Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Snowing in Houston!

Snow in Houston!

So, it's pretty amazing. It is actually snowing in Houston. I don't really have much to say about it except it's the COOLEST THING EVER! And I posted some photos on Photobucket. Click the pic above to see more.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Review of Francis Chan's Crazy Love

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
First of all, I am a HUGE fan of Francis Chan. If you haven’t heard his message from Passion 07, go download it on iTunes now!

Crazy Love is disarming in its charm and conversational tone – so much so that at times you may find yourself wishing for more meat only to realize you’re still chewing on the last chapter. Chan writes the way he speaks – like he’s just telling you what he thinks. He puts on no intellectual airs, though the issues he addresses go deeper than the great majority of Christian books today.

Chan loves God’s Word. He loves Jesus, and that completely comes across in this book. He is speaking in Crazy Love from the same place in which many Christians today find themselves – the place where we have realized that all is not right with the bride of Christ.

He calls us on to the radical life in the voice of a loving, laid-back dad.

View all my reviews.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Day at Hyde Park

Hyde Park 6

We arrive at Hyde Park Studio at 10 a.m. on Oct. 27, 2008.

Rod Drake (my bass player) and I spend the first half hour or so helping Ryan Booth (the engineer) and Joe Green (my drummer) set up the drums and all the equipment. If you don’t know, recording drums is the most tedious part of the process. It’s like recording eight instruments at once! Every one has to be checked, and all the levels have to be right before you can lay down the first track.

So we do that.

Then I lay down a scratch track – a quick run-through of the song with vocals and acoustic guitar so everyone has a point of reference. (You can’t just set a drummer loose to play. They’re crazy! Just kidding.)

So for the next three hours, while Joe does an AMAZING job on the drums, Rod and I sit around. This is the majority of time in the studio – sitting around. Then you get to listen to the same drum track over and over while the engineer edits three takes into one seamless performance.

Joe goes to bring back lunch for everyone. Since the bass is plugged directly into the system, there is nothing to be miked, so Rod just sits down in the control room with all of us and begins recording the bass line. This goes really quickly.

We make a few changes as we go, which often happens in the studio. Once you start to hear it all together in that context, you begin to have ideas you never considered before. Of course, when you’re limited to one day of recording, you can’t spend too much time on those crazy ideas.

We eat lunch, and Rod finishes the bass track. He does an amazing job, but it still doesn’t sound like a song yet.

Then, we all tear down the drums and unplug all but two microphones. Ryan mikes up my acoustic guitar, and we pretty much breeze through that in just a couple of takes. We sit around for a little more editing and listen to it about a hundred times. It’s starting to sound a little like a song at this point.

Next, I set up my Stratocaster and effects pedals in the control room while Ryan runs a cable through the wall and connects me to a Vox AC30 in the other room and mikes it. Again, the electric guitar parts go quickly.

Then we plug the keyboard directly to the system and I run through some keyboard stuff in a couple of takes.

Then, I go into the vocal booth and do three takes of lead vocals.

All this while, Joe and Rod are sitting around. (Oh, the fun!!!) After each instrument, we listen about 4,000 times to little bits and pieces or the whole thing.

Now, it sounds like a song.

Then, Rod goes into the vocal booth to do harmony, which goes really quickly because Rod is a great singer and he only has to do harmony on a few lines.

Then, we pack up equipment and carry it downstairs while Ryan sets up more mikes for the final task of the day.

Joe, Rod, and I team up for “gang vocals” or, as Ryan calls them, “group vocals.” (I like my name better.) You know, in a song, when it sounds like a whole bunch of people are yelling the vocal line? Those are gang vocals. Love ‘em!

This was an idea I’d had for the chorus. I thought, “It will really give the chorus some energy.” The more I thought about it, the more doubts I had that it would actually work. But we decide to give it a shot, and it sounds flippin’ sweet!

So, we head back into the control room and listen about 400 more times while Ryan edits and tweaks. The song sounds freakin’ amazing!

We’re done for the day at 8 p.m., so we pack up and head home. All of it takes about 10 hours. And it is AWESOME.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Writing a Theme Song (lyrics included)

Well, we’re slated to hit Hyde Park Studios in Houston, Monday morning, Oct. 27, at 10.

It’s been quite the roller coaster ride getting us to this point. A good friend who was going to play lead guitar had to back out pretty early on, but God provided an amazing replacement (Ryan Truso, former guitarist for Jeremy Camp, who will also be mixing the project.) We had an engineer lined up who then disappeared off the face of the earth. That was fun!

