Why the Tearful Search for Someone Worthy Matters

I’m struck by John’s confession in Revelation 5:4, in part because it seems at first so alien to us:

“But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look in it. And I cried and cried because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it.” – Revelation 5:3-4

Why would the old apostle be so torn up about getting a scroll looked at? It feels like one of those distant, stained-glass religious enigmas that we know we should care about more, but don’t, try as we might. A matter for saints and philosophers, while we stagger about just hoping that we’ll find a cheaper daycare next month, or that our boss will be on vacation just for one day tomorrow.

But then I realize, this is a longing we’re all sharing: the search for a hero. The hero to end all heroes, and to end all sufferings.

Heaven knows where we’ve looked for that. Self, others, philosophies, substances, even death itself.

Revelation 5 presents the final obstacle to which no hero can be found, something against which nobody and nothing will ever cut the mustard.

Benson’s commentary says, “Without tears the Revelation was not written, neither can it without tears be understood.” In some profound way, the scroll of Revelation 5:4 is the final boss, the league championship, the holy grail of suffering itself. We have no answer. No pastor, author, political figure, relationship, or accomplishment will satisfy mankind’s desperate longing to be finished with suffering – no more resurrections a la Palpatine in Episode IX, no more of that old Eastern instinct of “it will always come back around”. An end. To match the beginning.

And then Revelation 5:5 finds someone worthy.

Thanks to my friend Nate for turning me on to this:

 

I’ll let that end this post.

 

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Why Are Lies So Loud and Truths So Quiet?

Brandon J. Adams

If only life had the decency to be the other way around.

I do not know why lies have all the connections to adrenaline suppliers.

I do not know why it’s fear, anger, and self-hatred that can seize your heart and weigh it down with a twenty-pound force, rather than peace and love.

I do not know why worry seems so inescapably truthful and peace so too-good-to-be-truey. (Okay, I didn’t have a good word there, but you know what I mean.)

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But it is so. Some things are promised to the Christian, but not immediately possessed. Truths must be worked for; lies ride the second law of emotional thermodynamics straight to your doorstep. Truths must be fought for; lies dart across your battle lines and start whispering their propaganda. Truth is the gym visit, lies the chocolate cake. Truth is the ponderous jetliner, lies the gravity. The world and the…

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Cast Your Net Again – Because of Who’s Asking

A trailer for The Chosen – a TV series dramatizing the life of Jesus – caught my eye the other day with a depiction of the catch of fish from Luke 5:

When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing! But at Your word, I’ll let down the nets.”

When they did this, they caught a great number of fish, and their nets began to tear. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them; they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. (v. 4-7)

The TV interpretation shows Jesus smiling cryptically at the exhausted fishermen, his gaze wearing down their weariness, as they can think only of the fruitlessness of their endeavors thus far. Those nets are heavy; fishing is back-breaking work.

Sound familiar?

Anyone else been letting down their nets for a long, unrewarding time?

Your net might be those children you’re raising, as it feels like you’re doing everything and yet accomplishing nothing.

Or the endless financial sacrifices you’re making because you know it’s supposed to pay off somewhere down the line.

Or the prayers you keep offering up for your unsaved friend, as he lingers at the edge of hell with no seeming incentive to step away.

Like the walls of Jericho, not even the slightest pebble seems to be crumbling. Yet you keep letting down your net.

If it were just for a pat on the back, or an extra paycheck, you might not do it.

But would you do it for Christ if he asked? Even after year after year of anticlimax and frustration, even after season and season of seeing so little progress you doubt whether God is in this in the first place, would you do it for Christ if you asked? Would you stifle the groan and let down your net again?

Who’s doing the asking, changes everything.

He certainly let down enough for me.

If it seems like my blog has been heavy on faith and perseverance in prayer lately, that’s because it has been. I’ve alluded, regrettably cryptically, to some tremendous happenings at my church in the last year. I hope to elaborate more soon. But we’ve been led through a long season of prayer, groaning at the length and dogged requirements (though those for whom we’ve been praying have certainly endured far, far more). It’s forced us to confront how willing we are to keep letting down our nets.

