The Majesty Of Music



Photo by Maggie Hazen from FreeImages

There are a few things that transport me to another level of worship. One is nature. Not just any nature, either. The ocean, with waves crashing against cliffs is pretty good, but better is the high country—beyond timberline. I’ve only been there a few times, but it’s like a different world.

Coming out of the darkness created by evergreens growing in tight clusters, you discover fields of wildflowers, glacier patches, blue-green lakes, and a sky that’s such a rich blue it looks like you could eat it. Oh, and rocky peaks that look more like cathedrals. And crystal cold streams. All I can think is, This is the world God created.

Music has that same effect on me. Not all music. Just like nature, there are pieces and then there are pieces. Some I enjoy because they are fun or they fit my mood or they are performed well. Others feel as if a piece of my soul is drifting on the sound waves. And still others feel as if my soul is reaching up to God.

Some years ago my church hosted a nearby university (California Baptist) choir and orchestra in concert. They were spectacular, and I had one of those majesty of music moments. What’s more, I bought one of their CD’s, Glory, and have played it frequently. The songs would run through my head when I woke up, and I could hardly wait to play them again.

In fact, I posted one of the songs some time ago with Sandi Patty performing it. The song is spectacular and Sandi Patty is … well, Sandi Patty.

But here’s the choir I listened to—not the music I have, but it kind of brings nature and music together, I think. I hope you enjoy.

This article first appeared here in April 2012 and was reprinted in November 2015.

For a little bonus, here’s one of my favorite classic music pieces, Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto in D major (especially from the 8:30 mark, then right after Perlman’s solo, around the 13:30 mark).

But what I’m really enjoying right now is a collection of pieces put together on YouTube as an autumn selection. (This one is long!)

Published in: on November 6, 2019 at 5:30 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

We’re No Longer Saving Daylight


I enjoyed an extra hour of sleep Saturday night, but I have to admit, each year I find this clock changing nonsense connected with Daylight Savings Time to be annoying. For one thing, I can never figure out which change of the clock shifts us into Daylight Savings Time and which shifts us out (in this one we did the “fall back” thing, but is that taking us out of or into Day Light Savings Time? I can never remember. For today I know we are on “regular” time, but I won’t guarantee I’ll know that in a month. 😉 )

Actually I find the whole time change concept to be ludicrous. I mean, who’s kidding whom, that we’re actually saving daylight by shifting our clocks an hour? For me it’s a matter of whether or not it’s dark when you get up in the morning or when you finish work at night. One end or the other, it’s dark, and as the days get shorter, it’s actually dark on both ends.

So we’re clearly not saving any daylight. No matter what we do with our clocks, the sun ignores us and rises and sets at God’s command, according to the pattern He established years ago when He put the greater light in the heavens to rule the day.

It’s really quite a reflection of Mankind’s attitude, I think—us saying we’re saving daylight.

God saved daylight once. He stopped the sun in its tracks extending the day so His people could experience a great victory in battle.

We don’t save daylight like that, and never will. But we sound so powerful, so in control by saying we’re saving daylight. We don’t want the sun to go down when it actually does, so we’ll save daylight.

That’s the old carnival huckster’s trick, selling the public a bit of swamp land based on sleight of hand. Look at how much light we have in the evening, they say, in hopes we won’t notice how much less light we have in the morning.

So now we’re done with it. For a few months, at least. Not that I think those who believe Mankind is able to manipulate time see us as any less in control now than before. I suspect they believe we are capable of pulling our planet out of climate change. If only Man had been around when the Ice Age first showed signs of becoming a thing! I mean, what aren’t we capable of doing?

Such a sad perspective.

I’ve stood on “solid” ground, with the earth bucking and quaking beneath me. I’ve been in the ocean with one wave after another towering over me so that I knew I wouldn’t have the strength to evade one more. I’ve been in the snowy mountains in the winter as the sun goes down and realized the fine line between being warm and dry and freezing to death.

Who is Man that we think we can save daylight? In truth, there’s not much we can do about God’s creation, though we like to think we can. But every hurricane and tornado and earthquake we experience should wake us up to the fact that we aren’t in charge.

Ironically, God assigned Adam the job of cultivating and caring for the earth. He was the steward, I guess you’d say. But post-fall, we want more, we want more. Now we want to manipulate what God made, for our own ends.

For instance, we develop antibiotics and believe we will eradicate disease, only to discover that in the process we’ve created a strain of germs that are resistant to our drugs. Pandemics aren’t a thing of the past at all but a thing of the future. And so is famine and a variety of other “natural” disasters.

Funny how we can save daylight but make no dent in all the blizzards and floods and tidal waves this world throws at us.

If only we’d come to our senses and run back to our sovereign Father, the Creator and Maker of heaven and earth, and admit that we have been trying to usurp His authority. The world is His, we are the mere caretakers. He gives us the good gifts we enjoy—the rain that brings the food we need, the sun that warms us, the land that produces the rocks and trees to provide us with material for shelter, the very air we breath.

