Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Biblical Role of Goverment in Protecting Citizens and Promoting Peace

So, North Korea threatens to fire FOUR Ballistic Nuclear Missiles at Guam, a U.S. territory, and the internet Blows Up in a firestorm of controversy and anger over President Trump's remarks??? He said that if they continued making threats They will be met with fire, fury and frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before. I will be addressing Biblical principles of just war and the importance of peacemaking, but can we stop and remember for just a moment, that an evil tyrant has Nuclear weapons and wants to use them against the United States? Yes, Mr. Trump's remarks were Incendiary and Yes, I have concerns about his tendency to exaggerate. But it is not wrong for a President to feel protective of his people. That is a good leadership quality and becoming for a President. Mastering one's tongue and carefully considering one's words are also good qualities.

Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas, a member of the President's evangelical advisory counsel, threw fuel on the fire by exclaiming that God has given the President authority to use whatever force is necessary, including war or assassination to take out Kim Jong Un and protect the American people, citing Romans 13 as proof. Both men have expressed their desire for diplomatic solutions. Dr. Jeffress emphasized the importance and value of peace bringing measures. Yet Social Media and the Blogs have Exploded with criticism of the Pastor. But what does the Bible say? What authority has God given to leaders? What is the purpose of that authority? Does the Bible teach us anything about foreign policy? Are there lessons about "just" war found within the pages of God's Word that can be applied today? Let's examine the Scriptures to see if these things are so:

Romans 12 and 13
Romans 12 and 13 compare and contrast the role of the church verses the role of the state. These chapters highlight the difference between the response of an individual to evil verses the response of the government to evil.

The Role of Individuals and the Church:
ROMANS 12 teaches us as individuals and followers of Christ to be patient during affliction, to be persistent in prayer, to live in harmony with one another. We are told not to repay evil for evil. and for our part, to try to live in peace with everyone. We are instructed:

Friends, do not avenge yourselves, instead leave room for God's wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me, I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

This chapter is all about our work as priests in the Kingdom of God. Our work is missionary oriented. The position of the church toward North Korea is that of missionary and evangelist. Christians must not be vigilantes who seek revenge for wrongdoing. Instead, our focus should be on forgiveness and rightdoing. There is a dual meaning in the verses above. Our enemy needs not only food and nourishment for his physical body, but spiritual food and living water. Fiery coals represents purification and testing. Our goal is to defeat our enemy by making him a brother in Christ.

The Responsibility of Individuals and Government
ROMANS 13 teaches us about our responsibilities as citizens and the purpose and God-given mission of government. We are told to pay our taxes, submit or cooperate with authority and show honor and respect. Where we as individuals are told not to avenge wrongdoing, the government is told:

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For it is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For it is God's servant, an AVENGER that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.

God has put individuals and the church into a situation to do his work and show grace. He expects the government to provide an umbrella of protection for us while we do His work. It is the government's responsibility to right wrongs, punish wrongdoers and deal with criminals. Jesus is our Redeemer, he is an avenger of wrongdoing, but until He comes back to right every wrong and render ultimate judgement, God has given the government the right to keep the peace and promote domestic tranquility. In its original context, this passage seems to be primarily concerned with domestic policy, but the principle is not limited to wrongdoers within a nation's borders.

When Paul wrote this letter, Christians had not been kicked out of Rome yet and Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed. He wanted to prevent the type of zealotry, uprising and rebellion against authority that had caused Jerusalem to be destroyed once before. He was writing to preserve peace. And we, in the United States of America, would do well to show more respect for authority and to accept the protection it provides.

Verse 1 reads:

Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.

In the beginning, God gave Adam, mashal over the earth. He gave him the right to rule-over the earth. Therefore, all authority that man has comes from God and is to be used according to God's instructions. Kim Jong Un, for example, is not exercising his authority in a godly or appropriate way. No prophet anointed President Trump's head with oil. God did not place him as King over America. We elected him. We chose him as our leader. He has a responsibility to exercise his authority in a way that provides peace and safety for all citizens and to discharge his duties in a godly way. And we have a responsibility to submit to our leaders. Submission, or hupotasso, means that we should partner and work together with government, so it is absolutely appropriate, good and necessary to give wise counsel and advice to our leaders and to exercise our right to vote and to influence decision making with godly guidance.

What About Foreign Policy? Is there "Just" War?

When the people of Israel were travelling to the promised land, their cousins, Lot's descendants, the Moabites and the Ammonites refused to allow them to cross their land and would not even sell food to them for money. As a result, God said: You shall never seek their peace or prosperity as long as you live. (Deut. 23:6) They were not to do any business with them. Sound like trade sanctions to anyone? God was going to bless Israel and these neighboring nations would be punished because of their mistreatment. They were willing to let the Israelites starve to death by forcing them to take a longer journey around their lands and by refusing to even sell them food for the journey. This wanton lack of compassion for their fellow man was a serious offense against their Creator. The New Testament application is that while it might be appropriate to limit business with corrupt and evil governments, and it is definitely advisable to prevent them from prospering financially, it is our responsibility to consider the well-being of its citizens. Food, water, clothing and shelter are never to be withheld or denied and both church and state are responsible for caring about the plight of citizens under an evil regime.

There are some important principles of warfare found in Deuteronomy 20 that are also applicable for today. First of all, we must understand that Israel's campaign to enter the promised land is NEVER to be used as a model of modern warfare. This was God's judgement upon the people of a tremendously sinful nation and a picture of His ultimate judgement on evil. Israel was God's instrument of judgement against sin. While government has a responsibility to protect and defend its citizens, no nation has a similar role to Israel on this side of the Cross. In fact, once Israel was established as a nation, there were different rules for warfare against nations outside of their borders which contain some valuable lessons about what is just and right that we should consider.

1. Offer Terms of Peace
When you go near a city to fight against it, then proclaim an offer of peace to it. And it shall be that if they accept your offer of peace and open to you, then all the people who are found in it shall be placed under tribute to you and serve you.

The ancient world consisted of city-states, which were like individual kingdoms. God's army, Israel, was not allowed to attack without first offering terms of peace. If the city laid down their arms and surrendered, they would become like a territory, paying tribute to Israel, but also receiving the protection and blessings of the Kingdom. There was peace, protection and prosperity in the surrender.

It is appropriate to offer North Korea terms of peace that include surrender, require the immediate end of its nuclear program and surrender of all ballistic missiles, nuclear devices and technology. But it is also important to offer mutually beneficial trade, like the peace and prosperity mentioned above. This includes food, goods and services and most importantly religious freedom and protection for its own citizens and for missionaries and foreigners within their borders.

2. Do Not Harm Innocents
The rules of Holy War were for ancient Israel only, not modern America or any other nation for that matter. We should never even use the term Holy War, because our nation is not Israel and because it incenses radical Islamists, who we do not need to provoke. But there are aspects of God's righteousness displayed through these rules that we can learn from.

