Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What is TRUTH?

I've been posting on U2's website...U2.com. It has given me an opportunity to interact with folk from all over the world on spiritual things. Who knew? Some recent interactions have opened the door to post thoughts about the truth claims of Christianity. Here's a recent post that I thought would encourage believers as well...especially with Easter around the corner...

One of the most powerful lines on NLOTH (the new cd, No Line On the Horizon) is found in "I'll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight" Bono sings, "How can you stand next to the TRUTH and not see it?" This is one of the most important lines that could ever be sung...and one of the most important questions that could ever be asked! It flows out of THE MOST important discussion...actually, ultimately, the ONLY discussion worth having...What is TRUTH?

Truth has fallen on hard times lately in our world. Many people actually believe there is no such thing as absolute truth…which is a ridiculous statement because it, in itself, is a statement put in terms of absolute truth! "There is no such thing as absolute truth!" is, itself, an absolute statement. "All truth is relative!" denies the very statement just made!!

Truth is not what each one of us thinks it is subjectively, personally, existentially. True Truth must have an existence in and of itself, whether or not anyone believed in it. The atheist can choose to say God doesn't exist...but one thing is for sure: God does not either exist or not exist based on what the atheist believes. If the atheist is wrong, God's existence is not affected by the atheist's unbelief. And if the believer is wrong, God wouldn’t exist simply because people thought He did.

True Truth must involve the discussion of non-truth if we are to make any progress. Otherwise, we live a nonsensical existence. If cold can be hot and hot can be cold; if light can be dark, and dark can be light; if right can be left and left can be right...life is absurd. Deep within we don't want life to be absurd...we long for meaning and purpose...and for life to make sense.

There are two options...we may be forced to admit that we long for that which is ultimately only an illusion; or, we eventually conclude that humanity longs for that which has actually been built into the universe...our longings either fit with reality or we conclude that evolution has brought us to the place where our innermost longings no longer fit the reality of the universe in which we find ourselves.

If truth is whatever any person thinks it is, we are left with mutually contradictory conclusions...and that is non-sensical...it would be like saying 2=3 or that 2+2=78. So, the ultimate question revolves around how we might be able to arrive at true truth. Christianity is not just an option among various philosophies of life concerning HOW to live out our days. Christianity revolves around the concept of True Truth that flows from the Actual Living, Personal God Who is there.

The beauty is this, however: no one is excluded in Christianity...ALL are welcome, no matter what your background, no matter what your past. All may come, and whoever comes will not be cast away. And True Christianity doesn't EVER seek to harm or kill those who reject Christ. Christ calls Christians to love even our enemies, and to live lives of kindness and to treat every creature under heaven with dignity and respect...

Every one of us must deal with epistemology...that is, the philosophical foundation of “how we know that we know.” How do you know Barak Obama is president of the US? It is verifiable. You can go to Washington, DC and see him at the White House. How do you know 2+2=4? It is verifiable. How do you know that there is such a thing as electricity? It is verifiable. Things may be a little different in the realm of history and philosophy, but there are still elements of verifiability: There are historical documents (some very critical ones that can be seen in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin!); and when it comes to philosophy, there are issues of logic and inconsistency and the question of whether human beings are able to truly live out the logical conclusions of their belief system.

How do we know Jesus lived? Well, to any truly open-minded individual, it is able to be verified from sources other than the Bible. Both Roman and Jewish historians write about Jesus of Nazareth. So, the only real discussion is not did Jesus really live...the only REAL discussion is WHO was Jesus? If HE was a fraud, a fake...then let's forget about Him and move on. BUT, if He was God in the flesh, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, then we are faced with whether or not we will put our hope in Him and submit our lives to Him. One question: where's His body?

We're about to celebrate Easter...the resurrection. All the Romans would have needed to do in order to shut down the early church was produce the body...they never did...no one ever did. And the idea that the disciples were just lying is beyond credibility: the world has never seen any group of people who were all able to die for something they knew was a lie without anyone "cracking" under the pressure. The suffering of early Christians was immense. Yet they all died in hope of the conviction of the resurrection and the life everlasting.

By the way, Bono himself addresses this issue of TRUTH in the book by Assayas, In Conversation...See the chapter on Eternity. You'll be blown away. I don't mind people disagreeing with the Christian world-view...what troubles me is people who are unwilling to think.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

In Christ All things hold together

Colossians 1:17

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. You may have seen this...if you haven't...you need to...Enjoy...and Worship!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall

I am enjoying U2's new album as much as ANY U2 has ever made! Blogging on it has been a blast! If you’ve read my blog, you know I’ve reviewed the album from a spiritual perspective. Some Christian folk, however, get a little nervous when a preacher publically goes on record with the spiritual thoughts of a rock star. I wonder why? I think I understand…It seems some Christ-followers fear that I’ll get embarrassed if Bono and the boys do something stupid or “un-Christian.” They are afraid that “Humpty Dumpty will have a great fall.”

