Review: Blue Like Jazz (the movie)

“I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently.” – Donald Miller, “Through Painted Deserts”

The message of Christianity has never changed, but that doesn’t mean Christian living has stagnated.  Far from it.  But you would never know that from the standard Christian movie.  When I told an unchurched friend about Blue Like Jazz, the first words out of his mouth were, “This isn’t one of those Kirk Cameron films, is it?”  Somehow, somewhere along the way, Christian movies became recursive.  They were stuck on the same page.  They stopped trying to figure things out and started telling everyone else what to think.

Blue Like Jazz walks away from this sort of storytelling.  It’s about walking away from what you thought you knew: whether it be fundamentalist Christianity; hypocritical living; or bitterness toward the church.  It’s about walking away, but even more than that, it’s about embracing the journey to figure things out.

It’s also about embracing those marginalized and burned by the church.  Sure, there are archetypes.  The lesbian.  The boy who was raped by a priest  The son of a mother who becomes pregnant by the married youth leader.  The religion-rejecter; the non-religious but religion-respectful; the Christ-denier; and the Christ-embracer.  But these are characters, not caricatures.  Blue Like Jazz portrays the full person.  It does not only acknowledge and legitimize the pain that exists, but that the source of the pain was people misrepresenting Christ.  It gives a voice to the grief, an apology, and a hug.

As a longtime fan of the books, though, I would have liked to see more of the role of Christian community.  Most of the Christian influence in Don’s life comes through Penny.  This isn’t a bad thing, per se, but Penny’s influence can just as easily be attributed to hormones and liking a girl rather than the transformational work of the Spirit and the role of a community coming alongside a guy searching for God knows what.  I think in its effort to not create the stereotypical Christian ending, Blue Like Jazz de-emphasized the role of Christ and of the corporate church.  Especially since it pushed the envelope in so many other ways, I would have liked to see the envelope pushed a little more here as well.  "Sometimes you need to watch someone love something before you can love it yourself."  I would have liked to see a little more of that love.  (Although the reverend pulling Don out of the port-a-potty after the latter’s hedonistic binge was a particularly nice touch.)

But even then, the beauty of the movie is precisely that there are no concrete answers.  Some reviews criticize that, like jazz, the movie doesn’t “resolve.”  Does it have to?  Blue Like Jazz isn’t about spoon-fed resolution.  It’s about questions.  It’s not about conclusions; it’s about conversations.  It’s not pedagogue; it’s dialogue.  It’s a start, and it falls upon the viewers to come to their own conclusions.  It is a movie that requires a response.

Will I stop being a hypocrite?  Will I stop misrepresenting Christ?  If I do, will you give Him a chance?  Can we work through this together?  The answers “hang there…like notes on a page of music, free-form verse, silent mysteries swirling in the blue, like jazz,” and I find that to be a beautiful thing.

Psalm 22

This is the season of Lent.
Of groaning and mourning.
Of death.
"But God"
Oh, the joy that those two words bring!
But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
Made us alive and saved us by grace.
Christ did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but took the form of a servant and dying on the cross.
He was forsaken so that we can be accepted.
Rejected so that we can be taken in.
Denied by the Father so we can become sons of God.

And so we mourn.
We mourn the human death of the God-man,
We mourn the wretchedness of our sin that required such a sacrifice.

We mourn, and yet we rejoice
For Immanuel is not far off
And we worship in the congregation.
We worship because he proclaimed righteousness to those yet unborn,
to we who were chosen before the creation of the world.

Psalm 21

Psalm 21 is interesting because David is speaking from his own experience.  Sure, he has a crown of gold.  But where's mine?  Some of us are never going to be rich.  Some of us won't live that long.  Some of us won't be healthy.  So how does this translate to our lives?

Verses 1 and 7 are particularly telling.  "In your strength the king rejoices."  David is on a throne, the king of a nation, but he doesn't rejoice in his own strength and power, he rejoices in God's.  Where does your strength lie? 

That's the beauty of the Gospel.  It's for everyone.  Those who are successful will be tempted to boast in their own strength, but it is God who enables their success.  Those who are down on their luck will be tempted to despair in their lack of success, but it is God's strength that will uphold them in tough times.  Both will be able to glory in their salvation, and both will be united as one int he Church by their salvation.  They will be blessed forever in the joy of God's presence and the strength of his might.

And God's strength means an end to injustice.  An end to suffering and those who cause others to suffer.  It means righting wrongs and eradicating evil.  This is something to be thankful for as well.  So we exalt God by thanking him for what he is doing and looking forward to his promised work to come.  We will sing and praise his power forever.

Two poems

I haven't been posting because I've been working on my poetry.  It's ironic that one of my #finishyear goals is getting in the way of another one.  The first poem has been ridiculously stubborn, but I'm happy with how the second one turned out.  Enjoy!  I'll be back to regular posting on Friday.


All things were made through Him.
Without Him, nothing that has been made
Would have been made,
And all that has been made
Is sustained by His Glory
His Weight
The Gravity that holds stars and planets and moons
in place
And choreographs the cosmic dance.

