What Was That That We Just Sang?

Last Sunday morning’s worship was different. You noticed, right?

I have pastoral friends who insist that the worship for Sunday morning not be the same two weeks in a row. They don’t mean different songs or Bible texts; they mean a wholly different worship order. As a matter of preference, I desire more structure.

For us, only rarely will our worship pattern surprise us. When you settle in at 10:30 each Sunday morning, you know the routine – call to worship, private prayer, congregational singing, pastoral prayer, offering, more congregational singing, sermon, and response. Sunday after Sunday that’s how we approach God, and it’s a good way to approach Him.

Maybe the biggest change to our worship comes during the Christmas season when we sing hymns and songs that we do not sing at any other time of the year, as we did last Sunday morning. That can be a problem.

Because we are not familiar with the seasonal text or tune, our singing can become less than inspiring. Let’s face it; some of these Christmas songs are hard to sing. Who besides a hungry newborn has the lungs to sing the Gloria in Angels We Have Heard on High? Or how difficult to sing is that first line in It Came Upon a Midnight Clear?

But we do sing them anyway because that’s what we are supposed to do at Christmas time.

Maybe we should think a little differently about Christmas singing.

Christmas hymns serve us by teaching us amazingly deep doctrine. Think of a line from a favorite Christmas hymn, and it likely contains a doctrinal truth critical for Christianity.

From O Holy Night, “Long lay the world in sin and error” teaches the depraved condition of humanity.

In Angels from the Realms of Glory we sing, “God with man is now residing” and proclaim the incomprehensible, the full deity and complete humanity of Jesus Christ.

The text of We Three Kings tells of “sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying” in anticipation of the cross.

A challenge with some really good Christmas hymns is actually singing them. The tune is just difficult for American voices in 2018. If the tunes are challenging and the texts unfamiliar, why sing Christmas hymns in public worship? Here are some answers.

Christmas hymns offer unique worship opportunities. Charles Wesley penned the words Come Thou Long Expected Jesus in 1744 as he pondered Haggai 2:7 and considered the plight of his fellow Brits from orphans to outcasts. In two brief stanzas he connects Israel’s promised Messiah and the promise of Christ’s second coming. The thought of Christ’s return when he will right all wrongs might inspire worship in your heart. You might even find yourself worshipping by singing a Christmas hymn.

Christmas hymns offer unique evangelistic opportunities. In our pluralistic society, the overt declaration of the person of Jesus Christ through the texts of Christmas hymns makes me giddy. I love to hear Christmas hymns in our schools, at public events, while walking through the mall, and on normally secular radio stations. Places that prohibit “solicitation” by gospel workers unapologetically sing the gospel.

When unsaved family and friends are in your home or car, Christmas hymns in the background may open a door for a gospel conversation. Stopping at the mall rotunda to listen to community choir can lead to discussions about Jesus. “Did you hear the line of that song? Do you know what it means?” may lead you to a chat you’ve been praying for and anticipating for some time.

Christmas hymns offer unique learning opportunities. As a general practice, I hope you have Christian hymns playing in your home and car as a matter of habit. If children romp around your house or when you share in your grandchildren’s world, I hope you play Christian music. During the season, play and sing Christmas hymns, not just FrostyJingle Bells, or I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.

Did you know the Christmas hymn Once in Royal David’s City was authored by a pastor’s wife as a way to teach the church children Bible doctrine? The use of Christmas hymns to teach your children great Christian truths will pay dividends far beyond the investment of playing the tune over and again. When they are old, they will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).

In only a matter of weeks, we will put the Christmas decorations away until this time next year. While I won’t miss the garland, I will miss the Christmas hymns. I suspect you will too. Let’s make the most of the music during the brief time we have them.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Thankful

When my mom said, “Son, what do you say?” that usually meant I’d received a gift that I didn’t really want from a person I didn’t know or didn’t want to kiss or to kiss me. There are lines a boy doesn’t want to cross, and orange lips cross the line.

On the other hand, my mom never had to remind me to thank my grandfather or my uncles. They always got it right when it came to picking out the right gifts. It must be intuitive from man to man. We just know what other males want for gifts. More than that we know what other males DO NOT want for gifts – sweaters, socks, cologne…We can pick these things out ourselves, but I digress.

We celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday. I suppose you will enjoy food and family like Brenda and I will. You may even have occasion to speak up at the dinner table to express thanks for something in your life.

According to the New Testament, believers live a life that makes every day Thanksgiving Day.

Thankfulness is one of the outstanding marks of a follower of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul makes a big deal about being thankful. In nearly every one of his New Testament books, he expresses thanks to God, or he encourages his readers to do the same.

Believers are thankful because thankfulness reflects the change of heart that takes place at salvation.