If they refused to surrender and war was fought, all the men of the city would have been considered its fighting force--army--not innocents. But the women, children and even livestock were never allowed to be harmed. They would have become part of the nation of Israel and became their responsibility to take care of. Going to war against a nation's leadership means that we become responsible for the citizens of that nation. We do not have the mandate to kill every single member of an enemies army as Israel did. The world lives under a different covenant. But I believe we are justified in going to war against them when necessary. And we DO have a clear Biblical mandate to protect the innocent. This means that dropping a nuclear bomb on a city with innocents present is absolutely wrong, completely out of bounds and never an option. Surgical strikes to take out military targets, weapons and tech are highly advisable and if peaceful options fail, the deaths of North Korean soldiers, while sad and tragic, fall within the boundaries of justifiable warfare. We also have the option of offering terms of peace on multiple occasions, even after hostilities begin and we should pursue these options to the fullest extent possible.

3. Don't Destroy The Land
When you besiege a city(state) for a long time while making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them if you can eat of them. Do not cut them down to use in the siege, for the tree of the field is MAN'S FOOD.

We should avoid warfare that destroys land and food or prevents people from returning to a good and peaceful life when the war is over. We have read about not destroying cattle and not destroying fruit trees. Again, this speaks to caring about the well-being of our fellow man and for those who will live there after war has ended. Nuclear destruction and fall out violates this principle. Again, the New Testament calls on us to feed our enemies. This goes beyond the Old Testament mandate to simply not destroy something and calls on us to do better in our treatment of other human beings. When we go to war with a nation's leadership or army, we become responsible for its innocent citizens.

We must have compassion on the citizens of every nation. War is destructive and all peaceful means of resolution should be pursued first. Just war seeks to preserve peace by putting a stop to evil. The ultimate goal is not to display power, but to protect human life. My sincere hope is that if we show mercy, compassion and genuine human concern for the well-being of the citizens of North Korea who are suffering under the regime of this tyrant, perhaps hardened hearts may be softened and wisdom will prevail. So what should we do? We Pray:

I urge that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people--for kings and ALL those in authority, that we may live peaceful/tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What Does The Exodus Mean For Modern Christians?

The Exodus, or departure, of the Hebrew people from Egypt is among the most important events in human history. I frequently hear people allegorizing this historical narrative, or applying it to their lives in the wrong way. Let's take a look at some of the main occurrences of this journey and what we can learn from them.

Rescued From Slavery
In the same way that God redeemed Israel and brought them out of slavery in Egypt, He saves each Christian from bondage and slavery to sin.

Released From Pharoah's Clutches
When God called Israel to come and worship Him, He told Pharoah: Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me." Hosea 11:1 recalls this event: When Israel was a child I loved him and Out of Egypt I called my son. God called Israel as His children and Pharoah refused to let them go. Even after He released them, he came chasing after them to try to force them back into slavery.

In 2 Corinthians 6:18, God tells us: I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters. When God calls us as His own children, Satan acts in much the same way as Pharoah, tempting and trying to pull us back into sin. Jesus said: Truly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in the house forever, but a son does remain forever. So if the son sets you free, you are free indeed. God set us free to be His children and members of His household forever. Don't go back into slavery.

Israel was warned not to look back or long for their old life in Egypt. Think about the way that Lot's wife was turned to a pillar of salt when she longingly looked back at the sinful towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. This is an important principal with God. We should be grateful and not long for our old life of sin, but live in freedom.

A Crooked Path
God did not take Israel on the most direct path to the Promised Land, He took them on the safest path.

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter/nearby. For God said, "If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt. So He led the people around toward the Red Sea along the road of the wilderness. (Exodus 13:18)

In our lives, we might not always understand where God is leading us, but we can trust Him that it is for our good and for our benefit. His path might not be the Fastrack, but it is the Best track.

Parting the Red Sea
When the Egyptian army came chasing after Israel, they were pinned up against the Red Sea. The Red Sea represented an insurmountable obstacle, keeping God's people from being saved and entering into His rest. The Red Sea has 2 arms reaching upward in a V-shape. In between is the Sinai peninsula, where Moses received the law. The left arm, the Gulf of Suez, where they likely crossed, is 20 miles wide. Like this body of water that separated Israel from the place God wanted to bring them, because of sin, there was an in-crossable gulf separating us from God. 1 Corinthians 10:2 tells us that when God parted the Red Sea and Israel crossed over on Dry ground, they were Baptized into Moses, the Law. In the same way, we are Baptized into Jesus, our Savior, through Grace. Where there was no way, God made a way, a bridge to cross the gulf between us and that way is Jesus. As huge of a miracle as the parting of the Red Sea is, it also serves an object lesson to show us what an enormous miracle was necessary for us to be saved.

The Wilderness and The Promised Land
The Promised Land for the people of Israel was Canaan. The Promised Land for Christians is Heaven. Our promised land is not here on earth. It isn't the perfect job or the perfect marriage or the perfect life circumstance. It isn't the fulfillment of our goals, dreams, plans or visions for this life. Our promised land is much bigger and much better than that. Our Promised Land is Heaven.

Although Christians are citizens of Heaven, we are God's representatives here in the wilderness. But there is good news, Wonderful news in fact. There are blessings in the wilderness.

Blessing #1: PROVISION

FOOD: God provided the people with sweet manna from heaven to eat. He will provide for our daily needs. He also provides us with spiritual food from His word.

WATER: Twice, God miraculously brought forth water out of a rock when the people were thirsty. He also provides us with living water through His Spirit that restores, refreshes and quenches our thirsty souls.

SHELTER: The people of Israel had strong tents to live in. God cares about our daily needs and that includes a safe, clean place to live.

CLOTHING: The entire time the people of Israel were in the wilderness, their clothes and shoes never wore out:
Your clothing did not wear out on you and your feet did not swell these 40 years. (Deuteronomy 8:4)

Matthew 6:25-34 tell us not to worry about what we will EAT or what we will DRINK or what we will WEAR because God knows that we need those things and He will provide for us: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be PROVIDED for you. God has always provided me with a job and I am very grateful for that provision. We can trust Him. Just don't forget to ask.

Blessing #2: PROTECTION
God protected Israel and fought for them. Jesus did battle for us on the cross. God protects us in this life and it is appropriate to pray for the protection of ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Blessing #3: POINTING
God's points us the right way. He GUIDES us. God went before Israel, leading them in the way they should go by a column of fire and He will lead us through the counsel of the Holy Spirit, who is our guide and helper.

