The grass withers, the flowers fade…

My friends Kara and Ryan, who founded and run Imana Kids, posted a photo to the Imana Instagram account with the text of Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.”

This verse imprinted on me in a most unique way when I was a teenager. Anyone who knows me knows I was a metalhead in my teen years (and I still am). After I discovered Stryper, and the realm of Christian metal, I came across a Christian rock band called Ruscha. The band was founded by brothers Nikolai and Peter Pankratz, who escaped Communist Russia in the 1970s. They started the band in the 1980s as an outlet for their love of music, and as a vehicle for giving witness to what it was like to be a Christian in Soviet Russia. Andy Denton, whose vocal range is highlighted on the song “Come Home”, was the group’s frontman.

There was a church in one of the Baton Rouge suburbs, Baker or Zachary maybe, I don’t recall which, that hosted the band. (It was the same church I also saw Wayne Watson perform at.) My dad went with me to the event, part concert, part testimony. I’d gotten their album “Come Alive” at a local Christian book store, and loved some of the songs. I can still see in my mind’s eye Andy, Nikolai, and Peter on stage in that church.

There are two things from that album and concert that have stuck with me to this day:
+ Nikolai and Peter talking about believers smuggling individual pages of the Russian-language Bibles in slits in potatoes, and how if the pages were left in there too long, they were ruined by the potatoes’ fluids. They salvaged whatever pieces they could, because people were that starved for the Word of God.
+ The song “The Word Stands Forever”, which uses Isaiah 40:8 as the chorus. It’s the only Ruscha song I can still sing by heart.

The memories I just shared, stirred up by the Imana Kids post, sent me on an Internet hunt, and the Internet delivered. There’s a Wikipedia entry for the band, linked to earlier in this post. Which led me to wonder if any of their music was available online; the copy of “Come Alive” I have is on cassette, and most likely buried in a shoebox in a closet. We have an Amazon Music Unlimited subscription, and lo and behold! The Pankratzes released a remastered version in 2012, and I’m listening to it as I type this post, with a smile on my face as I sing along to “The grass withers, the flowers fade, Heaven and Earth will pass away, the grass withers, the flowers fade, but the Word of God stands forever.”

Talking openly about our doubts

Jason Boyett:

[D]oubt is a necessary part of faith. We tend to think that faith and doubt are opposites, but they’re not. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty. If we are certain of something, we don’t need faith. Faith and doubt, then, exist side by side — and that plays itself out all over the Bible (“Lord I believe! Help me overcome my unbelief.”).

But — reason #2 — doubt is about as taboo a subject as you can bring up in church. When was the last time anyone in a small group or church service admitted to not knowing if he or she believed in God? Or wondering if God was really present at all, or good? I’ve honestly had readers tell me that they’d love to read my book, but worry about what their friends or family might think when they see them reading a book about doubt. It sounds flippant, but maybe they should hide my book behind a Playboy. It’s more acceptable to be a Christian with a porn problem than a Christian with a doubt problem. That’s horrible. I want doubters to know that they’re not alone in the journey, and that it’s OK. That they don’t have to pretend to have it all together. That they don’t have to fake it. I hope this book gives them the freedom to be honest, and the encouragement to continue pursuing God, however that might look.

Hope

Max Lucado:

We are not much different than burdened travelers, are we? We roll in the mud of self-pity in the very shadow of the cross. We piously ask for his will and then have the audacity to pout if everything doesn’t go our way. If we would just remember the heavenly body that awaits us, we’d stop complaining that he hasn’t healed this earthly one.

Our problem is not so much that God doesn’t give us what we hope for as it is that we don’t know the right thing for which to hope. (You may want to read that sentence again.)

Knowing who we are

Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel:

Sometimes we see ourselves as sinners in the loving arms of a God who is pretending not to see us as we really are. In our minds, maybe God is wearing a pair of “Jesus glasses” that hides our true state from his vision. We find it difficult to grasp the idea that God calls us righteous because we actually are righteous. It feels more humble to believe that we’re filthy worms awaiting a future change into beautiful butterflies.

Jesus stated it best. He said that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees in order to enter the kingdom (Matthew 5:20). So if we Christians don’t claim to possess perfect righteousness, we’re lowering God’s standard. We’re watering down the gospel. We insinuate that Jesus can unite himself with sin. And we insult the perfection of God.

Only perfection will do. This is precisely why God had to make us perfectly righteous in our human spirits through our own death, burial, and resurrection. With its apparent humility, this filthy worm theology appeals to the flesh. But God certainly doesn’t condone our wallowing in poor self-image.

The risen Christ doesn’t join himself to filthy worms. The Holy Spirit doesn’t dwell in dirty sinners. Christ only unites himself with those who are like him in spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t reside in someone who remains even 1 percent flawed by sin.

But we’ve been perfectly cleansed. And we’ve been made perfectly righteous at our core through spiritual surgery. This is the only way we can enjoy even a moment of relationship with Jesus Christ.
I have often used the same analogy Farley mentions above, of God looking at us through “Jesus-colored glasses,” and I realize I may have been incomplete in my explanation in the past.
Not to be repetitive with Farley’s own elaboration, but my meaning has always been that when God sees a believer, he sees perfection, as when he sees Jesus. As when he sees himself.
This is who we are, fellow Christians. We have no need to add to it. It’s impossible for us to do so. There is no magic checklist we can look at to see how our perfecting is going. At the same time it is ongoing, it’s also already done. Why can we not accept that? What are we afraid of?
Knowing who we are, righteous before a perfect and holy God, should fill us with hope. A hope we should be passing on to our fellow man.
Know who you are. Be who you are. Not to lord it over others, as the Church has too often been wont to do for years, but to show God’s love to the world. He has chosen to work through us, and we should joyfully allow Him to do so.