Saving daylight? We might as well say we are dismissing gravity.

Light is God’s realm. He describes Himself as Light, after all. If nothing else, maybe starting or ending Daylight Savings Time can remind us who the true and eternal Light is. And that He is the One who saves.

This article is a revision of one that appeared here in November, 2013.

Talking To Atheists


“Black holes are cosmic objects that harbour a gravitational field so powerful that nothing, not even light or radiation can escape.”

Atheists and Christians look at life and the world from diametrically opposed views, so having a conversation between those who hold to those divergent opinions is not easy. On one hand, atheists, believing only in scientifically verifiable substance, are convinced that God does not exist. Some even question the historicity of Jesus. These fundamental positions lead them to dismiss the Bible as more myth than an accurate historical source.

In contrast, Christians know that God and an entire supernatural realm beyond the scope of science, exist. This fundamental position leads us to accept the Bible not only as accurate but authoritative since the words and thoughts are God’s, written by humans through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Most of that last paragraph would be nearly unintelligible to atheists. After all, from their perspective there is no God, therefore no Holy Spirit, no inspiration, leaving the Bible to be a book of made-up stories and rules.

Generally conversation between those holding the two opposing positions means one side creates a “convincing” argument dismantling the position of the other, only to have the reverse occur during rebuttal.

So does that mean there is no way the two can discuss the big issues of life? There certainly is a barrier. From my perspective as a Christian, I feel as if I’m trying to convince someone who is colorblind that the sky is blue. It’s an obvious fact to me, but he has no knowledge of blue and therefore considers everything I say to be nonsense.

From his perspective I imagine he has what seems to be the most obvious, basic, clear, tangible standards by which reality can be determined, but Christians claim truth on the basis of those standards plus something intangible, unclear, obscure, and convoluted.

If I’m right, both sides shake their heads at the other and say, how can they be so ignorant?

In reality, I as a Christian would like to learn to talk to atheists, but to do that means bridging this worldview divide. Oh, sure, we can talk at each other—I can quote Scripture, which they don’t believe, and they can quote “Bible scholars” who don’t believe the Bible. I can throw out names of Christian scientists and they can list three times as many atheist scientists. I can present archeological data supportive of the Bible, and they can point to detail after detail in the Bible for which no historical evidence exists. I can discuss cosmology and the need for an intelligent designer to explain intelligent complexity, and they can discuss evolution and the natural development of all life.

The point is, we aren’t actually talking to one another. Rather, I’d like to find out, beyond theory, why atheists believe as they do.

Some, of course, believe they have come to the only rational, intelligent conclusion possible, but that presupposes that the human mind can know all that is or is not in the vast cosmos, including the multiverse and the possible different dimensions, should string theory prove to be true.

Ah, but there lies the problem. We humans don’t know if string theory is true. We don’t know if there are other dimensions. And if there are? Why would those dimensions have to be like ours? Might not there be a spiritual dimension filled with the supernatural?

Humankind is still looking for evidence of life in space though we don’t know for sure if it exists or if it will be intelligent should it exist. Despite that uncertainty, atheists are certain God is not there. Life maybe; God absolutely not.

All the above to point out that claims to “the only rational, intelligent conclusion possible” are hardly sufficient to answer the question why someone is an atheist.

On the other hand, if someone asks a Christian why they believe as they do, I think the answer might also be categorical—something along the lines of, I’m convinced Jesus is who He said He is: Son of God, Savior, Lord.

And where’s the evidence, atheists will answer.

Where indeed? Within the pages of the Bible the atheist doesn’t believe in; by the witness of the Holy Spirit living in each Christian, which the atheist doesn’t believe in; through the power of a changed life which the atheist has no way to measure or to ascribe cause.

It seems we’ve returned to the impasse. But I keep coming back to the question why the atheist can’t accept what he can’t see for himself—at least when it comes to God. He can’t see gravity, but believes in it; can’t see black holes, but (most) would agree they exist.

When it comes to God, however, inferring His existence from the effect He has on life (which is how we know about gravity and black holes) is insufficient evidence. So “a cosmic accident” is a better explanation for the existence of life than is an intelligent designer.

Why?

Maybe if I understood that, I’d understand atheists better.

This article is a re-post of one that first appeared here in October 2014.

Learning From Leviticus


Leviticus might be the least read book of the Bible.

Almost exclusively, the book lists out laws God gave to the people of Israel who were just coming out of slavery. They didn’t have a national identity apart from their history and their servitude. They didn’t have a command structure and barely had a culture—their language was undoubtedly mixed with the Egyptian tongue; their tastes in food, Egyptian; even their religious beliefs, heavily influenced by Egypt.

