When Someone Claims Divine Authority

moses_with_tabletsThe conversation began with the typical spiritual overtones I’d come to expect from this particular friend: “I have a word from the Lord for you.” I was in my first years of college, and this was a common refrain among many of my friends. Over the years, I have heard people make statements like this many times. Occasionally, the “word” they offered was productive and clearly from God. However, more often than not, what followed the opening claim to divine inspiration fell into two categories.

Let us call the first category: “Vague allusion.”

This is when the word that follows the claim is vague and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. The “word” they deliver is guised as having highly specific undertones, but the specifics don’t match any particular interpretation. I can remember when a well-meaning brother told me he had a vision for me! I excitedly sat to hear the vision as I had respect for this particular brother. He told me that I was standing before a blue background… that was it. The whole “vision.” On another occasion I was told that the “word” the Lord had for me was “peace.” No explanation… no attempt to understand the circumstances surrounding the supposed prophecy. Just, “peace.” Ok. So extrapolation and interpretation fall squarely on my shoulders. In Scripture this is the opposite of prophecy. Think about the prophet Daniel. He received the interpretation of the dreams, and that is what made him a prophet. Unexplained vague allusions are not prophecy.

Now don’t get me wrong. These are well meaning brothers and sisters who genuinely feel as though they are acting in obedience to the Lord. The trouble is in claiming the divine authority in connection with vague, easily misinterpreted statements. God is not vague. When we read prophecies in Scripture, they are not vague. And though Jesus speaks in parables, he frequently expected them to be understood by His disciples and if they were not, He often labored to explain them. Though the prophecies in Scripture may be complex and we may have difficulty understanding them, they are not vague. In fact they are often extremely specific!

The second common category is “Passively addressing offense.”

weneedtotalkIt was late and I was tired. I had been working long hours and had exhausted my mental reserves studying for various exams. My friend contacted me and told me that he had a “word” for me. He had been laboring over this for weeks and simply could not hold onto it any longer. “Brother, when you said that two weeks ago, the Lord was angered.” I can remember being mortified! I was literally trembling at the idea that I had displeased my Lord, so I asked for clarification. What was wrong with what I had said, specifically!? Can you point me to Scripture so I can know what not to do again? This was important! I asked what Scriptures I had particularly violated so that I might have some sense of clarity. None was offered. So I apologized for any offense and spent the next months in nervous fits. That is, until I realized what had actually happened. I had offended a brother and he felt the need to claim some divine authority in order to address his offense.

I spent months dealing with this particular offense. I wrestled and labored to discover my failing before God. The most difficult thing for me to understand was why God had not spoken to me, but had determined that I needed someone else’s voice.

Now consider for a moment: I’m a brash personality and I am naturally insensitive to the feelings of others. Couple that with the position of teaching the Bible, and I am a model example of how to offend people without really trying. So, it is not uncommon for me to have to explain myself to others. I don’t intend to offend, but sometimes I do. The trouble with the above example was where my friend had placed the offense. It is one thing to offend a brother. You can explain yourself and apologize and deal with the issue, but when you have offended the Lord, that is a different issue altogether. Offending the Lord requires repentance and knowledge of your own sin. In contrast to the above confrontation, The Lord is quite clear about the specifics of our sin against Him. There is no ambiguity with The Lord when He deals with sin. Consider when Nathan confronts David in 2 Samuel 12. After drawing David’s attention to the heinousness of sin, Nathan speaks directly and clearly to David. Likewise, God speaks plainly and His word cuts to the heart.

To be fair, there are times when people offer a “word” and it is actually consistent with Scripture and is legitimate. Apply those times appropriately. However, for those other times here are three things to look for.

Look for Scripture.

I’ve become inoculated to the claim to divine authority that is not accompanied by Scripture. You see, the Bible is the Word of God and He speaks to us through it. He is quite clear. So, if someone comes to me with a “word from the Lord,” I will strive to listen for Scripture or Scriptural validation of their claim. In the absence of that, I have learned to thank them for their voice, apply what is useful and dismiss what is not. It is important to remember that people who deliver “a word” to you are well-meaning, if sometimes misguided. The Lord speaks through Scripture. Test everything by the word of God (1 Thess. 5:21).

Look for specifics and clarity.