Lemme see…uh, did Abraham ever do anything stupid?...like lie and ask his wife to lie? Uh, did David ever do anything stupid?...like commit adultery and have a good friend murdered? How about Solomon…the most prolific writer of proverbs and philosophy in the ancient world? Did he ever do anything stupid…like have a ga-zillion wives and concubines?! Let alone Peter (the Denier) or Thomas (the Doubter). Need I say more?

There isn’t ANYONE out there who is without sin. If there are believers being drawn to Gospel Truth through U2’s music…that shouldn’t change if Bono slips up. Bono isn’t the savior; Jesus is. Bono isn’t without sin; Jesus was. Are Christians called to a Christ-like life? Of course. But do any of us attain that? Nope.

The fact is, people are able to communicate spiritual truth whether or not they even believe the Gospel. One of my favorite movies is the Matrix. The Wachowski brothers don’t make any claim of being Christ-followers…yet the truth of the Gospel is all through that film. The truth of the Gospel is not made false if people who write about it, film about it, sing about it…preach on it…stumble and fall. Make no mistake…it is sad and tragic when Christ-followers experience spiritual failure, especially in a very public way. It hurts the witness of Grace. But Truth is Truth.

So, Bono, keep singing what you were born to sing, and for Whom you were born to sing! Keep making a “joyful noise.” Oh…and I’ll keep blogging on the spiritual themes I find in U2’s music. And Church…”get out from under your beds!”…try to enjoy the music!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Complaint Department

I'm continuing my review of U2's new album, No Line on the Horizon. On the last track on the album, Bono is singing the Blues. I’ve been listening to that track, "Cedars of Lebanon" over and over. At first I didn’t like the song all that much…now I can't believe I ever thought that. Like other songs on the album, it sounds to me to be a contemporary Psalm. King David wrote complaints to God…lament Psalms, where he poured out his anger, frustration and confusion to a God who can handle all those emotions from His beloved sons and daughters. The line: “I’ve got a head like a lit cigarette” seems to be saying I’ve got a head on fire, so filled with anger and frustration as I am! Seeing “unholy clouds” also seems to point to frustration with how things are looking on "the Horizon" at the present time.

On a narrative level, the song is about a correspondent in the Middle East who sounds like he’s missing his wife and kids. For some reason he’s been away a while…yet he doesn’t seem to want to go home. However, it is very likely, as with many U2 songs, that the narrative is simply the “carrier” of deeper spiritual thought, perhaps a prayer to God. “Cedars of Lebanon” is a phrase used throughout the Old Testament. The phrase in the song, therefore, could be figurative for the entire Middle East. So the song could be a lament prayer for God to “return the call to home,” when He hasn’t seemed to be engaged there recently. On the other hand, Israel was the place of God’s glory in the Temple. Perhaps the Cedars of Lebanon could even refer to the temple. I guess, then, the song could be a lament over God’s people Israel and why things are so messed up there.

The song could also be a call for the people on the planet to return OUR call to our TRUE HOME…heaven. Perhaps it is a cry and a plea for us all to pray for peace in the Middle East. Certainly the phrases “Cedars of Lebanon” and “unholy clouds reflecting in a minaret” point us to the Middle East. A minaret is a tower, typically connected to a Muslim Mosque from which Muslims are called to prayer. I tend to think that because of the line, “You're so high above me, higher than everyone/Where are You in the Cedars of Lebanon?” that the song may be about a cry to God, a lament, a complaint…God, where are You in this Middle East crisis?!

Cedars are also used in Scripture to symbolize all that fallen, fearful humanity trusts in other than God—all those things in the creative order which appears strong and mighty. The Cedars of Lebanon are often used to represent man’s pride and haughtiness, trusting in weapons rather than God. God, then, shows His power by breaking the Cedars of Lebanon, to humble humanity so that they would turn to their true place of safety--God Himself (Ps 29:5, Is 2:13—Isaiah 2 is perhaps the clearest chapter on this idea of God humbling human pride and all that the world hopes in besides Himself.

We must remember: God humbles human pride because He longs for us to experience purpose, significance, security, love and joy in life…and that can only occur as we walk with Him. God is not being mean in breaking the Cedars of Lebanon, but is doing the most loving thing possible…removing all our crutches so that we walk by faith in Him alone.

This prayer could be for all humanity, but perhaps for Israel in particular (Is 2:6). The song could very well also be talking about the age-old conflict between Jews and Muslims. Israel picked her enemies or her enemies picked her; either way, it has defined both of their existence: “Choose your enemies carefully cos they will define you; Make them interesting cos in some ways they will mind you; They're not there in the beginning but when your story ends; Gonna last with you longer than your friend.” The entire Old Testament and all of recorded history since then reveals the truth of those words. Heck, the correspondent could be all the Bible writers of the Old Testament who record the hostility between Jews and Arabs. And then, with the onset of Islam, also the tension between that religion and Judaism…and other religions as well.

