Dear Snowflakes: We Made You This Way and We’re Sorry

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Driving my grandsons to school today and I hear the oldest exclaim, “Aww man!” It seems a crew from the city works department was loading up the merry-go-round from one of the local playgrounds. I have fond memories of seeing how fast we could get them spinning and trying not to be flung off onto the ground. Good times. Nauseating, but good. I have lamented the slow erosion of “all the fun equipment” from playgrounds—tall slides, jungle gyms, even swings for crying out loud. The powers-that-be have deemed them “too dangerous”. *eyeroll*

I pondered this, wondering how any of us ever survived childhood. Equipment like that populated playgrounds for a good century up until now and I don’t recall reading news stories about mass slaughter of innocent children. No breathless reports of city parks turning into killing fields littered with broken little bodies. I began to think maybe the problem isn’t with the equipment, but rather, the children. What wimps.

But wait!

My grandson (and his brother) were crushed that “all the fun equipment” was being taken away. The city didn’t decide to remove them because they polled fearful second-graders. It must be the grownups. People like *gasp* me. I am 44 years old. I know, young for a grandpa, thank you. Thank you very much. How did I get…old? It certainly can’t be me, can it? It’s those young whippersnappers who get me riled and make me look around for a can to shake at them.

Millennials are easy targets these days. Spoiled, irresponsible, lazy, opinionated, entitled, etc. Dismissed by older, tougher, adultier adults as snowflakes, crybabies, and cupcakes. Well don’t complain about the cupcakes if you baked them. That’s right, millennials, it’s not your fault. Well, it’s not ALL your fault. My generation began the nonsense of participation trophies, nobody gets cut from the team, and building self-esteem AT ALL COSTS. If young people today are insufferable, it’s because we made them that way.cupcake

We rescued our kids from every possible boo-boo and discomfort. Us trying our hardest to be good parents resulted in a generation (or two) who cannot or will not deal with adversity. Hand sanitizer is the perfect illustration of this problem. We squirted it all over our children’s hands in an effort to keep the bad bugs out. What we never realized, until scientists began to study it, was that it also keeps the good bugs out. Immune systems have been handicapped because they never had to deal with biological “trigger-words” or “micro-aggressions”. When one is encountered, the system over-reacts. Follow me, here. Because we never let our kids learn how to play on the “dangerous” equipment, everything unpleasant sends them to the emotional Emergency Room. They wind up primal screaming on CNN holding a picket sign or whimpering in “safe spaces” with coloring books.

Some soul-searching is in order for everyone above college age. Yes, the kids are annoying these days. Yes, they need to grow up and toughen up. But don’t blame them for the way we raised them. They didn’t demand participation trophies. They never asked to be slathered with Purell. Understand that I am speaking in generalities. Many will protest, “I didn’t raise my kids that way!” My point is that WE find OURSELVES in this predicament as a nation; a world, even. It “took a village” to get us here and it’s going to take us all to get out. Pointing fingers hasn’t gotten us very far. Maybe it’s time to start pointing mirrors.

Wailing Unto God

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A while back there was a video clip making the rounds. It is footage of a man who is being confronted by friends and family on the A&E show “Intervention”. After one member of the family reaffirms his love, the addict lets out a wail from the very depths of his soul. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ee925OTFBCA (Kleenex alert)

Some people shared this video as a joke; finding humor in the rawness of his emotional response. I saw something different. I saw a lesson on how we should respond to God’s unimaginable love and forgiveness. Consider what is heard as the man cries out:

It is a wail of shame and regret for past sins, hurts, and disappointments.

It is a wail of disbelief that one who has been so injured by his selfishness could offer forgiveness and love instead of bitterness and anger.

It is a wail of gratitude at being given a second chance to make up for past mistakes.

It is a wail of joy over the power of stubborn love and reconciliation.

His cry is our cry to God over our sin, of our repentance, of our relief, of our reconciliation, of our joy, of our long-sought-after peace.

This video shows the power of love which intervenes when we are unwilling or unable to do so.

