Atheist Arguments: Humans Are Animals


Of course humans are animals. We live and breath and do all the things animals do, but Christians believe humans are more. Christians believe God breathed life into us, that by doing so He gave us an eternal soul. Or spirit. It seems there’s some confusion concerning the two. Are they synonymous, does one refer to our personhood, our personality, and the other to our spiritual existence?

It is the latter, the spiritual part of us, that separates us from other animals. For instance, humans pray. Animals have no apparent awareness of God, and do not make any clear appeal to a higher power. Pets might run to their owner if they become frightened, but they might just as often run away and hide. But at no time do animals appear to appeal to a supernatural being for help or deliverance or salvation.

Animals also don’t appear to deal with guilt. Oh, sure, those pets who know their owner is not happy with their behavior, might cower when they are told, No, but this is an instinctual reaction to the displeasure, not guilt for having done what they wanted to do.

I’ve seen cats that kill birds and show no remorse.

The dog I had for twelve years showed great sorrow when I scolded him for taking his food to the carpet and eating it there rather than leaving it in his dish, but he continued to drag it out. It was his instinct to do so. He didn’t know that he was doing anything wrong—just that I was unhappy he was doing it.

Third, animals don’t worship. They have ways of showing when they are happy or irritated, like wagging their tails or hissing or barking or baring their claws or laying their ears back or licking. But worship? Since they have no apparent awareness of the supernatural, they have no apparent desire to express praise or gratitude or awe.

Here’s the thing. If humans are simply a product of evolution and we are nothing more than the most advanced version of life, where did the sense of the supernatural come from? Why do we worship? Why do we deal with guilt? Why do we pray?

Those things are not found in animals. They are found in humans.

I know some will say they are nothing but a creation of our brains. But animals have brains, too. Where is the evidence of an animals’ underdeveloped awareness of the supernatural?

Interestingly enough, the same people that think the supernatural comes from our brains, also think the supernatural isn’t real. So how is that evolution? Wouldn’t our brains develop in such a way that we would be smarter, wiser, better, more capable of coping? How does guilt fit into that paradigm?

Or worship? Certainly the atheist must think spending time with others to give praise to Someone who, they say, doesn’t exist, is not making us smarter or wiser or better or more capable. So how did we become worshiping people?

The point is humans are more than animals. We do have that God-breathed part of us that makes us eternal. Human life, therefore is precious and valuable, and we need to treat it with more care than any other life.

Some scholars speak of a “God-shaped vacuum” inside each of us. No one is quite certain of the origin of the phase, but Augustine, Pascal, C. S. Lewis, and Scripture itself have been credited with the concept, if not the wording.

The Bible clearly does identify us as people with an unquenchable thirst, satisfied only by the Living Water.

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'” (John 7″37-38)

Lewis described that “empty place” that only God can fill and actually his awareness of it was one of the factors that turned him from atheism to Christianity:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity)

The interesting thing to me is that secularists admit the existence of this hole, this vacuum.

We are all searching for something. What that something might be is never really a certainty, but it typically displays itself as a nagging sense of something unfinished or a thing undone that plagues our days and troubles our sleep. It is a restlessness within the human heart described by St. Augustine as “…humanity’s innate desire for the infinite…”

This restlessness is a metaphor for seeking after the infinite, for something larger than ourselves (“The God-shaped Hole” by Michael J Formica, Psychology Today)

Actually the author goes on to say that this “something larger than ourselves” actually is ourselves, but the point for this discussion is the fact that this realization of something beyond is not a made up Christian concept. It’s real and it sets us apart from animals.

We long for . . . more, even when we don’t know what that more is.

Where does that longing come from? Not from animals. The best answer is the one God gave us: He breathed into us life, something our sin has seriously affected so that, as the Psychology Today article went on to say, we try to fill our longings with “things outside of ourselves — objects, money, love, release or our perception of it, sex, drugs, new experiences, whatever is at hand.” And the current craze—us, ourselves.

But the very attempt to fill this “emptiness” shows that it is real, that we have in us a need that spurs us to look for satisfaction. It’s defining. We do what animals don’t do, and that, by deductive reasoning, separates us from animals. We are more. We have an awareness of God. Romans 1 says we do, though we don’t acknowledge Him:

because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. (v 19)

Humans are animals? Sure we are, but God gave us something animals don’t have. He’s set us apart for relationship with Himself.

