Thursday, July 31, 2014

Movie Review: Heaven Is For Real

I read the book and liked it. The book was heartwarming, well-written, and thought-provoking. Whether or not I think there is a theological discrepancy between the heaven that the book presents and the real heaven, the book was a good read. It neither bolstered my faith nor attacked it. I didn't need this story to convince me that there was a heaven, because I already knew there was, not because I have been there, but because I know the Creator of heaven, and I trust what He has told me in His word. Overall, it was a cute story, fun to read, planted a "maybe" or a "what-if" in my mind regarding certain topics (like what happens to miscarried babies), and said nothing (in my opinion) overtly objectionable.

The movie, on the other hand, was terrible. I did not like it, it was a waste of time, it was very poorly done, it didn't resonate, there was no pacing or climax or fluid movement from scene to scene, and overall it attacked the true, Biblical heaven more than it upheld it. They left out good scenes that were in the book and put in cheesy, eye-rolling scenes that were not in the book. The overall effect of the movie was to emphasize doubt rather than belief in heaven's existence. All through the movie, I kept wanting to walk out of the room. It was that bad.

One scene that I particularly disliked was of the family in the car, driving to Denver and singing a Bible chorus together (I think it was the B-I-B-L-E). They are singing half-heartedly, and Colton, the little boy, is not singing at all. He interrupts the music to ask, "Can we sing 'We Will Rock You'?" The whole family stops singing the other song and immediately launches into "We Will Rock You" at the top of their lungs, obviously smiling and having a much better time. Therefore, it depicts Christian songs as boring and Christian people as being incapable of worship, while it depicts worldly songs as universally enjoyable.

Then, when the movie depicts Colton's journey into heaven, it shows him walking into the church and the angels are singing to him. It is truly angelic music, and he interrupts the song to ask them, "Can you sing 'We Will Rock You'?" The angels laugh, a subdued, tittering, sporadic laugh that was so fake and so dumb that it made me groan.

Another scene that is at the top of mind to point out as particularly problematic was when Todd (Colton's father and also the pastor of the local church) is at the graveyard and runs into a woman who is one of his parishioners and who has previously been outspoken and argumentative with him regarding the whole heaven thing. She is there to mourn her son, who was in the military and died at a young age. She is sad and vulnerable and apologetic for being argumentative. She admits that she is mad at God.

"Do you think my son is in heaven?" she asks Todd.

Todd asked her, "Do you still love your son?"

She nods yes.

Todd says, "Do you think I love mine?"

She nods yes.

Todd says, "Do you think God knows I love my son?"

She nods yes.

Todd says, "Do you think God loves my son more than your son?"

She dissolves into tears and shakes her head no and gives Todd a hug while she lays her head on his shoulder and cries tears of relief. The obvious implication that Todd is making is that her son is in heaven. The question is completely ignored of whether or not her son met the Biblical criteria of faith in the work of Christ and repentance from sin.

Finally, there is a scene near the end of the movie where Todd gets a phone call from the local radio station and he is informed that he is live on the air. The talk show host begins to ask him about his son's experience in heaven. Todd says, "Come to the church on Sunday morning and I'll tell you all about it." Up until this point, Todd has been conflicted, doubting, trying to make sense of his son's stories, and trying to make sense of his own faith. This is supposed to be his public statement vindicating the truth of heaven and faith and the resolution of his turmoil. Church is packed and Todd gets up and preaches THE W.O.R.S.T. sermon I have ever heard. It was so unbiblical, so deficient of value, so substance-less, so utterly lousy, and so worthy of ridicule that I literally had to get up and walk back and forth in the kitchen. When I did, my friends asked me, "Are you crying? Or are you laughing?" I replied, "I don't even have words for the contempt I feel for this right now." The film showed the faces of the congregation as Todd preached. They looked sincere. Some were nodding and others had tears in their eyes. It made the whole congregation into a superstitious bunch of idiots to have been moved by a message like that.

If I were to detail all the things I dislike about this movie, they would stretch from the beginning to the end of the film. I am looking for anything at all positive to say about it, racking my brain to think of any redeeming value it has in, and I literally cannot think of one thing. It would be better not to watch this at all than to watch it. I watched it to satisfy my curiosity, and I came away utterly disappointed.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Saul and the premature sacrifice

1 Samuel 13
5  And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Bethaven.
6  When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, (for the people were distressed,) then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high paces, and in pits.
7  And some of the Hebrews went over Jordan ot the land of Gad and Gilead. As for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.
8  And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him.
9  And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering.
10  And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him.
11  And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash;
12  Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.
13  And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.
14  But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee.

