Monday, April 28, 2014

 

Some Thoughts on T-Bone Burnett and God's Relentless Love

I saw a post a while back about God's relentless love, and it sent my mind reeling back to 1987. T-Bone Burnett released an album entitled "The Talking Animals" on which he released songs co-written by several well known artists. In fact, one song was by Bono and another by Dylan. He had one song in particular that struck me as related to the idea of God's relentless love. The song is "Relentless" and was co-written with Kerry Livgren (yes, of Kansas fame). Here are the lyrics. I'd be happy to hear your thoughts!

Relentless

I stand and tremble in the driving rain
while your love rages like a hurricane

i can't break the silence as you still the wind
but i can hear you breathing underneath my skin

i am defenseless almost senseless you are relentless

i reel and stagger in the blinding light
while your love flashes like a lightening strike

so i find the darkness where i grow afraid
but i cannot shake you and the blackness fades

i am defenseless almost senseless you are relentless

you are relentless
this mercy convulses my pride
you are relentless
i find you wherever i hide
you are relentless
i have got nothing to win
and so i give in

i run and stumble as the mountains shake
while your love blazes like a world in flames

to shoot all fear into the desert sky
as stars fall like water through the dead of night

i am defenseless almost senseless you are relentless
When you think of "relentless," what comes to mind?  Someone who does not give up?  Someone who keeps coming no matter how many obstacles are thrown in the way?

Have you ever known someone who was relentless in their pursuit of something or someone?

When I think of this song, I can't help but reflect on God's continued pursuit of a relationship with humanity.  In spite of the number of times we have tried to avoid him, no matter how often we try to hide from him; God continues to pursue us in spite of ourselves. 

He not only pursues, he became one of us.  His relentless love was such that he couldn't stay away from us.  He joined us.  He became human.

In doing so, he humbled himself.  His love was revealed in this way:  The One who created all of us became a servant to all of us.  And he continues to pursue us for this reason--to serve us, to love us, to pour out his relentless love on us.

In Psalm 139, David says, "How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. When I awake, I am still with You."  He is so overwhelmed with God's relentless pursuit that he says, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it."  

Do we understand how relentless God is in his grace and love?  Do we really get it?  If so, how should we respond?  How will our lives change if we center them on this idea of God's relentless love?

I'd like to find out!  May we all learn to yield to and live by God's relentless love!

Thanks for reading!

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Friday, April 18, 2014

 

Easter: Christ's Death and Our Expectations

The week before Easter is commonly called "Holy Week" or "Passion Week" by Christians. During this week we celebrate (is that the right word?) the last week of Jesus' life on earth. People will make pilgrimages to Israel and retrace Jesus' final steps, they will pause at the "rock of agony" and cry where Jesus cried out to God in Gethsemane, they will go to the pit where Jesus was interrogated, they will pause where Jesus supposedly stumbled under the load of his cross, they will visit and contemplate Golgotha, they will visit the empty tomb, and they will weep and cry and mourn.

Rightfully so . . . this was THE WEEK for which Jesus lived his entire human life, and it was a rough one for him. On Sunday before his crucifixion he entered Jerusalem with cheers ringing in his ears. The (usually fickle) populace embraced him for all the great miracles he performed, and they hailed his coming as though a conquering warrior had entered the city. Like paparazzi following a Hollywood star, they trailed behind this carpenter from Nazareth and looked for ways to become part of his entourage or to at least get a "piece of the action" as Jesus came to town.

Another crowd would yell later that week, "Crucify him!" Anger and hatred would be piled on this carpenter turned Messiah from Nazareth.

When Jesus offered them something tangible to grab, they wanted to be a team player, they wanted the fishes and loaves, the healings, the wonders, the mighty signs.

How soon their tune would change . . . how quickly they would turn on the one who was innocent of any sin except the failure to live up to THEIR expectations.

How like them we are today . . .

When things are going our way, we look to heaven and sing God's praises. We celebrate and sing and run to join the band as God rides triumphantly over all our "enemies." But as soon as Jesus fails to live up to OUR expectations, what do we do?

I know the spiritual answer--"though he slay me yet I will praise him."