The cross was our intervention; God’s refusal to hate us or let us continue to be dead to Him. It was God doing for us what we never had the strength or will to do for ourselves.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NKJV).

Let us cry out to God from deep in our soul and show our gratitude for his stubborn and healing love.

God’s Pickin’ and Choosin’

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I once volunteered to be a teacher’s aide for my son Gabe’s kindergarten class. The teacher asked me to go over the kids’ spelling words and call them back one at a time behind the short bookshelf where it wouldn’t be so distracting for them. I went down the list and soon the final bell rang. I was a bit disappointed I hadn’t made it to Gabe’s name before the bell rang. When I came back around the corner, I saw the teacher trying to comfort Gabe who was crying. He was crushed that I hadn’t called his name. I tried to explain to him that I simply went down the list (as I thought I was supposed to), but he was inconsolable. He thought I was doing it deliberately. Every time he heard my voice from behind the bookshelf he hoped it would be his name called. Every time it wasn’t, his heart broke a little more. I was devastated to think that my child could ever think that of me. I didn’t blame him in his five-year-old reasoning skills. I thought this would be a happy memory we would cherish for many years. It turned out to be something that haunts me still.

Sometime after, I realized this is a perfect illustration of the false, unscriptural doctrine of predestination as taught by Calvinism. It affirms that some are selected before birth by God to be saved while others have been chosen to be condemned. Numerous scriptures teach firmly against this arbitrary choosing by God. The decision is ours of whether or not we will accept salvation or be condemned (John 5: 28-29; 12:48; Matt. 23:37; 2 Cor. 5:10). Specifically, John 1:12 says, “As many as received Him [Jesus], to them He gave the right [opportunity] to BECOME children of God, even to those who believe in His name”. And 2nd Thessalonians 2:13-14 teach, “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is our response to the gospel of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection that determines if we will be saved from our sins or condemned by them.

Calvinism also slanders God’s character by casting Him as a heartless tyrant who saves and destroys on a whim. Scripture affirms that God does not play favorites. “God impartially judges according to works “(1st Peter 1:17). Romans 2:11 and Acts 10:34 mirror this. Calvinism reduces salvation to a matter of luck in finding oneself “on the list”.

I return to the illustration in that kindergarten class. My son was bewildered how his own father who claimed to love him would choose others over him. Imagine a faithful Christian waiting for his or her name to be called on Judgment Day and feeling the crushing disappointment as name after name is spoken but not theirs. Questions would soon arise. “Don’t You love me, Father? What have I done or failed to do in order to be left out like this? Have I not followed Jesus as best I could? Have I not placed ultimate faith in You to save me apart from my own feeble attempts at holiness? Have I not obeyed your commands and sacrificed as You required? How can you desert me now when I need you most on this day I have spent my life anticipating? Don’t You love me? Won’t you keep Your promises to me?” Imagine the flippant and heartless answer which must be given by the false god of Calvinism: “I am sorry my dear, but you are simply not on the list.”

Calvinist predestination degrades us into mere meat puppets dancing on cruel strings, utterly devoid of free will. Even more sinister, it makes God into a loveless monster who saves and kills without reason or mercy. That is NOT the God of the Bible. How our Heavenly Father’s heart must ache as mine did that day to think my child could find such evil within me. God is love (1st John 4:8).

A Little Walk Around the Palace

white-mansionRecently I felt compelled to conduct an experiment, so I walked through my house. Let me break that down right off. “I walked”. Many people can’t. I have two healthy legs to get around. I am already well ahead in the game. “Through”. I live in a house with more than one room which takes a few minutes to navigate. I am already a king compared to billions living here on earth. “My house”. I own it and the land upon which it sits. Many don’t have the hope or opportunity to own land at all, much less a house like mine. I look out windows. I have glass in my windows to keep rain, dust, and bugs out and heat/cool in. Yeah, we’re fancy like that.

