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Theocracy and Jihadi Flags, I can’t worship like this!

My church’s worship leader insists on leading our congregation in singing “God of All Nations” by New Boys. Making matters worse, the video projected on the screen (as in, live video behind the lyrics) plays a rotating loop of fluttering national flags. More on that later.

Let’s take a look as what we’re actually being force to sing, for certainly it gets worse as it goes. Let’s start:

God of all nations
Lord of creation
It’s in the bonds of love we meet
We come together at Your feet

There is no questions that the Lord is King of Kings and Lord over all creation; no problem there. Where thing go awry is the declaration of what unites us in meeting: “love.” From this it’s far from clear whose “love” it is that proves these bonds. Is it Christ’s love for us that creates the “bond” for meeting? It seems, as I ponder the vapid lyric, that our “love” is the bond as “we meet” and “we come together” before God. The over-arching idea behind this lyric is that Christians from all nations are gathering together, and while the event may be to worship, the “bond” is our own love far more so than being a people in covenant or bought by Christ’s blood.

Equal in Your sight
Made one by Your might
You’ve called us to restore Your lands
And place them back within Your hands

Here’s the lyrics take a turn toward the clearly unbiblical. In theological circles this is known generically as “theonomy” (more specifically “Christian Reconstructionism”) and known informally as “Kingdom Now” or “Latter Rain” theology. Simply put, this (false) teaching instructs us to claim earthly kingdoms for Christ, that is, to “take back” the world for Christ. You see this in the “Jesus for President” mentality, or when some ill-informed pastor talks of “taking America back for Jesus!” The error here, and in the lyric above, is pure kingdom confusion born of ignorance of Jesus’ own actions and words on the subject. They tried to give Jesus an earthly King but he would have none of it (John 6:15). When Pontius Pilate asked Jesus if Jesus was a king, our Lord replied in redundant emphasis:

My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” [John 18:36]

Jesus clearly stated—twice for emphasis—that His Kingdom was “not of this world.” He goes further to drive home the separation between the kingdoms of man and the Kingdom of Christ by noting what would have happened if Jesus had any interest in establishing such an Earthly kingdom: “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting.” Jesus utter rejected all notion Christians theocracy along with any involvement in such a venture!

The lyrics claim that God has “called us to restore [His] lands and place them back within [His] hands,” yet absolutely no such commandments are ever given to Christians. We have a ministry of “reconcilliaiton,” that of reconciling God and man through the Gospel. Further, the teach none too subtly that ” [God’s] lands” are not now “within [God’s] hands.” But how is it that the nations of the Earth are somehow out of the hands of Almighty God? And, what would it look like for “us to restore” these lands to the point where they would be “back” in God’s possession? The answers reek of Kingdom confusion and theoractic fantasies that Jesus made a point of rejecting.

But Let’s continue…

God of all nations
Lord of creation
Your purpose is our hope, our bread
All You’ve planned and all You’ve said

So according to the lyricist, God’s “purpose” and plans are our hope and bread. Though Jesus actually taught the He—Jesus Himself, the Word made flesh—is “the bread of life,” the lyrics teach the its not Christ Himself but His “purpose” plans that are our bread and the source of our hope. Given the kingdom confusion discussed above, one wonders what “purpose” the lyricist finds as the source of hope! But Christ is the “bread of life,” the source of all nourishment for Christians. Even the noble affections of Christian living (such as holiness, purity, reconciliation between God and man, restoration of families, etc.) are good and right, but become unhealthy when the benefit is more sought than the source, who is Christ. Christ is not a means to and ends, He is the ends.

Beyond the unbiblical lyrics, my church projects worship lyrics super-imposed over video. In the case of this song, the lyrics are projected over a series of clips of fluttering national flags. Some of these flags have Islamic symbols, including (and most disturbing to me) the Saudi flag. The flag has as its centerpiece the “shahada,” the Arabic testimonial statement of Islam: “There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” Beneath the Arabic script is a sword, a prominent symbol in the blood-drenched religion of jihad. As the video loops behind the lyrics, the images of Islamic flags take center stage in the church.

