Shallow Music vs. Hallowed Music

I’m not much for contemporary Christian music. There’s something distasteful to me about elevating a song because it’s on the top 40. (And I suppose the same could be said for Southern Gospel).   It seems so shallow to make a big deal about the newest tune that hasn’t proven it’s serviceability to the Christian family through years of worship.  Further, if an artist seems more focused on his image and style than being a conduit for the historic gospel message it’s difficult for me to take him seriously.  The music shouldn’t be more about the singer than the Savior.  In evaluating quality Christian music I’m looking for music that has stood the test of time and remained spiritually meaningful and useful.  

This hit me tonight as I was streaming some songs by a top tier contemporary Christian artist from two decades ago. Twenty years ago I dismissed most of his music as fleeting in value. Tonight I found myself drawn into worship while I was washing dishes and listening to one of his songs.  I guess the songs I was enjoying have earned their keep and I am now able to see the artist as a serious minister of music not just the latest icon of the Christian pop culture. He’s grown and so have I. 

Maybe I’m judgemental. I think my kids would say I’ve opened up considerably since their teen years. But I’m still convinced that good quality Christian music transcends fleeting popular tastes. It carries a substantive and spiritually edifying message. It has to retain it’s usefulness across generational boundaries to earn a slot in my worship library.  And it takes more than 6 weeks on the top 40 to earn that grade. 

Sunday Synchronicity

For many years it seemed that my activities and experiences on Sunday were out of synch with my life the remainder of the week. Sunday life means attendance at church where we sing hymns, receive communion, give an offering and hear a sermon.  Since these are strictly Sunday activities it  felt as if  my spiritial life  didn’t fit with or was foreign to “normal” life. But is this accurate?  I’ve begun to challenge that notion. 

Just because Sunday activities are different than Monday thru Saturday activities doesn’t make Sunday life out of synch with the rest of our week. In fact, a very strong case can be made that worship activities on the Lord’s day contributes to a more synchronized life rhythm. Worship without labor becomes irrelevant or at least unproductive; but labor without worship deteriorates into a chasing of the wind. We need both work and worship to be balanced. In fact, a truly Christian worldview attaches spiritual value to every mundane task-even that of eating and drinking. 

With that said, most days my heart prefers the rhythm of Sunday. 
 

Surprises in Scripture

Anyone who takes time to read the Bible with an open and hungry heart will occasionally encounter verses that jump off the page, stand up and demand attention. This happemed to me this morning as I was reading Isaiah 8. A verse I had never noticed suddenly caught my attention. Today’s blog addresses this phenomenon. 

Hebrews 4:12 says “For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12 AMPC

http://bible.com/8/heb.4.12.AMPC

The power and mystery of this phenomenon is explained by the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. The Bible is full of verses waiting to be released upon our hearts. But my question for today is,  “why does this phenomenon happen?”  

The Holy Spirit, who applies truth to our minds knows exactly what we need at any given time. So when a verse I’ve never noticed before surprises me, I can be sure the Holy Spirit is communicating with me along a line of thought that I need to hear and apply. He knows my thoughts, my struggles, temptations and inner arguments. He uses the Word to awaken my heart to His truth. At that point it’s critical for me to stop reading and allow the truth to sink into my heart. If there is something for me to do differently, I need to obey. If it is a point of encouragement, I need to take heart. 

The bottom line is we never know when the Holy Spirit will cause a passage to come alive to us suddenly. But when it happens, He is speaking His truth into a need we have at that moment and it would benefit us to pay attention. 

Having Grace

Grace as a human quality is resiliency in trouble; it is kindness in response to criticism;  gentleness returned for harshness. It is treating others well when they haven’t earned it. 

Grace is not a natural human quality. Gracious living is only possible when we ourselves receive grace from God first. No grace coming in means no grace going out. Supernatural grace to respond in kindness, gentleness and resiliency comes by the disciplines of prayer, humility and servitude. 

Oh how we need grace! 

