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Hymnals? We don’t need no stinkin’ hymnals!

A couple days ago I read a blog post from Tim Challies called, “What We Lost When We Lost Our Hymnals.” Mr. Challies is quick to point out that he is not advocating a return to hymnals, but wants us to consider what happens when we switch media in the church. With no malice or animosity, I wanted to take a brief moment to respond to his article. He writes:

We lost an established body of songs. Hymnals communicated that a church had an established collection of songs. This, in turn, communicated that its songs were vetted carefully and added to its repertoire only after careful consideration. After all, great songs are not written every day and their worth is proven only over time.

True, a book of songs is quite restrictive on a congregation’s musical repertoire.  The idea that all of the songs in a given hymnal were vetted carefully and after careful consideration is not quite true. Have you ever gone through a hymnal? I have. I have a copy of the hymnal my church used when I was growing up. And lemme tell ya, THEY AREN’T ALL GEMS!

Sure, there are the greats that we all know and love. But my 50 year old hymnal has 504 songs! That means that, within our musical canon, there was a functional canon of songs we always did and songs that we NEVER did. Many of those we never did are not great music. they aren’t memorable nor are they especially inspired. I’m not even going to mention the patriotic songs that wound up in many hymnals. 😦

Finally, the Bible never calls us to an “established” body of songs. Psalm 96 encourages us:

Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!

SOMEONE’S gotta write the new songs. And when the Apostle encourages us to singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, there’s no mention of the old standards which were appropriate for use. Since God is a Living God who is actively involved in the lives of believers, it seems perfectly normal that our worship can reflect what God is doing here and now. Hymns of old? Great! Songs extolling the ongoing work of God in the world? Wonderful!

Mr. Challies continues:

We lost a deep knowledge of our songs. When we removed the hymnal, we gained the ability to add new songs to our repertoire whenever we encounter one we deem worthy. This reduces our familiarity with our songs so that today we have far fewer of them fixed in our minds and hearts.

Sure, we don’t remember the songs of old any more. But they aren’t Scripture – there’s nothing sacred about one generation’s worship music. There are powerful songs written today that are rich with good theology and musicality. They aren’t any less wonderful just because they were written 150 years too late. This kind of ageism says that “older is better” when it isn’t. Older is older. We venerate the songs that were powerful when we had a tremendous religious experience and we look down on songs from other people’s experience. But radio, Spotify, YouTube, and iTunes has give people a wide variety of options to fix wonderful music in our minds and hearts.

We lost the ability to do harmonies. Hymnody grew up at a time when instrumentation took a back seat to the voice. Hymns were most often written so they could be sung a cappella or with minimal instrumentation. For that reason, hymnals almost invariably included the music for both melody and harmonies and congregations learned to sing the parts. The loss of the hymnal and the associated rise of the worship band has reduced our ability to harmonize and, in that way, to sing to the fullest of our abilities.

Okay, this is just bunk. I’ve been part of hymnal-using churches, and some of them were simply awful with no ability to harmonize. Since most people cannot read music, having notated music means nothing. Churches that utilized hymnals would have a couple people who could harmonize, and others would follow the examples of others to learn voice parts.

This can STILL happen with worship bands. Many modern worship bands have 2-3 part harmonies. People in the church simply have to follow the vocalist that fits their range. But please continue, Mr. Challies.

We lost the ability to sing skillfully. As congregations have lost their knowledge of their songs, they have lost the ability to sing them well. We tend to compensate for our poorly-sung songs by cranking up the volume of the musical accompaniment.

Again, just because a church uses a hymnal does not mean anything about the skill and ability of the church. I know of many worship bands that spend a lot of time practicing so that they can be skillful and lead people skillfully. Perhaps Mr. Challies hasn’t spent enough time with the hymnal-using churches that sound like dying cats, but trust me – they’re out there!

