I to go to a deeper level in this, to grow in maturity in praying for the work of the Spirit in me, in praying for righteousness and for deliverance from sin? I, for one, don't really know how what that looks like. Or I didn't; I'm starting to catch the tiniest of glimpses.

---

If we are not ever mortifying our sin, it is killing us. Period. I've been reading slowly through a volume of John Owen's works titled Overcoming Sin and Temptation, a compliation of three of his treatises on that topic that was published a few years ago. Writing centuries ago, this Puritan thinker challenges me immensely. Every time I make it a page in this book, I am forced to grapple with how powerful sin is, how deep and penetrating its hold on my heart, how ineffective my own efforts to combat it and how terrible the need to daily combat it with the graces of the Spirit.

Owen comments at one point that we often react - quite naturally - in opposition to sin, rising up with all the power in our human souls to attack various sins. He notes, however, that this doesn't necessarily mean we're truly seeking to kill the sins that fill us: all too often, this stirring of our combative faculties is but the attempt to quiet a troubled conscience or do enough against sin that we have respite from the convicting promptings of the Holy Spirit.

To truly mortify sin in this life, he contends, is to daily do battle with it, to intentionally seek out every crevice in which it hides and shine their the light of the graces of Christ. Our only hope of defeating sin - though we shall not see it dead in this life - is to pursue it as a great enemy and seek its defeat at every opportunity, actively engaging in the fruits of the Spirit and denying the fruits of the flesh. And to see sin brought to its lowest in this life comes only by not relenting when sin is quiet in our lives, but instead to press on all the more firmly, intent on not merely leaving it temporarily subdued but on its utter eradication.

Love against hate and apathy, joy against despair, peace against turmoil, patience against rashness and impatience, kindness against a critical spirit, goodness against , gentleness against a critical spirit, faithfulness against fickleness and disloyalty, self-control against laxness: this is our battle against sin, daily. Humility wars with pride, doubt with trust, and the victory is contingent on the strength of Christ worked out in us always.

---

The Spirit spoke through Owen and Jaimie Dawn to me yesterday. I have been wrestling these past weeks with this idea, quietly and not even aware, not recognizing how much of the undercurrents of my emotions were the Spirit leaving me unsettled until I was willing to confront this head-on.

Most of the time, God has to do something drastic to get my attention when it comes to sin issues in my life. Even in areas of ministry focus and direction, it often takes the spiritual equivalent of a smack across the face for me to realize what God is saying. Why is that? There's a connection between the two.

It's in my pursuit of Christ. It is not enough for me to continue to grow in my walk with Christ as I normally have thought of it: increasing steadily along this path. There is more, and I'm beginning to catch a glimpse of it.

We must have no less intentionality about praying for the fruits of the Spirit than against the fruits of the flesh. We must daily press in against the sins in our flesh, never growing even slightly complacent lest it burst out against our laxness. And in just as deep a measure, we must daily press in toward the fruits of the Spirit. And this is to be active!

Wherever we are at in our walk with Christ, we are called to more. It is not enough to pursue Him today as we did yesterday: it simply will not do. We begin to understand this, and then the enemy throws us a lie and we buy it.

What is the lie? It's that the way in which our pursuit of Christ is carried out doesn't change or grow, just the measure to which we know Christ in that pursuit. We must continue to grow not only in the measure of our pursuit of Him - that is, in the breadth of the pursuit - but in the manner, as well - that is, in the depth of the pursuit.

As we grow we do not merely take in more milk - we learn to eat solid food.

I have not led that speak to all of my life. To my reading and study of Scripture, yes - but I must learn to eat solid food in prayer, in mortification of sin, in evangelism, in everything. Milk doesn't cut it anymore.

May the grace and peace of Christ be your joy and your strength!

- Chris

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Strength

Emotions flaring. Anger, sorrow, sadness, joy, happiness, contentment, all mingling in one tangled swarm rushing over me like microbursts: cloudless skies suddenly pouring down rain and then blue again.

And in all of this, God is King. He is great, mighty, awesome, the savior who will redeem, who has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

This past week has been one of frustrations, slowly being submitted to the King. Work was difficult. Life was topsy-turvy. Emotions that I set aside came flaring up when I least expected it. And in all of this, the steadfast love and faithfulness of God abounded. Rightly so - that is who He is! He is a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. I see that a bit more every day. Most often I see it in the times and places that are trying.