But it’s all ironed out now. Ryan Booth at Hyde Park will be laying the tracks down for us.

Oh, and by the way, “us” is me on guitars and vocals, my new friend Joe Green on drums (a very talented percussionist), and my old friend Rod Drake on bass (and maybe keys). Those of you who’ve known me since the Standing Still days will remember Rod as Standing Still’s bass player.

I said in my last blog that I’d write about the challenges of writing a “theme song,” which is essentially what I had to do with “You and I.” When my friend the missionary wrote me and asked me to do this, I was excited about it from the first moment. As a more or less unknown songwriter, you don’t get a lot of requests for songs, so I was really looking forward to the challenge.

It has always seemed to me that if you approach a theme song just as a theme song, it’s doomed to mediocrity. You have a specific message that may or may not be readily relatable to every listener, and when you write pop or rock songs, you want to write songs that people relate to. Think of just about any movie theme song that has the same name as the movie. “Ghostbusters,” any of the James Bond movies. Those songs are generally not very good. (I’ll be the first to admit that I LOVED the Ghostbusters song when I was a kid. But I was a kid! Who you gonna call?!) There are, as always, exceptions, like Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me or Madonna’s “Die Another Day.” But for every “Live and Let Die,” (How could that title NOT work in a rock song?!) there are at least 12 of “Another Way to Die” (by Jack White and Alicia Keys from the new Bond movie Quantum of Solace. I’m sorry. It’s awful.)

So, I approached it a little differently – although I’m sure that I’m not the first songwriter to do so. I tried as much as I could to internalize the details of the theme “Engage Russia,” which is the name of the new project the video production I’m writing for is highlighting. I watched videos of the same kind highlighting other missions projects.

Then I thought about it all. A lot. I looked for aspects of the theme that really hit home with me. I thought this idea of walking in someone else’s shoes, of stepping into and living someone else’s life in order to better love them for the cause of Christ – this is something that touches my heart and will touch the hearts of a lot of people.

So, that was really the big challenge. Rather than just try to write a song around theme, I need to find the aspect of it all that would make a good song.

And I think I did. And you can judge for yourselves – at least on the lyrics. Let me know what you think!

You and I
by Jud Kossum

Verse 1
We’re separated, you and I
By countless words and ways
Unrelated, you and I
Our paths will cross today
I’ve decided just to try
To live life where you do
We’ll be the start of something new

I want to stand where you stand
To engage, to see the change
I want to reach out my hand
In Jesus’ name

Verse 2
We are so far, you and I
On two sides of the earth
But here we are, you and I
In a common place of birth
I will walk by your side
Because your pain is just like mine
Let’s walk together, you and I

(repeat chorus)

Chorus 2
I want to stand where you stand
To engage, to be the change
I want to reach out my hand
In Jesus’ name

Though we walk down different streets
We live through the same days
Though our hands may never meet
Our hearts are just the same
And I want to love you
Just like Jesus loves you

(repeat chorus 1 & 2)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Learning to Let Go

For a while now, I have sensed that God is calling me to let go of music. Not to totally give it up – I am, after all, a worship leader – but to lay down my aspirations of having a band and being on stage outside of my responsibilities at my church.

So, not long after finalizing a new lineup for my band, I made the decision to put it on indefinite hiatus. There may be some of you reading this who are upset by that. I imagine there are many more people out there that are pretty much indifferent. Of course, if you’re indifferent about that, you’re probably not reading this!

God just wanted me to relinquish control. Often in leading a band, I operated from a place of fear. Not in the creation and performance of music or in leading worship, but on the business end of things. Especially with booking, I got really hung up on making phone calls, trying to convince people to hire us. It got to the point where I didn’t actually have time for the music! Of course, that’s always a danger when you’re a professional musician. That’s why people get booking agents and managers.

But God has other things He wants me to focus on. I have a wonderful church I’m serving as Interim Worship Leader. I have an amazing wife and daughter. God has been calling me to lay down music for a long time. In fact, I’ve felt that call since before I formed the Jud Kossum Band back in Florida.

But somehow I know that music will always be a big part of my life. I love to write and to record. Somehow, I think God’s still going to give me the opportunity to do those things.

In fact, He’s given me at least one opportunity already. I made the decision to lay down my music career last Monday. On Tuesday, a friend from back in Florida who is now a missionary in Moscow, Russia, sent me an e-mail. He asked me to write and record a song to be used in a video they are producing to highlight a new project called “Engage Russia.”

