He’s a Keeper…

Today we find ourselves on the heels of one of the most polarizing election cycles ever. As a result, a lot has been said, is being said and will most likely continue to be said as the country tries to makes sense of things. In the midst of it all are Christians (on all sides) who are sadly at odds with one another. On the surface, it appears that the Church in America is as divided as the country itself. This post is an attempt to hopefully alleviate some of the tension.

I believe a huge lie that Christians in America have bought into is this notion that because there are two major political parties, each person must pledge allegiance to one side or the other.  An even bigger lie is this idea that one party holds a monopoly on the Church or “preserves” Christianity and its ideals. This latter lie was clearly demonstrated when a prominent White Gospel Music (you read that correctly) singer found herself in hot water claiming that the results of the election were indicative of Jesus returning back to the White House; figuratively (my paraphrase). This sent shock-waves throughout social media and people (predominately black and Christian) “let her have it”. Realizing she made a poor choice, she issued a rather lackluster apology and stated that she did not mean to offend or hurt anyone but was just doing her best to “protect Christianity”.  This, among other things, was the most cringe-worthy statement in her apology in my opinion.  To really believe that statement means one is operating under a dangerously false premise, namely that Christianity or the Church needs our protection. Nowhere in Sacred Writ is that idea supported, in fact, the biblical authors declare otherwise, namely, that God doesn’t need us to protect Him, defend Him, or protect Christianity; we need Him to do those things for us. Now, I won’t flood you with a ton of passages but just enough (hopefully) to drive home my point: good intentions are often ruined by faulty orthodoxy (doctrine) which generally leads to questionable orthopraxy (behavior). 

A Brief Biblical Survey: Concerning Individuals and the Church (Which are Inseparable)

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore. – Psalm 121:5-8 (the entire Psalm is worth the read)

You will keep the mind that is dependent on You in perfect peace, for it is trusting in You. – Isaiah 26:2

Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. – Matthew 16:17-18

Jesus answered…My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 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. I and My Father are one. – John 10:27-29

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. 2 Timothy 1:8-12

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5

These are but a few of the numerous texts that convey the wonderful reality that God keeps, preserves, and protects His people. To go further, none of these texts suggest or intimate that God needs us to keep, protect, or preserve Christianity or the Church, but rather we are the ones who need keeping.  We can’t even protect ourselves let alone try to protect God’s Church.  Well maybe you can, but I for sure can’t and I’m a pastor. I’ve tried and failed over and over, but thanks be to God, that He keeps me when I can’t keep myself. (Insert 2-3 tongues and praise break here)  I digress…

The truth of the matter is that God doesn’t need government, politicians, preachers or laypersons to do what only He is able to do which should cause a huge sigh of relief.  The pressure is not on us, but God lays the responsibility on His omnipotent self.  This is by no means a call to abandon politics or the propagation of Christian ideals in the world.God has and God can choose to intervene through government whenever He wants. At the same time it is a call to loosen the grip that the Church has on politics and free ourselves from the arrogance and pride that has consumed us and led us to believe that our survival ultimately depends on our efforts (big or small). Our survival is not contingent on who occupies the the seats of power on earth nor is it contingent on what laws are passed on behalf of the faith. More times than not, the systems of this world are in opposition to the Church and the direction God is taking her. Yet oddly enough, history has proven that the Body of Christ thrives under opposition. So do we look for conflict or seek to create it in order to thrive? Certainly not! We simply (by no means am I suggesting it’s easy, but we do have the Holy Spirit) live out the Gospel and the commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbor(s) as ourselves.  We take serious God’s command to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. To care for those who are the voiceless and powerless with or without the help of the government.  The rest we leave to the One who “keeps us from falling!” (Jude 24)

Safe in His Arms,

T.

 

 

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“Worth”

anthonybrown_worth_650

Well, it’s 2016 and  I made a commitment to myself that I would blog more. Especially since I did not blog once in 2015.  I’ll offer the excuses (as wonderful as they are) of planning a wedding, purchasing a home, and enjoying the first 5 months of marital bliss as my reasons for not blogging.  But enough of that, I’m to jump right back in like I never left.

I’ve been a church musician/worship leader for over 10 years now and the older I get and the deeper my relationship with Christ goes, I am more and more critical when it comes to song selections for corporate worship, but also for private devotion.  As a student at Biola University I went through a period of complete disdain for Gospel (African-American style) music because I felt most of it was either self-centered, lacked depth, and/or  I couldn’t agree theologically with the lyrics.  I kept it to myself because I realized most of it probably boiled down to preference and disagreement on “secondary” issues.  Fast forward to the present, and there is still some disdain there, but serving as the Gospel Choir Director at Biola the past four years my love for Gospel music was recaptured. Nonetheless, I still hear music that immediately causes me to cringe, but I just kind of shake it off for the same aforementioned reasons.