In fact, when they faced difficulty, what did they want to do? Go back to Egypt. That generation of Hebrews only knew Egypt as their home. Undoubtedly they wanted the abuse to stop: they didn’t want to be forced to expose their male babies so that they died; they didn’t want to be forced to reach an impossible work quota; they didn’t want to be beaten in punishment for not doing what they were told; they didn’t want to be kept against their will. But their will often was to stay in Egypt.

God changed that. He not only freed them, but He gave the nation structure. He gave them their own government. He gave them their own religious ceremonies and celebrations. And He gave them a new home. Not new really. They were going back to the land Abraham had bought, the land God had promised to give to his descendants. To them.

But what does Leviticus have to say to Christians? We are not, Christ said, a worldly kingdom. Israel was. Our citizenship is in heaven. Theirs was on earth. God governs our hearts. But for Israel, God governed. His word was the law of their land. And the law as they traveled to that land. Leviticus is that law.

It lays out things the people were to do involving health, safety, worship, celebrations, treatment of one another, and more.

So what can Christians learn from a book whose purpose isn’t for us? I think there’s a couple things, at least.

First, God shows that He cares about daily stuff. Not just how or when to do worship, but how to deal with poop, too. Yeah, I know. It’s not something we really are particularly interested in reading—what did those Israelite traveler do about human waste? But if God cares about something so . . . human, so ordinary, so un-glamorous, clearly He cares about all of our lives.

Also, God is in charge. He made it clear He gave the laws, and He didn’t share His authority with other pretenders.

Third, God gave the people hope. He constantly referred to things that were future by saying things like, when this or that happens to your house. They didn’t have houses. They lived the nomadic life of travelers, in tents. They didn’t farm, but God told them to have a celebration at harvest time. They didn’t have cities, but God told them about refuge cities. So much of what God laid out for them had to do with the future. This forward looking dovetails with the forward looking God has given Christians. Life is now and not yet. We are looking for the return of the King. We are looking for our heavenly home. And one thing that gives us confidence in God’s promises is that He fulfilled His promises to Israel.

Another thing we can learn about God is His justice but also His mercy. More than once when the people disobeyed and worshiped and served other gods, He could have abandoned them, broken the covenant—the agreement, the pact—He’d made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After all, the people had said they would follow Him, worship Him, and they weren’t. God didn’t let the wrong go unpunished, but He also didn’t forsake them.

In comparison to these bigger issues, this next thing seems kind of trivial, but it does reveal God’s nature: He is a God of order. In reading about the various sacrifices, I’ve noticed that some were to be performed in one place in relation to the altar and others in a different place. Bulls, for instance, were to be dealt with in one place, but lambs in a different place. I can think of some practical reasons behind this, but the Bible doesn’t tell us why. It just shows us that the details mattered. The little things mattered. The where and the how mattered. Those things come from an orderly mind.

Part of Leviticus describes the process of constructing the portable worship center—the tabernacle. In those chapters, more than once God says the particular items were to be made for beauty as well as for whatever function they had. He also named the main artisan and his main helper who were in charge of crafting the utensils used in worship, the alter, the table for incense, the ark, the basin used for washing, the curtains that made up the tent, the clothing the priests were to wear—all of it. For beauty as well as for function. That says a lot about God, too. Beauty is His idea. He made beauty and He wants us to make beauty.

This list is not exhaustive, by any means, but it serves to illustrate a point: even in the parts of the Bible where we least expect to find something important, lo and behold, important truths are there. Makes me aware of just how amazing God’s word is.

Published in: on October 30, 2019 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Faith Vs. Wishful Thinking


Sometimes I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but when an atheist friend tells me in a comment, as happened a few days ago, that he understands faith better than I do, I need to set the record straight.

How can someone who says he has no faith understand faith better than someone who claims to live by faith?

When I first joined the atheist/theist Facebook group I’ve mentioned from time to time, our first discussion was about the definition of faith. It was then that I learned, when atheists say “faith” they mean what Christians refer to as “blind faith,” which is nothing more than wishful thinking. I wish I didn’t have to go to work—maybe tomorrow will be some holiday I didn’t know about, or a snow day, or (here in SoCal) a fire day. (I seriously doubt if anyone ever wishes for that!)

Yesderday I saw the clash between meanings arise again, this time on a video of John Lennox debating Richard Dawkins. The two men each saw faith as different entities: Dawkins as little more than wishful thinking and Lennox as a reasoned position that is trustworthy.

The two meanings can’t get further apart, I don’t think.

I know the difference. As I’ve recounted before, when I was a child, I prayed for a bicycle. That was actually wishful thinking. I wanted a bike and asked God for one. I had no reason to ask Him. I had no idea if He wanted me to have a bike. Though I thought He had the power to give me a bike, I didn’t know if He would give me a bike. I wanted one, and that’s all that mattered.

But that’s not faith.

Faith is actually a reasoned position that is reliable and can be trusted.