Prior to salvation human beings are independent and selfish. They believe that what they have they worked for. A good test grade results from good study habits. A promotion at work comes after months or years of diligent service to an unruly boss and an unappreciative company. Children who are not an embarrassment to the family became that because of the rigidity and drive of parents. Whatever is good about us is good because we did it. It’s purely American thinking and purely pagan.

Further, human beings think that was is given to them is owed to them because of who they are. My mom is supposed to feed me because I am here son. My dad is supposed to buy my clothes because I am his son. My daughter is supposed to do the dishes because I am her dad. My friend is supposed to return my calls or texts because I’m his friend, and on and on.

The change of heart that takes place at salvation alters our very beings so that where we were independent we are now dependent, and where we were selfish we are not selfless.

A follower of Jesus Christ recognizes his dependence on his Lord for salvation. The result is that he recognizes his dependence on his Lord for everything else. Good grades are the gift of God by way of a good mind and the influence of the Holy Spirit to be disciplined. A promotion at work is the gift of God by way of a strong body, overall good health, contentment with the employer, and a disposition monitored and molded by the Holy Spirit.

The Christian recognizes dependence in all things because he knows dependence in the main thing – his salvation.

A follower of Jesus Christ looks outside of himself not inward at himself. He sees people as those whom he can serve and not as those who exist to serve him. The mirror is not his favorite piece of household accessories, but the kitchen sink, the laundry room, or the garbage can is. He serves because he’s thankful that Christ served him on the cross.

“Son, what do you say?” My answer, “Thank you, Father, for everything!”

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

No Longer Parents to Those Kind of Kids

For half of our marriage, we’ve been parents of teenagers. Prior to the 1920s nobody used that word to describe the years 13-19. We’ve been using it in our family since 2004. Those years end today as our youngest enters his 20s, a decade full of amazing opportunities he can only image. Happy birthday, Jeffery.

I feel for parents whose past or current experiences with teenage sons and daughters bring pain or who wish for the years to be over soon. While our years of parenting teens were not without drama, tears, conflict, and challenges, they were not horrible for us. In fact, the years of being parents to teens have been as enjoyable as, and maybe more enjoyable than, the years of toddling and cuddling were before.

Simply, we loved being parents of teens, and hope you do too.

They were busy years to be sure. Everyday always had somebody going somewhere. At 13 the family calendar starts to fill with youth group, sports, band, theatre, part-time jobs, and friends. Before one of them starts driving, the parents become Uber drivers without the tips – unless you count, “Love you, mom,” as the minivan door slides closed and off she goes to meet her friends.

The teen years are expensive as any parent will testify. Braces and blue jeans, Nikes and kneepads, instruments and smartphones, phone bills, music lessons, summer camps, youth activities, used cars, car insurance, curling irons and hair straighteners all cost more than parents imagine.

With teenage sons and daughters, conversations deepen. Meaningful exchanges about politics, romance, worldview, morality, betrayal, loyalty, justice, and commitment to Jesus Christ take the place of chatter about dolls and trucks, stuffed animals and make believe.

As an aside, I cannot explain why 13 to 19-year-olds desire to pursue these talks at 11:30pm at the foot of parents’ beds. But weary eyes in the morning are worth the talks that expose their hearts and bind hearts together.

It is humbling to see in teen sons and daughters the weaknesses of dad and mom. Honestly, we rode them harder than we should have when we observed our flaws on display in them. We could have handled that better, first by addressing the problems in ourselves.

As Brenda and I have reflected over the last few months in anticipation of this day, we pass along some thoughts to consider.

There is blessing from consistent parenting when children are little. More than strict or loose parenting style, consistency is key. It’s hard, I know. For a variety of reasons, some days you just don’t feel like doing this anymore, or least, give me a one-hour break and a little “me time.” Whatever behaviors you command, attitudes you exalt, expectations you mention, stay after it hour by hour, day by day.

The training of littles will pay dividends you will appreciate in teen years. Of course, if you neglect consistent, purposeful parenting, you will see the impact of that also in the teen years.

Momentary inconveniences and relationship struggles are worth the effort to overcome them. As children mature, their problems become more complex requiring additional time and effort to address. Some of our challenges were with a 13-year-old and others with an 18 or 19-year-old. It is unlikely the difficulties will be at convenient times. Your careful exercise of biblical wisdom, not merely circumstance modification, is critical.

Some moments will lead to relationship struggles between you and your teen. You must remain the Christian adult in the situation, working toward reconciliation and teaching in your reaction to circumstances how to respond to relationship struggles that await your son or daughter.

Allow for controlled errors in judgement. Not all mistakes are the same, and some mistakes provide key moments for guidance. Your teen will spend money foolishly, is likely to make a friendship you question, and may put off an academic assignment to his detriment. They will dent your cars and make bad decisions about hair styles and clothing choices. Do not ride them over mistakes. Show them how to recover. Help them recover.

