Tag Archives: devotion

Walking by Starlight

Happy Easter, dear readers!

While picking up some old, nostalgic Hillsongs praise & worship albums off iTunes, I spotted the latest release from Bethel Music:

Starlight

Since I’ve started playing music for the base chapel again, I decided it might be worthwhile to get some current music.

While I have my concerns about the praise & worship industry and the seeming endless stream of albums it churns forth, I admit I like finding powerful music that conveys an age-old truth in a fresh way.

I picked one of the song titles to get an idea of some of the album’s music, and went with “Catch the Wind.” The keys caught my attention at once, airy and flighty but energetic and driving. The message of the chorus hit home as exactly what I wanted:

Your faithfulness will never let me down

I’m confident I’ll see Your goodness now

I know You hear my heart, I’m singing out

There’s nothing that can stop Your goodness now

The song has flowing, rhythmic verses and a deliberate, declarative chorus on the beat, a nice contrast that I enjoy both musically and spiritually. It’s not really a “sing this in church with the congregation” song in my mind, but it’s a great meditative song I’ll listen to in the car or in my personal quiet time.

I also listened to “There’s No Other Name” and discovered a favorite in
“Take Courage.” To read about those two (and catch a video of the latter), check out my original post here at my new website address and give it a follow for more.

Diffraction Chapter One: Markday

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting the first ten chapters of my fantasy novel, Diffraction, here on WordPress and on WattPad. The goal is to have the book available on Amazon and CreateSpace by Christmas.

 

Bright enough light will bend around what it cannot shine through.
 
—————-

From daybreak ‘til the sun goes down, Devoted shall I be.

Celebration filled the central street of Northridge. A bonfire sprang to life, and cheers rang out under clouds streaked orange and red in the setting sun. The sweet aroma of smoked meats and sugary cakes filled the air. Men and women danced barefoot in circles on the packed earth to the trilling of a flute. Many sang. All smiled.

 All but one.

 A slim figure darted between clusters and pockets of revelers. Her gold-trimmed white hood concealed most of her features, though wisps of black hair slipped out with each hurried step. She dodged offers to join a dance and ducked under extended pints of ale.

 Someone recognized her robe and called out with a grin, “Are you new-Marked this day, Devoted?” Two men beside him raised hands ready to praise her.

 She glared at them, revealing a face white as her garment. The men blanched, and she continued on her way. Lyllithe, the Ghostskin. The Eldest’s so-called daughter. She could not make out their whispers, but she knew the words they spoke. Lyllithe had heard them all her life.

 Laughter from the crowd echoed. Only the Markday festival, she reasoned. But a doubtful voice spoke in her mind. They laugh because they saw your face. 

Past conversations replayed in her memory unbidden:

 “Still no Mark on her? What a shame for the Eldest. His own daughter cannot pass the Test. Is this her fourth year trying?”

 “Well she’s not really his daughter. She’s got elemental blood in her. So…”

 “Of course, yes, that probably has something to do with it. Who knows what the Divine thinks about ghostskins and duns and such…”

 “I know what I think of them.”

 Lyllithe reached the end of the street, and she pushed away her fears. The Abbey tower rose high over her head. The tallest building in Northridge looked peach in the setting sun. The smaller moon twinkled and the larger shone full in the twilight sky.

She rushed up the steps and flung open the door. Two Devoted in white stood when Lyllithe entered.

 “Am I too late?” she asked, half hoping the Testing had ended.

 Mistress Nyalesee, the older of the two, smiled wide and beckoned. “No, dear, of course not. Light yet shines, so it is still Markday.” Cheeks brushed by auburn curls, she pulled back her hood, then gestured for Lyllithe to follow into the sanctuary.

 Their footsteps echoed on the hardwood floor as they walked between simple benches to the dais at the center of the circular room. The last touches of sunlight peeked through the windows near the ceiling. A serving girl started lighting rows of candles for the Night Watch. Fragrant incense filled Lyllithe’s nose.

 Lyllithe pulled back her hood and ran fingers through her hair. The collar-length black strands covered the pointed tips of her ears to hide the physical proof of her mixed blood. She caught herself hiding her features and stopped. It doesn’t matter. Everyone here knows what I am already.

 Nyalesee took one of the two stools and turned to her companion, a stately woman with a perpetual scowl. “Harra, do you require Lyllithe to complete the interview, or will her demonstration suffice?”

 Harra pursed her lips. “She does it correctly or she doesn’t Test at all.”