This is such a sad story, and it makes me think on so many levels.

Verse 5-7: There was truly a dire situation going on. Invasion of Philistine armies for Saul was objectively much more intimidating than anything I face (simple lack of income).

Verse 8: He did wait. He waited seven days. He waited past the point of logic or endurance. The situation was getting worse by the minute. The Philistines were encroaching upon him and the people were departing from him and he only had 600 men left. But this apparently hopeless situation was, as we see from Samuel’s words in verse 13, precisely God’s test on Saul to see if he would break and turn to himself or continue to trust in the Lord. He did not trust in the Lord, and God took the kingdom away from him. Are my impending dire circumstances merely the Lord’s pressing, merely the test of faith, merely a proving ground to see where I will break and turn back to self and worldly solutions? Then let me stand fast in the face of impending doom, at the risk of losing everything, even my life. Let me steadfastly look to the Lord for His deliverance, trusting purely and solely in Him, no matter how threatening the circumstances become.

Verse 9: Saul offered the burnt offering. On the outside, an offering is good, but the motive it sprang from proved that he was far from God. It shows how a person can offer lip service to God while all the time their heart is far from Him and their faith is nonexistent. Lip service, like burnt offerings, are not acceptable because of the right wording or the proper outward ceremony. They are only acceptable when they spring from faith.

Verse 10: At this point, Saul did not feel guilty for what he had done. He saw Samuel, and he went out to salute him. It was just, “Hi, how are you?” There was no hint of hiding from Samuel or avoiding him that would indicate that Saul felt ashamed. Saul was justifying himself in the thing that he had done, convincing himself that it was the only proper and necessary step, something anyone would have done, something that had a valid and understandable explanation, so surely God would understand.

Verse 11: Samuel said, “What hast thou done,” and Saul’s answer started with “Because.” Samuel asked “WHAT have you done,” but Saul answered as if the question was “WHY have you done it.” Objectively, the answer to “What hast thou done” is “I offered the sacrifice that I ought to have waited for you to offer, and that was disobedience. I recognize that that is a punishable offense in the eyes of the LORD.” Samuel is seeking to pin Saul down with the truth, and Saul is slithering out from being pinned down, protesting, “Oh, but wait until you hear the reason, and you will see why it was really the only option available to me.” How often have I made excuses and therefore evaded the clear and living truth? How often have I clouded up my own situation by rationalizing and redefining and explaining my justification for why I did it? How clear everything would be if I simply walked in the truth.

Verse 12: “I forced myself therefore.” Saul’s wording makes it sound like he only took this step reluctantly, as a last resort, and that he would not have done it if the situation had been different or if Samuel had come earlier. But is that not the precise thing that God was testing? What is he really saying? “I forced myself to take matters into my own hands.” It was a deliberate step away from trusting God, even while He was offering a sacrifice, calling it "his supplication unto the LORD."

Saul, as a picture of the flesh, gives us insight into the deeds of the flesh. The flesh waits seven days for the Lord, not as a gesture of trust, but as a symbolic gesture of proving to self that the LORD is not coming through and that if anything is to be done, self is going to have to do it. The LORD waits just longer than the flesh holds out in order to prove who is really controlling the man’s decisions. “I forced myself” is a revealing statement of whose dominion Saul was under. A man under the dominion of the flesh is subservient to the flesh. Self is shackled to the will of the flesh, and the flesh, as a vicious taskmaster, forces self to comply with its demands. The flesh is a ruthless dictator who rules with absolute authority and lets no prisoner escape. The flesh is enmity against God. It is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. The flesh forced Saul to commit an action that proved to Samuel and to God that Saul’s trust was not in the LORD. However, Saul does not say, “Somebody forced me,” he says, “I forced myself.” This is because the flesh and the man are inextricably linked. The flesh and “I” are synonymous. It is only when a man dies that he can be released from the flesh and freed to serve the Lord by faith. Glorious gift of the gospel! I can enter into Christ’s death by faith. I can be crucified and buried with Him, the flesh can be left behind, and I can rise to newness of life to serve God in purity and truth without anybody (my flesh) forcing me to live in the old way.

