Tag Archives: Worship

Worship: Spirit and Truth. What it is and isn’t.

Ravi Zacharias is absolutely correct when he says of worship, “It is the sense and service of God.”  What does that mean?  I want to address today an issue that has become quite controversial in the church.  What is that issue?  Worship.

You hear countless sermons today on music—whether it be contemporary or traditional. Organs or guitars, choirs or praise teams—and how Christians are tearing each other’s eyes out over their particular tastes.  The truth is, music isn’t worship.  Anyone who tells you it is wants you to believe a lie.  Music can be used in worship, it can be a vehicle of worship—but it isn’t worship itself.
In Chapter 4 of the book of John, Jesus gives us an incredible picture of worship though the way he deals with a prostitute.  This is a very loose woman—basically—she wouldn’t be welcomed into most of our churches today (that’s for another day).  It is in this context that Jesus tells us about worship.  Present in the dialogue are a few issues:  First there is Hunger.  Jesus is hungry and the disciples have left to get food.  Jesus is thirsty.  He is at the well looking for something to drink.  We see racial tensions.  A Jew isn’t supposed to talk to a Samaritan.  We see sexual tension.  A man shouldn’t talk to this woman, and this woman shouldn’t be a prostitute.  It is in the midst of this madness that Jesus teaches us about what worship is. Why?  Quite simply, if we ever get God right, the stuff we spend so much time trying to fix, will take a whole lot less time fixing.
Jesus has confronted this woman with her sin.  He tells her in verse 16, “Go call your husband,” and in verse 17, she says, “I have no husband,” and then Jesus replies in verse 18 (my paraphrase), “You got that right—you have 5!”  So what does she do when confronted with her sin?  She does what nearly anyone does when confronted with their sin and the holiness of God:  She skirts the issue.  She dances around it.  She obfuscates.

She wants to move on to the subject of religion.

We need to look at a number of things that are important to realize when it comes to worship:

The first issue to understand is the importance of worship.  At the end of verse 23, Jesus says, “For such people, the father seeks to be His worshippers.”  Why is worship important?  It’s simple:  God is looking for it.  He is looking for authentic worship and sincere worshippers.  It is implied here that these worshippers that God is looking for are hard to find.  We have to realize this though:  Just because God is looking for them doesn’t mean he needs them.  He doesn’t need worshippers, he deserves worshippers.

Psalm 148 says:

]Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
Praise Him in the heights!
Praise Him, all His angels;
Praise Him, all His hosts!
Praise Him, sun and moon;
Praise Him, all stars of light!
Praise Him, highest heavens,
And the waters that are above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord…

When it comes to human beings, worship is a conscious choice.  When it comes to nature, worship is automatic.  God created you to be a worshipper, but he seeks you to see if you will fulfil the reason for which you were created—to worship God.  What is worship?

Tony Evans says, “Worship is the celebration of God for who God is and what God has done.”  It is all that I am paying supreme homage to all that God is.  The implication is that worship is recognizing above all, who God is.  We must recognize God as God.  When people worship, but don’t recognize God as God, he isn’t being worshipped.  Worship isn’t taking place.

What is the object of worship?  Verses 23 and 24 say: 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is [e]spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

God is the object of our worship—but not a God you make up.  He is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Many groups who say they are worshipping, but the God they are worshipping isn’t the father of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This isn’t worship.  God is the father of all creation.  Even nonbelievers recognize that.  He is the Father of the saints.  We recognize that as Christians.  But it is the fact that He is the father of Jesus Christ that makes him unique.

If we miss Christ, we miss the Father.

God is also sprit.  You can’t worship God first with your body.  His essence is not corporeal.  This means his is not material.  He is a person, but he has no visible body.  He is an invisible person.  If you are going to worship him, you must begin in the invisible part of you.  It is possible to be physically in the place of worship, but not have the requisite heart of worship.  God is spirit, and he is dealing with the invisible realm, not the visible.

To put it simply, you may have the look of worship.  You may have the smell of worship.  You may have the right clothes on.  You may have the hand movements of worship.  You may even have the right hairstyle or clap on the right beat.  Get this right though:  If all God gets is your body, you are not worshipping God in spirit.  If you aren’t worshipping God in spirit, you aren’t worshipping at all.

Some people will tell you that they don’t feel that they have worshipped unless their body moves.  Ultimately, they are saying, “Worship is about how I feel.”  This is wrong.  Worship is about how God feels when we are done.   Unless your spirit moved, it doesn’t matter what your body did.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the physical can and should be an important part of our worship to God, but it isn’t the most important.  The most important is the spirit.

I see people all the time:  They stand up but don’t sing.  “I don’t like that song,” or “I don’t like that type of music.” When I see this, I want to remind them that God would say, “Hey!  I thought you were singing to me!”  To refuse to sing because you don’t like the song dismisses the fact that God may like to have that song sung to Him!  Who are you or I to choose?  Is the role of the choir to sing to you?  No!  Its purpose is to sing to God.  If you are only coming for you and to sing the songs you like, and to see things that you want to see—you aren’t worshipping God.  You are asking God to worship you.

The barometer is this:  At the end of the benediction, if God doesn’t applaud—something has gone wrong.  God is to be glorified, not us.

You see, God has intrinsic glory.  What does this mean?  Well, if you put a robe on a guy, he becomes a judge.  If you put a white coat on him, he is a doctor.  If you put dress blues on a man, he becomes a marine.  This is ascribed glory. If you take any of those men, and strip him down and put rags on him—he becomes a bum.  Ascribed glory is only given based on a set of circumstances—and it is temporary.  This is not what God is.  God is intrinsically glorious.  This means that His glory is and cannot be taken.  As wet is to water or blue is to sky, Glory is to God.  It is intrinsic.

The next issue is what could be called, the spheres of worship.  In verse 20 we see the woman say, 21 Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”

What Jesus says is that first of all, worship is not a place.  Worship is a state.  It isn’t first about where you are, it is about who you are.  If your life isn’t a continuous act of worship, showing up on Sunday at a building with a steeple is worth nothing.

In 1st Corinthians, Paul says that “your body is a temple,” the church of the living God.  Put it this way, you don’t go to church—you are church!  If the spirit of God is in you, you couldn’t leave church if you wanted to. The question isn’t about what is happening at the local church house, the questioning is what is going on in your internal church—the one that is open for business 24 hours a day and seven days a week.  If you think that church is only on Sunday and ends at noon, then you are missing the point in a major way.  Worship is a way of life, not a place you go to.  Why wasn’t Daniel fazed when the edict was sent out that he couldn’t pray?  Today we would gather together and have a prayer service if our religious rights were challenged like that.  Daniel didn’t have to have a prayer meeting.  His life was a prayer meeting.

The reason many of us are messed up is because the only time we are in church is on Sunday.  If we could learn that being in church and worshipping really means us being the people God wants us to be, then we would always be worshipping.  We wouldn’t necessarily need a pastor or a choir—we would be the pastor and the choir.  When worship is real, you become alive.  It becomes like the engine or the car that drives your life!  It becomes your oxygen source.

If the only time we break into praise through song is on Sunday, or if the only time we open His word is on Sunday—or if the only time we fellowship with other believers is on Sunday—why is it any wonder that we are anemic Christians?   Worship isn’t a mountain or Jerusalem.  Worship is you!   It has to be you.  The spirit of God dwells in you!

What about the problems in church when it comes to worship styles?  I will tell you this:  Anyone who has no problem worshipping in private, will have no problem worshipping corporately.    Why?  You haven’t defined worship by a once a week meeting.  You have defined it by John 4—your relationship with God.  Daniel worshipped in private, that is why he could stand boldly and face the consequences of his actions—and beat them.

This is why the Psalmist says, “From the rising of the sun, to the going down of the same.  The name of the Lord deserves praise.”  Your life is worship.

It isn’t about reading a verse day.  It isn’t about a prayer you recite before a meal that you could say backwards and still not mean what you are saying.  No.  It is about saying, “God, I fall down at your feet and I adore you.  I sense your presence and I devote my life to serving you!”

When we understand that the meat we cut on our plate was derived from an animal that God made, or when we realize the tea in our glass was made from water and leaves that God made—when we realize the table our food and tea sit on was cut from a tree that god fashioned—we will be able to say, “God, I adore you.  You are worthy of all praise.”

The final issue is the essence of worship.  Jesus said, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”  To put it clearly, if we are going to worship God corporately and privately, then our worship must be both authentic and accurate.  What do I mean?  It must be authentic in your spirit and accurate in his truth. Spirit refers to our attitude, and truth refers to information.