I remember flying into Guatemala City in May 2001. We were picking up our baby son whom we were adopting from an orphanage. On the aircraft’s approach, we flew over the slums and saw block after block of rusty tin shacks crammed next to one another. We felt a pang of guilt mixed with joy at the home we would be providing for him. Back to that home tour, now.

I force myself to go room-by-room. I start in the back bedroom. This is to differentiate it from the other three bedrooms in the house. I’ve just begun my tour and already I’m richer than billions of my fellow human beings. Whew. It’s going to be a long, hard tour, I can already tell. I open the linen cupboard and find several sets of clean sheets which are for the several soft, comfortable beds in my house. On the top shelf is a large tub packed with medicine and supplies which any number of third-world clinics would be thrilled to have. Next to that is a stack of jigsaw puzzles which we don’t ever use anymore because we have many other more fascinating things with which to entertain ourselves in our leisure time. The second shelf contains a dozen clean bath towels. Yes, that’s right; soft cotton fabric only used to wipe clean water off our bodies and to then be tossed in a hamper. How very decadent.

I enter two more bedrooms fit for a king equipped with central heat and air as well as double-insulated windows and ceiling fans. Nothing but the finest, here. Next comes the bathroom which three people share. Like some kind of primitive savages. Sometimes we even bump into each other or have to wait because our needs overlap. Somehow, we manage to soldier through it. More towels, backup toothbrushes still in the package ready for when we get tired of the old ones, and that fantastic toilet which carries our waste far away by a hidden pipe we never see or smell.

I walk through the dining room. You see, we have an entire room set aside for the express purpose of stuffing our faces with delicacies. I go through the other doorway and am immediately confronted with the pantry. I take a deep breath, dreading this. I reach for the cabinet door and pull it open to reveal a small grocery store. The same door I often slam shut in frustration when I declare, “There’s nothing to eat!” Please, dear God forgive me.  I’ve never known real hunger. Never. Not once in my entire life.

I push the lever to the right on my kitchen faucet and instantly have all the clean, fresh water I want. Many millions of people in the world would call me a king just for this. If that weren’t shaming enough, I turn the lever to the left and within moments I have hot water to clean with. This “miracle” would render so many cultures speechless, yet I complain if it takes more than a few seconds to get hot enough to suit my fancy.

Past the kitchen is the living room. There sits the recliner I grumble at because the footrest doesn’t always stay up at the exact position I prefer. It sits in front of a television (one of four) that isn’t quite up to snuff because it’s “only” 36 inches. I’d really like a bigger one someday, but times have been hard lately. “Hard”. That thought is worth a wry chuckle followed by a blush and a cringe. I can’t even muster the courage to go downstairs to the fourth bedroom and stare into the closet crammed full with clothes I never think twice about. Except, that is, when I don’t have a particular item clean which I want right at that moment. *Sigh*

How dare I.

HOW DARE I!

And yet, I dare greatly and often. I dare to complain and lament at the trials and tribulations of my life. It isn’t even a matter of looking at how much better I have it than countless millions just struggling to survive. Even if everyone in the world lived at my wealth level, it would still be shameful for me to be ungrateful and discontent with the luxurious and princely life I lead. But I don’t do that. Instead, I complain about my life. I bemoan that we “can’t afford” this or that. I gripe about slow internet service which makes this blog post load too slowly for my liking. What a baby. Will I never be satisfied? Will it never be enough? “He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; Nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Have I become like Israel? “When they had pasture, they were filled; They were filled and their heart was exalted; Therefore they forgot Me” (Hosea 13:6 NKJV).

God, forgive me. World, forgive me. Readers, forgive me.  Let me look upon the world’s bounty as a rich blessing with a trillion daily delights instead of an annoyance and constant disappointment. Help me get over myself. Help me rise above myself.  Shall we together?

Don’t Touch That Dial!

