I made a video about our hope as Christians of the consummation, when the New Heavens and Earth will be complete and we will enjoy God forever. I hope it edifies and encourages you, brother or sister in Christ.
I wrote a song a while ago. It's a song that's very important to me, and to my personal convictions. It's a song that, until recently, I haven't shared publicly. Part of the reason for that is because I was planning on debuting it on my podcast, The Christian Artist, and it took us a while to get around to the topic. The other reason is that the song is a challenge to me as much as it is to anyone else, and I have been struggling with being in a good place; feeling like I was "worthy" of this song, in a sense. It's a heavy song that deals with a heavy topic: The murder of unborn children in the womb. But it's also about me and my own desire to change the world for Christ, despite my lack of ability or personal worthiness to do so.
Luckily, God is bigger than me, and so he doesn't need me to change the world. He can do it through the rest of His faithful Bride. But also luckily, God deigns to use crooked sticks like me. And more than that, He straightens crooked sticks. He makes them new when they were dead. He grafts them onto a Tree of Life.
That's what this song is about. My own inability and God's ability to change the world. To lead those stumbling towards slaughter away from harm. To raise up a generation of godly people who will proclaim the Kingdom of God. And to save His people.
I was challenged to write this song because of Apologia Studios and their influence on my life. Their movement #EndAbortionNow is the most bold, God-honoring, and amazing movements I've seen in my lifetime, and it inspired me so much that I had to put my feelings down to music. Human abortion is wicked and needs to be stopped, and we have the only Gospel that can change human hearts.
Without further ado, here is my song, and my battle cry: End It Now.
I might post a further article delving into the lyrics of the song itself and explaining them further, as well as just talking about my general creative process. Let me know if that's something you would be interested in in the comments below!
Right after the election, things were a little crazy. I wrote this in response, to all of my fellow Christians. Please, don't be silent.
We live in a horrible world. A world where good is called evil and evil is called good. A broken, sinful, depraved world that does not deserve redemption. Though it was not created that way, we as human beings decided to play God and so we fell from God’s grace. And the consequence of our disobedience, of our willing participation in our forefather Adam’s sin, is this: the world. We are all sinful to the core, unwilling to give God glory and praise for His goodness and instead blaming him for all of the things we’ve caused.
Bad things don’t happen in the world because God is immoral. Bad things happen because God is moral. God is just. And there are consequences for breaking His commands. The broken world we live in is our birthright, the world we have shaped with our depravity and the world that we deserve in our wickedness.
That is the beginning of the Gospel. And yeah, that sounds pretty bad. But it makes the next part all the sweeter.
You see God did not leave us in this hopeless cycle of sin and death. God had a plan. A promise. Even before we fell, He had planned how He would catch us. And so He sent His son, Jesus Christ, fully God and yet fully man in a wonderfully divine yet humbly human representation and example of what it meant to follow the Father’s will.
First, He lived. Christ lived on the Earth as a man, yet He did not sin. He gave us an example to follow and showed us that though we, on our own, can never measure up to perfection, God can. And He did. For us.
He showed us how to live, not only by giving us a new definition of the word love, but exemplifying it for us in everything that he did. Love was not a feeling. Love was not a mere acceptance, or tolerance, or agreement with someone. Love was a constant war, waged for the good of your neighbor and your brother. Love was a fight for their salvation, a fight for their life, and a laying down of your own, if that was what it took. Love was discipleship and accountability, a genuine concern and the action that derives from that overwhelming concern to save a person from themselves and show them the way to go. Love hurt. Love bled. But love, Jesus showed us, could not be given, unless it was God who loved first.
And so he did. Christ showed us that unless a love for God the Father that overwhelmed everything else—that took our body, mind, heart, soul, and strength—was the foundation of our very being…then love was false. A mere shadow. Worse, a deepening blackness that pretended at concern while remaining ultimately selfish. Love was given by God. And no other.
And then, in the ultimate act of love and the focal point of the story of redemption, Christ died. He traded his perfection, his righteousness, his sinlessness for us. He bore the wrath that we deserved, and in the process, secured for us definite and amazing salvation from our wicked desires and the consequences of chasing after them. All of our sin was placed in Him. And in that moment, Christ felt the pain and the wickedness and the horrible reality of every bit of human history that had ever been or ever would be. And he took his last breath, with the joy set before him, the redemption of His people, reverberating through every part of Him.