Photo by Laurie Gouley from Pexels

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Let There Be Light


In this case, “let there be light” does not refer to part of God’s act of creation. Rather, as part of my church’s Scripture reading program, we have been going through the book of Exodus, including all the instructions about putting the tabernacle together.

The cool thing about writing these short devotionals or meditations is that they require me to think more about the passage than I most likely would have otherwise. I mean, putting the tabernacle together is not the most action packed, gripping section of Scripture. This is the passage I was assigned for July:

Then he made the lampstand of pure gold. He made the lampstand of hammered work, its base and its shaft; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers were of one piece with it. There were six branches going out of its sides; three branches of the lampstand from the one side of it and three branches of the lampstand from the other side of it; three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in one branch, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. In the lampstand there were four cups shaped like almond blossoms, its bulbs and its flowers; and a bulb was under the first pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the second pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the third pair of branches coming out of it, for the six branches coming out of the lampstand. Their bulbs and their branches were of one piece with it; the whole of it was a single hammered work of pure gold. He made its seven lamps with its snuffers and its trays of pure gold. He made it and all its utensils from a talent of pure gold. Exodus 37:17-24)

My thoughts:

For the longest time I’ve struggled matching pictures of the Menorah with this description of it here in Exodus. I mean there are two branches and then three cups, but four bulbs and flowers and then six branches, only to conclude with seven lamps. Usually when I finish this section, I feel quite befuddled, and I’m glad that someone with a bit more visual acumen than I, has been able to translate these words into an actual object.

Of course Moses had the heavenly pattern, so he knew before he gave the artist the description, what the holy light was to look like.

Now I have the internet, so at long last I think I understand how all the parts fit. More importantly, I see this: perpetual light. Many parts fashioned as one lamp. Function and artistry in combination. Another of God’s “perfect sevens.”

All of these are important, but I am drawn to the fact that God wanted the things of worship to be beautiful. Yes, they all had a purpose, an important function. And yet they were all created in beauty. Beneath each lamp was not a block or a slab. Rather the casing was a bulb and a flower.

In the same way, I believe God wants the writing or editing I do to fulfill a purpose, and He wants me to do it in a way that displays His glory. It’s not enough for me to meet a deadline if I grumble the whole time. The beauty is as important as the function.

Published in: on July 18, 2018 at 5:22 pm  Comments (3)  
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The First Thanksgiving Day


old_testament012

I’ve not verified this with anyone, but I think the first recorded Thanksgiving Day occurred under King David’s rule and is found in 1 Chronicles 16. The day was a community-wide, or more accurately, a national occasion, with worship and feasting and music of every kind, including songs. One is recorded for us, so we know the focus of this thanksgiving was God.

Here are the key parts of the passage (I’m leaving the verse numbers in place so you can see what I’ve included):

old_testament0241 And they brought in the ark of God and placed it inside the tent which David had pitched for it, and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. 2 When David had finished offering the burnt offering and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD. 3 He distributed to everyone of Israel, both man and woman, to everyone a loaf of bread and a portion of meat and a raisin cake.

4 He appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, even to celebrate and to thank and praise the LORD God of Israel

7 Then on that day David first assigned Asaph [who wrote some of the psalms recorded in Scripture] and his relatives to give thanks to the LORD.

8 Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples.
9 Sing to Him, sing praises to Him;
Speak of all His wonders.
10 Glory in His holy name;
Let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad.
11 Seek the LORD and His strength;
Seek His face continually.
12 Remember His wonderful deeds which He has done,
His marvels and the judgments from His mouth,
13 O seed of Israel His servant,
Sons of Jacob, His chosen ones!
14 He is the LORD our God;
His judgments are in all the earth.
15 Remember His covenant forever,
The word which He commanded to a thousand generations,

23 Sing to the LORD, all the earth;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
24 Tell of His glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
25 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
He also is to be feared above all gods.
26 For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the LORD made the heavens.
27 Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and joy are in His place.
28 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
29 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name;
Bring an offering, and come before Him;
Worship the LORD in holy array.
30 Tremble before Him, all the earth;
Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.
31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
And let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.”
32 Let the sea roar, and all it contains;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
33 Then the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the LORD;
For He is coming to judge the earth.
34 O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
35 Then say, “Save us, O God of our salvation,
And gather us and deliver us from the nations,
To give thanks to Your holy name,
And glory in Your praise.”
36 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
From everlasting even to everlasting.
Then all the people said, “Amen,” and praised the LORD.