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I am a merciless radio scanner in the car. If it’s not a song I immediately love, it’s gone. On to the next preset, hoping for something good. Even if it is a song I sort of like, I will run through the others just in case there is a better offer out there. It truly is a sad commentary on our culture of instant gratification and me-first service. It drives my wife Stacy nuts. In an effort to be a better husband (and avoid her sighs), I have striven to control this behavior when she is with me. I suffer through mediocre songs and resist the itch to scan. No parade in my honor is necessary, really. Just trying to be less selfish. That is, except for Bob Seger, Luke Bryan, or Foo Fighters. They are gone as soon as my hand can snap to the button.

In seeking to serve my wife, I have learned much-needed lessons about contentment. As I endured less-than-great music, I was surprised to find that some of it was…not so bad. I even gained a level of appreciation for some artists I had written off. I found talent and beauty which, before, I had rushed by and ignored. I discovered value in things I had discounted and hurried right past in my haste to please myself. I learned that I don’t need to be enthralled every moment of my day.

Sadly, that foolishness is not limited to music. Every day I overlook so many things (and people) of worth by being “busy”. Shame on me. I am grateful to my wife for teaching me to slow down, be patient, and give things a chance. We might surprise ourselves if we will do that more often. Blessings might stop being overlooked. Wisdom and beauty might rise to our view where it had been previously ignored. We might even begin to see people as God does—as precious children and souls of surpassing value.

Finally, I realize my comments may have upset some music fans. I offer no apologies. Bob Seger sounds like he’s passing a kidney stone, Luke Bryan is everything that is wrong with modern country music, and the Foo Fighters just…annoy me for some reason. But maybe I just haven’t given them a fair chance.

Nah.

Shame, Celebrate, or Somewhere in Between?

I wanted to write this post in response to a recent article making its rounds in social media:
“Brothers and Sisters, Unwed Pregnancy is Not a Sin”
http://chadashby.com/2015/08/19/brothers-and-sisters-unwed-pregnancy-is-not-a-sin/

If you have not read the article, I encourage you to take a few minutes now and do so before reading my response.

The article brings forth some uncomfortable truths and much-needed admonition to those who would hold mistakes over someone’s head forever. We should never look down on anyone except to help them up. However, the article makes a pendulum swing too far away from “shame” and takes some liberties with scripture that are false and self-serving. I hope in this post to find some middle ground between shunning unwed mothers and gushing over them. Please understand that this was quite difficult to write and comes from a deeply personal place of turbulent emotions. I have tried to choose my words with great care.

First and foremost, children are a blessing in all instances. The Bible tells us that “Children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3 NASB). Pregnancy may be a consequence of bad decisions but babies are never a punishment (as one politician cruelly put it). However the baby got there, it is a miracle of life and a joy to be treasured, even in cases of rape. Those children did nothing to deserve a death-sentence and innumerable families would love to give that innocent baby a good life. You cannot absolve one horrific crime with an even worse crime.

Now, could we be more loving, more forgiving, and less condemning? Sure we could! And we must. Shunning accomplishes nothing except making a bad situation worse. Two souls (mother and child) need the church’s support even more at that time. Sadly, we often fail to show that Christ-like compassion. We have much work to do in this area.mary reaching up

The article pointed out that a woman walking into a pregnancy crisis clinic doesn’t need a theological lecture. She needs to feel safe and know that the precious child she carries is a blessing. That is a perfectly appropriate response from that agency. However, her church family must offer something deeper; something even more loving and possibly less comfortable for everyone.

When sin occurs and repentance is offered, forgiveness MUST be given immediately and completely. Second Corinthians 2:7 shows how unforgiveness can destroy souls. The church was too harsh in that instance and was rightly rebuked by the apostle Paul. We can do better and we must.

BUT:

The article makes several appeals to the old “what would Jesus do?” question without recognizing one crucial fact: Jesus never condoned sin. Jesus reached out to people with love and acceptance despite their sin,but he was never content to let them stay there and He NEVER celebrated their sin. John 8:3-11 gives us insight into exactly what Jesus would do. He told the woman caught in adultery “I do not condemn you.” He also told her “Go and sin no more.” This means there is room for forgiveness and mercy even when there is acknowledgement of sin. The two are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, sin must be acknowledged before forgiveness can occur. Jesus put it bluntly in Luke 17:3If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”  No ifs, ands, or buts. He repents, you forgive–period. Leave the judging of hearts to God, where it belongs.