One last thought: Its even possible that the “face” in the Polaroid is God’s…as we think of the Old Testament, it is a picture of the God of Israel “tidying the children’s clothes and toys”; and it is a picture of God smiling upon us as well. Who knows? This broken, fallen world sometimes produces a “rose”…the roses of this life may be a wonderful spouse and family…but Scripture also talks about Jesus being the “Rose of Sharon” (Song of Solomon 2:1). The scent of the Redeemer lingers in this broken, fallen world, then goes (Aslan seems to go away for a time); but fresh breezes can bring it back to us again. We need a fresh breeze to bring back to us the scent of the Rose! Jesus, alone, is the Prince of Peace who commands us to LOVE our enemies! The Church has often failed to obey this commandment...but there is no question that there is no other spiritual Leader who made His will more clear...Love your enemies!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Life in the Spirit

Reading this morning in Romans 8-9, I was reminded of Paul's teachings on the Person of the Holy Spirit. He intercedes for us. He helps us in our weaknesses. He is the Spirit of adoption by Whom we cry, "Abba!" He is the Spirit of life who sets us free. Do we emphasize the life in the Spirit as we ought in the Church today? I think not!

At Oak Mountain we emphasize the waltz (the dance with a partner involving 3 basic steps) ...which is really the paradigm of the Spirit-filled life. Walking in the Spirit involves regular, immediate acknowledgment, admission and confession of sin, along with an honest confession that we are as helpless to change our hearts in transformation as we were to renew our hearts at conversion.

Then the waltz leads us to believe afresh in Christ...to believe anew in our justified standing before God and our adopted status as beloved sons and daughters through our union with Christ. But the believe step also calls us to hope in the present, transforming power of the Blood of Christ for change at the particular point of our repentance. Christian growth is supernatural!

Then, expecting the promise of the gospel to be fulfilled in us, with new zeal and passion we engage in the Fight step of the waltz. Realizing because of the work of The Spirit, our wills are being renewed, we choose to say yes to righteousness and no to sin. This is the Spirit-filled life!

We must be careful...the Spirit-filled life is not merely due to the principle of the Waltz...it is primarily due to the Person of the Spirit. It is not DOCTRINE that changes us, but a Person! Waltzing is how we experience the Personal Presence of the Transforming Spirit.

We are not brains on a stick...we are people. Philosophy doesn't change us...even Waltz philosophy...a Person does...and that Person is the Holy Spirit of Christ!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Suffocating Under Religion

I'm continuing my spiritual look at U2's new album, No Line on the Horizon. Today I'm looking at the song, "Breathe." "Breathe" is an amazing song. It is an anti-religious song...and I love that it is! Many will find that statement surprising...especially coming from a preacher! But the fact is, as a preacher my experience is that nothing gets in the way of a relationship with God more than religion...and that is part of what the song "Breathe" is all about.

As many are aware, Bono's mother was Protestant and his father was Catholic. It may be that the "long line of travelling sales people on my mother's side" represent fervently evangelistic zealots who peddle the word of God as though selling used cars. Many people like this also claim to know the precise formula to follow to be blessed of God with health, wealth and prosperity. They tend to load people up with religious burdens which weigh people down with shame and guilt and produce a performance-driven religiosity that bears little resemblance to Biblical Christianity which is a vibrant walk with God through Christ. There is a lot of garbage being put forth in the name of the word of God and we need to have great discernment to see through the "cockatoo." Anytime anyone tries to tell you they've broken down the Christian life to 3 steps or 5 formulas or 7 recipes, run for the hills!! Ultimately only ONE thing is important...trusting in the mercy and grace of God offered in Jesus Christ.

The line: "So why would I invite a complete stranger into my home, Would you?" appears to emphasize the need for the Church to be much more relational in its approach to loving people into the Kingdom. When Bono sings "These days are better than that," I feel its an affirmation that many in the Church are going about ministry in a much better way and many, perhaps Bono himself, are being freed from a performance-driven, recipe-oriented approach to the Christian life...freed from a life of religiosity to pursue a loving, personal relationship with the living God.

The line, "Every day I die again, and again I'm reborn" likely refers to the daily walk of the believer with Christ...no perfectionism but progress. The life of repentance and faith is the course believers walk. Also, as we learn to deny ourselves and give up our lives for others and for the kingdom, we find our lives, and we are reborn. The Christian life is not religiosity, but dying and rising on a daily basis...putting sin to death and living a new life by the power of the Holy Spirit through the grace of God. The old theologians called this a life of "mortification and vivification."

The lines, "Every day I have to find the courage, To walk out into the street, With arms out" refer to the call of the Christian to get up each day to bring the hope of renewal and recreation into a broken and hurting world. It takes great courage to live this way. To open our arms wide to even our enemies...to those who rebuff even our attempts at loving. Get your heart stomped on enough, get rejected enough and its easy to want to pull back and say it's not worth the pain. Give us courage, Lord.