As with seasons I've had before, I have no major trials at the moment. Instead, I have a flurry of small to medium-sized difficulties on my plate. And that can be far more discouraging and even debilitating than large struggles. Quite simply, we take each one too lightly in general because they are so small, instead of realizing that as with every trial we face they require not our strength but that of Christ. Our own strength will ever and always fail us - but we are more likely at stages like the one I am currently in, somewhat reliant on God's strength but not entirely there - to trust ourselves for the small stuff.

When we do thus, we find ourselves tired, falling apart, unable to press on and wondering why. Ultimately, it's for that simple reason: that we are not to operate even in these smallest things out of our own strength.

And in many ways it's far more difficult to surrender those small moments to Christ. We are far more tempted to think our own strength sufficient to handle a small emotional letdown after a rough day at work than to think it sufficient to deal with cancer. (The latter takes an entirely different set of graces working in our hearts!)

We find, however, when we are willing to admit our own utter insufficiency - not merely a partial or incomplete insufficiency - that Christ's strength is indeed great enough for the small things. I say "great enough" intentionally, though it might seem the opposite of the normal understanding: it takes a truly great strength to deal with the smallest issues of another, instead of brushing it off as not worth one's time. One of the many amazing ways in which the greatness of God is revealed is His passion for what we often see as banal and meaningless.

He calls us to be faithful in little if we wish to be faithful in much. He calls us to be holy as He is holy. He is faithful equally in the little and the great. And when we are not faithful, still He ever is, for He cannot deny Himself, cannot be other than He is.

And in this we put our hope: not our own strength, but in the work of Christ, the future but so-solid promise of a city with foundations and a Lamb for its lamp.

Grace and peace cover you.

- Chris

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Where I Stand

A little over a week has passed since last I wrote here. In that time I have thought through a great deal, prayed a great deal, learned a great deal. Not least I have learend a great deal about just how much remains to learn.

Over the weekend, I took another trip to Ft. Worth to visit Jaimie. The trip was wonderful, though it had plenty of trying moments. We had an at-times very intense conversation with her parents about our relationship and timing issues. Praise God that I am not who I was a year ago, a semester ago, even a week ago. Were I still, that conversation would have gone badly. I did not do perfectly, to be sure, yet God is faithful. And as Jaimie and I continue to grow together, to work through issues in our relationship and in each of our own hearts, I am increasingly amazed at what God has done and who He is, even as I am increasingly grateful for our relationship.

She is good for me. She pushes me in new ways, challenges me to pursue Christ more fully, inspires me to walk as a man. And I'm pretty sure that well over half the time she has absolutely no idea she's doing it. She is an incredible woman, on fire for Christ, and her heart for Him and for me challenges me immensely. And this is as it should be. I am profoundly blessed to be walking down the road of life beside her, learning to love her as Christ loves the church - sacrificially, life-givingly. It is a humbling thing, a wonderful thing.

My parents are an incredible blessing and encouragement to me. I learn much from their words and their example, and I am incredibly grateful to God for the health of our family. It is no small thing that our family - though we have our issues - is so close and such a place of Christ's love. I told Jaimie recently that there are only two places in the world where I can sleep peacefully and well: my own room and bed where I usually sleep, and in my parents' house. I am grateful beyond words for the restoration that God has done in our family. Ten years ago, I could not imagine what a marvelous thing God would do in our midst.

I enjoy working hard. Spending hours on end crunching code for a program you're designing can be frustrating work, but also rewarding. I can very much see how my father enjoys it. His example of hard work has been an encouragement to me. I've learned a great deal this summer about working hard on a task, and I'm still learning a lot.

Combining that thought with a previous one: I begin now to understand things my father has said throughout the years in ways I never did before. I begin to understand the passion he has for providing for his family, the strong work ethic he has, the concern he showed for my having a degree and a job with which I can provide. I see those concerns more clearly now because I share them deeply in a way that I did not before.

I had a hard day today. A presentation on my research went badly. And I learned a great deal from it. Funny what happens when I ask for God to make me more teachable...

In the pipeline: an essay on The Dark Knight (not a review; there are plenty of those), a review of Voddie Baucham's The Ever Loving Truth, a review of Howard Hendricks' Living by the Book, and thoughts on various things I've been studying in Scripture.

God bless you all; may His grace and peace sustain you, and may His glory consume you.

- Chris

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Developing discipline

Following off of some of the recent posts, what does it take to build a lifestyle of discipline - of committed dedication and consistent effort toward Godliness? This is an important question for us to answer if indeed we wish to develop such an ethic of life.

