Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Good Quote

    My awesome, amazingly excellent, fabulously great sister bought me the book Putting Amazing Back into Grace by one of my favorite Christian authors, Michael Horton, for Christmas. I have just begun it, but I could not resist putting this quote on here before I get any further.

    "All Christians think of Jesus Christ as essential. But is He essential primarily as a teacher, moral example, and life coach, or as the Lamb of God in whom we find forgiveness, peace with God, and everlasting life? If we don't really think we need to be saved from the justice of a holy God, then we hardly need the kind of extreme rescue operation the Bible announces. If we are basically good people in need of a little direction, then the situation hardly calls for God to become humanity, fulfill all righteousness in our place, bear our guilt through a cruel crucifixion, and be raised bodily as the beginning of a new creation. Yet that is just the kind of salvation we need. It is not that Jesus makes up for whatever we lack in the righteousness department but that His righteousness alone is sufficient to stand in God's judgment. The gospel is not Christ plus our spiritual disciplines, Christ plus free will, Christ plus our acts of love and service to others, or Christ plus our pious experiences, but Christ alone. All our salvation is found in Christ, not in ourselves."

                                                  -Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Infinite God; Finite Minds

    This is a hard post to write, because as all my friends and family know, there is nothing I like better than a good debate. I love discussing beliefs with friends. It's rather tough to actually come out and write what I'm going to today.

    I'm outspokenly reformed. I make no attempt to hide it even in my non-reformed church, and the result is many discussions with fellow Christians about these topics. I attend a very conservative Baptist church. Again, I've gotten in many discussions about my more open stance on music, grace, KJV-onlyism, courtship, etc.

    Opinionated as I am, I have a hard time writing this, but I do feel as if this is important. We as Christians spend countless hours debated Scripture, criticizing each other, tearing down the Christians on the right or left, and being all around contrary! In a discussion with my nephew a couple of days ago, it popped into my mind how ridiculous most of our dissensions are.

    One of the most recent topics I've discussed with friends is that of the election of the believer, the idea that God predetermines who will be saved and who He will allow to continue their chosen course of sin. I'm going to use this as an example.

    Thousands of Christians have taken a stand on either side of the issue, and my point today is not to promote either one. However, I think it's hard to read the Bible objectively and not see man's free will. At the same time, I find it impossible to read the Bible objectively and not see God's sovereignty frequently override man's free will.

    Do we see where the struggle arises? Instead of accepting Scripture as our final authority and saying, "Wow, I don't understand it, but it must be true", we instead attempt to rationalize our chosen position on either side of the fence with explanations of how the other side's verses don't really mean what they seem to say.

    I'm going to interject here to address a possible objection. In no way am I attempting to promote ignoring the truths of the Bible, or to simply allow each and every person to lollygag along into whatever belief they feel like with no attempt to steer them toward truth. For example, I am reformed. If you bring up the subject, I will attempt to convince you that my position is right. I will address what I am trying to do below, but for now I simply want to make clear that I am not an opponent of apologetics.

    My point is this: we are finite. Our problems arise when we attempt to fit God into the small, fallen box that is our human minds. If we think about it logically, it's not too complicated why we can't understand issues like these fully. Think about it.

    God has chosen to reveal a small portion of His infinite nature and wisdom to mankind in the form of both the Bible and His Holy Spirit to us one on one. We as humans cannot, with our limited minds, comprehend God. It's impossible, and that part shouldn't be complicated to grasp.

    That being said, why would we expect to understand election and free will in our finite minds? Instead, we see God reveal both His sovereignty and man's free will to us in His Word. Our reaction? Quick, interpret! Well, they can't both be true, so we'll choose which ever one seems more likely to me, dismiss the verses that promote the opposite, and rest after my labors!

    The problem is that both show God's character. Both His sovereignty and His allowance of man's free will both show God's character. We may or may not be able to recognize the relationship and balance between the two, but they are both spoken of in God's Word.

    The problem comes from our attempts to make Christianity a nice little box that we can seal up and tie with a little bow as a pretty, concise package. Don't swear, lie, steal, dress in bikinis, date, smoke, drink is the first level of our oversimplified Christianity. Why? Because that's what we can easily understand. Do's and don't's are very clear. Either you do them or you don't.

    However, there's a second level of oversimplified Christianity that is much less obvious than the first. The second is what many Christians do today over controversial topics; we choose a side, and stick to it, no matter what verses may arise that seem to speak differently.

    Now, is sticking to the truth necessary? Absolutely. Is sticking to a preference necessary? Absolutely not. Our second level of oversimplification is to take seemingly opposite ideas from Scripture, choose one, and reject the other.

    The problem? They're both true. Both are contained in God's Word, whether we like it and understand it or not. For some reason, we have it stuck in our head that we can comprehend almighty God's every action, and, news flash, we can't. By His very definition and our very definitions we cannot understand His ways. Because He is infinite and we are finite, His ways are hopelessly above our comprehension.

    Look at God's attributes. God is the perfect balance of justice and mercy, two seeming opposites that instead allow us to see God for exactly who He is, possessing two attributes which He blends in perfect balance to perfection. We see in the Psalms mentioned multiple times that God hates the wicked, and then see later in the New Testament that God loves the entire world. God loves and hates the same people?

    This is exactly what I'm talking about. God is, by His nature, unknowable to us. Yes, He has deigned to reveal a small measure of Himself to us through His Word, but it is simply s speck in the vast universe that is God. To think that we can understand the intracacies of the mind of God from the speck, interpreted through our fallen, finite minds is absolutely insane.

    So I guess what I am trying to say is to trust the Bible. When we cut out, knowingly or unknowingly, the sections of the Bible we don't like, we are cutting off a piece of our appreciation for all the attributes and character of God. When as an Arminian, you dismiss all verses in favor of election because they do not make sense, you miss a piece of God's character that He placed in His Word for us to see. When as a Calvinist, you dismiss all verses in favor of man's free will because they do not fit your worldview, you miss a piece of God's character that He placed in His Word for us to see.

    At the end of the day, your logic, your mind, your senses, your feelings are a terribly inaccurate sensor for accuracy. If you dismiss the words of an Almighty God in favor of the feelings of your "rational" mind, you dismiss pieces of God's character.

    I am not in any way trying to discourage scholarly debates, Biblical interpretation, systematic theology, discussion, arguments, objective truth, etc. I am not trying to dismiss man's rationality in forming a complete picture of God. My point is that man cannot form a complete picture of God by rationality alone. When we seek to conform the Bible to fit our criteria, we miss that the Bible is centered around a character outside human bounds and reason.

    At the end of the day, we don't really know that much about God. God is, at least partly, unknowable. It is ignorant in the extreme to believe that man, in his frailty, can comprehend the mind, actions, and patterns of God beyond what He has shown us in His Word.

    This is not a call to abandon all belief in anything. I still am a Calvinist. This is simply a call, a reminder, to look at the whole Bible, not our favorite parts, convenient parts, comfortable parts, or sensitive parts for truth. What the Bible says should shape our views of God, not what I find rational.

