That Other Verse…

Disney’s Pollyanna movie incorporated the idea that “happy verses” were much more important than judgment, fire, and brimstone. In the movie, the town’s pastor had the habit of preaching on judgment every Sunday and making life miserable for all the town folk. When Pollyanna convinced the pastor that there were many “happy verses” in the Bible, he finally changed his tune and promised to change his preaching in the future. In the context of the movie, this idea may have worked, but God doesn’t always have a happy message for people.

My morning Bible reading included the Old Testament prophecy of Habakkuk. Anyone who knows me just a little bit, knows that this book has made a huge impact on the way that I look at life. The theme “God knows what is best and is doing what is best” has helped me to weather a number of storms. Read Habakkuk 3:17-19 and you will see that we can have joy amidst the pain of whatever God allows to affect our lives. But another verse caught my attention today. The preceding verse shows the difficulty the prophet faced as he waited for God’s judgment to begin.

Habakkuk 3:16 (NASB)
I heard and my inward parts trembled,
At the sound my lips quivered.
Decay enters my bones,
And in my place I tremble.
Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress,
For the people to arise who will invade us.

Do you get what the prophet was feeling at the time? All thoughts about the wicked people around him were now gone. Now he knew that God was going to bring a terrible judgment against his community … and there was nothing he could do about it but wait. Let that sink in for a while. What would it be like if you knew someone was going to rob your home and kill your family … and there was nothing you could do but wait for it to happen? This is what Habakkuk the prophet faced.

As Christians, we don’t always have the privilege of quoting “happy verses” and putting a smile on our face to get out of difficult situations. Sometimes, we must go through the pain. But let’s not forget that even though there are times of pain, God still is with us through the difficulties. He is there to give us peace amidst the storm. We may feel a lot of pain and may not understand all that God is doing, but we still can have an inner joy and peace based on the character of the God in whom we trust. Remember that today.


New American Standard Bible Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

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When Your Walls Come Tumbling Down

One of my favorite musicians is the Scandinavian classical guitarist Per Olov Kindgren. His music is both beautiful and haunting. His Coffee Break in Dublin has been haunting me from the first time I heard it. It is not a happy tune. Instead, it communicates something like the hymns written in a minor key. It makes you stop and think about life.

As Christians, we understand both pain and peace. The tune made me think of both. We all face pain during our lives but can find peace with God through Jesus. This is the thought that I sought to portray with the following lyrics.

When your faith has been tested
When your confidence fails
When you can’t seem to accomplish anything
When you finally realize that you cannot succeed
When your walls come tumbling down

When your life’s big ambition
When the things that you’ve planned
When the goals you have worked for all your life
When you suddenly realize that the end might be near
When your walls come tumbling down

When your life’s close companion
When the dearest of friends
When the one who has loved you all your life
When that one is taken from you and the tears begin to flow
When your walls come tumbling down

CHORUS:

Then it’s there in that moment
When you cry out to God
When you search in the Scriptures for relief
Then with His new perspective
You find peace amidst the pain
You find hope that helps you to stand
When your walls come tumbling down

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Hymns: O For a Closer Walk With Thee

We sang this beautiful hymn by William Cowper at Orwell Bible Church today. The words and music both spoke to me. I like the words because I find it too easy to lose that close relationship with the Lord as other things take his place. I like the music because of the simple tune and magnificent harmony.

O for a closer walk with God,
a calm and heavenly frame,
a light to shine upon the road
that leads me to the Lamb!

Where is the blessedness I knew
when first I sought the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
of Jesus and his Word?

What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void
the world can never fill.

The dearest idol I have known,
whate’er that idol be,
help me to tear it from thy throne
and worship only thee.

So shall my walk be close with God,
calm and serene my frame;
so purer light shall mark the road
that leads me to the Lamb.

I found the words at Hymnary.org but the tune is different than what we sang today.

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When the king demands silence…

Most of the book of Amos is geared toward Israel’s coming judgment because of their rebellion against God. If you are looking for a book to pick you up in the morning, it may not be the first one on the list. But God often includes surprises within even books with a somber message. Read Amos 7:10-17 and you will see what I mean.

When a false priest tells King Jeroboam that Amos is prophesying about the king, the king has a natural reaction. Jeroboam tells Amos to go away and speak somewhere else. Imagine your reaction if the president of the United States told you to stop speaking about God’s coming judgment on sin. What would your response be?

Read Amos 7:14-17.

This is where I had an inward chuckle. Amos’s response to the king was something like, “I didn’t ask for this job. I was minding my business when God told me to speak his words.” He pretty much told the king that it wasn’t his choice to speak as a prophet … but he was going to speak God’s words whether the king liked it or not. That was the perfect response. Amos showed his humanity but also the importance of the job God had given him.

