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JFH Staff Blog | Jason Gray

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Who Brings The Change (More Like Falling In Love Part 7)

...it's like I'm falling
in love, love, love - deeper and deeper
it was love that made me a believer
in more than a name, a faith, a creed
falling in love with Jesus brought the change in me


"Therefore... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."
Philippians 2:12

I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog series that I've gotten emails and notes - most of them respectful and thoughtful - from some who have had concerns over what some of the lyrics mean in my song "More Like Falling In Love", and though I run the risk of seeming defensive, I thought it might be good to let some recent emails guide our conversation for this blog.  The two latest comments I received were kindly expressed by people whose concerns, interestingly, were polar opposites - which I suppose can be expected if we understand truth to be paradoxical more often than not, it's DNA made up of seemingly contradictory ideas (the greatest is the least, you lay down your life to find it, work out your salvation… it's God who works in you…, etc.).  The truth is black and white, and sometimes even seems frustratingly gray, or sometimes even purple, for that matter.  (I'm not talking about relativism here, so don't get nervous :-)

On the one hand are those who are concerned that I'm downplaying the believer's role in the saving/sanctifying work of God in our lives.  The line that says, "it's more like losing my heart than giving my allegiance" is the real stickler for them.  (Okay, maybe I'll get just a little defensive for a moment and point out that I'm not saying that we don't give our allegiance, but rather that it's more like losing our heart to a Person than it is giving allegiance to an ideology of propositional truths.  If the relationship is in place, a passionate allegiance will surely follow.  Blood is thicker than water, right?)  I imagine their concern is that I'm shortchanging the cost of discipleship by encouraging believers to do too little in the "working out of their salvation with fear and trembling..." I mean, c'mon - you can't just sit there and do nothing, right?

On the other hand are some who have expressed concern that I give us too much to do and am shortchanging God's role by making too big a deal of our role in the work where I write "falling in love with Jesus brought the change in me". Their read on this lyric is that I've put the ball of salvation/sanctification in our court, implying that it was my willful act of falling in love that brought about the change in me, that it's up to me to somehow manufacture transformation by mustering up enough love and devotion for God, when the scripture clearly tells us "…for it is God who works in [us] to will and to act according to his good purpose."  

I guess it just goes to show you can't please everybody :-)

But they both make a good point, and I'm grateful that they're listening - what an honor to have someone engage a song lyric on that level, and a pop song no less!  I suppose the truth is that there is a real tension between these two ideas, and my lyric - like myself - is probably caught somewhere in the middle.  Maybe that I've gotten both kinds of emails is a sign that I was on the right track.

I will confess that I have passionately believed in the role that I'm responsible to play in God's work in my life.  But as I've gotten older, I also confess that I've become just as passionate about the conviction that it's all grace, all a gift, that even the ability to receive it is a gift, and that my insufficiency can only be met and answered by God's all sufficiency.  And yet, and yet…

We feel the tension - the great mystery of God's sovereignty and the holy freedom of free will He bestows upon us: the freedom to honor the gift giver or do terrible, terrible atrocities with the freedom that he sovereignly gives us - including the atrocity of complacency.  It's enough to make the head spin or the scalp go cold…  I'm with Job: "surely I spoke of things… too wonderful for me to know." (Job 42:3)

But even if I'm afraid of diving in the deep end of this great mystery, I think I can at least dip my toe in the pool by reflecting on the idea of how "falling in love with Jesus brought the change in me".  

There is a sense in which the action of falling in love is my own, I suppose.  I remember when I first saw Taya, my wife, and the way she absolutely caught my eye and captured my attention.  We were both on a mission trip with our youth groups in our senior year of high school.  She was from Bellingham, WA and I was from Mankato, MN.  Our youth groups converged in Chicago as we partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build housing for the poor there.  It was a grand adventure and each night we would gather to share our experiences of the day.  And here was this lovely young woman who spoke with such depth, passion, and authority!  She was lit on fire with her love for the Lord and when she would share, her words were like little sparks that would set flame to anyone who let themselves be touched by them. I sought this girl out.  It was an act of my will to get to know this girl. I found excuses to engage her in conversation and eventually even got her address and phone number (this was before the days of email, youngsters).

I remember a pastor friend of mine talking about how he met his wife, what it was like when he first saw her across the room, and how he then moved towards her to try to make contact.  He was always convinced that it was he who initiated the conversation that led to their relationship, but it wasn't until years later that he realized that he saw and noticed her across the room because she wanted to be seen and noticed by him. What humble grace to allow him to think all those years that he was the sole initiator of the relationship!  What generosity to invite him to play such a dignified part in their meeting when she knew what she was doing all along.

