Watching this video might be the most important thing you do today

December 23, 2013 Leave a comment

Matt Visaggio:

My mom forwarded this blog post to me (which happens to have been recommended to her by my wife). It’s funny how it goes full circle and God uses these kinds of stories to show just how powerful his word is in this world. She says that “miracles are just small glimpses of what God can do” (paraphrasing), which is why she said he didn’t heal her. She ended up dying, but is alive through faith in her savior. And like a small “seed” that fell to the ground, her voice is still heard. Like Abel, she still speaks.

Matt Walsh wrote another blog post not too long ago (I’m assuming as much because my wife just sent it to me) about how he had decided to leave his radio gig and go full time with his blog. It was timely for me because I decided to do the same thing in my life and leave a steady paycheck to pursue growing my own firm. The strong desire in me to do something better, lasting, and meaningful has driven me to this point in my life – and although the circumstances that prompted me to take this risk had bits of “cancer” in them, I believe God will provide for me and my family regardless.

I only hope that this new full time venture in my life has even the most remote amount of impact as this dear Christian woman’s. Her death in Christ gives me an even fuller appreciation for what God meant when he wrote “all things work for the good of those who love him.” Instances like this bury pop cultural misuse of this passage in the depths of a pit. But God does work even through our death. He does it because he died to conquer death, turning our understanding of this world upside down and giving us something to cling to like a baby to his mom.

No, like Abby to her Lord.

Originally posted on The Matt Walsh Blog:

I don’t do this. I don’t think I’ve ever done this.

I don’t use this blog to simply pass along content from other websites. I’ve always wanted this to be a place for my opinion and commentary, not copied and pasted regurgitation.

So, honestly, when someone — a friend of Abigail’s — sent me this video last week, I didn’t think I’d put it on my site.

But then I watched it.

And then I watched it again.

This is truly one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen. I don’t say that lightly. The woman in the clip is named Abigail Smith.

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She had terminal cancer. She died a couple of weeks ago — shortly after filming this.

What makes this video remarkable is the sheer courage, faith, and wisdom this young woman demonstrates. I can write all day about these things in the abstract, but Abigail Smith provides…

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Categories: Grace

Wizard of Oz Symbolism, Behind the Curtain

July 5, 2013 1 comment

If you do a quick Google search for the term “Wizard of Oz symbolism,” you’ll get a ton of conspiracy theories, explanations about the political allegories found in the movie (and also the book, I imagine, and deep skepticism.

Follow the movie with me for a moment. Dorothy, a young girl, with her dog Todo are transferred either physically, metaphysically, or through a dream into the magical land of Oz. When they land, their house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East. This is the beginning of the journey to the “wonderful wizard of Oz,” the mystic, the wizard, the all-powerful man who can make everything right.

Long (and good) story short, Dorothy and Todo make their way to meet the wizard. Along the way they pick up friends who are lacking heart, brains, and courage. The wicked witch lambastes them over and over again throughout their journey. Eventually, and after many small victories and narrow escapes, they make it to Emerald City, the palace and home of the wizard. 

The lion, the scarecrow, the tin man, and Dorothy (and, I guess, Todo, too) needed the wizard to make things better, to fix them, to give them the answer. At first they see the powerful wizard with smoke, mirrors, loud booming voice and authority. He tells them to come back to him with the spoils of victory, the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West.

They do just that, by accident, as it were, by tossing water on a burning Scarecrow. The water splashes on the witch and she melts into oblivion. The return to the wizard with the broomstick in tote. 

Upon returning, the wizard is unwilling to grant them their reward of a safe return back to Kansas, a heart, courage, and brains. Unwilling (or really unable) to fulfill his promise, he asks the heros to return “tomorrow.”

Finally, the wizards “smoke and mirrors” is discovered by a nosy Toto who reveals that the great and powerful Wizard of Oz is a mere man. Unable to offer any help, found out, Dorothy and friends are angry, fooled. The wizard tries to slink by, but they won’t let him go.

The wizard admits that he is nothing, but that the things that they want are nothing, as well. He gives the scarecrow a degree, the lion gets a medal of honor, and the tin man was given a testimonial. These rewards from the wizard helped the friends realize that what they wanted, what they were missing, was inside them the whole time. They didn’t need anything special from his bag of tricks to make them “whole.” All they needed was to recognize that all they needed was already there inside them waiting to be recognized. 