I have entered into this resurrection life, and therefore I am not subservient to the flesh, and therefore I do not have to listen to the flesh’s screeching calls that the Lord is not going to come through for me and that I must turn back to the world’s way of doing things. That is nothing more than so much noise. I am free from that. I can walk by faith, looking unto Jesus, my eyes fixed on Him, and my trust unabated, though the winds and waves rise boisterous to threaten to overwhelm me.

Verse 13: “Thou hast done foolishly.” Oh, how the wisdom of God is foolishness to the natural mind, and how the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God! To the natural mind, it seemed foolish to wait any longer on the sacrifice when the people were departing from him and the doom was increasing. But the real foolishness was departing from the trust in the LORD, who was the only one who could save the situation and bring victory against impossible odds.

“Thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee.” If Saul had walked in faith, then his obedience would have followed, for true faith always results in obedience, and true obedience is only possible to the man who believes his God. The disobedience was the proof of the lack of faith.

“For now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.” God was looking for a man of faith to rule his kingdom, and if Saul had been proved here and passed the test, then he would have had the kingdom forever. In that sense, the test was like a door. Would he go through the door or not? Would he turn back to the ways of the flesh, or would he place his trust unflinchingly in the Lord? He could press forward and get through that door and live by faith, or he could shrink back and stay on this side of the door and never cross the line into victory and blessedness and permanent stability. He chose a direction, and therefore he received the corresponding consequences. Oh, how necessary it is, how vital it is, how crucial it is to persevere in trusting the Lord, no matter how black the circumstances look! In each increasing test of faith, there is an additional proving ground. Will we go through the door of faith, and look at the situation from the secure position of being hidden in the strong tower, being built upon the rock, being clothed in impenetrable armor? Or will we shrink back from the door of faith and remain in the cold and windswept land of self-effort, where we will surely be defeated? It would be madness not to enter the Lord’s protection by faith. It would be foolishness! Let the flesh howl its protests. Let the natural world cast up all its arguments against the sufficiency of the Lord. I will not look at them. I will not listen. I will lose my gaze in the beauty of the Holy, Holy, Holy one, and look to Him to be my defense and my aid, and He will come through for me.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Solution to inactivity

I have more to do than I could possibly do in multiple lifetimes, so in order to get the things done that are important to me, I need to redeem absolutely every moment of my time.

I sat down and brainstormed my weekly schedule and discovered that even working a full time job, there would be about 35 hours a week that I could squeeze out from the little gaps between other tasks. That is almost another full-time job, holding out hope that I might truly have the possibility of accomplishing some of my goals. 

However, there are two obstacles to really utilizing these 35 hours per week to their full potential. One is that things will inevitably crowd in to this. There will always be little things like polishing my shoes, opening my mail, and organizing my room that eat up an hour here and two hours there.

The second obstacle is much more serious. My biggest obstacle is myself. My willingness to waste those little moments. The readiness to be slack, to make excuses, to look into my mind and see if I have the urge to tackle this project, and not finding one, being willing to do nothing.

Being willing to do nothing.

That is a problem indeed, meriting its own brainstorm. When time is abundant, I fail to use it properly, and when time gets crowded, I let things drop all the more. Unfortunately, the things that get dropped are not always the things that are the lowest priority. Instead, it is often the things that I am putting off or finding difficult or not motivated on or otherwise procrastinating about. 

I desperately need a strategy for this.

Ultimately, the answer for doing things I don't want to do is the gospel. I desperately need to walk in the victory of the gospel.

If I am doing that, then this is possible. I could work a full-time job and set up a business. Have income and create what I want to create.

Brainstorm on fixing this willingness to do nothing

I find that this is the case, and I disapprove of this being the case, so therefore I must discover a strategy for eliminating this willingness to do nothing. 

Pep talk

Are you serious? Are you really willing to do nothing? Are you able to live with yourself when you sit around and let time pass without utilizing it to the maximum of its potential? Don't you know you can't get that back? Don't you abhor the wasting of your life? Don't you see how much impact you could have by maximizing your moments to the fullest? Think of the income you could generate, the extra studies you could accomplish, the amazing stuff you could produce (songs, works of authorship, businesses, and other works of creative genius). Don't you realize that you are bored at work if you don't have enough to do, and you will be bored with life if you don't make much of it? Do you see how massive your tendency is to let the little moments pass unheeded? Do you not mourn their passing? Do you not see your life slipping away? Do you not recognize how much more fulfilling it is to not prefer leisure, but rather prefer intense, unflagging productivity? Then let no energy pass unused, let no stone remain unturned, let no strategy remain only partially implemented, but get up and RUN forward in the worthy pursuit of the things that will make your life count. 

