Who Is My Neighbor?

A friend of mine who is an evangelistic atheist posted a video of Christians spewing hate (or “sharing the Gospel” as they would say) about homosexuality. Some folk showed up to protest Pastor Charles Worley, he of the electric fence concentration camp solution to the presence of homosexuals in our society. A batch of vocal protestors showed up to protest the protest. Then another organization showed up to protest the protest of the protest.

Maybe it’s best if you just watch the video.

Then again, maybe not.

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My friend said this is the kind of thing that supporting Christian thought will encourage. This, he claimed, is what Christianity is about. I argued with my friend that the folks captured on video spitting venom are poor examples of Christianity, based on Christ’s statement that there are two greatest commandments on which everything else depends:

Love God fully.
Love others like you love yourself.

We went back and forth about what counts as “basic tenets” of religion. My point was Christ gets to declare what should be emphasized in the faith that bears His name.

That’s the backstory. Then my friend posted this linkabout military chaplains.

What is the purpose of a chaplain? How, in this arm of government called the military, do we justify mingling church and state? We allow it because, while chaplains are endorsed by a specific religious organization, they are trained to serve all members of the military regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof. They’re there to serve all.

They have one job. Meet the spiritual needs of members of the armed forces.

The Southern Baptist Convention issued guidelines stating their chaplains cannot serve openly gay members except for telling them to repent. They cannot work with openly gay chaplains or those who approve of homosexuality – and I imagine that means anyone who doesn’t condemn homosexuality enough. They cannot counsel same-sex married couples.

What does this achieve? Okay, the SBC is opposed to homosexuality and strongly affirms what the Bible says about it. Did everyone not get the memo? I’m pretty sure there was no doubt.

But why this one thing? If you’re going to instruct your chaplains to abdicate their responsibilities towards all servicemembers, why choose this?
Are SBC chaplains not permitted to work with other faiths? If a Buddhist approaches a chaplain, needing to talk, does the SBC chaplain say, “Well, can’t help you with your difficulties. All I can say is repent.” Do they not provide marital counseling to atheist couples? What about couples with marital infidelity going on? If they believe what the Bible says, do they get to choose which form of sexual immorality is the really bad one, and which we can overlook?

Is there a pride test chaplains can give all customers before providing services? Because God is pretty adamant about pride being a sin, one that Scripture says God directly opposes instead of merely condemns.

The comments on the video my friend posted also point out that some of those vocal protesters are on the chunky side. “Gluttony is a sin too,” they say. “Why don’t you protest that?”

People see this behavior from Christians, both individuals and organizations. And they walk away further convinced that Christians are judgmental hypocrites.

“Love God. Love others.” When Jesus said that, no one caught Him in hypocrisy. His actions measured up to His words, and vice versa. Those of us who bear His name should reconsider what He set as our priorities.

SBC, take note. Jesus already issued guidance. He said, “You have one job: Love.”

Dance Central

So X was about worship leaders, Y was about ‘you,’ as in all of us in the congregation as individuals, and now Z will be about God.

Ok, Z and God don’t really combine well.

But Z goes well with the prophet Zephaniah, who gives us a powerful image of God.

The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17 NKJV)

Maybe it sounds sacrilegious, but God goes nuts about you and me. The word for “rejoice” there is also translated “exult,” and it has as part of its meaning the act of dancing with joy. It means to spin around, caught up in powerful emotion.

God celebrates us. He dances over us. He rejoices, He gets wild with gladness. He belts out songs of victory.

Chris Tomlin has a new song called “God’s Great Dance Floor” that I was sure I hated at first. “What is this?” I asked. “Is the church a club now?” And then I listened to the words, and I thought about Zephaniah and the promise that God dances over His people with a love that never stops loving us, no matter how far we run, that never gives up on us and looks always to the future, not the past.

Can we see that? Do we sense The Lord our God in our midst? Do we feel the power and presence of The Mighty One? Can we glimpse God-of-the-Universe doing a jig at the thought of us?

For me, I have to admit, I rarely can picture this. I have a hard time taking hold of this love and internalizing it. I don’t always feel “dance-worthy.” I’m the ashamed wallflower at the prom, the ugly and unpopular one, on the outside of the party.

But God rushes over to those of us on the outskirts and tugs at our arms, smiling wide, eyes bright. He dances when we would not, when we can see nothing worth celebrating. We dance, because He does. We love, because He loved us first. We rejoice, because He rejoices over us and gives us reasons for joy.

Picture David in the Old Testament, dancing and celebrating the return of the Ark to the people of Israel. Everyone holds David in high regard, as a mighty man of war. “Saul has slain his thousands,” they sing, “and David his ten thousands.” This strong warrior is still able to cut loose and express joy in front of the people, even at the expense of his reputation. “I will become even more undignified than this,” he says when challenged. His God is worth celebrating.

