Friday, March 28, 2008

To Be Called A Friend

Greater love has no one than this, that one would lay his life down for his friends. Have you ever truly examined the implications of this beautiful passage? The ultimate love, the ultimate way of showing love, is to lay down your own life for another. In other words, self-sacrificial love is the greatest love of all. Doesn't sound like the love we learn of in this world. Television, movies, books, music, they all tell us that love is about getting something. It's not about self-sacrifice but self-pleasure. Where's the self-pleasure in dying for a friend?

I have many acquaintances, few friends. Regarding the friends that I have, do I love them enough to lay down my life for them? Talk about a conversation ice breaker. I love my best friend dearly but would I really die for her? I know her, truly a good person, but is that enough for me to lay my life down for her? I would. However, that isn't really significant because I've already said that I know her and love her. She was already a good person before I met her, so it isn't much is it? Christ, however, died for His friends. Again not exactly special or significant is it? What's the difference in me dying for Kate and Christ dying for us? Huge difference! In my eyes, Kate is a righteous child of God. When Christ died for us, we were NOT righteous children of God and that my friend is where the difference lies. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:7-8). Jesus laid down His life because of the love He had for His friends, even when His friends despised Him. Now that is unbelievable, truly self-sacrificial, truly love.

So Christ died for His friends, His friends. What a special word, one used far too loosely in my opinion. A friendship is a binding relationship between two partners. It's a self-sacrificial love that says, "you you you", rather than "me me me". These two partners are equal. And yet Christ, the very Son of God, calls us friend? Personally, I don't count myself worthy to be a friend of Christ. Rather, I feel like John when he says, "...H
e who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry." Christ sees me differently though. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15). Christ called me friend, Christ called you friend. That makes me want to jump from my chair and shout unending praises to God. I hated Him, I cursed Him, I crucified Him, and He calls me friend? Not only did He call me friend, but He laid down His life for me, and for you.

To be called a friend of Christ is baffling beyond belief, but He doesn't stop by merely calling us friends, but by dying for us when we didn't count Him as friend. I said earlier that this was a two-party system. Christ did His part. Now it is our turn. I love Christ, but am I willing to lay down my life for Him? Are you willing to lay down your life for Him? In all likelihood, we will not be martyrs for the sake of Christ, but are we willing to be just the same? So forget dying for Him. Are we willing to be disliked for Him, made fun of for Him, mistreated for Him, persecuted for Him? Are we willing to not only die for Him, but to live for Him? He has called us friends. Greater love has no one than this, that one would lay down his life for His friends. We must be willing to die for Christ but also to live for Christ because He lived and died for us.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hiking With God at Tunica

Early this morning, a load of people and myself went hiking at Tunica Hills in Mississippi. It was my third time hiking there and was just as awesome as the last visits. Obviously at fitness, hiking is a great way to stay in shape. I mean you're climbing over treacherous rocks two feet high, jumping over ravenous waters one foot in width and inches in depth..very dangerous as you can see. What can I say? I live on the edge.

Apart from all the imminent dangers, there are safer parts on the trail where we're just strolling along, looking at the great sights provided for us. Aside from the plethora of annoying bugs, it's absolutely gorgeous. The entire time of hiking I couldn't help but wonder at the awesomeness of God. Gazing at the waterfalls, tasting the clear water from the streams, only a person out of their mind could say that there was no God. But I suppose that's exactly what David meant when he said, "The fool says in his heart 'there is no God'". It takes a complete fool to hike and stare at the awesome wonders that God created and deny His existence. However, the atheists and agnostics aren't the only ones at fault here. I also realized today how often I forget how creative God is. When we talk about the many attributes of God, never do I hear anyone mention His creativity. Maybe I'm missing something, maybe that isn't an attribute but it seems as if it should be one. Yes God is sovereign, immutable, holy, and all the other attributes He holds. I've studied Dr. Grudem's writings on the Attributes of God in Systematic Theology and I don't recall reading about God's creativity. So hey, maybe creativity isn't an attribute but it sure sounds like one to me.

Just take a moment and bask in wonder next to me. We're sitting on the beach barefoot with icy sand covering our feet, watching the foamy waves draw into the shore. Gazing out in the distance we see the perfect sunset, beautiful shades of yellow, red, and orange. The great ball of yellow falling into the blue black sea, how do we not jump up and praise the awesome God who handcrafted this incredible work of art! Just think how many praises Michaelangelo has received because of his most famous creation, the Sistine Chapel. Or think of Da Vinci and his beautiful Mona Lisa. I'm no art major but I know that these brilliant masterpieces do not hold even a candle to the transcendent workmanship of God.