And then, Christ lived again. And this, this wonderful and amazing glory, that sin and death had been conquered, was made manifest. The power of sin had been broken. The consequence of sin, death, had been removed. And all those who called on the name of the Lord would be saved.
Israel was reborn. But not as a physical nation. As a spiritual one. A people of fire and holiness. A people bought with the blood of Jesus and kept in righteousness by that same, beautiful sacrifice. A people that would bring glory to God throughout the ages, that would make the world echo with his praises. Christian, you are a chosen son or daughter of the living God. And the world desperately needs to hear the message of salvation. We are a nation of individuals. But we are not an earthly nation. We do not fight with swords. We fight with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do not war with flesh and blood, but against the power of sin and death, tools the enemy holds so cleverly in his hand. But remember, we do not rule this kingdom. Though we belong to it, and we can call it our own, we do not get to decide what its agenda is. Our kingdom has a king. And that king is wonderful and perfect and righteous. That king calls us to join His work of redemption and to go out into the world and make disciples of all earthly nations, bringing them into the glorious kingdom of Christ.
We live in this broken world. But we are not alone. And we have a mission. Our mission is to share the Gospel. Our mission is to preach God’s Word. Our mission is to love each other and unite with one mind as we press onward. To desire that all people come to Christ, and to diligently act on that desire.
In this broken world, we need to preach the Gospel. Preach it with fire and purity of heart. We need self-sacrificial love. We need Christ’s love, not our own.
We don’t need more fingers pointed. We don’t need more people blamed. Unless we point to our sin, and blame our lack of repentance.
We don’t need more laws drafted. We don’t need more policies changed. Unless we first change our hearts, and fall in love with God’s law.
We don’t need more white guilt. We don’t need self-deprecating shame. Unless it points us to the core of our problem, that all of us are fallen and sinful.
We don’t need more doom-saying. We don’t need more “kingdom came, then it went.” What we need is to worry less about our safety, less about our neighbor’s privilege. Less about hate-filled tolerance, less about nominal Christianity.
We need to worry more about the Gospel, and why we’re not preaching it.
With words, not just with actions. Actions speak louder than words but actions speak loudest when the message is clear, and words are necessary for that.
Those words are important. And those words should be spoken.
But we should speak softly.
Why can’t we speak softly?
Why can’t I learn to sing a lullaby?
Will these words never do more than hurt?
Why can’t we learn to speak softly?
Can’t we see all this death and tragedy?
Some will never know, what it’s like to have a home
They’re all alone in the darkness
May my words do more than hurt
A single voice in this sea of noise
Can’t you be the bit of hope they need?
Singing loud over the crowd
They’re alone in the silence
Please speak softly
Oh, speak softly
Be what they need
Yeah, speak softly
Why can’t we speak softly
I will try to sing a lullaby
With all I am, I promise to stand
With these words, I’ll try to heal the hurt
Now I ask of you, will you heal them too?
They’re all alone, now they’re crying out
Please speak softly
Oh, speak softly
Be what they need
Yeah, speak softly
Why can’t we speak softly
On Thursday, April 7th, my parents and I got on a plane headed for France. Since this was the first time that I would be visiting another country since 2008, and only the second time leaving the country ever in my life, suffice it to say, I was pretty excited.
But even before we had left the States, the spiritual warfare had begun. You see, we were going to the International Christian School of Budapest in Hungary, to teach, mentor, and love on some middle school and high school kids, many of which are the children of missionaries in Europe. And so spiritual warfare was simply inevitable.
Multiple sicknesses, stress with school and work, and a host of other things plagued our family as we got ready to head out for ministry. But it was with a ready heart that I flew out from O'Hare in Chicago, ready for another adventure. Of course, four hours into our flight, I was already horrendously sick. After hours of nausea, incredibly uncomfortable attempts at sleep at what was the middle of the night back in the States, and a host of other minor inconveniences, we finally landed in Paris and I promptly vomited twice.
I jokingly remarked to my parents: "Well, at least I can cross 'throwing up in an airport in Paris' off my bucket list now."
