It’s good to share what you have with others. The folks at a Vineyard Church in Central Kentucky have a community of worshiping songwriters who happen to be skilled musicians, and the result of their sharing we have Promises of Wonder, a live album of fresh music honoring Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Vineyard Music Group traveled miles off the Interstate to find a country church filled with Indie music: a textured acoustic sound wrapped around lyrics of depth and beauty. This is not your standard live-worship album with thumping beats designed for clap-along crowds. It’s gentle pace and thoughtful meanings are designed more to change the atmosphere in the room (or car, or ear buds).
Many of the songs are Trinitarian in nature, ascribing worth-ship to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The lyric-poetry stands up under repeated listening and invites you to plumb the depths of a fellow-traveling relationship with Jesus:
God, Your love meets
My heart like a song
And it echoes on and on
In bitter cold, winter’s storm
Your melody comes
Sets my feet on the path leading home. (From the title track)
Vineyard veteran Ryan Delmore sits in on the sessions, and it feels like Kentucky is his second home. The quality of play is first-rate, yet each musician is careful to play under one another, which creates a unified sound where the individual serves the whole. The vocals (especially Hannah Daugherty’s) are clear without being in your face—even the singers blend with the song. Nine of the thirteen songs are homegrown: this church has nurtured a songwriting circle for years, and it shows. (You can read more about genius behind homegrown worship at indigenousworship.com)
I recommend this album. It will not only show you the path to Jesus, it will give you an assurance He walks the path with you.
I’ve always been intrigued when the scriptures command an emotion:
- Let the priests, the Lord's ministers, weep between the porch and the altar (Joel 2:17)
- Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. (Psalm 100:1-2)
- Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)
In our era it has become commonplace to believe we are not responsible for our emotions and thoughts. But perhaps we are responsible. In fact, I think so.
Some events—and the emotions that go with them—are indeed beyond our control: unexpected loss, good news beyond all expectation, hurt inflicted by a loved-one. Yet in the everyday-ness of living our emotions are largely the result of our habitual thoughts. If we could discern the map of our heart and mind, I suspect we would discover the well-worn pathways of our thinking and feeling. We train ourselves to think and feel in repeated ways.
(This is where I should cite studies from some Journal of Psychiatric Studies or an authoritative-sounding publication, but no: I’m just going to share what I’ve observed about myself and others during my few decades of living.)
I believe the reason we find repeated exhortations in the scripture to think and feel certain ways is because God has given us the capacity to rule our thoughts and emotions. Consider this very telling exchange between God and Cain, just before Cain chose to murder his brother. God comes to Cain and pleads with him to get a grip on himself:
“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4: 6-7)
This passage tells the story of humankind’s first encounter with anger, jealously, and feelings of rejection. It brings revelation about our own psyche: we are responsible for our emotions, and each of us has been given the capacity to choose a healthy emotional response. In this story are the seeds of hope for a fallen world: God visits us in our anger or hurt, and encourages us to choose wisely.
He believes in us more than we believe in ourselves. Is it possible that we can redirect the pathways of our heart? I believe it is. A redeemed people can learn how to renew their hearts and minds:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)
Every society has its blind spots; admirable qualities can become false gods. We live in a therapeutic world where compassion is the chief good. Compassion is good, but when tilted off-balance it robs others of the ability (and responsibility) to steward their lives.
The good news of the gospel is better than we thought, and part of the good news is we gain the power to rule our hearts.
I used to think this was so clever: as a Protestant pastor I would refer to Roman Catholics as our “cousins.” I thought it highlighted our close association with Catholics while subtly reminding the listener of the differences between the great Reformation divide. Those Catholics are family, but only cousins. Pretty witty, eh? Not really. I’m ashamed to say that I did so for years.
Eventually the still small voice of the Spirit began to get through. “Really, Ray? Do you really mean to say these people do not have the same Father?” I tried to argue with the voice for a while. “These people have such different practices.” I answered. “Their church is full of cultural influences that have nothing to do with the Scripture.” Case made, right?
The Spirit’s voice is gentle but strong: a velvet granite breath. “And your church? Don’t your practices seem strange to Baptists or Presbyterians? And what about the cultural influences in your church? Perhaps the Apostle Paul would have a thing or two to say about them?” Eventually I acknowledged these billion-plus people as part of God’s family. They are brothers and sisters, who call Jesus Lord and King. My opinions of their practices did not matter. God’s opinion does.
Then a marvelous thing happened. I discovered the Banqueting Table was longer than I had imagined. It stretched beyond my fleshly vision. I discovered I had been invited to come and feast, not criticize. I beheld sisters and brothers I had never known before. If I revered the Father why not revere the family?