So… I find myself singing theonomist lyrics, extolling the “return” of “lands” back into God’s hands, while Islamic symbolism on flags are showcased behind these lyrics. It’s no wonder I hardly want to go to church some Sundays. I swear I’m walking out the next time this combination happens. I can’t “worship” like this.

You Don’t Need a Do-Over When It’s Done

This past weekend I endured another imbecilic “ice-breaker” in front of the sermon.  Normally I merely tolerate these weekly excursions into the sophomoric, quietly suffering the now-standard pulpit goofiness to entertain the goats and avoid the stigma of taking eternal things too, you know, seriously.

He related the Internet urban legend of the guy who supposedly flushed his car keys at a highway rest stop and proceeded to get stuck in the septic tank in an attempt to fish them out. As the story goes, the fire department rescues the fellow and hoses him off, only for him to realize that his car keys were in his back pocket all along.  The pastor joked, “Now there’s a guy who’d like a ‘do-over’ in life!”

The pastor then pronounced: “God’s word for a do-over is grace!

My heart sank, for my fellow church-goes, for the preacher and for my own prospects at ministry in today’s Christless Christianity.  According to last Sunday’s sermon—so implied—the LORD’s solution for our mistakes (our grandparents used to call it “sin”) is to just give us another opportunity to work harder the next time around; another “do-over” to try and get it right the next time. And the next time. And the next time. Ad nauseum.

This anti-Gospel message of self-effort is nothing more than the filthy rags of self-righteousness. This leaves the sheep to attempt their “do-over” over and over until they either despair of their inability to get it perfect as God demands, or smugly rest in the pride that they did it right on their second or fiftieth “do-over.”  The tax collector and Pharisee—the despairing sinner juxtaposed with the prideful soul who thinks he’s done everything right—are the only two outcomes of preaching the Law instead of the Gospel.

Let’s review:

The LAW: What God demands (sinless perfection) and the consequences of violation (the shedding of blood).
The GOSPEL: The announcement (lit. “good news”) that Christ lived in sinless perfection and the gift of “peace with God through Christ” by complete faith in His death in our place.

As Ken Jones (pastor of Greater Union Baptist Church and regular on the White Horse Inn show) put it succinctly: 

“The law is what God demands, the Gospel is what God has done, and what God has done is what He demands.”

When a preacher speaks of “do” he is preaching the Law. So it is not until he proclaims the “done” of the finished work of Christ that he is preaching the Gospel: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do!” (Rom. 8:3) 

So, what would have been a Gospel-centered conclusion to this story? Something like this:

Unlike the hapless fellow in that story, when Christians find ourselves wanting a do-over we need only look to the perfect life of Christ to know that we don’t need a “do-over”  because it’s all done!

God doesn’t have a word for “do-over” because through Christ crucified God gives us “done!”

Helping my church form a membership process

The elders of my church have accepted my offer to help them navigate the process of developing a membership process. I’m completely honored to have been invited to attend the next elders’ meeting and I presume several of the subsequent meetings until the process is developed and the pastor presents the process and material. They’ve targeted a mid-September time frame for the pastor to begin preaching on it. That’s only about 6 weeks away, and if you ask me, too little time to put in due diligence to thoroughly develop a membership process.But they know I’m a research hound and that I like to write and put together presentations. I’ll be doing all those things, on a very compressed time table.

The first meeting is Wednesday night, leaving me tonight and tomorrow night to wrap up my preliminary research, document where I’m at, and put together a collection of material to hand out. I’ll likely skip the PowerPoint job and simply go with a printed version containing the same bullet points. This will allow them to take notes and take it with them.

As for me, I can sense the spiritual stress already. Old demons come calling, as usual, along with the earthy “crises.”

