Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: December, 2006

An ode to odes

Do you like music? I sure do. Ever since I can remember I’ve always liked a catchy beat, and after a bit of higher education I began to appreciate music for its deeper qualities. Unfortunately I think I’m a little musically challenged. I’ve been playing guitar for almost ten years now and I’ve attained to the level of average. Be that as it may I think that music is one of the most wonderful things God had given us. Recently I became convinced that music is one of the characteristics of humans being made in the image of God. Did you know there only two groups of beings in the Bible that sing? Man and God. You won’t be able to find a verse that points to an angel singing, it’s only us and God. I love this verse:

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

(On a mind-blowing side note, can you imagine what it must sound like to hear the almighty God sing?) Have you ever thought about what music really is? Let’s use a guitar for an example. You have six metal strings of specific thickness and you tighten them up to a specific tension. Then you place your fingers on certain spot, changing the relative length of the strings and you hit them, causing them to vibrate. The vibrations resound off the guitar and fly through the air eventually arriving at your eardrums. They move the eardrum around and cause…pleasure. Pleasure is to be had in specific mixtures of specific frequencies of vibrations flying through the air. Kinda odd, eh?

Or think about visual arts. A splash of this pigment and a splash of another, arraigned in a certain shape. Light bombards the canvas and only certain wavelengths are allowed to bounce off while the rest is absorbed. These modified waves of light fly through the air and hit your eyes, producing…pleasure.

I like words. I love to read a poem or listen to a song that has finely-crafted words. One of my greatest ambitions in life is to write a beautiful song and, although I’ve tried, I’ve never been able to do it. I think writing a song must be the most difficult thing in the world. Words give me much pleasure.

But isn’t it interesting how elusive it all is? I don’t love words simply if their content is good, it’s something about how a sentence or paragraph is crafted. Check this out:

Around midnight I was studying some ancient books. Eventually I became very tired and almost fell asleep when suddenly I heard knocking at the door. I assumed it was a visitor.

Now check this one out:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
” ‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more.”

Both passages have pretty much the exact same information. The only difference I can see is that my passage is mundane and Poe’s is beautiful. Why is it beautiful? Perhaps because of the careful meter. Perhaps because of the clever rhymes or word images. I really don’t know why, but reading this poem gives me pleasure.

I think pleasure through art is one of the ways that God shows himself to us. I am sure that creativity is a mark of the image of God. I know this because like every other mark is it a source of great joy and great sorrow. The greatest gifts given to us from God are also the most often perverted ones. I think that in the end of it all our creative faculties will be given a boost and I bet that we’ll use them in glory. Can you imagine the creative minds of all the redeemed pooling their resources together to create a masterpiece of praise, all the while God Himself singing and rejoicing over them? Handel would look like a pop star. Robbie Burns would look like a limerick writer. Michelangelo would become a doodler and Shayaman’s films would remind you of an SNL sketch.

We have all been given a little something creative in us, even if that creativity lies only in appreciation. I think God loves creativity. Why else would he command us to write new songs? Sing unto the Lord a new song.

So just an encouragement to all you creative folks out there. Keep being creative and make sure that your creativity points to the Source. Whether you paint, write, sing, dance, cook, exercise, act, direct, play, sew, build, design, photograph, program, or any of the countless creative outlets that I can’t think of. Do it well, and make sure it points to the Source of it all.

PS – Pictures are good. See the cute boy.

Walk like a [gender non-specific] man…

Every morning and evening I read a neat little devotional called Daily Light on the Daily Path. It’s neat because instead of reading a verse and a commentary this guy brings a bunch of different verses on the same subject together to form a little devotional. I’ve found it a refreshing way to start and end the day. I like the fact that it’s only Bible so I’m not meditating on someone’s comments on the Bible, but the Bible itself.

I was just reading it this evening and the compiler brought two verses together that, though they are from totally different contexts, fit together in an amazing way. Ephesians 3:3 and John 3:7 :

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. – Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

Why should we not marvel that Christ says to be born again? Why should we not marvel when Christ says you must leave everything you have ever thought valuable in order to follow him? Why should we not marvel that Christ bids a man to come and die? Why should we not marvel that every single part of our being must be made new before it can be acceptable to him? Because by nature we are children of wrath. Foolish, disobedient, slaves to passion, malice, envy, hate, lust, greed, gluttony, laziness, cowardice, jealousy, evil thoughts, lazy thoughts, ignorant thoughts, pride, superficiality, faithlessness, joylessness, restlessness. We should not marvel that we must be made new because of how totally screwed up we are when we start this journey!