    I cannot tell you the number of people who I have heard argue in favor of free will of man without ever addressing the issue of the many verses showing election. I have had only one friend every come to me after a discussion and say that they really couldn't comprehend the relationship between the verses about free will and sovereignty, something I completely concur with them on. I don't understand it.

    But you know what? I think a lot of the people who think they understand it don't understand it that well either. In attempting to build a coherent, consistent religion, we have in some cases neglected what the Bible actually says.

    This is my call to anyone reading this. Study the Bible. Yes, I'm still a Calvinist. I have not given up all my beliefs. My point is simply to accept the Bible; don't conform it to say what you want it to say.

    I once had a Sunday School teacher who said to the whole class that a certain verse could not mean what it looks like it said because that would mean election was true. What was this teacher doing? He was walking in to study the Bible with the preconceived notion in his head that election was not true. It didn't matter what the verses said; he had already decided what he was going to accept.

    This isn't only true in the matter of Calvinism and Arminianism. It's also true in other areas such as music. My point today was simply to use Calvinism as my example to illustrate a point. I would like to encourage readers to put away your fear of saying, "I don't know." I've met a lot of people who I've never heard say it, people who know exactly what happened and what should happen in every circumstance that every has or ever will occurred. Those people don't come across as the most spiritual people.

    Some of the most spiritual men, some of the ones I trust the most, are the men who will look me in the eye, and say, "I don't know. I don't get it either." Because then you know they're honest. They're not standing by an opinion simply for the sake of being shown right, or for the sake of proving that they're not wrong.

    Making truth more important than our pride is difficult but necessary. But when we don't get this idea down in our minds, we may not be going to church to worship and serve the Biblical Jesus, but instead whatever perverted form of Him we have created in our finite minds that we are most comfortable with: a Jesus who just so happens to be completely consistent with how we think things should go, a Jesus who is fine with my habits but not the guy in the next pew over. But it's not a Biblical Jesus; it's a made-to-order, handcrafted, personalized Jesus that fits exactly whichever worldview I happen to find easiest to believe.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

While You were Sleeping

    In the spirit of Christmas, I'm going to post my favorite Casting Crowns Christmas song, "While You were Sleeping" from their album Peace on Earth.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


    Well, two days ago I planned to begin a blog post with the statement that I would be looking at an often over-looked Scripture passage, John 1 today. However, in those two days, I have seen two blog posts that brought up that passage, one from Defying Depravity and another I can't remember where. However, I still plan to post today from John 1, because I still think it's one of the most over-looked Christmas passages in the Bible.

     John 1:1,4, 10-14 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. He was in the world,and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own. and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to them which believe on His name. And the World became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."

     Earlier this week I saw an interesting comment from a pastor in which he stated that he believed that John 1 was the single most important passage of Scripture, and I think I agree with him. This passage kinda has it all: an affirmation of Jesus' deity, a quick synopsis of man's rejection of God, and what Christ's death on the cross did for us.

     The gospel of John contains no Christmas story, so this initial introduction of Jesus by John is interesting to look at. John's first glimpse of Jesus actually delves further into the past than Luke, who begins at Gabriel's appearance to Elizabeth, Mark, who completely skips over accounting Jesus' birth, or Matthew, who begins at the genealogies, beginning with Abraham. John precludes all these with a reference to Jesus as "the Word", simply saying that the Word was in the beginning with God.

     Realizing that John is speaking of Jesus with his continued references to the "Word", it is interesting to note why John doesn't just come right out and say "Jesus". It's clear enough from the context that he is speaking of Jesus, since he says that the Word came from God, was God, came down to live with men, guaranteed us the right to become children of God, etc., all things Jesus did.

     I'm not a Greek scholar, but the word in this passage is logos. Logos literally means "word", thus the translation as "the Word." However, it had another meaning. In Greek philosophy, logos meant the divine principle, the idea of an ordering being in the universe. (At least, this is my understanding of what I've read.) To the Greek Stoics, it meant the "active, rational, and spiritual principle that permeated all reality."

     What it would seem John may have been doing with his first verse of this gospel is establish right of that Jesus is indeed the fulfillment of man's empty searching for answers. Jesus was that "active, rational, and spiritual principle that permeated all reality" that the Greeks so desperately wished to know. It's strikingly different from the way the other gospels begin.

     V. 4 states in Christ was life, and that life was the light of men. My understanding of this verse is that this is John's attempt to state, emphatically and clearly, that Christ was indeed a man, in the flesh, literally man. He was not a spirit being who appeared as man, but literally man. In this life, real, tangible human life, was the hope of all mankind.

     V. 10-12 really establishes mankind's guilt before God. Jesus, in His spotless, sinless perfection leaves heaven, comes to earth, and is rejected by man. The very ones He came to save were the ones that chased Him from cities and synogogues, started mobs to crucify Him, and drove nails through His hands and feet. We are, as Paul says, without excuse. Not only did we have the law itself to show us our guilt, but as John points out, we had God himself with us, and we still rejected Him.

     It shows the amazing love of God all the more through our rejection. God, in His foreknowledge, knew that He would come, be rejected, and die. He knew, yet He came anyway, to save the very rebels that drove the nails through His hands. He came to save the very men who would lay traps for Him in front of the crowds. He came to save us, the very men 2,000 years later who get sidetracked and tempted, fall and fail. He came to save us, the very people who would forget, deny, take for granted His precious gift.

     Then comes what to me is the most amazing verse in the Bible. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Jesus, this "divine principle", this Messiah, God himself, takes up residence with Creation as a baby. Not a conquering king, not an emperor in a chariot, not a warrior on a war-horse, not a general with armies, but a baby, surrounded by cattle, naked except for a sack, lying in a feed trough. The Word, the Creator, the Messiah, the Almighty God lives His life as a curious twelve year old asking questions in the Temple, as a teenager growing up, as a carpenter adult, as a religious misfit, and in the end, a "political" execution.

     "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The Creator literally becoming creation. God literally becoming man. Power literally becoming weakness. Absolute omnipotence becoming a baby. He, God, dwelt among us, living with us, like us; facing the same struggles, temptations, and trials that we do.

     Remember it this Christmas. Tomorrow is the day children all across America will run downstairs to their Christmas trees to rip paper off of presents. But remember, Christmas can be summed up in that one verse, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Remember it, think about it throughout the day.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Materialism

    Christmas: the time of year when we somehow combine huge meals, extravagant gift giving, and enormous shopping sprees under the heading of "worship". No, I don't hate Christmas. I love Christmas. I love this time of year, the particular feeling that is the Christmas season.

     However, what I don't like is what Christmas tends to become. I will be posting in the next few days about the absolutely spectacular story that is Christmas; however, today's point will be more in the negative. I want to point out what we do, how we treat Christmas that makes me think it's no more Christian in our minds than April Fool's Day. Instead, we use Jesus as a figurehead to give credence to our extravagance.

