Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Mary's Prayer

May you remember this Christmas the Savior who came to bring you life!

Mary's Prayer
by Max Lucado

God. O infant-God. Heaven's fairest child. Conceived by the union of divine
grace with our disgrace. Sleep well.

Sleep well. Bask in the coolness of this night bright with diamonds. Sleep
well, for the heat of anger simmers nearby. Enjoy the silence of the crib,
for the noise of confusion rumbles in your future. Savor the sweet safety of
my arms, for a day is soon coming when I cannot protect you.

Rest well, tiny hands. For though you belong to a king, you will touch no
satin, own no gold. You will grasp no pen, guide no brush. No, your tiny
hands are reserved for works more precious: to touch a leper's open wound, to
wipe a widow's weary tear, to claw the ground of Gethsemane.

Your hands, so tiny, so tender, so white--clutched tonight in an infant's
fist. They aren't destined to hold a scepter nor wave from a palace balcony.
They are reserved instead for a Roman spike that will staple them to a Roman cross.

Sleep deeply, tiny eyes. Sleep while you can. For soon the blurriness will
clear and you will see the mess we have made of your world. You will see our
nakedness, for we cannot hide. You will see our selfishness, for we cannot
give. You will see our pain, for we cannot heal. O eyes that will see hell's
darkest pit and witness her ugly prince...sleep, please sleep; sleep while you can.

And tiny feet cupped in the palm of my hand, rest. For many difficult steps
lie ahead for you. Do you taste the dust of the trails you will travel? Do
you feel the cold sea water upon which you will walk? Do you wrench at the
invasion of the nail you will bear? Do you fear the steep descent down the
spiral staircase into Satan's domain? Rest, tiny feet. Rest today so that
tomorrow you might walk with power. Rest. For millions will follow in your steps.

And little heart...holy heart...pumping the blood of life through the
universe: How many times will we break you? You'll be torn by the thorns of
our accusations. You'll be ravaged by the cancer of our sin. You'll be
crushed under the weight of your own sorrow. And you'll be pierced by the
spear of our rejection.

Yet in that piercing, in that ultimate ripping of muscle and membrane, in that
final rush of blood and water, you will find rest. Your hands will be freed,
your eyes will see justice, your lips will smile, and your feet will carry you home.

And there you'll rest again--this time in the embrace of your Father.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Where Is My Heart?

For my personal daily Bible reading, I've been in Psalms lately.  Today I read Psalm 50 and certain parts of it struck me.  God is approaching Israel as judge in the psalm.  He starts out by addressing their sacrifices:

"Listen my people! I am speaking!
Listen Israel! I am accusing you!
I am God, your God!
I am not condemning you because of your sacrifices,
or because of your burnt sacrifices that you continually offer me.
I do not need to take a bull from your household
or goats from your sheepfolds,
For every wild animal in the forest belongs to me,
as well as the cattle that graze on a thousand hills.
I keep track of every bird in the hills,
and the insects of the field are mine.
Even if I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and all it contains belong to me.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls?
Do I drink the blood of goats?" (v.7-13)

It is interesting that God starts by saying he isn't taking them to task for their animal sacrifices.  The people were offering them "continually."  The irony is that God doesn't even need the sacrifices.  He already owns everything so they are just giving him back what he already possesses.  But didn't God command animal sacrifice?  Yes.  So what is the problem here?  We find out later in the psalm:

 "God says this to the evildoer: 
'How can you declare my commands,
and talk about my covenant?
For you hate instruction
and reject my words.
When you see a thief, you join him;
you associate with men who are unfaithful to their wives.
You do damage with words,
and use your tongue to deceive.
You plot against your brother;
you slander your own brother.'" (v.16-20)

The people may have been giving the animal sacrifices, but they did so superficially.  They were "getting in good" with God and then running off to sin.  They didn't sacrifice with contrite hearts with any intention of actually obeying God.  I have noted before that God cares about our hearts.  God says in Isaiah 29:13, "[T]his people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote..."  The people were giving the sacrifice by tradition, but their hearts were not near the Lord.  God makes it clear in the psalm what he wants of his people:

"Present to God a thank-offering!
Repay your vows to the sovereign One!
Pray to me when you are in trouble!
I will deliver you, and you will honor me!" (v.14-15)

"Whoever presents a thank-offering honors me.
To whoever obeys my commands, I will reveal my power to deliver." (v.23)

A thank offering was freely given, an optional sacrifice.  It consisted of not just an animal offering, but a meal, symbol of fellowship with God.  It was given to express gratitude to God for the blessings he had brought.  In effect, God is telling his people in this psalm to celebrate fellowship with him and thank him for his blessings and to truly do these things, one must have a heart turned to the Lord.  God asks not for the superficial motions of sacrifice, but a heart that thanks him, keeps its promises, prays to him and obeys him.

How can this apply in a modern context?  I think the parallels are easy to see.  Do we go through the motions of tradition, going to church, singing songs, listening to a sermon with a dead heart?  This is a psalm that calls us to examine our heart attitudes to determine if we are truly worshipping our God.  I do not see here that God is demanding perfection.  He is desiring a heart turned to him that recognizes his grace.  This kind of heart will fellowship with God, enjoying his presence.  A heart thus cultivated doesn't view worship of God as something to get out of the way so I can go sin.  I think the key in this psalm is to ask the question: What is the state of my own heart?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Prayer

This comes from a Puritan evening prayer. I love its wording and its thoughtfulness and it is utterly appropriate for today.  It is the prayer of my own heart.