First and foremost, when it comes to heart change and spiritual growth, we cannot make the change ourselves. Only God is capable of changing human hearts - in that first great step, of exchanging hearts of stone for hearts of flesh, but also in developing Christlikeness in us. We are incapable of disciplining ourselves in our own strength; only by the grace and through the power of God, dwelling in us, can develop self-control and self-discipline. (You'll note that self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit - not a fruit of man's intent to change himself.)

This means that for our part, we must begin by recognizing our own inability to make real change in our lives. It's one thing to build a disciplined life in terms of physical health; it's entirely another to build spiritual health ourselves. We must recognize our need for the work of Christ in our lives, for His transforming grace working in us by the powerful actions of the Holy Spirit. And then we have to act on that recognition by asking for His help. And He will certainly give it: He delights in giving us things that are in line with His will and purposes - and working toward being in the image of Christ, dedicating ourselves to lives disciplined to conform to His life, this is very surely in line with His will.

Then we move to what the world calls the practical part of this - but we recognize that the first step is the most perfectly practical step in the whole equation. These latter steps depend entirely on it, for without the help of God they will take us nowhere.

We need a plan - a concrete set of steps to reach our goal. That requires us to know our goal as well. Utlimately, of course, it is Christlikeness. What are the small goals along the way? What are the waypoints, the check-stations along the way that we use as our goals and benchmarks for progress? Here we must be careful, recognizing that works alone do not equal righteousness, nor merit salvation, but salvation and growing righteousness do produce good works.

We must identify the areas in which we are weak, and seek Christ's help to make them strong. We must consciously engage those areas, and prayerfully work through the sin roots behind our problems. (Our issues are not primarily psychological, whatever the world may believe, but spiritual: the roots of all our conditions, even those that are psychological, are sin - either in a general sense, leading to the fallen condition of our bodies and minds, or in a specific sense, leading to our particular issues.)

We need time for studying Scripture. We need dedication to memorizing Scripture. We need to be devoted to prayer. We need fellowship and accountability - we desperately need community.

---

My thoughts are somewhat scattered tonight; I am tired. I hope I am less so tomorrow.

- Chris

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Conviction

So... God continues to expose the sin in my life. This is ugly, people. And yet, somehow good. Somehow good. Not pleasant or pretty, but good. He shows me the sin - lets it come out, rear its ugly head, then shows me the consequences. It destroys my relationship with Him; it destroys my relationship with others; it destroys me. It's as though God is intending to dig up everything at the next level all at once: expose it for what it is and then call me forward— out of it, into life.

This is hard. Seeing the sin has meant sinning, and I'm not a fan. God has used it to reveal my heart, though: to reveal how dark it still is, to reveal how against Him it still is in some ways, to reveal how out of tune with Him it still is.

And here's the scary bit: I'm not nearly as broken as I should be. I can tell that. And it bothers me. That's a good thing. But this sort of revelation ought to utterly humble me, bring deep and piercing contrition. And it doesn't. It brings contrition, or at least feeling bad, but not to the depth that it needs to.

So I am crying out to God to break me, to open my eyes to the darkness of sin. To how evil it is, how worthless, how revolting it should be. I need a breakthrough.

And you know what? I have hope. Because my eyes are not on my sin... they are on Christ. And He is more than able to save. He saves to the uttermost. It is His grace that changes us, not our own strength, and His grace that destroys sin and makes us like Him. It is His grace that convicts, that breaks our hearts, that remakes us.

So as I am slowly broken, as I am slowly humbled and transformed, as I am made aware of just how deep the stain goes... I am also made aware of just how deeply the grace of God penetrates, how incredibly patient is the Holy Spirit, and how amazingly merciful was the sacrifice of Christ Jesus.

I am a sinner, wretched and unworthy. And He saved me; He saves me; He will save me - to the uttermost.

In this I can take hope.

When the people were broken because they knew their sin:
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, as Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, "Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our LORD. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." So the Levites calmed all the people saying, "Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved." And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. Nehemiah 8:9-12 (ESV)

When the Lord had spoken judgment on Israel through Zephaniah:
Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout o Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!

The LORD has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.

The King of Israel, the LORD is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:

"Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.

"The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing..." Zephaniah 3:14-17


Go in peace. Know that the God of grace will save you to the uttermost.

- Chris

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Turning to the Word

The past week has been somewhat interesting for me, spiritually. I've been struggling, honestly, to remain focused in my study of Scripture, and really having to choose to press in with regards to my walk. Yet, at the same time, it has been a fruitful week. God has spoken to me immensely - using Scripture, bringing it to mind in crucial moments when I've been confronted with the blackness o fmy heart.

