Triumph and Hope in Challenging Places

A few weeks back, I settled in for my evening reading. My main passage for the night was Romans 8 and, as I read its words, I wept because I didn’t know what to do with them:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25)

 

I never got to anything else that night. I just sat and stewed, praying, weeping, trying to figure out how hope can be placed in a passage laden with such turmoil.

I’ve struggled with the concept of hope in recent years. Personally, I’ve held out hope for a lot of things yet unseen. The earth is definitely groaning. Our bodies, too. It’s hard to have patience when the experiences we walk through are difficult. Hope is a tricky word in our language because it can connote so many different types of waiting. 

But the hard passages and books, like Romans 8 and James and 1 John, are necessary – they require us to examine ourselves and be assured of our salvation before God (1 John 3:19). They help us remember to have hope in eternal things purchased for us by Christ crucified and risen, and not in the things of this world (which always decay, according to my knowledge of basic physics).

About a month ago, I started through the book of James with Beth Moore’s study. It’s a tough book on my heart (having been raised by believing parents and having wrestled periodically with the whole faith-versus-works thing in James 2), but buried in this challenging text is the very reason we study it:

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder! (James 2:19)

 

This very thing should rattle us. It should create in us a desire to examine ourselves honestly:

Realizing that we share a certain amount of our belief system with demons from hell is humbling and frightening. Make no mistake. They are monotheists. They have seen the glory of the Lord God Himself. They know there is no one like Jehovah. They also know that Jesus is His Son. (Beth Moore, “Mercy Triumphs,” p. 102)

 

We need to do more than just claim God is who He is says He is. The demons claim that. We need to walk in light of those truths. We need the Spirit to intercede for us, searching our hearts (Romans 8:26-27) and to recognize the Word of God as life-giving, even when we grapple to fit its pieces together.

At the end of a summer like this last one, where heat, drought and fire destroy, cancers threaten loved ones, and lives are lost in the middle of the night at the hands of fallen men, where do we place our hope? Do we really find rest in the beautiful truth that Jesus Christ was made “to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21)? Do we really believe that each one of us was once under His wrath (Psalm 90:9)?

I have brawled intensely with God this summer, as I’m certain have many of you. In the midst of my lack of understanding, however, He has graciously reminded me of His triumphant mercy over my own days. I may not know all the reasons why, but returning my sight to the Gospel – the truths of fallen man and merciful God – grants me all the perspective I need to find hope for things unseen.

A Quick Word on the New Bulletin

Last Sunday, we debuted a new bulletin design. So far, the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.

But we have received multiple inquiries regarding the status of two of our pastors. On the previous bulletin, Summitview’s pastors – Mitch Majeski, Aaron Ritter, John Meyer, Pat Sokoll and Chris Sheets – were showcased on the back cover. In the new bulletin iteration, only Mitch, Aaron and John are listed as our pastors. Naturally, some members of our congregation wondered if Pat and Chris were no longer pastors.

Great observation, great question. And the answer is, yes: both Pat and Chris are still pastor-elders at Summitview. Pat did not kidnap Chris to help him start a bicycle shop in rural Chile.

It’s been a season of change for the Loveland church, so Pat and Chris have dedicated most of their energies toward shepherding our sister flock. And because that trend will continue through the foreseeable future, we felt it was more accurate to list only Mitch, Aaron and John in our Sunday bulletin.

God is doing exciting things in Loveland, and Pat will give us an update on what’s been taking place there at our Sunday morning service on September 30.

As a closing aside and general point of encouragement, be sure to keep Summitview’s pastors in your prayers. These five men work hard to seek the Lord’s direction for our local body, and it means the world to them when their fellow brothers and sisters lift them up to the throne room of grace.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading, and keep your stick on the ice.

Impossible is Nothing when We Let God Do the Work

 

Reading through the Gospels before the semester started, God gave me Jesus' words to chew on: "Apart from Me, you can do nothing."

Really? Nothing? In a very literal sense, yes. If God doesn't allow me to take another breath, guess what? I ain't taking it. Unless He graciously continues giving me words to type and a mind to put together coherent sentences, this blog will not be written.
 
And yet, at the same time, it seems like He has given me a lot of freedom to take those gifts He has given and use them in a variety of different ways. Will I strive on "my own strength" to accomplish great things in hopes that people will look to me and think I'm awesome?
 
Here's another option: Will I trust God's leading into what are impossible situations on my own strength, depending on Him alone to come through? When I do this, I can't possibly take credit for the results. Jesus' disciples run up to Him all excited: "Even demons submit to us in Your Name." We don't see them slowly strutting up to Jesus with smug looks on their faces: “Yeah, just like we planned.”