An Evil heart of unbelief

​Hebrews 3:12-13
1. The danger of an evil heart-“take heed….”this is spoken to Jewish believers 
A. It is entity possible for us to allow evil back into our hearts. 
B. We are advised to take heed son this does not happen
2. The description of an evil heart-it need not be shocking sin just “unbelief…”
A. Unbelief and disobedience are linked 

B. Unbelief and pride are linked 

C. Unbelief and defeat are linked. 
3. The direction of an evil heart-“departing from the living God.”  
A. Unbelief leads away from God

B. Unbelief leads us toward ourselves.  
4 . The deception of an evil heart-“hardens the heart”
A. Evil hearts despise truth

B. Evil hearts resist truth 

C. Evil hearts replace truth
A1. If the Word is not challenging you, convicting you, changing you, you’re not growing. 

Solitude: Alone but not Lonely

Today I am returning to a previous theme; one which I have a difficulty practicing: Solitude.  I believe we were made for socialization with God and others.  This seems counter to solitude.  But solitude can actually enhance our bonds and relationships with those whom we love and love to be with. 

Gordon MacDonald wrote about the importance of solitude in his book Ordering Your Private World. Here’s just one reason he says solitude and silence is so critical:

The archenemy of God has conspired to surround us at every conceivable point in our lives with the interfering noises of our civilization that drown out the voice of God.

What is the purpose of solitude?  Spiritually, and specifically for the disciple of Christ, solitude is elementary to the one on one relationship we share with Him.  Solitude provides quietness for Him to speak to us and for us to meditate on Him.  It disconnects us from the tyrannical demands of the clock.

Why is solitude good for us?  I took the day off from work and find myself sitting in a local public library. Its quiet except for the music playing through my Bluetooth headphones.  But the stillness of the day and  stillness of the moment have helped me think about things I would not normally take time to consider.  How often do we have the luxury of pondering the more important relationships and decisions in our lives?  If you’re like me it’s not often enough.

Where am I headed in life?  How can improve my marriage?    Should I put in for a promotion?  Where are the areas of my life where God seems to reworking me?  What are my feelings right now?   Am I sad?  Why?  Am I happy? Why? Who am I becoming?  What is the Spirit teaching me?

A vital piece of solitude for the believer the Word of God. The Bible is the source of light, truth, healing and correction. We cheat ourselves when we neglect its power and benefits. 

Solitude requires that we disconnect from distractions.  At times it may mean we close our eyes and listen to God. At other times it may mean getting buried in a book. Prayer may effective at other times.  It may mean writing (which is therapy for me), listening to music which speaks to your heart needs. Whatever the method you use, the outcome should be a brighter outlook, a clearer understanding, a deeper peace, a calm mind and heart. It should increase our mental and spiritual stamina. 
 

I Miss Old Fashioned Church

I’m a sentimental traditionalist. There aren’t many of us left anymore in the church. But I really do miss what I remember to be “Old -Fashioned” Christianity. 

I understand that old doesn’t mean better. After all I’m using my high tech smart phone to write this blog. But there are some things about Christianity which are no longer extant but I miss them. 

I miss the sacredness of Sunday. Today, Sunday’s sacredness seems to be limited to an hour or at the most two hours in the morning while the rest of the day is spent  like a second Saturday. But as a child growing up Sundays were special. Sundays meant dressing up, seeing friends and hearing the gospel story. It meant small churches, big dinners, family gatherings and peaceful naps. Sundays were special and different all day long. 

I remember the rays of the Sunday morning sun splashing red, gold and blue light on the pews and wood floors  through the multi-colored stained glass windows. Modern church architecture has exchanged the stained glass windows for dark theatre walls and spotlights.  The stained glass windows made my sanctuary a refuge within which I found the  beauty, majesty and wonder of God.  

I miss the simple preaching of the simple gospel. Contemporary sermons must frequently address the complex, sophisticated issues of modern culture.  My pastor’s education was minimal but his walk with God made up for that and his messages were inspiring, and sometimes humorous. Children’s church was called VBS and only lasted a week each year. Pastor’s messages were simple enough for a child’s mind but stout enough for adult digestion too. 