We lost the ability to have the songs in our homes. Hymnals usually lived at the church, resting from Monday to Saturday in the little pockets on the back of the pews. But people also bought their own and took them home so the family could have that established body of songs there as well. Families would often sing together as part of their family worship. It is easy to imagine a family singing “It Is Well With My Soul” after eating dinner together, but almost impossible to imagine them singing, “Oceans.”

oceansAh, there it is – the crack against “Oceans.” It seems to be a common theme among Reformed believers. This comes across and being petty and merely personal opinion. I know for a fact that families can sing “Oceans” together because I have witnessed my wife doing it with our children. We utilize Spotify and YouTube to bring worship music into the house. Our kids are growing up around it, and the music they hear at the church is reflected in the home. The issues is not so much about hymnals versus modern media as it is about Christian parenting, and it’s less than honest to blame media for parenting failure.

Mr. Challies finishes his article with this line:

That little change from book to screen changed nearly everything.

overhead-projectorI really don’t think it did. Before the PowerPoint revolution, churches decades ago made the switch from hymnal to using overhead projectors and transparency pages.

The hymns of old and the “new” choruses of the 70s-80s were printed on the overhead transparencies and one poor soul was designated to change the overheads, making sure to slide the page up or down so that the words were never cut off! HAHA – good times! And people complained then. I heard one octogenarian refer to the choruses from the 80s as “ding-dong-ditties.” HE HATED THEM! But people have always been complaining against new songs and media in worship.

But isn’t God bigger than a hymnal? Isn’t God bigger than your favorite 150 year old song (that used to be one of them new-fangled worship songs all those kids are singing)? Instead of lamenting the loss of old forms of worship, let’s embrace new ways to worship an unchanging God.


How about you? What’s your favorite hymn? What’s your favorite non-hymn worship song?

DVD Review: Tomorrowland

tomorrowlandThis weekend we had a pizza party sleepover for our 10 year old’s birthday. We were looking for a family-friendly movie that would keep the attention of a group of girls aged 7-11. We opted to try the Disney film Tomorrowland from 2015. It stars George Clooney, Hugh Laurie (from House), and a couple of younger actors that were new to me. The movie has a metascore of 60, which means it’s not considered a great movie but it’s not a dog.

The IMDB.com film summary simply says:

Bound by a shared destiny, a teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory.

The basic premise of the film is found in an early description of Tomorrowland from one of the characters played by Keegan-Michael Key:

Have you ever wondered what would happen, if all the geniuses, the artists, the scientists, the smartest, most creative people in the world decided to actually change it? Where, where could they even do such a thing? They’d need a place free from politics and bureaucracy, distractions, greed – a secret place where they could build whatever they were crazy enough to imagine…

This is Tomorrowland. It’s the better version of what the world could be, designed by the best of us. And the worst of us, those in the real world, are quickly leading the world to it’s end. Thus the main characters must find a way to save the world and put things back on the right track.

In all honesty, the movie was decent. It had many fun moments that the whole family could laugh with and the adventure element was engaging for kids and adults. I was a tad surprised at the language in a PG Disney movie marketed as a family movie. There are several uses of “damn,” “hell,” “bloody,” and “bollocks.” Clearly the PG Disney of today isn’t much like the PG Disney of my youth. Perhaps in the context of our current society, our kids are hearing far worse in public schools and on the shows and movies they watch.

As far as the movie goes, though, I liked it, and wouldn’t have any problem suggesting it as a family film for older kids. But the content is what intrigued me – the idea of humanity being able to create a better place. This is entirely a biblical concept!

The Bible envisions the kingdom of God as an “already/not yet” reality. It is something that is currently present in this world. It is something that is still yet to come. While some religions believe in an afterlife or spiritual realm that is completely distinct from humanity, the Bible portrays Yahweh as a God who is actively present in the life and history of humanity. When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he says:

Your will be done, Your kingdom come ON EARTH as it is in heaven.

God is active HERE AND NOW! We have an opportunity to welcome heaven into our daily lives. It begins with God’s activity. It continues with our own activity. As God’s agents in this world, being people who reflect HIS image and HIS glory, we have the opportunity to welcome heaven here.

It’s not another dimension with fantastic technology like Tomorrowland. It’s a world where God’s presence and reign are reflected in our activity, in our homes, in our workplaces, even (GASP!) in our politics. We fail miserably when we consider God’s activity to be a future element of the next world instead of an active call for us to live heavenly lives now.

All of us, from our varied backgrounds and experiences, our numerous skills and talents, don’t create Heaven through anything we have or bring to the table. We create Tomorrowland when we start living kingdom of God lives every day. Already. And not yet, for we know that there will come a day when we see Jesus face to face, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

Until that day, though, let us strive to create heaven on earth as we live kingdom lives!