Finally, the elder with whom I met last week was very understanding about my issues concerning divorce and remarriage as it relates to church acceptance, participation and leadership. His position seems in line with mine and he encouraged me to address the issue openly and early with the rest of the elders. In his email to the me and the elders (the one I was supposed to receive last weekend) he concluded with the following:

Also, brother, thank you for opening up to me about your aspirations for future study of His Word as well as about struggle you’ve had. Humbly admitting your desire to find acceptance in light of your struggle was, in itself, humbling to me and, I believe, honoring to God.

These are all good signs. I merely need prayer for strength, discernment and a “hedge of protection” as we’d say back in the Pentecostal world.

Drained, and no refill in sight

Tonight I’m utterly drained and have nothing more to give; the last three days having taken everything out of me. Even typing this takes more than I want to spend.

On Friday I spent an hour on the phone with Karen, who is slowly dying of the cumulative effects of her ex-husband’s attempt to kill her. She’s 95% biker bitch and 5% baby Christian, but I know God can work with that. However, it’s exhausting to combat the “spirit(s)” at work and minister the person and work of Christ to a justifiably angry woman who has lost hope and faces a slow debilitating death. Yet, ministry is letting Christ chose whom we are to love.

Then I spend the weekend with Devin, trying to build a foundation for a relationship with someone who is quite different from me. On Saturday night I tried to talk with her father, who was tipsy drunk and played mental and spiritual games like my father. With speech loaded with humanism delivered in Christinese, he proceeded to play the challenge-via-insinuation game; never really saying what he was so clearly saying, making a lot of “Dragon-like statement” (as Driscoll would put it), but still affirming me before taking me down again. But as he said, he’d had enough to drink that he was honest. As for me, I see right through his self-loathing impositions on me and those around him. I see right through his alcoholic need for a non-judgmental environment. When he said, “Your pursuit, your concern, with ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ and ‘black’ and ‘white’ will be your undoing.”  That statement says so much I could write a small book on it, or at least a whole ‘nother post.

Then on the way home I spend another hour and fourty minutes with Karen again, who by now is doing much better thanks to the Holy Spirit and God’s orchestration of putting Christians in her miserable life to try and talk some “hope in Christ” into her. I didn’t get home until almost 3AM and didn’t get to sleep until 4AM, my mind still buzzing with that gut-kick feeling normally only get after a bad visit with my Dad.

Sunday, with four hours sleep, I finally talk to my brother Tim who tells me that he’s “not suicidal but would be happy if it all ended.” My gut was wrenched in that same way when my ol’ best friend was saying the same things. So I listen to his never-ending depression for his never-ending entanglement with troubled mother of three who has been “dying” of one cancerous malady or another for the last eight years. He’s made this woman his life, with no boundaries, to his own destruction. With the death of his brother last November, he’s looking at every one and everything as, “what if this is the last time I see or get to be with so-n-so?” and he start breaking down in tears again. And again, I give more.

But when I got to work I was drained. I put in several hours from home, but that’s it. I’ve been gut-kicked and wiped out. What saddens me further is the part of me, the voice inside, that tells me I deserve all this an worse. Maybe God is visiting upon me pain I’ve caused others. I don’t know.

Maybe I’ll blog later, maybe not. Blogging is just one more “busyness” thing to do in our chaotic world and not worth my health. I don’t give a rats ass right now in my exhaustion who the hell want me to blog. Facebook is enough.

So for now the phone goes off. The email goes quiet, and I go into self-preservation mode to simply survive this draining mini-bought of depression and emotional exhaustion. No one can help me. Everyone I know is a spiritual taker, or at least an exchanger, but not a giver. No one will do for me what I do for everyone else: just listen and then soothingly comfort me with love, in Christ.

Look like it’s time to leave my church

Sometime around last fall (2008) I began attending a small up-start church a few miles from where I live. Since becoming Reformed, I’ve found it very hard to find a church, but even more difficult is one that accepts divorce/remarried men into ministry. I would have settled for a church that wasn’t explicitly Reformed but didn’t teach against what I believe, as long as they don’t practice interminable non-restoration of men who are divorced and repentant where needed.