I got a neat little bicycle. It’s one of those old-style 50s bikes that are popular here. I ride like a Pakistani. That means me, Joseph and mom all fit on it together. Don’t ask how, just believe it. My back wheel always gives me trouble, since the day I bought it. It kept on getting punctured and it screwed the bike up for a while. I used to just try to patch the hole when it blew, but it would always get another puncture a few days later. Eventually I realized that I had to go out and get a brand-new inner tube. Things are going better thus far. Maybe a screwy analogy, but we’re like a back wheel. When we come out of the store our inner-tube is kinda screwed to begin with, though not because the shopkeeper wanted to rip off the white guy buying the bike, but because the stuff we’re made out of was corrupted from the original batch of rubber. As a result of this we will never be able to be a useful wheel, even if we try to patch ourselves up every time we blow. Patches made out of morality, civility, legal codes and whatnot cannot help us. In fact, they change us into something different from what we were supposed to be. The only solution is to get a new inner-tube.

I think that some people imagine that joining up with Christianity is like hopping into a mold. Christians on TV, movies, books, and even often in real-life seem to have the exact same kind of personality and mannerisms. I think this is because sometimes we have a certain picture of what a Christian should be and we try to mold ourselves into that, instead of trying to passionately love Jesus. When we start trying to shape personality quirks to match the contemporary view of Christendom we are really just putting patches on the same, crappy inner-tube.

The New Birth is not a transformation into a quirky, cute, western sub-culture. The movie Saved! pointed out this nasty problem that we have. We figure out what a Christian is supposed to think, do, eat and say and we try to do. Problem is that Christ didn’t command “do” so much as he commanded “be”. He said “You must be born again.” Regeneration is not something you do. It’s something that is done to you. We’re so friggin’ screwed up that there is no way in heaven or hell that we could pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and do it ourselves. The church is so wrapped up in trying to have the right image and show people that we do the right thing that we are forgetting to be. Once we become passionate, radical, loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, self-controlled, hopeful, lovers of Christ, then the do will take care of itself.

So let’s throw ourselves into the path of his grace and beg it would roll all over us.

Sorry Ash…

You know what I heard the other day? I heard that

All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass whithers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.

Okay, everyone run to Google and type in the words “Aishwarya Rai”. Find yourself a picture of her face. She is, arguably (and according to my wife), the most beautiful girl in the word. Now think about what I heard the other day. What is the glory of the flesh? Beauty. Health. Endurance. Passion. Superficiality. All shall fade. Aishwarya is quite beautiful today, but how will she look in ten years? Or a hundred years? Just a blink of an eye and she will be an old, sagging woman and then a rotting corpse. Then what use will beauty be? Who will love her when her body fails? Soon she will go the way of all flesh, and what will remain? Only her precious, immortal soul. Perhaps before her you will feed the worms. What will you possess that will remain? Your family is gone. Your beauty corrupted. Your intellect wasted. Your toys given to another. Your words silenced. All that you tasted, saw, heard and touched are gone. All the things that seemed so important are gone in another plane of existence and totally irrelevant. What will remain? Only your immortal soul and the ever-living Word of God and the horrible questions, “What did you do with this Word? What did you do with my Son?”

And what will he say to us? Will he say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant! Come and enter into the joy of your Lord!”? Or shall he say, “Who are you?”? Eternal joy or misery is at stake, don’t screw it up because of toys destined for the fire.

Food for thought.

ps – Yay for Todd! ;-)
pps – I have nothing against Aishwarya Rai. I think think she is a lovely, talented woman who is a fine actor. I only used her as an object lesson.

Two posts in two days??

I got two groups of pictures for you.

1) A picture made from words from a shepherd who has influenced my life in many ways. I think if I had not encountered his ministry I might be a rich, healthy dude living in a big house, going off to the cottage every long weekend, married to a pretty blonde and completely miserable. Read his encouraging words here.

2) Some pictures of my dear son and our new pet:

The peace of frustration.

Something neat happened a few weeks ago at the church in Sanghar. Ruth happened to be there that weekend. Among the Christians in Pakistan there are two main groups. The middle-class Punjabis and the lower-class Marwari folk. It’s easy to tell them apart by their dress and accent. The church in Sanghar has been historically Punjabi, even though the pastor (my father-in-law) is a Marwari. Usually it’s tough for the tribal folk to get to church on a Sunday. Many of them live a few hours away and they are too poor to afford the twenty cent ride into town. This is why when a dozen new Marwaris showed up it created quite an interest. In Pakistan most Punjabis are Muslim, and those who aren’t are Christians. Most Marwaris are Hindu, and those who aren’t are Christian. The Marwaris that showed up were Hindus, but they had been drawn in for some reason or another and were looking for a life change. My father-in-law called them to the front at the end of the meeting. They explained that they wanted release from the demons and evil spirits that were tormenting them. Devraj explained to them that forgiveness and freedom is only found in Jesus and His sacrifice and he commanded them to take off their charms and turn from the other gods and rest only with Jesus. They obeyed. It took about five minutes to get all the charms off. They were so excited! They threw the charms to the ground and stomped on them, praising Jesus for his provision and sacrifice. Needless to say, Ruth was very eager to talk to them after the meeting. And so she did. She sat with them for a long time, answering their questions and encouraging in their new walk. As she sat there a Punjabi lady walked by and with a look of distain said “Huh. Looks like you have some new friends, eh?”

