Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Four weeks, you rehearse and rehearse.  Three weeks, and it couldn't be worse.
One week, will it ever be right?  Then out of the hat it's that big first night

The overture is about to start.  You cross your fingers and hold your heart.
It's curtain time and away we go.  Just another op'nin of another show!

- Cole Porter, Kiss Me Kate

"This is your five!"

Anyone who's spent anytime in the theater is familiar with the "five minute call".  In short, it means show time!  The excitement of opening night is indescribable.  Whether it's community theater in Western Oklahoma (Holla!) or Broadway in New York City, months of preparation, time, talent and energy brim to successful (or sometimes disastrous!) fruition just moments after the "five minute call".

I can't count the time I've heard "this is your five" in my dreams.  The call instantly propels me into complete panic when I'm suddenly aware I HAVE to find the script to look at the lines I can't recall because I haven't rehearsed at all!   I'm about to be in the spotlight and caught completely unaware of my role.   I even chastise myself in the dream. "Did you think you could wing it - you idiot!  Why, why, why! did you not rehearse? You're going to make a fool of yourself and ruin this production!"

As though I'm caught in some FBI examination, light shining bright on my head hung low, I'm a suspect terrified at being found out.  My inadequacy will be discovered and worse, I will be discovered onstage before a jury of my peers. 

But then, just as the curtains open on exposing the fake I am, I awake to find it was all a dream.   I'm then giddy in bed realizing it was just a nightmare that revealed a universal fear of being exposed.  A fear that, miraculously, I no longer have to claim when I believe The Gospel.

Only a dream, only a dream, And glory beyond the dark stream;
How peaceful the slumber, How happy the waking;
For death is only a dream. 
- C.W. Ray

The old hymn "Death Is Only a Dream" brings to light the fear we have of physical death and serves as a steady reminder to believers that, as Paul writes, because we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection (Romans 6:5).  In other words, what's happened to Christ Jesus (death and resurrection) also awaits us.   Consequently, though death appears to be a permanent end, it is merely a dream. 

King David wrote in one of the most oft-recited Psalms, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).   What comfort this simple scripture has brought countless sufferers through the centuries.

Clearly the shadow David describes is not the real thing; it is only the appearance of the real thing. The King is describing here humanity's proclivity to view the shadow of death as the real thing and instead offers us a song to sing redirecting our hearts to him who guides us through physical death and into life eternal.

Genesis' telling of our earliest ancestors presents postexilic Adam and Eve as being naked and ashamed east of Eden.   Their having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil left them shamefully aware that they had transgressed God's good and perfect law.    It was the inaugural trip to the valley of the shadow of death from which no human ever returns without aid from The Father.    Down in that valley they looked around for life, peace and the pursuit of happiness and found only failure, unrest and futility.   Why?  According to John Piper, because the foundation of covenant-keeping love had collapsed.

They experienced this immediately in the corruption of their own covenant love for each other.  It happened in two ways.  And we experience this today in these same two ways.  Both related to the experience of shame.   In the first case, the person viewing my nakedness is no longer trustworthy, so I am afraid I will be shamed.  In the second, I myself am no longer at peace with God, and I feel guilty and defiled and unworthy -- I deserve to be shamed.  - John Piper, This Momentary Marriage

Essentially they began to hide from God (and one another).   Using God's creation now as a means to retreat from Him, Adam and Eve fashioned clothing with which they could hide their exposed flesh from God and from one another.   But what they really sought to hide was their shame.   They could not stand the spotlight of God's holiness shining on their wickedness....before it they were undone.

Sin is: in despair not wanting to be one's self before God - Soren Kierkegaard

This pitiful game of hide and seek from God is common to all mankind, and it has no ending unless we are freed from external (law) and internal (shame) condemnation.   Unless we are freed from our guilt and the resultant shame there can be no peace internally or externally.   Though we seek to deceive ourselves with the shadow of peace or happiness through pleasure (the aesthetic life), treasure (materialism) or measure (self-justification by way of achievement), curtains are pulled back all too quickly.   So, in what Matt Chandler calls circular silliness, we continue to strive for the deliverance (read salvation from emptiness) that only God in His complete fullness can provide.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus - 1st Timothy 2:5

Man must be delivered from the valley; our bondage to sin must be broken with help from the almighty.  We feel it - we read about it - the crisis of humanity bears witness to the truth.  The honest man knows it in his heart.   Within and without the human condition is on display and thus, Humanism, the enlightenment philosophy of Stuart Smalley ("I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and doggone it, people like me!"), has been tried and found wanting -  Mankind as "the little engine that could" is continually being exposed for the lie that it is.    

We don't get better, we don't improve, we get saved - we get delivered.   Saved from our sin, saved from our inadequacy and saved from our selves.   If we could but hear his voice calling, "it is finished" (John 19:30).   The job of living life free from sin was completed on our behalf by one man.   The rod and the staff which comforted David now comfort the Christian eternally as they have become one in The Good Shepard who leaves 99 sheep to rescue one that is lost (Matthew 18:12).

The word made flesh, Jesus, has become the script I will never be able to track down.  He took the stage when I was speechless and yet when the applause comes (well done, my good a faithful servant! (Matthew 25:21)), I can join him in taking the bow because His righteousness is now mine - a free gift of grace!  I'm equipped to stand before God under the unrelenting spotlight of His holiness because I am now found in Him.  God does not see my sin, He sees Christ's righteousness alone made perfectly manifest in his sacrifice on the cross of Calvary.

No longer alone in our guilt, we have been replaced by the only one who could bear the burden of guilt for us. Reconciled to God the Christian is no longer alone, East of Eden, he finally rests, exposed but forgiven, helpless but helped, loveless but loved.....and changed!

Lonely no more - Lonely no more!   
How can we be what I was before when I'm not lonely anymore?
- Steve Marriot, The Small Faces


This Week

* Wednesday AM Book Study - The Explicit Gospel, Chapter 7, 7am - 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

Please pray as we meet with hurting couples in the East Texas area who are in desperate need of God's restoration individually and relationally.