If I do not wash you, you have no share with me November 15, 2013Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Philosophy and Religion.
Tags: God's love, humility, Jesus, love, Peter, sanctification, servant leadership, The Last Supper
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In the Bible, chapters 13-17 of the Gospel of John are entitled by scholars as “the upper room discourse”. The scene is Jesus’ last supper with the 12 disciples – His closest friends. This meal takes place the day before Jesus is nailed to the cross for the sins of the world … mere hours before He would be betrayed by Judas (one of His inner circle) and arrested.
The first half of John 13 (verses 1-20) is devoted to the story of Jesus’ washing the disciplines’ feet before supper. In the culture of the day, it was customary to do so. Back then, there were no Converse Allstars. No Timberlands. No Nikes. And no sidewalks or paved roads. No cars. Instead, the disciples no doubt walked around in open-toed sandals (if they had shoes at all) on dirt paths and roads, amid horses and oxen and donkeys and … all the stuff left behind by horses and oxen and donkeys. So, I suspect their feet were … um … disgusting. In that day, it was the horses that “just did it” … all over the “sidewalk”.
To exacerbate the need for washing, tables and table setting were not the same either. In modern western culture, we are accustomed to high tables and chairs, which orient us upright at the table with our feet under it. If you come to supper tonight barefoot with dirty feet, your family might not even notice. However, in Jesus’ day, in their culture, the table was lower to the ground. You would essentially lie on the floor or on cushions, propped up by more cushions, and lean over the low table to eat. So, now my disgusting feet are way too close to the head of someone else “reclining” at the table. In that environment, there’s no way you’d want your Aunt Sally’s feet left unwashed for the meal.
So in one sense, Jesus’ act of service to wash the disciples’ feet is very practical. He’s preparing them for their meal together, and giving a radical demonstration of servant leadership in the process. John quotes Jesus as explaining this after he’s washed their feet… “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:13-17 ESV)
But as radical and exemplary and instructive as that was, it’s not my focus. Neither do I think it was Jesus’ only focus. Rather, back up a few verses, and observe Jesus while making His way around the table to wash His friends’ feet. Ostensibly, it was easy going until He got to Peter, who stopped him and objected to what he was doing. First of all, it’s always Peter, but we’ll come back to that. Secondly, it’s amazing no one else objected. I can imagine that the whole group was absolutely stunned that He was doing what He was doing. Maybe they were silent because they felt guilty that nobody had done it first. That would have been me (feeling guilty). Maybe they felt like one of them had failed in some aspect of preparation. Maybe someone was supposed to have a servant there. Maybe the servant was late. Maybe it was Matthew’s turn that night, and he dropped the ball. Who knows!? But I’m quite sure that what Jesus did was unexpected. So much so, that Peter reacts and creates a second teachable moment inside Jesus’ lesson about serving one another…
Peter gets a bad rap. I love Peter. He could never be accused of being lukewarm. (See Revelation 3:15-16) And I bet God loves that about him too. He’s broken and fallible, hot-headed and impetuous, overly eager, dramatically overestimates his abilities at times, and more … but … he’s definitely hot. I hear a lot of people in my world throw around phrases like “sold out” or “on fire for God”. Whenever they do, I think of Peter. If 10% of the people that boast that level of devotion to Jesus in our day were 10% as “on fire” as Peter was, our whole world would be different.
Getting back to the scene… Jesus is trying to wash His friends’ feet. He gets through a few of them, but Peter stops Him and objects. Jesus then used some pretty harsh and specific language in response to Peter’s objection: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:8b) This is what I wanted to talk about. I contend that three things were going on…
I know best!
First, Peter had to humble himself and obey the Lord, even though it didn’t make sense to him. Peter thought he knew best, and Jesus was making clear to Peter (and to us) that in fact, Peter had no idea what he was talking about. What a great example / lesson for us: Whether it makes sense to us or not, whether we understand why or not, whether the path is clear to us or not, whether it will cost us something or not… In all things, obey the Lord. If God says “jump”, we say “how high?”. Like we concluded above, it doesn’t work to tell God “no”. Period.
If you refuse God in that way, or interrupt what Jesus is doing to explain your superior wisdom to the God of the Universe, then in that moment you’re the God in your own heart, not Him. And in that position, you have no share with Him. You cannot serve two masters. (See Matthew 6:24) It’s His kingship or yours, but it can’t be both.