That’s a powerful story, one that I’ve wanted to write about for quite some time now. I wanted to write about it to compare it with another powerful, but different, story. 

Contrast the Wizard of Oz who represents both the worst in moral and political authority and the best in human excellence with the man Jesus. 

The hardest part for people living post-Wizard of Oz era thinking to realize is that our broken hearts, brains, courage, and out-of-placeness cannot be fixed by our own doing. How many diplomas, medals, awards, honors, testimonials, and kudos from men does it take for you to get over the fact that you will die, that your best works are stained with sin, that you are always trying to fill an emptiness inside you that just takes and never gives. 

Jesus the man was different. His life was perfect; he lived under the law of God in heaven in our place. He fulfilled us and gives us his righteousness. He doesn’t lie to us and tell us that we need to look inside, dig deep, and accomplish our own salvation, our own happiness, our own way to the “Emerald City.” He tells us that we are evil, sinful, broken, self-serving and heading to eternal destruction because of what’s inside of us. “From the heart come all kinds of evil,” Jesus tells us. If we dig deep, we peel layers of rotten onion. That’s heart, our hearts.

This hurts us; it’s offensive, so we want to peel back the curtain and demand of Jesus what gives him the right to tell us we’re rotten and horrible. We are hostile to him, we don’t want to be saved. We want to save ourselves. That feels so much more natural to us.

But, that’s not where God leaves us. He opens the curtain and defines grace for us. 

You see, the yellow brick road on the way to enlightenment is a well-crafted lie. The real road was the journey up to Golgotha outside of Jerusalem where the Lord of Life was crucified. That’s what was behind God’s curtain. 

For thousands of years, the Israelites sacrificed sheep, goats, bulls, rams, and birds to show that the payment for sins, sinful hearts, and human beings was costly. Once a year, the high priest would enter the “Holy of Holies” to offer a sacrifice for sin for all the people. He would never enter without blood. But, these sacrifices never made people whole, cleaned. They reminded the people that God was the one who made them holy.

More than 2000 years ago, the curtain was rolled back and behind it we witnessed love. We witnessed the “magic” of what it would take to fix our hearts and minds. It would take the death of a perfect God in the man Jesus. There was no smoke. There was no mirror and the only fraudulent wizard was the devil who was defeated in a single day. This Jesus was not a fraud. He gave up his life to give us his heart, his mind, his courage, and his place in heaven.

What we search for – reputation, honor, courage, strength – from men such as the “wizards” in authority will never satisfy us. We won’t find it inside of us. If we look there, we will only see darkness. 

Instead, the curtain was literally torn on the day that they crucified Jesus. No longer is there a distance between our God and us. He will never float away in a balloon as the wizard did; he’ll never leave or forsake us. He wants us behind the curtain. He wants us with him forever. 

What happened behind the open curtain of God was the real death of the king of glory, the Son of God. That real death now saves you and me. How precious, strong, gracious was our God. Our words fail in describing the significance of what Jesus accomplished for us. It’s pure grace, love, strength and glory when he rose again to prove that our sins were paid for. 

So, if you wander on and off again the “yellow brick road” to self-fulfillment, you’re not alone. Just remember that the wizards of authority and this world will sell you the lie that you have what you need in yourself to be fulfilled. Then take a moment to look through the curtain of grace into the mind of Jesus, which is now ours because of his salvation. He gives us salvation and his righteousness because he knew we couldn’t save ourselves. His path paved heaven for us.

Amazing grace, not smoke and mirrors!

Categories: Grace

Christmas, Death

December 18, 2012 2 comments

There is so much passion in the song that I’ve been listening to all afternoon as I continue to scramble to get done with all of the work I’d like to accomplish before the holiday season begins. I’m so blessed and incredibly happy with the professional success that the Lord has allowed me to meet with this past year. I know that if “the Lord doesn’t build the house, it doesn’t get built.” I’m paraphrasing that passage, but I think it’s in line with what Solomon meant. 

It’s a bit sublime. Just trying to think through the words I want to use here, ironic doesn’t cut it. Neither does interesting, or funny, or coincidental. The word is sublime. There is nothing so full of death as Christmas. The moment you separate death from Christmas, you lose all meaning. There has never been a child born on this earth that was predetermined to die. Baby Jesus was destined to suffer death and hell (literally). Martin Luther wrote a great little book on Christmas that details how important it is for Christians to see the “grave” when they see the “stable.” 

