...it's like I'm falling
in love, love, love - deeper and deeper
it was love that made me a believer
in more than a name, a faith, a creed
falling in love with Jesus brought the change in me
"Therefore... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."
I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog series that I've gotten emails and notes - most of them respectful and thoughtful - from some who have had concerns over what some of the lyrics mean in my song "More Like Falling In Love", and though I run the risk of seeming defensive, I thought it might be good to let some recent emails guide our conversation for this blog. The two latest comments I received were kindly expressed by people whose concerns, interestingly, were polar opposites - which I suppose can be expected if we understand truth to be paradoxical more often than not, it's DNA made up of seemingly contradictory ideas (the greatest is the least, you lay down your life to find it, work out your salvation… it's God who works in you…, etc.). The truth is black and white, and sometimes even seems frustratingly gray, or sometimes even purple, for that matter. (I'm not talking about relativism here, so don't get nervous :-)
On the one hand are those who are concerned that I'm downplaying the believer's role in the saving/sanctifying work of God in our lives. The line that says, "it's more like losing my heart than giving my allegiance" is the real stickler for them. (Okay, maybe I'll get just a little defensive for a moment and point out that I'm not saying that we don't give our allegiance, but rather that it's more like losing our heart to a Person than it is giving allegiance to an ideology of propositional truths. If the relationship is in place, a passionate allegiance will surely follow. Blood is thicker than water, right?) I imagine their concern is that I'm shortchanging the cost of discipleship by encouraging believers to do too little in the "working out of their salvation with fear and trembling..." I mean, c'mon - you can't just sit there and do nothing, right?
On the other hand are some who have expressed concern that I give us too much to do and am shortchanging God's role by making too big a deal of our role in the work where I write "falling in love with Jesus brought the change in me". Their read on this lyric is that I've put the ball of salvation/sanctification in our court, implying that it was my willful act of falling in love that brought about the change in me, that it's up to me to somehow manufacture transformation by mustering up enough love and devotion for God, when the scripture clearly tells us "…for it is God who works in [us] to will and to act according to his good purpose."
I guess it just goes to show you can't please everybody :-)
But they both make a good point, and I'm grateful that they're listening - what an honor to have someone engage a song lyric on that level, and a pop song no less! I suppose the truth is that there is a real tension between these two ideas, and my lyric - like myself - is probably caught somewhere in the middle. Maybe that I've gotten both kinds of emails is a sign that I was on the right track.
I will confess that I have passionately believed in the role that I'm responsible to play in God's work in my life. But as I've gotten older, I also confess that I've become just as passionate about the conviction that it's all grace, all a gift, that even the ability to receive it is a gift, and that my insufficiency can only be met and answered by God's all sufficiency. And yet, and yet…
We feel the tension - the great mystery of God's sovereignty and the holy freedom of free will He bestows upon us: the freedom to honor the gift giver or do terrible, terrible atrocities with the freedom that he sovereignly gives us - including the atrocity of complacency. It's enough to make the head spin or the scalp go cold… I'm with Job: "surely I spoke of things… too wonderful for me to know." (Job 42:3)
But even if I'm afraid of diving in the deep end of this great mystery, I think I can at least dip my toe in the pool by reflecting on the idea of how "falling in love with Jesus brought the change in me".
There is a sense in which the action of falling in love is my own, I suppose. I remember when I first saw Taya, my wife, and the way she absolutely caught my eye and captured my attention. We were both on a mission trip with our youth groups in our senior year of high school. She was from Bellingham, WA and I was from Mankato, MN. Our youth groups converged in Chicago as we partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build housing for the poor there. It was a grand adventure and each night we would gather to share our experiences of the day. And here was this lovely young woman who spoke with such depth, passion, and authority! She was lit on fire with her love for the Lord and when she would share, her words were like little sparks that would set flame to anyone who let themselves be touched by them. I sought this girl out. It was an act of my will to get to know this girl. I found excuses to engage her in conversation and eventually even got her address and phone number (this was before the days of email, youngsters).