God is spirit.  What this means is that God is both an invisible, immaterial reality.  You can’t see him because there is no matter.  There is no matter because he is invisible.  Reality doesn’t require matter.  Because God is spirit, for us to link our spirits to his, there must be a person with a spirit who is pursuing his.  It doesn’t stop there.  The person pursuing him must be pursuing him as truth—as the truth revealed in scripture and in the flesh as Jesus.  What I am saying is that we cannot make God in our image and expect him to cooperate with our idea of worship.  We are made in his image, and we must worship God as truth.

The implication is:  The better you know God, the better you worship.  Truth exists.  There is the true One—God, and there is the true Word—the Bible.  We know God because we have relationship with him and because he has revealed himself in his word.  Unless we know God personally through the truth of his being, and know about God through the truth of his word, we cannot know him.  If we don’t know him, we can’t worship him.

This is why we see so many churches in America today—doing nothing.  Some people want an exciting service of worship, but they don’t want truth.  Some want all the truth, but they want no excitement in worship.  One is emotionalism and the other is dead orthodoxy. Both are wrong.

We are to worship God and serve him out of desire.  It is what we are made to do, and when we begin to know God, it becomes what we want to do.

If my anniversary came around and I bought my wife flowers and when I presented them to her I said, “Because you expect this, and because it is my obligation as your current husband, I got you these,” I guarantee you that they would be thrown back in your face.  We give gifts because we want to.  It is the nature of love to delight one’s self in the other.

This is a desired duty.

If we sense God without serving him, it isn’t worship.  If we serve God without sensing Him, it is drudgery.  God wants your heart and your hands.  Not just one or the other.

Many of us don’t get this.   This is why you see church members who are sanctimonious in the church building but snakes in the parking lot.  Many of these people act as if there is some magic spell in the walls of the church or some magic balm that has been applied to the pulpit.  No.  If we don’t start to worship outside of the church, we will never be able to worship him inside it.  If in the church we sing, “Have thine own way,” and then out in the parking lot we hear, “Get outta my way,” we have just witnessed a religious show that is neither based in spirit or truth.

As Tony Evans notes, “The fuel of worship is God, the furnace of worship is man, but the fire of worship is the Holy Ghost.”

Some of us may not be there yet.  That is ok—so long as we are willing to go there.

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God’s Character

Have you ever known you were called to do something, and you were good at it?  As assured as you can be that you are right for this particular thing, we cannot escape our human instinct that manifests itself in a performance mentality—which is usually judged by numbers.   I remember Michael Ramsden, who is the European director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, once admitted that he had lived by this rubric, and then at some point had retreated from it.  Though his ministry was based around this numbers system, he says a turning point came when he was preaching in South Africa, at a golf club.   A prominent member of the club had arranged an evening meal. Hoping for 60 people to come, it turned out that 137 came. There were more non-Christians than Christians. The group was comprised predominantly high class business types.  Michael says that he was extremely excited about the meeting, but then minutes before it was time for him to speak, a colleague approached him and said that the meeting was a mistake—that this audience would not be receptive.

He said that he went on to give the worst sermon he has ever preached.  None of his points seemed to connect—no one seemed to be moved at all by what he had to say.  At the end, Ramsden gave an invitation—and he also handed out cards for people to critique what they just heard. 

He asked them to mark their card, on each respective question:  A to E. These people would essentially grade his sermon. 

Grade it:

 A = one of the best sermons you have ever heard

E = The worst.

The card also had a place for them to circle a statement.  From “I became a Christian tonight” to “Never invite me again.”  Ramsden says that after the meeting he couldn’t sleep.  He was intently concerned about what had just happened. 

The next morning at 7:30, the organizer called him.  Michael said his wife answered the phone and told him who was on the line.  He was hesitant when he put the phone up to his ear:

46 people ticked box A – ‘I gave my life to Jesus.’

48 people ticked box B – ‘I want to go to the Bible study.’

4 ticked box E.

Weeks later, most of the people from box B became Christians.   2 from box E did too.

Ramsden said he learned valuable lesson.  He decided that from that day forth,  to always give people the opportunity, no matter how I feel. He said, “My feelings are not a strong basis to operate this ministry from!”

He’s right you know.  It’s about trust—Trusting God.

 

There is a problem though.  Many Christians are not sure if they can morally trust God.  Non-Christians like Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist, would say our God is morally abhorrent.  He even goes on to say that the theology of the cross is abusive and sickening. Here is the thing—and I am not trying to exculpate Dawkins—but—if you don’t know God is trustworthy – you can’t trust him.

 

Well, is God trustworthy?  What is his true character?

In the book of Jonah, which is arguably one of the oldest pieces of Biblical literature we have, we see a remarkable story about God’s compassion. The whole city of Nineveh was saved.  Who was Nineveh?  Just know that they were considered an enemy nation to the Israelites—if for no other reason than they enjoyed using the skin of Israelites for lampshades.  Isn’t this remarkable that God would have mercy on them—and use an Israelite to bring the message to them?  You’d think that was encouraging.  Mass salvation of an enemy nation. So, just how does Jonah the preacher feel about it?

Chapter 4:1 – it displeased Jonah greatly – (literally gut wrenchingly exceedingly upset) and he was angry.

As Christians, we get displeased that revival doesn’t come.  Here is Jonah made that it has come.  He hated the people he was preaching to, but he knew God was gracious and compassionate.  In fact, you could say it this way:  The kind of God he was, is Jonah’s problem.

Often we can get angry and upset when we see the people who are our enemies forgiven and restored.  Doesn’t it sometimes seem like God is schizophrenic?  One the one hand he is loving and nice, and on the other, there is fierce wrath.  We need to not set them in opposition to each other, but see them in the light of each other.

In Jane Austin’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, there is a scene where Mr. Darcy says he loves her (Elizabeth) against his will, his better judgment, and his character. (Unsurprisingly she rejects him!)  If there are some people who know you (everything- the real thing), YET they love you – those are the most valuable relationships. To be known warts and all – and loved.  What could be better?

Here is the truth of the matter:  True love does not exist in the absence of judgment – but in the presence of it.  Think of a marriage where as you get to know each other and in the face of flaws etc., you healthily grow in depth.  As they get to know you and your faults better, the love gets stronger.

God really knows you. Do you have emotional stability that comes from knowing that God loves you despite your flaws? (Tis doesn’t mean God is happy with them or that we should excuse them). He knows it. God is not interested in covering things up. That’s not the path to true relationship.

 Have you ever said something stupid to a friend and made them upset or hurt them?  Lets supposing the next day you go to them to apologize.  It’s great when they forgive you.  All is well in the world, right?  But, consider if they say, “It’s nothing” – and walk away, and you know – it’s something! And now there is something between you. It’s not the same.  Things are estranged.  Or suppose we try to make up for it. We make a fuss. We try to serve them in some way to earn the forgiveness rather than look at the problem. We no longer have real relationship. Covering up wrongdoing (in that sense) becomes a barrier to relationship.

Isn’t that what we are after?  Restored relationship?

The word Compassion – comes from ecclesiastical Latin. It literally means ‘With Passion.’ It means to make a moral judgment and be moved from the depth of your being to do something about it. You have compassion when you say, “That’s wrong – we have to DO something!”

 

God is compassionate in this way.  He looks at the world and all its sin, and he is deeply moved to step in.  He goes to a cross, NOT to cover our sings—but to justify us by publically dealing with it.  He has to deal with the wrath of God.  God is fully merciful but also fully just.  He cannot extend mercy while at the same time undermining justice.  Justice isn’t served despite merry, it is served through it. 

Through Christ on the Cross.

The message is nothing other than that while we were still sinners, he found us! He had already paid the price, he has moved! He knows exactly what we are like, and what was required. And he’s with us.

We hear the phrase, “God loves you” so much, it becomes meaningless.  The truth is, God loves you and me because he knows exactly who we are—and what we have done.  He isn’t deluded.

We don’t have to pretend to be someone we aren’t with God.  He is already fully aware.  It isnt any help to myself or God to refuse to be transparent with him.  It also gives me transparency with others. I know I have been forgiven – because he forgave me.

There is only one basis for me to be forgiven:

If I have done wrong to someone – I should not be able to say ‘I’m forgiven’ – except and unless the other party is willing to forgive, and offers it – and through repentance I have received that forgiveness.

If that’s the case, it is not arrogant for me to say, “I am forgiven.”

We are dependent on him, his promise. God has said it! It’s dealt with. So I can be secure, whatever other insecurities I might wrestle with.  Are you totally assured as to the character of God? Are you utterly sure of him?  Are you utterly sure he really means his words of love and assurance? That he has chosen, called and loved you? That’s the reality!

Are you prepared to fail on that basis?

The basis on which I know I can fail, is that I know it’s not about me. I do and can blow it. When preaching or leading worship, it’s not about how many respond etc. I am okay of others reject me on the basis that God has accepted me.

