Music and Memories

Music helps us connect life experiences with past memories. We need older songs to help us remember God’s Word and His faithfulness. At the same time, we also need new songs to make new connections. Words may challenge the mind, but music speaks to the heart.

This morning while reading through Psalm 9, I was reminded of a Keith Green song from years ago that helped me connect God’s Word during some difficult circumstances.

“I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders, I will be glad and exult in Thee.” 

I remember the verse because of a simple musical tune. I’m reminded of times as a much younger man when I was faced with decisions to either give in to doubt and become bitter OR trust the LORD and give thanks.
Now years later, I can rejoice in the God who delivered me and continues to lead me. The Keith Green song is definitely dated and probably wouldn’t mean much to my kids or a younger generation. They need new songs to remind them of God’s Word and His faithfulness.

And the reality is that I need new songs, too, to be reminded that God is still working in the world. He’s still making things new. And He’s still working in me.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

State of the Union

state-of-the-unionDuring tonight’s State of the Union Address by President Barak Obama,  the president said, “The future we want – will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics.”

What I’ve found is that find that most Americans have grown tired of politics, weary of the rhetoric, cynical of public servants, and fearful of the future of our nation. What is it about our times that government has ceased to work? Why are people simply so angry? Regardless of your political persuasion, it’s easy to be mad or, at least, frustrated by what’s going on in Washington.

How should we respond to the frustrations that so many of us feel with the current state of the union and future of our nation? How do followers of Jesus respond to politics, politicians, and government?

A Brief Historical Perspective

As long as we have had human government, godly citizens have disagreed with the policies, decisions, and activities of their governments. Times of dissent can escalate into a crisis. It’s then the we must decide, if we should actively protest or patiently wait on the government leaders with respect for their authority. Where should the line be drawn?

In the second century AD, the respected Roman scholar Celsus leveled an accusation of atheism against followers of Jesus. Because they did not worship the gods of Rome nor revere Caesar as a god, Celsus accused them of treasonous, atheistic beliefs. When persecution came their way, the early church endured it. There is little evidence of anything resembling early Christian resistance to government persecution.

Confessing Church in GermanyBut in World War II, Christians were among the boldest defenders of another oppressed people group. Faithful followers of Jesus played a major role in organizations such as the Dutch resistance, the French underground, and others that opposed Nazi aggression.  In Germany, followers of Jesus arose in opposition to government-sponsored efforts to Nazify the German Protestant church and stood up against the Nazi persecution and extermination of Jews. Dietrich Bonheoffer, a founding pastor in the Confessing Church, was involved in a conspiracy with members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler, primarily for the sake of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and executed by hanging in April 1945 while imprisoned at a Nazi concentration camp, just 23 days before the German surrender.

Closer to home, we find in the founding of the United States of America, biblical preaching and teaching within the churches provided the justification for the revolution against Great Britain and the establishment of a new government. Alice Baldwin, writing in The New England Clergy and the American Revolution, says,

“The teachings of the New England ministers provide one line of unbroken descent. For two generations and more New Englanders had . . . been taught that these rights were sacred and came from God and that to preserve them they had a legal right of resistance and, if necessary a right to . . . alter and abolish governments and by common consent establish new ones.”

The founding of this country – civil disobedience to colonial rulers as well as the framing of the key political documents – rests upon a Christian foundation. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the United States is a Christian nation, although some framers used that term. But it does mean that the foundations of the U.S. government presuppose a Christian view of human nature and of God’s providence.

A Broader Biblical Perspective

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there was political chaos and government crisis in Jerusalem. King Herod, the reigning king who was paranoid and felt threatened by the prophecy of another king, murdered all the boys under the age of two (Matthew 2:16-18).