Blessing #4: PRESENCE
Joshua spent times of sweet fellowship in the very Presence of God inside the tabernacle, or tent of meeting. As Christians, we have direct access to God's Presence and the privilege of fellowship with Him

Blessing #5 PEACE
God gave the people Sabbath rest in the wilderness. We too, can have peace and rest in this life.

Blessing #6 PEOPLE
The people of Israel were surrounded by family and friends in the wilderness. They had fellowship. God blesses families. He has also has provided that fellowship for us through His people, the church. We are part of Israel, grafted into Abraham's family tree. We are the family of God.

Blessing #7 PURPOSE
For 40 years, Joshua and Caleb were stuck in the wilderness because the people of Israel lacked the faith to enter Canaan. Why couldn't they go in by themselves? Because they had a divine purpose, to lead others in. So why doesn't God just take us to heaven the moment we are saved? Because we have a divine purpose to lead others into His rest. God has a purpose for us to fulfill in this life. Ephesians 2:10 gives us some very encouraging news:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

God has prepared a PURPOSE for us in this life. That is encouraging and that is good news. We aren't meant to wander aimlessly. We are meant to impact our world right where we are at, right here and now.

In the same way that Israel was delivered from bondage and slavery in Egypt, we have been saved out of bondage and slavery to sin. In the same way that God parted the Red Sea to rescue and Baptize them into Moses, He has provided salvation for us to be Baptized into Jesus. In the same way that Joshua and Caleb had a purpose to lead God's people in the wilderness, we have a purpose to bring people to Jesus so that they can enter the promised land with us. In the same way that God defeated the Egyptian army in the Red Sea as they pursued Israel and then defeated and drove armies out of the Promised Land before them, Jesus has defeated Satan and will ultimately defeat and destroy all evil. Then we will enter into His perfect protection and rest in Heaven. 

Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. -Joshua 21:45

The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some understand slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance....But in keeping with God's promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. -2 Peter 3:9,13

In the same way that Israel entered into God's rest and every one of his promises to them was fulfilled, we will enter into heaven and every one of God's promises to us will come to pass.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Debunking The "Curse of Ham" Myth

The alt-right white supremacists have resuscitated an old LIE that Noah's son Ham was "cursed" so that all of his descendants would be slaves. Many African-American pastors have expressed dismay at the spread of this malicious fallacy and we should all be equally concerned. Some Cults also teach the lie that Ham was cursed with black skin, though the Bible never teaches that. A few years ago, I was shocked and appalled to come across a large number of musty "theological" books from the 1800's indoctrinating readers into this same fiction, justifying the enslavement of people of African descent based on the so-called "Curse of Ham." Anyone who has read their Bible knows that Ham, son of Noah, was never cursed and no such thing exists. Not only is this a nasty and offensive false teaching, but from a theological perspective, it is just plain nonsense.

Genesis 9:20-27 records an event in which Ham disrespected his father by finding him drunk on wine, looking at him naked and then telling his brothers about it. Shem and Japheth were respectful of their father, entered his tent backwards and covered him.

Noah awoke and announced:

Cursed be Canaan. A servant of servants He shall be to his brothers. Blessed be the LORD the God of Shem and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth and let him dwell in the tents of Shem and let Canaan be his servant.

Here is what Satan's twisted logic looks like: Some white slaveholders and racists may have thought they were Japheth's descendants and therefore they believed that all of Ham's offspring from his many sons should be their slaves. That is a senseless, corrupted, perversion of Scripture. This is a doctrine of demons. Here is what this passage really means:

Noah saw the future and prophetically revealed that a generational curse had taken root in Ham's son Canaan. Sin had made it through the flood. Whatever rebellion, disrespect or perversion was in Ham, had corrupted his son. Over hundreds of years, this sin would grow worse and worse with each generation of Canaan's descendants, the Canaanites. They built cities, planted orchards and terraced vineyards, planted fields full of crops and then, when their sin was full, their nation was driven out and destroyed and everything they had built was given to the people of Israel, Shem's descendants. In this way, they were servants of Shem.

I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant. -Joshua 24:13

The Bible frequently refers to nations by the name of their ancestor and speaks of them in the singular. Noah's prophecy was fulfilled when everything Canaan had worked for, all the fruits of his labor was given to Israel. In this way, Canaan was Shem's servant.

Ham corrupted his son Canaan, whose descendants lived in modern day Israel, NOT Africa. There is no mention of a curse on Ham's other children who did live in Africa. The idea that all of Ham's children and therefore, all people with dark skin, are cursed to be slaves is ludicrous. This outrageous false teaching is nothing more than a made up racist lie. Dark skin is the result of high levels of melanin, something that all people have. Melanin rich skin is beautiful, remains looking younger and healthier and provides great protection from the sun. Dark skin is a sign of God's love, protection and wondrous creativity.

The sons of Canaan were judged because of their SIN, not the color of their SKIN, which we do not even know. They could have been lighter skinned, like the Egyptians who were also descended from Ham or like the Phoenicians who were Canaanites themselves.

Even though the nation of Canaan was cursed, many individuals escaped this fate through faith and others by fleeing which showed a fear of God. They have many descendants who were clearly loved by God: Judah married a Canaanite woman and their descendants became the fine linen makers of Israel who made the priestly garments. Jesus, Himself, was descended from 2 Canaanite women, Tamar and Rahab, which means that every King in the Davidic line, and most of the tribe of Judah had a measure of Canaanite blood running through their veins. Jesus showed grace and mercy by ministering to a Canaanite woman and setting her daughter free from demonic oppression. SIN was the reason the nation of the Canaanites was destroyed, not bloodline, DNA or skin color. That judgement was on a nation, but individuals were spared, such as Rahab’s entire family.

Let's also remember that Joseph's wife was an Egyptian woman, so his children, the tribes of Manessah and Ephraim were also descended from Ham. Modern day cults such as the FLDS, Church of Israel and others believe that the 10 tribes of Israel that were conquered by the Assyrians and overrun in 722 B.C. where actually white and that they are descended from such people who migrated to Europe and America---which is LUDICROUS and non-historical fiction. Not only did such a migration never take place, but Ham's blood would have been in their veins as well, making the whole pure bloodline myth into farce.

After the flood of Noah's day, all of the earth was re-populated by his three sons, Ham, Shem and Japheth. Like many Old Testament prophecies, Noah's prophecy had a second spiritual meaning. By prophesying that Japheth would dwell in the tents of Shem and that Canaan would be their servant, Noah predicted salvation coming to all three branches of the family, but that the pathway to restoration would be difficult for Canaan's descendants. Yes, the works of Canaan's hands were given to Shem's descendants and their labors served Israel. Yes, many of Canaan's offspring were destroyed because of their sin. But servants dwell in tents as well. Ultimately, ALL believers are grafted into Abraham's family tree. Dwelling in tents together is a sign of belonging and family. Remember that Abraham is the descendant of Shem? In a spiritual sense, we all dwell in the tent of Abraham (the tent of Shem) as servants of His God and as equals. We are all blessed through Abraham. We are all family, united by blood. Every curse is broken through Jesus Christ, including the curse of racism and disunity.  

