Harmony and the Opposite Thereof

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Last month just prior to starting this blog, I spent 72 glorious hours on a journey called the Walk to Emmaus. I can’t recommend it enough!  I chose to attend in Tennessee rather than here in Texas, as I only knew people who could sponsor me there.  I’d love to tell you more, but I’m hoping you’ll attend…and it’s like trying to explain an amazing indoor theme park ride–one simply needs to enter and experience it for him or herself.  

One difference I noticed during worship there in the South was that the women sing in harmony!  This is becoming, sadly, a lost practice.  As we’ve migrated to contemporary worship music, which I love also, our tendency has become one in which the entire congregation sings melody.  But oh, the beauty of harmony–different voices singing one song simultaneously but hitting different notes in such a way that a beautiful vocal blend is produced.  I enjoyed even the most simple choruses sung in three-part harmony.  

But worship style isn’t really where I’m going with this post.  Did you notice I brought up an issue that has become a dividing point among many churches and even denominations–contemporary worship.  Some prefer hymns with organ and piano, while others enjoy contemporary songs with a band, and even some stick to a cappella (no instruments at all).  This is just one dividing point.  Other divisions which have come up have involved method and age of baptism, and still more discord regarding the role of women in the church These are three of many, many dividing issues found within the Body of Christ.

Last night I was reading my Bible and came to a passage that addresses such dividing issues, which go back all the way to early Church.  There was, at the time Paul was writing his letter to the Romans, great debate as to whether believers were allowed to eat foods previously forbidden to the Jews.  Basically, Paul tells the quarrelers to stop judging one another, because “the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (14:17, ESV)

I’m convinced that the Church is in dire need of learning how to sing harmony.  We won’t all interpret each Scripture the same, and we won’t practice exactly the same…but in those differences, beauty will arise.  Guess what Paul said in 12:16, “Live in harmony with one another.”  He didn’t tell us to live in unison.  Harmony actually requires differences!  In these differences, I’m not talking about doctrines that creep up that are contradictory to the Gospel.  Addressing these,  Paul warned the Church, “Avoid them.” (16:17)  

Paul counters argumentative division with this beautiful truth:  “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?  It is before his own master that he stands or falls.  And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Rom. 14:4) Regardless of how wrong we may believe others to be in their practice of Christian faith, we must remember that God is the one to whom they answer, and God is the one through whom they will stand.  He is the one who works in him, and by the way, it is he who accomplishes any work done in us.  

 

 

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And We Call It “Good”…

Joni Eareckson Tada articulated the events of “Good Friday” with incredible accuracy and insight:

The Savior was now thrown to men quite different from the eleven. The face that Moses had begged to see—was forbidden to see—was slapped bloody. The thorns that God had sent to curse the earth’s rebellion now twisted around his own brow. His back, buttocks, and the rear of his legs felt the whip—soon they looked like the plowed Judean fields outside the city. “On with the blindfold!” someone shouts. “That’s it—now spin him. Who hit you? Heh, heh.” By the time the spitting is through, more saliva is on him then in him. No longer can he be recognized. “Cut him down from the post! Send him toting his crossbar to the playground.” Up Skull Hill to the welcome of other poorly paid legionnaires enjoying themselves. “On you back with you!” One raises a mallet to sink the spike. But the soldier’s heart must continue pumping as he readies the prisoner’s wrist. Someone must sustain the soldier’s life minute by minute, for no man had this power on his own. Who supplies breath to his lungs? Who gives energy to his cells? Who holds his molecules together? Only by the Son do “all things hold together”. The victim wills that the soldier live on—he grants the warrior’s continued existence. The man swings. As the man swings, the Son recalls how he and the Father first designed the medial nerve of the human forearm—the sensations it would be capable of. The design proves flawless—the nerve performs exquisitely. “Up you go!” They lift the cross. God is on display in his underwear, and can scarcely breathe.

But these pains are a mere warm-up to his other and growing dread. He begins to feel a foreign sensation. Somewhere during this day an unearthly foul odor began to waft, not around his nose, but his heart. He feels dirty. Human wickedness starts to crawl upon his spotless being—the living excrement from our souls. The apple of his Father’s eye turns brown with rot.

His Father! He must face his Father like this!

From heaven the Father now rouses himself like a lion disturbed, shakes his mane, and roars against the shriveling remnant of a man hanging on a cross. Never has the Son seen the Father look at him so, never felt even the least of his hot breath. But the roar shakes the unseen world and darkens the visible sky. The Son does not recognize these eyes.

