i will not take these things for granted

thoughts on this and that in an attempt to live reflectively

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Location: Little Rock, Arkansas, United States

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Remember Who He Is

I mentioned a while back that lately I've been thinking about the importance of finding one’s identity in Christ. It’s important to remember who you are, because our beliefs about who we are affect our thoughts, our emotions, our actions.

In thinking about our identity and worth, we can base it on what the world says about us or what God says about us. But, for what God says about us to hold any weight, it helps to know and trust him and his character. With this in mind, I recently read through the Psalms and it was a blessed experience. I read one Psalm a day and reflected on what it said about who God is and who I am in relation to him. And I also tried to make the prayer of each psalm my own prayer (though of course not all of them resonated with me).

As I read through the Psalms, I noticed that the psalmist identifies God is many different ways. I’m sure I missed some of them, but whenever I read over a new name for God I jotted it down. I’d like to share them with you.

I am helped by my…

Strong Tower

Pretty cool, huh? Just reading over the list encourages me. I hope the same is true for you and that we all can look to God as our [insert name], putting our trust and hope in him. If you have some time, I recommend that you take a few minutes to meditate on the list above and on the following passage, Psalm 28:6-9.

Blessed be the Lord, for he has heard the sound of my pleadings. The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them forever.

It's interesting to notice that in verses 6-7 the focus is on the individual and that in 8-9 it is on God's people, God's community. We have both individual and communal identities.

Today, may you be carried by your Shepherd.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Dancing Cause I’m Loved Again

Lately I’ve been so thankful for music. The sacrament of melody. The lullaby of lyrics. It connects me with God, it teaches me, it transforms me, it energizes me. You know what I’m talking about, I hope.

I’m especially digging Copeland’s album, In Motion, and particularly the last four songs on the CD, all of which are connected by the theme of songs and singing. As far as I know, they are a secular band, but nonetheless their music is spiritual and with the theological lenses I love to put on, I see the love of God. Consider the first lines of the song, Love is a Fast Song, and hear them sung by your Father in heaven:

You don't have to be ashamed
'Cause you're a miracle through and through
Oh, and you don't have to be ashamed
Of the miracle inside of you

How encouraging, eh? How loving. I leave it to you to reflect on how you are indeed a miracle through and through.

But do we live with the freedom these words should give? Are we not hampered—are we not held back—by shame, by fear, by brokenness? And so we ask…

What has love become?
What has love become?
It's not like we used to hear in those old songs
And it's not like Yours
And it’s not like Yours
What has love become?

And then the despairing question transforms into worship, as we lose ourselves in divine love:

Whoa-o-oh...your love is in motion
And it's spinning me around, yeah
Whoa-o-oh...my heart is in motion
For the movement that's in you

What has love become?, we just asked. Well, here’s the Singer’s assessment:

You should not be angry
If all she wants is your money
Oh, you should not be angry
'Cause all you want is her body

The degradation of desire and love into greed and lust is our own doing, and it’s passed on by empty reciprocity. Why are you mad at her for wanting your money? Look at yourself, man, all you want is her body! Neither of you sees true value or real beauty in the other. Neither of you sees the miracle!

What has love become?
What has love become?
It's not like we used to hear in those old songs
And it's not like yours
And it's not like yours
What has love become?

Whoa-o-oh...your love is a fast song
And I'm dancing 'cause I'm loved again
Whoa-o-oh...my heart is in motion
For the rhythm inside you
Whoa-o-oh...your love is a slow song
It's resounding through my world again
Whoa-o-oh...my heart is in motion
For the song inside of you

Whoa-o-oh...your love is in motion
And it's spinning me around, yeah
Whoa-o-oh...your love is a fast song
And I'm dancing 'cause I'm loved again
Whoa-o-oh...your love is a slow song
It's resounding through my world again
Whoa-o-oh...my heart is in motion
For the song inside of you

Whoa, it’s wonderful to know the love of God. His love is in motion. He moves and he acts and he seeks and he redeems. His love is a fast song; his love is a slow song.

His love is in motion.

My heart is in motion.

It sees miracles and music and beauty and love and rhythm resounding in this world again. And in me.