Having compassion is one thing; celebrating is quite another. In my personal experience, when unwed pregnancy is met with only praise and rejoicing, it is seen as something to aspire to and be proud of. You encourage it and get more of the same. This should not be. Repentance must be part of the equation. Not public shaming, not grovelling, and not periods of “probation” before welcoming a sinner back into the family of God, but true “godly sorrow” as defined in Second Corinthians 7:9-10.

The writer of the article attempted to use the women listed in Matthew chapter one in the lineage of Jesus to support his position. Rahab was indeed a prostitute but she became a child of God through faith and obedience. She was accepted as a member of the nation of Israel after marrying one of the spies she had protected. Nowhere are we told that Israel celebrated her past occupation nor did she continue in it. Her example shows that God can turn anyone’s life around and welcomes all who want to repent and improve their life by coming to Him. The author gets no help from Rahab. Bathsheba was a woman who was stalked and seduced by King David. She was an abused woman. Her baby died because of David’s sin. Her illicit pregnancy was not a cause for rejoicing and is therefore not a good example for one seeking scriptural backing for the “celebration” argument. Mary is the most offensive and blasphemous of the author’s alleged examples. Jesus was most certainly NOT simply another “unwed pregnancy”. He was a one of a kind, unique, miraculous situation provided for the salvation of all mankind, not a backseat teenage mistake. To equate the two is arrogant and ignorant.

The article lamented that unwed pregnancy is often met with disappointment and sadness. This is a proper initial response because going against God’s will (which  is always in our best  interest) and stubbornly going our  way should disappoint and sadden us.

Let me repeat: we can easily be too hard-hearted on this matter. There is not a single person walking through the door of a church building without sin and not in need of forgiveness. Knowing this, we can (and must) offer love, compassion, and support to anyone in need of it. Souls are at stake here; the souls of the repentant who may be spitefully turned away and OUR souls which may not find the forgiveness we stubbornly withhold from others. So please go ahead and love those unwed mothers. They will need our support as will their children. Let us show the love of Christ by giving baby showers and providing those needful things along with encouragement for the tough road ahead. Let us acknowledge our own sins and imperfections even as we help someone overcome theirs. But let us not be deceived into believing a false dichotomy that unwed pregnancy must either be shunned or celebrated. Simply look to the example of Jesus Christ, the most kind and compassionate person ever to walk upon the earth. Seek the balance that He practiced when dealing with fallen humanity. May the Lord shine upon you.

Polyester Sins and Catfish Condemnation

shrimp_catfish-Last week’s Supreme Court decision about marriage generated two widely-diverse reactions. One camp viewed it as a triumph and a positive step forward while the other saw yet another sign of rapid moral decline. Some supporters of the SCOTUS decision chose to spike the ball by needling those most disappointed by the ruling: Bible-believing Christians. These jabs take many forms ranging from “rubbing-your-nose-in-it” pictures posted on social media to outright hatred. A Christian who is following Jesus’ example and His apostles’ commands will rise above these insults and not return in kind. There is always hope for a change of heart and an opportunity for civil debate (which is in short supply these days). Most disappointing to me was an attempt by some scripturally-ignorant armchair theologians to lecture Christians about what the Bible really says.

I won’t bore readers with yet another explanation of how Jesus DID in fact have much to say about homosexuality by condemning it along with every other kind of sexual immorality (e.g. adultery, premarital heterosexual sex, bestiality)  Instead, I want to address a gross misunderstanding about the critically-important difference between the Old Testament and New Testament. Leviticus 18:22 is the go-to verse against homosexuality “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination” (NKJV). Gay rights advocates point out (and rightly so) that Christians who use that verse to condemn homosexuality must also condemn other things forbidden in the book of Leviticus. By their logic, a Bible-believing Christian cannot eat bacon (Lev. 11:7), eat shrimp or catfish (Lev. 11:10), wear blended fabrics (Lev. 19:19), be tattooed (Lev. 19:28) or trim their beards (Lev. 19:27). Christians correctly respond by saying those things were only commanded under the Old Testament and here is when the cries of “hypocrite!” begin to fly. Allow me to explain why this is not hypocrisy nor is it simply a convenient bit of theology which allows Christians to ignore scripture they don’t like.

