Loving What Our Father Loves

September 14, 2013

At a family gathering recently, some of us were watching various funny and cute videos on YouTube. It all started when my two granddaughters said they wanted to do the “Chicken Dance,” and they recalled a clip from the Lawrence Welk show we had played for them a couple years earlier. One video led to the next, until my daughter-in-law suggested we search for “baby sings Elvis.”

baby sings ElvisThe 5 minute clip is of a 20 month-old baby, Ella, sitting in her car seat as her daddy drives. The dad must have suspected what would happen because he had mounted a video camera in the car pointed directly at the little girl. She obviously adores her daddy because initially she calls out “Daddy!” over and over as they begin their ride. But when the dad cues up Elvis singing “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” on the car’s audio system, Ella passionately sings along, even pounding her hand and swinging her head back and forth at key parts during the song. She has become very familiar with the song that her daddy must have played numerous times in her hearing. Ella loves what her daddy loves. You must watch the video linked here to fully appreciate how precious it is!

The great Christian philosopher and theologian, Jonathan Edwards, illustrated the Christian life as a journey toward heaven, and he likened our spiritual formation to learning a song. At first, the tune and the words to a new song are unfamiliar to us, but as we hear it and sing it over and over it embeds itself in our consciousness. Soon the song is very familiar, and we can anticipate our favorite parts as we sing. So it is with our Christian walk as we grow in the life of the Spirit. Our hearts become tuned to the ways of God, and we look forward to Heaven where the music concert will be full-blown as we see the great Composer face-to-face.

Paul gives us this encouragement in the book of Colossians:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

(Colossians 3:1-4, ESV)

We can set our minds on things above by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts and lives until our Father’s ways become familiar to us. We learn to love what our “Daddy” loves, and we sing along as we ride with Him toward our ultimate destination.


“O My Soul…”

September 8, 2013

talking-to-the-mirrorMy wife, Donna, likes to talk to herself. As she gets ready for work in the morning, Donna typically gives herself a running verbal narrative of how things are going. Of course I can hear her, and we’ve had many comical (or sometimes frustrating) exchanges as I try to discern whether she is talking to me, to herself, or even to God. When she says to herself “I need to find my shoes,” it could be Donna making a mental checklist of what she still needs to accomplish in order to get out the door on time, or it could be a subtle hint that I should go on a hunt for her footwear. Or could it be a prayer? I mean, after all, it does take divine intervention at times to locate her shoes.

Many times, in the Psalms, the writer is speaking to the reader, then to himself, then to God, then to himself again, and so on. Obviously, speaking to God is a very good idea, But, apparently, speaking to oneself is also a healthy thing to do, especially if it is done knowing that God is audience to the things being said. Psalm 42 is such a Psalm. In several places the Psalmist speaks to God:

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.

My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you…

Deep calls to deep, at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.

(Psalm 42:1, 5, 7, ESV)

In other verses the Psalmist is recounting his thoughts to others:

These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

(Psalm 42:4, 8, ESV)

And twice in the Psalm the writer speaks the same refrain to himself:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

(Psalm 42:5, 11, ESV)

Early in my Christian walk, those to whom I turned for instruction in spiritual growth suggested that I try to have a “quiet time” each day, preferably in the early morning, where I turned my attention toward God as I read the Bible or other devotional material, meditated on Him, and prayed for myself and others. Certainly this is a very good idea that cultivates our relationship with the Almighty. But in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul suggests that we “pray without ceasing.”  We can’t have a dedicated quiet time every waking minute of the day. The model presented to us in Psalm 42 is one where we interlace the conversation with ourselves and others  with prayers whispered to God as we walk through the day-to-day experiences of this life.


Confess and Believe

August 30, 2013

A number of years ago, one of my sons started dating a girl whose father was an “evangelist” in a religious group not considered to be in line with a mainstream, evangelical confession of faith. Donna and I really liked the girl and her family. Even though their beliefs were not in line with our way of thinking we all seemed to get along fairly well.

