Oh How I Love Your Law!

Just as prayer is the breathing out of our conversation with God, so the reading of His word is the breathing in. So this month, it is time to take a deep breath.

God’s Word says that it is sharper than a two-edged sword. It cleaves even the soul from the spirit. It is so sharp that it can divide the old man from the new creation. It is a useful tool to have, a lot like a pocket-knife.

When I was much younger, my dad gave me my first pocket-knife. It was a camping knife, with one blade and several utensils, including a can-opener, fork and spoon. I didn’t carry it around much then because I really didn’t need all these tools all the time, and of course, you couldn’t take it to school. So I never really appreciated that knife. But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to see my pocket-knife as an indispensible tool.

I’ve moved up to a multi-tool knife, with the requisite knife, but this one also has a couple screw-driver heads, wood saw, and even a corkscrew, for those special occasions. On countless occasions, when I’ve needed to tighten a screw, or install a piece of hardware for the bathroom or a computer, just having that piece of metal in my pocket has made the difference between looking for a tool, and getting the job done.

I’ve found the knife useful over the years, but nearly lost it in St. Louis. I was attending a Glenn Beck – Bill O’Reilly tour date and got all the way up to the gate. But there I saw that security was scrutinizing everybody, looking through pockets and pulling out anything that looked dangerous, including pocket-knives. I started to panic, because I didn’t want to lose this knife. I managed to hide it in the bushes outside the entrance. And I worried about that knife all the way through the show, until I could get my hands on it again on the way out. It is a rare occasion that I do not carry this knife.

So, like my pocket-knife, I hate to go anywhere without a copy of the Word somewhere on my person. I feel naked without it. Whether it’s a physical copy or an electronic one on my cell-phone, the Word of God is that important. I hope that by the end of this month, you will feel the same way. The Word is far more useful than a pocket-knife, and nourishes the soul. May you learn to love the Word, and cherish it. Breathe in, breathe out.


The Enemy at the Gate

In 597 BC the enemy was Babylon, and the gate opened to Jerusalem. King Jeconiah, who had only been on the throne a few months at age 18 knew the end was coming. The Babylonians had warned them, but Jeconiah’s defiance would now be the ruin of his kingdom. Even the prophet Jeremiah had given him a personal warning from the Almighty, “You will have no sons on this throne” (Jeremiah 52:31-34)

Jeconiah (also known as Jehoiachin) was a wicked king. Like many of the kings who preceded him he had no love for God. Yet his grandfather Josiah had been the spearhead of religious reforms that were short-lived. His example still resonated in the mind of his grandson. Though Jeconiah was not good, he was smart, which is almost as good. He realized that if he resisted Nebuchadnezzar’s will again, he would die. He chose life. He surrendered his household to Babylon. Years later in 2 Kings 25:27-30 we find that Jeconiah was released from prison with his family and treated like royalty at the King’s table.

Jeconiah’s story is significant because he stands on a hinge of history. Matthew 1:1 and 17 recall that Abraham, David, and the exiles to Babylon are the three important hinges of the history of the Messiah. Abraham was called to an unknown country. David was called to be King. Jeconiah was called into exile. While not glamorous, Jeconiah’s decision to surrender preserved the people of Judah, and the line of the Messiah to come. Even in his defeat, God still worked through him.

I want to remind you of this. Right now, you may feel defeated. You may even see your enemies gathered at your gates. But this may be exactly where God wants you to be. Because God wants you to surrender, not to the whims and desires of the enemy, but to himself. God wants you to surrender to His will, power, and His best for your life. The same prophet who pronounced doom on Jeconiah pronounces hope for you. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:11-13, ESV)

What is Worship?

IMG20057It seems we’ve argued for decades about the nature of worship. From the revival tunes of the 19th century to the Jesus Movement in the 1960’s, to the wave of Contemporary Christian music that still permeates much of Christian worship today.  But all of this is about music, time signatures and instrumentation.  And while these things have a psychological effect that can lead us to worship (such as the hypnotic effect of a steady drum beat), these are no substitute for true worship.

So what is real worship. I can tell you that that real worship doesn’t depend on music. In fact, music can interrupt authentic worship. I can remember many times of sitting quietly and worshipping in the presence of God during Communion, that is, until the music starting playing. Then it distracted me with half-remembered words of the hymn it was repeating.

There is this verse of Scripture which points to worship music, and points to what Christian music ought to accomplish:

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.
(Col 3:16)

Do you ever wonder why the Psalmist never recorded the music to the Psalms? Certainly if God thought certain tunes were worthy to use in worship, couldn’t He have found a way to help us record notes? And yet, the only thing we have in our Bibles are the lyrics to the Psalms, and certain notations where titles of long-forgotten tunes are recorded. And yet don’t we often quote the Psalms for their content? “The Lord is my Shepherd”, “Be still and know that I am God”. As Colossians suggests, the most important part of worship music, or music that helps us worship, is the lyrics, the words which are intended to teach truth.