Now that’s Thanksgiving!

Published in: on November 24, 2016 at 9:47 am  Comments Off on The First Thanksgiving Day  
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What I DO Like About Church


Church_ServiceI’ve said more than once that I’ve been spoiled. I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life in one Bible-believing church. Without a doubt, the teaching I received there and what I’ve learned from regular time in God’s word are the causes for any spiritual growth in my life. From what my church has done right and also from what it has neglected, I have developed a few items on my “this is what I like” list.

First, Biblical, expository preaching. Many preachers use the Bible as their text. I’ve heard preachers who primarily retell the Biblical passage they’ve chosen, putting it in their own words and perhaps giving it a contemporary slant. I’ve heard other preachers who take the main topic of a text and discuss it, using all kinds of research and examples from literature or history or psychology or whatever. I’ve also heard preachers who take a topic and then find verses in the Bible to support what they want to say about that subject.

None of these are necessarily wrong. They might provide the congregation with helpful knowledge and might facilitate their spiritual growth. But from my thinking, there’s a better way.

A pastor, as I see it, should not pick and choose what parts of the Bible his congregation needs. In reality, we need the entire Bible, even the hard parts. Some hard parts, to be sure, might not seem to yield “good sermon material,” so a pastor needs to decide how to handle those sections of Scripture. I’m thinking, for example, of passages in Numbers discussing the dimensions of the tabernacle or the laws intended for the Jewish people or 1 Chronicles genealogies or even the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and in Luke. There are lessons to be gleaned from each of those, and a pastor may want to address those in a different way than he would a New Testament letter or a study of a book of prophecy or of history.

But the point here is this: expository preaching intends to explain or describe a Biblical passage, going into some depth, and generally working through a section from start to finish.

Expository preaching still uses cross references and still looks into the historical background of the text. But the primary element of expository preaching is to let God say what He said. Consequently we don’t dodge hard verses that say things that don’t square with our theology or that clash with our cultural proclivities. Expository preaching doesn’t chase trends in the church. It doesn’t camp on one topic and hit congregants over the head with the same “thou shalt” week after week after week. The Spirit of God might want to get someone’s attention that way, but the Bible has such variety, written from the perspective of so many different writers, it’s really hard to work through a passage of Scripture and not find something new and diverse.

Second, singing that’s congregation oriented. I’m of the mindset that corporate worship should be different from a concert. Corporate worship is participatory. We should be engaged during sermons, checking the Scriptures to see if the things we’re being taught are true. We should also be engaged in any singing. Yes, there might be times when our engagement is within as it is when we listen to sermons, but I believe in congregational singing. Jesus sang a hymn with His followers the night before He was arrested, so we have His example.

Paul says we are to teach and admonition one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16). That idea leads to a second point of emphasis: the purpose of the congregation-oriented music is that we might have doctrine reinforced. Yes, singing should also be for worship, but again this is a corporate activity, so we as a congregation should do this together—praising God for who He is, for what He’s done, for the beauty of His person, for the perfection of His plan, for His creation. In other words, praise should be focused on God, not on how I feel about God.

A third point here is that congregational singing should actually be intended for a congregation, not for a small group or soloist. So I really like congregational music when I don’t have to change keys to keep on singing or to stay quiet until the music comes back into my range.

What else do I like about church? I like groups of people from our church working to serve others. We once had a vibrant ministry to prisons. I don’t hear about that any more, but maybe we still do it. We also used to participate in a program that provided prisoners gifts for their children at Christmas time. I like missions and short term mission opportunities. I like various activities and services for the poor and needy. Big churches, of course, can offer more varied ways of serving, but I like whatever effort a church makes to serve at home or abroad.

Along with that, though, I like to see people speaking out boldly about Jesus Christ. Anyone can do a good deed. I think it’s important for others to know we love and go and work and serve because Jesus first loved us. We’re not trying to earn church brownie points or, worse, heaven brownie points.

