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Yearly Archives: 2005
It’s Not Emotional Manipulation – Why is it called “manipulation of emotions” when worship leaders use the God-ordained means (music) to stir our emotions with the truth about God? If what people mean by “manipulation of emotions” has to do with their trying to use the vehicle of music (which includes lyrics which are accurate about God) to stir up your emotions for God, then “manipulation” is a poorly chosen word. Jonathan Edwards said that God commands the church to sing for no other reason than that it tends to heighten our emotions of joy and gratitude, etc. Thus, if worship leaders are accused of “manipulation” when they seek to help people get emotional (in this sense) over the content of the songs, and they do this through the God-ordained means of music, then I think we should also lay the blame at the feed of God Himself for such “manipulation,” since it was His design.
No Such Thing as Emotionless Worship – Worship is only genuine in direct proportion to the level of vigor in the heart for God. There is no such thing as emotionless worship just like there is no such thing as a material spirit. To worship without emotion is to worship in something other than spirit. Emotionless worship is mere mechanical worship.
Disclaimer – Careful that you do not misunderstand. When music is the root and cause of our emotion rather than a vehicle that stirs our God-rooted emotion, then it is idolatry, not worship. But if music is being used as God intended it (to stir our godly emotions), then we shouldn’t call it “manipulation.” I don’t accuse my Christian friends who try to encourage me when I’m down of trying to manipulate my emotions away from discouragement. And if they do provide biblical encouragement, I don’t think it would be fair for someone to accuse me of finding the root of my encouragement in THEM rather than in God. So why do so many people accuse those who get emotional in times of singing the truth about God and His word of worshiping music or of getting emotional merely because of the music? Just as friends who give biblical council in times of suffering are a means to encourage me with the truth about God, even so music is a God-ordained means to encourage my soul with the truth about God–and this will surely lead to great emotional experiences of joy, awe, contrition, gratitude, etc.
How do Musical Worship Leaders Get People Emotionally Engaged with God? – Leading musical worship involves more than vocal participation, but it is a skill of couching songs in the right kind of format; one that tends to be helpful in moving the heart to sing with heightened emotion. It requires maintaining focus through thoughtful transitions and continuity between the content of the song and the content of the accompanying prayers. For a leader, it is not only a skill of stirring up one’s own affections, but it is a skill of stirring up the affections of others by causing them to dwell on the person of God; His kindness, His goodness, His holiness, His patience, His loving faithfulness, etc.
Anything But Indifferent – The goal is not always to get every person excited and joyous (though this is a major part of the goal), nor is it to get everyone in a remorseful mood (though this is also one aspect of the goal), but to get people to be stirred by the Holy Spirit in either direction. One leading worship hopes that the people will be anything but indifferent. A worship leader hopes that through skillful facilitation of songs, the music will help move the hearts of the people in some way as they sing.
Planning to Stir Hearts – This takes thoughtful planning. It is not as simple as vocal participation because we don’t have buttons on our heart with corresponding emotional labels (press here for joy, here for contrition, here for awe, here for gratitude, etc.). This does not necessarily mean that the concerned participant shouldn’t sing unless they don’t perceive the appropriate feelings in their heart—nor should worship leaders discourage those with such concerns from singing. Often our emotion finds an on-ramp through the singing.
Praise God For Music – Music is designed by God and commanded of his people because it tends to stir up afresh the appropriate emotional response to His revelation of Himself. Therefore a worship leader’s goal is much deeper than vocal participation. It is ultimately to stir the hearts of the people with the truth of God with the God-ordained help of musical accompaniment. What a great gift from God this musical aid which tends to stir up our hearts. Let the music play, and let His people sing with heightened affections for Him. The emotion of the participant cannot ever be intense enough to accurately reflect the supreme value of the living God—but let us try with all our might to raise our affections as high as grace will take them! Only then will we maximize our pleasure in worship, for where our pleasure in God is maximized, there God is most Glorified.
Feelings Matter to God
Those who carry the official title of “Worship leader”
(those who lead in musical worship) of all people should understand that the ultimate goal of praise goes far beyond mere singing. Though a lack of vocal participation may be an indicator of a lack of ready hearts, if the people don’t feel a certain way then they sing—they are not worshiping. That’s right. That’s what I said. Feelings matter to God. We cannot be indifferent to the words we sing. Our hearts must be moved as we sing or we offer empty praise. If our singing is not attended with the appropriate emotions of joy, awe, fear, gratitude, contrition, etc., then we are clanging symbols. These emotions are commanded of us in the scriptures. They are not optional.