Then the lines, "Got a love you can't defeat, Neither down or out, There's nothing you have that I need, I can breathe, Breathe now." Believers have a love that is unable to be defeated...the gates of hell won't prevail against the Church. But believers are also loved infinitely and unendingly by God. Romans 8 speaks of this love. Believers are never down nor out...we may stumble and fall, but the Lord raises us up..every day we die and are reborn. The idea that others have nothing we need may related to those door-to-door evangelists, but we need to be careful here. The Scriptures are clear that every believer DOES need the Church...She is the Mother of our Faith...we need her Worship, her Instruction in the Word, her Sacraments, her Accountability and Authority over us...her Shepherding of us. We don't need religion, but we do need relationship...and relationship in and through the church...good churches, Scriptural Churches, Relevant Churches, Loving Churches, Passionate Churches...but churches nonetheless. But as far as any formula or recipe...it's true, we need nothing but Christ. We can Breathe because of the Grace of God. We are freed from all the shackles of all the things that others expect of us to be "good Christians."

For too long, even this preacher felt he was drowning below the surface...trying so hard to be spiritual, to be a good beliver, only to see failure and defeat...and to feel the frown of God. I didn't get grace...I didn't hear the sound...and it almost killed my faith. I didn't understand ALL that Jesus had done for me...I said I trusted in Christ and His finished work, but I was really trusting in my own righteousness for my sense of God's delight in me. One day, the Father opened my eyes to grace and the reality of the Work of Christ for me...a funny-looking man in knickers named Francis Schaeffer saved my faith. I almost sense that Bono can relate to my story.

This pastor once suffocated under religion...and now breathes the free air of grace...and is now free to open my arms wide to love a hurting world. "We are people borne of sound, The songs are in our eyes, Gonna wear them like a crown, Walk out, into the sunburst street, Sing your heart out, sing my heart out, I've found grace inside a sound, I found grace, it's all that I found, And I can breathe, Breathe now." Wow, I have so much more to say...but I've gone waaaaay too long already. Blessings!

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Lamb as White as Snow

The latest installment of my thoughts on the spirituality of U2's new album, No Line on the Horizon. The song, White as Snow is not very subtle when it comes to its Christian message. The Lamb as White as Snow is clearly a Biblical reference to the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. I've written in my other blogs that NLOTH is filled with writings of the Apostle John. The same is true with White as Snow. In John 1:29 and John 1:36, The Apostle John records the words of John the Baptist when he saw Jesus: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" and again, "Behold the Lamb of God." In other places in the Bible, the description of Jesus reveals His Presence as White as Snow: In Daniel 7:9, the Ancient of Days has clothing that is "white as snow." And after the resurrection, Jesus' appearance is described as "white as snow" (Matthew 28:3). Then, in the Book of Revelation, the glorified Christ is described as having hair as "white as snow." White as snow is the symbol of absolute purity...no dirt, grime or sin. Perfection. Jesus had no sin. In the Old Testament, the only sacrifice that could be brought to the priests to gain forgiveness was an unblemished, spotless lamb (Exodus 12:5 and many others). The lambs brought to the priest simply foreshadowed the Perfect Lamb who would take away the sin of the world (see 1 Peter 1:19). The whole reason Jesus came, however, was to be slaughtered as the Lamb as White as Snow so that WE who are born sinners and sin daily in thought, word and deed might be made as white as snow as well. In Isaiah 1:18, God says that though our sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Bono begs the question...he calls us to consider..."Is it possible that a heart could be made as white as snow? Are we really able to hope that we can be made as white as snow?" The last line doesn't reveal Bono's doubt that it can happen...he's trying to get us all to think! "If only a heart could be made as white as snow...well, the good news is it CAN BE! Once again, Bono uses the stuff of real life narrative to be the conduit of spiritual truth. The story itself might be of a soldier in Afghanistan, just like Jesus told parables of real life seed and soil...but the purpose of the story was ultimately to communicate spiritual realities to those who had eyes to see and ears to hear. So, what about the rest of the song? In the first verse: "The land was flat, the highway straight and wide" could refer to Matthew 7:13 where Jesus warns us that "the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction." The Lamb provides the only Way to life. The brothers in the song would drive for hours, "Like we had years instead of days." We humans are incredibly adept at thinking we will have plenty of time for spirituality...why deal today with something we can start to get serious about tomorrow? Many people on the wide way that leads to destruction think they have years...and some only have days. Jesus said to one rich man, "You fool, today your soul will be required of you." Perhaps Bono is asking us to consider our destiny now, before its too late. "Our faces as pale as the dirty snow" would be a reminder that no heart is clean...we are all "dirty" because of sin...there is no one who is righteous...we all need grace! "Once I knew there was a love divine. Then came a time I thought it knew me not"--it seems that this is a line that captures the ebb and flow of faith in Divine Love. When difficult circumstances come into our lives, the knee-jerk reaction of the human heart is to fear that God may be angry and giving me wrath because I've been bad...so we make resolutions to be good to get God off our backs...or perhaps to try to twist His arm to treat us better. We have a hard time believing in mercy, grace and love when things go badly in life. I've told others, "Don't make conclusions about God's love through your circumstances; instead make conclusions about your circumstances by looking at God's love." Don't doubt the love of God in Christ just because life becomes tough. The love of God is based on the grace of God accepted in Christ...not because you or I are "good." "Who can forgive?" Only the Lamb of God. Then Bono sings of the icy waters...to me clearly a reference to the waters of baptism tht people who commit their lives to the mercy of God in Christ receive. The waters of baptism are a symbol of the cleansing power of the blood of the Lamb to take away sin. The lines, "Now this dry ground it bears no fruit at all, Only poppies laugh under the crescent moon. The road refuses strangers, The land the seeds we sow" seem to refer to the parable of the soils in Matthew 13. The dry ground is soil that doesn't bear fruit because the heat of the day scorches the plant. At this point each of us is drawn to look at our own hearts...the seed of the gospel is sown around us through the Church and the lives of Christians...are we receiving the seed of the Good News? Or, are we dry, rocky soil? Do our lives fit the description of "refusing the seeds" others sow? Could it be that we really don't believe Christ is the Messiah and we're looking elsewhere for a lamb as white as snow? We may still be asking "Where might we find the Lamb as White as Snow" when He is standing right in front of us? Hmmm...how can you stand right next to the truth and not see it??? Finally, Jesus taught on the presence of "wolves" that would seek to devour the sheep of His fold. At times it seems the world is filled with wolves...as we each face the "wolves" that would destroy our faith, we long that their hearts would be changed...we long that ALL hearts might be changed by the Lamb as white as snow...we long for ALL hearts to be made as white as snow...if only...if only...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Remorse, Regret or Repentance?