"I thank Thee for the temporal blessings of this world 
the refreshing air, the light of the sun,
the food that renews strength, the raiment that clothes,
the dwelling that shelters, the sleep that gives rest,
the starry canopy of night, the summer breeze,
the flowers' sweetness, the music of flowing streams,
the happy endearments of family, kindred, friends.
Things animate, things inanimate, minister to my comfort.
My cup runs over.
Suffer me not to be insensible to these daily mercies.
Thy hand bestows blessings: Thy power averts evil. 
I bring my tribute of thanks for spiritual graces,
the full warmth of faith, the cheering presence of Thy Spirit,
the strength of Thy restraining will, Thy spiking of hell's artillery.
Blessed be my sovereign Lord!"

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Reformation Day!

Sola Scriptura
"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, 
because you know those from whom you learned it 
 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures,
which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
2 Timothy 3:14-15

Sola Fide
"For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 
Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too?
Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God,
who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith."
Romans 3:28-30

Sola Gratia
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—
and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 
not by works, so that no one can boast."
Ephesians 2:8-9

Solus Christus
"Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me."
John 14:6

Soli Deo Gloria
"If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.
If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides,
so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.
To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen."
1 Peter 4:11 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Worthy Daughter

So I was listening to Alistair Begg today in the car (if you haven't ever heard him, his preaching is dynamic) and he was preaching on the well-known parable of The Lost, or Prodigal, Son.  Something he said plunged me into deep thought and towards a penetrating truth, revealing something I had never seen in the parable before.

Before I explain what he pointed out, I want to give a little background.  I have struggled with my self-worth over the years.  I think for a good portion of my early life I was depressed because I had trouble seeing myself as worth anything.  I became a Christian at a young age and I have loved God so much for a long time.  And even though my head knows that I am saved not by works, my heart has worried about works over the years, wondering if I have done enough to please God.  It's not salvation so much that I have worried about (though a few times it has been), it's more will God be pleased with me when I get to heaven?  A lot of that worry has been resolved knowing the truth about the judgment (see this post here for more details), but it still crops up now and then.

Back to the parable of The Lost Son.  Alistair pointed out that in the parable the son begins by saying, "Give me" and ends by saying, "Make me."  This is what sent me into great thoughtfulness.  The son at first wants the Father to give him his inheritance, give him his rightful share of the Father's stuff.  I'm sure we can't delve too deeply into what that stuff is because it might have very little meaning at all except to show the son's disregard for the Father.  But I wonder if we could take some liberty and say that we want God to give us all the stuff he owns: money, power, things for our own selfish use.  But when the son loses it all and comes to the end of himself, he sees the fleetingness of the stuff and then remembers his Father and how he treats even his hired workers so well.  He determines to go home and say to his Father in repentance, "Make me like one of your hired men."

So he goes home and the Father rushes to him and kisses him and the son says his spiel, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son."  And he can't even get to the "make me like a hired man" part because the Father goes ecstatic wanting to party over his son who has come home.  And that's when it hit me: the Father has no interest in getting another hired man.  The son had decided he was just going to beg the Father to make him a hired man and the Father doesn't want to do that.  He wants a son, not a hired man.

What made me think about this in relationship to worth was that the son looks at his dirty life feeding pigs and thinks that he has nothing to lose by going back to his father.  But he doesn't see himself worth anything more than being a hired man.  How many times have I thought that I'm not worth anything, that I'm a sinful human being who God must despise?  I approach God with this attitude, begging to somehow gain a little of his kindness, but how does he respond?  He doesn't want a hired woman.  He wants a daughter.  He throws off any idea that I'm not worth the party.  He doesn't even want me to beg him to accept me like a hired woman.  He accepts me fully as a daughter in his kingdom.

And what about after the son is in the home again?  The parable doesn't go on, but it would be incongruous for the Father to say, "Well, you really aren't being as good as I thought you would when you came home, so I'm kicking you out of this house."  The impression you get in the parable is the Father has accepted the son entirely, for eternity.  I think a lot of my life I've spent time worrying that God isn't going to be pleased and either kick me out of his house or give me what for for not being good enough, turn me into a hired woman.  But the Father accepted the son back just as he was--without money, dirty with pig slime, hungry and empty.  Just like the son, I don't have to be perfectly clean for God to love me.  He just wants me in his home no matter what.

*I was reminded of this short film while writing this.  I highly recommend watching it: The Gospel.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

God's Promise to Give Us the Nations Might Not Mean What You Think It Does

Okay, so I had to do another verse out of context post, but this one will be much shorter.  It's also a lot funnier.  It's one that makes me laugh every time I hear it!

So I've heard more than one mission organization use this verse: "Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession" (Psalm 2:8, NKJV).  There's even a song that uses these words in it, "You Said," which says, "You said, 'Ask and I’ll give the nations to you.'  Oh, Lord, that’s the cry of my heart." (The song also says "Pray and I'll hear from heaven and I'll heal your land" which is a verse I dealt with in my last post).  This verse about God giving us the nations sounds cool and we like it.  Unfortunately, once again, it's not saying what a lot of Christians think it's saying.

The first part of Psalm 2 (NASB) is as follows:

"Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?
The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
'Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!'
He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them.
Then He will speak to them in His anger
And terrify them in His fury, saying,
'But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.'"

So, the nations in the Psalm are in an uproar and they are taking their stand against the Lord and his anointed.  In the immediate context this is David, the anointed king, but it is also a prophecy of Jesus as Messiah, God's anointed Son (Acts 4:25-26).  The nations want to throw off the Anointed's rule.  God laughs at this because he has determined that his king will be installed in Jerusalem.

The Anointed continues the Psalm:

“I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You. 
‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.'"

The Anointed says that God is his father and he is God's son; in other words, they have a relationship that involves an inheritance.  In this case, God says he will give the nations as the Anointed's inheritance.

So then, what will the Anointed do with those nations?

"You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware."

