Monday, August 17, 2015

Recently, I delivered a couple of messages from Philemon, Paul's Post Card. Paul is seeking to bring out the best in his friend, Philemon, asking him to forgive a runaway servant named Onesimus, whom Paul recently led to Christ. It is a letter that is pregnant with instruction on how to bring out the best in one another. Part of becoming a growing community of grace is that we think hard about how to stir and inspire one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). The points from the messages were to engage each other's hearts following certain principles: Practice Humility Prioritize Prayer Show Respect Communicate Love Express Affirmation Model Selflessness Promote Vision Inspire Execution Exercise Faith You can listen to these messages here: One of those elements we can all seek grace from God to apply is to Express Affirmation. Our God is the abundantly affirming God! Hebrews 6:10--God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love that you have shown for His Name in serving the saints. I happen to believe that most of us don't see God as the Supreme Affirmer. I fear that most of us see God as The Reprimander. The Corrector. The Fault-Finder. Of course, if He were that, there would NEVER be a moment He could not find something to reprimand us for or correct us over and find fault with us about. And, of course, that's how many of us indeed see Him...and experience our own imaginations. I read a letter to the congregation that has been widely circulated over the years. It's called, "Father Forgets." It's written by a father to his son. It exposes our own fault-finding ways. But, I hope, it will also expose the low view we tend to hold of God...we tend to see our Father in heaven as this fault-finding dad. He. Is. Not. That. Sure, sin is a reality. Of course, God doesn't condone sin. But what if...God is more patient and more affirming of His children in union with Christ than we give Him credit for? Just. What. If?? Here is the letter: W. Livingston Larned—Father Forgets—a piece that has ended up being reprinted in every type of magazine that’s been published. One reason so impactful is b/c of the way it nails us on our tendency to criticize and condemn before we affirm and appreciate. Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside. There were things I was thinking, son: I had been cross with you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor. At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and yelled, “Goodbye daddy!” And I frowned, and said in reply, “Hold those shoulders back!” Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your friends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive—and if you had to buy them, you would be more careful. Imagine that, son, from a father. Do you remember later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. “What is it you want?” I snapped. You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs. Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding—this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years. And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. Your little heart was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills as evidenced by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt here, ashamed. It is a feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But, tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual; “He’s nothing but a boy—a little boy!” I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Just yesterday, it seems, you were in your mother’s arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The 3rd song of the U2 concert at the L.A. Forum on May 27 was Vertigo. Vertigo, of course, is dysfunctional dizziness, often resulting from certain movements or motion. Flying vertigo is disorientation because you’ve lost a true understanding of the horizon. Bono has explained the song: “In the case of 'Vertigo,' I was thinking about this awful nightclub we've all been to. You're supposed to be having a great time and everything's extraordinary around you and the drinks are the price of buying a bar in a Third World country.'re just looking around and you see big, fat Capitalism at the top of its mountain, just about to topple. It's that woozy, sick feeling of realizing that here we are, drinking, eating, polluting, robbing ourselves to death. And in the middle of the club, there's this girl. She has crimson nails. I don't even know if she's beautiful, it doesn't matter but she has a cross around her neck, and the character in this [song] stares at the cross just to steady himself”—Bono, U2 by U2. My take as Bono shouted the opening line, “Uno, dos, tres, catorce” is that U2 sings of how dissonant this world is because of brokenness due to Adam’s Fall into sin and rebellion…that resulted in our own sin and brokenness. 1,2, 3…14? That makes no sense…and neither does this world many times. Just turn on the news. Or…just look around you…OR…just look WITHIN you. The wonder of the Biblical Christian World and Life View is that we have an answer as to why the world is so messed up. Sin and Satan are real. Thus Bono’s lyric in Vertigo…that he always sings with such clarity… “All of this, all of this can be yours All of this, all of this can be yours All of this, all of this can be yours Just give me what I want And no one gets hurt.” Bono is clearly reciting the devil’s words to Jesus during His temptation (Matthew 4:8-9). But not only does the Christian World View have an answer as to WHY the world is upside-down. The Gospel offers a solution..Faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The only answer to the world’s Vertigo? Christ’s response to Satan: “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” Look at the Cross...and steady yourself.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