Our prayers have been rewarded.

I love how the fishermen’s nets are met, not just with a typical catch, but with an immense, boat-breaking mountain of fish. Jericho, too, presents us with this image – the walls coming down not a bit at a time, but all at once, at the time God sets for it.

For that kind of faithfulness, I will pray.

 

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4 Stories of Letting God, Not Pride, Move You Forward

In 1 Samuel, David has not one, but two golden opportunities to dethrone Saul fall literally into his lap. At one point, Saul chooses to relieve himself in the very cave in which David is hiding (Ch. 24); in the other, Saul’s army falls asleep around him and allows David to sneak right up to the slumbering king’s position (Ch. 26).

Everything about both scenes screamed providence. It would have been simple to interpret Saul picking just the right cave, or being let down by an incompetent army, as divine appointment arranging his downfall. Neither is a common situation that one just blunders into.

And this is amongst a spiritual people predisposed towards just such interpretations – and towards David. He’d heard the cries of “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands”, and even though that cry was a more of a poetic call that doesn’t actually indicate superior favor towards David, there’s no question that the future king was popular. The Israelite public would not have hesitated to translate David’s mere possession of Saul’s effects as a divine legitimization of David’s kingship. David’s men may have twisted the prophecies in instigating him to kill Saul, but that didn’t change the fact that God was not on Saul’s side, and everyone knew it.

But David wouldn’t do it. When he cut corners on his obedience in even a small way, he repented.

It goes to show that the humble servant waits for God to remove obstacles in his own way and time.

There was also Moses, who values the things of God over his own ego:

A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

Joshua son of Nun, assistant to Moses since his youth, responded, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

But Moses asked him, “Are you jealous on my account? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets and the LORD would place His Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:27-29)

Or Paul, who probably has the leverage to shut down his opponents but chooses instead to rejoice in a message greater than the messenger:

“…the others proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, seeking to cause me anxiety in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just that in every way, whether out of false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed. And in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice” (Philippians 1:17-18)

And, of course, our Savior sets the prime example:

Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. And he said to Him, “I will give You all these things if You will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus told him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.” (Matthew 4:8-10)

This is actually a difficult thought for me, because it sounds like passivity, and I hate passivity. It’s been keenly observed for years now that passivity in Christendom, especially among men, has done a great deal of damage to homes and churches. Too often, “safe” Scriptural readings basically tell Christians to just not do anything – too much “be still and know that I am God” and not enough “fight for your families” (Nehemiah 4:14) – missing the balance that there’s a part that’s God’s and a part that’s ours.

But we would do well to remember that passivity can be either the refusal to act or the refusal to act well. Both are forms of surrender – to fear, indecision, and apathy, which turns people into spiritual slouches; or to one’s emotions and instincts, which can create domineering or violent menaces.

In these cases, David, Moses, and Paul are not being still. They are most decidedly fighting. Have you ever wrestled with a choice and actually found yourself more panicked at the thought of doing nothing? Bingo. It takes great strength to reject a power-grab opportunity that falls right into one’s lap. It takes immense character to pass up a fair potshot at another, which your own friends and followers are perfectly happy to execute for you, and trust God with your legacy instead.

When there was a clear conflict of interest for David, Moses, Paul. and Jesus, they conscientiously chose against their pride. Whatever other fair arguments happened to be going the same direction as their pride, they just didn’t trust them. They chose to err on the side of humility and counted on God to reward them for it.

God’s ways almost invariably involve patience and trust, precisely because we lack it, and lie in the opposite direction of our pride, precisely because we desire it. Sanctification is the point, not upward mobility. When we ask for a miracle, God instead shows us a mirror. And Scripture bears stories in which God never did move someone forward, because they were unwilling to surrender these parts of their hearts.

But at the right time, God moves the humble servant forward. Be in position for this, by being continually set against your pride. God will see it. He will not let you overthink or shame yourself out of his will for your life.