All in accordance
With the word of the Word
Who spoke "Let there be"
And there was.

But what is man?
Ashes and dust
A flower in the field
A breath
A passing shadow
And yet that breath came from the very lungs of God
And though a shadow in the Valley of Shadows,
I shall not want.

Winter Dusk in Orange County
Slow, but Deliberate,
the Distant Artist  tints
the once-azure expanse
ombre shades of red, orange, and yellow
Before disappearing in the West
Behind a parking structure,
Making way for the Winged Stallion,
Hunter, Lion, Bear, and
Southwest Airlines.

Psalm 20

You know how sometimes you read a passage of Scripture, but the words feel foreign to you?  You know that the words are true, but it's difficult to connect with them.  I'm having one of those moments today reading Psalm 20.

You see, my law school experienced its second depression-related death in a month.  It's a small community to begin with.  When the first died, it was a tragedy.  After the second?  There are no words.  Those who remain know and understand the stress of law school.  We know, too, that there is also life outside of law school, which comes with trials of its own. 

People want answers.  But more than answers, they want to know that everything is OK.  That their loved ones are "in a better place."  That they are "looking down on us."  That one day, we'll all be reunited again.  People don't really want answers.  They want reassurance.

And I can't give it to them.

That's why passages like this are hard.

"May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
    May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!"

"May he grant you your heart's desire
    and fulfill all your plans!"

These are blessings and prayers.

Not promises.

We will experience trials and suffering of all kinds.  1 Peter 1 tells us this.  We serve a man who was poor, and homeless, and who allowed himself to be murdered.  No man is greater than his master.

But there IS a promise we can hold onto:

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
    he will answer him from his holy heaven
    with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
     but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
    but we rise and stand upright.

We can trust God for what we need.  I have salvation, and these deaths make me so much more thankful for this gift I did not deserve.  The gift I could not take for myself.  The gift given to me, and that I have received.  And because I have been given that gift, because I have received His spirit as the seal of my inheritance, I know that I am anointed.  I know that the Lord will save me.

There are many things that vie for my trust, but I will trust in the name of the Lord my God.

Therefore, I can "shout for joy" over my salvation.

Psalm 17-19

Yikes, I'm way behind.  My health hasn't been that great lately due to the trifecta of awful nutrition, exercise, and sleep, which explains why I don't have a ton of extra energy to devote to blogging right now.  I'm determined to follow through with the Psalms, though.

Today what I'm doing is creating a new Psalm out of 17-19.  Many times the Psalms become familiar to us through reading and repetition.  For me, I have a number of the Psalms memorized, so it is far too easy to gloss over the Truth.  Instead of reading each Psalm as a chunk, I read these Psalms phrase-by-phrase and reassembled it into a new poem.

Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O Savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.
The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
and the Most High uttered his voice,
hailstones and coals of fire.
He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him,
thick clouds dark with water.

I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress. 
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me! 
Then I shall be blameless, 
and innocent of great transgression.
The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness; 
according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.  
For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
and have not wickedly departed from my God.
With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified you show yourself pure;
and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
For you save a humble people,
but the haughty eyes you bring down.

For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?—
the God who equipped me with strength
and made my way blameless.
He made my feet like the feet of a deer
and set me secure on the heights.
The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock,
and exalted be the God of my salvation—
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes; 
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations,
and sing to your name.
Great salvation he brings to his king,
and shows steadfast love to his anointed.

Why I am in Love

This was a Facebook note I wrote back in 2008, but it's just as true now as it was then.  I'm actually surprised it never made it to the blog, but it is now!

I am in love because my sworn enemy became my friend.

I am in love because the one I rejected accepted me.

I am in love because the one I hated loved me first.

I am in love because when I was dead, my Savior died to gave me life.

I am in love because the Creator of beauty embraced this child of Chernobyl.

I am in love because God is not hiding from those who seek Him but rather seeks them out and is ready to save.

I am in love because while I was blind to my blindness, foolish to my folly, and hard to my hardness, God gave me new eyes to see His beauty, a new mind to understand His grace, a new heart of flesh to receive His love.

I am in love because even after this initial act, God has never failed me. He who watches over me never slumbers nor sleeps. He gives me the feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to go on the heights. He restores my soul. He puts out a table before me in the presence of my enemies and anoints my head with oil. He works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose, for no plan of His will be thwarted. He is good and His love endures forever. His faithfulness continues for generations.

I am in love because my God is a God of love. He shows His love in this:

Every person who has ever lived on earth wages a war against God by living according to their own desires and not acknowledging His presence and priority in their lives, is headed straight to hell of their own volition. By choice, they reject the God who created them in favor of their own pursuits. By choice, they choose hell over God. But God, in His love and grace and mercy, awakens people to their condition and calls them to Himself. To overcome the magnitude of treason against God present in people's lives, He offered none other than Himself, for He alone is able to mediate.