Emotionalism vs. Emotional Worship – The difference between emotionalism and emotional worship is the difference between emotions which are commanded of us in the scriptrues that are in conformity with truth, and emotions which have their source in somthing other than the truth. To say it another way, it is the difference between finding our emotional high in God by the power of the Holy Spirit vs. finding our emotional high merely in the music.
Emotion is of the Essence of Worship – Nevertheless, emotions have everything to do with genuine worship. Stirring up the emotions is not a bad thing, unless it is either not based on truth, or used for a mechanical manipulation (external conformity) of the audience. Stirring up thankfulness in the heart to God, stirring up tear-jerking joy in God, stirring up contrition over sin, stirring up feelings of awe at the Glory of God, etc. are in fact, the ultimate and highest goal of musical worship, and are therefore of the very essence of musical worship. These are not things you do (joy, awe, contrition, etc.) but things you are and feel in your heart.
Our Emotion Must Be Rooted in the Truth About God – The two key aspects of worship are 1) to worship in Spirit – namely that one worships not just by external conformity (like the Pharisee’s), but in the heart (which involves the affections and emotions–all of our internal activity), and secondly 2) to worship in truth – that our hearts are stirred up by the truth rather than aimless emotion. Again, this is the difference between emotionalism (aimless emotion) and emotional worship. Emotional worship has a defined foundation: the truth about God; and a definite object of affection: the glory of God. Emotional worship (that is, worship which moves the heart to godly emotions based on the truth about God) is the only kind of worship there is. Everything else may be called worship, but it cannot be genuine unless it flows from a state of heart which has been affected by the truth about God.
“O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water. Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.” – Psalms 63:1-5
Worship is more than just music. Those known as “worship leaders” should know this better than anyone. Leading worship is leading people in a lifestyle; an attitude; a state of heart and mind. But we recognize that the word “worship leader” is generally used to refer to one who leads in musical worship during corporate local church (or para-church) gatherings. We should not split hairs over this title as long as we understand that the pastors/elders of a church (the ones who bear the chief responsibility of leading and shepherding the sheep) are most responsible for leading the people in worship. They are the main worship leaders. I don’t say this to in any way belittle the responsibility of a musical worship leader; I say it to remind anyone in a pastoral role of their mutual responsibility to lead others in a lifestyle of worship. The more responsiblity one has in leading others, the more responsible they are to lead them in worship. Anyone in any type of Christian leadership is automatically more responsible to lead others in worship; to be a worship leader.
Many leaders who may lead in bible study, small group, evangelism, prayer, preaching, teaching, etc. (especially preaching pastors) may excuse themselves from the responsibility of leading in worship just because they are not known as “worship leaders.” But surely that is a fatal mistake. For example, it is absolutely essential that teachers of God’s word lead the people of God to go beyond comprehension of God’s word to a cherishing of God’s word. This kind of worship (the cherishing of God’s word) should be their ultimate aim. It’s not as though the teacher’s responsibility is to cram their minds with understanding and leave the “worship” up to the “worship leader.” God is not glorified by merely being accurate understood, but by our being so sufficietnly satisfied and pleasured by what we understand that we are full of joy and praise. Preachers must not simply aim at condmning the sins our our culture or of the church (though we see a great lack of this to our own destruction), they must chiefly aim at exalting God as the inexhaustibly glorious supreme being of the universe. They should have a transparent love for the truth of God they are preaching so that the people can see they feed their souls on God’s truth. They should preach God as the alternative to sin. Evangelists should not make hellfire damnation their main emphasis in sharing the gospel. Rather, they should make their point of emphasis God’s glory in Jesus Christ (though they cannot be separated—they can be distinguished). Evangelists ought to teach others to do evangelism unbegrudgingly; in a spirit of worship rather than a spirit of “we have to do this or people will go to Hell.” We should evangelize with this spirit: “We are privileged with the great pleasure of spreading the praises of the glorious grace of God in the gospel.” Those who lead in prayer should lead with a passion which communicates the supremacy of God in the way they pray. No Christian leader is exempt from a special responsibility to lead others in worship.