The Old Testament, simply put, is the portion of the Bible written before Jesus Christ came.  It contains the covenants (agreements) God made with certain groups of people. The first covenant was made with a man named Noah and spread to all humankind after the Flood (Genesis 9). Incidentally, this is when the rainbow was created as a sign of God’s covenant promise not to destroy the earth with water again. A second covenant was made with Abram (later named Abraham) and his descendants in Genesis 15. A third covenant was made with the nation of Israel through Moses after the escape from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 19:5). The book of Leviticus is contained within this third covenant also known as the Law of Moses. Without getting into deep theology, many of the admittedly strange-sounding laws given to the Jews were to discourage practices of the heathen nations they would be living amongst in the Promised Land of Canaan. These pagans practiced self-mutilation and marking (tattoos) in worship of false gods. They trimmed their beards in certain ways to show their proud and public devotion to those false gods. We now know many of the dietary commands had health benefits, but they were also given to avoid any “mixing” of clean with unclean—a blurring of lines, if you will. This is a vitally-important spiritual lesson. That is the concept behind the prohibition of mixed fabrics. God wanted clear lines drawn between His chosen people and the heathen nations around them.tencommandments

Jesus Christ came to fulfill (Matthew 5:17) the promise of a Savior/Messiah given in those old covenants. The ultimate problem of sin would be solved once and for all by God Himself taking on flesh and offering a perfect sacrifice. The New Covenant was not simply the latest version, but rather the completion of a set of successive stages culminating with the cross. The church was built upon the foundation of that sacrifice.  The Old Covenant died with Jesus on the cross and the New Covenant was instituted by His blood (Hebrews 9:16-25; Acts 20:28; Colossians 2:14).

The apostle Paul taught that the statutes of the Old Testament were no longer binding on Christians under the New Testament (Colossians 2:16-17). The apostle Peter was shown by God that the dietary restrictions of the Old Testament were no longer required (Acts 10:9-15). It is for this reason that Christians can correctly say they are not bound by commandments in the Old Testament which are not repeated in the New Testament. Christians are no longer required to leave the corners of their fields uncut at harvest or travel to Jerusalem three times a year as the Jews under the Old Testament were. However, Christians ARE required to obey all the commands under the New Testament of which there is much in common with the Old (love your neighbor, worship no other gods, etc.). The similarity is no surprise since the same God wrote both and still approves of the same principles. The Old Testament was sort of the beta version of God’s ultimate covenant under Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:10-11; Galatians 3:24-29). Its imperfection and temporary nature was no reflection on God but rather on OUR imperfection and weakness. Our inability to keep the previous covenant required a new and better covenant which is outlined in great depth and beauty in the book of Hebrews.

No logical gay rights activist would say a person who uses a laptop today must use Windows 95 or be a labeled a hypocrite. It is similarly foolish to criticize a New Testament Christian for not adhering to the Old Testament laws. Please do not misunderstand me. The Old Testament was divinely given by God and was necessary to be pleasing to Him. But it was a Law given to a specific people (Exodus 34:27; Deuteronomy 5:1-3; Jeremiah 31-31-32) for a limited time (Jeremiah 31:31; Hebrews 8:7,13). It was never intended to last forever. The “good news” of the gospel is that the New Testament is for everyone in all places for all time. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:29 NASB). May the Lord shine upon you.

Who Do You Hear When You Sing?

