Travis Swan's Articles

So Much More Than We Can Carry: Chester Bennington, 1976–2017


 

All the screaming in the world can’t bear our heaviest burdens.


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Please Work with What Is Left: The Futility of Aging in Death Cab’s ‘Kintsugi’


 


I first heard Ben Gibbard in The Postal Service and then discovered his work in Death Cab For Cutie’s Transatlanticism in 2003. An overarching theme drew me in: The process of growing up. Gibbard’s introspective lyrics embraced being young and dorky, feeling left out and not fitting into the conventional model of being a grown-up in America. His indie-pop-emo songs artfully expressed much of the tension in my 24-year-old soul. His lyrics had a universal tinge to them — he somehow gave listeners the ability to insert themselves into his tensions and experiences. Each song was no longer about Gibbard, but about the listener.

Now 12 years later, Death Cab For Cutie has released its eighth album, Kintsugi. “Kintsugi” is Japanese for “golden joinery,” which is the art of fixing broken ceramics with precious metals. The broken joints become an aesthetic canvas for repair, treating the broken not as something to disguise and hide, but to embrace as part of the history of that object. Lines such as, “There is hope within despair, and there is beauty in a failure” from “Black Sun” epitomize this concept.

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Sing with Me: An Invitation to Delight in God with Our Hearts


 


Summitview’s first worship night of the new year is Wednesday, January 28! I’d like to personally invite our entire church to join together for a night of singing. For our first worship night of 2015, we’re going to try something new that we haven’t done before.

The entire evening will consist entirely of music.

Perhaps you’ve resolved to read the Bible more in 2015. A strength I’ve always loved about the people of Summitview is that they are deeply rooted in God’s truth. We certainly are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) as we study and grow in knowledge of God. I sometimes wonder, though, if in this process we have a tendency to stop at an intellectual understanding of biblical truth, and don’t take God’s truth further into our affections.

Jonathan Edwards, the great theologian from the 1700s, said this:

 

God is glorified not only by His glory's being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.

 

As we “Look Up” in 2015, I’d like to challenge us to not just speak about the amazing truth of God, but to sing about it. To delight in it.

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The Résumé: Living in the Light of Justification


When I graduated college, the first thing I did was assemble a list of my achievements and college grades on a résumé. The whole point of a résumé is to put your track record on display, the things about you that are appealing and valuable to a potential employer. By hiring you, the employer approves. You’re validated. The things you’ve accomplished prove you to be worth something. And the harder you work, the more status you get.

Each of us carries a résumé with us throughout life. Everything we’ve ever done, recorded for all time, good and bad. The transcript of some parts of our lives are straight A’s. But we also carry C’s, D’s, and F’s -- shameful and dirty. 

We live in a chaotic time filled with pressures that demand our performance. In today’s world, someone with fewer F’s on their resume is right around the corner waiting for us to screw up, ready to take our job, our status. So we live in a frenzied state, trying not to screw things up, wearily working hard to maintain our résumé.

I don’t think this weariness is limited to just “out there” in the world. I think it has also permeated the church. For a lot of us, our relationship with God feels strained: We look at our track record of sin and assume God is frustrated with us. But in Jesus’ death on the cross that Good Friday, God saw our weary state and offered hope.


For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)


While we were still sinners, while our resumes were full of F’s, Christ died for us. We had failed and walked away, separated and guilty. God desired people to have an unbreakable relationship with him, one that could never fail – like that of the perfect relationship within the Trinity itself. The Father disconnected his son Jesus from that perfect relationship so that we might have the opportunity to become connected. Jesus willingly stepped into human history and became unholy - our sins laid on him - and he died under the wrath of his Father.

In our achievement-centric culture, even Christians can miss out on hope and rest, because we’re still trying to maintain straight A’s in life. But we often find ourselves overwhelmed with a C average. And then an F. And we wearily pull ourselves back up and work harder.

Here’s what I think we miss. We get that we’ve been forgiven of our sins. The penalty of death has been lifted. But we end up stopping there, with an incomplete identity.

Think of a student in college, starting his electrical engineering degree with good intentions. But the first few weeks of school reveal a character flaw, a lack of discipline, and studying just doesn’t happen. The first F comes on a physics test. And as the weeks go by, playing video games is prioritized over attending classes. Finals week reveals the truth: fifteen credits of failure. A transcript full of F’s.

Out in the real world of fierce competition, our student quickly finds being a college dropout with only F’s on the transcript isn’t appealing for employers. The stigma of failure will stick with him. He’ll forever be fighting the fact that without a good résumé his professional success is vastly limited.

We Christians often live like this F student would live, forever working against our failed track record. We get that we’re forgiven. But it often stops there. We miss something called justification. In contrast with just being let off the hook for our sins (forgiveness), justification basically means we become as if we never sinned at all; all our sins went to Jesus on the cross, and we’ve been given his résumé, his transcript of straight A’s.

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

God made Jesus to be sin. Stop and think about that for a minute. Every bad thing you’ve ever done, put on Jesus. As if Jesus committed that sin. Meaning that on the cross, he became the murderer. The adulterer. He became the disgusting pedophile child molester. Every nasty shameful thing we’ve ever done, he became. And then, as Colossians 2:14 states, God nailed it all with him to the cross. God was pleased to crush his own Son, and with him, to crush our sin forever, there on the cross. Once it was done, we became the righteousness of God.

Jesus is bold. He’s courageous. He’s perfect. Perfectly forgiving. Perfectly kind. He didn’t deserve death and he went there anyway, perfectly sacrificial. The most wonderfully perfect person that ever lived. Straight A’s, a perfect record – and now his righteousness, his résumé, his perfect transcript has become yours.

We often approach Easter Sunday as if the F’s were still on our record, as if Good Friday was great and all, but now we have to work hard to stay in God’s favor. As if we’ve been let out of jail on parole, forgiven the debt, but with an identity of failure to continually work against. And it’s a heavy, helpless load.

In the sight of God the Father, you are as the Son himself, completely righteous. Your struggle for validation and acceptance is over. God has made you acceptable! He has validated you by accomplishing a 4.0 record for you on the cross. The only work you have left to do now is gladly accept this righteousness as a gift from God.

Easter Sunday is around the corner. We, his redeemed, his children, get to celebrate together that the tomb is empty. Jesus is alive. And that we can finally be at rest, because Jesus did all the work for us on the cross. Oh happy day, when Jesus washed all my sins away!

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Winning the Worship War

 

I began my immersion in church music as soon as I could stand at a microphone. My earliest memories consist of a microphone and seas of faces. The picture above is one such moment with my parents and sister. Since the time this picture was taken in 1982, I’ve participated in everything from traditional organ-led hymns, campfire choruses led by acoustic guitar, a massive choir singing Handel’s Messiah, to screaming rock bands pushing the envelope of “edgy.” Along the way, I’ve experienced some interesting debates and controversies about the role of music in church.

The controversy is nothing new. It has raged for centuries. Early “worship wars” weren’t that dissimilar to what we experience today. For instance, Martin Luther wrote hymns of personal experience with God back in the 1520’s, something John Calvin later criticized, saying these hymns were shallow, uninspired, and unfamiliar to the congregation. He instead pushed for only Psalms to be sung, without instrumentation. A little later the American church decided European hymns were too hard to sing congregationally and set the hymns to simple tunes, each note only one note away from each other. 

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