God is not vague. He is extremely direct. He does not muddy understanding of His intentions but clarifies it. When God speaks, He always brings clarity to confusion. When Nathan confronted David in 2 Sam. 12, there is no confusion. When Moses delivers the Word of God in Exodus 32-34, God’s voice is clear. When Isaiah speaks to Hezekiah, there is no confusion in His prophecy (Isaiah 37-38). Take a look at all the notable times when God’s prophets confront various kings in the Old Testament. Every time God’s prophets bring a prophecy, they bring clarity into a situation that is confusing. The voice of the Lord is no different in the New Testament. Consider when Philip was told to approach the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), or when Ananias receives a vision about Saul and argues with God about it (Acts 9:10-19), or when God tells Paul no after he asks for the thorn to be removed (2 Cor. 12:7-10). So, if someone claims to speak from the Lord, then clarity should follow. Further, when God addresses sin, He deals with specifics. The address of sin is always clear and the guilt is always obvious. He gave an entire law to His people and frequently names the specific sins and the manner in which they are committing them. So, when someone claims a word from God, look for specifics.

Look for opportunity to be holy.

The prophecies that are given to the people of God always have one thing in common: an urging to righteousness. God calls His people to repent from sin and obey Him. More than that, He equips them through His word to do so. The call of God on His people has not changed. If you believe in Jesus, He calls you to live righteously. (1 Peter 1:15)

Finally, be gracious to those who claim to speak from the authority of God. They seldom know the danger they bring upon their souls if they are found to misrepresent God. Be loving, honest, and extremely careful.

Dealing with Anxiety

It happened again yesterday. It was the first time in a long while that I had again felt the wave of irrational panic sweep through my body. My hands began to shake, my pulse quickened, noises seemed deafening. The room began to spin, it was difficult to get a deep breath, and my arms began to feel week. I know this foe that occasionally appears to steal my calm though I cannot tell you why it comes. About 8 years ago I had my first real anxiety attack. I was in my office and everything in the room started to go sideways. My hands began to shake and I felt weak. I thought I just needed some hot tea (a minor obsession of mine, I drink four cups a day). I shuffled into the copy room and made myself some tea and quietly hurried back to my office where I tried to relax. After some time of prayer and considerable effort to simply relax, I finally forced myself to go into the youth building and pick things up. Eventually, I was able to calm my nerves.

After that first attack, I began to wrestle more often with anxiety. Sometimes it felt like a weekly issue. Now, to be clear, I don’t have a medical anxiety issue. I’m naturally a pretty easy-going and calm person. Though in Brazoria Texas, I’m told I am high-strung (so I guess that’s a matter of perspective). I like things to be in order and I live a relatively ordered and easy life. I do not claim that my struggles with anxiety are anywhere near the difficulty of some people who feel the walls close in and have to completely shut down the outside world. I do not have “crippling anxiety.” I do struggle with minor anxiety attacks. About 4 years ago they were frequent and I had not experienced an attack for about a year and a half… until yesterday. I shared what I did to address the issue in a tweet and was told that it was helpful. So… I thought I’d explain a bit more. Maybe you’ll find some help. Maybe you know this already. Maybe…

4 observations about anxiety.

  1. Usually, anxiety attacks have a trigger. Often anxiety attacks are a result of some sort of encounter, suppressed or remembered. People who struggle with anxiety typically have a looming pressure that they can feel coming closer. My anxiety has almost always been associated with meetings or people. Both meetings and people bother me. I feel nervous at the very thought of sitting down and having a “talk” with someone in a meeting in which I do not control the agenda. For me, I recognize this as a trigger. I’ve been around other people who have anxiety as a response to chaotic noise or crowded rooms. I even knew one person who had an anxiety attack whenever they saw a particular flower. Identifying these triggers can help. It is important not to avoid these triggers… It is best to address them.
  2. Anxiety is a real issue. This is not a pretend psychological gloss of fear or an excuse to avoid confrontation. It’s a real problem people struggle with. Further, when Paul says “be anxious for nothing, but in all things, by prayer and petition make your request known to God” (Phil 4:6) he is not talking about dealing with anxiety attacks. (For thoughts on that particular passage, click here.) That said, anxiety affects people differently. The common symptoms are shaking, shortness of breath, inability to focus, and a light-headed feeling. However, they are not limited to these.
  3. Honesty and transparency in community can help to alleviate anxiety. There are few things more powerful than living in authentic community. A community based on trust and openness is a powerful aid in dealing with anxiety. When transparency is held in high value, many triggers will be arrested and dispelled in the comfort of open community.
  4. You cannot simply “fix” anxiety. It is a complex problem. Most people who struggle with anxiety cannot tell you why they struggle with anxiety. They simply do. It is difficult to identify triggers much less the source of anxiety. I’m a pastor and I’d love to tell you that there is a verse that will solve every anxiety you will ever face. And while it is true that strengthening your faith and knowledge of God can help, anxiety is not simply answered with a verse. It takes more to war against this opponent.