     Think about it. Watch frenzied shoppers dashing from store to store to finish their shopping; watch rude drivers honking and cutting in and out of traffic; watch strangers as they interact with each other this time of year, and you will see exactly what I mean. Jesus couldn't be any further from their minds. Jesus is instead simply an excuse for me to do what I want to do.

     But if we take the time to think about it, this is exactly the opposite of Jesus' intention. Hearing people complain about the stress of the holidays is ironic. Jesus' whole purpose in coming to earth was to call people to give up their burden's in favor of His easier yoke. We have used the very day on which Jesus transformed himself into a human to bear our burdens on himself as an excuse to add more burdens to ourselves. How ironic!

     So I want to anyone reading this to think for a moment about how we spend our Christmases. Do we spend them running around, focused on buying gifts, sending cards, attending parties, or do we instead focus on the amazing incarnation of Christ? The only reason Christmas is any different than any other holiday is the purpose for which it was instituted, to celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ. When we lay our focus on that aside, we forget the very reason for the gift giving, the party attending, and the card sending. What should be the backdrop becomes the center stage.

      It was a short post today, as they probably will be for the next few days. However, I want us all to think about keeping the focus on Jesus this Christmas. If you can go to a "Christmas" party and not hear the name Jesus mentioned, why would you even call it a "Christmas" party? Because everyone's wearing red? Because everyone's humming "Joy to the World"? Because there's a blowup Santa in the yard?

     None of that shows Christ. None of that shows Christmas. All it shows is our own poor, sad redirection (deliberate or otherwise) of the emphasis of the holiday season away from Jesus and instead to our own ideas, plans, and agendas. So, think about it this holiday season. Dwell on Christ.


Monday, December 22, 2014


    I will be posting only sporatically since I am on vacation in Georgia for Christmas. What time I do have here will be spent arranging teaching material for an upcoming missions trip. I will try to write as I have time. I can guarantee one will be coming before Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2014


    Here's a post I wrote as a draft several days ago. I just ran across it again, so here's today's post.

    I've been going through one of those times where I feel like I'm drowning in a sea of things to do for the last few days. You know, when you feel like nothing you do will get you any closer to being able to say you're done, or when you can just see a mental list of things to check off in your mind even as you try to sleep?

     Honestly, I'm tired, and I haven't felt like reading my Bible the last few days. Oh, I've read a little bit, but more to be able to say I'd done it than for any actual good. Honestly, I don't feel like praying. Sure, I pray before my meals, but it's a prayer for the sake of habit and tradition more than a prayer of genuine love. I don't feel happy and joyful. I feel pessimistic.

     But it's during these times that one beautiful thing becomes even more abundantly clear. Jesus isn't all about the deep theology, and twisted, complicated schemes of thought intricately woven in Scripture. Sure, He can be found there, but that's not usually where we find Him. Jesus isn't all about making us successful in the world, or extremely popular.

     A relationship with Jesus is about seeing Him in the little things, in the busy times of life. There are times we don't want to; I know. I'm have that feeling now. It's about seeing Him when you're tempted to fail, again; it's about taking a second and listening for Him, amid all the distractions. Jesus doesn't demand a three hour quiet time, ten hymns, and a stringent prayer workout in the morning. Sometimes all Jesus does is softly speak in the stillness.

     It's hard to see Him now. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way sometimes. I've seen it in friends when I explain that I'm going through one of these times, and they nod that nod that says so eloquently, "I know exactly what you're talking about." But not only that, I am comforted in the fact that the person I see act this way the most, even more than friends I know, is a man long dead, David.

     Psalm 22 is a psalm of David that starts out with these words, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer: and by night, but I have no rest." Now, I can sympathize with that! I can just picture David in my mind, standing before God, just crying out to Him to listen, to hear his voice.

     It happens. You go through those times in your life where you don't see God, and you don't want to see Him. Or maybe it's the exact opposite. Maybe you want to see Him, and He just isn't showing up. Why? Three words: I don't know. If I did, I'd be preaching at huge conferences and making lots of money. (note: I'm not.) The point I'm trying to make though is that on those days, whether it's so loud and bustling you can't hear God, or whether it's a quiet, silent day that God's just not speaking, look for Him. Look for Him in the little things, the beauty of a morning, or a songbird. I don't say that to sound maukishly sentimental, but it's true. Sometimes you can see God clearer through the little things than through all the grandiose theological creeds in the world.

     Secondly, don't just listen for God; show God. Show Jesus through how you live your life, even when you don't feel close. Don't let those times you feel far from God allow you to fall to temptation, just because it's easy to give in. Show Jesus in how we live, even when we don't feel like it. Show Jesus, whether it be to the annoying old lady down the street or the autistic child in a restaurant. Show love; show concern for the world.

     Another beautiful thing that I always try to remember on those days I feel that I'm overwhelmed, swamped, and am a failure is that that is exactly who Jesus came to save. Jesus called the misfits, the failures, the sinners to himself. His promise of a light burden was exactly that, a light burden. He isn't standing over us with a whip waiting for us to step out of line or go for a week with out looking up at Him. He isn't just waiting for us to mess up so He can hit our house with a meteorite.

    It happens. It's life. We feel far from God, and as much as pastors may say to do this or that to never feel far from God, it still happens. And you show your love for God the best by obeying, by loving, by listening when you don't feel God there.

Quick Post

    I'm on the road today, so this is just a quick post to say I will be back to posting (nagging) probably on Sunday. I'm on my way out of town for Christmas today, so I have not posted the last few days as I've been preparing for back to back trips, this one now, and a missions trip in January. Thank you for your patience. In place of my normal post, I will post a video today. This is the song that got me hooked on Rich Mullins. The song is named "Calling out your Name". (I've always been charmed by that hammer dulcimer anyway.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

But I'm a Nobody!

    In my opinion, one of the neatest things to notice about the gospels is Jesus' attention to the people everyone else walked by: the weak (Matt. (9:2), the sick (Matt. 8:3), and the sinners (Jn. 4). In fact, throughout the gospels, it soon becomes apparent that Jesus is much more interested in speaking to the "lesser" people than He is the great religious minds of the day.

    But why is this so amazing? Well, because He's God. I don't think you read that with enough force the first time. He's God! You would naturally assume that He would ignore the worst people and instead spend His time around the "better" people, right? But instead what we see is Him, lovingly, gently speaking to the worst of the worst; to an adulterer on trial, to a Samaritan at the well, to His own betrayer in the garden.

    What I want to emphasize today is that Jesus seems fascinated with using the most unworthy tools He can find for His own purposes. For example, out of all the people in Jericho to save, God chose to save a harlot, a prostitute, when the Israelites entered Canaan (Josh. 2). You'd think God would save someone more worthy, someone more pure, right? It seems almost insulting to the "better" people of Jericho that God would choose to save the worst of the worst over them!