I don’t think there is a one size fits all manner of responding to those who reject the message God has given us. But this was a good one. There are times that we, like Amos, must speak about Hell as well as Heaven. And there will be times when someone will want us to stop talking about God’s judgment. We must remember that God is the author of the message and not us. If someone has a problem with us speaking what the Bible says, they really have a problem with God. So, be like Amos and keep speaking regardless of the response.

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When God hates your music

When Amos prophesied to Israel, God was sick and tired of the way Israel was living. Bribes had replaced justice, the poor and needy were oppressed and violence and robbery were commonplace. It was if they did not know to do right.

It was to these people that God sent Amos to speak these words:

Take away from Me the noise of your songs,
For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments.
Amos 5:23 NKJV

Why did God not want to hear their songs? Read the rest of the chapter and you will find that the people were still acting out worship but were not backing it up with their lives. They were living a double life. For six days, they lived unrighteously and when it was time to worship, they were all smiles.

God saw beyond the hypocrisy of the Israelites and also sees through our own. But we can be thankful that God wants us to repent of our sin and return to Him. While it is possible to sing songs of worship with a bad heart it is also possible to get things right this morning before we enter the church building.

Think about that before you open your hymnal today. Get your heart ready first and then you will be able to sing to the Lord who knows your heart already. Then you can be sure that He will love your singing today.

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Culture and Clothing

Ever since the garden of Eden, God has had an opinion on the way people dress. From the animal skins used to cover Adam and Eve to the garments worn by priests, God has prescribed modesty as his people clothing style. But what about today? Does God care how men and women dress in today’s culture? Let’s take a look.

The reason I am even writing this is that I was asked to read Scripture for tomorrow’s morning service at Orwell Bible Church. The passage is 1 Timothy 2. As I read through the passage, I consulted The Bible Knowledge Commentary for an explanation of several verses. Among other things, the commentary on verse 9 was especially good.

“Next Paul turned to the females in the congregation. For their adornment they should not emphasize the external, but the internal. They should dress modestly, with decency and propriety (cf. v. 15). These terms stress not so much the absence of sexual suggestiveness, though it is included, but rather an appearance that is simple, moderate, judicious, and free from ostentation. The specifics Paul mentioned (braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes) are not wrong in themselves, but become inappropriate when they indicate misplaced values (cf. 3:3). In the Ephesian church these styles may have been associated with the local temple prostitutes. Christians must be careful about letting a pagan culture set their fashions.”

That last sentence of the commentary summarizes what often happens to Christians living in a culture that is unconcerned with God’s perspective on something as simple as clothing. While the way we dress should not be “everything” to us, we mustn’t let current cultural trends override what God intends for us to be and convey by our appearance. The Bible tells us that God not only cares about our dress but also a great number of other things including what we say, think, and do. And as we slowly conform to His perfect ways, we will become quite different than the culture around us. But that is okay. Our goal as followers of Christ is not to be purposely weird but it is to be as much like our Father as possible. Maybe that should be the new trend.

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It Depends…

While reading Daniel 4, I couldn’t help but notice the compassionate response Daniel had toward King Nebuchadnezzar (4:19). If you recall, the king had a dream which foretold his coming judgment because of his pride. The king (who apparently wrote this chapter) had the perception that Daniel did not want him to suffer under God’s judgment. He even offered advice on how to possibly escape from the judgment. This is a good example of compassion toward the lost.

My first response was to note the good attitude toward a leader and to call all Christians toward a loving, compassionate attitude toward all people and especially toward our government leaders. If Daniel could treat Nebuchadnezzar with respect (the man who probably orchestrated the death of his parents), then Christians should have this attitude toward all political leaders despite their policies, evil choices, or pretty much anything bad they might do or stand for.

But it’s just not that easy. You see, it depends on the person. If you were to continue reading the Book of Daniel, you would see that Daniel didn’t have quite the same attitude toward King Belshazzar (Dan. 5:18 ff.). Belshazzar had a great party for his wives, concubines, and officials. No doubt it was a shameful occasion that reeked of wicked behavior. And to make matters worse, the king chose to party with gold and silver cups which had been part of the temple service in Jerusalem. This definitely would not have endeared the king to Daniel.

So, why the difference in attitude? Both kings were unbelievers who were not known for their godly behavior. But Daniel reacted with compassion toward one and disgust toward the other. I guess it really depends on the circumstances. Just as it is fitting to ignore (Prov. 26:4) or confront a fool (Prov. 26:5) when necessary, so it is fitting to be compassionate toward some and to show disgust for others (Jude 22-23).

