Jesus And The Hysterical Historians

I love history.

And I hate it.

A few weeks ago, I took my family to Stone Mountain. We made the mile or so hike up the mountain, ate dinner on the grass in front of the mountain, watched the laser show where some kid named Johnny defeated the Devil in a fiddle contest, and complained about traffic on our way home.

We follow that same routine every year.

And every year I give my kids the same speech.

If you’ve never been to Stone Mountain, it’s hard to miss. It’s a giant chunk of granite in Atlanta with a carving of leaders of the Confederacy on it. Every year, my kids ask about the men engraved on that mountain.

Here’s a paraphrase of what I usually say.

“All you need to know about those men and any other person you see memorialized in an engraving or statue is that they aren’t God.”

It would do us good to hear that simple speech a few times a day. Maybe then we wouldn’t be so prone to worship men and identify with woefully imperfect movements.

I love history because I like knowing how we got to where we are. It’s fascinating.

I hate history because I don’t really like hearing about how we got to where we are. It’s often brutal.

I love history because I like learning about regular men and women who did amazing things. It’s inspiring.

I hate history because I’ve grown tired of those regular men and women being treated as gods. It’s hysterical.

What I am about to say is going to sound like something a preacher would say. Forgive me.

The more I study historical figures and movements, the more I am convinced that Jesus is enough. That goes double for contemporary figures and movements.

Dig deep enough into the life of any human being and you will find a mess. A real mess. So we shouldn’t be asking ourselves whether or not we need to remove certain statues and engravings. Rather, we should ask ourselves why we put them up in the first place. And when we’re done with that line of questioning, we should wonder why we choose to identify with them. If we’re honest, the answer has more to do with idolatry than legacy or heritage.

I was born and raised in a southern state that I love but I’m no apologist for slavery.

I’ve been a Christian for most of my life and I am the product of a conservative church where the Bible was taught faithfully. Now I am the pastor of a conservative church where I try to preach the Bible faithfully. But I don’t consider myself an Evangelical. Today, that term has more to do with a voting bloc than it does the body of Christ so no thanks.

I’m a proponent of an extremely limited government. But I just don’t have the stomach to call myself a Libertarian and certainly not a Republican. And when I come across someone who wants universal healthcare, I prefer not to look at them as an enemy. I’d rather view them as a human being I happen to disagree with but who has great worth because they have been created in the image of God. Sometimes my heart wants to go another direction but I’m a work in progress.

My skin is white. Well, that’s what we call it but it looks nothing like the pages in the book next to me as I write this. Either way, that’s not where I find my worth. I have no interest in the Richard Spencer’s of the world who want to use the power of the government to supposedly restore our European heritage. My two sons have Filipino blood running through their veins and I’m proud of it. My great grandmother’s blood was all Cherokee. If anyone wants to talk about preserving heritage it should have been her. But that doesn’t preach well to the crowd that wants to restore this country’s “European heritage.”

Hang on a minute, I’m about to say something else that sounds preachy.

The only cleansing I care about is the kind that comes from the blood of Jesus Christ. Every other human being who made a historic stand against something, even the great ones, to some degree became what they fought against. Through either compromise or a moral compass that never was really set to begin with, even our best heroes are very unworthy of our granite carvings, statues and worship. Not so with Jesus, he touched the untouchable and remained clean. He stood against the great Accuser and remained perfectly holy.

The more I study history, the more my love hate relationship with it grows.

I hate it for how dirty it is.

But I love it for how it serves to highlight the supremacy of Jesus Christ over all other men and movements.

I’ve never gotten a call from a pollster. But if I ever do and they ask me if I’m a Caucasian, evangelical, southern, Libertarian who likes to visit Stone Mountain once a year, at the risk of sounding too preachy, I’ll just tell them that I’m an imperfect follower of the only perfect man who ever lived.

Any other label would just be hysterical.

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A Political Warning For The Church

Silver Islet, Sleeping Giant / Sibley Peninsula, Ontario, Canada

There are a few people in my church who will be voting for Hillary Clinton. There are more who will vote for Donald Trump. And then there’s me. I’ll find someone else to vote for because I don’t like either candidate.