Jesus, being God, became a man and lived among man. Not only did He leave the glory of heaven to become a man, but He also let Himself be killed by men. When He died, Jesus also took upon Himself the sins of the world. This means that He received the punishment for sin that the people of the world should have received. He, in essence, "paid the price." We as people, because of our sin, have a debt before God that we can never repay, but Christ, on the cross, paid our spiritual debt. Not only that, but His spiritual righteousness, His holiness or lack of sin, is then attributed to those who accept His payment in their stead.

If a person believes that Jesus took away the punishment for their sins and comes to Him and asks forgiveness for warring with God, that person is given "new life:" new desires, a new heart, a new mind, a new way of thinking, and a new way of living. That person not only is forgiven, but is changed!

I am in love because this is the work that Christ has done in me. If you're also in love, let others know about your love, and if you're wondering about this love and what it all means, don't be shy to ask :D

Psalm 16

Panic.  Sheer panic is the emotion flooding through me when I think about my schedule this week.

"Preserve me O God, for in you I take refuge."  This prayer speaks so powerfully to me right now.  If I took refuge in my success, or the volume of my work output, or even mere competency- I would be left without refuge.  I have nothing, and am nothing.  And that's OK.  Because I am loved.

I have no good apart from God...but I have God.  What a powerful, encouraging truth!  When I run after my idols, I will fail.  I will neither attain them, nor will they satisfy.  My sorrows multiply and the panic sets in.

But when I run after God, I shall not want.  He restores my soul.  I am led and cared for and loved.  He has chosen my cup, and it overflows.  I feast, and am satisfied.  I will not be shaken because I stand on Christ, the solid rock.  My heart is glad because He is the joy of my salvation.

Psalm 15

A series of questions for thought and meditation

  • Do you view God as esteemed atop a "holy hill"?
  • Is that hill a place you want to be?
  • How is/ are your:
    • walk with Christ?
    • thoughts?
    • feelings?
    • relationships?
  • How do you view:
    • sin?
    • righteousness?
    • money/ possessions?
Are you anchored, or are you easily moved?

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Psalm 14

This one's really similar to Psalm 10, huh?  As a bit of a writer, myself, I wonder if David sat down and cranked these all out at once.  Or maybe it was something that weighed heavily on his mind, and he went back to the topic on multiple occasions.  Since I feel like a lot of what I said for Psalm 10 is applicable here, I'll leave you with the link and take a different spin on things.

Are you an atheist?  If you're reading this blog, I'm guessing that you're not.  But have you heard the phrase "functional atheism?"  That is, are there times where you think and act like an atheist, despite your well-rehearsed Sunday school answers?

I've heard it said that when we sin, we become "functional atheists."  It sounds weird at first, but on second thought, it makes a bit of sense.  Why do we sin?  We sin because we forget God.  We forget who He is, what He's done, and who we are before Him.  We act like he doesn't exist.  We may be Christians, but functionally, we're pretending God doesn't exist (or doesn't care).

The fool does two things: say there is no God, and does abominable deeds.  That's not to say that "atheists can't be moral," but atheists sin.  So do we- and when we do, it is as if, in that moment, we're atheists.

We are commanded to press on heavenward, toward the goal in Christ Jesus, to not become weary in doing good, and to be like Christ, who joyfully accomplished the task set before him.  But that's hard.  It's easy to turn aside, pushing away the knowledge of God's goodness and holiness to make room for our own desires.

But God is with the righteous.  If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus the Son cleanses us from all sin.  So don't be an atheist who denies God, a deist who doesn't believe in God's desire for a relationship, or a humanist who believes we're all basically good.  There are none who do good, but there is a God of goodness who produces goodness in us.  Believe in Him, abide in him, and receive strength from the vine.

Psalm 13

In biology, there is a technique called polymerase chain reaction (PMR) where a small piece of DNA is amplified to generate thousands, or even millions, of copies.  During this process, the original DNA's characteristics are exponentially magnified, so there is enough DNA to actually test it for a certain trait. 

Sometimes when I feel angry or frustrated or depressed, I will complain to myself.  But in the process of complaining to myself, what is a relatively small incident becomes replicated in my mind million-fold.  Like DNA in PMR, my own sins of pride or self-entitlement become magnified with each reiteration.  I become more and more self-righteous...and I become more and more discouraged.

David had plenty of reasons to be discouraged.  But instead of complaining to himself (or complaining to others), he talks to God.  Instead of being anxious, he brings his requests before God in thanksgiving.  David knows who God is, who he is, and that he has the right and the privilege to humbly ask God for an answer.

And instead of multiplying his misery, he finds peace.

So before you complain to yourself, ask yourself the following questions:
Who is God to you?  Who are you to God?  What is it that you seek?

Psalm 12

Sometimes it seems like there's just no goodness in the world.  That no one is faithful, true, or genuine.  The secular poem Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold expresses the same sentiment:

...For the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

It seems that David felt much the same way on the occasion where he wrote this Psalm.  Elijah, too, felt the same way- even right after calling fire from the sky and shaming the prophets of Baal.  And remember Jesus?  He, the only holy person to ever walk on earth, was crucified by sinful men while his disciples scattered in fear, doubt, and shame.