All Christians are ought to be worship leaders by example. People learn from others very early in life where they can find enter- tainment for thir souls. By our example we should be demonstrating to others where to go in order to have the thirst of their soul’s satisfied. It should be obvious to those who know us that we seek our satisfaction in life from knowing Christ and cultivating our relationship with Him. There are many ways we communicate this. When others see that we avoid sin at all costs, this demonstrates to them that God is our cheif joy because we are ready to give up anything which hinders the quality of our relationship to Him. If we are always speaking of Chirst, people will see that He is what we love most; but if we enjoy talking about sports, trival matters of entertainment, the latest celberty news, cars, polotics, our boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. more than we enjoy talking about the things of God–it will surely convince people as a dead giveaway to where our hearts are really at. We should live in such a way that others not only see that our hearst are consumed with the things of God (and that all else is rubbish in comparison), but that God makes us so happy in Him that we are not looking to find our joy in others things. We should seek our satisfaction solely in God, becasue only He is dependable. The stock market may crash, terrorists may blow up our country, our loved ones may perish unexpectedly, our jobs may be taken away from us, even our own lives on earth may vansih as a vapor–but God is our hope; our life; our only certainty; our sure source of joy; the umovable ancor of our souls; and unshakable foundation of peace. Though all else in this life may and indeed eventually will certainly be taken away from us, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Are we living in such a way as to make it obvious to others that our hope is only in God? Does our life scream to others, “Come here to drink, for all other fountains are incomparable and unworthy of our devotion!”?
There is a sense in which everyone worships (even unbelievers) because everyone seeks to be happy. Everyone judges the value of things based on how helpful they are in obtaining happiness. Part of what it means to worship something is to trust in it for satisfaction in life. I used to worship money, sex, drugs, music, and many other unworthy things. This was my lifestyle of worship. I assigned too much value to these things in their ability to give me happiness. They all let me down and destroyed my life (just as the scripture says, Galatians 6:7). By example, I taught others to drink from the fountain of sin in order to obtain the goal of happiness—all to their destruction. After tasting of the Lord’s living water, I have not desired to turn back and drink from other fountains. They are like broken cisterns. I have long since been satisfied by the water of this new well. The water from this new well quenches far better the thirst of my soul. It is the supreme fountain because it satisfies supremely. If biblical worship is coming to the divine well and satisfying our souls on the Glory of God in Christ Jesus through the gospel, then let us indulge ourselves at this fountain while leading others to it, and let us channel the waters of this fountain to every area of our hearts and lives—for only then will we know joy in all its fullness; only then will maximize our pleasure in quenching our thirst for this all-satisfying water. If we as Christian leaders care about quenching the thirst of the souls of others, we will seek to be as full of this living water as we can possibly be, that it might overflow and spill out on others. This water and this water alone is able to give the soul everlasting pleasure.
How Can You Say Confron- tation is For the Sake of Our Pleasure? – Confron- tation is not only biblical, it is necessary for the preserving of pleasure in at least two ways. 1) The spiritual pleasure of intimacy with Christ is proportionally dependant on the purity of the church, which seems to be Paul’s main concern when he confronts people in his epistles, 2) the goal for the one being confronted and/or excommunicated is to see him restored if he is a true Christian (i.e. to the spiritual pleasure of intimacy with Christ which sin hinders and dilutes). Purity in the corporate body as well as in the individual entities magnifies the work and worth of Christ, glorifies God, and demonstrates the power of the Holy Spirit—all of which is the ground of our pleasure. If only we were more committed to our own pleasure, the pleasure of the church, and the pleasure of those who need confronted, we would suffer a great deal of opposition and uncomfortableness to see to it that we confront our brothers and sisters in Christ when they are in sin, or could use a bit of gentle, loving, gracious confrontation about something.
Unbelievers: This is the gospel, which means “good news.” It is the message of Jesus Christ and all his apostles. According to the scriptures, faith in this gospel saves the soul. Without belief in this gospel one cannot be “saved” (in the biblical sense), nor can one call themself a Christian. If you desire to maximize your pleasure and experience what God created you for–the everlasting quench of the thirst of your soul–here is where it all starts. For the sake of your own soul, I hope you will put your faith in the gospel!
Believers: Your comments are also welcome. This presentation may be in need of refinement (I would be eager to receive constructive criticism). Just remember that this is a gospel tract–not an abbreviated systematic theology (I don’t explain everything or mention everything, but only that which I deem necessary to understanding the basic message of the gospel).
I. The Doctrine of God – God Created the World and is distinct from it, and He is King Over the World, and Does as He wishes, He is Sovereign (Genesis 1:1, Psalm 47:7-8, 82:8, 115:3, 134:6, Proverbs 16:4-5, 9, 33, 19:21, 20:24, 21:1, Isaiah 52:7, Daniel 4:34-35, 5:21, Acts 17:25, Romans 13:1).
II. The Doctrine of Sin – Sin is rebellion against God, Adam was the first one to do this. When Adam sinned, he plunged himself and all mankind into a state of condemnation; and we, being his offspring, are like him and have been born with a sinful nature, doing that which God forbids because we do not Love God enough to obey Him, and we enjoy sinning against God more than obeying Him. Adam’s sin we call “The Fall,” which is the reason for the current fallen state of humanity (Genesis 2 & 3, Romans 3:9-19, 5:12-21 cf. Romans Ch’s 1:18 – 3:20, See also John 3:19-20, Acts 17:26, I Corinthians 15:21-22).