After attending a few times, I met with the pastor on Friday morning to explain what I was looking for in a church, my past, and my hopes for a grace-based church. To my delight, he explained that they were now independent of their parent church and that neither he nor the elders (to his knowledge) were completely against divorced or even remarried men in leadership. I’ll admit, I got watery eyes, as I felt I’d found a home in a young church or perhaps 120 people.

Earlier this year, around February, I told the pastor about what some ideas I had for things to present at the church and some ministry ideas. He was receptive and asked me to email his the ideas I had. I spent four weeks consulting with friends and praying over how to respond. On Sunday, March 1, I sent my email with my friends’ responses, desires and ideas for serving.

No response.

About two months later my pastor informs me that they’re putting together a membership initiative (a first for the two year old church) and I offered to help with researching the membership initiative process or anything else they needed. Knowing my theological background, the pastor was enthusiastic and told me that I might be invited to join the elders (not as a member of course) to help form the process. We talked about a couple issues and I left encouraged at a chance to serve. A couple weeks later, I followed up with an email that I spend transcribing from a John Piper sermon membership qualifications as it relates to the qualification for membership in the universal body of Christ (i.e., salvation).

Two days later I go my first and only response from my church. Ever. He merely thanked me for the “great nugget” mined from Piper, and an offer to “plan to get together” after he returned from camping.

I never heard back.

Last Sunday the sermondevotional was so bad I almost left five minutes into the series of obnoxious attempts at “ice breaker” humor. But I stuck through the anemic message, which only bore tangential reference to the text allegedly in focus, and made it through to the end. Though people know me, I’m not married and don’t have kids for their kids to play with so few people have any reason to fellowship with me, or so it seems few are interested in the single guy. But I struck up a conversation with one of the elders (the only one in attendance) and explained that I hadn’t heard back. Honestly, with how I’ve been ignored, I explained, it was hard not to think that it was that old divorce and remarriage issue cropping up again, hidden, unseen and unspoken, in the background. He felt bad an assured me that wasn’t the case. This lead to a conversation on divorce, remarriage and ministry, and I was delighted that he held a view consistent with the pastor. He, too, expressed a sense of urgency at the time running out before the pastor’s intent to preach about membership as early as September. He even stated that he’s personally welcome my offer to “drive” the process with schedules and such; similar to the project management I do at work. So he promised to email the other elders, the two pastors and me that very Sunday night, with a specific request for me to follow up with them all on my ideas, a prospective schedule, and a couple of personal notes on some issues we discussed. The more we talked the more certain he reiterated his plan to send an email that very night and for me to reply the same night, just as we discussed.

It’s now the following Friday and I’ve heard nothing.

I. Give. Up. On. These. Flakes.

But where do I go?  Start my own?  THAT is an option that has seen increasing discussion lately.  Hey, at this point I’d be happy to gather around a Driscoll podcast with a bunch of guys every Sunday.

UPDATE 8/2: I came home at almost three in the morning to an email from the elder in question letting me know that he’s mistyped my email address a week ago. He included, of course, the email I was originally sent. I’ll blog it separately.

The King & I: Parallels and Inspiration 2,600 Years Later

In the earliest years of my faith in Christ, during high school, God led me to the short story of young King Josiah and the finding of the “Book of the Law” while rebuilding the temple.

It would take two decades for me to understand the parallels and significance in my life.

Born in 649 BC, Josiah’s father, King Amon, and grandfather, King Manasseh, both “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 21:20).  The Lord ordained that Josiah lose his father at young age. The wicked King Amon was murdered when Josiah was only eight.  Josiah “began to seek the God of David” in his mid-teens. (2 Chron. 34:3).  As the Word declares, “he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2) and he became the last Godly King over the God’s chosen people before the Lord exiled His people. His clearing the kingdom of idols foreshadows Christ clearing the Temple and His ultimate clearing of sin in His coming Kingdom. I, too, was born to a father and grandfather who turned from the Lord, experienced pre-adolescent alienation from my father, yet the LORD sought me in my mid-teens. When I originally studied this character during my late teens the LORD impressed the story of Josiah upon me so greatly that I wanted live up to Josiah’s example and also name my first son in his honor.

