Monday, November 30, 2015

Music 3 - Eight Ways the Bible Says We Can Use Music

In this series I am going to discuss both the personal and corporate (church) aspects of music. I am going to begin with principles that are involved on the personal side and then apply them later in the series to corporate use. Last week we discovered that music is an emotional language. Today I want to consider appropriate personal uses for music. In other words, I am going to attempt to show you from the Bible some acceptable ways we can use music (instrumental and lyrical both) outside of a church context in our daily life.

First, we can use music to empathize with others. And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and the singing women spake of Josiah in their lamentations to this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel: and, behold, they are written in the lamentations. (II Chronicles 35.25) Josiah was one of the better kings of Judah. He valiantly sought to defend his country militarily and politically, to deliver it from the coming Babylonian storm he foresaw, and to revive it spiritually. He died eighteen years into a promising reign while in battle with the Egyptian army. Shortly after his death Judah was conquered and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.

Music_presentSuch a good man and wise leader was sorely missed by his people. In the above passage we see the prophet Jeremiah and the music ministry of the Temple led the people in a musical lamentation for their now dead king. In my view this was not a worship related scenario in the Temple but rather a meeting of national or political significance. In Matthew 9 we see a similar use of music. Jairus, the leader of the synagogue in Capernaum, lost his daughter in death. Sympathetic friends gathered to mourn with him and provided music to accompany the mourning.

If someone around you is hurting music played in their presence or given to them as a gift is a helpful thing. It can be a soothing balm indeed.

Second, we can use music to amplify romance with our spouse. The idea that every couple has a song is widely held. In point of fact more songs are written with romantic love as the theme than any other subject. I may disagree with much of the content and form of such songs, but if they are biblically acceptable the over-arching concept of using music to strengthen romantic emotion is scripturally valid. Psalm 45 is headlined A Song of loves. Isaiah 5.1 says Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. Of course, the entirety of the Song of Solomon is romance. Such music, while inappropriate in an illicit relationship, is perfectly acceptable in a married relationship.

Third, we can use music to teach our children scriptural truth. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. (Deuteronomy 6.7) Granted, this verse does not explicitly reference doing so via music but such is implied. How? The largest book of the Bible is Psalms. We are commanded five times in the Word of God to sing those psalms as well as other spiritual songs. One of the ways I as a father can combine both of those is to teach my children to sing psalms and to furnish them with scripture songs to which they can listen. Actually not thirty minutes ago they chose the next hymn they are going to work on memorizing for this month. Every night of their life they have gone to sleep listening to good music. By the time my children leave my home – not counting church services – they will have listened to and sung thousands of hours worth of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

Fourth, we can use music to motivate ourselves or others to accomplish something worthwhile. And from thence they went to Beer: that is the well whereof the Lord spake unto Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water. Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it: The princes digged the well, the nobles of the people digged it, by the direction of the lawgiver, with their staves. (Numbers 21.16-18) The children of Israel needed to dig yet another well on their wilderness wanderings. They did not seem up to the task for some reason – perhaps because they only had sticks with which to dig – so Moses had them begin singing while they worked, and it worked. There issnowwh7 a camaraderie, a mutual improvement in mood when you sing together while working. In fiction the dwarves in Snow White are an example of this. In real life the military often uses this technique in training.

Fifth, we can use music to reflect our joy. As Christians we sometimes think that if we do something solely for the fun of it then it must be wrong. After all, we are supposed to live soberly. (Titus 2.12) This does not mean, however, that we are to live without joy, humor, fun, or happiness. It means we are to live with purpose. There is nothing wrong with good, clean, enjoyable fun. There is nothing wrong – all other things being equal – with music that expresses this. Therefore I will bewail with the weeping of Jazer the vine of Sibmah: I will water thee with my tears, O Heshbon, and Elealeh: for the shouting for thy summer fruits and for thy harvest is fallen. And gladness is taken away, and joy out of the plentiful field; and in the vineyards there shall be no singing, neither shall there be shouting: the treaders shall tread out no wine in their presses; I have made their vintage shouting to cease. (Isaiah 16.9-10) I realize this passage is referencing the sorrow that comes with judgment but it does not say these people were wrong to sing as they enjoyed themselves. Rather, it assumes such is perfectly acceptable normally.

