Concerts: Pain and Grace

“The first time you hear the screams is always the hardest; it gets easier to ignore them with time.”

We used these lies to try and console each other, and we said these words to the few visitors who came to our house. None of them ever returned. The ear-splitting shrieks were too much for children our age to endure.

But it was alright, because we came to dislike having company. You see, we had to ignore the sounds, since we were there all the time. After a while your brain doesn’t register the cries, even though your ears still hear them. You can’t help but hear them. When a visitor lifted their head to listen, it called our attention to the sound again. It would remind us of the terrible nature of where we lived. So maybe we were better off without visitors.

I was seven when we moved into that shack. My brother was an older, wiser ten. He had seen more of the world, and he knew of what was happening on the other side of that tall fence. But our mother forbade him to speak of it to me. She didn’t want me to know what the noises made plain enough. What was she protecting? My innocence? My sanity?

So every night we listened to the concert. The clatter of machinery formed the base notes. Shrieks of terror mixed with—so much more—formed the tenor. We could never quite picture what it was in between, that formed the alto in the nightly concerts of our pain and injustice.

It was a horrible thing to experience as a child, but the other locations we might have afforded were even worse. That was the reality our mother faced. She was the one who had to work to pay the rent. We would live here, where the rent was low, because no one else wanted to live, under the shadow of the bedlam, trying to sleep through the cacophony.

Five years later I could no longer claim apathy or innocence to what was taking place. I had peeked through holes in the fence. I had asked a million questions of those who had ventured where I could not. My sense of injustice was boiling over.

It was about that time that a man began coming round, paying attention to momma. The year I turned fourteen, they married and we moved away from there.

We no longer live in poverty. Our new home is large, safe, and quiet. At first we thought we would never hear those sounds again.

Our new daddy bought us season tickets. We went to the amusement park at least once a week. We found the alto voices, which had been so indistinguishable from the shack, were barkers on the midway. We felt the rumble of the bass as the machines lifted us up, and we threw our voices into the tenor parts of the nightly concert, on the way down.

For us, it was no longer a concert of hopelessness, but of fulfilled dreams.

From the top of the Ferris wheel I could see they were tearing down the old shack.

I was glad to see it go.

I was sad to see it go.

I want to always remember what it was like before. Before we were able to add our voices to the concerts of grace.

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Discipline

Discipline should be a trait of a disciple.

Discipline, as in self-control, is necessary to choose the shape of your own behavior. Without it, one cannot control their own choices, walk a path of repentance, nor follow the Lord.

Some would undoubtedly say, you can’t do any of those things anyway, that the human form is incapable of doing anything good. I agree the human form is frail, and incapable of leaving sin completely behind. We should reconcile ourselves to never being perfect.

But this fact does not mean we should not strive to do better, nor that we cannot do better. I distrust the definitions of Christian living which say either, our sinfulness glorifies God by allowing Him to give us more grace, or that our grace means sin is no longer relevant to us. Paul addresses both of these misconceptions in Romans 6.

Instead I view grace as most relevant in salvation. But discipleship, our growth after salvation is a partnership between us and God. Our obedience glorifies Him.

So consider the importance of discipline to the Christ follower.

Discipline is one of the benefits of fasting, discipline is necessary for the taming of the mind and body to the instructions of Christ, and discipline is required to replenish the storeroom of the heart with the things of God.

Doctrine of Commitment

Commitment is a sleeper. It’s a central part of our lives, and should also be a central part of our theology. Yet I call it a sleeper because it is seldom considered with the full depth it deserves.

Commitment is the central component of love. Many people will argue in favor of the emotional components of love, but emotions waver and it’s our commitment that carries us through those times.

Commitment is the heart of our salvation, first and foremost, God’s commitment to us. Chesed, is a Hebrew word expressing God’s love for us based on His commitment. Xaris, is a Greek word for grace expressing God’s commitment to us despite the fact we could never earn it or deserve it. (Studying individual words for commitment could go much, much further.)

We make a commitment back to God in the moment of salvation. We make a commitment to God to turn our lives around both in terms of repenting, turning away from sin, and discipleship, following the ways of Christ.

Living the Christian life also includes making commitments.

Christians commit themselves to a church family, in order to find a place to grow and opportunities to serve. This commitment to the local church is the subject of a great deal of spiritual warfare. People are easily driven away because they fail to see the church experience as an expression of their commitment to God, and instead get distracted by their relationships with one another. These believers always become spiritually stunted and useless to God’s kingdom work.

The fact that Satan chooses to focus his attack on our commitment to the local church is evidence of how important this commitment is.

So commitment is a sleeper. It is both the heart of our relationship with God, the focus point of satanic attack in our walk with God, and the point where the most failures occur in Christian growth.

Sovereignty of God

The word sovereignty reflects the rule of a king. When applied to God it is a theological point to say God is the boss. But this by itself may be less descriptive than some people think. I believe in the sovereignty of God. However, what I believe about the sovereignty of God is may not be the same as what other people believe in the sovereignty of God.

For some people this means God is not only in charge of everything, but also ultimately He is making every decision whether we realize it or not. His sovereignty means He always gets His way in everything, right down to the minor details of life. In this model He not only decided to redeem man from their sins, but He also decided for them, when and how they would sin. I just don’t believe this and probably neither do you.

For other people this means God is ultimately in charge of everything, but mankind being capable of making decisions, are responsible for their own choices. Therefore God is not always getting His way in every little thing. But the framework of choices man is capable of making is strictly controlled by God, and He will get His way in the most important things. Especially, man, who is capable of making other decisions, is incapable of making a decision for salvation. Therefore, no one can be saved except for God’s decision that the one individual person would be saved. I don’t exactly believe this either. The explanation for why we cannot make a choice to be saved is inadequate to my understanding.

For me, and probably a lot of other people, God is sovereign. In His sovereignty He chose to make humanity with decision making capability. He knew this meant He would not get His way in every little thing, and in some cases not in larger things. He does, however, exercise the freedom to intervene whenever and however He chooses. I do not believe sovereignty is lessoned when someone else is allowed to hold subordinate authority. I do not see adequate reason for the ability to choose God to be outside of man’s capability. And finally, I do not see it as taking glory from God when mankind makes this choice, love means more when it is freely given.

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  1 Timothy 2:1-4  (HCSB)

Personal Holiness

Personal holiness is a difficult and somewhat unpopular topic. Roughly defined it is the ability to keep oneself from the stains of sin. But this is far easier said than done. Our world is very good at throwing all manner of temptation our way. And without a definite plan to stay away we will be negatively affected.

So what kind of a plan can we develop that is Biblically accurate and theologically sound. Here is a three part plan.

First there is a need to deal with our past sins. Scripture tells us we were born sinners, but even if we reject that principle, we have to admit we found plenty of sin on our own along the way. It’s too late to avoid it, but Christ went to the cross to provide forgiveness for it. This salvation is offered to us as a gift. We just have to be willing to receive it. Christ will cleanse the stain by the blood He shed on the cross.

But after being cleaned up we need a strategy to stay clean. If we do not change our patterns of behavior we will simply mess up our nice clean status by going back to sin. This change of pattern is repentance. While it is a lot of difficult work, it’s worth it. This change will be a big part of what improves your life.

But even when we are striving hard at repentance, we will fall short. We all still mess up—a lot.  But Christ still has us covered. Just like we were saved by grace, He will continue to forgive us. All we have to do is to go to Him and confess our sins. And then He will forgive our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness.

So here is my three part plan. Get saved by grace, strive at repentance, and continue in grace through confession of sin.