Me before you!
Secondly, in that moment, Peter was preaching a different gospel than Jesus was. Peter says, “You’ve come for us to serve you!” Jesus was saying, “I’ve come to serve you!” God is truly high and lifted up. Above all things. Majestic in beauty. All powerful. And we are absolutely created to serve Him! But that infinite and almighty God stepped into time to die a criminal’s death on the cross for us. He came to serve us. In the same way satan had a point in saying that Jesus could command all the nations to bow down to worship him (See Matthew 4:1-11), Peter was saying that Jesus should be served, not serve. There’s a truth in those things, but that doesn’t make them right. Peter didn’t realize it, but in that moment, he was singing satan’s song… “Don’t worry about the cross or some lesson about us serving each other. You’re above that. Be worshiped! That’s what you were meant to do and be, right?” Satan wanted Jesus to put Himself first, and so did Peter. Me before you!
But Jesus’ unrelenting will was to fulfill the plan … the purpose for which He came to earth, and the vision He and the Father had together from the beginning. If Jesus had again said, “Get behind me, satan!” (Matthew 4:10a), it wouldn’t have been uncalled for. Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (See Philippians 2:3-8)
Love is selective!
And lastly, Jesus was and is determined to sanctify those who follow Him. God desires that we would become more like His Son. The plan in Peter’s heart when he interrupted and tried to redirect Jesus was all about how Jesus was above washing Peter’s feet. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch, therefore, to assume that Peter too was above washing others’ feet. Maybe not everyone. He’d have jumped at the chance to wash Jesus’ feet, and probably been quick to wash the other disciples’ feet as well (although you’ll notice that neither he nor anyone else around the table beat Jesus to the punch on that). But what about beggars and lepers, tax collectors and sinners, adulterers and prostitutes, drug dealers and cruel overseers? What about gentiles or Samaritans? What about all the people in your life that you don’t particularly like or value or think much about? Who’s washing their feet?
Well, simply put, Jesus would. Would Peter? Would you?
And here’s the harsh truth: If we won’t wash their feet, then Jesus would say that we have no share with Him. You want to be like Jesus, Peter? Well, then you shouldn’t be thinking about thrones in heaven or streets of gold or Palm Sunday. Being like Jesus means thinking Good Friday … about being despised and rejected by men, being nailed to a cross, and washing the feet of those who would kill Him but whom He loves anyway. That night, Jesus washed Judas’ feet too.
So, do we “have a share with Him”?
If we do, then…
- God knows best. We say yes to God. No questions. With or without understanding. Even when it’s hard.
- You before me. We understand God’s true, servant nature. We do not stand between Him and the cross. And we love others the way Jesus loved us.
- Love one another. Even when they’re different or we don’t like them or it costs us a lot to do so, we serve them. They’re not beneath you, whoever “they” are.
Jesus’ lessons are hard. May God grant me (and you) the grace to even be the moon and reflect the brilliance of the light of His example! Glory to the Most High King! Amen.
Missing Love September 20, 2010Posted by Jeff Block in Music, Philosophy and Religion.
Tags: Donald Miller, God's love, love, Loving God, Loving Others, marriage, Matt McCoy, repentance, sacrifice, Searching for God Knows What, selfishness
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Last time I wrote, I talked about being consumed by … or obsessed with … God. My post (and my thinking) was inspired by the song, “You will be my Song” by Matt McCoy. A couple of days ago, in reading back through that post, I realized that I missed a critical component of the meaning of Matt’s song … to actually love God.
We’ve all heard that love is not a feeling. Love is a choice — a decision to put you before me. Love is “do[ing] nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider[ing] others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
Love is sacrifice. If I love you, I will serve you. If I love you, I will take the time and energy to determine your needs and invest in them even if mine are not being met in return. Loving you means reaching out to you even if you don’t reach out to me.
That’s hard. Frankly, I suck at it. There was a time when I thought pretty highly of myself in this arena, but I’ve really had that wind knocked out of me lately. As it turns out, I’m pretty seriously consumed with wanting to be loved … to feel loved, but not all that great at actually loving others … now that I’ve learned a little more about what love actually is. And this is especially true with regard to my loving God.
Listen to how God has loved me … and you …
[Jesus], being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
But made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!
