Philosophy of Worship and Music

December 29, 2015

Introduction: Meaningful and Accessible

Concerning the theology and the proper application of relevant skill and knowledge pertaining to the subjects of music and worship, not neglecting the pastoral ministry and personal supplication required of one seeking such a position, I, the author, address the captive audience in the study of the subjects at hand, for to provide a better understanding of the subjects, to perhaps correct the error of one’s ways, and to potentially provide impetus to pursue the subjects further. Let it be understood that the author claims no moral authority on the subjects, but rather some basic understanding, a mere scratch at the crust of a subject whose core is so deep it could be argued that no man has ever been all the way.

Yet is that not what makes these subjects so great? The mere fact that their understanding cannot be completely grasped makes them not unlike our God Himself, whose beauty the music reflects, and whose glory the worship proclaims. For though God Himself is far too glorious for humans to behold His glory in its entirety, he has bestowed upon us glimpses of His nature of which we can partake and understand His nature in small bits. Perhaps this is why David only tasted and saw that the Lord is good, because anything more than a taste would surely devastate his sinful flesh, and he would not be able to fathom the greatness which is our God. Let us not forget the beautiful encounter of Moses on the mountain whereupon his visit God shone His glory before Moses. When the Lord passed before Moses, the true, full name of YHWH (Yahweh) is revealed for the first time, as the Lord said in his passing,

“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

And what was to become of Moses after such an encounter? As we see at the end of the chapter, “the skin his face shone because he had been talking to God.” (Exodus 34:29) And let us also not forget that God once commanded His people to create a throne for Him—the Ark of the Covenant—on which He would be manifested before man, yet man on his own accord was not worthy to touch it, or even look upon it. Such devastation of holiness, for a being of imperfection to be associated with true Perfection, would not be allowed. More than that, the representation of holiness, that is the Ark, could not be defiled, lest we portray the thought that God—the truest holiness—be anything less. This is perhaps why when the holiness of the Ark would be touched or seen by someone unclean, the offender would be struck down immediately. As it is recorded in 1 Samuel 6:19, “[God] struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the Lord.” What can be understood from these encounters is that the glory of God in its purest form would be absolutely devastating to the sinful human flesh.

Yet by words God revealed to us His nature in terms comprehensible to us on Saini. For as Yahweh passed before Moses, revealing His glory to Him, the words are spoken of God’s identity. It can be argued that God revealed His glory to Moses by speaking His identity to him. It is through words that Moses learned the identity and nature of God, and it is through words we now have the Holy Scriptures with which to study Him. By words God created the universe. By words He has made Himself known to us. And by words we praise Him in return.

Having stated this it should be noted that the words which are used in worship should bear weight in some sense. The apostle Paul famously instructs the churches of Colossi and Ephesus to “…be filled with the Spirit, singing to one another psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs…” (Ephesians 5:18b-19a); it can be understood, then, that music in the church is a means of edification both for God and His church. If the words to our music neither edify our God nor our church, they should not be sung in a congregational setting. Furthermore, it is the opinion of the author of this writing that songs with very little weight to edify in any sense should be kept on the proverbial back burner, that more theologically significant songs be presented by the church in lieu of them. The present church has plenty of songs already composed which repeat simple text and choruses. There is nothing inherently wrong with the composition “Our God Reigns,” which does little more than repeat those three words until the worship leader stops the movement; nevertheless overuse of a song or even this style of song—this style which has the advantage of being easily learned and repeated by the congregation—has a greater disadvantage of serving little-to-no theological edification to the believer. In theory, the believer already knows that God reigns—what else can he learn from the song? If we limit ourselves only to the basic, there will be no room for the congregation as a whole to grow into greater theological depth, which would consequently lead to greater knowledge of- and relationship with God.

In case it wasn’t clearly stated, let it be reiterated: the simple text and music is not inherently bad. The new believers and those unfamiliar with the simple song will be able to catch on quickly and join in communal worship with the congregation. Nevertheless, the congregation should not hold themselves back by singing simple songs for the sake of being together. New believers and seasoned alike need to continually advance themselves in their knowledge of God and the subsequent relationship. Let the church discontinue its “no congregant left behind” mentality.

Let it also be stated that the use of overly complex worship—especially in a melodic sense—should be used minimally as well. We now bring into play the other end of the argument: worship music does no good to edify the congregation if the congregation can’t pick up on it. If a worship leader has tongues of men and angels and incredible prophetic powers, it won’t do the church any good if the worship leader doesn’t serve to lead the congregation in worship. If a song is too extravagant for the congregation to understand, it is interpreted as a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. The glory of God is too great for our minds to understand—praise be to God that he translated his identity into terms which allow for us to understand in part, as he did with Moses on Saini. Similarly, some music is too complex for the mind of the musically untrained to comprehend all at once. Let us be imitators of God in making our content accessible to all.

In order to achieve a worship service inclusive of both inviting and significant music, the worship leader must seek to find a balance in some way. The author does not claim to know of a perfect way to do this; in fact, the supposed “perfect way” is likely congregation-specific. Possible means of achieving this balance include singing primarily songs from the proverbial middle ground—as in, songs that have substance yet are simple, or perhaps singing a mix of simple and complex—assuming the complex music will still be known by at least some of the congregation—so that everyone at some point can be edified, and in turn glorify our mutual Lord.

 

Definitions

Before continuing discussions over topics which are perhaps new areas of study to some, let us establish the meanings of some of the words discussed, lest we throw the “accessible to all” nonsense out the metaphorical window. As was addressed earlier, worship is a subject into which depths no mortal has likely ever ventured entirely. Were this document to touch on every definition, the reader would grow weary and irritated at these words before too long, and one could say much more for the author. So the definitions addressed will be highly condensed. Robert Webber, in his book Worship Old and New has this to say:

“Worship is not something tangential to the Christian story but a matter that lies at the very heart of the Christian Scriptures from the beginning to the end. The importance of worship is expressed as early as the story of Cain and Abel, who brought offerings to the Lord (Gen. 4:3-5), and as late as the book of Revelation, which not only depicts a heavenly scene of worship (Rev. 4-5) but is filled with songs of praise and images of worship. Between the pages of Genesis and Revelation the scriptures portray a moving story, which depicts the themes of worship, of how God worked in human history to initiate a saving relationship with the people of the world.”1

As Webber states, worship is the interaction between man and God. Worship can be seen as God moving and the Church responding. Such examples—even as Webber would later point out—include the relationship initiated by God with Abraham and Sarah, His relationship with Israel, and, as Webber states just a few sentences after the afore-quoted passage, we must especially note “the great act of redemption in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” through which God is initiating relationship with all those who agree to be yoked with Him.

Another highly important aspect to consider are the literal translations of words in the original historical text (Hebrew or Greek) into modern English. In English, two major words are used: praise and worship. And often the two are used interchangeably, either out of ignorance to a distinction between the terms or a present evolution of our language. Let it be established that the author of this article claims no expert status on the terms about to be discussed, in fact to claim any more than just a basic knowledge of the terms would be akin to perjury. Yet what basic understanding the author does have shall be revealed at this time:

In the Psalms especially, some Hebrew words which are translated into praise occur quite frequently. One such case is the word Halal. It has been counted2 to have appeared 165 times in the Bible in some form in the original Hebrew. In English, this word is typically translated in two ways: as part of the word Hallelujah (Halal + YAH-weh comes out to Hallelujah) and simply as praise. But praise is hardly a complete definition. This word is often used as a description of light or shining (Job 29:3) and sometimes as a term of commendation (Genesis 12:15). And when it is used in the original Hebrew as a term of praise, it is typically celebratory (Psalm 63:5). Other words often translated into English as praise are Shabach—to praise with a loud shout (Psalm 63:3) and Tehillah—to praise from one’s spirit (Psalm 22:3). There is a common theme between these and similar Hebrew words which will be further discussed shortly. Yet the word praise should be distinguished from worship.