Can We Please Ignore Our Racist Past?

I didn’t think I was being controversial. I wasn’t trying to be inflammatory. But this past week I saw a video that gave the statistics of the top 10 lynching states over a span of 8 decades. I shared the video on my Facebook page and added the message:

2,751 confirmed lynchings over 8 decades in ONLY 10 states. There’s NO WAY the Civil Rights Movement can undo all of the damage to race-relations. We have a lot of work to do…

Here’s the video…

While everyone who saw it agreed that the content was horrific, a couple people chastised me for sharing it, saying that I was stoking the fires of hate and that I should allow people to forget and move on. One said:

Absolutely disgusting….and tell me what purpose you serve in playing a video like this? Show me in the Bible what you are teaching? Sometimes I wonder what it is that you are trying to do with your posts…inspire people to be led to God or be inspired to be led by hate…

And another:

[D]welling on it is like not forgiving. How long can we live the sins of some one else’s father. I grew up in Atlanta, in the 70’s. I remember the bitterness. It was still there. Did it help, in moving forward with change, to bring up things, like lynchings? No. It just stirs up strife. The Bible talks about moving forward. Let’s follow what it says, instead of beating ourselves up in the 21st century, for things that happened over a hundred years ago.

I was astounded that people I know to be Christians would rather ignore the past than to deal with it. It’s not even as though this issue was long since over. This was still happening 49 years ago. It’s NOT ancient history. In Matthew 18, Jesus’s own model for resolving conflict when someone sins against you is to deal with it – not to simply bury it or sweep it under the rug. How do you plan to help reconcile people if you never address wrongs that were done?

“My husband had an affair on me!”

“Yes, but that was last week. Don’t dwell on it. Move on.”

ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS!

Remember when Jonah was on his way to rebuke Nineveh and God said, “You know what, that’s in the past. Let’s just let it go and move on. It doesn’t do any good to dwell on old things.”

Yeah, neither do I.

The Bible is literally FILLED with examples of God calling out unrighteous behavior that needs to be changed. Racism is STILL a prevalent problem in our nation, and these sins of the past that some seem to want to forget only ended 49 years ago. People are still alive that witnessed and participated in such behavior. It is ABSOLUTELY okay with God to tell people that this is not righteous behavior/thinking and needs to be fought.

ostrichI care about reconciling people and that doesn’t happen unless we address the wrongs from the past. You can’t bury your head in the sand and move forward in ignorant bliss.

We need to move away from hate, but we need to acknowledge history and the wrongs we have done so we can move forward.

Shining light into darkness makes it harder for people to hide in the dark.


What do you think? Have you heard people advocating for a “forgive and forget” attitude when it comes to America’s racist past? How does this make you feel?

Is Lent a Catholic Tradition that Leads to Hell?

No, it is not.

When it comes to debate, there are a few key verses that Christians always have on standby. If you want to argue with people about predestination and election, pull out Romans 9. If you want to talk about Gifts of the Spirit, pull out 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. If you want to eliminate women from Christian leadership, pull out 1 Timothy 2.

lentIt is no different when we’re talking about the church calendar. Yes, Lenten season is upon us. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglicans observe Lent, but so do Lutherans, Methodists, and some Evangelical traditions.

But then there are those who ADAMANTLY oppose Lent. They throw around phrases like “Papist traditions” and “traditions of man.” As proof-texts they will read you Mark 7:8-9 –

“You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”

Lent, however, is not a human tradition intended to supplant God’s commands. No one I know pushes Lent as a means of salvation or a ticket to heaven. It’s not about righteousness through works. And Christian traditions are not INHERENTLY bad. They are only bad when we use them in place of God’s work.  Lent is one of the oldest observations in Christianity and, though it has morphed over the centuries, is about aligning our hearts with God. Doug Ponder writes:

The heart of Lent is a season of fasting, which Jesus seemed to expect for his followers to do. After all, he said “when you fast,” not “if you fast” (Matt. 6:16). In Lenten fasting we abstain from worldly pleasures to realize their power over us, to remind ourselves of our frailty and continual need of grace, and to rejoice that our appetite for sin has been forgiven and will one day be erased. I know of no Christian who would object to that!

fastingIn the Bible, Paul says that certain days are special to one person and not to another (see Romans 14). The point is not to judge each other, but in Christian liberty allow for a wide variety of how we honor and celebrate Christ. Rather than lamenting the “Papal tradition” of Lent, Christians everywhere should commend other Christians who desire to set aside human appetites in order to give space for God’s work in their lives.