I remember a pastor friend of mine talking about how he met his wife, what it was like when he first saw her across the room, and how he then moved towards her to try to make contact. He was always convinced that it was he who initiated the conversation that led to their relationship, but it wasn't until years later that he realized that he saw and noticed her across the room because she wanted to be seen and noticed by him. What humble grace to allow him to think all those years that he was the sole initiator of the relationship! What generosity to invite him to play such a dignified part in their meeting when she knew what she was doing all along.
I remember talking with another pastor friend of mine once as we wondered about when the moment of salvation actually happens - does it happen after you go to the altar and pray the magic prayer? Or did it happen before the prayer when you were in your seat and the Holy Spirit first quickened the words of the gospel in your heart and you decided to respond? Or did it happen earlier that day when you decided to obey the leading of the Spirit and go to church? Or did it happen somewhere before the beginning of time at the foundations of the earth? Such a delightful mystery… It should leave us humbled and grateful to be recipients of such grace. It should ignite a passion in us to work toward being better disciples of the Author and Finisher of our faith. It should make us want to both give more of our lives and receive more Life, to work out our salvation, trusting that it's God who is at work.
Either way it went down, the creeds - the intellectualization of it - came after the fact. But at the moment of truth when my heart first surrendered to what the Lord had been doing in me all along, it was love, love that I felt and knew for the first time, Love that changed me from the inside out, Love that changes me still and is leading me home.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
...it's like I'm falling
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Give me words
Sunday, May 30, 2010
More Like Falling In Love Part 5 – The Limit Of Words
Give me words
Give me words
I’ll misuse them
I’ll misplace them
Cause all religion ever made of me
Was just a sinner with a stone tied to my feet…
In my continuing series about the meaning behind the lyrics of my song, “More Like Falling In Love,” we come to verse two, which begins with a statement about words.
I’ve been thinking a lot about words lately, specifically about the limits of words. I love words and language and the stories they conspire to create, which is one of the reasons why, I suppose, I’m a songwriter.
And yet the older I get the more I’m aware of the limit of words. Take for instance the exchange of words in any conversation: there are the words you speak and then there are the words that the other person hears, and they rarely carry the same meaning.
I am a person who – most times – painstakingly chooses my words so carefully in hopes of avoiding misunderstanding and unnecessary conflict. I do this in my blogs, in my songs, and nearly all of my conversations. It’s a form of control, I suppose – trying to manage things that are ultimately unmanageable.
I also place a high value on words because of how important it is to me to be understood. That’s why my blogs are always so long, because I try to anticipate misunderstandings and preemptively address them. But no matter how many words I pile up on top of each other, few will read my words as carefully as I write them and I will still get emails from concerned readers who thought I was saying something I didn’t intend to.
So, though I love words, they fail me every time because while I can try to control the meaning I intend to convey, I cannot control how people will hear them and what biases, baggage, and meaning they will bring to my words. In my marriage this can look like meaningful conversations degrading into fruitless battles over what certain words mean. “No, that may be what you heard, but that’s not what I said…” is the way that I might try to answer Taya when her feelings get hurt over a misunderstanding, and it’s an answer that – even when it’s true – really only serves to clear my name but does little to make her feel love. My solution is to use more and more words to try and clear up the misunderstanding – but more words only mean more opportunities to be misunderstood, and then we end up fighting about who meant what, etc. A simple apology and gesture of love, absorbing the misunderstanding rather than compounding it, accomplishes so much more.
But I believe in words too much! I keep hoping they can save the day! But I’ve been thinking about Jesus as he stood before Pilate and said… almost nothing at all. Jesus knew that words and well-constructed arguments would not save the day. “What is truth?” Pilate asks. Jesus’ answer couldn’t have been more potent when he wordlessly stands there as Truth himself.
Ah words… I love and I hate them. While they are a powerful avenue I have for sharing my heart with others, they distort as much as they reveal the truth – and this is what happens when my motives are pure!
Because there are of course other times when my motives are less than pure and I use words to hurt. We’re all familiar with the regret of saying things we wish we could unsay. In my anger and hurt I’ve used precious words to wound people. I myself have been wounded by careless words. Sometimes we wound with the words we do not say.
While we know all too well of this misuse of the power of words, there is a subtler and I would say even more insidious misuse of words, and that is when we use them to inflict hurt, gain power, or hide.