We need confidence – to trust the God who transforms lives.

In all other worldviews God can be merciful, by passing over his justice. For us, it’s not at the expense of his justice, BOTH operate together.

 

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Faith or Repentance? Which one should we proclaim?

I have a serious question that I want to put forth. Here goes: Can the gospel be effectively presented without any reference to repentance? What is repentance? It has been defined by one theologian in this way: “Literally a change of mind, not about individual plans, intentions, or beliefs, but rather a change in the whole personality from a sinful course of action to God…Such a change is the fruit of Christ’s victory over death.”

I think from that definition we can see that a true and genuine salvific faith will be accompanied by genuine repentance (Acts 20:21). I don’t see how it could be consistent to proclaim a salvation that preaches faith in God without repentance. Even in other parts of the Gospel, repentance is given such importance that it is stressed over saving faith itself—“there is joy in Heaven among the angels over one sinner that repents (Luke 15:7).” Even the apostles talked about the conversion of Gentiles to Christ as God giving them “repentance unto life (Acts 11:18).” I think it is safe to say that repentance and faith in Christ are inseparable, even though a new convert may be more aware of one aspect or the other.

The question: Can you truly repent without putting faith in Christ? Can you truly put faith in Christ without repenting?

We must keep in mind that this repentance is not the same wrongheaded repentance that we see with Pharaoh in Exodus, Saul in 1 Samuel, or Judas in Matthew. Perhaps the best example of faulty repentance is found in the story of the “Prodigal Son.” You know the story; the young man goes to the far country after having demanded his inheritance. When he gets there, he spends it all and finds himself poor in the middle of a regional economic depression. He hires himself out to a pig farmer in hopes of being able to eat the pig feed. No such luck. He finds himself in quite a predicament. He is hungry. Now, what is the most basic need we must meet in life? Simply put: the quenching of thirst and hunger. It is hunger that makes the boy begin to think. He even begins to contrive a story that he decides he will tell his father—in hopes of ingratiating himself with Dad and becoming a servant so he can repay his debt. This is referred to in Luke as “coming to his senses.” Literally, this means, “he got smart.” Now—what has he gotten smart about? I submit that he hasn’t gotten smart, and realized he wronged his Dad. He is driven by the desire to have one thing: Food! He wants to cure the pain in his stomach. He knows that if he becomes a slave or servant he WILL be fed. This repentance is nothing more than his realization that he can get paid and have food if he will go home. This repentance is driven by his hunger. It is driven by what the boy wants. We don’t see REAL repentance until after the humble act of the father running to meet the boy, and giving him a kiss of reconciliation. Until then, the boy’s repentance is just driven by food.

Is this the kind of repentance we need to preach? I argue emphatically, NO! I fear it IS what we preach, however. Have you heard this before: I know there is a lot of pain in your life…come to Christ and it will be remedied? Or how about: I know life is tough, finances are low, and you have nothing…Come to Christ and be filled? What do both of these appeals rest on? Our happiness—our satisfaction—our repose. It is as if; to some people, Christ is seen as the way to get happy. I submit that Christ is not in the business of making us happy. If he was, and God is perfectly just, if we ever experienced sadness or pain as a Christian, it would be proof of his non-existence! I agree with C.S. Lewis who in his inimitable fashion proclaimed: “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.” If our coming to Christ is to find happiness, we will be let down. At the first sign of unhappiness, we will lose faith.

So, what should we proclaim? I think it is simple. Jesus is God, He died on the Cross for OUR sins, and he rose again on the 3rd day. Now, what do we have to do to take advantage of this provision? Well, I will tell you this: Contrary to popular opinion, Christ demands more than just our availability. He demands a metamorphous of life. He demands that we become infected by his “good infection.” He demands that our very spiritual DNA be altered. He demands a new creature with a new mind.

This concerns how we think, what we feel, and what we do. The problem is, Christ doesn’t command us to think a certain way, feel a certain thing, or do anything specifically. This is the error of many of the world religions—and many versions of the Gospel, for that matter. They focus on the epistemological, the existential, or the pragmatic. It isn’t about what we think, what we feel, or what we do.

Yet, then again, it is.

Look—our repentance isn’t an isolated act that spurs a type of predictable behavior. It isn’t like when I repent, my repentance culminates in my going to the Philippines to perform free circumcisions on poor infants. No! I don’t automatically begin reciting doctrinal statements and thinking up new philosophical proofs for God’s existence. No! And, I most certainly will not begin to stretch out with my feelings and encounter the force, as if I were a Jedi Knight. No!

While it is true that knowing Christ is the most intellectually stimulating knowledge that there is, I am not commanded to think anything. While there is no more exhilarating feeling than the feeling we experience in Christ’s presence, I am not commanded to ‘feel’ anything. And most certainly, even though Jesus said, “You will know the true Christians by what they DO,” I am not commanded to do anything.

Our repentance is a change of “stuff.” Our mind changes. Our wants change. Our actions change. Our spiritual DNA is altered. We become infected by the “good infection.” Do you get it? Whatever happens after our change is prompted by God’s work in our lives—not by us. Our change affects what we WANT to do—it affects what we think about—and if affects why we do things. It even affects our interpretation of the word “happy”—it redefines our idea of self, being, or autonomy.

An example: If someone is healthy and then all of a sudden they find out they have—AIDS. What happens? Well, to begin with, they take stock of things they have never thought of before. They think about T-Cells, White Blood Cells, pay more attention to hygiene, and become a part of a community who is infected by AIDS. Now—when a person gets AIDS, do they really become interested in epidemiology, biology, people, hygiene, or health care? No. It is the infection that changes their priorities. Their ‘want’ to live drives what they view as important. It isn’t that they just grow interested in those things. Are they any different than they were 1 minute before their diagnosis? No! It is the knowledge of their change that prompts a new life.

In the same way, when we come to Christ, we aren’t necessarily any more interested in doctrinal statements than we were before, but because we love God, some of us see a change in mind—or growth in desire in that area. Some of us begin to have a calling toward missions. Does that mean that we necessarily want to go to remote parts of the world where our life may be demanded of us any more than we used to? No. What it means is, when our mind changes, we become interested in pleasing God—no matter the area—and no matter the risk.

We are driven by love.

What does it mean to love? To love is to bind one’s self to another. What is the point of love? Well, simply put: it is to delight one’s self in the other.

Let’s supposing, I was on my way home from a long trip. When I get home, I knock on the door and my wife answers. From behind my back I produce a boquet of flowers and a box of chocolates. When my wife says, “Oh John, you shouldn’t have,” I say, “It was my duty to bring you these!” How would she respond?

Now, what if the same situation happened; and in addition to the flowers and chocolates, I have now arranged a babysitter for the night. I tell her, “I have been away, and there is nothing more that would make me happy than to see you smile. I have bought tickets to the movie you wanted to see, and secured reservations at your favorite restaurant. There is no one I would rather spend tonight with than you!” Would it or would it not be weird if she responded: “Make you happy? Why does everything always have to be about you? Why are you always thinking about yourself? Why can’t you ever think about me?” It would be weird because it is the nature of love to delight ourselves in the other. Because I love my wife, I make decisions that are driven by that love. It isn’t that I want to go to a movie, or eat out—on the contrary—it is because I love her and know she likes those things, that I like them too—because I want her to be happy.

It is the same with God.

Our repentance prompts a change in our lives that recalibrates our idea of “happiness,” what we think about, what we feel, and what we want to do. They are all driven by a desire to please God—or to delight ourselves in Him. You could call this Christian hedonism. A desire for pleasure in making God happy.

Now—here is another question: Will we look different than the rest of culture? Answer: absolutely! If we are infected by the “good infection,” would it be questionable if our lives mirrored that of the culture? If we dressed the same, talked the same, thought the same, and invested in the same things: What would this imply? It would imply that we were delighting ourselves not in God—but elsewhere. What is that elsewhere? It is the idol of self. It is humanism. If our drive to pleasure and happiness is based in ourselves, our ideas, our wants, or even in our ‘faith,’ it is faulty.
I bet I caught you off guard with ‘faith.’ Look—if I preach a gospel that says, all you have to do to gain eternal life is have faith in God—you don’t have to do anything—just believe in God. Just trust that God is there. What am I elevating? Not God. I am elevating faith itself. Does God call us to be faithians? Does he call us to give our lives to our faith? No!

Why would we be so ignorant as to have faith in our faith? It sounds silly but it happens all around us.

Consider:  “Faith is believing what you want to believe, yet cannot prove.”

The truth is, many Christians think that is the definition of the word faith. For some it feels liberating. It means being able to believe in anything you want to believe. No explanation is required, indeed, no explanation can be given; it is just a matter of faith. For others, such a definition is sickening. Embracing faith means you stop thinking. As faith increases, reason and meaning eventually disappear. No explanations can be given, and none can be expected. Thus, living in faith is living in the dark.