I remember talking with another pastor friend of mine once as we wondered about when the moment of salvation actually happens - does it happen after you go to the altar and pray the magic prayer?  Or did it happen before the prayer when you were in your seat and the Holy Spirit first quickened the words of the gospel in your heart and you decided to respond?  Or did it happen earlier that day when you decided to obey the leading of the Spirit and go to church?  Or did it happen somewhere before the beginning of time at the foundations of the earth?  Such a delightful mystery…  It should leave us humbled and grateful to be recipients of such grace.  It should ignite a passion in us to work toward being better disciples of the Author and Finisher of our faith. It should make us want to both give more of our lives and receive more Life, to work out our salvation, trusting that it's God who is at work.

Either way it went down, the creeds - the intellectualization of it - came after the fact. But at the moment of truth when my heart first surrendered to what the Lord had been doing in me all along, it was love, love that I felt and knew for the first time, Love that changed me from the inside out, Love that changes me still and is leading me home.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Lie, Hide, or... Love? (More Like Falling In Love Part 6)

Give me words
I'll misuse them
Obligations
I'll misplace them
`Cause all religion ever made of me
Was just a sinner with a stone tied to my feet
It never set me free


My family and I had the privilege of seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Minnesota Science Museum recently.  We walked through rooms that featured facts and relics from the region of Qumran, where the Scrolls were discovered in the 1940's.  Anticipation built as we learned of the remarkable significance of these documents and the equally remarkable circumstances surrounding their discovery, recognition, and now restoration.  

The exhibit led us through the history of the part of the world that gave birth to all three of the world's three major religions, deepening our understanding of the ancient culture that produced the sacred texts.

Finally, we were led into a room that featured 6 tiny pieces of the scrolls in a light and climate controlled room.  Under glass were the holy texts, seemingly preserved by God himself, a gift to the 20th century.  Each piece was smaller than the palm of my hand, the writing so small as to be barely readable.  Like Robinson Caruso gathering up common tools that in their scarcity become like precious treasures washed up on the beach, these little bits of paper washed up on the 20th century shores of the little blue rock that we are stranded on. Or maybe it's more accurate to think of them like messages in a bottle that have found their way to us over centuries to silence the critics who delight in attacking the scholarly authenticity of scripture.

I don't think I'm being sentimental when I say that it was a moment pregnant with holiness.  Each piece of the scroll was from a different biblical book: Jeremiah, Psalms, Deuteronomy.  There were non-sacred texts among the scrolls, too, that give clues about the life of the people of the time, including a piece of a document called "The Community Rule".  The bit of text on display said something to this effect (I'm quoting from memory here):

If a member of the community sinned by oversight, that is by accident, they would be excluded from certain communal meals and activities for two years time, at which time they would be able to rejoin the community.  However, if they sinned by impertinence, that is willfully, they were to be excommunicated entirely.

During our drive home we talked about our experience of the exhibit, the community rule in particular, and the religious order that produced it.

It seemed to us to be the very kind of religious ideology that Jesus came to address - here were words and ideas added to the Word of God that potentially distort our understanding of God and what he desires.

My wife Taya put it in a great way when she said, "now don't think I'm being irreverent, but it kind of reminds me of the Little Rascals - remember their club?  The He-Man Woman Hater's Club?  And they'd have to be initiated in and solemnly make earnest promises to not talk to girls in order to be in the club?  Which of course made it even harder to not talk to girls, but you make these oaths because you so desperately want to be in the club!  So you've got these guys in the desert who desperately need to be in the club - and in their time the club is everything, because if you're not in it, you're vulnerable to death and poverty. Your survival depended on being part of a community back then!  So, okay, you need the protection of community, and you make the vows to not sin, and then that leaves you with only two options - to either lie or hide, because the truth is you are a sinner.  But you can't afford to get kicked out of the club. So either you lie, or you hide."

Thank you, Taya, I couldn't have said it any better.

The sickness of religious idolatry can be measured by the extent to which it forces you to comply to standards of holiness in order to belong.  There isn't anything wrong with the standards of holiness - we need those!  But it gets dicey when we rely solely on external motivation to get the job done.  The most significant holiness comes from the inside out, born of the Spirit.  I'm talking about the difference between compelled obedience and inspired obedience.  Legislating holiness can only deal with the symptoms of sin, but rarely gets to the heart of the matter.

Here's what I mean: let's say I'm struggling with something, maybe it's unconfessed sin, maybe it's honest doubt about the whole faith enterprise, maybe it's even anger or disappointment with God. Whatever it is, when I dare to be honest enough to give voice to it, I might be met with a religious attitude that is uncomfortable with my honesty, or that shames me for what I'm going through or the mistakes that I'd like to move beyond.  It's hard enough to muster the courage to be honest about it in the first place, so it doesn't take much to feel like I've been shut down. I learn my lesson: that I have to lie or hide in order to be a part of this club.