Or, how about this…
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
I have no idea how this works, but God really loves me. These passages (and a hundred others) demonstrate that fairly clearly — the heights and depths of God’s love for me (see Romans 8:38-39). For a really long time, I glazed over it … accepting a somewhat impersonal “God loves everyone” interpretation of passages like these. And that’s true. God does love everyone. But it’s not the main point Paul and John (who wrote these verses) were making. I think their focus was (and mine needs to be) on God’s profound, immense, personal love for me. Like a Father loves his son or a Bridegroom loves his bride. God’s love is both passionate and paternal. God truly knows me, and He loves me anyway.
So it’s easy to see that God loves me. The question is, “Do I love God?” Matt (McCoy) proclaims in his song, “God I’ll always love you.” I’ve sung words like that a lot in my life, but lately as I’ve stepped back to really ponder songs like these and Scripture that says things like John 14:15 (“If you love me, you will obey what I command”), I’ve come to question my love for God. Loving another person (my wife, my friends, God) isn’t mental, it’s heart. It’s actions. It’s attitude. It’s can be mushy romantic feelings (the soul), but it is also an act of th will (the heart). It’s commitment. Not mental ascent about what I should do or that the other party is pretty cool and therefore probably worthy of love on some abstract level. It’s diving in. Fully being there. Setting hope on. Placing before myself. Being devoted to. Etc.
This is a challenging time in my life. To be really honest, I’ve come to realize that I’m not sure what I believe and at times I feel pretty alone in wrestling through my thoughts and fears and feelings. Some have been quick to tell me what to do — things that feel like Christian platitudes — in response to my fears and feelings. And it definitely seems like there are a lot of “should’s” floating around, especially when it comes to relating to, trusting, believing, knowing, following God. Even loving God.
But the Bible says that it’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4), not the law … not the should’s. I’m really trying to turn my attention from what I think I know or what I think I should do … away from those things (which cannot bring life – see Galations 3:21) toward God’s love for me (which is Living Water, what Jesus describes in John 4:1-26). I want to be like the tree David talks about in Psalm 1, which thrives and flourishes because it’s planted by “streams of living water”.
There are churches everywhere that believe and teach that God will love me if I’m good enough … if I do the right things. This is, in effect, the anti-gospel, and might be the saddest horrificly-flawed interpretation of the Bible out there. But even the churches that have (by God’s grace) seen beyond this lie to realize that we work hard and do the right thing because God loves us … many still seem to focus on the actions of obedience (a list of things to do and not to do), not a living relationship with God.
God is wooing me. Calling me. Asking me to marry Him. God wants us to be together. Complete, eternal, unhindered devotion. Before I clean up my act or believe the right things or do spiritual stuff … there needs to be a decision to turn from my independence (being ruled by my sinful nature … maybe I’ll call it “the single life”) and decide to give that up for the Bridegroom, who has asked that I spend the rest of my (eternal) life with Him. This is no less than being born again.
But it is not the mental ascent to ideas or the effective negotiation of a list of do’s and dont’s that seals a marriage covenant with Jesus, the Bridegroom. It’s the absolute abandonment of the independence of the single life and the giving of myself completely to married life instead. Just like in an earthly marriage. You just can’t maintain independence and achieve oneness. There’s no going halfway. The Bible talks about this in terms like “dying to self” (Romans 6:1-14) and losing my life to find it (Matthew 10:39), purchasing a pearl of infinite worth (Matthew 13:44-45), and so on. In all the language and stories in the Bible, what life is really about is about marrying up … a relationship with the Bridegroom that allows us to trade a sad lonely life of my way and my self-gratification for the glory of a life together with Him.
Donald Miller, in his book “Searching for God Knows What”, puts it this way…
[The Bible is] attempting to describe a relational break man tragically experienced with God and a disturbing relational history man has had since then and, furthermore, a relational dynamic man must embrace in order to have relational intimacy with God once again, thus healing himself of all the crap he gets into while looking for a relationship that makes him feel whole. Maybe the gospel of Jesus, in other words, is all about our relationship with Jesus rather than about ideas. And perhaps our lists and formulas and bullet points are nice in the sense that they help us memorize different truths, but harmful in the sense that they blind us to the necessary relationship that must begin between ourselves and God for us to become His followers. And worse, perhaps our formulas and bullet points and steps [and lists of do's and dont's] steal the sincerity with which we might engage God.