Some things I do to address anxiety attacks.

  1. Silence is counter-intuitive in our culture. We desire to drown out noise with louder sounds. However, when anxiety strikes me, I need silence. Soft music doesn’t help, in fact, it often increases the strength of the attack. Years ago I invested in some noise canceling headphones. When I feel an attack coming, I grab my headphones first.
  2. A calming hot drink. Personally, I prefer hot tea. I put a small scoop of cinnamon in it. I was told that cinnamon in hot tea can help with unsteady nerves. I’m not a doctor, I have no medical evidence for this. But, I can attest that it does work.
  3. Focus on one task. When I struggle with an anxiety attack, I need to feel successful. I need to be reminded that I can complete something. Assurance that I’m useful. The task does not have to be a big one. It can be something as simple stacking papers or making lunch. I find it is helpful when the task takes some effort but is mostly rote.
  4. Practicing the presence of God. Christians have a great advantage over others who struggle with anxiety. A disciplined practice of faith and consistent routine will help to stabilize your life and offer strength when the attacks hit. Anxiety can be heightened by unfamiliar activity. Because I occasionally struggle to control my anxiety, it is helpful to maintain a consistent and disciplined routine.
  5. It’s hard to breathe when the room closes in. But you need to breathe. It helps to control heart rate and settle the racing mind. So take slow steady breaths and bring some control to your heart rate.
  6. Ask for help. I live in authentic community with people who know me well. When anxiety closes in, one phone call and I’ve got a community around me, praying, coming to help, and offering presence. This is probably the greatest asset to overcoming anxiety. If you don’t have a community, join one. If you’re in my area, Sovereign Grace Fellowship is a community that will offer you that kind of fellowship.

Great Art: You Must Linger to See it

When the soul needs respite and the heart needs the vexing challenge of soul-stirring intellectual engagement, art offers a haven. On the nights when one cannot recognize the eyes of the individual in the mirror and the world seems as though it is failing to maintain its own rotation, art gives us a perspective that can rescue. When the everyday monotony of life begins to drain our souls of joy, art refreshes and revitalizes our hearts. Art: three simple letters used to label the concept of expression in total. The word seems wholly inadequate. It should be longer and have an “x” somewhere in it. Perhaps it is simple and short because art is easy to overlook and pass by?

Art is a powerful medium to express that which is inexpressible by any other means. Great art transcends cultures and time. It has no limitations and only grows in its appreciation as it is engaged. Great art refracts through layers of expression that expose a deeper truth, often revealing things that cannot be understood without equally deep investigation.

As of late, I have been inspired by the work of Makoto Fujimura. He uses a particular style of Japanese art to produce works that are masterful. Fujimura’s work is literally done in layers. Several translucent layers, one on top of another. The result is stunning, but only if the viewer allows them to linger. You see, the eye has to adjust to seeing the layers. In our modern world, this is extremely difficult to do. Yet, to appreciate the beauty of Fujimura’s work, the eye must hold fast to the piece. We must train our eyes to linger and rest on the expression. As the eye grows accustomed to the peculiar focus required to see the layers, the piece will spring to life. The greater attention given to grasping the work, the more beautiful it becomes.

So it is with all great art. The soul must be allowed breathe deeply the scent of expression. We must permit our souls the time to linger… to gaze upon the beauty and understand. Our souls, like our eyes, must adjust to the refraction of the light. As the light illuminates the layers of the canvas, our eyes slowly gain the necessary perception and begin to see the glory of the painting. We begin to see the work of the artist.

The Greatest Artist has displayed His work in layers that have become common to our eyes. We fly past His work constantly, seldom stopping to admire the layers of His glory. But if we would linger a bit, we would find our eyes adjust to an ever increasing beauty in the Father of Life. If will settle our souls to seek and savor Jesus Christ, we will find the much-needed respite from this present monotony. Work hard to engage your soul with the respite of great art… work harder to engage the work of The Great Artist.