Recently, I heard a song on my wife’s (shameless plug) Pandora Station by the group Anthony Brown & Group Therapy called “Worth”.  The crux of the song says (as found on Metro Lyrics):

You thought I was worth saving
So you came and changed my life

You thought I was worth keeping
So you cleaned me up inside

You thought I was to die for
So you sacrificed your life

So I could be free
So I could be whole
So I could tell everyone I know

Some person may read this and go, “Yes! Finally a song that describes how I feel about my salvation.” Not me though and for some reason the first time I heard this song (and every time afterwards) it hasn’t sat well with me.  Therefore, this post is my attempt to flesh out why I believe this song is damaging; mainly that it misrepresents the Gospel: God in Christ, Sovereignly (keyword) reconciling the world back to Himself, for the sake of His glory, to the praise of His glorious grace and for the good of the elect (His chosen people). In fact, I only really take issue with the “cause” (You thought I was worth…) statements of the lyrics and not so much the “effects” (So I could be…) statements.  Let me explain why.

God’s Redemptive Acts in Scripture

I believe Scripture is clear that God’s redemptive history shows that His calling and saving people is never based on any inherent “goodness” or “merit” or “worth” they possess but because of His sovereign choice; according to the counsel of His own will. For instance:

When God called Abram (aka Abraham), he was a heathen who lived among an idolatrous, pagan group of people (see Gen. 11:31 and Joshua 24:2).  Abram was in no shape or form worthy of God’s call.

When Moses asked God to show him His glory, God responded this way: “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” (Exodus 33:19)

God made it plain to the Children of Israel that their selection and His affection for them was purely a matter of grace: “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deut. 7:7-8)

After hundreds and hundreds of years of God’s people falling into sin and coming under His wrath, judgment, and then deliverance time and time again, God made this prophetic statement through Ezekiel saying, “…It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst…I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:22, 24-26)

I could go on and on, but the picture I am trying to paint (and hopefully you are seeing) is that God has never been in the business of calling/saving people based on “worth”. The passage in Ezekiel is a direct link to the New Testament and speaks of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. I can take it a step further and point out that even the Disciples were not men of great honor, great resumes, or great moral character.  The Gospels expose their character flaws and show us many reasons why they shouldn’t have been chosen to be Christ’s ambassadors to the world.

And then there is the Apostle Paul, the self-described “chief of sinners”, he certainly was not a ripe candidate for salvation.  I’m sure there were others with a cleaner track record, yet his writings (God-inspired Scripture for that matter) are riddled with the notion that salvation is based on the grace of God alone.  No one is deserving, no one merits salvation, no one is worth saving. In fact, what all of creation merits is death, namely separation from God for eternity (see Romans 3:22-23, Eph. 2:1-3; cf. Isaiah 53:6). The world because of its sinfulness is worthy of God’s wrath in judgment. So why did God save me? You? Anybody? This is what the Bible says in a few places:

Ephesians 1:5-6 – In love He predestined us for adoption as sons (and daughters) through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His willto the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 2:4-5 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved

Titus 3:4-7 – But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Re-read those verses slowly and contemplatively…It’s hard to deduce from those passages anything other than the fact that God saves not because He should, but because He wants to. Not because we are so save-able, but because He is so merciful. Not because we are so love-able, but because He is so loving. That my friends is the essence of the Gospel. That is what Scripture teaches. That is what men like Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, John Piper, myself, and countless others believe.

I honestly believe the lyrics to the song “Worth” downplay how great a salvation God has given to the world; a salvation so great and glorious that even Angels are enchanted by it (see 1 Peter 1:10-12).

What I Am Not Saying

Before I conclude let me, in anticipation of disagreement, address what I am not saying.  I am not saying that human beings possess no value or worth. Jesus expresses the value of humans, especially God’s adopted children in Matthew 6:26 and Matthew 10:29-31 (for starters) where He says humans are superior to animals. In the Parables of the Lost Sheep, Coin, and Prodigal Son we see the care each main character displays toward the things lost. All humans are image bearers of their Creator and are inherently valuable from the womb to the grave. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world…”, which shows us that God cares about His creation.  Every life is precious.  There is no one who is excluded from the possibility of receiving salvation. Like Black lives, all lives matter.  Conversely, there is no one who is so valuable that they deserve salvation.

It may seem as if I am splitting hairs or being over-dramatic (it happens), but as previously stated this song, in my opinion, speaks of our worth in terms of meriting God’s love and favor; of which we could never do. To suggest anyone is worth saving is to deny the reality of how deeply sin has radically corrupted our hearts and whole being.  To suggest that anyone is worth saving is to say that God shows partiality: some are worthy, some are not. Both deny the truth of Scripture and undermine the magnitude of God’s saving grace and His sovereignty.  To suggest anyone is worth saving denies the Gospel.  This is why I believe this is a serious matter.  I may be totally wrong in my assessment of this song, but if I’m not, I would re-write it (which sometimes happens admittedly) to go like this:

 I was never worth saving (Rom. 3:23, Eph. 2:1-3)
But You came and changed my life (John 10:10, Eph. 2:4-9)

I was never worth keeping (Rom. 6:23a)
But You cleaned me up inside (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

I was never to die for (2 Cor. 5:21a)
But You sacrificed your life (Isa. 53)

So I could be free (John 8:36)
So I could be whole (Matt. 11:28-30)
So I could tell everyone I know (Matt. 28:20)

What are your thoughts? Feel free to comment below.  In taking the liberty to leave a comment, I would invite you to really read through the passages I have listed in full and simply referenced. Thanks!

Amazed by grace,

T.