Becoming a Christian might look more like falling in love than baking cookies. [Successfully baking cookies requires following a recipe - a simple set of steps.] Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that in order for a person to know Jesus they must get a kind of crush on Him. But what I am suggesting is that, not unlike any other relationship, a person might need to understand that Jesus is alive, that He [actually] exists, that He is God, that He is in authority, that we need to submit to Him, that He has the power to save, and so on and so on, all of which are ideas, but ideas entangled in a kind of relational dynamic. This seems more logical to me because if God made us, wants to know us, then this would require a more mysterious interaction than would be required by following a kind of recipe.
I realize it all sounds terribly sentimental, but imagine the other ideas popular today that we sometimes hold up as credible: We believe a person will gain access to heaven because he is knowledgeable about theology, because he can win at a game of religious trivia. And we may believe a person will find heaven because she is very spiritual and lights incense and candles and takes bubble baths and reads books that speak of centering her inner self; and some of us believe a person is a Christian because he believes five ideas that Jesus communicated here and there in Scripture [think "the Romans Road" and other examples], though never completely at one time and in one place; and some people believe they are Christians because they do good things and associate themselves with some kind of Christian morality; and some people believe they are Christians because they are Americans…. I think it is more safe and more beautiful and more true to believe that when a person dies he will go and be with God because, on earth, he had come to know Him, that he had a relational encounter with God not unlike meeting a friend or a lover or having a father or taking a bride, and that in order to engage God he gave up everything, repented and changed his life, as this sort of extreme sacrifice is what is required if true love is to grow. We would expect nothing less in a marriage; why should we accept anything less in becoming unified with God.
In fact, I have to tell you, I believe the Bible is screaming this idea and is completely silent on any other, including our formulas and bullet points. It seems, rather, that Christ’s parables … were designed to bypass the memorization of ideas and cause us to wrestle with a certain need to cling to Him.
At just the right time, while I was yet a sinner, Christ [called me to be His] (Romans 5:6-8, paraphrased). Not perfect, not totally free of my rebellious nature and my selfish desire to have things my way, but His. That’s how much He loves me. And the more I allow that to sink into my soul, the more it’s melting my heart.
How could I not be consumed by You? September 6, 2010Posted by Jeff Block in Music, Philosophy and Religion.
Tags: fear, God's love, God's priorities, God's promises, Harvest Bible Chapel, James MacDonald, Matt McCoy, Self esteem, The narrow road, Trusting God, Worship
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About a year ago, I wrote about Lindsay McCaul and Andi Rozier, two of the most amazing worship leaders I’ve had the privilege to know or be led by in church. Recently, another fantastic artist has crossed my path, named Matt McCoy. Matt leads worship at Harvest Bible Chapel alongside Lindsay and Andi. I’m not sure how new he is to Harvest, but he’s fairly new to me. The other day, I purchased his latest album “Heaven Calling“, and I love it. Four songs on the CD made it immediately to my “Favorite Worship” playlist, and — especially given my last post — I felt compelled to write about one of them, entitled “You will be my Song”…
Sovereign Lord, Your hands unfold
And stretch out skies above the world
How can I not be consumed by You?
You’re far above the earthly things
The heavens bow, all nature sings
How can I not be consumed by You?
You will be my song, forever
You will be my one desire
You will be my song
God I’ll always love You
Oh matchless King, God on high
Creation speaks of beautiful love
And how could I not be consumed by You?
You will be my song, forever
You will be my one desire
You will be my song
God I’ll always love You
Where would I be if You weren’t with me?
Who would I be without You?
You will be my song, forever
You will be my one desire
You will be my song
God I’ll always love
I’ll always love… You
In my last post about another song — “Be Magnified” — I talked about how I imagined the author’s call to magnify God in “his song” to be a euphamism for “his life” … to honor and point to and magnify God with everything he does and says and is. And that the sum total of his life is essentially the “song” of his life.
This song asks and answers the question, “Who will be my song?” Combining themes, I’m asking, “Who will be my life?”
I guess the question isn’t terribly dissimilar from questions like “What will you do when you grow up?” or “What will your life demonstrate for all to see?” … or even (a classic James MacDonald question), “To what will you give your life?” I like another way he puts it even better, “On what will you spend your life?” This one’s probably my favorite.
But the statement that “God will be my song” really gets at the heart of these questions with the answer, “My entire life will be totally consumed by God.” God’s priorities. God’s principals. God’s presence. God’s perceptions. God’s promises. God’s power. God’s people. If God loves it, wants it, thinks highly of it, commands it, asks me for it … then I’m all about it. And if He doesn’t, then I’m not.