Now you see why I laugh when I hear Psalm 2:8 used out of context.  It definitely isn't saying, "Ask of me and I will give you all these nations and they will be evangelized and saved."  It's God saying to the king, "I'm going to give you the nations rebelling against me and you and you are going to decimate them."  So I always think when I hear this in a song or from a mission organization, "So you want to go out and conquer the nations and chop them up into pieces.  Got it." :-D

The Psalm ends:

"Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
Worship the Lord with reverence
And rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son,
that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!"

It's a warning to the leaders of the nations on earth to watch out, because if you go against God and his anointed and don't give him the honor he is due, you are going to perish when his wrath comes on you.  Rather, take refuge in him.  As a prophecy of Jesus, this applies to Jesus' second coming, so it does have an application to current nations, but if mission organizations are going to use it, they need to be emphasizing that rejecting Jesus is going to bring his wrath.

There you go.  Another verse out of context.  Maybe now you'll chuckle the next time you hear it used inappropriately, too!

Monday, July 22, 2013

God's Promise to Fix America?

In Christian circles these days, as conservatives lament the state of our country, it is common to hear a verse quoted to encourage us that our country can be fixed: "If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).  The implication is that if Christians will humble themselves, pray, seek God and stop sinning, then God has promised to heal America.  The problem?  This couldn't be farther from the truth.

As often happens, well-meaning Christians have taken this verse out of context.  If you've read this blog for any time, you know that taking verses out of context bothers me like nothing else.  It bothers me because it turns the truth of God into a falsehood to support my point of view.  I don't think this is done maliciously.  I think most verses taken out of context begin with someone who goes searching for something to prove a point, then they use it, thinking it's scripture so it works, but they don't ask the question, "Does this verse really say what I am saying it says?"  Then the verse gets passed around and because it is a soundbite from the Bible, other Christians run with it without reading its context.  We need to be more like the Bereans, who heard what Paul was saying and then "examin[ed] the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:10).  (Just to note, people have caught me using verses out of context at times. It can be hard not to take offense at that, thinking we are right.  But we have to ask ourselves if what has been said to us is true, study the scriptures and change our views if needed.)

Back to 2 Chronicles 7:14.  What is the context of this verse?  This verse comes after Solomon has dedicated the temple.  He has prayed a dedication over it and Israel has had a celebratory feast.  Then 2 Chronicles says that "the Lord appeared to Solomon at night and said to him..."  So God speaks to Solomon, an answer to Solomon's prayer of dedication where Solomon had asked God to forgive Israel when they strayed away then turned back to God praying in or towards the temple.  The verses that come before 7:14 say this:

"I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice.  If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people..."

First off, what is "this place" that is a "house of sacrifice"?  It is the temple that has just been dedicated.  Second, God, in response to Solomon's prayer, notes the various ways Solomon has mentioned that God might punish Israel for sinning and thus breaking their covenant with them, a covenant began at the time of Moses and reaffirmed by them throughout their history.  God could cause a drought or send locusts to eat crops or send a disease that afflicts Israel.  Then comes 2 Chronicles 7:14: "and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

Who are "my people"?  Not America, but Israel.  God is saying that if Israel, whom he has a covenant with, will turn back to him in humility and stop sinning, then he will forgive them and heal their land.  Heal their land from what?  From his physical acts of punishment mentioned in the previous verse: from drought or ruined crops or disease.  The context does not allow for the interpretation that God is going to heal the moral problems of the nation.  The verse presupposes that the moral problems are already dealt with.  Israel would have already humbled themselves, thrown off their sin, sought God and prayed to Him.  Therefore, this verse is not addressing a moral or spiritual healing of a land.

The verses that follow 7:14 say this: "Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that My name may be there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually. As for you, if you walk before Me as your father David walked, even to do according to all that I have commanded you, and will keep My statutes and My ordinances, then I will establish your royal throne as I covenanted with your father David, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to be ruler in Israel.’"  God specifically says he will be attentive to prayer in "this place," the temple.  So when Israel is humbly praying to God for release from punishment, they are praying in the temple.  God then turns to Solomon personally and reminds him of his promise to David that if David and his sons kept his commands, then there would always be a ruler from David's line on the throne.

God's answer to Solomon goes on: "But if you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will uproot you from My land which I have given you, and this house which I have consecrated for My name I will cast out of My sight and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. As for this house, which was exalted, everyone who passes by it will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ And they will say, ‘Because they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them from the land of Egypt, and they adopted other gods and worshiped them and served them; therefore He has brought all this adversity on them.'"  The "you" in this section is plural in Hebrew.  Thus, God is referring to the Israelites as a whole.  Here God says that he will punish Israel if they run after other gods.  He will remove them from their land and he will deny the temple, apparently destroying it since people passing by the temple will be astonished at it.  The destroyed temple will be a reminder that Israel had worshipped other gods and broken their covenant with Yahweh.  And this did happen.  The temple was destroyed when Babylon took over Judah and this was a direct punishment from God on Israel for following other gods.  What does this mean?  It means that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is not in effect anymore.  God did send drought and locusts and pestilence and Israel either turned back halfheartedly (and their land was healed for a time) or didn't turn back at all.  He sent prophets to warn them and they didn't listen.  And finally, the temple and the land was destroyed as God said it would be.  There was no more praying for healing of the land.  The land was utterly wasted.  (God did still love Israel and had made a promise to send a remnant back to the land and that he did).

2 Chronicles 7:14 has nothing to do with America.  It is not a promise that if Christians get humble, stop sinning and pray a bunch, God will heal our moral problems.  So many Christians read this verse out of context and look at it as God's promise to heal America's moral problems.  God has never promised to heal America's moral problems.  He's never even promised to heal America's economy or social issues or government.  He hasn't even promised to heal America of drought or locusts or disease.  This verse has nothing to do with America's healing.