That’s what’s sublime about this holiday. We look for the swaddling clothes, the beauty of the angels announcing reconciliation to the world, to sinners, of which I am the worst, and the loving gifts of the magi who come into the story later. It’s beautiful, but we see the shadow of that miserable cross. 

There is a new project that is getting started by confessional Lutherans in the church in which I am a member (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod). The website is called Bread for Beggars, and I have never been so proud to be a small part of something wonderful like this before. It’s a place where good music and art can be curated so that what is good is separated from what often infiltrates Christian music. We don’t have something like this, and I see the potential in developing it for the benefit of the kingdom of God.

So here’s what’s sublime about the whole thing and how I want to tie this all up thematically. All afternoon while I’ve been working away at my day job at Atilus, I’ve been listening to the song “Hallelujah by the band Cloverton.” The song is beautiful. The lyrics tell the story about how Christ came into the world to die. Hallelujah literally means “praise the Lord.” The joy that this song brings me is beyond me. It’s like the weight of all the world has been lifted off of my shoulders and placed on the shoulders of a baby. A “lamb prepared” for me. 

Take a moment and listen to the song and tell me what you think. I believe it’ll move you to understand what I’m talking about when I write “sublime.” There’s nothing quite like music to explain the beauty and majesty of a God that sent his Son into the world to die for sinners like us. It’s simple. It’s sublime. It’s the real truth of Christmas, wrapped in death, but offering life to us through the victory and the resurrection. 

Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah!

Categories: Grace

November 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Matt Visaggio:

Incredibly thoughtful and well written.

Originally posted on Pastor James Hein's Blog:

Several years back, the United Methodist Church launched a multimillion dollar advertising campaign, targeting young Americans, with the slogan “Open Minds. Open Hearts. Open Doors.”  I was reminded of this as my wife mentioned to me she heard a UMC promotional ad run while listening to Spotify Radio the other day.  If you don’t know, Spotify is a music listening tool aimed primarily at young Facebook users – precisely the demographic the UMC is now attempting to reach.

The Methodist Church has dropped approximately 3 million members in the past 40 years or so (from 11 to 8 million members).  Thus, the massive advertising efforts.

Some would look at the “Open Minds. Open Hearts. Open Doors.” motto and suggest that it’s a beautiful depiction of God’s unconditional and inviting love.  They would even point to various national awards the slogan has won as validation that it is a good tagline. …

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Categories: Grace

In Jesus I Have Everything

October 9, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s really hard to keep my mind quiet some times. I keep thinking about things I don’t have and push myself harder to provide for my family. Sometimes I want to become like the Old Testament man which God raised up. Except the man I’m thinking of supported his whole family, and God sheared off his ability to provide for his family. Like string attached to a nail, once he was “shorn off” they fell.

I pray that I am given the gift to support my family during this stage in my life. For some reason I spend more time about storing up enough for all of us to live on in our old age. Not just me, but my entire extended family.

When I “tried to do good, look, there is evil right there with it.” I don’t know if this desire is altogether pure. There must be some pride in it, some lack of faith i my dear God who loves me and promises to care for me as his child.

Even on the playing field of life, in work, I see good mixed with evil. Sometimes I feel like Lot must have, “tortured in his righteous soul” living and working in Sodom. There are thorns, where I would have yield fruit. There are thorns in my hands, and I truly see them interwoven in my labor.

“Yet I will see good in the land of the living” because I “know that my redeemer lives and that in the end I shall see him with my own eyes, I and not another.” Passages like these comfort my soul because I been taught to run to them for shelter. The “fool says in his heart that there is no God” and how I yearn that they would look and God would heal them.

He would heal them like he heals me. Teaching me that even if my nail were to be shorn off, I would not fall for his rod and his staff, they comfort me, catch me. The nails that held him to the cross support me in my every hour. The cross is my glory. His cross, my glory.

Thanks be to God. Rejoice in the world’s dear Lord who saves us with the blood from a head pierced with thorns! Through the thorns and the cross, his thorns and cross, we have everything.

Categories: Grace

Industrious

June 23, 2012 2 comments

I have a saying: “the harder you work, the harder you work.” Nobody gets it.