Atheists have faith just as much as Christians do, though I have no doubt they will deny it. The point is, they have a reasoned position that they find reliable and trustworthy. They arrive at their position by believing the various scientists and the conclusions they reach, without considering other disciplines.

Christians don’t all have the same reasonings. Some look to the Bible, some to what a church leader or parent has taught, some to their own personal experience, some to the natural world, some to philosophy, and some to a mixture of all these. Maybe more. The bottom line, however, is that Christians have some reason they find belief in God and His Son Jesus to be reliable and trustworthy.

There is no wishful thinking involved in Christianity. Unless in error, like my prayer for a bike. Which explains why a lot of people claim they were Christians but no longer are. They had no reasoned position that they found to be reliable and trustworthy. They did what they thought was expected of them or what they hoped would bring them something—acceptance, maybe, or peace and happiness. But it was never a reasoned position they found reliable and trustworthy.

Christians aren’t fervently wishing heaven was a true place. On the contrary, we have reason to believe Heaven exists and is in our future. Christians aren’t desperately wishing for a Savior. Rather, we have reasons to believe we have a Savior, One who is reliable and trustworthy.

In fact, however a Christian reaches the conclusion that Jesus is reliable and trustworthy, we discover, as we walk with Him day in and day out, that He gives us more and more reasons to count Him worthy of our trust. Not because He heals our cancer or that of our loved ones. Because Christians die of cancer. Not because He spares us from suffering and persecution or abuse. Christians get tortured, beheaded, persecuted today even as they were in the first century.

So what’s reliable and trustworthy about a God that won’t stop all the bad things from happening?

First and foremost is His promise that He will go with us in the midst of all the trouble. God said through Isaiah: “Though you pass through the river, I will be with you.” And even more convincingly, Jesus came and lived right here with us. Truly, He did what He said: I will be with you.

Then, when Jesus left, He sent the Holy Spirit who not only lives with us but in us. Think about it. The people of God’s choosing, the descendants of Abraham, had God in their midst as they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land in the form of a pillar of cloud and of fire. Then He showed His glory in the tabernacle and eventually in the temple. He sent prophets to relay His words, to demonstrate that, yes, He was still faithful, even though some didn’t believe.

Christians don’t have God in a temple made with hands. Or a church building. We don’t have God walking beside us or making an occasional appearance. We have Him with us every second of every day. We are the temple.

We are the living stones. Sure, we can ignore Him or we can rely on Him. We can go our own way or go His way. But the presence of the Holy Spirit is a powerful evidence of our relationship with God, our trustworthy and reliable position upon which our faith rests.

I certainly don’t “wish” I had the Holy Spirit. To be honest, His conviction can be decidedly uncomfortable. But having the Holy Spirit also means I have access to His gifts and His fruit and His intercession in prayer and His guidance and more. I don’t pretend to understand all about the Holy Spirit, or the Triune God, for that matter, but I do know believing Him, counting Him trustworthy and reliable, is nothing like wishful thinking.

But I don’t know if people who rely on something else can see the difference.

Published in: on October 29, 2019 at 5:49 pm  Comments (17)  
Tags: , , , ,

By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone


A significant anniversary for Christians is approaching. On October 31, five hundred and two years ago, the grace of God once again took its rightful, prominent place in Christianity. Consequently, I’m re-posting this article from three years ago, with revisions, in commemoration of what God has done.

Part of my growing up included a spiritual education, so I learned early on that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. I understood that I could not do enough good things to make up for the bad. And I understood that no one could help me because they had their own sin problem. No one, except Jesus. His being the only sinless person who ever lived, qualified Him to be the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world for those who believed.

So nothing I did or could do would merit me to be acceptable to God. Only Jesus, standing in my place, taking the punishment I deserved, solved my sin issue.

Because I understood the basics of salvation at an early age, I have never grasped what it would be like to live any other way.

I’ve heard Jews and Catholics and Greek Orthodox joke in a knowing way about the guilt instilled in them by their religion, or more specifically, by someone who was holding them to a strict adherence to their religion—a parent, a priest, a teacher. I’ve also heard people refer to Christians as bound by guilt.

That thought seems odd to me. I don’t recall a time in my life when I’ve felt guilt-driven.

So I’ve been spoiled because I’ve believed from my youth that I’m forgiven because of God’s grace.

Christians haven’t always had this understanding. There was a period of time when grace took a back seat to doing good works, as the Church defined them. No doubt some people who were saved, gained that right standing with God because of His grace, but they were perhaps less aware of His free gift.

All that changed when Martin Luther went public with the results of his own doubts, questions, and struggles to understand God. On October 31, 1517, Luther sent a paper he’d written to his bishop: “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” This document became known simply as the Ninety-five Theses. Whether Luther ever attached a copy of the document to the door of the church at Wittenberg is a matter of contention, as was the document itself, when it first appeared.

