Sunday, April 29, 2007

... the nature of things

it's something of a chicken-and-egg question, i suppose, but in a lot of ways i don't think it is, not really. what comes first, love or obedience?

i was wandering home from church tonight, listening to my ipod and turning over in my head some things i was thinking about writing about, when the question occurred to me, when i was being a "good boy", why was i? was i being good because i loved my family, or rather because my family loved me, or was it to show my family i loved them, or rather somehow to have them love me? did the obedience, the action or desire to be a good boy, spring from being loved or the desire to be loved? perhaps the second question is similar, whether it was born of love or the desire to show love?

i am always torn by my conscience in regard to obedience to God. my hyper-self-criticism and low self-esteem did not magically evaporate on my conversion but was (and is continually) tempered by the love of God that he shows in my life, in my heart by his Spirit, in his Word by his actions in history, in the grace i see in my life and the lives of those around me. when my father became a Christian i was amazed and thankful that God should show his mercy in such a way and that the father i had here on earth should be my brother in heaven. i wish i had prayed more for him while he was alive and i wish i prayed more for people now (please pray for me that i will!) because part of me wonders that if i had, perhaps he would have come to faith sooner. my head says that dad came to faith when God intended but my heart doubts.

that same conflict between head and heart manifests in my own desires for my life now and how i re-evaluate my life thus far. was i a good boy because i felt loved or was it to earn love? do i obey God because of the salvation i have, the new nature of who i am (a child of God adopted through the redemption of Jesus' death on the cross, and assured of it through the power of his resurrection and the imparting of his Holy Spirit) or is it as if to keep by works that salvation received as a gift?

i think it is the battle between my new nature and my old one, between the spirit and the flesh, that poisons the things i do and the way i think - it is the remnant of sin in my life, like guerilla soldiers on the losing side of a war, refusing to surrender. it is like the people of israel, of whom we are told, "so the people of israel put away the baals and the ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only" [1 samuel 7:4, esv ], but who proved so faithless that they kept turning back to those same idols over and over again. how far away did they put those idols? did they destroy them and need to make new ones each time they went back to them? were they like the household gods that rachel hid from her father laban? or like the treasure that achan hid beneath his tent after the destruction of jericho, coveted by him even though he proved ashamed of what he had done?

where am i going with this? i'm not sure, i think. perhaps merely exploring the ways in which we don't really sin in new ways but more often continue to return to our old rebellions. the people of israel always wanted to be like everyone else. they wanted a king like the nations around them, they wanted gods they could see, that they could worship in ways they felt comfortable. the great lie the world tells us is that that's not such a bad thing, that surely five billion people on the planet can't be wrong. well, let's see. the populations of china and india make roughly two billion people; if we are generous and say that ten percent of them are Christians, people bought for himself by God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection, that makes 1.8 billion people who are wrong - and i don't think that the other 4 billion people on the planet are all Christians.

i believe that believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ - that he came to reconcile us to God in his death on the cross and through the power of his resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit to his servants, those brothers and sisters thus adopted by God and promised a place in heaven with him, and that it is because of nothing that we have done but purely by God's goodwill towards those he has chosen before the creation of the world - is the only way to be saved and restored to a right relationship with God. i think that atheism is wrong, i think islam is wrong, i think hinduism is wrong, i think buddhism is wrong, along with a whole raft of other worldviews and philosophies about religion and what happens after death. the little i know of these raises more questions than answers, they seem illogical to me, and all seem to me to be mutually exclusive.

i don't share the gospel with enough people, i don't tell people what i believe as often as i should, and it is because i am afraid. i am not afraid that they will laugh at me (although i don't want that either) and it is not because i am afraid that they will hurt me (although again, not something i want): it is because i am afraid that all the fears and criticisms i have of myself (real or imagined) will be communicated to the people i'm talking to and they will reject the message because of the messenger. that is my fear.

well then, i hear some people say, pull your socks up in your Christian walk, my lad, and maybe you won't be so afraid.

i tell myself the same thing and do you know what? i keep thinking of colossians 2:21-23 [esv]:
"do not handle, do not taste, do not touch" (referring to things that all perish as they are used) — according to human precepts and teachings? these have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
i return to john piper's quotable quote: "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him". if this is true (and as i tease it out and compare it with the scriptures - "oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!" psalm 34:8 [esv] - it seems more and more to be borne out as what God desires for his people) then pursuing satisfaction in God is the right way to go.

