Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Easter Song for All Year Around

Here we are, ending the year by ending our review of the album "For Him Who Has Ears to Hear" by Keith Green.

The final song is Annie Herring's "Easter Song", to which Keith added an extra verse.

It's bright, upbeat, and celebratory...and considering its subject matter, that's exactly what it should be.

Hear the bells ringing
They're singing, that you can be born again
Hear the bells ringing
They're singing, "Christ is risen from the dead!"

The angel upon the tombstone
Said "He has risen, just as He said
Quickly now, go tell His disciples
That Jesus Christ is no longer dead!"

Joy to the world, He has risen, Hallelujah
He's risen, Hallelujah
He's risen, Hallelujah

Hear the bells ringing
They're singing, that you can be healed right now
Hear the bells ringing
They're singing, "Christ, He will reveal it now."

The angels, they all surround us
And they are ministering Jesus's power
Quickly now, reach out and receive it
For this could be your glorious hour

Joy to the world, He has risen, Hallelujah
He's risen, Hallelujah
He's risen, Hallelujah
©1973 Latter Rain Music

Truth is...this is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. "If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life." (I Corinthians 15:17-22 NLT)

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Steve

Not everyone greets Christmas with a sparkling smile and open arms.

I have no reason to believe the character Randy Stonehill created in his song, "Christmas at Denny's," is named Steve, but it makes for a semi-clever title for this post.

And the song makes for an empathetic look at a certain demographic not having a holly, jolly Christmas this year.

They got Christmas Muzak
Piped in through the ceiling
And the refills of coffee
Are always for free
And the waitress on graveyard
And the surly night manager
They're wishing that all of us losers would leave
There's a star on the sign
At the Texaco Station
Like the star long ago
On that midnight clear
As I look all around
At these cold, empty faces
I doubt that you'd find many wise men here

And I'm dreaming about
A silent night
Holy night
When things were all right
And I'm dreaming about
How my life could have been
If only, if only, if only...
But somewhere down the road
I gave up that fight
Merry Christmas
It's Christmas at Denny's tonight

Once I had a home
And a wife and a daughter
Had a company job
Earning middle-class pay
Then Lisa got killed
By a car near the schoolyard
And my wife started drinking
Just to get through each day
I will never forget that little red wagon
Turning to rust all alone in the rain
One morning I flagged down
A truck on the highway
I just couldn't bear to go back there again

And I'm dreaming about
A silent night
Holy night
When things were all right
And I'm dreaming about
How my life could have been
If only, if only, if only...
Well, it's not just the blind man
Who loses his sight
Merry Christmas
It's Christmas at Denny's tonight

And they say
Life's made of cruel circumstance
Fate plays the tune and we dance
Dance till we drop
In the dust and we're gone
And the world just goes on

The cop at the counter
He's the guardian angel
He watches these orphans
Through dark, mirrored shades
And the register rings
Like a bell sadly tolling
For the fools we've become
And the price that we paid
Oh when I was a boy
I believed in Christmas
Miracle season to make a new start
I don't need no miracle, sweet baby Jesus
Just help me find
Some kind of hope in my heart

And I'm dreaming about
A silent night
Holy night
When things were all right
And I'm dreaming about
How my life could have been
If only, if only, if only...
But I'll still be here
At the morning's first light
Merry Christmas
It's Christmas at Denny's tonight
©1982 King of Hearts Music

Truth is...if you're feeling like Steve this year, maybe all you really need right now is the knowledge that you are not alone in your pain. There are people who understand. Maybe that's a good enough first step toward finding some kind of hope in your heart.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Calvin & Hobbes & Santa & God

This Calvin & Hobbes strip should help us cultivate some empathy and understanding for those among us who have trouble believing.

It begins with Calvin wanting some physical proof to back up all he's been told about Santa Claus.

Calvin then reveals why it's important to him.

And then, with the help of Hobbes, we realize that the desire for proof goes even deeper.

Truth is...I recognize the struggle is real. I know a few atheists who truly wish they could believe, but just can't wrap their heads around the mystery of it all. They want everything to be crystal clear and unquestionable...they worship at the altar of human intelligence, which is a faulty, feeble god.

I know these things about them, and I wish them a Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Fork in the Road: Top 25 Jesus Quotes: #20

You wouldn't expect a Jewish novelist, essayist, and dramatist from Poland to have a lot of positive things to say about Jesus, and yet, here's the 20th-most-popular quote about Jesus from azquotes.com...attributed to just such a person, Sholem Asch.

