Thursday, October 8, 2009

God on the Greenway: Questions and Answers

Indiana weather; love it or hate it, it is what it is. Temperamental? Yes, VERY! However, it has its way of giving you a few pleasant curveballs. Yesterday, for example, was that kind of day. It had been cool, rainy, sunny, and just about everything in-between for most of the week and that’s pretty much how it was yesterday too. Generally, it was cool and mainly sunny. Not too bad. It made for great running weather!

As much as I love the warm summery days, I also enjoy the cooler ones. Most agree that summer is probably the sweetest time of the year. However, each season has its perks. Summer may be sunny, warm, and bursting with life, but for people like me it’s also allergy season (not to mention humidity, sweat, and other unpleasantries). That’s why the coolness of fall is such a nice change of pace. I can run outside without having to take OTC allergy medicine to keep my itchy eyes and sinus issues at bay. Also, I don’t get as hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable. I don’t have to pray for some light sprinkles or a cool breeze to cool me off at this time of year! So, I pretty much have it made! Plus, who doesn’t like cozy sweaters, fireplaces, hot chocolate, and some light snow from time to time? And, as hectic as the holidays can be, they are still many fun moments of celebrations and togetherness. But yeah, of course there can be rough weather in the fall/winter months. When it’s extremely cold and dark outside, that’s no fun. I also get saddened by the dead trees and the fact that the wildlife and all of creation is starting to go into “sleep mode.” It makes me think of the beautiful song by Nichole Nordeman: “Every Season.” (Watch the video I found! It takes you on the beautiful journey through each season and the symbolism of Jesus and his birth, life, death, and resurrection! Think about it!).

As I prayed for the strength and endurance to run yesterday, I tried to concentrate on all the positives generated by the season change. I even decided to “change” things up on my iPod. Sometimes I listen to my own custom playlists. Other times, I just let it shuffle and have God choose my songs for me. In fact, the last time I ran, I ended up listening to some songs that I hadn’t heard in a long time (some even for the first time). All of them seemingly speaking a message to me from God. Each song I listened to had a couple common themes. One being that God was assuring me that He would never leave me (in fact, that was the title of one of the songs). The other one being a “hang in there” type of message. As much as I sometimes hate that cliché, I actually cherished it after that run because it had a fresh meaning to it and I truly had some hope. Those of you that are closest to me know why I say that and what I’m talking about here.

One of those “hang in there” songs was by Todd Agnew. It was off a CD that Mitch had gotten a long time ago. We both synced it to our iPods, but I had personally never listened to it. Imagine my surprise when the song “Still Has A Hold” started playing. At first, I wasn’t sure who was singing. It was only a voice at the start, and it sounded slightly off pitch (Todd Agnew sounds like a mix of Johnny Cash and Jeremy Camp - and I mean that in a good way). At first, I thought it was some corny song off of one of the kids’ albums that I have in my iPod (which I play in the car for them - when I can tolerate it anyways lol). I had already run into a few “kiddie tracks” in shuffle mode and had skipped over them. I was about ready to do it again, but my curiosity caused me to avoid pressing the “next” button. I soon realized that it wasn’t “kiddie music”. In fact, I really started liking the song. I was blown away by the music and the lyrics. I was also wondering why I hadn’t bothered to listen to it before! That song totally spoke to me. I felt like it was MY song! I probably listened to it 2 or 3 times!

Remembering that instance, I decided I would see what else was on his “Better Questions” album. So, for my entire run, I listened to Todd Agnew and was pleasantly surprised and moved by every track that played! His lyrics were so personal, thought-provoking, and pure; very real and honest!! Most of his songs describe the daily battle within; the doubts, despairs, and struggles that we wrestle with. The song “If You Wanted Me” talks about how he’s glad that he’s not Peter, King David, or John the Baptist. He says he would have likely been too afraid to walk on water or wait in a jail cell for his “day to die”. And as for King David, he sings “I think I’ve fallen for more than Bathsheba. Your creation’s a temptation for me. If you wanted me to love you only why’d you make the moonlight sparkle in her eyes?” That’s a candid confession that makes you think! He winds up the song with: “If you wanted me to die to myself why’d you make me fall so deeply in love with life? If You wanted me to surrender why’d You make these hands able to hold on so tight? And if You wanted me to be like You why’d You make me like me?”