This is an oversimplification, I know, yet I'm sure many of you reading this have felt what I'm talking about.

That doesn't mean that we go soft on holiness.  On the contrary, we recognize that holiness is the Lord's domain, and that if he asks it of us it's because he intends to make it available to us - the desire for holiness leads us to deeper dependence and humility.  "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled…"  Too often holiness has the whiff of self-righteousness.  This kind of holiness is a sham and an insult to a Holy God.  

If we don't trust God for holiness in our faith community, we begin trying to exact it from those around us, and when we do that, our love becomes conditional, and we pervert the gospel by compelling others to be people pleasers - people who lie or hide in order to win the approval of those in charge of the clubhouse.

Meanwhile, the Lord is whispering to our hearts, wanting us to lay down our best efforts of holiness and instead let him shape it inside of us and draw it out of us.

"My yoke is easy, my burden is light" Jesus tells us, and at times I've been tempted to call him a liar as I've been crushed under the heavy yoke of legalistic obligation.  At one point I realized that it wasn't his yoke I was under at all, but the yoke of what I thought was being demanded of me by the religious community I was a part of at the time.  It was in this time that I had a grace awakening in my life.

In other words, I was doing the right things for the wrong reasons, and ultimately for the wrong people.  I misplaced my obligations and my efforts toward holiness became a form of idolatry where I lived to please those who might stand in judgment over me.  My unholy sacrifice upon their altar was my half-hearted compliance to their religious expectations.  It became a stone around my feet that never let me move much beyond my sin and fear (or their control of me).

I've always believed that one of the chief purposes of marriage is to show us what a relationship with God is meant to look like.  It's in marriage and parenthood that we're given a front row seat to sacrificial love, forgiveness, and trust.

Early in our marriage Taya and I (especially me) were guilty at times of coercing the other to get what we wanted, and withholding love and approval if the other didn't perform to expectations.  It doesn't take long to realize this is the way to kill a relationship.  It just won't work this way.

Show me a marriage that is healthy and fruitful and I'll show you two people who have learned to love each other unconditionally - recognizing each other as sinners, but not making the marriage dependent upon the other's performance.  This kind of marriage is the soil that grows souls that are rich in freedom, honesty, intimacy, and transformation.

Why would God create an institution guided by such principles if he wasn't trying to help us understand something about the way He and the human heart work?

Well, from where I sit, it seems clear that God is telling us how it works, how relationships work, why grace and unconditional love are of central significance, why it's so important that we let perfect love cast out all fear.  It's the only way to grow trust and intimacy, the very things that God desires of us.  These will lead the way to holiness and sanctification, setting us free to do the right things for the right reasons, offering it as worship to the Lord God Almighty alone - a worship that he isn't willing to share with the people who we are tempted to please.

And this is another reason why our faith is more a matter of falling in love than it is anything else.  Only love will produce pure holiness and pure worship.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

More Like Falling In Love Part 5 - The Limit Of Words

More Like Falling In Love Part 5 – The Limit Of Words


Give me words

I’ll misuse them

Obligations

I’ll misplace them

Cause all religion ever made of me

Was just a sinner with a stone tied to my feet…

 

In my continuing series about the meaning behind the lyrics of my song, “More Like Falling In Love,” we come to verse two, which begins with a statement about words.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about words lately, specifically about the limits of words.  I love words and language and the stories they conspire to create, which is one of the reasons why, I suppose, I’m a songwriter.

 

And yet the older I get the more I’m aware of the limit of words.  Take for instance the exchange of words in any conversation: there are the words you speak and then there are the words that the other person hears, and they rarely carry the same meaning.

 

I am a person who – most times – painstakingly chooses my words so carefully in hopes of avoiding misunderstanding and unnecessary conflict.  I do this in my blogs, in my songs, and nearly all of my conversations.  It’s a form of control, I suppose – trying to manage things that are ultimately unmanageable.

 

I also place a high value on words because of how important it is to me to be understood.  That’s why my blogs are always so long, because I try to anticipate misunderstandings and preemptively address them. But no matter how many words I pile up on top of each other, few will read my words as carefully as I write them and I will still get emails from concerned readers who thought I was saying something I didn’t intend to.

 

So, though I love words, they fail me every time because while I can try to control the meaning I intend to convey, I cannot control how people will hear them and what biases, baggage, and meaning they will bring to my words.  In my marriage this can look like meaningful conversations degrading into fruitless battles over what certain words mean.  “No, that may be what you heard, but that’s not what I said…” is the way that I might try to answer Taya when her feelings get hurt over a misunderstanding, and it’s an answer that – even when it’s true – really only serves to clear my name but does little to make her feel love.  My solution is to use more and more words to try and clear up the misunderstanding – but more words only mean more opportunities to be misunderstood, and then we end up fighting about who meant what, etc.  A simple apology and gesture of love, absorbing the misunderstanding rather than compounding it, accomplishes so much more.