No. The disciples were amazed! This was something supernatural that they were a part of. They spoke the name of Jesus, and the most terrifyingly evil creatures ever bowed down in submission. This was nothing Jesus' followers mustered on their own strength or wisdom. This was God using people to do something extraordinary for His glory.
 
"Apart from Me, you can do NOTHING!" It's amazing how quickly I forget this and try by my own efforts to do something of eternal value for the Kingdom. It's not going to happen. I can't save anybody; the Father has to be drawing hearts. I can't give just the right argument that is going to turn someone to Christ; the Holy Spirit has to be convicting of sin. I can't make anyone want to follow Jesus or love Him with all they have; God has to do a miracle and raise the dead and remove hearts of stone and replace with hearts of flesh. 
 
Walking with Tom Short over to campus yesterday for his first day of open air preaching, I asked him if he still got nervous before he talked. He replied, “Not nervous, but not over-confident either.” He prays each time before going out that God will show up, realizing that if He doesn't, nothing of any eternal value is going to be accomplished. Tom has been doing this for more than 30 years. I know if I were him, I would be very tempted to think, "I've heard every question, I've studied up on every response, I got this." It was so good for me to see, still, after all these years, a humble and total dependence on God's power to move. 
 
I was able to observe the plaza at CSU the rest of the day as God indeed did show up. It was so encouraging looking around the circle, seeing so many Rockers engaged in spiritual conversations with those listening. God answered prayers. There were soft hearts ready to listen and engage in spiritual conversations. The good news of Jesus Christ went out boldly and clearly. God opened doors for it to be received and provided for a lot of follow-up conversations. 
 
There's more to be done, more hearts to be drawn, more dead to be raised, more lives to be bowed down to the only One worth bowing to, and here we are, completely helpless on our own to make any of it happen. And yet we are not on our own. God makes the impossible possible: He raises the dead and moves hearts. He has invited us to be with Him as He does all this. Will we join Him in His work?
 
We can do nothing apart from Him, but there is nothing impossible with Him. 

The Arrow and the Target: Understanding Music's Place in Worship

 

God gave us an incredible gift in music. As Martin Luther said, "Music is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God."  

I've always been a music fanatic. I remember even as a small child playing the same song over and over and over again, singing at the top of my lungs. I'm a heart guy; I've always been moved to strongly express myself with music. I just do it by default. And since I've been saved, this desire is tied to the recognition of the sinfulness of my flesh, the pressure and pain of the world around me, and ultimately the hope rooted in knowing that none of these things have the power to snatch me out of God's hand, that Jesus Christ has secured my future and overcome the world in what he did on the cross.

Though I seem to understand it in an emotional sense, over the years I've had to do some serious thinking about why music is used in our church services, particularly since I'm one of the people responsible for this aspect of the Sunday service in our local body. I think we often worship music. Sometimes we even worship our worship services. I get the "I really loved your worship today" comment often. My typical response is, "Did you worship, too?" Or, sometimes, I get the reverse: "I just couldn't worship because the guitar was out of tune." I want to ask if they also can’t love their wife when they’re out on a date simply because the restaurant has bad service.  

Worship is not music. The term "worship" is simply the basic acknowledgment that something or someone is greater and worth more than anything else. Whatever I value most, long for most, desire to talk about and express the most, that is what I worship. 

So, if music isn't worship, why do we use music in our Sunday service? Whenever we attempt to put structure in our lives, the Bible is the authoritative place to begin. The Bible is full of declarations of godly people singing to God. Psalm 9:11, 30:4, 66:2-4, 95:1-2, 100:2, 105:2, 135:3, for example, specifically command us to sing. These commands should be reason enough for the Christian to sing, but I think we can examine it further.

Romans 8:22-23 says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Further on in Romans 8:26, Paul writes, “. . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

Neither of these passages is specifically referring to music, but they do speak to a type of communication that goes beyond words, a very personal method of receiving and giving thoughts and feelings. Music affects us emotionally and physically. It creates a mood and softens our hearts. It aids our memory and focuses our attention (or distracts, depending on the music/context). If you don't agree with me, imagine watching your favorite movie without the soundtrack playing.

Through music we express things that we cannot express in words. A minor chord progression resonates with the tension in our souls. A key change or octave jump stirs our hearts. We suddenly have an understanding of a concept that goes much deeper than if we had simply read the lyrics of the song. In music, God has given us a way to create fertile ground in the soul, and then apply His truth to that fertility. In this action, He is seen for who he is – lifted up, set apart – and we are moved to repentance, to rejoicing and to drawing closer to Him.