What was the event that propelled Josiah from God-seeking young man into the great leader of God? What so deeply convicted him that he changed not only his own life, but used his influence over those around him to return a people to the Lord?

The life-changing, nation-turning event was this:  He found a lost Book, but not just any book.

In 633 B.C., Hilkiah the High Priest found a lost copy of the “Book of the Law” in the “house of the LORD” (the Temple) which was undergoing repairs.  He gave the Book to Shaphan, his secretary, who present to King Josiah and read it.  Now about age 24, Josiah had already been “seeking” the LORD for almost ten years, was already living in the fear of the LORD and thus likely knew of the Book of the Law.

Yet something about finding this particular “Book of the Law” provoked a reaction in young king Josiah that would change his life, the course of a nation, and even stay the judgment hand of God.  Something shook him to the core at hearing the Word of the Lord read from the unexpected find of an irreplaceable written record of the spiritual legacy of his forefathers.  Josiah tore his closes in renewed repentance and became a strong leader for God through driving out the idolatrous practices in the land, restoring right worship of the Lord .

I thought the story and the parallels ended there; an inspiring moral story tucked away in my head.  Now, two decades and many revelations later, the Lord has shown me even more.

Over the past five years the legacy of my great-grandfather, Rev. Joseph Burrows, has meant more to me with every passing year.  I’ve traveled back to where he preached, visited his grave, met some old ladies who knew him and stood where he preached three generations ago.  As I grow in knowledge of the Word and matured in Christ, I feel ever more called to continue his legacy and go into ministry.  Yet all I had were some pictures and what limited information my ailing grandmother (Rev. Burrows’ last surviving child) could provide from her fragmented memories.  In the year before her death I had a repeating daydream of someday telling my grandmother that I was entering ministry and in response I pictured her handing off to me the most precious physical connection to my great-grandfather that I could image: his personal preaching Bible. This dream was so strong and flourished with such detail that in the summer before her death I asked if she knew what has become of his Bible. She assured me that she had no such thing and it was likely lost to time. In February 2008 she went to be with Jesus at the age of 83.

Then, like my spiritual hero Josiah, I also found a book which is changing my life.

With the family gathered in my grandmother’s apartment where she had passed just days prior, the greedy process of pillaging through her life’s possessions began. Unconcerned about jewelry, clothes or other things of “value,” I sought the irreplaceable: the pictures, postcards, and letters that document a life lived. We neared completion of divvying up her belongings when my cousin pulled a small red box from inside the TV cabinet.  When she opened it she recognized it as a Bible and handed it to me (she knows I’m a strong Christian and would probably want such a thing). Opening the cover, the inside page simply read, “Joseph Burrows, April 14th, 1914.” Thumbing through the pages confirmed what seemed  impossible: the Bible was indeed his preaching Bible, complete with sermon outlines and lesson notes!  This one Bible—once thought lost to the chaos of time—about which I’d so often dreamed of holding, that symbolized the passing on of a legacy of ministry,  was preserved by the Lord in His Grace and Sovereignty and now sitting in my hands.  In my daydream, which I now see as prophetic, my grandmother handed this once-imagined copy of the Word to me with a loving smile and watery eyes that told me, “You’re ready for this.”  Since finding the Bible—this particular Bible—I’ve felt that now that the dream has come true, so should the meaning behind it.

Last week, feeling somehow called to re-read the story of Josiah again for the first time on a couple decades, two amazing parallels hit me. First, the discovery of Rev. Burrows’ preaching Bible greatly parallels Josiah’s finding of the “Bible” of his day. I don’t know why, perhaps just the working of God, but I in the 17 months since I found the Bible I never realized the parallels.  Second, in the text (2 Chronicles and 2 Kings)  I discovered another parallel in family history. Using online Bibles with great cross-references (an advantage I didn’t have, nor would I have used, in my teens) I traced back Josiah’s lineage a little further. As the LORD showed me, in addition to a godless father and grandfather, Josiah had a Godly great-grandfather, King Hezekiah, who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done.” (2 Kings 18:3).  I was stunned.  Josiah and I both had Godly great-grandfathers, only that mine is matrilineal rather than patrilineal as was the case for Josiah.