 

But I believe in words too much! I keep hoping they can save the day! But I’ve been thinking about Jesus as he stood before Pilate and said… almost nothing at all.  Jesus knew that words and well-constructed arguments would not save the day.  “What is truth?” Pilate asks. Jesus’ answer couldn’t have been more potent when he wordlessly stands there as Truth himself.

 

Ah words… I love and I hate them.  While they are a powerful avenue I have for sharing my heart with others, they distort as much as they reveal the truth – and this is what happens when my motives are pure!

 

Because there are of course other times when my motives are less than pure and I use words to hurt. We’re all familiar with the regret of saying things we wish we could unsay.  In my anger and hurt I’ve used precious words to wound people.  I myself have been wounded by careless words.  Sometimes we wound with the words we do not say. 

 

While we know all too well of this misuse of the power of words, there is a subtler and I would say even more insidious misuse of words, and that is when we use them to inflict hurt, gain power, or hide.

 

The Pharisees were lovers of words, and the words they loved and became skilled in appropriating were the very words of God.  With these holy, precious, and true words they stroked their own self-righteousness, silenced their detractors, lorded over the people they were to serve, and hid the wickedness of their own hearts.  White washed tombs is what Jesus called them!

 

Indeed, words are easily misused to distort the truth and wound others. But even when we have the best of intentions, our words are still just as likely to distort and wound as when our motives are less than pure.  Especially when it comes to conveying love.

 

With my wife, I’m often tempted to love her with the love of a Pharisee – hanging on her every word, cataloging them, cross-referencing them in an attempt to be a good husband and get a handle on what’s expected of me. But just as the Pharisees knew the words of God inside and out but failed to recognize Jesus as the consummation of all those words, so too have I often heard my wife’s words but missed her heart.

 

Ah words… you fail me at every turn.

 

Lately I’ve taken comfort in the notion that God can relate to my predicament. In the Old Testament God gave us words to live by – ten holy commandments that were to help make us free and come alive.  But down through the centuries these words have been misunderstood, maligned, and obscured as more and more words were added for “clarification,” only serving to confuse us and leave us more fearful and guilt-ridden than ever.  Is this a failure on God’s part to convey his heart?  Or merely one more example of the limit of words - the way the meaning of words (even the words of God) can get lost in translation when we hear them through the filters of our shame, guilt, and fear? Generations later Jesus would try to make it easier on us by telling us that really, there are only two laws to really worry about: Love God, and love others (including yourself).  And yet we’ve managed to misuse and misunderstand even these.

 

It’s comforting for me to think that maybe even God knows something of the frustration of the limits of words. And more than that, it’s inspiring to see His solution.

 

After centuries of words piled upon words, he created a new way of speaking, a new language that would speak louder and clearer than all the words that came before.  He spoke a single Word: Jesus – a living word, an incarnate word.

 

In the life and the loving of Jesus, the Word made flesh, the heart of God and the intent of the law is finally revealed. The Word of God now had hands and feet to hold and carry us with.  Love became less of a theory and more of a revolution. Where written words had failed us, a Living Word redeemed us.  That’s of course not to say that we should disregard the written words that came before.  On the contrary, Jesus said he didn’t come to abolish the law but to complete it. The Living Word, Jesus, helps us to better understand and see clearly the written word.  “Ah, that’s what God meant,” we say in wonder as we see the Mosaic law come alive in the life of Christ.

 

In other words (hah!  Here I go again, hoping to mitigate misunderstanding by using more words!), I can use words to tell my wife I love her, but when I add to those the action of living out my love for her in a way that helps her understand what those spoken words mean, she will believe and understand what “I love you” means.  Love incarnated is more persuasive than love merely spoken.

 

I’ve used a lot of words to talk about the limit of words, but permit me a few more as I close with a story.

 

I have listened to the words of many prayers over my lifetime, but there is one that I remember above all the others, and it was prayed over me by my friend Andrew Peterson when I was going through a very difficult time in my life. He listened to me and shared some great encouragement from the story of his own life.  At the end of several days of conversation, he asked if he could pray for me, and I said yes, grateful but expecting the usual kind of prayer that is a bit like preaching to the one you’re praying for.  But his prayer was like no other I’ve ever experienced.