 Nyalesee rolled her eyes. “We have the past four results on record. Exceptional marks, every year.”

 “And yet she struggles to manifest the Light each time,” Harra replied. She cocked her head and smiled. “Complete failure, every year.”

 “Sister, we waste time. Outside of Testing, she has potential we’ve not seen in decades.”

 Harra shrugged. “Unreliable potential is useless in a crisis. Do you think the Eldest would have us show favoritism toward his adopted daughter or treat her any different than the normal supplicants? I think not.”

 Lyllithe bristled and fought to maintain a serene expression. Do I think you phrased that just to comment on my heritage? Yes.

 Nyalesee grimaced. “Marten would have us exercise sound judgment.”

 “Marten’s not here to ask,” Harra countered. “So I say we do things right.”

 Nyalesee gave in, and began reciting questions in a monotone voice.

 “To what are you Devoted, supplicant?”

 Lyllithe replied in the same bored tone. “To purity in the Light, which gives me the grace to heal. To the path of peace with all men, which keeps me pure. To the truth, which guards my steps on the path of peace.”

 Harra fumed at the seeming irreverence, but said nothing.

 I don’t know what you expected, Sister. I’ve had this memorized since the first year, with three extra chances to practice it since.

 “And will you remain faithful to that truth?”

 “Until my light fades or the Final Dawn breaks.”

 “Tell me, supplicant, of Aulis and His light.”

 While questions and answers flowed without error, part of Lyllithe’s mind focused on the demonstration to follow. Her stomach fluttered and she felt queasy. The steps are clear, and I understand the doctrine. But every time I stand to be Tested, I fail to produce the Light of Life.

 Memories of past attempts filled her with dread. What’s the point? This year will be like the rest. If I don’t pass, I can’t be a Devoted, can’t get my Gracemark.

 She pictured her father and mother on the road returning from Aulivar. Couldn’t even stay here to support me, could you, Father? I’m such an embarrassment that you ran to the city on a “sudden errand” rather than see me fail again?

 “The Gracemark is the visible reminder of the presence of a particular Aspect of the Divine,” Lyllithe recited. “It is a sign of power bestowed upon the believer.”

 Nyalesee nodded and said, “By what two methods can one receive their Mark?”

 “Most adherents receive from their order what is properly called a Gracebrand, after passing the Test. But an Aspect may also bless the faithful with a spontaneous Gracemark instead.”

 And now we come to it. Lyllithe’s heart thumped in her chest like a hammer. Four attempts already. Four failures. Why should today be different?

 “Correct,” Nyalesee said. She rose to her feet. “Now are you prepared to demonstrate your faith, and receive the Gracebrand of Aulis, the Aspect of Light?”

 “As ready as ever,” Lyllithe muttered.

Harra raised an eyebrow.

 Nyalesee rose, and her demeanor softened. She took Lyllithe’s hand and squeezed. “Five is the number of Grace, dear. This should give you hope.”

 Harra chuckled and stood. “Show us, supplicant. Invoke the Light of life.”

 Lyllithe closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. Breath is life. Life, fill me. She raised her hands to chest height, palms out. Light reveals truth. Truth guards my steps. My path and past are pure. Light shines on the pure.

 She exhaled and pictured orbs of light cupped in her palms. Life and Light are in me. Let them flow forth. Her hands came together, combining the twin suns in her mind into one bright sphere.

 Harra snickered.

 Lyllithe’s eyes opened. Her empty fingers clasped together before her in the dim sanctuary. There was no Light.

Nyalesee’s hands covered her mouth and her brow furrowed, like a mother whose toddler falls while trying to walk.

 In the silence, Lyllithe could hear the commotion of the Markday festival. Muffled trumpet blasts and soft shouts disturbed the calm of the Abbey. Each one jabbed Lyllithe with pangs of defeat.

 Harra’s lips turned up at the edges. “Would you like to try again, child?” She chuckled. “There’s still time before sundown—if you’re certain it’s worth the attempt.”

 Lyllithe’s shoulders sagged. She raised the hood over her face to conceal the tears forming. “No, Devoted,” she whispered. “I’ll waste no more of your time.” She turned toward the entrance of the sanctuary. Her feet weighed a hundred stone as she took the first steps.

Nyalesee breathed out a sympathetic sigh. The clamor outside grew more obvious, impossible to ignore.

 How many Marks were given this day? Lyllithe’s emotions churned with the increasing noise. Scar the Markday and Gracemarks anyway!