But I love the people in my church, regardless of who they’re voting for.

We really need to be careful. This election year has been more intense than any I have ever seen. The country is divided. It’s been divided for a while but the divisions are becoming more and more obvious. And if we don’t watch out, those divisions will find their way into our churches.

Two emotions seem to rule our political age. They are anger and worry. People are angry with the way that politicians are representing them. And for good reason. But inevitably, that anger toward a broken system usually redirects itself toward other people. We’re not just angry at Washington D.C. We’re angry with one another.

And we’re afraid. Some are afraid of what might happen if Hillary is elected and rules the country with her progressive agenda. Others fear the chaos of a nation led by President Trump.

With that in mind, the words Paul wrote to the Philippian church two thousand years ago seem like they were written this morning.

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Philippians 4:2 (ESV)

Some issue had divided these two Christian women. It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t simply tell them to figure out how to get along. And he doesn’t tell them to find some common interest that they can agree on. If he were writing it today, Paul wouldn’t tell these women to vote for the same person. Instead, he tells them to agree, “in the Lord.”

Everyone in our churches won’t vote the same. There will be people who have different opinions on education, state politics and who the next president should be. And not everyone will agree with the pastor’s political views. We shouldn’t want that. An assembly where everyone shares the same views on every single cultural issue is more like a cult than a unified body.

So the source of our unity will not be our politics. For the church, Christ is what binds us together. At the appropriate times, we can have discussions on school choice and Hillary and Donald. And we can agree to disagree. But we must always find agreement in the reality that Jesus Christ is the crucified and living God who died for the sins of his people and is coming again.

There’s another “in the Lord” phrase in this passage.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Philippians 4:4 (ESV)

The answer to your fear of Hillary is not found in Donald Trump. Your worries over a Trump presidency will not ultimately be relieved by a Clinton presidency. Yep, you guessed it. The remedy to our fears are found, “in the Lord.”

When we place our identity in a political party or candidate, consuming fear is a natural result. But when we realize that as believers our identity is found in Christ, we really start to respond to scary situations differently.

Instead of doubting God’s sovereign control, we worship him (Philippians 4:4).

Instead of lashing out at others, we treat them with grace and love, knowing that the Lord is always near (Philippians 4:5).

And rather than allowing ourselves to become consumed with fear, we take our concerns to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6).

That’s when we experience the peace of God (Philippians 4:7).

In just under a month, we will elect a new president. That new president will have a lot of power. But the next president of the United States will not have the power to heal fractured relationships. And that president will not have the power to bring genuine peace to our hearts and minds.

So, no matter our political differences, let’s remember to love each other. And let’s not believe those who profit from preaching a gospel of fear. Let’s not look to Hillary or Donald to give us what can only be found in the Lord.

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Is God Really In Control?

A while back I was having a theological conversation with someone. They were taking issue with my belief in the sovereignty of God, that is, the belief that God is in control of all things at all times. The person’s main concern was that if all Christians believed that God was in control of all things, none of them would do missions.

I thought about that on Wednesday night while I sat and heard a woman telling a story of the sovereignty of God. She and her husband and their five children packed up everything and left behind the comforts of Georgia for the challenges of Romania. For eleven years now the family has been working to break down barriers or racism, rescue women who are or otherwise might be caught in the sex trafficking industry, pulling children out of orphanages and giving them a better home, providing an education and yes, evangelizing the lost.

This family’s belief in the sovereignty of God didn’t keep them from the mission God had for them. It fueled their mission.

Christians like to say that God is in control but I wonder how many of us really believe that. Sure, we can say that he is in control on a random Tuesday morning. But what about on a Wednesday morning when a tornado hits? Or when there’s a bad phone call from your brother? Or when it feels like you can’t possibly go any further? Is God still in control then?

The Bible answers that question with a resounding yes.