Acts 17:26 tells us that “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.” The Canaanites and their descendants are human beings that bear God's image. There is no one on this earth that isn’t created in God’s image and worthy of being treated with dignity and respect. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 bids believers to “Go therefore and make disciples of ALL nations…” All people on earth, including those descended from the Canaanites, are worthy of a good-faith gospel presentation. According to Revelation 5:9 believers from every tongue, tribe, nation and people will be saved. We are part of one family, the family of God.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Satire & Snark OR Speech Seasoned with Salt?

Should Christians Be reading the Babylon Bee? When I was asked about writing an article on this subject, it got me thinking about what we are entertaining ourselves with. I confess, like many others, I have been reading it. But is #FakeNews an appropriate form of Christian entertainment? What about Christian comedians who earn a living by making fun of people? Or angry watchbloggers? How about YouTube videos where Christians mock each other for laughs? Social media, Mainstream media and now even Christian media, are all full of people bashing Christians for entertainment. In a world so desperately in need of the truth, isn't it a sin to give them fake news? What do unbelievers think of our so-called "Christian" comedy, slamming each other for cheap laughs?

Sarcasm is not a spiritual gift. When more zingers and burns than Scripture are being presented online, we've got a problem. There is no holiness in hatefulness. The Bible teaches us that the power of life and death are in the tongue. Our words can be life-giving and encouraging as we share the good news of Christ, or they can be destructive and hurtful and drive people away from God. Are we building up or tearing down with what we write and say? To start with, let's look at a few Scriptures that directly address the way we communicate.

Are sarcasm, satire and scathing prose alright?

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. -Ephesians 5:4

The original Greek word for filthiness refers to language that is dirty OR dishonoring. It refers to mocking in a way that is contemptful, looking down on others. Foolish talk directly refers to calling someone out or offering advice in a way that is foolish, like trash talking. This includes dealing with serious issues in a flippant or devil-may-care way. Using insider jargon or jokes or speaking in a way that is unclear or could mislead an unbeliever or someone who isn't "in the know" is forbidden. In other words, SATIRE, is not appropriate for Christians. The word crude joking, or jesting, refers to using the well-turned phrase or clever language to tease or joke and it specifically refers to being facetious or SARCASTIC as wrong. 

Proverbs 26:18-26 give us more insight into this issue:

18-Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death so is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, "Was I not joking?"

Those who deceive and present blatantly false information disguised as jokes are called "madmen." Picture their words like a flaming arrow with a chain attached to it that binds up the reader and you will have a good understanding of what the Bible is saying here. The rest of the proverb uses words that describe rolling over another person with bullying gossip, and whisperers, who stir up trouble and will not allow peace to come. Then the passage continues:

A hateful person disguises himself with his speech and harbors deceit within. When he speaks graciously, do not believe him, For there are seven abominations in his heart..

I was asked if there was something demonic behind this type of speech. I believe it does hide something dark. The term 7 abominations, refers to 7 unclean spirits, so Yes, there is spiritual darkness behind this type of communication.

Jeremiah 9:3-5 could be used to describe the world we live in today, as much as it does the ancient world:

They bend their tongues like their bows. Lies and not faithfulness prevail in the land for they proceed from one evil to another and they do not take me into account. This is the Lord’s declaration. Everyone has to be on guard against his friend. Don’t trust any brother for every brother will certainly deceive and every friend spread slander. Each one betray’s his friend, no one tells the truth. They have taught their tongues to speak lies, they wear themselves out doing wrong. You live in a world of deception. In their deception they refuse to know me. This is the Lord’s declaration.

John 8:44 says that there is no truth in Satan and that When he lies he speaks his native language for he is a liar and the father of all lies. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, not of error. Any communication, spoken or written, that is not clear Truth is not of God, but is of the devil.

How Then, Should Christians Communicate?
Ephesians 4:29 instructs us:

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

Other translations say to let no unwholesome talk be spoken and emphasize saying the right thing in the right way in the moment. To edify, means to build up, not tear down. Verse 31 tells us to put evil speaking or blasphemia away from us. This includes language that is railing or that is impious or disrespectful toward God's majesty. 1 Peter 4:11 tells us that anyone who has a gift for speaking or communication should act as if they are speaking the very words of God, meaning that we do so reverently and in a way that serves others. That is what minister means, to serve others.

Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 1 Peter 3:15

Speaking with gentleness and respect shows humility and reverence for God and human beings created in His image. Ranting, raving, railing and irreverent communication is rotten to the core. It does not minister grace, but instead causes people to bristle, provokes them to fight back, makes them dig in, harden their hearts and become even more set in their ways. It is unworthy of the Message of the Good News about Jesus Christ to speak that way. We are SHARING the Hope within us. There is a complete void of hope present in many of the satirical websites, snarky YouTube videos, angry rantblogs and comedy shows which are only Christian in the sense that their topics are restricted to making fun of things Christians do.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:5-6

We need to remember those we are called to serve. Salt purifies. All of our communication, whether online or in person should be purified. It should be full of truth with the errors carefully filtered out. Our writings, sermons and other contributions should be well thought out, well-prepared and designed to minister.

Here are some guidelines for filtering our communication:

Be Careful What You Consume
A good friend of mine used to say "Garbage In, Garbage Out." Luke 6:45 teaches: A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. With our online activities are we filling up to build our faith, or are we eating a steady diet of pork rinds and poison? We need to be careful what we fill our hearts with.

Sharing Isn't Always Caring
Stop. Is that post you are about to share going to build up or tear down the Body of Christ, the Church?

Think Before You Laugh
I have learned to discipline myself not to laugh when jokes are inappropriate. Obviously we shouldn't laugh at dirty jokes. But what about jokes at the expense of someone's spouse or children? Or Memes mocking Millenials? I LOVE to laugh. It is good for us and joyful. But if our laughter comes at someone else's expense, or is irreverent toward God, it is sin.

How Do We Judge? What SHOULD We Post?
Philippians 4:8 provides us with the standard:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable (of good report or good reputation), if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Think about THESE things. Dwell on them. Blog, Post, Comment on, ReTweet and Share THESE things. I am constantly encouraged by the original, personal or heartfelt things my own friends post. Whether it is a timely Bible verse, a much needed correction or concern, a prayer request, blog post, meaningful song, or lengthy personal thought, I really appreciate them. Keep it up. Teach. Flood the world with Truth. Wipe out the lies with the Floodlight of Truth and Hope we've found in Jesus.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Why Do We Ask Jesus To Come Into Our Hearts?