But what does David do here?  He does not wallow in his fear and doubt.  He prays.  He has an unshakable faith in God's goodness and willingness to answer.  He holds on to the words of God and the truth of God.

So though the world seems to lie before us like a land of dreams, let us proclaim the truth of God and the reality of Scripture:

5 “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan,
   I will now arise,” says the LORD;
   “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.”
6 The words of the LORD are pure words,
   like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
   purified seven times.
 7 You, O LORD, will keep them;
   you will guard us[b] from this generation forever.
8 On every side the wicked prowl,
   as vileness is exalted among the children of man.

Psalm 11

This will seem like a cop-out, but I'm really stunned by the language of this Psalm so I'll just leave you with the text.  Take a read:

 1 In the LORD I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
   “Flee like a bird to your mountain,
2 for behold, the wicked bend the bow;
   they have fitted their arrow to the string
   to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
3 if the foundations are destroyed,
   what can the righteous do?”[a]
 4 The LORD is in his holy temple;
   the LORD's throne is in heaven;
   his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
5 The LORD tests the righteous,
   but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
6 Let him rain coals on the wicked;
   fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
7 For the LORD is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
   the upright shall behold his face.

Psalm 10

The God Who Hides
Sometimes it's really, really hard to find God.  The world is full of hardship, heartbreak, and heresy.  We sin and are sinned against.  We are broken, and so is everything else.  Where is God?

The Wicked Who Scoff
In the absence of God's intervening presence, evildoers keep doing evil.  AND THEY PROSPER FOR IT.  They use and abuse without regret.  They get away with anything and everything, and laugh.  The wicked say to themselves, "I'll never get caught.  I'll never be held to account.  There's no one to hold me to account."

The Listener Who Chooses
When God is hard to find, all we hear are the scoffers.  Over time, we may start to agree.  Maybe God doesn't exist, or he does and doesn't care, or he cares and cannot act.  But remember Psalm 1?  Do not walk in the counsel of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers.  The listener has to make a choice.  Will you listen to the scoffers, or will you listen to what the Bible says about God?

"Invocare" comes form Latin and means "to invoke."  (Didn't see that coming, huh?)  This was a common writing device in epic Greco-Roman poetry where the author invokes a Deity to aid with his writing.  John Milton also used a series of invocations when writing Paradise Lost.  Obviously, I'm using the term achronistically, but that is what David is doing here as well.  He invokes God.

David does five things in this passage:
  • he calls out in faith: "Lift up your hand" (12) "But you do see" (14)
  • he remembers God's past work: "You have been the helper of the fatherless" (14)
  • he petitions: "Break the into account" (15)
  • he has faith that God will follow through: "you will will incline your ear to do justice" (17, 18)
  • he responds in praise: "the Lord is King forever and ever" (16)
David's process here provides the framework for how we can structure our own responses to suffering and injustice.  Though wicked scoffers may say that God is distant, uncaring, or unable, we can refuse to listen to their words.  Instead, we can pray to God in faith, remember God's goodness as demonstrated in the past, and pray that God moves in a certain situation.  Stop living in passivity, start actively calling on God.  When we do this, we cannot but respond in praise when we live in the security of God's goodness, power, and love.

Honesty, Idolatry, and Community

I've always had the answers.  As a kid, I was good at school and better at Sunday School.  As I grew older and was involved in Bible studies and small groups, I've been called a human Bible encyclopedia more than once (and hated it every time).  I might not be the person people go to when they want to have a night out on the town, but I'm the person people go to when they don't understand a doctrine, or when they want a verse, or if they want to share their problems.  Even during the times of my life where I intensely struggled, I still knew what the answers were.  Maybe I didn't fully believe them, or maybe I didn't like them, but I still knew the answers.  I always have.  This isn't a pride-thing.  I've always only praised God for this.  I could have ended up differently.  Much differently, and in a much darker place.  I could be dead, really- so, honestly, it's not a pride thing.  I'm very grateful and humbled.  I never deserved the answers, but God provided the clarity.  He always has.

I think I built an identity around that.  Around knowledge and competence.  Or the ability to feign competence until I got a handle on things.  When God provides something, it is easy to get used to it.  I'm not talking "entitlement," but rather assuming that it will always be provided in the future.  And creating an idol out of a gift?  What a joke.

I didn't realize this problem until I stopped having answers.  My answer-stream slowly trickled away and evaporated into nothing under the heat of the harsh sun called Reality.  The confidence started cracking when I found myself in my first relationship and didn't know how to handle being romantically involved with another human being.  At all.  Then the spidery cracks grew until they became splintering, gaping holes when I realized I needed to make life and career decisions where I had an endgame but no discernible means to get there.  How am I supposed to plan my life when I don't know what's going to happen next week?

Everything spiraled into feelings of inadequacy.  Why?  Because being on top of things was my idol.  It was comfort and security and peace.  Control.