 

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The Answer to a Painful Christmas is…Christmas

If you’re one of those people for whom it takes everything you’ve got to not hate this season’s guts, I understand.

When I was seventeen, life and Satan hit right where it most often hurts this time of year: family. After that year, we would never again celebrate the holidays as a family. The head count is always one short now.

Some don’t even get the first seventeen years. Others got fifty, yet are now going through their first Christmas without, and finding it just as shattering. It’s difficult to keep our seasonal joy from being diminished by those losses.

Have you ever noticed how vulnerable Christmas is? As inevitable as its arrival is every year, it doesn’t actually offer everyone refuge. For some, it’s the reverse – a reminder of what they don’t have. As long as Christmas is about perishable things, it will be perishable itself.

It’s a good thing that the true Christmas has something to say about those very losses, then.

Imagine if the manger pointed to nothing but another Jewish prophet standing around on hillsides and boats, telling stories and handing out advice. Awfully anticlimatic, don’t you think? Not much worth celebrating there.

But the manger points to much more. It points to the cross that will triumph over the very things that shatter us today. It was the birth of the Conqueror of death and loss, who will return on a white horse to make all things new.

If we make a soft-focus Hallmark family mentality the central purpose of Christmas, we leave it vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. Though God is powerful and good, he has not promised to always protect even that precious jewel in this life.

But if we make hope the central purpose of Christmas – the hope of redemption – then the season becomes as unshakeable as every other promise of Christ.

Christmas isn’t a family reunion, as wonderful as that is. It’s the promise of greater reunions down the road, the reversal of all the theft and death and destruction the enemy has wreaked upon us. It looms large over the damages looming over us. The properly interpreted Christmas heralds victory over its own oppressors.

This is why Christmas is bigger than our opinion of it. It’s why we can truly celebrate: its promise never lay in the present, but in the future. It may be difficult to find joy now. But perhaps the cure to finding that joy, is delving ever deeper in.

 

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The Value of Knowing Your Value

I ran across the following meme the other day (who says the Internet is useless?):

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It is an incredible quote, for it brings many of our lives into sharp relief. It went straight onto the Facebook page for my blog, for it was propulsive and illuminating, at least for me. All of a sudden, through this idea, many of the regrettable actions we take (or see taken around us) gain an interpretation they never had before.

Most of what we interpret as immaturity are unhealthy attempts to prove our value.

The office worker who stirs up drama is trying to prove his value by bringing others down.

The family member who deflects or passes the buck when called out on a mistake does not realize that she can be valuable and wrong at the same time.

The one who turns every conversation towards themselves is too busy securing their own value to see that of others.

I’ve just described all of us somewhere. Like a dog chasing its tail, we are all trying to capture something that could not escape us if we tried. We cannot attain what is already ours.

Being made in the image of God carries incredible value. We are shredded and dirtied by sin, lost in a haunted house called the human heart, yet pursued by the Cross’ offer of redemption. God went to great lengths to open a way to salvation, all because he calls us valuable.

His ways not only clear us of sin’s sentence, but free us to live wisely in the practical realm every day by revealing our value. When one understands his value in God, they are protected from having to prove it. They are no longer driven by those compulsions. They no longer seek their identity in sports, hobbies, political causes, or cruel and legalistic religion. They can admit errors, break addictions, set boundaries, forgive, help, lead, and love. Since they’ve had their core questions about themselves answered, they can start focusing on others’ questions instead.

This is impossible with the world. They’re not even trying to hide their self-hatred anymore. More openly each day, they celebrate our supposed insignificance in the cosmos, place higher value on animal species than themselves, and embrace pornography. Suicide and self-centeredness are epidemic. Satan loves to claim you have no value, then propose an endless series of hoops to prove otherwise.

God cures all that. And only he can.

Come to Christ and let him break your chains. Whether you are new to him or part of the old guard, there is always something to be mended. He welcomes all comers with open arms, and writes new stories where there were only scribbles before.