The Pharisees were lovers of words, and the words they loved and became skilled in appropriating were the very words of God. With these holy, precious, and true words they stroked their own self-righteousness, silenced their detractors, lorded over the people they were to serve, and hid the wickedness of their own hearts. White washed tombs is what Jesus called them!
Indeed, words are easily misused to distort the truth and wound others. But even when we have the best of intentions, our words are still just as likely to distort and wound as when our motives are less than pure. Especially when it comes to conveying love.
With my wife, I’m often tempted to love her with the love of a Pharisee – hanging on her every word, cataloging them, cross-referencing them in an attempt to be a good husband and get a handle on what’s expected of me. But just as the Pharisees knew the words of God inside and out but failed to recognize Jesus as the consummation of all those words, so too have I often heard my wife’s words but missed her heart.
Ah words… you fail me at every turn.
Lately I’ve taken comfort in the notion that God can relate to my predicament. In the Old Testament God gave us words to live by – ten holy commandments that were to help make us free and come alive. But down through the centuries these words have been misunderstood, maligned, and obscured as more and more words were added for “clarification,” only serving to confuse us and leave us more fearful and guilt-ridden than ever. Is this a failure on God’s part to convey his heart? Or merely one more example of the limit of words - the way the meaning of words (even the words of God) can get lost in translation when we hear them through the filters of our shame, guilt, and fear? Generations later Jesus would try to make it easier on us by telling us that really, there are only two laws to really worry about: Love God, and love others (including yourself). And yet we’ve managed to misuse and misunderstand even these.
It’s comforting for me to think that maybe even God knows something of the frustration of the limits of words. And more than that, it’s inspiring to see His solution.
After centuries of words piled upon words, he created a new way of speaking, a new language that would speak louder and clearer than all the words that came before. He spoke a single Word: Jesus – a living word, an incarnate word.
In the life and the loving of Jesus, the Word made flesh, the heart of God and the intent of the law is finally revealed. The Word of God now had hands and feet to hold and carry us with. Love became less of a theory and more of a revolution. Where written words had failed us, a Living Word redeemed us. That’s of course not to say that we should disregard the written words that came before. On the contrary, Jesus said he didn’t come to abolish the law but to complete it. The Living Word, Jesus, helps us to better understand and see clearly the written word. “Ah, that’s what God meant,” we say in wonder as we see the Mosaic law come alive in the life of Christ.
In other words (hah! Here I go again, hoping to mitigate misunderstanding by using more words!), I can use words to tell my wife I love her, but when I add to those the action of living out my love for her in a way that helps her understand what those spoken words mean, she will believe and understand what “I love you” means. Love incarnated is more persuasive than love merely spoken.
I’ve used a lot of words to talk about the limit of words, but permit me a few more as I close with a story.
I have listened to the words of many prayers over my lifetime, but there is one that I remember above all the others, and it was prayed over me by my friend Andrew Peterson when I was going through a very difficult time in my life. He listened to me and shared some great encouragement from the story of his own life. At the end of several days of conversation, he asked if he could pray for me, and I said yes, grateful but expecting the usual kind of prayer that is a bit like preaching to the one you’re praying for. But his prayer was like no other I’ve ever experienced.
We bowed our heads and closed our eyes as he put his hand on my shoulder. And then… silence. No words were spoken in his prayer, but I could feel movement and so I opened my eyes to sneak a peak and found Andrew earnestly praying words in his heart that I would never hear, with tears streaming down his face, his head shaking and bobbing with passion as he contended in prayer over my situation, in an earnest conversation with our God… It was not a prayer for the benefit of my hearing, but for the benefit of my soul and reminded me that we serve a God who hears the deep unspoken groaning of our hearts. When he finished after several minutes, he finally said the one word he would speak of that prayer: “amen”. And I’ve never felt more confident of a prayer being heard as I did that one.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Come Take A Look At Me Now (More Like Falling In Love Part 4)
Come take a look at me now
It’s like I’m falling in love…
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
More Like Falling In Love Part 3: Why Love Scares Us
More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance
Caught up, called out, come take a look at me now
It’s like I’m falling in love…
When I first got the idea for this song, it seemed like an obvious enough truth that God prefers our passionate devotion instead of cool intellectual assent, that he desires the kind of worshipful obedience that overflows from a relationship with him instead of the obligatory obedience based on fear and attempts at self-sufficiency.