If you look at both groups, they are experiencing the same problem. By using a wrongheaded definition of faith, they ask the wrong questions, deal with the wrong questions—and ultimately, end up with the wrong answer. Faith isn’t wishful thinking. It isn’t about believing myths or untruths. It neither makes all things believable—nor does it make meaning impossible.

What is the right definition of “faith?” “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” writes the author of Hebrews. A few verses later faith is similarly defined as knowing that God exists and that God rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

Maybe the best word we can use to translate “pistis” (the greek word) is the word “trust” or “trustworthy.” Suppose you say you have faith in the government. What does that mean? It means two things. First, you are sure the government actually exists. And second, you are convinced the government is trustworthy; you can believe what it says and trust it will do right.

It is in this way that the writer of Hebrews talks about faith in God. Faith is knowing that God is real and that you can trust in God’s promises. You cannot trust someone who isn’t there, nor can you rely on someone whose promises are not reliable. This is why faith is talked about as the substance of things hoped for and as the evidence of things not seen. Both words carry with them a sense of reality. Our hope is not wishful thinking.

Get this straight: Faith does not make God real. On the contrary, faith is the response to a real God who wants to be known to us:

“I am the Lord, and there is no other;
besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me,
so that they may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is no one besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:5-6).

So, we are changed because of faith and repentance. Because of our faith, we are changed when we repent. Because we repent, and God changes us, our faith is secured. Because of our faith, we are willing to repent and then we are changed. Do you see? They are both necessary.

If we separate faith from repentance or vice versa, we are not preaching the gospel. We are in danger of what Paul talks about in Galatians: Preaching a gospel that is no gospel at all.

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Not another traditional vs contemporary debate!?

Because I am a worship pastor, and I work with musical ensembles, praise teams, choirs, and such; I am often asked this question: “What is your feeling on contemporary versus traditional music?” This is the wrong question to ask, because it is a fanciful way of saying—well, nothing. What is contemporary and what is traditional? In a way, these are relative terms.  When someone says “Do you prefer traditional  or contemporary music in worship,” the only correct response should be, “Contemporary or traditional compared to what?”   The truth is, what is contemporary today will be traditional tomorrow. When using the word contemporary however, one can legitimately mean contemporary to our lifetime, the last 10 years, the last 20 years, the last 5 minutes, the last 100 years—or any length of time that puts that date and the person within a relationship to one another. Traditional on the other hand just means that it is not of today. The problem is that the term traditional faces the question—which tradition?

If you look back into music history, specifically around the 17th Century, you will see the development of the Sonata. The Sonata for our purposes here, was a dance-inspired instrumental work. In the Baroque era, there were several dance types that were incorporated into nearly every musical idiom. These dance styles included the partita, suite, ordre, ouverture and the air. The way it worked, was in a multi-movement piece like a Sonata, these dance elements were composed as the various movements; meaning, that you had different tempos and time signatures dictated by the dance. These were ubiquitously understood to be present in the Sonata.   The important note to take away is this: Secular Sonatas were called Sonata da Camera while Sacred Sonatas were titled Sonata da chiesa. Here is the rub: In the secular Sonata, the dance forms were unashamedly written into the score with the relevant names for each movement. In the sacred Sonata, the same forms were used, but were given DIFFERENT titles. Instead of using the names of the dances, the different movements were given names like, Adagio, Fuga, Siciiliana, or Presto.

My point: Secular music was informing sacred music. This was being done knowingly by composers and church musicians (who were most of the time the composers as well) used this idiom liberally.   A great example is Bach’s first three violin sonatas. They were written exclusively in the da chiesa (sacred) form—yet they sound like—(gasp)—dances!

What is my point? My point is—this traditional church music was clearly influenced by the secular.   Is the fact that something is traditional or not—a barometer of something’s worth in worship?  I say emphatically, “No.”

What about the person who says, “Traditional music to me is the ‘good ‘ole hymns’ and anything other than that is rubbish?” Well, this is a relative statement, and is indicating that person’s view of traditional and good, more than it tells me about their view on music in worship! Nevertheless, let us look at a few hymns. Let us take one of the most prolific writers of hymns, Fanny Crosby. Francis (Fanny) Crosby was one of the most prolific hymn writers ever, having penned the lyrics to something like 9,000 hymns, including many that are still favorites today including “Blessed Assurance,” “Pass Me Not Oh Gentle Savior,” and “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.” One biography of Fanny Crosby adds this tidbit:

“By the early 1870s, she was well on her way to becoming the queen of hymn writers. Fanny often matched her poems to familiar tunes. An example is “We Thank Thee, Our Father,” written to the melody of the famous “Adeste Fidelis.” She set poems to Scottish and Welsh airs and used tunes by Stephen Foster.”

Another prominent hymn writer, William Booth used parodies, too. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, an extremely evangelical organization that did much to help the poor and the drunks in the streets, used the music of popular tunes for hymns (see Tin Pan Alley). In the biography, William and Catherine Booth: Founders of the Salvation Army, by Helen K. Hosier, it states the following:

“Satan would have to be battled within his own strongholds, and any means was justifiable, William decided, if it would attract sinners to listen to the message of salvation … Thus it was that as the work grew, the music and street parades attracted increasing crowds of people who scorned the regular churches. ‘Why should the devil have all the best tunes?’ William replied when chided for appropriating music of popular tunes for his hymns … ” The book goes on to say, “The saying that ‘the devil has no right to all the good tunes’ has been attributed to both William Booth and Charles Spurgeon. But it was George Scott Railton, who was to become William’s lieutenant general in 1873 and was well-known as an author and songwriter, who concluded an article ‘About Singing’ (1874) with this impassioned plea: ‘Oh, let us rescue this precious instrument from the clutches of the devil, and make it, as it may be made, a bright and lively power for good!'” The people in the Salvation Army weren’t the first to use secular music for sacred purposes, though. Note the following: “[The absence of contrast between ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ styles of music in the Middle Ages] ‘can be shown simply by the observation that a secular song, if given a set of sacred words, could serve as sacred music, and vice versa. Only recently has it been recognized how frequently such interchange took place, and the more we learn about medieval music, the more important it becomes. The practice of borrowing a song from one sphere and making it suitable for use in the other by the substitution of words is known as “parody” or contrafactum.’”

So, while it isn’t always the case–we see clearly that there is alot of “accepted” music has moved from the secular to the sacred realm. Still, what is meant by traditional or contemporary?  After all, aren’t some traditions practiced in contemporary time, and aren’t some contemporary things traditional in nature?  To me labeling things unequivocally with these terms is dubious at best.

I don’t know if these terms can be empirically defined. I think in a way, when someone makes the critique about music being too contemporary or too traditional, more than expressing anything substantive to the topic of worship, they are exercising the human desire for consumption. This is consumerism at its basic level.   On this view, we go to the worship service to “get something.” Have you heard this before?—“I just didn’t get anything from the service today. I didn’t like the music. It just didn’t touch me.” A statement like this is a statement of consumerism. We as consumers desire a short term lift despite what may be the long term consequences. In a way, even as worshippers, sometimes we exercise what economists would call Myopic Choice.  It is a view like this that would see God as an object to be consumed rather than a person with whom we can have relationship.  We get from God what we want, and then relegate him to the periphery of our lives–unless a topic like this comes up–in which case we will argue emphatically that either traditional or contemporary music is more ‘godly.’  It only seems natural that this would be the case–as this is what is currently seen in the culture.  Why is it that the same feminists (Who stood shoulder to shoulder with Billy Graham) who used to wear signs that said, “I am a person,” are now wearing shirts that say, “I am a porn star?”  People have moved from beings who have relationships to objects who are consumed.  Why would they see God any different?

The sad thing is that this dubious way of living and viewing self has made its way into the church.  The consumerism of aesthetic preference.  I want what makes me happy.  This is drive through theology.  I want to get God, but he has to be my way, right away.  If my burger comes with mayo–I reject it.  We are so focused on the burger itself, that we forget to praise the effort of the one who prepared it!  Even more practically, we buy the music we want–and on iTunes–we even buy ONLY the songs we want.  We are programmed to consume.  We care nothing for the whole–only the part we want!  When was the last time you didn’t fast forward through the commercials or previews?

Let us look at it another way. Take the Lord’s Supper and let us build a framework for worship from this beautiful scene. Before we see the beautiful words of Christ, it is important to give some definitions. For the traditionalist, the past is most important. For the existentialist, the ‘here and now’ is most important. For the utopianist, the future is important.   Keeping this in mind, and with our eye on our topic, we see that Jesus makes an incredible statement to the disciples at the Last Supper. “As often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup [now], you proclaim the Lord’s death [in the past], until He comes [in the future].”