But from the thoughts, question, and issues Luther looked at, grew the bedrock of Protestantism and a reformation (though more slowly, it would seem) of the Catholic Church, which is what he intended. Luther challenged the practice of selling indulgences, by which the priests grew richer because of the desire of the poor to do what they could to insure the salvation of their loved ones.

Luther contended that salvation depended on God, not on humans:

The most important [truth of Christianity] for Luther was the doctrine of justification—God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous—by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah. “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.” (see “Theology of Martin Luther,” Wikipedia)

Luther had much Scripture to support his position, not the least of which is Ephesians 2:8-9—“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The work is God’s, Luther proclaimed. A worker giving his copper to the church would not save the soul of his dead brother.

When I was growing up, I’d never heard of indulgences or even doing something to help a dead person reach heaven. The works I knew about were the kinds of things people did to make themselves acceptable to God. And these works included good things: going to church, reading the Bible, giving money to the poor, going on a short term mission trip, and so on. Good things.

But just like Paul’s list of good Jewish things recorded in Philippians, this Christian list of good things amounts to rubbish if its considered the means to a relationship with God. Paul’s birth status, circumcision, religious affiliation, and even his personal righteousness, were nothing in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3).

Essentially Martin Luther discovered and proclaimed what Paul had learned through his own quest. The two men were similar. They both wanted to please God, and they both went about it by trying to be good enough for Him based on the good things they did. Both eventually realized that there weren’t enough good things in the entire earth to make them good enough, but that God had given right standing with Himself as a free gift through Christ Jesus.

That’s grace.

Nothing earned here.

A free gift.

Undeserved.

I know that rankles American minds—perhaps the minds of others, too. But in this culture today we have two competing philosophies—an independent, “earn your own way” mentality, and an entitlement, “you deserve it” belief. God’s free gift is an affront to both of those positions. We humans don’t get to take credit for salvation, no matter how you look at it. We didn’t earn it, and we aren’t so wonderful that it ought to have been handed to us based on our incredible merit.

Luther did the hard work of sussing out from Scripture this truth, and I’m incredibly grateful.

Thanks be to God for His free gift of salvation, and thanks be to Him for teaching this truth to Martin Luther so that he could make it widely known.

Why Should I Praise God?


I think too often when Christians talk about praising God, there’s a group of people who say, why should I? What’s He done for me? Sadly, that group includes other Christians along with a lot of people who kinda think there’s a god, but they sure don’t know him.

But more and more, it seems, God is showing me believers who are genuinely hurting—my friend Brandon who died of cancer, leaving his three young children and wonderful wife behind; a former student who had fertility issues, lost her brother in a car accident, and is now in the hospital with her own cancer issues; one of my pastors who’s son-in-law just died, leaving his daughter a widow; and today my blogging friend Insanitybytes. There are others, too, some well-known, others obscure and quiet in their hurting—but these believers clung with their last breath or the breath they have in them now, to the goodness of God.

Sure, there are the why-is-god-so-disappointing crowd. There have been books written about that subject, so it’s not like the praise people stand alone, triumphant, in the ring of suffering.

So what’s the difference? I think it’s knowing God.

Some of us know God in a casual way, sort of like an acquaintance or a good boss we rarely see. We know he’s there because we keep getting paychecks, but it’s hard to think that he had any more to do with those than signing his name, and if we have our wages automatically deposited, we might just have money showing up in our account, with no tangible evidence the boss is involved. That’s how a lot of people treat God.

Others—and chances are, these are members of the disappointment crowd—relate to God as a kindly, generous grandfather who is so, so willing to give us whatever we want. Consequently, when we ask him for something, especially the really serious stuff, and he says no, we are so shocked, so disappointed, so thrown off the solid rock of faith we thought was firmly under our feet, that we can’t begin to muster any praise.

Praise for what? My husband just lost his job. Praise for what? The rent just went up, again, along with the gas prices and the groceries. Praise for what? My best friend just moved.

Of course some even say, Praise for what? I don’t have a thing to wear to the office bash this week.

Yes, some of the issues are our perspective, but a lot are real issues.

For a long time I was very critical of the newly freed Hebrew slaves as they traveled across the wilderness toward the Promised Land. I mean, they were always complaining, and this, right after God had shown His power in so many miraculous ways. Couldn’t they trust Him for a few short months at least?

Well, the truth was, their concerns were real. First, they really did not have any water. Not for them, their children, their cows, their sheep. And they were in a near desert. I’m pretty sure I’d have been in the crowd of complainers.

Then there was no food; and later, the same food; danger; and real giants in the land where they were supposed to go in and reside. Giants they were supposed to conquer. This was, of course, much earlier than David, so they didn’t know the story about this youth, not really an adult yet, facing down a God-cursing giant and demolishing him.