Thirty years later, as the disciples walked the lake shore of Galilee with Jesus, they were gradually learning to embrace the principles of the kingdom of God while living under the authority of the Romans. They began to sense that their miracle-working Teacher was fulfilling the prediction of the prophet Isaiah, who said:

For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Could it be that Jesus was about to fulfill the words of the prophet? Could He be the long-awaited Messiah? With anticipation of a divine takeover of the world, imagine the disciples’ wonder—and confusion—when this King told them that they owed a pagan emperor their money and respect! Yet in the days just prior to Jesus’ execution on a cross, that’s exactly what the disciples heard Him say (Matthew 22:15-22). The disciples anticipated political liberation. Shockingly, Jesus taught His followers to respect even a pagan ruler.

But what if the government tells us to renounce our faith, or abort our children, or serve in a military waging an unjust war? The Scriptures also make it clear that respect for leaders does not mean unqualified compliance or complete silence. The New Testament apostles showed us that there are times to appeal to a higher authority. When the Jewish rulers commanded Peter and John to stop talking about the resurrection of Jesus, the apostles responded, “Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide;  for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20). When there is a direct conflict, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29).

Centuries earlier, Daniel had similarly refused to comply with government actions when they forced idol worship on all the people of Babylon. For his courage, Daniel was thrown into a lions’ den. His gracious but courageous response to this injustice clearly shows that he did not have issues honoring the authority of King Darius. When he emerged unscathed from the lions’ den because he trusted God, Daniel said to the king,

“May the king live forever. My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths. They haven’t hurt me, for I was found innocent before Him. Also, I have not committed a crime against you my king.” (Daniel 6:21-22).

Barack Obama, John BoehnerWhen we have issues with our government in Washington, we would do well to consider the way Daniel respectfully resisted King Darius. When weighing our response to the government for the sake of our conscience, we must also consider how we are to respond to an institution that has been established by God. It’s an exercise in balance and perspective, requiring careful wisdom.

In our current political climate how should followers of Jesus respond? God has given us two clear guide-rails from Scripture as dual citizens of Heaven and of the United States or wherever you live (Ephesians 2:19Philippians 3:20):

1. Trust God’s Sovereignty. God is the One who has established government and it’s leaders as a servant in His hand to accomplish His purposes and plan.

1 Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. 4 For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. 5 Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. 6 And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. 7 Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.  (Romans 13:1-7; underlining for emphasis)

Governments – both good and bad – are established by God as His servant. Therefore, He will provide the submissive, obedient follower of Jesus what is good from His perspective (Romans 8:28-31) – even when He allows adversity and suffering by the hand of those in authority.

Ted CruzGod is also the One who moves the hearts of rulers whom He has established as His servants. King Solomon, intending to prepare his son to rule in his place over Israel, gave his son the following wisdom in governing a nation: “A king’s heart is like streams of water in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever He chooses.” (Proverbs 21:1) A farmer directs water by digging irrigation canals. Similarly the Lord directs the hearts of kings – for example, Pharaoh (Ex. 10:1–2), Tiglath-Pileser (Isa. 10:5–7), Cyrus (Isa. 45:1–6), and Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:21; Neh. 2:1–8). God is sovereign, therefore, no wisdom, no understanding,  no counsel, no government, no president will prevail against Him (cf. Prov. 21:30).

Governments, people of position and office, as well as the decision-makers in Washington, may appear to wield power, but they are really under the enthroned authority of God (Isaiah 40:22-23). He can dispose of any human leader because He is over all of them. He can dispense with any government just as easily as He can make flowers wither and blow chaff away (cf. Isaiah 40:6–8). He can reduce them to a state of comparative nothingness. God is not only superior, but sovereign. Whatever form of government we may live under, God is still in control of it’s past, present, and future. Trust Him.

2. Pray for God’s Servants. God answers prayer that shapes both governments and our individual lives.

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 1 Timothy 2:1-2

Paul used four different ways to describe the kinds of prayers we should offer on behalf of our governments: petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings. Although the first three of these words have similar definitions, it is likely that Paul intended to emphasize the different ingredients that should be part of our prayer life for those God has placed in authority over us. Taken together, Paul’s call for such prayers reminds us that God wants us to pray continually for all those He has placed in authority over us in order to express our confidence in God’s authority and sovereignty that are His alone. Pray to Him for them.