ANGRY PREACHERAfter a few months, however, we noticed that my son became increasingly frustrated in his relationship with the family, particularly the father. Evidently the father began making my son the target of his evangelistic outreach, telling my son that he was not saved because he had not been baptized using a specific formula, or set of words, that were in line with their religious group’s doctrinal position. My son would come home and ask me about what we believed, telling me that his girlfriend’s father was making him worry about his own Christian faith and his eternal fate. We discussed numerous doctrinal positions, examining what the Bible said about the various points of disagreement that were becoming obvious.

The one passage that settled the issue of salvation for my son was this one in Romans:

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

Romans 10:8-10, ESV

It is as simple yet as profound as this. Confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. At one point in His earthly ministry Jesus said “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Formulas don’t matter. What matters is what is in our hearts, and if something is in our hearts it will be evidenced by what we say. Certainly obedience is important, and the way that we walk in day to day life is important. But our salvation is based on what we believe about Jesus’ lordship. If we truly have accepted Jesus as Lord, it will effect every area of our lives. This is the true evidence of salvation.


“At Least I Didn’t Hit Your Car!”

August 24, 2013

Last evening I had the wonderful privilege of helping my 5 year old granddaughter, Kwynce, learn to ride a bicycle without training wheels. Her older sister, Kihryn, was there cheering her on and encouraging her with promises of dollar bills if she reached various challenges, like “Ride all the way to the pink chalk line I drew in the driveway.” My wife, Donna, was there observing, as was Kwynce’s mom and dad. It was an enjoyable time and, as I explained to Kwynce, “This is a day you will never forget!”Little-Girl-Riding-Her-Bike

Kwynce is typically a cheerful and optimistic little soul, and last evening was no exception. After each attempt, if she fell short of the goal, she would jump up and offer a positive observation (which were really encouragements to herself):

  • At least I didn’t hit your car!
  • I made it farther than I did the last time!
  • I’m not crying when I fall off!

Kwynce chose to look at a positive aspect of each failed attempt instead of becoming discouraged and quitting. I began to think about Paul’s letter to the people in Thessalonica in which he encouraged them to “rejoice always” and to “give thanks in all circumstances” (Thessalonians 5:16,18). These encouragements by Paul were not hollow platitudes. He demonstrated many times in his life as an apostle his dogged determination to rejoice and give thanks in all circumstances. For example, after Paul and Silas were beaten with rods in Philippi for casting demons out of a fortune telling slave girl, they were thrown in prison where their feet were fastened in stocks. Paul and Silas began to pray and sing praises instead of becoming discouraged and grumbling about the abuses they suffered. God intervened by causing an earthquake, their chains were miraculously loosed, and people were saved as a result (Acts 16:16-34).

Very few of us have been beaten with rods and thrown in prison with our feet being locked in stocks. The inconveniences and discomforts we suffer are typically much less severe, yet our first response often is to grumble, to not rejoice, and to not give thanks. Kwynce’s cheerful outlook, and the example of Paul and Silas can serve to show us that we really do have multiple opportunities, “10,000 reasons,” to rejoice and give thanks to God on a daily basis:

You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

(from “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin)


Do Not Be Wise In Your Own Eyes

August 10, 2013

The history of the nation of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament is one where the people fell into a pattern: when they feared God and followed His laws they were blessed. But when the people forgot their God and turned to their own ways or the ways of the pagan nations around them, they got into trouble. Then they would cry out to God and He would deliver them. kneelFor a while, the people would honor God and His anointed leaders, but before long they would forget and the whole cycle would start again.  Moses had warned them by saying “You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes…” (Deuteronomy 12:8, ESV). Instead they were to pay attention to the words and ways of God as revealed to them through Moses.

This is the great divide in our culture today, as it has been throughout time. Will human reasoning be enthroned as the great master, or will God’s ways as revealed in His word be the source of our guiding principles? Human reasoning is not a bad thing…certainly the earth is full of wonderful things created by men and women of all cultures. But when our ways contradict God’s ways, when reasoned thought leads us to conclusions that are contrary to the truths revealed in Scripture, that’s when problems arise.

