Matrimony of the Cross

Wow, what an interesting week. All building up to this weekend of celebration, first of Christ’s death and then His resurrection.

This morning as the sky lightened, dawn set crystal trees on fire, seemingly bent and frozen in mourning. How is it that something as destructive and displeasurable as an ice storm could be so beautiful?

How is it that the worst death of all time became so influential that it brought people of all eras, all cultures, together? How is it that they — that we — can say it was so beautiful, it changed our lives forever?

How beautiful are the feet of the messenger who brings good news.

Christ took away the sin of the world — the sin of people like you and me, people of all eras, all nations, all cultures — absorbing the wrath of God in our place on the cross. He who knew no sin, became sin, that we might become righteous. He died so that we might have eternal life with Him. He loves and pursues us, an unfaithful people who rejected Him. Christ demonstrates his love in this, that while we were still sinners, he died.

Hear that? We had nothing acceptable to God. Nothing. He didn’t do what he did on the cross because we “did our best” — we didn’t even try. He didn’t meet us half way or 75% of the way or 25% of the way, he met us ALL the way.

That is why it is beautiful.

This Good Friday we celebrate the marriage proposal of the Lamb to His bride, the Church. The cross, is the ring.

I was reminded of that this morning when rehearsing with the band for the worship service. I was having fun singing, I was worshipping, I was trying so hard to let the words and his memory and his promise sink in. To meditate on them.

But I didn’t “feel” it.

Had my heart gone cold, had it hardened? What was going on? Was there some sin I’ve been holding on to that doesn’t make me right with God??

Except, that’s the whole point of Easter weekend, isn’t it?

While I was up on stage, worrying about all these things while outwardly worshipping with solemnity, a thought put those worries to rest… “don’t pursue feelings, pursue Me, for I first pursued you.”

He took our sin to make us right with God. And not by any effort of mine.

One of the songs was “Jesus Paid It All,” and we skipped the bridge “O praise the one who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead” because the Disciples had no idea that Sunday was coming.

But Sunday is coming. Jesus is coming.

Happy Easter!

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When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour content on all my pride // I hear the Saviour say, thy strength indeed is small, child of weakness watch and pray, find in Me thine all in all. Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe, sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow // The Lamb of God in my place, Your blood poured out, my sin erased it was my death You died, I am raised to life, Hallelujah the Lamb of God. There is no greater love… ||

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Dream come true

If the title has you excited, I’d hold your applause and congratulations until the end of this post… it’s probably not what you think.

In my last post, I admitted that my pride had kind of snuck up on me and all of a sudden I was planning my future life and career like I know what’s going to happen, like I know what’s best for me, like I’m in control. I knew I needed to come back to that place of open-handedness with that future.

Open-handedness…? That is, what if my dream job isn’t the thing I’m “supposed” to be doing? Would I be okay with that? If I were honest, no, no I wouldn’t be okay with that. Why does God’s best for us have to be so unimaginable that it’s hard for our rebellious human nature to trust Him?

Well, last night I dreamt that I was in LA, making phone calls, pitching to execs, desperate to make my scripts happen. The unfortunate downside to the dream career that I’m pursuing. Maybe it’s a personality thing, but I’m just not a good verbal communicator. On the page, sure, maybe… but I have to be mentally prepared for a spontaneous presentation. Anyway, I like to think that my passion for the craft is big enough to make that kind of stuff bearable, but today kind of challenged that.

There have been countless theories on dreams and their meanings and interpretations. One of them is that dreams prepare you for real life situations, something like a built-in simulation mechanism. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s besides the point.

I wake up feeling stressed and shoot my roommate a text about the dream, to which she replies, “it’s prophetic!” I smile, knowing that should make me feel better but it doesn’t.

I walk into my first class of the day, the highlight of my day — Screenwriting. Except, the agenda is — you guessed it — pitching our final projects.

