Thursday, January 24, 2008

One Disciple's Soundtrack

(The following continues an occasional series of reflections on the music that has influenced my life as a Christian. From time to time a song pops back into my head, and I want to try and capture why that song was important to me then, and maybe even now.)

So Keith Green hit me again.

Ian and I were listening to music on our way to school together today. We don’t do it every day—yesterday we did multiplication tables and talked about the weekend—but often it’s one of the fun things we do together in the morning. I have a splitter on my iPod, which means we’re both listening to the same thing. It’s one way I’ve retained something of our life in California—Ian and I used to listen to a lot of music together in the car.

Today we started with the Killers, who recently released an acoustic version of their song ‘Sam’s Town’, and it’s great. We followed that with Rob Thomas singing ‘Little Wonders’ from the ‘Meet the Robinsons’ soundtrack. It’s Ian’s favorite song right now, which means we listen to it every day. I usually try to include a few Christian songs into each morning playlist—some of those have become Ian’s choices as well, like Larry Norman singing about Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, or the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Burbank Band singing ‘Big House’.

So today I noticed an old Keith Green song on my player and I punched it in. Ian liked it because there is some good piano playing and words he can understand. It’s those words that got to me. While Ian looked out the bus window at the cranes on the construction sites along Euston Road, I was blinking back tears in the seat next to him.

To obey is better than sacrifice
I don't need your money
I want your life
And I hear you say that I'm coming back soon
But you act like I'll never return

Well. I remember listening to that song back in the 80s with more than a little smugness, I mean, he wasn’t talking to me...then. Now I hear it with different ears—ears attached to a family and a mortgage and a retirement plan...and a congregation. Back then the idea of Christ’s return was more present, more real to me than it is now—it had more of an impact on my life and decisions and behavior. I still believe it—not just as a part of the Christian creed (‘ we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”’), but from my own reading of Scripture on God’s plan for the world. But what difference does it make in my life?

And Mr. Green was just getting started.

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want more than Sunday and Wednesday nights
'Cause if you can't come to Me every day
Then don't bother coming at all

This one is both easier and harder for me. I am fully bought-in on the idea that Sunday-only faith is killing the church. That when our brothers and sisters aren’t challenged to incorporate their faith into their work and families and recreation and sex and spending and...whatever, that we haven’t done our job to help them live and grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. But here’s the catch—for me anyway, as the pastor of a church:

Would I ever have the courage to say this to my congregation?

I’m trying to picture what it would be like to lay down the challenge of being whole disciples in such a stark way. I believe it—I believe that the call on each of our lives is to remember who we are and whose we are every single minute of every day. But would I say to the people of my church in London that if they aren’t doing that they should stay away? Probably not, and that’s OK, but I want to figure out how to reclaim and teach that intensity—that sense of urgency—in my preaching and teaching and conversation and life.

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want hearts of fire
Not your prayers of ice
And I'm coming quickly
To give back to you
According to what you have done

In my high school and college days, when faith was still so new, it was easy to connect with the image of ‘hearts of fire’. I read my Bible daily, I prayed about almost everything, and I constantly felt God present with me. That sense of warmth was the way I came to define the life of faith, and it was great. So what do we do when our prayers and worship seem cold—like ice, even? What would it be like to feel that flame again, just for a moment? I like the reminder here that the life of faith should give off a little heat, rather than triggering a frost warning.

But this last verse also reminded me of what I didn’t like about Keith Green. He was long on challenge and conviction, but a little short on grace. I believe strongly that we’re called to be doers of the word and not just lazy, overfed hearers of it, but there has to be grace for the gap between those two ends of the spectrum. Green was always a little too focused on the ‘if-you-do/pray/live-this, then-this-other-thing-will-happen’ understanding of the Christian faith. His call to action and discipleship was right on the money as far as I can tell, but his grasp of it as a transaction was muddled, or worse, shame-based.

Critique aside, though, this is still one of the best ever wake-up calls to the organized church. That it was largely unheeded 30 years ago is certainly one of the reasons that the Emergent Church movement is so important and necessary today, but that’s a discussion for another time.

For now, I’m enjoying these walks down my musical memory lane, and surprised at how much the neighborhood has changed.

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