    How about when Jesus comes through Jericho during His ministry? He chooses, again out of all the people of Jericho, a short, turn-coat thief named Zaccheus (Lk. 19:1-10). Again, what a slap in the face to the religious elite and morally "pure" people of Jericho! Instead of standing in the synagogue condemning the sinners, Jesus goes to His house and eats with him, leaving the crowds behind!

    Let's examine Jesus' disciples. Let's see: Peter, the loud-mouthed, cursing fisherman (Jn. 18:15-27); Matthew, a Jewish traitor/thief (Matt. 10:3), Simon (not Peter), a Jewish political assassin (Matt. 10:4); and James and John, joint "sons of thunder", who wish to call down fire from heaven on their enemies (Lk. 9:54)! These are Jesus' closest followers and confidantes!

    Just think about that for a sec. Imagine trying to organize a group of twelve people to live together for three years, one of them a tax collector and one an assassin. The Zealots were a Jewish political group that assassinated Roman soldiers and tax collectors. Imagine the chaos that must have ensued when Jesus picked these two to follow Him!

    Once again, we see Jesus walking by the Pharisees, the religious elite of the day, to choose fishermen, thieves, and murderers to be His closest followers! Why? Jesus gives the answer in Mark 2:17, "And hearing this, Jesus said to them, 'It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'"

    So, why does Jesus seemingly ignore the "good" people of the day? Simply put, Jesus didn't come to save those who are busy saving themselves. Jesus came to save the lost, not the self-righteous.

    What does it mean for us? Well, firstly, it means that God only uses us when we are empty of ourselves. Only when we've given up on our own efforts, ambitions, and achievements is He able to use us as His instruments. Because these men were obviously fallen, sinful people, they understood their need for a Savior much more readily than the Pharisees, the majority of whom stayed steadfast to the end in their determination to kill Jesus. The Pharisees were much too busy proving their spirituality to actually pay attention to Jesus and thus see their own fallenness.

    Secondly, it means never just because you're young, or not talented, or fallen dismiss the possibility that God could use you. Those were exactly the people God chose to use throughout the Bible. Paul, the Christian persecutor, would be come the world's greatest missionary; Moses, the Egyptian prince/murderer, would be God's instrument of freedom for His people. The people Jesus loves to use are the fallen nobody's of this world.

    Never let the feeling that you're not the most spectacular Christian ever keep you from being attentive to God's voice. Instead, remember that God himself found you, saved you, and commissioned you. There is no higher calling.

    My mom bought me a sign that I keep on my desk that says, "If God calls you to be a missionary, don't stoop to be a king." Fill in the blank with anything, not just missionary. If God calls you to something, anything, it is the greatest honor you could have to fulfill that calling. It doesn't matter that you may not be perfect, you may not be the handsomest guy or the prettiest girl or the smartest student; you are a child of God. God uses His flawed children to spread His name around the world.

    So don't let your imperfection discourage you. "Where sin did abound, there did grace much more abound." Where your sin, your imperfection, your failure were in abundance, God drowned them out with His righteousness, His perfection, and His finished work. Your status is no longer wrapped up in what you can or can't do; it now rests firmly in the work that Jesus has already done.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Empty Life

    Have you ever had the feeling that life is empty? You know those days, sometimes weeks, when everything you do seems to place you no closer to the finish than when you started. School seems to drag on and on, that song you're practicing just won't come, Scripture is boring, and your whole life just feels empty and pointless: know what I'm talking about?

    One of my favorite books of the Bible is Ecclesiastes. (Yeah, I'm pretty weird.) Ecc. 1 articulates Solomon's own similar feelings, only on a larger scale than what I wrote above. Solomon states in v. 2-4, "'Vanity of vanities', sayeth the preacher, 'vanity of vanities; all is vanity!' What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun. One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth remaineth forever."

    One of the reasons I enjoy reading Ecclesiastes is Solomon's brutal honesty throughout the whole book. I've heard maybe two people in my whole life admit to feelings like this. I think many Christians (and I'm guilty too) spend a lot of time pretending to be deeper, more spiritual than they really are, to impress each other as to their spiritual depth. I try not to do that on this blog, which is why I will tell you now I've had the same feelings Solomon writes about.

    There are days that life just feels empty, as if there was no point to life at all. Paraphrasing Solomon, man works and works for no apparent profit, only to die and be replaced with another man, who will repeat the cycle. Solomon offers several vivid word pictures to symbolize what he means.

    His first picture is that of the sun rising, then setting, then rising and setting again: day after day, month after month, year after year. Outwardly, it seems to be no closer to a restful conclusion of its mission than the beginning of time. The wind, blowing constantly, once again, seemingly no closer to accomplishing its purpose than when it was created.

    Rivers run to the sea forever, with no break in their incessant flow. Yet the sea will never be full. Their labor is seemingly pointless; a never-ending, fruitless pursuit of nothingness. Lastly, Solomon uses the idea of the human eye and ear. Always seeing, always wanting more; no closer to satisfaction now than at our births.

    Kind of depressing, isn't it? Solomon vividly describes the hopelessness of normal human life and pursuit of greatness. Solomon, the wisest and wealthiest man that ever lived, voiced one of the most pessimistic reminders of man's frail, momentary life on earth I've ever heard. Solomon, sitting in the midst of plenty, surrounded by all the thing's men say are necessary for happiness (2:10), still sits just as convinced of the vanity of life.

    One of the phrases Solomon uses throughout the entire book of Ecclesiastes is one of the most vivid I've ever read. The KJV translation doesn't use the phrase, but I will be quoting the following verses from the ESV. I think the phrase gives you the most accurate portrayal of Solomon's feelings over any other passage I could quote from Ecclesiastes.

    Found in Ecc. 1:14 and 2:17,26. "Striving after wind." Just think about the phrase. Following earthly pleasures and greatness is like chasing the wind. It's such a great allegory on several points. One, you will never catch the wind; its very sporatic nature will keep it forever out of your hands. Two, even if you do catch it, it is nothing. You can't grab it; you can't hold on to it; it is literally nothing.

    This is what Solomon, the ruler of all the grandeur of the old Jerusalem, proclaims human greatness to be, simply a chasing after wind, that when finally caught, is found to be empty, vain, and nothing. Depressing, huh?

    So, what is the conclusion? What does all this pessimism build up to? The second to last verse of the book (12:13) answers the question, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man."

    The whole duty of man is to love God and obey him. That's the whole point of man's very existence. The only thing worth doing, the only thing that will last, the only thing worthy of hot pursuit in our lives is this: love God, and obey his commandments.

    It's very easy to put stock of our own worth in awards we've won or accomplishments we've made. Afterward though, it's empty. It's vain. It's pointless. One hundred years from now, no one will remember who won Nationals or an art competition. One hundred years from now, no one will remember who won the World Series or the Super Bowl.