I was spending time in the Psalms this morning…reading devotionally…attempting to get “shushed-up” and trying to “cease to speak” so He might speak. In Psalm 55:12-14, we see an amazing prophecy concerning the life of Christ, revealed through the life of David. David talks of the pain of experiencing betrayal through a friend. This part of the Psalm is obviously a prophecy concerning Judas betraying Christ, written by David almost 1000 years before the fact! Bono sings of this betrayal in the song, “Until the End of the World.” Perhaps it’s a song that is only about Judas and Jesus…or, perhaps it’s a song where we are all able to come to grips with our little betrayals (or big) of Jesus during our lives. The problem with Judas is that he was filled with remorse and regret rather than filled with repentance. Remorse simply leads to shame and guilt and leaves one with no hope. Repentance is acknowledging failure before a holy God, but with the hope of mercy and grace through Messiah. Remorse is faithless repentance. So today, I face a choice as I stumble through the coming hours…will I walk in repentance leading to hope and joy? Or, like Judas, will I simply be filled with hopeless remorse and regret and experience death? In one of U2’s concerts, Bono walked past Larry and said of the previous song (I forget what is was at the moment), “That was Jesus.” Then he says concerning the next song…”This is Judas.”…and then the band played, “Until the End of the World.” I'm having trouble finding the video where Bono tells Larry, "This is Judas," but check out this video...its not so subtle!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Stop Helping God Across the Road Like a Little Old Lady

In U2's new album, there is a song entitled "Stand Up Comedy." Another song on the album filled with Biblically-based lyrics. Bono sings, “Out from under your beds” like scared children hearing noises in the night! Stop shaking over all the bad things in the world. Stop being led to hopelessness by what you see on the news every day! Stop thinking that there is more evil in the world than good. Stop cowering in fear! Get out from under your beds and DO SOMETHING about all that is wrong with the world. I feel that the real message of the song is this: “Church, Quit being so scared of living for Christ!” Stop being intimidated by a world that says, “Stay within the four walls of the Church.” Stop thinking that there is no strength behind a Biblical world-view and that if you engage in the world of ideas and conversation as a Christian you’re going to get trounced. God isn’t dead…He is not even old and weak! God is “The Magnificent.” So, Stand Up and be counted! I find it interesting that Bono chose the vocabulary of the old King James Version of the Bible…”C’mon YE people.” How subtle. Not! Come all ye people, stand up for God and the love of God! Bono sings, “You and I have been asleep for hours.” Rather than living as light in the darkness, rather than showing forth the love of the Father in every arena of life, true believers have been asleep. It is time to awaken the sleeping giant of the Church! It is time for the Church to stand up for love…”God is love,” as Bono reminds us in the song. We need to show forth the love of God for the poor, the homeless, the suffering, the needy. But, I must add, we must show love toward the “up-and-inners” as much as we do to the “down-and-outers.” Showing love for the poor has become rather “sexy” these days. Certainly Jesus did emphasize taking care of the poor and needy; the hungry and thirsty, naked and suffering. But we must not forget that “up-and-inners” and even religious people need to be shown the love of God as well. There were two brothers who were “prodigal” in Luke 15…one who was irreligious and rebellious and another who was religious and just as distant. We need to reach out to ALL people with the love of God. We need to stand up, as Bono says, for “hope, faith, love.” This triad is spoken of repeatedly in Scripture (1 Cor 15:13, Col. 1:4-5, 1 Thess 1:3, 1 Thess 5:8). Then the song ends with a familiar theme on NLOTH—stand up “then sit down” for Your love. There is a time to stand up. Then there is a time to sit down, to cease to speak, to cease to do anything except listen (Unknown Caller). Shush now. Let God speak. Let God lead you as to HOW you are to Stand Up for His love today as you go out into the world, “arms open wide”…as you breathe the free air! One last thought…when I first heard the song, I thought of what God must think of me as a preacher and what I say on Sunday mornings…I wonder, how often does God see it as “Stand Up Comedy?!!” Forgive me, Lord.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Leaning on the Unknown Caller