I recently read a book called Smoke on the Mountain, by Joy Davidman (an American), wife of C. S. Lewis.  She said something in it that struck me: "What, then, must we pray for? Nothing that we have not been told over and over again; nothing but 'Thy will be done,' even if his will is that we lose all that the last two hundred years have given us."  God's will very may well be the losing of America.  It may be that we aren't supposed to have an amazing economy or social prowess or stellar government.  It might be in God's plan to break America.  Joy says next: "We must pray to face our fear honestly."  It's easier for Christians to think that by doing certain things God will be obligated to "heal our land."  What we really need to do is face our fear honestly.  We don't want to lose our country, either physically or morally.  We don't want to lose what it gives us.  I don't want to lose it either.  But if it is God's will that we do lose it, will I accept that?  Or will I cower in a corner in fear of God's plan?  If it is God's will that America falls, I am not pretending it will be easy.  And I am not saying that we shouldn't pray for our government.  Paul urges Timothy to pray for leaders in authority in 1 Timothy 2:1-2.  But Paul does not say that God has guaranteed that praying for them will make them be what we want.  He does, however, say that God wants all men to be saved (2:4) so we are right to pray for the salvation of our leaders.

What should we do then as American Christians?  What God has always asked of us--to tell all men the truth about Christ and how confession of sin and trusting Christ leads to true freedom.  We pray for the salvation of people, in our country and outside our country.  Nothing changes until hearts change.  Hearts don't change until people submit themselves to God.  It isn't about Christians humbling and not sinning and praying in a temple.  It's about Christians speaking the truth in love to their neighbors.  Should Christians be humble and free from sin?  Yes.  This kind of authentic witness will reach our neighbor.  But being humble and free from sin is no guarantee that our nation will be healed.  We can, however, guarantee that God wants all men to be saved and that he desires us to love our neighbor and tell him the good news of Christ.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sabbath Joy?

I have recently been reading a book by Joy Davidman, wife of C.S. Lewis later in his life.  The book, Smoke on the Mountain, is a look at the Ten Commandments from a modern perspective, evaluating how the commandments are expressed in our lives now.  It is a thought provoking book and the chapter I read today on the 4th Commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy," resonated so much with how I feel about the church on Sundays in this day and time.  Here are the relevant sections that made an impact on me:

"One cannot escape the conviction that certain elements in the churches have themselves unintentionally done much to make the Sabbath unholy. It took the strict Puritans of England only ten years-from 1650 to 1660-so to disgust the people with legislated piety that they reacted into a licence undreamed of before. Perhaps the wilful licence of our own Sundays originated partly in a kind of bravado, a resentment of legislated controls and negative virtues. When bigots interpreted the Fourth Commandment to mean Thou shalt not enjoy life on Sunday, did not all Pandemonium raise a howl of triumph? The Puritan tradition has given the world great things-education and freedom and a concept of ethics in government; yet alas, for many people today the name 'Puritan' has become a scoffing and a byword, synonymous with kill-joy. Not that the Puritans were really foes to all joy. But they did think a purely intellectual and spiritual concentration on God was the only religious experience worth seeking. They did smash stained-glass windows in Old England, and frown on children at play in New England -see their school advertisements. And, like all who lack charity, they preferred negative methods; they believed you could make people enjoy God by forbidding them to enjoy anything else.

Question a dozen modern infidels about their childhood, and half of them will trace their atheism to endless dull, bleak Sundays in a negatively 'Christian' household which made a child's life seem hardly worth living. The football matches, the dances, the speeding cars, the crowded beaches of today's Sabbath-they are fugitive and inadequate pleasures, no doubt. Yet for many they may be an attempt, however fumbling, to restore to the Sabbath some of that holy gladness which it had before over-zealous reformers turned the Fourth Commandment's 'thou shalt' into a 'thou shalt not.'

Cast back into history, and the true meaning of the Sabbath is easy enough to find. 'Thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.' On this one day, man returned to Eden. The curse of Adam was lifted, the primal Fall undone somewhat, and all creatures caught a glimmering of the paradisal state in which everything God had made was very good. On this one day a man was commanded to enjoy himself."

"The words shattered, for a time, the whole iron prison of prohibitions which had turned a day of joy and love into a day of sullenness and fear. The Christian Sabbath was a feast indeed -the love feast, the communal meal or worship. No one thought of it as renunciation of pleasure; it was every man's pleasure and supreme delight. The ancient Romans, their own religion long since dwindled to spiritless and sceptical routine, suspected the Christians of perpetrating obscene orgies on their Sabbath-on the ground that Christians obviously enjoyed the Sabbath so much!"

"Every church, always, must wrestle with the temptation of forcing people to come to God. Force is such an easy and obvious means! As long as one can use force, one need not interest men, need not inspire them, need not humble oneself to be amiable and cajoling-the poor wretches have no escape. They are in the truest sense a 'captive audience.' The trouble is that a captive audience is a very different thing from a church.

In other words, churches that use force destroy themselves and their goal. During our early history non-attendance at church was punishable by law. When the public conscience revolted at this, some churchmen resorted to indirect force; they no longer insisted that men attend-but they saw to it that all other places a man could go were closed. If this seems a justifiable expedient, let us remember that in the early days of industrialism working people had hardly any free time except on Sunday; when nineteenth-century Sabbatarians denied men recreation on the Lord's Day, they came close to denying it altogether.

No doubt their intentions were good. Yet what has the end been? A materialist generation and a secularized Sabbath. Whenever churchmen ruled out one of mankind's earthly joys as unholy, they narrowed the scope of holiness. It was inevitable that ultimately everything worth doing should be regarded as purely secular; and that God himself, by fugitives from negative religion, should be conceived, not as the Source of joy, but as a foe of all joy."