Um … totally intimidated. I don’t even come close to living like that.
God has (rightly) been called life’s “one magnificent obsession“. But I think if I were honest, I’d have to say that my life’s obsession has been to be good enough. Good enough for what, I’m not really sure. But good enough. If I’m “good enough”, then I won’t feel afraid or alone. And then I’ll be happy. At least that’s what the voice in my head keeps telling me.
The Bible says differently, however, as does Matt McCoy. In his song — in place of my fear and anxiety — Matt is advocating worship…
- God is the Creator of the universe… (Sovereign Lord, Your hands unfold and stretch out skies above the world)
- God is holy and amazing, and even the rocks will give God that recognition if we fail to (see Luke 19:37-40) … (You’re far above the earthly things; the heavens bow, all nature sings)
- God is not comparable to anything else in the universe, ruling over even the swirling space dust in a billion galaxies, and yet He loves me… (Oh matchless King, God on high, creation speaks of beautiful love)
But why stop there? How about some of these…
- God sent His Son to die for my sins (Romans 5:6-8)
- God has loved me with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and enduring faithfulness (Isaiah 54:10)
- God’s mercies, in response to my constant sin and rebellious heart, are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23)
- God is a strong tower, where I can run and hide when I’m afraid, and He will shelter and protect me from the storms of life (Proverbs 18:10)
- God is my Father, and gives to me good things like no earthy father ever could (Luke 11:11-13)
- God knows me — He knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), counts the hairs on my head (Matthew 10:30), and collects my tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8) — and loves me anyway
- God wants me to experience the fullness of kingdom life (John 10:10)
- And I could probably go on like this for hours
Worship is acknowledging God’s rightful place, both in the universe generally and in my life personally. God is the one and only person or thing in my life that should inspire awe, truly captivate my attention, draw me completely in, be sought after to fill the holes created by my deepest longings. And God is worthy of all that and more. Matt would absolutely say that God can be trusted if I come to Him. And in my head, I know that’s true. But my heart is harder to convince.
My fears may be ridiculous, but I have them. They’re real to me. I guess everyone has “their thing”. If only I could give those fears to God. If only I believed in God’s love for me enough to set my anxiety and controlling nature aside so I could run to Him. He clearly promises that I will find rest for my soul (Matthew 11:28-30). But my soul seems to be like a rebellious teenager. First of all, I just want my way. Sigh. And secondly, I’m scared that my parents (God) don’t understand me and won’t give me what I think I need (something new and shiny and wonderful, like “happiness”) if I come to them and ask.
The bridge of Matt’s song asks two other important questions: “Where would I be if You weren’t with me? Who would I be without You?” The teenager would ask these questions with glib, immature, untempored joy, hoping to get away from his parents into a (more attractive) world of self-discovery and independence. (Read Luke 15:11-32.) At least there’s enough distance between me and “rebellious teenager” to know that I don’t really want to know the answers to these questions. But I fear that’s exactly where my stubborn heart is leading me.
So, for me, the path is clear… “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6) And the very next thought isn’t bad either, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (vs 7)
It blows my mind, as much as God loves me, that I’m too proud or too scared or too something-else-that-I-wish-I-wasn’t to come to God … who is real, who loves me, and who has promised me rest. But I’m working on it. More than anything I need to pour over God’s Word and internalize God’s promises. One of the big ones I’ve just recently discovered is in 1 John 3: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! … This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:1,19-20)
Guess I know what my next memory verse will be.
What about you? What keeps you from running to God? What broken cistern are you turning to instead of living water (Jeremiah 2:13)?
… and in my eyes and with my song … August 23, 2010Posted by Jeff Block in Music, Philosophy and Religion.
Tags: God's faithfulness, God's love, repentance, sin, SLT, Urbana
In 1996, I attended the Urbana Missionary Conference in Urbana, IL. I had graduated from college 6 months earlier, filled with zeal for Christ, a knowledge and love of God’s Word, and an amazing community of Christian friends among whom I had been a leader. The highlight of my Christian training was a month-long leadership “camp” at Cedar Campus in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I spent the month of July immediately following graduation. This month of training was called “SLT” (for “School of Leadership Training“).
