There are few things that can get under my skin more than the hypocrisy of how Christians and non-Christians alike use the Bible on social media. For all the benefits social media has heralded in this new age of connectedness it has also brought to the surface the ugliness of sin and the depravity of the human heart. This blog isn’t meant to be political, I am not going to side with democrats or republicans; rather I want to try and dig into the heart of the matter when it comes to using the Bible to defend or attack someone’s political views.
Our culture loves a good story…..as long as we can consume it in about 2 hours. Unfortunately when a story that covers years or even lifetimes is condensed to a 2 hour tour de force of amazing videography and dialogue, all we get is the highlights. We no longer have to wait for anything; even bad dialogue is only there to pass the time before we get another action scene or another heartfelt and “better than I could ever write” love letter. Read More
While I was in Japan I wrote a blog post about the Song “We the Redeemed” and in that song is a line that goes: “Now forever to belong”. (Read that post here) This past week I was thinking over this idea again and wanted to put these new thoughts down on paper. I was thinking of that simple phrase “now forever to belong” and how every human being has a longing to belong. This is an innate human desire that we can’t fill ourselves. But that doesn’t stop us from trying. Just look at Hollywood and you have hundreds of perfect examples. These people “have it all” but they still do the stupidest things with their lives because they’re still missing something. Drugs, spouse hopping, thrills– none of it satisfies. There are movies about the voids we have in our lives and even songs have been written about them, many of which are so close to the truth! Yet instead of connecting the dots to Jesus they figure it must be something they can fill themselves so they sing about love and/or finding the “right” person. How tragic that they have identified this “illness” but are pursing the wrong antidote. Their sights should be set on person, the person of Jesus Christ. Because of this misguided notion that we can fill this void without Christ, the rest of our world takes its script from these Hollywood “stars” who seem to have it all together, if only in their movies.
Everywhere we go we see this idea played out. Every form of advertising draws on this concept, from cars to clothes to magazines. They all tell us that if we buy a certain item or look a certain way we can fill that void and belong. Hollywood calls it different things: to fit in, to be accepted, to be cool and even to rebel are all ways of belonging. What’s more is that the never ending stream of movies and advice from the people at the top has made it easy to belong: wear these jeans or talk this way, or like this song and you will belong. Our culture eats it up. We buy 20 pairs of jeans because the “old” ones don’t get the looks we want, or we buy cars that we can’t really afford (Romans 13:8, anyone?) because then people will “respect” us. The real question is this: Who are you trying to impress? God tells us you can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). I think the answer to this question is very simple yet in many ways difficult for the everyday sinner: I say simple because when you know the facts the answer is easy: Would you rather serve a master who knows everything about you, every secret every desire, every hurt and pain and will walk with you through them all and bring you to a place where they will all be gone forever? Or would you serve a master who gives you some pleasure now but always compares you to others and never sees you as good enough if something prettier or faster or better comes along, and in the end leads only to your destruction? Seems like a simple enough choice, but it is difficult because the desires of our flesh live in all of us. We don’t want to go against culture. Every ounce of flesh fights against the desire to obey God, which was planted in us by the Holy Spirit! This is why Paul calls it the good fight. Every day we must do battle with this desire and everyday, to some extent, we lose because we are not perfect. But the beauty of this can be seen in Romans 5:8: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” “God shows” — his love for us is still being proclaimed today! God loves us, look at the cross of Christ and know the love of God, Christian.
I want to finish by looking at each word of the phrase we started with and seeing the truths in the simple words. It starts with the word “now”. Whether the song writers intended this or it just fit in lyrically it is a powerful truth because it emphasizes the fact that there is no test you must pass, no waiting period you have to endure to belong to Christ. Do you believe that God raised His son from the dead and crowned Him Lord? Then you belong! How sweet it is to know at this moment in all my fears and struggles and sins that I belong to Christ! Wemwill skip the word “forever” and come back to it at the end, which leads us to one of the greatest promises in the bible: “To belong”! I think one of the best explanations of this is found in Romans chapter 8 verses 16 & 17 which goes like this:
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ….