Now a brief word of warning: Jesus is The Artist, who created everything. He is also the Light that exposes the work. When you stand in His presence to see His work, you will inevitably find some layers of yourself exposed. And that can be uncomfortable. But, to see the beauty of The King and to know His work is worth it.

Linger over the great truths of Scripture. Engage the incredible artworks produced by God’s people. Gaze at the beauty of what and who God has created. Listen to the music that He provides upon the winds. Seek beauty in Christ’s display of His glory. Work hard to engage your soul with the respite of great art… work harder to engage the work of The Great Artist.

Cultivating Beauty

Creative-beauty is lost in much of modern culture. The world we live in seems not to appreciate creative-beauty. To be fair, many people appreciate that which is creative and new. New fashion trends, shiny gadgets, and varieties of new styles of décor flood our senses. The old world beauty is recycled to give us a new world trend. These trends speak to a desire that is latent in the soul of humanity. There is a deep need to create, to invent, to engage the senses with something more than what merely be spoken. The soul needs to create. The soul NEEDS to create… something… something beautiful.

God created mankind in His image.

Consider that for a moment.

The infinitely creative God created man in His own likeness. You and me…. We were made to be creative. Creative: You were created to create. You were made to make. Humanity was designed to design. You were made in the image of an infinitely creative God so that you could display His infinite creative power.

Further, God is beautiful. No… not just beautiful. He is beauty and He creates beauty. Consider the canvas of the sky, painted anew each dawn and dusk. Think about the beauty of the mountains or a beach… The majesty of the spaces on this earth that remain untouched by humanity. The creative-beauty of God’s hand shouts forth His glory in every corner of creation! We were created to love beauty. To engage the world with what is beautiful and to create beauty in all areas of life.

The trouble we face in our world is that beauty has been marred by a rejection of the one who created beauty. Humanity has rejected God and, in doing so, has rejected beauty. Enter the mission of Christianity: to bring grace to a world dead in sin. Part of extending grace into a world of sin is the restoration of creative-beauty.

From the beginning, God has commissioned His people to tend the garden of this world. Adam was commissioned to work the garden of Eden, Abraham was to bless the world around Him, The Hebrews were charged with keeping the law as a testimony to God’s character, the prophets were to stand as navigators in a world of chaos, and Christians are to work to engage in a dark world, making the surrounding culture beautiful by infusing it with the radical love and grace of Jesus Christ.IMG_3200

Christians ought to strive to make the world a better place by delighting in the character of God and cultivating beauty, thereby improving our surroundings with His love and grace. The life of a believer is markedly different from that of a non-believer. The life of a believer should lead us to live in such a way that the world around us is improved by our involvement. One simple way to do this is to strive to make your spaces more beautiful.

When these truths first began to lay hold of my own life, I was at a loss of where to start. It seemed logical to me to produce artwork. In my utilitarian and pragmatic manner, I designed logos for work (see above), drew sketches of family, displayed great artworks in my office. Then, through the influence of some incredible works by Edith Shaffer, Devi Titus, Makoto Fujimura, and a few others, my wife and I began to strive to cultivate beauty in our everyday spaces. It was difficult to tune our hearts to be creators of beautiful spaces. Difficult, but so much fun! We repainted walls, added plants in weird places, created artworks to display, put phrases on walls and Scriptures on pictures, and embraced a conscious effort to surround ourselves with beauty.IMG_3201

Now, my wife and I strive to cultivate beauty in our lives. On a surface level, that means literally making areas of our home more beautiful. Beauty refreshes the soul and engages the mind. It is our desire that, when someone comes into our home or sits on our porch, they would encounter beauty. We long for our home to be a place where people can be refreshed by grace and love in the context of a creative and beautiful environment. We’ve tried to infuse life into our surroundings and create beautiful spaces.

IMG_3215The results of our efforts are myriad. Our lives are truly peaceful and our home is a place of respite and grace where we strive to engage in life-giving grace to each other and the world around us. Our kids are learning to create beautiful spaces too. Our oldest loves to create centerpieces for small group. Here’s her latest:

IMG_3212Even our children have fun trying to create spaces for respite, like this one:IMG_3217

Cultivating beauty is awesome. Being creative is fun. Having beauty around you is fantastic.