Cool-headed assessment of the situation

I just spent a week and a half at my sister's, and during the day I was purely free to pursue my own desire. My sister and her husband were at work, and I had the quiet house all to myself from 5:00 am until 4:00 pm. That is 11 hours of solitude and peace conducive to productivity. So what did I do? I slept in, took a shower late, dawdled around making food, mindlessly surfed my computer, and only got around to working on my book once.

This is my default when I am left to myself to choose what to do. This will continue to be my default unless something changes.

And this is unacceptable.

Hence the necessity of a strategy. A pep talk is good, but not enough. A pep talk is inspiration for action, but it is not the same as the action itself, nor does it have the ability to produce or cause action. All it can do is inspire action. That is not enough. Strategy will move this unproductive human being closer to actually achieving the goal of action.

The strategy cannot include a reliance on the sudden discovery of huge amounts of willpower and drive and matchless work ethic. I don't have those naturally. If I did, I would already be using them instead of brainstorming a strategy right now.

The fact is, I don't have those things, and I have been puzzling for a long time over what to do with myself given that 1) I am bored working in the kind of position where you don't need or use those qualities, and 2) I disqualify myself for any other kind of position simply by not possessing those qualities. I have been puzzling over this for about 4 years now, ever since I discovered that there was absolutely nothing I knew of that I could wield over myself that could cause me to do what I didn't want to do, and what I didn't want to do was work. This is a sure recipe for failure.

The Strategy is the Gospel

Fortunately, I have discovered that there is one tool that actually does work for making myself be someone I am not and do things I would not do and wield strength I don't have. That is the gospel. The grace of God is bigger than me and the power of the gospel can actually bring me through this brick wall of the problem of my own self that I always encounter when I want to get something done.

Whether or not I am walking in the faith of the gospel is THE determining factor for whether I have it in me to start a business, write a book, do ministry, or any other thing that is important to me that previously I had failed at.

So there is where I need to center my strategy. I must strategically live in the power of the gospel, and then everything else will fall into place.

Even that is something that requires the power of the gospel in order to do it. I could say, "I will guard my ability to walk in the gospel by maintaining fervent prayer and disciplined Bible study," but those things themselves are impossible to me without the power of the gospel.

The walk of faith is SO DIFFERENT from the walk if self reliance. It is something hard to get used to, hard to practice, hard to figure out, hard to maintain. I say "hard," not because faith is hard—faith is easy—but because it is hard to surrender control, hard to admit reliance on another, hard to give up my pride, hard to even perceive something that doesn't require cerebral work like "figuring it out" and doesn't require physical work like "just doing it" because it is outside the worldly realm and exclusively in the spiritual realm. Spiritual things are imperceptible except to the eyes of faith. Grace is inaccessible but through the conduit of faith.

Therefore the cry of my heart becomes, "Oh, for more faith!"

But the resulting step that naturally occurs to a mind still in the track and theme of "let me brainstorm a strategy to solve this" is, "Ok, if I need more faith, then let my strategy center on getting more faith, improving my faith, and strengthening my faith." Interestingly, though, I already know the single step for doing this. It is simply looking into Jesus.

Therefore, my entire conclusion for this entire document is that I must look unto Jesus. That is the only answer, the only option, the exclusive solution. Do that, and I will have faith. Have faith, and I will have access to grace. Get grace, and I will have the strength and divine empowerment to do something different than I would have done if left to my own devices. Be divinely empowered, and I can succeed in book writing, business creation, and whatever other endeavors I undertake.

My strategy is formed. Walking in it is easy, but not automatic. Let me fix my eyes on Jesus and walk in the power of the spirit. That is my path.

"The worldling does not care for Christ because he has never hungered and thirsted after Him. But the Christian is athirst for Christ. He is in a dry and thirsty land where no water is and his heart and his flesh pant after God, yes, for the living God! And as the thirsty soul dying, cries out, “Water! Water! Water!” so the Christian cries out, “Christ! Christ! Christ!” This is the one thing necessary for me and if I have it not, this thirst will destroy me!"—Charles Spurgeon

Monday, July 21, 2014

"Your bra strap is showing"

A satire on modern Bible interpretation methods

Two thousand years from now, English has ceased to be a living language, and scholars are discussing with the public the analysis and interpretation of 20th century literature. In the body of work they are discussing, there is a work of fiction containing a conversation where a young woman named Emily says to her friend Hilary, "Your bra strap is showing," and this creates a scandal, Hilary gets offended, their friendship falls apart, and these events affect the outcome of the story.