Sholem Asch

"Jesus Christ is to me the outstanding personality of all time, all history, both as Son of God and as Son of Man. Everything he ever said or did has value for us today and that is something you can say of no other man, dead or alive. There is no easy middle ground to stroll upon. You either accept Jesus or reject him."

I am particularly fond of the phrase, "There is no easy middle ground to stroll upon."

That's exactly where most folks want to wander around: "Well, I really respect the teachings of Jesus. 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you' and all that kind of stuff. His love and acceptance of everyone is really inspiring, as long as I still get to indulge in my favorite vices."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...Jesus also said "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26 ESV)

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Trials Turned to Gold

Has anyone ever considered the similarities between Yahweh and Rumplestiltskin?

Let's not take the comparison TOO far, considering Rumplestiltskin's wickedly impish nature and self-destructive temper, but there is one particular skill of Rumplestiltskin's that directly relates to something Keith Green praises God about in his song, "Trials Turned to Gold".

Just as Mr. R. could take a roomful of straw and turn it into a precious metal, so Yahweh specializes in using the negative circumstances of our lives, no matter how trivial or traumatic, to transform us into kids of the Kingdom..."heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ." (Romans 8:17 NIV)

He's brought me here, where things are clear
And trials turn to gold
He shared with me, His victory
He won in days of old

Oh Lord, I don't deserve
The riches of Your word
But You've changed my filthy rags
To linen white as snow

The view from here is nothing near
To what it is for You
I tried to see Your plan for me
But I only acted like I knew

Oh Lord forgive the times
I tried to read your mind
Cause you said if I'd be still
Then I would hear your voice

My Lord, my King, my urge to sing
And praise the things above
No words can say the glorious way
You changed me with your love

He's brought me low, so I could know
The way to reach the heights
To forsake my dreams, my self-esteem
And give up all my rights

With each one that I lay down
A jewel's placed in my crown
Cause His love, the things above
Is all we'll ever need

He's brought me here, where things are clear
And trials turn to gold
©1977 April Music

Truth is...we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NIV)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Scottish Snippets

While I've never been disappointed when reading a book or article by Alistair Begg, he has proven that he is just as able to pack a wallop with only a few words:

The great need is for us to be taught theologically, not just stirred emotionally.

The reason most preaching is ignored today is that it deserves to be.

The Church is where it is today because it has decided that the advertising agents know better than the Holy Spirit of God.

Our relationship with God will never be right as long as our relationship with others is wrong.

It takes a whole Bible to make a whole Christian.

I only need a mirror to see a sinner.

Do you want to lead, or do you want to be liked?

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is... More important than his Scottish brogue, the reason I benefit from listening to Begg's "Truth for Life" podcast is that he eschews controversy in favor of living up to this frequent saying of his: "The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things."

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Dangerous Christians: Top 25 Jesus Quotes: #21

Ask 25 people why Jesus came to the planet and you'll get at least 12 different answers.

"He came to show us how to love everyone."

"Jesus came to teach us how to live simply."

"Jesus' mission was to save us from the consequences of our sins."

Ask Australian activist, evangelist, and international speaker, Christine Caine, why Jesus came to the planet and you'll get Number 21 on azquotes.com's list of the top 25 quotes having to do with Jesus:

Christine Caine

Jesus didn't come to make us safe.
He came to make us dangerous
to the kingdom of darkness.

You see, our lives as Christ-followers aren't meant to be just about our own lives. "I've got my ticket to heaven and that's all that matters." 

Jesus used a lot of action verbs when he commanded his followers: "Go." "Preach." "Make disciples." "Love one another as I have loved you."

Truth is...in the words of Rich Mullins, "He gave us a promise and He gave us a job. He'll be with us, but the work is up to us." ("Alrightokuhhuhamen")

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

When You and Your Parents Don't Share a Common Faith

In recent years, Taylor Swift and other songwriters have earned a reputation for writing songs that publically express some very personal feelings or events. But they've got a long way to go to match the heartfelt transparency Keith Green displayed in "Song to My Parents (I Only Wanna See You There)".

