The Beautiful Letdown

While this blog got its name from an old twenty øne piløts song called “Taxi Cab,” my second choice would be to use something from “The Beautiful Letdown” by Switchfoot.  The line – “set sail for the Kingdom come” – would have been a good blog title!  I’ve intended to post about the song for some time, and it fits in with this week’s other posts, so here we are.

The theme of “The Beautiful Letdown” is that while we don’t like being let down or disappointed, it’s a beautiful and blessed thing when we are let down by the things of this world, because that is when we can find God.  In Jeremiah 3:21-23, God calls His people to turn back to Him from the many temptations of the world in striking language:

A voice on the bare heights is heard,
            the weeping and pleading of Israel’s sons
because they have perverted their way;
            they have forgotten the LORD their God.
“Return, O faithless sons;
            I will heal your faithlessness.”
“Behold, we come to you,
            for you are the LORD our God.
Truly the hills are a delusion,
            the orgies on the mountains.
Truly in the LORD our God
            is the salvation of Israel.

The language is striking because we don’t like being told that the things we worship are a delusion, and we don’t like being accused of spiritual adultery, but regardless, being let down from the delusions of the world is a beautiful thing, because it’s a requirement for knowing God more deeply.  Back to the Switchfoot song, the lyrics say it’s beautiful when we find out that “all the riches this world had to offer me would never do,” but that “we’re still chasing our tails and the rising sun.”  It also says its ok to be “painfully uncool” by the world’s standards because those are the wrong standards.  We are “the church of the dropouts, the losers, the sinners, the failures and the fools.”

But perhaps my favorite part of the song is the bridge:

“Easy living, you’re not much like your name
Easy dying
Hey, you look just about the same
Won’t you please take me off your list
Easy living, please come on and let me down”

Wouldn’t it be nice to be “off the list” of messages from the world lying about how amazing it is, and how easy things would be if we just bought the right products and had the right lifestyle?  If only we floated along with the world’s idea of progress?  However, as C. S. Lewis wrote: “We all want progress…but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”  Being let down by the world is a good thing.

To listen to the full song, click on the video below.
To just read the full lyrics on, use this link:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” – Philippians 3:7-8

What’s in Your Temple?

When describing His holiness, God provided pictures like the one in Isaiah 6:1 – “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.”  Because “the train of his robe filled the temple,” there is no room in the temple for anything that isn’t holy.  Or in Revelation 15:8, which says: “and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.”  Until God’s judgment was complete – both on the unrepentant and on the cross for His people – there would continue to be no room in the sanctuary for anyone but the Lord.

How do these pictures apply to us?  Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 – “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”  Therefore, we ask ourselves: does the train of the Lord’s robe fill our temples?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

A transformative moment came in my Christian life when I understood sin in contrast to holiness, rather than as a list of “don’ts.”  It’s possible (perhaps even easy) to convince ourselves we are not sinners in need of grace by defining sin as things we don’t do.  However, much of the time, the word “sin” in the New Testament is a translation of the Greek word hamartia, which means “to miss the mark.”[1]  The word has athletic connotations, such as if an archer couldn’t hit the bullseye, they wouldn’t win the competition and the prize.  As we all know, archers are supposed to be accurate, and if they aren’t, they’ve “missed the mark.”

Therefore, when Paul writes in Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” he is not saying everybody failed to follow a list of dos and don’ts, but that we have not fully lived the life God intended us to live.  Romans 3:23 declares that while we wouldn’t set up idols in our church building, all of us tolerate some idols in our soul, which is where the Holy Spirit of God chooses to dwell.  The train of His robe does not fill our inner temple, and we too often trod on it with dirty feet.  We’ve “missed the mark” any time there’s other stuff in our temple, directing our thoughts and actions.  However, by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ we have both a hope of living with God and a future where His metaphorical robe does fill us.

In Paradise, God’s people will – individually and collectively – “hit the mark” perfectly for eternity.  His perfect temple will be completed in Paradise, with the living stones of all His people.

Paul returns to holiness again in 2 Corinthians 6:16 to 7:1, quoting several Old Testament passages, since holiness of His people has been the plan from the beginning –

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
             ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
                        and I will be their God,
                        and they shall be my people.
            Therefore go out from their midst,
                        and be separate from them, says the Lord,
            and touch no unclean thing;
                        then I will welcome you,
            and I will be a father to you,
                        and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
            says the Lord Almighty.’

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.


[1] Greek Strong’s Dictionary

Popular Orthodoxy: A Quint of Quotes

Fellow travelers,

Here is another “Quint of Quotes” from my collection.  These five somewhat related sayings suggest the particular time and place we live in may not be very different from every other time and place.  I hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?…the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.” – Genesis 3:1,4

“Every age has some ostentatious system to excuse the havoc it commits. Conquest, honour, chivalry, religion, balance of power, commerce, no matter what, mankind must bleed, and take a term for a reason” – Horace Walpole, British politician, in 1762

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” – Proverbs 14:12, 16:25

“At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas of which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it… Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the high-brow periodicals”. – George Orwell, in the 1945 introduction to ‘Animal Farm.’