It's funny, though.  People still come to me with their theological questions.  They still come to me with their problems.  I teach, and I counsel.  But as my friend once asked me, "Who's pouring into you?"  At the time the answer was "No one."

I need people.  I need people pouring into me.  Supporting me.  Loving me.  And it's difficult to say that I need people because that means being vulnerable.  But I'm glad I'm so, so grateful for my Mars Hill small group.  Because after my friend asked me that question, a chain of events occurred that allowed me to join this wonderful church and become involved in a community group.  I can be honest there- fears, failures, and all.  Community and discipleship are wonderful things.  And I'm thankful.

I don't have the answers, but I know God does.  I have to be OK with that.  And part of that answer is community, but I have to be honest first.

Psalm 9

(Image: Pernell, flickr, CC2.0)

God gets a bad rep in the OT.  You hear a lot of theories along the lines of, "He used to be this big, angry guy, but then Jesus came and he became loving."  But I don't think it's that way at all.

There is an amazing amount of tenderness between David and God in this poem.  An amazing amount of trust.  Why?  David's faith isn't blind, but he looks to past demonstrations of God's character.  He finds strength in the grace and mercy he finds in God, and he finds protection in the justice God doles out against those who turn back from Him.

God's character encompasses all of these.  It always has, and it always will.  That's why David sings praise.

Psalm 8

As I write this, I just got word that my classmate died.  He was maybe 26, tops.  I just met him this semester, but I met him in a small class of 5 so the impact is larger than it would otherwise be.  There were other circumstances, too, but I won't get into that here.

Psalm 8 is a hard read right now.  I know I'm not the only one who finds it hard to praise God during times like this.  Maybe it's a personal trauma or tragedy.  Maybe it's a friend, family member, coworker, or colleague.  Maybe it's nothing "big," but it's just ~life.~ 

The great thing is, my feelings don't dictate reality.  Some religions propose that God is something or someone within ourselves, but the God of the Bible has an existence external to us.  I find comfort in that because it means that I don't dictate who God is, and neither do my circumstances.

God is God.

God is worthy to be praised.

God is majestic.

And man-

We are fleeting, but oh, so precious.  Humanity has been crowned with glory and honor.  With reason and a soul.  Yes, man is dust, but we contain the breath of God.  We image the Divine.

Who are we that God is mindful of us?  That he cares for us?  That he became one of us and died for us?  We are nothing.  And yet, we are a little less than everything.

Psalm 7

I've honestly grappled with how to blog this Psalm for the past half a week.  This Psalm is so rich, and there are so many angles I can take here.  This Psalm is about finding refuge in God.  But refuge from what?  David needs to escape from his enemies, but he also needs an escape from his own sin.  

Double Take

I think on first gloss, it seems that David is challenging God.  "If I have committed evil, let my foes defeat me."  I've certainly heard it discussed that way.  It makes it seem that David is this cool and awesome and holy guy.  Cue M.C. Hammer's "Can't Touch This."  And in one way, I think that is true.  David had his faults, but he was a generally upstanding guy.  But I don't think that's the whole picture.

Loving God, Hating Sin

It is very evident form the Psalms that David loves God and hates sin.  Very much.  To David, people who sin deserve to be destroyed.  They deserve God's anger, and David takes a hardline stance on this.  David longs for the day when the wicked will cease, and God's kingdom of righteousness will be established.

David hates sin in others, and he hates sin in himself.  He's not a hypocrite.  He's an equal-opportunity kind of guy. 

Repentance, Righteousness, and Refuge 

I think the crux of the Psalm is verse 12a:
 12 If a man[d] does not repent, God[e] will whet his sword

David doesn't fall back on his inherent righteousness.  He is falling back on his repentance, and God's willingness to accept it.  David can ask for refuge because he has repented and God looks upon his newfound "righteousness."  A far cry from "Can't Touch This," I find this a beautiful picture of faith and dependance on God.

Do I believe that my sin deserves damnation?  Do I really believe that repentance leads to righteousness?  Do I really believe that refuge is given to the righteousness?  How much do I "bank" on God's character and His promises?

And, like David, do I respond with awe and praise?

 I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness,
 and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.

Psalm 6 Images

Though TSN first started as a webcomic, the content has slowly shifted away from that blogging format.  However, I get a large number of comments about and requests for more comics.  So...enjoy!

 "Truth Over Circumstance"

(Solstice Cetl, flickr, CC2.0)

Psalm 6

Read through Psalms!
There is a knee-jerk reaction in Christian culture to direct people toward the Psalms.  Depressed?  Read Psalms!  Angry?  Read Psalms!  Sad?  Read Psalms!  Take two and call me in the morning.

Sure, God's word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.  Sure, all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in all righteousness.  And, sure, the Word of God does not come back void, but will accomplish the work that He sent it out to do.

