Called Home, Over The Rhine (2013, Meet Me at the Edge of the World)

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Living in the dead of winter is my favorite time of year.  Sure, I love the Spring and Fall, too.  Summer is grand, make no mistake about that.  But the real gem of all seasons is that January through March when the holidays are over, the sky is bleak and gray, and life couldn’t possibly feel more depressing.

Am I serious or being sarcastic?  I am serious…dead of winter serious!  Let me explain.

We enjoy and prefer things in life based on their differences from other, lesser things.  We only like warmth because we have felt the sting of cold.  We only ache for love because we have learned how to hate and be lonely.  And our favorite moments in life are usually right when we rise out of darkness into light or when we are just coming up for air after being underwater for so long.  You might even say that anticipating that moment is more thrilling than the happy relief itself.  For when you finally realize that the bad is ending and the good is coming, your stomach catches into your throat and your eyes widen with mirth and delight!

In the dead of winter, there is provided an opportunity to anticipate and long for the relief of Spring.  The snow melts feverishly, the birds sing happily, and the sun breaks through with color and heat.  It is finally March, and I feel that anticipation deep inside.  I have braved the majority of this winter onslaught, and soon the rewards of change and life and perseverance will be reaped. It is this moment of the year that I cherish the most.

Therefore, the dead of winter is my favorite place to be.  The dead of winter, spiritually speaking, is a place I call home, as well.

I have had it on my list to write about this next band from the very beginning.  Well over 20 years ago, Over The Rhine began its musical journey and I have had the privilege of following them for almost the entire way.  I would be hard pressed to find a more satisfying and influential music group on my life than these fine folks.

Last year, Over The Rhine released a new double album that featured the themes of home and end of life.  Over The Rhine, comprised primarily of the happily married couple Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, live in southern Ohio on an, old small farm.  The song we are featuring talks about two themes: the place that we call home today and the anticipation of being called home for eternity.

For OTR, their farm has become a refuge and a safe haven.  Music and life have arisen fruitfully from Nowhere Farm, as they like to call it.  They are not the landscaping type, as you might guess from many of their songs.  I listen to them speak and sing about the peace and rest they find at home and I find myself very jealous.  But this song also talks about a state-of-mind-place called home that directly ties itself to the Christian’s anticipation of eternity in Heaven with God.  Have a listen:

Just shy of Breakin’ Down
There’s a bend in the road that I have found
Called home

Take a left at loneliness
There’s a place to find forgiveness
Called home

With clouds adrift across the sky
Like heaven’s laundry hung to dry
You slowly feel it all will be revealed

Where evening shadows come to fall
On the awful and the beautiful
Every wound you feel that needs to heal

And silence yearns to hear herself
Some long lost memory rings a bell
Called home

Old pre-Civil War brick house
Standin’ tall and straight somehow
Called home

Mailbox full of weariness
And a word of hard won happiness
Called home

Leave behind your Sunday best
You know we couldn’t care a less
Out here we’ve learned to leave the edges wild

And stories they get passed around
And laughter – it gets handed down
Read it in the lines around a smile

Our bodies’ motion comes to rest
When we are at last
Called home

The song is comfortable sounding and lyrically inviting to all who are seeking rest and acceptance.  There is a quiet confidence concerning the things that matter most: where do I belong? and where will I end up?  These resolutions can only be found in Jesus.

Even though we Christians struggle, suffer and slip at times, the promise of Heaven through God’s grace always remains.  Standing under the shelter of these truths is the place that the Christian should call home.  Listen to Paul talk about it in 2 Corinthians 4:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies…

…We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to Himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

All of this text reveals of the guts of true hope.  Just like in the dead of winter, we rest in the fact that Spring always comes and it is always good.  Where I live, we have broken snow and temperature records this year, but none of that deters my belief in the near arrival of Spring.  The more harsh our winter is, the more sweet the relief will be when Spring finally comes.

So it is with the believer’s inheritance in Christ Jesus!  He is coming soon and when He does all will be made right again.  Justice will be exacted; wounds will be healed; the dead will rise again; the pain will permanently subside and perfect joy will be rewarded to all of God’s children!

And for now, the believer who dwells and meditates and rests upon this reality has a true place to call home.  We strive and struggle through all of our winter moments in this life in order to maintain a spiritually healthy home in our hearts…until God finally calls us to our true Home – A New Heaven and a New Earth!

Consider taking this March – this dead of winter time – to allow Christ to call you home: both in growing your trust in His promises and actively anticipating that glorious moment when we are finally called home.

The Days To Come – The 77s (1990, Sticks & Stones)

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In the wake of last week’s terrorist attack in Boston and other tragedies, I decided to dig into the archives for a song with a helpful message.  Responding to evil and disaster is a difficult and sensitive topic.  It is at least part of the biggest reason why people choose to turn their backs on God.  Why devote yourself to a Being that allows so many bad things to happen in this world?