Given the nightmare I held back any and all participation. But as Irony would have it, the entire class called on a classmate and I to pitch. He’s a fairly performative guy and as talented as the best of them, so I figured I’d go first… don’t want to get stuck on the follow-up act.

Needless to say, the pitch was an abysmal failure — I didn’t get to the end of the story, I blanked on what made me love this story and what excites me about it. I even blanked on what actually happens, who the characters are… I knew I wanted to get to the big twist reveals, but didn’t know how to set them up dramatically… I only found solace in the fact that now no one else in class will be nervous about pitching their ideas.

And that is the story of how my nightmare came true.

Thankfully there were no real stakes, and my prof and classmates were so generous and gracious.

In all seriousness, this little incident was an eye-opening reminder of how small I am, how powerless and insignificant I am, that I’m not special, and that I have no reason to boast about any skills, knowledge or talents that I have– that I’ve been given.

As I write to cope with the mortification, I’ve got Ascend the Hill’s Be Thou My Vision blasting on Spotify…

O God be my everything, be my delight, be Jesus, my glory, my soul satisfied.

What a balm to this heart floundering in years of insecurity drudged up to the surface. I’ve still got the adrenaline rush, that fight or flight response, and my body screaming FLIGHT! I want to run away, crawl into bed and hide for the rest of the day, and that’s no exaggeration. What a strange impulse. Have I been fooling myself this whole time? Is this industry actually not for me? Do I turn back while I still can? I thought I’d found my “thing,” do I have to go back to that state of aimlessness?

Some might say, “don’t quit! Nothing was meant to be easy.” Others might say, “do what makes you happy.” While these are true and helpful to some degree, it is still a limited degree.

My identity isn’t in my career. My ambitions may not be what comes to pass. In fact, my ambitions may not be what I actually want. It shouldn’t be where I go for satisfaction.

My vision shouldn’t be on how high I can pull myself up (and anything higher than 0 is a delusion), but on how I can make much of the name of Jesus in all aspects of my life… in this case, giving him praise for this humbling morning.

It is incredibly easier to say “I am nothing apart from Christ” today than it was yesterday. The life He calls us to, a life of holiness, is hard. It hurts. And yet… it’s so sweet to return to Lord and be reminded that the pressure’s not on us to “be all that you can be,” it’s not on us to look all put together, it’s not on us to be the champions of this world, it’s not on us to be our own saviours, it’s not on us to fix ourselves, or anyone else. He already did the work, and we are free to train, and learn and fail.

In a way this whole pitching snafu reminded me of the hidden inspiration for one of the big reveals of the story in the first place: “No longer I, but Christ in me.”

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Cakes of Raisin

And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” (Hosea 3:1)

Some of you have heard the story, “Hosea, Hosea, your wife was such a player.”

The first command that God gives Hosea in the text, is to marry a prostitute, which is difficult enough if you’re hoping for a long term stable marriage. Even so, Hosea obeys because God wants to show the people of Israel how unfaithful they’ve been, and how much He abounds in love and grace. How much more difficult is the second command to keep loving her after she rejects him and pursues a life of shame, dishonor and worthlessness? Truly, love is a choice, decision, promise and commitment before it is a feeling.

Will brought up this cakes of raisin thing this morning… it’s a fun sounding cultural-historical thing, but given th context, it’s safe to assume it involves pagan worship and idolatry.

Cakes of raisin. Entertainment? Career? Future? Image. Status. Money. Pleasure. When they come before God, when they replace our first love, they are despicable. And though we turn to these empty wells, still He pursues us and purchases for us our freedom, restores our dignity by the blood of Christ, and offers us the peace, rest and living water we’ve been searching for: Himself.

I was challenged… I had forgotten that my sin is wicked and offensive in His Holy presence, that apart from Him I can do nothing; I am nothing, and deserve death.

But for the grace of God, we have been redeemed and restored if we are in Christ.