Think of this in terms of the recent royal wedding between Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton. I did not see the wedding, but it was nearly impossible not to see at least some of the news coverage that it received. This brings us a very good example of belonging. For the most part the world simply watched, they talked about the couple and what the wedding looked like and how the bride was dressed and what was said at the ceremony. But that is where their connection ended; when the wedding was over and the doors of the church were closed we were all locked out, because we didn’t really belong to that family. But think of how different it would have been to be related to the bride. Let’s say you were a close cousin. Now everything changes, instead of watching on TV you are invited to the ceremony and given a seat near the front and welcomed by the bride and groom as a close friend. Here is where the beauty of this song can be seen. As sinners we merely sit on the sideline of life and watch the royal wedding of Christ and His Church. Often times we scoff at the bride in her beautiful dress out of jealousy or bitterness, being quick to point out stains of sin and not realizing that it’s not the final ceremony but that she is just at the rehearsal dinner if you will (We know from Ephesians 5:25-27 that Christ will present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish). Others in denial will try to live through the bride, losing themselves in the moment and talking as if they know her and what’s going on in the church. They try to forget their own hopeless situation, but when the doors shut these fair weather “friends” will be shut out with the rest of the people who scoffed and ridiculed. This is where “forever” comes in, because unlike the royal wedding when the doors of the church of Christ are closed on that final day they will not reopen. There are no second chances, only holy dread and righteous anger. Far better to pray for you heart to be melted with repentance than to regret a choice for eternity! Do you belong to God, or are you one of the all too numerous people who wears the Christian name and lives just like the world? Earlier we looked at the beauty of Romans 8 which told us that:
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,…..”
But we left off the very important ending which adds:
“.…provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Can you begin to see the simplicity of the Christian life: Believe, follow Christ, endure the suffering that will happen, and in the end inherit eternal life! How many of us go to great lengths to earn fame and money on earth? Why not forgo the earthly eye candy for an eternity with the one who created it?
“Christian Music”, there are definitely a lot of things that can be said about that title. Of course the music doesn’t have a soul and it can’t save you. But when it comes to music and more specifically what music we listen to as Christians it can become a touchy subject. There are blatantly wrong things to listen to; songs that talk about murder, or adultery or poke fun at other people. But what about the other songs, the ones that only have “tasteful” swearing, or those songs that only talk about love and life? The Bible does explicitly tell us many things about our tongues, see the book of James, but it doesn’t specifically say “don’t listen to secular music because it will cause you to fall away”. There must be a reason for this, why is it so mysteriously silent when it comes to what we listen to? The best beginning for any look into secular life is to see clearly the goal that we have as Christians. The Bible makes it clear that we should go about our tasks with the desire of bringing glory to God. The same should be said about listening to music. So with that nugget in the back our minds, I think the best starting place for looking at what Gods word has to say about this topic would be in Ephesians where we are told “not to let any unwholesome talk come from our mouth, but only what is helpful in building others up” (Ephesians 4:29). But even with this verse I have heard the argument that it is only talking about what is coming out of your mouth, not what you’re listening to. To me these are not so easily separated, and I think that when we look at the context of the verses leading up to this verse in Ephesians we will see that the Authors intent was not to separate them either. Let’s begin by looking at the whole section from Ephesians for context, Chapter 4 verses 17-32:
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore (he is drawing a conclusion here from the statements he just made) each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”[d]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. (and now the verse we quoted above)
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
When it comes to applying these verses to our discussion on secular music we can reduce it down to two points.
- Paul’s overarching idea in these verses is bringing these Christians who are struggling with sin (look at verse 17, he’s insisting that they stop living as the Gentiles) to live the life that God has for them! They are told to put off the old-self (v22b). He then transitions into his argument for what Christians should act like. He uses the word therefore to explain the point of why we should not live like this. We can see this in verses 25-32.
- Then as we aim directly at this issue we get to verse 29. We see two things in this point:
- First and most obvious is that this is a continuation of our first point. Talking in a way that builds people up is part of throwing off the old self.
- Second Paul tells us that he wants what we say to benefit those who listen. This idea of benefiting when Paul uses it here is an eternal benefiting. It’s not giving someone a warm happy feeling in their heart because you spoke nice to them. Paul wants your actions and the things that people hear from you to impact them for Christ.