Paul prayed that Christ would dwell in our hearts through faith. Yet, there are many who mock and scorn the idea of asking Jesus to come into our hearts. I understand why the world derides us, that is to be expected, but when the ridicule comes from within the walls of the church it is necessary to stand up and say something. It is time to silence the scoffing and explain why this is such an important foundation of our faith. Ephesians 3:16-17 asks:

I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

By Faith means that in order for Jesus to live in our hearts, we must place our trust and hope in Him and believe that He is God's Son, that He died for our sins and resurrected and we trust that He will forgive us. We have to believe His promise in order to receive it.

John 14 and 15 record Jesus comforting the disciples because He is going to have to leave them, but He promises to send His Spirit to take His place. He teaches them about God living with us and in us through His Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives us guidance, comfort and peace. Jesus tells his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled, then describes the Holy Spirit as a helper, and Spirit of Truth. He then explains that

You know him because he abides with you and will be in you....In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me and I in you....If anyone loves me, He will keep my word; and My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our abode with him.

Jesus continues on to promise to send the Holy Spirit in HIS name to teach us and He blesses us with the kind of peace that only comes from Him living with us, in our hearts. 2 Corinthians 1:22 describes God as the one:

Who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

He gives His Spirit in our hearts as a testimony so that we know His promises are true. So, is it Biblical to ASK or INVITE Him to come into our hearts? Revelation 3:20 answers:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. IF anyone hears my voice and opens the door, THEN I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

We have to open the door. We have to invite Jesus to come in. Just like He earnestly desired to eat the Passover meal with His disciples, He earnestly desires to have fellowship with us. But we need to welcome Him into our lives. Hebrews keeps repeating the phrase:

As has just been said: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion." (Hebrews 3:15)

Don't harden your heart and ignore the voice of God calling you. Open up, ask Him to come in, invite Him into your life. Experience a renewed heart.

Romans 8:9 and Philippians 1:19 talk about the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus being actively involved in the lives of believers.

Is it Biblical to ask Jesus to come into your heart? Absolutely Yes. How do we communicate with God? Through Prayer. His Spirit is our comforter, counselor, guide, helper and friend. I encourage you to Welcome Him into your life. If you don't know what to pray, I suggest reading all of Psalm 51. Here are some of the words of David from that Psalm that might help you get started:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your faithful love,
According to your abundant compassion, blot out my rebellion
Completely wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin............

You desire truth in the inner being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart (deep within)
Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean
Wash me and I will be whiter than snow...

Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me.

Becoming a Christ-Follower (or not) is a serious decision that we all have to make. When we accept Christ, we are Baptized to let the world know we have made the choice and we are His. God seeks us first. He calls, but we must answer. He knocks, but we must let Him in. He offers His covenant, but holds us accountable for our decision to accept or reject it.

Sunday, July 16, 2017


For too many years, any expression of worship other than singing, such as clapping, raising hands, shouting to God and especially, wait for it.........Dancing, has been taboo in many churches, viewed by some as being too Charismatic or Pentecostal or something only "Holy Rollers" do. The Truth is that these are the normal Biblical expressions of worship for all Christians. Before we examine key texts that teach us to worship this way, let's think for a minute about why we worship.

I grew up in Missouri and I'm Baptist, which means that if you want me to believe something, you have to SHOW-ME. We live in a world full of people who are waiting for Christians to SHOW them what God is like and who He is. They need to see our Worship Expressed. We worship to proclaim God's goodness, to declare His power, to cry out for help, to thank Him for His mercy and blessings, to shout in acclamation, to tell what He has done and to teach others. Praise is how we SHOW the world what God is like. Worship is how we SHOW God our deep and heartfelt love and gratefulness. I agree with the definition that Worship is Love Expressed...and even more. Worship is Honor Expressed and Awe Expressed and Wonder and Joy and Repentance and Hope Expressed. 

One of the Hebrew words for praise is HALLELUJAH. Halal to Yahweh. Literally, it could be interpreted "Fool for God," or sometimes "to be clamorously foolish in praise." This does not mean to act silly and draw attention to oneself. It means that we are willing to be made to look foolish, so that God's name can be honored. We would rather be embarrassed and have our name mocked than to see God's name besmirched. His glory, His honor, His praise and His great name are more important than our own. Like John the Baptist realized, we must become less, so he can become more. We must humble ourselves because true worship is an act of humility. Jesus was sacrificed once for all. The only sacrifice that remains for us is to offer up the sacrifice of praise for what He has done.

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. -Hebrews 13:15

Let's take a look at these 4, often neglected, Biblical Expressions of Worship:

We clap for everything from concerts to competitions to ceremonies. We clap to show enthusiasm and approval. We clap to give encouragement and support. Yet, we hesitate to do it in church sometimes. Isn't God more worthy than any worldly event, hero, or superstar idol? When we clap as part of our praise in church, we show enthusiasm for God, show support for the teaching in the music and show solidarity as we give encouragement to the body of Christ. Clapping in rhythm with the music is a normal part of worship expression. Applause is a Biblical way of honoring God and showing our hearty agreement and approval of the Gospel message being presented.

Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! -Psalm 47:1

Two Hands raised up palm out is a universal sign of victory and also of surrender, how interesting. We don't hesitate to raise our hands after a touchdown or a trophy. Why not raise them to honor Jesus' victory over death, hell and the grave? Or to surrender to Him? We salute officers and those of high status. Why not salute the King of Kings with a raised hand? Reaching out a hand for help or reaching up in need are also well-recognized signs of dependence and humility. This is why we open hands, palm up, in surrender and submission as we lift our praises up to God, prepare to receive what He has for us and humbly offer ourselves to Him.

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the LORD. -Psalm 134:2

Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or dissension. -1 Timothy 2:8

Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to You for help, When I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary. -Psalm 28:2


I will never forget the first time I heard Scripture about Dancing being proudly proclaimed by the Right Reverend.....Ren McCormack, aka Kevin Bacon. If the movie Footloose is the only time we hear Bible verses about dancing as a form of celebration or worship, then we have a real problem. Biblical, Worshipful dance will look very different from secular dance. It won't be sensual, dirty, sexual, suggestive or offensive. What it will look like is the pure expression of unrestrained joy. Have you ever just jumped for joy, or couldn't keep your feet from moving with a driving beat or felt a surge of happiness thinking about how good God is that required a physical response? One example of the type of Biblical dancing I'm talking about is what one might see at a Messianic service, where the women dance traditional dances with tambourine in hand. It is pure celebratory dance designed to honor God. One of my favorite moments in worship was Christmas a few years ago, when the children at NRHBC came into the sanctuary skipping and leaping and dancing while carrying colorful streamers and singing. It was the highlight of the evening and yes, that is what Biblical dancing looks like. This is the type of dance we find in Scripture, though it does not have to be choreographed.

