Good Friday: Do the Math

6. April '12

 

I think the church fathers must not have been very good at addition. Jesus said he would be in the grave for three days and then he would rise again. And yet Good Friday, when we celebrate Jesus’ death on the cross, until Easter Sunday, when we celebrate his resurrection,  is only two days. Go figure. 

 

It’s a rainy, dreary day here in North Georgia as I type this and think about the pain Jesus went through on the cross and the days leading up to it so that I could have a new life free from the guilt of my sin. I think about the sufferings I face and the unfairness of life sometimes and find myself eagerly looking forward to my own resurrection. Hope has taken on a new meaning as a result of the minimal sufferings I face in life... sufferings that pale in comparison to what Jesus went through.

 

Paul said in Colossians 1:24: “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” But didn’t Jesus complete His work on the cross? Didn’t He say, “it is finished”? Was there something still lacking in His sufferings then? Because Jesus not only died on the cross for our sins, but also rose from the dead on the third day, He now lives in those of us who have received this free gift of forgiveness and is very much alive in us. So then, when we suffer, He suffers with us because He is in us. The work of redemption was completed at the cross, but the whole creation still groans in frustration. Romans 8:19: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” When we groan, He groans. When we suffer, He continues to suffer. And so His suffering on the cross was not finished. He’s still suffering with us. And we wait with great hope for Sunday morning, for the resurrection, for the fulfillment of what we were created for. For us that waiting and hoping has lasted longer than two days... longer than three days. We’re still groaning and waiting. And the word “hope” takes on new meaning with each day. How privileged I am to groan and wait and hope.

 

30 years

3. February '12

It's now been 30 and a half years since we've been in Germany. What that means is that we've spent more of our lives in Germany than in the US. It really has become home in many many ways. It's where all our investments are... and I don't mean financial investments. Since my last post, I've done a lot of thinking about the hymn "Built on the Rock". It's where I want to be. The song has become a sort of "Ohrwurm" for me. In English we say: "I can't get the song out of my head." So I went into the studio and recorded my own arrangement of that danish hymn: Built on the Rock

Earthquakes

18. March '11

So many earthquakes... so much sorrow. What do we do with this?

 


As we looked at pictures of Christchurch, NZ, Sus and I couldn’t help think of a chorale written by the Danish hymnwriter,  Nikolai F. S. Grundtvig in 1837, a theological statement of what the church really is:

 

Built on the Rock


Built on the Rock the church doth stand,

Even when steeples are falling;

Crumbled have spires in every land,

Bells still are chiming and calling;

Calling the young and old to rest,

But above all the soul distressed,

Longing for rest everlasting.


Surely in temples made with hands,

God, the Most High, is not dwelling;

High above earth His temple stands,

All earthly temples excelling;

Yet He whom heavens cannot contain

Chose to abide on earth with men,

Built in our bodies His temple.


We are God’s house of living stones,

Builded for His habitation;

He through baptismal grace us owns,

Heirs of His wondrous salvation;

Were we but two His Name to tell,

Yet He would deign with us to dwell,

With all His grace and His favor.


Now we may gather with our King;

Even in the lowliest dwelling:

Praises to Him we there may bring,

His wondrous mercy foretelling;

Jesus His grace to us accords,

Spirit and life are all His words,

His truth doth hallow the temple.


Still we our earthly temples rear,

That we may herald His praises;

They are the homes where He draws near

And little children embraces,

Beautiful things in them are said,

God there with us His covenant made,

Making us heirs of His Kingdom.


Here stands the font before our eyes

Telling how God did receive us;

The altar recalls Christ’s sacrifice

And what His table doth give us;

Here sounds the Word that doth proclaim

Christ yesterday, today, the same,

Yea, and for aye our Redeemer.


Grant then, O God, wherever men roam,

That, when the church bells are ringing,

Many in saving faith may come

Where Christ His message is bringing:

“I know Mine own, Mine own know Me;

Ye, not the world, My face shall see.

My peace I leave with you.”



