In case you haven’t seen this, Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a great article for CNN.com following the tragic loss of his daughter Maria. Also, SCC will be on Larry King Live tonight (Thursday Aug. 7) at 9 ET/8 CT.
The Irresistible Revolution is a book written from a place of love by someone who has put his love into action, and as such, I would recommend it to anyone who can read around its sometimes glaring flaws to find the challenging truths that make up the bulk of the book.
Claiborne writes with humor, kindness, and humility. He challenges the status quo of American Christianity, calling us to love the poor. He shines light on and brings into question beliefs and practices of both conservative and liberal Christians. Above all, he challenges all of us to know the poor. He writes, “I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.” How else can we truly love them? Claiborne goes on to say, “I truly believe that when the poor meet the rich, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.”
He calls us from the isolation and – ironically – crowd-focused mentality of the church we have built in America to an all-encompassing love.
The problems come when Claiborne misuses Scripture to make valid points. For example, in Chapter 12, he makes reference to 2 Samuel 7, in which David decides to build a temple for God – a “permanent residence,” so to speak – but God tells David that he is not the man to build a temple. Claiborne uses this passage to validate his point that God doesn’t want us constructing multimillion-dollar church buildings. “God just digs camping,” he writes, seeming to completely ignore the next part of the passage, in which God says that David’s son will build Him a temple (v. 12-13).
The point is valid and he could have simply relied on Acts 17:24 (God does not live in “temples built by hands”) – a verse he references in the same paragraph – to make it, not to mention the time he spends prior to this talking about the church’s misguided endeavors to draw crowds, from which the desire to build these “temples” grows.
These instances of scriptural manhandling are not numerous, but they stick out like the Crystal Cathedral and will probably lead many readers to completely dismiss Claiborne.
The end product, though, is a challenging, convicting work that needs to be read. Christians should read this book for Claiborne’s heart, even if his head is not always in the right place.
This morning, as I spent time with God, I felt a heaviness. So many things are wonderful at this point in my life: my family, my church, my job. But there are a few things – one major thing, in fact (the home in Florida that we can’t seem to sell) – that are weighing on me.
I am a person with an often volatile personality. I’m prone to periods of depression and doubt, and just as prone to get hyped about the dumbest things from time to time. (No, I’m not bipolar!) Yesterday and into this morning, I was in one of the down periods. My wife and I are trying to make some decisions about the future, trying to work some things out regarding the house. These impending decisions – and the situations that created them – were bringing that heaviness that I felt. And they were bringing doubt – doubt about God and His grace, about my personal struggle to grasp holiness.
So, I had some waffles and sugar free syrup (regular syrup is just too sweet for me!) and a cup of coffee, and I bowed my head. I just told God, “I’m doubting You right now, but I don’t want to doubt You. I want to trust You. Help me trust You.”
I cracked open my Bible, and – among other things – I read Colossians 1:15-22:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation…
He reminded me who He is. Jesus, the one with authority over all creation. Jesus, creator of all things. Jesus, who holds all things together. Jesus, the Risen One. Jesus, the fullness of God in flesh. Jesus, who – through His blood – reconciled me to God.
God commissioned His Son, Jesus, to become a man and give His body for us. Why? So that God could “present [us] holy in His sight.” We need to be holy, and God wants us to be holy.
When I’m reminded of this, I can only worship!
Don’t let me forget, God. Don’t let me forget who You are, what You have done, what You continue to do.
Don’t let me forget!
Your word, O LORD, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
His Word was before the beginning.
His Word is without end.
It will always be, and it will always be true.
There is nothing you or I can do to change it. Society’s mores change with culture, and we – even we, followers of and believers in Christ that we are – begin to judge right and wrong by the fluctuating opinions of the fluid culture around us rather than the rock of God’s eternal Word.
I the LORD do not change.
He never changes. Why, then, do we, His followers, condone an unmarried couple’s living together? Why do we say that only love matters, not the gender of the lovers? Why do we divorce at a higher rate than the rest of Americans? Why do we end the lives of our unborn children? Why do we, children of God, lack compassion for the poor? Why are we so ready to go to war – personally, religiously, politically?
We treat God’s Word with irreverence. We do not believe that it is eternal. We do not believe that He never changes, or, if we do, we believe that someone must have made a mistake or inserted his own opinions into His “word.”
We must return to a place where God’s Word is revered as the greatest revelation of Him in our possession. It is not a document prepared by men to coerce their agenda on others, but a revelation of God’s holiness, justice, love, grace, and mercy given to the human race.
Because I love your commands
more than gold, more than pure gold,
and because I consider all your precepts right,
I hate every wrong path.
