Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Love So Deep, Even The Just Did Not See

We know that Jesus told us to love and to keep that commandment. That one commandment of love is the foundation of all commandments and is the foundation to everything we do as believers in Jesus Christ. We all know that Jesus showed that ultimate sacrifice of love to a world that did not deserve it, which was His punishment and death on the Cross. And when we accept His love, He will give us eternal life.

I was thinking today about that love and how deep His love truly is. We all have heard the scripture to, “love our enemies,” if you are like me that is the hardest area of love to express. It is easy to love those who love us back, who care for us, who help us, but to love those who rebuke us, do not care for us, and treat us like dirt--that is a tough one. Though this can be tough for us, it was so perfectly demonstrated by our Savior with no flaw or hesitation in one passage that we often over look as an example to loving our enemies.

In John 13, The Last Supper, which is also seen in all the other Gospels. John, though, gives us a little extra. In verse 21, Jesus says to the disciples, "I tell you the truth, one of you are going to betray me." And because of this statement, the disciples become very confused. Then in verse 25 one asks, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered in verse 26, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Well, take in mind that Jesus is saying this to the point for all to hear. Jesus goes on in the rest of 26 by dipping the piece of bread and giving it to Judas Iscariot. Jesus then goes in verse 27 to tell Judas, "What you are about to do, do quickly," In this passage or any other Last Supper passages in the Gospel there is no mention that the disciples were shocked to learn that the betrayer was Judas, they only realized this later when Judas brought the Roman soldiers to imprison Jesus.

Now, did you see the love in this passage? To be honest, I never saw it either until about two weeks ago. Why didn’t the disciples make the connection that Judas was the betrayer? Jesus, point blank, told them, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." and then He gave the bread it to Judas, but still the disciples never once made out the Judas was the one. Why? Is it because they lacked common sense or they were ignorant, of course not, it was the ultimate love of Jesus that blinded their connection. Jesus knew who His betrayer would be from the beginning of His ministry up to the Last Supper. However, He always demonstrated His desire to love even to the one that would betray Him. Now, that is truly a perfect example of loving our enemies. Think about, if you were in a similar situation and you knew someone that you walked and talked with everyday was going to stab you in the back and betray you, which to me can be the worst enemy, wouldn’t you act very different towards him or her, I am sure I would be guilty of that. However, Jesus did not; He showed His unconditional love to the one that He knew would bring Him to unbearable pain and suffering and eventually to His death. Would you and I show that same kind of love?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Singing Praises To God. Is There Really A Wrong Way?

Psalm 33:3, "Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy."

From a toddler to teens, I went to a Baptist church and attended a Christian school that was connected with the church. The church along with the school had a very strict policy about the music that was played: traditional hymns accompanied only by the piano or organ; no basses, drum, or guitars. Now, as an adult, my own family and I attend a Vineyard church, which is probably one of the most noted protestant churches promoting Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) in the church today.

One day, I started thinking, “What does The Bible truly say about the whole subject of music and instruments and is there such a thing as "proper music" to be played in church?" Well, growing up in the Baptist church and the Christian school I was taught along with everyone else that secular music (non-Christian) was wrong because it never glorifies God, it only glorifies self or man and the style emphasizes the music not the words. So, as Christians, we need not to be conformed to this world based on this verse:

Romans 12:2, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Well, you might ask, "What does this have to do with CCM--the music may sound like the worlds music, but the message of the song is about God?" This is a great question that was asked by many and the answer was always--even though the message is about God, the entertainment side of the music is of the world; therefore, the message is lost and it is no longer good or pleasing to God. Being a kid growing up in this, you pretty much accepted the answer, and never questioned it.

Well, as I got to my late teens, my attitude and thinking towards this subject was that all music either traditional, CCM, or even secular music was fine as long as the message of the music was decent. After graduating high school, I started walking my own path and not God's and I stopped attending the Baptist church; and frankly, stopped attending church all together. From 18 to my late 20s, I was big into secular music. When I was 29, I started attending the Vineyard church and it was there when I gave my life, completely, back to Christ. Soon after that decision, my interest for secular music faded and my interest for to CCM grew, it soon became everything I was playing, singing, writing, and listening too and is still that way today. Moreover, if this is so wrong according to how I was taught than why does it feel so right in my life.

