Friday, March 23, 2007

How miraculous is the mercy of God!

I was recently studying in Romans 8 for a sermon and as I was doing so, I became overwhelmed at the truly miraculous nature of my salvation. A thought occured to me that it often seems that only those who have been saved from truly dire situations tend to remember just how much of a miracle God's intervention in their lives really was. The natural human tendancy is to think that the guy who was saved after a life of drunkeness, fornication, brawling, drug addiction, etc., is a much greater miracle than the guy who was raised in a great Christian home, was saved at 4 or 5 yearsof age, and has always "done the right thing". I suppose that this is because we tend to look at the salvation God grants us through a temporal lens. While we hear Paul's words in Romans 7 ("In me dwells no good thing"..."Oh wretched man that I am"), I'm not certain that we always understand them. Even though I may have been saved at a young age, I had still earned eternal punishment and damnation. The same eternal punishment and damnation that the drunk, brawling, drug-addicted, whoremonger has earned.

Don't get me wrong here....I listen to UNSHACKLED! rather frequently. One of my favorite websites has recently added a feature called "Stories of Life Change". I truly enjoy reading these accounts of the mercy and goodness of God. I always stand in awe of how these people were so hopeless, but then God intervened. But I ask the question, is their story any more awe-inspiring and miraculous than that of the 50 year old deacon in my church who was saved at age 4 and has never known what it's like to be running from God?

In Romans 8, we are confronted with a number of encouraging truths, but perhaps the most precious one is found beginning in verse 14:

"For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him."

It's an amazing, incomprehensible fact that the King of kings and Lord of lords; the Alpha and the Omega; the Creator and Sustainer of all; the Holy One; the Majestic One; the all-powerful, all-knowing, holy, righteous, merciful, Sovreign God of all would adopt us! This adoption is with full benefits into the forever family of God! I dare you to try to wrap your mind around that one!

As I think on these things I am flooded with emotions. I am so humbled that I am compelled to tearfully fall on my face in awe of the Almighty, yet I'm so evercome with joy that I want to spring to my feet, raise my arms in praise, and shout "Hallelujah to the Most High!"

Monday, March 19, 2007

Music and Discernment

As a general rule, I don’t care for CCM (Contemporary Christian Music). I used to really enjoy Southern Gospel, but I’ve come to dislike most of it as well (although the song, I Fell on my Knees and cried Holy moves me to tears and motivates me to want to learn more about Christ each time I hear it). Most of it (Gospel) is shallow, “feel-good” music with no bite to it. That being said, I have a problem with dismissing an entire genre as bad just because some – perhaps even most – of it is “bad”. It makes me ask the question, “What makes music bad?”

Several years back I first heard a song by the group Mercy Me that began to change my opinion that all CCM is bad. I Can Only Imagine is perhaps one of the greatest songs I have ever heard. In the song, the singer is pondering what his response will be when he finally enters Heaven:
Surrounded by Your Glory,
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you, Jesus?
Or in awe of You be still?

Will I stand in Your presence?
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing “Hallelujah”?
Will I be able to sing at all?

I can only imagine….

At the end of the song, we hear the following lyrics:
I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever
Forever worship You

I can only imagine…

It was this song that first caused me to readdress my contention that all CCM was bad. I’d already come to the conclusion that there was some great Gospel music out there, but that always seemed like more of a “gray area” anyway. CCM, however, was always black and white to me. It was categorically wrong. But….how could a song like this be wrong? Furthermore, I began to realize that by claiming something was “wrong”, I was dismissing it as being displeasing to God. How could this particular song be classified thusly? I began listening to a little more from the CCM genre. There was so much P&W (Praise and Worship), that I quickly became annoyed. The artists would take a single phrase – maybe two – and repeat it over and over and over again. Some of the stuff I was finding was shallower than anything I’d encountered on the Gospel music scene. But some of it….

I came across another “artist” (for some reason, I dislike that word) who had been around for a long time. His style was unique. He told stories with his song. The man’s name is Ray Boltz, and the song that blew me away was Watch the Lamb. The story of the Crucifixion of Christ told from the perspective of Simon – the man who was enlisted to help Christ carry the cross. It speaks of his sons and the obvious impact that this had on them (by the way, it obviously impacted them since at least one of them is mentioned by name by Paul in the last chapter of Romans). Again, I found myself in tears as I reflected on what Christ had done for me. Again, a song that I couldn’t dismiss as “bad”. I began to find more and more music that was wonderful, Christ-honoring music. Music that had solid theology and lyrical depth. Music by groups like GLAD (how can anybody have a problem with them?). Music that had more “bite” than half the stuff you find in the typical church hymnal (Trust and Obey? …Sunshine in the Soul?).