Jesus is saying that all of history—past, present, future—are significant and hold tremendous meaning. To overemphasize any point is to become wholly partisan and subservient to an “ism.” This is idolatry.

Think of this statement—there is unity in diversity. Past, present, and future—all unite in the being of Christ through history. Different tribes, lands, and nations—all unite under the headship of Christ. In fact, different churches (who proclaim Christ as deity and resurrected Lord), despite their differences on some theological issues, are the same as well—under Christ.   On a more esoteric level, scientists and philosophers have tried and tried to find one unifying theory for the universe—look into M Theory if you are interested here. The problem is—until we grasp the idea that unity in diversity are found first in the Creator (the Trinity)—we will never understand the unity in diversity found in our universe and in in all of life! Jesus has invited all of mankind into this unity in diversity through a relationship with His son, Jesus.

If one thinks about past, present and future—every point in history has a past present and future—well, except the ‘time’ when God had not yet created. At this point, God merely existed. He is timeless and immutable, by definition. Traditional or contemporary do not apply to God! Traditional or contemporary, I would argue—do not apply to the Kingdom of God! To emphasize any of these three as ‘better’ or more ‘important’ is faulty. There should be a unity in diversity—God is the God of all time—past, present, and future. We can rejoice in this.

I think of the music of Bach—and how it progressed through time to the music of—John Cage. In Bach, we see a musician who was focused on the transcendent. It was evidenced by his music. There was always a great deal of tension, dissonance—but always—and I repeat –always—there came a consonant resolution. There was a unity in diversity.  Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer said it this way:

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) was certainly the zenith of the composers coming out of the Reformation. His music was a direct result of the Reformation culture and the biblical Christianity of the time, which was so much a part of Bach himself. There would have been no Bach had there been no Luther. Bach wrote on his score initials representing such phrases as: “With the help of Jesus” – “To God alone be the glory” – “In the name of Jesus.” It was appropriate that the last thing Bach the Christian wrote was “Before Thy Throne I Now Appear.” Bach consciously related both the form and the words of his music to biblical truth. Out of the biblical context came a rich combination of music and words and a diversity of unity. This rested on the fact that the Bible gives unity to the universal and the particulars, and therefore the particulars have meaning. Expressed musically, there can be endless variety and diversity without chaos. There is variety yet resolution.”

In the music of the Impressionists—Debussy, Ravel, Duparc—we see a music that goes nowhere. There is only unity—no diversity. In the modern music of Cage we see a music that only has diversity. Much of the music leading up to him—Webern, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky—used a methodical system called the 12-tone row—to mathematically order music. This made the music sound as if it weren’t ordered at all; but instead, chaotic. Isn’t that strange? When humans try to order things—it comes off as chaotic—rather than ordered! In the music of Cage, he used what he called indeterminacy to create music of chance. The problem is, no matter how you frame it—this music wasn’t purely created by chance and a random, unguided process. Here is Cage: “I became aware that if I approached mushrooms in the spirit of my chance operations, I would die shortly. So I decided that I would not approach them in this way.” Francis Schaeffer comments, “In other words, here is a man who is trying to teach the world what the universe intrinsically is and what the real philosophy of life is, and yet he cannot even apply it to picking mushrooms.”

Obviously, at some point, Cage himself had to inject his will into the music—whether it was to interpret the Chinese cards he used to generate the notes and rhythms, or to know at what point to start his composition! All we were left with was diversity. So we see a progression from unity in diversity to unity only, to diversity only.

So that has been a polemic on looking to the future. Now—I am not arguing that looking to the past is the best way. To focus merely on the traditional is riddled with problems. Perhaps the most powerful indictment of the past comes from Malcolm Muggeridge:

“We look back upon history, and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulated and wealth dispersed…Shakespeare has spoken of the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon. I look back upon my own fellow countrymen in England once upon a time dominating a quarter of the world…I have heard a crazed, cracked Austrian announce to the world an establishment of a Reich that would last a thousand years. I have seen an Italian clown saying he was going to stop and restart the calendar with his own ascension to power… all in one life time, all in one lifetime! All gone, gone with the wind…and behind the debris of these solemn superman and self-styled imperial diplomatists, there stands the gigantic figure of one person—because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind may still have peace—the person of Jesus Christ.”

I think we can go further with our look at this debate. Consider for example Jesus’ interaction with Satan in the wilderness:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,” ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

In these incredible responses by Jesus, we see something emerge that is helpful. Satan challenged Jesus in three ways. The first is the will. “Feed yourself, Jesus—do a miracle so we can know you are God.” Jesus replies that physical bread is nothing compared to the bread of life. This is the fact that material things are not all that exist. There is another realm that is very real. The will. Secondly, Satan challenges Jesus intellect. He uses a scripture verse to test the intellect. Jesus replies to this verse taken out of context by reminding Satan not to test God. The intellect. Finally—once all the routes of will and intellect are exhausted—Satan enters the back door of the imagination. This is what we must look out for as music ministers and worship teams. The imagination can give way to some of the greatest failures we have as people. Jesus replies that “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”

It is interesting that the word used for worship here is prŏskunĕō. This is a different word than we think of in English. We get our word worship in English from the Middle English word ‘worshipe.’ This essentially means ‘worthship.’ Worth implies a consumer. A consumer may not agree with the seller on the worth of something. Prŏskunĕō is speaking instead about giving God His due. This means falling prostrate before the uncaused cause. This means giving to God what he is due—which is everything. Our human intellect, will, or imagination can lead us to believe that we have something due us—or that we are worth more than we really are. This is a great danger that looms always.

The final issue to deal with comes from the book of John. When talking to the woman at the well, Jesus engages her about her life. She says to Jesus,

“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

In this wonderful exchange, we see a woman who knows what traditional worship is. It is living by the law. “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain,” says the woman. What she means is—this is how we have been taught to do it. This is what we know. Jesus is saying, “You need a kingdom perspective. You must give up that earthly view of things.”   Jesus is quick to show her—worship isn’t about a musical style, or a place, or a certain type of dress. It is about worshipping Him in “spirit and truth.” Period.

Worship isn’t about a certain thing we must know (epistemology). It isn’t about a certain feeling we must have (existentialism). It certainly isn’t about a list of things we must do and not do (pragmatism). It is about worshipping the being of Christ. That is all!

If I built a house that was made out of wood that wasn’t treated for termites—and put it on a foundation of sand—and despite all this, my house was absolutely beautiful to the eye. What would this beauty matter when the hurricane or flood comes—or when the termites show up? It would matter nothing. On the other hand—if my house was not aesthetically pleasing—but it was built out of treated wood, and put upon a firm foundation—it would withstand any test, but still may not look pleasing to man’s eye.

This is the difference between a corruption of substance and an error of form. We can deal with an error of form—even between denominations and age groups—and still worship! What we cannot deal with however, is a corruption of substance.

I think it is faulty to talk about contemporary or traditional in any “right” or “wrong” sense. What we need to talk about is—who we are worshipping, what worship is and how music can be used biblically in it. We need to remember music isn’t worship in itself. It is a tool we can use, but it is not worship by itself. If we make our argument about traditions or newness to be the center of our priority, we are worshipping the methodology of worship, not the object of worship Himself.

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Happiness, The Christian Faith, and Why We Insist on Hurting Ourselves

Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.

Would you say that purpose of the Christian life to ultimately achieve happiness?  Is God ultimately concerned with making us happy?  Think about it like this:  Many Christians will say, “I was unhappy, but when I came to Jesus He brought me joy.” Or, “I have found happiness because I have found Christ.”  I have even heard, “Come to Jesus if you want to find happiness.”  These statements aren’t bad in and of themselves, but, the purpose of following Jesus isn’t to make ourselves happy.  They are means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.  C.S. Lewis, the English writer once quipped that a man can be made happy by alcoholic beverage; he doesn’t need God for this.  If our only reason for coming to God is to find happiness, this is a worship that is based in hedonism.  If we are fixed ultimately on serving ourselves, this is a form of idolatry.

Could you imagine this situation?

Let’s supposing, I have been away for a while on a trip, and when I come home, I stop at a local floral store.  I buy my wife her favorite arrangement of flowers, a card, and chocolates.  On my way home I call a babysitter unbeknownst to my wife and arrange for them to watch our child so that we can go out to dinner upon my return home.  When I arrive home, I knock on the door—and when my wife opens the door, I say nothing.  Instead, I just present the flowers to her.  Her response will be something like, “John, you shouldn’t have!”  She will respond immediately out of happiness.  My reply to this would be, “I know I didn’t have to, but I love seeing you happy. I know how happy flowers make you, so I wanted to get them for you.”  Guys, if you are single—and you haven’t employed this level of gesture, this could be a clue as to your singleness!