U2 Out of Control

The second song of the concert at the LA forum on 5-27-15 was their first single, Out of Control. Bono has clearly explained the origin & meaning of the song. Bono: "Out Of Control is about waking up on your eighteenth birthday and realizing that you're 18 years old and that the 2 most important decisions in your life have nothing to do with you - being born and dying." The passing of U2's tour manager of 30 years was on my mind as I listened to the song...I would think it had to be on the mind of U2 as well. Bono sang the song with great passion and energy. At times, as he was swinging the mike on the mike stand, it almost seemed to me like he WAS feeling "Out of Control." He almost seemed...ANGRY. And why not? We SHOULD be angry at death! As he'd say later in the concert before the song, "Iris," U2 is family...and when they lost Dennis earlier in the day, they lost a family member. As Christ-followers, we OUGHT to be angry over death. Jesus was. In John 11:35, Jesus wept as He observed the grief of Mary & Martha over their brother's Lazarus' death. Lazarus was also a very dear friend of Jesus. I believe if Christ's tears could speak, one of the emotions they would claim is anger...anger at death...anger at the world as it is and not how it was originally created to be by the Father. As Christians, we have an explanation as to why death is so universal, yet so feels so painfully foreign to how we know that we know things should be. Death came into the world because of sin. But as followers of Christ, we also have hope because we know that death has been conquered. In this life, though, death is still hard. It hurts. It makes us ANGRY! It makes us feel...Out. Of. Control. I wonder if Bono experienced the frustration of being out of control when it comes to death. Another thing struck me as Bono sang the words of "Out of Control." Even as he sang the words and acted almost "Out of Control," the audience was NEVER Out of Control. Not even close. There's something different about people who attend U2 concerts. They're...well...nice. I struck up several conversations as we waited for U2 to come out. We all respected each other. Were kind to each other. Throughout the concert we even looked out for each other. Bono at times during concerts, has been known to say, "God is in the house!" As I looked around at the audience, some people (including me!) were seemingly in an attitude of worship (not of U2...but of the God Who is often behind U2 lyrics). Most, I'm sure, were just enjoying the concert...but somehow U2 attracts people who know that being truly "Out of Control" is uncool. Even when the song is Out of Control.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

