Archive for May, 2014

chicago

My wife and I were blessed with free tickets to see the band, Chicago, recently. We don’t get to many concerts so it was a special treat for us. Chicago has been around for nearly 50 years and in the last three decades, they’ve outlasted many other bands from the past as they continue touring and putting out new music from time to time. I was surprised by how many songs I knew in their two-hour concert.

Prior to the concert, I hadn’t thought much about their career success, the legacy they are leaving from their music, and what it must feel like to travel around the world performing before millions of fans that love your music.

But I went to bed that night unable to get a few of their songs out of my head. I’ll elaborate on this in a moment. It made me realize how important it is to read, speak, and repeatedly listen to things of eternal value such as the Word of God more frequently than we do anything else. The Lord was doing something in my heart, but I couldn’t pinpoint what would soon become obvious.

How many of the men in the band know Jesus Christ as their Lord? Also, when the world worships you, who do you worship? Do they have anyone higher than themselves to go to or do they not even feel the need to look to anything above themselves? People handle fame, wealth, and power differently. (Insert the band, artist, Hollywood actor, celebrity, professional sports team or athlete of your choice, etc. here.)

The next morning, I came across some Bible verses that were timely reminders for me including “keep yourselves from idols” as well as the instruction to set our hearts and minds “on things above, not on things on the earth.” (1 John 5:21, Colossians 3:2) These were batched in with a few other Scriptures I read such as:

“God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

I played drums for several decades and used to wonder what it would be like to have a career as a musician. Traveling the country as a drummer for three years in the 80s, I learned how addicting the fawning attention can be; the show, the autographs, screaming fans. I admit I used to idolize many professional bands, but as I watched Chicago perform the other night, I was content to be a spectator. They put on a quality concert and didn’t need gimmicks, special effects, or any shock factors to impress people. Road life is tough and these guys have been doing it for decades. It took me years, but I’m thankful I no longer idolize or covet the fame, success, or the possessions of others. It’s about time.

The record sales, concert revenue from ticket sales and merchandise, and song royalties must be amazing for successful bands. Looking at these things can cause us to feel discouraged or less significant, which is a good reminder to maintain a healthy view of money, remembering “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

Finally, it took me another day to process why I was feeling so emotional about the whole experience, particularly the songs that were foremost in my mind. You see, my two older sisters bought lots of music growing up including the early Chicago albums, so I became quite familiar with their songs. Then it hit me: the music was nostalgic and brought me back to good times when life seemed happier, less stressful, and the country was a drastically different place than it is today. Times sure have changed.

Does anyone really know what time it is?

This may sound strange, but Chicago’s music reminds me of how brief this life can be, and how much I miss some family members that have died including a sister, my Dad, uncles, and grandparents. I also miss those summer days at our cottage in the 70s with my whole family while my sisters blasted their music loud enough for people across the lake to hear. I used to long for the ‘old days’ and wish we could magically go back to the good times we remember. This however, is not a biblical way to think because for Christians, the only direction in which we should be looking is up as we learn from the past and press on to what God now has for us.

Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this. Ecclesiastes 7:10

Our focus must now be on the task at hand: understanding our time is short and sharing the love of Christ with as many people as possible, including those we don’t know. God broke my heart for people I had never met – and this is a good thing.

Being in the front row during the concert was interesting. It seemed more personal as we made eye contact with several band members throughout the night. A few of the older members looked a bit tired toward the end, and I have a new respect for their perseverance. So now, I think about the guys in Chicago and, not knowing who or what their faith is in, I’m praying for their salvation.

A friend reminded me about how the early saints simply had Jesus and family; no social media, entertainment or other distractions that we have today, and they were so much more content, successfully impacting their world for Christ. For those of us that believe, are we disciplined in the use of our time, growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ so that we may point others to Him and speak the truth whenever possible? Is there anything else that really matters?

True success is only achieved by accepting God’s free gift of life in His presence. We all live forever; the question is on which side of eternity. I’d like to imagine the band Chicago as part of a massive orchestra worshiping the Lord in Heaven one day. I hope they all make the trip.