Often of an evening during and after dinner while my family is gathered in the main room of our home I will put some kind of cheerful, happy music on Pandora. These are not psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; it is lighthearted often lively music that we all enjoy.

tumblr_let4f59lId1qfictco1_400Sixth, we can use music to outwardly express our inner emotions. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. (Psalm 137.2) Here the psalmist likened harp music – which is always peaceful if not somber – to a weeping willow tree. Such a concept is illustrated in the book of Job. My harp is turned to mourning, and my organ into the voice of them that weep. I have often wished I could sit down at the piano or pick up a violin and play just exactly how I am feeling at the moment. Music is how feelings sound. Due to my own lack of skill I cannot but I can through the genius of our technologically advanced age play someone else's music that expresses how I feel at the moment.

Seventh, we can use music to show our patriotic love of country. And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of musick. (I Samuel 18.6) What American heart among us does not thrill at "The Star Spangled Banner", "America the Beautiful," "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," or "God Bless America"? As a child my father along with the other three clergymen in our village participated each year in the community Memorial Day observance. I can still feel the shivers that went up and down my spine as the bugler solemnly and majestically played "Taps."

Lastly, we can use music to pray and to praise the Lord. There are so many examples of this in Psalms that it is beside the point to list them. A Christian whose heart is warm to His God will often find a psalm or a hymn on his lips throughout the day. He will sing in the shower, on the bus, and while walking down a crowded sidewalk. He will sing in private communion with His Lord the precious songs he has learned in the corporate meetings of His church. He will listen to them, whistle them, hum them, quote them, and even belt out a verse or two betimes.

As a teenage boy a well-meaning but mistaken preacher taught me that the only valid use of music was spiritual. In other words, all the music in my life was supposed to be to or about God. The truth is a closer examination of Scripture does not bear this out. All of my music has to yield to Scriptural principle but it does not all have to be about God. In this blog series I will spend a lot of time talking about the spiritual aspects of music. At the beginning, however, I want to make sure you understand that though such should probably represent the majority of our music use it is still perfectly appropriate to use music personally in broader ways.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Music 2 - Music Defined

Words are very important to me both in my chosen vocation – preaching – and my avocation – writing. I learned the hard way as a young pastor that I cannot preach on a subject without first carefully defining it. My hearer may well carry in his mind a different understanding of a term that I am using. In such a case I will shed no light into in his mind. I will only engender confusion. John Milton Gregory in his classic The Seven Laws of Teaching points out the absolute necessity of this by asserting that one entire law is that of language – it must be in common between the teacher and the student.

For these reasons it has become my settled custom when introducing a subject to particularly define it. The deeper of a discussion I intend to undertake the more emphasis I place upon that definition. Thus it is that I begin this lengthy blog series with today's post title: Music Defined.

Let me begin by saying that when I use the word "music" in this series I generally mean instrumental music. Lyrics may accompany music but they are not music in the strict sense by which I mean by the term. After all, lyrics are fairly straight forward. We may agree or disagree with the poetical quality of a song's lyrics but whether those lyrics are bad or good, sinful or righteous, helpful or destructive, does not take an art critic. It simply takes someone with a basic understanding of speech. No, when I say music I mean the (mostly) mechanical sounds, the vibrations that strike your ears apart from whatever words accompany those sounds.

What is music? Foundationally, music is an emotional language.

when words fail music speaks

Each of the two words in my preferred definition is likewise important. That music is an emotional thing is readily apparent in Scripture. At the risk of boring you with a long list notice these instances:

Job 29:13 The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
Ps 67:4 O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. Selah.
Ps 71:23 My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing unto thee; and my soul, which thou hast redeemed.
Ps 95:1 O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.
Ps 98:4 Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.
Ps 126:2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them.
Ps 137:3 For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
Pr 29:6 In the transgression of an evil man there is a snare: but the righteous doth sing and rejoice.
Lam 3.14-15 The elders have ceased from the gate, the young men from their musick. The joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning.
Isa 49:13 Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.
Isa 52:9 Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.
Isa 65:14 Behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall howl for vexation of spirit.
Jer 31:7 For thus saith the LORD; Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O LORD, save thy people, the remnant of Israel.
Zep 3:14 Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.
Zep 3:17 The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.
Zec 2:10 Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the LORD.
Mt 9.23-24 And when Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise, He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn.
Jas 5:13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

Most of these are about the emotion of joy. Well they should be for we are God's people, and we ought to live in joy as we live in Him. But we also see several examples in the above list of a direct connection between music and sorrow. For instance, in Matthew 9 Jesus entered Jairus' house to raise his daughter from the dead and found a musical group playing appropriately somber music. He asked them to leave. Such funereal music would not be necessary once the little girl was brought back to life.