From the moment I first read the e-mail, I have been excited about this project and felt God’s hand on it and sensed that He was saying, “Run with this, Jud!” I wrote feverishly for two solid days and – with the help of a couple of very patient editors – came up with some lyrics that fit the theme and really resonated with me as a writer and believer. (I’m going to blog later about the challenges of writing a theme song!) Now, I’m getting together with some of my old songwriting partners to complete the music.

And God worked even beyond the initial opportunity! I’ve received offers from recording and mixing engineers to use their services for free. I’ve gotten great deals from mastering studios. God has worked it out so that this project will be of the highest quality at very little cost. I am just incredibly excited about that!

He wanted me to let go, and He took control.

It seems like this is how it always goes with us hard-headed people. We want to have control. We’re afraid not to. But when we let go, more often than not, God takes it and makes it exactly what we needed, and sometimes exactly what we wanted.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

C'mon, Get Alienated!

Jesus demands a reaction. When people encounter Him, whether during His physical ministry or today, we can’t face Him without some sort of response.

In Matthew 8, just after Jesus heals two demon-possessed men and sends the demons into a herd of pigs, which then run into the water and drown (v. 28-33), we see this interesting reaction:
Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region. (v. 34)
Inevitably, as so many passages of Scripture do these days, this verse draws my thoughts to today’s American Church. I just can’t help it! Almost daily, I see how different the Jesus of the Bible – and even the Jesus we preach – is from the Jesus we live.

When was the last time your church purposefully did something that they knew had the potential to drive people away? In my experience, most churches will do everything in their power to steer clear of such a situation, but we see over and over in Scripture that this is not how Jesus operates. He never avoids anything that might drive people away.

Now, it is true that He often found Himself in situations where people clamored for Him. In fact, He sometimes had to sneak away in the early morning hours to spend time alone with His Father because so many people were seeking His attention, but we see plenty of stories like the one in Matthew 8.

Jesus drove the demons into a herd of pigs. Maybe the pigs were important to the town’s economy. Maybe Jesus' antics scared the townspeople. I don’t know. But I’m confident that Jesus knew He was going to drive people away with this stunt.

I’ve blogged on this before, but Jesus spoke in parables so people would not understand. (Matt. 13:13)

Rather than fight a revolution and rip the nation of Israel from the imperious claws of the Romans, Jesus died a criminal’s death for our sins. Not exactly the way to draw people in, is it?

The truth alienates people.

Jesus said, “…the truth will set you free,” (John 8:32), but He also said that people would hate us for following the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He also said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt. 7:13-14)

My sincere hope is that we’ll stop focusing on what will draw people in, and start focusing on the Truth – Jesus.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Update on Chapman Family

In case you haven't seen this, Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a great article for following the tragic loss of his daughter Maria. Also, SCC will be on Larry King Live tonight (Thursday Aug. 7) at 9 ET/8 CT.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Review of Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution

The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne

My review

The Irresistible Revolution is a book written from a place of love by someone who has put his love into action, and as such, I would recommend it to anyone who can read around its sometimes glaring flaws to find the challenging truths that make up the bulk of the book.

Claiborne writes with humor, kindness, and humility. He challenges the status quo of American Christianity, calling us to love the poor. He shines light on and brings into question beliefs and practices of both conservative and liberal Christians. Above all, he challenges all of us to know the poor. He writes, "I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor." How else can we truly love them? Claiborne goes on to say, “I truly believe that when the poor meet the rich, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.”

He calls us from the isolation and – ironically – crowd-focused mentality of the church we have built in America to an all-encompassing love.

The problems come when Claiborne misuses Scripture to make valid points. For example, in Chapter 12, he makes reference to 2 Samuel 7, in which David decides to build a temple for God – a “permanent residence,” so to speak – but God tells David that he is not the man to build a temple. Claiborne uses this passage to validate his point that God doesn’t want us constructing multimillion-dollar church buildings. “God just digs camping,” he writes, seeming to completely ignore the next part of the passage, in which God says that David’s son will build Him a temple (v. 12-13).

The point is valid and he could have simply relied on Acts 17:24 (God does not live in “temples built by hands”) – a verse he references in the same paragraph – to make it, not to mention the time he spends prior to this talking about the church’s misguided endeavors to draw crowds, from which the desire to build these “temples” grows.

These instances of scriptural manhandling are not numerous, but they stick out like the Crystal Cathedral and will probably lead many readers to completely dismiss Claiborne.