So, I’d like to encourage you. Find ways to make your world more beautiful.IMG_3213 Enjoy and display God’s creative-beauty. In this post are just a few pictures of what my family has done in an attempt to cultivate beautiful spaces. Creating spaces for beauty to thrive does not completely fulfill the commission to cultivate beauty and grace in this world… but it is a start. Get to work.

Cultivating beauty by delighting in God’s character is one of the core values at Sovereign Grace Fellowship. We strive together to cultivate beauty in the world around us and improve our surroundings. If this resonates with you, come check our church out. We meet in Brazoria, Tx at the Brazoria Heritage Foundation, 10:30 am Sunday mornings. A map and more information can be found here: www.sgfbrazoria.org

Who’s in Charge?

If someone were to ask you, “who is in charge at your church?” What would be your answer? Is it the senior pastor? The Deacons? The elder board? Maybe the congregation? What would you say?

I remember the first time I was asked that question. I was a young seminary student and my professor asked the class, “Who is in charge at your church?” To be fair the question is a loaded one to begin with. First, take note that the question is not, “who makes decisions” or “who has the most influence.” It is who is “in charge.” “In charge” is kind of an ambiguous descriptor.  Second, take note that you have some ownership in this church. It’s not called “the church.” It is “your church.” So, who is in charge at your church? The burden is not to identify who should be in charge but who is in charge. This question is designed to make you answer quickly without much thought.

I remember thinking about staff structure, doodling something in my notebook, and anxiously looking around. I thought, “Well, we have a pastoral staff and a deacon body that kind of work together in submission to and under the direction of a congregation that has regular meetings?” Others fired off similar answers. The Bible-church guys spoke about elders. The SBC guys about their staffs. Others spoke about the power-broking members. And still others about deacons and senior pastors. Then the answer was given by a guy in the back.

I got the question wrong. I remember starting to tear up as I considered my answer. I was WAY off. I thought we could be in charge. In my simple answer, I recognized men as those in charge. The question threw me. The question referred to the church as mine, it asked who is in charge. The truth is: if the answer to the question is anything other than Jesus, then you don’t have a church… But, coming to some realizations can help you become one.

In order to answer the question of who is in charge well, we must recognize some things about God:

God is in Charge… of everything!

In Psalms 24 it says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it belongs to Him.” In Daniel 3:34-35 it says, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “what have You done?” Further in John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Not only is God in charge, but humanity is incapable without Him. Indeed, His church is incapable without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. God is in charge, whether we like it or not. Practically, spiritually, and actually. God is in charge.

God Does What He Wants

He is not passive. He does what He pleases and He is constantly involved in what we do (c.f. Isa 45:5-7). Consider the testimony of the Old Testament. He radically saves His chosen from Egypt through signs and wonders. He leads them across the red sea. He heals them at the waters of Marah. He directs their every step into the promised-land. He confronts kings and destroys wicked people over sin. He directly intervenes on numerous occasions. And He identifies and calls a people to Himself. He is not passive. He has called His church, even now, to walk in holiness with Him and under His direction (1 Peter 1:15).

God Speaks Through His Word

He is not silent. God speaks clearly through the Bible. His words are recorded in the Scripture. The Lord values this truth so much that He insisted that His people cling to His Word (c.f. Deut. 8). They were to admonish each other with it and teach it to their children. When the people of God return from the exile, Ezra spends 13 years teaching the people the Scriptures. When Jesus begins His ministry, it is by opening the Word of God in Luke 4 and proclaiming the truth of Scripture. God is always speaking and He has given His people instructions. 2 Timothy 3:16 calls the Scripture, “God’s breath.” Think about that for a moment. God’s breath is what gave life to Adam and it is what animates our souls now! (The New Testament is included in the reference to Scripture. It self-identifies as such in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 and in 2 Peter 3:15).

God is Present

He is not distant. All through Scripture God is intimately involved with His people. He feels their pains, rejoices in their successes and interacts with their failings. He is not emotionally separated from us. One of the most profound illustrations of God’s intimate connection with those He loves is John 10:37. Jesus weeps with Mary because He knows the pain she feels and He feels it as well. Jesus is an infinitely personal God, who loves His people and is purposefully connected to them. In John 1 we are told that The Word (Jesus) came down and “dwelt” among us (John 1:14). Jesus purposefully made Himself nothing, became and man, took on our infirmities, lived a perfect life, and died in our stead (Philippians 2:5-11). Further, He promises He will never leave and that He will give a “Helper” to us who will dwell within those who believe (John 14:16; c.f. John 14). He is present within those who trust in Him.