Psalm 119: 127-128
I’d like to challenge you to pray through Psalm 119. This Psalm is an acrostic poem (each section correlates to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet) with 22 sections. Take one section a day. Read a verse, then pray that verse to God in your own words. If you do this from your heart, I believe you will begin to love God’s Word more than you ever have. (I can say this because I have done it, and through, God has done exactly this.)
Let us recapture a love for God’s Word.
For those of you who haven’t heard the news, Christian artist Steven Curtis Chapman’s youngest daughter Maria Sue was killed yesterday. She was hit in the family’s driveway by an SUV driven by her brother.
Maria was the youngest of six children. (Steven and his wife Mary Beth have three biological children and three they adopted from China. Maria Sue was adopted.)
On a special “In Memory of Maria” page on Steven’s personal blog, his manager, Jim Houser, writes, “Your prayers are needed for all in the Chapman family. This is a family who has so generously loved and given to so many. Just hours before this close knit family was celebrating the engagement of the oldest daughter Emily Chapman, and were just hours away from a graduation party marking Caleb Chapman’s completion of high school. Now, they are preparing to bury a child who blew out 5 candles on a birthday cake less than 10 days ago. These words are unthinkable to type.”
Steven Curtis Chapman has been a huge influence on me as a musician and worship leader. His music has helped me through some of the most difficult periods of my life. I know that I don’t really know him, but he feels like an old friend.
My heart breaks for him and his family. Having a young daughter myself, I can only imagine the shock, the pain that you just can’t push away. The deep sorrow. As a father, the one thing I refuse to EVER think about is my daughter’s death. But in my darker moments, the thought does seep in, and it’s more frightening than I can explain.
Some friends of mine recently lost their teenage daughter – a young lady who had briefly been a part of my youth ministry in Florida. I saw all of this in their faces, their tears.
I think it’s safe to say that Steven, Mary Beth, and their children are living in a nightmare world right now.
I cannot even begin to imagine what their son is going through. How do you learn to live with something like that? How do you learn to forgive yourself?
My hope and prayer for this family is that they love each other through this, that they can forgive and somehow find God’s blessing in these appalling circumstances.
If you would like to express your condolences to the family, you can do so here. (Click on the comments link.)
God has been teaching me so many things over the last four years about how He really works. So many people – from everyday church members to pastors – believe the line that “God helps those who help themselves.”
Church leaders struggle for the next great method of church growth, the perfect model upon which to build their church. They say things like, “People who say numbers don’t matter don’t have numbers.” They are always working to create the next big event, and unless more people show up for this than for the last, the event is a failure. In difficult times, they believe they must hide their weaknesses at all costs. In a building campaign and the money isn’t flowing in as expected? They absolutely CANNOT let their people know they’re concerned about it. Smile, proclaim God’s blessing, and talk it up.
And many believers live their lives the same way.
But the Bible teaches exactly the opposite. I believe the Bible teaches that we are to embrace our weaknesses! Let me give you three examples.
Jacob and Esau
Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, pregnant with twin boys, feels them jostling one another in the womb. She begs God to tell her why. (It’s unclear whether she believes them to be fighting or they are just causing her uncommon discomfort – as if the plain old discomfort of pregnancy weren’t enough!)
The LORD said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23
Though they were twins, Esau was born before Jacob. That made Esau the oldest and, therefore, Isaac’s rightful heir. Jacob was destined to always be second to his older brother. But here God promises Rebekah that, somehow, Jacob would become the more powerful of the twins. We know that, through lack of faith and deceit, Rebekah helps her younger son secure Esau’s birthright, making Jacob Isaac’s heir instead. I can’t help but believe that God would have worked it out without their help!
In every way, Esau was just expected to be the greater of the twins. He was Isaac’s firstborn. He was a manly man – a hairy-armed, carnivorous hunter. Jacob – by all appearances – was a mama’s boy. But God turned expectation on its ear. He was going to make the weak brother strong.
So Esau fathered the Edomites, and Jacob – whose name God later changed to Israel – gave birth to God’s chosen people and, eventually, the Messiah.
For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you. – 2 Corinthians 13:4
Jesus taught with words, but He taught even deeper lessons by His example. He stepped into the dirty sandals of a desert-dwelling Jew, a manual laborer, a Roman subject with no rights to speak of. He is the Prince of the Universe, and He gave it all up. Not to lead a political revolution. Not to win people with beautiful words. Not even to teach us what was right (though He did).
He possessed all power, all authority in heaven and on earth, and He gave it up to die. For us. He never fought back. He willingly stepped into the arms of death for us. The ultimate act of submission. He completely relinquished His strength, and “He was crucified in weakness.”