I need to say these things 'cause
I love you so
And I'm sorry you get angry when I say that
You just don't know
That there's a heaven waiting
For you and me
I know it seems every time we talk
I'm only tryin' to just make you see

And it's only that I care
I really only want
Just to see you there

Please try and overlook my
My human side
I know I'm such a bad example
And you know I'm so full of pride
But Jesus isn't like that
No, He's perfect all the way
I guess that's why we need Him
'Cause by ourselves, there's just no way

And it's only that I care
I really, really only just want to see you there
To see you there

Close the doors
They're just not coming
We sent the invitations out long, long, long, long time ago
We're still gonna have a wedding feast
Big enough to beat them all
The greatest people in the world just wouldn't come
So now we'll just have to invite the small

And it's only that I care
I really, really only want
Just to see you there

Isn't that Jesus?
Isn't that Joseph and Mary's son?
Well, didn't He grow up right here?
He played with our children
What! He must be kidding
Thinks He's a prophet
Well, prophets don't grow up from little boys
Do they? From little boys?
Do they?
©1977 April Music

Truth is...it's a hard thing to put a desire for a smooth, peaceful relationship aside in favor of the desire for an eternal one. Talking to our parents or other dearly loved family or friends seems scary, but if we really love them, and Jesus is really real, their rejection of Christ should scare us even more.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

How to Succeed in Politics

This has never aspired to be a political blog, but Clement Eaton has made some observations that certainly contain facts and point out a deeper truth.

The voters failed to elect their superior men to office. To obtain the [votes] of the people it was not necessary for a politician to have a superior education or a brilliant mind. Rather, he must be able to sense the common man's discontents, his economic grievances, his prejudices, and his dreams. The successful politician was, as a rule, a vigorous or eloquent speaker, a man who could devise popular slogans and organize political workers, and who gave the common people a feeling of their own importance. As party warfare developed into violent partisanship and as sectional tensions arose, the politician who had strong convictions and had taken a courageous public stand on issues was often pushed aside in favor of a candidate of availability.

In the spirit of Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story, it may surprise you to learn this is a quote from the book, Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics, and is talking about the voters of the 1830s and 1840s.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

I Am Loved: Top 25 Jesus Quotes: #22

If you go to TimothyKeller.com, you are immediately greeted by a picture of Keller apparently speaking from a pulpit or lectern. In large type, like a banner across the top of the page, is this quote:

The gospel says you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, but more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.

That's a pretty good collection of words right there, and it relates to Jesus Quote #22 in two ways:

     1.   It covers similar ground...talking about how Jesus has an effect on what I think about myself.
     2.   Its source is the same person.

Tim Keller

The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.

Truth is...While I have often said that God loves us so much He would rather die than live without us...and there is truth in that statement...I am also reminded of something Rich Mullins said: "I grew up hearing everyone tell me 'God loves you'. I would say big deal, God loves everybody. That don't make me special! That just proves that God ain't got no taste. And I don't think He does. Thank God! Because He takes the junk of our lives and makes the most beautiful art."

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Something to Stop Praying About

It might surprise you that in a book titled Pray Big, the author (Alistair Begg) actually spells out something he thinks we should all STOP praying:

Mouth Taped Shut

I want to erase the two words that shut most of our prayers down. Here they are:

"Be with..."

If you were to record my prayers, I have a sad suspicion you'd hear a lot of "be with": "Dear Lord, I pray you will be with Tom as he goes to work, and be with Mary also, who's having her wisdom teeth removed on Tuesday, and be with...and be with...and be with...and be with us all. Amen."

This is unimaginative. It's limited. It's certainly not spiritually ambitious, like Paul is. And it is, I think, unnecessary. Jesus said, "Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). He's promised to be with Tom and with Mary. It's a bit of a waste to make the sum total of my prayer for them the request that Jesus would do what he already said he'd do, and has already started doing.

Search the Scriptures, and you won't find a prayer recorded that just asks God to "be with" his people. The prayers of the saints have far more weighty, far more spiritual concerns.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...we can all understand the intent behind our "be with" prayers. Maybe we could expand them into prayers pleading that our friends and family would actually sense God's presence and walk boldly into whatever circumstance they find themselves, knowing that Yahweh, the creator of all that is, loves them and will never give up on them.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Keith Green Isn't Feeling Like Himself

Here we are at the seventh song on Keith Green's first album (For Him Who Has Ears to Hear), and Keith is speaking on behalf of Lucifer.

I kid you not.

Lucifer, Satan, Fallen Angel

Instead of singing, "Hey, people, Biblical truth is still Biblical truth! Satan is not a fairy tale!", Green puts on the persona of the chief fallen angel and proudly sings "No One Believes in Me Anymore (Satan's Boast)".