so how do i do that without making some new checklist for myself?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

... curious

is it just me or is it just a little bit ironic that i saw a woman very carefully applying the brakes of the pram her baby was in so that she could light a cigarette?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

... new tunes for old songs

so, once upon a time, i bought a double cd that was on special at a Christian bookshop in sydney. it was not a bad entry into the world of Christian music, if i wanted to listen to more than just the latest choruses from one large church or another, and gave me some names to check out to see if there were other cds i'd be interested in buying.

to be honest, i don't think i bought any cds off the back of that purchase. i listened in-store to a bucnh of others cds that didn't really grab me and the (to my mind) slightly unreasonably hefty price tags on those cds also made them hard to buy. now that i'm earning a bit more i can afford such a cd once in a while (i probably buy a brand-new cd every month, on average). it did get me listening to Christian pop music a bit more though.

cut to ten years later and i bought another double cd in the same series. wow hits 2006 brought together a bunch of Christian artists that this time i'd heard a bit more of, having friends who regularly listened to Christian music in their cars and being in a workplace that had Christian radio playing in the background most of the time. listening to the cds for the first time was like a game of "pick the tune you recognise". off the back of this compilation i have (to date) bought seven brand new cds... and counting. it's a bit scary, actually.

there's a word book store in the melbourne cbd (something else to love about melbourne!) and as i was browsing in there one day i noticed a small flyer for one of the bands on the wow cd that i quite liked - barlowgirl. i like their tunes, their harmonies, their great collaboration on a track with big daddy weave called "you're worthy of my praise" (which also features on bdw's cd what i was made for but has barlowgirl less prominently mixed). that they're young and gorgeous is a plus but, for what it's worth, i liked their music before i ever saw a picture of them.

i bought tickets and went to the concert. myself and several hundred adoring fans heard them play an hour-long set about six hours into their jet lag. they were very gracious while signing autographs in the foyer of richmond aog's church building (where i also bought some other cds at richmond aog's book stall) and had only good things to say about fellow studio stablemates superchic[k].

since the concert a little over a fortnight ago i've been listening to little else on my ipod than barlowgirl. they rock a great deal and i love the lyrics to their songs. one song has rung true for me, on my own. i'm posting the lyrics here but you really should check their cds out. (these are availbale from their website too!)

I can't believe that I'm here in this place again
How did I manage to mess up one more time?
This pattern seems to be the story of my life
Should have learned this lesson by the thousandth time.

'Cause I promised myself I wouldn't fall
But here I've fallen
I guess I'm not as strong as I thought
All I can do is cry to you.

Oh God you have to save me
You're my last and only hope
All my right answers fail me
I can't seem to make it on my own.

Always thought that I would be strong enough
What made all of them fall couldn't take me down
Yeah, did I think that I was above it all?
I have learned that pride comes before the fall

I can't promise myself that I won't fall
'Cause here I've fallen
I know I'm not as strong as I thought
All I can do is cry to you.

i don't know how common this is - i imagine it's quite common - but i often feel like i fall down a lot more than i make forward progress in my life. there are the little idols i have in my life, my little dreams that aren't so big, and it occurred to me the other day while i was reading ezekiel in my morning quiet time that these are exactly the kinds of idols that God was condemning israel for having.

the israelites didn't start out by setting up huge statues of dagon in the temple, they rebelled by inches until suddenly without even realising it they were miles away from where they were supposed to be. looking at faithfulness from this perspective makes the parable so much more applicable - "you have been faithful in a few things; i will put you in charge of many things". God gives ezekiel a vision of the city of jerusalem to see all the things the israelites had ended up doing; a nation that had begun with one man travelling from his home to a new unknown land, that had been given every opportunity to be in a more intense, palpable, living, real relationship with their god than any other nation on earth, that had ended up choosing not to make sacrifices from flocks and herds but instead give their first born children to the flames of sacrifical altars of the "god" molech; God shows ezekiel that the israelites left in jerusalem after the first deportation of judah to babylon were surpassing their predecessors in the idolatry that led to their judgement.

