Wednesday, December 15, 2010

welcome, christmas?

in recent posts, i've reflected on songs, poetry, and film where i think the message of God comes through -- usually in images or parts of the narrative that reflect our need for him and the good news of his coming into creation to transform it and us. the good news is that the longing for something better -- a better world, better relationships, and even a better me -- is meant to be fulfilled. yes, that starts with a restored relationship with God, but it doesn't end until all of creation is transformed.

the message of last week's glee episode was the opposite. entitled "a very glee christmas," ian brennan wrote an entire story about christmas with seven christmas carols (it's a musical show, after all), none of which referenced anything about what christmas is really about! it's not that i expected a full-on telling of the christmas story with joseph, mary, and the baby Jesus (a la "a charlie brown christmas"), but i'll admit that it was jarring to me how they managed to talk about the "real meaning of christmas" (tm) without even getting close to what christmas really means!

the apex (or nadir) of the episode was the singing of a song entitled "welcome, christmas" (from "how the grinch stole christmas!"). it's a christmas carol that talks about cheer, grace, and togetherness rooted in nothing but ourselves. this actually comes through in the song lyrics, which must be intended to be reminiscent of someone singing in latin, but are really nonsense and have no meaning at all - to wit:
welcome, christmas! fah who rahmus!
welcome, christmas! dah who dahmus!
christmas day will always be!
just as long as we have we!

fah who foraze! dah who doraze!
welcome christmas! bring your cheer!
fah who foraze! dah who doraze!
welcome all who's far and near!
at the end of "a very glee christmas," they have the requisite christmas miracle, two of them actually. sue's miracle -- the miracle of a changed heart -- happens for no apparent reason. artie's miracle is credited to... santa. seriously. well, at least that's what the kids think. in the background, we see the adult figure of shannon beiste, the gold-hearted football coach who is apparently responsible.

so this is the enlightened celebration of christmas: a celebration of goodwill and togetherness that come from nowhere greater than ourselves and mean ultimately nothing. the longing for a better world remains, but as for hope, we're it. this is reason enough a holiday? thankfully, there is a better reason for the season.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

penetrating the veil

over the years, i've had the privilege of praying with some very gifted prayer ministers and intercessors -- the kind of folks who seem to hear the voice of God easily and even to see his face. i'm married to one of them, but there have been a number of others. these are the people tozer once described as prophets -- those who have "gazed with inward eye upon the Wonder that is God" and report what they have seen. in tozer's taxonomy, the foil to the prophet is the scribe, who can share only what he has read. he observed that his generation was overrun with orthodox scribes, but wondered aloud about what had become of the prophets.

for me personally, the comparison stings. i fear that, too often, mine is the voice of the well-studied scribe who knows chapter and verse but has not spent sufficient time in the presence of God. i realize that those are not meant to be mutually exclusive; one should have the latter without neglecting the former. but the question persists: does my soul long for God as the deer longs for the water brooks (psalm 42:1)? are my robes fragrant with the aroma of myrrh and aloes and cassia, out of the ivory palaces (psalm 45:8)? am i abiding in Jesus, the life-giving vine (john 15:4)?

i take heart in the fact that my heart is still hungry for a deeper life with him -- that whatever my spiritual shortcomings, the flame of desire still burns. i'm also grateful that a life with him depends far more on what he has done and yet does than on me.

"o God, i have tasted thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. i am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. i am ashamed of my lack of desire. o God, the triune God, i want to want thee; i long to be filled with longing; i thirst to be made more thirsty still. show me thy glory, i pray thee, that so i may know thee indeed. begin in mercy a new work of love within me. say to my soul, 'rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.' then give me grace to rise and follow thee up from this misty lowland where i have wandered so long. in Jesus' name. amen." (from tozer's, the pursuit of God)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

i carry your heart with me

with surprising frequency these days, i find echoes of the gospel in film, literature, and song. perhaps this is inevitable, as it is God's own story, the message that is resounding throughout creation. yet it always seems to catch me off-guard - and maybe for that reason, it arrests me and draws me again to him. i hear his voice assuring me of his steadfast love and faithfulness, as when i recently heard the songs "bridge over troubled water" and "i'll stand by you." i see the irony and wonder of his calling on comparatively small and weak beings like us to play an indispensable role in his purpose of defeating evil and bringing redemption to his creation, as seen in the epic "lord of the rings" trilogy. and today, i found the heart of true worship in a poem by e.e. cummings. to whom can we truly say these things? there can be only One.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

e.e. cummings - i carry your heart with me

Monday, November 01, 2010

object lesson

i enjoy using object lessons in my teaching. they're fun, and they're memorable -- sometimes more memorable than the actual message. i'm betting that someone still remembers the time i preached with my shirt (purposely) misbuttoned. and i know for a fact that some folks who went to that first all-church retreat i did for lighthouse back in 2005 haven't forgotten the notorious underwear object lesson; i'm less certain they remember the point i was trying to make!

