From a former Judge of the SCOTUS

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“God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools…and He has not been disappointed. Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world. If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”

– Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, 1936-2016

And as Romans 1:16-17 assumes, that the world believes that lovers of Christ ought to be ashamed of the gospel, since the gospel reveals the righteousness of God to both punish sin and forgive sin, through Christ, we must still say, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it [the proclaimed gospel of Jesus Christ] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, the the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it [the proclaimed gospel of Jesus Christ] the righteousness of God is revealed by faith from first to last, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'”

And that means whatever happens this week in the American Democracy, those who have been called to belong to Christ (1:6) will still live by faith in the promises of God to exalt his Son as King over all the earth (1:3-4). Let us pray for our earthly country so that there may be peace and justice for all, especially for those whose hearts beat just inches away from the world that they are attempting to immigrate to.

Would you attend a church that advertised this? “Colored folk meet at the 8:00 am service; White folk meet at the 10:00 am service.”

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Let’s try a few more, shall we?

“Males meet at 8 am and Females meet at 10 am”.

“Vegetarians meet at 8 am and Meat-eaters at 10 am.”

“Those who make less than 50k per year meet at 8 am and those who make more, meet at 10 am.”

“Democrats meet at 8 am; Republicans meet at 10 am.”

I ask again, would you attend a church that publicly advertised and implemented any of the above? Are you sure you would not attend a church that intentionally divided its congregation over any kind of preference? Let’s try one more then:

“Traditional Service at 8:00 am; Contemporary Service at 10:00 am”.

Bear with me if this has already got your temperature to rise a bit and that Harvard Lawyer in your mind is belting out defenses.

Since we know that God wants his people to gather together in unity (Eph. 4:1-6), while allowing diversity over gender (1 Cor. 12:12), food preferences (Rom. 14), economic status (James 2:1-4), political preferences and opinions (Rom. 14:1-2), and ethnicities from around the world (Rev. 5:9-10), God also wants unity in diverse singing and styles of music. Let scripture be our guide and not church-growth platitudes:

Colossians 3:16

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Ephesians 5:18-21

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

The Psalms and Revelation

Psalm 90 was written by Moses, 400 years before David wrote Psalm 103. In David’s time, (about year 1,000 B.C), Psalm 90 would be considered a classic hymn by that generations’ standards. But Psalm 103 for example, would be a contemporary song. And clearly by reading the words and the meter of each different psalm, respectively, we would probably expect to hear a difference in how each particular song was played; one more slow and meditative, the other more enthusiastic and faster. Furthermore, Revelation 5:9 says that one day all the people of God will sing a “new song” –  in the Resurrection! I hope that the “traditional/classical” minded of the Church won’t sit out on that. And I hope that the “contemporary/modern” leaning won’t sit out when the Baldwin-Bach-Beethoven pipe organs belt out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants” (Rev. 19:1-2).

What we see from scripture (not the church-growth gurus), is that when the church gathers to sing, it should sing a variety of songs that have a different sound, style, and genre (by God’s grace at our church, we use a few organ settings, piano, acoustic guitar, mandolin, flute, violin, banjo, bongo and conga drums, and percussion box; we use the best of the classics and the best of modern songs with every kind of sound possible, at least to our meager musical abilities, and never, never, never split up our congregation over music preferences). Even if we don’t exactly agree on what a psalm, hymn, or spiritual song sounds like, we must agree with the scriptures that there is to be a variety of different songs and sounds in worship. The “one another” of the scriptures means that older people who might prefer the classics need to learn to appreciate/sing with the younger generation; likewise, the younger, more contemporary leaning in the church need to learn to appreciate/sing with the older generation.

This also means that a church should not get trapped in a southern-gospel sound where every song feels like a high-school football pep rally on a Friday afternoon in the gymnasium. Or, where every song feels and sounds like you’re attending a black-and-white tie and gown to hear the best orchestra in the state. Or, where every song feels like you’re attending a quiet meditation where minor keys and thoughtful eyes gaze at the floor. Worship should incorporate all of this!

What is at stake?

When pastors and worship leaders pander to preferences over music instead of teaching and obeying scripture, people will have another reason to come into worship and expect their preferences to be met, or else the Leadership will hear the threat, “I’ll leave.” (BTW, the sinful heart is inherently segregated against others who are different.) As a preaching and worship pastor and musician in corporate worship for nearly a total of 40 years, I’ve had the “or else” thrown at me many times. But if we really care about people and about honoring our Lord Jesus Christ, then we’ll not succumb to the idolatry of , “give me my brand of worship or I’ll go somewhere else.”