Psalm 93

The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; 

the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength;

indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.

Your throne was established long ago; 

you are from all eternity.


The seas have lifted up, Lord, 

the seas have lifted up their voice; 

the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.

Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, 

mightier than the breakers of the sea - 

the Lord on high is mighty.


Your statutes, Lord, stand firm; 

holiness adorns your house for endless days.


 

What my daughter-in-law, Whitney, wrote in her blog is perfect:

 

When it seems that the earth is anything but firm and secure, how good it is to be reminded that the Lord reigns over all of it. That His plan is to prosper, not to harm. That He is so much more powerful than the most violent, powerful seas our generation has seen.

 

The Sixth Sense

17. March '11

We live in a postmodern world. Postmodernism says that objective reality is a myth. Each person defines his own reality based on his perception of his environment. Well, how do we perceive our environment? Six ways: sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste. That’s a pretty small reality. And that's only five. What is our sixth sense?

 

2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “We live by faith, not by sight.” So if faith is a sixth sense, then what is it? Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Substance? Evidence? Those sound like reality words to me. 

We hear this all the time: “Just have faith...” But faith has to have an object. You can’t have faith unless you have it in something. So when Paul says, We live by faith, not by sight, what is the object of our faith? The Bible defines for all of us an objective reality based not on our perception, but on God’s character and on His promises. So then, our sixth sense of faith is substance and evidence of God in our universe, trust in HIM and in what He says even when we can’t perceive it to be logical or true with our five senses. A sixth sense.

I often buy into postmodernistic thinking that says that my five senses are of more value than my sixth sense of faith. And so I often don’t engage it. I walk by sight and not by faith. What a tiny reality I define. How vast and overarching my reality would be if I would simply open my “eyes of faith” and utilize this sixth sense. In order to do that, I need to know the One in whom I’m placing my faith, the object of my faith. And so in a world famished for truth because postmodernism says there is none, I can feast on truth with my sixth sense by believing what it is that God says about himself and about me. And the cool thing is, what He says is incredible! In order to feast on that truth, I need to learn what that is. I need to know what the object of my faith is. And so I search out HIS truths (not mine) in His Word, the Bible. The “evidence of things not seen” the substance of the things I hope for. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:5 Try to get your mind around that one without your sixth sense of faith!

 

Mercy and Grace

22. October '10

 

Mercy is not getting what I deserve. 

Grace is getting what I don’t deserve.

 

Commitment and Surrender

21. October '10

 

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between commitment and surrender. I’d like to think that I am a committed Christian. Commitment to Christ means that I have decided to follow Jesus. I am in control of what I commit myself to. I commit to pay my credit card debt. I commit to pay my rent on time. But at any point I can decide not to. I am still in control. With surrender, however, I relinquish my control. I slip out of the driver’s seat and invite Christ to put his hands on the wheel and direct my life where HE wants to. It’s scary and I believe that God is more interested in my surrender than He is in my commitment. At the end of Isaiah’s vision in chapter 6 of his book he said, “Here am I, send me.” He simply made himself available to the will of the God of the universe, laying aside his own desires and his own vision. I want to learn how to do that instead of just constantly promising God to live a certain way, do certain things... promises that I'm not so good at keeping. Promises and commitments are important, but if I can learn to just surrender and get out of the way, I believe all that will happen naturally. Here is an article that made a profound impact on me: http://www.navpress.com/dj/content.aspx?id=4422

 

29 Years Germany

13. August '10

 

29 years ago today, a jet landed in Frankfurt airport. I remember being almost afraid to breathe European air for the first time in my life as we deplaned. 29 years! That’s exactly half my life that we’ve spent in this incredible country… and, I might add, the best half… the most productive and conscious half. It’s become home.

 

 The term “culture shock” is a total misnomer. It didn’t even hit us until we’d been in Germany for almost two years. And instead of being a “shock”, it was more like a slow burn. Something you sort of realize one day. Susie and I would close all the windows and blinds in our first apartment so no one could hear us and then scream at the top of our lungs about the stupid door handles that were constantly catching our sleeves as we walked by… or the way seemingly everyone on the Autobahn felt it was their responsibility to teach us how to drive. It helped. We’d be okay again for a few days… until the next yelling session. 