Thank you, Lord, for books

Randy Alcorn:

No offense to ebooks and Kindle, which have their place, but there’s no substitute for a book that has an actual history, that takes up space on a shelf, that has been somewhere, strapped to the back of a bike, that was being read in a British boys’ school library while Lewis was still teaching at Oxford.

Thank you, Lord, for books. Not just the words, but actual physical books you can hold in your hand and touch and smell, and ponder where they have been and what lives they may have touched.

On God’s grace

Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel:

Grace is the system that the Holy Spirit uses to counsel and teach us on a daily basis. Grace is in place, whether or not we’ve sinned recently. We worry that an absence of law will result in a lifestyle that is out of control. This concern is natural. But is contradicts what the Scriptures say about the effects of grace. grace isn’t just a treatment for sin; it’s actually the cure for sin!

When we question the function of grace in our lives, we’re insulting God’s intelligence. Would he users in a New Covenant that not only allows but actually promotes sin? Is God foolish to think that grace really motivates us to live godly lives?

The secret is that grace deactivates our pride. Removing the law from our lives means our self-effort is no longer prodded to control behavior. The law excites human effort. It encourages us to depend on resources outside of Christ. But unconditional acceptance deactivates human effort and allows the Holy Spirit to be all that he wants to be through us.

Our greatest fear is that we’ll be out of control. But we were never made to be in control. Self-control has always been a natural attribute of the Holy Spirit. The reason he lives within us is to produce the self-control that we’re afraid we’ll lack under grace.

Mission Trip 2010

Each year our church sponsors a mission trip for the high schoolers. It’s an opportunity for them to experience, if only for a week, some of the missional lifestyle: living in a foreign land, serving others, giving up many of the comforts of home. It exposes them to the real world beyond high school football games, drama classes, part-time jobs in retail, and life in the suburbs in general.
I’ve gone as an adult leader for two of the past three years. (Last year was a no-go because we had a still fairly new little one in the house.) We’ve been working with Amor Ministries to build houses in Juarez, Mexico, but the violence there the past couple of years, and notably the perception of said violence, has led us to explore other avenues.
Last year the group went to serve those on the Mississippi Gulf Coast still recovering from Katrina.
This year, June 19-26, we’ll be going to Arizona, to the reservation of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. Amor has partnered with Arizona Reservation Ministries, where the need for standard housing is great.
Thirty-nine percent of the tribal families live in substandard housing, and of those that live in standard houses, 40% are in overcrowded conditions. Some of the homes have 1,300 square feet of living space, and have 20 people living in them. Three bedroom homes with four families living therein.
There is a need for 2,400 homes. ARM has committed to building 1,600, and they are currently well short of their goal.
The cost of the trip is $650 per person. We generally ask the students to provide around half, and this year they’re expected to provide $300 through fundraising. This is used to pay for the transportation, meals, and lodging while on the road. (It’s a long drive from the Flowerplex to the reservation in Arizona.) The church, through its mission program, provides the rest, which pays for building supplies, any camp fees, etc.
So using that as a baseline, I’m looking to raise $300 from folks who believe this to be a worthy endeavor, likely providing the rest myself. Obviously, anything over $300 is greatly appreciated, but that’s the goal to reach.
So how can you donate?
Unfortunately, there’s not an easy, online way to donate (that wouldn’t eat into your donation; pesky credit card processing fees), so let’s go the snail mail route.
Please make your check out to “Crossroads Bible Church” and mail it to me at:
Chris Turner
1079 W Round Grove Rd
Suite 300-327
Lewisville, TX 75067
Full disclosure: that’s a UPS Store box I’ve had for…gosh, a decade now. It was originally used as a business address, and we’ve kept it as kind of an insurance policy for most of our shipping needs. Keeps expensive stuff from sitting on our front porch or things like checks from nice people from sitting in our mail box.
Funds are to be turned in to the church by June 13.
So that’s it. I’d be happy to answer any questions anyone might have. Leave them in the comments below, or feel free to contact me privately at “retrophisch AT retrophisch DOT COM”.
Thanks!
UPDATE, 9 May 2010:
I decided to pull the trigger on using PayPal to acquire donations, even if they take a cut for processing and profit. I figure something is better than nothing, and if having this makes it easier for folks to donate, so be it.
Any amount is greatly appreciated!





Jesus vs JESUS™

Unreasonable Faith:

Matthew Paul Turner: Today, America’s Jesus is more of a brand name than anything else, a money-making commodity that churches and large “non-profits” manage using basic business-type practices like strategy development, viral marketing, and publicity and public relations.

In the book, one of the chapter titles was called “JESUS is a Registered Trademark.” In that chapter, I discussed the differences between the JESUS™ people have created and the Jesus we read about in the gospels. JESUS™ can be manipulated or branded into almost anything we want him to be, from a wealth-and-prosperity-providing genie to a hateful Messiah who will one day return with an eternal axe to grind. It’s difficult to do that with the Jesus of the four gospels.

Does conservatism give Christianity a bad name?

This has been sitting in my NetNewsWire sidebar for two and a half years. So better late than never, I suppose.
Tony Woodlief:

The best inoculation, I think, to a wrong perception that Christianity is equivalent to conservatism is the mercy work of many good churches. For every politico a non-Christian sees claiming the Christian label, we want him to see a hundred Christians in his community, quietly, humbly doing the work of our Father. The more we can accomplish that, the harder it will be for people to identify Christianity with whatever happens to be popular among politicians who claim to act on Christ’s behalf. “You will know them,” Christ said of the good and the bad, “by their fruits.” My prayer, in the current political season and the decades to follow, is that more non-Christians will come to know us in that way, by lifechanging encounters with loving Christians.