Creating Room in the Noise to Make Music

Creating Room in the Noise to Make Music

This week, I’ve actively unsubscribed from email lists. The trend started because we moved. North Carolina Groupon deals will do me little good in Virginia. Instead of changing the location, I opted to unsubscribe. Once the trend started, I couldn’t stop. I’ve unsubscribed to most of the marketing emails that I’ve received over the past few weeks. The ones that I’ve continued to subscribe to, I see value in.

I’ve started to think a lot this month, as I said goodbye to friends and packed the last pieces of our house up for our move, that there is a lot of noise in the world. And that noise is just a distraction from the things that really matter.

These thoughts are spurred both from moving and from losing a relative that I loved very much recently. With this particular relative, because of a mixture of things that really boil down to ease and selfishness, I often chose to embrace the noise around me instead of carving out time to call and check in, or to visit.

It’s easy to get caught up in the noise. It’s easy to use the noise as an excuse. But in reality, it’s just noise.

As we start this new phase of life, I’ve been making strides to reduce the noise around me and to lean into the things that make music. Noise and music can be different things to different people, but I am trying to cut down on the things that are noise or can become noise if they aren’t taken in smaller doses.

Things I let become noise:

  • Marketing emails
  • Working through lunch
  • The radio
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Game Phone Apps – My current favorite is Two Dots. It’s addictive.
  • TV shows – This one is all about moderation.
  • Checking my email on my phone – I removed the icon and still find myself reflexively looking for it.
  • Online window shopping.

Things that make music in my life:

    • Healthy relationships – Catching up with a friend, spending time with my husband, calling a relative to say hello, and spending time with God.
    • Discovering – Reading a book; learning something new through an online class, blog or podcast; road trips.
    • Creating – Creating a new recipe. My most recent success was gluten-free pumpkin cobbler. YUM! It is always a good day when I get to make something, food or otherwise.
  • Going outside – Even if it is just to read on my lunch break, being outside always brightens my day. Also, the sky is generally one of my favorite things to watch.

I think as Christians we are called to evaluate our lives and make sure that we are leaning in to the things that God has called us to and the gifts that God has given us to enjoy. But also, that we don’t lose God, or the people and places that he has called us to, in the noise.

What things in your life are noise and what things make music? How often do you sacrifice music for noise?

Talking About Sin and Other Light-Hearted Stuff

Talking About Sin and Other Light-Hearted Stuff

Let’s talk about sin and other light-hearted stuff. Well, maybe we won’t talk about sin quite yet, but have you ever been in that Bible Study or small group meeting when the opportunity to bring up your sin came up, but instead everyone internally chose not to make the situation weird? Yeah, I’ve been there many times. This is one of the reasons why it is important, essential, for churches to have, in addition to small groups, men-only and women-only groups where the issues of sin can be discussed at a deeper and more understanding level.

Don’t get me wrong. Sin will destroy your life. Sin rips you away from God at birth and we are only restored by the blood of our Savior who was brutally murdered on a tree. Let that sink in for a couple seconds. There is nothing light or sympathetic about sin. I am not saying this as a judge, but as someone who has suffered through brutal sin, sinfulness used against me and from my own doing. However, in the Gospel there is grace and mercy. When we approach our brother’s sin (or sister’ sin) we are call to rebuke the sin and sinful act, but to love the person. God hates the sin and loves the person. We are called to do likewise. A college campus minister, Jeff Wilkins, used to always start RUF meetings by saying, “absolutely no one is ever beyond the reach of God’s grace, nor beyond the need of God’s grace.” I have carried that phrase upon my heart for many years.

And yet, we shy away from sin in small group gatherings. We feel shame, or at least I do. Maybe I am the only one who is fearful of being judged by my peers. I’ve experienced grace. I’ve been forgiven by the Father and yet I become a slave to shame, guilt, and fear. Why? Do I need not fully grasp grace? Is my God too small?

I re-watched the film Boondock Saints a couple days ago. It’s a mature film with a lot of cursing, a lot of killing, and some nudity. You have been warned. However, there is a scene in which a couple of the characters interact through a confession booth at a Catholic church. I don’t even know if that’s what they are called…confessions booths. Catholic friends, hook me up on this one. Nevertheless, the only reason why they scene stuck with me is because it got me thinking about the utility of public confession. What is decided, as a church body, to call out our sin publicly? What if I stood up on Sunday morning and shouted out “Lust!” “Envy!” “Anger!” “I don’t believe God will actually answer my prayers at the moment! I am doubting sovereignty right about now! Just though EVERYONE should now!” Would that make the church healthier? Would it drive some people away from public worship? Or, would it make us more legitimate? Would it strengthen us in understanding that we are really, really, really broken and that there is a VERY REAL REASON why Jesus had to die on the cross. I am not sure. I lean towards the latter, and yet, I am uncertain.