I’m not sure my criticism of these complaining Hebrews is really founded. Except. They had told God, on more than one occasion, that there would obey Him and worship Him alone and follow Moses, the leader God had given them. They went back on those things. When they were faced with stuff they couldn’t see around, when there was something they didn’t understand (why does Moses get to be the leader all the time? Shouldn’t someone else get a turn?)

In other words, they really did not trust God. And how does praise fit in with all this?

First, praise is an offering to God. It’s the sacrifice of our lips. Second, it’s really, really, really hard impossible to praise God without thinking about why He is praiseworthy.

For Christians, the bottom line ought to be, I know God is faithful and loving and true, because He sent His Son to die for me. So, He didn’t save my friend from cancer, but He is still good. So I lost my job. He is still faithful. So I don’t see how I can make all the payments that will come due this month, He’s still loving.

Our circumstances don’t change who God is.

The problem is, our circumstances are blinding us to God’s character, because we’re looking at them instead of Him. Like Peter when he was actually walking to Jesus on the water, but got distracted by the wind and the waves.

Praise adjusts our sights. Instead of looking down or around or in, we are again looking up, and we can see God the way He deserves to be seen, the way He actually is.

Like so many things with God, praise is a win-win. We can offer Him something when we feel like we have nothing to give, but He turns it around and makes our giving of it, a blessing to us. That’s God for you.

Published in: on October 25, 2019 at 5:28 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags: , , ,

For What Do We Praise God?



Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels

I’ve said from time to time that I think contemporary churches lose something if they don’t continue to sing hymns of old. I appreciate the fact that a number of songwriters have added to the selection of music which we can use in church. But there’s something about the old hymns that the new ones don’t seem to have.

This may be nothing more than my perspective, based on the songs in my church. We no longer have hymnals (I just bought one on Amazon because I miss them so much—part of the birthday present from my brother!) Instead we sing songs that are projected on screens. Not the music. Just the words.

That fact along is a clue to me that these songs are a little “light weight.” I mean, anyone can pick up the tune with little effort. What’s more, we sing in a sort of unisex way, in a key that is too low for me as a soprano. It’s sort of keyed as if we’re all altos. But that’s not really the point.

What bothers me is the simplicity of the lyrics. They are without meat.

There certainly are exceptions, most notably “Christ Alone” by the Gettys. But instead of singing any number of their others, we seem to take our choices from a very limited selection that has a number of songs that repeat and repeat and repeat. I have to wonder. There have been so many jokes about the repetition in contemporary praise music, you’d think writers and worship leaders would have figured out there’s a better way. But apparently not.

We do sing a smattering of hymns too, but those are ones that have a contemporary arrangement. So the selection is very, very small.

I found a hymn this morning that I’d like to learn, but I don’t read music, so I was hoping I could find it online. It’s old, and even the translation from the original language is old. But I think it says some incredible things about God. Sadly, I didn’t find it. I have a friend who plays the piano so maybe . . . but I don’t know how to get it home where I can actually learn it. But never mind. The real issue is the lyrics. Here they are:

Stanza 1
Lord, who can be with you compared?
Or who Thy greatness hath declared?
What ardent thought discerned aright?

Chorus #1
Further than our poor reck’ning stretches
Beyond the ken of mortal eye,
Or boundless depths of starry reaches,
There has Thou set They throne on high.

Stanza 2
Praise, honor, majesty receiving,
Thou Source and Life of all the living,
Thy dazzling vestment is the light!

Chorus #1

Stanza 3
Exalt, my soul, exalt the glory
Of my Creator, tell the story
That all the earth may understand!

Chorus #2
Rejoice in Him, ye hosts of heaven,
To Him alone your voices raise;
Worthy is He to whom be given
Honor and worship, thanks and praise

Stanza 4
Sing thy triumphant songs before Him,
Repeat them, all His saints adore Him
Who holds us by His mighty hand.

Chorus #2

The original is some 250 years old and even the translation is over a hundred years old. But I love the connection between those believers long ago who sang to the same God and Father I know. I love the connection with the Church universal, down through the ages, understanding who God is and how He interacts with us.

I also like that these lyrics make me think. They aren’t cookie cutter. They don’t repeat one phrase—even a good phrase—over and over so that it’s easy to sing without thinking about what your singing (not that I would ever do that! 😉 )

I also like, and this may be the most important thing, that the focus is primarily on God, not how I feel about God.

My internet search for the lyrics of this hymn uncovered another song with the word “compare” in the title. Here’s the first verse:

Where would I be
If it wasn’t for Your kindness toward me
You’ve been closer than a friend could ever be
There is nothing on the Earth that could take Your place

These are good things to sing about God, but it seems to me there’s a shift so that the spotlight is as much on my relationship with God as it is on God. I do think a believer’s relationship with God should be celebrated, so I’m definitely not knocking this song.

But I think we lose something if our focus most of the time is about how we feel about God rather than about God Himself. It’s almost as if we have to understand God in terms of how He affects us instead of Who He is apart from us.