 She felt a wave of guilt at once, and whispered a repentant prayer.

The door to the sanctuary burst open. “Help! Aid, now!” A man in armor filled the doorframe, a bloody cloaked mass cradled in his hands. Camden, the town’s lone Soulforged protector eased his burden into the sanctuary.

 He’s carrying a wounded woman. Lyllithe recognized the pattern and colors of the fabric. She sprinted to the door as Camden carried the body in. It can’t be.

 The man rushed past Lyllithe to the two Devoted at the dais. Metal clinked with each step.

 The emblem of Aulis woven into the cloak—now stained red—and the bloody brown hair could have belonged to several residents of Northridge.

 But the Gracemarked hand that Lyllithe had clung to for years as a child could belong to no one else.

 Lyllithe fell to her knees with a scream. “Mother!”

Radical Focus on Wrong Things

When does making music not involve playing actual music?

When you’re a “Radical Christian,” apparently.

I hope you all have perfect pitch...
I hope you all have perfect pitch…

A gent named Wes McAdams has a couple blogs that popped up on my Facebook feed. His site is titled “Radically Christian – 1st Century Christianity in a 21st Century World.” One post calls into question why some churches feel musical instruments are a necessary part of the worship service. The next challenges the idea that instruments have any place in today’s church at all.

It concerns me when people assume they’ve found the secret, the missing spiritual link, the one thing that every “good” or “true” Christian should be doing (or not doing) in order to show how much more Christ-like they are than everyone else.

Usually that’s the road to heresy. Because if Jesus isn’t the One Thing–if your message becomes “Jesus and (fill in the blank)” instead–then your Gospel isn’t the good news of grace anymore. It becomes all about doing something to prove your faith and earn your reward. Or it becomes yet another self-righteous way to show how much better you are than the benighted and corrupted so-called Christians in every other church.

However, since I have been a lead worshiper at times in the past, and since one of my passions is worship (to include specifically the musical part often done in church gatherings), I wanted to give Mr. McAdams’ points due consideration.

(thinking…)

At best, he’s being silly and nit-picking, but generally harmless. At worst, he’s way off Scripture, and his condemnations foist an assumed truth based on misunderstandings upon his readers.

He makes important points about what worship has become to many churches. It can be a spectacle or performance with little or no heart. It can be focused on the congregation without giving due regard to the God we’re supposedly worshiping. It can be a misguided attempt to draw more people who otherwise might not be interested in church. And it can feel like a talent show where people get attention.

Those faults are also potentially true of everything else we do in church. But we don’t stop preaching even though I’ve heard people talk about what a powerful speaker a pastor is. We don’t stop giving to the community for fear that someone might do it to be seen doing good. We don’t stop sharing the Gospel even though some Christians talk about the converts they’ve made like an ace pilot keeps track of his kills in combat.

McAdams’ post questioning whether we need instruments in worship makes so many important points that I wish I could share it for all that’s right in his assessment of modern worship. He mentions so many causes for concern that I personally share. Modern worship runs the risk of becoming a distraction, a business model, a Play-Doh fun machine churning out tepid and indistinguishable songs onto albums to create dollars instead of devotion.

But the critique goes awry when McAdams takes a logical point (you don’t need instruments to worship) and makes it a mandatory stance (churches must not use instruments to worship). He does this even while pointing to scripture that tells us to do whatever we do for the glory of God.

In so doing, he throws the grace out with the guitars.

The second post I linked is McAdams’ case for why instruments ought to be forbidden in church. He uses the example of ordering a pizza. If he orders a pizza with Canadian bacon and pineapple, those are the toppings he expects to receive, no more, no less.

The analogy is, if God in the New Testament only mentions making music with our lips and our thankful hearts, then those are the only “toppings” God wants on His praise-pie. The New Testament makes no mention of musical instruments, only psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

And McAdams argues, that silence is a prohibitive restriction in the same way that I don’t need to say “No green peppers” if I order his pizza as described earlier.

The logic is flawed.

What would 1st century hearers possibly think when told to sing psalms and hymns? Would they possibly think of the psalms of David and others recorded in scripture? Would they see it in a way appropriate to their culture? Was music with instruments forbidden as an expression of worship for the Jewish people?

Hardly.

Psalm 92:1-3 “It is good to give thanks to the LORD… with the ten-stringed lute and with the harp, with resounding music upon the lyre.”