The weight of Scripture is critical. We are stewards of God’s authority in the lives of our children. “Because I said so,” is the wrong answer. The right answer is “Because God says.” Allow the Word of God to be the heavy when sinful attitudes and behaviors surface and when immaturity slips out. Introduce God into daily circumstances by calling your teen to submit to what God says. Our wisdom is not enough. God’s is.

Keep on parenting. Now is not the time to stop parenting. I get it. Sometimes they talk back. Sometimes you have no answers for their arguments. Sometimes they do what they want to do despite the wisdom you offer to them. Combined they add up to the thought, “He’s 18 now. He has to live his own life.” 18 is just some random number. So is 21 and 30. Do not stop parenting. Keep giving counsel. Keep calling to Christlikeness. Keep asking probing questions. Talk, talk, talk, and talk some more. Never give up being their parent. You’re the only one God has commissioned for the job.

You don’t have all the answers, and you won’t have time, wisdom, and spiritual maturity to teach everything you should. This has been one of my greatest revelations about my limitations in parenting.

As I look at each of our children, there is so much I didn’t do correctly, wish I would have done sooner, or didn’t know I was supposed to do. I remember the conversation with Brenda one night in particular where I felt like a parenting failure.

As I looked at my fully grown child, all I could see was what still needed to be done, but the time had passed. In the quietness of our bedroom, I cried before Brenda and expressed my failures to do more than what I had done. Her wise counsel prevailed. “We better pray,” and we did.

While all of us are equipped uniquely by God to parent the children he has entrusted to us, none of us is equipped completely to parent the children entrusted to us. We need God.

Our limitations force us to cry out to God to change what we cannot change, to develop what we cannot develop, to incite love for God that we cannot demand, and to grow trust in God that we cannot manufacture.

Our parenting of children has come to an end. Our parenting of daughters and sons has not. May God take them from here and make them what we could not for the glory of his name and for the good of people.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Proud to be a Christian American or Is It American Christian

Every culture expresses values.

The Swiss value punctuality as evidenced by their timepieces. They take their watches so seriously they mandate by law what watches can bear the mark “Swiss made.” On the other hand, Filipinos operate according to “Filipino Time.” Time in the Philippines has been so casual the Filipino government passed legislation in 2013 requiring its citizens to synchronize all clocks in the country.

Today, Tuesday, November 6, Americans of every persuasion, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and education level will head to the polls to cast votes for would be school board members, U.S. senators, and every office in between. It is a great American value, being able to choose our own leaders. I hope all my American readers will exercise their right to vote.

While there are no state or federal laws mandating a citizen vote, voting is the most influential way average citizens insert their convictions, opinions, and preferences into the American way of life.

But how should Christians protect and promote the American way of life? In a previous Musing, I wrote loyalty to heaven and country need not be diametrically opposed; both can exist simultaneously. But what happens when conflict occurs at the intersection of American values and Christian values?

Here are three suggested principles that will require your thoughtful deliberation to make cultural application.

Where American values are Christian values, work to maintain them.

Americans believe no one is above the law. Elected officials must obey traffic laws as must every citizen. Building codes cannot be usurped by the rich and powerful while the working man must abide them. Courtrooms must give the same treatment to the no-name defendant as it does to the son who bears an honored family name.

Before it was an American value, parallel treatment of people has been a Bible value. Text after text demands blind justice and fairness to all (for example, Deuteronomy 16:18-20; Proverbs 17:15, 18:5; James 2). Maintaining these values honors heaven. American or not, righteous judgment is the responsibility of all earth’s inhabitants.

American values that originate with Christian values deserve our efforts to hold them in place in our American culture. Normally, holding them in place occurs as the ballot box or in public debate. On occasion, holding these American / Christian values may require the sacrifice of our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

Where American values are not Christian values, hold them loosely.

Some American values, while precious to us and which we hope to pass to our descendants, do not have a shared identity as a Christian value. That means you cannot identify a corresponding Bible truth that demands upholding the ideal. Here is where things get sticky.

For example, consider the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, “the right to bear arms.” (In full disclosure, I am a gun owner and have been since Brenda and I first got married. I acquired my first gun for protection, a 9mm handgun recommended to me by my pastor because of the location of our staff housing. Yes, there’s a story there for another time).

The right to own a firearm is an American value. It is not a Christian value. Millions of Christians worldwide live in countries where it is illegal to own a firearm of any kind. I want to be clear, for them to possess a firearm is against the law in their countries, and therefore, to possess a firearm in those countries is dishonoring to heaven.

Heaven gives to us the right to self-defense. Further, heaven mandates we protect the vulnerable, the oppressed, and the innocent against the wicked (Romans 14). However, you will be hard pressed to find a right to certain methods of self-defense. The Bible doesn’t say all humans have God’s decree to own a sword or a SIG Sauer P229 Elite.