We are called to be mature, leaving our childish ways from our youth and grow in the wisdom of God. However, God never called us to abandon our childish faith and wonder. As a matter of fact, didn't Christ command the complete opposite? "...unless you change and become as little children, you will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." (Matt. 18:3) So what's my point? None really. I just hope that every once in a while we look up from our great books of theology and observe the theology testified to us all through God's marvelous creation. Aside from His word, what better place is there to look?

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Most Awesome People on the Planet

Playing a little American Idol: Version Hymns
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Justin, our youth pastor Kyle, and Cody
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Andrea being the instrumentalist
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Me not being the instrumentalist

Hitting the Bowling Alley
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Kyle trying to bowl at 20 mph
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Dre with her unique style of bowing...Justin trying to mess her up
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Mrs. Wendy showing us how it's done
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Me and Katie laughing at who knows what..


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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Living to Die, Dying to Live

On the eve of celebrating the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, I thought it'd be a good idea to examine what exactly it is that we are celebrating. Two nights ago I attended a church that had a pre-Easter service at which my grandfather sung, and he did beautifully by the way. The service was centered around the day before and the day on which Christ was crucified. As I sat through countless stages, I patiently waited for my favorite part of the story, Christ's resurrection. Friends, there was no stage where He rose again. I was baffled beyond belief!

It was then that I realized how many people have missed the great story of Christ's death and resurrection by only focusing on His death. My brothers and sisters at this church only presented one half of the story of our redemption. Question: What good is Christ's death if He hadn't rose again? If there was no third day, then His death was no different than you or I dying. Christ dying on the cross was necessary, the ultimate act of selfless love but if we stop here, then that act was done in vain. What makes His death different from ours is that for one, He did it willingly, and secondly, He defeated death by rising again. To leave out this essential information is to void the entirety of Christ's redemptive work.

Recognizing that Christ's resurrection is just as important as His death, what exactly does this mean for us? Because of His death, we too are to die. Because He died for us, we die to Him. Jesus warns each one of us in Luke 9:23, "If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." It is impossible for us to follow Jesus if we do not die to ourselves first. Later in Luke, Jesus says again, "And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple." Can He be any more clearer? Without our own self crucifixion, we will never be able to follow Christ. We cannot stop here though, it isn't enough to just die to Christ. Without living to Jesus, our dying to Him did not happen. Paul says in 2 Tim. 2:11, "If we died in Him, we will also live with Him." Living in Christ means that we have died to ourselves, we are no longer lords of our own lives. Now that we have crucified our flesh, Christ lives in us. Paul says it better than I can ever put it in Gal. 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." We are dead and gone. Yet we still live, because Christ still lives. Without His resurrection, our hope is vain and void.

It is not in Christ's death that our hope lies, but in His rising that our hope lives. If Christ had died and not risen, His death and our hope would be senseless and foolish. But thankfully we can share in the words of Peter, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time." Because of His death, we are able to die with Him. Because of His resurrection, we live again with Him and will live with Him for all eternity, a promise He has given us, a promise that can never spoil or fade, but that is sealed with the power of God.

So this Easter, let us focus on the complete redemptive work of Christ, the Man who lived to die in our place, so that we can not only die with Him, but to live in Him.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Amorality of Music

Reclining at my computer listening to The Solus Christus Project, Shai Linne's older record, I'm thinking about music. Call it an obsession, call me near ridiculous, I love music. I'm not picky either, give me rap, give me reggae, give me rock...I love it all. In a 24 hour day, I'm probably listening to music half the time. I listen to reggae in the morning while I get ready for school, I listen to music on the way to school, sometimes I even listen to music in class when my teachers permit it. Then I come home and do homework to it, jog around the neighborhood to it, and at night I have it softly playing while reading the Bible. Obsessive huh? I know!

While the quantity of my addiction has been defined, I rather focus on the quality of it. Confession: I listen to secular music just as much as I listen to it's Christian counterparts. In the ever going battle of should Christians listen to non-Christian music, I've taken the position of allowing the answer to be individual. I believe that each Christian has discernment. God gives it to us all when we become children of God. Some, however, have more efficient levels of discernment than others. Never will anyone hear me say, "Christians should/should not listen to secular music." An answer to this kind of question isn't that simple. I don't know how strong one Christian is, or how weak another Christian is. I only know how strong I am and I've made the decision that though I will be discerning, I will not refuse an artist because they aren't labeled as "Christian".