this barlowgirl song has been a bellwether for me, reminding me each time i listen to it to ask myself the question, "what am i putting between myself and God?" what are my idols? what are the things i'm letting block my relationship with God? the more i think about it, the more i find myself going back to old things that i keep having to give over and over back to God to take care of. i feel like a child stealing the cookie jar, gobbling down cookies, then feeling guilty and returning the jar, asking for forgiveness, then stealing the jar again. stain, rinse, repeat!

so i guess i'll keep listening to music that's going to keep helping me ask these questions, keep praying, keep reading God's word. ezekiel is amazing and such a blessing to be reading and i think God has totally put it in my way at the moment to give my introspection some depth and some perspective.

so that's me... how are you?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

... in other news...

i don't know how many of you follow links from the right hand side of my blog here, but i made a comment on a friend's blog and thought i'd repost it here... i'll revisit this idea - i'll be thinking about it throughout the day, i think.

in my (selfish) heart of hearts i don't really want change except for this - that tomorrow be pretty much the same as today, except maybe a little bit better.

Christians have a hope in amazing change, their entire lives are invested with change, their very nature is defined by a change that begins at conversion and ends in glory - never actually ending at all, since an eternity of relationship with God will only reveal more and more his glory as we grow in our renewed, intimate relationship with him.

we fear it and hope for it all in the same breath. change is tomorrow, it's the unknown - it's the unknowable. like turning on your computer every day, starting your car every day - no change in what we do but constant change in how we do it, what we're doing it to, what we're doing it with - all changing so continually and minutely and imperceptibly.

our dna changes every time it replicates, apparently. something like this: each time a dna strand is copied there's a little tail on the end that is the strand's use-by date, effectively. when that tail tails off, so to speak, the dna strand stops replicating properly and the cells it's a part of begin to break down. old age. there are strands of dna inside us that are leftover from x-number of copies when we were in the womb! how true it was that the psalmist says,

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there were none of them.

Psalm 139:13-16 (ESV)

Monday, April 09, 2007

... classic assorted

it's Easter. yay... all kinds of stuff happening, lots of public holidays...

here's a few things that have been on my mind.

  • my monitor, a leo 15cx which i've had since i got my first windows computer, finally gave up the ghost on wednesday night. i still don't know why or how but it now refuses to power up at all. it's a shame, because i quite liked it. i don't know anyone else who has a leo brand monitor, which i see from the label on the back is made in shanghai. i downloaded drivers for it from a website somewhere and at that point i think i did get slightly better performance from it but i think it was probably just its time.

    upon replacing the monitor (i'm now using a philips 105s) and powering up my computer, this second monitor also failed to provide an image. i thought that perhaps on its way out my leo monitor had taken the video card with it. i searched throughout the melbourne cbd yesterday for an agp video card comparable to the one i thought i would be replacing.

    upon further testing this morning, mainly down to the classic "take-it-out-and-put-it-back-in-again" style, my old existing video card has proven to be working fine. i now have a new video card i need to get a refund on. if i cannot get a refund or exchange on the card, i guess i'll have a new video card on this machine after all. we'll see.

  • i saw 300 and it was pretty much what i expected. good to see lena headey again, especially since i don't know that i've seen her in anything much since stephen sommers' the jungle book with jason scott lee, cary elwes and john cleese. sommers made that before he made the mummy so it's a been a bit of a while between drinks for myself and lena. i wish i saw her in more stuff.

    gerard butler has huge teeth. brian blessed style teeth. seriously.

  • i went to a barlowgirl concert and have been the victim of some scorn for doing so. i don't care. i enjoyed the concert, i like their music, i'd see them again if i had the chance, and i hope they had a great time here in australia on their first visit and that they have a safe trip home tomorrow. i got autographs. :)

  • i'm still looking for a church. i've visited a couple now, notwithstanding one i wasn't ever really going to look at going to and another i've kind of been basing my evening worship out of, and next sunday i'll be checking out a third. please pray for me that i'll give it a good, consistent run, that i'll be looking not merely at how i'll be ministered to but also how i can minister to others there, that i won't be immediately put off by quirks of worship style or service format, and that i will have ears to hear and eyes to see the things that God is teaching me each sunday as i visit.