One last area I’ll mention today. I like churches that take care of one another. Churches are filled with people, and God designed us to pray for one another and to help one another and to comfort one another and to serve one another. In short, I like churches with people who develop relationships with one another—not always easy to do in big metropolitan areas in the fast pace of today’s society. But all the more necessary because of the disconnect we can easily feel away from family.

God identifies His Church using a variety of metaphors. One is that we are His children, which makes us all brothers and sisters. That’s something vital I think the church must not lose. No one needs another bureaucratic entity in our lives just because. But we need the church, mostly because we ARE the Church. We need to be with like-minded people, not so that we can settle, but so that we can be empowered to go out and serve and preach and love those around us.

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:1-8)

Published in: on May 5, 2016 at 6:10 pm  Comments (9)  
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What I Don’t Like Regarding Church


Mars_Hill_Church,_Ballard_location,_worship_band_stageChurches are nothing but a collection of people—sinners saved by grace who sometimes listen to God and follow Him, but who sometimes rebel and go their own way, though they may repent and come back to a place of obedience. Sometimes, without realizing it, we let stuff creep into our churches that is really harmful, stuff that acts like a little leaven. Sometimes we let in wolves that masquerade like shepherds. Sometimes we tolerate what amounts to cotton candy.

When I was in Tanzania, the average person lived hand to mouth. One of the staples in their diet was ugali, a dough-like substance made from the cassava plant. Cassava is a root, similar to the potato. In Tanzania, the farming techniques at that time often depleted the soil of nutrients. Hence, cassava, and ultimately ugali, had little nutritional value. People could eat their meals which would assuage their appetite, but they were not receiving the vitamins and minerals they needed.

Some churches can be like ugali, or like cotton candy—on the surface it seems as if the people are being fed, but they end up nearly starving.

I don’t like the things that hurt our churches!

Here, in no specific order, are some of the things I think hurt our churches:

Copying. Or jumping on bandwagons, if you will. We seem too eager, in my opinion, to jump to the next trend, as if church is all about keeping up with the trendy, the pacesetters, the megachurches who seem to have find the right formula to bring people in.

Jesus attracted big crowds, so there’s obviously nothing inherently wrong with a large congregation. But Jesus didn’t do market studies to see how to bring people in. His crowds also included a group out to catch Him in some kind of error—either morally or theologically.

The crowds also included those who were there just for a free lunch or to be wowed by the next dead-man-walking event. Some may have been there for the cool stories.

But at one point, Jesus laid out what He expected of people who followed Him, and the crowds dissipated. Rapidly. Jesus didn’t revamp His style or technique. He didn’t soften His message or steer away from the truth. He didn’t open up coffee shops or promise to provide lunch from only ONE loaf of bread if they’d just come back next week.

Which brings me to the second thing I think hurts churches: counting the number of people who attend. We’ve got this idea that more is better.

More can be exciting and encouraging when a ministry starts out. That people come to a house church in the Arab world at peril of their lives is an awesome sign that God is moving. But here in the western world? The biggest crowds are in sports arenas. In other words, great numbers aren’t necessarily a sign of great spirituality. So why do we count?

Maybe the leadership needs to know attendance as part of their planning, but a fixation on numbers can derail a ministry in short order. We start relying on the techniques of the world, we start taking credit for the “success” of a large congregation. We stop trusting God to bring the people He wants to come.

A third thing that hurts churches is performance. Ministers perform more than they preach.

They’re preceded by the opening act—the worship band. Lights go dim in the “house” as spotlights illuminate the performers. Sound equipment is turned up to loud or loudest so all that the people in the “audience” hear is the lead and backup singers and instruments. Some churches include special effects.

The point of all this performing is to entertain the people to keep them coming back. If they get an emotional kick from the concert or from the speaker, then church has been “worshipful.”

Well, no it hasn’t. Such a service puts the focus first on the performers and then on the people in the audience who are responding emotionally. Where is the focus on the Lord Jesus Christ? Putting the spotlight on Him is worship!

Number four naturally follows. Churches are hurt—crippled, really—when ministers preach the topics of their choice rather than what the Bible says. Oh, sure, lots of ministers who pick their topic use the Bible, but it’s more by way of reinforcing the point they already want to make.

How about if we opened up the Bible and looked at a passage, verse by verse and chapter by chapter, to see what it says? In other words, how about having a minister preach from the Bible—whether it addresses one of the hot, trendy topics, or something really uncomfortable—as opposed to using the Bible for our own purposes.