Capitol buildingHenry David Thoreau, in Civil Disobedience and other Essays wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” At times, it feels, like we are experiencing frustrations with government that lead to desperation like never before. Quite frankly, I’m fed up with the Fed!

It’s during times like these when I look out and feel beat down that the best option is to look up – to keep looking to Jesus. How should we respond to government frustrations? Trust God in His sovereignty and pray for the servants He has placed there – even and especially the ones in Washington.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Unplanned Pregnancy

Unplanned birth“The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant…” (Matthew 1:18).

There it is in the Bible: the birth of Jesus was an unplanned pregnancy. Certainly it wasn’t the first in the history of the world nor would it be the last.

Joseph, being a godly, righteous man, had options. He could hardly let his fiancé’s pregnancy pass without action since it implied that she had been unfaithful and had violated the Mosaic Law. So, he had three options concerning how to proceed. First, he could expose Mary publicly as unfaithful whereby she would have suffered the shame of a public divorce (Deut. 22:23–24). A second option was to grant her a private divorce in which case Joseph needed only to hand her a written certificate in the presence of two witnesses (cf. Num. 5:11–31). His third option was to remain engaged and not divorce Mary, but this alternative appeared to Joseph to require him to break the Mosaic Law (Lev. 20:10). So, he decided to divorce her privately (Matthew 1:19). This preserved his righteousness, that is, his conformity to the Law, and allowed him to demonstrate compassion for his young fiancé, Mary.

But there was another option that Joseph had not considered, let alone imagined: Mary was indeed pregnant, but it was not a pregnancy born of promiscuity. Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. It was a miracle by the power of God’s Holy Spirit to fulfill His long-awaited promise of a Savior (Isaiah 7:14).

“An angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

unplanned pregnancyThe virgin birth of Jesus is technically the virgin conception. Mary was not just a virgin when she bore Jesus in Bethlehem, but she was one when she conceived Him in Nazareth. Who was prepared among their peers to understand such a biological anomaly? And yet, this real option of Jesus’ miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit was crucial if Jesus was to be our sinless sacrifice.

The virgin conception was necessary to preserve the baby from the stain of sin. The angel explained the appropriateness of this name (cf. Ps. 130:8). The name “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation.” Jesus, the sinless Savior, is God’s gift to us to accomplish what no other child could ever do.

“Joseph did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her but did not know her intimately until she gave birth to a son. And he named Him, Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25)

My earthly life and eternal future were changed forever by one unplanned pregnancy that saved us all. “O come, let us adore Him.”

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Trials

Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem ICould there have been anything more tedious, anything more ill-timed for Mary and Joseph than following political orders to travel for a census when she was 9 months pregnant?  I imagine the tiresome commute to Bethlehem and their disappointing search for lodging was not immediately recognized by Mary and Joseph as something “good” from the Lord.

The journey south from Nazareth was not an easy one through the rugged, Judean hill country, especially for a an expectant, first-time mom. Nor was the occasion a happy one since the census decreed by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1) was undoubtedly a prelude to a burdensome financial tax liability for their growing family. Furthermore, Mary and her husband would be far removed from the comforts and conveniences of home. And when they finally arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room for them there (Luke 2:7). No one had reserved a Bed & Breakfast. No one was looking out for them. No one seemed to care. They were alone.

Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem IIThe tedious trials of life are often tools in the hand of God which only time or eternity will make clear to us. For Mary and Joseph, the decree of Caesar Augustus was divinely intended to cause Jesus’ parents to make a long difficult journey from their home town of Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea because Joseph was in the royal bloodline of King David (Isaiah 9:6-7). The political orders of a pagan ruler were used to fulfill God’s prophecy that the Messiah would be born in rural Bethlehem rather than royal Jerusalem (Micah 5:2-5). The humble manger would be the perfect place for humble shepherds to find the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-15) so that they might worship Him.

Mary and Joseph in BethlehemThe birth account of Jesus in Luke 2:7 ends with almost a note of human tragedy: “there was no room for them…” Think about that for a moment — the Son of God, covered with rags and placed in a cattle feeding trough! How could that be? How tragic! And yet, for Jesus, a feeding trough became His first throne on earth (Philippians 2:9-11).