III. The Doctrine of Man: Man’s Condition – The consequences of sin are death and suffering: the curse. This suffering takes many forms. The source of our suffering from which all sorrow flows is our relation to God after the fall of Adam. Rather than being children of God and having a loving relationship with Him (for which we were created and designed), we all have become Children of His Wrath and have therefore been cut off from any loving relationship to Him (Ephesians 2:1-3,11-12). In short, we are under condemnation, and we remain in this cursed state whether we realize it or not (John 3:36). If this condition does not change in an individual before death, he enters into a state of everlasting punishment at the just hands of an angry God (Heb 9:27, Revelation 20:11-15, John 5:28, 8:24).
IV. The Doctrine of Christ: God’s Intervention
A. God Remains A Just Judge
1) Punishment as Necessary For the Preservation of Justice – It would have been unrighteous and unjust for God to let rebels off the hook without any punishment for sin. God’s wrath for sin had to be satisfied, because God is Holy, Holy, Holy , unlike any judges of our day, he is perfectly righteous and therefore executes nothing less than perfect punishment for sin (Is 6:3). God, being just and sovereign over His Creation, could have reigned down wrath and consumed the earth altogether. That is, He could have solved the problem of sin by destroying all of creation and sending all of mankind to endure His wrath forever.
2) The Alternate Way of Satisfying Justice: Substitutionary Atonement – Rather than this, He has chosen to save the human race from utter destruction by sending someone else to bare the guilt and punishment for the sins of the earth (John 3:16). The necessary preservation of justice is the reason why Jesus had to become a substitute for the human race. It was necessary for God, being just and rightly angered by Sin, to punish all sins (Romans 3:21-26). The punishment was unavoidable, so God came to us in the form of man, which we know as Jesus Christ the Son of God, lived a perfect life in obedience to the Law of God, then took the punishment due for sins. In doing this, Jesus became our substitute in two ways: 1) he bore our sin (II Corinthians 5:21) and 2) became our righteousness (Romans 4:2-8, 5:17, Philippians 3:8-9). After He made it possible for humans to have their relationship to God restored, He rose from the dead, setting an example for the future resurrection, being raised in a glorified state He was taken up to heaven where He reigns at the right hand of the Father as King of the Earth (Ephesians 1:20-23, Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus has accomplished a state of reconciliation by a Substitutionary Righteousness and a Substitutionary Atonement. Together, these two works of Christ make it possible for God to remain just, yet also justify the pardon of sinful people.
B. God Justifies the Ungodly: The Double Exchange
1) He took the Hit for Us – Our sins were counted as His on the cross, and God’s wrath was then appeased for sin: this is Redemption, the paying of the price. The price was suffering of God’s wrath, which Christ underwent on our behalf. It is as if Christ has pushed us out of the way of an oncoming train (the train of God’s necessary justice) and took the hit of this train in our place.
2) He earned our Righteousness – At the very moment we put our faith in Christ, His righteousness is counted as ours so that we stand before God on the day of Judgment as though we had lived a perfect life, even as though we were clothed with His righteousness. This is called imputation: that God imputes to us His Own righteousness through Christ. This does not mean that God forgets that we have sinned against Him, rather, God accepts work of Christ as sufficient for our being accepted before Him.
A. Salvation is Based on Grace – Because man is guilty of crimes against God, he does not deserve to be saved form God’s wrath, nor does he deserve any blessings from God. Thus salvation is by Grace (unmerited favor).
1) Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And that is not of yourselves, it is a gift from God; not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
2) Grace as Undeserved Favor – Grace is undeserved favor. It is undeserved because no one deserves it. For anyone to receive anything less than eternal punishment for their sin is grace. It is favor because it saves us from God’s just wrath and entitles us to a host of blessings (forgiveness, reconciliation with God, satisfaction of the soul, eternal joy, a resurrection body, etc.).
3) The Purpose of Grace: So That God Gets the Due Credit – Lest anyone should boast as though they had done anything to deserve the gift of salvation, God has ordained salvation only by means of grace. So that Christ gets all the due credit for salvation, it is through faith in Him and His work that one become saved. If it were not by grace, no one would have a chance at being saved (Romans 4:2,16).
