Christian Music News
Troubled? You’ve been listening to the news again haven’t you? I know, if we only have what we hear and what we see to comfort us, well, there would be no comfort at all. But the life that Christ has given us to live doesn’t just take hearing and seeing for its definition of how we can continue in our Faith.
I love little short verses in scripture. Sometimes they outweigh the lengthier, wordy verses. ‘Jesus wept’ says so much about Him at that one moment in time in his ministry. My favorite short verse is one stated by Jesus after the resurrection. One of His first concerns after His death and having been raised from the dead is conveyed with the simple words ‘go tell Peter’. A friend that had denied Him three times, someone that had made just about as many verbal mistakes as you can make while traveling with Jesus. But, Christ was compassionate about Peter’s heart after those miscues and found it necessary to make sure the messenger reassured Peter and comforted Him in what must have been the worst time for Peter’s friendship.
I remember another small phrase that has caught my attention over the years. It’s found in Galatians 2:13 and only two words really that catch my attention. Paul had a good friend named Barnabas, a friend that Paul called a ‘good man’ (Acts 11, full of the Holy Spirit and faith). Barnabas, who earlier, upon meeting Paul for the first time, sold all his land and laid the money at Paul’s feet. Barnabas, whose name was really Joseph, but called by all the apostles Barnabas, means Son of Encouragement. (Acts 4) He had been a companion with Paul on many mission trips and shared in most of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. But in the verse found in this scripture, Paul, with what surely must have been great regret, tells us that ‘even Barnabas’, his close partner and ministry companion, had been carried away by other Christian leaders to stand in opposition to Paul. ‘Even Barnabas’ has a tone of broken-heartedness to it, a surprise, grief and a disappointment to it. His friend, someone he trusted, ‘even’ he had left and suddenly Paul stood alone! It was not his first rejection, Peter and James had opposed him earlier, but Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, must have shocked him. There was no argument or anger between the two men. Paul simply called it dissimulation. Literally, Barnabas was ‘faking it’! He knew the Grace of God, had been a part of Paul’s Grace ministry, but could not overcome the temptation to please those teaching a combination of Law and Grace. Old school plus new school. It was ‘play-acting’ that spoiled the relationship between Paul and Barnabas. Peer pressure had cause Barnabas to act differently than he really believed. It was hypocrisy to oppose Paul, someone he had ministered with for years. He sided with the Jewish Christians that confronted the apostle.
Barnabas didn’t like being unpopular or out of step with the other brethren. Being popular was more important than being right, being true, or being a friend to a friend. It was system verses truth. The opposition to Paul from the other apostles was not going to go away easily, it was not going to die easily. But, Paul had made the cleanest break of all the followers of Jesus. He had been the chief persecutor of the new Church, the leader of the opposition to Jesus and the protector of all that the Law proclaimed. He directly presided over the stoning of Stephen. For Paul, the life of living for Christ had become an all or nothing question. He was the most radical of the bunch, moved away from the old religious system into the new glorious way of Christ and all that it meant and stood for. For Paul it had become Christ and Him crucified. Knowing Christ is the ultimate goal and not following traditions. It was about Christ alone- not about mixing or adapting the old and the new but throwing out the old traditions and system and replacing them with something else. He had learned what Nicodemus learned earlier from Jesus, you cannot massage the old way with the new way; you had to be a new creature, something different than before. With the introduction of Christ in this world, old wineskins containing new wine are not the way this Gospel works. This Gospel cannot be placed in the wrappings of the system that had been in place. ‘Mix and match’ is out!
While it is interesting that such a ‘good man’, someone closely connected with spreading the Gospel for so many years and so many places, could all of a sudden ‘play it safe’. But even more interesting to me is that Paul suddenly stood alone! This is the person that was specifically called out by and taught by the Spirit for 15 years. And now, Paul would have to go it alone. The loneliness of that moment must have been crushing to Paul. Others would come later and support Paul’s work, but this event must have had a severely discouraging effect. But, as is characteristic with his ministry, Paul continued on through trouble, never discouraged to the point of quitting. Paul was a believer who was willing to do the Gospel at all cost and without fear.
So about that bad news thing! So much of what we face today, the speculation of an assault on our Faith with more intensity and frequency than ever before, we are left with that same kind of choice Paul faced. Will we cave to the pressure of tradition or political correctness to retain our peace, or will we only find our peace by steadfastly, personally maintaining a confidence (not a loud or rude one), a confidence in God speaking to us on how to live daily, to be a guide to show us how to follow Him continuously, praying constantly, remaining close to God in a relationship that depends on God more and more, more than any time in our lifetime. Not going through the motions- but going, having sensed the Spirit of God’s nudge to follow Him.
With all the things that are going on, with the cultural, economic and spiritual challenges, we still can remember that God asks nothing more than a heart after Him. This is the foundation of how we must proceed in the future. God has promised to go with us, never leave us. Paul, unlike Elijah, knew that being alone did not mean being alone. The fact is that according to scripture, the Body is one and has many members. Not necessarily all a member of one group, but one body made up of who knows how many seeking the heart of God. Daily, a body made up of people you may not know that have gathered together in the unity of purpose and oneness that seek God no matter how terrible what we hear and what we see sounds and appears. No, no, Elijah, being alone in this is not an option!