The end product, though, is a challenging, convicting work that needs to be read. Christians should read this book for Claiborne’s heart, even if his head is not always in the right place.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Don't Let Me Forget

This morning, as I spent time with God, I felt a heaviness. So many things are wonderful at this point in my life: my family, my church, my job. But there are a few things – one major thing, in fact (the home in Florida that we can’t seem to sell) – that are weighing on me.

I am a person with an often volatile personality. I’m prone to periods of depression and doubt, and just as prone to get hyped about the dumbest things from time to time. (No, I’m not bipolar!) Yesterday and into this morning, I was in one of the down periods. My wife and I are trying to make some decisions about the future, trying to work some things out regarding the house. These impending decisions – and the situations that created them – were bringing that heaviness that I felt. And they were bringing doubt – doubt about God and His grace, about my personal struggle to grasp holiness.

So, I had some waffles and sugar free syrup (regular syrup is just too sweet for me!) and a cup of coffee, and I bowed my head. I just told God, “I’m doubting You right now, but I don’t want to doubt You. I want to trust You. Help me trust You.”

I cracked open my Bible, and – among other things – I read Colossians 1:15-22:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation…

He reminded me who He is. Jesus, the one with authority over all creation. Jesus, creator of all things. Jesus, who holds all things together. Jesus, the Risen One. Jesus, the fullness of God in flesh. Jesus, who – through His blood – reconciled me to God.

God commissioned His Son, Jesus, to become a man and give His body for us. Why? So that God could “present [us] holy in His sight.” We need to be holy, and God wants us to be holy.

When I’m reminded of this, I can only worship!

Don’t let me forget, God. Don’t let me forget who You are, what You have done, what You continue to do.

Don’t let me forget!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Love the Word

Your word, O LORD, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Psalm 119:89

His Word was before the beginning.

His Word is without end.

It will always be, and it will always be true.

There is nothing you or I can do to change it. Society’s mores change with culture, and we – even we, followers of and believers in Christ that we are – begin to judge right and wrong by the fluctuating opinions of the fluid culture around us rather than the rock of God’s eternal Word.

I the LORD do not change.
Malachi 3:6

He never changes. Why, then, do we, His followers, condone an unmarried couple’s living together? Why do we say that only love matters, not the gender of the lovers? Why do we divorce at a higher rate than the rest of Americans? Why do we end the lives of our unborn children? Why do we, children of God, lack compassion for the poor? Why are we so ready to go to war – personally, religiously, politically?

We treat God’s Word with irreverence. We do not believe that it is eternal. We do not believe that He never changes, or, if we do, we believe that someone must have made a mistake or inserted his own opinions into His “word.”

We must return to a place where God’s Word is revered as the greatest revelation of Him in our possession. It is not a document prepared by men to coerce their agenda on others, but a revelation of God’s holiness, justice, love, grace, and mercy given to the human race.

Because I love your commands
more than gold, more than pure gold,
and because I consider all your precepts right,
I hate every wrong path.
Psalm 119: 127-128

I’d like to challenge you to pray through Psalm 119. This Psalm is an acrostic poem (each section correlates to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet) with 22 sections. Take one section a day. Read a verse, then pray that verse to God in your own words. If you do this from your heart, I believe you will begin to love God’s Word more than you ever have. (I can say this because I have done it, and through, God has done exactly this.)

Let us recapture a love for God’s Word.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Steven Curtis Chapman's Daughter

For those of you who haven’t heard the news, Christian artist Steven Curtis Chapman’s youngest daughter Maria Sue was killed yesterday. She was hit in the family’s driveway by an SUV driven by her brother.

Maria was the youngest of six children. (Steven and his wife Mary Beth have three biological children and three they adopted from China. Maria Sue was adopted.)

On a special “In Memory of Maria” page on Steven’s personal blog, his manager, Jim Houser, writes, “Your prayers are needed for all in the Chapman family. This is a family who has so generously loved and given to so many. Just hours before this close knit family was celebrating the engagement of the oldest daughter Emily Chapman, and were just hours away from a graduation party marking Caleb Chapman's completion of high school. Now, they are preparing to bury a child who blew out 5 candles on a birthday cake less than 10 days ago. These words are unthinkable to type.”

Steven Curtis Chapman has been a huge influence on me as a musician and worship leader. His music has helped me through some of the most difficult periods of my life. I know that I don’t really know him, but he feels like an old friend.

My heart breaks for him and his family. Having a young daughter myself, I can only imagine the shock, the pain that you just can’t push away. The deep sorrow. As a father, the one thing I refuse to EVER think about is my daughter’s death. But in my darker moments, the thought does seep in, and it’s more frightening than I can explain.