We hate talking about sin because it makes us feel not just unclean and broken, but because we are fearful of walking backwards. I am super guilty of this. As a Calvinist (because that label is obviously in Scripture…it isn’t), I fear that I am not persevering sometimes. I sometimes fear that my life isn’t showing the Gospel of Jesus enough…that I am walking backwards and not forward. As a Calvinist, I at least believe that I am chosen or not, because I would hate to believe that I could lose my salvation. That would majorly suck. We hate sin, we detest sin, we rebuke sin, and yet we fear sin. Fearing sin, is sin (insert sad “LOL” here).

I want God to conquer my fear and my shame. I want God to transform into someone who isn’t afraid of sin. I want to fully embrace the truth that Jesus died for my sin, rescued me from having to pay for it myself, and has given everlasting life and a restored, beautiful, and truly pleasurable relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. I teared up a bit writing that last sentence. It hit me deeply, somewhere inside.

On the topic of community, I want brothers who bring up sin (insert another “LOL” here). I want brothers who call me out on shit. I want brothers who not only call me up about watching the game, hanging out, or going out for food, but who also ask me: “how’s your heart, man?” “What are you struggling with? No bullshit.” I want that. I don’t have that right now.

This post wasn’t specifically about sin, but on talking about it. I don’t know if it is actually worth reading, but it’s something that I needed to write. In my search and understanding for better Christian and Covenant community, talking about sin and our struggle with it is something I definitely want God lead the way on.

Thanks for reading.

“Looking” for “Church”

“Looking” for “Church”

What do you first look for when looking for a new church or new Christian community? What are those “key words” searches that you plug into your web browser or “must have” list? What do you prioritize? What are deal-breakers? How much of what we are looking for is Biblical? How much of it is actual quite relative and purely cultural?

            Kat and I have been at our current church for about 9 months. We recently became members and we are extremely happy to be part of this community of believers. However, the last church I was a member at I attended for most of my life, so the experience of “looking for a church” was quite new to me.

            We were very fortunate to have people we already knew attending our current church. In fact, my boss and one of my fellow interns at the summer internship I took up last summer are all members of this church. Like I said, we feel extremely blessed to be part of this community. But what did I look for? What did I search for the very instant that I walked through the doors?

            When it comes to finding a church, and joining a Christian community, I am greatly influenced by the teachings of Pastor Jeremy, a former pastor of mine and lifelong friend who officially “discipled” me (boom: big evangelical term-drop) from the age of fifteen through the age of twenty-two. He continues to be a very big influence on my life; however, Reformed theology teaching was a huge part of my early discipleship. I remember buying a copy of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and reading “The Calvary Road” by Roy Hession. Additionally, we spent time a plenty discussing the theological merits of predestination and the finer points of 5-point Calvinism. However, alongside Reformed theology, my discipleship under Pastor Jeremy helped me gain an appreciation for what we call, in Reformed ghettos, “expository preaching.” Expository preaching is a type of preaching in which the pastor or, well, preacher centers their sermon around a text or passage in Scripture. Basically, instead of picking a random topic to preach on, such as “finances” or “relationships,” the preacher preaches directly from Scripture, dissecting and discerning what a specific passage in the Bible means—no pressure.

            So yes, when I look up a new church or walk around the lobby of a church we are visiting, I look for those unquantifiable elements of (1) Reformed theology and (2) expository preaching. However, at the end of the day, you can’t really catch these unless you sit through quite a few sermons there, but churches tend to have hints that I have caught myself looking for. What kind of books do they have in their bookstore? Do they have any John Piper, Francis Chan, or Tim Keller? Do they sing a lot fluffy contemporary songs or do they stick to some theology-centric good stuff? Now some of those may come across as silly, but I have honestly found myself in that mindset, and I am sure all of you have a list of what you look for.

            Are those lists healthy? Are they ok to have or do they minimize our potential loyalty to a church community down to a mediocre game of matching? Are we justified in looking for a church community that agrees with our theological perspective, take on worship, views of women in leadership, and holy opinions on jeans and basketball shorts? I think we are partly justified. As a husband, and hopefully future parent, I want my family to be part of and be surrounded by a church community that has “healthy” theology, which in my opinion, is of the Reformed variety. Personally, I consider Reformed theology to be Gospel-centric, so for me it isn’t being nitpicky to weigh the theological positions held by the pastor, church, denomination, or network. If we are honest and humble in our approach to new churches we may visit, I think we are fairly justified in finding a community that we can naturally join and not only edify, but also be edified by.

