Corner to Corner

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I arrived at my new home in Seattle yesterday, May 1, at about 8 pm. It still doesn’t feel real. I keep feeling like I’m going to be going home at the end of the week. Then I realize that I am home. There is no return trip to plan. There are no suitcases to pack. I have no flight to catch. I have no hotels to book. I’m here, and it’s strange. But it’s incredibly exciting.

I am incredibly thankful for so many things. I’m thankful for my ugly yet incredibly reliable ’01 Corolla. I’m thankful for everyone who encouraged and supported me in all of my decisions leading up to this move. I’m thankful to my friends, Garrett and Bryan, who made my trip fulfilling and memorable. I’m thankful to be blessed with loving and supportive parents. I’m thankful to live in a country full of so much beauty.

And I’m thankful for God’s grace in giving me opportunities I do not deserve.

I’ll share more about the details of the trip later, but right now, I am only sharing some photos from my trip. Enjoy!

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Wait.

An idol is an idea. The danger of an idol originates in the heart of the worshiper, not the stone. A stone is not dangerous, but desiring something to the extent that you are willing to sacrifice something so you will get what it promises is dangerous. We may not have stone and wooden figures, but we still have the same dangerous devotions and fears.

Throughout Isaiah, there is a constant reminder that salvation belongs to the Lord alone. However, Israel continued to look elsewhere for its salvation. They took salvation into their own hands quite literally. They created and worshiped gods that could not see, and they became blind. They created gods that could not hear, and they became deaf. They created gods made of stone and their hearts turned to stone. They created gods that had no heartbeat and the Israelites died. Their gods had no knowledge, and they were worthless. All who worshiped them became foolish and worthless.

But God, in his great love, continued to pursue his people saying:

Wait! I am sending a savior with eyes, and by him you will see!

Wait! I am sending a savior with ears, and by him you will hear!

Wait! I am sending a savior of flesh who will replace your heart of stone with a  heart of flesh!

Wait! I am sending a savior who bleeds, and he will atone for your sins!

Wait! Wait on him, and you will see, you will hear, you will love, and you will be forgiven!

Wait. Wait on the Lord, and you will live.

And by God’s grace toward us, the people of God have the great privilege of living under the shelter of this savior. Our Savior is not created, instead he is the source of all created. And he is an endless well, and a never-ending, rich feast that both satisfies and leaves us wanting more, knowing that this is what we were meant for.

But our journey is not over, so let’s not forget our Savior while we wait patiently for his return. Let’s not fear the created over the creator. Let’s live like a people who see and hear with living hearts that beat in joyful expectation of the return of our Messiah.

Christians and Cultural Creation

Cultural Engagement (or variations of this phrase) is a popular phrase in the circles I run in. In For the Beauty of the Church, Andy Crouch says that culture is what we make of the world in both senses of the phrase. It is both what we believe the world to be about as well as the physical things we make from the materials of the world. The term engagement carries with it the idea of things being bound together through a mutual interest. If we are in an engaging conversation, we are in an interesting conversation that keeps us hanging on. The meaning of engaging can range from entering into battle to committing to marry someone. So, to culturally engage someone is to strike up a conversation with someone (literally or metaphorically) in a way that is meaningful to both the speaker and the listener. Knowing this, it’s really kind of a silly thing to tell Christians that they need to engage culture because it’s kind of impossible to not do it. It’s just that sometimes Christians do it well, and then sometimes we go about it in a horribly wrong way.

It seems that many Christians go about cultural engagement with an attitude of cultural infiltration rather that cultural creation. I believe that this is one of the answers to why many Christians would spend a thousand dollars on a flat screen for their church lobbies and would never in a million years spend even a measly $100 on a painting to hang in their churches because that money would be better spent on something like missions or feeding the hungry. This is how the thinking goes: “A large TV is culturally relevant therefore people will come to our churches and think we are up to date and modern. Then they’ll listen to our pastor talk about the gospel and they will convert and be baptized.” That’s ultimately why investing in trendy, soon-to-be-obsolete things is seen as a good investment.

Cultural infiltration, or the Trojan horse approach, is to take something that others in the surrounding culture like and stuff it full of pithy, gospel-y things. Then, when they take a bite, they will probably spit it out because it isn’t what the packaging advertised, but a select few will keep chewing and kind of like it. Cultural creation, on the other hand, is not the repackaging of Jesus to be culturally palatable. Cultural creation is the creation of an arts culture of hope and substance. It’s the joyful telling of the big story over and over again. It is about creating beauty to the glory of God.