“Son of Man! Why have you behaved so? You have cheated, lusted, stolen, gossiped—murdered, envied, hated, lied. You have cursed, robbed, overspent, overeaten—fornicated, disobeyed, embezzled, and blasphemed. Oh, the duties you have shirked, the children you have abandoned! Who has ever so ignored the poor, so played the coward, so belittled my name? Have you ever held your razor tongue? What a self-righteous, pitiful drunk—you, who molest young boys, peddle killer drugs, travel in cliques, and mock you parents. Who gave you the boldness to rig elections, foment revolutions, torture animals, and worship demons? Does the list never end! Splitting families, raping virgins, acting smugly, playing the pimp—buying politicians, practicing extortion, filming pornography, accepting bribes. You have burned down buildings, perfected terrorist tactics, founded false religions, traded slaves—relishing each morsel and bragging about it all. I hate, I loathe these things in you! Disgust for everything about you consumes me! Can you not feel my wrath?”

Of course the Son is innocent. He is blamelessness itself. The Father knows this. But the divine pair have an agreement, and the unthinkable must now take place. Jesus will be treated as if personally responsible for every sin ever committed.

The Father watches as his heart’s treasure, the mirror-image of himself, sinks drowning into raw, liquid sin. Jehovah’s stored rage against humankind from every century explodes in a single direction.

“Father! Father! Why have you forsaken me?!”

But heaven stops its ears. The Son endures it. The Spirit enabled him. The Father rejected the Son whom he loved. Jesus, the God-man from Nazareth, perished. The Father accepted his sacrifice for sin and was satisfied. The Rescue was accomplished.

Tada, Joni Eareckson & Estes, Steve.  When God Weeps.  Zondervan Publishing.

Sinatra, Peter, and Me

The other day my husband and I parked by an expensive convertible sports car.  On it was a sticker that stated, “My Life My Way.”  Of course, it brought to mind Frank Sinatra and how he proclaimed about his life, “I did it my way.”  You may be surprised to know that I envy Frank.  No, I don’t want to live my life my way, because I know that would lead to disaster.  I want to live God’s way.  Sinatra, however, goes on to say something that I envy….”Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few too mention.”  

I am unable to truthfully share such sentiments as Frank expressed.  There are many choices I wish I had made differently–words I should or shouldn’t have used, actions I should or shouldn’t have taken, in each case doing the exact opposite of what God would have had me to do.  They lie in the past unchangeable, indelible.  

Recently I posted about how Peter’s faith in the midst of fear allowed him to walk on water.  Tonight, though, I want to bring up something very different about him.  Peter made regretful choices.  Having sworn his undying allegiance to Jesus, Peter nonetheless, driven by fear, denied knowing Jesus three times following Christ’s arrest.  Jesus had foretold he would do this, but Peter couldn’t fathom choosing so poorly in light of his devotion and love for the Messiah.  Matthew 26 tells us that just as he realized he had done exactly as Jesus had prophesied, he went out and wept bitterly.

Have you ever wept bitterly over your own actions?  Have you done so as a believer who, in spite of knowing Christ and his mercy, defied his will for your life?  I have.  I can relate to Peter.  But here’s the question?  What do we do with our regrets?

If we are like Sinatra, we can minimize them.  We can push them aside and focus on better things.  As Christians, however, we don’t have that liberty.  Rebellion against God brings anguish and consequences into our lives.  We feel the distance it creates between us and God.  We REGRET our regrets.  But what do we do with them?

As it turns out, Peter’s denial of Christ came in the days after the Passover and prior to Christ’s crucifixion.  We are in those very days right now.  On Friday of this Holy Week, we recognize the Christ who bore our sins on the Cross.  Every wrong choice, every word spoken in anger, every act of mercy withheld, he bore.  Every lie, immoral act, murder, or hateful deed we would someday carry out, were inflicted upon him in the form of torture unto death.  Jesus gave himself up for us on a cross precisely because we are unable to live regret-free lives.  He who had committed no sin died for those who could not keep from it.  This, Christian, is where we place our regrets.  We ask forgiveness, yes, and then we lay them down at the Cross where Jesus died that we might be free of them.

Jesus is for Real

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I was checking out at CVS today when the cover of the current issue of Time Magazine caught my eye–“Rethinking Heaven.” I’d love to tell you I purchased the magazine, but seriously, I don’t have money to waste on finding out what the modern world thinks about Heaven. I trust the mainstream media’s ideas about Heaven about as much as I trust Hollywood’s ideas about Noah. Zero.

I am, however, refreshed by the idea that we are talking about Heaven. The popular movie Heaven is for Real has generated a lot of enthusiasm, as has God’s not Dead…and hold on, Christians, more films are coming! I’ve read For Real, and I’ve seen Not Dead. The former neither offended me nor added to my faith, and the latter inspired me. Neither, however, are foundations upon which I base my understanding of Heaven or Christ.