U2-ie 2015 LA Forum

U2ie (not the abbreviation for Ireland...or is it?), but the abbreviation for the Innocence-Experience Tour. I'll be blogging on the recent show I attended on May 27, in Inglewood, CA at the L.A. Forum. I'll take my time and share one song at a time. The concert begins. No warm up band. This is U2's Story. The stage is traditional on the one end, attached to a very long runway with a HUGE 2-sided screen that hangs over the runway. The long runway connects to a mini, pod-shaped stage at the other end. While the band sings certain songs, there is either animation or actual home video or pictures of home life while Bono and the lads are young that are shown. It was the most intimate and transparent of all the U2 shows I've seen. What made this show even more unique was the passing away of U2's long-time tour manager, Dennis Sheehan, the morning of the Show. Saddleback Church pastor and author Rick Warren described Dennis as "a calm and kind Christian man." I wondered throughout the day as I prayed for the guys: how would they be affected? I figured they'd either be flat...or flat-out crazy! Uh...they were not flat (I learned later that Rick Warren had been called in by U2 just before the show, to counsel with them, read Scripture to them and pray for them). So afterward, it all made sense. They were flat-out crazy this night! Bono told Warren: "We choose joy." These reflections are my own. I have never met Bono, so I don't know whether these reflections would fit with what he the rest of U2 may think. However, I have read a lot of Bono's own words and have read some great books chronicling their faith in Christ. I have also poured over the lyrics of their songs, blogging on many of them. "For those who have ears to hear..." Bono walks out singing "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone). Right from the start I can tell that there is a special "energy" among U2 this night. Mystery is Present and The Spirit Moves in Mysterious Ways... I find it interesting that even the title of the first song reveals some mystery. It's called, simply, "The Miracle." Then, in parentheses, "(of Joey Ramone)." So, on one level, it is a tribute to Joey Ramone of the Ramones. Bono heard Ramone's voice and listened to his lyrics and something wonderful happened inside of him. Bono and the lads of U2 snuck into a Ramones concert and Bono was greatly encouraged by what he heard. But on another level, a level similar to the hidden meanings of the parables of Christ (another illustration Bono has used for his lyrics), the song speaks to me about The Miracle of Grace. I remember reading on several occasions where Bono says "U2 must be smart" about their faith in Christ. He once compared U2's approach to the early Christian church's symbol of the fish (IXTHUS). The Greek word for "fish" is used as an acrostic--IXTHUS=Jesus Christ God's Son Savior. A fish was often traced out on the sand or dirt by believers to reveal their faith, yet done in order to be smart and subtle. One person would trace the upper half of the fish symbol...and if the other person noticed it (and they would notice it if they were looking for it!) they would complete the other half. As a result, they would be able to engage in conversations about the Savior. Bono has said that U2 just sort of draw their fish in the sand. It's there for those who have eyes to see. For those who don't, they just enjoy the music at a different level. Hear are some of the key lyrics to me: I woke up at the moment When the miracle occurred Heard a song that made some sense Out of the world Everything I ever lost Now has been returned In the most beautiful sound I'd ever heard. Sure, on one level this is about a young Bono resonating with the gifted artistry and power of Joey Ramone. Some say the lyrics refer to the Sirens' Song of Greek mythology and their power to entrance. But on another level, Bono is constantly singing about the "Song" and miracle of Grace. There are beautifully redemptive lyrics here: a song that made some sense out of the world. I couldn't help but wonder, that as Bono processed Dennis's death, whether these words took on even more depth..."I heard a song that made some sense out of the world." The Song of Grace for the Christ-follower can even make some sense out of death. Death for the Christian is not final, but has been overcome by Christ...."the most beautiful sound I'd ever heard." In other songs, U2 sings of "the sound" of grace, of the Gospel. Also, when one is "born again" in Christ, Scripture calls it The Miracle of the new birth. It is a "waking up" from the dead. I couldn't help but reflect upon my own conversion, "when the miracle occurred," and I "heard a song that made some sense out of the world." Then the beautifully redemptive lyrics that even remind me of the hymn, Amazing Grace: "Everything I ever lost, now has been returned." I once was lost...but I have been found. All that has been broken by the Fall is now being redeemed by grace. Near the end of the song Bono sings, "I get so many things I don't deserve." That. Is. Grace.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

March Madness and "Playing Loose"

As the NCAA Basketball Tournament approaches, watch for teams that play loose...and notice teams that play "tight." The teams that play loose are fun to watch. They are simply enjoying the game...and they often win. But, if they lose, they usually lose having played their best. As I make my way through the Old Testament in my daily readings, I came across Judges 5:2 this morning. It is a song written after the female judge Deborah encouraged a Jewish solider (a general perhaps?) to lead Israel into battle against the enemy. Deborah encouraged Barak and the troops that God promised the victory. As a result of such encouragement, Barak and Israel, "played loose," fought valiantly and won the battle. Judges 5:2 is an interesting verse: "That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the LORD." The Hebrew is difficult. Literally it says something like "the long-haired ones let their hair hang loose." Israel let their hair down! They didn't play tight. They weren't afraid to fail. The knew they would win so they trusted God's promise and played loose. And as is often the case when we play loose...we experience victory. How are you "playing the game" of the Christian life today? Are you playing tight because of fear? Are you afraid to fail or afraid to make a mistake? Or, basking in God's grace and the promise of His favor, delight and power, are you playing loose? Are you letting your hair down and going for it? That's what Deborah encouraged Israel to do in Judges 4:14--"Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the LORD go out before you?" Does not the LORD go out before you today? Take courage! Be of good cheer! Play loose! And maybe even take in some "March Madness."