Psalm 150:1 begins by telling us to Praise the LORD in His sanctuary. It then provides us with an incredible variety of instruments, ways and reasons to worship Him including:
Praise Him with timbrel and dancing -Psalm 150:4

Other Examples Include:

Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dancing. And Miriam answered to them: “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously... -Exodus 15:20-21

David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, wearing a linen ephod (a priestly garment) So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the horn. 2 Samuel 6:15

Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King! Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre. For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation. -Psalm 149:2-4

When I think about shouting God's praises, I picture the nation of Israel, gathered in Jerusalem, perhaps at a time of festival, around the temple, all shouting in unison, praising God with shouts of acclamation. I'm not sure if they always did that, but they were definitely meant to...and so are we. I would suggest we could do it like a call and response---not like a monotone responsive reading...but shouts of loud praise and declaration. Ezra 3:10-13 records the laying of the foundation to rebuild the temple. The priests would lead and the people would answer back: And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, "For He is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel," and all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord......and the sound was heard far away.

Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; Break forth into joyous song and sing praises. -Psalm 98:4

Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; shout for joy, all you upright in heart. -Psalm 32:11

My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to You; And my soul, which You have redeemed. -Psalm 71:23

You probably noticed how many of the verses above reference SINGING. What it all boils down to is this: We are meant to worship with passion. We Sing...and we clap. We sing...and we shout. We sing...and we dance. We Sing...and we lift our hands. The postures of worship are a topic unto themselves, but whether we stand, kneel, sit, bow or prostrate ourselves on our faces before God, the point is that we are meant to be passionate. We are meant to sing whole-heartedly and expressively.

The Hebrew word for the human body means to SHOW FORTH. The same word, used in a different way is the word for the Gospel, which also means to SHOW FORTH. We are meant to SHOW God what He means to us and to SHOW the world what God is like and who He is through our lives and through our Worship. We are a living demonstration, a sacrifice of praise. We need to humble ourselves and SHOW WORSHIP.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Two Spirits: Who or What is the 2nd Spirit and Where Does It Come From?

Native American and First Nations peoples have begun referring to some LGBTQ persons using the term Two Spirits, a historical term which stems from the belief that such individuals possess both male and female spirits. In Canada, they have even adjusted to using LGBTTQ+ to describe Aboriginal people who identify as Two Spirits. It is remarkable to me that even these non-Christian belief systems have recognized an important spiritual truth. As you might expect, the Bible has much to teach us on this subject and it is important information if we wish to understand how to minister to people who self-identify this way.

Today I was reading about the time that Paul encountered a young slave girl who possessed a spirit of divination which allowed her "owners" to make a lot of money from her fortune telling. There were 2 spirits in one body, one human spirit belonging to the owner, the other an intruder. He cast the unclean spirit out of her. Native Americans were certainly no strangers to the idea of spirits. In the same way that ancient Ba'al worshippers laced wine with drugs in order to get high and have visions and communicate with their pagan gods, some Native American tribes used sweat lodges or Peyote to get high or go into a trance and communicate with their spirit guides. It is being claimed that some of the Two Spirits were Shaman and Medicine Men and that their tribes believed them to possess special wisdom because of the two spirits inside them, much the same way that the fortune teller girl Paul encountered seemed to have secret knowledge that others desired.

In John 4, we learn to be careful and discerning concerning spirits. Verse 1 warns us:

Dear Friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God.

Many of you might remember the song we sang growing up in church "Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the World." This comes from verse 5 which helps us understand that Christians are under the influence of the Holy Spirit inside of us and unbelievers are under the influence of Satan. There is a war going on for the hearts and minds of people and the role of every Christian is to protect them from harmful spiritual influences. The cruelest, most uncaring and unfeeling action a Christian can take is NO action when we encounter people who have been deceived by Satan, or even worse, to affirm and encourage them to continue in that deception. This verse actually tells us that we can overcome such spirits:

You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

One result of the 1st Jerusalem council in Acts 15 was that the Holy Spirit and the Apostles affirmed the Biblical definition of sexual sin and required both Jewish and Gentile believers to abstain from sexual immorality. John, one of the apostles, writes the following statement in verse 6 of John Chapter 4 which we have been looking at:

We are from God. Anyone who knows God listens to us; anyone who is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we know the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Deception.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. Satan and his spirits, which we understand to be fallen angels or demons, are the spirits of deception. As a matter of fact, John also provides a description of this deception in John 8:44:

You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

The most powerful tool in Satan's belt is his ability to deceive. He is a liar and a mocker and relentlessly endeavors to make fools out of people. When he can convince a man to think he is a woman, or a woman to think she is a man, or if he can twist a person's desires against God's will for them, he controls that person.

James, the brother of Jesus, describes the plight of a person who has not placed their faith in God. In James 1:8, He explains:

Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

In the original Greek language, the term double-minded describes someone who has 2 psyches at war within them. Sounds a lot like Two Spirits doesn't it? The word unstable specifically refers to someone torn between who will be in charge of them, who will be their ruler, in this case whether it will be God or Satan.

All of us were, at one time, deceived and disobedient to God before we came to faith. Paul explains this in chapter 2:1-5 of the letter to the Ephesians:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.

Satan is at work, relentlessly tempting, manipulating and lying to the minds of people. Any spirit that disagrees with God's Word, the Bible, is a spirit of deception. God's word says that He created us as male and female and that the only type of sexual activity that is acceptable is between one man and one woman inside of the covenant relationship of marriage. 

The only way to defeat a spirit of deception is with the Truth. Jesus said I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me. The way to kick any spirit that is deceiving you out of your life is to invite Jesus in. You need to end the war and make the choice. Which spirit will guide you, the Spirit of Truth? Or the spirit of deception?

Here are 3 Steps to escape from the devil's web of lies and get free:

1. Admit you were wrong. Yes, I know, this is the hard part. We all need to come to the point in our lives where we humble ourselves and agree with God's word that our sin is wrong. This is called repentance. We change our minds, disagree with the deceiver and agree with God.

2. Accept the truth about Jesus. Agree with God's word that Jesus died for our sins and rose again so that we could be saved and so that we could have His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, in our lives.

3. Ask Jesus to come into your life, to forgive you of your sins, to fill the emptiness with His life-giving Spirit, to be your Guide. Accept Him as your Savior. End the war for your heart and mind by making the choice. Let God be in charge, make Him the ruler of your heart and He will set you free. To live in deception is to be in bondage and slavery to sin. To live in the Truth is to be set free. 2 Corinthians 3:17 delivers the Truth of God's promise to us:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

If you are interested in learning more of what the Bible teaches about human sexuality from the One who designed and created our bodies and invented sexuality, you can read about it here:

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Second Chances

Giving a person one chance is not really giving them any chance at all. Whether it's teaching, singing, playing an instrument or whatever, everyone is super nervous the first time and you will never, ever get a valid assessment of someone's ability by giving them just one chance, and all real teachers and leaders know that.

