Broken Lives

Our broken lives were changed, when You broke the night with day. — God Be Praised, by Jon Egan

Check out the video here.

My wife and I are playing music at our church this morning, and God Be Praised is one of the songs on the list. It has a piano piece during the verses that takes up my attention so I can’t sing at the same time. But the first line of the third verse is the above quote, and it is my favorite line of all the songs we’re playing today.

Why? Because it captures so much in so few words.

What does it capture?

My state – On my own I am broken, I am shattered, I am in pieces.

His grace – Because of Him, as the pieces of the chains that bound me fall to the ground, the rubble of the life I tried to build begins to come together into the masterpiece He intended.

The victory of Christ – The night has been broken, the bondage shattered, the stronghold demolished. Light and life have come through Christ.

The finality of this change: Christ’s work is done. “It is finished.” Our lives are being changed, yes, but the primary catalyst for change – His victory – is already settled and established.

As the spiritual kingdom of this world shatters all around me, and as the world I tried to build comes apart, light shines in the darkness and unrelenting love creates a new life out of the ruins.

This is how His Word is coming to life in my heart today as we sing.

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My Monkeysphere

“I want Jesus to be in my monkeysphere.”

Okay, weird conversation piece, maybe. First, what’s a monkeysphere (if you don’t know), and second, did I go off the sacrilegious deep end or what?

1. The “monkeysphere” is a term for the number of interpersonal relationships a brain can generally maintain and care about. The term comes from monkey research where the scientists discovered that the monkeys’ brains would only allow them to form societies up to a certain number of other monkeys. A bigger brain permitted a larger society. They then tried using a human brain and ended up boosting the monkey’s “sphere” of relationships from 50 to 150.

Basically, the monkeysphere is the collection of people you actually care about and think about as real people… not just friends on Facebook, or nameless humans that intersect your daily life. A good example is the trash man, whose job dramatically affects your quality of life, but whose name you probably do not know or care to discover.

The wiki article about it seems to make it pretty clear.

Clear on that one? Good.

2. No, I’m not losing my faith or mocking Christ. My wife and I were talking about how we relate to God, and she made the comment that she really wants to remember the personhood and humanity of Christ. A Man, someone she cares deeply for, willingly suffered beating and shame. He chose to endure anguish and agony, and He accepted His own execution.

Jesus is the soldier who jumps on the grenade to save the other soldiers in the trench (except multiplied by 20 billion or so).

If a person does that for you in real life, it’s kind of hard to forget it.

The fact that I can say it that way, and you probably understood and agreed – that says something about how we view Him.

I find I happily recognize and recount the transaction, the theology, the spiritual “chemical” reaction that took place at the Cross. My sins were washed away by His blood, my inky stain of death was turned scarlet, and my scarlet sins were washed clean. I can quote the scriptures to say what took place: He died for all, that those who live should live for themselves no longer, but for Him who died and rose again… if through one man, death reigned in all men, how much more shall life reign through the one Man Christ Jesus… for there is no other mediator between God and men… and so on.

It’s a historical fact. On such-and-such day, the battle of Gettysburg was won by the Union. Abraham Lincoln wrote a powerful speech about it. And on such-and-such day way back in 33 AD or 29 AD or whatever, the battle over sin and death and hell was won by the Messiah. And Paul the Apostle wrote some really powerful speeches about it. I like to quote them, just like I enjoy hearing “Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…”

Hopefully my point is becoming clear.

I find it easy to recognize Jesus’ unique place in history and theology.

I find it all too easy to stop there.

I don’t want a historical figure. I don’t want a relationship with a spiritual principle, nor an affection for a moving quote.

I want a personal relationship, a constant interaction, a recognition that there was a Man… and not just any Man, but my best Friend… and when the enemy opened fire, He jumped in front of me, arms wide, to protect me from every deadly shot.

You don’t forget that sort of love. And neither do you recall it with cold distance. It changes your life.

Oh, and don’t forget, dear self… all those other monkeys outside my sphere? He did the same for them.

Maybe I should care. Because He does.

Storm-proof

There’s nothing quite like being at the center of a cyclone. 100 knot winds have an effect on things!

A super-typhoon heading toward Okinawa

A super-typhoon heading toward Okinawa

I spent a total of 14 years living on Okinawa while serving in the Air Force. Being a tropical island on the Pacific Rim, Okinawa can get hit by several typhoons each year. As much as we pay attention to hurricanes in the news in the West, you’d think this would be a big deal.