To this Martin Luther agreed, saying, "Music is to be praised as second only to the Word of God because by her all the emotions are swayed." Dan Lucarini comes to a similar conclusion in his book, Can We Rock the Gospel?, "Music is one of the ways by which we can give audible expression to our common emotions such as joy, sorrow, love, sympathy, heroism, and compassion, and as we turn the pages of the Bible, we find it used in all of these areas." Christopher Hogwood, a conductor, instrumentalist, and musicologist who died last year, said, "Music is the use of sound to move the human soul." The Grammy award winner Jewel explained it this way, "You always feel better when you sing. Music touches people's hearts. You know, it doesn't go through your mental capacity, it just moves you and it will let you cry. It's worth it doing a show and when you touch a crowd and move yourself at the same time." Leo Tolstoy, the nineteenth century Russian wordsmith would have agreed with Jewel, saying, "Music is the shorthand of emotion."

What is critical to understand – both for reading this series and for general application in life and church – is that music is not just emotional. It is an emotional language. It is the use of non-verbal sound to convey, to express, to communicate, even to produce certain emotions. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow grasped this when he stated, "Music is the language spoken by angels." By this he meant that instrumental music produced in him sublime feelings.

Dr. Emil Guthiel, a mid-twentieth century psychologist, wrote of an example of this in his book, Music and Your Emotions. "Bingham, in an experiment based on data obtained from 20,000 persons, reported the effects produced upon their moods by a variety of 290 phonograph records. The conclusion from all these data was that a musical composition not only produces a mood change in the listener but it induces a markedly uniform mood in a great number of persons in a given audience."

Shelley Katsch, an advocate for music therapy, sees a similar dynamic. She expressed – in a book co-authored with New York mental health counselor Carol Merle-Fishman – it this way: "Music defines our likes, dislikes, physical appearance, mood and means of expression... One of the most poignant gifts of music is its ability to elicit the most tender emotions. In this way it communicates directly to our hearts and souls." David Tame in his book The Secret Power of Music (which I have not read but is on my Amazon wish list <hint, hint>) explains, "There is surely no doubt that music actually conveys very real and sometimes very specific emotional states from the musician to the listener."

Love and Time
Music is what feelings sound like. If I am melancholy, stoked, contemplative, or passionate I can find music on Pandora that matches my mood exactly within seconds. (By the way, spend the five bucks a month to get the commercial free version. It is so worth it.) I work and live in words but sometimes even words are not enough for me. Music alone can say what I am feeling. Hans Christian Anderson said, "Where words fail, music speaks." Victor Hugo, another master wordsmith understood this as well. "Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent." One of my favorite twentieth century composers, Leonard Bernstein, said, "Music… can name the un-nameable and communicate the unknowable." My emotions must burst forth but nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are entirely insufficient. So I play music. 

Yip Harburg, the lyricist for such well known works as "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" and "Over the Rainbow", understood not only the power of words but the power of the underlying tune itself. He said, "Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought."

Dr. Norman Weinberger, a professor of neurobiology at UC Irvine, offered the following evidence. He paired pictures of depressing art with sad music and not surprisingly ended up with sad students. He then paired depressing art with happy music and ended up with happy students. Not done yet, he paired cheerful pictures with happy music and got happy students. Finally, he paired cheerful pictures with sad music and got sad students again. In a paper on the subject he summed it up this way, "Music doesn't simply convey intended emotions that we can recognize, but rather induces genuine emotion in the listener."

This is patently obvious as revealed in almost every movie you have ever seen. The writers work in words, but the the producers and directors work in moods. They convey those moods using lighting, pace, and especially music. An otherwise innocuous scene becomes truly grim when the scary music at the upper end of the scales begins to play. Happiness, peace, security, love, fear, anger – all these and more are conveyed to you without words via instrumental music.

If all of this is true – that music is an emotional language, that it communicates, that it speaks outside of and beyond the lyrics – then the question you must ask yourself about the music that flows into you and through you is this: What is it saying? What is it telling me? How is it influencing me? What is it communicating to those around me? Your choice of music both communicates to you and through you to others how you feel, how strongly you feel, what you believe, and what is important to you at the moment.