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Here is a helpful guideline for what the worship of the Risen Savior Jesus Christ should sound like on Sunday Morning, according to the above scriptures:

God’s Word teaches:

  1. The lyrics are to reflect what scripture teaches.
  2. There should be variety of style and sound in the songs.
  3. The songs are to be sung to God who sent his son Jesus Christ.
  4. The songs are to be sung to other believers in Christ.
  5. The songs are for all people groups in Christ throughout the ages.
  6. All the songs are for all lovers of Jesus Christ, not just for a particular sub-group within the church.

And therefore,

The Church is not to be segregated in its worship over ethnicity, gender differences, cultural differences, vocation/economic differences, food preferences, or music preferences. When a local congregation is divided and meets at different times over any kind of personal preference, then the gospel to all people groups, in all times, places, and circumstances, is dishonored in the church and implies that Jesus can be restructured to fit ones’ personal taste.

Bottom Line:

You can’t cut and dice Jesus to suit you. Rather, He binds and heals the divisive, segregated, and “my preferred musical experience” minded folk, to join him in multi-sound-surround worship at his Throne. That’s where this is all headed – whether you prefer it or not. I hope you do!

Our Monday Morning Prayer, 9-10-18

Image result for valley of vision puritan prayersFrom time to time we use The Valley of Vision: Puritan Prayers & Devotions for corporate worship. It was compiled and put together for the church to use these prayers from the puritans who lived in the 17 and 18oo’s. This one is titled, “Love”. Join me this morning for prayer:

Lord Jesus,

Give me to love thee, to embrace thee,

though I once took lust and sin in my arms.

Thou didst love me before I loved thee,

an enemy, a sinner, a loathsome worm.

Thou didst own me when I disclaimed myself;

Thou dost love me as a son,

and weep over me as over Jerusalem.

Love brought thee from heaven to earth,

from earth to the cross,

from the cross to the grave.

Love caused thee to be weary, hungry, tempted, scorned, scourged, buffeted, spat upon, crucified, and pierced.

Love led thee to bow thy head in death.

My salvation is the point where perfect created love

and the most perfect uncreated love meet together;

for thou dost welcome me,

not like Joseph and his brothers, loving and sorrowing, but loving and rejoicing.

This love is not intermittent, cold, changeable;

it does not cease or abate for all my enmity.

Holiness is a spark from thy love

kindled to a flame in my heart by thy Spirit,

and so it ever turns to the place, from which it comes.

Let me see thy love everywhere, not only in the cross, but in the fellowship of believers and in the world around me. When I feel the warmth of the sun may I praise thee who art the Sun of righteousness with healing power. When I feel the tender rain may I think of the gospel showers that water my soul.

When I walk by the river side may I praise thee

for that stream that makes the eternal city glad,

and washes white my robes

that I may have the right to the tree of life.

Thy infinite love is a mystery of mysteries,

and my eternal rest lies in the eternal enjoyment of it.

Oh The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus

One of our congregational songs for this Sunday, September 9, 2018. Are you weary dear saint? Are you fearful that your weariness is too much for Christ to bear? Doubt no longer on how much your Father in heaven loves you and grieves with you. Look to the Cross of Christ and see the deep deep love of Jesus.

 

How to Respond to the question, “How could God allow (evil description)”?

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I was recently asked this question by a lady in our church because this is the question that she received from someone that she cares about, and someone that she wants to share the gospel with. Below is in part my response to this question and how to share the gospel based on 1 Peter 3:15. 
Evil in the world has always been one of the top reasons that people object the gospel.
Keep in mind that there is a difference between the words, “good” and “humans made in the image of God”. It is true that the Jews and the Polish and the Russians were innocent of any wrong doing, but they were not “good” as you put it. I know what you mean by describing the millions that was murdered by Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler, but your “defense” should never include the word “good” – because there is no one who is good. I never allow my “opponent” of the gospel to describe people as good. Jesus said in Luke 18:19 – there is no one who is good except God.
That said, it will help your dialogue to frame arguments in this sense: bad things happen to sinful people, because that’s the only kind of people there are on the earth, even if they are innocent of personal wrongdoing.
So here are three ways that I respond, depending upon the nature of the discussion:
1. If God were to leave men alone in their sinful desires (Rom. 1), and they end up murdering innocent people, then that is not God’s fault. Cain murdered his brother Abel and Jesus says that murder is “of the devil” (John 8:31ff). The Holocaust and other horrible acts of genocide is the consequence of God leaving man alone in his sinful desires. What the world needs is the Lord’s restraining hand to hold men back from being so evil. But God does not have to mercifully hold men back from being so evil. In his judgement, he lets them go.
2. There is no greater act of horror ever committed against a human being than the murder of Jesus Christ. And that lawless, sinful act was also God’s plan from the foundation of the world to pay for my sins (Acts 2 and 4). I don’t have all the answers to why God allows such horrible evil to flourish, but I do see the Cross of Christ, both absolutely wretched and absolutely wonderful at the same time. When I have doubts and confusion over what God is up to in allowing and using evil to accomplish his purposes (Genesis 47, 50), I keep my eyes on the Cross. The Cross makes sense to me. And so if the Cross makes sense then I can accept the things that don’t make sense and wait for the END to come to clear up my mind.
But this is how I get to the gospel:
3. What is the Holocaust and other acts of violence against mankind? Is it not at it’s very beginning just one person who does not love his neighbor? Adolf Hitler was once a 10 year old boy working his abusive father’s farm and tending the bee hives for honey! And what if God were to take his restraining hand off of that person – what violence is capable 10 years down the road? Have you ever been unloving to someone? Have you ever mistreated anyone? Have you ever hated someone, cursed someone, taken advantage of someone, verbally or physically wounded someone? Then are you not also guilty of what you condemn in others? When it comes to Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” are you innocent and Hitler guilty?
With this last point, now I can share the gospel because the good news is for everyone, that’s because everyone is guilty before God, not just the really mean ones. Everyone sins. Everyone needs a Savior. Everyone needs Jesus.

Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery

Introducing this beautiful song to our church on September 16. Yes, a little over-due,  since it came out in 2013. But just in case you have not heard this, Enjoy!

VERSE 1
Come behold the wondrous mystery
In the dawning of the King
He the theme of heaven’s praises
Robed in frail humanity

In our longing, in our darkness
Now the light of life has come
Look to Christ, who condescended
Took on flesh to ransom us

VERSE 2
Come behold the wondrous mystery
He the perfect Son of Man
In His living, in His suffering
Never trace nor stain of sin

See the true and better Adam
Come to save the hell-bound man
Christ the great and sure fulfillment
Of the law; in Him we stand

VERSE 3
Come behold the wondrous mystery
Christ the Lord upon the tree
In the stead of ruined sinners
Hangs the Lamb in victory

See the price of our redemption
See the Father’s plan unfold
Bringing many sons to glory
Grace unmeasured, love untold

VERSE 4
Come behold the wondrous mystery
Slain by death the God of life
But no grave could e’er restrain Him
Praise the Lord; He is alive!

What a foretaste of deliverance
How unwavering our hope
Christ in power resurrected
As we will be when he comes

What a foretaste of deliverance
How unwavering our hope
Christ in power resurrected
As we will be when he comes

– Matt Boswell, Michael Bleecker, Matt Papa 2013

How a Willow Switch Protected a Blueberry Delight

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I was about 12 years old when spending more and more days and nights with my grandma Hall (my mom’s mom) became common: dad was very sick and mom sent me to grandma’s house so that she could be away at the hospital with dad or in the summertime, put in an 8 hour day at work.

One late summer day with grandma baby-sitting several of her grandchildren, she specifically said to me, “don’t go past the curve or I’ll give you a good switch’n. I don’t want you kids ran over – I want to be able to see you from the house.” She was wise enough to know that I was always the ring-leader of outlaw behavior. It seemed that whatever I did, the rest would follow, for good or bad. Grandma was not being fussy: the one-lane twisting road to her house was full of blind spots for cars to run over playing children. She wanted us to stay close to the house.

One day when several of my cousins and I were playing near the curve, I led the whole pack of us past the curve, down a straight-away past the “creepy house” and into the next curve so that we could slide down the embankment on our rears. We were muddy and having a blast. Then I looked up. There she comes down the road at us – at me, with a willow branch in her hands (one of the worst sounds in the world is your grandma stripping the leaves off a willow branch: phft, phft, phft, phft!!!). The next thing I remember is feeling the stinging, needling, expertise of a grandma’s switching method on my legs. Later on in life I came to love her for it. You know why?

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You see, across the creek in her back yard was that willow tree where those nasty discipline branches grow, but just behind the tree up the hillside were several blueberry bushes. And in late July, early August, she and I would pick blueberries together, all alone just the two us. Grandma was so fun to be around and she truly enjoyed my presence. We’d wash them off. She’d put them in a bowl of cold milk, sprinkle some sugar in the bowl, and we’d sit at her L – shaped counter across from each other talking and enjoying our favorite dessert. I believe she loved me so much that she was willing to bring some temporary pain to my legs in order to protect me from getting injured or killed, so that . . . we could spend wonderful afternoons together enjoying a blueberry delight. 

It’s part of what it means to be human: anything worth enjoying in this life will take a stern resolve to oppose whatever threatens your joy. This is why our Lord will discipline his children (Hebrews 12:7-11; 1 Peter 1:6-9), in order to protect our walk with him.

This life is painful. You can either suffer and never know the purpose or meaning behind your suffering. Or, you can follow the Lord and be sure that every sorrow that is permitted into your life is to protect your eternal joy. I had a grandma who taught me that, and I am grateful.