Our journey continued with a two hour flight from Paris to Budapest, and though it started off well, with a rather beautiful take-off that reminded me of how amazing God was and gave me some strength back, soon my exhausted body just couldn't take it anymore and it was back to nausea and almost delirious dozing. After an excruciating shuttle ride to the hotel we'd be staying at for two nights before we headed to the host house we would be staying at for the week, it was with enormous relief that I stepped out of the car, checked into my hotel room, and promptly collapsed into a dreamless sleep.
I tell you of all this to preface what was one of the best weeks of my life. Funny how those things work out sometimes.
After spending most of Saturday and Sunday recovering, it was time for the Sunday night meeting with the staff we would be working with at the school that week, and I have to admit, part of me wished I didn't have to go--it was baldly selfish, but I was still exhausted and slightly uneasy from the trip to Europe. But as we drove home from that meeting at a Hungarian restaurant (one that serves very good potatoes, let me tell you), I was so glad that I went.
The first impression that I had of the leaders that served at this school was that they were some of the most solidly Christian people I had ever met. From their love and friendliness, to their servant's attitudes, and on through to their firm stand on the Gospel and scriptural authority, I knew right away that I was going to love these people. And I did.
After hours of discussing how the week was going to play out, we adjourned and went back to where we were staying with the Thompson family (missionaries in Budapest--just wait, I'll get to them soon enough), attempting to get a good night's rest before we started ministry full swing in the morning. My mom and I succeeded--Dad, not so much. But the day made up for it all by itself.
I was immediately impressed, not only by the efficiency, helpfulness, and continued friendliness by the staff at ICSB, but by the overwhelming welcome we got from everyone at the school, from the staff to the middle schoolers to the high schoolers and beyond to everyone involved in helping the school stay up and running.
The middle schoolers, as they usually are, were full of energy. But they weren't disrespectful--they listened, they engaged with the lesson, and afterward, talking with some of them at lunch and then going out to play tag with a few of the boys outside, I was treated to just how friendly and welcoming this group of middle school students truly were. And it made me want to cry. Still does.
The high schoolers were just as friendly and welcoming. They took the lesson seriously in the right places, and had fun with us when it was time to have fun. And it was so encouraging to see how they were being leaders at their school--role models for the other students to look up to.
Encouragement followed us all throughout that first day as we got so much positive feedback from the students on how much they had liked the lesson and my song. We had a long conversation over lunch with Austin, one of the leaders at the school in charge of the chapel time, and a worship leader and youth leader to boot. His razor-sharp wit and easy going nature made us feel at home, and we left the school that day feeling so ready for the rest of the week.
It only gets better from there.
I could go on to describe every situation--every laugh, every encouragement, every reason that I have for why I fell in love with this school. But it would take too many words. Over the week, I came to see these youth the same way I see the youth at Faith Community Church back at home. Like family. And no, I didn't have that long to get to know them. I, truly, don't know them as well as I feel like I do. But hey, that's what Facebook is for, right? And maybe I'll go back someday. I sure would like to.
All in all, every laugh I enjoyed with these students or the staff, it reminded me of a time not too long ago when a group of us silly teenagers used to get together on Sunday afternoons and go walk around the mall. All in all, every encouragement I experienced from the students or the staff made me feel like I had so much purpose, so much definition, to my life in a way that I rarely feel nowadays.
All in all, every reason that I could give for falling in love with this school, it's enough to bring me to my knees in thanksgiving for the work the Lord is doing there. This school is going places, it's impacting people. These students are going places and they are impacting people. And the leaders at this school are letting the Lord use them to teach, mentor, and send out these students in powerful, powerful ways.
And that's from only a week being there. I cannot wait to see what God does with these kids the rest of the year and beyond. If what happened during Spiritual Impact Week is any indication as to the spiritual power surrounding these kids and the staff, then God has an army in the making. And that makes me so thankful to God. So in awe of Him.
Besides the leaders and staff at the school, there was one more group of people that made our stay in Budapest the best it could have possibly been--the Thompson family. They let us barge into their home, sleep on their beds, eat their food, be vegetables on their couches, and all around be incredible nuisances all week. And they did it with a smile on their face and a helping hand always there. They drove us all over, they encouraged us and gave us advice and did so many other little things that I can't begin to express my gratitude to them.
