For it is by grace you have been saved...

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Singing in the Choir

As Americans, we don't like singing in the choir.  By that, I mean that for the most part, we're usually so enamored with ourselves, that we'd rather be the soloist out front, getting all the attention, rather than be content to sing in the “background.”

I confess that I like to watch some of the “talent shows” on television these days.  And one of the recurring stories you hear about singers is that they've been singing backups for this or that artist, and now they want their turn in the spotlight.  Or they've been with a band for some time, but now they want to be on their own. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to condemn folks for wanting to “better their career” and so on.  Some of these folks are amazing talents, and I love hearing them sing.  But it's the attitude behind it all that sometimes reflects the very self-centered, individualistic epidemic in our country.

This is why social media is such a big deal.  Trying to get our voice out there, hear our opinions above all the others.  Drawing attention to ourselves.  I realize the hypocrisy of writing about this on a blog that I plan to then share on social media, but we'll just try to ignore that for the moment.  (insert smiley face)

Another confession, I found myself doing something very similar recently.  I'm no singer, but I had the wonderful opportunity to contribute to this amazing song.  Ross King is an amazing song writer.  He is the author of Hallelujah for the Cross, recorded by several artists; Clear the Stage, popularized by Jimmy Needham; More Now, recorded by Carrollton; and dozens of his own amazing recordings.  Recently he began work on a new record to be “crowd funded” at Kickstarter.  Being a fan, I chipped in.

That's where the fun started.  He sent out a note to backers of the project that if we wanted to record a short vocal part, he would add it to the “choir” portion on one song.  Again, I'm not a singer, but this sounded too fun to pass up.  So Mr. King sent me a recording of the part, I recorded me singing it, sent it off, and he added me to the roughly 50 voice choir made up of others who did the same thing.  Fun, right? 
Well, the big day arrives when he sends out an advance copy of the song, which is an amazing song.  You can get it here on Amazon.  Or you can look up an illegal copy on Youtube, probably.  But, seriously, go buy it.  It's so worth the 99 cents.  But here's the deal.  When I listened to it at first, I wasn't listening to how great the song was.  I was listening for the “choir.”  And even though I knew there was no way I would hear myself, I tried anyway.  I evenly selfishly thought, “Ooh, I think I hear me!”  Stupid, right?

After doing that a couple times, conviction set in, and I realized how dumb that was.  First of all, no one is going to ruin a perfectly good song by allowing my voice to stand out.  Second, this isn't my song.  This is Ross King's song.  He has something to say, and he's the one saying it.  I just got to be in the background.  For fun.  For his purposes.  It's about Ross and about his song.

And by the way, it's an amazing song with an amazing message.  It's a great word of encouragement to those struggling in life, reminding us that “in the darkness, you are not alone; There is a presence that will not let you go; Every tear that you have cried, every trial you known, He's known it're in good company.”  What an incredible reminder of the grace of God.  And how foolish of me to try and make it about me.

Wow.  I suddenly realized just how much this all applies to our spiritual life.  American Christianity is really focused on hearing our own voice.  We want church to be about us, about our likes and dislikes, about what makes us happy.  We want the spotlight on us.  Even in our teaching of the Word of God, we want to be sure that it says what I want, and if it says something different, well, we all know what needs to change.

The world around us wants the same thing.  They don't want to hear the truth of God's Word.  If they hear the Bible at all, they want to hear a reflection of their own voice, not the voice of God speaking to their true need.  But that's not how it works.

Folks, Scripture is the voice of God.  It's His song.  It's His message.  We just get sing background.  For His purposes.  It's about Jesus and His song, His Word, His will and way, for His glory.  It's about a God of perfection who is rightly offended by our sin, and in His perfection He must punish that sin.  But also about a God of grace who sends His own Son to suffer that punishment in our place.  His message is a call to repentance, a call to surrender, a call to salvation and eternal life and holiness.  How foolish of me to try and make it about me.

