Which Criminal Would I Be?

It occurred to me this morning that the thieves that hung on crosses on both sides of Jesus serve as a clear example of the choice we all make at one point or another, if not every day, in relation to the role we invite God to play in our lives. The first criminal cynically mocked Jesus saying “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!” He didn’t recognize Christ for who He really is, but, instead, took the popular position of mocking Him, with a complete absence of humility.

But the second criminal took ownership of his own failings and, in humility, said, “Don’t you fear God since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong…Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

I need to take ownership of my selfishness and shortfalls on a daily basis and acknowledge that He suffered through what I deserved. I need to make that daily decision to turn from myself in humility and accept the gift that He, though I certainly don’t deserve it, has given me: His love and the hope of paradise.

Which criminal are you?

Written in response to Luke 23:39-43

Pursuit

You wore me thin
As I staggered and lurched
Through the shadowed valley
‘neath a burden that I
Refused to let go of
Though it caused me to twist
And turn open blisters
‘neath a stress-cracked veneer
Once fired by my own pride
Now scattered in pieces
Strewn around on the ground
You pursued me like a
Lion stalking its prey
Before overtaking
My shaken countenance
Striking a fatal blow
To my fear rendering
Joy sprouted from a seed
Buried deep within me
Freed by humility
Bought by recognition
Of my own empty hands
And your bloody pierced paws
That surely along with
Mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life

“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” -Psalms 23:1-6

I wrote this poem a couple of days ago after reading a section in Mark Batterson‘s book THE CIRCLE MAKER in which he discussed the 23rd Psalm, particularly, the verse that says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…”:

Batterson wrote, “The word follow isn’t a strong enough translation. It’s a hunting term in Hebrew. It’s like God is hunting you down – but not to harm you; God is hunting you down to bless you. He wants to show you His goodness and His mercy, but too often we run away from it. Why? Because we doubt His good intentions. We can’t believe that God is for us.”

Batterson’s explanation really took root in the days after I read it and eventually led to this poem.

An Ancient Lady, A Megachurch Man, A Skateboarding Folk Singer, and Getting What I Deserve

Over the last couple of days I’ve been reading the book of Ruth from the Old Testament during breakfast. I’ve also been reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson when I’ve had a moment here and there over the past week. In addition, I had a good talk with one of the pastors at a church that we’re in the process of settling into about faith and figuring out what God has in store for us. It is the convergence of these three influences that has me blogging this morning.

I’ve found myself inspired, at times, by points that Batterson makes regarding faith, prayer, and God’s vision for his followers. From what I’ve read so far, the theme of The Circle Maker has been the important role that faith and prayer play in growing our ability to reach out to others. Many of the examples the author gives are focused on the way that his church, National Community Church in Washington D.C., has been able to grow from a small group of tens to a mega church with multiple satellite sites around the D.C. metropolitan area. The most compelling aspect of this book for me, so far, is the idea of how important it is to not underestimate God and that tasks He’s called us to. Batterson makes the point that God doesn’t necessarily call the qualified, but, instead, He qualifies the called. I’ve seen God work so far beyond my means already on multiple occasions over the past few years of my life and I certainly want to be available to do whatever He calls me to do. What will that be? I’m still trying to figure that out. But, without doubt, Batterson believes that the act of prayer and our willingness to pray persistently with passion has been critical to his church’s growth. Admittedly, I’m only about halfway through the book and I look forward to having a clearer understanding of the book’s overall message once I’ve finished.

Josh Harmony

The book of Ruth, from my perspective, addresses a similar theme in that it tells the story of Naomi and Ruth and the difficulties that Naomi had to endure en route to a gracious miracle that she and Ruth experienced in the latter stage of Naomi’s life through Ruth. It was a song called “Mara Naomi” by pro skateboarder and musician Josh Harmony that I first heard the story of Ruth and Naomi from. But, the good book verified Harmony’s account. It was the selfless faith of Ruth through years of difficulty that they both endured after Naomi lost both of her sons (one of them being Ruth’s husband) that proved to be so critical in extending the bloodline that would soon give birth to King David and, eventually, Jesus. But, the fact that so many generations preceded Ruth and Naomi and that many more would have yet to come and pass before the birth of Jesus, struck me. These two individuals struggled and endured in faith throughout their lifetimes, but, because they did, forged a critical link in a long chain of events and lifetimes through which God would, eventually, release those who believe from the chains of destruction that selfishness (also known as sin) has and will continue to confine so many with.

So, seemingly anyway, there is something to be said for persisting and following God beyond what we can see with our own vision. But, earlier this week I was talking to one of the pastors of the church that we’re now attending about good books to read when I mentioned The Circle Maker. After noting that he wasn’t familiar with the book, he explained the conclusion that he recently came to after finishing a book study on another well-regarded book by a Christian author with a few other church members. I can’t remember what the book was that he said they were studying, but, he made a point that, after I thought about it, seems to be true: a lot of the best-selling Christian authors write books that contain some kind of formula or multistep process intended to help the reader move closer to God or achieve greater success as a Christian. The problem here is that, while such steps may be productive, it tends to bolster the idea that we, as people, can do something that will earn more love from God. We can ascend the ranks of Christianity if we just follow certain steps.