            Nevertheless, I also believe there are areas in which culture relative matters intrude. I have a personal taste on music and what musical worship should be like, but if my church has a different approach or embraces some newer or older styles, this isn’t a deal-breaker to me—it’s cultural and relative. Equally, there should be a level of decency when it comes to apparel and choice of clothing, but issues like “jeans in church” or people showing up in shorts is also trivial. Who cares? What does matter is that people are actually coming to church to feed on the living Word and joining in collective worship! If we are honest with ourselves, we all have those culturally-bound and relative preferences about church that have little to do with the Gospel itself, and have more to do with what we are comfortable with.

            To tackle a more serious note, I am passionate and inspired by churches that pursue genuine diversity across ethnicities, races, languages, and age groups. Our current church is struggling, in a good way, with this issue. We want diversity because the Kingdom of God is diverse, but how do we achieve it without being superficial or “forcing” diversity down our throats. How do we do that? I think it starts with communal engagement and by being part of the city we are called to. Wherever your church is located, I believe that the Gospel calls us to be locally relevant and justice-minded. Can we, as a church, do more for the local community? Are there poor and needy people around that we should be helping? Is there de facto or de jure oppression in our city or community that we should be battling against? Can we be part of local racial reconciliation? Are we giving back as much as we are getting? Are we being missional at every level of society? I believe that when a church becomes relevant at the local level, diversity will be a by-product of a church serving its Gospel-centric mission, both evangelistically ad justice-centric.

            What have you looked for in a church? What’s on your list? What does Jesus think of your list? I think these are good questions to reflect on. The New Testament, specifically the book of Acts and Paul’s letters speak a plenty on the early church and the struggles they faced, and the modern church has much to learn and re-learn from the ancient church. I believe we are justified in looking for solid theological foundation and a healthy community to be part of; however, I also believe that as believers, as saints, we may also be called to bring with us that sound foundation and healthiness with us. Am I a catalyst for good in my church? Am I a catalyst for a healthier community? Am I a vessel of blessing and edification to my fellow believers? Am I a source of needed discipleship, mentorship, and sound teaching, and if not, why not?

Thank you for reading.

Looking for Saints and Finding Sinners

Looking for Saints and Finding Sinners

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

3:30 AM

          A few months, Kat and I decided to start a blog together. This is not the first time we’ve blogged together, but I do hope it is the time that we stick to it. Why do we choose to write? Blog? I don’t know, but in my desire to understand the present, we gain a better understanding of the past and the times to come. However, in our pursuit of the eternal, we gain wisdom beyond compare and measure. Priceless. We write and post here because we are but agents of the Divine seeking to understand the present through the scope of the eternal. We seek to understand the Kingdom through the outlook of the Priestly King.

          Looking for saints and finding sinners is an idea that came to Kat and me during one of our many conversations. It refers to the reality that as Christians, and by extension as humans, we are constantly seeking better community. Feel free to define better as you wish. From the moment we join the rest of society, in either pre-school or grade school, we seek community. We seek others to become “we” and “us.” We seek to be understood and to understand. We seek others but not just any others, but those who are willing to self-less to the extent of accepting us, cherishing us, enjoying us, valuing us. Humans are social beings, much like God the Father has community with the Son and the Spirit. The Creator made the Created to exist in community.

          Kat and I had a conversation in which we discussed the Christian’s constant pursuit for community. As saints, we seek to join a church, to join Bible Studies and small groups, to be part of a community of fellow believers. This is an easy journey for some, but it can be a very difficult and brutal journey for others. Some Christians find their community, ideally through a church,  almost spontaneously. Other believers may journey for years before finding a group to call home. Some of us find that “core community” among fellow believers, while others find it among unbelievers. We may at times go through phases and we may go into greater detail of these phases later. And yet, we seek community. We seek to belong. We seek others.

          One of our conclusions was that as the Christian is in constant pursuit of community, in our minds we may seek a “purer,” “more mature,” or even “more Christian” community. We spend our whole lives looking for saints, and yet, we end up finding sinners. Christian community, in its most basic sense, is made up of saints, rescued by the grace of God, but made up of saints who sin. We are looking for saints and finding sinners. We look for the holy seeking a more perfect understanding others in other to be better understood. And yet, we fall short, because even though the holy is in us and works through us, we are still in the journey of further sanctification.

          If I were to assign this blog any purpose, it is to better understand the pursuit and finding of, the departure from, the desire for, and the victories and failures of Christian community. Let me be more specific: to better understand Christian community in our present context, through the outlook of the eternal. Nothing that we write and post in this blog is as important as the value of Scripture. Hopefully, we will post content that is a blessing to you, but nothing is more important the Holy Word. I echo Kat and I’s feelings in sharing that if reading this blog takes time away from reading the Scriptures, then go read the Scriptures.

          May you be blessed in your pursuit of community.