 

We bowed our heads and closed our eyes as he put his hand on my shoulder.  And then… silence.  No words were spoken in his prayer, but I could feel movement and so I opened my eyes to sneak a peak and found Andrew earnestly praying words in his heart that I would never hear, with tears streaming down his face, his head shaking and bobbing with passion as he contended in prayer over my situation, in an earnest conversation with our God…  It was not a prayer for the benefit of my hearing, but for the benefit of my soul and reminded me that we serve a God who hears the deep unspoken groaning of our hearts.  When he finished after several minutes, he finally said the one word he would speak of that prayer: “amen”. And I’ve never felt more confident of a prayer being heard as I did that one.

 

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Come Take A Look At Me Now (More Like Falling In Love Part 4)

Come Take A Look At Me Now (More Like Falling In Love Part 4)

 It ought to be more like falling in love
Than something to believe in

More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance
Caught up, called out,
Come take a look at me now
It’s like I’m falling in love…

“Man, I gotta tell you, your song has been the soundtrack to what the Lord is doing in my life right now,” my pastor friend from Colorado kindly called to tell me the other day about my song More Like Falling In Love.

 “Oh thanks so much man,” I said.  We call each other “man” a lot. “I’m so grateful to hear that. Honored. Really.”

 “Yeah, I love it. But there’s one line that’s really been buggin’ me and I wanted to ask you about it.

 “Uh-oh… okay, hit me with it – which line is it?” I said.

 “Well, the song is great, and it’s been confirming some things the Lord is speaking to me in my reading lately, but there’s this one line that bugs me because I’m not sure what you mean. It’s in the chorus: ‘come take a look at me now’ – are you saying, ‘hey check me out!  I got it all figured out now!’?  Why are you calling attention to yourself at that point in the song? I had to ask you because I know you’re very intentional about your lyrics and I might be missing your intention here.”

 I told him how glad I was that he asked, and that I’ve been asked about this line, before. I realize that the meaning isn’t immediately obvious – that it was actually a very personal line that came from my own experience, but that I suppose if you don’t know the story behind it, it could be kind of ambiguous. So here’s the story:

 You see, my father-in-law – who is great by the way – likes to buy everyone in the family a matching gift every year for Christmas.  Early in our marriage, he bought everyone these really cool blue fleece pullovers by Patagonia.  The only problem is, that as a young newly married man, I had serious reservations about wearing matching coats with my wife in public.

 I didn’t want to be that couple, who wore matching clothes and were all lovey-dovey in public together.  I was afraid it was too “cute” like Jerry Seinfeld and his girlfriend in The Soup Nazi episode where they call each other “schmoopie” all the time.   Blech!!  So the truth is that though I loved the jacket that Taya’s dad gave us, it posed a bit of a threat to my coolness, to the point that if we were going out and Taya was wearing hers, I would take mine off and wear something else.

 I know, I know, it’s lame and obviously a result of my profound insecurity, but what can I say… I was young.  It was dumb, and I know that it even hurt Taya’s feelings too - all because of my fragile ego that made me afraid of looking foolish.

 I remember the day, though, when I finally decided that I not only loved that jacket, but that I loved Taya too much to continue to care more about what others might think than I cared about honoring her.  And anyway, why wouldn’t I want to be associated with this lovely girl?  She was charming and beautiful and any man in his right mind should love to be so clearly linked with her.  So I had my jacket on one night as we were getting ready to go into town for a movie when Taya comes downstairs with her jacket on and… I decided, what the heck – I don’t care what anyone thinks.  Or in the words of Will Ferrell in Elf: “I’m in love, I’m in love and I don’t care who knows about it!”

 Something changed that night, and instead of feeling cheesy or self-conscious, I felt proud to wear matching jackets with her, to look like we belonged to each other, to let my appearance clearly indicate my relationship with this girl I loved. I didn’t care what others thought or even if I looked foolish.

 So you see, I’ve come to understand that the fear of being “cheesy” (or in other words, pride) is one of the chief enemies of love. It makes us too self-conscious and circumspect, hindering us from being able to totally surrender to love, making us afraid of losing control and looking undignified. Or in the vernacular of romantic language, it can make us stand so stiff and braced that we never risk getting “swept off of our feet.”

 But one of the tell-tale signs of love is how it can make us lose our cool.  Remember Tom Cruise jumping on the couch on Oprah? As weird as that might have been, there was something beautiful about it to me in that it’s the only time I’ve ever seen Tom Cruise emotionally unguarded. Ever.

 A better example might be when King David returned to Jerusalem with the ark and got so swept up in his ecstasy that he stripped down to his skivvies and danced passionately before the Lord.  Later when his wife shamed him for it, he famously replied: “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes…”

 Ah, the words of a man in love… in this case, a man in love with his Lord. And this is the kind of love that I’m singing about in my song – the kind of love that draws us beyond our pride and self-preservation, sweeps us of our feet, and puts to shame our ideas of dignity and fear of what others think.

