Friday, February 10, 2006

Forever Friend

So I sat down to write about all the old hymns and how they were all about the same thing, God’s grace and mercy. My intention was to rant about how the songs we write today are all about our contributions to the kingdom of God and our sacrificial lives, but I’m feeling rather convicted. You see, when I did a little research what I found was that they really aren’t much different at all. Short of a few grammatical and language differences, the subject matter is all the same. They all tell the same stories, complete with longing, suffering, wonder, appreciation, and an ever-present need for redemption and many of them speak of our desire to serve the God we love. All of it’s right there, on the pages of the old hymnbooks and the overhead projectors of our “worship” communities. Nothing has changed, really. But I do have a strong fondness of the old hymns. They’re so raw and unedited. The writers seem so passionate and certain of their hearts’ desire and for the most part, that was one thing alone, Jesus. Sure, there are numerous hymns about God, but almost all of the ones I came across were sung to and about Jesus (yes, I know all about the Trinity). There is one thing I can say for certain about my own view of “worship” songs. When I sing songs today, it’s almost as if I’m singing to a stranger, like some distant pen pal I’ve never met. But the writers of the hymns seemed to be much more connected to their subject matter. They seemed to be intimately involved with Him, on a much deeper than surface level. They were friends with Jesus and it shone through in their lyrics.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make that connection with Jesus when I sing to Him and the only way I know how to do that is to explore what exactly that connection looks like. What does it mean to be a friend of Jesus? How do I go from looking upward to Jesus, to standing before Him, face to face? I think to do that I have to understand who He really is and what He means to me. Jesus has been called so many things because He truly was so many things to so many different people (and still is). He’s been called a shepherd, deliverer, healer, king, potter, purifier, redeemer, restorer, rock, servant, saviour, unspotted lamb, vine, cornerstone…shall I go on? Wow, those are some serious shoes to fill. So here are a few names I particularly love that really define who Jesus is to me.

Counselor (one who gives advice) – Let me take this one step further. Jesus does not just give advice; He gives sound advice and even my best friend sometimes messes that one up. Any counsel from Jesus is more than trustworthy, because He is the author of perfection. He is the measure against which we hold every question of morality and every act of judgment. So when I’m stuck at a crossroads and I’m not sure which path to take, I can rest assured that the right way is the way of the savior. And though it may not be the path of least resistance, as long as my eyes are fixed on Jesus, I will always come out alright on the other side (and I don’t have to pay $100 for an hour session to get there). What a friend I have in Jesus!

Lover (an affectionate or benevolent friend) – My personal favorite. Jesus doesn’t merely think I’m kind of cool and somewhat fun to hang around. Jesus loves me affectionately and passionately. He cares for me, which, lets be honest, sometimes our parents don’t even do well. He is a benevolent friend, inherently good, and devoted to me whole-heartedly and I know this because anyone who willingly goes to the grave to secure my fate does nothing half-heartedly. What a friend I have in Jesus!

Nourisher (to promote the growth of; sustain) – To think that Jesus actually cares about my growth! Well, He does. And I’m not talking about my growth as defined by a life of less sin or greater works. I think spiritual growth is simply growing closer to Jesus by getting more real with Him. Once I grow up by coming clean and learning to lean, He truly does sustain me and nourish my soul. What a friend I have in Jesus!

And now a final word about my faithful friend, Jesus. I heard someone say once that every time you see a penny on the ground, you should stop and reflect upon what it says, “In God We Trust.” And then try to remember all the times you’ve trusted God and all the times He has never failed you. Brilliant! God’s faithfulness to us is not in question. What we struggle with is remembering His faithfulness amidst our doubts, fears, and painful circumstances. So I thought this was a cute way to remind myself and now, whenever God proves Himself faithful to me yet again, I drop a penny in my “trust fund.” ‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus.

So I think if I keep focusing on the attributes of Jesus and realize that He is truly the greatest friend a girl could ever have, the words on the overhead projector may actually come to life and instead of sending my praises up to the one who loves me, I can whisper a simple “Thank you” to the friend standing right beside me.

So here are a few of my favorite hymns about my forever friend.

Anywhere with Jesus
Words by Jessie Brown Pounds - 1887
Verses 3 and 4 by Helen Cadbury Alexander - 1915
Music by Daniel Brink Towner – 1887

Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go,
Anywhere He leads me in this world below;
Anywhere without Him dearest joys would fade;
Anywhere with Jesus I am not afraid.