I form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the LORD, who does all these things. Isaiah 45:7 (ESV)

This would be quite scary were it not for God’s goodness. Hitler had a pretty good measure of control over Germany. An abusive husband can control his wife. But neither Hitler or the abusive husband are good.

It does us no good to speak of the sovereignty of God if we do not also speak of the goodness of God.

 

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:1-5 (ESV)

So the sovereignty of God is not intended to free us from the mandate to make disciples of all nations or from any other more specific mission God may have for us. But there are a few things that the sovereignty of God, when understood in union with the goodness of God, will free us from.

Things like fear and anxiety.

It’s interesting to hear how people talk about the upcoming presidential election in the United States. Here’s a basic summary of one point I hear frequently.

“Well, neither one of the candidates are any good but we need to vote for ______________ because at least God can work through that one.”

But God can’t work through the other one? Read the Bible. It’s one big, long story of God working through tyrants to accomplish his perfect will for the good of his imperfect people. Or, to put it another way, the Bible is an account of God’s complete control over all things. That doesn’t mean that we have to support tyranny or some supposed lighter version of it. It just means that we don’t need to be afraid when it comes knocking on our door.

God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness work together to free us from the constant hand wringing that so many have given in to.

God was good and he was in control when he created the heavens and the earth.

God was good and he was in control when Jesus was crucified.

God was good and he was in control on the day that I was saved.

God was good and he was in control on the day that my parents divorced and on the day that my mother got sick and on the day that she died.

When we have our presidential election, God will still be good and he will still be in control, no matter who wins.

And, whether God calls you to Romania or to stay in the states to make disciples, he will still be good and he will still be in control.

Because God is both good and sovereign, we can trust that when bad things happen, God will eventually, some way and some how, work them for our good. We don’t need to know all of the details. When tragedy strikes, the world is better off without us trying to excuse God, speak where he has not spoken or explain away his sovereignty.

We say something much more powerful when we simply trust God and worship him.

He really is in control.

He really is good.

And that frees us to obey him boldly and worship him gladly.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:33-36 (ESV)

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Whale, Star, Chris Tomlin Mashup

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Psalm 19:1-6 (ESV)

Missing Jesus

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It is possible to do what they call, “the Lord’s work,” and still miss the Lord.

Perhaps you feel distant from God. And perhaps you don’t know why. You’re committed to your local church. You serve faithfully there. You always help out, even on the jobs that no one else likes or notices.

So why does God seem so distant?

It could be that the very things you are doing in order to feel his presence are the things that are making you feel so far away from him. No one else knows this about you better than you do but maybe you’re not really doing the Lord’s work. Maybe you’re just doing a bunch of jobs to try and earn the Lord’s attention. It could be that you are performing for Christ instead of fellowshipping with him.

But don’t beat yourself up too bad. You’re not the first to fall into this trap.

One day, Jesus entered the home of a woman named Martha. By all appearances, she was ecstatic. You would be too. The other day, the bug man came to my house and I vacuumed to get ready. The bug man! Who vacuumes for the bug man? Has a bug man ever commented on the feng shui of someone’s living room? So just imagine if Jesus stopped by.

When he came to her house, Martha served. She was doing the Lord’s work. But she missed the Lord.

Her sister, Mary, was doing the exact opposite. She was just sitting. Don’t you hate it when you’re working hard while others who could be helping you are not? That was Martha’s sister. Martha worked. Mary sat. But Mary wasn’t just sitting anywhere.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” Luke 10:38-40 (ESV)

Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus. Listening to him. Worshipping him. Knowing him. All the while, Martha was missing him. She was so distracted doing the Lord’s work that she didn’t have the time to actually be with the Lord.

Notice the result of her performance. She didn’t feel any closer to Jesus. If anything, she was farther away from him. And the distance made her doubt. She asked Jesus the exact same question that his disciples asked him when they thought that there were about to die in the middle of a storm (Mark 4:38). “Don’t you care?”

The more our relationship with Christ is based on our performance, the more entitled we will feel. And the more anxious we’ll feel when things don’t go the way that we would like.

You can see that in Jesus’ response to Martha’s hard work.