I think that this may seem difficult for some to take. It seems proper to always show compassion to those who are lost and drowning in their sin. But is this truly what God wants us to do? I don’t think so. In general, it is a good idea to show compassion toward sinful humanity. But when someone shows their disdain for God and his ways, it is appropriate to show displeasure toward such a person’s actions and attitudes. Remember Elijah and Ahab. It was not your typical “Love the lost” relationship, was it? There comes a time when ungodly people need to know the seriousness of their sin against God. And that is probably why Daniel responded the way he did toward one and not the other. It just depends.

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Why does He still love us?

Have you ever read something that affected you with equally opposite emotions? This was my response to Ezekiel 16. In this passage, God describes to Jerusalem His great love for her people and their subsequent turning away into spiritual adultery. The description of the first is beautiful while the second is hideous.

God describes Jerusalem as a new born baby who was left in a pool of blood and about whom nobody cared. He loved that child and rescued her from death. But even after His many gifts and expressions’ of love toward her, Jerusalem chose to seek “love” from others. The description is hideous and not one I care to describe right now.

Click here to read Ezekiel 16.

At the very end of the chapter, after sending judgment on the people of Jerusalem, God takes a remarkable action. Despite their unfaithfulness to Him, He announces His choice to keep His covenant with them and forgive them by atoning for their sin. This relationship between God and the Jewish people is amazing. But so is His relationship with Christians. Despite the sins which we are ashamed of, God has loved us and atoned for our sins through the gift of his Son Jesus. It brings up the age old question. After all we have done, why does he still love us?

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That’s a good question.

“If we link the hearing of music with effects upon our body and spiritual/emotional/psychological state, as did Plato, then we will have to affirm that, yes, there are styles of music that, apart from their lyrics, at least move one towards a failure of virtue.

Without having to engage Plato’s thought, a Christian can come to similar conclusions by asking the following questions:

Are the moral virtues listed for ministers/elders/deacons in the Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus limited to those office bearers, or are the office bearers to exhibit exemplary behavior in those virtues that all Christians should be striving towards in some way?

If indeed, all Christians should be striving towards gains in sobriety, self-control, respectability, gentleness, lack of violent and quarrelsome behavior, should we not forego music that tends to arouse the flesh in these areas?

If indeed, all men alike are made in the image of God, and as we know by recorded history and personal observation, that all men respond to certain rhythms, intensities of dissonance and volume, combinations of tones and melody lines in ways that cause a distortion of that image through irrationality, aggressiveness, loss of sobriety in possession of self and demeanor, warlike desires, and indulgence in lustful emotions, should we not consider, as Christians being remade in the likeness of Christ, that this music is indeed sinful in that it drives us toward sinful character traits?”

Archlute at Puritan Board

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Is it too late for these people?

Do you remember the time Moses convinced God to have mercy on Israel? Moses was with God on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments when the people became impatient (Ex. 32:1-14). They convinced Aaron to make a golden calf to worship. Instead of worshiping the unseen God who had delivered them, they sacrificed to a golden idol and chose to practice immorality. This angered God So much that He told Moses to leave Him alone so that He could destroy them. If Moses had not pleaded with God for mercy, they all would have been destroyed.

Do you remember how much Samuel interceded on behalf of Saul and the Israelites? When God announced his rejection of disobedient King Saul, Samuel prayed all night to God on his behalf (1 Sam. 15:11). Although Samuel had been against Israel’s sinful desire to have a king (1 Sam. 12), he had continued praying for them and supported the man whom God chose for the position. When Saul chose to disobey God’s orders regarding the Amalekites, it grieved his heart. He prayed all night pleading with God for mercy on the disobedient king and nation.

These are the men whom God listened to during times when sinful people deserved God’s judgment. Because of their prayers, whole nations escaped immediate destruction. But even these prayer warriors would have been unable to move the heart of God during Jeremiah’s time.

Then the LORD said to me, “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before Me, My mind would not be favorable toward this people. Cast them out of My sight, and let them go forth. –Jeremiah 15:1 NKJV

How it must have torn at the heart of Jeremiah the prophet. He had been sent to prophecy to people who would not repent of their sin. All of his preaching, prophesying, and praying would have no effect on them because they had finally crossed the line of no return. No matter who pleaded with God for mercy, they would never turn from their sin to God. What a terrible judgment of God!

Thankfully, not all the people we minister to are at this point in their relationship with God. There is still hope. And so, like the prophets of long ago, we still deliver God’s message and pray for their repentance. Far be it from us to cease praying for those who need God’s mercy. But we must not forget the urgency of preaching the gospel because there may come a time when like with Israel in Jeremiah’s time it is too late for men to repent. Keep praying and keep preaching. And keep hoping in the mercies of God for the people to whom you minister.

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