Isn’t this the point of any fasting?

When our fasting (at any time of year) is centered on and motivated by God, no one should condemn it. Richard Foster wrote: “More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.” Since there are so many works examining the BIBLICAL practice of fasting, I’m not even going to waste space defending it. It’s an expected part of the life of a disciple of Christ.

This Lenten season, get off your high horse. Examine your life and see where your appetites control you. What can you put aside in order to create space to listen to God?

———————————————————————

For additional reading, check out:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/beginning-of-lent.html

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/february/13.54.html?start=1

http://www.christianity.com/church/redeeming-lent.html

Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. Harper San Francisco, 1998.

Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Harper San Francisco, 1988.

Facepalm Jesus

Some people just don’t get it. They SHOULD get it but, for whatever reason, they simply don’t get it.

The disciples are those kinds of people. Even though these are the guys who follow Jesus around and are his closest companions, the Gospel stories show time and again that they just.don’t.get.it.

I can imagine Jesus dealing with them. They say or do something so ridiculous he can’t sokkahelp but facepalm. We see one of these instances in Mark 8,

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”

Here we start the facepalm. The scenario is eerily similar to the earlier story where Jesus fed 5,000 people with loaves and fish. This has led some people to conclude that there were two versions of the story circulating in Mark’s time, and that Mark mistakenly included both. While this might be a viable possibility for some people, it fails to account for two things: 1) the standard Christian understanding of the inspiration of Scripture and 2) the differences between the stories actually set up different points/purposes of each narrative.

As to our understanding of inspiration, our belief that the Bible has Divine origin and spark within it means that there is a godly intentionality that underlies the text. Our concept of inspiration is not something that can be proven or disproven by science – it’s a statement of faith. If you don’t believe it, I can’t convince you otherwise.

As to the different points of each narrative, that is more easily demonstrable. The first story highlighted Jesus as a new Moses. The people sat in groups in the wilderness just as Moses and the Israelite nation split into various groups/camps in the book of Exodus. Jesus providing his crowds echoes God providing for Israel in the desert.

By the time we get to the second story here in Mark 8, the story is set against the first story, almost as a check on learning for the disciples. Picture Jesus saying, “You were with me the first time. What’s gonna happen here and now?”

But the disciples fail the quiz. “Where can we get enough bread?!?”jesus-facepalm

And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.

In addition to some of the numerical details being different in the stories (numbers of bread, fish, and people) Jesus is in a different location. While he spoke to Jewish people in the first narrative that had echoes of Moses and the Exodus, here Jesus is working in a Gentile area. Jesus’s ministry and blessing extends beyond the Jews and is for Gentiles as well. That Jesus extends his ministry to non-Jews is brought up previously when the Syrophoenician woman approaches him for help. Just as before, Jesus is able to abundantly bless and provide for those who follow him.

And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

Cue the facepalm. Immediately after performing this incredible things, the religious leaders come and ask for a sign. When Jesus says that no sign will be given, part of me wonders if he’s really saying, “There’s not sign that you will recognize.” Jesus HAS been giving signs, but people are too blind to see what is right in front of their faces.

And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they flatbreadbegan discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

And the disciples continue in their blindness. They have seen Jesus provide in times of need, and they continue to fret about their lack. So Jesus warns them about being like the Pharisees. “I’m giving you stuff, but are you going to stay blind, too?!?” So Mark gives us a miracle story that acts as a living parable, illustrating his whole point.

And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

After his initial encounter with Jesus this blind guy sees, but only in part. It’s kind of like the religious leaders and disciples. They should be able to see Jesus clearly, but clearly they can’t! Jesus might as well be a walking tree in front of them. So Jesus touches the guy again and he finally sees clearly. Cut to the disciples:

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

FINALLY! Peter’s vision is clearing up and he sees Jesus for who he is.