God never calls us to do what He would not. He always gives us an example to follow, at His own expense. And so we see God Himself in this word picture, The Lord of Hosts, the Mighty Warrior – and He is willing to become undignified by dancing and rejoicing over what the world says is nothing of worth. He is willing to set aside glory and leave His honor behind in order to reach out to the nobodies and the ne’er-do-wells.

Heads down, staring at the floor, we know what we’re worth… or rather what we’re not. But God extends a hand nonetheless, tapping His foot, brimming with energy and passion, ready to explode into motion, all to express one core foundational truth:

You are My special treasure, My prize, the one that I love.

That’s worthy of a few twirls, isn’t it?

My Keep

One of the best parts of raising kids is watching them learn to communicate. Children always have unique ways of saying things, and my daughter was no exception.

Sometimes, they try so hard but just can’t form the word. “Snake” becomes “NAKE-ssk.”

My two year old son loves Doctor Who and chants “DAH TOR HOO” over and over when the show comes on.

We saw a giant stuffed Domokun in the Toys ‘R’ Us on Okinawa, and Deborah declared it was “the LION.” I waved it at her and said, “Rawr.” She waved her hands and demanded, “AGH! I HATE THAT! GIVE ME THAT!” with impeccable two year old logic.

My wife’s favorite might have been when Deborah picked up a toy phone and declared, “Mommy, I haf to make a cone fall.”

But I think my favorite is what she would say when she gave me a hug. She would squeeze tight and declare, “You are my keep.” In other words, I am keeping you and not letting go. You belong to me.

Yesterday’s letter in the A to Z blog challenge was ‘K.’ So I am thinking of being someone’s keep.

This is one of the greatest facets of our relationship with the Father, and inspires my worship of God. He declares His everlasting love and promises to never let go. He wraps His arms around us and proudly proclaims, “You are My keep.”

A “keep” is a refuge, a place of defense.

In Psalm 31:2 (NKJV), David writes:

Bow down Your ear to me,
Deliver me speedily;
Be my rock of refuge,
A fortress of defense to save me.

Later he declares,

Trust in Him at all times, you people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us. (Psalm 62:8 NKJV)

But that’s more about us running to God for safety. I am even more moved when I think of how God reaches for us and promises to keep us. Consider Jude 24 (NKJV):

Now to Him who is able to keep youfrom stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy

Perhaps the clearest picture is that of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, and how He cares for His flock:

27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30 I and My Father are one.” (John 10:27-30 NKJV)

Can you imagine the God of the Universe speaking to you and expressing His love? Can you hear His promise of companionship and affection?

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…
because you are precious to me.
You are honored, and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:1-4 NLT)

In other words, “You are My keep.”

Three Words

Repetition is sometimes the bane of the worship musician. You probably know the stereotype, the service where the leader and the team are lost in space singing the same chorus over and over.

Let's sing that one more time... I mean four more times... and one more...

Let’s sing that one more time… I mean four more times… and one more…

“I could sing of Your love forever… I could sing of Your love forever…”

No, really, I guess we’re going to sing of Your love forever, because here we go again singing of Your love forever, and now I’m not sure I can sing of Your love forever, we keep singing this line forever…

There are moments of powerful worship where we sense the presence of God and get lost there. And then, maybe one line is enough to capture our attention and express our heart. Maybe a few words are enough. Maybe no words at all.

I was thinking about this as I considered what to choose for ‘G’ in this A to Z challenge. It’s perhaps the shortest worship song ever, centered on God’s goodness.

There’s a key phrase in the Bible for the worship of God. In 2nd Chronicles 6 and 7, King Solomon and the people of God have completed the work of building the Temple, and they hold a massive service to dedicate it to God. They’ve offered sacrifices, and then Solomon prays, inviting God’s presence. Fire comes down, consuming the offerings. The glory of the Lord fills the Temple; His presence falls with such heaviness that the priests can’t even minister or enter. Everyone falls face-down and begins to sing.

“You are good, and Your love endures forever.”

Tobe khehsed o-lawm in transliterated Hebrew.

Three words. That’s it. “Goodness, kindness, forever.” Over and over.

There’s a verse I’ve often heard used to condemn or criticize the repetition that sometimes occurs in praise and worship.

And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Matt 6:7 NKJV.

They point to the prophets of Baal, dancing around, repeating cries for their god to act, going so far as to cut themselves to beg his favor. “How are we any different,” they ask, “if we sing the same words over and over, as though our many words will get God to act?”

But we don’t see people in Scripture praising to make something happen. They praised because God is good and His love endures. And God moved in their midst.

Paul and Silas don’t sing to break the prison walls and loose their chains. They sing because God is good in spite of circumstances.

The psalmists didn’t sing in the midst of their trials and tribulations in order to work some kind of Christian magic. They sang because they trusted in God’s kindness which knows no end.

Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn after the Last Supper (Matt 26:30). The early church had psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col 3:16). There were often worshipers on the fields of battle leading God’s people – sometimes at His direction, sometimes simply because He is good and His love endures. King Jehoshaphat was promised protection from two enemies that worked together against his kingdom. In light of the promise, he appointed people to worship God, singing four words – “Praise God, kindness forever.” God caused the two armies to turn against each other, and His people did not have to lift a hand. They just lifted their voices.

Praise and worship is part of the spiritual life. But it isn’t about conjuring up emotions or supernatural experiences. It is not about formulas or manipulation. There are no magic words to repeat, no rituals that earn us the presence of God or His power on display.

Worship is about One thing – God. It is in response to one thing – His goodness toward us. It’s a relationship, not an equation.

In relationship, sometimes saying just three words can be enough.

Good Morning

Waking up this morning, getting ready for work and today’s challenges… And Chris Tomlin’s song God’s Great Dance Floor off the newest Passion album Let the Future Begin is filling my ears, my mind, and my heart.

You’ll never stop loving us
No matter how far we run
You’ll never give up on us,
All of Heaven shouts, “Let the future begin!”

I feel alive! I come alive!
I am alive on God’s great dance floor!

With God there is forgiveness and mercy, sins and failures washed away. God’s not looking back at our yesterdays to remind us where we messed up. He’s looking forward, His grace a constant driving rhythm all around us, compelling us to forward motion.

What a great thought for the morning, when you breathe deep of the new mercies and look ahead to your day’s challenges: let the future begin, steeped and saturated in the grace of God.

Nothing A to Z related here, just some thoughts I’m having this morning.

Do you hear the beat? Let’s come alive in the goodness of God today.

Song: My Savior’s Love

Oh, no, another “modernized” hymn!

Maybe you’ve noticed this trend in Praise and Worship music over the last several years.

A treasure trove of worship ideas for us today…
…and connection to the church in generations past.

About a decade ago, Matt Redman writes about how the hymnal is a treasure trove of song ideas and powerful lyrics. Then everyone’s changing old favorites to accommodate guitar rhythms and incorporate new choruses. (Truth be told, I’m sure others had the same idea, not just Matt, and I’m sure it was happening from time to time before he wrote it.)

The first one I really remember is Todd Agnew’s remake of Amazing Grace, titled “Grace Like Rain.” He puts the hymn in a minor key, and adds a chorus in between each verse talking about how our sinful stains are washed away in the rain of God’s grace. It works.

My wife and I love to play a duet on that. She has a great violin accompaniment and I have a special riff I like on the piano for the third verse.

Then I recall “The Wonderful Cross” with Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin from Passion: One Day 2003 (maybe). “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is combined with a driving beat and a powerful chorus that borrows from Bonhoeffer:

“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

There are others. “Jesus Paid It All” is on a recent Passion album, with a powerful buildup and a passionate cry for us to “Praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead.”

Chris Tomlin put out a version of Amazing Grace called “My Chains are Gone” with a chorus that sounds like the heartcry of a man released from his cell after years of imprisonment. “My God, my Savior has ransomed me… and like a flood, His mercy rains unending love, amazing grace.”

David Crowder Band has a version of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” that starts with a soft minor key chorus about singing to the passionate God who rejoices over us… before the drums kick in and guitars scream in between the verses of the familiar hymn.

Sometimes the bandwagon gets it right.

Who am I to argue?

The hymn, “My Savior’s Love” was a theme song for one of the conferences my wife and I attended several years ago on Okinawa. It seemed like we were constantly being told “Go into My Savior’s Love and let’s just stay there for a while.” (We had pretty flexible worship musicians, so we could be told, “Do this song for a bit” and it all worked out.)

Years later, I was looking at a hymnal and found the song. I remembered how much I loved the emphasis on the marvel of God’s love…

Here in the present as “I stand amazed” and “wonder how He could love me.”

In the past as I think of how “He bore the burden to Calvary and suffered and died alone.”

In the future as “through the ages”  I will “sing of His love for me.”

I also like the minor key – which to me speaks of reflection and wonder – that leads to the major key – which calls celebration and joy to mind.

Here’s a link to the song: My Savior’s Love… (I fear my singing is a bit pitchy in parts.)

And here’s the lyrics –

1  I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean.

How marvelous! how wonderful! and my song shall ever be: 
How marvelous! how wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!

2  He took my sins and my sorrows, 
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary,
And suffered and died alone.

3  When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last shall see,
’Twill be my joy through the ages
To sing of His love for me.

Sing a song of praise to God above So amazing to think of
How wonderful, how marvelous is our Savior’s love

How marvelous! how wonderful! And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous! how wonderful! is my Savior’s love for me!