"Now, we see here this critical comment that the woman makes to her friend. She says, "Your bra strap is showing," and then everything falls apart. Why would this be? How could this simple comment have had such implications? What did it mean? 

"Up until now, the common interpretation was that Hilary's bra strap was a piece of clothing, a normal woman's undergarment, and that for Emily to point it out was a suggestion of a lapse of modesty, possibly bringing embarrassment to Hilary. 

"However, what did she really mean? In order to understand the significance of this comment, it is of the utmost importance to discover what it would have meant to one of the original readers. Fortunately for us, recent discoveries have brought to light a couple of ancient documents, dictionaries of the language actually published within 50 years of the same time period. We have discovered from the ancient sources of Random House and Merriam Webster that the real meaning is actually something much deeper. 

"You see, the word 'bra' is actually an abbreviation of the word brassiere, which comes from the Old French bracieres, which came from the root word bras, meaning 'arm,' and it meant arm guard, or armor for the arms, or arm protectors. Other words that came from this word were 'brace' (something that holds parts together or in place) and 'bracelet' (an ornament for the arm), which were both common words in use at the time of the writing. Therefore, we can see how the original meaning of this word gives us an additional depth of understanding into the meaning of Emily's comment. All of these shades of meaning would have been clear to Hilary, and so she would have understood that Emily was insinuating that she was arming herself, putting up shields, raising her defenses, and protecting herself. 

"Now, there's more. Consider the strap. The primary definition of "strap" was a long strip of leather or similar material, for binding trunks, baggage, or other objects. According to our research, trousers first went strapless in 1846, and brassieres in 1935. This work was written in 1964, so Hilary could not have been wearing a bra with straps, or if she was, she was wearing a style that was long out of fashion, as in the case of the old-timer still wearing suspenders. However, Hilary was young in the setting we describe, meaning that Emily was definitely insinuating something derogatory by mentioning straps.

"Finally, our research has turned up some startling new light on the word "showing." We are familiar with the common meaning of the word 'show,' which is to cause or allow to be seen. However, there are many other meanings of the word 'show,' giving us the final key to the interpretation of Emily's comment. It can mean many things, but here are just a few prominent examples: 
  • to present or perform as a public entertainment or spectacle:
  • to give information that proves (something)
  • to offer for sale
  • to finish third in a horse race
"The etymology of this word is fascinating. Our ancient source, Merriam Webster, tells us that 'show' comes from Middle English shewen, showen, from Old English scēawian to look, look at, see; akin to Old High German scouwōn to look, look at, and probably to Latin cavēre to be on one's guard.

"There we are again--the idea of being on one's guard. This goes back to the armor idea that we first discussed and proves that there is something deeper than mere modesty in Emily's comment. She is using innocent-sounding phraseology as code for an accusation that Hilary is beginning to arm herself against her friends as with a shield, strapping it on and being on her guard, with added layers of implication that this is being done ostentatiously, as a spectacle to the public, that it has been proved, that it sells out her friends, and that it is a third-rate thing to do. Hilary's reaction proves that she understood perfectly what Emily said, because she immediately became defensive, and their future actions of being offended at one another and breaking off the friendship make perfect sense if this was what Hilary was doing." 

The crowd applauded the depth and wisdom of the scholarship, and anyone in the future who doubted this interpretation or referred back to the old, plain meaning was instantly labeled ignorant and untaught.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why I don't know that song



Person mentions a popular song or musician. "You know so-and-so?" "You know that song?"

I shrug. "Never heard of it."

Person gasps, faints, hyperventilates, and exclaims, "YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF ___????"

"Oh," I joke, "I grew up under a rock."


That is the flippant answer.


Actually, the reason I am absolutely illiterate about contemporary music (from Elvis to Miley Cyrus) is that when I emerged from under that rock, I looked around, noticed that this kind of music existed, observed that it did not fit in with what I want for my life, and made a deliberate and continual choice to exclude it.