of course, i wasn't counting on being an object lesson for so much of my life, though even a cursory reading of the bible might have given me sufficient warning (cf. ephesians 3:10, john 13:35, ephesians 5:32). sometimes, i am a cautionary tale (a voice from heaven warns: "don't let this happen to you!"), but more often, i am proof that God is both merciful and generous. perhaps i've been both in marriage.

m and i celebrated our 23rd anniversary tonight. i accompanied her to her systematic theology class (what's more romantic than three plus hours discussing the doctrine of God?), after which we went to shanghai garden in the international district of seattle. unfortunately, i forgot to pack the camera, so all i had was a lousy camera phone (hence the photo quality in the collage above), but that didn't diminish our enjoyment of the hand-shaven noodles and succulent scallops. afterward, we went in search of desserts (don tat and our first-ever paris brest - filled with an amazing pumpkin custard!).

in between delicious bites, we reminisced about our favorite memories of the last 23 years. for m, that included our family's around the country road trip from montreal to seattle, our annual family trips to pinnacles national monument when we lived in california, and our time in montreal (a fun season of ministry together, with a highlight being the international christmas camp in 2005). i cited m's and my first vacation trip to mendocino (we stayed at the lord's land), the sight of m in her re-designed wedding dress (made from her original wedding dress, which was deconstructed and completely redone) at our renewal of vows on our seventh anniversary, and playing board games with our girls (from special rules for the girls when they were little, so that they could be competitive, to special rules for us when they got bigger, so that we(!) could be competitive).

as those of you who have prayed for us over the years well know, we've had some serious trials -- some from within, others from without. i'm not proud of the fact that i've been responsible for more than my share. but through it all, God has been (with a tip of the hat to s.m. lockridge) enduringly strong, eternally steadfast, and imperially powerful. our anniversary is a reminder of his faithfulness -- and yours. we give our heartfelt praise to God, and our earnest thanks to all of you. years ago, i was given a word that we have the privilege of proving that God's promises are true, and that has been on full display in our life together.

through many dangers, toils, and snares
we have already come
'tis grace hath brought us safe thus far,
and grace will lead us home

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

quick update

the fall leaves are finally on display here in the northwest - an especially lovely sight on those rare days when the sun is shining and the sky is blue. the girls have made it through the midpoint of their semesters, and m and i have been settling into our 'new' life as empty-nesters. here are a few verbal snapshots:
n has had quite the adjustment at rice university in houston, where the weather is warm (still 80F) and the social life is soaked in alcohol. i've honestly been quite surprised by the reports of student life at what is supposedly a top-rate academic institution, one of newsweek magazine's 'new ivies.' but some things never make it into the promotional literature! she seems to be doing well academically, loading up on languages (french, spanish, and attic greek) to go with her earth science class on the oceans. outside of class, she spends time with 'the people' (the group of friends pictured above), hangs out in the south asian society, and fellowships in a couple of campus ministries and a local church. she would appreciate your prayers, as the spiritual climate of rice is a major challenge.
b is now in her junior(!) year at columbia and still loving life in new york city. she's a history major, and appears to be headed toward a concentration in american history. afterward, she hopes to go to law school (she's studying for the lsat now) with the hope of helping to abolish human trafficking; she is literally a modern abolitionist. her schedule is incredibly packed (the blessing and curse of being a high-capacity person): community impact (the mentoring program she heads up for high school students in harlem), intervarsity (where she led the new student outreach and gave more messages this fall than i did!), and not one but two jobs (in the law school and in the history department). the downside (and the item for prayer) is that she tends to say 'yes' to too many things, frustrating herself and others; pray that she will be able to set a few firm boundaries, even if it means disappointing some folks. in her spare time (yes, she actually does find a little), she works out, plays a bit of soccer, and loves to explore the big apple.