The thing is, some pastors who use the Bible are in sync with it, but the model of preaching that way is flawed. Therefore, someone can come along behind them who is not Biblically minded and follow the “use the Bible” model, only to lead the congregants away from the truth.

The health-and-wealth preachers fall into this latter category. Those who want to “name it and claim it” use the Bible to reinforce their beliefs about God’s blessing and prosperity while ignoring passage after passage after passage that talks about suffering and being in need and sacrificing.

I haven’t exhausted the things I don’t like, but I’m going to stop. I’ll end with this short video of a musician who understands about worship. It’s encouraging to know that there are people out there who are working to enhance corporate worship. It gives me hope.

My Cry Ascends | Greg Wilbur from Compass Cinema on Vimeo.

Published in: on May 3, 2016 at 6:25 pm  Comments (3)  
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Why Christmas Can Be Hard


Christmas presentsIn the best of times, Christmas can be hard. For me, when I was teaching, there were Christmas programs to rehearse and then to attend while “monitoring” a host of lovely junior highers. All in a day’s work. But so was practicing and coaching my team in a Christmas basketball tournament, buying and parceling out Christmas goodies to give to my homeroom, decorating the room and hanging Christmas bulletin boards.

Then there were Christmas church programs, gifts to buy and wrap for my family, decorations in my home, a church party, a school faculty party.

And that’s when times were the best. In truth, they weren’t always that good. There were occasional colds, progress reports that happened to fall the week before vacation, problems with travel plans, stormy weather.

In short, Christmas time is far from restful. Add in the fact that Christians often receive admonitions to “keep Christ in Christmas.” All the busy-ness and we are supposed to incorporate worship. In fact we are supposed to make all the other things serve worship.

It can be hard.

Worse yet is losing someone you care about, or relational problems, long distance moves, marriage break-ups.

In all this, I’m convinced that God doesn’t want the remembrance of His Son’s birth to be a source of despair or doubt or fatigue or sadness. He is a God who prescribed lavish celebrations for His chosen people as part of their worship of Him. He is a God who promises feasting and parties for those who come to Him. He is a God whose Holy Spirit produces, among other things, the fruit of joy and peace.

Add to this the fact that He gives the gift of grace and forgiveness, so we do not have to earn right standing with Him (as if we could anyway). Rather, what He wants is our joyful, grateful response—the pure exhilaration at finding ourselves unshackled from sin and the overflowing appreciation poured upon the One who broke our bonds.

Our exhilaration and appreciation can come out in all the things we do at Christmas time. We can decorate and do Christmas programs, shop and wrap, party and perform, all in light of God’s great gift. We love because He first loved us. We serve because He served us. We sacrifice because He first laid down His life for us.

If we are mindful of what God has done for us, if we do not look at Jesus as a perpetual baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, if we have responded and are responding to His greatest gift, then our Christmas may be hard, but it will be the kind of hard that has purpose. Like training for the Olympics, only better.

And in the end, we’ll be preoccupied with looking to God and will forget to check to see how hard things are for us today.

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the fnstrength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40:21-31)

Published in: on December 16, 2015 at 6:53 pm  Comments (3)  
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Hilarious Joy


Advent Wk 3Chuck Swindoll, my first pastor as an adult, liked to use the word “hilarity” or “hilarious.” It fit. I never knew a pastor could have so much fun preaching. But as I recall, he used the word more in connection with things like giving and worship.

I remember one sermon in particular which he preached about David bringing the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. As the procession moved forward, David stripped off his outer garment and was leaping and dancing before the ark. He was worshiping with hilarity.

Another sermon along these lines which I remember was from Nehemiah. The people gathered to hear the reading of God’s word, but when they did they started weeping—their sins and the sins of their nation down through the years weighed on their hearts. Nehemiah told them to stop mourning, though. “This day is holy to the Lord your God,” he said. Then he added,

“Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.”

All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them. (Nehemiah 8:9b, 10b-12)

Their mourning turned into feasting and hilarious celebration. They ate, they drank, they gave to others, and they celebrated.