Psalm 33:2 “Give thanks the LORD with the lyre; sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.”

Psalm 81:2-3 “Raise a song, strike the timbrel, the sweet sounding lyre with the harp. Blow the trumpet…” (all references NASB)

That search took all of two seconds. And there’s plenty more.

McAdams makes the case that the Old Testament doesn’t apply here, just like the pizza order I made last week may not be the toppings I want today. We’re under the New Testament, so what God orders in the New is all that matters.

But the OT informs the NT, and gives us a perspective on the understanding 1st century hearers would have. Otherwise, let’s strip it out of the Bibles, because we only need what is recorded in the NT, right?

By definition, “psalms” and “songs” could be logically assumed to involve music with instruments. The counterpoint to his pizza analogy is that—without specifically saying so—he expects his pizza toppings to arrive placed upon a crust covered with sauce and cheese, because that’s what a pizza is.

IMG_0924.JPG
I guess you don’t want these, because you didn’t specifically ask.

The difference between his misguided focus and my rant is this: grace.

Self-righteousness likes to tell others where they’re going wrong. But Grace is big enough to say “If you worship without instruments, praise God! If you worship with instruments, praise God! Do everything for the glory of God!”

A radical thought, I know… but one that’s big enough for us all to come together.

Favor Vs Trust

I saw this on my FB feed, posted by a friend who often shares various positive affirmations from a number of Christian ministers:

Maybe this is true. But it shouldn't be expected or assumed in every situation.
Maybe this is true. But it shouldn’t be expected or assumed in every situation.

The Scripture reference provided is to the passage in Genesis where Joseph begins his painful journey being sold into slavery in Egypt. Through a variety of divine interventions and up-and-down circumstances, Joseph experiences blessings and pain until he ends up second only to Pharaoh in the kingdom.

With the benefit of hindsight, Joseph is able to tell his brothers that what they meant for evil, God meant for good, in order to save his family and the future nation.

Sitting in the pit and sitting in prison (just like sitting in Potiphar’s house and in the palace of Pharaoh), Joseph doesn’t know all that. He might have hope, based on God’s promises when he was young. He might have faith that God’s going to do something. But he has no certainty either way.

Yet Joseph remains faithful, for he trusts that God is also faithful.

When I read the status above, about God’s favor, I am grieved and distressed by the thought that we have missed the point.

We have a great hope that “God will work all things together for good for them that love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). That may give us a warm fuzzy that something good in the future will come out of our present pain.

But we’re called not to count on the favor of God to rescue us. We’re called to live out of trust in God, regardless.

Consider Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. It’s a great story of how God protected His children in the midst of persecution. It would go very well with the status quoted above. Favor is going into the furnace’s flames, and coming out proclaiming His name. Or something like that.

But there are many Christians, so very many, who suffer and die and never see the manifestation of God’s favor. We may not see a Christian promoted to second-in-command of all of North Korea, or a trio of believers standing up unharmed by the AK-47s of ISIS in Iraq. We might not see God promote us to a position of our dreams or use us to display His power to an entire nation or community.

Do we enjoy His favor any less? Do we remain any less faithful?

Is favor the focus? Was favor ever Joseph’s focus?

I don’t think so. In pit or in palace, in fire or fame, as Christians our eyes must be fixed not on God’s immediate deliverance but on His eternal faithfulness.

17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Daniel 3:17-18 NIV

God Leads Us At Our Best

This is the first of five meditations I wrote for a project last year. When my iCloud account got accidentally purged, I thought I lost these. But I recently found a file, so I thought I’d share them online.

The other four will be scheduled for Monday mornings, to start the week out looking for God to lead in our lives.

GOD LEADS US AT OUR BEST

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus… (Colossians 3:17, NIV)

“But I don’t want to go to Japan.”
Near the end of language training for the Air Force, my class received orders. Mine said, “Okinawa.”
I whined long-distance to my parents in Chicago. Before the military, I didn’t live away from home for any length of time. Flying to Texas for Basic was the farthest I’d ever been from Mom and Dad. Training in California came next, but I could still drive home if I wanted.
Okinawa is the other side of the world.
There was a big test coming soon. We would have to prove we knew our language well enough to continue to our next duty station. It would be easy to miss some questions. My best friend was on his way to a different job because his grades were low. I could do that too, I thought. Fail, and stay close to home.
My parents no doubt wanted me to stay. But my father advised me, “You need to do your best. If God doesn’t want you to go to Japan, you won’t. But if He does want you there, you’d be wrong to resist.”
I graduated from language school and continued on to Japan.
Over six years on Okinawa, I met my wife, got married, had two children, and rededicated myself to Christ. Now I see God prepared His best for me. But I had to give my best to see it fulfilled.
I’m happy to say I passed the test.