But Stories Take Time
These are things I understand.  But the Psalms can be really confusing, sometimes.  The tone of the poem can change within a verse or two.  Three verses down the line, the Psalmist may be talking about something different, entirely.  A casual gloss through the Psalms (which is why I don't recommend reading any more than one Psalm a day or combining it with a larger chunk of Bible reading, like many reading plans do) will miss the richness of the story.

Because Psalms are poems.  Poems tell stories.  Good stories point to God.  If you miss the story, you miss God, and you miss the point.

Breaking it down
This Psalm teaches us about God, grace, deliverance, suffering, and faith.  It took me over an hour of re-reading the one Psalm to piece together the story, so instead of sharing response reflections, today I'm going to share more of a summary of things that stuck out to me.
  • David doesn't say that God shouldn't be angry.  Instead, he asks for deliverance from that anger.
  • David asks for grace.  He doesn't deserve it, but he needs it.  He recognizes his need and his brokenness.  The first step is admitting the problem.
  • David does not argue that God is in the wrong, that he doesn't deserve God's anger, or promise to do better in the future.  David is not accusing or bargaining.  He is begging.
  • Instead, David appeals to God's character.  He hangs on to what he knows is true: that God is love and is loving, and that God is worthy of worship.
  •  David's suffering is not only "vertical" between him and God.  Just as he has sinned against God, others are sinning against him.
  • David explains his suffering.  He does not hide his emotions- he voices them.  But he does not let them dictate his actions- he confronts them.
  • David has faith that:
    • The Lord hears him
    • The Lord accepts prayer
    • God will come through for him
    • God acts quickly 
  • David's faith is based on the character of God and the promises of God.  The truth of what he knows about God supersedes his circumstances of being languishing, troubled, weary, moaning, weeping, grieved, and weak.  God is still God.
Story Swapping
Sometimes it will take a few reads to get the story right.  Sometimes you have to sit down with a story, or with a person, to really see who they are.  You have to interact with them.  It's the same when we read the Bible, when we learn about God, or we meet a new friend.

Part of my gripe about Bible reading plans is that it is so easy to value volume over substance.  But just as we can learn how to interact with others and get to know their story, we can also learn how to stop and spend time in the Word to get to know about God.

So what's your story?
One of my goals this year is to focus on words- on Jesus as the Word, on the Word of God, and the words of others.  What's a story that you have learned?  What's a story you have experienced?  Here's the story of my bro in Christ, Dan, who spends time listening to others' stories, building relationships, and teaching others to do the same.

    Psalm 5, A Response Poem

     This is a combined reflection on Psalm 5 as well as one of my poems for "finish year."

    The pious wake up at dawn,
    Stretch their legs over the side of the bed,
    Reach for the KJV on top of the dresser,
    And open the well-worn-but-well-kept book
    To where a satin ribbon marks their place.

    If common (mis)perceptions are upheld,
    I am not pious, healthy, wealthy, or wise.
    I wake up after the third snooze,
    And the first utterance out of my mouth
    Is neither praise nor prayer,
    But a groan.

    And yet God hears.
    In the morning he hears my
    Tired, groggy,
    (half-complaining if I'm honest)
    He hears, Remembering,
    That the Spirit Himself
    Interceeds With Groans
    And together our groaning
    Is offered up before God.
    A sacrifice.

    I wait.
    I watch.
    There is no fire from heaven to shame the prophets of Baal.
    There is no lightning from the mountain.
    Torches do not pass to and fro between the halves.
    But I do not watch with bated
    Breath or Trepidation
    Knowing that the sacrifice was accepted long ago
    After 3 days and an empty tomb.

    It is the dawn for which I wait.
    It will come.
    The answer to the promise already given
    But not yet fulfilled.
    The evil prosper, but not forever.
    Likewise, God's children groan
    Along with creation
    In the pangs of childbirth.
    Bowing down toward the holy temple
    In fear of a Holy God.

    He blesses the righteous
    Though there are none,
    No, not one,
    But he has declared righteous
    Those who take refuge in Him
    And those
    Who seek first His righteousness.

    They shall not bear their guilt
    or fall by their own counsels.
    They shall not be cast out by their trangressions,
    For the Lamb has taken their transgressions from them,
    Farther than
    The East
    Is from the West.

    So let them sing with joy.
    Let them praise him in song
    Raising up
    A joyful noise.
    (And, yes,
    for some of us, the singing is
    "noise," indeed.)

    Let them exalt the One
    Who blesses the unrighteous
    With righteousness.

    Let them love the One who
    Taught them love
    While they were yet unloveable,
    By first being Love, Himself.

    Psalm 4

    You know what's really distressing?  Life.  I mean, really.  Maybe your life isn't all that distressing, and praise God!  But my life hasn't been rainbows and unicorns.  Most people's aren't.  On top of that, I chose a profession that is by nature adversarial, and am entering a subsection of that profession that is adversarial over really distressing things, like abuse and rape.

    It's not pretty.  Sin is ugly.  There is trauma and brokenness and shame.  We're surrounded by it.  We are sinners and sufferers, all.  And the affects of sin- our sin against God, our sin against others, our sin against ourselves, others' sin against us...humanity sits in its own filth, and there's no stopping it. Not on our own.