 

Culture shock experts say that you bottom out emotionally after two years in a strange and new country. Only then does the downward spiral begin to level off and gradually begin to climb through the years. But you never quite make it back to emotional “ground zero”. You’re always an Ausländer, a stranger… foreigner. 29 years is a long time. Sometimes we have to really consciously think about what language we are speaking at a particular moment. A few years ago I was giving some Nashville musicians a short historical tour through a city and as we walked and talked, I began noticing strange looks on their faces. Was my zipper down? Finally one of them gave me the big “T” time-out sign. “English, please.” he said.

 

So this morning Susie got a big bouquet of flowers as a little “Thank-you” for putting up with me for 29 years in a strange land…. hmmm…. not really strange at all anymore. “Strange” is when we fly back to the states and realize that that is not home anymore. So who are we then? Where do we belong? No doubt for a second that this is where we belong. Years of investment and ministry are here. I can’t imagine doing anything else than what I do. I love it. 

 

Here’s the lyric of a song we almost always still sing toward the beginning of our concerts:

 

Where do I belong? Where is my home?
Where is the place to hide from the storm?
I’m not so sure about this anymore.
Who can be the one for me to lean on?
When I can’t go on all alone?
It’s not as easy as it was before.

 

Chorus:

Help me; I can’t wait for eternity.
Show me your love that is so strong for me.

Take me to your heart where I belong.
Help me; this world is not my home somehow
Show me your love so I can feel it now
Take me home to where I belong.

 

When I was a child my world was clear.
A loving family always there.
No need to worry about where I was.
Then I used to feel at home with my friends
They helped me to discover myself.
I was so proud to be one of them.

 

Chorus…

 

Now I feel that human love
Will not be strong enough
To build my whole life on.

 

Chorus...

 

We fight...

22. July '10

 

It’s not a popular topic to talk about fighting in these days when the whole world cries “peace”. We long for peace… in the world, in our lives and especially within ourselves. “Peace, peace, they cry. but there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14, 8:11) Life is not about obtaining peace… it’s about fighting for it. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) And so we fight… to obtain purity, integrity, authenticity… and then to maintain it. Sometimes we even win some fights. And a lot of times we lose. We get wounded. That’s what happens in battle. 

 

This is a song I wrote back in the eighties and couldn’t seem to find the right music for it… until now:

 

The Fighter

Don Newby  ©1985

Fighter (clip)

 

I saw him stumble down the stairs

that led from the spot-lit ring.

His eyes were swollen, almost closed,

he could hardly see a thing.

I saw the scars of a thousand gloves,

while his hung at his sides.

A fighter fresh from the boxer's ring

isn't hard to recognize.

Is this the man they blessed and sent

to stand and be their light?

In his eyes a strange conviction

returning from the fight.

 

He is the fighter

not the applauder in the crowd.

He is the boxer

not just a fan who cheers out loud.

With every breath he breathes

the prize is all he sees

and his all is all he gives.

 

It's not been very long ago

since the cheering from the stands

was dulled by the pounding in his head

and the heaviness of his hands.

The haze that had filled his head and thoughts

begins to disappearÉ

Like the jet that flies him home slips through

the clouds into the clear.

His friends won't see what he's become.

They'll only see the scars;

Just like prisoners who have no freedom ‘cause

They only see the bars.

 

He is the fighter

not the applauder in the crowd.

He is the boxer

not just a fan who cheers out loud.

With every breath he breathes

the prize is all he sees

and his all is all he gives.

 

 

And now he steps down from the plane

in the town he knows and loves.

Forgotten for the moment is

the pain, the opponents’ gloves.

But he knows it won't be long before

he's in the ring again;

The pounding pain, the gloves, the crowd

that seem to hem him in.

But what he knows now he'll not forget

even when that fight's begun:

It may well be he'll lose this fight,

but he knows the match is won.