He.Is.The.Christ.

This is the Gospel message for Jews and Gentiles alike. This Jesus is the one who came to provide abundant life, even when we’re in the wilderness. This Jesus is the one to lead the new exodus, taking these slaves into the spiritual promised land. Don’t miss the signs that are right in front of you. Don’t mistake the people for trees.

Here is our King.

Alternative Facts: Taking a Stand For Truth

victoriaI’m on a journey to read at least one book a month through 2017. Most recently I read Victoria, the new historical fiction based on the life of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. The author, Daisy Goodwin, wrote the book while she was also writing the story for the Masterpiece mini-series on PBS. The book itself is a relative quick read. There is a lot of dialogue and not much dead space between events. The characters are quite engaging and I found myself enjoying the read.

Through the book I also realized that I don’t know a whole lot about British history and government processes (I’m embarrassed to think that the average Brit knows more about American history and government than we do theirs, but I haven’t asked any Brits about it). The book inspired me to dive deeper into the characters and history surrounding the narrative.  That’s the neat thing about historical fiction – you’re given dialogue and relationships that are from the author’s imagination, yet the author’s imagination is guided and constrained by actual people and events. In the case of Victoria, Daisy Goodwin used history and the Queen’s own diaries to help create her telling of the story. Nevertheless, we cannot forget that the truth of the story must be balanced against the creative license of Ms. Goodwin.

This got me thinking about current events and the brouhaha about truth vs. “alternative facts.” Before you jump to conclusions, I’m not posting to comment on any particular fact or person. I’m merely dialoguing about truth in general. Regardless of a person’s personal view of religion, politics, relationships, or ANYTHING, one cannot deny that there is such a thing as objective truth. 2+2 is always going to equal 4. Quantitative measurements are objective – it’s only qualitative measurements that move into subjectivity. Still, there is objective truth. We may interpret historical events in different ways, but we can objectively point to those historical events.

As Christians, we are called to be people of truth. A simple search of the word “truth” in the Bible will yield hundreds of results.

  • Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. (Psalm 25:5)
  • Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit. (Proverbs 12:17)
  • I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right. (Isaiah 45:19)
  • And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The Bible is FILLED with the idea that we are supposed to be people of truth because God IS truth. So if God IS truth, then telling untruths is CONTRARY to the very nature of God. That means that everyone who follows God should be adamantly opposed to the spreading of untruth. That is to say, Christians ought to be the first to stand up and say, “Wait, that’s not true. That’s a deception. That’s fraudulent. That’s a lie!”

deceive-1299043_1280But to often we don’t. We perpetuate falsehoods and untruths because they fit our framework for thinking about and reacting to the world around us. It’s easier to accept some fabrications because truths make us uncomfortable. But comfort isn’t part of the package when it comes to following Jesus. Sure, eternity in heaven will be comfortable in the presence of God, but this life isn’t promised to be a life of ease.

As people called to pursue justice and righteousness and truth, we will need to stand against deceptions wherever we see them.

Because God.Is.Truth.

Things Christians Just SHOULD NOT DO!

Christians do a great job of judging the state of other people’s souls. We’re mind readers, really. We know the condition of your life just by looking at the things you do. If we like the things you do, you’re obviously heaven-bound. If you do things we don’t approve of…well, you’re headed the other way. Some of things that reveal the state of your salvation? Well:stop-1077973_1920

  • you like beer? You’re not really saved.
  • you like R-rated movies? You’re not really saved.
  • you struggle with addiction? You’re not really saved.
  • you have tattoos? You’re not really saved.
  • you got pregnant out of wedlock? You’re not really saved.
  • you got divorced? You’re not really saved.
  • you voted Democrat? You’re not really saved.
  • you don’t read the King James Bible? You’re not really saved.
  • you smoke cigarettes? You’re not really saved.

The list of taboo things can go on and on. But in reality, most of the list really comes down to this:

You disagree with how I interpret the Bible and live a Christian life? You’re not really saved.

And that’s a shame. The Bible is actually not as black-and-white about all of these side issues as Christians are. Salvation really comes down to faith in Jesus. Can you smoke weed and have a saving faith in Jesus? Can you vote a certain political party and have a saving faith in Jesus?