It certainly makes you ponder. What are the answers to those questions? Todd himself doesn’t even answer them! In fact, that was the only thing throughout the album that I thought was missing. He sings the words that so many of us wonder and don’t have the guts to ask or say. He even brilliantly brings Paul’s words and thoughts to life from Romans 7:14-24 in the song “War Inside.” It’s all about how we KNOW the good that we ought to do, but we don’t do it. Instead, we disobey and do the very things we shouldn’t and that we hate to do. Indeed, it is a “war inside”; the war of the flesh vs. the Spirit. The subject also arises in the song “Funny” as well. The song talks about how things like the big fish that swallowed Jonah and Balaam’s donkey and how they could hear and obey God’s commands. Yet, we who are made in the image of God and are favored above the rest of creation can’t seem to listen to Him. “Funny” indeed! It’s sad and ironic.

He also sings about the church’s lack of empathy and unity in the song “Peace on Earth”: “As long as we say prayers for our children that we do not pray for others there won’t be…and as long as we take offerings for those in need to appease our guilt over our greed….there’s won’t be….there won’t be peace on earth.” Similarly, he sings in “Lovers in Our Heads”: “Are we more concerned with the fruit of another never noticing our own barren branches? Are we more consumed with casting stones at each other while ignoring the lovers in our beds? Our own beds in our heads.”

What if we started loving each other the way we should; acting like the family of God like he sings about in the song “Family”: “We are all family. If we’re all under one Father, that makes us all brothers.” He goes on to say that we don’t’ have to be like or look like each other to be brothers. We don’t have to talk or dress like each other. We don’t have to go to the same church or think/agree on everything. God is our Father and His Love is the tie that binds. Therefore, shouldn’t we be functioning in unity? Yes! Yes we should (and YES WE CAN! There, let’s put that saying to REAL use people!).

I’m not sure why Todd doesn’t take the next step in his album. The songs seem “unfinished” in a way. Why didn’t he close the songs with the hope and promise of the victory that God’s grace brings to our lives? Was his purpose just to stir up questions and get people thinking so they would start seeking for themselves? Perhaps. After all, I’m not saying Todd doesn’t know the answers to the things he sings about (I’m sure he does). Maybe he was just trying to do what Jesus did. Jesus often asked others questions; though, not for his own benefit but for theirs. He already knew the answers; they didn’t. Even still, He goes on asking so that we will pursue HIM for the answers. Maybe that’s what Todd meant in his “prelude” where he says: “I’ve got better questions than I have answers. Better dreams that I have plans. I’ve got better thoughts than I have actions. So I built my house on what I thought was solid ground. But I know it could be sand.”

As I finished my run (and the album) I gave God thanks and praise for getting me through and for blessing me so much through the music. I deeply appreciated how “real” Todd’s music is and the songs meant a lot to me (and God knew I needed that!). I could relate to every single one, and many of them had that “cliffhanger” feeling (which, as described, can likely be a good thing!). However, there is still a lot of value in the “buts.“ “Buts” mean (like I’ve heard Dr. Phil say): ‘Forget everything I’ve just said. Now I’m going to tell you what I really mean.’ Jesus is always the “but”; the REAL meaning! Todd sings about all the struggles we go through and the reality of how sinful and wretched we are…..BUT…….there’s GRACE! BUT……..there’s JESUS!! Because of Him, our sins get canceled out and what it “really means” is that God forgives and forgets because Christ saved us from everything that comes before “but”!

I mentioned Romans 7:14-24 earlier, but it doesn’t end at 24. There is a 25th verse that states that Jesus Christ is our deliverer. Romans 8 then goes on to say that there is NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ and that we are to walk in the Spirit! Yes, my friends, that is our answer to all the questions! THAT is hope and truth!! Walking in the Spirit is where we find victory and eternal life!! Eternal life isn’t merely our reward in heaven with Christ forevermore as Todd sings about in “Martyr’s Song”. Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t just give us victory “later” but life NOW! John 3:16 doesn’t say “will have everlasting life.” It simply says “have”. In other words, you “have” it the second you believe in Him. Everlasting life starts from THAT POINT FORWARD!! Life doesn’t begin when you die, because you don’t truly die. Life keeps continuing!! Our victory in Christ is for now AND always! He came to give us life abundantly (John 10:10). So LIVE in victory! The war has already been won! He has set you free (Galatians 5:1 ) so don‘t despair! REJOICE!! “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” - Philippians 4:4. Live by the Spirit (Romans 8:4-5, Galatians 5:16) and don’t be mastered by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12 )!

Look at all these things: the weather, the seasons, the questions. All of these bring elements of change; often with uncertainties. We don’t always know what the weather will be like, but through technology we gain insight. We don’t always know EXACTLY how the seasons will pan out, but we know how they cycle and generally what to expect. Also, we live life with many questions; some of which we can’t and won’t have answers to until Jesus makes them all clear in the end. The one thing that is constant and certain in all of this is Christ. We have the assurance that He is the One and Only thing that never changes (Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17). Isn’t that wonderfully refreshing and assuring?! We can count on our wonderful and perfect Heavenly Father whose unwavering and unfaltering character remains steadfast and strong! Amen to that!! He’ll always be there for us; no matter what changes we go through or how our seasons of life transition. He will always be there to ask (as well as answer) the many questions we have. All of it fitting together according to His plan (Romans 8:28, Philippians 1:6).