Had a good conversation with a friend the other day. It was supposed to be a conversation that was good for her, but after it was all over I felt like I had benefited more than maybe she had. Some of it was about vision. So much of the time, that’s an overused word by our types. I mean it can be applied to anything that comes into our minds. It reminded me that our vision for God is so powerful in how we interpret what we hear, see and read. I’ve been reading a lot lately- you know with a banged up ankle, snow and ice and cold weather, man, you’ll do anything to entertain yourself. We all get excited about the books we read. You just can’t wait to share them with family and friends. Then you discover they thought those books were just OK, or maybe even a little boring. That’s vision. I find what I’m looking for in those books because I come with a bias. I get excited because the story is filling in the spots in my own story about God. Books match our dreams we have had since we were children. Those dreams are tied up in our Faith, and having held on to them helps us hold on to our Faith. I think we like what we read, not because it is teaching us something new; I think it touches those things we’ve known all along. God has placed within us a candle of hope and a desire for His Peace that only seems to be matched when we hear, see or read about God in a certain way, finding in someone else’s picture of God a picture that looks a lot like your picture of Him.
If you read the papers, the internet, watch television or just talk to folks, you know we are in a pinch in this country. It always bothers me to be excited about Faith in the middle of terrible things. I sometimes feel ashamed of having such a positive hope in the middle of trouble. Then, I remember that’s exactly what this Gospel should produce: hope in the middle of trouble. I mean, in this life, Hope is our destination, right? A Hope in Him.
I’m about to be positive in a very uncomfortable, unstable and unpredictable economic and cultural time. And, telling people about what excites me about Life in the middle of all this is how it must feel to describe the color green to someone who has been blind from birth. Where do you start, where’s the words, what’s the reference point in such a conversation? Try it. What are the first words to use and explain green to someone that has never seen color at all? How do you describe the tears that flow involuntarily during a conversation with someone? How do you explain crying out during the conversation, “God is Good”, good even in times like these?
But that’s what happened in that conversation with my friend; tears of Joy and moments of not being able to speak because so much of our personal Faith is hard to explain with words. The personal moments of relationship are so much more powerful than all the books, cassettes, and teachings that we’ve collected over the years. You see, knowing Him is so much more wonderful than knowing about Him. I’ve discovered that what I’ve experienced with Him is more powerful to steady me than all that I’ve heard and read about Him. It’s not so much getting to an understanding as is it getting to the Peace that passes our understanding. We go around trying to ‘get our degree’ in understanding Him, but what we really need more of is a personal experience and relationship with Him.
Our interpretation of who He is, this vision of Him, is far more important to our hearts than all the knowledge we’ve accumulated about Him. I don’t draw on what I understand about God when I’m in trouble, I draw on who I believe He is. Knowing God is about intimacy. It’s about being close and comfortable with Him, not just having information about Him. Trusting the person of God is superior to researching all the facts about God. Our search is, if stripped to the bare bones, a search to recover some of the original relationship we had in the Garden; to recover what we had before we declared our independence from Him. Once we find a portion of that relationship, even a tiny portion of it, that friendliness of God and the acceptance of God, we discover the Joy that the relationship brings. That Joy is present no matter what the economic condition is, no matter the political climate. People that find relationship have a Joy no matter if they are rich or if they are poor, no matter what we drive or wear, in spite of what the newscast says. That confidence comes from trust. It’s not a confidence that comes from having understood Him all the time. It’s housed in our hearts and not in our heads. We keep a library of books in our heads; we store the intangible Love of God in our hearts.
There are many things I have accumulated over the years, things I’ve worked hard for, things I find pleasure in. But, the Peace and Joy that comes from trusting Him is a far greater pleasure. It’s independent from what we feel like or what happens to us. Assuming His Love permits us to draw close, just as we did as children when we climbed up in our parents lap. We can rest there and if we are still for a while we can hear the heart of God.
So, what are we to do in the middle of all this mess? I don’t know. Each day brings the opportunity to ‘cozy up to God’. I’m not so sure that knowing the future is as important as knowing the present. Love casts out fear. Love does not fail. The Gospel for me is not a vegetable soup that’s made up of what we think, what our friends think, what traditions we’ve followed, or what the world has brought for us to deal with today. The Gospel is one thing: one Faith, one God, and one Lord. He’s all we need. Even if we had everything that we think would settle us down during times like these, would it do us the good that we imagine? From what I’ve seen over the years, it would not. We would find something else to worry about, something else because without Him being close, we fear! We spend our lives trying to figure out God. We do that and at the very time we’re trying to figure out how to have a deeper understanding, you know with more reading, more praying, more something, I think He stands behind us, wishing we would just turn around and realize His presence.
Instead of being shocked and afraid, we can just know we are in His hands. It’s not to be transformed to the point of living a perfect life. (The Bible in not an ethical book, it’s a love letter.) It’s being transformed to the point of believing and trusting in Him. The goal is not to have become perfect people but to become dependent again, just as Adam and Eve were dependent before the fall; they depended on God for everything. Their choice to try and live their lives from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil separated them and left them to determine what to do, how to do it, and use knowledge as a basis for their daily lives. That was their mistake then, and for many of us it’s a mistake now. The Bible compares knowing God to how Adam knew Eve. It was not that he could read her mind, it was intimacy. We’re to know God that way. We can’t do that because we are super spiritual. We can do that because Jesus has taken down the wall of separation for us. We can trust and depend on God because he paid a price which makes us free to do that. I enter the future peaceful, not because I know what to do in the future, but I know the present. I know God. I know how much He Loves, I know how much I can trust. It’s not because I see what’s going to happen, it’s that I know I’m a companion of God in the present and in the future that calms me down.
Twenty years ago I had both the terror and the pleasure of learning: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God.’ Starting this radio station, I had the experience of having to live that verse out and become comfortable with the feelings of insecurity that it would bring. Living through that time created the great pleasure of having learned to trust God in a way that I had never had to trust before. In these economic times, living scripture makes life easier, much easier, than just memorizing or saying it! Truth has promised to make us free! Free to trust and free to believe no matter what we see, hear and read!