This is Jesus… Your church belongs to Him… He is in charge.

An Open Letter to Worship Leaders: 3 Thoughts to consider.

I love worship music. I mean it. I love the emotion, the unique chord shapes, the sometimes nonsensical symbolism, the poetic nuance, and even the melodic dynamics. I love worship music… but… In the last decade, most mainstream worship music has deteriorated to symbolic emotional twaddle. Often our songs are loaded with vague, unexplained images of water or fire. Vague imagery and ambiguous pledges to follow without a context of direction or command make the songs feel as though the writer knows little to nothing about the Spirit of which they are writing. The music follows a pattern that climbs to an emotional climax and the melody is designed to illicit a climactic buzz at the chorus. While there are some great examples of powerful, meaningful worship music writers, the majority of what is being espoused as great worship is really nothing more than trite and unbiblical efforts to conjure up emotional responses.

So I have a simple request for worship music writers: Stop it. I mean it… You’re hurting my people. Your shallow attempts at poetry, masked by unique chord structures and strings are luring the people of Christ into a state of theological impotency. You make confusing allusions to biblical stories that don’t make sense, create difficult environments for pastors who want to disciple their people well, and fail to actually challenge believers to live what they believe. You put on a great show that brings glory to your talent and satisfies the need of a few people to cry and feel some emotional catharsis.

I know it is difficult to write music that is received by the church. It is difficult to write in such a way to connect AND teach. Your job is hard, and I get that. I have three things that I would like you to consider when writing worship music for the church.

Music is Portable Theology

First: music teaches, it is portable theology. Take it seriously when you write. Music is one of the most powerful means of teaching that the church can use. It engages people at a level that mere discourse cannot begin to equal. The melodies and rhythms drive deep into the minds of people and help to crystallize truth into the heart of the one who is singing along. The repetition helps to solidify the memory. The corporate singing aspect helps to validate and normalize the truths proclaimed in the songs. The Bible says teachers will be judged by a stricter standard in James 3:1. Further, Mathew 18:6/ Mark 9:42 warns teachers not to cause others to stumble, saying it would be better to drown. So, be careful and take your job seriously. Your job is not to engage the emotions of people, it is to teach the truth through music!

Poetry is best when it is understood.

Second: Poetry is best when it is understood. I love poetry. Seriously. I’m not a good poet, but I write it myself. In fact, I’ve got a book of poems I’m going to publish soon (editing it now). I love the works of Kahlil Gibran, William Cowper, and William Blake. Poetry moves the soul and challenges the mind. The best poetry makes deep and difficult truths understandable. The best poetry is revelatory, not hidden. Please note: I did not say that poetry is easy. Your poetry can be difficult to grasp and that is fine. But it must lead people to understanding, not confusion. So it is with worship music. Make your poetry beautifully complex, but also wonderfully expository. When poetry is vague and easily misinterpreted, it hides truth and confuses people. Reveal truth through your poetic efforts by being exact. Vague references to water or fire are confusing without any context. Utilize your poetic talents to wrap the truths in context and exposition. Strive to Explain and teach about God and His character through your music. The Scripture is full of poetry that is designed to do this. Copy God’s example of praise and worship.

Songs should call us to love Jesus.

Third: Write songs that challenge people to love Jesus more deeply. The most powerful songs in the church are songs that challenge people to love and obey Jesus. They are songs that engage people on a deep level while simultaneously praising Jesus’ character in a way that challenges. These songs need to be formed within an established context of truth that will fortify the congregation’s love for Jesus. It is no good to call upon the name of the Lord and pledge that you are going to follow Him without actually making any declarative statements about where He wants us to go or what He wants us to do. It is no good to say, “I love you” without establishing anything about Him worthy of love. You may understand where God wants you to go or what it is about Jesus that is worthy of love, but the average person singing music in the congregation may not. So make the statement! State truths about God that will challenge our hearts to love Him more. Be as specific as possible and dig deep into the character of God. I want to be clear, it is not necessary that you constantly display incredibly difficult and deep truth that boggles the mind. It is necessary that you constantly display truth. You can write simple songs. But those songs must espouse clear truth and they must lead to a deeper love of Christ.