 I want to love the Lord with this kind of love, above all else and without regard to what others think, and I want this passion to guide my life. I want to be caught up in the transforming power of it, to be called out of my self-consciousness and fear, to be empowered to take risks and live free of the fear of man.

 Ah our old enemy – the fear of man.  If we insist on making our faith about a system of rule keeping and compliance, we more often than not end up grooming outward holiness that catches the attention of those around us and earns their admiration.  Though it may look respectable, responsible, and dignified, it can conceal a passionless faith that is powerless to change our hearts.  But if our faith is more like falling in love with the Lord, we get to have the best of both worlds: a relationship with God and access to a power and a passion that will help us be obedient.

 Caught up, called out

Come take a look at me now

It’s like I’m falling in love…

 So come, take a look at me now – look at what love has done to me!  Look how foolish I’ve become, and a blessed foolishness at that! Love has caused this mild mannered Minnesotan of Scandinavian descent to raise his hands in the air in worship services, to offer prayers of gratitude before meals in public restaurants, and to spend his life in pursuit of this love at any expense.  Just like my love for my wife made me want to look like her in our matching jackets, my love of Jesus makes me want to look like him, to be associated with him, to wear his name as an adjective on my life and work, to let the whole world know that I’m not ashamed of Jesus or to be a Christian.

 In other words, come take a look at me now! I’m in love, I’m in love and I don’t care who knows about it….

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

More Like Falling In Love (Part 3)

More Like Falling In Love Part 3: Why Love Scares Us

 

 It ought to be

More like falling in love

Than something to believe in

More like losing my heart

Than giving my allegiance

Caught up, called out, come take a look at me now

It’s like I’m falling in love…

 

When I first got the idea for this song, it seemed like an obvious enough truth that God prefers our passionate devotion instead of cool intellectual assent, that he desires the kind of worshipful obedience that overflows from a relationship with him instead of the obligatory obedience based on fear and attempts at self-sufficiency. 

 

It seemed like a no-brainer – maybe almost too obvious if anything.  And yet I’ve been surprised to receive more push back on this song than any other – criticism that the song is based too much on love.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily bothered or threatened by this - by and large most people have embraced the song, but I’ve been perplexed by the handful of people who have expressed concern over it.

 

I guess I could understand it if they assume that the kind of love I’m talking about in my song is based on emotionalism - warm fuzzy feelings about God, reducing Him to a cosmic boyfriend/girlfriend. Maybe they think the love I’m talking about here is the same kind of thing our culture tries to pass off as “love”: self-centered, hormone induced, emotionally based romantic Hollywood “love” without commitment or backbone.

 

Somebody recently asked my wife in casual conversation if she still felt I was her “soul mate” or if she wanted to “switch it up” and see if there was someone else out there for her.  I don’t think this girl was intentionally trying to undermine and destroy our marriage, but the question revealed how much our culture has distorted what “love” is, perverting it into a matter of selfish fulfillment instead of a life-long bond meant to daily ask of two people to die to themselves, their selfishness and sin nature, and serve the one they are bound to. 

 

My friend Andrew Peterson says that marriage is God’s way of helping us die a little each day to our spouse because God knows we aren’t man enough to do it all at once. When we choose to fall in love with a person, we are in a way choosing the person that we will die for – and not the kind of death where we take a bullet. As heroic as that may be, it is in some ways easier than the more difficult business of a lifetime of dying to our own selfishness and pride, dying to our need to be right, the need to have the upper hand.

 

If we don’t think of love as being a force that takes hold of us and asks us to give our whole life, then I can understand why we might be troubled by a song that champions salvation and discipleship as something more like falling in love than anything else. But if we know what falling in love really means, then we would rightly understand it as an event that will consume our whole life, as something as terrifying as it is wonderful.

 

And I wonder if this is the real issue… We are afraid of real love and flee from it, for love, if nothing else, is terrifying. Love, like no other force, will cut to the core and peel back the layers, exposing our hearts. Love asks us to trust, it draws us out of our protective hiding places, it requires vulnerability. We are defenseless against a Love that won’t stop until it sets us free, and freedom is nearly as terrifying as love.

 

Most of us have been prisoners so long – since the day we were born – that we’re like the inmates who come to love and depend on the predictability of the walls of their prison cells. Freedom is disruptive and represents a new way of living that is beyond our control – and the more I think about it, the more I wonder if control is what’s at stake here.  When we love and allow ourselves to be loved, we give up control.