In the 6 months following SLT, however, things went seriously downhill for me spiritually. The truth is that I didn’t cope particularly well with having moved to Chicago (where I knew only a few people) and lost my Christian community, my church, my ministry, my support structure … and the familiarity of my life in college. I knew how school worked, and although I was successful at my job, I didn’t know how make the single adult life (in relative isolation) work.
And there was my problem … trying to make my life work. Almost immediately, I forgot how to leave life in God’s hands. Looking back on it, I wonder if I ever really knew.
At Urbana, there was fantastic teaching and worship, and my spiritual life felt revitalized for a while. One of the songs we sang that week was called “Be Magnified”. At the time, I liked it, but it wasn’t deeply significant to me. Other songs that week eclipsed this simple song … meeting me closer to where I was at that particular time in my life. As I left Urbana, I bought the worship CD and listened to it many times, but in the 14 years since then, these songs have become less prevalent on my various “favorite” playlists.
I’ve recently felt more strongly than ever an acute sense of my selfishness and disconnection from God. Naturally, God didn’t go anywhere. My sinful choices and spiritual laziness have separated me from God overtime, and caused me pain and sorrow. And that’s when God resurfaced this old song for me in the car on the way to work the other day…
I have made You too small in my eyes
Oh Lord, forgive me
And I have believed in a lie
That You are unable to help me.
But now, Oh Lord, I see my wrong
Heal my heart and show Yourself strong
And in my eyes and with my song
Oh Lord, be magnified
I have leaned on a wisdom of men
Oh Lord, forgive me
And I have responded to them
Instead of Your light and Your mercy
But now, Oh Lord, I see my wrong
Heal my heart and show yourself strong
And in my eyes and with my song
Oh Lord be magnified
Be magnified, Oh Lord
You are highly exalted
And there is nothing You can’t do
Oh Lord, my eyes are on You
Oh Lord, be magnified
It’s true. For almost my entire Christian life, I have made God too small in my eyes. Satan’s lie has and always will be, “Did God really say…” (See Genesis 3:1) God help me, I have acted as if God’s strength was not sufficient … as if He was unable to help me. And I’m the king of leaning not on God’s promises but on the wisdom and judgment and opinions of men (… women … others … you know what I mean). It’s crazy how easily fear has gripped me in my life and driven me toward decisions that have hurt others as well as myself. But the Bible says clearly that God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4) … to turn from our sinful choices and embrace God’s best for us. God loves me, and at that, unconditionally. But the Bible is clear that my love for God cannot be demonstrated in feelings or platitudes or sentimental songs, but rather through obedience. John 14:15 says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” That’s pretty straightforward, I think.
So, I love this song. It acknowledges the truth of my heart … that I have fixed my eyes on myself and others, not on Christ. (See Colossians 3:1-17 … which I’ve been memorizing) This song is worship that pleads with God to forgive this sin, to heal my heart, and to be strong on my behalf. One of God’s most awe-inspiring, worship-worthy qualities is that His strength is made perfect (and obvious) in my weakness. “[Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor 12:9)
I’ve spent my whole life being scared of my weaknesses, and even more afraid of what others would think of me if they connected with them like I do (in my own heart). I was sure that I would find rejection if I shared who I really was, but I didn’t … not from people who love me, not from the church, and certainly not from God. Instead, God’s power has been evident to me. Obvious. And I find myself tempted to boast in my weaknesses, because I marvel at the power of God displayed in them. I’m learning … slowly.
The details of my current situation are still pretty complicated. I don’t quite feel ready to blog them to the world. Perhaps someday. But for now, suffice it to say that I am watching God, before my very eyes, produce fruit out of my weakness and sin that I labored unsuccessfully for over a decade to produce out of the best my strength had to offer. My strength was like that of a poorly built house in a hurricane. Nothing to it. But in contrast, Jesus was again proven right when he said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
The part I’m waiting for is for God to heal my heart. He promises to collect my tears (Psalm 56:8) and wipe them from my eyes (Rev 21:4) and a whole host of other sadness-removing, heart-mending, soul-restoring activities. But right now, I don’t feel that. I know others don’t either who have felt the sting of sin, even my sin. So, I guess I’m waiting for God to act. I’m not patient though, you know. I’m not good. I’m not wise. And I’m certainly not strong. Only God is. And I wish I had more faith. But in the meantime, I have just enough faith to stand here and wait. And hopefully enough to amp up my daily time with God, which is so sorely lacking. Sigh.