m is in her second year at fuller seminary northwest. though she complains that she is not a student and doesn't know what she's doing, she is doing a pretty fair imitation, getting very good grades and even winning an award this past year for helping to create community among students at the seminary. she is taking three classes this fall - new testament greek, systematic theology, and spiritual formation. it's a bit of a stretch academically and financially, but she is hanging in there pretty well. and she still finds time to encourage her classmates and help them with their greek, as well as to be an active prayer minister at our church. the prayer request for m is that she will not only complete her work, but gain all that God has for her in the process.

i continue serving as a staff pastor at lighthouse, largely in the small groups and local outreach ministries. but i fill in wherever i can, including in the pulpit (only about four times a year, which is less than i've spoken in any of the other 25 years or so in ministry, so i get restless) and helping with web development. i've got my eye on the leadership development process of the church, but time will tell whether i get a chance to do much in that area. we are actively praying and discussing the future; your prayers (and suggestions) are most welcome!

the LORD God has given me the tongue of disciples that i may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. he awakens me morning by morning, he awakens my ear to listen as a disciple. the LORD God has opened my ear; and i was not disobedient, nor did i turn back.

(isaiah 50:4-5)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

more gospel according to glee - i'll stand by you

the glee cast covered the pretenders' 1994 hit "i'll stand by you" during the first season. not the music of my people - but i was listening to it today, and struck again by the voice. who says these things? who is the one who invites us to come to him and promises never to desert us (matthew 11:28-30, deuteronomy 31:6)? who is the one who has seen the dark side and knows righteous anger (john 2:23, mark 3:5)? who is the one who calls us to confess (1 john 1:9), but promises that nothing that we tell him could ever change his love for us (romans 8:39)?
oh, why you look so sad?
tears are in your eyes
come on and come to me now

don't be ashamed to cry
let me see you through
'cause i've seen the dark side too

when the night falls on you
you don't know what to do
nothing you confess
could make me love you less

i'll stand by you
i'll stand by you
won't let nobody hurt you
i'll stand by you

so if you're mad, get mad
don't hold it all inside
come on and talk to me now

hey, what you got to hide?
i get angry too
well i'm a lot like you

when you're standing at the crossroads
don't know which path to choose
let me come along
'cause even if you're wrong

i'll stand by you
i'll stand by you
won't let nobody hurt you
i'll stand by you
take me in into your darkest hour
and i'll never desert you
i'll stand by you

and when...
when the night falls on you, baby
you're feeling all alone
you won't be on your own

i'll stand by you
i'll stand by you
won't let nobody hurt you

i'll stand by you
take me in, into your darkest hour
and i'll never desert you
i'll stand by you
i'll stand by you
won't let nobody hurt you
i'll stand by you
and i'll never desert you
i'll stand by you
i'll stand by you
won't let nobody hurt you
i'll stand by you

i'll stand by you

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

a bridge over troubled water

i was too young to be a huge simon and garfunkel fan; they rose to fame when i was only three years old and broke up when i was about eight. but one of their biggest hits was featured on glee this week, and it got me wondering: in whose voice is the song really written?

when you're weary, feeling small
when tears are in your eyes, i will dry them all
i'm on your side when times get rough
and friends just can't be found
like a bridge over troubled water
i will lay me down
like a bridge over troubled water
i will lay me down

when you're down and out
when you're on the street
when evening falls so hard
i will comfort you
i'll take your part
when darkness comes
and pains is all around
like a bridge over troubled water
i will lay me down
like a bridge over troubled water
i will lay me down

sail on silvergirl
sail on by
your time has come to shine
all your dreams are on their way
see how they shine
if you need a friend
i'm sailing right behind
like a bridge over troubled water
i will ease your mind
like a bridge over troubled water
i will ease your mind
i'll admit that i can't really make sense of that last verse with my theory, but i also don't think it quite fits the rest of the song; i wonder if perhaps it was added later as some sort of gloss. [an old friend suggests that silvergirl could be a reference to the church, the bride of Jesus, and i have to admit, it fits. thanks, d!]

but the rest of the song seems clearly to come from one voice:

many say that this song is about friendship. that's at least partially true. but there is really only one bridge, one who lays down his life for all of us.

though he was in the form of God,
he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
and being found in human form,
he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(philippians 2:5-11)