I can only imagine what God has to show me, or do with me, next.

A Voice in the Cloud of Witnesses: On The Passing of Scottie Sayles

Earlier this evening I was thinking of the brother in Lord who played a key role in my coming to Christ.  I met Scottie in the mid-1980’s when I attended YMCA Camp Campbell, where I heard the gospel for the first time. Like many hyperactive kids blasting through a week at camp, I didn’t have much focus on the Gospel; but I heard it. Scottie, a big guy with a big heart, served on the camp leadership team for trips to Camp Campbell and other Y camps over the years. He was big and goofy. The kids related to him, perhaps not so much a father figure (as some of the camp directors) but more like a hearty old brother or maybe a jolly uncle. I loved him.

One evening, after yet another campfire-side Gospel presentation, I was lying in my bunk bed in the open air cabins of Camp Fox on Catalina Island. Just a few weeks from entering high school, I knew the God was impressing upon me the Truth that God sent Christ to die for me and that I was called to life in Him.  As the Lord had arranged it, my top bunk faced the waterfront of this camp built right on the beach.  Laying in my bunk, watching the calm ocean front, I pondered life as a Christian and some of the objections and concerns I had.

After all were asleep, Scottie came walking along the retaining wall, doing after-hours rounds watching over the camp.

“Scottie?” I called to him in a forced whisper as he passed right in front of me.

“Yeah, Phil?” he answered as he turned to look right at me.

Now staring at him eye-to-eye from my top bunk, I asked, “What if it’s not true?  What if Christianity isn’t true?”

I’m now positive that he somehow knew that I was one of those kids on the verge of accepting Christ, as he’d seen me through to my brown rag in the Ragger program (Y folks know what I mean).With a soft and encouraging voice he said through a smile, “You know, even if it’s not [true], it’s not a bad way to live life.

That’s all I really remember of the conversation, other than him telling me good night as he walked away.  It was almost two decades later, when I ran into him in a local grocery store, that I told him that just after he’d walked away I accepted Christ. That was the last time I remember seeing him.

Tonight, I googled him only to find that on June 23, 2007 there was a memorial held for him at a nearby Little League field.  An email response from the event organizer confirmed what had hit stunned me an hour earlier: Scottie Sayles, my brother, humble witness to thousand of kids, the man whose kind words had comforted me as I embraced Christ, was himself ushered into the comforting arms of Christ on May 12, 2007.

Whenever I think of my brothers and sisters in the Lord who are now with Christ, the Holy Spirit often brings to mind this verse:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)

The passing of our brothers and sisters in Christ should, according to this passage, cause us to disentangle ourselves from the snares of this world and press on in the mission of Christ. As every believer goes on to the place Christ has prepared for them, the mission passes more pressingly on we who remain. As I consider ministry, I now have Scottie joining the choir of believers above me, spurring me on: “Throw off everything and run, brother, the race is yours now.”

Though Scottie and I shared many meals in the big dining rooms of a couple Y camps, I shall next see him at the wedding feast of the Lamb and His Bride. There, apart from sin and pain, we shall fellowship once again, forever.

Tomlin vs. Watts

I’ve removed this entry due to concerns about the accuracy of the information presented, which drive some of my conclusion. Specifically, after some follow-up comments, it’s uncertain what exactly Isaac Watts wrote (“I” vs. “we”) in his original hymn. Since a 1962 hymnal has the song in first person (“I”), Chris Tomlin clearly didn’t alter the lyrics.

I may re-release this posts commenting on the other valid criticisms of what’s been done to this classic hymn. But for now, the inaccurate information presented here has been removed. My apologies to anyone how might have be been mislead or harmed by anything I’d presented.