Anywhere, anywhere! Fear I cannot know;
Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go.

Anywhere with Jesus I am not alone;
Other friends may fail me, He is still my own;
Though His hand may lead me over drearest ways,
Anywhere with Jesus is a house of praise.

Anywhere with Jesus, over land and sea,
Telling souls in darkness of salvation free;
Ready as He summons me to go or stay,
Anywhere with Jesus when He points the way.

Anywhere with Jesus I can go to sleep,
When the darkening shadows round about me creep,
Knowing I shall waken nevermore to roam;
Anywhere with Jesus will be home, sweet home.

The Touch of His Hand on Mine
Words by Jessie Brown Pounds
Music by Henry P. Morton - 1913

There are days so dark that I seek in vain
For the face of my Friend Divine;
But though darkness hide, He is there to guide
By the touch of His Hand on mine.

O the touch of His Hand on mine,
O the touch of His Hand on mine,
There is grace and power in the trying hour,
By the touch of His Hand on mine.

There are times when tired of the toilsome road,
For the ways of the world I pine;
But He draws me back to the upward track,
By the touch of His Hand on mine.

When the way is dim and I cannot see
Through the midst of His wise design,
How my glad heart yearns and my faith returns,
By the touch of His Hand on mine.

In that last sad hour as I stand alone,
Where the powers of death combine,
While the dark waves roll He will guide my soul,
By the touch of His Hand on mine.

And now I think I’ll try my hand at one of my own…

Forever Friend
I sang the songs of yesterday,
And let them wake my heart.
And in the words I’d held at bay,
Discovered who you are.

Jesus, Savior, Nourisher,
Teach my soul to trust.
Counselor, encourager,
Who raised me from the dust.

Son of Man, whose grace abounds
In morning, noon and night.
Holy God with nail-pierced hands
That steered my wrong course right.

What a friend we have in Jesus.
Faithful friend who never leaves us.
What a friend who truly sees us.
Loving friend who daily frees us.

Father of the weak and poor,
Lover of the lost,
Son whose mercy opens doors,
Bearer of another’s cross.

Shepherd of a wandering flock,
Cornerstone on which to build,
Humble servant, solid rock,
Vision of promises fulfilled.

What a friend we have in Jesus.
Faithful friend who never leaves us.
What a friend who truly sees us.
Loving friend who daily frees us.

Remover of all obstacles,
Deliverer, with lives to mend,
Redeemer of the prodigals,
Mighty King, forever friend.

May songs I sing, with heart unbound,
Be praises to my faithful friend,
For what an honor to be found,
And know what lies around the bend.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Chosen and Precious

I’ve heard it said before that we live in a world that seeks to devour us. The outrageous cost of living, the lack of morality in most of our entertainment, and the barrage of advertisements that urge us to super size, throw caution to the wind, and build a better body, lead us to believe that good enough will never be. We are crushed under the promise of a “new and improved us.” But what if that is not the case at all? Of course, the main goal of an advertiser is to get you to buy what they are selling, but does all that pressure really seek to devour us? I don’t think this world seeks to devour us so much as it seeks to ignore us and THAT is an even greater detriment. In trying to find our place in this world, I think sometimes we can do much greater harm to ourselves than any outside force could do.

So here’s the way I see it. I used to view the world as a giant, relentless tidal wave. There was a constant struggle to stay afloat and every time I came up for air, that pesky wave would pummel me yet again. Now I view the world as more of a black hole, an abyss of ordinariness and predictability and we all just sort of get lost in the darkness. Our attempts to step back into the light look a little like this. We fight to find something unique about ourselves and accentuate that quality, to leave a mark and render ourselves unforgettable. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way our actions are construed more as acting out and not as standing out. Our goal is to gain attention and admiration. And quite frankly, some of us would just like to be noticed. Consequently, our real struggle is not against the world, but against ourselves.