Now, getting back to my question, "What does The Bible truly say about music and instruments?" Well, seeing that the internet is a great way to find information, I searched for articles and references about music in The Bible, and to my surprise, tons of articles came up about the matter. There were, actually, more articles contending that CCM is in no way Biblical. Most of the "anti" CCM articles were doing there best to rip to shreds the music and its artists, by what they called "clear cut scripture against it." The majority of these articles, in my opinion, were very argumentative and attacking by using words like: satanic, demonic, worldly or evil, and then at times would even relate it to some kind of paganism. Most of the verses that were used to derail CCM had nothing to do with music; they were, mainly, verses like Roman 12:2. Even the verses they used that had something to with music were the verses referring to "singing praises to God" or verses that referred to having a "new song," which are all great verses that deal with spiritual matters of the heart, but never, specifically, point to a style of music or instruments preferred by God. I am not going to get into the details about every example about why critics of CCM feel its wrong, but from what I see, most of the articles are very opinion based, more about assuming intentions on the music or artists, and they tend to only go with Bible verses that could backup their opinion, but they seem to leave out other verses that contradict their opinion.

Mainly, the critic’s over all theme tends to be that any music that has a beat or rhythm is wrong. They contend that according to The Bible, music should never appeal to the "flesh" and when that happens music brings out a physical responses, which is no longer a heart expression to God; therfore, that physical expression is wrong. These critics must forget or overlook the fact that all music either with or without instruments has rhythm--sound in time ; plus, The Bible explicitly has verses that correlate instruments with dancing as praising the Lord, example, Exodus 15:20-21 and there are several others in Psalms and the New Testament, note: these are the verses they usually leave out in their argument. Concerning the drums, the critics often state that drums are not even mentioned in The Bible because back in The Bible times the drums were often related to pagan rituals; therefore, because of that reason the drums must be wrong. Well, I guess the critics would also have to agree that because the name of God is never mentioned in book of Esther, we must conclude that God was not around during that time: right. Of course, we all know that is not the case--do you see my point? God is not the author of confusion, man is and when we fall into only using some of The Bible to make our point sound valid it can cause contradictory, confusion, and mis-leading statements.

To conclude, when you clear all the smoke that the CCM critics have on this issue, it all comes down to a pure and simply dislike for the style of the music, let me repeat, the style of the music. The Bible does not, specifically, dabble into the style of music that is proper for Christians or the proper music to praise God, and to say so--is an error. Music and/or instruments in themselves are in no way wrong according to what I read in The Bible, it only becomes wrong and not pleasing to God when we choose to glorify ourselves with it, rather than God, and God knows our heart when we come to Him in praise and worship. God, also, tells us as Christians not to judge each other and for the critics to say that CCM and its artists are in any way wrongfully enticing, misleading, and leading others down the wrong path away from God is assuming intentions of the heart. Clearly, spiritual matters of the heart and judgment, for that matter, is God's department: not ours. This verse has always helped to give me a clear understanding to what is right or wrong according to God concerning not only music, but everything I do in my Christian life, and I believe, in general, it can help us all as believers.

Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or
praiseworthy—think about such things."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"I Will Never Leave You..."

The feeling of being alone is a tough one, especially, when you are looking for comfort and finding no answers. One day, about two months ago, I was browsing at blogs and I came across a blog post called, "Concerns of the Heart." The beginning of the blog post was about a concern that the writer was having with the condition of her heart, and not knowing if her heart was right with God because a sense of feeling alone, spiritually, crept in. She then started to wonder if she was doing something wrong to make God feel so distant.

While dealing through her dilemma, she thought of a fellow friend who was going through the same problem--then a verse of scripture came to mind.

Psalms 22:24, "He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; He has not hidden His face from him, but has listened to his cry for help." [NIV]

She goes on further to say that this verse is a reminder to us all, in general, to keep steadfast in our trust in the Lord and that no matter what, He hears us.

The second half of her blog goes into a spiritual conflict of trying to understand the line between believing in the Lord in mind, and believing in heart: "What's the difference?" She goes on to quote the verse:

Romans 10:10, "For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." [NIV]

This was really something, personally, I have never thought about, but once I sat down and thought about it; it hit me: One, "it is with your heart that you believe…," separate from the mind, inward expression of faith in our heart. Two, "with your mouth that you confess…," outward expression of our heart's decision. This is a great verse to believers that shows our heart and our mind and the true relationship between them, not only do we receive the Spirit of Christ in our heart by our faith, but we also need to be express it outwardly. She follows up and concludes her blog post with this verse:

Philippians 4:7, "And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus." [NIV]

Philippians 4:7, to me is an excellent follow up verse to Romans 10:10. These two verses should give us confidence as believers that with our inward and outward expression of faith, God will, not could, can, or might, but will gives us peace that He will always be there guarding and protecting us.