Some friends of mine recently lost their teenage daughter – a young lady who had briefly been a part of my youth ministry in Florida. I saw all of this in their faces, their tears.

I think it’s safe to say that Steven, Mary Beth, and their children are living in a nightmare world right now.

I cannot even begin to imagine what their son is going through. How do you learn to live with something like that? How do you learn to forgive yourself?

My hope and prayer for this family is that they love each other through this, that they can forgive and somehow find God’s blessing in these appalling circumstances.

If you would like to express your condolences to the family, you can do so here. (Click on the comments link.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

God Uses the Weak

God has been teaching me so many things over the last four years about how He really works. So many people – from everyday church members to pastors – believe the line that “God helps those who help themselves.”

Church leaders struggle for the next great method of church growth, the perfect model upon which to build their church. They say things like, “People who say numbers don’t matter don’t have numbers.” They are always working to create the next big event, and unless more people show up for this than for the last, the event is a failure. In difficult times, they believe they must hide their weaknesses at all costs. In a building campaign and the money isn’t flowing in as expected? They absolutely CANNOT let their people know they’re concerned about it. Smile, proclaim God’s blessing, and talk it up.

And many believers live their lives the same way.

But the Bible teaches exactly the opposite. I believe the Bible teaches that we are to embrace our weaknesses! Let me give you three examples.

Jacob and Esau

Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, pregnant with twin boys, feels them jostling one another in the womb. She begs God to tell her why. (It’s unclear whether she believes them to be fighting or they are just causing her uncommon discomfort – as if the plain old discomfort of pregnancy weren’t enough!)

The LORD said to her,
"Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger." – Genesis 25:23

Though they were twins, Esau was born before Jacob. That made Esau the oldest and, therefore, Isaac’s rightful heir. Jacob was destined to always be second to his older brother. But here God promises Rebekah that, somehow, Jacob would become the more powerful of the twins. We know that, through lack of faith and deceit, Rebekah helps her younger son secure Esau’s birthright, making Jacob Isaac’s heir instead. I can’t help but believe that God would have worked it out without their help!

In every way, Esau was just expected to be the greater of the twins. He was Isaac’s firstborn. He was a manly man – a hairy-armed, carnivorous hunter. Jacob – by all appearances – was a mama’s boy. But God turned expectation on its ear. He was going to make the weak brother strong.

So Esau fathered the Edomites, and Jacob – whose name God later changed to Israel – gave birth to God’s chosen people and, eventually, the Messiah.


For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him to serve you. – 2 Corinthians 13:4

Jesus taught with words, but He taught even deeper lessons by His example. He stepped into the dirty sandals of a desert-dwelling Jew, a manual laborer, a Roman subject with no rights to speak of. He is the Prince of the Universe, and He gave it all up. Not to lead a political revolution. Not to win people with beautiful words. Not even to teach us what was right (though He did).

He possessed all power, all authority in heaven and on earth, and He gave it up to die. For us. He never fought back. He willingly stepped into the arms of death for us. The ultimate act of submission. He completely relinquished His strength, and “He was crucified in weakness.”

That is how Jesus loves people. “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

In the ultimate act of weakness, Jesus made salvation available to all the world. What does that tell you about how God works?


To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

I saved Paul for last because he has the most to say on the subject. Plus, I love this passage. Part of my calling is to share with the church what God teaches through Paul’s words here.

We can accomplish big things all on our own. Bet you didn’t know that! But we can’t accomplish exactly what God wants to accomplish.

We are all weak and broken. Paul is telling us that God wants us to know this, admit it, and let Him do His thing! Embrace your weakness because when you realize you can’t do anything and God works through you, all the glory is His. And that’s what He wants. That’s why He made you.

Think about it.

In order to be saved, the first thing we have to do is realize we’re sinners, right? (I’m not trying to start an argument about the validity of the so-called “Sinner’s Prayer.” In fact, I’m not even talking about that.) Before we can accept the gift of salvation, we have to know we need it. The evidence that we need it is our sin. So, we have to recognize that we sin in order to accept this gift.

We have to admit weakness right off the bat!

So, why do we stop admitting weakness? Why do we pretend we have it all together when we go to church on Sunday? Are we afraid that everyone else will judge us? Maybe they will, but they don’t have it all together either. We have to start admitting weakness again so we can become the church again.