Now, let’s consider it this way:

What if I stopped at the floral shop—arranged for dinner—came home—presented the flowers—but this time, I added this:  “I got you these flowers because I know it makes you happy.  I am happy when I see you happy.  In fact, I have arranged for a babysitter so that you and I can go out to eat tonight and spend an evening alone.  There is no one else I would rather be with tonight than you.”

What if her response to my proposal was: “No one you would rather be with?!  Why are you always thinking about yourself?  You are so selfish!”

This is absurd.  I could almost guarantee you that if you employed the same rhetoric and action that we saw in the second example, you would not get that response.

Why?

It is the nature of love to delight one’s self in the joy of the other.  My gleaning of happiness out of the happiness of my wife is not an act of selfishness.  This is the nature of love.  There is a distinction between loving to do something and loving to have something done for you.  If our service to God is done because we delight ourselves in God, we will truly be happy.  If we only find happiness in what He will do for us, the moment His will doesn’t match up with our plan, we will feel estranged.  If our entire faith is based on our own happiness, it will not weather any storms.

So if our happiness doesn’t come from gratification through God serving us, it must come from us serving God—willingly.

Serving is a key theme of Jesus’ own ministry.  The Bible says in Mark 10 that

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

He delighted himself in the joy of the Father.  Look at this:  The Son served the Father.  In the Son serving the Father, He delighted Himself in the joy of the Father.  What was the joy of the father?  That his creation could be freed from sin.

Happiness is an elusive thing when it is an end in itself.  You may be aware of the current state of global financial markets and all that have surrounded economic collapses in the West.  Do you know at the root level why this has happened?  Simply, because people are making myopic choices—or they make choices that are only based on short-term fulfillment.

Think about it—people do what they do because they think it will make them happy.  If someone does what they do because they think it will make them miserable, I think you should seek help for them.  Look—happiness is superficial and temporary at best when it is based on finding things in this world that are meaningful.

Are you familiar with Joseph Stalin?  A story is told by his daughter about when he was the Russian dictator.  Someone asked him once, how he could ensure people would follow him once he had employed all his cruelness on them.  To this, he replied with calling for a chicken.  He took the chicken and plucked out all of its feathers and then returned it to the ground.  He then threw bread crumbs on the ground and the chicken came to his feet and began to eat.  Stalin told the questioner that if you are the source of food for those whom you torture, they will never leave your feet, despite the mistreatment.  Are we any different today?  Now, granted we don’t have Joseph Stalin, but we do have a tormentor.  Sin is anything that we do that deviates from God’s purpose in our lives.  The word sin in the Bible doesn’t only refer to evil things we do, but it also describes a power that can control us and take us captive.  Satan torments us, yet, because we desire our idea of happiness, we are willing to follow him.  How is this analysis incorrect?  It’s not.

Our idea of happiness is completely wrong.  When we desire happiness, at the expense of doing God’s will, we are not seeking happiness.  Instead, we are seeking misery.  Who knowingly does this?  This is myopic choice.  You know, if you look at a modern economy textbook today, it doesn’t seem to say that the idea of a rational consumer exists.  On the contrary, it will say that all consumers today are myopic in nature.  This says a lot.

I was at a hair salon once, and the lady cutting my hair was the owner—I knew this because at one point, she turned to the lady next to her and said, “business is good, but there has to be more to life than that.”  Now—I am a sort of evangelist, and I love apologetics.  This doesn’t mean that I evangelize people and then apologize to them for doing it.  On the contrary it means, I give evidences or reasons for my faith.  This was a golden moment.  I caught her eye in the mirror and said, “If you ask me, we aren’t made happy in life by what we acquire, but instead, by what we appreciate.”  She put down her scissors and walked off.  She came back and produced a notepad and a pen and said, “You couldn’t say that again could you?”  So I repeated myself.  She wrote it down frantically.  As she was writing I went on—I said, “The problem that most people have is not that they have nothing to be grateful for, but instead they live their lives as if they have no one to be grateful to.”  She put down the scissors again and asked me to repeat it.  Now—this turned into an hour-long haircut!  I don’t have an hour-long hairstyle, I just have hair.  This was very interesting.

I then asked her if she had every loved someone but wasn’t able to express it.  She replied in the affirmative and told me how trapped that made her feel.  I went on to share with her what C.S. Lewis says about that very thing.  I told her once we are able to share that love with the other, it liberates us from our own monotony.  She agreed.  We then talked about sin and how it consumes us.  She asked me an interesting question—she said, “Im pregnant.  The problem I have is, how do I bring a baby into such an evil world?”  I told her that she had raised a great question—but then stealing a line from Ravi Zacharias, I said, “You are right when you point out the evil outside, but what about the evil inside you?”  She again affirmed that she was aware of this but didn’t know what to do about it.  She said to me, “Its like I know what I do is wrong, but I do it anyways.  I want to do right, but I can’t.  I just seem trapped in myself.  I need someone else to help me.”  I looked at her in the mirror and exclaimed, “You are saying you need a—savior?”  No lie—she looked at me and said, “oooh that’s a good one.  Savior.  I like that.”  I mean, face it—we don’t go around saying words like savior a lot.  unless you have grown up in the church, when will you use this word?

I then went on to talk to her about God and how he hates sin.  I told her that there will be a time when God will judge the world—and that the ultimate question is what have we done with our sin.  She seemed perplexed.  She asked how we could be rid of sin, if we are trapped by it.  I then told her about Jesus and how God was fully merciful but yet fully just.  I told her about how Jesus paid the penalty of death that we deserved—and has provided a way for us to be free from sin.  Our conversation ended with me saying, “You cant sit on the fence forever.  You have to decide, what are you doing to do with Jesus?”

Now—I went back 2 weeks later.  I have never had hair this short in my life.  As soon as I walked in, she said, “John, I will cut your hair!”  So she sat me down, and put an apron on me.  She asked me, “Do you remember our conversation?”  I told her that I could vaguely remember it.  She then said something interesting:  She said, “I went straight home and told my husband everything you said.”  I thought to myself, “Oh this is interesting—yikes.”  I asked her what he said in reply.  At this, her face dropped.  She said, “He told me I was preaching at him!”

Of course she was.  He gets home from a long day at work and sits down at the table.  She produces a notepad and proceeds to say:

“You know that in life you aren’t made happy by what you acquire, but what you appreciate.  It isn’t that you have nothing to be grateful for, but you live your life as if you have no one to be grateful to.  The reason you feel trapped is because you are incapable of expressing love.  You are both enslaved to and engaged in evil.  The only way that you can get out of this evil existence is to find Jesus.  If you don’t find him, there will be a judgment and you will have to pay for your sin.  I ask you, what will you do with Jesus?”  

Why did she respond graciously, but he responded closed off?  Simply put, because she was asking questions.  He wasn’t.

A fish doesn’t know it is wet, but it is.  You and I don’t realize we are dry, but we are.  People who are apart from God do not understand the concept of happiness in a Christian sense.  It is an idea that is totally alien to them.  They are engaged in sin, and they do not know it.

It is interesting—I read a book a while back by this guy who is the Chichele Professor of Economic History at the University of Oxford. To be honest with you, the reason I read it was because I wanted to be able to say, “I read a book by the Chichele Professor of Economic History at Oxford.” That title alone was worth reading the book!

The book is called The Challenge of Affluence. In it, he basically says that the perpetual flow of new rewards in our Western affluent economy undermines our capacities to actually enjoy them.

In other words, when you don’t have a lot of money, you are limited by scarcity. You can’t do everything you want. You can’t buy everything you want. You can’t do it. Scarcity is a natural regulator.  However, in affluence, scarcity becomes scarce. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want to.  The rub is, no matter what psychometric study you use—and they are all uniform—it doesn’t seem to matter—they all agree: In the presence of affluence, Happiness seems to decrease.

In affluence, the things that naturally limit us, disciple us, and train us, are taken away. The danger is we indulge in everything, we take pleasure in nothing—and we get caught running on a hedonic treadmill.  It seems as if we are running faster and faster to get the same amount of pleasure, and every amount of pleasure that we get must become more extreme just to meet our need for our increased tolerance for pleasure. This pattern becomes self-destructive and some individuals at the top actually lose it altogether from time to time as a result.

In the face of plenty, the well-off increase their satisfaction, not by increasing their consumption but by limiting it—not by increasing the pace, but by slowing it down.

The kind of moral command God has given us for life, provides that very framework.

Now, the thing to realize is this: breaking that framework doesn’t make us happy. There may be a short-term lift, but a long-term problem is bound to follow.  We may experience what seems to be a short-term feeling of happiness, but in the long run—we will eventually lose out.