Oh, my job keeps getting easier
As time keeps slippin' away
I can imitate the brightest light
And make the night look just like day
I put some truth in every lie
To tickle itching ears
You know, I'm drawing people just like flies
'Cause they like what they hear
I'm gaining power by the hour
They're falling by the score
You know it's getting very simple now
Since no one believes in me anymore!

Oh, heaven's just a state of mind
My books read on your shelf
Or have you heard that God is dead?
I made that one up myself
They're dabbling with magic spells
They get their fortunes read
You know, they heard the truth
But turned away
And then followed me instead
I used to have to sneak around
But now they just open their doors
No one's watching for my tricks
Since no one believes in me anymore!

Everyone likes a winner
With my help, you're guaranteed to win
Hey man, you ain't no sinner!
No, you've got the truth within
And as your life slips by you believe the lie
That you did it on your own
But don't worry
I'll be there to help you share
Our dark eternal home
Our dark eternal home!

Oh, my job keeps getting easier
As day slips into day
The magazines, the newspapers
Print every word I say
This world is just my spinning top
It's all like child's play
You know, I dream that it will never stop
But I know it's not that way
Still, my work goes on and on
Always stronger than before
I'm gonna make it dark before the dawn
Since no one believes in me anymore!

Well, I used to have to sneak around
But now they just open their doors
You know, no one's watching for my tricks
Since no one believes in me anymore!
Well, I'm gaining power by the hour,
They're falling by the score,
You know, it's getting very easy now
Since no one believes in me anymore!
No one believes in me anymore!
No one BELIEVES in me anymore!
©1977 April Music

Truth is...It wouldn't be fair to expect a song to take the place of C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters in just three minutes and twenty seconds, but this could certainly be Side One, Song One of an album full of music inspired by that classic book.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Health Isn't All It's Cracked Up To Be

One good thing about a longer commute: I've been listening to the podcast, Truth for Life, featuring my favorite Scottish preacher, Alistair Begg. I started listening because I loved hearing his brogue, but he really is a solid, interesting Bible expositor.

Alistair Begg

I'm also currently reading a book by Begg, Pray Big: Learn to Pray Like an Apostle, wherein he looks at the prayers of Paul contained in his letter to the Ephesians.

There's an interesting section in the second chapter, "Prayer is Spiritual (But Not Impractical)," that makes me take a pause:

     Praying about health (which, if we had the chance to listen in on the prayers of Western Christians, would likely come in at number one) is rare  -  almost non-existent  -  in the Bible. So why are we praying about it so much?
     It's because we don't want to die.
     We want to live. We've got a sneaking suspicion that what we've got now, this side of death, is actually better than what God has for us then, on the other side of death. So we want to hang on to what we've got. But instead, we need to believe  -  really believe  -  that these things are true:
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  -  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV)
     You have now been raised with Christ into the heavenly places. You have been made part of a family that will never come to an end. One day, you will live in a new heaven and a new earth. You will see your God face to face and, with a heart no longer burdened and distracted by sin and a body no longer broken and decaying in frailty, you will praise him.
     And you and I just want to pray that we'd stay healthy and live long?! All that matters may be brought before God, but what we bring before God is not always what matters most.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...It is so easy to get caught up in what we can see, taste, smell, hear, and touch and lose "sight" of what's most important. I'm not saying it's okay to be "so heavenly-minded that you're no earthly good," but there's no value in living life the other way around, either.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Your Love Broke Through

Like every good tale of spiritual conversion, Keith Green's "Your Love Broke Through" starts by describing what he was like before Jesus, continues with what it was like meeting Jesus, and ends by declaring what life is like while following Jesus.

Like a foolish dreamer trying to build a highway to the sky
All my hopes would come tumbling down and I never knew just why
Until today, when you pulled away the clouds that hung like curtains on my eyes
Well I've been blind all these wasted years and I thought I was so wise
But then you took me by surprise

Like waking up from the longest dream
How real it seemed
Until your love broke through
I've been lost in a fantasy
That blinded me
Until your love broke through

All my life I've been searching for that crazy missing part
And with one touch you just rolled away the stone that held my heart
And now I see that the answer was as easy as just asking you in
And I am so sure I could never doubt your gentle touch again
It's like the power of the wind

Like waking up from the longest dream
How real it seemed
Until your love broke through
I've been lost in a fantasy
That blinded me
Until your love, your love broke through
©1976 April Music/King of Hearts Music

Truth is..."Sharing your testimony" really is just that simple. And not all that different from "Amazing Grace," eh? "I once was blind, but now I see."