So back to the question. What makes music “wrong”? I’m not sure that music – in and of itself – necessarily has a moral value. I’ve asked that question in several different places (online discussion boards as well as “face to face” discussions). Typically, the ensuing discussion borders on the ludicrous. An example of this is the old myth that rock music makes plants die, while classical makes them grow. I watched an episode of the program MythBusters on the cable channel Discovery that sufficiently dispelled that myth. As a matter of fact, their testing seemed to prove that exposing your plants to loud heavy metal music and insults was a better way of producing healthy vegetation than exposing them quiet classical music and “nice talk”. Another example would be the entire “beat argument”. This one has seemed a little nuts to me since the time I first heard it more than 20 years ago. I have a number of friends who would come home from camp and destroy all their CCM tapes because of a “sermon” on the evil beat. I never went for that. But I digress.

I asked a pastor friend about this music conundrum 3 or 4 years ago. This was a man who has been a pastor in two ultra-conservative IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptist) churches over the last 35 or 40 years. I would consider him as being to the right of me in almost everything! He exposed me to a word that I had never once heard brought up in the plethora music discussions I had been involved in or witnessed over the years. That word was…DISCERNEMENT. Here was a man who I had once heard (when I was a youth) preach that CCM was sinful! Obviously, he’d changed a bit over the last 20 or 25 years. I found that we were in agreement that some music might be good, quality, Christ-honoring music even if it was part of a genre that was crowded with "junk".

Discernment. I began to realize during our conversation that it is more important to teach our youth to become more discerning than it is to give them a list of things to avoid. As I cruise around the internet and witness some of the conversations that young Evangelical and Fundamentalist adults are currently having, I’m struck with the fact that there is often little discernment displayed. If we fail to teach our children discernment, we shouldn’t be surprised when they grow up into teens and adults who aren’t discerning!

The conclusion of the matter (at least as far as I’m concerned) is that some CCM is good – some is bad. Some Gospel music is good – some is bad. Some of the music in our hymnals is good – some is bad. Now, I’ve often heard the “slippery slope” argument. “If you say something is good part of the time and something is bad part of the time, you’re going to have people using that argument to justify all sorts of wicked behavior!” Once again, I suppose we’d better focus on teaching discernment. We’ll be better off teaching discernment than we’ll ever be trying to explain to a teenager why knee-length shorts are OK on the basketball court but not at a youth group activity. Or why girls can wear coulottes, but not modest, knee-length shorts… but that’s another article (that I will never write)!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Why should I vote?

I used to be extremely interested in the political scene. As a matter of fact, I followed politics almost religiously until the last 20 months or so. Recently, however, I find myself growing increasingly indifferent about American politics. I find it odd that some (perhaps many) Christians consider one’s patriotism to be a barometer of one’s spiritual condition. To many, patriotism is an important part of Christianity. I guess I don’t get it anymore. Quite frankly, I find myself not giving a rip about who wins the next presidential election. Some will find that offensive. Some sincere folks think that if the Senator from New York wins the presidency, it will mark the beginning of the end. I remember hearing similar sentiments a number of years ago.

Back in the early 90’s, Bill Clinton was running for president against the incumbent candidate, George H.W. Bush. I remember attending a chapel service at a prominent Christian college where one of the faculty members (a man who I’ve since gotten to know and for whom I have the utmost respect) got in front of the student body and all but promised the beginning of Armageddon should Clinton win. 6 years into Clinton’s presidency, I remember looking back and thinking, “Wow, this hasn’t really been all that bad.” I’m not saying that I think President Clinton did everything right (he doesn’t even think that), but I am saying that we survived. As a matter of fact, we really just continued business as usual.

Over the next year or so, we are going to begin hearing more and more about how this country will fall apart if Senator Clinton wins the election. The Christian Right (don’t get me started) will come out in support of which ever pro-life Republican candidate stands the best chance of winning. Never mind the fact that, in my opinion, the best overall candidate this time around happens to be pro-choice. Over the next several months, we will hear all the “doom and gloom” fear-mongering from all sides. Once it’s all said and done and there’s a new president in office, there will be a sizeable segment of the population claiming that it’s the beginning of the end – “the country will never survive!” Yet, we’ll wake up every day and continue doing what we do.