My entries on this blog have reflected that a bit. Emotions have been all over the place, and God has used that to expose things in me: chipping a little off the surface of my heart here, peeling away some of the façade there, revealing my sinfulness for what it is, revealing my sin for what it is.

And, as I noted, it's been a point of gratitude and, to my surprise, even joy to me.

Yet, as ever, I am not content. The more God pierces me and destroys the old self, replacing it slowly with the image of Christ, the more passionately I am driven to seek Him, to make His glory my all.

I was reflecting in the shower this morning (a common pastime of mine): how important dedication is if we are to be effective ministers of the kingdom of God. Many of us have dreams and visions of what could be, can be, should be - in our lives, in the body of Christ, in the world. And yet, most of us never attain all that we could of our part in realizing those hopes. And the ultimate cause is that, by and large, we lack dedication. We do not have the discipline to press in, even when tired, even when discouraged, to continue to seek after the heart of God no matter what opposition may came.

And it takes great discipline and great fortitude indeed. All those I can think of that have powerfully impacted the world for Christ - the Bunyans and the Wesleys alike - were people dedicated to the pursuit of God, the increasing knowledge of Jesus Christ, the deepening attentiveness to the Holy Spirit. Above all, that manifested itself in every case I know of as a deep and passionate dedication to the word of God: a commitment to study it, value it, know it. And yet the first thing to go for many of us, when we are tired or busy, is our time spent pursuing the knowledge of God in His word. It's absurd.

The witness even of this week, for me, is that God faithfully uses His word in my life. Over and over again, He has spoken through Scriptures that I have memorized or have come across in studying to speak conviction to me, to encourage me, to point me back to Him as my source of life and hope and joy, to remind me that it is not I but He who is the source of anything I can offer to this broken world.

So I challenge you even as I challenge myself: renew your commitment to knowing God as He has revealed Himself. To be certain, He can speak to us in other ways, and I believe He sometimes does. But first and foremost - most reliably, and most certainly - He has spoken to us through His word. Let us not so cavalierly abandon it; let us not so readily set it aside. Let us hold fast to an unflinching commitment to know and understand and believe the word of God.

Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." John 18:37

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, who he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. Hebrews 1:1-2


- Chris

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Emotions

Emotions can be surprising things. They're a veritable whirlwind, a storm, at some points, and a calm sea breeze at others.

In the last 24 hours I've gone through an insane progression of emotions, all of it spawned by trivialities. And what's interesting to me is that in the midst of that, my actual desires and choices were relatively constant. Despite having an extremely (indeed, maddeningly) changing emotional state, my actual decisions remained unaffected, at least on a large scale. Momentary decisions were less than their normal tempered selves, but even those I overruled by and large - less with reason than with will and acknowledgment of the folly of letting those things rule me.

I've learned a lot from David over the years. In many of the psalms he wrote, we see a fairly consistent pattern: some set of emotions is playing out in his heart, and - be they fear, anger, sorrow, joy, or any other - he deals with them and then turns to praise God. No matter his circumstances, no matter how confused or even angry toward God he was, always he praised his King.

I'm not there yet, but I'm learning, largely from his example. Others do it, too: Habakkuk comes to mind. And through the word that God has given us, the Spirit speaks powerfully. In many ways, I can see that I've come very far indeed from where I was only a year ago. In others, I have very far to go. Yet what is important here is that I am learning, growing, being made more and more into the image of God.

Have you ever pondered that? Our God feels emotions - intensely - yet never acts on "pure" emotion. He acts out of wisdom, always. That's quite remarkable, from our limited human experience. And yet as we are slowly sanctified and are increasingly able to do so ourselves, though in limited fashion, we begin to understand who God is a little more. The process of sanctification is striking and remarkable. In it we are transformed by increasing knowledge of God, and as we are sanctified we increase in our knowledge of God. It is a circle, feeding on itself - the opposite of the sin circle that leads us in the other direction. The more we know God, the more we will be like Him, and the more we become like Him, the more we can (and do) know Him.

I come again to this place of awe, of reverence, that our great and mighty God, He who is infinite in power and majesty, in righteousness and holiness, in love and mercy, has rescued me. His grace daily changes me and makes me more as I ought to be: an image of Christ, Himself the image of the invisible God.

Praise Him from who all blessings flow!

- Chris