Can the Cycle of Hopelessness Be Interrupted?

…everyone who hears these words of [Jesus’] and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.  (Matthew 7:26-27)

Every one of us knows the story of the foolish man all too well.  We’ve seen the wreckage over and over again.

We sin, we struggle, we start to do better, and then the storm comes and it all falls apart again.

We start to repair our relationships, but then something cataclysmic happens and we just can’t get it together.

We feel trapped in these cycles of building and collapsing—building and collapsingBut what would happen if that cycle was interrupted?

What if instead of falling to temptation—what if instead of going backwards—what if you actually saw progress?

What if instead of your marriage feeling cold and distant—what if instead of the same arguments over and over—what if you actually saw forgiveness and health?

What if all these cycles in your relationship with God, in your family, in your friendships, in your workplace, in your personal life—what if these cycles could be interrupted and replaced with something better?

That, my friends, is how hope begins.  With the cycle being broken.

This is an excerpt from last Sunday’s sermon at Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington, LA.  For more, listen here or subscribe to our podcast here.

Sermon Preview: What Qualities Define a Disciple?

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  (Matthew 7:24-25)

When you hear the phrase “disciple of Jesus,” whom do you think of first?

An older, wisened saint of the faith?  Someone like Billy Graham or the late Mother Teresa?

Or maybe you go really old school and think of the biblical disciples: folks like Peter, James, and John or perhaps Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

Regardless of whom you identify as a “disciple,” what characteristics set that person apart?

Maybe you think that a disciple of Jesus is someone who has great faith.  They simply believe in the face of insurmountable odds.

Or maybe you think of a disciple of Jesus as someone who follows Jesus with their actions—they have great obedience.  Everyone can tell their life is different.

While both faith and obedience are important, those aren’t the defining marks of a disciple of Jesus.

The defining marks of a disciple are hope and perseverance through the storm.

This is an excerpt from this Sunday’s sermon at Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington, LA.  Please join us at 10:30am for worship!

Hoping for Others What You Hope For Yourself

The work of the Church is not to build herself up, but to make much of Christ and His Gospel.

Do you expect big things from God?

Do you expect Him to convert hearts that hate and revile Him?

Do you expect Him to change the people that you least love?

Do you expect Him to change the world—to bring justice where there is injustice, to bring peace where there is unrest, to bring healing where there is sickness?

Because that’s what the Gospel promises.  If you’ve seen it in your life, do you expect it to continue?  And do you expect it in the lives of others?

Remember God’s end game.  He’s not trying to get a few of us to heaven.  He’s taking over the whole world one person and one family at a time.

So let’s start hoping like it.

This is an excerpt from last Sunday’s sermon at Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington, LA.  For more, listen here or subscribe to our podcast here.

You Are Not Alone In Your Exclusion

On the cross, Jesus cried out a mystifying question: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

A question worth considering!  Why did God allow His only Son to die in disgrace?

The answer is this: God forsook Jesus for us.

The Father’s love for you was so great that He traded His only Son for you.

Jesus was excluded, so that you might be included.  Jesus was killed, that you might live.  Your sin was given to Jesus and everything that was His in His humanity became yours through faith: His righteousness, His place in His Father’s family, His glory.

You inherit all of this by believing that His death was sufficient for you.

Through His own exclusion, Jesus has accomplished your inclusion in God’s family.  You no longer have to fear God.  God is no longer far from you.  Your heavenly Father loves you.  And why?  Because of the work of Jesus alone.

This is an excerpt from last Sunday’s sermon at Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington, LA.  For more, listen here or subscribe to our podcast here.

Why Racism is a Sin Worth Repenting

I grew up in Memphis, TN, where Rev. King was shot and killed.  While I can’t blame my hometown for my own struggle with racism, I can say that I was surrounded by racism in that place.  Friends would joke on Martin Luther King Jr. Day that it was “James Earl Ray Day.”  And I would laugh.  When I lived there, racial prejudice toward people of color was palpable.

Since that time, I’ve lived in several other places around the country.  But the one that exposed my racism most was Birmingham, AL.  While visiting the Civil Rights Museum there, I remember walking through exhibit after exhibit–seeing how people like me had caused such atrocities against black men, women, boys, and girls–and I felt a great weight.

That weight was not white guilt.  It was not feeling bad for the sins of my hometown.  It was not me atoning for slave-owning forefathers.  That weight was conviction for my own sin.  The foolish laughs, the angry words, the judging thoughts.  There in Birmingham my sin was exposed.

I was reminded of all this today, as I was reading Romans chapter 3.  The apostle Paul said this:

Is God the God of Jews only?  Is he not the God of Gentiles also?  Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one…

That phrase “of Jews only” really jumped out at me.  We’ve all seen the signs (if only in museums) that were placed by water fountains and restrooms that read the exact same way.  What is Paul getting at here about God and about race?