Oh, we need to be reminded of this often.  We get so caught up in hearing our voice, wanting to be at the center of attention, that we forget we're just the “choir” in the background of the song of the ages. We need to be listening for His voice, and stop trying to hear our own!

So, Mr. King, thank you for this beautiful song, and forgive me for trying to think of myself instead of the beauty of your message.  And, Lord, thank You for Your glorious message of Grace, help me to proclaim the truth of it faithfully, and forgive me for ever thinking of myself instead of the beauty of Your message. 

Update:  Ross King officially released a lyric video of the song, so now you can listen "legally" on youtube.  Here it is.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Laying Aside Every Weight

“...let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us...”  (Hebrews 12:1)

Weight has been on my mind a lot lately.  With my 50th birthday looming in February of next year, I realized that it was time to do something about my seriously overweight problem.  With 40 weeks to go before that deadline, I decided on what I considered a moderate goal of one pound per week.  I didn't want to do a fad diet, but make healthy changes that would be easier to keep up with.  So the 40x50 program was born.

Amazingly, with smarter choices, smaller portions, and lots more exercise, I manged to reach my 40 pound goal in just over three months.  I decided to add another 10 (or would that be take off another 10?  Anyway...), and I've been able to reach that goal as well.  OK, so as of today it's only 49.9 pounds, but still...

In the process of doing this, I learned some things.  Like, this takes discipline!  And like, sometimes it's not just the things you eat, but the amount.  A lot of my problem wasn't just eating bad stuff, it was just plain too much stuff.  Hopefully these lessons will stick with me, and the weight won't!

It just so happens that I've been preaching through Hebrews over the last year or so.  And we've come to this well known verse at the beginning of chapter 12.  In my mind, the admonitions to “lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely” were basically the same thing.  Get rid of sin!  And while that's a good idea, and certainly at the center of the second part, I've come to realize that the first part is a bit different.

Sometimes, in our effort to “run the race” it's not just the “bad stuff” we need to get rid of.  The junk food, so to speak.  Sometimes, we also have to be careful about things that aren't necessarily bad, we just have too much of it.  Laying aside every weight has more to do with ridding ourselves of our attachment to things which slow us down in our pursuit of Christ, even if they aren't necessarily bad things.  Like my effort at portion control.  The food wasn't necessarily all that bad, I just ate too much of it.

As providence would have it, Tim Challies wrote a nice little article about that this week using the illustration of passengers on planes in emergency situations stopping to get their luggage on the way out.  Their luggage was “good stuff,” passports and wallets and important things.  But in the midst of the crisis, those things were “weighing them down” and causing not only a danger to themselves, but to others who were being blocked by their delay.  Good illustration of what Hebrews is talking about.

Losing weight, or laying aside the weight, took a lot of effort and discipline. It took some reexamining of priorities, changing some habits, and keeping an eye on the progress.  Laying aside the weight in our spiritual lives is no different.  It requires not only dumping the sin, the junk food; but being careful that we don't let even the good things become too much; letting other things in life get in the way of our pursuit of Christ and His will and His way for His glory.  Anything that takes up more of our time and attention, and keeps us from that pursuit of Christ, needs to be laid aside no matter how “good” it might seem.

And one more lesson I've learned.  This weight loss thing did require a lot of effort and focus.  I had to think about what I was doing, about what I was eating, etc.  If I can be that focused and “passionate” about my physical health, why am I not equally passionate about my spiritual health?  Why am I not constantly thinking about how everything I'm taking in will affect my growth?  Why am I not trying to focus intentionally, daily, eagerly on laying aside every weight and sin, the way I focus on my diet and exercise?

When I started my original 40x50 goal, my good friend and old college radio partner David King jokingly said if I made my goal, he'd have to write me a song.  So when I hit that first goal, I sent him a message to let him know I was expecting that song.  And he delivered!  He wrote and recorded this fun, funny, song about my weight loss with the repeated refrain “well done, Scott.”  It's just a play on my name: Scott Weldon – Well Done, Scott.  See what he did there?