    One hundred years from now, every single soul alive on this planet today will either be singing praises to the Lamb in heaven or burning for eternity in hell. As Solomon said, suddenly the accomplishments and awards of everyday life seem empty, don't they?

    Our one duty, our one calling in life, is to love God, and obey his commandments. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Yeah, it's true that no one will give you a medal for it. Nobody will send a four-foot trophy or a million dollar check to your front door. But 100 years from now, standing before Jesus, or standing in hell, medals, trophies, and checks will seem awfully small; awfully, unimportant; awfully empty.

    Now, I'm off to enjoy this beautiful, Texas day in a kayak, fishing!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Life-coach Gospel

    Several weeks ago I wrote a post about the importance of teaching the depth of man's depravity and sin before our regeneration for a proper recognition of the gospel. Today, I want to switch gears a little bit and look at another oft-neglected or under-emphasized piece of the beautiful work that is the gospel.

    What I fear occurs is that after our salvation, we neglect the gospel, almost as if it were simply a means to save me from hell and then send me off to hear some "practical" sermons. And what this does is cause us to neglect the most central tenet of our Christian faith: the centrality of Jesus. We treat Him as if He were a means to an end, not the end itself.

     Sure, salvation is great. But the gospel and the depth of its meaning cannot stop there. We treat the gospel as if it ends at the tomb. Jesus died, paid for our sin, then was buried. Thank Him for paying the penalty for our sin, and let's all listen to a lecture on how to be non-rebellious teens, choose hymns, and do courtship!

     No! Wrong! Incorrect! That's exactly what we do in the church today, and I think many of us have seen it, even if we haven't detected it as false. Jesus is no longer our source of life, our Hope, our Savior, and our Guide. He is no longer the central focus of our entire saved existence. He's now been reduced in our estimation to a means to get me to heaven, while we focus on the "practical" side of Scripture.

     Sure there's a practical side to the Bible. But it only works when approached with the attitude of one enthralled with the gospel and Jesus Christ. Instead, we want Jesus for heaven and the Bible to make all my problems go away, more as a spiritual encyclopedia to answer my questions than as a guide to know Jesus.

     Instead, we should approach the Bible as the means God uses to reveal Himself to undeserving mankind. When we put the gospel out of our minds while we work on ourselves and listen to "practical"sermons (How to have a successful marriage, How to handle money God's way, How to...), we miss the big picture. We forget the "God has done" gospel for the "You must do" gospel.

     Is there a Christian way to handle money? Absolutely, but I think Jesus would rather have a relationship with you than watch you have one with Dave Ramsey. In order to truly know Christ, we must constantly rehearse the story of Jesus in our minds.

     Unless we constantly rehearse what Jesus did, does our practical insight do any good?What happens then is the emphasis revolves around us, more of a consumeristic approach. What do I like in a church, what suites me best, what practical areas do I need help in? And the church follows the trap. In order to get more people in, the church in many cases ceases to even mention Christ and gospel and instead wants to focus on the "relevant" topics of the day: money management, marriage, etc.

     But here's the problem: we could teach on all those things without Jesus Christ. We don't Jesus to manage money well; just ask Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. We don't need Jesus for a good marriage; there's countless strong, unsaved marriages out there. When we remove Jesus from our churches, the church ceases to be a tool of Jesus Christ, and instead becomes simply a morality seminar.

     We've all seen it in churches. I personally drive by a church quite frequently whose motto is proudly displayed on the sign, "We read from the Bible and sing from a hymnbook." Is it a bad omen if your church's motto doesn't even bother to mention Jesus? Go back to what I just said: you can read the Bible and sing from a hymnbook all day long without Jesus. You don't need a Savior for that; you need a motivational speaker, a life coach.

     And that's what I fear many churches have become: simply a motivational speaker, a life coach from behind a pulpit. Lakewood Church, pastored by Joel Osteen, is one of the most popular churches in America. Don't get me wrong; I have nothing against Osteen, but I think this shows exactly what I'm talking about when I say "motivational speaker".

     Here's an interesting tidbit from his book Becoming a Better You, "“At the start of each new day, remind yourself: “I am talented. I am creative. I am greatly favored by God. I am equipped. I am well able. I will see my dreams come to pass.” Declare those statements by faith and before long, you will begin to see them in reality.” Here's another, not-so-biblical one, "“Who told you that something was wrong with you?” (I'm getting these off the internet, so I'm not positive as to the context of that last one. I hope it doesn't actually mean what it looks like it means.)

     Does anybody see what I'm saying here? No longer is the church to proclaim man's inept failure to pacify a holy God; no longer does the church proclaim God's incredible gift to mankind; we're left with statements to repeat to yourself in front of a mirror. And at the end of the day, I think we all realize that I, of myself, am empty. I'm not that talented, I'm not well able, I'm not amazing, and I'm certainly not overly creative. Any gift I possess is directly from God, and by his mercy.

     Instead, we have the "life coach gospel" that calls to our practical side. But the very piece of this gospel that calls to my practical side neglects my spiritual side. How on earth can repeating slogans in front of a mirror promote a relationship with Christ? But it's simply a more liberal take with the same problems many more fundamental churches struggle with. Fundamentalists do it too. We simply do it differently. We do indeed confront your own ineptitude before God (at least a version of it); many times we do indeed present the basics of the gospel; but as soon as you're saved, the gospel is tossed out the window in favor of human effort and achievement.

     You can still be saved and be working for the wrong reasons. Good advice, even Biblical good advice, is not the focus of Christianity. Instead, the focus of our faith is on the person and work of Jesus Christ. When we neglect these in order to instead focus on personal moral achievement, we miss the basis of what following Christ means.

     Absolutely following Christ is practical, not just head-knowledge. But the correct way to go about the practical side of Christ is to look at it through the lenses of His atoning work in my life and with His strength to fix it. The problem comes through good, sound, practical teaching, where Christ is not mentioned. And before you claim that that doesn't happen, I have personally sat through weeks of preaching where Jesus name was mentioned probably four times the entire day at church; not just one service, but multiple services in a row where all emphasis was upon us, and our job, and our role.

     That's why it's called "Christianity" with "Christ" in it. He's the central theme. In the Scripture, do we see Paul coming to the churches with simply advice and rules? Very rarely. He almost always would prelude it and pepper within it references to Jesus Christ and the gospel.

     For example, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it."  Practical advice, right? "Husbands, love your wives". Instantly, though, Paul turns it back around to emphasis being on Christ himself. Why do you love your wife? Because Jesus himself loved you enough to save you. How should you love your wife? Even as Christ loves the church, and sacrificed his own life for it.

     The simple command, "Husbands, love your wives" is motivational, life-coach gospel. "Do this, and you will have a happy, successful marriage." But look. Unbelievers tell husbands to love their wives; that's not unique to Christianity. What instead should be unique to Christianity is the depth of love a husband has for his wife, grounded not in good advice, but instead in the truth of God's own redemptive love in his own life. Paul didn't stop at motivation, good life advice. He wound up back at the gospel, back at the centrality of Christ in everything.