Sound like anything we might also experience, oh, say every December 25? We undoubtedly have the eating and drinking and giving parts down pat, though our giving is more often than not to those who also give to us. We aren’t perhaps quite as proficient at giving to those who have “nothing prepared.” But I also wonder if we have the motive behind the celebrating sorted out.

The people Nehemiah led were taking part in a holy day, set apart to the Lord. Christmas, as some have pointed out, is a tangled holiday—part with religious underpinnings and part with secular, though even these have godly men (St. Nicholas) and/or godly purposes at the heart of their traditions. Still, might we not experience more of the hilarious joy of celebration if we saw the day as holy to the Lord?

Too often, I think Christians equate worship with quiet reverence, not hilarious celebration. But what did the Psalmist mean when he said, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord”?

The snatches of heaven we glimpse in the books of prophecy seem anything but solemn and sedate. For instance, the four living creatures shout, “Holy, Holy Holy is the Lord God the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” (Rev. 4:8b) Further, crowds surround God’s throne, and they’re giving God praise too.

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” (Rev. 7:9-12)

When I read that passage, I don’t get the impression that there was a leader saying, OK, time to fall on our faces before the throne. Rather, it seems as if this is a spontaneous reaction to seeing God.

So maybe that’s the key. Maybe we need to spend some of our day looking at God.

I know, I know. He’s a Spirit and we can’t really see Him. I’m not saying we need to dig out some icon or a picture in a Bible or something. Horrors! No!

We “see” God by reading what He’s said about Himself and then thinking about it deeply. The more familiar the passage, the more we need to think about it, to let questions come to our mind and to dig into Scripture to see if we can’t answer those questions.

Then after we see God, let the hilarity begin!

Published in: on December 18, 2014 at 5:43 pm  Comments (3)  
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Hezekiah And The High Places


King_Saul006As far back as the time of the judges, before Israel went through the civil war that split them into a northern and a southern kingdom, they began disobeying God. One manifestation of this was the fact that they began building “high places” all over.

God had instructed the people through Moses to have only one place of sacrifice, one altar where they were to gather and where the priests were to offer the Sabbath day, new moon, and feast day offerings.

The thing was, the peoples around them had a different way of doing things, and pretty soon, though Israel started out with zero toleration for strange altars and offerings, they began to look more and more like the nations around them. When the northern kingdom succumbed to Assyria and went into exile, here’s the epitaph God wrote for them:

Now this came about because the sons of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and they had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD had driven out before the sons of Israel, and in the customs of the kings of Israel which they had introduced. The sons of Israel did things secretly which were not right against the LORD their God. Moreover, they built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. They set for themselves sacred pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, and there they burned incense on all the high places as the nations did which the LORD had carried away to exile before them; and they did evil things provoking the LORD. (2 Kings 17:7-11, emphasis added)

There were other things too, but this passage seems to indicate that building high places so they could be like the other nations was a key part of Israel’s downfall.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know why God wanted one central place of worship. The Church today obviously is made up of many houses of worship, and the very idea of a single location for all believers to gather is impractical in this lifetime. Consequently, it’s hard for me to imagine why it was so important to God that Israel establish one and only one worship center.

I can speculate on reasons—the main thought I have is that by maintaining one place of worship, there would be less likelihood of false teaching seeping into the nation because everyone would be hearing the same message from the same high priest—but God only knows why He planned it this way. I have no doubt that His way was best for Israel and that by copying the nations around them instead of following God’s clear instructions, Israel opened themselves up to many other evils.

Surprisingly Scripture never records a prophet reprimanding a king for tolerating or promoting high places, though the kings of Judah are identified as good to the degree that they did or did not remove the high places.

In fact King Hezekiah was one of the few who did remove the high places:

He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel (2 Kings 18:3-5a)

Ironically, Assyria came up against Hezekiah’s kingdom, too, and the military leader who led the siege against Jerusalem chided Hezekiah as anti-God for this very act of obedience:

But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God,’ is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’? (2 Kings 18:22)

Basically he was saying, Hezekiah just tore down your God’s altars and places of sacrifices and expects you to only use the altar in Jerusalem, and you think this same God is going to protect you now?!

Because Hezekiah was doing something counter-cultural—all the surrounding nations had high places where they worshiped their gods—this Assyrian, who didn’t have the Torah and didn’t know what God had told Moses, questioned Hezekiah’s relationship with God.