You had better choose it carefully. It is saying something.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Music 1 - Why and How

music-symbols-notesI love music. I love to listen to it. I love to sing it. I love to watch it being performed by skilled and passionate people. I even love to study about it. I find it to be a fascinating subject. Its history is almost the history of the universe itself. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?...When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?(Job 38.3,7) Its impact on human behavior is well-nigh immeasurable. It plays an enormous part in the life of every person reading this blog. It has played and will continue to play a large part in my own life. It is both secular and religious. It is both comedic and dramatic. It is both simple and complex. It is at once reflective of whom you are and predictive of whom you will become.

Several years ago I decided to do an extensive discussion of the subject during the Wednesday night Bible study hour in our church. When I happened to mention this subject to a group of online friends I was unpleasantly shocked by their negative reaction.

“Boy, that will REALLY help God's children to grow spiritually. Maybe a series on the sins of flannel graph would be just as helpful.”

“To my knowledge the bible doesn't speak against any kind of music anywhere. Why do Baptists find this to be such an important topic? It seems rather silly and futile to me.”

“Not necessarily something that will feed the sheep.”

“Of ALL the Scripture to preach and teach and you are going to devote precious time to styles of music?! Really? I ask you to reconsider.”

“I can't imagine that the sermon could be any longer than 15 minutes!”

As you can imagine I was rather nonplussed by the hostility displayed. I am no longer puzzled by that hostility. In fact, I expect to get a fair amount of it hurled my way over the next several months on this blog. The subject is deeply personal yet at the same time corporately public, at least in contemporary American Christianity.

Why then would I choose to willingly enter into such a meat grinder? The short answer is I believed then and believe now that the subject is incredibly important. The typical young person in America listens to two and half hours of music every day. Hundreds of hours of music per year are pouring into the minds of the average person and yet it is not worth addressing? I beg to differ.

Beyond the personal side there is also the corporate side. Music makes up a significant percentage of every church service. Cumulatively, our church, for example, sings twenty Scripture songs and another thirty hymns and choruses in the average week. The average church in America spends much more time in music than it does in prayer, in witnessing, or in fellowship.

Above all of this, however, looms the fact that the largest book in the Bible is a songbook. Beyond that alone, Scripture speaks specifically of music more than five hundred times. Surely any serious student of the Word of God would want to know what God thinks about something He talks about so often, and something that is such a large part of our personal life and the church’s life.

For the balance of the next year I intend to do just that. I intend to discuss what music is, how it ought to be used, and where the dangers and blessings are in its use. I will discuss how to choose good music, the purpose of church music, and how to choose and perform church music. I intend to build for you a philosophy of music that is both personal and corporate, and one that is firmly grounded in Scriptural principle and practical considerations. Along the way I will use hundreds of Scripture verses and hundreds more selected quotations from various musicians, musicologists, ethnomusicologists, historians, researchers, and biographers.P_Classic_Music

I will endeavor as well as I know how to be transparent with my sources. At the same time I must admit that since the initial preparation for this series was done as sermon notes I will often be guilty of overlooking a needed citation. This is my attempt to cover that as clearly as possible up front. I did not generally footnote my sermon notes back then. In the interests of full disclosure here is the list of books I have read in preparation for this series (and please understand here I am not trying to impress anyone with this list; I am simply trying to avoid a criticism I have gotten in other series regarding my sources):

-The Spiritual Song, The Missing Element in Church Music, Mike Foster, 153 pp, 2011
-Drumming at the Edge of Magic, A Journey Into the Spirit of Percussion, Mickey Hart, 263 pp, 1990
-Can We Rock the Gospel?, Rock Music’s Impact on Worship and Evangelism, John Blanchard and Dan Lucarini, 267 pp, 2006
-Music in the Balance, Frank Garlock and Kurt Woetzel, 204 pp, 1992
-Music and Morals, Dispelling the Myth That Music is Amoral, Kimberly Smith, 157 pp, 2005
-A Song in Your Heart, Music’s Role in the Christian Life, Mike Zachary, 166 pp, 1997
-Contemporary Worship Music, A Biblical Defense, John Frame, 212 pp, 1997
-As I See Church Music, Elaine Colsten, 120 pp, 1969
-Why I Left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement, Dan Lucarini, 141 pp, 2002
-Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns, How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal, T. David Gordon, 187 pp, 2010
-Sing for Joy, Interactive Bible Studies, 60 pp, 2010
-Shout!, The Beatles in Their Generation, Philip Norman, 414 pp, 1981
-Last Train to Memphis, The Rise of Elvis Presley and Careless Love, The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, Peter Guralnick, 576/768 pp 1995/2000
-The Pied Piper of Rock Music, Dennis Corle, 224 pp, 2000
-The Rock and Roll Rebellion, Why People of Faith Abandoned Rock Music – And Why They’re Coming Back, Mark Joseph, 316 pp, 1999
-A Complete Manual for The Ministry of Church Music, Lindsay Terry, 175 pp, 2002
-Big Beat Heat, Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock and Roll, John Jackson, 400 pp, 1991
-Shining Trumpets, A History of Jazz, Rudi Blesh, 410 pp, 1958