No matter how I intone my voice or even explain it, I really don’t think it makes sense. The sane person would drop it and use a cliche. The rest would really be no the worse for wear. I don’t because I am tenacious in almost everything I do. My wife calls me an extremist.

The point I mean to make is that the harder you work the more responsibility you gain and the more work you are given. It’s great for capitalist thinkers; doesn’t jive in bureaucracies. The saying usually gains blank stares.

I say it myself in different occasions: when I’m proud or thankful. When I appreciate what I’m able to put my “hand to do” and meet with success. I say it to myself also when I’m tired and “heavy laden.” I say it to others as an encouragement. Does it make sense?

It does to me.

Does it help or actually encourage me? I don’t know. I wish it encouraged others.

What do you think?

Categories: Grace

Restless Tonight

I’m restless tonight. My mind won’t turn off; I have been spending time consumed with analyzing things in my life that should be simply glossed over.

I’m consumed with being successful. I want to make an impact and be good at what I do. I want to be an expert, yet I find myself only becoming more and more of a generalist every day. It comes with hard work – you have very little time to focus in on one thing for very long.

So this long road circles back again to this mind and this bed being very ill at ease with each other. This is not neurotic; it’s cyclical. But I still think it’s far too human to be crazy.

The balance of my life confirms this rationale. I have repeatedly been a slave-driver to myself, prodding, whipping and demanding of myself labor, intense and unrelenting. To make these matters worse, I then treat myself poorly by fixating on the three things I didn’t do well or did without intention that I can’t sleep, instead of the countless blessings I’ve been given.

The third leg, or the result of this self-imposition, is physically mistreating my body. I eat too much, maybe drink more than I should, stay up late, and THEN apply the same strict code to decompress. When that doesn’t work quite as quickly as I’d like, if I am wound too tight, then I wind back up in my mind’s halls searching for the door out. I push myself to find peace from God, as if it were not already mine. I search for the passage to make everything “alright.”

Christians have a tendency to focus so much on ourselves for so l long that we lose focus on Christ. Instead of sleeping in our beds, we rehash our shortfalls and actually actively despair of ourselves. We get into the boat, strain at the oars of life until we are blinded by fatigue, then we wonder why we are so preoccupied – why the peace we long for is so allusive. The challenge for faith – knowing we
are at peace with God because of Jesus’ redemption.

God created us male and female to live together with him and rule all of creation. We lost that because of sin and so we live in a world that glorifies self, avoids God, and trends toward evil.

It’s no wonder why I get to feeling like this sometimes. We inherited a sinful nature from our parents that is naturally hostile to God. Talk about ironic: we are born with a nature that HATES the God of love.

Through the gift of faith we are called sons and daughters of God. Yet, we still have the sinful nature and evil tendencies. One of which is the reason why I’m restless tonight: I have focused far too long and hard on me. In the end all you will find is despair.

One of our greatest misunderstandings is the idea that we can approach God in the same way that we approach our daily lives, living, doing, accomplishing…or, regretting… as a “something” and not a someone. We can’t decide to move to God, take action, and then expect him to  immediately be at our beckon call. We have a tendency to forget our place with God. We are pots, jars, sheep, and children. I believe the Bible authors make that completely clear. Experience teaches us the same.

If that were the case, God would live with us now and this earth would be heaven. As it is, it is not, and God has clearly stated that our sins separate us from him. The Jews tried to do that with Jesus once, to make him a ruler by force, but he refused it. His way was higher than our way. The same is true today.

In fact, when Peter told Jesus he would never die, Jesus called his well-intended chastisement demonic. I believe that Jesus still rebukes his sons and daughters today with that same honest severity. He is in our lives for the sake of bringing us to heaven. When we wander and stray from God, we can return, but on his terms: through repentance. God’s is the end game. It’s vital that these “pillow” writings emphasize the sheer grace of what his “terms” mean. It means nothing less than forgiveness, peace, joy, and salvation – “for all who believe.”

So, dear “self,” rebuke yourself sternly and welcome the godly rebuke of others. When work becomes obsession, when your life does not center full-time on Jesus, then you must rebuke yourself sharply. Tell Satan to get behind you and carry your cross. But always remember that when it doesn’t feel like God comes running to you in those times He has already died for you in his time, on his terms.

His ways are higher than ours and he always accepts those who turn to him in faith, even when they wear themselves out working for things that are less than important.

“Whom do I have in heaven but you? And on earth, whom do I have but you?”

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