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42 (ESV)

“Martha, Martha.”

If Jesus ever calls your name twice, you know that you’ve missed something. He goes on to tell her that her performance is leading her to anxiety. But he offers her a remedy and it’s not to stop working. That’s one of the lies that we tell ourselves. If I could just quit my job, walk away from all of my responsibilities and move to the beach, life would be good. No, Jesus’ answer for Martha wasn’t a life of leisure. It was a life of devotion to him instead of a life devoted to trying to please him.

In Christ, you are loved. Nothing you do can make Jesus love you any more or less. That’s not a free pass to do whatever you want with your life. Instead, it should be motivation to live your whole life devoted to Jesus.

And the ones who are truly devoted to Jesus aren’t always the ones in the kitchen, the Sunday School class or the meeting room busy doing the Lord’s work. They are the ones who are determined not to miss Jesus.

So don’t quit doing the Lord’s work. Keep teaching Sunday School. Keep being a deacon. Keep singing with the worship band on Sunday mornings. But as you do those things, remember who you are doing them for. Remember that it is possible to do the Lord’s work and still miss the Lord.

Remember that Jesus would much rather have your fellowship than your performance.

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There’s A New Cult In Town

Statue of Gautama Buddha "Hua Zang Si" buddist temple 3134 22nd Street San Francisco, CA 94110

There’s a new cult in town and you probably don’t even know about it. Even worse, you might even be a member of it.

Unlike most cults, this one doesn’t really have a charismatic leader with a funny name who preaches about the end of the world.

And while you can pay a small fortune as a devotee to this cult, you don’t necessarily have to.

Knocking on doors early on Saturday mornings and handing out promotional materials isn’t necessary either. In fact, that would be frowned upon. But you do have to talk about this new cult. Well, you don’t really have to. It’s not like you’ll get kicked out if you don’t. It’s just that people who belong to this cult usually do talk about it. A lot. Social media is the primary tool. You have friends on Facebook who are members of this cult. Hardcore members. And, like I said, you may even be a member too.

There isn’t one god at the center of this cult. There are many. But each member worships his own god. That god is your own body.

The required sacrifices have nothing to do with animal killing, feasts or fasts. All that is required is several hours a day appeasing your body in a gym or on a track, trail or road. These are the places where regular worship services are held.

Worship is a big part of this cult. But it doesn’t require music, standing, sitting, standing again and then sitting with heads bowed and eyes closed while someone with a guitar sings. The primary act of worship in this cult is the selfie. That isn’t to say that everyone who takes selfies is a member of The Body Cult. However, if you can’t workout without taking a few pictures or videos of yourself for all of the world to see, you just might be a member.

You might say that I’m being too harsh. After all, it’s just working out. And working out is just taking care of your body. And God only gives you one body. What’s so bad about that?

Nothing.

Working out is good.

Taking care of yourself is smart.

But only when those things are done as acts of worship to the Creator who gives and takes away as he pleases. Working out and taking care of yourself, just like a host of other good things, become dangerous when they become our life’s ultimate things. And for many people, nice abs and a 600 pound deadlift have become ultimate things.

I know. I know. You’re a Christian. You’re no cult member.

Got it.

But here’s a question.

When was the last time that you missed two solid weeks of working out because you were, “too busy?”

Another question.

When was the last time that you went two weeks without reading your Bible or going to church for the same reason?

The answer can be telling.

Not because reading your Bible regularly and going to church make you right with God. They don’t. The answer is telling because worship and commitment go hand in hand. They always do. You will always be committed to what you worship. And you are committed to what you love.

The Body Cult promises a nice, healthy body just in time for the all important beach selfie. Again, the nice healthy body isn’t the problem. A nice, healthy body is a good thing. It’s the heart that puts the one true God on the shelf while the false god of the body is appeased that is the real problem.