    And yet, God pities the weak.  He comforts the weary.  He relieves the distressed.  He is gracious and he hears our prayers.  Often, we won't be able to see help coming.  We're too blind, too frustrated, too distressed.  We will ask "How long?"  "Why?"  "What is going on?"  It is easy to focus on the brokenness because there is so much of it, but those who seek the One who will "show us some good" will find Him.  He promises us that much.

    God will draw near to you.  In fact, He is already near you.  He calls out to his children, as he is already running to them with open arms.  I heard a fantastic sermon at Mars Hill by Justin Holcomb on this topic.  The Gospel is about saving.  It's about redemption.  It's about God calling us to Himself, but knowing that we can't move, so he comes to us.  It's about God coming as a man to live the life we could not live and die the death we should have died.  God gives us His righteousness and reprieve.

    So though we are angry at the brokenness and we grieve, we can do so without sinning.  We can have hope in knowing that God has set aside his children for Himself.  He has bought them with his blood and is never, ever giving them up.  He will protect His own, and He will rescue those who put their trust in Him.  He will be the one to show us good and put joy in our hearts.

    We will be safe, and we will find rest.

    Psalm 3

    The Story of David
    From the "New Jo Version" (NJV) 

    Imagine coming from a giant family where no one really cared for you all that much.  Then God said you would be king, which is cool and all, but you never asked for it, and then the current king started chasing you around everywhere trying to kill you.  After a ton of heartbreak and annoyance and perseverance, you finally become king, just as God said.

    Everything is going well, just as it should be.  Then you made this awful mistake where you coerced a married woman into sleeping with you and then killed her husband because she got pregnant.  The kid dies, and you do the only decent thing a king can do in that time period- you marry the woman and stick her together with all your other wives.  You feel awful and repent.  But even though you think you've sufficiently learned from your mistakes (you're a man after God's own heart, after all, despite your faults) it turns out that you've set into place an even worse set events that ends up in your son raping your daughter and another son getting mad, chasing you around, and trying to kill you.  (You're a classic case of High "Spirituality" Does Not Translate Into Good Family Man.)

    Remember how God said you'd be king?  That peace is broken.  You screwed it up.  And now someone's chasing you around trying to kill you.  Again.  Bummer.  You've made some Really Awful Mistakes and now you're facing the consequences.

    And yet- God sustains you.  He protects you from your enemies.  You probably deserve what's coming...but it never comes.  Because God has more in store for you.  He has placed you on the throne, and He's going to keep you there.  He has a plan for you that's bigger than you.  God's kindness does not make you proud, it makes you humble.  You aren't saved because you're cool and awesome- salvation belongs to God and God alone.  You praise Him for it.  And though enemies swarm you, you are not afraid.  You lay down and sleep.  You call out to God, and He sustains you.

    So look to God for salvation, trust him, and sleep.

    Psalm 2

    As the poem goes, "The best made plans of mice and men oft go awry."  As I plan at the beginning of the year, I have been filled with a lot of anxiety.  There is simply too much to do, too little time to do it, and a lot of evil in the world.  My anxiety, however, reveals my sin.  It reveals how small my little-g "god" is.

    Plotters against God
    There are wicked people "out there" who plot against God and His people.  This passage reminds us that while they plot, they plot in vain.  We do not fight against flesh and blood, but against powers, principalities, and forces of this dark world.  But even then- God doesn't seem to be terribly concerned.  He laughs- not because it's funny or lighthearted business, but because he's in control.  We do not need to be anxious about these people, but in everything, in prayer and supplication, we can present our requests to the One who is Victorious.

    Plotting against God
    Perhaps, too, my anxiety stems from my own plotting against God.  Are there areas of my life where I have been resisting His will?  Have I given Him complete surrender?  Do I hold on and try to take control - before quickly realizing I can't?  Have I turned away from the Son, away from Zion, and set about my own business?  This Psalm isn't merely about the wicked people "out there," but it's a warning to me, too.  It's a reminder that God's in control, and why should I fight Him?  1) He's going to win anyway and 2) I'm much better staying within His plan.  Instead, I should not be anxious about anything, but in everything, in prayer and supplication, present my requests to God.

    The Victorious Son
    My current anxiety shows how small I see Christ.  I do not see Him as reigning and victorious.  I do not see Him as loving and compassionate.  Not really.  There is a cognitive-belief-action disconnect.  But sometimes (a lot of the time), our feelings are wrong.  It is during those times, that we need to stop listening to our feelings and start listening to the Word.  Christ is the one who sets things straight, conquers evil, and blesses those who come to Him.  I need to stop fighting and start worshiping.

    Psalm 1

    I was 23 when I got my first car.  To me, the concepts of freedom and mobility are intertwined.  People who are engaged in struggle often describe the frustration of being "stuck."  They feel there is no way out.  Nothing they do can change anything.  They want escape.  I know that feeling well.