And one more thing happened. A spirit of criticism began to lift from my mind. The real issue had never been about Protestants and Catholics. The issue was my critical, demanding heart. The issue was my self-appointed position as judge and jury over all God’s Kingdom (such a big Kingdom, and such a tiny judge!) I no longer felt the need to walk the police beat of orthodoxy. If a few impostors came to the feast, I knew the Father could choose who should eat and who would be shown the door. I was free to find the best in people and ignore their flaws. The same Spirit who corrected me could correct them.
So I suggest this week’s meditation: Is it possible we criticize other Christians publicly because inwardly we don't see them as family?
Students of Jesus are not simply students. He invites his followers to live in his Kingdom. It's not just a metaphor, Jesus is a real King his Kingdom is a real place. The well being of any people is largely a reflection of the government under which they live.
The current difficulties with pirates off the coast of Somalia highlight the leaderless condition of that country. Most of sub-Saharan Africa groans under the weight of corrupt leadership. I have a friend who lives in Peru, where she regularly experiences interruptions in telephone-service, electricity, and even water. In the United States, despite tempestuous political clamor, we enjoy the benefits of good government: the phones work, the water runs, and the mail is delivered. When natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina shred the infrastructure Americans are up in arms over the shortcomings of their government--without ever considering that in most places around the world the government is incapable (and sometimes unwilling) of providing any assistance at all.
When an outsider looks at any nation, he can see the effects of leadership. Are the people safe, happy, and prosperous? Is there justice in the land? Do the people live in freedom or fear? The scripture affirms that good government is a blessing: “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.” (Proverbs 29: 2)
Followers of Jesus live not only under the government of their native land, we are invited to live also under the government of God. Listen to these words from Isaiah:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with
justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9: 6 - 7
(You might consider these passages from Isaiah as well: 11: 1 - 9; 32: 1 - 8)
Unlike the worldly governments around us today, the government of God is not coercive. Jesus, the King, invites us to come under his government, to honor him as King, and to experience the blessings of the perfect Ruler. The promises of his Kingdom rule are largely dependent upon our choices--will we receive him as King?
If a fireman rescues me from a burning building, no one expects that I will live the rest of my life under his oversight. It would be silly: he saved me but he is not my master. Jesus serves us not only as Savior but also declares he is Lord. He is able--willing--to save, and still he calls us farther up and in to receive him also as Lord. The benefits of his government, the Kingdom of God, are for those who will submit to his rule.
Look at just a few of promises from Isaiah of a life lived in obedience to King Jesus:
Wonderful Counselor: Jesus is the Master of living, and is eager to give the best counsel available. What counsel do I need? Parenting, business, marriage, relationships, career, education? As Dallas Willard has pointed out, Jesus is the wisest person who has ever lived, and his counsel is available to those who will listen to--and do--his will.
Mighty God: Generations of believers and unbelievers alike have discovered that strength does not lie in military might or economic power. All of creation is held together in Jesus Christ. He has power to save, not only from the eternal destruction of Hell, but also from our circumstances here and now. Do we see Jesus as the source of our provision and rescue in everyday life?
Everlasting Father: Fathers on earth are imperfect and increasingly absent in our day. In Jesus we have a family identity that will never be severed. For those who have suffered loss of identity because of broken family relationships, the Everlasting Father is a reality for all who will come to Him.
Prince of Peace: Jesus wears this title not as some honorary degree, but as the one who can bestow peace on us right now. It is his to give. Consider this promise from another chapter in Isaiah: “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” (26:3) As we come to trust in Jesus in practical, daily ways, we experience the peace he has to give.
And there is more in this passage from Isaiah 9--it encourages us that there is an unending increase of government and peace. He invites us to experience justice and right relationships capable of impacting others around us.
Unlike government programs from earthly nations, we are assured that "the zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." The counsel, power, belonging and peace is accomplished not by human programs, but rather by humbly and intentionally submitting to the gentle yoke of discipleship. After he saves us, he wants to rule us, if we will allow him.
The challenge for us as followers of Jesus is this: his government is available for everyone, but it is still a government. We must choose whether we will live with King Jesus, or simply settle for Fireman Jesus.
Just when we are tempted to think these times are unique, the Scriptures remind us that people of every generation, every race, and every society have had to cope with fear and uncertainty. That’s because these are the weapons of the god of this age.
The excellent news is we can receive the right relationships, deep peace and inner-spring of joy conferred upon subjects of the King by his Holy Spirit. These are gifts of the Kingdom, and they are more real than the fears and doubts sown into the everyday messages of this age. To live in these three realities is actually a signal to the Adversary his methods are passing away, and being replaced with a resurrected people living in the age to come even now: “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel: in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.” (Philippians 1:27-28)
The answer is always the same: there is a King in Heaven who will return to earth, and we can participate in His Kingdom right now, even before he returns. In the on-going mission of God’s people living in this present age, there is no such thing as a “non-combatant.” The only question is whether I’m aware of the conflict raging around me.
Meditate: Have I ever thought of my life as the battleground between two kingdoms?