"Similarly, there is not much value in drawing up a point-to-point programme for spending the Sabbath devoutly. A formal service in the morning, informal prayer meetings or question-answering sessions or church outings later, would no doubt make a good day. But we have all these things already, often very well organized, and yet they don't seem to draw the crowd. It might help if we thought less of the dignity of divine worship, and more of the sheer fun of it; if we took over all God's pleasures of body and mind and showed how, rightly used, they are faint foreshadowings of the supreme pleasure. Perhaps what we need, in this connection, is to revive the ancient concepts of sacred dances and sacred games. A well-organized church festival of sport and music and theatricals would certainly be more attractive to many people than the disorganized and murderous traffic of our Sunday highways."

How wonderful, how uplifting, how freeing would it be if our Sundays were not simply days to be preached at or to, days not just to sit in classes, days not just to sing the same songs, but days of feasting and fellowship and dancing and games!  In America, we have lost the joy of the Sabbath.  This is not to say that we are never inspired by the sermon or enjoy talking to our friends at church and over lunch or that we dislike the music.  But I suspect much of church is stuck in a pattern that cannot change for fear of being seen as paganly hedonistic.  We go to church and it is the same every time: sing, announcements, offering, sermon, go home.  It is not that it is bad, but it is at times boring and has produced much apathy, Christians showing up in duty but leaving with an empty soul.  I admit feeling this many a time.  Indeed, most of the time, I have to work, to force myself to enjoy.  To say over and over, "You may feel nothing, but you are not here for you.  You are here for God.  Sing even if you have heard this a million times because it is sung to God.  Listen and agree with the sermon because it has been given to the preacher by God."  But wait!  What did Jesus say?  "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."  The Sabbath was made for man?  Not God?  God is in it, yes, but could it be the Sabbath is meant for man to enjoy God?

I suspect most of modern American churches have made man for the Sabbath.  We conform our Sundays to the schedule.  We sing not what is in our souls, but what has been planned for us.  We ask no questions of the preacher, we have no discussion about his words, because it has been planned for us to simply listen.  We interact but a brief amount in service because we don't have time to spend in much chatting with one another because the service has been planned for us and is timed.  Oh my soul!  No wonder you feel empty as the church door closes behind you, for you have little part in the Sabbath at all!

As a teacher, I will tell you that the best classes are those that are interactive, active and creative.  But this has been washed out of Sabbath.  Do you know what really happens?  We put all the joy into children's and youth Sunday school and remove it when they leave.  We forget that adults have souls that need joy, too.  We forget that Sunday does not have to be about the difficult and the solemn.  There is a time for it, a need for it, but it does not have to be always.  Isn't it interesting that adults work five days, play on Saturday (the secular separated from God as Joy said above) and then go to church and get told how to work at God?

How could we change?  How would church be interactive?  Imagine you come into church and a large banner is laid out on the floor.  You are invited to take up a paint brush.  You are given the opportunity to write or draw what God has been speaking to you.  You are encouraged to discuss this with your neighbors as you create.  If you do not want to draw, you are welcomed to pray, sit, talk or share.  After a time, the worship leader rises and asks what song is stirring in the hearts of God's people.  Church goers call out songs that mean something to them, maybe share why and we sing because the song is an expression of how God has acted in a person's life right now and because we take joy that the song means something to our sister.  After a time, the preacher stands and shares a scripture, tells us what it means, then he asks us to gather with members to to share its impact on us and to pray that the scripture be made evident in our lives.  When time has elapsed and noon is near, everyone brings out the food they have prepared and we feast together.  No worries of time, we relax and chat and laugh and enjoy as an entire body of Christ.  And we leave when we go, with no ending point forced on us.  Ah...a day to look forward to every week.

I believe the largest enemy of Sabbath is tradition and time.  "Church can't be like that!" you say, "It's not the way it's done.  We would lose theology.  People would think less seriously of God.  No, this cannot be."  Or perhaps, "But I have too many plans on Sunday.  I have budgeted two hours and then I must be off.  There is too much I need to do.  What you suggest could take all day!"  What we have lost is the idea of rest.  Sabbath is not about rest; it is about rigid do.

I'll end with a personal anecdote.  Our church's VBS this year was a time of singing, dancing, playing games, learning and sharing.  Children met God in the midst.  I loved the music.  It was plain fun--full of truth and a joy to sing.  Fast forward to adult services.  I actually thought during the music, sighing wistfully, "Why is all adult music somber and serious?  Why have we banished fun from our music?"  Reflecting, I think we think that our songs must be slow and serious or somehow we are taking God less seriously.  How far from the truth!  When I think of David dancing before the ark with all his might, I see that joy in worship is not taking God less seriously--it is being utterly joyful with abandon because we cannot contain our feelings for Him.

I cannot tell you how much I long for recapturing true joy in church.  So much my heart aches for it.  So much that my soul is stirred with what it could be but is not.  Where do I go from here?  I am not sure because I do not think my voice on this would travel far.  People mired in "the way things are done" would revolt against it and unfortunately, I do not wish to stir the waters.  But when I look back on times in my old country church where pot lucks lasted forever, the church didn't close until the last person left, the blue grass band played the songs asked for, people stopped and prayed or discussed in the middle of the service, I will always long for the fullness of soul I experienced then.  The church a true fellowship amidst laughter and dancing and singing and fun.