Solomon, probably the wisest human (besides Jesus) who ever lived, gave this admonition:

Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 3:7, NASB

Many recent examples could be given where human reasoning has stepped on God’s word. Take, for example, the controversial issue of abortion. Proponents of abortion point to many reasons why the killing of an unborn fetus should be permitted: the child might be born into poverty, the child has been diagnosed with a disability, or the mother may not love the child because it is inconvenient and unwanted. Proponents of abortion “reason” that the fetus in the womb is not fully human, it’s just a blob of tissue, and it’s not viable prior to a certain point in its development. But those who fear God point to places in His word where it is obvious that God knows us and makes plans for us even before we are conceived. Besides, it’s not even reasonable to conclude that the fetus is not human simply due to its current location. Clearly, both God’s word and common sense indicate that the taking of an unborn life is murder.

God created the world in wisdom. He has revealed Himself and His ways in the pages of the Bible. We would do well to let the guidance there shape the way we think and reason.

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.

Proverbs 21:2, ESV


The “Arrogance” of Christianity

August 3, 2013

oneway_jesusWe live in a relativistic culture where “truth” exists on a sliding scale. Few people will argue against the idea that 2 + 2 = 4, or that the moon orbits the earth (although even these ideas are challenged by some). But in issues of morality, or faith, or justice, or fairness little consensus will be found on what, exactly, is truth. Lots of folks will claim to make statements that, they say, are true, and most get a pass…unless that truth is inspired by religious faith, especially Christianity.

Jesus Christ made many truth claims, with His most famous and foundational being…

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6, ESV

This is not simply some quaint and flowery utterance out of the mouth of an eccentric sage. Jesus was driving a stake in the ground. He was planting a flag of conquest in the soil of the earth. Jesus was making a claim that, when truly adopted by His followers, brings a sword instead of peace (Matthew 10:34). If you are a follower of Jesus, you have got to take Him at His word. Christianity is the only true faith. All other religions are false.

I made this statement “Christianity is the only true faith” in a Facebook post the other day. It provoked the anger of some readers. One called me a “rear end” (but he used a different 3 letter word), and he said I would “most likely do anything his church tells him to do.” Then he went off on a diatribe about preachers who demand money from their followers and priests who molest little children.

Another woman said “I find it extremely arrogant to believe that your religion, and yours alone, is the only RIGHT one. There have been THOUSANDS of religions and gods across time. And each group of followers thought for sure their god was the ‘right’ one.”

Jesus’ truth statement above finds a parallel in the Old Testament. The book of Proverbs, after laying a foundation about the purpose of the book, opens with this truth claim:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7, ESV

“…the beginning of knowledge.” In other words you really don’t know anything of eternal value unless it is based on the foundation of a reverence for God. Have you come to this place in your faith? Can you say with conviction that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life, even if it offends others? This is the question that divides cultures and will, someday, shake the world. And let me assure you, if you died today, the question of Jesus’ lordship in your life will be the one that determines your eternal fate.


Face-to-Face

July 20, 2013

It’s always great when our loved ones come home, or we go to visit, after being separated for a long time. Even in today’s technologically connected world where we can talk in real time to each other through live video, there is still no substitute for being there in the actual presence of our friends and family. The “real thing” is much better than the image.

SkypeThis is, partly, why God, in the second commandment, instructed us not to make an image of Him (or anything else) to worship. If we make an image, it cannot represent the reality and we end up worshiping false gods instead of the one true God. Jesus was God in human flesh, and those few humans who had the wonderful privilege of being with Him for the years He was on the earth had a very special opportunity indeed. They are the ones who wrote the books of the New Testament. Those writers longed to see Jesus again, and they gave us hopeful encouragements about how much better the “face-to-face” encounter would be:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

(1 John 3:2, ESV)

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

(1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV)

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

(Philippians 1:21-23, ESV)

Our attitude should be like the Apostle Paul’s, quoted just above. We look forward to the day when we will see Jesus Christ in all of His wondrous glory. But, until then, we can strive to please Him through our words, work, and worship which is our fruitful labor in the here and now. May God help us to please Him in all we do so, when we do see Him face-to-face, we might hear Him say “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master!”