In 1 Samuel, the Israelites go up against the Philistines by their own might, but are defeated and lose the ark of the covenant. The only reason why they got it back, is because God made the Philistines send it back… the Israelites had nothing to do with its restoration, or the plight of the Philistines. We are no different today. We are powerless (less in general, if we’re honest) apart from God.

Something that I’ve been catching myself doing lately, is not worrying about the future, but planning for it. Obsessively. It gives me the illusion of control, that I know the best way for me, that circumstances will obey my every whim — or that God will make it so.

Surely, we have control over our own lives at least? We make our own choices, but we have no say in what actually happens, the consequences of those choices. I don’t know what’s in store tomorrow, I may not last the night, let alone next year, 2021, 2026, 2036…

CS Lewis once remarked, “there are those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘Thy will be done.'”

Indeed, pride has reared its ugly head and I am nothing.

Come now, you who say, “€œToday or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”€” yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “€œIf the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16)

 

Father, thank you for your goodness and grace and mercy and steadfast love. Would you teach my heart to come to you always because you are more than enough. Though my heart and flesh may fail, you are my portion forever. You’re all I need, and Lord I need you, every hour I need you. Teach me to be Holy and obey despite imperfect human execution of obedience… Let me renounce my idols and my cakes of raisins. Do not give me up to the desires of my heart, but deliver me from evil. Break my heart from what breaks yours…

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Daily bread, not weekly buffet.

My heart is so full. I don’t think I can comprehend or express how blessed I am to have the community that I have around me. Surely, this is how we were designed to be– a family of families, caring for one another, genuinely being thankful for someone’s existence, loving one another, blessing and being blessed by one another. Essentially loving one another under the unity of Christ.

I didn’t get much writing done, so the “muse” is coming out in a blog. And why shouldn’t it if that’s where my heart is overflowing right now.

It’s only Monday night (technically Tuesday morning) and I’ve already learned 3 interesting things:

  1. The folly of God is still wiser than the wisdom of men
  2. The weakness of God is still stronger than the strength of men
  3. The riddles of God are still more satisfying than the solutions of men

Perhaps the past tense “learned” is a bit premature… three things I was taught and am still learning.

I do not have all the answers, I don’t have a comeback for every argument or debate, I don’t know what is to come, or how or when, or why.

And I don’t need to.

Well how’s that for an unsatisfying answer? Right up there with “well, it depends.”

It’s taken me this long to realize it, and will continue to be a wrestling point I’m sure, but not having to know the answers, not having to be strong in my reasoning… is so freeing.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again because it’s so true… “Hallelujah we are free to struggle, we’re not struggling to be free.” (Mike Donehey).

We can fail, we can walk away from an excitable discussion unscathed by the tongues of men because we’re told that to them it’s folly. We are free to be confident in the truth. As Matt Chandler put it (roughly), if it’s true, it’s of God… we’ve got the market cornered on Truth.

And so our only task is to preach Christ, as Paul encourages us in 1 Corinthians.

Bonus thing I learned this week: The Lord is my portion.

What does that even mean? Who talks like that anyway, what does that look like? I’m still unpacking it to be honest, but He is our daily bread.

He is enough for today, He is everything I need for today. He is the strength that helps me peel off the warm covers to get me out of bed, He is the joy and energy that sustains me throughout a long day, He is my companion who walks me to wherever I’m going, He is the provider who chases away worry and fear, He is the one who makes room in my busy schedule for rest and community, He is the creator who is glorified when the wisps of sparkling snow race alongside me when I look out the bus window.

Who am I that you are mindful of me? How wonderful are your works O Lord. You are my prize and my portion, my God and my deliverer, my refuge and strength, my Rock and my Redeemer. Praise be to God in the highest.

Every day is an adventure and every soul encountered has a moving and epic story worthy of the big screen, and He is moving in all of it, and He is God through all of it.

Tomorrow, next week, next month, next semester, next year, the next five, ten, twenty, fifty years… starts with today.

Not weekly buffet. Daily bread for the daily grind.

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