Wednesday, September 28, 2011

True Freedom

I've long been a fan of the musical group Jars of Clay. The depth of their lyrics always seem perfectly attuned to the melodies around which they spin. Their enlightening messages are driven by elusively powerful riffs and are artfully accented with intriguing sounds that one might not think "musical" until heard. Most of their songs are simple and elegant, but some of their best work is so subtle as to seem poetically hidden. They are quiet, concealed waterfalls that cascade miles from known paths, except to those that have traversed them previously and returned to meditate on their flowing wisdom.

As I was struggling my way up the perpetual ascent of the stepmill in the subdued peace found only before dawn, one of my favorite songs came across my headphones. It was one of the songs from their debut album. The album most individuals would know for "Flood", a song so universal that it crossed over into mainstream music and touched many souls, some of whom accepted Christ as a result. But the song that came on was "Art in Me." Another powerful and superbly understated piece of musical genius.

At this point I have to confess. I have enjoyed the intricacies of the music for years. (The gentle melody of acoustic guitars supporting whimsical accents of a violin while a piano and some sort of hand drum dance quietly in the background). It's a thoroughly enjoyable tune. Yet, the message, which always piqued my curiosity, remained shrouded slightly in ambiguity.

I've never been good at singling out lyrics. If I don't have them in front of me, I usually insert the wrong ones, so I typically avoid plugging in my own and just enjoy the song. I also never bothered to read them on the CD insert. It just wasn't something pressing on my mind. So I typically glossed over the song on to the way to the next favorite that I knew was coming. Yet, in amongst all the touching instrumentals, one could pick out a sense of discord lightly addressed in the verse that provoked wonder as to what they were truly attesting.

I had my ideas. But I know now I was always just a little off. This morning, the Spirit opened my eyes a little. Curiosity converted to knowledge in the wisdom of life and forced me mentally to my knees (who were screaming at me to stop climbing the stepmill).

I hate to address the song's meaning directly, as subtlety is the true art of poetry. But for the sake of discussion, I'll indulge in the briefest of summaries. The song, I think, is deliberating on the dysfunction of this world and it's desperate dissension against God.  A profound concept for a Christian.

"Wait a minute, Seth. What do you mean 'profound'? I would think it would be an apparent and simple concept as it's the essence of Christianity. Recognizing man's depravity in his fall from God's grace and God's miraculous reconciliation of us to that grace through belief in the sacrifice of His Son is the entirety of the salvation He offers. This isn't profound. This is Christianity 101."

And yet...

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." Romans 12:1-2

Here I am sitting, waiting, wishing for Christ's return. I see the world about me. I know what He wants me to do. His Spirit attests to it daily. There are things in the world I shouldn't enjoy, but should separate myself from for His sake. The TV comes on and the humor found in popular shows ridicules society in a crass and coarse manner. I stumble. Music comes on the radio that is worldly and steeped in self-indulgence despite the enjoyment to be found in the depth of musical talent or complexity of lyrics. I trip. A movie is selected by friends and I know it will be saturated in the shallowness of society, but I don't wish to offend anyone. I fall flat on my face. I'm tired and just want to relax and my household needs my attention. I entangle myself clumsily in the hurdles, sprawling all over myself. My patience is wearing thin and I lash out angrily at someone. Was I ever standing upright to begin with?

And the worst one. The world seems to be imploding. Death, wars, pain, and suffering are rampant. Selfish, shallow entertainment and divisive, partisan politics are the focal point of the media, spun expertly to capitalize on foolishness. Greed is the perpetual, driving thought of society. Community, responsibility, and self-sacrifice are forgotten. Love has become a byword of sensuality and romanticismInto the corner I huddle, petrified. Turn out the lights. Let me lay here in ignorance. I'm so tired.

"For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." Matthew 11:30

His burden is so light, I can not bear to hold it up! His yoke is so easy, I toil and struggle to work its righteousness! I feel constantly a failure!


It's so simple. Christian men and women I plead with you now. Remember.

Remember who you were. What brought you to the cross? Who made clear the path to the Father? If not for His salvation, where would you be? Lost in sin. Lost in ourselves. Desperate. Destitute. Delusional. Depraved. We were apart from God and apart from true joy because we were stumbling in sin.

"But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness." Romans 6:17-18

Oh, Christians, it's so simple. We complicate matters. We separate ourselves from those teachings we learned in the newness of Christ. We've forgotten the widow, the orphan, the needy. Most importantly, we've forgotten the righteousness of our God. The same righteousness we were called into. We have slipped into sin. When we indulge in sin, we can not bear the weight of righteousness.

We need only submit to return to Him! We need not wallow in the muck any longer. He will wash us and set us apart. Freedom is ours for the taking. He's paid the price. Free to be slaves! How glorious a thought; how wondrous a joy! Slaves to something we had no right to claim. Slaves to perfection that none of us deserves.

Submit to God. You know what the Spirit has spoken on your heart. Live it. Pursue righteousness for the perfect gift that it is. We will stumble. Will we learn? Will we truly give it to the One who has already done everything to reconcile us to Him? Will we stop clinging to our desires and turn them over?

Praise God that His Son submits to the authority of the Father! Praise God that His Son is One who would not be deceived by evil temptations! Praise God that His Son refuses to cave to selfish desires! Oh, that I would be like His Son and honor our Father!

© 2011 Seth Alan Jackson 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


There were many times in my life when I wished I had a brother. Someone who knew genuine masculinity and sought to challenge me to pursue it. Someone who understood what it meant to push the limits of the envelope. When my sisters wanted to play "tea party" and demanded I participate, I wished I had a brother. When my sisters would dress the cat up and I wanted to don camouflage and liberate it from it's insidious torturers, I wished I had a brother. When there were birthday parties with numerous giggling girls chattering on until the wee hours of the morning, I wished I had a brother. When my sisters were chasing me down to put headbands on me like some comedic doll to accessorize, I wished I had a brother. I learned to hide headbands.