The promises of The Body Cult come with a higher price than a tweaked shoulder from last night’s bench press or sore knees from last weekend’s ultra marathon. When your body becomes your god, your body becomes your burden. And the body is a burden that is too heavy for even the fittest athlete to carry. You could always be stronger. There will always seem to be a little bit of fat around your obliques that you would love to get rid of. There is always someone at the gym who is stronger or at the beach who looks better. The false god of the body is never appeased.

Jesus came to free us from burdens like this one.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

Jesus spoke those words to a culture of people who were weighed down by the overbearing rules of religion. But his words apply just as much to a culture of people who are weighed down by the burdens of performance, perfection and appearance.

If you really care about taking care of yourself, don’t neglect the eternal importance of a heart that is right with God for the temporary pleasure of a body that wins the approval of people.

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 (ESV)

Run in that race this weekend and try your hardest to win it. Work hard to reach your weightlifting goals. But do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). His love for you and approval of you is unlike anything else in the world. He doesn’t love you because you can still fit in to the jeans you wore in high school. He doesn’t approve of you because you’re so athletic for someone your age. His love and approval are based solely on his grace and the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

It’s not too late to renounce your membership in The Body Cult. Come to grips with the fact that you will never win this way. Open your eyes to the fact that the burdens of The Body Cult are more than you can carry.

For once, let someone else do the heavy lifting for you.

And go to sleep tonight with a body that is tired from a lot of lifting but a soul that is well rested from trusting in Jesus for your ultimate satisfaction, identity and approval.

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I’m Glad That One’s Not In There

What if Paul had written the following to his Philippian friends?

Base your joy on your circumstances. I’ll say it again in case you didn’t get that. Allow whatever situation you are facing to dictate who and how you worship.

Snap. Lose it on people. Fall all to pieces because this is as good as it gets for you. No one is coming to rescue you.

Worry yourself sick over everything. Don’t even bother with prayer. There’s nothing in it for you. No one is listening. 

Your heart and your mind will eventually be consumed with fear or perhaps even the very thing that you fear. 

You are on your own.

I’m glad that one’s not in there. But it does help us to better understand what is in there. And what is in there is a word from God through Paul to pull us away from our obsession with worry and fear. It goes like this.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

We want to live like this. We really do. But too often we believe our worries and fears when they try to convince us to buy in to what isn’t true. That’s why it’s important to marinate in the Scriptures. When we do, we will be reminded of the truth whenever our worries and fears try to convince us to believe a lie. We will be reminded of truths like these.

1. In Christ, there is always a reason to rejoice.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Philippians 4:4 (ESV)

2. Christ is coming back to rescue those who have put their faith in him.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Philippians 4:5 (ESV)

3. Prayer is the remedy for worry.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (ESV, emphasis mine)

4. God really is listening to you.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (ESV, emphasis mine)

5. More than that, God is giving you what you need the most.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 (ESV, emphasis mine)

6. And all the while, Jesus is fighting for you.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 (ESV, emphasis mine)

It all comes down to belief. Will you believe those verses, the ones that aren’t in there, that your worries and fears constantly quote to you? Or, will you believe the verses that really are in there? Will you trust the one who has always been there, fighting for your good?

Worry, much like worship, isn’t a matter of circumstances. Both are the answer to one simple question.

Who are you trusting?

The Frightening Sound We Make When We Stop Singing In Church

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You’re not supposed to feel out of place at church. I did.

I couldn’t have been more than ten-years-old. I was about to sing my first and only solo. Man, I was nervous.

I still remember my line.

“Believing you can light up the sky.”

There were two other kids and an adult with me. We were supposed to be shepherds. Singing shepherds. The kind that only existed in church Christmas musicals from the 1980s.

The adult that was with us worked on the air for an Atlanta radio station. This was nothing for him. He had one of those golden voices that, no matter what he was saying, you knew that he was created for radio. And church Christmas musicals from the 1980s.

The other two kids were also designed for this sort of thing. They were a little older than me. I think that the girl had been taking singing lessons since she was in the womb. I’m not sure about the boy’s musical training. All I remember about him is that he had a perm. Boys with perms are great performers.