So back to my initial point – how concerned should a Christian be about politics? Patriotism? Voting? I’ve heard it said in many ways that it is my “Christian duty” to vote. I’m not so sure. I’ve seen t-shirts, lapel pins, ties, etc., in Christian bookstores and in churches all proclaiming that one is “Proud to be an American”. I don’t know that I’m necessarily proud. I’m happy to be an American. I’m privileged to be an American. I just don’t know that I’m proud to be one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ashamed about being an American – I’m simply indifferent.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

"Godless Coins"

New George Washington dollar coin accidentally struck without the "In God We Trust" motto. Apparently some of the religious blogs are already claiming that it is some sort of conspiracy.....

Full article here.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

"Miracle Baby" Dead for 30 Minutes...

I came across this story yesterday. A two-week old baby was dead for more than 30 minutes. As the parents were holding their child for the last time to say their "goodbye's", he suddenly revived. Miraculously, there seems to be no brain damage. Complete story here

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Unconditional Love

Perhaps I should rename my blog to something that has the word "love" in it! I want to share a bit about my background and the event that changed my life forever.

I grew up in a broken home. When I was growing up, that wasn't a term with which I was familiar (broken home). I think that's a good thing, though. As I've gotten older I've seen too many people use terms like that to attempt to remove some of the responsibility from themselves when it comes to the bad decisions they make or the stupid things they do.

My dad left us when I was pretty young. Before he left us, he wasn't around very much. I don't remember him being around too often after I turned about 7 or 8 (I was the oldest of three children). I don't remember ever having the impression that my mom and dad liked one another. They fought, yelled, screamed, cussed, and were physically violent with one another constantly. So when my dad left for good, things were actually better in a sense. However, my mom began to change - she became bitter and depressed. All these years later, she's still bitter and often depressed.

My mom never really knew how to express love. She grew up in the worst of imaginable situations herself. My dad's only expression of love was to send "stuff" to us kids at Christmas. This stopped about 5 or 6 years before he died. I share that portion of my life story to get to this...I never really saw love in action in my home when I was growing up. As a matter of fact, I would say that I didn't really understand how to love.

My understanding of love was perverted. I don't mean that in the way that we tend to understand that word, but in the very real sense. My understanding of love was twisted. I thought that the way you expressed loved was to get things for people. If they loved you, they would get you something. The concept of "unconditional love" was extremely foreign to me. I thought love had to be earned in all cases. I never really got the impression that my folks loved me, and I just assumed that it was my fault.

By the time I entered the adult world, this perverse view of love was all I really understood. In my relationships with the opposite sex I focused on the physical almost exclusively. When I got married, I was woefully unprepared to love my wife the way I needed to. I just didn't get it. In my spiritual life, this non-understanding of love left me struggling to come to terms with what God's love was all about. It was a constant battle. I saw friends who seemed to be flourishing in their relationship with God, but I just felt like I was dying spiritually. I would have some wicked thought, or skip "daily devotions", or any number of other things, and then have the thought that I'd caused God to hate me. So my spiritual life was nothing more than a struggle to "earn" God's love. But in 1998 something happened that began to change all that...

Henry Ellis Murphree, III (Trey) was born to my wife and I on May 21, 1998. The moment he was born I looked at this tiny, defenseless, mess of a child...and I loved him. I wanted to grab him, hold him, hug him, protect him. I would have killed to protect him and I would have died to do the same. All these thoughts and emotions flooded through me in the brief moment from the time I first saw him to the time he began crying. It was amazing! It was the first time I 'd ever loved something or somebody who hadn't done something for me. He didn't know me, he had never seen me, he didn't love me, but I loved him...unconditionally!

When I went home that night I couldn't hardly sleep. I began to reflect on what I was feeling about my new son. The thought occurred to me that he was really quite ugly when I first laid eyes on him, yet I couldn't stop staring at him with that fatherly love that would make any sacrifice necessary to protect him. I began to wonder if this is how my Heavenly Father looked at me - so pathetic, helpless, and ugly in my humanity - yet He loved me so much that He would die to save me.