Forgive me ladies, I do not mean to ostracize you today. I am thankful for my wife and the many ways in which she is beautifully feminine. I celebrate how she pursues adopting the persona of the Proverbs wife and the numerous ways in which she has succeeded. It is a challenge and a blessing to pursue treating her with Christ's gentleness and love. May He and she forgive me for the many ways I fail. I am thankful for my sisters. They have taught me much in life outside of my distaste for headbands. I am thankful for my mother. Her love and generosity is a profound reflection of Christ's.

But I really wish I had a brother. Even more so today than when I was growing up.

Our world has changed. The modern church has changed. We live in a day when it is considered a sin to admonish one another, even in love. Our sense of American individualism has trumped the call to the communal life that our God has given us. Oh, we go to church and sit in the seats and sing the songs and pray the prayers. We partake of the table and then trivialize the entire process. We justify the ritualism we have embraced in the church by claiming the grace of God. (Praise God for His grace!) We seem to have forgotten the fear of God. For no sooner have we been partakers in the gift of fellowship, than we go back to our homes and indulge in the distractions of life.

Entertainment has become the dominant driving force in our lives. I could indulge in the plethora of forms we use to distract ourselves, but I think "entertainment" is more than sufficient. This is the American idol. We are no different than Rome with her Coliseum. We have pushed escapism through media to the point that we have difficulty identifying ourselves in community without it. We associate by what we watch, hear, and play through our modern and not-as-modern (de)vices. So much so that we don't know the names of our physical neighbors. And we slip into complacency. Complacency is the breeding ground for sin. Stagnancy is a symptom of being separated from that Godliness to which we were called. And then when someone points out that we are stagnant and complacent, we run and hide in our distractions.

Perhaps that is a significant part of human nature, but when the fellowship of the Church gathers and perpetuates it, we find ourselves in a real struggle. The modern church is constantly evaluating itself on its ability to entertain. We evaluate our "church experience" on the enjoyment of the music. We drown out the congregation with worship teams that strive for greater and greater "professionalism". We seek an emotional high and then ascribe spirituality to the significance of what the service has done for us, its ability to make us smile, applaud, laugh, and cry. The funny jokes the pastor used. How nice and religious the choir sounded. It's a pale comparison to the true fruit of the Spirit.

Then it takes a turn for the worse. We as a Christian society become so fixated on pursuing that emotional high that we disdain anyone who detracts from the "positive" experience. The feeling must not be interrupted! Anyone who does so is a dissenter and must be silenced! Iniquity is tolerated within brotherhood because to do otherwise would show a lack of "love" and be placing "judgment" on others. We are quick to defend our iniquity with Christ's words, "Judge not, lest you be judged."

But since when did Christ indulge iniquity? Did Jesus say to the woman found guilty of adultery who the crowd brought to Him, "Go, and worry not for the perpetuation of sin in your life, for you are no longer accountable for your sins?" No! He said, "Go and sin no more." So many read the passage in Matthew 7:1-5 and reference it to protect themselves from confronting their own sin, but they seem to have forgotten Matthew 18:15-20; Ezekiel 3:18-19, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. Jesus said to remove the plank out of your own eye so that you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother's. Judgment and admonishment are not the same. We are not to avoid admonishment.

And yet this pervasiveness of avoiding confrontation is found throughout our "modern Christianity". We have diminished the fellowship; watered it down to tastelessness. We have become bland and tepid. All for the fear of being seen as unacceptable in this life, this world. We so strive for popularity such that we avoid true fellowship. We run and hide away from deep, personal relationships with the body of Christ, His Church. We have become, "of the world."

I long for a different day. A day when we can be open and honest about ourselves such that we can be straightforward with one another. I long for brotherhood. Those who aren't afraid of accountability. Those who put on true masculinity, the kind of masculinity that confronts itself and doesn't shy away for the sake of self-preservation. The kind of accountability that boldly proclaims the purchase of the Lamb; that we are not our own.

"In daily, earnest living with the Cross of Christ the Christian loses the spirit of human censoriousness on the one hand and weak indulgence on the other, and he receives a spirit of divine severity and divine love." -Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

How can we trust ourselves to bear each others' sins for accountability's sake if we can't hold ourselves to the concept of accountability? If you are incapable of receiving correction and instead choose to indulge in iniquity, how can I trust you to hold me accountable to my iniquities?

For how do I know, if you choose to indulge the sinful nature, that my sins will not be used to justify your own? How can I trust you to not turn them against God?

I do not desire accountability in order to obtain a feeling of self-righteousness or as vindication for my own sins. To do so would be sin. The fact that I embrace a high standard of accountability should in itself prove that I desire to be held accountable.

But I am also not seeking an accomplice in perpetuating sin!

I am not seeking brothers who will condone my actions in order to justify their own!

I am seeking mighty men of valor who shamelessly don the armament of Christ and turn fearlessly to face their sin and stamp it out for the testimony of our Savior!

There is a Light in this world. In Him is no darkness. We stand at the perimeter of this Light, dancing timidly at the outskirts of righteousness. This Light will not tolerate darkness for He has already paid the price for our sins so that He may obliterate them from our personhood. To step into the Light will require exposing our true nature so that we might submit it to Him in service to His divine will.

Do we then remain stagnant in the shadows in order to preserve our individualism, our false sense of ownership to identity? Or do we step into His light in submission to the price He paid to cleanse us and make us His? Will you step into the light of Godliness which is true Christianity with me? Will you help me to expose all darkness and eradicate it before His light?

Can we be brothers?

© 2011 Seth Alan Jackson