And then there was me. I just wanted to get this over with. I was tired of Saturday evening practices that cut into my pro wrestling viewing. I didn’t want to sing in public. I didn’t have a perm. I had no musical training.

Well, I guess I did have some musical training.

There were two ladies in charge of the kid’s choir at my church. Mrs. Scott and Mrs.Tingle taught me pretty much everything I know about singing. That’s not much. But what I learned, I still carry with me today, almost thirty years after my first and last official solo.

Mrs. Scott was very formal. I don’t think that she ever had a hair out of place. Mrs. Tingle was much older. Arthritis had gotten the best of her crooked fingers and hands. But, somehow, she still managed to play the piano. And for some reason, these two ladies saw fit to make me sing a solo in a Christmas play.

So there I was, waiting back stage for my musical debut. The radio guy was calm. The guy with the perm was, well, permy. Is that a word? But the girl, the one who I thought had been taking singing lessons since the womb, was nowhere to be found. Eventually, someone found her. In the bathroom. Sick.

This did wonders for my nerves. If Julie Andrews is throwing up, what should I be doing?

The show went on and I worked my way through the solo. When it was over, I went and sat with my mom. I’m sure that she was proud. Not proud in the sense of, “When they invent American Idol in a couple of decades, my son should try out.” It was more of a, “I can’t believe that he didn’t throw up all over himself” proud.

Last Sunday, just before I stood up to preach, I thought about that solo. There were kids all over our sanctuary’s stage, singing a song. None of them had a solo. None of them had a perm. But they were all singing. Together.

I still remember the words to their song.

“Ho – Ho – Hosanna! Everybody praise the Lord.”

Two of those kids were my sons. I was proud of them. And it wasn’t the, “I can’t believe that they didn’t throw up on themselves” kind of proud. I was proud to see them singing. They were learning the same lesson that I learned in my church when I was somewhere around their age.

Great truths are meant to be sung.

I haven’t intentionally sang a solo in church since that 1980s Christmas musical. But I have done a lot of singing. And every time I do, whether it’s an old hymn or a new song, I think about Mrs. Scott and Mrs. Tingle and all that they taught me.

Great truths are meant to be sung.

Mrs. Scott and Mrs. Tingle are in the church that I pastor. They’re much younger and they have different names. But their impact is still the same. They are the volunteers who are teaching kids how to worship Jesus. Most of the kids in our church may never grow up to be great performers. But they can grow up to be great worshipers. All because of what they learned from the ladies in their church.

At some point in our transition from childhood to adulthood, something frightening happens. We stop singing. It’s as if we believe that singing is just for kids and trained professionals. As if someone might get hurt if they try to sing without the proper credentials. And so we see congregations full of adults looking down at the floor and mumbling when it’s time to sing. That’s one of the most frightening sounds you’ll ever hear in a church building.

Mrs. Scott and Mrs. Tingle showed me a better way. Ladies in the church that I pastor are doing the same thing for our children. They are teaching more than music theory.

They are teaching that great truths are meant to be sung.

And it sounds beautiful.

It’s the End of the World as Hank Williams Jr. Knows It

I grew up listening to a weird mix of music. Public Enemy, Stryper and Hank Williams Jr. to name a few. I’m still waiting on these three to go on tour together. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.

There was this Hank Williams Jr. song that fascinated me. Country Boy Can Survive. To my knowledge, it was country music’s first apocalyptic song. Hank, it appears, was apocalyptic before apocalyptic was cool. Take that, Katniss!

The more I listened to the song and sang it in my head, the more I convinced myself that I was a country boy and that I could survive. Never mind the fact that I lived in the south Atlanta suburbs and struggled with opening a can of Beanie Weenies. Surely, just singing the words to the song would suffice. Surely.

I was in my mid 20s before I realized just how wrong I was.

In the song, Hank catalogs all of his country boy skills. Making homemade wine, spitting Beechnut in some dude’s eye and, as I understood it, running “a truck line.” I spent years wondering how being able to manage a fleet of 18-wheelers would prove beneficial in an apocalyptic scenario. But, I thought it best not to question Mr. Williams Jr. So I carried on singing about “skinning bucks” and “running truck lines.”