So what about 1 Cor. 10:31, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."? I used to slightly resent people when they offered this answer. How do I glorify God by listening to things that don't glorify Him? The only sufficient answer I've ever come up with is that I don't listen to anything that dishonors God. Nor will I ever listen to anything that dishonors Him. However, I do listen to things that don't honor Him. Doesn't sound like there's much of a difference in the two does it? What's the difference between dishonoring God and not honoring God? I think of two examples when this question comes to mind. An example of music that dishonors God is Marilyn Manson. Now, I'm not a part of that "crucify Manson" sect of Christians but the man has blatantly dishonored and denied God in his music. Because of that content, I don't listen to him. An example of music that doesn't honor God is classical music. My piano teacher told me that listening to classical piano music can help my playing. In all the classical music I've listened to, I've never ran across one that honors God. So the difference is that music aimed to dishonor God is immoral while music that neither honors nor dishonors Him is amoral. I'm not making this case so that Christians everywhere can throw out the word of God and do what they want. Rather, I'm just trying to show that everything isn't always, "this is good and this is bad." We can't make general statements that condemn listening to certain kinds of music. What we can do is discern for ourselves what we believe honors and dishonors God and listen accordingly.

Now that I've thrown us all in deep water, I suppose I must also teach us how to swim for those who don't know how already. How do we discern whether music is moral, immoral, or amoral? Amoral is perhaps the easiest to define. Amoral music, I define, is just music with no lyrics at all, simply instrumentals. Many Christian friends of mine believe that music, as in the actual music and not the lyrics, can be sinful. I refuse to believe that because it's giving moral characteristics to something that is amoral. Music is only sinful or godly in the way that the artist wields it. Discerning whether music is godly or ungodly can be more simple than people would like to admit. Christianity Today introduced their Three L philosophy and I think it's a rather efficient way to discern music.

The Three L's

Label - is the record label that produces the artist known for Christian or non-Christian content? This L, in my opinion is the least discerning on its own. There are Christian bands that are not on Christian labels, two in particular would be Switchfoot (Columbia) and MuteMath (Warner Bros.)
Lyrics - do the lyrics honor or dishonor God? This is naturally the most common method of discerning music, and I believe the most efficient way. When listening to a certain artist, do they sing of things that brings God glory, or that brings Him dishonor?
Lifestyle - is the artist a known practicing Christian? Switchfoot, a common band that comes up when arguments about Christian and secular music evoke, does not label themselves as a Christian band. They rather refer to themselves as Christians in a band. Though their lyrics aren't always biblical, each member is known as practicing Christians and identify themselves as such in interviews, no matter whether the interviewer was from a Christian or secular magazine.

The best biblical advice I can give is to read Romans 14. This is by far the closest passage in scripture that we can utilize in discerning music. Paul speaks here about how some Christians are stronger in the faith than others, a point I stated earlier. In verse 2-3, Paul basically says that some Christians do one thing while another doesn't. However, he quickly points out that we should not condemn one another because of these differences. Paul uses the example of eating meat and eating vegetables. I substitute in Christian and non Christian music. "One man's faith allows him to listen to all music, while another man who is weak in the faith listens only to Christian music. The man who listens to all music must not look down on him who does not and vice versa, for God has accepted them both." I hate that the Church has been divided by opinions so insignificant as this. Mark 3:25 declares, "If a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand." Christ has accepted us all and we are all one in Him, no matter our differential musical preferences. When we allow ourselves to be divided on matters so unsubstantial and trivial as this, we simply miss the forest for the trees.

I listen to just about anything as long as God is not dishonored in it. Friends of mine only listen to Christian music. Which side am I on? There shouldn't be any side. Each individual should discern in themselves what their faith allows them to do. Whatever we do though, whether in eating, drinking, or listening to music, let us all do it for the glory of God.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

To Be A (Christian) Hedonist

Americans are selfish people. Teenagers are even more selfish and I am just about as selfish as they come. We all want what we want, how we want it, when we want it. We allow nothing to get in the way of our determination to meet the ultimate pleasure. That is hedonism at its finest, seeking happiness at all costs whatsoever. Logically then, its odd that I define myself as a hedonist anyway. Hedonism doesn't exactly match the persona that Christianity displays.

