Thursday, March 22, 2012

All I Have is Christ

This song was put out by Sovereign Grace Ministries in 2008, but only recently has it captured my heart and imagination (the infectious joy of Erin Hill singing it doesn’t hurt either!). I’d like to take a moment to comment on the lyrics. I’ll take each of the three sections and then offer a few comments. I encourage you to listen (and watch) before and after this blog.

Section 1:

I once was lost in darkest night
Yet thought I knew the way.
The sin that promised joy and life
Had led me to the grave.
I had no hope that You would own
A rebel to Your will.
And if You had not loved me first
I would refuse You still.

The first thing that occurs to me is the promise of sin to provide joy and life, but leads us instead to the grave. That’s so true of our experience isn’t it? Sin promises so much yet yields so little;in fact, sin provides the opposite of what it promises – death! I wish I remembered that more often. I am so easily bamboozled by the promise, I forget the penalty.

The second thing to note here is the fact that if Jesus had not loved me first, I would refuse him still. This is one of the precious truths of Reformed theology that so fits with Scripture and human experience. Jesus is a relentless lover bent on rescuing sinners, of whom I am chief. If he does not pursue me daily, I will be lost.

Section 2:

But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross.
And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace.

The gospel is not something we deal with at the beginning of the Christian life and then advance to “more meaty subjects.” The gospel is as meaty as it’s ever going to get for the Christian. We never get past the gospel; we only deepen and broaden our experience of it!

On a daily basis I still jump into the “hell-bound race, indifferent to the cost.” Jesus continually sees my helpless state and leads me to the cross. There, broken and disillusioned of all of what I thought was moral strength, I behold the brilliant display of the glorious love of God. As I look at a broken and bloodied Jesus on the cross, I see the clearest picture of the glory of God!! The place of holiness is reserved for the broken and the weak. This is other-worldly glory.

Because he suffered in my place and took the wrath that I deserved, I live my life now in and by the grace of God. “All I know is grace” – what a beautiful phrase! When my senses are overwhelmed with the stench of my sin, Jesus reminds me that the air I actually breathe is grace, love, pure reality. Can you smell it?

Section 3:

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life
Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me.
Oh Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose.
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You.

I surrender all to the kind of God who does all this for me, such a worthless ragamuffin, full of sin & wound!

The strength to follow God doesn’t come from me, but from Jesus (another precious truth from Reformed theology).

This part is extremely hard for me to sing: “Oh Father, use my ransomed life in any way you choose.” It’s like sitting on an operating table still recovering from surgery and inviting another incision, another operation knowing that it will require more recovery and disability.

He has chosen a path for me that has involved more pain, more abuse and rejection than I ever thought I could handle. But, what can I say after experiencing Christ’s love on the cross? How can I refuse one who had it all yet laid it all down to experience the depths of torture, rejection, shame and death for me? How can I hold back everything I am and have, even knowing that he could easily continue to strip away everything that I look to for affirmation and worldly glory? I find myself echoing the words of Peter, “Where else can we go Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-8, my paraphrase).

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Some Reflections on Steven Curtis Chapman

I saw this blog post by Andrew Peterson and just had to quote some of it, it’s so good! I encourage you to read the entire thing. Some excerpts that stuck out to me:

. . . And yet, though everyone seems to know him, I’ve never heard a single negative story about the guy. I’ve been in Nashville for 15 years now, and, well, you tend to hear less-than-flattering stories about folks from time to time (I’m sure there are a few about me floating around out there), but I have yet to hear one of those about Steven. What that might lead a rascal like me to conclude is that either a) Steven is so squeaky-clean he must be hard to like or b) he’s a complete wreck and he’s hiding it. I didn’t realize until this tour was underway that there’s a third option. Here it is: Steven is a wreck, he’s not hiding it, and because of the mighty presence of Jesus in his life, grace abounds to those around him.

It’s the great, confounding reversal of the Gospel of Jesus. If the word we preach is one of attainable perfection, of law, of justification by works, then when we fail, our testimony fails with it. But if we preach our deep brokenness and Christ’s deeper healing, if we preach our inability to take a single breath but for God’s grace, then our weakness exalts him and we’re functioning as we were meant to since the foundation of the world. Steven isn’t super-human. He’s just human. But what a glorious thing to be! An attempt on our part to be super-human will result only in our in-humanness–like a teacup trying to be a fork: useless. But if the teacup will just be a teacup, it will be filled. Humans were made (as was everything under the sun) for the glory of the Maker. Why should we try to be anything but fully human? Let God fill us up and pour us out; let him do what he will, let us be what we were meant to be. That gives us the freedom to sing about what’s really happening in our hearts without being afraid of sullying the good name of God. If our hearts are contending with the forces of darkness, clinging desperately to the hope of a Savior, then to sing boldly about the battle is no shame to us and all glory to our King.

. . . But what’s so wonderfully subversive about the Gospel is that our ability to honestly bear our grief and woundedness just makes room for God’s grace to cast light on all that shadow; it makes room for us to love each other. When we encounter that kind of grace we come away remembering not just the sin but, overwhelmingly, the goodness, and the grace . . .

. . . The faithful kind of doubting costs us something. It harnesses the questions like a sail in the wind and drives us on rather than away.

. . . That’s been the greatest gift of this tour to me: Steven’s example of faith and faithful doubting. He doesn’t just stand on the stage and talk about the death of his little girl and his family’s continuing pain–he follows it up with vav. Every night when Steven closes the show with “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord,” it’s like he’s bellowing “And yet!”, and he does it with authority, because we can all sense what it costs him to say it. “You give and take away! Blessed be the name of the Lord!” More than once I have thought, “This wouldn’t make sense if the Gospel weren’t true. But there it is.” I have felt more than once that we’re in a battle, and that Steven is the commander of our little unit, waving the flag of God’s goodness in the face of the darkness. And I have felt more than once that I would take a bullet for him.

It does cost us to keep fighting to believe that God is good and that light will ultimately triumph over darkness; but it cost Jesus much more – it cost him his life. This precious tribute by Andrew Peterson for his friend gives us a glimpse of the man Christ Jesus, who walks with us into the darkest of places almost playfully, as a child playing by a lion just to show that he can!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Vulnerable Self

I came across this quote in Steve Brown’s book Three Free Sins, a great read.

The Late Henri Nouwen spent the last years of his life immersed in a community of handicapped adults. Forsaking the trappings of success and fame, he found his true identity.

“These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self – the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things – and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments. I am telling you all this because I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love.” (Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus (p.28-30)

All I (and you) have to offer others is our vulnerable selves; everything else is façade. Only God’s radical grace in Christ allows us such profound nakedness.