It seemed like a no-brainer – maybe almost too obvious if anything. And yet I’ve been surprised to receive more push back on this song than any other – criticism that the song is based too much on love. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily bothered or threatened by this - by and large most people have embraced the song, but I’ve been perplexed by the handful of people who have expressed concern over it.
I guess I could understand it if they assume that the kind of love I’m talking about in my song is based on emotionalism - warm fuzzy feelings about God, reducing Him to a cosmic boyfriend/girlfriend. Maybe they think the love I’m talking about here is the same kind of thing our culture tries to pass off as “love”: self-centered, hormone induced, emotionally based romantic Hollywood “love” without commitment or backbone.
Somebody recently asked my wife in casual conversation if she still felt I was her “soul mate” or if she wanted to “switch it up” and see if there was someone else out there for her. I don’t think this girl was intentionally trying to undermine and destroy our marriage, but the question revealed how much our culture has distorted what “love” is, perverting it into a matter of selfish fulfillment instead of a life-long bond meant to daily ask of two people to die to themselves, their selfishness and sin nature, and serve the one they are bound to.
My friend Andrew Peterson says that marriage is God’s way of helping us die a little each day to our spouse because God knows we aren’t man enough to do it all at once. When we choose to fall in love with a person, we are in a way choosing the person that we will die for – and not the kind of death where we take a bullet. As heroic as that may be, it is in some ways easier than the more difficult business of a lifetime of dying to our own selfishness and pride, dying to our need to be right, the need to have the upper hand.
If we don’t think of love as being a force that takes hold of us and asks us to give our whole life, then I can understand why we might be troubled by a song that champions salvation and discipleship as something more like falling in love than anything else. But if we know what falling in love really means, then we would rightly understand it as an event that will consume our whole life, as something as terrifying as it is wonderful.
And I wonder if this is the real issue… We are afraid of real love and flee from it, for love, if nothing else, is terrifying. Love, like no other force, will cut to the core and peel back the layers, exposing our hearts. Love asks us to trust, it draws us out of our protective hiding places, it requires vulnerability. We are defenseless against a Love that won’t stop until it sets us free, and freedom is nearly as terrifying as love.
Most of us have been prisoners so long – since the day we were born – that we’re like the inmates who come to love and depend on the predictability of the walls of their prison cells. Freedom is disruptive and represents a new way of living that is beyond our control – and the more I think about it, the more I wonder if control is what’s at stake here. When we love and allow ourselves to be loved, we give up control.
My wife shared a poem with me recently called “The Man Watching” by Rainer Maria Rilker about a coming storm. Here’s part of it:
What we choose to fight is so tiny! What fights us is so great! If only we would let ourselves be dominated as things do by some immense storm, we would become strong too, and not need names…
When we win it's with small things, and the triumph itself makes us small. What is extraordinary and eternal does not want to be bent by us. I mean the Angel who appeared to the wrestlers of the Old Testament: when the wrestler's sinews grew long like metal strings, he felt them under his fingers like chords of deep music.
Whoever was beaten by this Angel (who often simply declined the fight) went away proud and strengthened and great from that harsh hand, that kneaded him as if to change his shape. Winning does not tempt that man. This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings.
Love is the greater thing that wants to defeat us, the “magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God” as Frederick Buechner says. By insisting on the legalistic and intellectual terms of our religion, are we trying to maintain control of the relationship – making our salvation, sanctification, and redemption about what we do? Are we refusing to be defeated by Love? Are we refusing to be set free?
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
The Heart Behind The Song: “More Like Falling In Love” (verse 1)
Give me rules
Give me rules
I will break them
Show me lines
I will cross them
I need more than a truth to believe
I need a truth that lives, moves, and breathes
To sweep me off my feet
I (& Jason Ingram) wrote “More Like Falling In Love” in the classic form of the sermons I heard growing up, that begin with the “bad news” of the Old Testament before moving on to the good news of the gospel. Much of the “sermon” of this song is based on the book of Romans, especially verse 1 which is about what Paul has to say about the limits and true purpose of the law.