B. The Word of God – God has chosen to apply his accomplished work of Redemption (the Cross) to human beings through the preaching of the gospel, that is, the good news about Christ as understood in the previous context I have laid out (Romans 1:16-17, James 1:18). He has therefore so blessed the preaching of the gospel (or reading of it) that the Holy Spirit grants faith and repentance through this divine message (Acts 11:18, 16:14, Ephesians 2:8-9, Philippians 1:29, II Timothy 2:24-25), and a radical change takes place in the human heart whereby love for sin is greatly weakened, and a love for God is born. Forgiveness is not for everyone, but only for those who experience this heart change, that is, those who repent of their sins and put their faith in Christ and believe the Gospel of Christ. Those who do experience this no longer remain in their fallen state as enemies of God, but are loved and adopted by God and are no longer bound to suffer the curse forever, though they continue to live in a cursed world (Romans 8:15-25).
C. True Faith and Its Fruits
1) Faith Is More Than Intellectual Assent – True faith is more than mere intellectual belief, but is the acceptance of both the work and person of Christ. It includes the desire to have a personal relationship with Christ, and to know God through Christ (John 13:20). It is not a mere intellectual activity, but it involves the heart, the will, and even the emotions. It is impossible to have an emotionless conversion experience because it is impossible to have an emotionless faith. Part of saving faith is believing that God is more rewarding than sin (Heb 11:6).
2) Repentance: A Crucial Aspect of Faith – This kind of faith includes repentance (II Cor 7:10). Repentance is a change of one’s heart toward sin. When a person repents, this means that he/she changes his/her mind about their sin, recognizing it to be an offense toward God. Rather than having a friendly and comfortable mindset toward their sin, they begin to hate sin in their heart and become uncomfortable with respect to sins they know of in their life. They develop a mentality which is opposed to sin, and they develop a desire to turn from their sins; to fight their sinful impulses. In short, repentance is a change of heart towards one’s sin.
3) The Gift and Fruits of the Holy Spirit – Through the preaching (or sharing, or reading) of the Gospel message, those who believe receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, who posses them in a glorious way, so that they seem to be always guided in righteousness as a result (Romans 8:14-16). The Scripture teaches that those who come to know God through Christ by faith in the Gospel begin to change the way they live, paying utmost respect to the commandments of God out of their love for Him and desire to please Him (I John 2:3-6). Those who believe and receive the Holy Spirit do not become perfect (I John 1:8), but all people who come to faith in Christ are changed by the Spirit of God within them (I Corinthians 5:17).
4) The Essence of Conversion – Conversion is a change from one thing to another. Any time a person is saved, they undergo a conversion experience. True Christian conversion experience involves a change from being indifferent to God and loving sin, to being in love with God and hating sin. The essence of the change of conversion could be described as a change of the human heart in which the believers main source of joy, peace, and fulfillment in life is now found in God rather than in sin (Galatians 5:16-25). It is a change of desires and affections. Those who are saved are saved from the domination of their sinful desires. They develop new desires for God which exceed the power of their sinful desires. They learn to delight in the things of God, they learn that true joy is found in glorifying God (I Cor 10:31). They develop deep affections for God and an intimate way of relating to Him. The Good News is good because God is more satisfying, more pleasurable, more rewarding than the satisfactions, pleasures, and rewards of sin.
VI. The Doctrines of Christianity: Overview of Our Beliefs
A. The Scriptures – The Bible (Old and New Testament Cannon) as Inspired by God, Thus Authoritative and without error.
B. The Trinity – God is One in Essence , but Three in Persons: Jesus is Deity, His Father is Deity, The Holy Spirit is Deity
C. The Sovereignty of God – God is the King of the Earth, All things belong to Him, and He does as He pleases with respect to His Creation, nothing happens without His ordination.
D. The Fall – All Human Beings are Born with a Sinful Nature because we are descendant from Adam, and this is why the world is cursed with suffering and death.
E. The Judgment – All souls will be Judged According to their Deeds on Earth
F. Hell – The eternal damnation of those who are never saved through the gospel, and thus remain in their Fallen State.
G. Exclusivity – Christ is the only way to escape God’s curse on sin and bring humans into a loving relationship with God. That is, faith in Christ is the only way to be saved.
H. The Resurrection – All Bodies will be Restored anew and Raised for the Judgment and either everlasting damnation or everlasting reward.
I. Heaven – Heaven is the eternal reward and blessedness for those who repent of sin and put their faith in Christ.
J. Love For God and Others – Love for God is the most important part of the Christian life and love for others is the second most important of all commands. Love for God is the foundation for loving people.
K. Love For Christ – Because Christ is God incarnate (the person of God untied to a human body) and therefore the clearest expression/revelation of the person of God, love for Christ is most central to loving God.
L. The Glory of God – The glory of God is the end for which the world was created. Man’s purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
To choose between a good and bad thing is easy. Our moral dilemma’s come when we either perceive that we must choose the lesser evil of two bad things, or the better between two good things. According to the holy and sacred scripture (and all of its moral context), we are to do all we do for the Glory of God. Since we cannot always judge best, we might safely assume that whatever helps us to better obey the commandments of God will just as much help us in glorifying God. Therefore, if we have a choice between two goods which are equally permissible, we must not choose by whim or presumptuous interpretations of providence, but we must sincerely seek to discern which of the two possible options is most likely to lead us into more obedience.