I think so.

In the end the “You’re not really saved” lists that we all have come down to us – what we dislike or disapprove of. Don’t get me wrong – the Bible does talk about sin and Christian behavior. But we seem to add a lot of things to the lists. Look at the Mark 7:

Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

That’s pretty powerful. Jesus tells these upstanding religious elite that they’re holding on to human traditions and letting go of God’s commandments. Won’t we be surprised when we reach eternity and find people who didn’t live the way we wanted them to live?

Might we have some good ideas about how to life a righteous life? Sure. You might have your own list of things that you feel you need to do to stay in right standing before God. There is nothing wrong with that. The Holy Spirit works in each of us at different times, convicting us of some things and freeing us to do other things. But our personal conviction, even if it’s from God, doesn’t mean that it’s supposed to be imposed on EVERYONE. Even within Christianity, there is a lot of room for Christian freedom.

Don’t get me wrong – some things are downright forbidden. Adultery is always wrong in God’s eyes. Murder is always wrong. Idolatry is always wrong. The Bible does relay to us concrete do’s and do not’s. But if it’s not specifically spelled out in the Bible, God gives us a lot of latitude to work within our consciences. It doesn’t make you less of a Christian. It doesn’t make you a better Christian.

This is actually a call to unity. We are unified as believers, even if we disagree on some of the peripheral issues. How we live out our faith on these other issues shouldn’t cause us to break fellowship with people. Our Christianity is bigger than these issues – we are united in our faith in Christ and it’s time to let go of our pet issues.

If you’ve ever had your salvation doubted because of this or other issues – I’m sorry. Christians mean well (usually) but we have a horrible way of judging anything that doesn’t fit our mold. And if you’ve ever doubted or questioned the salvation of someone else because of some behavior you disapproved of it’s time to repent.

The condition of someone’s salvation is really up to God.

These Things Could Fill You With Joy

board-142741_1280What makes you joyful?

This being the third week of Advent, Joy Sunday, we were naturally talking about joy. It’s one of those things that the Apostle Paul talks about as “The Fruit of the Spirit.” That is to say, when the Spirit of God is in us one of the things that should be produced in us is joy.

So we tried something different on a Sunday morning and split into groups (2 men’s groups and 1 women’s group) to come up with the top 5 things we think would bring us joy (being a small church, breaking into groups wasn’t very difficult – I don’t think I would have tried this in a large church).

What about you? If you had to pick 5, what would you think the average person would say?

Here’s what our younger men came up with:

  1. a good job. The idea of having a job that both provides abundantly AND fills you with a sense of accomplishment/achievement was a big factor in people’s ideal of a joy-filled life.
  2. a new truck. I’m not sure which young man came up with this one, but I agree – a new truck would make me pretty happy, too!
  3. having the family together. Perhaps the Christmas season makes people long for family and community. Perhaps it’s being part of a military community where we are separated from family more than other communities. Either way, having our loved ones around is important.
  4. being able to play my instrument whenever I want. I think we had one young man who would rather be rocking out than attending class, but that’s not unusual. 😉
  5. success. I think this is really connected to #1, but it goes beyond a job and into an attitude that encompasses all of life.

Here’s what our older men came up with:

  1. the birth of Jesus – yes, I got Jesus-juked by the men in chapel (if you don’t know what a Jesus-juke is, read about it here).
  2. our kids’ laughter. I agree, nothing delights me quite like hearing my own kids laughing when they don’t know I can hear them.
  3. a healthy family. We live in a world with so much sickness and disease, sometimes it feels as though it will never end. A healthy family can be a real joy to those of us with sickos in the family. Wait…that didn’t come out right…
  4. a relationship with God – okay, another Jesus-juke, and they were trying to jump into my sermon notes.
  5. healthy mothers – I think this one was spawned from one dad who was at church with his sons and mom was home recovering. Being a single parent is always tough – add on the responsibility of being a care-giver for a spouse or adult parent and the burden multiplies.