     So, application time. When we read our Bibles, when we pray, it's not supposed to be about us. Reading the Scripture is not about fixing all my problems (although that can be an awesome side effect); it's about knowing Jesus. This is how He reveals himself to mankind. Listen for God's voice; don't just read Scripture for answers to your problems. Watch God reveal himself, listen for Him. True, act on the practical Scriptures, but do it through your relationship with Christ, with the focus on Him, with the glory for Him.

     The reason we do these practical things is because of what God has done for us. It's done with the remembrance of Jesus' own sacrifice in mind. And the result is, once again, it's all about Jesus. It's all about Him.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Quick Post

    I'm leaving this quick post to simply give an update and answer any curiosity as to the smaller number of posts than usual. I have a school deadline this weekend, and have been using every spare minute of this week to finish by tomorrow night. Hopefully, I'll be back to my constant (nagging) posting next week!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Quick Quote

    Just in case I haven't mentioned Radical by David Platt enough, I'm going to bring it up again. I'm not going to say this book revolutionized my grasp of Christianity, because obviously it was simply God using the book for His own purpose, but this book has a special place in my small, personal library (right next to Crazy Love by Francis Chan and Christless Christianity by Michael Horton). In it, Platt attacks the comfort of typical American Christianity. Here is a good quote I ran across as I was re-skimming the book tonight.

     "Imagine walking in a field and stumbling upon a treasure that is more valuable than anything else you could work for or find in this life. It is more valuable than all you have now or will ever have in the future.

     "You look around and notice that no one else realizes the treasure is here, so you cover it up quickly and walk away, pretending you haven't seen anything. You go into town and begin to sell off all your possessions to have enough money to buy that field. The world thinks your crazy. 'What are you thinking?' your friends and family asks you.

     "You tell them, 'I'm buying that field over there.'

     "They look at you in disbelief. 'That's a ridiculous investment,' they say. 'Why are you giving away everything you have?'

     "You respond, 'I have a hunch,' and you smile to yourself as you walk away.

     "You smile because you know. You know that in the end you are not really giving away anything at all. Instead you are gaining. Yes, you are abandoning everything you have, but you are also gaining more than you could have any other way. So with joy- with joy!- you sell it all, you abandon it all. Why? Because you have found something worth losing everything else for.

     "This is the picture of Jesus in the gospel. He is something- someone- worth losing everything for. And if we walk away from the Jesus of the gospel, we walk away from eternal riches. The cost of nondiscipleship is profoundly greater for us than the cost of discipleship. For when we abandon the trinkets of this world and respond to the radical invitation of Jesus, we discover the infinite treasure of knowing and experiencing him."

                                             -David Platt, Radical

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

All the World

    "For many shall come in my name, saying, 'I am Christ'; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kindgom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come."             Matt. 14:5-14

     Not exactly the most encouraging set of verses you've ever read! I haven't posted in several days, partly because I've been busy, and partly because I just haven't had anything to say. But today, I'm going to speak on this passage, both discouraging and encouraging in the same breath.

     All of us have heard people say that we are living in the end times. I've always been skeptical when pastors say that, since they've been saying that for the last two millenia (1 Jn. 2:18). Jesus lists several of the common reasons for this statement that we hear frequently: wars and rumors of wars. His response; the end is not yet. You're not even close yet. Wars don't even fit on the chart!

     Okay, next we're at nation and kingdom against nation and kingdom. I think this reflects a larger scale war; not a small, inter-city conflict, but empires rising to crush each other. Combine that with famines and earthquakes, and you get what Jesus calls the "beginning of sorrows". Wow, talk about encouraging! In the face of world war, food shortages, and natural catastrophes, your sorrows are just beginning!

     Finally, at least we're getting close to the end! After the previous list comes persecution. All nations will hate the followers of Christ, causing certain brothers to turn against each other, prompting hatred and rage between even many Christians. From the looks of v. 9, this is not going to be a medium persecution, where fines and imprisonments are handed out. It's going to be bloody; the Christians will be executed.

     So where's the encouragement I mentioned at the beginning? It's right here in the last prophecy. I'm going to read it one more time, because it's impressive. "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come."

     In the face of world war, chaos, famine, and persecution, we see the gospel of Jesus Christ expanding. Not desperately struggling to hold on to the last vestiges of Jesus' teachings, but instead, missions spreads like never before. Think of it; the entire world hearing of Jesus Christ!

     This is why I read these verses and wind up encouraged. Revelation 7:9 states, "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands." After this chaos on the world stage, followed by catastrophe, famine, and mass persecution (in every single nation), we see the church expanding, growing, and evangelizing, to the extent that before Jesus returns every nation will have heard, and before Jesus' throne will stand someone from every single language, tribe, and family group.

     You know why? Because our God is greater. I think sometimes we get it stuck in our heads that our God is running around trying to fix all the catastrophes happening around the world, and the Devil is just laughing his head off controlling everything. We see the opposite here. We see the Devil use every tool at his disposal to crush the church, from war, to persecution, to famine, but instead we see church growth!

     That is the future of missions. That is why men like C.T. Studd and Jim Elliot did what they did. Because in the end, when time finishes, every single one of us will die. Death is the only certainty in life. There is a 100 percent chance of your death. And when earth's clock winds down, all that will be left are those souls gathered around the Lamb's throne, from every people group, to praise Jesus! Is that a beautiful thought or what?

     That is what missions is. It's the initial, penetrating work of Christ's church to the unreached. It's the adding of souls to the innumerable mass of humanity gathered around Jesus' throne, all clothed with His grace, to praise His name forever! It's the expansion of the gospel throughout a world of sin. It's the outward scattering of light through darkness; the act of a firefighter rushing against the clock to save people from hell.

     Don't ever get stuck with the idea in your head that God is somehow confused and running behind, trying desperately to catch up. Everything is falling into place according to His plan, according to His timing. And He deigns to stoop down into the dirt, pull us out, and use us for His purposes, through circumstances unimaginable. All these things God directs to further His plan. Have faith in our God. Trust Him.

     Persecution will come. World war, famine, and chaos will occur, and there's nothing you or I can do to prevent it. However, we can instead be willing tools to fulfill God's purposes until His return, both during persecution and during freedom; on a Sunday at church or at school on a weekday; on a battlefield or a sportsfield. That is Christianity. That is submission to Jesus Christ. That is a Christ-follower.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Guest Post

    Here is an email my brother sent me today that I thought was blog worthy. Thanks, T.C.!


    There is a passage in Matthew that scares me probably more than any other passage. It's part of what's commonly called the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus had just gone over the Commandments again in chapter 5, taking care of the poor, how to get treasure in Heaven, and trusting God in chapter 6, and then near the end of chapter 7, he starts warning about false prophets. He says they can be known by their fruit. The next 3 verses are what caught my attention.