And then I was corrected by an authentic country boy.

“It’s trot line.”

“What?”

“Trot line. Not truck line.”

“Oh… Well what’s a trot line?”

I learned two very important lessons from that short conversation.

1. I was not, in fact, a country boy.

2. I would not be doing any surviving. Unless there would be someone with me who happened to be skilled at the fine art of opening Beanie Weenie cans.

If we’re not careful, we can find ourselves in the same situation on Sunday mornings. We may call our singing worship. It may even feel like worship. But in reality it is nothing of the sort. If we’re honest, we don’t even know what we’re singing. And even worse, we’re nowhere close to living it.

Jesus hates this kind of worship. He told us as much when he quoted Isaiah to the religious leaders.

“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” Matthew 15:7-9 (ESV)

The kind of worship that Jesus loves is the kind that overflows from a heart of gratitude towards him and love towards one another. Paul says to sing, “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

It’s interesting that most disputes I hear about in churches have something to do with music. It’s either too loud, too old or too new. No matter how sincerely we subscribe to our views and particular form of worship, much of these arguments fly in the face of the kind of worship that Jesus is after.

He’s not as concerned with musical harmony as he is with harmony among his people.

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:14 (ESV)

Worship, just like being a country boy, is more than just singing a song. It’s living a life.

The singing is just the soundtrack.

Sing Anyway

“A Christian may continue to be sick after he has been born again, but he does not have to. He has been redeemed from sickness. The price has been paid for his healing. Sickness can no long exert dominion over him unless he allows it.”                               Gloria Copeland

All of the people on our prayer list at church, the ones with cancer and other diseases, are only sick because they want to be. That’s what Gloria Copeland would have us to believe. And the same for the guy in my community who got in a car accident and has been in the nursing home for three decades. Jesus would like to heal these folks but they just don’t want it bad enough.

For teachers like Gloria Copeland and Benny Hinn, Christians aren’t set apart because of the fruit of the Holy Spirit or the light of Jesus Christ shining through them. No, the people of God are set apart because of their wealth and well-being. Under this belief system, paying cash for a new car and getting a clean bill of health from the doctor are the two most effective tools of evangelism.

This kind of false teaching is nothing new. Paul fought against it nearly 2000 years ago.

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:9-10 (ESV)

But it wasn’t just words for Paul. It was a way of life.

Early in his ministry Paul was beaten and thrown into jail in a place called Philippi. His body was bound. And it was also broken. To apply Gloria Copeland’s theology, Paul allowed this to happen because of his lack of faith.

But while Paul and Silas, his ministry partner, were in jail they demonstrated anything but a lack of faith.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Acts 16:25 (ESV)

God eventually sent an earthquake that released Paul from his cell. But we are mistaken if we believe that Paul knew that this was going to happen. Not long before, Stephen and James were put to death for their devotion to Christ. Paul knew that he could certainly be the next man in line.

But he sang anyway.

He sang because he believed the promise that no matter what happened, Jesus was still in charge. He sang because he knew that, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Christians aren’t set apart by their lack of suffering. We are, however, set apart by how we respond to that suffering. And just like the other prisoners in that jail, people are watching and listening.

Many, many great Christians with strong faith still experience trials. Trials that seem unbearable. Every Sunday morning, I worship with some of them.

Before I get up to preach, we sing songs together. When I look straight ahead, I can see our choir. There are people in our choir who are sick. Others have family members who are hurting. And not one of them knows what will happen tomorrow.

The same is true for all of the people sitting behind me. People suffering through broken relationships. People waiting for test results. People with no idea what the future holds.

My church isn’t full of perfectly healthy people whose only worry is what to do with all of their extra money.

Just like the rest of the world, our bodies suffer.

Just like the rest of the world, our minds wander towards worry.

Just like the rest of the world, we face trials and uncertainty.

But, just like Paul and Silas, we sing anyway.

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. Habakkuk 3:17-19 (ESV)