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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Remember

Still catching up from the lazy weekend. I hope to get S and T tomorrow, thereby getting back on track.

Saturday was R in the A to Z blog challenge. My ‘R’ is something I believe drives our lifestyle of worship and fuels our desire to chase God’s presence:

Remember.

When Jesus speaks to the church of Ephesus, He says, “You’ve forgotten your first love. Remember from where you have fallen; repent and do what you did at first” (Rev 2:4-5).

In the Old Testament, several times we see the people of God set up stones and altars as markers of remembrance, so that they and their descendants can remember what God did on their behalf.

In the Psalm 77, we see Asaph lay out a list of trials and troubles. And then he stops and focuses back on God, and writes:

I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. (Psalms 77:11 NASB)

From there, his lament turns to praise, his despair to faith in the promise of God.

Frequently in the Gospel of John, we see the disciples confused by something Jesus said. But John adds the note that “Later they remembered what is written in the Scriptures” or “Later they remembered that Jesus had said these things.”

Paul writes:

remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:12, 13 NASB)

I wrote a piece of prose-poetry a while back that expresses my thoughts as I remember.

I’ve forgotten what it meant

that You reached out to the leper.

You saw the need and You responded.

I’ve forgotten what it meant that You ignored the condemning cries

and told the sinner, “Go and sin no more.”

I’ve forgotten what You came for.

Sitting with the wicked,

yet separated by Your virtue…

I separate myself by venue.

You reach down into the gutter

and lift up the one in need.

I’d be afraid to get dirt on my Sunday best.

My Christian tie could get ruined.

And You loved those You saw

as You traveled by foot from city to city.

I try not to get caught speeding,

since someone might see the fish

or the church bumper sticker on my car.

Miracles followed You.

They don’t seem to catch up with me.

You did all You could

to make the message known,

while I get scared someone might ruin

the gold edge of my Bible as I witness,

armed with a leather-bound book.

You were armed with a heart of love,

and You died innocent between two thieves

to heal the one who was sick but never knew it.

I’ve forgotten what it meant

that You reached out to the leper,

but now I remember Your touch.

And though nine others forget,

I’m coming back to thank You,

And I’m bringing some of my sick friends.

Memory fuels worship. Sometimes we need the reminder of where we were to push us once again into pursuit of God.

What memories inspire or propel you into action in your spirituality? Let me know in a comment.

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?