When I was in school, I was told that the best way to learn certain facts, like the states and capitals, or the Books of the New Testament, was to put them to music. I learned my alphabet this way, and I sure you did too. I still know the alphabet song, and remembering the tune also helps me remember exactly what order the letters are. Music was designed to help you remember. That’s why we are better at remembering the songs we loved in high school than the facts of US History.

So Colossians recommends, use music as a tool for helping teach Scripture. Music will help you remember. This is also why church music needs to be sing-able as well as memorable. I have sung a few new Church hits recently, but if you tested me, I wouldn’t be able to reproduce them, because they aren’t really that easy to sing. But I can pick up my guitar and belt out “Amazing Grace” or “The Old Rugged Cross” no problem. Worship music is an easy first step to apply when trying to get into worship.

And important second step is to use that music to teach truth, which I really don’t see much of in modern worship music. I see a lot of choruses, repeating the same phrases over and over, but often find these choruses theologically bland. “I Love Jesus” times 20. Am I trying to convince myself that I love Him? Does He really want me to say that? Would my wife want me repeating that same phrase 20 times in a single setting? Why not tell Jesus 20 different reasons that I love Him? He died for me. He set me free. He paid the price. He sacrificed. I mean, just going through all the different reasons I love Him would be a proper theological exercise and spiritual reflection than repeating the same phrase ad nauseum. I feel we often run afoul of Jesus’ warning about vain babbling.

The third step to worship is that inner reflection, that personal response to the truth of Scripture. Than can be through a song, a hymn, or a spiritual song, but it can also be through verbal praises (“Hallelujah!”) or physical praises (lifting hands) or in prayer, (“Thank you Jesus for saving me and making me whole”) or just a worship perspective, seeing your position in God’s love and enjoying that. It might mean sitting down and writing a journal entry or a blog post. Worship is the moving of the heart toward God. It is emotional, involving the heart. It is relational, involving the spirit. It is motivational, involving the will. It is intellectual, involving the truths impacted into your mind. It is physical, requiring changes of posture or position.

The point of this post is this: Don’t rely solely on worship music to worship. Music is a part of worship, but only a part. It is a tool to help move you into worship. Don’t let your worship be just about the tool.

Promises, Promises

“I promise to . . .” are famous last words of a candidate, and often just as forgettable. We are approaching another election cycle, and I thought these words might be helpful when we are looking at choosing a candidate for public office. Often Christians are at odds with each other as to what makes a good candidate for office, because we are concerned about a candidate’s private morality (which we only rarely glimpse) and how he lines up with the Scriptures, as we understand them. Let’s be honest, no candidate will ever live up to our perfect ideas. And Scripture doesn’t come close to this absolute standard.

Romans 13 gives us a concise description of the role of government. “He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (vs. 46) The Government is God’s agent to bring justice to the criminal and protection for the oppressed. God established this role way back in Genesis 9:6

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,

By man shall his blood be shed;

For in the image of God

Has God made man.”

God defines crime as those listed in the ten commandments. While the first five deal with matters of faith, the last five concern the right to private property, the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, the sanctity of human life, and the necessity for truth and honesty in public discourse. If you are looking for a “good” candidate for office, ask them how they stand on these issues.

Now consider those in Scripture who were called by God to fulfill His purposes: The Pharaoh of Egypt, whose obstinacy led to the 10 plagues and the Passover. Nebuchadnezzar, who captured Judah and sent them into exile for 70 years. Cyrus the Persian who fulfilled God’s promises to Jews by sending them back to the land of Israel. None of these men were Christians, and we could probably point out many faults in their leadership. Yet God used them to accomplish His purposes.

The sole role of government, as ordained by God, is to bring justice and punish the wicked. Any candidate that rewards wrong behavior and punishes good behavior is ignoring the proper place and role of government. Any candidate who justifies the death of the innocent (the unborn or the aged) and protects the life of the guilty is resisting his mandate from God.

For example, a candidate that wishes to punish good economic behavior, including having a well-paying job, or a successful business, by levying higher taxes, is not bringing justice. God blesses the righteous, and he blesses their finances as well. Excusing this by stating that taxes will be cut for the majority of Americans does not justify punishment of those who are successful for the benefit of those who are not. The majority of Americans work for someone who is wealthier than they are. If the wealthy have higher taxes, they will reduce costs, the most expensive of which is labor. Do you work for a company whose bottom line is so narrow, that even a slight increase in taxes will mean someone’s job? How is this the role of government, to decide who works and who doesn’t?

The role of government is to punish the wrongdoer next door or in another country, whether the wrongdoer is powerless or powerful. Wrong isn’t defined by what polls desire, but by the immutable standard of God’s Word. Justice is to be blind to social status or economic class. The government is called to do justice, so that the righteous may flourish. A candidate that steps outside of this narrow role and practices social reform is well outside his mandate. Only the power of God can change the heart of a man (see Jeremiah 17:9). Only God can bring about reform. The Law only makes you feel guilty. Only God grants grace to those who trust in Jesus.

Just some thoughts as you enter the voting booth.

In Christ,

Aryn Meritt