God’s purposes are often achieved through difficulties, even when they are not immediately apparent to us (James 1:2-4). Whether it’s simply too much rain or heart-wrenching, unbearable pain, the trials of life are often tools in the hand of God. Wait on Him. Believe His Word. Trust Him.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

In Those Days

TheophilusFaith in Jesus’ incarnation certainly requires belief in the supernatural work of God, but it’s not a leap beyond reason.

In the Gospel of Luke, the author carefully investigated and provided specific details about the political rulers and setting surrounding Jesus’ birth that were important to Theophilus (Luke 1:3-4), perhaps a political leader himself, whose faith needed historical validity and intellectual credibility.

The coming of Jesus, the Christ, is not a fairy tale that begins with, “Once upon a time…” Instead, it’s a promise fulfilled, “In those days…” The human birth of God’s Eternal Son was a real event in real time among real people so that we might have real hope and not just wishful thinking.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Land of the Living

Walking-with-GodWe think we are in the land of the living on our way to the land of the dying. Nothing could be further from the biblical truth. You and I are in the land of the dying on our way to the land of the living.

Professor Howard G. Hendricks, “Never Stop Growing” Founder’s Week Message at Moody Bible Institute, February 1, 2005

Rubik’s Cube

Rubiks CubeI’ve never been able to figure out a Rubik’s Cube. I know – you figured it out in elementary school. And yes, 30 years later there are You-Tube videos showing you exactly how to solve it. But it’s always stumped me. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I’ve seen others do it. Hearing them say how easy it is never makes it better, either. Every time I’ve tried, and failed, I eventually just put it down and walk away.

Sometimes life feels like a Rubik’s Cube. I just can’t figure it out. I’m stumped. I feel that I can’t do anything right. As a husband. As a parent. As a pastor. As a leader. As a friend. As a servant. As a follower. As a child of God. There are times that no matter what I say or what I do, things or relationships only get worse. I want to do what’s right, but I lack the ability or the discipline. When I can’t seem to do anything right I’m ready to just throw up my hands and walk away…

Other times, I’m working through an issue that’s so confusing that I can’t even figure out how to do what needs to be done. If I could just figure out the right thing to say or the right thing to do, everything would be better. Right?

Still at other times, my heart has grown cold and I don’t even want to. I know what I should do. I just don’t want to do it. My pride keeps me from thinking of others. My stubbornness makes me dig in for the fight. My sense of control keeps me from forgiving. The mountain just looks too intimidating to climb.

That’s why Philippians 2:13 is one of the most encouraging verses to me in the Bible:

For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.

God promises to both motivate and empower us. Read that verse again — it’s amazing! God promises to give us the want to and the how to do what He wants us to do as we look to Him and depend on Him.

I can’t — but He can!

When I focus on my limitations that lead to endless frustrations, failure is inevitable with fatigue to quickly follow. But God must work in us before He can work through us. We must come to Him in total dependence that He is good, that He is in control, and that He can change our hearts. Then, and only then, will He begin to work through us.

This principle is seen at work throughout the Bible in the lives of men like Moses, David, Peter, Paul, and others. God had a special purpose for each one to fulfill, and each one was unique, but also has serious flaws. It took God forty years to bring Moses to the place where He could use him to lead the people of Israel. As Moses tended sheep during those forty years, God was working in him so that one day He might work through him.

rubiks-cube completedThe power that works in us to enable us is the power of the Holy Spirit of God (John 14:16–1726Acts 1:81 Cor. 6:19–20). Our English word energy comes from the Greek word translated “works.” It is God’s divine energy at work in us and through us. The same Holy Spirit who empowered Christ when He was ministering on earth can empower us as well. God’s divine energy is available to motivate and enable us to serve the Lord (Eph. 1:18–23).

And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6

Whatever it is you’re facing today, remember you can’t, but God can.

Look to Him. Talk to Him. Cry out to Him. Wait for Him. Trust Him to complete His purpose in you.

Follow meas I follow Jesus Christ.