I’m not a theologian, but, I know enough about the life I’ve lived and the beauty of the gospel to tell you, confidently, that it has been by no means of my own that I have survived this long, that I have so many blessings (e.g., family, friends, career, purpose, etc.), or that I’ve been able to witness the miracles that I have. In my wildest dreams I could never have predicted the joy that I have in my life now as a consequence of God’s good grace – His unmerited, unearned favor and love. It is out of gratitude and thankfulness that I live and breath. Should you see me stumble or screw up in some way shape or form, know that it is because of my own weakness, but, that it is by His grace that I can have peace and get back up and keep walking where He wants me to go. I’ll be the first to admit, that I don’t often know quite where He’s taking me, but, I trust Him and I’m having the ride of my life.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

-Ephesians 2:1-10

So, I’m not sure if the key to life is simply persisting as I walk forward through life or seeking earnestly with blood, sweat, and prayers, but, if you have some perspective on the topic, I’m all ears. In the meantime, I’m just going to do my best to heed the words of Micah 6:8:

8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

“…with all the other pigs…”

Soundgarden Live at SXSW

I’ve been watching a beautifully filmed Soundgarden set from SXSW. “The Day I Tried To LIve,” was one of my favorite songs by this band who, along with R.E.M. and Faith No More, comprised the majority of my listening attention from high school through my college years. The lyrics couldn’t be a more accurate picture of the wake I left behind me and the skewed perspective I had at the time. It’s certainly interesting how 15-20 years of life experience and add perspective. There were times when I tried, mightily, to do the right thing, but, ended up recoiling violently due to many circumstances, but, most notably, my own self interest and the fact that I cut myself off from those who I needed most to hold on to. Stretching my own horizons – seeing how far I could push the night into the morning – seemed to be so much more important to me at the time. The consequences of that period left me broken and, eventually, aware of how helpless I was. There was no way that I was going to make it on my own. Indeed, “…I learned that I was a liar…”:

I woke the same as any other day
Except a voice was in my head
It said, “Seize the day, pull the trigger
Drop the blade and watch the rolling heads”
The day I tried to live
I stole a thousand beggar’s change and gave it to the rich
The day I tried to win
I dangled from the power lines and let the martyrs stretch
Singing, one more time around might do it
One more time around might make it
One more time around might do it
One more time around I might make it
The day I tried to live

Words you say never seem to live up to the ones inside your head
The lives we make never seem to ever get us anywhere but dead
The day I tried to live
I wallowed in the blood and mud with all the other pigs
Singing, one more time around might do it
One more time around might make it
One more time around might do it
One more time around I might make it
The day I tried to live, I tried

I woke the same as any other day you know why
I should have stayed in bed

The day I tried to win
I wallowed in the blood and mud with all the other pigs
And I learned that I was a liar (One more time around)
I learned that I was a liar (One more time around)
I learned that I was a liar (One more time around)
I learned that I was a liar (One more time around)
Singing, one more time around might do it
One more time around might make it
One more time around might do it
One more time around I might make it
The day I tried to live
Just like you, just like you
One more time around (One more time around)
One more time around (One more time around)

I thank God that, since then, I’ve found grace.

Fiefdom Of Angels – A Novel By Kevin Max

Fiefdom of Angels, the new novel by Kevin Max is a journey unlike any other in so many ways. Born out of the mind of the man who owns one of the most iconic voices of Christian music, the novel delves into a topic of which very little has been explored and does so in a manner that turns the notion we typically associate with angels – harp-bearing choir singers or cute and plump winged-cherubim – completely on it’s head.

Fiefdom Of Angels by Kevin Max

In a narrative that would seem to fit best in the fantasy genre, Max presents a detailed, fictional account (with a great deal of admitted-poetic license) of the fall of Lucifer.

While the biblical narrative is one that, traditionally, is set thousands and maybe millions of years ago, the setting in Fiefdom of Angels takes on an almost futuristic air by incorporating elaborate elements of architecture and technology that the reader might not typically associate with the traditional concept of heaven. In fact, it was this fabric of the story that really grabbed my attention and engaged my imagination.

The intricately developed social culture of angels that Max lays out over the course of the story, in a setting of landscapes that are, at times, as unsettling as they are beautiful, is, to say the least, impressive. Keeping in mind the fact that the book is a fictional account, I found myself inspired by the possibilities of just how much more impressive heaven may really be in comparison to the expectations I’d developed growing up. The landscape Max paints of the possibilities is amazing.

Regardless of the realm that most will associate the name Kevin Max with, don’t expect to see FIEFDOM OF ANGELS on the bookshelf in your local Christian bookstore. The lengths that Max goes to describe the intricate beauty of heaven are matched by the depths to which the reader is taken within the author’s conceptualization of Lucifer’s lair, the place from which he plots his coup of heaven. I found some of the actions of Lucifer and his co-conspirators absolutely repulsive, but, it is my contention that such details were included for the sake of presenting evil for what it is in contrast to the beauty that exists apart from it.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to a pre-teen. But, for more mature science-fiction, fantasy, and adventure fans, Fiefdom of Angels is well worth the read. Kevin Max, a man who has never played it safe in terms of his music or poetry, took on a massive challenge in exploring and experimenting creatively with the topic of angels to the degree that he did in Fiefdom of Angels and I believe the end product was well worth it.