Oh, and one more thing…
I love the way the author of this song (I have no idea who originally wrote it) asks God to glorify Himself in his life. When I sing this song, I’m saying to God, “heal me … be amazingly powerful … and in my eyes and with my song … be magnified.” That means I want God to be bigger, stronger, more pure, more able. God is already these things. He is unsearchable … indescribable … incomparable. But I have not treated Him that way. This song isn’t so much a statement about God as it is about me. In my eyes, God, be bigger and stronger. Let me see you the way you really are.
And in my song. Maybe the author meant that to refer to the music of the song. I don’t know. But I think about it as my life. That’s my song. My choices. Everyday. Who I am. The totality of my life. That’s the song I will have sung when I have breathed my last. And if I want that life to be meaningful … to count the way Jesus meant it to count when He referred to Kingdom living as “life in all its fullness” (John 10:10) … then God has to be very big and very strong and very good in the midst of it. It’s His reality invading mine that makes my life meaningful and secure and right. Nothing else will.
So, in my eyes and with my song, be magnified. Oh Lord, be magnified!
He is my Fortress (part 2) July 11, 2009Posted by Jeff Block in Music, Philosophy and Religion.
Tags: Andi Rozier, creation, fear, God's discipline, God's faithfulness, God's friendship, God's love, God's promises, God's sovereignty, God's supremacy, Harvest Bible Chapel, Jesus
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In a previous post, I decomposed part of Andi Rozier’s “He is my Fortress”. Because that entry was getting seriously long, I thought I’d break into two pieces. So, here’s the second half…
You’re before me
God challenges us. He does not tolerate sin, and He loves us far too much to leave us where we are. If we’ve given God permission to sanctify us by committing our lives to Him, then He will not leave us where He finds us. God changes and matures us. He stands before us and leads us to new places that are far better for us than we would choose to go on our own. Some of the best verses in the Bible are also some of the best known… “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:2-3)
God also goes before us in the sense that He has experience trials and suffering and temptation as a man, God’s love for us is a love that knows from experience our limitations and frailty and smallness. Hebrews says it very well… “We have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
And behind me.
If you give your life to God and submit to His will, then God’s got your back. Andi’s song says it really well, “No power can stand against a people that God defends.” This is a lyrical adaptation of the Scripture, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32) I think the best portrayal of this concept I’ve ever seen is in the movie “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” when Lucy stands on the bridge to face the entire Talmerine army. She’s a young girl with a small dagger. She has no real power of any kind, except that she knows the King of Narnia, Aslan the great lion, He has her back. The Talmerines have nothing to fear from Lucy until Aslan stands behind her. And even then, they are foolish men. They do not understand the power with which they’re dealing, The same is true of us, most of the time. In our self-centered arrogance, we fail to accurately assess either the power of God or the power of the enemy. And we certainly forget that we are frail, weak, and helpless (as Jeff Donaldson, my pastor, has recently and correctly pointed out).
R.C. Sproul writes, “Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they’ve contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.”
I’m okay with being really small as long as a really big God has my back.
You invite me in and delight me.
Psalm 23 again: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (Psalm 23:5)
Also, consider a conversation Jesus once had with Thomas, one of His disciples…
“‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms…. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”
So, Jesus has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us to be, which will be a great delight to us and to which we know the way. Sign me up. I think many people ask alongside Thomas, though, “How do I get to God?” Jesus says, “You know the way, because you know me. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” I’m so in.
You prepare me
God’s motivation for not leaving us the way we are (sanctification) is to prepare us to be with Him in heaven. That’s what the “going to prepare a room for me” thing is about too. If we feel like God’s actions don’t make sense sometimes, perhaps it’s because they don’t … from an earthly, worldly perspective. God cares far less about our being suited to live in this world, concerning Himself with the far more beneficial (for us), far more glorious, far more significant assignment to make us ideally suited for eternal life with Him.
And protect me
God protects us from all manner of things, some we’re aware of and some we aren’t, Every time we get in a car, we have one near death experience after another. All the accidents we didn’t have are a gift from God. Every illness we don’t get. Every famine, earthquake or tidal wave we don’t experience. These are all ways in which God’s hand is a protecting hand.