Specifically helpful is considering obedience to the first commandment, which encompasses all the others (that is, to love the LORD with all of our heart). Often, our dilemma between two goods can be relieved if only we thought this question through in every part of our life.
For example, not all secular music promotes sin (though most of it does—if not explicitly, subtlety). Thus, listening to secular music which does not promote sin is “permissible.” But this would be a poor reason to make it part of your musical diet. Many things are permissible which are not necessarily helpful with respect to our purpose of cultivating more love for God. What kind of music most effectively stirs my heart for the things of God? What friends of mine most consistently lead my thoughts toward God and help me to better love Him? What habits in my life are truly helping me to achieve a greater level of love for God?
When we become convinced that one option is more likely to lead us into a deeper love for Christ than another option, would we not be obligated to choose it? If so, this is the end of our moral dilemma. When choosing between two goods, however, we are not omniscient. We cannot foresee every factor which will help or hurt our cause. However, we must be honest and earnest in our seeking to discern what options are most likely (to the best of our limited knowledge) to help us love God more—for this will be the end of our uncertainty and the beginning of a life of confidence in our courses of action. We must avoid at all costs being superstitious, lazy, impressionistic, and carnal in our choices. We must avoid at all costs a minimalistic Christianity which merely asks “Is this permissible?” We must rather seek those things which most effectively stir our affections for God, help us to grow in our walk with Christ, and most glorify God.
Glorifying God is the ultimate pleasure. We were created for this very purpose, to glorify the worth and holiness of God. When we do not live consistently for this purpose, our joy falters. Asking whether or not something is “permissible” is so often the wrong question (though unavoidable at times). It’s a quick way to quench the Spirit and all of our passion for the things of God. Minimilistic Christianity in effect asks this question, “How can I have the least amount of pleasure in Christ?” What a miserable way to look at the Christian life. Instead, we should ask, “How can I maximize my pleasure in God?” This question is synonymous with “How can I maximize my love for God and obedience to His commandments?” or “How can I most Glorify God?” To ask these questions from a sincere heart is the first step to a more radical pleasure producing paradigm for the Christian life.
Sexual immorality has so much to do with so many other problems in our society. For example, would there be as many people in our society who gangbang, rob people, sell drugs, do drive by’s, prostitute women, have psychological malfunctions, wrong people to get attention, disregard authority, etc. if everyone who grew up had both a mother AND a father who actually took responsibility for their sex? That’s why God’s design is marriage. God doesn’t want us having sex unless we have committed to provide the proper context for the natural consequences of sex (children). God commands that lovers be ready to raise a family together–it’s not JUST about the pleasure (although God created both outer beauty and the physical pleasure of sex), it’s about God’s design of reproduction. Marriage is the only context which is fitting to such a great responsibility as raising a child.
Has anyone checked the statistics about single parent homes? Has anyone had an inside track to the ghetto’s in America? The streets are raising many of our babies, and much of it is a result of sexual immorality. Gang members often talk of how they felt like they never had a family that cared, and that this is one of their motivations for joining the gang–the gang is attractive because it resembles a family.
Anyway…that’s just one example of how sexual immorality is effecting our culture–one baby at a time [not to mention the objectification of women, increase in sexual offenses, divorce rate (and all that kids have to go through in that kind of situation), violence and murder (angry husband’s / jealous boyfriends), broken hearts, depression, rampant homosexuality, pedophilia, molestation, bestiality (screw-any-thing-that-moves-ality), sexually transmitted diseases, abortion on demand (the murder of a beating heart), etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.] We belittle God’s great gift of sex when we live as though our genitiles were just toys that we can play with now and let someone else clean up the “mess” later. It’s not a very nice “thank you” to God when we run his gifts through the mud and leave a generation of lost souls in the wake.
GOD CREATED SEX. Yeah, that’s what I said. God created sex and therefore, He knows best how sex is supposed to work. He intends for us to get much pleasure out of it. In fact, if we have any faith in God (or any experience of real love in the context of marriage) we should trust that sex is more enjoyable when it is stewarded according to God’s standards. God’s not a kill-joy—He just knows what’s best for our everlasting joy and pleasure. If we put God first and handle our sexuality the way God intended, we would not only have a better society, but we would get more pleasure out of sex, and more joy and long-term fulfillment out of our relationships. We settle for such cheap, temporary, destructive, weak pleasures that we miss the intense, eternal, all-satisfying and ultimate pleasure which comes from the hand of God.