And here’s what our women came up with:

  1. making others happy. I think the women are much more altruistic than we are (at least that’s how it is in my marriage!).
  2. being more involved in church. These ladies really know how to push all the right buttons for the pastor. I see some new ministries and leaders developing here! 😉
  3. good weather. If you’re the kind of person who is affected by weenjoy-the-little-things-906291_1920ather changes, this could be a BIG deal for your sense of joy.
  4. exercising. I’m not sure if exercise would give ME joy, but I sure do enjoy the benefits of it 🙂
  5. the little things in life. The ladies wouldn’t get specific about WHICH little things, but apparently it’s these little things that bring them joy.

Were these close to what you came up with?

The problem with most of these answers we come up with that our idea of joy is often connected to temporary things. None of them is permanent. Cold weather, bills, people, health, and good feelings all come and go. If we look to these things for our joy then we’re always going to be chasing.

That kind of joy is a pipe dream.

It’s not the kind of joy we see in the Bible when Peter writes:

He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while…you have been grieved by various trials. (1 Peter 1:3-6)

Finding joy in the middle of trials and tough time feels impossible, yet time and time again the Bible talks about joy in the midst of suffering. You see, from the Bible’s perspective, joy isn’t based on temporary things and events. Though such things might give us joy for a bit they will eventually fade. It is when we are able to shift focus and take our eyes off of this world and focus on what’s coming for us later that we can know joy no matter what we face in this life.

Real joy is rooted not in our circumstances but in GOD and his activity. He has worked in the past, he works in our lives now, and he has promised us a better tomorrow. We may not see that better tomorrow in this life, but the Christian faith realizes that there is more to life than this flesh and blood.

Joy is about holding on to our eternal circumstances over our temporary trials.

I might not know what you’re going through. It may be excruciating. But we know and believe that one day we will rest easy in the presence of Yahweh. All the wrongs will be made right. All the hurts will be healed. We will know a permanent and lasting joy unlike anything we have ever experienced.

Until that day, that hope anchors us here and now. May we learn to say with the Apostle Paul:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11)

Amen.

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It’s Okay, They’re Just Indians

I know, I know. You don’t have to tell me.

sitting-bull-394471_1280That title is offensive on several levels. First, the culturally appropriate word for them is Native Americans. Second, the idea that “they’re just” is a pretty odious sentiment. It conveys they idea that how we treat people can be based on who they are rather than on who WE are or on an intrinsic value that lies within all humanity.

Unfortunately, this seems to be precisely the sentiment many people are taking towards the Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline. In case you’ve been living under a rock:

The pipeline is currently under construction by Dakota Access, LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. The minor partners involved in the project are Phillips 66, Enbridge, and Marathon Petroleum. The route begins in the Bakken oil fields in northwest North Dakota and travels in a more or less straight line south-east, through South Dakota and Iowa, and ends at the oil tank farm near Patoka, Illinois.

The Sioux are protesting the pipeline, saying “that the pipeline threatens the Tribe’s environmental and economic well-being, and would damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance.”

I’m not particularly concerned with environmental issues in this post (that’s a conversation for a different post). What I am concerned with is how we treat people. Christians have a biblical mandate to treat people well. In fact, we’re called to treat people well even when people mistreat us (one of the Bible’s most difficult teachings regarding suffering under evil rulers and masters). Additionally, people of faith are called to be honorable in how we deal with others.

Do you remember the last time someone broke a promise to you? How did it make you feel? The Bible refers to vows or promises and that God’s people are supposed to known as vow keepers.

If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. ~ Numbers 30:2

Since God himself is a covenant maker and covenant keeper, we are also supposed to be like that. Yet our government has been notoriously bad at keeping covenants with Native American tribes. Historically, when we have desired something that was on Native American land, we would break treaties, take what we desired, and relocate the people to new land and/or new promises.

I’m reminded of the words of the prophet in Hosea 10:4:

They speak mere words, With worthless oaths they make covenants; And judgment sprouts like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field.

You don’t have to agree with the politics of the thing, but when it comes to honoring covenants and how we treat people, I believe Christians ought to be the first to stand with the Standing Rock Reservation. Here’s a page outlining 10 ways you can help support the Standing Rock Sioux.

It doesn’t matter who the people are – we are called to treat people well. The Bible says that we’re supposed to treat others as BETTER than we treat ourselves. Unless the covenant is an immoral or ungodly covenant, we are called to be covenant keepers just as God is a covenant keeper with us.

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