Taking these two points I think that it is easy to see how listening to secular music can be a very negative thing. It fails to accomplish any of the points Paul is trying to get across to us here. The first point we saw was that Paul wanted us to put off the old self because we are a new creation in God. But if we hold onto these habits that the world also loves (for our argument it would be listening to secular music) how are we going to show the world that we are any different than they are?
Secondly, and I think most importantly, we made the point that our aim was to eternally benefit those who listen to us. The idea was that by listening to us they would be built up in Christ. By looking at the verse in this light I think that there is no way you can say this verse does not include both what comes out of our mouths and what we listen to. (On a side note I am not saying if you are out with non-Christian friends you can’t listen to what they are listening to, but what I am saying is that if you have any control over the music, as a Christian, you should listen to something that will build up both your own faith and others.)
In conclusion I think that if Paul were here today and had preached these verses to our church the response he would be hoping for would be something like this:
“Ok Paul, I agree with what you said, and since I have been taught to put off the old self and to put on the new self which was created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness, I will not let the sun go down on my anger, but instead as Jesus commanded in Matthew 5 I will be reconciled to my brother. I will guard my speech so that those around me are built up by both what I say and what I listen to, and I will be kind and compassionate to others forgiving them as Christ has forgiven me.”
Finally I know that a question like this will be raised:
“Ok Josh I see your point I see that I should try to always build people up and help them see Christ, but do you really mean that I shouldn’t listen to any secular music? I mean I like lecrae and Hillsong, but I can ‘t live without my country or my Hip-Hop or my fill in the blank. I think that is a little harsh to so quickly get rid of so much music from so many talented artists that God has blessed with great voices.”
To this type of argument I have a couple comments from my own thinking and two Bible verses. First my thoughts. I think that it is a combination of many things that has us craving a certain type of music that does not sing of Gods praiseworthiness. It’s partly our fallen, unrepentant, sinful flesh and how easily it is pleased with cool lyrics and new drum beats, and it is partly the slow transforming work of the Holy Spirit to change our desires. I am left with a split decision here: on the one hand we know that God wants us to praise him for the creativity he has in His creation (The heavens declare the Glory of God), so if we listen to a singer who isn’t directly praising God and can glorify Him in this way of thinking then I believe He accepts that. However if, like me, you get to caught up in day dreaming when a cool song comes on or get to easily distracted by music videos or debauched lyrics I think it is far safer and better in the long run to stick to Christian music and when it starts to sound old or dry pray that God would open your heart to see his Glory and that the lyrics would strike true again for you. I back these words up with the verse in Philippians chapter 4 and one final question:
Verse 8:“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Ponder this question: who in your life fits all the criteria this verse has, who/what is most noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy? That is what you should focus your praise and what your heart should be singing in song all day to. And if its not Jesus Take a Hard look at what it is and ask youself is this worthy of my attention when Jesus is knocking on my heart?
This morning I opened my Bible to the Parable of the soils. It is a very well know parable, but one that I too often just glance at and never really think about. Today a couple things got my attention which produced a very specific prayer for me based on these verses from Jesus. My thoughts on the parable went something like this. We see two ultimate categories of people in the Parable: those who produce fruit and stay with the word, and those who fall away. The people who fall away have a number of different reasons as to why they do: Satan takes it (the word) away; trouble and persecution caused them to waiver and fall away, or the cares of the world and wealth pulled them away. On the flip side we see those who hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop. Looking at these specific ways that Jesus describes believers and unbelievers left me with some very pointed prayers. We can directly pray against the 3 soils that are unfruitful. The prayers might go something like this:
- Soil number 1: Lord protect me from the attacks of the devil, don’t let your word fall to ground (1 Samuel 3:19), but may it instead be the stream that waters my soul and yields fruit in Your season (Psalm 1).
- Soil number 2: Lord may the troubles of this world, that are sure to come, only increase my trust in you as I see all the more how faithful you are. May persecution strengthen my resolve to glorify you in everything, and may the joy I find in you be the strength that keeps me coming to the well of living water!