Also generating talk of Heaven and Jesus are global current events taking place in Israel, in culture, and in astronomy. I’m fascinated by the unfolding of prophecies foretold centuries ago, yet these do not make or break my faith. They serve to remind me that everything Christ promised would happen will actually come to pass exactly as he promised, including his return to us.

Is it important to remember that Christ is coming back? The answer to that lies in Exodus 32:1, when the Israelites decided Moses wasn’t really coming down from Mount Sinai: “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” (ESV)

I propose to you that this passage serves as a foreshadowing of what the world would do after Christ’s ascension into Heaven. Even though he has come down to us as God incarnate, performed miracles, raised the dead, delivered us from the bondage of sin, and was crucified and raised that we may live eternally, he hasn’t returned quickly enough for us to keep these things in our hearts. In essence we have declared, “Let us make our own gods. As for this fellow Jesus who delivered us from sin, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

But Moses came back. The Israelites had turned to every god they could fashion out of material items they owned and had turned to every form of pleasure. They had pushed Moses and his God far from their minds and their choices. Because they turned away to other gods, they suffered severe consequences, just as we will if in growing weary in waiting for Christ, we turn away from him to other gods (materialism, false religion, self-worship, or other forms of idolatry).

I have to tell you, I am excited about Jesus’s return. Jesus, you see, is for real. History backs him up. The stars and the sun and the moon and all of creation reveal his glory. Most importantly, his Word, the Bible, tells me everything I need to know about him–that he is the Way and the Truth and the Life and no man can come unto the Father except through Him. (John 14:6), and that if I put my faith in him I will live eternally (Acts 16:31). I know that he is coming back to the earth (John 14:3), and I know that he calls me to live a life worthy of his calling (Eph. 4:1).

Hebrews 10 sums it all up for me: 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37For,

“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
38 but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

And so it is that I base my faith upon what Scripture tells me, not what a little boy or some journalist or a nun or Oprah might say, but on Scripture. On their points, I may agree or disagree, but Scripture will determine that.

My Unwelcome Visitor

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It’s here again.  I don’t know why–did I somehow invite it, or is it simply stubbornly and independently raring its ugly head against me?  I hate when it visits. 

Fear.

If one were to ask me what I fear, oh, there’s a host of answers I could give.  I fear losing my family.  I fear something happening to one of my children or my granddaughter.  I fear car accidents.  I fear the enemy of my soul and the attacks he plots against me. 

When the lights fade and the noise of the world subsides for another night’s rest, that’s when I’m typically most gratified.  I LOVE silence.  I enjoy solitude. 

And then there are those times….those excruciating times when my unwelcome visitor comes. 

What is fear?  A quick dictionary check calls it a “distressing emotion aroused by a sense of impending danger, evil, pain…whether real or imagined.” 

To me as a believer, however, it is goes much deeper.  It is that which presents itself to challenge my trust in God’s faithfulness in my life.  Fear, especially of the unknown, is the enemy of faith.  And the antidote of fear is faith.  Easily said, but how does one apply truth to the problem of fear?

First, I understand that I am in great company.  Peter the apostle, who spent years in the presence of Christ, experienced fear.  He walked on water, yet began sinking when he allowed fear to envelop him.  As soon as he set his eyes upon Christ, his fear was dispelled, and he again stood solidly upon that which was liquid.  Fear also caused him to deny Christ three times.  David, the shepherd who became king, expressed fear repeatedly in the Psalms, yet implored himself to put his hope in God.  Because of his fear, Abraham repeatedly lied about Sarah being his wife, believing that her beauty would motivate rulers to have him killed so they could have her.  In all cases, however, God’s faithfulness conquered fear. 

At the Cross of Christ our fears should be extinguished.  Did he not conquer death?  Did he not overcome sin?  There’s a well-known verse in Jeremiah that says.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” (29:11, NIV)  This promise was given to the Israelites who were in exile….dispersed among enemy lands.  It was a horrible time for them.  And it’s a horrible time for us, folks.  If we watch the news, like Peter, we can easily begin to sink.  There are just SO MANY heart wrenchingly sad and evil and frightening things happening in this world.  But Jesus comforts us in John 16 when he tells us, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  Can I get an AMEN?

So this is what I do when this unwanted visitor of mine shows up to disturb my peace.  Like Peter, I set my eyes back upon Christ.  I turn to the promises God has given me in his word.  I remind myself of the faithfulness which He has constantly exhibited in my life.  I pray until I trust.

And like Peter, I rise. 

 

The above image was hijacked from radicalrunning.blogspot.com via Bing images. 

How Great….

After this, I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures.  They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen!  Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”  Rev. 7:9-12 (ESV).