Thursday, February 14, 2013

So... What are You Giving Up?

Lent has started. We observed the beginning of the season by participating in an Ash Wednesday service at our church. We reflected on the meaning of the season through scripture, prayer, and homily. Then all who would accept it received a cross-shaped mark on the forehead, formed by the pastor's finger from the ashes of burned palm leaves.

After all who chose to come forward were served, I stepped forward again. Being a member of the clergy myself, I believed that it was the right thing to do, to offer the same service to our pastor. As I reached for the bowl of ashes, he looked at me with surprise, as in, "What are you doing?" This was soon replaced with recognition. Then, wiping ash onto his brow, I saw gratitude in his eyes as I gave him the same blessing, "From dust you have come. To dust you will return." The reminder that in this time, we reflect on our sinful nature and refresh our commitment to Jesus Christ. (I tell this not to inflate myself, but as a reminder of what your pastor does for you, and what he sacrifices to do it.)

It's a common practice that we give up something during Lent. I have participated in this off an on over the years. The only one I actually remember (vividly) is when my mother talked me into giving up chocolate for Lent. I don't remember just how old I was, except it was when I was in grade school.

Studies have shown that chocolate is made up of a magic formula-- a mix of bitter and sweet and salty that stimulates every taste bud, plus a blend of hormones and stimulants that can touch the pleasure centers of the brain. For some people, it is highly addictive. And I have to confess that I am one of those people.

See how scared he looks? This little
guy trembled in fear for 40 long days.
Anyway, I remember that period as a time of intense suffering. Going without chocolate, under constant attack from the chocolate monkey on my back, was nothing compared to what Christ suffered for me. But in the haggard mind of a kid, it was close. And when Easter arrived-- Well, let's just say that both Hershey's and Nestle's almost went under.

Now, though, Lent has different meaning for me. What am I giving up? I'm not going to say. Jesus instructed, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6.16-18) He wasn't instructing us to fast. There's no hard instruction in the Bible to do that. But fasting has its merits, and he says that when you happen to be fasting, don't show it.

Well, giving up something for Lent is a type of fasting. So I won't tell anyone what I have given up. Partly because this isn't a show, but also because what I have chosen to give up is between me and my Lord. It is something that only He can take away from me.

Jesus gave up something for you. "Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." (John 19.30) He gave his life. For you. All he asks in return is your life. We all have areas in our lives that we have not given over to Him. Even you have some rooms in the house of your heart that are still filled with junk, because you haven't allowed Jesus Christ to go in there and clean it out. I have chosen one of those rooms in my heart-- one I have held onto for years-- to give up to Him. It would accomplish nothing to tell anybody else what it is, because only He can clear it out.

What are you giving up for Lent? This year, how about choosing something that means something, that will last forever?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Newsboys - "Born Again" - Right Between My Eyes

The lyrics you can find on-line are different, and mostly
wrong. I didn't buy the CD. I downloaded the MP3.
So I didn't get the CD insert. But I spent a lot of time,
listening and lip-reading Tait on videos, to get these words.
I'm a musician. My mother put me in front of a piano at the ripe old age of three. She kept me taking piano lessons until I graduated from high school. I had an excellent high school music director in Merlin Haukoos (pronounced 'ho-kus), who demanded excellence. His choirs and groups never performed with music! After it all, though, I'm not a pianist. For me, piano is a learned skill, not a talent. I also "played at" the guitar off and on for years. Now I've switched from "playing at" the guitar to "playing with" it, hopefully on my way to mastering it at some level. Then I might be able to accompany myself when singing. But here I go, off on a tangent before I even get started.

What makes me a musician, more than any skill or talent I may have, is my appreciation for all forms of music. (That doesn't mean I "like" all kinds.) Some song is in my head all the time. I listen more to the structure and form of the music, more than the lyrics. But sometimes the words hit me. I know the lyrics of songs affect lots and lots of people. That's the only explanation of how some really bad songs get to be hits.

I haven't found any good music commentary on-line, particularly about Christian music. So I've decided to provide that service from time to time. Christian music can have a profound effect on people's lives. Just because a song is a popular hit, is it really good?

I've picked "Born Again" by the Newsboys today. Why? Because it hit me right between the eyes when I first heard it. It expresses what I feel, but it tells me something about how I should be, too. It both confirms me and challenges me.

"Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." John 3.3.

Many times have I have examined my own life, looked at myself in a spiritual mirror, and didn't like what I saw. I have seen myself go off on my own, then wonder why God's blessings weren't following. Like the old inspirational poem "Footprints in the Sand." It's a favourite because it makes people feel good, but doesn't demand anything. Myself, I can't read it without changing the last line. It's much more real to read, "The Lord replied, 'The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when you went off on your own.'"

There is a lie that is easy to fall into, that you can go through life living like you want to. Even worse is the idea that you can live the way you want because you believe in Jesus Christ. Christ demands something in return for the life he gave for you. He demands your life in return. You can't go solo anymore. He expects you to give him the best of everything you have and everything you are, for the remainder of your life.

People who show Christ in action are frightening to others. Not only to those who don't know him at all, but also to church people who think belief is enough. Myself, a long time ago I got sick of the message of how things should be, of how easy it is to be saved. It's all a bunch of hype, exaggerated ease, that leads to hypocrisy. People see that and don't want to hear it. They want more than empty, easy words. They really want something solid to believe in, something that demands commitment. All people-- even simple believers that I call "church people"-- are sick of hearing about how things should be, with words that require nothing. The worst part is, you can download that hype into your brain and you think you're in. Then you don't want to hear any more.

Well, like it or not, I'm gonna tell you what I believe. I have to. This is what it is. This is who I am. This is where I stand.

View the official Born Again video by clicking here. Watch it. The Newsboys are telling us very directly that being Christian requires more than just belief. Please consider helping our work with widows by becoming a sponsor.