(Extra Food for Thought:  Why are so many young people leaving the church?  Perhaps because we show them that God is fun when you are young, but when you become an adult, it is time to put childish joy behind and take God seriously.  "You, young man, must sit in this service, do not talk, it disturbs your neighbor, listen and shut up."  What do we have to offer to the young?  God, the foe of fun, as Joy calls him.)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Love of God

I just finished reading C. S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength. In one scene, love alights on Earth.  I was completely struck by his description.  It isn't the description we typically think of.  It is powerful and strong, not soft and gentle.  Because of this, his description captivated me with its utter truth:

"It was fiery, sharp, bright and ruthless, ready to kill, ready to die, outspeeding light: it was Charity, not as mortals imagine it, not even as it has been humanized for them since the Incarnation of the Word, but the translunary virtue, fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven, unmitigated. They were blinded, scorched, deafened. They thought it would burn their bones. They could not bear that it should continue. They could not bear that it should cease."

Breathless.  The full weight of God's love must sap all word from our minds.  I had always heard the term "love till it hurts," but I never understood it until my daughter was born.  As I held her in my arms a few days old, I hurt, my heart literally was pained.  I had never felt that and it was then I understood that love can indeed hurt.  You can have love so strong it hurts.  God, I am sure, has that for us.  But what if I could feel the other way around?  If I could feel the intense love God has for me?  It must be what Lewis describes, a love so sharp, so all-encompassing of truth, so overwhelming we can hardly stand it and yet want it to always touch us forever.  Indeed, some day, I will feel it and revel in it.  Hallelujah!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

He IS Alive!

Seven Stanzas At Easter
By John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that--pierced--died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Hymn to God the Father

A Hymn to God the Father
by John Donne

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow'd in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done;
I fear no more. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Relationship, Not Religion?

I've addressed the phrase "Relationship, not religion" before, but I'd like here to trace its evolution and implore believers to be careful and precise in what they say because most of the believers I know who say this phrase don't realize that what they mean often isn't heard.

Spiritual, but Not Religious
When I was in college, this phrase was all the rage.  At the time, most churches blew it off.  Eventually, the secular world did, too.  At first it meant that someone had some kind of spirituality in his or her life, but no ties to any denomination or world religion.  Later, as it became overused, it took on a connotation of someone flighty and wishy-washy, someone unwilling to stand on what he or she really believed.  However, even as the phrase lost its power, its ideas stuck with society.  We see this in the fact that more people than ever claim no religion at all, yet many also claim they are spiritual or have some kind of spiritual belief.  The phrase fits our relativistic society well: You be spiritual the way you want, I'll be spiritual the way I want and no one's wrong or right.

Relationship, Not Religion
Enter the church.  As society began to drift heartily away from the Christian church, the church took notice.  Realizing that spirituality had become a focus, the church put forth this phrase.  Do you notice that, in fact, "relationship, not religion" is a parallel phrase to "spiritual, but not religious"?  To attract our culture and draw people in, the church took up a "spiritual" mantra.  "No, it isn't about religion," the church said.  "When you come into our church, we aren't about that religious stuff.  We're about a relationship with God/Jesus."  But what did the church mean by that?  At first, and often still today, the church actually means "Relationship, not legalism," but that doesn't have two catchy R's in it and smacks of Christianese so it doesn't get a pass.  Still, most churches who used the phrase and still do will go on to explain its meaning.  What they mean is that Christianity isn't about following a bunch of rules to get to God.  It isn't even about following a bunch of rules to get God to like me after I'm saved.  I love God, I have a relationship with him and I obey him simply because I love him so much.  Friends, that is the truth!  Christianity can never be what it is intended to be if you operate in legalism.  A heart that loves God is a heart that obeys God because it loves him.  If that is true, then why is this phrase a problem at all?

Relationship, Not Religion--Alternate Meaning
Today this phrase is bandied around quite a bit.  But if you ever hear someone say it, your next question should be, "What do you mean by that?"  Because this phrase has moved away from "relationship, not legalism."  Slowly, this phrase has morphed into meaning "relationship, not doctrine."  Many churches today shy away from any emphasis or talk of doctrine.  The line is this: "Look, we are just about having a relationship with Jesus. We don't claim that he's God or the only way.  You don't need 'salvation' to come to him.  The Bible isn't really trustworthy anyway, but you can still learn from Jesus and have a relationship with him."  In the Bible belt where I live, evangelical churches are often blissfully unaware of this understanding of the phrase "relationship, but not religion."  However, many other churches around the country do taut this meaning as well as many secular venues.  I saw an example of this while reading an article on a secular news site.  The author claimed he was a Christian and said that there were some things the church needed to give up, among them the fact that Jesus is the only way, the fact that the Bible can be trusted, the fact that the Bible has anything meaningful to say on moral issues like homosexuality, etc.  By the end of the article I found myself asking, "Why are you even a Christian?"  He threw out all the Christian foundations.  How can he be a Christian?  Because he's got a relationship, he doesn't need religion and by religion, he means doctrine.  I'm going to get close to Jesus, but I don't need his truth claims.

So, Christian friends, we need to be aware of the meaning of this phrase.  Inadvertently, the church has pushed the first phrase above: "spiritual, but not religious."  "Relationship, but not religion" has evolved into a phrase that equals "spiritual, but not religious."  It has come to widely mean I'll take the relationship with Jesus, but not the Bible's truth claims.  Some people may wonder why this matters.  It's just words.  Friends, words are meant to communicate ideas.  There is power in words to formulate thinking.  I am reminded of a similar issue that started with Thomas Aquinas.  Before Aquinas, most biblical scholars focused on the fact that God is sovereign and reveals himself to man.  Aquinas, however, asserted that God can be known to an extent without special revelation.  That is, man can observe the world and know God.  Aquinas was correct according to Romans 1.  But Aquinas would also note that some things cannot be known by man without God telling him.  However, this idea that God can be known without the Word took root.  It next became, "If I can know about God with my own senses, I can trust myself over the Bible," then "If I can know about God with my own senses, I don't need the Bible" and eventually, "If I don't need the Bible and I can trust myself, then I don't need God at all."  Phrases and words move cultures.  What will be the next meaning of "Relationship, not religion"?