Grace and peace to all of you!! May God grant you the ability to persevere in everything you go through as you embrace the divine destiny that He has for you!! Sometimes it will be difficult, but His hand has a hold on you! He won’t let you go; even if you let go of Him! He’s always there and He’ll never leave you! He loves you so VERY VERY MUCH!! He’ll see you through every struggle and tough decision and even pick you up and dust you off if you’ve made a bad one. His love and grace is amazing!! Never forget that!! God bless you all!!


Shane Gilreath said...

I'm intrigued by the answers to the questions he asks, and I think that's because, as you indicate, he asks the questions of the "everyman." I really liked the references to the fleshiness of temptation.

And we are all brothers. It's a shame we don't all see that: Christian of all denominations, Protestants and Catholics, Jew, Islam, Buddhist. I'm often bothered how we criticize each other and, oftentimes, even in the desire to convert one another, not realizing that each one of use, I assume, has the same deep, passionate belief in the correctness of our own faith. When I've been criticized for being a Christian, or not being properly open to other faiths, I say, "I am a Christian, therefore, to me, it is right." But couldn't a Buddhist say, "I am a Buddhist, therefore, to me, it is right." What is the answer to bring about universal respect? I don't know. I wish I did.

Oh, and BTW, I'm the person who doens't like snow and cold, etc.

Melissa said...

It's not so much being open to their faith as it is just being open to listen. Regardless of what a person believes, we can treat them as people. We can agree to disagree, and pray for them/witness to them so that they would see the truth. That's all we can do. Everyone can believe that all ways go to God, but the truth is (like my pastor said) "Jesus is the only way because He's the only one." He is. No one else has died in our placed, removed our sins, and purchased our salvation. Every other "way" is a man made way based on works. God's way is based on grace. Even if it were an issue of just choosing a "way", why not choose Christ? Who wouldn't want grace? Why work your whole life to earn and then just "hope" that you "make it" to heaven if you were a good enough buddhist, muslim, etc.?

And I know you hate the cold and snow. I had you in mind when I was writing that part and expected you would say something about that if you read it. LOL Personally, I am not a big fan either, but I just try to look for the silver linings and appreciate what things I can about it while waiting for brighter/warmer days. :)

Shane Gilreath said...

But you know that as much as you (or I) believe that we are right, there are others who believe just as passionately. You may have heard me talk abotu this before, but I brought this topic up to my former priest, and was told, and have since confirmed, that Jesus spoke of lambs of other folds, and the more popular "many mansions." I sometimes think maybe I'm a universalist: I like to think the Jesus died for everyone's sins, as we are all surely children of THE God, and that everyone is saved by his sacrifice, whatever their path may be.

Melissa said...

Of course there are. There always will be. And just as they are solidly convinced, we should be also. I think there's some things that you're not "sold" on yet, Shane. John 14:6 says that Jesus is the only way. The "other folds" stuff, I explained that one time to you according to John 10:16. Remember this message?: "In context, Jesus was talking about He, being the Good Shepherd, laying down His life for His sheep. The Jews are the chosen ones. It was to the chosen ones that He was speaking to. And, the 'other fold' are the Gentiles that He would gather (John 11:52; Ephesians 2:13-22). Paul, Peter, and others took the message to the Gentiles so that they would be redeemed as well by hearing the Word of God. Together we are one fold; both Jews and Gentiles together because He died for all."

And the verses about Him dying once for all and for the whole world are Romans 8:32, 1 Peter 3:18. My study Bible makes this note: "His death is effective unto salvation, however, only for those who call upon the name of the Lord." All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). He died to save everyone, but the ones that will benefit from salvation are the ones that accept it and call on Him.

The many mansions reference is actually spoken right before He says in John 14:6 that He is the only way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. The verses are John 14:1-3: "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."

If we want to go to the place prepared for us in heaven and receive our reward, we have to go through Him to get it. ;) And like I heard it described before, the reference is that there are many mansions in His Father's house - kind of like a bunch of houses within one house (like condos or apartments within one building). God's house will have many "mansions" in there for each one of us according to what we have done. We don't just live in one all by ourselves on a hill in heaven. We are all connected because we are forever in fellowship with God and one another.

Hope that clarifies some things for you. :) Thanks for your comments, as always! :)