But as I'm listening to that “ear worm” of a refrain, I suddenly realized that as much fun as I was having hearing my old friend sing “well done,” shouldn't I be so much more concerned about hearing my Lord say “Well done, my good and faithful servant”?  Shouldn't that be the goal?  Oh, I pray that my heart would be set on that day by day, more and more.  And that I'm willing to lay aside any and all weight in my life that would keep me from it. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

“Lesser of Two Evils” and Other Fallacies

Since I decided to try and get this thing going again, I might as well jump right in to this election thing.  Actually, at one time, many, many years ago, my opinion of presidential politics actually garnered some national attention. I was interviewed and quoted by both the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the New York Times! (as always, I'm living off the past!)

Anyway, for the last several election cycles I've been supporting the Constitution Party.  And, just like this year, I've been harassed for not supporting one of the two major party candidates.  The candidates have changed, but the arguments about why I should support them have not.  And so I'll give a relatively brief rundown of these arguments and show why they don't hold water.

The Lesser of Two Evils
The biggest argument is that while neither of the two parties have given us a decent candidate, the one is better than the other, so we have to go with the lesser of two evils.  Personally, I think this is a lazy attitude.

Who says we only have two choices.  Yes, I know the third party candidates don't have much of a chance, but it has to start somewhere.  The GOP started as a third party.  Someone took the time and effort to support them, and now they are one of the “big two.”  It can, and I think should happen again.  Nowhere in our Constitution are we limited to two parties.  These two are broken, and need to go.

Furthermore, I think of Jesus when confronted by the two “parties” of his day, forced into a choice of supporting one of them.  Should He pay taxes, and support the pro-Roman party.  Or should He resist, breaking the law, but supporting the traditionalist Pharisee party.  Instead of giving in to a clear “lesser of two evils,” Jesus showed a third option.  Give to Caesar what is his and give to God what is His.  Yes that meant paying the tax, but not in support of the Romans; still showing allegiance to God. 

In my case, I'll give to Caesar what I owe him, which as a good citizen is my vote.  But I'll give to God what I owe Him, which is my allegiance and my conscience, which doesn't allow me to support either of the major party candidates.  And of course as Spurgeon famously said, “of two evils, choose neither.”

You're Wasting Your Vote
The other “big” argument is that if I vote third party, I'm wasting my vote.  Worse yet, my GOP friends tell me, by voting for a third party, I'm actually voting for the Democrats.  Other than the ridiculous logic of that (a vote is a vote, folks.  My vote for Castle doesn't add a vote for either Clinton or Trump, period); there is also the issue of the electoral college.

We act like we're a majority rules democracy, when in actuality we are a representative republic.  Part of that is this silly electoral college system where my state of Missouri gets only 10 votes, whereas California gets 55.  I understand the whole population thing, with more populace areas getting more electoral votes, but the system is outdated and currently stacked firmly against the middle part of the country.  But I digress.

The point is, in the last two presidential elections I voted third party.  The GOP candidate still won Missouri and its 10 votes.  But those pitiful votes, along with most of the middle of the nation, weren't enough to compensate for the massive numbers on the coasts.  So my vote did not cause Obama to win.  The electoral college system did.  And it wasn't a “wasted” vote, because more and more people are starting to stand up and take notice of the Constitution Party and others, which may still one day, make a real change.  (Hey, a guy can hope, right?)

The Supreme Court is the Biggest Issue
This is the biggie this time around.  We know, or think we know, that the next president will have the chance to appoint more than one Supreme Court justice.  And as we all know, they rule the country.

Several problems.  Number one, the fact that we give so much weight to these justices shows how bankrupt our government is.  These guys are not supposed to be making legislation, only enforcing it.  The Congress is supposed to be making the laws.  Why aren't we focused on the senatorial and representative races, then?  Because we know that our broken system has allowed a runaway judiciary to pull all the strings.  That needs to change, folks.