Two of the most common words translated into English as “worship” are as follows: the first one we shall address is Barak—to worship by kneeling or bowing down; the second is Shachah—to worship by falling down or prostrating oneself. The latter Hebrew word is also translated into Koine Greek as proskuneo (Matthew 2:11).

There is a clear distinction between words translated into English as “praise” and as “worship”. Praise refers to simply exalting God, often in a celebratory sense, and it appears to open refer to a coinciding emotion of joy. Often, this involves a simultaneous raising of the hand (Yadah). Worship, on the other hand, is a form of humility. When one worships, one lowers oneself so that the object of worship—hopefully Yahweh—is lifted above the worshiper. Therefore, God is exalted as one is humbled. Regarding praise, the object of praise—again hopefully the Lord—is exalted on His own accord.

This distinction should be noted because it is important to be aware of our responses to the movements of the Lord. Need I remind the reader of what Webber said regarding our “moving story” with the Lord? If indeed worship and praise are a response to Yahweh’s movements, how shall we respond? When the church assembles, the church sings. Often hands are extended and knees are bowed. The historical background behind these acts cannot be overstated. In this way our acts of praise and worship unite us with generations past.

This unity is highly significant.

Earlier we reviewed a scripture found in Ephesians 5:18-19 wherein we are instructed to sing to one another our psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We are instructed to worship in unity. There is no dissent here, no separation of nobles and peasants, no chasm between republican and democrats, there is not even anything indicating time separates worshipers, when we’re all worshiping the same, eternal Being. After all, “what shall separate us from the love of Christ…neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come…will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39). God is eternal, as is His love for us, and as is the subsequent praise and worship of Him. The history of the church must not be understated, and meanings behind acts of worship still practiced by the church should not be forgotten. Acts of raising one’s hands, dancing, or even speaking in tongues in worship are not new worship acts. Neither are the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, the importance of which seem to be fading in the non-denominational gatherings in recent days in lieu of the aforementioned acts.

 

Life of the Worship Leader

The Worship Leader before all else should be, indeed, a worshiper of God. This goes far beyond simply leading music; anyone can lead a singalong. It is a far greater and infinitely more important task to be a worshiper than a musician.

How is this accomplished? The act of worship should never be limited to an hour-long timeslot on Sunday mornings. If indeed God is “enthroned on the praises of Israel,” (Psalm 22:3) how can He be enthroned somewhere he would only visit on hour a week? What dominion, what government only rules its people one hour out of the week? This can’t be. No authority worthy of praise would be so because of his lack of involvement in his constituents’ lives. In order to truly worship God, we must truly devote our lives to him, for we are each commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”3 It seems the only way possible to love the Lord with the entirety of even one of these qualities would be a lifelong task—how can you love anything with all of your heart if part of your heart is devoted elsewhere?

Before all else, the worship leader needs to keep himself in a healthy relationship with Jesus. As in any healthy relationship, communication is essential. The worship leader should be the first to lead his congregation in living out such callings of the scripture as to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). If the worship leader does not spend time on his own in communication with God, how can he expect to do so on Sunday morning with other people following him? How can he lead people some place he’s never been?

Secondly, the worship leader—regardless of whether or not the word “pastor” is used in his title, should take care of the other people leading worship with them. He needs to hold them to the standards to which he should hold himself—to be committed worshipers of Jesus during the service and apart from it. He should also take care of his worship team—be it a band, a choir, a praise team, or any other such term—and pastor them. The worship leader should be involved in the lives of those who are leading worship with him. He should pray for them, pray with them, and actively seek to serve them in any area of their lives in which they might need help. If these people are playing a role in leading the congregation in worship, they are worship leaders, just as the worship pastor, and neither person is any more or less significant than the other.

Furthermore, the worship leader must take care of his congregation. He must be as active if not more so in the lives of his church as the “senior pastor” (or whatever his title may be). As worship is a facet of lifelong devotion to God, its characteristics are far greater than just those of musical qualities. In order for the worship leader to wholly lead his congregation in worship, he must be involved in leading their worship outside of the Sunday morning service. He must be willing to pray with them—not just for them, in the generic manner worship leaders are known to do at the start of each service. The worship leader must be relationally involved with his congregation. When the worship leader is actively involved in the lives of his congregation, he can lead accordingly, and the church is unified in worship.

 

The Goal of Corporate Worship

The primary objective of corporate worship is to worship as one, unified church. Any individual can listen to “worship music” in their own time and worship God personally in their own way. But this act should not be carried over into the corporate worship setting. In the assembly in which we are supposed to symbolize the act of being many members of one body acting in unity as the one bride of Christ worshiping Him, we should not be acting on our own. There should be no need for a person to stand off on his own singing—or worse, partaking of the Eucharist on his own, as some gatherings seem to call for—in a setting which very purpose is to promote the opposite.

Take the communion, otherwise called the Eucharist, for instance. The Eucharist is a direct representation of Jesus’ last supper before his crucifixion. If we indeed call ourselves followers—disciples—of Christ, what were the twelve disciples of Christ who were with him at this time doing? They were consuming bread and wine, and they were enjoying the fellowship of one another and of Christ. They were not standing in the corner of the room in silence while the worship team sang a solemn 6/8 hymn in the background. The very act of Communion is designed to be communal.
And perhaps the single most important aspect of worship-leading which should be tended to in any service, regardless of style, song selection, whether or not the quality of the music is “good,” or whether or not a congregant is visiting or a lifelong attendee, is a simple concept. Above all else, it is unequivocally the single most important item in the job description of the worship leader to keep the focus of the service on Jesus, not on himself or the music. As such, the music should not be distracting in any way. Instruments should be tuned and played well, yet the musicians should not attract any unnecessary attention to themselves—if the electric guitarist is shredding on his guitar, where will the congregation’s focus be?

It should also be noted that the quality of the worship service is not dependent on how well the electric guitarist handled his solo or how long the soprano held out her high note but on how the church was edified in the leadership of the musicians. The congregation is not the audience, and the worship team is not made up of performers. If ever the worship leaders distract the congregation in letting their focus be on God, they are failing to live up to the calling placed upon them.

 

Closing Thoughts

The author would like to reiterate the point that he claims no moral authority but rather a strong passion for the subjects addressed. If you as the reader are so inclined to express your own opinions, let it be done, as the author of this work is not attempting to create the Ultimate Bible of Worship Leaders Worldwide.

Yet one last subject worthy of further exploration regards our impending eternity of worship as the Kingdom is established in its fullness in the coming days. In these days, we will be worshiping our omnipotent, omniscient, time-transcending God in unison with our brothers and sisters in Christ, past and present, from cultures all over the world. Let us not forget scriptural references, such as in Revelation 7 (beginning in verse 9) which declare that the worshipers, robed in white, are of a multitude of every nation. This being established, there is no culturally “correct” way to worship our God of every tribe and tongue and nation. There is no “right way” to worship God, as long as we keep our focus on Jesus, who is the Way to the Father (John 14:5). This being established, whether we prefer to worship with new songs or old, Chris Tomlin or Fanny Crosby, MediaShout or hymnals, guitars or organs, formal attire or casual, or prefer terms such as reverend or pastor, father or minister, or whether we use wine or grape juice, or whether or not we learn and recite creeds, or if we read from the King James Version or the New Living Translation—ultimately these arguments bear little significance in light of the fact that we are gathering together to worship the same God who revealed Himself to Moses on Saini, whom we will worship eternally with His people who presently do and historically have worshiped Him in ways different from ours.

Therefore the author implores the church worldwide and each individual congregation to explore opportunities in worship which are perhaps foreign or unknown. The Hillsong-centric congregation should challenge itself to explore music which is no less relevant today than it was just a few decades ago; the King James-reading traditional American church should explore music and styles from other cultures around the world; the local church should compose its own songs to meet the present needs of its people. We have thousands of years of content from six continents to explore, not to mention these wonderful years ahead of content yet to be composed. Let us pray that the church continues to explore opportunities to worship in unity our God, who though is three members is also one. Let us not be exclusive, insisting on our own way, but rather rejoicing in truth and exploring ways to sing to the Lord a new song. And let us pray, as our brothers and sisters in Christ prayed in the days of the early church, “even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. To You is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.”4

 

References

1Webber, Robert. “Biblical Themes in Worship.” In Worship Old & New: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Introduction. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994.

2“Strong’s #1984: Halal – Greek/Hebrew Definitions – Bible Tools.” Strong’s #1984: Halal – Greek/Hebrew Definitions – Bible Tools. Accessed October 8, 2015.

3Deuteronomy 6:5. Jesus later quoted this passage to address what our greatest command was; it should be noted that in the gospel according to Mark, he also adds the words “and with all your mind.”(Mark 12:30) And in Matthew 22:37 he says “mind” instead of “might”.

4The Didache, 9:5

Advertisements

An Open Letter to the Church from an Unemployed Pastor

September 17, 2015

An Open Letter to the Church from an Unemployed Pastor

My name is Eric, and I am seeking work as a pastor. I graduated from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Worship Ministry, and aside from my internships, I have been unable to find work in my field. Right off the bat, I would like to make two things very clear: this letter is addressed to the church, not exclusive of denomination or position within; secondly, in this letter I have no intention of putting anyone down or unrightfully exalting anybody, myself included. The point of this letter is simply for me to share my situation with he who has ears to hear. If anyone else has been in a similar place and would love to share your testimony of recovery with others, myself included, I would like to encourage you to do so. Likewise, if you find yourself in a similar situation and have not been able to get out of it, I would love to hear your story, and I am writing this to let you know that you are not alone.

 

 

Before I get into my present situation, I would like to share with you some personal history, not to brag by any means, but so that you all can perhaps better understand where I am.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a worship pastor at my church. I grew up attending a Church of Christ, a Stone-Campbell movement “denomination” which is perhaps best known for traditionally worshiping without instruments. Nevertheless, at the age of five I started playing guitar at home and fell in love with music. At about that time, I remember receiving my own copy of Dr. Seuss’ “My Book About Me,” in which I wrote that I wanted to be a “song leader” at a church when I grew up. At the age of 10 I joined a boys’ choir, which I hold in high esteem as beginning my formal music training. I would remain with them until I was 14, learning how to sight-read music, and touring across the United States and Germany performing music with them. In high school, I was active in the school choir, singing a different vocal part each of the four years I was in it, and even writing or arranging vocal music for the choir to sing.

It was at about this time I started leading worship for real at the church—as in, outside of LTC (Leadership Training for Christ) events. I joined the A Capella praise team at my church in addition to playing guitar for the youth group band. And in my downtime, I would practice at home. While other kids in high school were either going out with friends or playing video games every night, I opened the hymnal and taught myself each of the songs from it; I got to the point of memorization for much of the hymnal. Additionally, I began writing my own music, and developed a case of perfect pitch, so much so that I no longer needed a tuner for my guitar or a pitch pipe for my voice. As I attended college, I wanted to join the college worship band at my church; however since they did not have the need for another guitarist, I taught myself how to play the keyboard. I quickly became the regular keyboard player for the college band. I would also lead worship for small group events with the church. Additionally, I began leading the once-weekly instrumental chapel held by Abilene Christian University (the other chapel events were A Capella, as ACU is an affiliate of the churches of Christ). I could not count the number of times I had people come up to me after I had led a service saying they appreciated the passion and emotion I would put into the service, as opposed to just playing songs and making them sound good, concert style. Additionally, my song selection was a bit different from that of typical worship leaders. Instead of focusing on the happy God-is-good-all-the-time-so-we-should-always-be-happy songs indicative of much of the popular church music of the 2000s, I would pick songs that would connect with people on a personal level, as if to say the songs would essentially tell them “it’s okay if life isn’t going your way right now. God still loves you, so worship Him.” I used my music to relate to people, as we are called to “edify one anther singing songs, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19). With my music I connected to the broken in the church, and together we used the music to praise the Lord.

To help pay through school—after all, private Christian universities are expensive—I started working part time at a local burger joint. Throughout my tenure there I began to move up the ranks. About the time I graduated with my degree in Worship Ministry, the position of General Manager at the restaurant I had been working at opened up. And I was excited to take this position when it was offered to me instead of pursuing one “in my field,” as I already knew how to manage that restaurant, and, one could argue, I wasn’t bad at it.

Yet with each passing day I felt myself more and more called to pursue a position in my field. So in full communication with my employer, I began training my assistant manager to replace me as I began seeking new work. When it became time for me to leave the restaurant, I began spending my days actively looking for a position as a worship pastor.

 

 

And this brings us to the present day.

At the time at which I am writing this, I have been actively searching for a job six months. I am fully aware that it is not uncommon for one’s job search to last this long. But if I were to speak frankly, I would express some frustration at the process. You see, the issue at hand is not finding some church gathering which would love to have me volunteer to lead worship for them on Sunday mornings; I’ve encountered church gatherings whose worship leaders are leading out of obligation, not desire. Yet it seems apparent that most church gatherings don’t feel they should have to pay people to lead worship for the church. Or if they do agree that the worship pastor should be paid, they can’t afford to do so.

Let me interrupt myself before I say anything else. Obviously I am aware that there are several megachurches whose pastors are raking in millions of dollars apiece. I am not asking for a giant paycheck—in fact I think that is morally very wrong. Leaders of churches, organizations called by the God we worship to “sell what you have, give the money to the poor…then come, follow me,” as he told the “Rich Young Ruler” in Matthew 19:21, should not be selfish with their income, hoarding it to better their lives when there are so many others in need.

Yet I seem to be alone in finding it ludicrous that I am unable to be a worship leader for a church gathering on account of budget limitations. How absurd is it that we are now trusting ourselves in spiritual growth to people whom we don’t see fit to pay? Recently, I have been in talks with one such church gathering with whom I actually have agreed to volunteer my services in exchange for a roof over my head. Yet it seems no one at this gathering is even willing to let me stay with them in exchange for teaching their kids for a few months. Am I supposed to sleep under a bridge and forget about the tens of thousands of dollars I still owe in student loans (which I acquired to learn how to be a pastor) and still show up every Sunday declaring “God is good all the time?”

Church, it is entirely unacceptable and unfair to ask of your spiritual leaders to care for you if they can’t afford to take care of themselves or their families.

So what can you do to help? I understand not every member of the church can afford to give the ten percent of their income to the church, as they are called to do (Malachi 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 6:6-7; etc.) I understand occasional emergencies come up which might prevent you from doing this temporarily. Yet what would happen if those who could afford it—as in, those with a job and a budget—actually did so? Granted, I am not saying pastors should be taking in enough money to be living in 10 million dollar mansions. But pastors should not have to live on the streets, either. Pastors cannot be expected to take care of their church if they can’t afford to take care of their families.

Here’s what I’m asking of the church. I am not begging for a job; that will work out in the Lord’s timing as I continue to pursue work. But I am asking for the members of the church to both support their pastors and hold them accountable. Pastors should not be living in multi-million dollar mansions—there are better things for the church to be spending money on. Yet pastors need to be able to support themselves in order to support the church. So give your tithes and offerings to the church. Open up your doors to those who can’t afford their own roof. Maybe—and this is a long shot, I know—offer to make a student loan payment for someone who has devoted years of his life to the ministry. Most importantly, pray that those of us searching for employment continue to receive direction and comfort from our mutual Lord, that He will indeed guide us to where He is intending for us to go. Thank you.

******ing the Arts

September 14, 2013

As an aspiring artist I have convictions that tell me that art should be expressive, and that the artist should be able to say whatever he or she wants. Artists create art because artists wish to address a problem with the world, or because they wish to express feelings or emotions toward a person or people, or perhaps simply to state a point. The purposes for creating any form of art are vast—and perhaps limitless—yet to my understanding, all art seems to have one thing in common: the artist has something to say.

I’ve heard it argued that anything could be considered art. Heck, look at the impressionist and expressionist movements, where anything is considered art. Take a gander at Kandinsky’s painting On White II or Kafka’s famous Metamorphosis. Try listening to anything Claude Debussy composed and making sense of it right away. These works likely don’t make sense to the average student of art without having to devote a lot of time and effort interpreting the works.

And don’t even get me started on contemporary architecture.

On the other hand, there are many works which require practically no deciphering to detect the artist’s message. Listen to anything Top-40. Or if you refuse to, can you read the title of a Top-40 song and tell me what it is about? Any idea what the point of “Call Me Maybe” is? Can you tell me what “I Knew You Were Trouble When You Walked In” is about?

The point I’m trying to express here is that art covers a wide spectrum. There is art that requires much interpretation to access the “true meaning” of the work; likewise there is art that spells everything out plainly for the audience; and, of course, there are countless works in between.

It would appear as though art requires a great deal of communication between artist and audience. The artists intends for the work to be seen as art, and the audience, then, interprets it as such.

All that is to say that art is vast. Humanity uses art to connect with infinity and eternity, in that art connects the innermost aspects of a human to the world, and connects the world to ages of artists past and present.

Art is used to address a problem with the world, or to express the artist’s feelings or emotions toward a person or people, or perhaps simply to state a point. The artist is sharing his emotions or opinions. His feelings. His beliefs. Who are we to put different words into the artist’s mouth? Who are we to water down the artist’s message to make it more “family friendly,” or to avoid “offending” some member of the audience? Why would we alter the artist’s words so that we hear what we want to hear instead of what the artist is trying to say?

One piece of work that comes to mind is the album “Stockholm Syndrome” by Derek Webb. His record label felt the need to release a “clean version” and an “explicit version” of the album because of one of the songs. His song What Matters More addresses our broken world and the typical Christian response to this world. Talking to Christians, he says,

“We can talk and debate until we’re blue in the face

About the language and tradition that He’s coming to save

Meanwhile we sit just like we don’t give a shit

About fifty thousand people who are dying today.”

His record label didn’t release this song in the “clean version” of the album because of Webb’s use of the word “shit.” And, as Tony Campolo points out, we’re more offended at the fact that he used the word “shit” than the fact that fifty thousand people are dying in the world today because of starvation or abuse. Honestly, the record label not including this song kind of proved his point, that we are often more concerned with keeping our ears clean of certain words to the extent of not addressing real problems in the world. And it sucks that it takes such words to make us aware of these problems.

But when we censor our art for the purpose of protecting somebody’s innocence, art cannot reach its fullest potential. Art is not innocent. Art is often very real and it often very much reflects this cruel world in which we live. Why fool ourselves? Art is but a mirror reflecting the reality of this world; why fog up the mirror with mists of deception and steamy showers of innocence?

Now, I’m not saying artists, particularly musicians, should coat their works in words seen as vulgar for the sake of doing so. I think art should be creative and meaningful, and if, say, a songwriter’s lyrics are “explicit” for the sake of being explicit and for no other reason, I don’t have much respect for the work. There are few things less creative than doing something just “because I can.” Nevertheless, if the artist has something to say, by golly let him say it. Don’t change the artist’s message because you don’t want to hear it. Don’t alter someone’s words until you change the whole meaning of the message. You have your opinions; let the artist have his.

Intermission #2 [1-minute gospel]

September 8, 2012

As a warm-up assignment to one of my bible classes one day, my professor passed out each student a single, five-by-eight card and asked us to summarize the gospel on that one card. He asked, if you have one minute to share the entire gospel with someone who, perhaps, was about to die, what would you say? This is what I wrote down:

In the beginning was the One who is called the Word. He was always existing with God, and he always was God. The One who is called the Word created the world and all that is in it with simple words of His mouth. The most treasured of his creation was mankind.

Man was created with a desire and a passion to imitate the Word, and to be like Him. This desire, unfortunately, led man astray. Man wanted to rule the world so much that he took it from God. The decision of man to turn away from the Word left the Word heartbroken.

The Word realized that petty sacrifices of a few possessions of man, such as a livestock, were not enough to redeem man for man’s errors. Man sinned, so man had to pay.

The Word became flesh; the Word became a man to show us how to live in a holy manner. The Word once told man to die to himself and live like the Word. The Word even did just that—He died. He, who knew no sin, became sin. Man had to be punished, and a man was punished.

But thanks be to God, a man who is holy and blameless through the Word can conquer sin and death! Now man can live in perfect unity with the Word. May we all be one.

The Fruit of the Spirit is…

January 5, 2012

January 5, 2012
22:00

…Patience

I’ve had two conversations with as many people and in as many days that seem to have had the same central focus. Yesterday I had a rather long conversation with a close uncle of mine regarding theology and whatnot; today I had a conversation via text message with a good friend in which we discussed prayer amongst other things. But they both mysteriously ended up in the same place.

In the midst of the conversation with my uncle, we talked about spiritual gifts. Many spiritual gifts were mentioned, from the crazy, charismatic tongue speaking in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 to the more critically acclaimed teaching, serving, and benevolence mentioned throughout the rest of the Bible. We discussed the beliefs that some churches have had in the past which state that one is only a true believer if he or she speaks in tongues. Between the two of us, we decided that, instead, the mark of a true believer is one who bears the fruit of the spirit. At this point, as if he knew I was about to write about patience, he noted that “patience just isn’t one of those things we’re good at, is it?” Not wanting to spend time arguing, I agreed.

Earlier today, a friend from college texted me asking if I could pray for patience for her. I confessed to her that I didn’t exactly know what patience was, but I would pray anyway. She alluded to a thought that patience, for her, was nothing more than waiting on the Lord, and submitting to His will. Not wanting to spend time arguing, I agreed.

The reality is over the past week, I have been receiving a revelation in which I came to the conclusion that true, biblical patience is, indeed, just that: waiting. Waiting on the Lord, perhaps. But waiting, nonetheless. Before I came to the revelation that patience was little more than waiting, I had intentionally looked for ways in which patience was not merely the act of waiting. I thought, “Surely the synonymy between patience and waiting is artificial and incorrect, much like that between joy and happiness.” But alas, I really don’t think it is. I’ve come to see lately just how much patience and waiting actually are alike.

Perhaps the reason why it took me so long to get around to writing this post is because I sought wrong answers. I sought for reasons why patience is not what it actually is, thus I was looking for an incorrect truth to disprove the truthful truth. Are you following me? Maybe?

I guess what I mean to say is that I was looking merely for answers instead of looking to discover the truth. I was looking for something to prove what I believed to be true instead of looking for the actual truth. I don’t think I can word it any plainer than that.

Anyway… I don’t even know if I’m still on topic anymore. All I’m trying to say is that patience is, in essence, equivalent to waiting. I think when it is written “the fruit of the spirit is patience,” what it means is that one who lives by the Spirit is one who waits. One who lives by the Spirit is one who waits on the Lord, certainly. But more than that, I think to be patient is to not act impulsively. One who is patient is one who is calm, and who exercises self-control. I guess that means I’ll have to elaborate more on that as we get to the self-control post. But still, consider this proverb: “A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.” (Proverbs 15:18 NIV). The ESV, instead of saying “a patient man” says “one who is slow to anger.”* I suppose that’s what I mean when I make a claim such as “one who is patient is one who is calm, and who exercises self-control.”

As I wrote in my last post, it is extremely important for followers of Christ to live out His calling for us both in the world and in private. We need to “let our lights shine before men” yet “go into our rooms, shut the door, and pray to our Father in secret.” And I think when we pray to God privately, we are supposed to wait on Him. Whenever Jesus rose “early in the morning, while it was still dark,” he appeared to do little more than receive direction from his Father. It was after returning from his prayers in the secret place that he decided he would move and preach in the next town, for example.

I know when I go through periods of time in which I don’t hear from the Lord, the reason is because I don’t make any effort to do so. In those periods of time, I don’t make it a priority to wait on the Lord and listen to Him. Instead, my prayers (if I pray) will be more of me saying “You should do this” or “Why…” or something similar, without me even giving Him a chance to answer me. I think that if we truly want to hear from God, we will keep two things in mind above any others. If we truly want to hear from God, we should remember that He won’t necessarily say what we want Him to say, and we won’t necessarily hear Him through means that we want to hear Him. Growing up in the church, most of us are taught from a young age that “God answers every prayer”, and that maybe the answer is “no” sometimes. But keeping in mind that He does, indeed, answer every prayer, we should note the ways in which He might answer.

Personally, I hear God speak to me directly more often than not. I don’t often hear an audible voice of His, rather I often receive something similar to a thought in my head. But occasionally, He’ll speak through someone else to tell me something. Just yesterday, in fact, my friend Jacob called me to tell me God loves me. That’s it. No spectacular God-wants-you-to-drop-everything-right-now-and-move-to-a-third-world-country or anything like that. Just “God loves you.” Somehow, it was an incredible thing to hear. It’s as if God was telling me He heard my prayers. I hadn’t even been praying to hear His love for me; nevertheless this word came to me as if to say God heard me anyway.

I think if I had my way, I would choose to hear God speak loudly and clearly to me through another person all the time. It’s easier to listen to things when they come from an audible voice, after all. But in reality, I have no power over the means in which God communicates. If I did, that would make me God. God is too great to be limited in any way, and He cannot be limited to one means of communication. We must be open to hear from God in whatever way He may speak.

But the first step is waiting. Sometimes God speaks to us in prayer, as such that we hear from Him immediately. Sometimes, we don’t hear from Him for days, months, or even years after. We must understand that God is greater than time, and that’s why the fruit of the Spirit is patience. Our concept of time is so unlike his. If we want to connect with the Father, we must learn to wait patiently for Him. As it is written in Isaiah 40:31, “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” And let us not forget the incredible testimony of King David, “I waited patiently upon the Lord, and He inclined and heard my cry.” (Psalm 40:1) I would like to note the word “patiently” that David mentioned. That implies time passed between David’s cry and God’s noticeable inclination.

 

I hope this made some sense. Those of you who know me personally surely know that my brain shuts down late at night, such as now (10:00? Wow!) but I think I’ve gotten my point across, at least somewhat. Just in case, here’s a recap:

  • Patience is closely related if not synonymous to waiting
  • We are called to spend time, perhaps daily, in prayer
  • In prayer we should spend time listening for God, however we must be mindful that God speaks through His own means and in His own timing

 

*And on the “slow to anger note”, let us not forget that being slow to anger is one of God’s greatest qualities. All over the Bible, it is written that “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, rich and love, good to all generations, and just.” Maybe the fruit of the Spirit is patience because the Spirit continually exercises patience, and we are called to be like Him. That is assuming we are using “patience” and “slow to anger” to mean the same thing.

 

True to form, I have selected a song to accompany this post, as I have with every other post pertaining to the fruit of the Spirit. This particular song is the song which has been played more on my iTunes than any other song, and for good reason, too. This song is my constant prayer, and I hope you consider treating it as such as well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qthv0L-NFo&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PLE005896DE98838F4

Intermission [and]

December 29, 2011

December 29, 2011
10:36

Intermission

[Below this paragraph is a link to a YouTube video of a medley of two songs which correspond with the message of this post. I encourage you to listen to it during or separate from reading this post. I don’t care how you do it, but please listen to these two songs! Make sure to right-click and open it in a new tab or page so you can keep this one open. That is all.]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGnJXChmcT8

As my regular readers are surely aware, I have lately been working on a series of writings in which I have analyzed and discussed each individual fruit of the spirit as is mentioned in Galatians 5. The next one in the list is patience. My apologies, O expectant reader, but I must keep you waiting longer to read about that one. In this post, I will instead discuss something else that has been on my mind lately—a revelation about the gospel, I daresay.

It has occurred to me lately just how inclusive the gospel is. Of course, the content of the gospel is directed toward the whole community of believers. But I am referring to the gospel in relation to itself. Perhaps layman’s terms are more comprehensible.

As I have studied more on the topic, I have come to realize that the message of the gospel puts a strong emphasis on the word “and”. Were we to summarize the greatest command in a few simple words, we would typically say “Love God and love your neighbor.” God is described by Himself as a God “merciful and gracious and slow to anger and loving and just”.

But beyond that, when individuals establish their theology, I’ve noticed that most tend to swing a pendulum: either Calvinist or Armenian, either mercy-focused or justice-focused, etcetera. I pose the question, “Why?” Why should we go so far as to say that only one way—our way—is correct? Did Jesus die only for those with certain theological beliefs?

I know, I know. I’m over-exaggerating my point. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to offend; I don’t think that will do much. Instead, I wish simply to enlighten.