- Soil number 3: Lord may the blessings that I receive from you on this earth no matter how few or how great be used to glorify you. May I never get so comfortable that I think I don’t need you anymore. May I steward your earthly gifts in a way that brings attention and Glory to You and not myself.
I think we should also pray for the last group, the seed that fell on the good soil and yielded fruit. It is interesting to note that there are no options associated with this last soil. The person who accepts the word…produced fruit. There are not people who accept the word and then sit back and relax. Just like Matthew 3:10 tells us: “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” We have many options when it comes to the first group. But it’s do or die if we are to live by the spirit.
Finally I think we can close with a prayer that combines all of the observations from this parable. It will go something like this:
“Lord I thank you that you have given us eyes to see and ears to hear the command in your word. I pray that as we continue seeking to trust you our lives would be marked by fruit. I pray that the troubles we daily face, the continued attacks of the devil and the comforts of living in America would not hinder our love and devotion to you, but that they would create a longing for true joy in communion with you. Let us live out our faith in actions that point to you and let our fruit be real and our devotion be to you alone.”
Have you ever had that moment? The one where you are doing something normal or mundane and then with a thought or a song you have the clearest image in your head of Jesus and how Glorious He is and how much He loves you? I had one of those thoughts last week and it has stuck with me for over a week…..and I love it! Last week I was on a train to Yokohama and was listening to the song “We the redeemed”. I love the first verse of this song! Here is how it goes:
There is nothing like Your love
No exchange for all You gave
To be welcomed into life
So I can know the love that saves
Now forever to belong
To walk with You for all my days
Theres no greater love than this
You are the Author and the Way
What a doctrinally power packed verse! Everything from justification by faith alone to an eternity with Jesus and John 3:16 all in one verse! Let me run through my thoughts quickly on each of these lines.
There is nothing like Your love, No exchange for all You gave: Here we have the idea that we can’t do anything to earn God’s love, no amount of works or generosity or obeying the law can create for us a right standing with God, it is all mercy, from the very fact that God sent his Son, to the fact that He also chose you and me! It begins in mercy and lives in mercy, and because it is all mercy we never have to fear that we will one day fall out of favor with God, for we serve an unchanging God!
To be welcomed into life, So I can know the love that saves: How about the book of Romans in one line right here. If we are welcomed into life, it means before this welcoming we must have been dead right? And why did God welcome us into life? Too share His love. The greatest gift in the universe is given to us free of charge; does it get better than that? I love when the right words are used for describing God. He is not a king, he is THE King, his love isn’t any old love it’s THE love that saves. I love my wife with all my heart, but my love for her can never save her, but our King showed His love in this, that He sent His Son into the world that we might live through Him!
Now forever to belong, To walk with You for all my days: I think this is my favorite line in the whole song, because with it comes memories I am very fond of, especially the second part. But first to belong, I am going to take a page out of some old school theologians here when I say: Oh Christian what a delight it is to belong! To be counted as Gods, to know that whatever the cost in this life we have a fulfillment of a thousand upon a thousand promises in the next! Taste and see with the Psalmist, that the Lord is good!
The second part of this is special to me because of the memories I have with my wife. We love to walk; we take our puppy with us and usually will walk 3 miles or more in the rain or the sun. So when I hear this line I have a hundred memories of these walks flood my mind, and then to add to this the idea of walking with my savior, the one who knows me more than Anna or my friends or even I know myself! It brings tears to my eyes as I think about walking into eternity with my Savior. Finally when these two are looked at together it creates a storybook ending that only God could come up with. To simply get into heaven as some people wish to do will never be enough! What a difference in thinking to stand at the judgment and know that Jesus died for me! I don’t have words to describe the joy in that statement, that the King of Kings chose me, chose you! Christian rejoice, I will say it again rejoice! Think of it, to walk with Jesus for eternity, Heaven would not be Heaven without this kind of love!
Theres no greater love than this You are the Author and the Way: Finally the praise of a God who has no equal, who with all his power works for those He chose and called according to His purpose! How can we but trust implicitly an author who knows all, sees all and with every ounce of his omnipotent power is working to bless those who He has chosen! If this seems too wonderful for you, it is. Nothing on earth compares and only through His work can we see this beautiful picture that He is painting in our lives.