Number two, we are not God, and we don't know the future.  We don't know how many of these justices will be retiring/dying in the coming years.  We can make educated guesses, but we don't know. 

Number three, we also don't know with any certainty that Trump will nominate better justices than Clinton.  It seems that way now, but Trump has a long history of changing on the issues, so how do we know he won't do so again, especially if it's politically expedient for him?  I can't trust him, honestly, so I'm not going to let this issue sway me.

And number four, quite simply, this is not the biggest issue.  The biggest issue has always been and always will be the Gospel.  The Gospel has survived worse governments than either of these two will give us, and it will continue to survive.  This is where my commitment lies, and I will not compromise the Gospel for political pragmatism.

God May Be Raising Trump Up
This is really, really weak.  Not that God may not be doing that.  But the truth is, He may be raising up Hillary as well.  Look at Israel's history.  God gave them a few good kings, but He also raised up plenty of vicious, evil kings because of their rebellion as well.  So don't try to be a prophet and say Trump is God's man just because you don't like Hillary.  

It boils down, for me, to two things.
1) God is Sovereign.  He has already determined who our next president will be.  He will give us the leader we deserve, the one he has determined for His purposes to either bless or curse this nation.  That being the case...

2) My Allegiance is to Christ.  Since He will determine the outcome, my job is to be obedient and honor Him.  I can't do that by supporting Clinton.  She is a lying, cheating, supporter of baby killing; and those are some of her better qualities.  I also cannot honor God by supporting Trump.  He is arrogant, intolerant, unrepentant; and again, those are some of the lesser “evils.”  His recent comments are akin to the same attitudes and actions of Mr. Bill Clinton when he was in office, and I remember “evangelicals” calling for his removal from office and chanting things about “character counts.”  (Consider this SBC resolution).  Why does character not count now that it's “our” guy who is being called out.  We need to be consistent. I don't think I can “honor” Christ by actively supporting either of these.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Can This Blog Live Again?

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know."

Ezekiel 37:1-3 (ESV)

If ever there was a “valley of dry bones”, it would be this blog. Having be “closed temporarily” for the last 8 months, the dust is enough to choke a....well, to choke a person more than regular dust would. (That's a Tim Hawkins reference, for the uninitiated)
I'm not suggesting that this blog is equal to the exiled house of Israel, or that God will breath life into it as He sovereignly does into the dead hearts of lost sinners. But I do think it might take a miracle to get it going again.

Before the “break” I mentioned some of the things that led to it, and to this dry season. My degenerative eye condition has limited my reading, and quite frankly, less input means less output. Not that other people's words are the only thing that inspire, but reading good books (in addition to “The Good Book” of course) does oil the wheels of thought and creativity. That oil is still lacking.

Another issue, honestly, is a bit of a “dry season” in my own life. We've been serving the same church for over 13 years now. And while God is richly blessing, and we love and appreciate our church family so much, the truth is, I find myself getting into a bit of a rut. God has graciously been working on that element. And though I still have far to go, progress has been made.

The point is, I've come to think that maybe this is a case of “write until you've written something.” A. W. Tozer (and others) once said that when it comes to prayer, we have to pray until we've prayed. In other words, get down to business whether you feel like it or not, and eventually true prayer will be found. Another application of the principle has been made to love and marriage. To couples who struggle with “feeling” like they don't love, counselors have suggested “acting” like you love until the true love becomes real.

Anyway, I'm going to try to apply the principle by writing something on a regular basis in hopes that the “juices” will get flowing again. I'm not sure if anyone will rediscover this corner of the internet, and honestly I don't think I really care. This is for my own benefit; to get things going again; to exercise my mind; to force myself to think about things in order to write about them.

Obviously, there are no promises about the quality of the content to come. There never has been here, as any perusal of previous entries will confirm. But I do plan to begin posting again. But can this blog truly live again? “O Lord God, you know.”