I have also purchased and plan to read the following two books in the next month:

Hot_Water_Music_2008-Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution, Music and Social Change in America, Dick Weissman, 370 pp, 2010
-Worship Wars, Robert Bakks, 302 pp, 2015

In addition I have read numerous essays and articles online and watched dozens of hours of historical documentaries on various musicians and music styles. I have also examined every verse in the Bible that mentions music.

I do not mean to imply that because of the amount of study I have done on the subject I will be completely correct. Nor do I mean to insinuate that others – including some who will no doubt comment on these posts – may not know more than I do about the subject of music. But it does mean I have endeavored to do my homework. As much as I know how I have sought, ironically enough, not to approach this subject emotionally. Instead I have sought to build a rational, educated, scriptural philosophy of music. It is that I wish to share with you.

Welcome to this journey of mine. As always, I invite your participation along the way either here on this blog or on my facebook page. I do not generally moderate comments other than for what I deem to be foul language. I hope this study will inform you. More than that, though, I hope it will edify you. I hope it will give you a deeper understanding of why we hold the positions we do. Together may you and I learn to better please the Lord in this vital area.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Evil in the Midst 8 ...Men Should Not Get the Credit

How could it be that God appeared to be using him so marvelously and yet he was so thoroughly evil so long?
…Because it is God's Word applied by the Holy Spirit that actually changes men; the leader should not get the credit.

So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)
It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63)
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)

If there is a truth that is all too often forgotten by the people of God and the men of God of our own generation it is this: the Holy Spirit using Scripture changes men. We are so prone, after attending some great conference or having our hearts stirred by music from the heavenlies, to credit the men whom God used instead of the God who used them. So often the grace and power of God is poured out through some earthly vessel and we, in our shallowness and spiritual immaturity, remember and admire the vessel more than we do the God using the vessel and flowing through the vessel.

We flock to be noticed by these great men of God. They sign our Bibles. They receive standing ovations in our pulpits. They are given poems, honorariums, and doctorates. They are reverenced (reverend) almost to the point of worship. Their wishes are honored, and their advice duly followed. Buildings and institutions are named after them. They are called heroes.
Please do not misunderstand me here. Paul, instructing Timothy in how to treat God’s men, said Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. (I Timothy 5:17) As a pastor myself I have had many fine honors come my way. I appreciate them all, and in a very real sense I think it is good for God’s people to respect and honor the position of evangelist, pastor, teacher, and deacon. But it is also true that this same Paul, when faced with men who wished to pay him too much honor, said Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you. (Acts 14:15) Peter, when faced with a similar situation echoed those sentiments, saying I myself also am a man. (Acts 10:26) 

Thus we see there is to be a balance between appropriate and excessive personal credit. While it is true that you and I may disagree on exactly where the line should be drawn between those two we cannot disagree that many Christians obliterate the line completely. They consciously or unconsciously place the credit for the lives changed around them on the man when nothing could be further from the Scriptural truth.

Tom Brennan has never changed a life. Neither did Lee Roberson, Tom Malone, Jack Hyles, Curtis Hutson, Lester Roloff, John R. Rice, J. Frank Norris, Billy Sunday, D. L. Moody, C. H. Spurgeon, George Mueller, William Booth, George Whitefield, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd, Cotton Mather, John Bunyan, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jan Huss, John Wycliffe, Savonarola, Polycarp, or the Apostle Paul. I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. (I Corinthians 3:6-7)

The Scripture is incredibly powerful. For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12) The Holy Spirit is incredibly powerful. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. (I Corinthians 2:4) When men, even men who are almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation, preach the Scriptures the Holy Spirit can accomplish miraculous things. Those miraculous things are no more the result of the man preaching them than they are the result of the man in the moon, and we would do well to remind ourselves of that from time to time.