Now—economists talk about a principle called Myopic Choice. If you look at economics—most models rest upon the ‘premise’ that basically says that the study of economics could be modeled in terms of rational consumers. Milton Friedman, the brilliant economist, said that a rational consumer is someone who is ‘aware of their motives, options, goods before then, and the consequences.’  You could call this being bilaterally and voluntarily informed. The problem is–if you pick up an economy text today in a university, it will basically imply that there is no such thing as a rational consumer. It will say we make only myopic choices.  A myopic choice means we know our choices are bad, but we make them anyways.  We know that printing money is not wise, but we do it regardless.  We know raising a debt limit is fatuous, but we do it.  The short-term gain outweighs the price of the long-term reward.

Why do you think we sin? We are convinced that the short-term pleasure outweighs the price of the long-term reward. “Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.” It isn’t our pain that lets us down. It is our constant drive toward pleasure that destroys us.

When we break God’s moral law–we get hurt.  We hurt ourselves while proving His law in the process.

Do you know why many people are so unhappy and experience so much hurt in their lives rather than happiness?  Simply ,because they are trying to do the impossible.  They are trying to break God’s moral law.  It  is impossible.

If I asked you to put a cape on, draw a red ‘S’ on you chest and go to the top of a tall building and jump off—would you break the law of gravity?  No.  You would break something else while proving the law of gravity in the process.  It is in this same way we are unable to break God’s moral law.  When we try—we get hurt—and we hurt those around us.  Do you remember what happened to Jonah when he tried to run from God?  Not only did he get hurt, but the innocent sailors around him got hurt as well.  God has warned us—if you continue to live like this, you will break yourself—yet we do it anyways.  Myopic choice.

So, where does happiness come in?  We have to understand that happiness isn’t about us.  Happiness comes from God—and it is a derivative of our willingness to serve Him.  When we learn to disconnect ourselves and our desires from our definition of happiness, happiness will take on an entirely new definition.  It isn’t about us anymore—but it becomes about God.  When we delight ourselves in God, there is no greater measure of happiness available.

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Does Sin Exist?

We live in period of history in which nothing is wrong, well except to claim unequivocally that there is such a thing as wrong.  We live in a society that that feels that nothing is off limits, well except the idea that there are things that are off limits.  We happen to live in a world that dogmatically asserts that what we do is what we are wired to do.  That is, in the words of Richard Dawkins, it is our DNA that dictates what we do, “and we just dance to its music.”  We have moved a long way from Flip Wilson’s, “The devil made me do it.”  Now, we are prisoners of our own material body.  My DNA made me do it!

Before you you go believing this rubbish, let me just plant a word of doubt and skepticism in your mind (and yes you can be skeptical of the self styled freethinking skeptics).  When someone says that you are pre-wired to behave a certain way based on your DNA or molecular makeup, what they are saying is:  You are determined.  Determinism is the view that there is no free will and that we are captive to time, matter, and chance.  In a sense, it is the belief that Darwinian evolution is in business, and it will do what it likes–including controlling your behavior and thoughts.  Here is the problem.  If one holds to determinism, by definition, they did not come to hold this view based on weighing the pro’s and con’s for the argument.  They weren’t persuaded rationally to believe that determinism is true.  Instead, determinism would purport that they just hold the view because they were determined to do so.  If we are determined to do the things we do and believe the things we believe, how can we rationally affirm anything?  How can determinism be rationally affirmed if we are predetermined to believe it?

Don’t buy this stuff. Well, that is, if you are determined not to buy it, don’t buy it.  If you are determined to buy it, you have no choice. (please sense the sarcasm)

 


 

Now, the more interesting question is,does sin exist? Is man by nature good, or is man evil? These are questions that must be answered.  And trust me, regardless what worldview a person holds–whether they are a theist, atheist–whatever–they have a position on these issues.

Consider a story:

“Two brothers were notorious around town for being as crooked in their business dealings as they could possibly be. That notwithstanding, they continued to progress from wealth to greater wealth until suddenly one of the brothers died. The surviving brother found himself in search of a minister who would be willing to put the finishing touches to the funeral. He finally made an offer to a minister that was hard for him to refuse. “I will pay you a great sum, he said, “if you will just do me one favor. In eulogizing my brother, I want you to call him a ‘saint,’ and if you do, I will give you a handsome reward.” The minister, a shrewd pragmatist, agreed to comply. Why not? The money could help put a new roof on the church.

When the funeral service began, the sanctuary was filled by all the important business associates who had been swindled through the years by these two brothers. Unaware of the deal that had been made for the eulogy, they were expecting to be vindicated by the public exposure of the man’s character.

At last the much-awaited moment arrived, and the minister spoke. “The man you see in the coffin was a vile and debauched individual. He was a liar, a thief, a deceiver, a manipulator, a reprobate, and a hedonist. He destroyed the fortunes, careers, and lives of countless people in this city, some of whom are here today. This man did every dirty, rotten, unconscionable thing you can think of. But compared to his brother here, he was a saint.”

Every group of students I tell this joke to laugh out loud.  Why?  What is it about this story that resonates with all who hear it, regardless of cultural background or place of birth? Why can a stadium of people hear this story through their respective linguistic interpreter, and all at once let out a seismic roar of laughter at the punch line? The answer is quite simple. We are all aware of what man can be at his worst. We know the evil that resides within all of us and what it can do if allowed to prevail. If this was not a common understanding, there would be no laughter. Am I wrong?

I am reminded of the great English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, who wrote in the first volume of his two-volume biography, a story that dealt with sin.

Working as a journalist in India, he left his residence one evening to go to a nearby river for a swim. As he entered the water, across the river he saw an Indian woman from the nearby village who had come to have her bath. Muggeridge impulsively felt the allurement of the moment, and temptation stormed into his mind. He had lived with this kind of struggle for years but had somehow fought it off in honor of his commitment to his wife, Kitty. On this occasion, however, he wondered if he could cross the line of marital fidelity. He struggled just for a moment and then swam furiously toward the woman, literally trying to outdistance his conscience. His mind fed him the fantasy that stolen waters would be sweet, and he swam the harder for it. Now he was just two or three feet away from her, and as he emerged from the water, any emotion that may have gripped him paled into insignificance when compared with the devastation that shattered him as he looked at her.  Muggeridge writes:

“She came to the river and took off her clothes and stood naked, her brown body just caught by the sun.  I suddenly went mad.  There came to me that dryness in the back of my throat; that feeling of cruelty and strength and wild unreasonableness which is called passion.  I darted with all the force of swimming I had to where she was, and then nearly fainted for she was old and hideous and her feet were deformed and turned inwards and her skin was wrinkled and, worst of all, she was a leper.  You have never seen a leper I suppose; until you have seen one you do not know the worst that human ugliness can be.  This creature grinned at me, showing a toothless mask, and the next thing I knew was that I was swimming along in my old way in the middle of the stream—yet trembling…It was the kind of lesson I needed.  When I think of lust now I think of this lecherous woman.” 

The experience left Muggeridge trembling and muttering under his breath, “What a dirty lecherous woman!” But then the rude shock of it dawned upon him—it was not the woman who was lecherous; it was his own heart.  He was the lecher.

Muggeridge himself admitted the real shock that morning was not the leper, as mind-banding as that would be. Rather, it was the condition of his own heart, dark, with appetites overpowering his weak will. He writes,

“If only I could paint, I’d make a wonderful picture of a passionate boy running after that and call it: ‘The lusts of the flesh.’”

Muggeridge, who was himself a latecomer to the faith, would go one to say,

“The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”

Are instances like this reserved for the elite caste of the most lecherous and morally repugnant individuals in society? Hardly. Think back to the great figures we know from the Bible. David, a man after God’s own heart. He let sin overcome him and it let to lust, immorality, deceit, murder, prevarication, and dishonor. Why? All because of sin that was not dealt with properly. Think of King Saul. Perhaps Saul is a man who could have been the greatest King to ever live. What was his problem? Pride. He could not stand the fact that David had slain the giant, and as a result the songs were being sung about him, and not himself. This sin led to problems. Remember Jonah? His sin of disobedience didn’t only affect him, it affected all of the other men on board the ship!  If you remember, it took the pagan captain of the ship to get Jonah to pray to God!  You know things are messed up when sin takes control of your life to the point that unbelievers are willing to ask YOU to try God out.

I was once talking to a woman about the Christian view of the world, and she admitted,

“Being a woman about to give birth, I do wonder to myself how anyone could bring a baby into such an evil world.”

I responded to her,

“You are right about the evil out there, but what about the evil in us–in you?”

You know, the Bible refers to sin not only as being something that we do, but also as a power that controls and consumes us.  It isn’t that we do sinful things, but rather, that we are sinful.