There was an article floating around Facebook earlier this week about why churches of Christ don’t use mechanical hymnal_angelinstruments in worship. It generated a lot of discussion about our singing to the Lord. That is a subject for another day, but it made me remember how many times I’ve heard visitors say how unexpectedly beautiful the acapella singing was. It is easy to take for granted the pleasure of hearing worshipers “singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19 NKJV) without distracting noises interfering or competing with joyful voices. It also reminded me of how certain songs have made a lasting impact on my life and my faith. Further, I found that many of those hymns have a very specific voice attached to them.

One of the first songleaders I encountered in the Lord’s church was Ernie Sifford. His joy was infectious and I cannot sing “We’re Marching to Zion” without hearing Ernie singing beside me. His energetic spirit caused me to create a whole category of bouncy, joyous hymns which are “Ernie Sifford songs.” Another songleader from the Augusta church of Christ who made a lasting impression was Mike Moore. He helped make “We Have An Anchor” one of my favorite songs and I continue to use his intonations because they just feel right.

Sometimes a song and singer are connected to a particular memory. While doing prison ministry with Joe Slater, we often sang songs which were simple and meaningful for the inmates. I haven’t had much occasion since then to sing “He’s Still Working On Me” but when I do it is Joe’s voice I hear. Warren Wilcox was wonderful songleader who led the Singing Youth of Denver choir for many years. I heard him lead “It Is Well With My Soul” many times but it will always be connected to him because it was the first of 13(!) songs which he requested to be sung at his memorial. It was the song that set me to crying at the first chorus and then pulled the joy out of me by the second verse when I found my voice again because that’s what Warren would have wanted.

Other times, my mind ties a song to a singer because it is an unusual hymn that no one else seems to lead. “I am a Poor, Wayfaring Stranger” will always be sung in my head by Tom Ward. I had never sung “Awesome Power” before Paul House led it in Guthrie. Burl Abraham often sang “In Gethsemane Alone” before the Lord’s Supper and it never failed to move me.

Other songs stuck because of the passionate effort of the one leading the song. Emerson Stewart’s favorite “God’s Family” always came through as a perfect description of agape love. I will never forget Chuck Taylor leading “I Need Thee Every Hour” in chapel at Bear Valley.

I have a hope that a similar connection will form between me and the song “Amazing Grace.” My desire is that it will always sound like me to my son Gabriel and my grandsons Evan and Braxton. I sang that song to them at bedtime. I know that I have little talent as a singer, but it would give me great joy if my voice lived on in their memory whenever they heard that song. It was an expression of my love for them just as it was love for God which made the songs and singers listed above so special. Let us not neglect this powerful method for encouraging one another and showing God how much we adore Him. He loves nothing more than to hear our voices lifted in praise and joy. Sing and be happy today!

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The Gist of Job

The book of Job has always been tricky theological territory. It is the greatest essay on suffering ever written. It discusses the seeming injustice of suffering and asks how God can allow it. Job seeks these answers himself and gets a response from God. It is perhaps not the type of answer Job sought, but it is an answer nonetheless. God basically says (if I may paraphrase): “Job, I created the universe–which includes you–and I know what I’m doing. I am righteous and holy, therefore you must trust Me that My purposes for you, My beloved child, are righteous and holy as well. As the Supreme Being, I know things you do not know and see things you cannot see. Have faith in Me that I will bless you again just as I blessed you before.” Job pours out his heart and voices his doubts but continues to trust God. In the end, he is blessed doubly with what he had before. sermon_sketch3

This sermon sketch came from a girl named Bailey after a lesson from Job. She actually drew two versions of this and I searched desperately for the other copy but was unsuccessful. It had three panels which showed God (the tall figure in the cloud with a crown) smiling at Job and a shorter figure next to Him with horns  wearing a frown (Satan). Job has wealth, his children, and a happy wife. In the second panel, God is sad, Satan is happy, Job’s wife is unhappy (Job 2:9-10), but Job still holds onto his faith. In the third panel, God is again happy, Satan is sad, Job and his wife are happy and have their children restored and even more wealth and blessings. Pretty good breakdown, don’t you think? Once again, children can nail the really important themes in a deep and challenging bit of scripture. Let me share some lessons from this drawing.