Think about this: despite the rise of megachurches, no county in the United States that we know of has a larger church population than it did 10 years ago. (Thanks to John Piper.) That means that despite all our attempts to bring people in, we’ve just been swapping folks between churches for the last decade! And in fact, people in their twenties are leaving the church in droves. They’re looking for something real.

So let’s start being real. Admit our weaknesses. Admit to real life. Become the real church again.

I believe this is the key to seeing God move in a way we haven’t in years. If we start being real – admitting our weaknesses – then God’s power will be made perfect in our churches. He will do absolutely mind-blowing things. He will revive us, and Americans will be won to the Kingdom again.

When we are strong, we get whatever we get. But when we are weak, then He is strong.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Called to Suffer

Within the last couple of years, I’ve come to realize something that has eluded me somehow for my entire Christian life. For more than 15 years, I did not realize that, as a follower of Christ, I’m called to suffer.

It’s expected of me.

God never says, “I want you to suffer.” I believe our suffering pains Him, just as the suffering of Jesus did. But this truth is implied throughout the New Testament. Followers of Christ will suffer.

A couple of examples:

Luke 9:23 - Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (This verse is about sacrificing ourselves more than suffering, but suffering is implicit in the act of taking up a cross and walking to our deaths.)

Romans 8:17 - Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Paul’s entire ministry is marked by imprisonment, sacrifice, danger, and suffering – as he points out here.)

There are many more, but these were two of easiest to use in this context.

We are expected to suffer for the cause of Christ. Scripture assumes that – when we live as followers of Christ ought to live (i.e. as Christ lived) - we will not be comfortable. When you accept Christ, you accept suffering.

What does this mean for American Christians? Let’s face it. We don’t suffer for the cause of Christ in America. We are not persecuted. We are not in danger because of our faith (yet). In fact, as I have mentioned in this blog before, security (financial and physical) is arguably the primary goal in the life of the American Christian (just as it is in the life of American non-Christians), and it is an achievable goal. At least our idea of security is. Does this mean we’re missing something integral to the experience of being a child of God?

Yes, I believe we are, myself included.

So, what do we do about this? Move to a foreign nation where Christians are hated and persecuted and killed? This may be God’s call for some of us, but true followers of Christ are needed in this nation just as much – if not more – than they are needed in nations where the Church is forced underground. There is vibrancy, a depth in these churches that is sadly absent in most American churches. As some have observed, we’re a mile wide and an inch deep.

I believe a good first step is to find a way to share in the sufferings of those who suffer for the cause of Christ.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”

Matthew 25: 34-40

I believe we are correct in referring to anyone in need as one of “the least of these.” However, I think an even more correct (if that’s possible!) application is to apply this to our brothers and sisters in Christ, since the King in the parable does so (v. 40).

My personal not-quite-complete application: Help your fellow Christ-followers who are sick, hungry, thirsty, lonely, hurting, or imprisoned for the cause of Christ. Give money, food, drink to the poor. Help out a struggling church at home or abroad. Go to the Voice of the Martyrs Web site and check out some videos and stories about the persecution our siblings are suffering at the hands of those who hate Jesus. Invest your time, your money, and your heart in them. If you can’t think of an organization to support, investigate some of the ones I’ve linked to.

Above all, don’t just read stories or watch videos about someone’s suffering. Do something.

They are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. In this way, so can we.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

We Have Forgotten God

I recently read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s classic novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It honestly wasn’t an enjoyable read (then again, I don’t think it was supposed to be), but Solzhenitsyn is considered such a great thinker, I had to give it a shot.

He paints a pretty convincing portrait of the bleak life of a prisoner in a 1950s-era Siberian work camp in the Soviet Union. It’s freezing cold. The food they’re offered is unappetizing, to say the least. The most striking aspect of the novel, though, is Ivan’s attitude. More than once, he says something like, “This is the good life!” when he gets an extra hunk of bread or bowl of mush. And he takes pride in his work, even though he will get absolutely no benefit from it – just more mistreatment from the guards.

But the thing that hit home with me the most was a passage near the end of the book in which Ivan is speaking with a character called Alyoshka the Baptist. Here’s an excerpt:

"The thing is, you can pray as much as you like but they won't take anything off your sentence and you'll just have to sit it out, every day of it, from reveille to lights out."

"You mustn't pray for that.” Alyoshka was horrorstruck. “What d'you want your freedom for? What faith you have left will be choked in thorns. Rejoice that you are in prison. Here you can think of your soul. Paul the Apostle said: 'What mean you to weep and to break my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Ivan is without hope. He’s in prison for no good reason, and he doesn’t understand Alyoshka’s perspective. Ivan’s world was full of cruelty, self-preservation, and grief.