Yahweh, the God of Israel, is One.  His love extends equally across every racial and cultural divide.  And when we transgress that tenet of His character, it is sin.  It is an offense to God to speak against, to deride, and to fail to love those whom He loves.  In Birmingham, I first realized my sin.  Today, I continue to see it exposed.  And so I continue to grieve my sins of racism today.  And at the same time, I celebrate the grace of Christ that is enabling me to overcome my sin.

Why is racism a sin worth repenting of?  Here’s the reason:

God loves.  He loves with no attention to racial and cultural barriers.  And He wants us to love in the same way.  Through the Gospel of Jesus, He seeks to undo racism, bringing Jew and Gentile, black and white together into one family.  This is His desire and it should be ours too.

I hope you consider these things deeply today.

And for what it’s worth, if you know very little about Martin Luther King, Jr., I’d strongly recommend this book to you.  It’s been a real encouragement to me in the last several years.

The Mournful Longing of Desire

It was a long time, twenty years in all, that the ark [of the covenant] remained at Kiriath Jearim, and all the people of Israel mourned and sought after Yahweh. (1 Samuel 7:2)

Every person knows this mournful, longing desire.

Feeling like God is far, far away.

Looking up into the blackness of night and feeling nothing but the cold distance of an empty universe.

Longing, begging, and searching for peace.

Wanting to know that there’s a meaning and a purpose to all this.

Wanting some sense of connection with the divine and the eternal and the purposeful.

And as we mourn and long for something bigger—something better—something more satisfying—as we find ourselves in that place of need, God interrupts our longing with grace.

This is an excerpt from this Sunday’s sermon at Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington, LA.  Please join us at 10:30am for worship!

Album review: Brady Toops

Brady Toops.  Heard of him?  If you’re like me, I’d never heard of him until a few months ago.  But, boy, am I glad to know him now.  Well, if owning his new album and corresponding with him via Twitter and email counts, then I guess I kinda know him.  Brady sent me a copy of his eponymous album (available for purchase on iTunes and free streaming here) and I am really hopeful that you’ll give him a listen.

The first thing that struck me about Brady is his voice.  Rarely do I stumble upon a singer who really understands that their voice is an instrument to be mastered.  Amazingly, the guy has never taken voice lessons.  In his words, his goal is simply “to try and translate the emotion and ideas of each song as accurately as possible into each tune.”  And, boy does he succeed.  Anybody can sing a traditional hymn or gospel/soul, but few are able to really communicate the longing for hope like Brady does.  Maybe it has something to do with growing up in small-town America and living in a faith community that values old-time hymns.  Or maybe it’s his closet love of Boyz II Men.  Regardless, Brady gets the job done.

I must confess that I don’t get too jazzed about quote-unquote Christian artists, not that Brady claims the moniker.  It seems that the genre of “Christian music” can sometimes get in the way of the creative musical process.  Sometimes, though, you find a musician who is deeply connected to the Faith, but is also remarkably gifted musically.  Folks like Sufjan Stevens, Jon Foreman, and (of course) Derek Webb come to mind.  Brady is another one of these talented musicians who doesn’t sacrifice the art to fit a market niche.  Whether you’re a Christian or not, these songs will feed your soul.  They really stir something in me, which is why this record has been my soundtrack for driving to church each week since I got it.  It helps me to look forward to something bigger, something better, something more meaningful than what most is usually offered to me.

I could elaborate on the songs or the man himself, but the best thing you could do is just listen.  Listen with an open mind and prepare to be surprised.  Brady Toops is a name I anticipate hearing for years to come and I hope you’ll join me in enjoying his new album.   I’ll close with a quote from the man himself:

“My goal with this album was to put together a collection of tunes that were honest and true. I wanted to make a record I could fully believe in. In the songwriting and production, I wanted the music to really go deep into the hearts of those who listen. I’ve been profoundly impacted by certain stories and songs over the years and the chance to give that sort of experience to someone is something I really enjoy.”

Brady Toops is available for purchase on iTunes and free streaming here.

Open Letter Concerning Syria

Below is a letter that Megan and I have sent to our Congresspersons, requesting them to stand for justice and peace when Congress reconvenes next month.  I urge you, regardless of your viewpoint on this issue, to be a part of the political process and contact those in Washington representing your interests.  Feel free to use any or all of our letter in your own letters to your Congresspersons.  You can find their contact information on these two websites:

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

[Representative/Senator],

As citizens of the United States of America and the state of Louisiana, my family is wholly opposed to our country engaging Syria violently at this time.  When Congress reconvenes, I urge you to please keep our country from engaging in such acts of aggression.  My family’s concern is less from war weariness and more from ethical concerns.  Not only would violence be a hasty alternative to diplomacy in this case, it would also be perceived as US imperialism in a region where we have vested economic interests.