But it seems we have sadly forgotten how to glorify God outside of evangelism workshops and rehearsed “gospel presentations”. We think that if some kind of spoken, rehearsed gospel presentation is not present, then whatever we are doing is useless. Everything we do in the Sunday morning service seems to only serve the verbal presentation of the gospel. And let me tell you, the happy greeters I’ve never seen before, the chrome stage decor, the lights, all the things that feel and look cool but are devoid of any meaning: they don’t fool me. I know the intentions are good, but should the rich feast of the gospel be so streamlined? It’s like watching one of those movies of the future where they take pills instead of eating. How boring! But all that matters is that our nutritional needs are met, right? Of course not! There is no “Come and see! Come and taste! Come and hear! Come and eat with us!” in a pill. There is something incredibly human about creatively cooking and communally eating. The gospel is a feast, and it is rich and free. But we have narrowed it to a few catch phrases that ultimately only say, “Give me your logical assent.”

We act like people are dogs and the gospel is a pill that we have to bury in cheese to get people to swallow. We’ve learned how to turn “got milk?” into “got jesus?” and “Coca-Cola” into “Jesus-Christ” thinking this will strike up a gospel conversation. Did that make your eyes roll? If so, is it really that much different than what we do on a larger scale? How often do we look at what culture has created around us and tweak it to use it with the hopes of attracting more people? This is cultural infiltration, and it isn’t fooling anyone. Like I said, it’s like a Trojan horse except we lose. It is not creative; it is incredibly derivative, and it is not engaging. This is why I want to advocate not for the kind of engagement that infiltrates, but I want to advocate for cultural creation.

God did not send down an efficient systematic theology book with an excel spreadsheet for recording baptisms and church membership; He sent us the unfolding narrative of scripture. He didn’t give us a formulaic sinner’s prayer; he invited us to be a part of the grand story and the people of God. It’s a story of beauty, hope, meaning, and redemption. It’s bloody, raw, and real; yet it’s tender, loving, and sweet. It acknowledges the depths of human wickedness, pain, death, and misery; and it acknowledges the source of goodness, life, and hope. It leaves us in awe of profound mysteries that make us worship God in all of his greatness. Good Christian cultural creation should do this as well as it attempts to understand where we fit in to the larger story. God created people to love creative beauty and creative stories. Do we not have the best story to tell? If so, why not tell it in a thousand different ways? Why not paint it in a thousand ways? Why not sing it in a thousand ways? Why not inspire mysterious awe of the ultimate artist?

The Vineyard and its Owner

Isaiah tells the story of a man who plants a vineyard. He did everything right. He chose fertile land, he cleared it of any obstructive debris, and he built a wine vat with the expectation of producing wine. He even built a watchtower to protect the vineyard after he filled the vineyard with choice vines, and then he waited for the day to come to harvest the fruit of his labor.

But something went wrong, when his vineyard bore fruit, it produced wild grapes, an unusable crop. He was baffled. He did all he was supposed to do. Why did his vineyard produce the wrong fruit?

Because he did all he was supposed to do and the vineyard still produced bad fruit, the owner abandoned the vineyard. He removed all protection, and the vineyard was trampled and devoured. He no longer pruned the branches and he allowed thorns and various weeds to grow up. The vineyard dried up and fell into disrepair because the vines were worthless.

The story ends with Isaiah revealing that the vineyard is the house of Israel, and God is the owner who planted the men of Judah. God planted Israel expecting justice, and instead they produced bloodshed. God planted the men of Judah expecting righteousness, and instead they produced unrighteousness. He planted, cultivate, and protected, yet they still rebelled and produced bad fruit. After this, he seemingly abandoned them and allowed them to be trampled and destroyed.

But the story doesn’t really end there. About 700 years later, a man was born who would rule with justice and righteousness. But he was almost unnoticed because he came quietly in humility. He made the statement that he was the true vine, and that if you want to bear fruit you would have to abide in him.

The statement, “I am the true vine” is not some mystical statement made by some guy in touch with his spirituality. By making the statement that he was the true vine, he was saying that he was the true Israel. He was the true man of Judah planted in the vineyard. Israel could not depend on themselves to produce justice and righteousness. God saw this, and he planted the true vine. This vine will not be uprooted, and anyone who abides in that vine will bear fruit and be pruned and cleaned to bear even more fruit. The ability to bear fruit will not depend on the branches but on the vine. If the branches simply abide in the true vine, they bear fruit. They will not be devoured or trampled. They will not be uprooted or cut off.

Not only was Jesus saying that He was the true Israel and the true man of Judah, but He was making an even bolder statement. Not long after Isaiah says that God looked to Israel for justice and righteousness but could not find it, he says that a child would be born who would rule Israel with justice and righteousness, the things his vineyard was supposed to produce. When Jesus claimed to be the true vine, he was claiming to be this child who was to be born. This is huge because Isaiah said that this child was going to be called “Wonderful Counselor”, “Mighty God”, “Everlasting Father”, and “Prince of Peace”. In short, Jesus was saying that he was God.