First, Notice that Satan is mad when God and His children are happy. Don’t forget that! The enemy only rejoices when we fail and suffer. His bait always hides a hook that he wants to see us dangling from in agony.

Second, God was just as heartbroken as Job when he suffered. God wasn’t indifferent or cruelly enjoying Job’s misery. When His children suffer, He suffers (like any good Father). Well then, why did God allow it? He always has a bigger plan than we can see or understand. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9). That kind of statement rubs our pride the wrong way, but it is undeniably true. It is much like trying to reason with toddlers. Their minds and experiences are not equipped to understand or appreciate the wisdom of an adult’s decisions or discipline. We are so like those little children when we rail against our heavenly Father’s parenting.

Third, Job maintained his faith amid his suffering and did not blame God for his tragedy (Job 1:20-22). Even when his friends and his own wife encouraged him to react in an ungodly way, Job stood firm. He had doubts about God’s methods, but never called God’s motives or righteousness into question. Job simply confessed his own misunderstanding of the situation and wanted God’s help in seeing the truth.

Fourth, faith which remains firm throughout suffering and remains committed to God’s sovereignty and holiness will be rewarded (Job 41:10-12).

Fifth, Satan loses. He always loses. He’s a loser. He can’t do anything apart from God’s will (Job 1:12; 2:6). So if Satan seems to be working you over, rest assured that God is aware of it. Know that He is filled with sorrow as well. Trust that He will not allow you to suffer needlessly, and that He is working the circumstances to bring about an even greater blessing than you can possibly understand. Have faith amid your doubts just as Job did. And remember Satan is a loser.

Hyperbole is the New Profanity

An English teacher once told me that profanity was the tool of a lazy mind. When you don’t want to make the effort to think about how you really feel, then you just use the first crude response that comes to mind. Pretty soon profanity gets used as punctuation, added thoughtlessly and reflexively to the end of a statement. I see a similar principle with hyperbole, or exaggeration. We do not moderate our language any longer. We automatically jump to the most extreme adjective we can find in order to give importance to our statement. It’s the vocal equivalent of typing in all capitals. Consider this common, but hypothetical, conversation.volume_11

Person A: I looked all over for my car keys.

Person B: Where were they?

Person A:  I had left them in the ignition.

Person B: That’s hilarious.

No it isn’t! It might be ironic, slightly amusing, or even funny, but it does not cause one to have trouble breathing due to out-of-control laughter. No one is just “a bit hungry” anymore; he is “starving.” No one is “slightly chilly” anymore; she is “freezing to death.” Our language is in danger of losing its ability to describe accurately. This is not merely a matter of annoyance to English majors and grammar snobs.

We have seen this “cry wolf” effect with charges of racism. A lady charges McDonalds with racism because they ran out of chicken nuggets and she has dark skin. The public rolls their eyes. Next week, a man files suit because he is not hired after a business owner tells the man he thinks black employees will steal from him. The public says, “Yeah, right. Al Sharpton is looking to get paid again” The legitimate claim is undermined by the knee-jerk baseless claim. The same effect could be at work on our language as a whole.

What brought this to mind was a post on facebook of a chart comparing the Tea Party to the Nazi Party. OK, Nazi Party: slaughtered 6 million Jews, 2 million gypsies, countless Russians. Tea Party: killed, ummm…..wait for it—no one. We have lost the willingness to carefully consider our words. If we disagree with someone, they are stupid, ignorant, or evil. If you think the Department of Education could use a little budget trimming, then you are accused of hating children and denying basic education. If you think a welfare safety net is crucial for some people, then you are accused of enabling parasites and being a godless communist. We seem to instinctively turn the volume all the way to 10 without considering if 2 or 3 might be sufficient. If everyone is shouting, then no one can hear the truth being whispered. Let us all carefully consider our words. Matthew 12:36 “Every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment” (NASB).

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