You see, most people in this country will come right out and say, “I hate Marwaris.” Ruth, by virtue of her education and husband, is largely, though not completely, exempt from this discrimination. The Muslims hate them because they are Hindu and dirty. The Christians distain them because they are dirty and were Hindu. It shocked Ruth that someone who claims to follow Christ would express anything but joy at the prospect of new people turning from idols to Jesus. What an incredible mismanagement of priorities! Don’t they understand what’s eternally important? Don’t they grasp how we are all dust and completely equal in the sight of God? Don’t they see that God doesn’t give a rip if you speak Urdu, Punjabi, Marwari or English? Why don’t they get it?

The real shame is that my dear people group is no different. We express our screwed-up-ness in a very different way, but we are just as screwed, if not more so. I sometimes think that this racism thing is really just a massively sinful misunderstanding of what’s important. And we do the same thing in the West. How? We work for fifty hours a week to provide ourselves with all the modern crap and convenience we can find and devote two hours (if we can spare them) to a pretense of spiritual duty. We say it’s very important to love one another fervently and rejoice in the Lord and preach the gospel, but really we find good food and company far more vital. We have this idiotic idea in our head that HERE and NOW is all there is! But there is important news for us all. The universe existed before me and it will continue after the grass is growing over my grave. I’m here for ninety years, tops. What am I doing wasting my time with work and projects and all these silly little things that God will not ask me about?

You know me. I’m a hypocrite because I’m sitting here at a nice computer drinking a nice coffee while a few meters away there is a man sitting in the cold who has never heard a true thing about Jesus. Maybe I should go talk to him. Maybe I should figure out what’s important. Of course, we all KNOW what’s important. Maybe I should go DO what’s important. Maybe I should stop saying what I should do and just do and be it.

Pray for me,

PS, here’s a few photos. The first ones are the nice tribal ladies who came to Christ.

Matt with his kewl new style and kewl new lizard.

Matt’s kewl new lizard. 50 rupees to anyone who can identify it for me.

What update would be complete without pics of the kid?

Two thoughts for a stressful day.

Paul had been arrested by the Jews and thrown in prison for a couple years. Must have been difficult. After a few years the governor died and a new guy, Felix, took over. Felix left him in jail for a while until Paul was brought before him to present his case. At this point Paul appealed to the Supreme Court of Caesar. Felix seemed interested in him because when his buddies Agrippa and Bernice visited he got Paul to talk before them too. Agrippa also seemed very interested. Paul was then sent off to the Supreme Court in Rome. Agrippa then told Felix that had Paul not applied to the court in Rome he would have been set free! We know according to history that Paul was eventually killed in Rome! What an amazing unfortunate slip of judgment Paul made, eh? Though perhaps not. I wonder if Paul ever regretted appealing to Caesar. I wonder if he was ever kicking himself while he sat in prison thinking about how much wonderful ministry he could have accomplished had he just kept his mouth shut. So what was God doing? Why did he allow his star Apostle to slip up like that and miss out on so much ministry potential? He might have made it to Spain like his dream always was had he gotten out of jail. What was God thinking? Perhaps God was thinking that jail was good for Paul. God has priorities that are way different from ours. God is not always concerned with our ministry goals or strategies. He’s concerned with the hearts of his children. While in prison Paul was put through a refining fire. He was tried and tested and found worthy. God said, ‘If prison will help Paul grew in the grace and knowledge of Christ, then to prison Paul will go.’

A few thousand years earlier David was in a tough spot. His new boss was constantly insulting him and trying to kill him even while David was trying to serve nicely. While on the run David knew that the kingdom would eventually come to him, but not yet. Time and time again David was put in a position to remove his stresses and take the kingdom for himself. Think of the amazing possibilities! He could usher in a new ear of godliness and bring the people back to heart-felt worship to the living God! All he had to do was stretch out his hand and take out the godless man standing in his way. One problem. The godless man was God’s anointed. God put Saul where he was and David could not imagine doing harm to a vessel of God. So he decided to hang out in his cave and wait until God took Saul out himself and gave the kingdom to David. So Dave sat in the cave and was refined. Eventually Saul was put to open shame and David was given the kingdom, a cleaner heart and a pure conscience.

I’m having a very difficult week, maybe I’ll tell you why later. These two stories remind me of a few important truths that if I actually grabbed onto with my whole heart I might be given peace:
– God’s goals, though not always fun, are always good for me and will always come to pass.
– My dreams, however nice and noble and godly they may be, are not always the will of God, neither are they always a good idea.
– The difficult people and situations in my life will always tend for my good so long as I love God.
– It is not for me to take matters into my own hands; I’m not nearly smart or righteous enough to do that.
– The hardest times in life are the most sanctifying. Paul wrote his best letters and David penned some of his best songs while in the furnace.
– The crap can last a long time. Dave and Paul were in the fire for years before release. And Paul’s release came in the form of a sword.
– Joy comes in the morning.

Pray for me.

As this post was written last week the stresses herein are tamed down to normal, but pray for us anyway, can’t get enough of that stuff!

Hail to the conquering hero…

I’m back.