But Okinawa is used to getting smashed by the weather, and so all the housing on base and off base is built to withstand powerful storms. For the most part, strong typhoons mostly result in some time off from work, sitting inside, listening to the wind and watching the trees bend and sway in the storm. Damage can occur of course, but it’s usually minimal, especially compared to the post-hurricane devastation we often see on the news in the States.

As I started prepping for the A to Z Blogging Challenge, “C” seemed full of options and possibilities.

There’s Christ of course. That’s the Sunday School answer, absolutely correct but all too obvious. There’s conviction but that’s very close to beliefs, which I wrote about yesterday. I thought of the center and how we must make sure we keep Christ as the focus of our individual and corporate worship. Then I considered the change that must take place when we experience an authentic conversion and a genuine relationship with God.

The overall analogy of this blog came to mind. When we pursue God, we open ourselves up to the powerful, the mysterious, the far-beyond-our-imagination, the One who is holy — separated and transcendent above us, wholly other than us. Over and over in Scripture, we see that encountering God leaves permanent changes in the lives of men and women of faith. Isaiah spoke of himself as doomed by the sight of God. Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his days after wrestling with the Angel at Bethel. Job’s entire life falls apart around him, and then when he has nothing left but his faith, his understanding of God crumbles as deeper revelation overwhelms him. Nebuchadnezzar is reduced to an animal’s lifestyle for years. The disciples are drawn away from everything they know by a repeated two-word invitation to “follow Me.” With only one exception, they meet violence, persecution, and execution. Paul’s world gets rocked and his eyes go blind at the sight of the Savior.

Chasing after God often means experiencing sweeping changes in our lives.

But there’s another sort of danger here. We have another choice. Instead of allowing God free reign, we can become callous.

When those tropical cyclones batter Okinawa, after you’ve lived there a bit, it feels very routine. “Ho hum, here comes another storm. No big deal, our house is made of concrete. Our windows are sturdy, our doors are well sealed, and our stuff outside is all tied down. Bring it on, I can use a day off from work.”

Similarly, we can become too familiar with God, too presumptuous. “Here we go, another set of worship songs. No biggie, we got this.”

We take the security of our relationship with God and His great intimacy with us, and we mistake it for an equality, as though God is a safe little thing we keep in our back pocket until we want to show Him off to our friends.

How else do we see Judas walk with the Son of God for three years and yet grow disillusioned? How else do we see Ananias and Sapphira decide to put on a show of holiness to win the respect of their peers at the expense of their integrity before God? How do we explain the failure of the priest Eli, who turned a blind eye to the corruption his sons brought into the priesthood? Consider Uzzah reaching up to steady the Ark as if it were a common thing – and consider the willingness of the people of God to simply toss the Ark on a cart in the first place.

Take Laodicea, the church who Jesus condemns in Revelation 3.

15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. (NASB)

Jesus calls out not only their failure, but their mistaken assumptions about their security and relationship with Him.

He challenges us as well. Oddly enough, a verse we often preach as an invitation to sinners is actually spoken to the Church.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. (v.20)

The presence of God comes to us all sooner or later. We who routinely chase after Him must be careful. God’s presence must change us, or we will grow calloused. Jesus Christ must remain the convicting and challenging center of our worship, or He will call us out for our unsanctioned comfort and mistaken confidence.

Are we changing? Or are we concrete?

50 Reasons

Special Kindle offer - 99 cents.

Special Kindle offer – 99 cents.

As it is Good Friday, I thought it would be ideal to share a special offer available on Amazon:

50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper.

It’s 99 cents for your Kindle (or Kindle app on your applicable device).

Clearly Jesus was not concerned about safety, security, and comfort.

Jesus came on a suicide mission.

He gave His all, and He calls us to do no less.

Now with 20/20 hindsight and the wisdom of the saints of old, we know that the Cross was all part of God’s plan. “The LORD was pleased to crush Him” (Isaiah 53:10 NASB). And Jesus Himself – we know that He “for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame” (Hebrews 12:2 NASB).

In the midst of suffering and pain, Christ called out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” And it calls to mind how the Shepherd will leave the 99 safe sheep in order to go find the one that is lost.

The Father abandoned the One in order to bring the 99 back to Himself.

The cross of Christ – all God’s plan, all God’s glory, worthy of all our praise.

Tonight, my wife and kids will join me in taking Communion as a family, remembering the death of Christ, looking forward to a celebration of His Resurrection on Sunday, and rejoicing every day in the power of His victory shout: It is finished.

How are you commemorating this day?