I lead worship at Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Brazoria. I am also the teaching pastor. At our church, we strive to think deeply when we sing. We encourage our people to engage their entire being (heart and mind) when in corporate worship. If you want to be a part of a group of people trying to do this, albeit imperfectly at times, come check us out. http://www.sgfbrazoria.org.

Two Kings, a choice of allegiance

There are two kingdoms in view from this life. One is visible and tangible. The other is invisible and requires faith. The first has a great many adherents and seems to offer great reward. The second offers eternity.

In Genesis 14:17-24, Abram returns from rescuing his nephew from a group of Kings who plundered Sodom and conscripted its people into slavery. Upon his return, Abram is greeted by two very different Kings. The first is the King of Sodom. This king has wealth and prestige. He comes out to greet Abram in the King’s Valley, an area outside of the city of Sodom. He brings no reward for Abram, for he has none to give… after all, Abram just reclaimed all the plunder that was taken from Sodom. The King of Sodom offers Abram the plunder and requests only the return of his people. The second King is Melchizedek the King of Salem (Literally translated from Hebrew, “The Righteous King, King of Heaven”). This King brings Abram “wine and bread,” and a blessing from the Most High God (v.18-20). This second King offers Abram something ethereal and invisible. He offers Abram God.

Abram is confronted with two different kings and their respective kingdoms. One who holds all the prestige of this world and is the ruler of a great city. Another that is yet unheard of and speaks for a God who no one can see and a kingdom that is invisible. One King asks for nothing, offers the blessing of God, and receives a tenth of everything Abram has procured. The other king asks for men, insisting that Abram

One who holds all the prestige of this world and is the ruler of a great city. Another that is yet unheard of and speaks for a God who no one can see and a kingdom that is invisible.

One King asks for nothing, offers the blessing of God, and receives a tenth of everything Abram has procured. The other king asks for men, insisting that Abram keep the plunder and that king is given all the plunder.

Abram’s response to these two kings is perplexing. He is offered riches by the King of Sodom and he refuses, claiming that only God can make him rich. It’s perplexing because the King of Sodom could easily argue that God has made Abram rich by giving him victory over the 5 kings and the plunder is his just reward. Surely Abram is permitted the reward for his victory! He would be well within his rights to claim the spoil of war. Yet, he insists that he will not take it. He insists that He will not be given riches by anyone but his God.

Melchizedek brings Abram bread and wine on behalf of God. It does not take much stretching to recognize that Melchizedek is representative of (if not an actual Christophany) Jesus Christ. He comes to Abram and offers him communion. The covering of Jesus’ body and blood. He hands Abram righteousness and then blesses him in the name of God. Note the descriptors used to describe God in his blessing: Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, and The Deliverer. Melchizedek’s descriptions are pointed. The Lord is the greatest King, He owns everything, and Abram is delivered from death by His hand. Viewing God through these descriptors, is it any wonder that Abram would turn away from allegiance to the King of Sodom? No… it is not (just gonna go ahead and answer that for you). For Abram, only God has the ability to provide and only God can give reward.

Still… to the people of this earth, Abram’s response is peculiar. He rejects the one king who has the visible wealth and respect in favor of The King he cannot see and must trust to provide. We are offered the same choice in this life. We can choose to make ourselves look good to the world, secure ourselves with the labor of our own hands, and accept the rewards that the kings of this world will offer. Or we can trust in a King that we cannot see, secure ourselves in His labor, and hold fast to a coming reward that far exceeds anything we could ever imagine.

If we see this earth and success on it as our chief end, then we will inevitably accept whatever reward this earth offers. However, if we have a covenant relationship with the LORD Most High and grasp (however slightly) the value and greatness of Heaven, we will reject this world’s wealth and fleeting pleasures in favor of something much greater. Abram’s eyes were open to the reality of God and His immensity. In view of Him and His greatness, our world seems minuscule. Consider this: You work for 60 years to secure your finale 15 on this earth, or do you work for 75 years to secure an eternity? The trouble many of us have is we can see the 15 years. We can see the kingdom that is laid out before our eyes here. But, in comparison, eternity far outweighs this life.

Our response needs to be the same as Abram’s. We must trust in the Righteous King of Heaven to make us righteous. We must have the perspective that recognizes that He is the King over all things and owns everything on this earth. We must trust in Him to provide for our every need, especially our eternal dwellings. Trust in Christ for your rescue.

I John 4:7-12