The cruelty of that society was summed up by Solzhenitsyn himself in a speech when he said, “We have forgotten God. That is why all this has happened.” The Soviet government had forgotten God. Therefore its only purpose was to create an order that served the nation’s power-mongering leaders. Since they only cared about themselves, their government could be as cruel, suspicious, and tyrannical as they wanted it to be.

Subsequently, the people of the Soviet Union forgot God and lost hope. That’s what we see here in the passage. Alyoshka hoped in the Lord. He knew there must be a purpose to his imprisonment even if he didn’t know what it was. He knew that Christ holds everything together, that all things work for good for those who love Him. If God wanted him to be imprisoned or even die, he was joyfully ready (hence his quotation of Acts 21:13). Ivan didn’t have this hope.

While we don’t see this level of cruelty and paranoia in the US, we can still see the effects of the same attitude. In its subtlest form it has invaded the church. The very thought of going to prison for the cause of Christ is foreign to us. True, that doesn’t happen in America, but think about this. If we attempt to do something for God and it ends badly, most commonly, we think, “It’s hard. God must not want me to do it.” So many of us believe God’s greatest goal for us is financial security. We avoid suffering at all costs. We don’t go to places like Haiti because the political environment is too volatile. It would be dangerous for us. And when someone decides to go to a dangerous place for the cause of Christ, we often criticize them.

We have no hope, no reason to risk, no thought that suffering could be the right thing to do. Why?

America has not become like the USSR, but it’s coming. Attitudes in this country have already shifted against Christ. And while we fight to change those attitudes (and I believe we should), our church is slipping further away from His teaching, and our nation is becoming less and less tolerant of us. (I believe those two are interconnected, by the way. See “Hated and Highly Regarded.”)

But maybe that’s what God wants. Look at places in our world where the church is persecuted. It is growing. The people are serious about Christ – in many instances serious to the point of their own death. This attitude is alien to American Christians. We are like Ivan – looking for an extra bowl of mush when the glory of God’s kingdom is waiting for us if we’ll only hope in Him and take a chance. So what if they put us in prison? So what if they kill us? They cannot kill the soul.

But instead, in this nation where we are more or less accepted, we have become content, complacent even. Possibly complicit in our own downfall.

Why are we this way? Because we have no hope. Because we have forgotten God.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hated and Highly Regarded

Nestled in amidst the passion, boldness, love, persecution – the absolute beauty – of the early Church, we find in Acts 5:13 the words, “they were highly regarded by the people.” It’s true that Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26) So, what’s the catch?

This passage in Acts is interesting because we see a dichotomy – not in the behavior of the Church, but in outsiders’ perceptions of it. A verse earlier, we read that the people saw miracles performed by the apostles. We also see the early Christ followers gathering in Solomon’s Colonnade – that’s part of the temple, the seat of Jewish worship. The Jews – all the people – saw them together in fellowship and worship in this very public place.

We can probably infer as well that the people saw how the members of the early Church lived on a daily basis – that they refrained from sin, that they treated people with respect, that they spoke with boldness about the One who made them different – Christ.

I believe this is why the people held them in high regard. Outsiders daily saw these Christians not just living by the rules, but they saw Christ living through His Church. It was evidenced by authentic worship, charity, love for each other. They saw there was something special.

But verse 13 also reads, “No one else dared join them” in the colonnade. Nobody wanted to be seen with them. Despite the fact that these followers of the Way healed people, showed kindness to one another, lived pure lives, nobody wanted to be too closely associated with them.

Which is to be expected. And yet, in Acts 4:14, “more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.”

They lived as they should, shared grace and love with one another, lived by the Word of God. They scared people, made outsiders want to avoid them, yet this Church was highly regarded, and its growth was unrestrainable.

I’m reminded of a message by Francis Chan in which he referenced the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-9). Jesus sat by the lake. Large crowds gathered. He told them this parable that, in all likelihood, made no sense to them. His disciple had to come ask Him what He was talking about! When the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke to the people in parables, He responded, “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (Matt. 13:13)

He taught in parables so they would not understand. Only the ones who cared enough to chase Him down and ask for the answers would understand.

Francis Chan said, “If Jesus had a church…, His church would be smaller than mine.” Why? Because we try to teach so everyone can understand. We shy away from teachings that may be hard to understand or that step on toes. We try to draw people in with events and programs. But Jesus taught so that people would not understand unless they sought Him out! And that comes through an act of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus didn’t obsess over the next great method for getting people to listen to Him. He drove them away!