Sin is a problem!

 


 

Fast forward to our modern age. Sin has become a problem “no more.” Sin is now seen by the postmodernists, liberals, and relativists as merely a concoction and archaic holdover from fundamental Christian dogmas.  Jacques Derrida, Michael Foucault, and their ilk will tell you there there is no absolute truth (though didn’t they just state an absolute in making their claim?). There is no absolute truth; so, how could there be something called sin?  It was Foucault who noted,

‘To die for the love of boys: what could be more beautiful?’

and,

‘all the rest of my life I’ve been trying to do intellectual things that would attract beautiful boys.’

 

Isnt it a shame that a man could admit these things, but his biographer only refer to them as the “passions of Foucault?”  This isn’t passion, this is depravity.

 

This refusal of sin as a reality affects more than just sexual freedom, however.

C.E.M. Joad once noted that

“It is because we rejected the doctrine of original sin that we on the [political] Left were always being disappointed”

Unfortunately for the Left,  this is right (pun intended).  Why is it that we can erect all-powerful legislation and control the lives of all citizens, yet still stand in complete shock when something tragic happens at the hands of human beings?  I posit that it doesn’t matter how many laws are instituted.  If man doesn’t realize that sin is real, and that evil is a reality, then I agree with Dr. Johnson who lamented:

“All the laws of heaven and earth are insufficient to restrain them from their crimes.”

 

I think G.K. Chesterton can teach us a few things when it comes to this issue of objective sin.  First of all, objective morals do exist.  Chesterton once noted that,

“Though we may differ over whether or not abortion is virtuous, we all agree that they should be performed with sterilized instruments.”

That quote may seem a bit harsh, but think about it.  Two people may disagree over the virtue of abortion–that is to say, whether it is right or wrong.  What they do not disagree over is the medical necessity of universal precautions.  Why are precautions universal if there werent a moral mandate to take care of the patient because–well–life matters?

This is the essence of the medical mistake.

G.K. Chesterton taught us that in medicine we all agree on what a well person is, but disagree on what sick is. In social and political theory however, we agree on what a malady looks like, but tear our eyes out over what a well-functioning society looks like.  The problem is, politicians and social critics continually use medical terminology to talk about social issues–“The health care situation in this country is sick.  It needs to be reformed.”  OR  “The country is sick–vote for my policies, and we can return it to health.”  This is a fallacy says Chesterton.  How can they talk about what ‘well’ is in absolute terms, if the idea of well is the most disputed issue in all of academia?  Only in medicine can this terminology be used.   It is a fact that a man may have pain in his leg and walk into a hospital, and due to medical necessity, come out with one leg less. Never will that man walk into a hospital and in a moment of creative rapture, walk out of the hospital, having being given one leg more.

Absolutes do exit.  Wrong exits.  Good exists.  We just refuse to say what it is.

I believe that Oliver Sacks, an M.D. who is no Christian said it best in his blockbuster book, Awakenings:

“For all of us have a basic, intuitive feeling that once we were whole and well; at ease, at peace, at home in the world; totally united with the grounds of our being; and that then we lost this primal, happy, innocent state, and fell into our present sickness and suffering. We had something of infinite beauty and preciousness-and we lost it; we spend our lives searching for what we have lost; and one day, perhaps, we will suddenly find it. And this will be the miracle, the millennium !”

Did you understand that?  Isn’t that interesting?  Billions of dollars have been spent on research–and here we are–stuck at Genesis 3.

Along those lines, here is an interesting quote from the renowned professor of psychology; and one time president of the American Psychological Association, Hobart Mowrer. This man was also an atheist who took his own life in his seventies:

“For several decades we psychologists looked upon the whole matter of sin and moral accountability as a great incubus and acclaimed our liberation from it as epoch making. But at length we have discovered that to be free in this sense, that is, to have the excuse of being sick rather than sinful, is to court the danger of also becoming lost… In becoming amoral, ethically neutral and free, we have cut the very roots of our being, lost our deepest sense of selfhood and identity, and with neurotics, themselves, we find ourselves asking, “Who am I, what is my deepest destiny, what does living mean?”

What is the solution?  The modern man has a solution for what the archaic man calls sin. That solution is education.  Notice that the boundaries of this debate are enforced by the self styled intellectual caste.  Is this really the way things should be?  Wasn’t Oliver Wendell Holmes correct when he stated, “The life of the law is logic not experience”?

Contrary to the beliefs of modern utopianists, education does not change the way people behave. This has been exemplified by various instances of white collar crime where ivy league university graduates are the ones committing the crimes. What then is the difference between the common street criminal and the thoroughly educated high class criminal? Method and magnitude! The common street criminal will employ crude weapons to steal a car from the other end of town. The educated criminal will employ his academic degrees to gain prominence and steal millions of dollars from the corporation that he runs. The uneducated criminal will break into a house and rape a woman. The educated criminal will use position and power to rape a nation.

As D.L. Moody put it,

“If a man is stealing nuts and bolts from a railway track, and, in order to change him, you send him to college, at the end of his education, he will steal the whole railway track.”

It is a snobbish assumption that the ignorant are the dangerous criminals. The most dangerous criminal is the educated criminal. All education does is to make the criminal more sophisticated.

The only solution to sin can be found in the person of Christ. Listen to what an the avowed skeptic, E.H. Lecky had to say on the matter:

“It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which through all the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love; has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions; has not been only the highest pattern of virtue, but also the strongest incentive to its practice; and has exercised so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortions of moralists.”

G.K. Chesterton said that original sin is as “practical as potatoes.” We may try to deny it, overlook it, or re-describe it, but the fact remains. We are capable of many kinds of evil. The diseases of the body are not nearly as hideous and grotesque as the diseases of the soul.

It is not merely external behaviors that vex our souls, but our internal intentions as well. Jesus explained this clearly when he said that if we lust after a woman we commit adultery with her in our hearts; that if we are unforgiving of our brother, it is like murdering him. Jesus brings ethics from the social sphere to the personal one by showing how intentions can be just as wicked as actions.

Have we taken stock of our soul recently? Have we sensed the nuances of evil in our own hearts? We need to stand guard today, and every day, with humility that we are capable of terrible evil. And at the same time, we need to avoid those things that draw us into it. Sin starts at the heart level and works its way outward.

Comparatively, leprosy on the body is not nearly as ugly as the pockmarks of sin on the soul. The good news is that Christ has broken the power of both and asks us to begin eternity now by building a soul in this world appropriate for our glorified body in the next.

How do we find the answers?  What worldview gives us a hope? Ravi Zacharias gives us an interesting method:

First, there are 3 tests that a worldview must pass.  It must be:  1)Logically consistent (its teachings cannot be self-contradictory), 2)Empirically Adequate (its teachings must match with what we see in reality, 3) experientially relevant (its teaching must speak directly to how we actually live our lives.

Second, each worldview must address the following four ultimate questions:  1)Origin (where do the universe and human beings come from?), 2)Meaning (What is the meaning or purpose of life?), 3) Morality (how do we know what is right and what is wrong?), 4) Destiny (What happens to us after we die?)

Third, there are five academic disciplines that must be employed to comprehensively study a worldview:  1) Theology (the study of God), 2)Metaphysics (the study of what is ultimately real), 3)Epistemology (the study of how we can know things), 4) Ethics (the study of moral right and wrong), 5) Anthropology (the study of what and who humans are).

You will find that only a worldview based upon God and through a relationship with the person of Christ will one view hold up to this test.  But, don’t take my word for it.  Do your own work.  Try it.

Joseph Damien was a missionary in the 19th century who ministered to people with leprosy on the island of Molokai, Hawaii.  Those suffering grew to love him and revered the sacrificial life he lived our before them.  But even he did not know the price he would pay.  One morning before he was to lead them in their daily worship, he was pouring some hot water into a cup when the water swirled out and fell onto his bare foot.  It took him a moment to realize that he had not felt any sensation.  Gripped by the sudden fear of what this could mean, he poured more boiling water on the same spot.  No feeling whatsoever.

Damien immediately diagnosed the problem.  As he walked tearfully to deliver his sermon, no one at first noticed the difference in his opening line.  He normally began every sermon with, “my fellow believers.”  But this morning he began with, “My fellow lepers.”

In a greater measure, Jesus came into the world knowing what it would cost Him.  He bore in His pure being the marks of evil, that we might be made pure.  “For this I came into the world,” he said (John 18:37).

The gospel points to the person of Christ who went to the cross, not just to transform the Jeffrey Dahmers and the money-grabbers behind the scenes, but to renew even those whose self-righteousness blinds them to their own need.  It wasn’t just the prodigal who squandered the fathers love, it was also the older brother—for he was so close to the fathers love the whole time.

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