In verse 21-23, He says:
21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’
23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Here, we have some 'good Christians'. They call Jesus 'Lord'. They're such amazing people that they'll call on Jesus' name and heal people. To most people, that would be a sign of great faith. If I saw someone do that, the though would never enter my mind that I needed to go witness to them and they needed to be saved! Obviously, if they had such faith to work miracles, they had their faith in Christ, right? Wrong. Jesus was using them to accomplish his missions, but they hadn't fully surrendered their lives to Him, or didn't believe that He died for their sins. For whatever reason, they didn't believe He died for them.

What's even more disturbing is that they thought they were saved! Jesus won't let them into Heaven, and the thing they point out is, 'Lord, look at the amazing things I've done. Oh, and this wasn't for me; I did it in YOUR name.' Jesus will look at them and say, 'You weren't my child. You didn't ever come to know me.'

Notice they don't say, 'We believed that you would come to save sinners. We believed their promises, and you let us down.' No, their answer is a sneaky form of works salvation. They thought, 'Look at the amazing things we've done; surely we're saved.'

The next question that ought to be asked is, ok, so we're not saved through works, even done in Jesus' name. How are we saved? We read right over it; it's almost concealed in the second half of verse 21.

21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.

I'm not arguing for a works-based salvation. Trying to do God's will is an effect of salvation, rather than a cause. Otherwise, the people shown above who were healing people would have gotten in. They were doing God's will, and yet, they not let into Heaven. Jesus is saying, don't be fooled by people who are doing great works in my name. I may work through them, but they haven't necessarily have been saved by me yet. More personally, don't deceive yourself. I may work through you, but if you aren't surrendered to me, you aren't born again.

We've got to be watchful in our lives that we don't put our trust in outward signs as evidence of salvation. Salvation will produce those signs, but you can have the signs without salvation.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Prayer Request

    Today is the first official day of the USA Taekwondo Nationals Qualifier. Tomorrow is the beginning of competition itself. Please pray for me as this will be the most intense tournament I've ever participated in, and the competition is really skilled. Pray that God will give me strength to keep going and the wind I'll need to finish at last three fights, maybe four. I appreciate your prayers!

    I will post as I have time throughout the weekend. I may or may not have time scattered throughout the day tomorrow to post between events.

    I can already tell I'm going to have to read Psalm 91 a few times this weekend! "I will say of the Lord, He is my rock and my fortress, my God, in Him will I trust... A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee... Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder, the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. Because he hath set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him, and honor him, and show him my salvation."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

To Beat, or not to Beat

    Ah, the time has come for me to speak about music. In case you haven't realized it yet, I'm going to come out and be very clear: I'm opinionated. Today, I'm going to speak about something that comes up surprisingly often in Fundamentalist church settings.

    I've had several friends speak to me on this topic, from one asking me to look at a paper she'd written on the topic to an online email discussion with two other friends of mine, all in the last month. Last month, at a teen camp, I sat in on a session by a music leader on how to choose Godly music as a teenager, complete with criticisms of Chris Tomlin and Casting Crowns. All that to say, it's a topic that comes up not unfrequently.

    My own background is the same. The churches I've attended all my life were hymn-only, and the music in my home was always hymn-only as well, with a smattering of choral and classical. I'd always happily accepted the arguments I'd been presented with for as long as I could remember about why contemporary Christian music (CCM) was sinful; that is, until last year.

    Last year was the year that I really began trying to know God better, and in doing so, began questioning almost all the things I had believed for so long, music included. I finally started listening to Matt Redman and Krysten Getty, quietly up in my room, Tomlin and Leeland still being too contemporary for me. Eventually, after several weeks of feeling guilty, I came out and talked to Mom and Dad, and received their permission to listen to more. Over the course of the last year, my music choices among CCM artists have expanded to include a lot more, which you can see in my extended profile.

    There is no way I can cover all the arguments against CCM in one article, even if I knew them all, which I don't. My intention is only to discredit some arguments and then respond with some of my own in the end. Let's start with the most ludicrous I've ever heard.

    1.) Oh, no, that song had a beat. Run, the devil's after us! The times I've heard this one (minus that last part; yeah, I know, warped sense of humor) I just want to scream. Then gouge out my eyes with rusty nails and jump in front of traffic! My mental image is of the person holding a red neon sign above their head that says, "I don't know anything about music!"

     Every song has a beat. Having a beat is one of the essential components of music. So by condemning the presence of a beat in music, people are literally condemning every song ever written. Every single song, whether it's "Beautiful Eulogy" rap or "The Wilds" hymns and choral arrangements, has a beat: every last one of them!

    2.) We're sticking to the old-fashioned religion. None of this new-age, weirdo religion, just old-fashioned solid hymns, out of a hymnbook, mind you, not off some overhead. These are the people who are old-fashioned for the sake of being old-fashioned. One of the churches I attended back when I lived in Georgia was this way. Everything was old fashioned, not because it was Biblically right, but because, like the Amish and the Mennonites, it would protect us from the world.

    Our morality, high standards, and old-fashioned living can't keep us from sin. That's a job reserved for God alone. When we try to replace the guardianship of my spirituality in the hands of standards I've created, we're doomed to fail, utterly and completely.

    Secondly, where did this idea that older is better come from? Ask a pioneer lady churning butter for an hour in a churn. Ask anybody living in California if they would rather go back to the Pony Express for mail delivery. Older is obviously not better all the time, so what makes us think it's better in the case of music? A preconceived preference, maybe?

    I want to make one thing clear before I continue. If you have a preference toward hymns, that's great. Sing your little heart out! My point is not that hymns are wrong. My point is that hymns are not the only way to go. If you like the older, more classic hymns, that's awesome. My own mom is that way. There's nothing wrong with that, but there is in some logic that demands only hymns.

    3.) These CCM songs are shallow; you've got to go back to the old hymns for spiritual depth. I guarantee that you won't find full atonement taught in these new songs! Lest you think I'm just making these up, I've heard every one of these, that last sentence word-for-word from a pulpit. Below I'm going to show that in a way these people are right; many new songs are spiritually shallow. It's a valid problem.

    Here are the words to praise song "Come, Now is the Time to Worship". I think the words to the chorus speak for themselves (although the verses themselves don't seem bad).

          "Come, now is the time to worship.
    Come, now is the time to give your heart.
    Come, just as you are, to worship.
    Come, just as you are, before your God.

    I'm not saying that's sinful; I'm just saying it's a far cry from the psalms. Here's another:

    "Hallelujah 5x
     For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
     Hellelujah 4x
     For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth
     Hellelujah 7x."

    See what I mean. Praise songs are shallow... wait a minute, that last one wasn't a praise song. Some of y'all may have caught it, but those are the lyrics to the famous choral masterpiece by George Frederick Handel "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah. Except for the "eth" ending on the word "reigneth", you would never dream that that was a song written in the 1700's.