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” – 2 Timothy 4:3-5

A Psalm for Confessing God’s Strength and Power, Faithfulness and Justice

The Bible software I use (Accordance) has the ability to highlight text, but so far I’ve only used it once, for Psalm 21.  In just 13 verses, David wrote “you” or “your” 25 times, referring to God as the source of his success and blessings, past, present, and future.  In a recent post about 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” – I wrote how sometimes confession (in public or private) is hard because we focus the sins, and not on the God who died to forgive and cleanse us.  The short 13 verses of Psalm 21 provide a plethora of praises we can offer to confess that He is faithful and just.  Here is the entire Psalm, and I’ve bolded all the “you”s and “your”s, which I highlighted in Accordance:

“To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

O LORD, in your strength the king rejoices,
            and in your salvation how greatly he exults!
You have given him his heart’s desire
            and have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah
For you meet him with rich blessings;
            you set a crown of fine gold upon his head.
He asked life of you; you gave it to him,
            length of days forever and ever.
His glory is great through your salvation;
            splendor and majesty you bestow on him.
For you make him most blessed forever;
            you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
For the king trusts in the LORD,
            and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.

Your hand will find out all your enemies;
            your right hand will find out those who hate you.
You will make them as a blazing oven
            when you appear.
The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath,
            and fire will consume them.
You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
            and their offspring from among the children of man.
Though they plan evil against you,
            though they devise mischief, they will not succeed.
For you will put them to flight;
            you will aim at their faces with your bows.

Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength!
            We will sing and praise your power.”

What statements did you focus on while reading this?  Did you take the time to think about all 25 “you” statements (and the rest of the Psalm)?  Read it again.

The first section in this Psalm describes how our God is “faithful” in some ways, and the second describes “just.”  The first may come easier, with David giving God credit for all of his strength and success, but the middle section on justice may come across as harsh and harder to swallow.  However, it reminds us that only He knows for sure who His (and our) enemies are.  “Your hand will find out all your enemies.”  Only He determines the fates of others, including some who look like enemies now, but will come to faith in Him later.  With any enemy we can “wait upon the Lord”, as David often urges us, knowing God will either save them, or their plans will come to ruin by His design.

Yet, for those in Christ, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Therefore, we echo David:

“Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength!
            We will sing and praise your power.”

Confession: The Blessing Nobody Expects

What comes to mind when you think of confession?  Think about it for a moment.

For some, the thought might be a simple private prayer, or for some a confessional booth.  For others, no specific images might come to mind, but just a feeling of someone “out to get you.”  I expect some of you thought of the Spanish Inquisition, or at least the Monty Python skit making fun of it[1].  Where do these ideas come from?

The blame belongs in many places: secular culture, bad experiences with church, an emphasis on external over internal religion, and even Monty Python comedy skits.  My fantasy baseball league even has a team named “Spanish Inquisition” because the manager of that team thinks no one expects him to win – not even himself.

The mocking of secular culture aside, confession is an uncomfortable topic even for sincere Christians.  In Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, he shares the tension over confession between Tolkien and his then-fiancée Edith.  Tolkien was a practicing Catholic, while Edith was a member of the Church of England.  They had agreed as a couple to be Catholic, but Edith “began to dislike making her confession.  It was therefore all too easy when she was worried about her health (which was often) to postpone going to mass. She reported to Ronald [Tolkien] that getting up to go to church early in the morning and fasting until she had made her communion did not agree with her.”  She insisted “my health won’t stand it.”[2]  In my own Protestant church, we have a weekly prayer of confession, which the pastor regularly defends the importance of.  Few of us probably look forward to confession, whatever form we practice it in.

Photo by Shalone Cason on Unsplash

This discomfort with confession seems to be a shared part of mankind’s fallen nature, but if we look at well-known Bible verses on confession, we find that it is really about restoration, a rebirth of man’s relationship with God and a renewal of man to his ideal nature.  It is as different from God being “out to get you” as it could be.  1 John 1:9 encourages confession, because: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  God wants to give us forgiveness and cleansing, not condemnation and guilt.  Isaiah 1:18 explains this cleansing more poetically:

Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
            they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
            they shall become like wool.

Confession doesn’t need to be a dirty word.  The word “confess” means loosely to say the same thing about something, so confession means we agree with God (say the same thing he does) about sin – that it is bad.  But confession also applies to the rest of 1 John 1:9, that God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Full confession includes agreeing about the steadfast and dependable character of God, His faithfulness and justice, as well as His desire to forgive and cleanse.  If we doubt this desire, consider what He voluntarily suffered on the cross to provide for this forgiveness, and to demonstrate His enduring love.

By adding confession about the good things of God to our confession of our sin, our confession does not make us miserable about our own condition but shows us how different we are from what God wants for us, how deeply our sin needs to be corrected, and how wonderfully God has provided for the removal of sin.

But this does not come easily.  Referencing Hebrews 4:16, which says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” Puritan preacher Thomas Watson wrote that “Christ went more willingly to the cross than we do to the throne of grace.”

Why is this?  Could it be that we have trouble whole-heartedly confessing that “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”?  Monty Python joke that “nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,” but do we fully expect God’s throne to be one of grace when we come to confess?

[1] If you’re not familiar with the skit, here’s a 4-minute example:
[2] Carpenter, Humphrey. Tolkien: A Biography.  (1977).  P. 68-69.