Application: God may use skills we’ve developed to reveal the path we should take.

31 Million Flavors

Worship Wednesday

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ-the Message-have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives-words, actions, whatever-be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. (Colossians 3:15-17 MSG)

Fellowship is one of the key components of worship – both the things we do to express God’s worth, and the times of singing praise as a congregation.

Individual times of worship and devotion are important, of course. We spend time with God in a relationship. Like any relationship, there should be some intimacy, some “you and me” time. We see Jesus as our example in this: if He took time away from other people to get alone with God, then certainly we might benefit from doing the same.

But Paul points out that our worship of God is something we do together with others. Paul did not write just to individuals, like Timothy or Titus. He wrote to churches. He wrote to congregations. He wrote to groups of people and said “This is how we all do this together.”

This is part of why I love a good Bible study group. When I say “a good group” I mean a place where a bunch of different people can discuss the Scriptures and how they apply to our lives. Good groups have a strong facilitator who can allow discussion and multiple viewpoints without getting off track or derailed by a vocal opinion.

Some groups are hand-fed and led by a teacher who lectures. I’ve been in groups where the only time anyone other than the leader is allowed to speak is to read a particular verse and not one word more. I suppose that ensures that only the accepted teaching gets brought to light, but I didn’t come for a sermon. To each their own; that’s not my cup of tea.

20120912-231352.jpg

I scream, you scream, we all scream for theology! Wait, what?

But when a Bible study is facilitated well, you get to experience a Baskin-Robbins of theology. It’s all good ice cream, but you get a variety of flavors, some you like and some that aren’t your favorite. You test it, hold to what’s good, ignore the bad (or maybe discuss it if someone is saying something opposed to Scripture). Everyone has something to offer, and you hear perspectives you’d never expect – some of which might speak profoundly to your heart as you look at a Scripture in a new way.

And you get to build relationships with others.

The relationship we have with God is great, and we affirm that every time we sing a song about how “You are all I need.” But that’s not entirely true, nor is it biblical. We read in 2nd Peter the following statement about “all we need.”

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3 NIV)

The relationship we have with others in light of our common faith is essential. God did not make us loner Christians. He relates to us individually, but He also relates to us and calls us to relate to each other in a church Body. We all have something to offer, some part to play in the story God is telling in our local church. (See 1 Cor 12 about parts of the Body fitted together.)

Worship alone, yes. Worship together, definitely. See God and others from a different set of eyes. Discover a new perspective. Hear something new from God, through the voice of your brother or sister in Christ. Sing a song that ministers to your heart, and let it touch the need of another. Share the comfort God has given you in past times of distress with someone who is hurting right now. We were made for God, and we were made for one another.

So get a little pink-spoon taste of what all the Body has to offer. They’re free. You’ll find way more than 31 flavors of awesome God.

Morning Snack #1

One type of recurring post I would like to include on this blog is reflections on Scripture… something short and sweet.

A little morning snack, if you will.

OM NOM NOM
They always said I was supposed to get the Word inside of me.

This was the subject of my meditation this morning, and I thought I’d share what came to mind:

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. (Colossians 2:6, 7 NASB)

I see three tenses here, and questions arise in my mind.

Looking back, I was taught the Gospel. As a result, I received Christ by grace through faith. When that happened, I was rooted in Him. Have I wavered from that teaching? Have I left my first love? Is my foundation still sure? Am I still committed to the relationship like I was at the beginning?

Looking at the here and now, am I still being built up in Him? Am I being ever more securely established in my faith, or am I letting distractions get in the way? Also, am I grateful for what God has given and what God is doing? Am I compelled to respond to Him in praise and worship?

Looking forward, am I following after Him? A good friend of mine often taught that our present closeness to Jesus doesn’t matter so much as the direction we’re walking. The most spiritual person could be moving away or getting left behind if he or she is not continuing after Christ. The most vile sinner might be doing well by drawing near, even though that may not be obvious to the rest of us. No matter where I am in relation to Jesus, whether intimately close or coldly distant, is the path I am walking on leading me toward Him or away from Him?

Also, credit where credit is due, you can find more about those Bible cakes here.