The Bible, our source of all truth, references moments when people worshipping could be heard up to 10 miles away from the temple, and other times people were in silence, flat on their faces. It refers to body language used in worship: clapping, singing, bowing, kneeling, lifting hands, shouting, dancing, standing in awe. 

The bottom line: God didn't make us to be disembodied spirits, nor are we just chemicals and biology. We can't separate ourselves from emotions when we get excited or sad. Nor can we distill worship of God down to intellectual discussion of truths. God's command is to love him with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. When we engage our whole selves in declaring God is greater and worth more than anything (worshipping!), bodies and emotions included, He is pleased.

I think that's permission enough to let loose and sing out. But don't lose yourself in the electric guitar. Lose yourself in Jesus. Don't crave 35 minutes of emotional engagement. Crave emotional engagement with Jesus. Overtones and harmonics are incredible, but Jesus is more incredible because he created them. Music should be an arrow, pointing you toward the target of God.

So, on Sunday morning as I sing and play my guitar, the music should simply facilitate your already worshipping hearts to join in gathering around Jesus, the Glorious One. Together we can lose ourselves in that great human emotion which cannot co-exist with pride and selfishness.

Adoration.

So Which Are Ya Then? Unity and Humility in the Cross

 

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:14–18)

 

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)

 

Divisions aren’t hard to come by. A careful eye will find them and, to some degree, we all have careful eyes. For better or (mostly) worse, we find comfort in distinctions. The standard greeting in Northern Ireland is simply “So which are ya then?” To which, one is expected to reply with “Protestant” or “Catholic.”

So which are ya then? Home schooler or public schooler? Boomer or Buster? Buster or Millennial? Redneck or hipster? Organic or conventional? Reformed or Arminian? SUV owner or Prius owner? Moral values champion or seeker of social justice?

Here’s a question: is Jesus for divisions or against them? Did he come to build distinctions or destroy them? Your answer defines your life as a disciple. 

In Ephesians 2, Paul explains that the old division between the circumcised Jew and uncircumcised Gentile has been destroyed and, yet, Jesus is clear that he came not to bring peace but a dividing sword. 

Now, we need some clarity here because, again, we are starting at the headwaters of our way of living. Jesus came to create divisions and destroy them. We lose when we confuse the ones he created with the ones he destroyed. 

Let’s suppose a prominent communicator tells a room full of Christians rallied to a cause that there are two problems in the world. The first problem is that our secular culture has embraced a particular sin, and the second is that our churches have cowardly backed away from preaching against this sin. He has created divisions between the audience and the sin-embracing culture, and between the audience and the cowardly church. If Jesus created some divisions it doesn’t follow that these divisions are necessarily wrong simply because they are divisions. But are these particular divisions wrong? To answer that, let’s examine what this message might do to the audience. 

The audience now has a reason to separate from the secularists “out there” and from the cowardly church. They came to hear this message with some sort of burden to address a particular evil and they left with one less check and a new bony finger to wag. Succinctly, they left with a reason to feel superior. The Bible calls that one pride. 

Now, Jesus found himself in front of a variety of crowds that were clear on the problem “out there.”  The curious thing about Jesus is that he rarely dealt with what was “out there.” He started by poking at the gathered crowd’s sternum. It was a practice that eventually got him killed. 

Let’s suppose our prominent communicator addressed the crowd with a different message. Let’s say he pointed out that the problem in the world is that we are ALL inclined to reject God and trust in idols of our own making. For instance, the audience may find some sense of “rightness” in the fact that they are rallied to an important cause and they might feel better because they came out and wrote a check. If so, their attendance had become a non-God source of righteousness. By connecting that tendency to the inclination that those “out there” have toward evil, he could call “everyone everywhere to repent” (like Jesus in Luke 12:2-3, and Peter in Acts 2:38). It is a way to crush pride without removing zeal for righteousness – to retain the brokenhearted-ness over sin while removing the superiority complex. This is how the cross of Jesus destroys dividing walls of hostility.

The cross testifies that we all, universally, are idolaters and that that inward idolatry is a shockingly serious issue to God – regardless of the outward manifestation of that idolatry.

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me . . .’” (Mark 7:6)

 

The cross, then, unites those who simply acknowledge that they are sinners regardless of flavor – adulterers of the worst kind, cheaters on God who can only be made right by God. It unites them while keeping them humble and zealous for God and good (Titus 2:11-14). The cross creates brokenhearted ambassadors for Christ who seek reconciliation of all kinds of sinners to the God who has absorbed his own wrath against their sin. Every other rallying point, while attempting to unite, creates pride and division.

Jesus does bring one division, then, and it is simply between those who would trust in his grace and those who would mock it. So...which are ya then?

May our ministry to each other and the world foster the unity and humility that only comes by rallying around the cross of Christ.

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