    My point is this: shallow music is not limited to the 21st century. Shallow music is shallow music, whether it be by Isaac Watts or "Jars of Clay". To limit shallow doctrine in music to the last fifty years is to be naive in the extreme. Take a minute to Google "I Come to the Garden Alone", found in almost every hymnal, yet a song that I still can't tell what the author's talking about after ten years of listening to it. "He bids me go, with a voice of woe, his voice to me is calling", huh?

    4.) Rock music is the fruit of paganism, so it must be wrong today. Okay? What does that have to do with anything? I'd like to apply that principle to geometry, since many of the precepts we know come from Euclid, an Alexandrian Greek mathmetician, who formulated his principles living in the worldly city of Alexandria under the rule of the evil Ptolemy's. I don't think my dad would let me skip geometry because of that though. Why?

    Because we don't accept that argument with a whole lot other than music. For example, Christmas trees, Roman architecture, and Greek art are all from pagan cultures. The cross itself was a symbol of Rome's evil oppression. But we don't declare any of those things null because they came from an ungodly culture. On the contrary, we simply accept them as amoral objects symbolizing something other than what their original designers intended or used them for.

    (Realize that I have been using the two phrases CCM and rock music interchangeably, even though they are not the same thing. In this case, I have been referring to the same topic each time. However, I want to specify that they are not the same thing.)

    5.) Rock music is worldly; and Christians should take no part in worldliness. To me, this is probably the best argument against CCM. They are right, Christians should take no part with worldliness. But there's a crucial problem here: what is worldliness? Is it being like the world, because we all wear jeans, T-shirts, and tennis shoes like the world? Is it trying to blend in to the world, because again, we all do that to a certain degree. I think all of us bow to fashion in some way, shape, or form (some of us more than others).

    I had this discussion with a good friend at church several weeks ago. What is worldliness? Where is the standard that I line up what is just normal living against what is evil worldliness? Three little words I say a lot: I don't know. However, because my mind was still fresh from having this conversation, this verse jumped out at me when I saw it this last week. "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the father, but is from the world."

    Look at how John started the verse. "ALL that is in the world..." Everything in the world not from the Father is all that pertains to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. That is worldliness. How do we tell worldliness? Simple: does it promote my flesh, my sin drive; does it promote the lust of the eyes, my own greed; does it promote my own pride, my desire to look better than I am and to promote myself? Those are your tests for worldliness.

    According to the Bible, we are not to resemble the world. What does the world look like? Sin, greed, and pride pretty much sum up the world. So that answers our problem. If CCM promotes your flesh, greed, or pride, then by no means listen to it. Ignore it, run away from it, avoid it.

    That leads me to my final point I want to make. I've made a lot of negative comments about what music standards are not, but what does the Bible say specifically about music standards? The psalms especially speak of many different instruments, such as in Ps. 150 where David specifically points out the trumpet, harp, lyre, timbrel, pipe, strings, and cymbals twice. And dancing. (I know, dancing is not a musical instrument. I just thought I'd include that one for fun. You know, watch Baptist's faces turn red and jump to their feet. I know, warped sense of humor.)

    "Huh, cymbals! But rockers use those!" you cry. And so did David. A quote I heard once that has been stuck in my head for several months now is, "Satan can create nothing; he can only pervert what God has created." And it's true. We give Satan credit for more power than he possesses when we make guitars and drums a taboo because Satan has perverted some songs with them. God allowed men to create them for a reason, for His own glory.

    So if CCM is a stumbling block for you, you're 100% right, don't listen to it. If it's not and it instead helps you worship God, don't let other people's condemnation of it stop you. Think logically and search the Bible for these things. At the end of the day, it's not about what I say or what your pastor says. It's about what God says, both through His Word universally and to each of us personally.


Though You Slay Me

    Here is my favorite song by Texan duet "Shane and Shane" entitled "Though You Slay Me".


Tuesday, December 2, 2014


    It's been one of those weeks. I have Taekwondo Nationals on Friday, a school deadline in six days that I'm pushing very close, ten days after that, I leave for Georgia, three days after I get back from there, I leave for Malawi, Africa. It's been one of those weeks that I'm swamped with school, nervous for what's coming up, no end in sight until after January, and God feels really far away.

    "UHHH, how could Taylor say that?" I know, you're not supposed to say those things. We're supposed to walk along our lives and pretend all is well, like God is just riding in the passenger seat with us all the time. I'm just being honest; God doesn't feel like he's sitting next to me right now.

     David, in Psalm 22, says this exact thing. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer: and by night, but I have no rest." You can read David's feeling through those two sentences. God, where are you? What are you doing to me?

     I've said it before, and I'm going to say it again. I'm not the kinda teenager who gets spiritual dreams every night, interprets them, and them carries them out the next morning. The one time I'd get a dream from heaven, I'd probably wake up, sit bolt upright in bed, and go, "Wow, that was weird", lay back down, and go to sleep. I'm not some super spiritual guy.

     Now is one of those times I don't feel like reading my Bible, or praying, or singing, or even blogging. I can already feel that I'll hit the Snooze button tomorrow morning. God doesn't feel close. But that is when these other truths are so important, the truths that don't just pop into your head on their own. Jesus is here, whether I feel Him or not.

     Jesus is here, all the time. I know that sounds like something a six-year-old in kindergarten would say, but it's just as true for a stressed 16-year-old. God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. I can feel that He is far away, and I do; I can feel alone, and I do; and I can feel that no one understands, and I do feel that way sometimes. But it doesn't change the amazing, unchangeable truth that my God is good, all the time. My God is here, all the time.

     He is there, all the time. He hears, all the time. He listens, all the time. Even when I push Him away, He is there. He will never leave us, nor forsake us, no matter how much we may feel alone, He is there.

     Sometimes I need to go back to spiritual kindergarten. God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. It's 11:00 at night, and I just opened my Bible for the first time today. Even when I don't want to know God, even when I just want to go to bed, God is good. God is there. God hears.

     I know we all go through those times. Our spiritual high peaks, then crashes, I know. But during those times, go back to spiritual kindergarten and refresh those truths in your mind. God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Even when I'm tired, when I'm stressed, when I have a long list of things to do, things to get done, God is good; God is my Hope.

     Remember that. I may be the only person reading this who's going through one of these times, but I hope this helps someone. It's not deep, it's not grandiose. It's just the simple, nitty-gritty truth of Christianity. Following Jesus isn't always a trip to Africa or a generous monetary gift to the church. Sometimes it's as much as we can do just to put one foot in front of the other and keep telling God, "I'm here. I'm open. I'm tired, but I'm willing." It's smiling at the autistic child in a restaurant; it's getting up with a whiny four year old in the middle of the night; it's giving 10 bucks to a homeless guy; it's simply following Christ.

     He is good, all the time. He is always there; He will always hear. I don't feel like it right now; I'm depressed, but he's here. He's here, and He's listening.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Serve Hymn

    This song I have forever engrained in my memory from the times I remember my oldest brother playing it on the guitar. This song is "Serve Hymn" by Andrew Peterson.