How do we handle this?  Define your meaning, my Christian friend.  Speak accurately and be clear.  Realize that catch phrases in the church have different meanings and make sure when you speak those around you know what you mean.
For previous posts on this topic, see below...

Christianity IS a Religion
Jesus, Redeemer of Religion
Don't Throw Out the Baby with the Bathwater

Monday, February 18, 2013

Jesus Can't Show Up If I'm Alone?

Several times on this blog I've dealt with scripture that has been taken out of context.  Recently a friend of mine (Thank you, Melanie!) pointed out a verse that is commonly taken out of context.  It's one I had never thought of but realized is terribly confusing when not put in its proper place.  It's Matthew 18:20: "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."  This is often used by Christians to state that when they pray together, Jesus shows up.  But, wait?  If that's what it means, then apparently Jesus just can't be with me when I pray alone.  I mean, he's going to be there when two or three are there, but not one.  Right?  Wrong. Friends, Jesus doesn't need people to be together to show up.  I'll let you in on a secret: Jesus is God and that means he's omnipresent.  He's already with you!  If that is true, then what does this verse mean?  Let's take a look at the context.

Here are the verses that come before Matthew 18:20: "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven."

The context of Matthew 18:20 is church discipline.  If we go back to Matthew 18:1, we discover that Jesus was talking to the disciples, not a general crowd.  Jesus is instructing the disciples, future leaders of the church, how to handle discipline issues in the church. The picture is of a brother in the church who is stubbornly committing sin.  He is approached one on one, but doesn't listen.  He then is approached by two or three people, so that there are witnesses to the fact that he refuses to listen.  Then, the matter is brought before the church body.  Jesus then notes that the disciples as leaders of the church will have the weight of the authority of heaven on their sides.  In Matthew 18:20, who are the two or three gathered?  Where have we seen the number of people before in the context? Matthew 18:16, the one or two you take along to talk to the erring brother.  What is Jesus' point in Matthew 18:20 then?  That when the disciples, the leaders of the church, approach an erring church member together, they come as if Jesus was physically standing with them.  The weight of Jesus' authority is with them in the room.  They discipline with his authority.

Dr. Thomas L. Constable says it this way: "It should be obvious from the context that this promise does not refer to whatever two or three disciples agree to ask God for in prayer. The Bible contains many promises concerning prayer (cf. 7:7-8; 21:22; John 14:13-14; 15:7-8, 16; 1 John 5:14-15; et al.), but this is not one of them. In the context 'anything' refers to any judicial decision involving an erring disciple that the other disciples may make corporately. God has always stood behind His judicial representatives on earth when they carry out His will (cf. Ps. 82:1). This is a wonderful promise. God will back up with His power and authority any decision involving the corporate discipline of an erring brother or sister that His disciples may make after determining His will. Here again (v. 20) Jesus takes God's place as "God with us" (1:23; 2:6; 3:3; 11:4-6, 7-8; cf. 28:20). This statement implies a future time when Jesus would not be physically present with His disciples, the inter-advent age, specifically the period following His ascension and preceding His

So there you have it.  Jesus is with you all the time.  You don't need to be with people for Jesus to be with you.  This verse has nothing to do with prayer whatsoever.  What an assurance that even alone, I can know Jesus is with me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Critical Appraisal of Current Worship Music and a Resolution

Before I get to the main discussion, I need to start with a disclaimer. This post is not meant to indict certain people or their motivations. I will not be mentioning any songs or artists in particular because I am not writing this to pick on Christian artists or raise up certain artists by putting others down. What I am hoping to do in this post is help Christians to critically consider what we offer to God in the way of worship. I think if we could honestly take a step back and look at our worship objectively, we might be able to recapture worship worthy of His glory.  By worship in this post, I mean music. Yes, worship is far more than that. But for the sake of clarity, when I mention worship, I mean when we stand before God and sing to him. I will be addressing four topics for consideration: the music, the lyrics, the congregation and the resolution.

1) The Music--This post has come about from a video I saw on YouTube. I've had issues with worship music for years, but Jordan nailed it when he made this video. Pretty much what Jordan is pointing out in a funny way is the issue. Our worship music is the same old same old all the time. Same old isn't necessarily bad, but we seem to have found ourselves in a  rut. One author, Brett McCracken, describes current worship music like this: "It’s 90% crappy, knock-off Keane or secondhand U2 (i.e. it is usually very predictable and unoriginal)." Yep. I know exactly what style of music I will hear at church every Sunday. Once again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. But I can't help and ask myself why the church can't do better. We've got to have amazing musicians in the church that can do better than the same 4 chords over and over, right?

McCracken also notes this: "It’s more about creating an emotional response than eliciting a profound spiritual reflection. The measure of a good worship leader is often how many in the audience stand up or raise their hands out of their own volition." I am a hand raiser. But I'm a weird hand raiser and maybe that's because it took me a long time to be able to raise my hands. I raise my hands when I want to say something to God, not because the music told me to. Seriously, just watch how people raise hands during the worship set. The hands go up when the music gets really fast or loud. The music is designed to elicit a certain response. Is there a lot of thought going on at that point? Maybe...but maybe not. I've heard multiple people in the Christian music industry state that music that sells is music that provides an experience to the audience. Lest we forget, Christian music is an industry at this point. That means it must make money. To make money it must sell and what makes money is what people buy because it makes them feel.