If this is true, then Jesus is Savior, and Jesus is God. Isaiah said that the Savior would be a child born into the human race, and at the same time God alone is salvation. The only perfect Savior would have to be God.

It seems simple, and in a way it is. But I am also in awe. Jesus is my intercessor, and I only have to rest in him for my sustenance. Because of him, not me, I will bear fruit for the vine dresser. I will not be trampled or abandoned, and Jesus is a comfort and a friend. I know that I know him. Yet there is a side of him beyond comprehension. He is too big for words and too big for me to know him fully, and his greatness in comparison to my smallness is a little disconcerting. I can do nothing but fall down and worship him, my Savior and my God.

Hiding

I want to hide until it’s all over. To shove myself into a corner until the storm passes, all the while hoping that I will not be alone in all of this. I just want someone to hide in the corner with me. If we hold one another, maybe we won’t tremble so much while the terrifying winds howl. I think to myself, “Does no one else feel this way?”

“Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,

While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.

Hide me oh my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past,

Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.”

“Come to Me”

I often lose sight of what it means to take on the yoke of Jesus. He promises an easy yoke and a light burden. He says I will find rest for my soul if I am weary and burdened. But I find that following Him is incredibly difficult at times. It can be exhausting and seemingly unbearable at times. And lonely. Incredibly lonely. Sometimes doing the smallest things that I know to be right requires my entire inner self to be tortured and put to death once again. The death in my life, the sin, it simply won’t die. It seems to be incredibly resilient. And I can grow bitter and cynical to the call of Jesus. He says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” It feels like anything but rest.

But as I think more about His call to rest in Him, I realize something.

So much of my life is aimed at pacifying my soul, and my pursuits are in vain. In heaven, when my faith shall be sight, when Christ returns and restores all things, only then will I have lasting peace, lasting satisfaction. Only then will I be free from fear and have ultimate security. I vainly pursue sin, those things that bring a temporary security, which isn’t security at all. Or I want Scripture to somehow morph and twist to say something it doesn’t say, so I can be at peace with God. How arrogant for me to think that the reason there is a rift in my relationship with my Creator is because of what His Word says instead of seeing that something within me has rebelled against Him. It’s all a vain pursuit to find peace, perfect happiness, a life where all my dreams are realized. In short, I want heaven right here and right now. This isn’t bad, but what is bad is that I want it on my terms, my own selfish, broken, and arrogant terms. The problem is that heaven cannot exist where there is selfishness, brokeness and arrogance.

That is what I mean when I say all my ways are vain. My own pursuits of fulfillment are in vain. The heaven I seek will always be just around the corner. The bait is always just out of reach. That is what is truly exhausting. It is a vain attempt, a never-ending chase after something that my fingers will never grasp.

But then Jesus comes. He comes as a gentle, humble, and lowly servant. The fact that my Creator, the one I have transgressed, would come to me gently and approach me humbly, with a “lowly heart” so He wouldn’t frighten me, is nearly, if not completely, incomprehensible. He calls to me, shows me the dead end of my pursuits, shows me that I am running with no end in sight, he calls to me and tells me that bringing heaven is His job. He does the work.

He dies,

He is tortured,

He absorbs the wrath of God,

He will restore,

He will cover me,

He will hold my soul in his hand,

He will.

It is Him, and only Him. His life, His death, His truth; it is all ultimate. It is all Him. I cannot protect my own soul. I no longer have a heavy burden or a yoke of slavery. The weight of finding heaven, peace, and satisfaction is no longer on my shoulders; it is on Jesus.

I only have to fall into Him. Trust Him, give him my all, hide myself under His wing.

When I remember this, that is when I remember what it means to go to Jesus and find my rest in Him. Perfect peace, joy, and satisfaction are in Him, and He will restore all things. I can truly sing, “‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take Him at His word!” He is the living water; I will drink from Him and rest by His stream. I will joyfully take on his easy yoke and his light burden and simply trust. I will stop chasing the lie and rest in the Truth.

“Come Heavy Laden”

(by Red Mountain Music)

Come heavy laden, come and rest,
Your souls from fear and pain;
Jesus the God was crucified,
And died and rose again.

Sweet are His words, sweet is His voice
His smiles are heaven below;
Of all the pleasures in this world,
Tis Jesus I would know.

His holy yoke’s easy and smooth,
His burdens all are light;
In His commandments, though severe,
Is infinite delight.

O! would He raise my feeble soul,
To a celestial flame;
I would, for Jesus, either do,
Or suffer all the same.