 

My wife shared a poem with me recently called “The Man Watching” by Rainer Maria Rilker about a coming storm. Here’s part of it:

 

What we choose to fight is so tiny! What fights us is so great! If only we would let ourselves be dominated as things do by some immense storm, we would become strong too, and not need names…

 

When we win it's with small things, and the triumph itself makes us small. What is extraordinary and eternal does not want to be bent by us. I mean the Angel who appeared to the wrestlers of the Old Testament: when the wrestler's sinews grew long like metal strings, he felt them under his fingers like chords of deep music.

 

Whoever was beaten by this Angel (who often simply declined the fight) went away proud and strengthened and great from that harsh hand, that kneaded him as if to change his shape. Winning does not tempt that man. This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings.

 

Love is the greater thing that wants to defeat us, the “magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God” as Frederick Buechner says.  By insisting on the legalistic and intellectual terms of our religion, are we trying to maintain control of the relationship – making our salvation, sanctification, and redemption about what we do?  Are we refusing to be defeated by Love? Are we refusing to be set free?

 

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

 

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5:1-6

 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More Like Falling In Love (Part 2)

The Heart Behind The Song:  “More Like Falling In Love” (verse 1)


Give me rules

I will break them

Show me lines

I will cross them

I need more than a truth to believe

I need a truth that lives, moves, and breathes

To sweep me off my feet

 

I (& Jason Ingram) wrote “More Like Falling In Love” in the classic form of the sermons I heard growing up, that begin with the “bad news” of the Old Testament before moving on to the good news of the gospel.   Much of the “sermon” of this song is based on the book of Romans, especially verse 1 which is about what Paul has to say about the limits and true purpose of the law.

 

Paul says in chapter 3, “…no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin…” and that “sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.”

 

He’s telling us that the best that the law and our attempts at rule following could do is reveal that we are rule-breakers, sinners at our core, and therefore dead where we stand. He’s telling us the law alone is insufficient for saving us.

 

Paul goes on to say, “the law is holy and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12).  In other words, as a friend recently put it: there’s nothing wrong with the law, but it reveals what’s wrong with us. “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin…For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Rom. 7:14, 18). And then Paul blesses us by echoing all of our hearts when he says that what he wants to do, he doesn’t do, but instead he keeps doing what he hates. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24)

 

Who can’t relate to this?  Paul says the law is like a mirror that forces us to see ourselves as we really are: profoundly broken, slaves to sin and unable to fix ourselves.  And the harder I try to fix myself, the deeper I dig my own grave – it still ends in death.  The truth is that if you give me rules, I will break them because at my core I’m a rule breaker.  I need more than rules to be saved, but at least the rules do help me realize I need saving.

 

And I need more than a truth to believe.  Pilate asks Jesus “what is truth?” and Jesus responds with a deafening silence that refuses to offer a defense as if his truth was just one more of any other truth claims in the world.  He stands there, as Truth Himself, perhaps waiting to be recognized – not as a theory that can be debated or an idea for intellectual consumption, but as a person to be embraced by.  Like Pilate, I need more than another truth to believe, I need THE living Truth – the Son of God – who lives, moves, and breathes. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32)

 

“Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Paul nearly shouts, and we want to shout with him! “What the law was powerless to do…God did by sending his own Son” (Rom. 8:3). This is the good news of the gospel – we are saved! What we couldn’t do on our own with good intentions and rigorous rule keeping, God has done for us through Jesus Christ. “Now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known… This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:21-22).

 

And what does it mean to believe?  This is the main question I’m asking with this song.  Does believing in Jesus mean merely believing the facts of who he is?  Or is it more than that?  As I said in my last blog, we’re told that even the demons believe, and tremble (James 2:19), so God is surely looking for more than just intellectual assent to the facts.  So what is he looking for?

 

I believe that Jesus came to offer us more than facts and better information about who God is – information and facts rarely change our lives, at least not the way that falling in love does.  And so we get to the heart of it: that Jesus is more than an idea, he’s a person. And he wants more than our mere obedience to rules, he wants our love, devotion, and to have relationship with us.  And here is where the gospel turns into a wedding… where we accept his proposal and become his bride (Eph. 5:25-27), his beloved, his intent sealed with the Holy Spirit like a ring around our finger.

 

And what will a relationship make of us that rules couldn’t?

 

Well, for one thing it’s kind of like this: I hope my wife gives me a card on my birthday, but I don’t want her to do it out of obligation because it’s expected of her – that would be joyless drudgery for her and meaningless to me. I’d rather her get a card out of love for me, that her love would cause her to carefully pick out the perfect card, write something personal in it, and make sure I got it the day of my birthday.   Either way – obligation or love - involves the sacrifice of driving into town, poring through the card section at Walmart, and taking the time to write something in it. Either motivation will get me a card, but only love will produce the result of my receiving a card that means something both to me and the one who gave it to me.