Remember the time Paul and Barnabas got into a huge fight and parted ways over John Mark because Paul refused to give him a 2nd chance? In Acts 13:13 and 15:36-41, we learn that John Mark had walked away from them on a previous mission trip and had not finished the work, but went back home to Jerusalem. Perhaps he was afraid after the encounter with the sorcerer on Paphos? Maybe he had just been away from home for a long time because of the persecution going on in Jerusalem and grew weary and homesick? It is, of course, possible that God called him to return to Jerusalem and he was being obedient, even brave, to go back. We aren't told the reason for his departure. But Paul had given up on Mark and refused to allow the young disciple to rejoin him on his missionary journeys. Barnabas, son of encouragement, gave Mark another chance and took him along on his ministry travels. This time, the young man proved himself to be reliable and well capable of the work.

Ultimately, Mark wrote one of the 4 Gospels. John Mark was a very observant young main with a kean eye for detail and an excellent memory. The types of small and interesting details that are the hallmarks of his Gospel prove the authenticity of his eye-witness account. I suspect that Mark was probably one source of information and influence on Luke the historian as he wrote the book of Acts, also including such details that only an eye-witness could provide. Eventually, Paul realized he was wrong about him saying:

"Get Mark and bring him with you for he is very useful to me for ministry."  -2 Timothy 4:11

If you aren't interested in giving people 2nd chances, you really aren't interested in people at all, and you aren't a leader. Real leaders are disciple makers who develop people.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Christmas (planning) in July!!!

No Santa. No Frosty. No Rudolph. No Olaf--in church Christmas services. Does that make me The Grinch? After this weekend's Independence Day festivities, Worship Leaders will begin to plan Christmas programs and let's face it, we need to have a talk.

A few years ago I attended what is, perhaps, the single largest, most epic, over-the-top Church Christmas production in the nation. In addition to a 300 voice choir, phenomenal orchestra and entertaining script, the first act featured a cast of hundreds, bright, colorful costumes, intricately programmed lighting design, choreographed dances and astonishing sets including moving digital video backdrops. It was the most overwhelming production I have ever experienced full of lively fun and color and happiness, All for the Glory and the Honor and the Praise......of SANTA CLAUS........

Um, that happened. I mean, there were pyrotechnics, elves descending upon the platform by cables and zip-lining across the stage. There was a reindeer-drawn Sleigh flying (via helicopter shot digital video or CGI) over the metroplex to the church and then an ACTUAL fully functioning sleigh with live Santa flying over the congregation from the top of the highest balcony on cables down to an actual turn around landing on the stage and then back to the top again---TWICE.

Now, I have seen fictional characters used effectively to portray scenes which address issues of faith and encourage the audience to make decisions, this is not what went on here. This wasn't creative evangelism. It was a purely secular storyline without a hint of God anywhere. I get what they were doing. I understand they were going fishing and the first act was the bait, but I don't believe this is what Jesus was talking about when He promised to make His disciples fishers of men.

After intermission, the 2nd Act featured less from the orchestra, some soloists, the choir was out much of the time, no acting or story, little movement, black and gray clothing, static lighting changes. It was the "Jesus" part of the show. And if you brought children, it could have been the boring part where you might consider leaving if they got restless. Now, they did rally in the 3rd Act by ending with the incredible 20 minute Nativity Symphony. There was a gorgeous live nativity with many animals including a flock of live sheep, flying angels and an impressive parade of kings coming to pay tribute to the newborn King. They did give a clear Gospel presentation and invitation to accept Christ at the end.  God did receive WORSHIP during the 2nd half of the show. But I felt like all of the fun, energy and creativity, all of the PRAISE had gone into the Santa part of the show. I think Jesus should get it all.

For many years I did not realize the special honor, privilege and responsibility that I had in getting to plan even a public school Christmas concert. Sometimes I even included non-Christmas music. I wince at the missed opportunities. How much more should we carefully consider what we include in our church Christmas programs? 

I have personally experienced, at different churches, similar situations to the one mentioned above. Once, our choir special was cut in order to make room for children to sing songs about Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus in weekend church services. I have stood before a congregation playing music as we led them in singing about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa and Frosty...on a mission trip. I have played music accompanying children singing secular songs about mythical cartoon characters as part of a Night of Christmas event as well. Look, it is simply never appropriate to sing songs about Santa Claus, flying reindeer or other fictional characters in church. When I was a kid, if the music leader or children's choir director had led the church in singing songs about fictional, secular cartoon characters at Christmastime, I can tell you the performance would have been followed by a deafening silence--no applause--and a complete lack of the affirming "Amen" after the music ended. Stern looks would have been given and there would probably have been a deacons meeting, perhaps followed by talk of tar and feathers.

One reason I shared the story of the "big" church production above is that I have been part of productions that followed their lead and even used some of the same music. With all of these performances, there is an attempt to contrast Secular Christmas with Sacred Christmas and to show the secular as being the part for children and the sacred as being for grown-ups. It seems kind of like an excuse for including songs that don't belong in church in the first place. We have supplanted the true Gospel for a cheap psychological trick. Here is what I mean.

The word "Gospel" describes an event from the ancient world. When a mighty, victorious, conquering King, a good King, a King who will bring peace and blessing to your city, comes riding into town, he is to be greeted and welcomed with both praise and worship. The people of the city have a choice, to accept his leadership and receive the benefits of His Kingdom, or to reject it and be destroyed. So the right way to greet Him is to have a parade, to come out into the streets with singing and celebration, shouts of acclamation, playing instruments and dancing to invite His Presence and express gratitude that He has come. This is what we do at church when we sing joyful songs of praise and fanfares. THIS is a major part of the theological foundation for music in the church and especially Christmas music!!! This is what we are supposed to get to do at Christmas. We celebrate the reign of the Prince of Peace. We welcome Him among us and we give Him all the glory, honor and praise. If He were to show up and find us celebrating a fake, mythical figure (which is what the false gods and idols were) in HIS house, that would not be good. Think of the epic celebration that is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Who is ALWAYS the guest of honor whose presence and special season of celebration is ushered in by the parade with creatively designed floats, marching units, musical performances and dancing all bringing in the one, the only....Santa Claus. This is the type of Gospel event we are supposed to be having for JESUS, especially at Christmas when we celebrate His Birth, HIS coming to bring us the blessings of HIS Kingdom. Church should be a place where we honor and celebrate God. The Hebrew word for Gospel means to show forth. We are meant to show forth what God is really like and we cannot do that effectively if we let Santa steal his thunder in church. To worship means to ascribe worth to something. When we allot rehearsal time, practice and even service time to Santa, we are ascribing worth to him, we are worshipping an idol. All of our worship belongs to Jesus. He is the one we ascribe value to. All of our efforts should be for Him.