Do we really? Will we? Will I?

I'm struck with how Jesus routinely challenged the popular expectations of the crowds who showed up hoping for another demonstration of heavenly power and flash. In John 12, just after the people have celebrated his "triumphal entry," Jesus tells them that the way to jump on his bandwagon is for his followers to hate their lives in this world. Just think how that must have sounded to the celebrants rejoicing in the coming of their conquering hero!

"You want to be a part of my movement, you want a part of my thing?" Jesus asks, "Then you will need to regard your life in this world as a dead man would. You have to become the least, the slave, the dead one, in order to get in on my movement."

Come and die.

What an invitation!

Of course, Jesus knew that in just six days he would literally fulfill that invitation. The innocent would die for the unquestionably guilty . . . and he would die horribly.

I can just imagine how this conversation must have put a damper on the celebration in Jerusalem. Jesus took a party and turned it into a wake. The next thing we know he is engaged in theological discussions with the people and with the Jewish leaders. He created a controversy that caused folks to take sides. All he had to do was accept the adulation and promise to "win the war that must be won," but Jesus decided to go against expectations again. He decided to allow God to get the glory through humility and death.

Hasn't this happened to us? Just when we think we have God's agenda all spelled out like it ought to be, He throws us a curve ball that reminds us we aren't in charge! We have a hard time "boxing Jesus" into a neat package.

What's the point then? The point is that we should reverse the procedure. Instead of putting expectations on God, we should look for HIS expectations for us. What has He required of us? What does He want? How should we respond to His voice?

Remember, the author of Hebrews describes these events this way: "Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God's throne. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won't grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1b-3

Jesus endured the cross and all that suffering "for the joy that lay before him"!  Think on that a second--what joy did the cross offer?  Jesus was beaten beyond recognition as a human, he was whipped, beaten with rods, had his hair and beard pulled, and he received a crown of thorns on his head.  He was nailed to a cross, and he was left to die a horrible death.  

Where's the joy?

He died willingly for us.  His love was bigger than our sin.  He endured so that we might be rescued.  His joy was our salvation, and his joy was to pour out his love so that we might learn to be like him.  He is the pioneer and completer of our faith--he blazed the trail and he brings our faith to maturity.  Our goal is to live and to love like him.  How can we do that?

The week of Easter we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the process maybe we should participate in a funeral of our own. Maybe we should let die our selfish expectations about how God "ought" to act towards us. Bury them, and let God resurrect them in His image.

As we contemplate the price of our salvation, let us willingly become slaves to the one who has paid such a price to purchase our freedom. Like Jesus, let our prayer be "Father glorify your name." Remember, if a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it will yield much fruit. It is, however, pretty useless in a bag with other seeds. Let's allow God to plant us where he wants so that our service can produce fruit for his glory. Let's follow our crucified Lord by living cruciform lives.

What would the world look like if we did?

I'd really like to find out!

Thanks for reading!

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

 

One of my favorite Easter hymns: O Sacred Head . . .

Hello all:

This week is the week we celebrate Jesus' Passion and the week that begins Passover.  As I think of these holidays, my mind is taken to my favorite songs and meditations on the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus the Messiah.  One of my all time favorite hymns for Easter is "O Sacred Head Now Wounded."  I wanted to share the lyrics here, but in my research I found this song to be longer than anticipated.  In the Baptist Hymnal used in my home church in Tennessee, this song had three verses that ran as follows:

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, assist me with Thy grace

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.


But in checking the history of this hymn on-line, I discovered that it had a much longer version.  It is originally attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux in the Latin sometime in the 1150s.  Then it was translated into German (ca. 1650) and finally into English (ca 1830).  The longer version is slightly different than what I memorized from my hymnal, but I wanted to offer it for your meditation.  This week, as you think about Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection, remember that he did this for you.  He did this to provide freedom.  Think on these things, and then do what you can to live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel by which you are called.  Here is the longer version:

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!

Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.

Here I will stand beside Thee, from Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish in death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.

The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

May the Risen Lord of Easter shine his bright light of grace into your heart, and may the Spirit of Messiah pour the love of God in and through you!

Thanks for reading!  

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