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? Mark 8:36

 

God save America

O God, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. Psalm 80:3

Many people wonder what has happened to our country. Out of frustration, some ask questions on social media about the moral decline in America: How did we get here? When did the erosion of our biblical values begin? How did we reach this point where this people, a nation under God, failed so miserably to keep His commandments and be effective witnesses for Christ? John R.W. Stott once said:

We should not ask ‘what’s wrong with this world?’ For that diagnosis has already been given. Rather, we should ask, ‘What has happened to the salt and light?’ 

There are many ways to dissect the problems in our culture, and explanations are just as numerous. One observation is too many believers have backed out of culture, no longer being an influence while others have conformed to this world. So what’s the bottom line here?

The root of every moral failure, problem, and societal decline is sin. And in a culture in which sin is celebrated and promoted, God’s judgment is right around the corner.

A society that used to claim Christianity now allows the murder of 4,000 innocent babies a day – government approved and funded by our taxes. We have an irresponsible spending addiction and instead of cutting spending and paying down the national debt, government keeps spending what they do not have. Judges overrule the will of the people in many states that once voted to protect the definition of marriage, and homosexual activists continue to push their agenda in every part of our culture. The next step must necessarily be to silence the speech of Bible-believing Christians. God was kicked out, and His Word was banned from public schools that once promoted and valued its principles. Instead, they’ve ushered in sex education including the approval of sexual experimentation and government-funded distribution of condoms to young kids, promoted by Planned Parenthood.

We used to have it all, didn’t we? In such a blessed nation, it’s obviously very easy to take things for granted. It’s also easy to trust in our own strength, wealth, and accomplishments. We forget what it cost our founders and early American patriots to form this republic. Most importantly, we forget what it cost our Savior, Jesus Christ, to provide a way for us to be set free from sin and the chains of this temporary world.

We have also forgotten much of the history that has under-girded America and society’s tone has gone from spiritual to secular. We have gone from having a reverence for Almighty God to being complacent at best and hostile toward God at worst. Pride comes before a fall and this country is tumbling quickly.

Early in our history, practically every anthem, hymn, and song written within a 150-year period referenced Jesus Christ, God’s blessings, glory, gratitude, America’s beauty or religious freedom. For example, in 1861, after a visit to a Union Army camp, Julia Ward Howe wrote the poem that came to be called “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Published in February 1862 in The Atlantic Monthly, the poem has become perhaps the best-known Civil War song, and is a well-loved American patriotic anthem. Here are the first and last verses:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on…

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me:
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free
While God is marching on.

Around this time, President Abraham Lincoln, perhaps one of the most well versed presidents in the Holy Bible, resided in the White House. In November 1863, he gave his now famous Thanksgiving proclamation in which he mentioned America’s need for softened hearts and appreciation of God’s providence. Lincoln encouraged all people of the United States to be grateful for the “year filled with blessings of fruitful fields” and to acknowledge the Lord saying, “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

Earlier that year, President Lincoln, with full agreement and support of the U.S. Senate, declared a lesser known national day of fasting and prayer to God. Only 87 years after celebrating America’s independence and freedom as a nation, Lincoln saw that the country was showing signs of comfort and complacency which went hand in hand with spiritual apathy. As some Christians believe the terrorist attacks on 9-11-2001 were part of God’s judgment on America, Lincoln believed the civil war in America was God’s judgment on the nation for its sinfulness. Here is a partial text from Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation:

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God.

We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.[i]

Imagine what Lincoln or our founders would say if they could see America today. It’s time we get back to the basics.

Our nation reflects the Church and is suffering because we have grown lukewarm. Jesus is standing outside knocking on the door asking to be allowed back inside (Revelation 3:20). We must set an example for unbelievers by repenting of our individual sins and our apathy. We must then recommit our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ and proclaim His truth to a dying culture regardless of current trends and the popularity of moral relativism. Next, we need to decide if we will live our lives seeking the approval of God or of man. Who are we serving right now, today? The choice is ours.

If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”   Joshua 24:15-16