Postscript To The Reader

Some time ago it came to my attention that one of the missionaries our church had supported for years was found to be involved in egregious moral failures, and that these had been of longstanding duration going back decades. I do not pretend to be able to tell you why exactly he did what he did, but I can tell you that he left a trail of devastated lives in his wake. To those victims and the victims of countless other sinful men I respectfully proffer the preceding thoughts. May they grant you some measure of comfort and some level of understanding for the questions flooding your soul.

Many years ago and many miles away from this place a trial was held. In that trial an exceptionally good man was accused of trumped up charges. Witnesses were called but their testimony was weak and inconsistent. There was no circumstantial or physical evidence of wrongdoing of any kind. Undeterred, the prosecutors and witnesses pressed all the more vigorously for a judicial condemnation that would bring with it the sentence they so desired to see. At one point in the trial the judge, in sheer exasperation, according to verified and reliable historical record said, I find no fault with this man. (Luke 23:4) The judge was Pilate and the man was Jesus Christ.

In the succeeding centuries many have been the bitter accusations of misconduct hurled against those who bear His name. Sadly, much of the time those accusations are founded in reality for even the best of men are men at best. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Countless times the followers in bewildered puzzlement have wondered how it could be that such a good man could accomplish so much while being such a bad man. Countless times the hurt has turned into bitterness, marring their effective testimony, and damaging the cause of Christ. Dear reader, may I gently propose to you that although it may be true that someone you greatly respected hurt you you will never find any fault in Jesus Christ. He will never hurt you. He will never injure you. He will never fail you. He will never disappoint you. He will never be caught covering up any sin but yours, and that He covers with His blood. When (not if) men fail you, as the old song so eloquently says,

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”

Monday, November 2, 2015

Evil in the Midst 7... The Sovereignty of God

God-Is-Totally-SovereignHow could it be that God appeared to be using him so marvelously and yet he was so thoroughly evil so long? …Because God, in His sovereignty, uses sinners for His own purposes.

For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. (Romans 9:17)

Scripture is the revelation of God to man. As such, it is constantly showing us what God is like, how He thinks, why He does what He does, and how He does it. In this passage Scripture reveals to us that Pharaoh was simply a tool in the hand of the Lord to reveal to men His power, and to spread His name throughout all the earth.

Nor was Pharaoh the only sinful man God ever used to advance His own purposes in spite of said sinful man’s wickedness. Isaiah 10 tells us that God used the evil Assyrians for His own purpose. Isaiah 45 instructs us that God used an ungodly Cyrus to His own end. In Jeremiah 27 God refers to the wicked Nebuchadnezzar as His servant. Surely if God could use such depraved men as Pharaoh, Cyrus, and Nebuchadnezzar He just might be able to use a pastor with secret sin in the chambers of his imagery to accomplish His own purpose.

In fact, all God has to use is sinners. When God determined to work through man to reach man He, in a very real sense, tied His hands. Certainly nature and conscience reveal God to men, and of course we understand that Scripture is the ultimate revelation of God to man. Yet God chooses to almost always use human agents in preaching, teaching, praying, witnessing, encouraging, comforting, and exhorting men to turn their hearts toward Himself – and every one of those men are wicked and depraved sinners.

The Psalmist said The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil. (Psalm 16:4) We do not believe that this passage and similar ones teach that God created sin, but we do contend that God uses sinners for His own ends and to His own purposes. It has well been said that only God can use a crooked stick to draw a straight line. Many a crooked man of God has been used by God to draw men unto Himself. That is not because of the crookedness of that man but rather in spite of it.
Some will contend that God uses men in His service that are holy, pure, blameless, mature, zealous, and without spot. While all these are certainly true and we ought to strive for holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord yet it is equally true that God can use any man of His choosing, including those almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly.

While it is true that God can use whom He will it is also true that God’s use of them does not excuse or mitigate in any way their personal wickedness. Pharaoh, Cyrus, and Nebuchadnezzar all had to pay for their sins, either with earthly consequences, eternal consequences, or both. So will all men, including God’s men. Some men of God have endeavored to excuse their perversity by saying that the stress, pressure, and burden of their great ministry demands some outlet, as if they are better ministers of Jesus Christ if they sow some wild oats now and then. Nothing could be further from the truth, or more obnoxious to the Holy One of Israel. We are none of us indispensable in the Kingdom, and the level of our usefulness to the cause of Christ must not lead us to justification of the lusts of our flesh. God uses men in His mercy to edify the body of Christ, advance His Kingdom, and glorify His name. Let us be grateful for that, and with humility and holiness seek to be used by Him, always being mindful that He chooses to use whom He will for His own purposes.