The right to bear arms is an example of an American value, an American value I love and exercise. But this American value is not a Christian value. I reject the phrase, “I'll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.” Now, if you mean when I am defending my family against your evil, yes; but not when the duly authorized government legislates against its ownership.

American values that are not first Christian values should be enjoyed and taken advantage of to the full extent of our citizenship, but these are not values to die for or to lose your Christian identity over.

Where Christian values are not American values, be willing to lose your life for them.

Christian values cost first century Christians and the Apostles their lives. Across the globe in 2018, Christians lose their lives every day because of their loyalty to Jesus over loyalty to state and to national values (most recently, see Cameroon, China, and Pakistan).

Like many other observers of our cultural direction, I believe pressure on Christians to abandon Christian values for new American values is building. Demands for inclusivity that mitigate against the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ already appear in some pockets of the country. To declare the exclusive superiority of Jesus Christ to all other religions may put Christians in vulnerable, even life-threating situations.

Like the three friends in ancient Babylon or Stephen in Jerusalem, we cannot abide American values that oppose Christian values even if the cost is our lives. We rest comfortably to live is Christ and to die is gain. If you’ve read this far, thank you.

My purpose is not to incite you, but to ask you to think about your loyalty to God and country. While I maintain it is possible to be loyal to both, I also maintain we are loyal to God first and maybe only, if necessary.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

One Nation Under God

Has it ever been this crazy in American politics? If we could wake the dead, they might argue the days shortly following the conclusion of the American Revolution were crazier times while others would note the horrors of the Civil War in the mid-1800s. Some alive today would dredge up the turbulent era of the 1960s recalling the bombings, riots, kidnappings, and murders assigned to political stances.

When it comes to the place of politics in the local church, there exists a wide range of opinions. I’ve never lived in a culture other than the United States, so I cannot speak to how the church in India, Brazil, or Spain intersects with national or local politics. I can, however, speak to the American church.

Within the American church, there is no broad consistency. Some churches host local, state, and federal office holders at their Sunday gatherings. When the calendar brings election season, some churches welcome political candidates to their services and pass out voter guides. Other churches move to the opposite end of the spectrum and ignore the political process altogether,as if political parties and candidates have no meaning nor significance for the church or the cause of Christ.

A current trend in evangelical churches, especially among some younger Christians, is to draw upon the apostles’ ideas of heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20) and earthly pilgrimage (1 Peter 2:11) to formulate political stances in the present that distance themselves from loyalty to their “passport county.”

Citing Paul and Peter, they observe that Christian citizenship is in heaven, and Christians are pilgrims traveling through the various lands in which we live. But are these additions to identity when one becomes a Christian a mandate or an excuse to detach from identity here? Does citizenship in heaven eradicate citizenship in a particular country? Does spiritual sojourning mean there should not be allegiance to a particular nationality?

While it is true that Christians possess dual citizenship in this world and the next and that Christian pilgrims are progressing away from this world toward the world that is to come, there are no Bible commands directing us to abandon our current citizenry nor is there apostolic instruction cautioning us about our passion for national identity. I’d suggest the exact opposite appears in the Scriptures.

From the Old Testament we possess examples (1 Corinthians 10:11) of how we should live in our present situations. Jeremiah offers a model when he instructs the expatriates in godless Babylon how they should live as Babylonian nationals exiled away from Palestine.

This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper(29:4-7).”

We live on earth, specifically in the United States. Spiritually, we are Christian exiles waiting our repatriation to a heavenly city, a city where we long to live, but where we do not live presently. Following the example of the physical exiles in Babylon, it should be our practice to seek the peace and prosperity of the United States of American.

Next, no matter if we are citizens of the United States by birth or by choice, we live here according to the providence of God. That we did not win life’s lottery but reside here by the will of God has significant consequences. David Prince articulates this well in his work, “In the Arena.”

To despise one’s nation is an act of rebellion against the providence of God, but blindly to idolize it is an act of rebellion of another sort. Patriotism, rightly understood in a Christian worldview, is a natural recognition of God’s good providence and his sovereignty in determining our place, rootedness, and our story. We come from somewhere, and we are part of a family line whose sacrifices in generations past have shaped our story. Our country and our families are not ultimate, but they are important. Showing them honor is way we honor Christ (1 Peter 2:13-17).

I’d suggest a strong argument can be made that American Christians have a duty to express loyalty to the United States of America. Such loyalty is not a usurping of a greater loyalty to heaven, but is, in fact, an expression of loyalty to heaven.

We are one week away from an election which, like all elections, has bearing on American values. As a Christian man, I will cast a vote that I believe will seek the safety and fortune of the United States of America.

There is more we need to discuss. Next week I want to address the intersection of American values and Christian values. Until then, I hope you will join me in prayer for these United States.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.