I've been trying to figure out what sounds so dog-gone familar about the instrumental bridge just before Edge's incredible guitar riff toward the end of Unknown Caller on U2's new album, No Line on the Horizon. I'm convinced the song is about prayer (see my older blog post and look up Jeremiah 33:3...and take another glance at All That You Can't Leave Behind's cover art). The instrumental bridge reminded me of other music I know, but I just couldn't place it...until this morning. There is an old hymn sung by many, many Christians called "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms." One of the verses is: "What have I to dread, what have I to fear, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms? I have blessed peace with my Lord so near, leaning on the Everlasting Arms." If you know the hymn, see if the bridge in Unknown Caller doesn't sound very similar. And, after all, what is prayer other than learning to lean on the Everlasting Arms?!

Friday, March 6, 2009

How Sweet the Sound

Sound...a simple word. What's it mean in the context of this new release? Bono sings the word repeatedly on No Line. In "Get On Your Boots," Bono sings again and again: "Let me in the sound" and "Meet me in the sound." OK. What's the sound? We hear him sing the word again in "Breathe:" "We are people borne of sound." Then, near the end of "Breathe," Bono sings: "I’ve found grace inside a sound / I found grace, it’s all that I found." I'm reminded of the most popular hymn in the world...Amazing Grace. The first line is familiar to many: "Amazing Grace, how sweet the SOUND...that saved a wretch like me." Of course, another line in that hymn is "I once was lost, but now I'm FOUND." I'm reminded that as a Christian I am borne of that sound of grace...I'm FOUND by grace...I didn't really find it...and as a result of grace...like Bono, I can breathe now. There's a great scene in In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, J. R. R. Tolkien portrays the classic conflict between good and evil, set in a mythical land called Middle Earth. In the middle of the film, the evil wizard Saruman has spellbound Theoden, King of Rohan. He sits on his throne pale and decrepit as his kingdom falls apart around him. Then Gandalf, a good wizard, arrives. Theoden's evil advisor whispers lies into the king's ear about Gandalf, but Gandalf rebukes him: "Be silent! Keep your forked tongue behind your teeth." Then Gandalf says, "Theoden, too long have you sat in the shadows. I release you from the spell." Theoden shakes momentarily and then laughs mockingly, "You have no power here, Gandalf!"
But then Gandalf reveals his full power. He rises up and speaks directly to the evil wizard within Theoden: "I will draw you, Saruman, as poison is drawn from a wound." Saruman cries out through Theoden, "If I go, Theoden dies. Rohan is mine!" Gandalf replies, "You did not kill me, and you will not kill him. Be gone!"
At that, King Theoden is released. Suddenly his face regains its color and youth, and he is fully himself again. And Gandalf speaks the words, "Breathe the free air, again, my friend." That's what being in the amazing SOUND of grace does...it enables us to BREATHE...to BREATHE the FREE AIR...for the first time in our lives.

In "Crazy" we hear Bono sing, "The sweetest melody is the one we haven't heard." Have you heard the sound? Can we meet in the sound? Will we find grace inside the sound and breathe?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Start at The End