My heart soon after reading this post was convicted. It was as if I was meant to read it because at that time I going through the same dilemma; namely, the feeling alone and finding no answers. Reading this post reminded me that no matter what, God is always there listening to my every cry for forgiveness, strength, knowledge, and understanding for His will in my life. However, at the time, I could not hear or feel His presence. I was constantly asking myself what was I doing wrong, but I never come to any justifiable answer, but there had to be something.

This post was perfect for what I needed at the time, a reminder of my never-ending relationship with my Savior, Jesus Christ--"I will never leave you nor forsake you." Hebrews 13:5. This verse has always been a special verse to me and after reading this post, this verse had found new clarity, in general, this verse along with Roman 10:10 and Philippians 4:7 are just a few great verses to all believers to help guide us to understand, once again, that no matter what God is always there listening. He will never turn His back on us: it is we, as believers, who do not completely open ourselves to Him. Sometimes I can get so concerned and caught up in the trials of life and then turn around sit back dumb-founded and say, "Why God, why does it feel You are not there?" And the simple fact is He has never left, I am just blocking Him out with my life's little distractions. When I feel like God is not there, it scares me, but I need to never forget that it is not God who is distant, it is me who is distant from God; and this was my prayer to Him at that time and is still at times today:

"Dear God, You are always there even in my weakness, there are times I can loose sight of Your presence because I am so distant, but because of Your never failing love, grace and forgiveness, I can come to you with an open heart, and in-turn You will open my eyes to Your direction and presence. I thank You for Your love, Your grace, and the salvation You gave me: Amen."

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Humble Witnesses

I Thessalonians 4:11-12

V. 11, "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you,
V. 12, "So that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."

Lately, I have been going through a personal study of the New Testament. As I was reading through I Thessalonians, I came across these two verses, which immediately stood out and spoke to me. Though this letter was written 2000 yrs ago, the principles of it were not only important for Christians back then, they are still even as important today; moreover, I think giving the background of this letter helps us to see the concern that was needed at this time in The Bible. This was a letter that Paul the apostle wrote to the Thessalonian church. The Thessalonian church was experiencing a lot of stresses and anxiety at this time. One in particular was that the people of the Thessalonian church were so excited and motivated for Jesus Christ, that excitement drove them to quit their jobs because they thought the second coming of the Jesus Christ was on the horizon and they wanted to be ready with no distractions. Paul, in his earlier missionary work of spreading the Gospel of Christ established this church, but when he heard that they quit their jobs and were not following other principles he gave them, he grew concerned, so he sent this letter to further institute the principles he originally taught them.

Though the whole letter expresses great instructions and principles to all Christians then and even now, these two verses stood out the most to me. When Paul said, " to make it our ambition to lead a quiet life," I do not believe he was saying to live in silence or not to speak at all. I believe he was instructing them, which can surely be applied to us now, to lead a humble and calm life as Christians; in other words, do not be a loud mouth and an arrogant person. The second instruction, "mind your own business," is probably self explanatory, we need to be, only, concerned about matters of our own life and not be concerned or butt into others lives though as Christians I think if we see a concern in someone elses life where we could help: HELP, but remembering to show kindness and respect. Even though the third instruction, "work with your hands," was directed mainly towards the people of this church, Paul makes it clear to them that he never told them to stop working, he reiterates that they should strive to always work hard; in addition, this principle is so true for Christians today. Even in the book of Proverbs, it instructs us to work hard.

At the closing of verse 11, Paul continues with verse 12 by bringing the application of living by these principles, at which if we as Christians strive to apply these principles in our lives daily, it will only help us to gain the respect of unbelievers. These verses taught me that the only way we will properly reach out to those who do not believe in Christ, is to maintain a proper testimony by showing kindness, compassion, humbleness, hard work, and respect to others everyday, which in turn, will help us as Christians to have a stronger chance to witness to those who do not know or understand that they can, as well, reap the freedom of eternal life through Jesus Christ.