Yet my request is not simply for you to oppose violent intervention in Syria–but to request that you put forth a more constructive approach to the situation.  We need better diplomatic relations, if we are to ever be a constructive presence in places like Syria, Egypt, Iran, or otherwise.

Please protect American men, women, and children now and in the future by opposing any efforts to engage Syria violently at this time.

For justice and peace,
Rev. Jason D. Wood and Megan Wood

Baptism Saves!

 

I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t trying to be provocative with this post.  Of course, that may unfortunately be my M.O.  A few Sundays back, I had the awesome opportunity to baptize my firstborn son, Josiah Jackson Wood.  Before baptizing him, I took a moment to talk a bit about baptism and what I believe the Scriptures teach about the sacrament.  Often, you will hear Christians say, “Baptism doesn’t save anybody–no, only Jesus saves.”  While I would certainly agree that Jesus saves, we have to be careful saying that baptism doesn’t.  Why?  Because the Apostle Peter says that baptism saves.  Click below to hear my comments from before J.J.’s baptism.  I’d love to have some interaction in the comment section below, so that we can have a better grasp on this difficult teaching from God’s Word.

A review of the album you’ll have memorized by tomorrow afternoon

Derek WebbIf you’re a true DW fanboy/girl, you’ve probably already read my review for ex-fans.  If not, you can read it later.  Let’s talk to the nuts like me who still wonder about Solomon Mente and think about MLK Jr. when they listen to “Jena and Jimmy.”  Here’s what you need to know about this record before you buy the highest tier preorder tomorrow, so you can set your I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You coffee mug next to your Ringing Bell graphic novel.

Music
Musically, this album is an absolute treat, because it really feels like a retrospective of all his post-Caedmon’s work…well, that is, if he’s not in Caedmon’s anymore…but that’s another conversation.  I’ve found myself constantly thinking things like, “Man, ‘Closer Than You Think’ really would have fit on The Ringing Bell” or “Did he write ‘Lover Part 3’ for I See Things Upside Down?”  Of course, Derek has already said that “Heavy” is intentionally reminiscent of “Wedding Dress.”  I could keep doing this all day.  If you like any or all of his albums musically, you’ll find something to love here.  Probably the least represented album musically would be Stockholm Syndrome, but you can find traces in programmed drums and some nasty bass lines.

Lyrics
Lyrically, this album is a sequel to She Must and Shall Go Free [SMASGF], including old hymns with new music (“Thy Will Be Done”), new hymns with traditional music (“I Measure The Days”), intentionally theological songs (“Lover Part 3”), and really sweet love songs that I assume were written for Sandra (“The Vow”).  Every song on this album is excellent from a lyrical standpoint, though a couple take some digging to process.  Of course, we expect that from DW.

Album Construction
I’m picky about this, since “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” taught me that there must be a coherent logic to any good album.  Here’s what I’m seeing in this record:

Tracks 1-2
“I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You” and “Eye of the Hurricane” – Derek tells you the basic premise of the whole record, trying to rebuild his relationship with Christians who have been alienated by past albums

Track 3: Lover Part 3
The theological basis for this record (and frankly, every record he’s ever written)

Track 4: Closer
The necessary response to Lover Part 3, a reminder that the Gospel not only binds us to the Father, but also to one another in Christ.  This track seems to wrap up the “family business” of restoration on the album.

Tracks 5-8
These songs, flowing from tracks 1-4, are all about reconciled family members sitting down and talking about the Church again, like they did on SMASGF.

Tracks 9-12
These songs were an unexpected turn for me, because they got really intensely personal.  It was almost uncomfortable to get this sort of glimpse into Derek’s personal life.  But frankly, it’s songs like these that make it a real Derek Webb album.  Sometimes it’s not the theology or the music, it’s the raw honesty–the laying bare of a person’s soul that really strikes hardest:

“Nothing But Love” – a painfully beautiful breakup song that seems to be about leaving 
his church
“The Vow” – a repentant romance song?  Or is it a romantic repentance?  I’m not sure.  Derek and Sandra sound like Johnny and June on this one.  Really great.
“Your Heart Breaks In All the Right Places” – I really can’t describe this, except as a 
remarkably transparent psalm.  Just gorgeous.
“Thy Will Be Done” – a musical redoing of Derek’s song from the last Indelible Grace record.  Every time I sing this, I feel both terrified and relieved by its honesty.

So that’s enough for now.  I’ve had the record for two weeks and just checked on iTunes, which informs me I’ve listened to it 15 times.  The standard for fanboy status has been set.  Ready, set, GO!  And, because I know you want to hear some of the songs, go read this other review now…