 

Love redefines the terms of the relationship, infusing our devotion to the law with passion and purpose – something we do for love rather than obligation.  When done out of love, the law which once brought death and condemnation has a chance to make us alive again, because we do it out of delight.  But it all starts with love, and a marriage proposal.

 

It ought to be

More like falling in love

Than something to believe in

More like falling in love

Than pledging my allegiance

Caught up, called out

Come take a look at me now

It’s like I’m falling, oh

It’s like I’m falling in love

 

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

More Like Falling In Love (Part 1)

It’s an important idea to me, that – as G. K. Chesterton has said – our Christianity should look “less like a theory and more like a love affair.” Sometimes I think we’re in danger of making our faith about intellectual belief of the facts of who Jesus was/is.  The danger, at least for me, is that a solely intellectualized faith can lose its heart, and over and over we are told in scripture that the heart is, well… the heart of the matter.  Belief in the facts is an important part of faith for sure - believing that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died for our sins and rose from the grave, etc - but there is that unforgettable scripture that reminds us of the limits of mere belief where we are told that “even the demons believe, and tremble.”  So clearly, a faith that pleases God is more than just believing the facts. So what is the more that God is looking for?

I believe Jesus came to give us more than just better information about who God is, I believe he came to give us a relationship with God. At its most basic level, the story of Christianity is a love story between God and man.  He even refers to us as his bride, and this helps me understand what God desires.  I’m reminded of my own marriage to Taya and what it has taught me about the difference between law and love.

I have a story:

Taya is from the Bellingham, WA and she flies home to be with her family at least once a year.  She’s also very clean and orderly, and I – as you might imagine – am… well… not.  So in our first year of marriage, when she was flying back home from a week with her family, it occurred to me that I should probably clean up the house that I had managed to thoroughly destroy within hours of her departure.  But then I had what seemed like a brilliant thought at the time: “hey, if I wait until she gets home, she can help me clean the house.  She seems to like cleaning the house anyways…” It sounded very reasonable in my mind, but… obviously it wasn’t such a good thought. I would soon learn that Taya didn’t think it was a good idea either.

You can imagine that after a period of being apart from each other, I might have hoped for a happy, loving reunion.  But that was not to be.  And thus, I learned my lesson.  If I wanted Taya to be happy, the house had to be clean when she got home.  And so I learned what I had to do to fulfill the letter of the law of Taya in that regard, and from then on, whenever she would return home from a trip, I would follow the letter of that law and consequently I’d do the least I had to do to fulfill my obligations.

I would sweep things under the couch.  I would rearrange the dirty dishes in a way that made it look like there were less than there actually were… you get the idea.  It was all very half-hearted. Of course Taya knew it, but was very gracious, and this is how it went for the next few years.

And then about 4 years into our marriage, she was coming home again, and – again – I did the least that I had to do to get the job done. But then something strange happened, and I had a new thought, unlike any I’d ever had before: “Man, Taya would be really surprised if I oiled our hard wood floors…” So, after finding the oil and the mop, I polished those floors to perfection.  And then I had another thought: “you know, Taya would feel really loved if I were to vacuum the upstairs”.  And so I found the vacuum cleaner, figured out how to turn it on, and proceeded to not only vacuum the upstairs but dust and wash the bedding and clean the mirrors and on and on through the rest of the little green farm house we rented, driven by some new found desire to please her.

When I finished in a sweat, I went to clean up in the bathroom, and what you need to understand and appreciate here is that we lived on a farm with well water that smelled sulfuric and left an orange residue everywhere it sat. Taya had been away for a couple of weeks, so you can imagine what our toilet bowl looked like.  Or maybe you can’t imagine.  Perhaps you shouldn’t…

To put it mildly, the toilet bowl was stained with a muddy orange silt that had sat and become one with the porcelain over that last couple of weeks, which sparked my last, best, and most radical thought of that day:

“Taya would be amazed if she were to come home to a spotless toilet bowl!”

And so I got down on my knees and scrubbed that thing while angel choirs descended from heaven and extolled the virtues of the cleanliness of our toilet bowl.

Taya was indeed amazed. Almost as much as I was. Afterwards I was wondering about what the heck came over me, and I realized that all along I had been doing the least that was required of me out of obligation to the law of Taya, but this time it was different – I had done it out of love.  And that is the distinction.

This provided me with a real life picture of the difference between dead religion (based on believing facts about God) and a vibrant relationship with Christ, where faith can either be a burdensome, obligatory, passionless ideology or a response to love that spontaneously erupts and spills out of our lives like an artesian well that cannot be contained.

I know which one I prefer, how about you?

It’s gotta be
More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance
Caught up, called out, come take a look at me now
It’s like I’m falling in love…

 
Next blog coming soon: The meaning behind verse 1 of “More Like Falling In Love.”

 


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