I miss Sunday School.  Oh, I still teach a small Sunday school class but I miss the prominence Sunday School programs once played in the life and growth of the Church. Today’s model of discipleship may be better suited to the busy schedules and specialized demands of today’s Christian adult. And unfortunately Sunday School classes were (are) often prone to digress into heated debates, but done right, Sunday School can be an affective table-setter for morning worship since it engages the mind in the Word of God. 

I miss the testimony part of old fashioned church. Modern worship has become so group-focused that the individual believer is muted in corporate worship.  Admittedly as a teen I thought testimony time was a waste of time. But looking back, the colorful stories and quaint, familiar expressions of individual saints sometime moved us to tears and at other times incited thunderous laughter. 

Finally, I miss the time-tested hymns and songs of our faith. We had no pipe organ but granny could still pound out the rhythm of How Firm a Foundation. And we sang with such gusto!  Most hymns and songs were written with poetic beauty.    Every true classic song weaved a story of salvation from sin’s pit, through daiy struggles of life and ended with a verse on heaven’s hope and splendor. 

The Old Fashioned Church isn’t entirely extinct. I co-pastor one in northeastern Oklahoma that would still identify as Old Fashioned in many ways.  But sadly, the church is moving away from  simple and personal worship which served us so well for so long. Will today’s form eventually be labeled Old Fashioned and be traded for something newer?  


A Rx for Life’s Poison 

I remember the energy, the thrill, the wonder of youth and early days of ministry.  There was a conviction that the Word of God and Holy Spirit could work through me to change lives and even the world.  The call of God was on my life. I took that call  seriously. Caring for and deivering the Word to the congregations under my care became the fulfilling of that calling. Hope was alive.  Plans were big. 

But over the years life’s unexpected ingredients were being added to the elixir of joyful salvation. 

  • Ministry disappointments brought disillusionment 
  • Financial pressures created anxiety
  • Cultural shifts threatened uncertainty
  • Personal failures created shame
  • Relationship losses inflicted sadness
  • Family pain caused frustration 
  • Marriage conflict added loneliness 

These ingredients were mixed together in a poisonous brew and I was forced to swallow. The nasty concoction embittered my soul, destroyed my hope, drained my energy and stole my vision. I became cynical. I learned to build walls to hide behind. A sinister shadow of discontent crept in. A heavy fog suggesting God’s disapproval and disappointment seeped into me.  Was I in danger of forfeiting something sacred or had the exchange already happened without me realizing it?   Not only had I lost the enthusiastic joy of ministry but I had also allowed the joy of personal salvation to die. 

Surely I’m not the only servant of God who has ever been poisoned by the heartaches of life. There must be others out there. Have any of them swallowed this brew and avoided the sour stomach.  Is there an antidonte available or is my condition terminal?  

The Apostle Paul comes to mind. He drank  the poison too but seemed to survive without the belly ache I got. How?  How could he say in Acts 20:24 “But none of these things move me…”?

In examination of Paul’s testimony in Acts 20, I see the antidote to this poison. The treatment for life poisoning is primarily a transformation of the mind and heart. Buried in Paul’s goodbye speech to the Ephesians elders, we find 8 treatments which helped him avoid the effects of life’s poisons. Here they are:
Treatment 1: He thought of himself as bound in the spirit. He deserved no special treatment. 
Treatment 2: He considered his life expendable for His Lord. “Neither count I my life dear to myself.”
Treatment 3: He was focused on ministry. “That I may finish my course …and ministry.”
Treatment 4: He gave people to God instead of worrying about their outcome. “I commend you to God and His grace.”
Treatment 5: He prevented covetousness in his  heart. “I have coveted no man’s silver or gold or clothing.”
Treatment 6: He engaged in manual labor to provide for himself. “These hands have ministered to my necessities.”
Treatment 7: He nurtured and practiced generosity of spirit. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Treatment 8: He prayed with his friends. “He kneeled down and prayed with them all.”  

One might speculate that Paul was putting on a good face for the Ephesian elders lest they abandon hope too.  Maybe deep inside he too felt the burn of life’s poison.  But until we try the treatment plan and continue to suffer the effects of the poison, it may be to our advantage to follow the treatment plan.