Paul says in chapter 3, “…no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin…” and that “sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.”
He’s telling us that the best that the law and our attempts at rule following could do is reveal that we are rule-breakers, sinners at our core, and therefore dead where we stand. He’s telling us the law alone is insufficient for saving us.
Paul goes on to say, “the law is holy and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). In other words, as a friend recently put it: there’s nothing wrong with the law, but it reveals what’s wrong with us. “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin…For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Rom. 7:14, 18). And then Paul blesses us by echoing all of our hearts when he says that what he wants to do, he doesn’t do, but instead he keeps doing what he hates. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24)
Who can’t relate to this? Paul says the law is like a mirror that forces us to see ourselves as we really are: profoundly broken, slaves to sin and unable to fix ourselves. And the harder I try to fix myself, the deeper I dig my own grave – it still ends in death. The truth is that if you give me rules, I will break them because at my core I’m a rule breaker. I need more than rules to be saved, but at least the rules do help me realize I need saving.
And I need more than a truth to believe. Pilate asks Jesus “what is truth?” and Jesus responds with a deafening silence that refuses to offer a defense as if his truth was just one more of any other truth claims in the world. He stands there, as Truth Himself, perhaps waiting to be recognized – not as a theory that can be debated or an idea for intellectual consumption, but as a person to be embraced by. Like Pilate, I need more than another truth to believe, I need THE living Truth – the Son of God – who lives, moves, and breathes. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32)
“Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Paul nearly shouts, and we want to shout with him! “What the law was powerless to do…God did by sending his own Son” (Rom. 8:3). This is the good news of the gospel – we are saved! What we couldn’t do on our own with good intentions and rigorous rule keeping, God has done for us through Jesus Christ. “Now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known… This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:21-22).
And what does it mean to believe? This is the main question I’m asking with this song. Does believing in Jesus mean merely believing the facts of who he is? Or is it more than that? As I said in my last blog, we’re told that even the demons believe, and tremble (James 2:19), so God is surely looking for more than just intellectual assent to the facts. So what is he looking for?
I believe that Jesus came to offer us more than facts and better information about who God is – information and facts rarely change our lives, at least not the way that falling in love does. And so we get to the heart of it: that Jesus is more than an idea, he’s a person. And he wants more than our mere obedience to rules, he wants our love, devotion, and to have relationship with us. And here is where the gospel turns into a wedding… where we accept his proposal and become his bride (Eph. 5:25-27), his beloved, his intent sealed with the Holy Spirit like a ring around our finger.
And what will a relationship make of us that rules couldn’t?
Well, for one thing it’s kind of like this: I hope my wife gives me a card on my birthday, but I don’t want her to do it out of obligation because it’s expected of her – that would be joyless drudgery for her and meaningless to me. I’d rather her get a card out of love for me, that her love would cause her to carefully pick out the perfect card, write something personal in it, and make sure I got it the day of my birthday. Either way – obligation or love - involves the sacrifice of driving into town, poring through the card section at Walmart, and taking the time to write something in it. Either motivation will get me a card, but only love will produce the result of my receiving a card that means something both to me and the one who gave it to me.
Love redefines the terms of the relationship, infusing our devotion to the law with passion and purpose – something we do for love rather than obligation. When done out of love, the law which once brought death and condemnation has a chance to make us alive again, because we do it out of delight. But it all starts with love, and a marriage proposal.
It ought to be
More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like falling in love
Than pledging my allegiance
Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It’s like I’m falling, oh
It’s like I’m falling in love
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
It’s an important idea to me, that – as G. K. Chesterton has said – our Christianity should look “less like a theory and more like a love affair.” Sometimes I think we’re in danger of making our faith about intellectual belief of the facts of who Jesus was/is. The danger, at least for me, is that a solely intellectualized faith can lose its heart, and over and over we are told in scripture that the heart is, well… the heart of the matter. Belief in the facts is an important part of faith for sure - believing that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died for our sins and rose from the grave, etc - but there is that unforgettable scripture that reminds us of the limits of mere belief where we are told that “even the demons believe, and tremble.” So clearly, a faith that pleases God is more than just believing the facts. So what is the more that God is looking for?