That is how Jesus loves people. “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
In the ultimate act of weakness, Jesus made salvation available to all the world. What does that tell you about how God works?
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
I saved Paul for last because he has the most to say on the subject. Plus, I love this passage. Part of my calling is to share with the church what God teaches through Paul’s words here.
We can accomplish big things all on our own. Bet you didn’t know that! But we can’t accomplish exactly what God wants to accomplish.
We are all weak and broken. Paul is telling us that God wants us to know this, admit it, and let Him do His thing! Embrace your weakness because when you realize you can’t do anything and God works through you, all the glory is His. And that’s what He wants. That’s why He made you.
Think about it.
In order to be saved, the first thing we have to do is realize we’re sinners, right? (I’m not trying to start an argument about the validity of the so-called “Sinner’s Prayer.” In fact, I’m not even talking about that.) Before we can accept the gift of salvation, we have to know we need it. The evidence that we need it is our sin. So, we have to recognize that we sin in order to accept this gift.
We have to admit weakness right off the bat!
So, why do we stop admitting weakness? Why do we pretend we have it all together when we go to church on Sunday? Are we afraid that everyone else will judge us? Maybe they will, but they don’t have it all together either. We have to start admitting weakness again so we can become the church again.
Think about this: despite the rise of megachurches, no county in the United States that we know of has a larger church population than it did 10 years ago. (Thanks to John Piper.) That means that despite all our attempts to bring people in, we’ve just been swapping folks between churches for the last decade! And in fact, people in their twenties are leaving the church in droves. They’re looking for something real.
So let’s start being real. Admit our weaknesses. Admit to real life. Become the real church again.
I believe this is the key to seeing God move in a way we haven’t in years. If we start being real – admitting our weaknesses – then God’s power will be made perfect in our churches. He will do absolutely mind-blowing things. He will revive us, and Americans will be won to the Kingdom again.
When we are strong, we get whatever we get. But when we are weak, then He is strong.
Within the last couple of years, I’ve come to realize something that has eluded me somehow for my entire Christian life. For more than 15 years, I did not realize that, as a follower of Christ, I’m called to suffer.
It’s expected of me.
God never says, “I want you to suffer.” I believe our suffering pains Him, just as the suffering of Jesus did. But this truth is implied throughout the New Testament. Followers of Christ will suffer.
A couple of examples:
Luke 9:23 – Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (This verse is about sacrificing ourselves more than suffering, but suffering is implicit in the act of taking up a cross and walking to our deaths.)
Romans 8:17 – Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Paul’s entire ministry is marked by imprisonment, sacrifice, danger, and suffering – as he points out here.)
There are many more, but these were two of easiest to use in this context.
We are expected to suffer for the cause of Christ. Scripture assumes that – when we live as followers of Christ ought to live (i.e. as Christ lived) – we will not be comfortable. When you accept Christ, you accept suffering.
What does this mean for American Christians? Let’s face it. We don’t suffer for the cause of Christ in America. We are not persecuted. We are not in danger because of our faith (yet). In fact, as I have mentioned in this blog before, security (financial and physical) is arguably the primary goal in the life of the American Christian (just as it is in the life of American non-Christians), and it is an achievable goal. At least our idea of security is. Does this mean we’re missing something integral to the experience of being a child of God?
Yes, I believe we are, myself included.
So, what do we do about this? Move to a foreign nation where Christians are hated and persecuted and killed? This may be God’s call for some of us, but true followers of Christ are needed in this nation just as much – if not more – than they are needed in nations where the Church is forced underground. There is vibrancy, a depth in these churches that is sadly absent in most American churches. As some have observed, we’re a mile wide and an inch deep.
I believe a good first step is to find a way to share in the sufferings of those who suffer for the cause of Christ.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
Matthew 25: 34-40
I believe we are correct in referring to anyone in need as one of “the least of these.” However, I think an even more correct (if that’s possible!) application is to apply this to our brothers and sisters in Christ, since the King in the parable does so (v. 40).
My personal not-quite-complete application: Help your fellow Christ-followers who are sick, hungry, thirsty, lonely, hurting, or imprisoned for the cause of Christ. Give money, food, drink to the poor. Help out a struggling church at home or abroad. Go to the Voice of the Martyrs Web site and check out some videos and stories about the persecution our siblings are suffering at the hands of those who hate Jesus. Invest your time, your money, and your heart in them. If you can’t think of an organization to support, investigate some of the ones I’ve linked to.
Above all, don’t just read stories or watch videos about someone’s suffering. Do something.
They are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. In this way, so can we.