Last night on Lettermen U2 performed "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight." The song develops the theme of seeking to be still that runs through the entire album (Shush, now...cease to speak, that I may speak--Unknown Caller). Bono gave a clue to the meaning of the song on Letterman when he repeated, at the END of the song, the line, "Be still my soul. Be still my soul." Ironically, having just read Psalm 46 that morning, the line wasn't lost on me...Psalm 46:10 where God reminds us all, "Be still and know that I am God." There are other clear pointers to God in the song as well..."How can you stand next to the truth and not see it?" To me, clearly a reference to John 14:6-8, when, after Jesus told the disciples (especially Thomas, the doubter) that He was indeed the "Way and the Truth and the Life," Philip said to Him, "Lord show us the Father," to which Jesus answered, "Have I been with you so long and you still do not know Me, Philip?" Thus, "how can you stand next to the TRUTH and not see it?" The other clear Biblical reference is "Is it true that perfect love drives out all fear?" This is from 1 John 4:18 where the apostle encourages us with the truth that God's perfect love drives out all fear of judgment. Seems that Bono has been studying the writings of the Apostle John...for here we see John 14:6-8, 1 John 4:18 and in "Breathe" we have a reference to "Nine-o-Nine, St John Divine (though I must admit, THIS pastor has no idea what that refers to!!). I love the line, "Every beauty needs to go out with an idiot"--makes me realize that the Beauty of Grace goes out with me, an idiot, all the time. Maybe Bono thinks similarly concerning grace and himself. But the key to "Crazy" for me is the refrain: "A change of heart comes slow / It’s not a hill, it’s a mountain / As you start out the climb / Do you believe me, or are you doubting / We’re gonna make it all the way to the light"--when it comes to grace changing us, change of heart comes so slow...we must be patient...we must "be still" and wait for the Lord. Whether it has to do with our own heart change or the change we are trying to bring about in the world in Jesus' Name...change comes so slow. We need to realize that we're climbing a mountain, not a hill. Too many become disillusioned with the Christian life because they underestimate how difficult it is...even with grace! We come to the realization sooooo many times that even though we know Christ, we "still haven't found what we're looking for." We still have so far to go before all of salvation is revealed to us. Then the line, "Do you beleive me, or are you doubting?" Again, I go back to John 14:6-8--Thomas, Doubting Thomas, said to Jesus , "Lord we don't know the way." But Jesus responded, "I AM the Way." Will we believe Jesus that He is the Way? Or, like Thomas, will we be filled with doubt along the path of climbing the mountain that is, in fact, so much steeper than we realized at the beginning. Yet there is hope..."We're GONNA make it all the Way to the Light." In John, Jesus also says that He is the Light of the World (John 8:12, but the entire book of John is filled with allusions to Light). By grace, though the climb is steep, we're gonna make it! So, as you start your climb (you're invited to climb with us!), hear me shouting, we're gonna make it all the way to the Light!! We'll be shouting to the darkness (darkness being overcome by light is another key theme in the Gospel of John). It may seem slow, but as we grow in grace we will see light squeezed out of us in the midst of darkness. So, start with the end...as Bono did last night on Letterman..."Be still my soul. Be still my soul...Be still my soul (and know that He is God!).

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bono's Halftime Prayer

Last Sunday I showed a U2 clip to introduce my message. U2 worshiped with us at Oak Mountain! Or, we might even say that U2 led Oak Mountain to worship God. At halftime of the 2001 NBA finals between the LA Lakers and the Philadelphia 76'ers, NBC did a cut in to a U2 concert in Boston. I don't believe U2 does much unintentionally...the cut in was timed such that U2 was about to head into "Where the Streets Have No Name." There were 32 nations using NBC's feed...a potential viewership of 2.5 billion people. What did they see? One of the greatest rock stars on the planet get on his knees and start crying out to God: "What can I give back to God, for the blessings He's poured out on me? What can I give back to God, for the blessings He's poured out on me? I lift high the cup of salvation--as a toast to our Father....to follow through on a promise, that I made to You...from the heart" (Ps 116:12-14, The Message).

Worship Comes to Late Night Television

U2 is on Letterman each night this week (as many of you already know). Last night they played their "contemporary Psalm," to the nation...Worship of God came to Late Night television. "I lift You high in praise, my God, O my King! And I'll bless Your Name into eternity. I'll bless You every day, and keep it up from now to eternity. God is MAGNIFICENT; He can never be praised enough (Ps 145:1-3, The Message). Watch as Bono praises the MAGNIFICENT, and lifts up his hands in worship...

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Theological Perspective, cont'd

Yesterday I blogged on the first two songs--No Line on the Horizon and Magnificent. Today I'll speak from a spiritual perspective on Moment of Surrender.

Moment of Surrender—In my opinion, one of the most soulful U2 songs ever! Whenever I hear a song like this I always remind myself that Bono writes lyrics that are true on several levels. I'm concerned in this brief commentary with the spiritual level. When we get to the lyrics related to the "stations of the cross," I think we find the TRUE point of the song. It is at this point that the song, in my mind, clearly becomes about Jesus Himself and HIS Moment of Surrender when He gave Himself up for mankind. But certainly His followers experience moments of surrender as well…though not of such magnitude, obviously. The stations of the cross involve the final hours of the Passion of Christ. This is also the point at which I have wondered is there a method to the madness of the new album being released during the first week of Lent…hmmm. Anyway, initially in church history, the stations of the cross involved “extra-biblical” elements, that is, elements not really recorded in Scripture. If I were to come up with a Biblical list it would include the following: Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested (remember “Until the End of the World”?!), Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin, Jesus is denied by Peter, Jesus is judged by Pilate, Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns, Jesus takes up his cross, Jesus is helped by Simon to carry his cross, Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem,. Jesus is crucified, Jesus promises his kingdom to the repentant/believing thief, Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other, Jesus dies on the cross,. Jesus is laid in the tomb. And we must not forget that the story doesn’t end with death but with resurrection!! If the song is about Christ, then even the early lines make more sense…He was like one of the guys who straps himself with a bomb, a Radical! I find it interesting that Bono said as much in his interview with Assayas. Christ strapped Himself with a cross in order that people might be free…in order that the horses might run free!! And, as Jesus suffered, every other eye did look the other way…even Peter’s…until the pain stopped…when Jesus said, “It is finished.” Along the way, in His suffering, Jesus DID enter every black hole for His people. And He longed to be back with the Father, back to where He was before He became Man. And then, of course, He longed for the moment, a short time after the resurrection, when He would send His Spirit at Pentecost...when all His followers would begin experiencing their own moments of surrender...and change the world!! That's why this song also has a very personal element to it as well…for Bono and for every believer. A follower of Christ experiences many moments of surrender while walking with God, but certainly the main one is at the crisis point of salvation. It really is a moment of "vision over visibility," when a person realizes they are being called to live by faith and not by sight. At that moment, one is so concerned with the Pearl of Great Price, there is no longer a concern of what others may think, there is no longer a care of pleasing others but of simply being pleasing to the One who made you. At the moment of grace gripping the heart, it really is a matter of not believing in love but in recognizing that love is believing in you! What a song!