There’s a song inside of me, and it’s his song and yet it's my own, and slowly but surely, as he pumps up the volume, the decay of death in and around me is overcome by life.

My heart is in motion for the rhythm inside of Him.

And his heart is in motion for the rhythm inside of us.

His love is in motion. It's moving. It moves us. And so we go out. We move, we live, we love, we bless. Motion toward others.

Mission in motion.

Now, if you’ve hung out around me, you might not think of me as a man who likes to get down. You’d be wrong though, because alone with my music and my God, I cut a rug. I recommend it.

Worship in motion.

The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

His love is a fast song, and he's singing over you. Take a listen.

[Does any of this make sense? Does anyone else enjoy finding God in the ‘secular’?]

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bring It

These days I'm working my way through the Gospel of Luke, and today I read chapter 8. Verse 1 begins:

Soon afterwards [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.

What struck me as I read that first verse is that Jesus didn't just proclaim the good news as he travelled about Palestine. No, he proclaimed and he brought it. Jesus didn't just proclaim that God's favor had come, he showed it. He healed the sick, freed the demon-possessed, warned the proud, stood up for the lowly, welcomed sinners, loved outcasts, served everyone.

The good news is more than a message, it's a reality. It's a kingdom come near. It's not just something we say, it's something we do. It not something that can be done from a distance, it requires going to people—being with them, speaking to them, serving them, touching them, loving them.

I pray for me and all of us that wherever we go we bring the healing, liberating, transforming good news.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sacred Singleness

Recently I posted some of my notes and thoughts from a lecture I attended on Sacred Marriage, and at the end of that post I made a quip, asking when Gary Thomas, the author of Sacred Marriage and Sacred Parenting, was going to write Sacred Singleness. Well, check out the following comment that Jen Abbas, one of Gary’s colleagues, posted:

Hello Mitch and fellow posters—This is Gary's marketing director at Zondervan. As a single myself, I've pitched "Sacred Singleness" to Gary a few times now! I'd like to keep this discussion going (if you don't mind the intrusion, Mitch). If Gary did write this book, what would you want to see addressed?

In response to Jen's question, I’m going to share some of my thoughts on what I’d like to see in such a book, and I invite you to comment with your own ideas.

A good place to start would be DEBUNKING THE MYTH THAT SINGLE PEOPLE ARE WEIRD or have something wrong with them because they are single. As Jamie commented on my post, there is a sense in which singleness is normal and marriage is actually a concession:

It can be easy to assume that marriage is the norm in the Christian tradition. But, from a certain point of view, it's really a concession, an exception to the norm of being single. There's obviously something holy and wonderful and sacramental to marriage—it's one of the seven sacraments! But so is singleness, the taking of a holy order. In our free church tradition, remaining single and vowing to serve God and the church faithfully is the same as taking holy orders in the Roman Catholic tradition, only without the funny clothes.

Perhaps Gary could draw on the example of Jesus and Paul and others key figures in the Bible who served God as singles. In addition, the passage in Matthew where Jesus speaks of choosing to be a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom and also Paul’s teachings in 1 Corinthians on the benefits of being single for serving Christ could be helpful. And I know Gary is good at drawing insights from throughout church history; those would be great to see as well.

My friend Jen (a different Jen) shared some thoughts on the stigma of singleness about this time last year. Of course, she did get married two weeks ago, but what she wrote still holds true. (Congrats Jen!)

As I believe Gary does in his Sacred Marriage book, it would be important to DEBUNK THE MYTH OF MARITAL BLISS. What Gary shared in his lecture about the recent historical development of the idea that to get married is to find pure joy is very important and is something singles need to hear. We tend to hold marriage up as an idol, forgetting that it is hard work and that only God can truly give one’s life lasting joy, whether one is single or married. As Gary said, though we tend to believe that marriage was created to make us happy, perhaps it has other purposes instead.

Gary talked a lot about how marriage is a crucible that helps shape a person into the likeness of Christ. In Sacred Singleness, then, it’d be nice to see how being single is also SPIRITUALLY SHAPING AND FAITH FORMING. Singles must depend solely on God rather than on a spouse. That surely requires and cultivates faith.