But more than that, God sends angels to battle for us spirtually. God literally fights for us. I love this Scripture from the book of Joshua, when he was leading the armies of Israel to take Jericho…
“Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ ‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’ The commander of the LORD’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.'” (Joshua 5:13-15)
God is not tame or in any way under control, but He is good. And He fights for those whose hearts are set on Him.
You correct my heart
As any good father would, God disciplines His children. It’s easy for me to overlook rebellion and selfishness in my son John. Much harder to discipline him. But the discipline is much better for him, because it forms his life. It’s much more loving to discipline. It’s the selfish thing to overlook behaviour that hurts him and will hurt him even more in the long run.
The same is true of God. From Proverbs…
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Proverbs 3:11-12)
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our [imperfect earthly] fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but [our perfect Heavenly Father] disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:7-11)
As a legitimate child of God, I embrace God’s discipline as for my good from the heart of a loving Father. I do not question the goodness of God in hardship, but rather admit and submit to the reality that God is wiser and far greater than I. I trust Him, so therefore I don’t have to understand every circumstance of my life … even if it feel like I wouldn’t choose them for myself. God is correcting my heart and perfecting me.
And perfect me
More preparation. More sanctification. More making me like Jesus. I think I’m detecting a theme.
But let’s not let this concept fly by too quickly. God takes the time and expends the effort to make us like Him. Not only is it amazing that we’ll be perfect someday. James says, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4) Pretty amazing to imagine my “not lacking anything”. I’m all about being “mature and complete”. The really cool part is that God too is all about this work. I find this to be the ultimate in condescension, but in the very best way.
The goal of God’s discipline, as Hebrews clearly states, is my righteousness, perfection, sanctification. Bring it on! I want to be more like Jesus, and I understand it will cost me to get there.
You befriend me
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:13-17)
I have nothing to add to the beauty and power of this truth, directly quoted from God’s Word.
You defend me
In my mind, the same as “you’re behind me”. Again, the image of Lucy and Aslan and the Talmarines comes to mind.
You are my Strength
We have very little strength of our own. To effect earthly things, perhaps we have a little power or strength, but not much. But to effect the things that really matter – heavenly and spiritual things – we have nothing apart from God. The Bible paints the picture of vines and branches. In the same way that branches have to remain in (connected to) the vines and root system on which they depend for life, so we also have to remain in (connected to) God for life. Not just that God sustains the molecules and biochemical functions in our body or gives us the breath of life, but also in the sense of accomplishment or progress. In order to accomplish anything of value, we must remain in Christ.
Here’s how Jesus said it…
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)
So, if we want to accomplish anything of significance in this world or the next, we’ll allow God to be our strength. We’ll remain in Him.
I will fear no more
By this time, Andi’s song is in crescendo, and so is – I think – the meaning of the words. I also find application of God’s truth to be the climax of preaching, Bible study, and music. This final phrase in the bridge carries with it the highest call to commitment and personal application of the whole song. If you really believe the rest of the song, then this line is absolutely right: there is nothing to fear but God Himself.
If we know Jesus…
- We don’t have to fear enemies – even spiritual enemies, because God surrounds and protects us.
- We don’t have to fear being in need, because God sustains us.
- We don’t have to fear being unloved – whether for regrets of the past or mistakes in the future, because God draws us near and embraces us.
- We don’t have to fear the future – what unexpected hardships or difficulties or challenges life may bring us, because God goes before us and is behind us.
- We don’t have to fear the afterlife, because God invites us in.
- We don’t have to fear the unknown of heaven, because God has prepared a place for us to delights us.
- We don’t have to fear the massive chasm between us (and our sin) and God (and His holiness), because God prepares us for heaven, corrects our hearts, and perfects us.
- We don’t have to fear being alone, unimportant, broken, useless or anything else that emphasizes insignificance in this life, because God has called us “friends”. To be a friend of God for all eternity … I mean, seriously, is there some higher goal to which you’re aspiring that you’d like to share with the class?
- We don’t have to fear lacking the strength to accomplish the dreams God has placed in our hearts, because God is our strength.
So, let’s sum up… Stop being afraid! Of the future. Of insignificance. Of weakness. Of hardship. Of opposition. If God is for you, who can stand against you? If only we believed God’s promises the way Moses did: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Ex0dus 14:13)
I love it. Let’s try to actually trust God like that, and treat Him as a strong fortress. Let’s run in and find shelter, deliverance, and a whole new way of thinking in this life which will lead us to the next.