To picture a Christian is to picture a sad human being. A person who has forsaken all that he or she has ever loved and enjoyed. I once watched a movie where a young monk would secretly act out self-mortification. He believed that inflicting pain on himself would somehow please God. A friend of mine once called me an "old woman who never has any fun". I never go to any parties that people, for some strange reason, invite me to. I rarely go to dances and when I do, call me crazy, I actually go sober. But I can't better the image, I'm just a lousy old hag who never does anything unless its nutty stuff like reading the Bible or praying. Christians are depressing excuses for people, puppets on a string who do everything to try and please God.

I like being happy. Far more often than not, I am happy. Getting to church on Sunday morning, I don't see people with wear and tear written on their faces. I don't see bruises and stripes that were self inflicted throughout the week. I see people who are, well happy. So where are we getting this happiness from? Some would say, "Now I know somewhere in that book of yours it says something like, 'deny yourself and take up the cross'." It does. I am called to die to myself everyday. That's a pitiful thing isn't it? Funny thing is that it isn't.

We as a society have concocted a horrible belief that to follow God would mean to deny yourself. Wait, well that is what we are to do. Rather, we have concocted a horrendous idea that to follow God means to forsake our own pleasures and desires. Before, I believed the same. Thankfully though, I was introduced to a wonderful book called Desiring God, a book in which John Piper describes the belief in Christian Hedonism. He's been under quite the criticism, I mean Christian and Hedonism are two conflicting words. Eh, not really. Piper basically believes that true hedonism can only be Christian hedonism.

We all search day in and day out for what pleases us. We look high and low, from the summits of mountains to the cliffs and valleys seeking happiness but none find it there. Every time we turn around we see celebrities of all kinds killing themselves or at least driving themselves to near death. If these people aren't happy, how in the world am I happy? I don't have nearly as much as they have. The problem is that we seek in the wrong places. We are a created people, a created people who were made to enjoy their Creator. Its when we seek for happiness outside of our Creator that we run into havoc and disarray. God desires us to desire Him. Piper words it better when he says, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." To please God and to please ourselves are not two distinct missions but rather reflections of each other. I seek to please God and He, in all His glory, pleases me. True happiness, true hedonism is not found in riches or possessions, nor is it found in self inflicted pain and mutilation. When we find momentary pleasure in things, we settle. To be a true hedonist is to seek the ultimate pleasure, for this is hedonism's very definition.

To find joy in Christ is to find the ultimate pleasure because He is the ultimate treasure. To find it on earth is to find something mediocre, something merely second rate. Don't allow yourself to settle. Find your joy in Christ because He is all we would ever need, but even more, He is all we can ever want.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Downfall of a Great X-Man

I've been currently reading a great collection of black literature called Right On! Included in this anthology are writers such as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Frederick Douglass, Richard Wright, and one of my personal favorites, the great Malcolm X. Many would scold me for counting X as a hero of mine, but I can't help but respect the love he had for his people, the determination he held to advance his people.

What actually was the difference between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.? It surprises me how much I've been asked this, and it has a rather simple answer. Both men had the same goal, equality, but used two entirely different means to accomplish it. King, of course, would use peaceful resistance, civil disobedience, declaring along with great theologian St. Augustine, "An unjust law is no law at all." Malcolm X however, called for action, called for violent resistance if necessary. X also believed in what historians call, "Black Supremacy", holding to the idea that the white race came from a failed breeding program and called for the immediate returning of blacks to their natural place as supreme over all the nations and nationalities.

This is where the X-Man and myself must diverge. I often sit at times, wondering the true meaning of color, the significance of shade, the importance of race. I wonder at the true difference between blacks and whites, and Asians, Hispanics, islanders, etc. As much as I sit and think, I come up with nothing. Sure I remember the standards like "blacks have rhythm and whites don't", "whites wrinkle but black don't crack" and whatever else you ever heard you great-grandmother say. But those aren't significant differences, those are meaningless polarities that people like Malcolm X clutch on to and run with, never looking back to consider that each man, each woman, each girl and boy are simply and ultimately colorless brothers and sisters. And a further step is made when we consider ourselves Christians.