Singleness also provides unique OPPORTUNITIES FOR MINISTRY AND SERVICE to others. Singles are just as busy as married couples, perhaps even busier because they have to do the same tasks (work, bills, cooking, housework, etc.) that couples do, but instead of having two people to do that work, a single is only one person. Yet, singles’ schedules tend to be more flexible—they aren’t quite as tied down—which provides opportunities for ministry at different times of the day, to different types of people, and even in different parts of the world.

So, there are four things that it would be nice to see in Sacred Singleness, should it ever be written, but the main thing I would want to see addressed and the main thing I think most of us singles struggle with is CONTENTMENT WITH BEING SINGLE. It’s hard to be patient. You want a companion to share your journey with, you want (let’s just be honest here) to have sex, you want to have children. Some may feel called to be single, but I can’t say I feel that way, and it’s hard to wait until that special someone comes along.

And what’s the deal with everyone saying, “When I finally felt at peace about being single, that’s when my special someone finally came along.” Come on!

Oh, as Gary shared in his lecture, it’d probably be good to have a section on WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A MATE.

What does everyone think? Please take a second to comment on the ideas I’ve thrown out and also to add your own ideas. Just think, what you say could affect what is included in an actual book. That’s pretty cool.

Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting.

[Random note: It's a good thing microwaves won't let you start them without closing the door first; otherwise I would have just fried my brains out. Mmm, warm tortillas.]

[No so random note: Via Jen Abba's blog I just found the site Single Christian, where I found a good article, "Single Truths." Take a gander.]

Monday, March 20, 2006

Sing Like You Think No One’s Listening

So, the other day I was out running with my iPod in hand, listening to some good tunes and enjoying being outside with God. Well, when I got home from the run and sat down on my front porch to take off my shoes, I belted out the tune playing in my ears. No one was around outside and I thought my two roommates were still at the gym working out. But, unbeknownst to me, those two rascals were sitting in the living room, enjoying (with much hilarity) my solo through the open front porch window.

If you’re curious, I was listening to a Toad the Wet Sprocket playlist while running, and the song on my lips was their 'Nightingale Song.' I don’t know what the song is about, but it’s catchy and fun to sing. Oh, and by the way, the name of my blogspot site came from one of my favorite Toad songs by the same name, 'I Will Not Take These Things for Granted.'

I love singing and I love singing loud, especially when I’m alone at home or in the car. Who doesn’t? What is it about singing that is so…so I don’t know what?

It’s fun. It provides release. It's cathartic.

Why can’t the church’s communal worship be like that? Why can’t we sing like we think no one’s listening? Or, rather, that God is the only one listening, and that he is the one we are singing to please? Our singing might not sound as good, but perhaps it'd be more meaningful for all involved.

I can’t wait for the day I’m before God’s throne and can sing with complete freedom, with no embarrassment, no anxiety. There have only been a couple of times when I have felt the freedom to worship like no one else was listening. One was on spring retreat with the Razorbacks for Christ during my freshman year in undergrad. We camped at Withrow Springs Park just outside of Huntsville, Arkansas, and on late Friday night of the retreat most of us drove to a nearby cave. Half of the cavers took a muddy journey through the belly of the mountain, but the rest of us stopped in a room filled with several large boulders. We each found a seat on the boulders and then turned off our flashlights and sang song after song. The acoustics were amazing and it was pitch black, you know, so black that I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. I enjoyed the freedom that the loudness and darkness afforded—I could sing out and not be embarrassed.

But, I don’t really even have to be singing loudly or singing at all to worship. A couple of weekends ago, I was at a rock concert, and though I don’t think very many folks in the crowd were there to connect with God, parts of the concert helped me to. The music in this song. The lyrics in that one. Several bands played at the concert, but the one we went to see was Copeland, and one of my favs from their set was 'You Love to Sing.' Here’s the chorus:

Sing with your head up
With your eyes closed
Not because you love the song
Because you love to sing
Because you love to sing, oh

Yep, I sang during this song.

While traveling to and from Colorado last week, however, I definitely didn’t sing, but I had plenty of time to listen to music, to sing in my heart, to think, to pray, to watch people waiting on their flights, to watch the clouds go by. One song in particular sparked this post. 'Existentialism on Prom Night,' by Straylight Run. You can listen to it here.