“And the Lord God said to the snake, Because you have done this you are cursed more than all cattle and every beast of the field; you will go flat on the earth, and dust will be your food all the days of your life: And there will be war between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed: by him will your head be crushed and by you his foot will be wounded. To the woman he said, Great will be your pain in childbirth; in sorrow will your children come to birth; still your desire will be for your husband, but he will be your master. And to Adam he said, Because you gave ear to the voice of your wife and took of the fruit of the tree which I said you were not to take, the earth is cursed on your account; in pain you will get your food from it all your life. Thorns and waste plants will come up, and the plants of the field will be your food; With the hard work of your hands you will get your bread till you go back to the earth from which you were taken: for dust you are and to the dust you will go back.”
Gen 3:14-19 (BBE)
The Big Question: Why? – In times of great suffering like the flooding of New Orleans, the terrorist disasters of 9-11 or the recent Tsunami, ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ are called to give an account of their belief in a God who is in control of all things. How can God let this happen? So often the answers given seem to be insufficient to our reason, especially to those who themselves endure the suffering. Moreover, even when Christian theologians give answers which are perhaps intellectually cogent, these explanations somehow still seem empty—unable to comfort those in great pain. The question of how a loving God could let so many people suffer is arguably the most important question of our time. Never have we seen such widespread suffering in the world than at the close of the 20th Century and the opening of the 21st.
Take, for Example, Natural Disasters. Tornadoes twist their way through neighborhoods destroying homes and taking lives, Hurricanes demolish the coastlands and claim countless victims. Earthquakes split the earth open and swallow the people and take out the foundations of massive man-made structures. Sea Storms sink ships. Floods drown entire communities under a violent current. Volcanoes spew brimstone as if the earth ready to spew out hell itself. Blizzards bury people alive and suffocate homes. Forest fires burn up the earth, natural habitats, and homes.
Or what about sickness and death? Massive famines in Africa leave people starving to death and born deformed from malnutrition. The AIDS epidemic spreads like wildfire taking millions of lives in China, America, Africa, Europe, and all over the world—and there is no cure. The terror of cancer is indiscriminate and without a cure. Babies are born with countless deformities; some are born addicted to crack cocaine and must receive special weaning treatments from birth to survive (not to mention those babies which are aborted before birth). Others are born with Cystic Fibrosis (another incurable disease) and told they should not expect to live very long. Heart attacks and strokes await every man and woman with time. Not even doctors can keep up with the full extent of known malfunctions of the human body. The Young boast of their youth and inwardly take for granted that death is far away. Yet even perfectly healthy children die in their sleep or have brain aneurisms without warning. A-timer’s disease wipes out the fond memories of yesterday along with self identity, leaving an aged wife to ask her husband on their 67th year anniversary “Who are you? What are you doing in my home?!” This is just as heart breaking for the husband as it is for the wife. Unexpected fatal accidents leave loved one’s wishing they had a last chance to say “I love you.” So many are paralyzed and cannot walk, others who cannot move anything but their head. Others are blind having never seen the light of day, still others who are deaf and have never heard the sound of music; or worse, there are those who can neither hear nor see, and death awaits the best of people. All human beings are on death row. The graveyard is inescapable; inevitable; everyone’s permanent retirement plan. All are born with a hyphen by their name on their tombstone awaiting death which ruins the best of friends and invites the human race to morn day and night.
Yet our bodies begin to decay long before death, making it slow and painful. Organs stop functioning, skin looses its life and shrivels up, bones become soft and break under the slightest pressure. Our souls cry for long life, yet our bodies demand that we decay and die off: lungs collapse, hearts explode, arteries clog the veins, eye sight fails, hearing is lost, and strength is drained with age. Death stares even the strong youth in the face, reigning like a King over all the earth with absolute authority over all lives, making them temporary vapors in the large schema of our universe. No one chooses the day of her death, yet death finds his victims unsuspecting, like a sudden jolt of electricity or a midnight ambush. Life is but a vapor, a blade of grass, a fading flower, a shot of wind, a burning match, and the reality of death deeply disturbs the human mind and awakens us to our vulnerability, so we bury it in the grave of our conscience for a sense of peace.
Begging the Question: The Hollow Answers – Pure science has no answers to such questions as “Why do we suffer?” or “Why do all people die?” Science can only affirm the grim reality of suffering and death, but she is inadequate in answering all of life’s deepest questions. All too often ministers of the Gospel can say little more than “We trust that God has a plan,” or “Just as we suffer, we know Christ also suffered.” Seemingly even more inappropriate at such a time, ministers will say, “We know that God still loves us.” I do not deny that such answers are true. The problem is that all of these answers nonetheless seem to beg the question: But why do we suffer so terribly? Perhaps the worst thing a minister could say, however, is that God has nothing to do with our suffering and dying. Somehow, in the midst of controversy, ministers often become more interested in getting God “off-the-hook” than translating a sovereign God into the equation of purposeful suffering.