A Theological Review of U2's No Line

Over the next several days I'll be blogging on the theological significance of U2's new album. I'll do a couple songs each day. I already did this with Unknown Caller (see yesterday's blog), so today, I'll look at the first two songs on the album...

1. No Line on the Horizon--the horizon is where the sky meets the earth (or sea). Where there is no line on the horizon, you can't tell where earth/sea ends and heaven begins. Followers of Christ belong simultaneously to this present age, but through faith in Christ we are also made citizens of the Coming Age. Our calling as believers is to bring the hope and renewal and re-creation of the Coming Age into the present age by how we live. By God's grace we are to see the kingdom coming all around us even in the midst of the pain, brokenness and confusion of life. As the kingdom comes here and now, through God's grace operating in and through us, the line between heaven and earth is supposed to blur. The poor are to be provided for; The naked are to be clothed; the hungry are to be fed; the thirsty are to be given something to drink...and the poor in spirit are to be offered the Pearl of Great Price.

2. Magnificent--clearly a contemporary psalm of praise. Bono confesses his faith. He was born to know, love and serve the Creator. He was born to use all his gifts to bring Him glory "in space and time." A Christian's faith is not so other-worldly it has no relevance to the pain and confusion of this life. Yet the fall of the world into sin has affected all of us...Bono included. We break rhyme and reason because we have been deeply broken by sin, and there are consequences...scars. Nonetheless, "love can heal such a scar." God's love in Christ. Bono acknowledges the Lordship of Christ over his life, that he is called to sing anything God asks him to and to go anywhere, do anything God wants him to. Even Bono's first cry from the womb was a "joyful noise..." a clear reference to the Psalms in Scripture. Then Bono shows his understanding of theology..."justified til we die." Justification is the declarative act of God's grace by which broken, fallen sinners are declared to be forgiven, holy and completely righteous in the sight of God. By trusting in the atoning work of Christ we are seen by God in Christ as if we had never sinned, nor been sinners; and seen by Him as if we had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for us during His sinless life (Heidelburg Catechims Question 60). A good way to remember the truth of being justified is as follows: to be justified in Christ is to be seen by God "just-as-if-I'd" never sinned and "just-as-if-Id" always obeyed. "Justified til we die, you and I, will magnify the Magnificent." How magnificent is God that He has provided for our sin so that we could experience His infinite love and delight...makes you want to break out in song, eh?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

More on Unknown Caller

The more I listen to Unknown Caller on the new U2 album, the more I think about Christian prayer. I don't know whether or not I'm just hearing what I want to hear or am truly interpreting an author according to what he has written (I'd love to sit down with Bono some day and have a discussion on U2 lyrics and Christian spirituality...if not this side of eternity, then at least when there is no more line on the horizon). As I listen to the song more, I begin to see Jesus, Who, Scripture tells us, "arose early, while it was still dark, and went off to a lonely place to pray." Bono sings, "I was lost between the midnight and the dawning; In a place of no consequence or company." Even the opening lines of "Sunshine, Sunshine" reminds me of a day begun with prayer. We, like our Lord, are to develop a life of prayer. We are called as followers of Christ to be desperately dependent upon God and we must spend time in solitude and silence if we are to truly hear the voice of the Spirit over the noise of the world and over our own restlessness as well. Another curious line to me is where Bono sings, "Password, you enter here." Again, who knows whether he means this, but to me the "password" to all effective prayer for a follower of Christ is praying in the Name of Jesus. As we come to the Father in the power of the Spirit and ask in the Name, in the righteousness, in the standing of Jesus, we are assured of being heard. Jesus is THE Password. Jesus calls us to believe that we will receive what we ask for whenever we pray His Name. I think the song even leads us to consider the hope of prayer musically. With the organ and the victorious, hopeful melody toward the end of the song, it seems as though the hope of prayer has broken through our pain and confusion. The Psalms are filled with laments, when the psalmist begins pouring out his complaint to God, usually related to his enemies pursuing him and the anxiety and stress he's facing. But as he cries out to God in prayer, somehow, at some point, his perspective is changed...he's led from fear to faith and he ends what began as a lament with praise to God in hope. I hear this in Unknown Caller...lyrically AND muscially...and its beautiful.