The chorus begins:

Sing like you think no one’s listening.

And the bridge goes like so:

So, sing me something soft
Sad and delicate
Or loud and out of key
Sing me anything

Maybe this is what God would like to say to us. Sing me anything. Tell me anything. Just as long as your heart’s in it.

Sing like you think no one’s listening.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Fresh Pow Pow

Yesterday I got back from a spring break jaunt to Snowmass, Colorado. My brother had an infectious diseases conference there, and he invited me to join him for four days of skiing, that's right FOUR!

It was awesome! I'd always hoped for a chance to ski with my big bro and finally I got it. Since it is so late in the skiing season, though, I expected less than ideal skiing conditions (i.e. icy or slushy), but we were pleasantly surprised with four inches of fresh powder on Monday morning and then a couple more inches on Wednesday morning. Ah, the pow pow was perfect. And so was the commensurability of our skiing skills. We are at about the same skill level, which meant we could keep up with each other; neither of us held the other back. No, Snowmass was no match for we Anderson brothers.

Brothers are such a blessing and God's creation is so amazing! I'm so thankful for such a great spring break!

The pictures you're viewing are (1) me catching some sweet air off of a jump, (2) Dev catching some sweet air off the same jump, and (3) my injured noggin. Yeah, don't go off of jumps when you don't know what's behind them. In my case, the fateful jump was followed by moguls (bumps in laymen's terms). I landed the jump, and I was doing a pretty good job of maneuvering the moguls, but finally I bit it. It was an all out yard sale: both skis and both poles came off. And at the end of it all, I bumped my head—I think on my pole but perhaps on the snow. I'm thankful this bruise was all I suffered. The sad thing is that no one was around to enjoy it. Dev had zoomed ahead because we were approaching a flat area and needed speed to traverse it without a lot of pesky poling. And there was no one behind us; it was not until I was up and had my gear back on that someone crested the hill behind me. So, my fall was between me and God, and I think he got a good chuckle out of it.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Lowly Lifted Up

Today a friend of mine informed me that he had received yet another rejection letter from one of the PhD schools he applied to, and he shared with me the frustration of waiting to find out from the others. What will his future be? He wants to know now. He wants to know where he’s going to be studying or working and that he will indeed be offered a place to study or work.

I appreciate it so much when friends (or even random people I hardly know) share their frustrations with me. I consider it a privilege and I take it as a compliment that they view me as someone who actually cares. [Whoa, change in direction for this post… I wonder if that insight into my own heart might in some way reflect God’s. He too appreciates it when we share our frustrations with him and when we trust that he cares for us. Hmm…]

I know being rejected is hard, especially from three different schools. But a comforting thing I just read as I was sitting on the front porch amid the warm ambient light of the setting sun is that Jesus too experienced rejection:

Jesus life was defined by rejection. His neighbors laughed at him, his family questioned his sanity, his closest friends betrayed him, and his countrymen traded his life for that of a terrorist. (Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 158)

He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. (Isaiah 53:3)

And the hard thing about rejection is not only that it hurts, but that that pain is coupled with a strong temptation to lose trust in God. Surely Jesus understands this temptation, a temptation which in my opinion is at the root of all temptations: do we trust God and his ways or ourselves and our own? But he did manage to trust in God. His life and death are in fact the paradigm of what it means to give oneself over to God in trust. “He entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23)." Even unto death he trusted that God would ultimately vindicate him. And three days later, God came through. Therefore:

…[W]e do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

But trusting is hard. Waiting is hard.

I attend Minter Lane Church of Christ, where our preacher, Danny Mercer, has just begun a series on the Exodus. Yesterday’s message was on this very topic: trusting and waiting. When Moses first approached Pharaoh, telling him to let God’s people go, Pharaoh said, “Hmm, let me think about that. Um, NO!” But this wasn’t the worst of it, the Israelite people weren’t very happy with Moses: you wouldn’t be either if some nobody from out in the desert came into town getting you all excited about being freed, and then instead of freedom you got a ridiculously heavy workload. No, things weren’t looking good for Moses, but the process of the Exodus had just begun, God had only begun to show his wonders. The exodus was a long way from over and the promised land a long way off, but, as we learned yesterday morning, the humble who wait on and trust in the Lord will be lifted up.