Really and truly, Brian and Barbara Thompson feel like my uncle and aunt now, and their high-school age daughters Sarah and Chloe feel like they're my cousins. Part of me thinks that they really must be distantly related to us because of how much I enjoyed their company and how much I have in common with them. I so wish we had known them back when they had lived in Janesville (yeah, it's crazy--they lived in Janesville before moving to Budapest and my parents just met them like last year during a Europe-area missions conference). I feel like we would have been great friends even then.
I could go on. For hundreds, if not thousands of more words. But I feel like it's time to bring this blog post to a close. Writing this out definitely helped me to give some closure and clarity to the week. Friday was so very bittersweet, and though I'm still in Europe, enjoying a few days in Austria on our own penny before heading back to the States, I feel like I'm part of another world. The routine of ICSB is gone, snatched away from me suddenly like a Christmas present that I only got to have for an hour. Part of me feels like all the spiritual energy in me is gone, unsure if I'll ever have it again.
But my God is faithful, and my time with ICSB is done for now. I leave it all in His hands--it's time to move on, get back to the routine of Life As Caleb, The College Student, and live for Jesus Christ one day at a time.
Coming off the "spiritual high" can sometimes be bumpy. It has been for me. But life is not lived according to weekend retreats or Spiritual Impact Weeks or even the normal Sunday-Wednesday church thing. Life is lived, for Christ, with every passing moment, being intentional about the gratitude and servitude that you can offer the One who took away your death to give you life.
I guess it's time to say goodbye to this school I've fallen in love with, knowing that I still have, and forever will have, my First Love.
Lead the way, Jesus.
Today is Easter Sunday. For most Americans, this will be a day filled with candy, bunnies, and a vague celebration of life. Or maybe a half-hearted attempt to give church a chance, because, hey, tradition. But Easter, or the day that has become our celebration of the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead, is about so much more than that. Some insist that the origins of Easter are undoubtedly pagan, others insist the exact opposite. Unlike other holidays, which can usually be figured out one way or the other fairly easily, Easter's origins are very muddy and nothing can be said about whether it originated with pagan traditions or Christian ones with absolute certainty.
But Easter, for us followers of Christ, is, has been, and always will be (or at least should be) about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. And that's why I sort of cringe at the name Easter, because so many people don't understand what is actually significant about today. They either believe that it was originally a pagan thing or they completely ignore the fact that the reason Easter exists is because of Jesus Christ. And then Christians feed into the problem by throwing around vague statements like "I hope you're impacted by the power of Easter this Sunday" (I saw a tweet just like that this weekend) and it's just ridiculous to me. Now, I'm not saying that we should stop calling it Easter, or get offended when people don't call it Resurrection Sunday or something like that, because that in and of itself is ridiculous as well. We can't expect an entire secular culture to believe in something that it has no reason to. But we, as Christians, have a responsibility to our culture; whenever we talk about Easter, we need to talk about why it's important.
It's important because three days before he was raised from the dead, the God of the Universe died in payment for our disobedience. It's important because the cross that we should have been hung on was given to Jesus Christ. It's important because the most hopeless period of human history, the time when Jesus was dead, was succeeded by the most joyous of occasions: when Jesus lived. It's important because death was conquered and sanctified for the followers of Christ, anyone who believes and repents, and so we don't have to fear it anymore.
It's important because the lost need to know that God in the flesh came down to Earth, died in the most horrific physical and spiritual death that is possible, and then rose from the dead, proving that He was God and that death had no power over Him.
And so when you're tempted to say silly things like "I pray that people are impacted by the power of Easter" or even just statements that are lacking such as "have a great Easter", stop and check yourself. Easter is about Jesus. Let's talk about Jesus. The Gospel cannot be preached without us actually, you know, preaching.
That all being said, I hope you all have a joyous time celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. One of my favorite things about today so far has been the example the body of believers at my home church (Faith Community here in Janesville) set for the non-believers who came through our doors this morning. We showed them what it was like for the body of Christ to celebrate Easter. We showed them what it was like to bask in the joy and wonder that is worshiping our Lord together. And we showed them that we have something that the world cannot and does not understand: Communion with each other and God in a powerful, accountable, and holy way.
Happy Easter, everyone. Let's celebrate, not just life, but Jesus' life. And the life that He bought for us through His work on that day, more than 2,000 years ago.