    Getting away
    So often, I've wanted to "get away."  I wanted to leave it all.  I searched for solutions and answers.  The easiest answers meant abandoning what I believed to get what I desired.  They often do.  This creates war within our souls.  We know what is right, we know what is wrong, and our struggle compounds the feeling of stuck-ness.  We know we shouldn't walk in the way of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers.  But, dang, it seems so easy, so practical at times.  Our souls writhe.  James asks, "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?"

    Trees aren't mobile.  But they flourish.
    Unless you live in Middle Earth and have Ents in your backyard, you know that trees don't go anywhere.  Sure, the weak ones will keel over and die, but the healthy ones stay there for centuries.  In one sense, they are very much "stuck."  They aren't going anywhere.  But in another sense, they are very much "rooted."

    There is something better than mobility.  Health.  Because when the solution to the oncoming storm isn't to pick up and leave.  There will always be storms.  The solution is to become strong.  And strength comes from the Lord.  When we meditate on the Word of the Lord, we become strong, sturdy, and healthy.  We may not yield fruit on-demand, but we will yield fruit in season.  When the storms come and the environment changes, we will not wither.  We will not be chaff in the wind.  We will not be tossed to and fro by the waves.  We will not be left to our own devices.

    Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord.

    2012: The Year of Words

    Becoming "You"
    Lisa Gates, contributor to Forbes' Woman "She Negotiates" series wrote a wonderful article last year on "Becoming More Like Yourself in 2012."  Of course, she comes from a secular humanist slant (I don't know about her personal views, but this is at least what it seems like), and some Christians, particularly in the reformed camps, may be wary of concepts such as self-empowerment and "becoming more like oneself."

    However, I caution against throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  If you define yourself according to your selfish desires and what you want to accomplish for YOU this coming year, then tips like the ones in the article may go awry.  However, if you define yourself according to who God has created and re-created you to be in Him, and what you want to accomplish for Him this year, a few tips, yes, even from the secular world, can be healthy and helpful.

    Limit the Focus
    Ms. Gates suggests focusing on 5 goals in the coming year: 
    Create 5 Daily Practices. One for self nourishment; one business or career-enhancing strategy; one thing you want to learn, one behavior you want to replace with another, better one; and one core value you’ll be mindful of daily to underpin your agreements in 2012.
    I'm not one for "new year's resolutions," but the idea of "one core value" stuck out to me.  It is easy to live life "living nothing for deadlines" and seeing only "1's and 0's," but living with purpose helps keeps us from getting stuck in the ruts.  And apparently, the "one core value" thing has other proponents, as well!  (See Modern Reject and One Word).

    So what's my one word?  "Word."

    Milton and Augustine talk about this a lot and more thoroughly than I can explain here, but there is something special about words.  Christ is the Word Become Flesh.  The Word of God is living and active.  The Bible is a love letter.  The Creator God is the Author God who spoke everything into existence.  Everything is a parable.  Everything is a poem.

    My 5 Practices
    Self-nourishment: meditating, really meditating on and delighting in the Word of God.

    Community-enhancing: I want to spend time with people.  I want to see the story of what God is doing in their lives.  I want to witness the power of God in those around me, and become a character in others' stories as well.

    Learning: I will be still, and know that He is God.  I will stop and reflect and learn from the silence.  I will do less and listen more.  I already cut out a class from my schedule to allow me to do this.  I will focus less on "productivity" and more on being a better listener and storyteller.

    Behavior replacement: Many Christians will automatically balk at this idea.  Yes, behavior modification has its limits.  What is important is the heart and not the action, after all.  At the same time, if things need changing, by all means- change them.  My behavior replacement will be to switch out mindless internet browsing for writing more poetry.

    One core value:  Valuing words and stories.  Being intentional about appreciating them, finding them, creating them, and using them well.

    TSN and Finish Year
    Jon Acuff has an excellent idea for completing goals and finishing well.  Keep it short, keep it simple, and finish it.  (Posts here and here).  Goals are great (particularly for the resolution-averse crowd).  However, as Acuff explains, "Fuzzy goals fail." 

    My specific goals this year are:

    1. Blog through the book of Psalms
    2. Write at least a poem per month.
    3. Write at least two thank-yous, thinking-of-yous, and/ or encouragement cards per month.
    As a result, I am going to use this blog as a way to keep myself accountable to my goals, and I hope you will continue to support and join me. 
    • First, this blog will no longer be a webcomic.  I know that this will disappoint the large majority of my readers, but the webcomic formula simply hasn't been working for me as a writer for awhile now.  There may still yet be webcomics, but that will not be the primary purpose of this blog.
    • Second, I want to encourage you to read through Psalms with me and post your meditations as I blog mine.
    • Third, I will post my poetry to the blog as it is written, so you can look forward to that content..
    • Third, bookmark this page and be mindful of the stories in your life.  If you would like to share a way that God is speaking or creating story in your life, or if you would like to commend the way God is working in and through someone else, submit the story below in the comments!
    Here's to a great 2012 and finding fulfillment in the "you" God wants you to be.