Ephesians 4:5 declares that there is only, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism". Galatians 3:28 takes it uncomfortably further for some, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." I was once a militant, you know. Praise God that my best friend, Katie, came around after my militant, Black Power days were over, seeing as she is..well isn't black. That would have been pretty difficult. Instead, she and I did what every person in this world should do, look beyond the color of skin and rather fall in love with the contents of their soul. Malcolm X, sadly, could not look any further than the outside appearance of a man, but camped there, judging the contents of the heart by the color of the hand. How we will miss out on great brothers and sisters in Christ if we allow ourselves to be so shallow as to subject ourselves to the same downfall.

Good news for us all: Christ was neither black nor was He white. More good news, God does not look down and see the color of our skin. God only sees one color, and that's red. He simply sees the blood of His Son covering those who believe in Him. When I look at Kate, I don't see white and I'm sure she doesn't see black. All we see is red and friends, when it all boils down, that's the only color that matters.

Blue Like Jazz

I'm pretty big on endorsing books, but I wasn't too sure whether I should endorse this one. I like fresh looks, if that makes any sense. What I mean to say is that I like to be reinvigorated, given a new sense of passion in things I already love. Blue Like Jazz, I guess you could say, has reinvigorated the way I looked at Christianity.

I think the major pitfall of Christians, and humans in general for that matter, is that they classify Christianity as a religion. Christianity is so not a religion. Religion, in my opinion, is merely a way that man tries to do something to satisfy God, albeit through good works, killing animals, hugging tress (though I'm totally not bashing tree huggers...), or whatever else people are trying these days to rectify themselves in God's eyes. This system is completely polar to that of my Christianity. I've realized that there is nothing I can do to please God and I can never please Him unless He aids me.

So am I a religious person? Absolutely not. However, I have a great and intimate relationship with my triune God, and I think that's a far better system. I guess Blue Like Jazz reawakened me to this relational look at Christ. Sure I think it's a little too, eh...liberal, in some aspects, but Donald Miller has a great heart for God and others. Sure he smokes cigarettes and guzzles down a few beers when he writes, but I wish more Christians, myself included, would take such an active approach in helping others the way he does. Christ called us to be "light of the world", cities on a hill that "cannot be hidden" (Matt. 5:14). How do we fulfill these callings when all we do is worry about ourselves and our fellow believers? Where would we get? Nowhere.

Don quoted a friend of his late in the book, "If we are not willing to wake up in the morning and die to ourselves, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we are really following Jesus." If we aren't willing to be something different, to do something different for Christ's sake(finally used godly in a sentence..) then we should seriously be asking ourselves if we are following Jesus, the man who ate with sinners and tax collectors, like my pastor once said, "a scandalous man." If Christ didn't judge Himself too highly to sit with sinners, neither should we. We aren't saved and done. We are saved and do. We do for His kingdom because it's ours too. You have more motivation to clean a grand house that will be yours, than to clean a grand house that you can't even afford to look at, right? Well His kingdom is our kingdom, His inheritance is ours. So let's conduct ourselves as such.

Let's be scandalous, be revolutionary, be Christlike, a shining, salty city high on a hill.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

First Official Blog

Well, what to do, what to do? These things look so cool but man are they complicated! I was hoping this wouldn't be like writing in a diary, seeing how I am the worst diary-er on the planet. Seriously, I definitely write in it like once a leap year. And now that other people read the entries, it'll be worse..or would it be? Some people like the sound of their own voice, maybe I'll like the look of my own thoughts on a web page. How cool is that?

So I've been hopping from blog to blog, checking everything out, learning the ropes you know. I've come to the conclusion that one has to be quite an interesting person to do this and I'm not sure that I make the cut. I've ran across dull blogs and boy are they brutal! Being the good Christian and all, however, I try to find the good in each of them, the silver lining of each horribly dark cloud, but some silver linings can be painstakingly vague. At that point, I just hop to the next one. If this is one of those silver lining blogs, hop quickly!

Ooh I forgot...how do you end this? Goodbye, have a nice day...(is that right?)

Alright, I Finally Did It

Well, after questions and questions such as, "Ashley, when are you going to start a blog?!?!", I finally succumbed and started one. I was totally against the idea before. I figured that since everyone blogged, I would be the anti-conformist that I always am, and not run in the same waters. It's cool to be the one marching to the beat of your own drum, and trust that I marched to the rhythms of my own band. But, I suppose if you can't beat them, you join them. Hope the pushers enjoy!