 

He is the fighter,

not the applauder in the crowd.

He is the boxer

not just a fan who cheers out loud.

With every breath he breathes

the prize is all he sees

and his all is all he gives.

 

 

The day I stop fighting is the day I die. So… fight on!

 

Why pray?

7. May '10

My friend, Heiner, has been battling what appears might be a losing fight against cancer for the past two years. We have walked day by day with him and Christa and their three girls through this valley of the shadow of death, have stood with them in prayer. We have engaged many of our friends and supporters in regular prayer for his healing. Yesterday we visited Heiner and Christa and received the news that the cancer has now spread to his pancreas. According to his doctors he now has 10-12 weeks to live. What do I tell all our folks that have prayed regularly for Heiner’s healing? That their prayers were not heard? Should I spiritualize the whole thing by saying that God wants to heal him completely by taking him home? 

It has caused me to rethink my whole theology of prayer. Subconsciously I undoubtedly took for granted that the more people I involved in prayer for him, the better his chances would be of being healed. Can God be lobbied?

The conclusion that I’m coming to is this: How arrogant of me to use prayer as simply a means to get what I want, or perhaps even think that I deserve! Is prayer not much more a conduit for fellowship with the God who wants my fellowship? How often have I gone to Him with my agenda: “Lord, you are great and merciful. Thank you for all your blessings. Now…. here’s my list of things I want you to do for me…” Why do I tend to talk so much in prayer? Why do I listen so little? Heiner and I sat together yesterday and for extended periods there was nothing said. I just sat next to him as he lay on the couch. And it was good. Why don’t I do that with God? Perhaps THIS is the primary purpose of prayer… just being with the One who finds me valuable enough to give His life for and after all He did, to want to BE with me.

So is this then resignation? Have I lost faith that God can heal him and resigned myself to giving up on his life? I don’t think so. It’s not resignation, but more relinquishing control of life and death… a control that neither I nor any of us has ever had anyway. Life, in all of it’s unfairness, is all about submission to Him… giving up, letting go, surrendering to Him, who is wiser, more loving and gracious than I am sometimes willing to believe.

But God also wants us to come to Him with our needs and desires, if we'll come like a child, with humility, honesty and heart. There are many evidences of this kind of prayer being directly answered in scripture. Here's just one:

2 Kings 20:1-6: 1 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover. 2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, 3 Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes. And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: 5 Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, 'This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the LORD. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life.

 

White flag

19. April '10


I was thinking today about my favorite college professor who was my voice teacher. Mr. Dosien put up with a lot with me and all my growing pains as a young guy trying to get a handle on life and how I fit into it and the larger scheme of things… who I was and where I was going. The reason he was my favorite prof is because I could unload on him my frustrations and confusions without having the feeling he would laugh or just tolerate me. I’ll never forget the day I was doing just that… unloading on him. He listened for a long time and then without saying a word, pulled out his handkerchief and waved it above his head. I had no idea what he meant by that. But I sure do now. That was 37 years ago and now I have gray hair and have become convinced that life is all about learning how to wave the white flag. I am NOT in control… never was… never will be, even though maybe sometimes I think I am. And it’s taken me all these years to get that. It’s an easy concept to understand, but putting it into practice is another thing. Giving up is not something that is easily accepted in our performance-oriented way of life. And just giving up is not the answer… that would be resignation. I have to have someone to wave the white flag to. Surrender means surrendering to a victor. That person has to be someone who IS in control; someone I can trust to do what is right and good with me after I surrender. Someone who will heal my wounds when I come off the battlefield and not throw me into a dark dungeon to punish me for being his enemy. And so I am learning to wave the white flag to him, not just once but every single day. Here is the chorus of my song, “A Life in Forgiven Love” that expresses the difference between resignation and surrender:


There is no vision in routine and tradition

living secure in what is known.

But living is risking the pain of fruition.

There is no harvest in seeds not sown.

There are no tears in giving,

but in giving up.

But there is no loss in living

a life in forgiven love.