There’s one song we sing in my church that highlights God’s goodness. One line says “He’s so good to me.” I always want to shout right there, NO, He’s good whether I perceive Him as good or not, whether I benefit immediately from His goodness or not. Because the truth is, I don’t always see God’s goodness. I believe in His goodness because He’s revealed His end game, so I know not to make an evaluation of Him based on me and my life right now.

I mean, there’s a woman in front of me who lost her husband to cancer. How does she perceive a line like, He’s so good to me?

But the lines of the old humn? Those tell the truth about God, and I love to be reminded—I need to be reminded—who He is in a deeper way than so many of contemporary songs say.

Published in: on October 23, 2019 at 5:41 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

Where Is God In The Mess?


One of the hardest things to explain to someone who doesn’t believe in God, is where He is when horrible things happen. Why doesn’t He make things better? Is He uncaring or simply too unaware or too weak to do something about things like the spread of abortion and the evil of men who traffic young girls or boys, who sell drugs and make their fortunes by creating hardships for others. After all, if God is sovereign, shouldn’t He do something about moral collapse?

I understand. Life would be so much better if God stopped the murders, the lies, the greed, the selfishness.

But the fact is, God didn’t make us little puppets. He didn’t make us beings He would manipulate and move around on the earth as if we are nothing more than chess pieces for His amusement. He actually made us in His image, to resemble Him. That means He gave us the ability to go our own way. Going our own way can mean following Him or ignoring Him; obeying Him or defying Him; submitting to Him or rebelling against Him.

Because, like it or not, despite the fact that we have the ability to go our own way, God is still the King. He sets the rules.

I know some people who really, really don’t like His rules. They don’t like the fact that someone else tells them what to do. They want the final say on what they can do cannot do. No surprise, then, that some people, using the freedom God created them to enjoy, walk away from Him.

What’s really sad is, the rest of us are subject to the residual effect of these people going their own way. So, if a dad decides he wants an affair with a woman at work, if he ends up leaving his family to fulfill his own perceptions of what will make him happy, he leaves in his wake heartbroken kids and a single parent mom in a tight financial situation, or with court battles and angry fights.

If another guy decides he can get rich by stealing from his clients, he leaves aging people without a retirement fund. If someone else wants to get rich by trafficking children, he creates emotional trauma and steals safety and a promising future that those kids will never have back.

I could go on and on, but the point is, these evils come from the heart of people walking away from God. They might even come from someone pretending to walk with God, who is actually lying about that most important relationship. Because lying is certainly one of the favorite behaviors of those rebelling against God.

So where is God?

He’s with every one of us who choose to follow Him.

Not that He fixes our situations so that nothing bad happens to us. We know that’s not the way things work. Bad people do things that affect God’s followers, too. So Corrie ten Boom and her family end up in a concentration camp during World War II.

But because God is with His followers, He uses us even in the darkness. That’s His promise. A common phrase today in some churches (to the point that it is becoming cliche) is that Christians are the hands and feet of Jesus.

There’s truth in that line, which is why it’s repeated so much. God is in this world, working through us. Instead of a miracle, He puts on the hearts of hundreds of His followers to feed the poor or rescue sex slaves or stand against abortion. He’s not violating the free will He gave humans, but He’s also not helpless. He empowers us, His disciples, to give or go or speak or share.

It’s like the old joke: Some guy is trapped on his roof during a flood. He cries out to God for help. Over and over he cries out, but the water steadily creeps higher and higher until he succumbs to the flood. As he’s being carried away to heaven, he asks, God, why didn’t you save me? God answers, What do you mean? I sent you at least 5 rescue boats, but you sent them all away.

We are God’s answer to needy people, if all we can do is point them to Him. That’s probably the most important thing we can do. That and pray. James tells us we don’t have because we don’t ask. And when we do ask, we do so with wrong motives.

But most of us can more besides. We don’t have a God who doesn’t care. That’s why He leaves us in the world.

And speaking of being left in the world, this time of living in “mixed company” with people who are fighting the rightful King, isn’t going to last forever. God has told us what is good: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him. That creates a light that will show the way to the people floundering without an understanding of what God has done for them. But one day He will bring the struggle to an end, either for us individually, or for the world collectively.

Those tied to the world system, God has “given over” to the desires of their heart, to their passions, and to the false way they look at things. That’s why societies experience moral collapse. But we don’t look forward to an eternal struggle. One day God’s followers will serve together, without the heartache and distractions of sin. God’s giving us a future and a hope.

Though He originally said those words to the Jewish nation in the face of their exile, He says that to us today, not about today, but about the day we have to look forward to when we will see Him in all His glory. That’s a day that can give us courage, no matter what we’re facing here and now.