David laments in Psalm 103, “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” To this world, we are nothing but flowers that will soon pass. I think we spend most of our days here on Earth trying to prove to others that we are much more than that. But in our pursuit of notoriety, we build an image even worse than that of a dying flower, in fact, much closer to a weed. And what is most frightening is that in many cases, people of ill repute are the people this world elevates. It is the Dennis Rodmans and the Saddam Husseins that this world deems most newsworthy. The more absurd your lifestyle, the more outrageous your deeds, and the more obnoxious your image, the more attention you get. And make no mistake, it happens on a smaller scale too. Young girls act out in promiscuity to get the attention they so desperately crave. Gang members commit heinous acts of violence to feel some sense of inclusion with a family, however dysfunctional it may be. Even as babies, the most effective way to get our needs met is to scream until someone takes notice. So alright, it isn’t difficult to analyze WHY we do what we do. The long and short of it is that we don’t want to merely sway back and forth in the wind waiting for our time to come. We want to prove to this world that we have something to offer, something unlike anything else it has ever known, something special. Basically, we want to prove we have more value than Joe Schmo sitting next to us. So here’s a question for you to ponder…is it really THAT important for this world to take notice of us? I mean, what’s so wrong with being ignored. In fact, I would venture to guess that most of us long for the people around us to ignore us every once in a while. So I guess I should delve a little deeper. Isn’t what really matters that God takes notice of us? Doesn’t our value come from Him alone? Shouldn’t that be enough? (Here comes that “in a perfect world” speech again).

“The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God's eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity and held safe in an everlasting embrace. We must dare to opt consciously for our chosen ness and not allow our emotions, feelings, or passions to seduce us into self-rejection.” -Henri J. M. Nouwen

When we start to feel ignored by this world and consequently, persecute ourselves for being unnoticeable, wouldn’t it serve us well to search for our worth elsewhere? Oh that we could remember this one on a daily basis! I am the chosen child of God, precious in His sight. Chosen and precious. Chosen and precious. Chosen and precious. So what if this world does not choose me? What if when the team captains are picking their players, I’m the last one picked? Here’s one I love even more. In the child’s game Red Rover, when the other team finally does call your name, you run as fast as you can to break through and then they block you. It’s like being teased at acceptance. They’re calling you to come join them and then they shut you out. Fun, but slightly rude. Hang tight, I have a point. In God’s eyes, you will never be shut out as long as you’re headed in His direction. You are chosen and precious.

I guess our real hang up then, is once again, letting God’s affection for us be enough and accepting that though this world may never take notice of us, God will never forget us. Chosen and precious. And now, a HUGE digression, but a scenario I find quite intriguing.

If you give a child a dollar, he will celebrate. He will rejoice and laugh and shout with joy because he's got dreams. He's got lofty ideas of how far a dollar will go. He’s got endless possibilities. If you give a grown man a dollar, he will despair. He will mutter an insincere "thanks" and cringe with disdain because he's got life. He's got years of heartache, years of bills too numerous to count and years of the bitter, tasteless sting of reality. He is jaded. A dollar is almost a curse; it is a fraction of what it would take to do more than merely survive. It is a dent in the armor of happiness, a mere pebble on the beach of eternal bliss (hehe). Oh, how I long to be a child again, to feel the worth of a dollar. And oh, how marvelous the beauty and wonder of the thought that our heavenly father views us the same. We are but a dollar in worth to ourselves, but to Him, a vast ocean of wealth with priceless value. We are an endless possibility to God, a blank slate on which to write a story with a happy ending, a blank canvas on which to paint a masterpiece. Chosen and precious. Before David’s diatribe in Psalm 103, he says a little something about ‘as high as the Heavens above, so great is the measure of our Father’s love.’ GREAT IS THE MEASURE OF OUR FATHER’S LOVE! Great, not slightly noticeable, mildly tolerant, or remotely apparent, but GREAT! For someone who has chosen to saturate us in His love, to ignore us would be completely out of character.
Ok, I’ll close with this. I’m sort of a vivid learner. I can’t retain or comprehend an idea until I’ve painted a picture of it in my mind (or read it 75 times). So here’s how I illustrated this topic. There once was this huge game of Red Rover going on in Heaven. There were two teams, the Sin Seekers and the Fallen Angels and they both screamed in unison, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Jesus right over.” And the beauty of the game was this. Jesus came running and no hands went up to keep Him out. He broke through (ok, a little blood was shed), but He broke through nonetheless. And everybody won and from that day on, here we stand – ignored by worldly standards – chosen and precious by Godly standards.