 

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3 Ways to Run an Awesome Worship Ministry (Or Any Other Kind)

Last night, the worship ministry at my church was thrown a party. We were fed heaping mounds of Qdoba’s in appreciation for everything we do for our church.

I say this not to brag of myself, but of our leaders. For such a party being thrown really tells you more about the kind of leadership we operate under, than anything else.

In short, it’s the best. But you’re probably wanting to know why, rather than just read those three words and walk off musing. In a world where so many people dread Mondays because of self-focused and incompetent bosses, good leadership is like water in the desert. It should be shared whenever possible.

Our worship ministry is entirely a volunteer outfit. We’re not paid (and there are many reasons that’s a good thing); it’s a practice-heavy gig, occupying hours of time outside rehearsal; and we’re thin enough at a couple positions that the same two or three people have been manning them for almost the entire decade.

Yet we musicians are happy to take our posts every week. We revolve around schedules around it; we leave our egos in the car; we practice our parts. There’s no drudgery; we look forward to it every week. In fact, as I look back on the 2010’s as they slip past us this month, I consider it one of the highlights and privileges of the decade.

What is it that our leaders do so right?

 

1. They create an environment of trust.

It’s a badge of honor out there, apparently, for managers to be able to strap a man to a plow and make him produce; there’s a sort of awe in the corporate world towards the type who can generate results, “get things done”.

But in the church, intended by God as a sanctuary for the heart, what’s the point in getting things done if you trample hearts in the process?

Our ministry leaders would probably say there is none. That’s certainly how they act. They show genuine kindness and concern for the condition of the hearts working for them. In one sense, that’s really just good leadership, church or no. Treat people well, they stay loyal. But given how rare it remains in the world, it’s worth mentioning.

The leader I play for, in particular, has this winning habit I’ve always appreciated: if he even suspects that he has miscommunicated or that there has been any hurt from the way he’s expressed himself, he circles back later and makes sure things are well. He’s conscientious about this, without coming off as obsequious. 95% of the time, there’s no problem. But even in the 5% (and I don’t even remember the last time), there’s little worry, because you always know he’s going to endeavor to set things right. It creates an atmosphere of trust.

 

2. It’s a collaborative effort.

Our leaders recognize the talent around them and welcome opinions – on new songs (or existing ones), new technology, new directions, and new recruits.

This is actually a really vulnerable thing for a leader, asking for opinions. What do you do when you get opinions you don’t want to hear, or opinions you simply can’t act upon? This is why many managers just don’t bother.

But ours do, and simply put, it makes people feel valued. They still can’t implement every idea they hear, and there’s only so much change they’re willing to have on the plate at any given moment (if they want it done right). But they can still ask, and they do. It means they know they don’t need to be the ones to know or be everything in the ministry (and can’t be anyway).

 

3. They make it a community.

It’s one thing to meet for practice and then bolt off the stage and head home without a word to anyone. Some ministries, apparently, do things that way.

But ours sits down and reads Scripture together. We ponder the tough questions. We consistently challenge and refine our own definitions of worship, seeking to make it as authentic as possible, and our leaders are at the head of that. And some of the most raucous, offbeat, wildly off-topic and hilarious conversations I’ve ever had, took place around our table.

You just can’t replace the value of that. It makes practice an anticipated time, relaxing nerves and cutting out diva mentalities. It ensures a constant striving towards our Savior, instead of a grind or an autopilot ministry. It’s, well, a family.

 

For the sake of avoiding big heads, I’ll probably stop there, but there’s more I could say (like the constant prayer or the intentional individual compliments). In the end, this is a ministry that earns the extra mile. It’s not just about enjoying music. These are people I’ll follow, people for whom I’ll give my best shot at even disliked worship songs, because they seek to be like the Savior I already follow. They aren’t perfect at it. Nobody is. But they strive. And they remind me it’s really God I’m giving my shot for.

And if some burgeoning worship leader out there happens to improbably stumble upon this tiny blog and be improved by this on-the-ground witness of successful ministry, well, it’s been a good day.

 

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