I’ve started wondering what the high places are which the Church of today has built or which it has not torn down. We have God’s word, but the culture around us does things differently, so we are choosing to go along with them instead of standing up and doing what God has said to do.

A few things come to mind, one being gender issues. We the Church went along with the patriarchy of society for years and years, though Scripture paints a different picture of the husband/wife relationship from the beginning and even after the fall.

Yes, when God established the Church, He did clarify the roles of husband and wife, but like Christ sacrificed Himself for His Bride, so a husband is to love his wife in the same sacrificial way. That’s his role, which isn’t the kind of patriarchal, iron-fisted, authoritarian rule too often seen in the past. Sadly the Church went along with “the way things were in the world.”

feminismToday there’s a shift in the culture, and women are now being told we are only valuable if we do what men do. Once again the Church is peering about, watching what the world is doing, and scampering to catch up to the customs of those around us. Consequently, some in the Church believe women are only valuable if we can be like men, Therefore, we must be allowed to be pastors too.

I think both extremes are “high places” we’ve built and are building, instead of paying attention to what God has told us about man/woman relationships.

Published in: on November 11, 2014 at 7:15 pm  Comments (4)  
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Hymns


Rose-on-hymnal-on-pianoI suspect fewer and fewer churches sing hymns any more. My church did away with hymnals when we remodeled the sanctuary last year. We now have one service with “classic worship,” but the music of late seems to be one hymn to every three contemporary praise songs.

What stands out to me when the songs are put side by side is the quality of the hymns and, well, the weaker craftsmanship of the contemporary songs. Often times the latter doesn’t have a very complex vocal arrangement. I’m not a musician, but I don’t think you have to be one to hear the difference when they’re played one after the other.

But of late, it’s the lyrics I’ve been noticing. The last two Sundays I’ve been thinking, I grew up singing the kinds of hymns like “To God Be The Glory,” and it’s no wonder I have a strong sense of who God is and what He’s done.

At least for me, music gets inside me and makes the lyrics live. If contemporary music focuses more on the worshiper (“I give You my heart/I give You my soul/Lord, have Your way with me”) rather than on the object of our worship (“To God be the glory, great things He has done”), then it seems we’ll have fewer and fewer doctrines of the faith reinforced through our music.

I understand hymns are hard. There are too many thee‘s and thou‘s and hath‘s and would’st. But it dawned on me a number of weeks ago, those hymns were hard for me when I was growing up, too. I didn’t understand phrases like “schisms rent asunder” or “Mid toil and tribulation, / and tumult of her war, / she waits the consummation / of peace forevermore,” at least not in those early years when I first sang those lines.

But like learning another language or learning to read poetry, the meaning of those hymns became clear one by one. When I was younger I loved “Trust and Obey.” Now I’m pretty sure I thought of that song as my favorite, not because I was so trusting or obedient or even because I valued those qualities greatly, but because I understood what the words were saying. “Trust and obey for there’s no other way / to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

I’m tempted to say “Trust and Obey” has a lot in common with contemporary music because it does seem to put the focus on the worshiper, but there’s still doctrine woven into the fabric of each line. The point here is, “Trust and Obey” is an example of my “entry” hymns. I understood it and came to love it and that led me to other hymns I understood and loved.

Ultimately, singing hymns was no longer a chore but a rich pleasure. I miss four part harmony, I miss the great truths of the faith put to music. And I’m concerned for the next generation, growing up with parents who have been raised without hymns and with a postmodern outlook on life which has given them a relativistic perspective and a lack of an authoritative anchor.

Of course there are a handful of musicians who saw this situation before I did and who are doing something about it. They’re writing modern hymns. The ones I know are Keith and Kristyn Getty who have written songs like “All Around The World”:

All around the world the Kingdom cry resounds
From mountain town to desert plain,
From city to the shore.
Truth will not be bound by walls upon the earth.
From every nation, tribe and tongue
God calls His people forth

Now if we could just sing those hymns more often.

Published in: on May 26, 2014 at 6:48 pm  Comments (14)  
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Merry Christmas, All


Image courtesy of christmas-clipart.com

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:


    6 ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH,
    ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH;
    FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER
    WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’”

7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

– Matthew 2:1-12

Published in: on December 25, 2011 at 9:14 am  Comments (4)  
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