The elusive answer to this question has been written across history for centuries.  Merely stepping back and getting a bird’s eye view will show that these tragic events are not new, nor are they an indication of what is to come.  However, we ought to admit the fact that it is hard to remember this ageless cycle of violence when we are hit in the face with a new wave of evil’s thorns.  It feels so unnecessary, uncalled for, and unimaginable.  The amount of “how” and “why” questions that I heard asked throughout the last few days reflects this challenge.

Therefore, I’ve called upon a voice from the past to encourage us with the old, but ever-new message: forget the past, and prepare for the days to come.

The Seventy Sevens (77s) dominated the rock scene throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s.  Led by front man, Michael Roe, they began as a ministry-based quartet.  Their integrity of both musical style and lyrical power lifted them into the hall of fame of Christian rockers (if there is such a place).  I certainly cut my teeth on their sound in my early years.  Like a surprisingly large amount of 80’s bands, they still play and tour even today and you can listen to their entire discography at the link above.

Today’s song comes from their best album (in my opinion), “Sticks & Stones.”  Listen to the balance of a sensitivity to pain, as well as the encouragement of the future:

Something tells me that we’ll come out of this
With a healing compassion or a scarring bitterness
Don’t revive painful times, let them rest
Don’t drag a net through the sea of forgetfulness

The cut was deep, the blood was warm
I can’t deny what it’s done
But if we don’t release the past
We’ll slap the face of the days to come

There’s a hand at the door refusing to leave
Its pulse is throbbing, its heart on its sleeve
It’s a new tomorrow waiting to be received
By somebody ready and willing to believe

The cut was deep, the blood was warm
I can’t deny what it’s done
But if we don’t release the past
We’ll slap the face of the days to come

Remember this melody
Don’t ever let it go away
Sing it to your heart
Day after day after day

The cut was deep, the blood was warm
I can’t deny what it’s done
But if we don’t release the past
We’ll slap the face of the days to come

The “days to come” obviously refer to the promise of Heaven and all things being made new in Christ.  It is the time when the kingdom of God comes to reclaim and remake everything that was once lost and broken.  The crux of these future days, as it relates to current evil, is that God has promised to put an eternal end to every evil, every sorrow, and every tear – for those who are found to have true faith in Jesus.

The informed Christian sees the news headlines from last week and thinks, “Come, Lord Jesus!”  And this is all well and good, but the fact remains that Jesus didn’t pick yesterday to return and rescue His people from woe.  That day is still to come.  Today is still a day filled with pain, regret, anger, restlessness, loneliness, and fear.  What can we say the grieving and hurting people who need help?

The bottom line, as insensitive as it might sound, is these things are simply the inheritance of our human ways.  Yes, there are positives to be celebrated from last week, such as the heroes who helped the injured, saved lives and captured the bombers.  And yes, we are not all like those who would destroy innocent life for any reason.  But, our human heroes are not our saviors; and our bombers are still our neighbors and fellow sinners before the Cross. All of the “how” and “why” questions are found in each of our hearts.

Do not be surprised by the clutches of evil in this world, for as severe as it seems at times God is actively holding evil at bay.  Do not linger upon the tragedies of the past, for they will repeat themselves again and again until the White Horseman rides down from the clouds.  And do not lose hope amidst the ashes of this world, for there are better days to come.

“3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.[a] He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.”                    – Revelation 21:3-7

A Last Time for Everything – Ben Shive (2011, The Cymbal Crashing Clouds)

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Today, we pause from our Christmas theme to honor the victims of today’s tragedy at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.  27 people (20 of which were young children) were shot and killed this morning.

The link above takes you to a song that was posted in The Rabbit Room for the same reason that I’m posting it here.  The truth in this tune, by a great artist named Ben Shive, is simple: tragedies like today’s won’t last forever.  There will be a sweet exhale and liberating end to all pain and suffering…for those who have found the mercy of God through Christ.  Revelation 21:4 reminds us of this promised truth.

Today, so many people will ask, “How?” or “Why?”.  We will try to find the good in what has happened or where the blame should be put.  Our hearts will cry out for vengeance. But I believe fellow blogger, Jen Wilkin, gives us a proper perspective here.

Christmas is a hard time for this tragedy to take place.  And yet it is a perfect theological fit.  Christ came to earth because we were too sinful and broken to take care of ourselves.  What the incarnation accomplished was real answers and real victory for those of us who see sin and Satan as the real culprits in today’s events.  “Peace on earth and good will towards men…” – BECAUSE God miraculously came to us as a babe and defeated sin and death forever!  Now, we simply wait for Him to culminate that “Silent Night” on the Last Day!

My purpose in posting tonight is to offer Ben’s beautiful reminder through melody and words that although we hurt deeply (none more deeply than the families of the victims, of course), tomorrow we will cling tightly to the shoestring hope that these awful things too shall pass.  Come, Lord Jesus!  May it the be the last time for days like today.