So why are we so obsessed with reaching the most people possible? Because that’s the way our world works. The measure of success in this world is, “How many people bought my product?”

But Christ is not a product. He’s the source of life.

Acts 4 shows us that when we live as Christ lived, teach as Christ taught, love as He loves, the Holy Spirit will do something amazing. Though people disdain to be seen with us, they will highly regard us. Though no one else dares join us, the Spirit will draw people to us, and the numbers of the Kingdom will grow.

But that growth isn’t guaranteed, and it’s certainly not a measure of success. The measure of success for the Church is, “Are we a presentable bride?”

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. One day the older daughter said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom all over the earth. Let's get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father."
Genesis 19:30-32

Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, burned and smashed to rubble by the wrath of God. The inhabitants of those two cities had become so warped by sin that He apparently felt they needed a fresh start.

Lot and his daughters had escaped the firestorm by mere moments. They were the only ones. And they, in fact, hadn’t wanted to leave. The angels who came to destroy the city told Lot over and over, “Get your family, and get out of town!” Finally, they had to take him by the hand and drag him out.

Even then, Lot’s wife looked back one time too many and was turned to a pillar of salt, and Lot himself refused to go further away than the town of Zoar on the outskirts of Sodom.

Lot had become so entrenched in the culture of Sodom that imminent death by burning sulfur wasn’t enough to make him want to leave! His sensibilities had become so warped that he even thought it acceptable to offer his daughters to a mob of perverts rather than let them rape the men who were guests in his home (Genesis 19:1-8). Why couldn’t he just say, “No?”

Then comes Genesis 19:30-32. Lot and his daughters – apparently all that were left of his family – left Zoar to live in a cave (what the heck is that about?!). So his daughters decided it would be a good idea to get their dad drunk and have sex with him so they could “preserve [the] family line.” I can’t help but think this is the direct result of Lot’s allowing his family to live in that twisted culture, of his entrenchment in it, of his unwillingness to leave it behind. If your right hand causes you to sin…

This leads me to think about today’s church in the United States. And I don’t mean the church as an institution. I mean the people of the American church. We have become so entrenched in our society’s attitudes, thought processes, and goals that we’ve forgotten who we are. It’s nothing new to say that Jesus told us to be in the world and not of it, but we are indistinguishable from it.

In many of our churches, the good Christians are the ones who own successful businesses, those with the beautiful new homes in the desirable neighborhoods, the great jobs and 52” plasma TVs. The great goal for my life when I got out of high school was to graduate from college so I could get a good job. (Good job = good money.) And that’s the goal that Christians are setting for their kids today, too.

Greed and materialism have sunk their toothy jaws into the flesh of the church, and like rabid pit bulls, they won’t let go until we stop struggling. We’re just twitching a little. It won’t be long now.

We give, help others, love, when it doesn’t hurt. We sacrifice only when it’s not a sacrifice. What would David think? (2 Samuel 24:24) Individualism has swallowed the church whole, the digestive process breaking it down into non-functioning pieces. The church doesn’t function as it should when we separate ourselves. We are all members of one body, and the body needs all its parts to function properly.

Pride makes us hide our faults and alienate others because of theirs. We ought to be loving each other through them.

According to 2002 Barna Group research, “More than two out of three adults and more than four out of five teenagers argue that truth is always relative to the individual and the circumstances. While most of these people describe themselves as followers of Christ and say that the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings, they nevertheless believe that truth is based on feelings, experience or emotion.” If we each make our own truth, how can we hold to a faith that says, “No one comes to the Father but through me?” We’ve allowed this relativism to seep into the foundation of our faith, making our faith meaningless.

What does this mean for upcoming generations? In the January-February 2008 issue of Relevant – a magazine targeted toward college students and twenty-somethings – 53% of those polled said a Christian can support abortion rights. Thirty-seven percent said that gay rights is the least important issue for presidential policy. Only 22% said that abortion was the most important issue for presidential policy. (Illegal immigration took the top spot with 39%.)

Issues like abortion and gay rights have been tent pole political issues for conservative Christians and the religious right for years. It would seem – based on this unofficial survey – that these views are beginning to shift. Our entrenchment in individualistic, consumerist American culture has given the next generation permission to embrace that which we condemn.

If Lot thought it was okay to give his daughters to a gang of rapists, and his daughters thought incest was okay, what will our children believe?