Next December I will watch my favorite old Christmas cartoons and enjoy a variety of seasonal specials on TV. I will decorate the tree while drinking Hot Chocolate and watching Elf and The Santa Clause. But church should be a refreshing contrast to the world. It is shocking to think that it was actually a Bishop who created the modern idea of Santa Claus by writing a story for his grandchildren. I have honestly been taken aback at the unequally yoked marriage of sacred and secular Christmas music that I have witnessed going on in churches.

We can have a wonderful time together in our Christmas services and programs. We can have fun. I will smile warmly at seasonal songs that reflect on family gatherings and beloved traditions and we can include a few of them in our celebrations at church. We can laugh together and have joy and share fond memories together as a church family. But the mythical characters have got to go. Precious children singing songs about Jesus will warm and soften hearts more than any cheap, worldly alternative. Our musical programs can be joyful and happy, inspiring and moving, emotional and encouraging, while remaining Christ-centered. There is such a rich tapestry of wonderful Christmas carols and hymns for us to draw from. These beloved melodies carry such deep meaning and bring to mind many wonderful memories. Creating our church Christmas services and programs with them will enrich and enhance the experience for all. Let's not forget that filling our churches with the praises of our Lord and the beautiful sounds of Christmas is not only our sacred responsibility, but our great joy and privilege.

Check out the other posts in my series on Worship Ministry:

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Psalm 23: Powerful Imagery and Beautiful Symbolism

Each verse of the 23rd Psalm is full of rich symbolism and beautiful illustrations to help us deepen in our understanding and relationship with God.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.

God cares for our daily needs and has promised to provide us with food, clothing, safety and shelter. In contrast with the many desolate and desert areas of the Ancient Near East, Green pastures provide food for sheep to eat and represent a place which has received plenty of rainfall and temperate weather. To lie down means to rest and the word pasture also refers to a habitation or place to live. In the same way that a Shepherd takes sheep to safe places where they can live and rest, God will provide us with a safe place to live and the means to take care of our basic needs. He is our provider and protector. He also provides us with spiritual food, His word, and peace in our hearts. We should never forget that God often provides for people through His church and that we have a responsibility as His agents to provide for others.

He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.

Jesus is like living water to our soul. He heals our wounded hearts and darkened minds. The Psalmist also wrote: As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God. Jesus is the water of life that renews and refreshes souls that are wearied and worn with the cares of this world. He has promised to give us a sound mind and to make our hearts like new through His Spirit which invigorates our soul, the way that fresh, living water revitalizes our bodies.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.

Jesus is the Way (the path), the Truth and the Life. He has promised to believers that His Spirit will be our Counselor and Guide to lead us through this life. Shepherd's would often sleep in the entranceway to the sheepfold or to a canyon where they had led their sheep for shelter and safety. The only way in or out was through the Shepherd. His body was the Gate. When we see references to Jesus as the way or the path, this can also be translated as gateway. It is important to remember that no one enters in among His sheep except by coming through the gate, meaning no one will be saved and enjoy a relationship with God in this life, or enter into God's rest in heaven except through Jesus.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me.

The phrase shadow of death was first used by Job to describe a state very near to dying. We could picture the valley of dry bones which Ezekiel saw brought to life, or we could envision the valley of Hinom off the southern slope of Jerusalem which was a smoldering ash heap and full of centuries worth of the bones of animals and perhaps even pagan human sacrifices. Though today this area houses a beautiful resort, in the Psalmists day it would have been a ruined and desolate place. This valley separates Mount Zion, representing God's Kingdom, from the Mountain of Evil Counsel, representing the dominion of Satan. When I read this passage, I think of us as the dry bones being brought to life because we were all once dead in our sins and transgressions and have been given new life in Christ. I think of passing through the valley as being led out of darkness and into the light, leaving our old life of sin behind and heading toward our new home in God's Kingdom. There is true evil in this world but we do not have to fear because God is our guide, leading us down the right path, watching over us like a shepherd and always right beside us. We do not even have to fear death itself.

Your rod and your staff they comfort me.

The rod is a symbol of authority. It is sometimes translated as scepter or club and usually translated as "tribe" because it was a symbol of leadership and unity. Last week I viewed a sculpture from this time period of Pharoah Amenhotep II, later altered to look like Ramses II, of Egypt which portrayed him with a long, straight whip with tails on the end and also with a staff with a crook on the end like that of a Shepherd, though the curved end had broken off. These were the symbols of the Pharoah's authority. They were used to enslave and enforce his power. The rod and staff in this psalm are reminiscent of these Egyptian symbols of power, but with an important contrast. The Shepherd's crook was used to gently guide and direct sheep, even to pull them near, but never to strike them. Shepherd's might also carry a club which could be used to fight off wolves and protect the sheep. The symbolism here is that God guides us, draws us near and protects us by fighting off wolves and lions which represent both physical and spiritual enemies. I envision David with his shepherd's staff in one hand holding the sheep back under his protection while he fends off the wolves with the implement in his other hand. Or, to individualize it, Picture David hooking his crook around the neck of a sheep, pulling it toward himself and away from a wolf, while simultaneously beating the wolf back with the rod. HIs rod and staff comfort us because they represent his protection and care for us.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

The table here can refer to the King's very own table. I picture Jesus sitting down for His last supper together with his disciples and how He earnestly desired to share it together with them. God wants to have communion with us. He desires a relationship with us right here in the middle of our journey through this life. Even in the middle of battles and difficult times when we are hard pressed all around, we have the privilege of sweet communion with our Lord. There is also an aspect of this word "table" that describes being sent out as the King's men. We are God's representatives and His children and we get to eat at His table. Each time we partake in The Lord's Supper, or Communion, we should remember the relationship with enjoy with our King.

You anoint my head with oil, my cup runs over.

Anointing with oil represents being chosen by God, the way that David was anointed as King. Like living water, oil also represents being filled with the Holy Spirit. Under the New Covenant, we, as believers, are all anointed. Our bodies are described in the New Testament as being vessels. Our vessel, or cup, running over, represents the unlimited access we have to God's Presence, His work in our lives and His Spirit being poured into us so that we overflow into the lives of others.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

God will pursue us the way a Shepherd pursues a lost sheep. Once we are his own, he will follow after us, watch over us, draw us back to Himself and mercifully forgive us as long as we live.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

Once we are His, He will never leave us or abandon us. We are His and nothing and no one will ever snatch us away from Him.  He has promised us eternity in Heaven. Whatever difficulties this life may hold, we will ultimately see every promise fulfilled and will enter into God's rest. We are part of His household, forever.