Suffering as a Proof of God’s Righteousness – Because I know that questions like these go through my own mind, I am guessing that in a time like this, they also are running through your mind. Often Christians—having experienced a great work of grace and tasted of the new creation which is to come—begin to see the world with such new eyes that they are awakened afresh to the beauties and glories of life, the world, and the universe. They begin to use the glory of creation as an empirical evidence for the love of the creator. “How could there not be a God? There is so much beauty in the world!” they might say. And of course “God is love.”
Yet creation is, from another angle, probably a poor exhibit for proof of a benevolent creator God. All the world is under an unavoidable curse of sin, suffering, and death. How do you tell a kid who has been abused, neglected, raped, beaten, whose brother is incarcerated and whose best friend just walked into fatal stray bullets in the midst of gang retaliation, etc., “God [the sovereign and omnipotent One] loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”? These things beg for explanation.
Perhaps this is another reason why I find biblical Christianity to be philosophically responsible–the scriptures do not overlook the weight of the curse that everyone experiences to one degree or another in this life. This seems to be major reality check against unwarranted optimism. Suffering and death are either a just punishment for a humanity born in rebellion against that which is infinitely worthy of allegiance, or there is no God (at least no God who is all-powerful and all-loving). It reminds me of what C.S. Lewis said in his apologetical book Mere Christianity:
We have two bits of evidence about the Somebody. One is the universe He has made. If we used that as our only clue, then I think we should have to conclude that He was a great artist (for the universe is a very beautiful place), but also that He is quite merciless and no friend to man (for the universe is a very dangerous and terrifying place). The other bit of evidence is that Moral Law which He has put into our minds.” – Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers Inc. 1980, 29.
In the end, creation is a good proof for the glory and creative genius (if that’s the right word) of the creator, but not necessarily His love. That piece of the puzzle must be found at the cross, where that other doctrine of which creation is an exhibit is also to be met–the doctrine of sin. Instead of flooding the earth all over again, or sticking a planet-size dynamite stick into the earth, Christ was sent to bear the curse on our behalf—that’s why I can say as a Christian that the world speaks of the great glory of our Creator, and equally of the great rebellion of humanity.
God’s Purposes in Suffering – Ultimately the weight of the curse is a cosmic thunderclap of the righteous indignation of God Himself. It is a shocking exhibit of God’s hatred of sin. Once the existence of God is presupposed, this is the pressing question: Why has God allowed so much suffering? The answer will not be much welcomed in a world that already takes no delight in the things of God. But God is not in the dock here; we are. Where was God in 9/11? He was behind it all, weaving a million glorious purposes of wrath mixed with grace; drawing straight with crooked lines; enslaving the sinful intents of those who were the instruments of so much destruction to fit his sovereign and pure purposes of judgment and mercy. Many people suffer and die in times of calamity, and this is His judgment, but many people (by God’s gracious plan) turn to such a worldview as Christianity in those terrifying times. The teachings of the scriptures about man’s being estranged from God and God’s being angry at evil in the world begin to make more sense in times of suffering. God uses death and suffering to spread the message of the gospel, because it is so often the bad news (that the world is cursed and estranged from God’s favor) that prepares the soil for the seed of the good news (God’s grace in Jesus Christ). Why does God allow suffering? For the display of His Glorious righteousness and grace, for the everlasting enjoyment of His people who are saved through the greatest display of righteousness and mercy: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
“For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags” (Prov 23:21).
“For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Phil 3:18-19).
Overeating is a sin. It makes me feel ugly because my belly becomes swollen and I feel (even though I’m not) fat. It makes me worry that I’ll soon and inevitably be overweight like many of my good friends who used to be thin but have since let themselves go. It expands my stomach so that the next time I eat I have to eat more to get the same full-feeling, which makes me more vulnerable to perpetuating this bad habit. Somehow it manages to eliminate my feeling of confidence in all my labors. It makes me feel altogether weak because my body must expend too much energy at once to digest the overload of food. This weakness hinders me from diligence. It hinders me from joy by weighing my conscience down with great guilt. This in turn hinders me from being able to bless others because my vessel becomes temporarily clogged by my guilt and weakness. When I overeat, I am making a god out of my appetite. Though I know it’s wrong, at the time it seems more desirable than what I know is right. Worst of all, it is an evidence of my taking more pleasure in food than in God. How sad. God help me.