This message of hope is beautifully depicted in a clip Danny showed yesterday morning. If you haven’t seen it, you simply have to! Visit CBS News’ website to view a clip about an autistic teen’s hoops dreams that finally came true.

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:14)

I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.
(Psalm 130:5-7)

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
(James 4:10)

This struggle to trust God is at the center of the life of faith. I know it is at the center of mine!

God, trusting is hard, waiting is hard. Give us mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Work and Witness of U2

Check out Beth Maynard's U2 Sermons blog to download her presentation on the evolution of U2's music and ministry, "Kneeling in a Place Called Vertigo: The Work and Witness of U2." It's about 36 minutes long.

One of the coolest things from the presentation is the glimpse it gives of U2's approach to their music. Isaiah 40 is key: prepare in the desert a highway for our God, clear a way for the Lord in the wilderness. Therefore, Beth Maynard explains that they see their job as preparing unreceptive and overgrown ground to be more open to the sowers that are going to come after them.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Election Process

Growing up in the Churches of Christ, I often heard that the main differences between us and 'the Baptists' was that they viewed baptism differently and that they used instruments, and the whole 'once saved, always saved' concept came up often as well. These assessments always came from folks in the Churches of Christ, only skirted along the surface of the issues, and lumped all Baptists into one group despite the fact that there are several stripes.

It is not until recently that I've heard it from someone from a different background. The differences between Churches of Christ and some stripes of Baptists/Evangelicals run more deeply than I knew, because I was unaware of the a vastly different theological underpinning that created the most serious differences. Here it is: Arminianism vs Calvinism. And the key focus of the difference is our understanding of election. Put in oversimplified terms, the distinction is as follows: whereas Churches of Christers (Arminians) believe that we freely choose to believe the gospel, Reformed Baptists/Evangelicals (Calvinists) believe that God elects those who will be saved.

Choice vs No Choice.

But, it is very important to realize that, in espousing each of these views, both sides seek to uphold important characteristics of God.

The motive in Arminians for believing in free will is to free God of the 'blame' for choosing who will or won't believe. In the mind of an Arminian, it doesn't make sense for a God who is love and wants all to be saved to still choose not to save everyone. So, in espousing free will, Arminians try to make God look good by putting the blame for unbelief on us. Arminians want to make sure God looks LOVING.

The Calvinist motive for believing in predestined election is to uphold the total SOVEREIGNTY of God. If humans have a part in deciding whether to believe or not, then they are tempted to boast, to take credit for believing and thus for earning their salvation. This boasting takes away from the sovereign work of God to save us by grace through Jesus Christ.

In sum, according to Arminians, we believe and thus demonstrate that God has elected us through Jesus, the Elect One. Whereas according to Calvinists, God elects us, and our faith in Jesus demonstrates that he has indeed elected us.

Both sides agree, however, that God is BOTH sovereign and loving and also agree that one way or the other, it is God who elects us. He calls us and saves us through grace and we do nothing to earn our salvation. And, works are important to both as well, not as a means of earning salvation but rather as evidence that one is indeed elected and saved. (There are nuances, however, in the way each side, and even subcategories within each side, view works. See the article below for more.)

I've based most of what I've said on an article I came across tonight while exploring John Mark Hicks' website. The article, "Mediating the War between Arminians and Calvinists on Election and Security: A Stone-Campbell Perspective," is very good and I recommend it if you want to understand this issue better.

In the first half of the article, Hicks gives some historical orientation that explains how the founders of the Stone-Campbell Movement actually came from a Calvinist background but eventually rejected it in favor of Arminianism. The first half is good, and it is important to know one's history, so I recommend you read it. But if you find the historical stuff tedious, you might skip on ahead to the second half where Hicks seeks to find common ground between the two camps and then goes on to show that the theological difference does not actually make much practical difference: either way we seek to live holy lives in the manner of Christ.

All of this reiterates to me how important it is to know our history. Until I came to ACU, I had no historical awareness of how our movement began and developed, and therefore no way of truly understanding where our differences with others stem from.

[In addition to theological differences, one sad reason Arminians and Calvinists have had a hard time getting along is that they often demean each other. Let's not continue that tradition.]