Published in: on October 22, 2019 at 5:22 pm  Comments (17)  
Tags:

God’s Work, Now And In The Pre-Flood World


Some years ago the movie Noah, turned the spotlight, though not particularly brightly, on events recorded in the Bible. Like Exodus that followed it months later, the movie deviated from the historical account—understandable since most atheists such as the film maker don’t look at the Bible as history and would have a hard time showing God as the Bible reveals Him.

I didn’t see the movie, but I saw trailers and clips. One of the more memorable had a mob of people clamoring to get on board the ark, only to have Noah hold them off at gun point under threat of violence.

Interesting since the small amount of information we have about the pre-flood world mentions violence as one cause for God’s judgment. Of course there was the whole Sons-of-God-copulating-with-the-daughters-of-men issue. Nobody really understands what that was all about, of course. Some scholars insist the “sons of God” refer to angels, but then there’s not a good explanation why God would judge Mankind for what angels were clearly responsible for.

Be that as it may, we can put down as fact that something immoral, of a sexual nature, was taking place. My theory, which I may have shared in this space before, is that Adam and Eve had children before they sinned. These would have been “sons of God” in the sense that they didn’t have a sin nature. Daughters of men would have been born in Adam’s likeness, with a sin nature.

But that’s a theory.

The bottom line is that humankind didn’t just sin occasionally:

the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5)

A few verses down, God references their violence:

Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. (v 11)

We don’t have details here, but we know that Cain killed his brother—2nd degree murder, or premeditated murder, we don’t know for sure. Either way, God didn’t respond with capital punishment. Instead he protected Cain from those who might want to kill him by branding him with a special mark. This was not a curse as some have suggested or a mark he passed on to his descendents as others have said.

There’s no indication it was anything more than a way people could identify Cain as a man under God’s protection. God’s promise was that if anyone killed Cain, they’d pay sevenfold.

Perhaps the people of the day took this to be a license to kill. We know in fact that one of Cain’s descendants, Lamech, also committed murder. In fact he confessed to two murders:

For I have killed a man for wounding me;
And a boy for striking me (4:23b)

Lamech then claimed the right of seventy-sevenfold retribution against anyone who would seek to kill him.

One more thing Lamech is famous for: he’s also the first recorded bigamist.

Apparently he was a trend-setter because few men from that point on until the first century were monogamous.

So here are the facts: God said to Adam and Eve, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Their descendants were killing each other.

God established marriage as a one man-one woman union that made them one flesh. Adam and Eve’s descendants were partnering inappropriately—in the wrong way (multiple partners), with the wrong people (sons of God with daughters of men).

So apparently humankind was 0 for 2—they failed to obey the only two commandments God had given them. And things were only getting worse:

God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.

As we know from Romans, humankind’s corruption affected the rest of creation.

The point I want to make here is that God judged Lamech and his sons and their sons, not because they were good people and God just had a temper tantrum. He judged them because they were mass murderers and rapists and adulterers and bigamists. They rejected God’s right to rule their lives in the simplest, most basic aspects.

Noah alone was righteous.

And still, after God passed judgment, after He gave Noah the command to build the ark, it took a hundred years to get it finished.

Yes, these were the days when humans still lived long lives. Scripture intimates in a number of places that humans didn’t lose their faculties as they aged at the same rate we do today. So at 75, for example, Sarai, Abram’s wife, is still referred to as very beautiful—not a typical description of a senior citizen.

But to the point, God didn’t strike down all the corrupt of the earth in a fit of anger. And Noah wasn’t off in some corner happily preparing his escape from the coming judgment while other “good people” were unaware of the coming catastrophe.

Scripture refers to Noah as “a preacher of righteousness,” suggesting that he was splitting his time between building the ark and telling everyone else about God, His expectations, and His righteous judgment.

The people who died in the flood were “ungodly” according to 2 Peter. They’re listed along with the angels God judged and the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which God also judged and destroyed.

God does not whack innocent people like some gangland kingpin who’s having a bad day and wants to take it out on whoever is in his way.

God is a righteous judge.

He’s sovereign, but He’s good; his judgments are pure and right, every one of them.

I’m convinced we don’t have to fret over the people who died in the flood. God says He takes no delight in the death of the wicked, and yet He carries out the judgment against them. I have no doubt that he made the right call. Am I happy many people died? Of course not. But God knew each one of those people by name. I’m confident He wanted more than I ever could, for them to do an about-face so that He didn’t have to carry out the judgment upon them.

How do I know this? Because of the prophets and the ways God worked to spare Israel and Judah—the extent He went to in the effort to induce His people to turn back to Him. Because of His warning to and forgiveness of Nineveh, And ultimately, because He Himself went to a cross to die for the sins of the world.

Would a God who loves that much, have done less to win and woo the pre-flood people? It’s not consistent with His character to think He was uncaring in His judgment. But His judgment is a fact and a warning to us that God’s patience is long-suffering but not endless. There is a day of judgment for our world that is also coming.

Would that people today will learn the lesson the pre-flood people failed to grasp.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in July, 2015.

%d bloggers like this: