Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolution

My plan is to try to put something up every couple of days - two or three times a week. I will use some of my old essays I sent out over email, but try to write new reflections as well. Hope they help.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My Christmas Eve Message

Jenni and I went into this Christmas season with such noble intent. We were going to be reasonable, to hold the line on spending. We were going to maintain our financial sanity while all around us were losing theirs. Alas, it was a noble goal. But, like all my New Year’s Resolutions in the last 25 years, this Christmas resolution did not survive the last several days.

But, you know what? I am glad. I love to give gifts to my family and there is not much way of doing that except to lay down some cash or flash the plastic. I ruled out shoplifting, and that left me with few alternatives. So, I spent a little more than I intended. Christmas will be expensive this year.

But maybe Christmas should be expensive, after all. It is a holiday designed to honor the greatest gift ever given. When the time was just right, when He had perfectly prepared the world for the coming of the Promised One, God sent His Son into this world to save us from our sins. Oh, it was a costly gift. And Jesus gave Himself. He offered Himself as an obedient Servant in the Father’s plan and came to earth to redeem a people by giving His life in exchange for those. He came to live a perfect life and die on the cross for our sins. And that was the most costly gift of all. God gave His son. Christ gave Himself. It seems that Christmas should be expensive.

But it is not enough to just spend exorbitantly on electronics, jewels, clothing or other gifts. It is important that we remember the coming of Christ and respond rightly to the gift that He gave.

I want to share a secret with you today, one that might shock you a little. Christmas joy comes in direct proportion to how expensive Christmas is for you. The more you give the more joy you will have. No, I am not talking about what you spent at the mall this year. I am talking about what you give to God, how much of your heart and life you give to Him.

Those Who Give Nothing Have No Joy

There are many who go through Christmas barely thinking about God or the great gifts he gave. There are many who give nothing at Christmas, and they receive no Christmas joy.

The Bible is full of examples of this kind of person. Herod was on the throne of Israel; a throne he had won through intrigue, manipulation and violence. He knew it was a throne he had no right to sit on, but he liked being there. Then, one day, strange men came from the east announcing that one had been BORN king of the Jews. That phrase pushed all his buttons. He did not receive the news with joy, but as a threat to his throne. He knew what many never realize – the baby in Bethlehem came to rule. If it is your goal to run your own life and live as you please, the baby whose birth we celebrate is a threat to you. He came to live and die, but after his death, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name. He is the rightful ruler of this world and of your heart. The baby in the manger was destined to be King of kings and Lord of lords. You cannot serve him without submitting to him. Herod refused to submit, so he had no joy at Christmas.

There were others who had no joy. There were the scribes and the religious leaders of Jerusalem. They heard that the baby had been born, but they did not seek him. They were more interested in maintaining their own power and prestige, so they refused to seek the baby. But you cannot expect Christmas joy unless you give yourself to the One who was born that day. He demands to become Lord of all your hopes and dreams, your ambitions and desires. If you are unwilling to give that all to Him, you, too, will have no real joy at Christmas.

One other group I would mention. These were the people in Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Christ. They were not evil, as such. They did not hate the baby or try to kill him. They had no ill will toward him, they just ignored him. Think about it. Many people stayed in that inn that night. There was no more room. Messiah, the one promised for millennia, the hope of all the people, was born within a few feet of them, and they never knew it. There are many people who are so busy with the routine of life that they never stop to think about eternity, about spiritual things. It is not a matter of disbelief or skepticism for them, they just don’t have time. But if you are so busy, so wrapped up in your own life that you ignore the baby, you will have no joy at Christmas.

If you want Christmas joy, it will cost you your life. Many have turned aside to the secular celebration of Christmas, because Santa and the Reindeer don’t ask so much. But Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, offers real joy – if you give yourself to him.
Joy to the World, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing. He rules the world with truth and grace.
Some, unfortunately, failed to understand who that baby was. They received no joy at Christmas.

Those Who Give a Little Have Little Joy

What a night that was for an unusual group. Shepherds. No one cared about the shepherds in the Bethlehem hills. They were about as far down the social ladder as you could go. But God cared about them, enough to make them the first people who ever heard the announcement of the Savior’s birth. The night was dark when suddenly, the brightness of God’s glory lit up the hillside. An angel appeared to them to tell them Messiah had been born and encouraged them to go and see. Without warning, the sky was filled with angels shouting, “Glory to God in the highest.”

So, the angels left their sheep and went in to town to check out what the angels say. They were rewarded with the privilege of being the first humans other than Mary and Joseph to see God Incarnate, the second member of the trinity in human form. It was a night like no other. They went back to their hillside with hearts of joy and a story to tell.

And then life returned to normal. Perhaps, from time to time, in the months that Mary and Joseph lived in Bethlehem before fleeing to Egypt, they came for a visit. But life really didn’t change much. They went back to being shepherds and probably talked a lot about the wonderful night when Angels appeared and Messiah was born. They had a night of real joy.

But it was only a night. We have no way of knowing what happened to these shepherds in years to come. I hope that those who survived to the time of Jesus ministry recognized him as the baby the Angels announced and worshipped him. Perhaps some of the 120 in the Upper Room on the night of Pentecost were shepherds from Bethlehem. We will only know in heaven.

But this we know here on earth. If you only give God an hour here or there, or a day now and again, you will only ever experience moments of joy. Those who give a little time to Jesus gain only a little joy.

There are many who are only willing to give the Lord a little time now and then. If they are not busy, they will give him Sundays. They will give him a little money, if they have some left over at the end of the month. They like Jesus, like the church, like the message of salvation. They just don’t want to interrupt their lives to serve Jesus or give him all their hearts or lives.

If all you ever do is give Jesus a little time now and again, you will never have anything more than a little joy. Those for whom Christmas costs nothing, receive no joy. Those for whom Christmas costs a little, receive a little joy.

Those Who Give Much Have Great Joy

They are the most mysterious of all the characters of Christmas. We don’t know their names, and we know precious little about them. They were Magi - Parthian king-makers, pagan wise men from modern day Iran. They had likely heard of the Messiah of the Jews through the Babylonian captivity, perhaps through Daniel himself, or Shadrach, or Meshach or Abednego.

Then they saw the star the night Jesus was born and they set out on a long journey. They walked, or rode on camels for hundreds of miles, week after week, month after month. (I know they had camels, because they are in our manger scene.) Finally, they appeared in Jerusalem, and asked about the Messiah, being directed to Bethlehem.

When they arrived in Bethlehem, they saw a star in the night sky over the house where Jesus lived. Was that an angelic light over the house, some manifestation of the glory of God, or some amazing natural phenomenon? We will only know in eternity.

But they entered the house and found a little boy, probably just learning to walk. They knew in their hearts that he was the one prophesied by the ancients, the one born King of the Jews. They bowed low. What a comical scene that must have been – the Persian noblemen in ornate finery bowing before a Jewish peasant baby. They gave him gifts: gold, a recognition of the royalty of the child; frankincense, representing his divine nature; and myrrh, a very human gift. It was a burial spice and symbolized that fact that Jesus was destined to die for the sins of the world.

But most important, they worshiped him. No one in Israel knew who the boy was, or cared. The religious leaders could not be bothered. But these pagan astrologers bowed low and worshiped him. They left their homes, their families, their lives. They traveled far to see him. They gave him expensive gifts. And the scripture says that they rejoiced with “exceeding great joy.” For the Magi, Christmas was very expensive, and they had very great joy.

There are some for whom Christmas costs nothing, and they have no joy. There are some for whom Christmas costs a little, and they have a little joy. There are some for whom Christmas costs a lot, and they have a lot of joy.

Those Who Give All Have Eternal Joy

But, my friends, there is another level of joy. It is the most costly. It will cost you more than a night, or a year. May God prepare your heart to receive your King!

Only two people in the Nativity stories ever experienced this maximum joy. They were the two main characters, Mary and Joseph. You see, Jesus’ birth did not cost them a night, like it did the shepherds. It did not cost them a couple of years and some expensive gifts, like it did the Magi. It cost them everything.

When the angel appeared to her, Mary said, “Whatever you say, Lord.” And her life would never be the same again. She was laughed at when her story was told around that little town. Most likely many shunned her, believing she was covering over her weakness and immorality with this preposterous story. Do you think even her parents believed her?

There was no chance that her life would ever be normal again. Folks, when you are raising a child who is the Son of God, God in a human body – that never works out to be normal. It was a wonderful blessing and privilege, but it had to present some very unique challenges.

Years later she watched, I’m sure proudly, as her son became a celebrity in Israel. Everyone was talking about the miracle worker from Galilee. But then, problems appeared. People did not like what he was teaching. He asked for too much – level of commitment that most were not willing to give. She may have heard the rumors that the religious leaders were out to get him.

Then, during Passover, he was arrested. Mary had to watch as her son was tried, abused, brutalized and finally hung on a cross. It must have torn her heart out not only to watch Jesus hang in agony on the cross, but also to hear passers-by hurl insults at him. The prophecy said that a sword would pierce her heart. That day it did.

But, when the angel came to her, Mary said to him, “May it be to me as you have said.” She called herself the servant of the Lord. Jesus was her life and she would serve him to the end.

We know much less about Joseph. In fact, after the trip to Jerusalem in Jesus’ childhood, we hear nothing about him. The general assumption is that he died in the years before Jesus’ earthly ministry began. But the one thing we know about Joseph is that when God told him what to do, he did it. He was a good man, scripture says that. But he became a great man in the kingdom of God when he laid down his life to serve the Savior.

Mary and Joseph were unique. They did not give a night to Jesus. They did not give him presents. They gave him themselves. And because of that, in spite of the pain and hurt they might have sometimes felt, they knew a joy greater than any we can imagine. They were parents to the Son of God. They had joy not for a day or a year, but for eternity.

The baby they raised did something no one else had ever done. He lived a perfect life, fulfilling all the righteousness of God’s law. He offered himself to die for the sins of the entire world. He paid the price for the sins that we have committed by his precious blood. Then, God raised him from the dead, glorified him and seated him at the right hand of glory. And now, he asks us to turn away from our sins and trust our lives completely to him.

He offers the joy of forgiveness and new life to all who will come to him in faith. Mary had a joy that lasted forever because she gave herself to God’s plan. Joseph surrendered himself to the sovereign plan of God and his joy will never end.

Now, at the beginning, I warned you I was going to tell you what God requires for us to experience that unending joy. It is no easy thing. Real joy, eternal joy, comes to those who give themselves, body soul and spirit to Jesus. Paul said, “Present your body a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” That is what you must do. Present your body to Christ. Lord, here I am. I belong to you. Use my life as you see fit. I will serve you in any way that brings glory to your name. If the road is hard, I will walk it. “May it be to me as you have said.”

People who give themselves to God as living sacrifices experience eternal joy, a peace that passes understanding and a love that transforms lives.

Yes, my friends, Christmas is expensive. It is only when you realize that the Baby in the manger in Bethlehem is King of kings and Lord of Lords, when you give him yourself – body, soul and spirit – only then will you know the true joys of Christmas.

Will you, right now, give him the one gift he really wants? Will you give God your body as a living sacrifice – a holy sacrifice that is pleasing to God? That is the only way to truly worship Him today.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Forgiveness

I have become convinced that the biggest problem in American Christianity is that people who believe the Bible do not believe the Bible. We tout our conservative credentials and the fact that we believe every word of God’s Word, but when it comes down to the way we live our lives, we are practical atheists. When the Bible says to love our enemies, we hold on to our grudges and continue to hate those who hurt us. When the Bible says to rejoice always, we continue to rejoice only when things go right and complain the rest of the time. When the Bible commands us to be holy as God is holy, we continue in carnal and worldly ways without conscience. We don’t believe what we believe.

And I am afraid that many who talk about the “Real Meaning of Christmas” live their lives in such a way as to give the lie to their words. As I said in the last post, the ultimate reality of Christmas is forgiveness of Jesus Christ given to us. That forgiveness given to us requires us to extend it to others.

We looked at the key verse. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. In the same way God forgave us in Christ, we are to forgive others.

As we look at the Christmas story, we come to see some of the ways that God forgave us in Christ. This forgiveness serves as the model of our forgiveness. Today, let’s reflect on the Real “Real Meaning of Christmas.” Let’s think about how Christ forgave us and how we are to forgive others.

There are a lot of silly ideas about forgiveness. Some people talk about “forgiving and forgetting.” This is a ridiculous standard. True forgiveness comes when you cannot forget what a person has done to you, when what they have done to you is at the front of your brain every moment.

Others seem to think that forgiveness is an emotion. If you forgive someone, you are supposed to find a way to work up warm, fuzzy feelings about that person in spite of what he has done. That is also absurd. Forgiveness takes place in spite of your emotions. It is the action you take regardless of your emotions.

There is no single word in the Greek language that corresponds with our word forgiveness. There are several words that we translate that way. Two are primarily used in the New Testament. The first word, charidzomai, is based on the Greek word for grace. When God forgives us, He does not treat us as our sins deserve, but instead treats us with grace. When we forgive others, we do the same. The second word, aphiemi, refers to setting the guilty free. We are guilty of sin and deserving of death, but God in His grace sets us free from the penalty of our sin. When we forgive, we release others from the debt their sin has created, we set them free.

We will now examine the Christmas story and draw some principles about forgiveness from it. There are four specific truths I would like you to see from the story of the birth of Christ that illustrates principles of forgiveness.

1) God Took the First Step

God did not sit on His heavenly throne and wait for human beings to come to Him. He took the first step. He sent Christ into a dark world and shone the light of grace. There were no great prayer meetings calling forth the Messiah, no “Committee to Hasten the Messiah’s Coming” at work in Israel. God took the first step.

To forgive others “as God forgave us” we must be people who take the initiative, who take the first step. Who is responsible to take the first step in reconciling a broken relationship? Whoever wants to be obedient and live under the blessing of God. If I want that free flow of God’s grace, I must take the first step, as Christ did in Bethlehem.

2) God Gave Extravagantly

This one hurts a little after spending the day Christmas shopping with my family. But forgiveness is grace and grace is giving. It is expensive. God gave His grace extravagantly to a world in need, in spiritual darkness. He sent Jesus to people who did not deserve him, who would not appreciate him, who would abuse, even crucify him. But God gave His only son, the most extravagant gift in the history, without regard to how the world would receive that gift. To people that deserved death and hell, He gave.

Christmas cannot be celebrated cheaply. Forgiveness is never cheap. It cost the Father everything. When you forgive another person, it is a supreme act of sacrifice and love. It is extravagant and costly. It will never be easy to give the gift of grace to someone who has sinned against you, but as God forgave you in Christ, so you are to forgive others.

3) God Took the Pain

The only way God could forgive us is if His Son bore our sins. God experienced pain. Jesus experienced pain. The Manger, which led to the Cross, was a thing of great pain and hurt. But Jesus endured the pain of the cross for us.

If God’s forgiveness to us is painful, our forgiveness to others will also be painful. Jesus suffered for the forgiveness of my sins. Sometimes, I have to suffer for the sins of others. It is called redemptive suffering. For the spiritual good of another, I willingly endure pain and hurt. I accept the weight of the wrongs done to me so that this person who has sinned can experience the blessing of God.

Does it sound crazy? It is. But it is the way God forgave us in Christ, and so it is the way we must forgive others.

4) God Set Us Free

When we are forgiven, we are relieved of the debt created by our sin. When we forgive, we release the other of the debt they owe us. We give up attempts at revenge and do not demand repayment.

But there is a positive side to this. When we are forgiven, we are set free. We are made alive in Christ and given freedom. It is power of Christ’s forgiveness that changes our lives. There is nothing more powerful than the love of Christ for undeserving sinners.

When you forgive someone else, you release not only the person from the sin, you release the power of God in your life and in the life of the person you forgive. There is nothing more powerful on earth that forgiveness.

We moan that we do not see the power of God, that we do not experience more victory and power in our lives. Maybe if we would release His forgiveness through us into the lives of those around us, we would see more of the mighty power of God at work.

May the Spirit of Christmas move in your spirit to release every grudge that hinders your walk, to heal every broken relationship that dams the flow of His grace and blessing, and to release the power of God’s love and forgiveness in a world that is still darkened by sin.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Root of Christmas

Preachers talk about it; cards proclaim it; we all want to know it – the “Real Meaning of Christmas.” For 25 years, I have tried to introduce people to the truths behind our often silly celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

In my last entry, I explained to you what I believe are three levels of the celebration of Christmas. In this blog and those that follow, I want to explore the Root Level of Christmas, the real reasons God sent His Son into the world.

What bothers me is that it took me so long to understand what I now believe is the tap root of Christmas. I preached a hundred sermons on the stories of Christmas, some several times. I talked about the “roots” of Christmas, but it took me until a couple of years ago to finally understand what it really means.

It was my first Christmas after moving to Sioux City. I had 14 years worth of Christmas sermons to fall back on, none of which my new congregation had heard. I was thinking about some of the issues and problems that faced this church, when it came to me. The problem that my congregation was going through is exactly the reason that Jesus came. It was the real root, te tap root of Christmas.

The World was darkened with sin and the light of God had been rejected. God sent Jesus, his only son, into this world as the light of the World. Jesus lived a perfect life, died on the cross for your sins and rose as king of kings and Lord of Lords. That Lord will radically change the lives of everyone who will come to him, repenting of sin and trusting their lives to him.

Jesus came to bring one gift, the greatest gift any sinners could ever receive. He came to give us forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the “real meaning of Christmas.”

God did not leave the world in its sin, but sent Jesus to invade the realm of darkness and bring redemption and forgiveness. “My sin, O the bliss of this glorious tho’t, my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O, my soul.” That is the ultimate Christmas carol.

Christmas is the first step in a chain of events that led to the forgiveness of mankind. The process began at the manger, moved through the perfect life of Christ, reached its nadir (and apex) at the Cross, then exploded in glory at the Empty Tomb. Christmas is the beginning point of the greatest, most extravagant, most costly gift ever given – the remission of sins.

Humanity had fallen into sin and darkness. We broke the law of God, turned our backs on him and his ways and embraced sin and selfishness. God had every right to leave us to our own ways and let us experience what we deserved – death and hell. His judgment would have been absolutely righteous on each of us. But God took another course. He didn’t send an emissary, an angel, or some spirit to the world, He sent his only son. He gave his Son. Jesus did the one thing none of us could do – he obeyed the law of God perfectly. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – all except Jesus. He never sinned and he fulfilled the glory of God, earning eternal life. So, he said to the Father, “I will pay the price for the sins of the World.”
God punished Jesus for our sins and now we can receive his love and forgiveness.

If that is true, that the central purpose of Christmas is the beginning of the process of salvation, then how do we truly celebrate Christmas? Singing carols is great and it is appropriate to give gifts in honor of the gift given us by Christ. But if Christmas is about forgiveness, then isn’t there a better way, a more appropriate way to celebrate the season?

The best way to celebrate Christmas is to experience, enjoy and extend the forgiveness of sins that was at the heart of the activity of God.

Perhaps there is someone reading this who has never received the gift that God gave. All the eggnog in the world cannot match the glory of receiving the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. That will open up a whole new experience of Christmas joy that you have never before known.

But there are many Christians who have received God’s forgiveness, yet never enjoy their release from the horrors of sin. Either we ignore the grace of God by living in the bondage of legalism, or we insult that same grace by living in self-condemnation and guilt.

Romans 8:1 tells us that there is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Too many Christians live under the slavery of guilt because they do not understand the amazing forgiveness given to us in Christ. “When we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He separates us from our sins “as far as the east is from the west” (an infinite distance), He buries our sins in the deepest ocean, and He remembers them no more.

What right do I have to live in guilt and self-condemnation when my sins have been put under the blood of Christ and washed as white as snow? We need to not only experience Christmas Forgiveness, we need to enjoy it.

But there is one more thing we need to do. The Bible is very clear about this. Those who experience and enjoy Christmas Love and Forgiveness take to themselves the obligation to extend that forgiveness to others.

Has someone hurt you, angered you, or annoyed you? Are you a victim of abuse or betrayal? These are bitter pills that we live with. But a true Christmas celebration requires that you extend the forgiveness you have received to those who have sinned against you.

It is one of the ultimate in Christian fantasies – the idea that I can receive forgiveness but not extend it to someone else, that I can experience forgiveness while holding a grudge against another.

There is no more appropriate way to celebrate the Christmas season than to pass along the forgiveness that is at the heart of the season to those who are in need of ours.

We cannot experience God’s forgiveness without it. Look at Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” The message of that well-known verse is clear. We need to look at and understand the way that Christ forgave us. Then, we must forgive others “just as in Christ God forgave you.” I am to give to others the forgiveness God gave me.

There is no option here, folks. Matthew 6:14-15 makes it clear. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” You do not need a preacher to explain that, just read it. You must be willing to extend forgiveness to receive it. If you are unwilling to forgive another person, any other person, you are eliminated from experiencing the grace that God has given you.

Jesus explained this in the story of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18. A servant appeared before the king, in debt a huge amount (let’s call it a million dollars). He could not pay and faced debtor’s prison. But the kind king forgave the million dollar debt. On the way home, the forgiven man encountered someone who owed him a small amount (call it $1.67). He refused to forgive the $1.67 debt and sent that man to prison. The king heard about it and reinstated the man’s million dollar debt. The parable was told for a reason, which Jesus explains. “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

James 2:13 says, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.” You want the mercy of God, you must extend it to others.

In our next reflection, we will look at the Christmas story and see several insights into how God in Christ forgave us, and learn how we can forgive others in the same way. If we understand the taproot of Christmas, we can celebrate the season in a way that honors God and brings joy to us.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Celebrating Christmas God's Way

Celebration of Christmas at the Miller house has begun this year. I may only have begun buying presents (there’s 17 shopping days left, after all) but we bought our tree last Saturday. It still lacks any lights or decorations, but it is up. Christmas has begun.

The celebration of Christmas in America has taken such a strange turn. I remember my grandmother speaking wistfully of the Christmas of her youth, when her only gifts were a peppermint stick and perhaps a hand-carved wooden toy her father made. But she remembered the celebration of Christmas as a time of wonder and joy – without credit cards or online bargains.

Now, its a whole new Christmas Day. Our culture has disregarded the birth of Christ and elevated the jolly old guy in the red suit to the status of a god. We have turned Christmas from the worship of the baby in the manger to the worship of Mammon, god of money, spending thousands of dollars in homage to the power of materialism and greed. Christmas is a bacchanalia divorced from the meaning it once had.

Throughout the month of December, as the big day approaches and as my schedule allows, I would like to reflect a little on the celebration of Christmas. My contention is that we have failed to understand the true meaning of Christmas and have not celebrated it in a way that honors God. I want to explore the theological underpinnings of Christmas – not so much what was going on in Bethlehem, but what was going on in the mind and heart of God. When we understand that, we will see more clearly how to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Three Levels of Christmas

I love Christmas trees. It is my favorite part of the secular celebration of Christmas. We get a Douglas or Frasier Fir tree every year (fake trees are for artificial people). I add light strands until it blows a relay station and knocks out power to at least 4 city blocks. Then, we hang some ornaments.

I believe my tree is a great illustration of the three levels of how we celebrate Christmas.

The Ornament Level

The ornaments hang on the outside of the tree. They give it pizzazz. Many Americans never get beyond the Ornament Level in their celebration of Christmas. The ornament level involves trees and presents and eggnog and mistletoe – the fun, light side of Christmas. The Jolly Old Guy is an ornament, as are Rudolph and Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and…

Christians are divided over how much of the Ornament Level of Christmas that we should celebrate. I enjoy the celebration of Christmas, but some Christians are offended by the secular side of things. Follow your own conscience on this one.

The key is that you have to have something on which to hang the ornaments. Ornaments are only beautiful if they are hanging on the tree.

The Tree Level

The Tree Level is the structure on which the celebration hangs; the story of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. This is the historical foundation of the celebration of Christmas. Whatever kind of ornaments you like and however much of the Ornament Level you celebrate, it is crucial that we hang the ornaments on the tree.

We need to be careful to focus on Joseph and Mary and the Baby (the biblical story, not the multitudinous myths that surround that story), the shepherds and angels and wise men. They remind us that God sent His Son into this sin-kissed world to demonstrate His love. It is a powerful story.

I love the stories of Ebenezer Scrooge, of George Bailey, and of little Ralphie Parker and his Red Ryder air rifle. But there is no story more powerful than the story of Jesus Christ invading this world of darkness to shine the light of God’s love and we need to keep this story front and center during our celebration. It is the tree which supports the entire celebration of Christmas.

But there is a problem with my Christmas tree. We are just decorating it now, but in a month it will be a brown, lifeless stick, rotting in a pile somewhere. That cannot be all there is to Christmas.

The Root Level

My tree has a simple problem. It has been cut from its roots, and therefore it cannot last long. Why can’t the celebration of Christmas last into January and February? Because we have cut it from its roots. We need to explore the roots of Christmas and reattach the celebration of the season with the deep truths of God’s sovereign purposes.

The Root Level of Christmas is the theological truth and purposes behind what happened in Bethlehem. At this level, we are not so concerned with what Joseph or Mary is doing, but what God is doing.

When we understand the activity of God, the meaning of Christmas comes alive and we come to understand how to celebrate it rightly.

Here is my challenge to you over the next couple of weeks. Let’s explore the Roots of Christmas and as we do, I will tell you something very important. I will show you what God wants for Christmas – what gifts you can give Him that will honor the Father and the Savior He sent.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

An Impossible Situation

Normally, I write my reflections on scriptures on this blog. Today, I want to share something a little more personal. Actually, it has to do with my septic tank. How much more personal can you get than that?

We are caught in the middle of an impossible situation at Casa Del Miller in Sioux City. I have tried just about everything I could try and nothing has come of it yet. There seems to be no solution to the problem at this point.

Let me give you the short story. A few months ago, we began to get water backing up in our basement. They came and pumped the septic tank, hoping that might solve the problem. Then, it backed up again. That's when one thing after another began to go wrong.

1) The leach field is evidently bad on our septic tank and needs to be replaced.

2) The septic tank, which is in fine operating condition, will probably have to be replaced because it doesn't meet new codes. This has nothing to do with function, but codes are codes and we have to follow the codes. If we replace the leach field, we have to replace the tank itself.

3) The company came to do the work, and realized that our well (which we just replaced at tune of several pesos) is in the back yard where the leech field needs to be. Since the leech field has to be 100 feet from the well, there is no place in our back yard where the leech field can legally go.

Once again, the well is 200 feet deep, and we have been told by several experts that there is no danger of our water being contaminated by a surface leech field, but codes and codes and we have to follow the codes.

4) The inspector came and gave us two options. We could put a large tank the back yard which would not have a leech field and we could pump it regularly. This costs about $120 every time we do it, and it has to be done at least monthly, so we don't like this idea.

The second option was for us to put our leech field in the neighbors lawn. To the north, we are neighbors to an Assembly of God church, and there is a wilderness area between our properties. To the east, there is a corn field with a fifty or so foot lawn between my property and theirs. Both seemed like possibilities.

5) The church, we found out, is planning a major building project and will put a road through the wilderness land. They think the leech filed could undermine the road and are not too thrilled about the possibility.

6) The guy who owns the corn field (which seemed like the best possibility) plans to develope the field into a housing development and doesn't want my leech field on his development.

7) Both the church and the corn field guy are exploring the situation with their experts, and could possibly be willing to sell me a small piece of land, but I don't know if that is economically feasible.

8) Some of us have explored the option of just digging it up ourselves and fixing the thing on our own. It's not rocket science, just hard work and minimal expertise. However, it is probably illegal for me to fix it myself, and I am not sure that would be the best way to honor God in the situation.

No one has been mean or unkind. The church and the corn field guy were nice about it, they just don't want my septic drainings to bless their land. The county inspector is a little bit of a by-the-book guy, but other county officials have tried their best to help me. There is not a bad guy in this thing. There is just not an easy solution.

So, I have a faulty septic system and absolutely no way to fix it. It is an impossible situation.

So, why am I writing about this? Because, I am hoping and praying that God will make a way. The God who parted the Red Sea can surely open up a solution to my septic sorrows. I am at the end of my rope and my options. I don't think there is an easy solution.

When God brings a solution and works this out, I will be able to tell you that God has done a marvelous work.

In the meantime, I am going to ask the people who pump the tank if they give volume discounts. Maybe they can do like the Pizza Ranch - Buy six, get the seventh for free. Maybe I can get a punch card or something.

I ask for you to pray for us. But more than that. I am hoping to be able to give you a praise report sometime in the near future, and you can witnesses with me of the goodness and power of God.

Waiting for that day.

**Important note: I did not know whether our problem was a "leech" field or a "leach" field, so I did a little research. No one else seems to know either as the online literature spelled it both ways. So, I spelled it both ways. These things matter, folks!

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Weapons of Our Warfare

What was Peter thinking? A detachment of soldiers, led by Judas, found Jesus and the disciples in the olive grove across the Kidron Valley, to arrest him. Peter, for reasons that escape me, had brought a sword to the prayer meeting, and swung it. Being a fisherman, not a soldier, the best he could do was lop off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. Jesus told him to put away the sword, healed the servant’s ear, and presented himself to the soldiers, to “drink the cup the Father has given me.”

It would be easy to judge Peter if we did not so often emulate him. He misunderstood the situation and reacted in the wrong way. All Peter did by his sword-swinging attempt to help Jesus was become an obstacle to God’s work.

Peter failed to realize that the arrest of Jesus was part of God’s sovereign plan of salvation. God was working through the tragedy, accomplishing his redemptive purpose. It just didn’t look that way to him. Peter was sure things had gone very wrong. Somebody had to do something about it. Peter took up his sword and went to work to make things right.

Because Peter forgot that God was still in control, he also forgot that human weapons and human ways do not accomplish the work of God. He swung his sword in full confidence that Jesus would applaud his courage and bless his efforts. But Jesus did not applaud Peter, he rebuked him. In Peter’s attempt to “do something for Jesus” he only made a bad situation worse, and caused pain for others.

Consider this: what if Peter succeeded? He would have stopped the Cross! His attempt to help could have doomed us all to eternal hell. God would never let that happen, but it makes you think. How often do we cause kingdom chaos in our efforts to help God? We pick up human weapons of power politics, persuasion, control, manipulation, gossip, and strife, thinking we can do good.

Peter assumed that Jesus was unarmed. But Jesus did have weapons. Jesus was fighting with the most powerful weapon in the world – God’s love. He was on his way to the cross to lay down his life for sinners. By obedience, by submission, by sacrificial love, Jesus did what Peter’s puny sword could not. Jesus, by laying down his life, conquered sin, and death, and hell. He redeemed lost humanity and stepped on Satan’s neck. He accomplished all of that without Peter’s sword.

God has made the weapons of Christ available to us. “The weapons of our warfare are spiritual,” said Paul. When we love our enemies, when we return good for evil, when we lay down our lives for the sake of others, we wield powerful weapons that God uses in mighty ways.

Peter, trying to do good, did evil, because he operated on his own judgment, by his own power, with his own weapons. Jesus was operating on the Father’s agenda, by the Father’s power, with the Father’s weapons. Peter messed up. Jesus saved the world.

Let us put down our worldly weapons and follow Jesus to the cross.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Its a good thing no one reads this

I read my last post and realized I had a typo. I meant to say that we are to give thanks 365 days a year. But what I had written was that we were to give thanks 265 days a year. That's kind of like talking about the 7 Commandments.

Oh well, no one caught it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I Hate It When God Does This

Sunday, in my annual Thanksgiving Sunday sermon, I dealt with the topic I deal with every Thanksgiving Sunday. Thanksgiving. I’m funny that way. Looking back over my offerings for that special day over the years, I have noticed a theme. Ten years ago, I preached on “In everything give thanks.” Then nine years ago I undertook to exegete the passage, “In everything give thanks.” Then, eight years ago I switched gears and led my people on an in-depth examination of “In everything give thanks.” Of course, seven years ago…Well, you get the picture.

Sunday, I actually included all three commands in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” I explained these simple commands. It is God’s will for believers, those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, that we live in a constant state of rejoicing regardless of circumstances; that we live in a constant communion with God, practicing the real presence of Jesus Christ in our lives; and that we give thanks to God, regardless of our circumstances, that He is in control and is working those circumstances for His glory and our good.

I pointed out three things about these commands that every person needs to remember. First, God was not kidding. God does not stutter or stammer. There are a lot of scriptures that Bible believing Christians do not believe. “Love your enemies.” It’s a clear scripture that needs little explanation. You are to devote your life to loving and being a blessing to the people who hurt you, hate you and aggravate you. But whenever I point this out to a believer, they start stuttering and stammering. “I can’t do that, you don’t know what that person has done to me.” But God was not kidding when he told us to love our enemies. And He was not kidding when he told us to live in constant rejoicing, constant intimacy with God, and constant gratitude regardless of circumstances. It is sin if I am living any other way.

Then, I pointed out that He not only commanded these attitudes, but He empowers them. 2 Peter 1:3 says that He has given us “everything we need for life and godliness.” When you were saved, God placed in you His Holy Spirit who empowers you to be obedient to the commands of God. So, you CAN rejoice always. You CAN pray continually. You CAN give thanks in all things. The Spirit inside you will empower you.

That leads me to this final point. If you are not living in constant joy, unending intimacy with God and undying gratitude in all circumstances, it is no one’s fault but your own. You have no control over the circumstances of life, but you have been empowered by God to live in love, joy and peace regardless of them. It is not your spouse’s fault if you are not rejoicing. It is yours for not seeking the Spirit’s power to rejoice. No circumstance can pull you away from God, only your failure to walk in the Holy Spirit’s fullness through those circumstances. And complaining, griping and whining is never justified for those who have been redeemed by Christ and indwelled by the Spirit.

I preached that. I preached it good. (I preached it long.)

Then, I woke up Monday. That is never a good thing. But we have been facing a $5500 expense for replacing our septic tank in our back yard. They showed up Monday to do the work. That was actually a good thing. It did not stay good. The septic tank guy (how does one decide to enter the septic tank business?) broke the bad news. The drain field cannot go in our back yard, or our front yard. Since the house was built 30 years ago, there have been several changes in codes and our septic system does not meet any of them. So, we have a septic tank with a collapsed drain field, and no legal way to replace it. We are asking the church next door (Assembly – hope the Spirit moves) if we can put it in their wilderness land.

Then, in the evening, we got the mail. Ben just went to Liberty to try out for a position on the ministry teams there (traveling singing groups) that would pay his tuition. I make just enough money to not qualify for much financial aid, and not enough to afford college. He got the letters from Liberty. Thanks for trying out. Maybe next year.

I found something out about myself. I preach this principle better than I live it. I was stressed, upset, worried, mad. There was little of the joy, the presence of God, and the thanksgiving I had preached 24 hours earlier.

I hate it when God does that. It seems like when I preach about forgiveness, He gives me a chance to practice it. When I preach about sacrificial love, I get a chance to sacrifice. I hate that.

But my sin doesn’t change the principle. It is God’s will that we live in obedience to the commands of the Word. It is great to take a day and give thanks (though I am afraid it has become more about the turkey, the football and Black Friday ads). But we are called to live out thanksgiving 365 days a year. Whatever comes.

So, I have a new message this year for thanksgiving.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Is Anyone Out There?

I had several requests to continue this blog, but now that I am doing it, I have no way of knowing if anyone is reading it. I took two breaks (one month with West Nile and another when my back went out and I was heavily medicated), and it seems like now that I am blogging again, no one is reading it.

So, I need to know if anyone is reading the blog. I enjoy writing, but if no one is reading it, I will probably not continue posting. So, if you are checking and reading the blog, let me know. If not, I will put it into hibernation.

I will still probably continue to post on the "Big Loser" blog - that is more of a personal journal, and I don't really care if anyone reads that one, though people are welcome to peruse it.

I have not been able to find a hit counter for this blog, so I have to ask for your insight.

Is anyone out there?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Goin' Fishin'

Peter was a fisherman. He had done it all his life, even when he was a disciple of John the Baptist. Then, one day, Jesus walked by. “Follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men.” And Peter followed him. He left the nets behind and followed Jesus for more than three years, throughout Galilee, to Jerusalem, to Gethsemane, and to the Sanhedrin. There, it all ended.

“I swear to you, I never knew this man.”

With those words, Peter denied the Lord he had sworn to serve. And even when the most glorious miracle of history occurred, even when Jesus was raised from the dead, even when Jesus appeared to the disciples, Peter could not forget the fact that he had failed.

And so, he told the other disciples, “I’m going fishing.” The present tense verb used in John 21:3 helps us understand what Peter was saying. This was not a vacation. This was not recreation. Peter was not taking a fishing trip. He was returning to his life as a fisherman. He was giving up. He had failed Jesus and he was through.

Ever felt that way? It happens to me often, usually on a Monday morning. When I fail, or when the pressures of life pile up, or trials and opposition come, I have the impulse to throw it all in, resign my job, and go fishing. Metaphorically, at least. Actual fishing is not a temptation to me.

I bet sometimes you feel like giving up. It may be because of your own failure, or because of the hurtful actions of someone else. You gave your best, and no one recognized it. You poured yourself into ministry, but nothing came from it. The pressures of life have snowballed to the point you just can’t take it anymore. Like Peter, and me, you want to go fishing.

But Jesus won’t let that happen. He appeared to Peter by the Sea of Tiberias. He took Peter back to where it all began. He renewed the miracle of his provision. “Cast your net on the other side of the boat.” Jesus did it all over again. He took Peter right back to beginning, and renewed his faith and the wonder of God’s power. That’s where healing begins with us. We must return to the presence of the Lord and renew our minds and hearts in him. The good news is that Jesus always begins the process of healing.

Jesus did not ignore Peter’s failure, or sweep it under the rug. He made him face it. Three times Peter denied Jesus. Three times Jesus asked him, “Do you love me?” Jesus renews us by making us deal with the sin and failure that drew us away from him. When we repent, the blood of Christ covers our sin and brings us renewal.

Then, Jesus gave his command to Peter. “Feed my sheep.” God renewed Peter by giving him an assignment. Take care of God’s sheep. Jesus renewed Peter, then sent him out to serve. The fallen soldier was back on the front lines.

Jesus will never let you give up. As his child, he won’t let you go fishing. He will come to you, inviting you back into his presence. He will help you find forgiveness for your failure, and will restore you to a life of fruitful service.

No, my friend, it is not time to go fishing.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Another Blog

I am going to be writing a sort or personal blog - a weight-loss battle diary. So, if anyone wants to read my musings, I will be posting at

I will continue to post on this one as well.

Culture of the Moral Negative

America has now become a “Culture of the Moral Negative.”

I am not talking about “negativity,” the bogie man of the new age. Actually, I am convinced negativity can be honorable. Of God’s ten laws, eight of them are stated in the negative. “Thou shalt not.” That is an 80% negativity rate. Flawed human beings need limits to inhibit our sinful behavior. But that is another topic.

I am talking about the kind of negative you develop a picture from. On the photographic negative, dark colors appear as light and light looks dark. The image is reversed. A moral negative exists when right and wrong, good and bad, moral light and dark, are reversed. There have always been people with morally negative consciences. The culture of the moral negative develops when this kind of conscience becomes prominent in a society.

In Isaiah 5:20, God spoke through the prophet and said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” Woe to the culture of the moral negative.

Is America such a culture? When a Christian denomination denies the clear teachings of scripture and elects an active, unrepentant homosexual as a bishop, when that bishop beams into the cameras and gushes about the maturity it took to take such a step, we are becoming a culture of the moral negative. When any judicial nominee who does not believe women have the right to kill unborn children is labeled a radical and is filibustered, morality is reversed into a negative. When tolerance of all things is seen as the highest moral virtue, when a local clergyman calls evangelism “hate speech,” when courts declare “one nation under God” unconstitutional, our culture is becoming a moral negative.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette ran an article about a young couple trying to find a church to marry them. This couple lived together and wanted a church wedding. They did not want any biblical counsel, or to come under the ministry of a local church, or to alter their lives in any way, but wanted the blessing of the church on their union. Only in a culture of the moral negative would such a couple be viewed sympathetically as victims of intolerance.

Contrary to the pronouncements of the media elite, biblical Christians do not want to do away with religious freedom and force everyone to comply with our beliefs. It is debatable whether America ever was, or was ever intended to be, a Christian nation. It is hardly debatable that Christian moral standards were the cultural underpinning of this nation throughout its history until the 1960’s. America may never have been utopia but it was a moral nation, and that morality was based on Judeo-Christian ethics, on the scriptures themselves. Light was light and dark was dark. Sin was called sin and goodness was good.

The moral negative has developed because the church has refused to do its job. We are supposed to be the salt of the earth, inhibiting the decay that wickedness brings. We have a prophetic role, confronting sin and wickedness, and presenting Jesus Christ as the solution. But too many Christians have compromised biblical conviction to conform to the ideas of popular culture. We have let the sinful world shape our thinking instead of conforming to the revelation of scripture,

My own denomination is a powerful example of this. In the 1840’s, Southern culture embraced slavery. Instead of confronting slavery, Southern Baptists conformed to the prevailing mindset of the day. They twisted scripture and proclaimed slavery from the pulpit. I stood with thousands of Southern Baptists a few years ago to publicly and sincerely repent that our forefathers twisted the Bible to justify slavery. When the church twists biblical teachings to conform to the ideas of popular culture, the moral negative develops.

Now other denominations are falling into the same trap. Our culture has embraced heterosexual promiscuity and homosexuality as normal, even admirable. No one would search the scriptures and come to those conclusions. Few ideas are as clearly presented in scripture as the idea that marriage is a man and a woman joined in a monogamous relationship, and that any sexual activity outside that relationship is sin.

But because churches have compromised biblical truth, and because we have twisted scripture to make it conform to popular culture instead of the moral standards of scripture, we are entering a culture of the moral negative; everything is reversed. The prophets no longer challenge culture to conform to God’s ways, instead they have become enthusiastic participants in depravity.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” The culture of the moral negative is a symptom of a sick and depraved society, teetering on the brink of collapse. Great civilizations of history have reached the point of the moral negative, and have devolved into oblivion. Our nation is in deep trouble. The problem is not political, or economic, or educational. The problem is moral and spiritual. No society can prosper, or even survive, in a culture of the moral negative. How long can we stand without a moral backbone?

Are things hopeless? Not at all. Israel, at the end of the period of the Judges, had embraced debauchery in a way that might have made Larry Flynt blush. They were a culture of the moral negative. But, Israel’s greatest days were only about 50 years in the future.

How did things change? One man, a prophet named Samuel, gave himself to God and his ways. He led Israel and proclaimed truth for many years. He anointed a king who was “a man after God’s own heart.” David led Israel to its greatest days of glory.

America is in danger, but is not hopeless. As unpopular as it might be, men and women of faith need to stand strong, refusing to compromise truth to please our culture. We must not succumb to the moral negative, but live in the brilliant color of God’s light. The change will not come through legislation or coercion, but the power of God can and will still change hearts.

I pray that in the coming election year, God might raise up in this land leaders with clear moral vision – who see right as right and wrong as wrong. May the full color of God’s truth replace the culture of the moral negative in our land.

Another Blog

I am going to be writing a sort or personal blog - a weight-loss battle diary. So, if anyone wants to read my musings, I will be posting at

Friday, October 05, 2007

Music Matters: Heavenly Music

The church is looking for a norm, a musical standard that will tell us what is right, what is pleasing to God – a model for biblical worship that gives God the honor and glory he deserves. Many standards have been set. Some have adopted an almost hedonistic standard – whatever people like. If it is popular, if it draws a crowd, it is pleasing to God. Others have taken the more traditional stance – sing the songs we have always sung. Open the hymnal, call out a hymn number and break into four part harmony.

I believe there are two primary places we look to find the biblical ideal. First, we can look the creation before the fall. To find out what marriage is supposed to be, look at what the Bible says about how Adam and Eve related to each other before they nibbled the fruit. That tells you what marriage was meant to be, unhindered by the curse of sin. If you want to know the ultimate purpose of man, read through the biblical visions of heaven in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and especially in Revelation. The eternal destiny of the redeemed is to magnify God. If that is our eternal purpose, it is also our highest motive for life in this world.

There is nothing about music in the creation story, except the deduction that God built music into the very fabric of creation – the wind in the trees, the chirping of birds, the percussion of thunder and lightning. And music comes naturally to human beings. If your heart is full of joy, you will be whistling or humming whether you want to or not. Music is infused into the natural order. It is a part of our nature. That is why it is such an important topic in worship.

But, since there is really no information about music in the Creation story, we must look to the other source for our norm – to the order of eternity. As we examine the glorious worship service recorded in Revelation 4 and 5, we can learn the eternal purposes of music. Since our earthly worship services are really just rehearsals for heaven, we can learn from eternity what we should do next Sunday.

Revelation 4 and 5

Revelation 4 and 5 describes a worship service that takes place in heaven. The exact context of the passage depends on your view of the end times – a subject too involved to argue here. My view is that this scene takes place just after the Rapture, after the trumpet summons us to meet the Lord in the air. It is our first experience in glory in our resurrected bodies.

Here’s my point: this is not some fictional scene, but a preview of what you will do the moment you enter heaven (and for eternity thereafter). You should read the story, since for the sake of brevity I will not give a complete description.

There is a common view of heaven given in scriptures. There is a great throne in the middle of the heavenly scene and everything focuses on the throne. It is exalted and glorious, and the one seated on the throne is the Creator, Sustainer and Ruler of the universe. When Jesus told us to pray that things would happen “on earth as it is in heaven,” this is what he meant. In heaven, God is the center of attention. He receives all glory. As it is in heaven, it should be here on earth.

Note that the Father is seated on the throne. He is not running for office or standing against Satan. He is seated. He is the undisputed ruler of all. No one on earth or in the spiritual realm can stand against him or become a serious threat to his throne. All rebellion will be quashed and the rebellious will be judged. There is no future in disobedience and rebellion against him. “Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess.”

The Elders

Around the glorious throne of God there are 24 thrones and on those thrones are seated “The Elders.” They are the rulers of the redeemed. Some believe that they represent the combined people of God (12 apostles and heads of Israel’s 12 tribes). Others believe that they are a symbol of the redeemed, of the church purchased with the blood of Christ. We will find out one day. Until then, we are left to conjecture and speculation on some of the specifics. But one thing seems clear, that these 24 do stand as representatives of the redeemed. We are told by Paul that we are not only purchased by Christ but will one day rule with him. We are royalty in heaven, the adopted sons of God. Isn’t it amazing to think that worthless sinners like you and me are not only permitted in heaven, but are honored! That is why they call grace amazing.

Lightning flashes from the throne and the glory of God rumbles like thunder. It is a scene so awesome that in our current state of being, the power and glory of it would strike us dead. God told Moses he could only see a veiled version of God, or it would kill him. But now, having been transformed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye into our glorified bodies, we are fit for heaven. Every trace of sin removed from us, we can now be in the unveiled presence of God and enjoy the full force of his glory.

Both Isaiah’s vision and this one describe magnificent creatures, angelic beings who inspire an awe second only to God’s and shout praises to God. In Isaiah 6, they are described as seraphim - “burning ones” – on fire with the glory of God. They continually call out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory.” In Revelation, they are described as the four living creatures, and their words are similar. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” Over and over they repeat these phrases, never ceasing to shout the praise and glory of God.

As their chant rises to the throne, the 24 Elders get up off their thrones and come before the great throne. Each of them has crowns on their heads. These are not kingly crowns, but crowns of achievement, rewards for their service on earth to the King of kings. The New Testament authors, especially Paul, refer often to crowns. They are the kind of crowns that athletes received at ancient Olympic Games for running their races well. Our service for Christ is not in vain. It may sometimes go unnoticed here on earth, but it heaven it will be rewarded. We do not really know what these crowns are, but they are worth working for.

But the Elders are not parading around to display their crowns to others. They are giving credit where credit is due. They take their crowns to throne of God and kneeling in humility, they lay their crowns before him. “Whatever I am is by your grace, whatever I have is by your power, whatever they see is you in me; whatever I receive belongs to you.” They recognize that they are only ruling because they served Jesus; they are only glorified because he demeaned himself and went to the cross.

Voicing their praise and that of all the redeemed, they say, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things and by your will they existed and were created.” All the glory belongs to him.

The Lion Who Is a Lamb

Then, there is a problem in heaven. An angel appears with a scroll. This is not a pleasant scroll. On it are inscribed all the judgments that God is about to pour out on sinful mankind in the Tribulation period which is about to commence (again, that’s my view). The angel commences a search of heaven to find someone worthy to open the scroll and pronounce that judgment. No one in all of heaven is found worthy to deliver the message of God’s wrath on a sinful world. John bursts into tears in this awful moment.

But then the angel tells him not to grieve. Something big is about to happen. There is one who is worthy. “The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” has triumphed over evil and his is worthy to open the seals and pronounce the judgment of God. It is interesting that the right to judge sin is earned. I can warn people of the coming judgment, but the only one worthy to pronounce judgment had to earn that right by bearing the weight of the world’s sin on himself.

John looks out to see this Lion, this glorious conqueror of sin who will pronounce the judgment of God, but he is surprised when the Root of David appears. It is not a creature of glory who appears, but a Lamb, one who looks as if he has been slain.

I wish I was preaching right now, because this is powerful. It was not Jesus’ glory that triumphed over sin and death and hell, it was his death. He humbled himself and became obedient to death on the cross. The awesome Son of God became a Lamb and died. But that Lamb was raised by the power of God and exalted to the right hand of the throne. The Lamb has become a Lion. The sacrifice for sin has become the judge of sin. The one who humbled himself is now magnified in glory before all of heaven. By his death, the Lamb has redeemed men and women from every tribe and language on earth. And by his resurrection, he not only secured our salvation, but he earned the right to judge the world.

And that, my friends, is when the music starts in heaven! Before this, everything is the spoken word, but when the Lamb appears, music rings throughout heaven.

The 24 Elders, having just laid their crowns before the throne, now fall down before the Lion/Lamb. All the redeemed in heaven join them in this song. “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and with your blood your ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign on earth.”

Then all the angels gather and join in the praise, and the entire host of heaven rises up to be a part of this massive, glorious, heavenly choir. “Worthy is the Lamb who slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and power forever and ever.”

I have been a part of some great times of worship in my day, times when I was caught up into the presence of God and was lost in his praise. It is frustrating though, here on earth. The music stops, the benediction is pronounced, and we go back out into the world. The next day, the glow of glory has dimmed and the weight of the world is back. But this time will be different. Not only will it be more intense and wonderful than any experience I have ever had here on earth, but it will never end. Forever and ever and ever and ever and ever, the song of praise will rise to heaven. We will sing a neverending song of praise to the God who created us and Lamb who purchased our souls.

The Destiny of the Redeemed

Music is a gift from God, the language of heavenly praise. He has given us this gift here on earth so that we can practice for the moment when we see this scene I have just described. It is a high and holy calling, this gift of music. Whether your singing brings tears to people’s eyes or just makes them cry out in pain, it is a precious gift God has given. Whether you sing like the birds or croak like a frog, you have the responsibility to sing the praises of God. In heaven, your voice will be perfected and you will join the celestial choir.

But if you will be singing God’s praises for all of eternity, shouldn’t you be practicing now? Christians should not be fighting about music, we should be uniting in song to rehearse for that day when we join with all the creatures of heaven to sing the praise of God.

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and power forever and ever.”

Friday, September 28, 2007

Exegesis: What Does the Bible Say About Music?

A common assumption among modern Christians is that music is completely a matter of personal preference. God, by this reckoning, does not much care about the style of music, as long as we worship Him.

That idea runs contrary to the Biblical presentation of the nature and character of God. In the Old Testament, God scripted every aspect of worship and demanded that all be done exactly as He had commanded. Moses built the tabernacle and Solomon the temple according to the exact plans that God revealed. For that God to suddenly step back and say “whatever” seems a stretch.

In fact, there is considerable solid and consistent teaching on music in the Bible. There is a thread stated in Ephesians 5:19 that flows pretty consistently throughout the scriptures. There are two key themes that we will see in almost every scripture that deals with music. God has not left us to fend for ourselves as we deal with musical issues. The will of God is clearly stated in scriptures.

Ephesians 5:19

The most significant New Testament teaching on music is Ephesians 5:19. At the risk of stating the obvious, it follows verse 18. “Be filled with the Spirit.” That is a present tense command that carries with it the idea of a continual experience. We are to walk continuously, daily, regularly in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. I can only be what I am supposed to be by walking the constant power of God’s Spirit.

Verses 19, 20 and 21 are participial clauses (though they appear as separate sentences in some translations). Each of them describes an evidence of the fullness of the Spirit. If you are filled with the Spirit, you will do what is described in these verses. If you are not doing what is described here, you are not filled with the Spirit. It is that simple. Verse 20 tells us that a heart of gratitude regarding all of life’s circumstances, even the hard ones, is evidence of fullness. Verse 21 tells us that a deep commitment to one another in the Body of Christ (submitting to one another) is further evidence.

But verse 19 describes the first evidence of the fullness of the Spirit. “(Be filled)…addressing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” When you are filled with the Holy Spirit, it will be expressed in a heart of worship and praise. You will have a song of joy in your heart.

Notice that there are clearly two clauses in this verse which imply two completely different actions. First, we are to address one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Second, we are to sing and make melody in our hearts to God. Music is designed for a two-fold purpose. We are to use music to admonish and teach the deep truths of the faith to one another. And we are to sing praise directly to God from our hearts. Music should stir both the mind and the heart. It should instruct both the intellect and the emotions.

I have heard all my life that the hymns are superior because they instruct us about doctrine. I have also heard criticism of praise and worship music because it lacks depth and is repetitive and emotional. One writer criticizes much modern music as “silly love songs to Jesus.”

But worship music should do both. We do not have to choose one way or the other. We can sing the deep theological treatise “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and we can sing simpler choruses that help us meditate on those themes.

There has been a lot of discussion on the distinctions between psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. The exact distinction is hard to pin down. The Hebrew word which is the root of our word “psalms” refers to music played with a stringed accompaniment. It means to strike or pluck the strings. The psalms would be read or sung while the musician strummed a harp or lyre (something akin to a guitar). It seems likely that here the reference is to the Old Testament psalms which were still used in Christian worship. The word “hymn” means song of praise. A hymn focuses praise on our glorious and worthy God. In this context, the word probably refers to New Testament music, the songs of praise written in the early church. Am I the only one who sees the humor of the fact that, if this interpretation is right, the “hymns” here are the new music. “Songs” is the Greek word “ode” and is the most general of these words. It probably refers to all music that moves the spirit of the Spirit-filled Christian.

Two points can be clearly made from Ephesians 5:19. First, there are two purposes of music. Music in the church must fulfill one of these two purposes. It is designed to instruct the Body of Christ about the greatness, glory and love of God. It is also designed to unite the hearts of the Body of Christ in direct praise to God.

Second, God is pleased by a variety of music. He likes psalms, hymns and spiritual songs of all sorts. The Bible approves, as we will see, of many different kinds of music. The idea that there is a certain musical or worship style that is the only one that pleases God has no support in scripture.

Music in the Bible

While Ephesians 5:19 may be the key New Testament teaching on music, and music is never one of the major subjects in scripture, there are several passages in the Old Testament that can shed light on this study. They consistently support the themes of Ephesians 5:19.

Music was designed into God’s creation – the wind howling in the trees, the birds singing, the percussion of thunder and lightning. It was a gift of God given to humanity for the purpose of praise.

After a brief look at Psalm 150, we will survey the Bible’s teachings on music.

Psalm 150

The last psalm is a summary of the thesis of the entire book. It begins and ends with the most common command in scripture – hallelujah! Hallelujah is a Hebrew imperative, a command. Hallel is a Hebrew verb that means “praise.” The “u” makes it a second person imperative. “Jah” is an abbreviation for Yahweh (Jehovah) the Hebrew name of God. So, this word, which appears 13 times in this psalm, commands us to devote our lives to the praise and worship of the one true God. This is the highest calling any human being can answer. As we will see when we study Revelation 4 and 5, it is our eternal destiny.

There are two reasons to praise God stated in verse 2. We are to praise him for the greatness of his character; his holiness, his love, his glory. We are also to praise him for the mighty deeds he has done on our behalf.

Then, in verse 3 through 5, the Psalmist describes different ways to praise the same Lord. We are to praise him with the grand blast of the trumpet and with the soft beauty of the harp and lyre. We are to lose ourselves in the celebration of God with tambourines and dancing (did I, a Baptist preacher, say the “d” word?). We are to praise him contemplatively, with strings and pipe. Finally, we must praise call everyone to praise with the loud, crashing cymbals. Soft and loud. Contemplative and wild. There are many ways to praise the Lord.

Music is God’s gift to humanity that we might voice his praise.

Exodus 15

As best I can tell, Exodus 15 is the first song of the Bible. After the Exodus, after God parted the Red Sea, brought Israel through on dry ground and then destroyed the pursuing armies of Pharaoh, Moses led Israel in singing a song of worship and praise. Certainly, music is mentioned previously, but this is the first full song we have.

It is what we would call a hymn. It is a song directed in praise to God and recounts the greatness of God’s deeds on behalf of Israel. The theology is intense and in depth. It was sung to commemorate the greatness of God and to help Israel remember that greatness.

I can hear the applause of the traditionalists at this point. “See, God likes hymns of deep theology and thoughtfulness!” Yes, he does.

But look at verses 20 and 21. After the great hymn of Moses, Miriam and some other ladies sang out in a very different style. They got out tambourines and started dancing to the Lord. They took a small snippet of Moses’ great hymn and sang a worship chorus. It seems obvious from the context that they sang this snippet repeatedly.

In other words, after the deep hymn, they took time to reflect on the greatness of God and express it in celebration, in wild joy.

Again, you see our two themes buttressed in this passage. There are two purposes in music – the instruction of the people (Moses’ song) and the worship of God (Miriam’s celebration). And there is a great variety in the form of music that is used to praise and worship God. True Christian worship does not choose between the deep hymn of truth and the joyous celebration – it incorporates both.

The Flow of Worship

There is another important lesson seen here that is crucial throughout the scriptures. Worship should never seek to appeal to or manipulate emotions. It should begin with the contemplation of the greatness of God – his character and his mighty acts on our behalf.

However, when we truly consider what God has done, it will bring emotion to the surface – sorrow, repentance, joy. While worship should not make emotion the goal, neither should it stifle that emotion.

That is the flow of biblical worship. It starts with the contemplation of the greatness of God and then culminates in the powerful expression of worship and praise.

Temple Worship: 1 Chronicles 25

In 1 Chronicles 25, David organized the musicians of Israel in preparation for the building of the temple. He formalized and established the ministry of worship. We learn several things from the organization of temple worship.

First, we again see the dual purpose of worship music. Israel’s music ministry was led by three music guilds, headed by Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun. Jeduthun is said, in verse 1, to prophesy with lyres, harps and cymbals. The prophetic ministry is the horizontal purpose of music – teaching the things of God to the people of God. In verse 5, the sons of Heman were responsible for the praise and worship of God, the vertical ministry of music.

We also see the variety of musical styles. God did not establish one guild for music, but three. Asaph was under the direct supervision of David. Jeduthun was focus on instrumental music and Heman on praise.

There is one more important aspect we see in this passage. The music leaders of Israel, according to verse 7, were “trained and skilled.” They studied their craft and became as good as they could be. Excellence in church music is a noble goal, as long as that excellence is developed in an environment of humility.

1 Corinthians 14

There is very little reference to music in the New Testament, an interesting truth in light of our cultural preoccupation with music in the church. Worship is not synonymous with music. You can worship without music, and you can sing without worshiping. But in his discussion of order and propriety in church worship in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul refers to music a couple of times.

In 1 Corinthians 14:15 says that we sing with both our mind and our spirit, reinforcing the concept of the flow of worship spelled out above. Worship starts in the mind, with the consideration of the glory of God and moves to the spirit, to the joyful expression of the heart’s praise to God.

Verse 26 has an important warning to all musicians. Singing or playing well is a wonderful gift, but it can also be accompanied with pride and the temptation to glorify self. God will never share his glory and we are on dangerous ground when we use the worship service to glorify ourselves. This verse warns us that all things must be done for the glory of God and the building up of the body of Christ; a warning all who lead worship should heed.


It is amazing to me how consistently the themes of Ephesians 5:19 are carried through the Bible's teachings on music. Music has two purposes: instructing God's people, and expressing worship to God. And there is a consistent theme of variety in styles of worship throughout scripture.

Next Time

A survey of music in the Bible is not complete without an examination of Revelation 4 and 5, which describe heavenly worship. In my next blog, I will explore that powerful scripture in depth.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

If Anyone Cares

I am aware that this blog series on music is probably more interesting to me than to anyone else. However, if anyone is reading this, a delay in writing has become necessary.

I contracted West Nile Virus (or one of its cousins) and the last couple of weeks has been a blur. When I recover, get caught up on everything else, and get some time to write, I will continue the series.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Music Matters: My Two Churches

I mentioned in my last blog that I am the pastor of two (or more) very distinct churches that meet together in the same place. That is not an accusation, it is an observation. In reality, most churches over about 100 people have churches within the church – smaller fellowship groups. It is impossible to have a close bond with everyone in a church of any size. But at Southern Hills, the distinction is more pronounced, more drastic. They work together pretty well, most of the time, sharing a building, a budget, a church staff and a lot of good Christian fellowship. But they are two distinct bodies with distinct viewpoints.

This was brought into focus for me several months ago after an incident in our second service. A young man visited our church for the first time. He sat several pews behind me, wearing a baseball cap. One of our ushers, a strict traditionalist, came over to him and told him that he would have to remove the hat or leave the church. Of course, he left the church.

I saw none of this; it all took place behind me. When I heard about it several days later, I was sick. My sermon that day had emphasized the gospel of Jesus Christ very clearly. Here was a young man who came to church for the first time. We don’t know if he was saved or lost. I just knew he was not coming back to our church again. We lost a chance to minister to him because he was wearing a hat.

Then, I took this to a leadership group in our church to try to figure out what we could do to make sure it never happened again. I was shocked that several of the men in the group sympathized with the usher. The thought of a young man wearing a hat in church was horrifying to them. To them, it was better that he not be allowed to hear the gospel than that he hear the gospel while wearing a hat.

That is when I realized that I had left Kansas and landed in Oz; I now pastored a “church-within-a-church” that had a value system very different from my own.

My Traditional Church

That church is the traditional church at Southern Hills. It is the church that I grew up in, the style I experienced all of my life. It is the Baptist church of the 1950’s and early 60’s, my father’s Baptist church.

There are several distinctives of the traditional church. Their core belief is that the church of the 1950’s and 60’s is the closest representation of the early church that we have known. The standard for what is right and good in a church is how things were done back then. In the 50’s, the people were more righteous, the preaching was more biblical, the music was more worshipful, and the graded Sunday School was life-altering. Everything was better in the past.

Because they believe this, they view all the changes in the contemporary church as negative. In one of the Narnia books, a character says, “I have seen progress in an egg. We call it ‘going bad.’” To the traditionalist, change is always for the worse and anything new has been watered-down, cheapened or ruined.

So, the traditionalist believes that the best way we can honor God is to keep things as they used to be. We must only sing the songs the songs that we have always sung. We must only do the things we have always done. We must preserve the church of our youth, the church of yesterday.

What are those things that distinguish a traditionalist? First and foremost, they prefer the traditional worship style of the 1950’s. That means that the church sings hymns out of the hymnal, accompanied by a piano and organ, with a guy in a suit waving his arms to the beat. I don’t think it is required to sing the “first, second and last” verse of every hymn, but it is a step in the right direction.

The traditionalist believes that formal dress is necessary to show respect in worship. They expect pastors to wear a suit and tie. Others should dress nicely, respectfully when they enter the “house of God.” A young man wearing a hat in church is considered an affront against the holiness of God.

If you sense a note of levity in my tone, it is because I do not understand some of the things the strict traditionalists are passionate about. But I know that they believe that the preservation of the church of the past is necessary for the preservation of the kingdom.

On a higher note, the traditionalists I know love biblical, doctrinal, passionate expository preaching the Word of God. They are not likely to complain about longer sermons as long as they teach the things of the Word of God. They are grounded in the Word and know why they believe what they believe. They want to do things the biblical way, even if sometimes they confuse the biblical way with the way things were done 50 years ago.

Traditionalists are usually loyal and faithful. Look at the hardest working, most faithful, most diligent servants in your church. Chances are good that they are traditionalists.

These folks have not drifted with the tide of moral decay in our land and so they are strong in their moral stands on issues of the day. They do not compromise the truths of God to get along with the ways of the world. They are willing to stand outside the mainstream to stay faithful to what they believe the Word teaches. They can lean toward the rigid and legalistic on issues, but they are always willing to take a stand.

There are two types of traditionalists in my church. First, there is the strict traditionalist. He believes that any change to the church of yesterday is an abomination to God. We please God by singing the older songs, running our churches the older way, preaching the older style (from the King James Version), dressing in older fashions and refusing to change with the culture. He tends to view all change as compromise with the world. To him, contemporary worship is not worship at all; it is entertainment that dishonors God and disrupts worship. He talks wistfully of the way things used to be and believes that the church can only go forward by going back to the way we did things in the good ol’ days.

The moderate traditionalist prefers older music and more conservative methods, but does not imbue them with moral or spiritual superiority. He likes hymns, but he does not believe that new music is an abomination. He dresses nice for church, but doesn’t care what someone else wears.

At Southern Hills, we have a lot of moderate traditionalists. They prefer the traditional church style and like our second service, but do not condemn those who like a contemporary style. We have a small group of strict traditionalists who are very passionate about resisting change in the church.

My Contemporary Church

At Southern Hills, our contemporary service is almost half-again as big as our traditional service. We are mildly contemporary in comparison to most contemporary services. But we are led by a keyboard player and praise team, accompanied by drums and guitars. We sing new hymns and choruses. The words are up on the screen and no one cracks a hymnal. We are not a “shorts and sandals” type of church, but you are far more likely to see blue jeans and t-shirts than a tie or coat in our contemporary worship. Half the people, it seems, bring a water bottle with them into the sanctuary. I am surprised, from the length of my sermons, that they do not bring popcorn.

As with the traditionalists, there are several distinctives that mark those who prefer contemporary style in worship.

First, they believe that the many of the rules and traditions of the church of the 1950’s were not based on the Bible, but on legalistic, even pharisaical traditions. The Bible doesn’t tell us to wear tie and coat, or that hats are wrong. The Bible doesn’t tell us that all music has to be old music, or that drums and guitars are wrong.

American culture has changed dramatically since the 50’s, and if the church is to continue to be relevant, we must change as well. Newer music speaks to the hearts of modern people better than organ music. Using newer styles and methods will provide a better worship experience for 21st Century Christians and help attract people to the church.

Contemporary worship is often casual as well. A man in my church told me of visiting a church where the preacher wore blue jeans with holes in them, sandals and a t-shirt to preach. If I can come to Jesus, “Just as I am” why can I not come to church as I am? They see the dress code of the traditionalist church as another extra-biblical legalistic rule. God is more concerned with the purity of our hearts than the clothing we wear.

The contemporary church can be dismissive of traditionalists and their traditions, often throwing the good out with the bad. They see the emphasis on externals by the traditionalist as indication of an empty heart, devoid of passion; a pharisaical outlook.

Those who support contemporary worship believe that rigidity of the traditionalists will drive people from the church. If we want to grow, we must focus on what is biblical, not what is traditional, they would say.

As with the traditional church, there is a range of beliefs in this group. Some are passionately committed to newer styles of worship and want nothing to do with the old hymns. For others, it is more of a mild preference.

Three Truths

As I look at these two sub-churches within my congregation, I am convinced of three things. First, both of these groups believe the Bible and want to proclaim the gospel. This is not a matter of one group loving Jesus and the other not. Both of these groups are filled with blood-bought, Bible-loving, gospel-preaching, Jesus-loving folks.

Second, both of these groups believe that their preference of worship style is best for honoring God and promoting the work of the church. It is not that one group wants the church to grow and the other does not. They are both committed to the advancement of the kingdom through the growth of the church.

That leads me to my third point. These two groups are very difficult to bring together. I sat in the living room of a man who has asked to have his name removed from our membership roles. He does not want to be part of a church that will hold a contemporary worship service. It is not enough that we have a traditional service. We must have no other kind.

Many churches have tried a blended service, and that is probably the best compromise most can reach. However, these services tend to leave everyone a little dissatisfied. The strong traditionalist doesn’t want a blended service. He wants hymns and nothing else. Those who want contemporary worship usually find traditional worship to be unfulfilling and inferior.

It is a daunting task to consider bringing these two churches together into one church. The ultimate question is whether it is worth it to even try.

Next time, we will look at Ephesians 5:19 and begin a study of what the Bible says about music.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Music Matters: An Important Question

A Question My Church Must Answer

Let me tell you a little bit about my church, Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa; then maybe you will understand the issues I have been dealing with that are at the root of this blog and those that will follow for the next couple of weeks. I am going to be dealing with one of the most divisive issues in the church in the last 20 years, one that still rages in many Christian circles. I am dealing with it every week at Southern Hills.

Southern Hills is a church that has nearly 300 in attendance on a normal weekend. That’s pretty small in most parts of the country, but among Iowa Southern Baptists, it makes us a mega-church. At our 8:30 AM service, we have a band and Praise team that leads us in contemporary worship. It is not “rock and roll” church by a long shot, but we sing newer songs in a more modern style. That service usually has around 150 to 175 people. Our 11:00 AM service is very traditional. We have a pianist and a organist and a man in a suit waving his arms – a traditional Southern Baptist worship style. This service usually has between 100 and 125 in attendance.

This two-services/two-styles program has been going on for a long time. When they started two services, they both had a blended style. Then, gradually, the early service went contemporary and the later service became more traditional.

The present reality is that I am not the pastor of a church, but of two churches (perhaps 3 or 4) that meet in the same place. When you have two services with two styles, you tend to develop into two churches. These two churches get along pretty well most of the time, but it is clear that they have different outlooks and viewpoints on many issues.

Now, we are considering the future of the church and our building needs. On our current acreage, using SBC “rules-of-thumb” (which are usually pretty accurate) we figure that the maximum church we can have on this site is about 750 to 800 in average attendance. So, we have been designing a site plan that has a sanctuary that can fit 800 people and provide education space for about 600. Then, we worked backwards to develop a plan to get us from where we are to where we need to be.

A Little Imagination

So, go on a journey with me – a journey of imagination. It is ten years (or twelve or fifteen) down the road and Southern Hills is about to move into its final building. We have a beautiful new sanctuary that seats (sleeps?) 800. It is our first service and everyone is excited as we enter the modern, spacious, technologically advanced and breathtakingly beautiful building (since this is my imagination, we are debt-free as well!). Overwhelmed by awe at what God has done in providing for us, we find our places for worship. And then the music starts and my daydream becomes a nightmare.

We are all together in one service – what kind of music will we sing? Will we please the traditionalists among us and sing only the old standard hymns from crisp new hymnals, accompanied by the piano and organ. Or will there be a praise band with drums and guitars with a praise team harmonizing modern music with an electronic keyboard? Or perhaps we will, by then, have followed many in the “rock-n-roll church” movement and an old codger like me will need earplugs. Maybe we will try to please everyone with a blended service that gives everyone a little of what they like and a lot of what they don’t.

Facts are facts. Right now, we have two services with two styles that attempt to serve everyone’s tastes. If we are all going to worship in one building at one time, we have to share one style. We cannot avoid this.

I believe there is an important question that my church must face as we plan and look toward the future. It is not an easy question, but it must be decided.

The Question

In the future, should Southern Hills Baptist Church try to be one church worshipping together, or should be a smorgasbord of churches that meet together in one place?

A smorgasbord is an older name for a buffet. I remember the first time I ate at a smorgasbord. I was a high school student on a youth group trip and we stopped for a meal at one. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. There was something for everyone. There were salads and vegetables, which I walked past to get to the meats and sweets and breads and delicacies galore. I ate till I was sick. The great thing about a smorgasbord is that each person can get whatever they want. I don’t have to like what you like. In the Miller home, you get your choice of eating what momma fixed or fasting. At a smorgasbord, you have lots of options.

So, should our church be like a family dinner where we serve one dish to everyone or like a smorgasbord where everyone can get what they want? It is not an easy question.

Our church can decide to be one church with one style and unite everyone together into one service. But, if we do that, we will have to pick a style and people will have to come together to compromise and sacrifice for unity. Or we can be a smorgasbord. One church in town has four Sunday morning services. The 8:00 AM service is traditional, then each of the following three services gets a little more contemporary. Traditional to blended to contemporary to rock-n-roll. Something for everyone.

The Blogs Ahead

I am going to blog about this subject for the foreseeable future. I preached on this for 5 or 6 weeks at Southern Hills and it is going to take me a while to put it on paper. Frankly, I have no idea if anyone is reading this blog anyway. But I want to try to answer the question of whether certain musical styles are more pleasing to God and whether we should try to give everyone what they want.

There will be four distinct sections to this blog series. After finishing the introduction in my next blog, I am going to begin exploring what the Bible says about music from Genesis to Revelation (in overview, of course). I believe there are two key themes that run throughout music in the Bible.

Then, we will examine “Music Matters” – biblical principles of music drawn from our study.

We will then deal with “Music Myths” – the issues I have been confronted with in my ministry that are based on false premises and lack biblical support.

Finally, when all that is done, I will deal with the original question – should a church like mine try to be one church with one style, or should we be a smorgasbord of churches that meet in the same place?

In the meantime, I hope any unfortunate readers will consider the issue for themselves and deal seriously with the scriptures.

According to studies, music is the driving force in churches today. People do not choose churches for preaching or doctrine or denomination, but for music. “I want contemporary worship.” “I want to sing hymns.” Music is what drives the church today (like it or not – and I don’t). It is also what drives the church to division. Many churches have experienced unrest, even splits, as they have changed their musical styles.

Our key verse is Ephesians 5:19, which describes someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit. Those experiencing the fullness of the Spirit will be “addressing one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with all your heart to the Lord.”

Music is a gift of God given to humanity to aid us in giving Him the glory he deserves. It is a shame that in many churches, the blessing has become a curse. Rather than uniting the people of God in His presence, music has divided us into schisms. It should not be.

As I told my people when I preached this, my goal is to offend everyone a little. I will not take sides with the traditionalists or against them. My purpose is to try to give a biblical perspective on music and ask you to bring every thought captive to Christ. We need to think biblically on this subject, not according to our desires or preferences.

Of course, the comment section is open for interaction.