Now, I know some would just skewer me here: "How can you judge someone's music experience?" This question in and of itself frustrates me because it reveals a current way of thinking that gets to me: music is relative. That is, it doesn't matter much what it sounds like or says. Anything goes as long as I feel close to God. Music is outside any kind of critical thinking. I find it interesting to note modern Christians' own response to the emotional evangelism of the Great Awakening. The Great Awakening was a time in American history where people were converted by the hundreds and thousands. And how were they? By preachers yelling about hell and damnation, by being stirred up to faint in the aisles and collapse to the ground. We modern Christians look back at that and say, "Well, how many were real conversions? I mean, they just got all hyped up. How many actually stayed in the faith?" Do you see the irony here? We are skeptical about preaching that makes the gospel purely emotional. Yet we don't see any danger in music we are offering to God that might be eliciting only emotion.

2) The Lyrics--Of course, the lyrics reflect the music. Most of them are similar. And mostly they are romanticized. It's a sad state of affairs when a character on the secular and heinous show South Park points out, "All we have to do to make Christian songs is take regular old songs and add Jesus stuff to them. See? All we have to do is cross out words like 'baby' and 'darling' and replace them with Jesus." Ouch. As a Christian, that hurts. Is there nothing different between Christian worship music and music that worships the secular world? Can we create nothing that speaks a better word? This trend I fear is reflective of the "relationship not religion" popular way of thinking. We don't want songs that have any kind of theology or dogma in them. That won't draw me close to God emotionally and give me the experience of worship I want. A commenter (John Kelly) on a site I read said this: "Maybe we are writing more shallow, simple worship music because we are more shallow, simple people... and were just writing from what we know... David wrote long complicated and wordy laments because that was who he was and that was the culture...Is it wrong that we may write music from who we are? Or should we just pretend we're deeper than we are?" Another ouch. Could it be our worship music reflects the shallow people that we are? John Kelly asks some provocative questions. If our music reflects our shallow relationships with God's truth, then we need to rethink our very lives. As a way of rethinking, I want to point out the reason Jesus said he came to earth: "For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me" (John 18:37). Nowhere does Jesus say in the Bible: "I came to make sure everyone felt cuddled and warm and fuzzy." Of course, this doesn't mean that Jesus doesn't love people or want to love us physically. He likens Jerusalem to a city he wants to hold under his wings like a mother hen protecting her chicks and the church to a beloved bride. But that doesn't change the fact that Jesus' number one concern was objective truth claims about who he was and who God is. Could it be this is where our music could differ from the world's? Could Christian music seek more than emotional response?

Another problem with lyrics: they can be at the least nonsensical, at the worst wrong. This is where music relativism rears its ugly head the most. Worship music, most think, cannot be judged.* The common thinking is that an artist spent his time pouring out his heart to God to write that, so you can't judge it. Wait a minute. I can critically scrutinize the sermon a pastor worked on for months, but I can't touch a song? Christian songs that purport to claim truth about God can and should be judged. I often tell my students to never turn off their brains. This includes music. Are the lyrics in the music true? I have heard many worship songs where the lyrics were just plain biblically wrong. One of them attempted to use a scripture, but changed some terms, completely changing the meaning to a biblical untruth. When we sing we must think.

3) The congregation--This is where it gets personal. So far I can pretty much blame musical artists. But what about me? I'd like to look at a passage of scripture, Isaiah 1:11-13. In this passage, God addresses the sacrifices of Israel. Sacrifices were designed to express relationship with God (three out of the five types of sacrifices have nothing to do with sin whatsoever). Israel had gone its own way, focused on its own desires rather than God. Yet the people still went to the temple to sacrifice. In this context, God says this: "'What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?' says the LORD. 'I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goatsWhen you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me.'" The sacrifices were worthless because they were done out of meaningless tradition. God did not want meaningless worship. We must critically ask ourselves, "What does my worship sound like to God?" Am I uttering trite phrases over and over without a thought? Is music relative to me? That is, if I don't get a sweet, fluffy feeling, do I tell myself I haven't worshipped? Do I sing untruths, claiming my life is for God alone, when I have expressly excluded God from areas of my life?

4) The resolution--It is my contention that the banal music and lyrics of our worship music makes it extra hard for our worship to be real. It's so easy to come to church and mouth words on a screen and not think about them once. I do this all the time. Same old songs, same old music, same old lyrics. I get lulled into a timeless existence where the music just flows around me, but really without me. But let's face facts: this is our culture. The music isn't going to change anytime soon. So I can sit around and grouse about that or I can do something about it. Here is what I have done to try and make my worship meaningful to me and the Lord--1. Really hear/read the words. Don't just passively sing. Make sure you know what you are singing. If it is a biblical untruth, stop singing. I sometimes stop even if it just isn't personally true, if singing it would be lying to God. 2. Talk to God during the music. Make it a prayer. Take a moment to turn it in inward, to reflect on it. There's a reason Psalms, the Bible's songbook, has indications to pause (selah). I wish music would just stop sometimes so we could reflect on what we are singing instead of just plugging along. 3. React to God's truth, not the emotional push. You don't have to raise your hands with everyone else if it's a meaningless act for you. Maybe you need to just sit down, even though every worship leader commands you to stand. Maybe you need to kneel. Maybe you just need to stand there and think about what you are singing.

When it all comes down to it, I just want to implore my fellow brothers and sisters to worship God in spirit and truth. As we come to God in worship, let's keep our brains active. We can hope that worship music will someday step outside the common to reflect an uncommon God, but in the meantime, we'll make sure we enter worship eyes, ears and brain wide open.

*A word on the term judge--The common response in Christian circles to any use of the term judge is "Who are you to judge? Jesus said judge not lest you be judged." Those that levy this response seem to forget that all throughout the New Testament, Christians are called to make judgments, to determine if something lines up with the truth or is false. There are two senses of the word "judge" even in English. Judge can mean to condemn or judge can mean to consider critically. I am not saying here that we need to go into churches and start railing about the music and having hissy fits. I am saying that we need to be willing to critically consider the music we produce.