But, when I hear questions such as “Why did God punish people so visibly in the Old Testament if He is the supposed ‘God of love’?” I wonder what we think love is. Perhaps love isn’t happy feelings all the time, but rather the perpetual outpouring of unending, inexplicable emotions expressed toward an individual for the purpose of their welfare. Love itself is not one emotion; it is composed of likely the entirety of every strong emotion humans face. Love, in part, is made up of discipline, sacrifice, joy, happiness, good times, bad times, red fish, blue fish, and the like. For whatever reason, we like to think a love connection is little more than a “happiness connection” and then drop out of our relationships the instant a moment turns sour. That isn’t love. Love is too great to be limited to one emotion. Perhaps this is why “God so loved the world”, yet “in this world, [we] will have troubles.” Love is more than happiness. Love is the perpetual outpouring of the strongest of emotions. So then, “is God a god of love or a god of justice?” Both! God is a god of love and of justice. You can’t have one without the other. Love is too great to be limited to one emotion or characteristic. Sometimes God loves by being just and disciplining.

 

Lately I have been greatly exposed to a particular argument: “Do we live out the calling of God when we ‘go into our room, close the door, and pray to our Father who is in secret?’ or do we live it out when we ‘go out and make disciples of all nations as salt and light to the world?’” And I wonder why this argument exists. When we consider that Jesus called us to both “pray to our Father in secret” and “go and make disciples of all nations,” I think it goes without saying we are to do both. We are called to imitate Jesus, so let’s look at what he did. Throughout the gospels we see him daily praying to his Father alone. And then he went out into the world and shared the love of his Father. And we should do the same thing. And we must not think we should choose one or the other. If we truly have “quiet time” or “alone time” with Jesus to receive his love and blessings, we will soon discover that he is calling us to go out into the world. Yet, how can we go out into the world without first receiving the perpetual love of God? We cannot daily go out into the world and share God’s love if we do not daily receive it. To do so would be to lean on our own understanding, not on God’s love. We have nothing to offer but what we receive from God. So, “Is God a personal God found in the secret place, or is He a communal God found in the world?” Both! God is too great to be contained to a closet, and He is too powerful to only be held by the world. If we want to look for Jesus today, we must consider where He was as He walked around earth in the flesh. He was daily found in the secret place, and He was daily found with the poor.

I guess my point in saying these things is that we try to limit not just the power of God, but the message itself. The word of God has become flesh, and now we speak the word of God. Clearly any word that can become incarnate into one man and now dwells within every man cannot be contained. Thus, we should stop trying to contain it! We cannot choose who to spread the gospel to, and we cannot choose in which ways God can be found. To do either not only puts a limitation on God but divides the church, and that is counterproductive to our calling as the body of Christ. We are, indeed, the body of Christ. We are not the “bodies of Christ”. We must be unified in our calling. We, the church, are a collection of individuals. Therefore, in order to come together, we must each, individually, choose to come together. “Is God a communal God or a personal God?” Both! We must individually choose to unite in our calling. Jesus is more than our “personal Lord and Savior;” he is the Lord and Savior of us all. Yet, we still must each accept Him as such.

I suppose I’m just rambling at this point. All I mean to say is that to swing the proverbial pendulum either way is to limit God and divide the church. Therefore, we should not quarrel with ourselves and say to other parts of the body “your way is wrong” because, frankly, as long as it points to the Way, it can’t be wrong. God cannot be confined to a strict religious set of rights and wrongs. Mind you, if part of the body begins to stray from the Way and his calling for us, this part of the body should be corrected lovingly. Nevertheless, if our means point to Jesus, they cannot be incorrect.

As I said at the beginning of this post, the gospel is full of “ands.” God is Love and Just. God is found in the secret place and in the world. The gospel is for rich and poor, Jew and Gentile. Before any of us were around, the message was for us all, regardless of our theology. Friends, please stop creating divisions within the church by saying “you’re wrong and I’m right.” Doing so interferes with our call to “go and make disciples.”

 

Christmas day came recently. During the Christmas season we like to proclaim that we now have peace on Earth. Am I the only one who hasn’t seen it yet? Why don’t we have peace on earth if we have been preaching it for two thousand years now? As I mentioned in my post about peace, I believe peace isn’t the absence of conflict; it is the unity of spirit. (Part of love is conflict, right?) I believe in order to obtain perfect peace, we must all be unified in spirit. Let us be unified in the Holy Spirit of the Prince of Peace. Perhaps Psalm 85:10 is prophetic to our interaction with Jesus upon his second coming. This verse boldly states that “righteousness and peace kiss each other.” Well, we already know that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and II Corinthians 5:21 says that we (the church) are the Righteousness of God… See where I’m going here? Ok. That’s a little weird. Still, we are, indeed, the body of Christ. We, the church, must live out our calling as the unified body if we want to truly be in love with Peace. We are the body, (thankfully, I am not the lips!) and as the body—as a collection of individual members—let us be united in our calling, because only one truly united bride of Christ can pursue peace, which is Christ.

I’ll say it again: the body of Christ must not quarrel amongst itself if we truly want peace on Earth. Therefore, stop! Let us come together and pursue peace together. The gospel is full of “ands” to signify that there is not one right way, except, of course, for the Way himself. If our methods lead to Jesus, they are right, and we should not argue with each other because the hands of the body of Christ connect with the Head (Christ) in a different manner from the feet.

 

Remember to check out that YouTube link from the beginning of the post!

The Fruit of the Spirit is Peace.

October 15, 2011

October 15, 2011
10:00

The Fruit of the Spirit is Peace.

Part One—Peace on Earth

I have a great group of friends.

Those who I consider to be my closest friends are those who were in the same lifegroup as me ever since its conception two years ago. We are a group of people united in our pursuit of Jesus and live life—as opposed to just once or twice a week—pursuing a more intimate relationship with the Lord together.

Since its conception, we have expanded and “multiplied” to the point where we are now three distinct lifegroups. I’m not sure, but it seems to be that people saw our close community and wanted in on it. How incredible! Because we are such a close group of friends, other people have looked upon us and wanted to join us, and in doing such have pursued a closer relationship with the Lord together. How exceedingly exciting beyond all imagination!

The ones I consider myself to be closest to are the ones who, for the most part, have been around since the beginning. Thus, regardless of the particular lifegroup we are each technically affiliated with at the moment, my closest friends are the ones who were in the original lifegroup, with a few added along the way. My closest friends are members of now three lifegroups, in which we all seek to serve God better day by day. This is often done by pursuing those within our new communities, without losing contact with those in our old communities. It’s truly incredible.

I’ve come to know the true character of God more since joining this lifegroup than I had in the previous eighteen years of my life. I’ve discovered that God is indeed “merciful, gracious, slow to anger, rich in love, good to all, and just.” (Exodus 34:6-8). I’ve discovered this especially because my community, the church—which seeks to reflect the glory of God—is this way, too, to the best of our ability.

In being all these things, though, sometimes we have to have some hard conversations. We had one just a few days ago. This group of people, my closest friends, had to have a rather firm conversation. We had to get together and confess to each other that we had some feelings of anger and bitterness toward each other. We confessed to each other that perhaps one of us had wronged another. We admitted that we weren’t perfect people.

In doing this, we released from ourselves incredible bonds of sin in forms of jealousy, enmity, fits of anger, strife, and the like. You see, simply ignoring problems and living with them as if they weren’t there doesn’t get rid of them. It only allows them to grow in isolation until each problem is too big to hide in its designated closet anymore and breaks into our lives in a gigantic, disruptive manner.

Yet somehow we established peace.

In exposing our faults, in confessing that we had wronged each other in some way, we made way for peace to exist within us by kicking hostility out of the way. Sometimes, you have to work out problems in order to make room for peace.

This is why I don’t like the idea of coexisting very much. If everyone on earth—every tribe, tongue, and nation—were to all sit down in the same room and simply not fight, despite having hard feelings brewing up between us, what kind of peace is that? All you’re doing is letting feelings of hostility brew in isolation and acting otherwise. You’re not exposing your true colors because your true self has hard feelings toward someone, whereas you’re acting otherwise. I don’t think lying to someone is a good foundation for peace.

Coexisting implies peace in actions alone. But that’s not peace. That’s nothing more than a white lie. Peace isn’t simply being unified in action. Peace is being unified in spirit. If two people are unified in action but not spirit, they might be able to get along with each other for a time, but they’ll still have hard feelings against each other. All it takes to turn those emotions into actions is a simple argument. To counter this, if two people are unified in spirit, feelings of hostility likely won’t exist. And if they do, your unity in spirit will provide a means to work out the issues that might exist, as was the case amongst my friends.

This is why peace is a fruit of the Spirit. You can’t obtain peace from mere actions—flesh. You can only obtain peace from unity in spirit.

—————————————————————————————————————

Part Two—The Prince of Peace

I think the biggest problem with understanding what peace really is is our misconception of the term. We want peace to mean perfection. We want peace to mean something like “I want everyone to see things my way so that we don’t have to fight anymore.” But that’s not what peace is. Peace is a state of harmony between personal relations, so says Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. Does any part of that definition imply selfish gain? Does that definition imply that obtaining peace is an effortless project? Like anything else desirable, peace on earth must be worked for.

Working for peace, I think, involves pursuing intentional relationships with those from whom you desire peace. It’s human nature to be wary of a stranger. Why do we often think we can establish peace with someone with whom we have never connected? Peace is unity in spirit, so how can we be unified in spirit with someone with whom you don’t know?

I am certain this is one of the main reasons Christ called us to spread the gospel to all peoples. How else can “world peace” be established? If indeed peace is unity in spirit, let us be unified in the Holy Spirit of the Prince of Peace.

Sometimes it’s hard to understand how Jesus can be the Prince of Peace. Jesus, the very man who called Peter Satan and flipped over the tables in the temple, is himself the Prince of Peace.

How can an angry Jesus be a peaceful Jesus?

It’s just that. You have to work for peace. Look back at my testimonial example. Had my friends and I not gotten together and shared a few hard words, our problems would have further escalated and, if still not managed, would have ultimately damaged (if not destroyed) wonderful relationships. Remember that peace is unity in spirit. You have to work for that. Anger and strong emotions are not always the best means of establishing peace, and I do not support the use of anger to establish peace in most situations. Usually anger is a sign that you want things to go your way. But just on occasion, be angry at the situation. Not the person. Hate the sin, not the sinner.

—————————————————————————————————————

Part 3—Benediction

“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” — Numbers 6:24-26

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” — Romans 16:20

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.” — II Thessalonians 3:16

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foVRP07WOAg

The Fruit of the Spirit is Joy!

June 29, 2011

June 29, 2011
14:31

The Fruit of the Spirit is Joy!

Joy will likely end up being the hardest thing I will have ever written about. I feel as though I know very little about joy; this may be a wonderful thing, and it may be terrible. Yet that I don’t know much about it doesn’t subtract from its importance.

One thing I do know is that we often confuse joy with happiness. This is a terrible calamity. As the past few centuries have progressed, the word “joy” has increasingly become synonymous to happiness. Originally, happiness referred to a state of financial well-being. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary lists an obsolete definition of happiness as being prosperous. Though this definition is obsolete, it resembles the modern definition, which is “a state of well-being”. The original definition of the word stated that money is the cause of happiness, and the only thing different about the modern definition is that the cause of happiness is left open. Implied is that anything on Earth can make someone happy.

It is dangerous to assume that joy and happiness are synonymous. Since the Bible explicitly states that the fruit of the Spirit is joy (Galatians 5:22), we should not be made to believe that joy can be found in things of the Earth. Rather, since joy is a fruit of the Spirit, joy can only be found in the Spirit. Therefore, joy and happiness cannot be synonymous because happiness is found in money and other things created by the world, whereas joy is found in the Creator of the world.

Happiness of the world seems to revolve around what has been referred to as the “American Dream”. It is the dream of the average American—and for that matter, every other first-world citizen—to acquire more “stuff”—more cars, new cars, a bigger house, the next college degree, the next promotion, a boat, a dog, and maybe even a couple of kids. The foundation of the American Dream is that the key to happiness is prosperity. The American Dream says that prosperous people are happy people.

When you really think about it, though, the American Dream in itself is pretty ironic. Look at how much good the American Dream is doing for America! Each passing day we’re getting further into debt! The American dream is to be rich, and America itself is trillions of dollars in debt.

Friends, it is plain to see that it is dangerous to seek happiness. Happiness is contentment with the world and its possessions, and with each addition to our happiness—with each new purchase to increase our contentment with the world—it only puts us further into debt. It may make us temporarily content, but this contentment surely won’t be permanent. It’s much like the concept of sin itself—it instantly makes you content for the time-being, then it turns on you and makes you feel bad for having ever associating with it. Joy, on the other hand, comes from the LORD. Anything that comes from the LORD has eternal implications because the LORD Himself is eternal.

 

Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church, once mentioned via Twitter the relationship between joy and repentance. As he pointed out, “the message of Jesus was joy-based repentance, not fear-based repentance.” I think this further emphasizes that joy must come from the Lord, because repentance comes through the Lord, and there is joy in repentance.

 

In Matthew 18:3-4, Jesus mentions that the Kingdom of God is for those who “turn and become like children.” I don’t think this verse is saying the Kingdom of God is for people who leave behind their maturity and exchange it for whininess and temper tantrums. Rather, I think Jesus is saying in this verse that the Kingdom of God is for those who have an ultimate dependency on their Father, and who feel very alone without Him. Thinking back to when I was a young child, I got scared when I was without my parents. I had such a strong dependency on my parents that I felt really bad without them. Yet when I was with them, I felt so content with my life. As a child, I never had to worry about paying the bills or preparing my next meal; my parents did that for me. They provided everything I needed. And this is what Jesus desires of us—to be entirely dependent on Him.

Going along with this, think of how a child spends his or her recreation time. The first thing that comes to my mind is a little girl spinning around imagining she’s dancing at the ball. It didn’t take much for her to show up at the ball; she just put her mind on it, and she was there. And think of how joyous she is to be there! For this child, it didn’t take much for her to have joy. She didn’t have to go out of her way to buy something to give her joy; a child can’t buy anything. Rather she realized that joy can’t be purchased.

This is why Jesus said to have faith like a child, because joy only comes from complete and utter dependence on Him.

 

Let’s consider a few other places in the Bible, where joy is expressly mentioned:

• Nehemiah 8:10 says, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” I like how this is worded: “the joy of the LORD”. It seems to be a clarification addressed to someone who might think joy comes from other places. Nay, I say, joy only comes from the LORD.

• Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Toward the end of the Psalm, the writer expresses his emotions after the joy had come. He says in verse eleven, “You have turned my mourning into dancing.” In this passage, it is simply understood that joy comes from the LORD.

• At the beginning of His letter, James instructs us to “count it pure joy when you face trials of any kind, for the testing of your faith produces endurance.” You see, joy isn’t synonymous with happiness, rather joy is the sense one feels when in the presence of God. Being a follower of God doesn’t necessarily mean life will always be happy. Instead, being a follower of God means giving all that we endure, that is unpleasant—every trial, tribulation, danger, etc.—to God, so that He can bear the weight of it instead of us.

 

As I mentioned earlier, God desires a childlike faith from us, so that we will be totally dependent on Him. It is only then when we can truly experience joy.

 

The David Crowder*Band has a song which, in my experience, perfectly describes joy as it relates to our relationship to God. In their song “You Are My Joy”, they demonstrate how being in a place of worship is the key to being full of joy. I encourage you to listen to it, as they say more in those few minutes that I could have hoped to in these few pages. Sorry about that, but if I had told you that in the beginning, you wouldn’t have read this, would you? Anyway, here’s the link, so check it out!

“The fruit of the spirit is love…”

June 1, 2011

June 1, 2011 12:05

The Fruit of the Spirit is Love…

The most important Fruit of the Spirit is probably the hardest to talk about. Love is found throughout the Bible. One could say that love is the greatest theme of the Bible. When asked what the greatest command was, Jesus said “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) In saying this, Jesus was paraphrasing Deuteronomy 6:4-5, part of the old law. This, in a sense, validates his command, as if he needed any validation, considering he’s God.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that God so clearly desires love, for whatever reason there may be, it is often the hardest thing to do. In seeking a precise biblical definition for love, I stumbled across the third chapter of the book of First John. In verse eleven, he starts out his section on love by remarking that “the message we have heard from the beginning” is “that we should love one another.” But what does this mean? How do we do this? In verse sixteen of this chapter, he explains what love is. He says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”

This isn’t to say that the only way to love someone is to be a martyr. We don’t necessarily need to sacrifice our lives; Christ already did. However, we are to live our lives as living sacrifices. We are to die to ourselves—to our way of living—and live like Christ. In doing this, we do lay down our lives, as John says, for the sake of others and for Christ. One cannot truly love his brother without first loving Christ, and this is why John says we ought to lay down our lives, just like Christ did, in order to love. This is also why God said loving one’s neighbors is the second greatest command, after loving the Lord. You can’t do this out of order. The only way to truly love someone else is to love Christ first.

Still, somehow the postmodern world of which we are a part seems to believe all we need to do in order to have “good lives” is to love others. We’re so obsessed with “coexisting” as a means of loving other people that we don’t even know what it means to love. In all honesty, I don’t understand how it’s possible to love without God in mind, because God is love. 1 John 4:7-12 says,

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only son into the world, so that we might live in Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God: if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.”

This passage explains how inseparable love is from God. Sure, verse eight bluntly states that “God is love.” Still, the rest of the passage explains just how it is impossible to separate love from God. I especially like the last verse, verse twelve, which claims that God will live in us if we love others. This is truly a beautiful verse. Because God lives in those who love others, if we want to see God, all we have to do is look at someone who loves His people, and we are all His people. It is very important, though, to not take this verse out of context. This verse does not say that it is okay to just love others without loving God. This verse does not imply that it is acceptable or even possible to love others without loving God. We already know that love doesn’t work that way, because we have to love God before we can love others. If God is love, how can we “God” others without first “Godding” God?

Still, what is even more incredible is how inseparable those who are in Christ are from His love. Romans 8:35-39 says,

“What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither life nor death, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord!”

This is amongst the most powerful scriptures in the entire Bible. This passage explains how God’s love is so powerful that nothing—“neither life nor death”, “tribulation, nor distress”, etc.—can interfere with God’s love; rather because it is He that loves us, we more than defeat these things that try to separate us from God’s love. Angels—good and bad—cannot separate us from His love. Rulers of the earth cannot separate us from His love. They can say we can’t worship Him, but that doesn’t change the fact that God loves us.

Now then, knowing that God and love cannot be separated, nor can we be separated from love, this is why God lives inside of us when we love others. You see, when we love other people, we have God in us because God is love. When we have love, we have God. 1 John 4:12 doesn’t imply that loving others without loving God is sufficient. Rather it explains to us that we can’t claim to love God without loving His people. We are the body of Christ, and how can we love Christ if we don’t love His body?

With all this said, I want to make sure we know what “love” means. I believe the word “love” in today’s first-world society has an entirely different definition than it was ever supposed to. Nowadays, love in this context is more closely synonymous to either words like “accept” or “tolerate”, rather than how it was ever used in the Bible. The New Testament was written in an ancient Greek dialect which had four different words which are all translated into English as “love”. The Greek words for love are:

  • Agápe—unconditional love
  • Eros—passionate love, sensual love
  • Philia—brotherly love, friendship
  • Storge—affection

It seems as if our culture only recognizes two definitions of love: we certainly recognize Eros; we see it everywhere. Cultural media contains almost nothing but Eros. But the only other definition of love that our culture seems to ever have a part of was made up by our culture. I’m trying to figure out how toleration, such as of a race or sexual orientation, can be considered love. Does our society which is “accepting of all peoples regardless of race or sexual orientation” not even have the audacity to love, but only accept, anymore? It’s almost as if there’s a correlation between our society which is increasingly unreligious and our increasing replacement of “love” with “acceptance”.

Friends, let us not confuse love with toleration. God doesn’t merely tolerate or accept us; he outright loves us in every sense of the word. We need not fall under the impression that God loves us as if his definition of love is identical to our society’s. We need to understand that God actually loves us.

He loves us unconditionally. No matter how far we think we’ve run away from God, he still loves us. How can we run away from God who is everywhere?

He loves us passionately. We are the bride of Christ. (Hosea 2:19)

He loves us as friends. “No longer do I call you ‘servant’…but I call you ‘friend’, for all that I [Jesus] have heard from the father I have made known to you.” –John 15:15

He loves us affectionately, as a parent would love a child. And we are children of God.

Friends, God loves us. And there is nothing that we can do to change that! We can’t change his mind about us; He loves us no matter what we may have done. He loves us as a father would love his son who strayed away from truth for a little while, but eventually finds his way back (Luke 15:11-32). He cherishes us as a poor woman cherishes her last coin (Luke 15:8-10). God loves us. This is why we love our neighbors, because God lives in them, too. He lives in those who love. And he still loves those who might not know Him, and even they are still God’s children. If we love God, we love his creation, of which God is still a part. And when we understand as best as we can that God loves us, and we recognize it, we become aware of the amount of love God has for us, and we have no choice but to share it with our neighbors. “Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” And this is love, the love that God has for us.

Sweeter, Fairer, and all-around Better

June 1, 2011

June 1, 2011 8:51

Oh how sweet to me is the name of Jesus!
It is sweeter than the smell of fresh cut grass
on a sultry summer’s Saturday,
Fairer than the feeling of warm socks
out of the dryer on a snowy day,
Better than the aroma of baking bread
waking me up in the morning.