I could have, after all, emerged from my sheltered background and made straight for all the music I had missed out on all those years. I am a musician. I have an incredible affinity for tunes. Something I hear once can end up stuck in my head for days. I could easily have compensated for my upbringing and rapidly made up the time if I had wanted to. That would have been easy. In a way, it would have been much more convenient. There would have been so many conversations I could have participated in rather than being left out. I would have avoided so many occasions of being made fun of. I remember being in England and telling someone I had never heard the song "American Pie." I thought I would never hear the end of it. But no amount of not being able to talk about that whole topic of conversation, and no amount of being made fun of for not knowing that popular person or song, can dissuade me from my resolve on this point.

So it's not really fair or honest for me to cast it all on my upbringing and say I don't know about this or that because "I grew up under a rock." In the first place, I didn't grow up under a rock, and in the second place, even if I did, it wouldn't account for my continued resolve not to have anything to do with that music.

Simply put, there is a way I want to live, and a kingdom I belong to, and everything that hinders or fails to promote my growth and advancement in that kingdom must be eliminated.

The way I want to live is to passionately pursue Jesus Christ in absolute surrender for all my days. The kingdom I belong to is the Kingdom of God. I am not of this world, and the things of the world do not fit in with my life in the kingdom of God, nor do they even appeal to me.

Granted, there are some areas that are blurry to me, some areas where I still need instruction and enlightenment in order to put away things that I am unconscious that they are a hindrance to my Christian walk. In these areas, I need grace, I need the Lord's patient teaching, I need conviction, I need my eyes to be opened. For instance, the books I read. Is it detrimental to my faith to read Don Quixote or the Iliad or The Lord of the Rings? That's not clear to me. It may be clear to others, and I may have things to learn from them, but presently that area is blurry and indistinct to me. But of course, if my eyes should be opened in the future through conviction, then all those things will have to go, too.

However, there is one area that is crystal clear to me, unmistakeably bright, and blindingly obvious. Rock music is a detriment to my Christian life. It is not welcome. It has no place. It tears me down, destroys, hurts my inmost being. It invades my peace with something that is totally foreign to the kingdom I dwell in. It is altogether incompatible with my citizenship in heaven.

  • The angst and rebellion of the lyrics do not resonate with me. 
  • The pounding beat is repulsive to me. 
  • The way it tempts the body to pulse and gyrate is wrong to me. 
  • The vocal styles (screaming/belting/seductive/breathy/twangy) do not appeal to me. Indeed, they usually mystify me. Do people really like it to sound that way? 
  • The noisy, chaotic clamor is oppressive to me. 
  • The themes explore all the possible categories of the depravity of man. (Lust, greed, pride, love of money, etc.) 
  • The language is often totally outside my vocabulary. 
  • The tunes and musical structures are boring to me. Repeated notes, small variety of notes, all the same chords, predictable rhythms. Again, it mystifies me. Do people think this is good? 
  • The musicians are not people I can admire, either in their lifestyle or in their appearance. 

I don't believe music is just notes on a page, just sound waves coming from an instrument, or just mere amoral tone, rhythm, melody and harmony. I believe music has the capacity to carry spiritual content. Just as the written word is more than mere letters and ink ("the pen is mightier than the sword"), music is more than mere notes. Music has a spiritual content, and that spiritual content can be very, very dark. This spiritual content can exist even in music that is purely instrumental. A Christian who is in tune with the Spirit of God can sense what music grieves the Holy Spirit, but it takes being very sensitive, not deadened to the influence of different kinds of music (or prejudiced in favor of it).

My response to this music is absolute. I simply deny it access to my life in every possible way. I do not turn it on the radio. I do not own any music tracks that contain it. I do not let it in through my computer, my mp3 player, or any other channel that I have control of. However, living in this world, surrounded with people who love it, it is impossible to not hear it sometimes. If I walk into a store that is playing it, I will immediately start silently quoting Scripture to block it out. Sometimes, if it is bad enough, I walk out of the store. If it comes on a television, I will mute it if I have that option. If I am in the car with someone who is playing it, I will ask them (nicely) to turn it off. If that is not possible, I quote Scripture to myself and/or avoid riding with that person. If people bring up songs, lyrics, artists in conversation, I lose all interest in that conversation.

This is why I don't know the songs most people talk about. I simply haven't heard them. Or if I did hear them, it was in a situation where I was probably actively blocking them out. I haven't heard them because I have chosen not to hear them, I have resolved not to hear them, I have deliberately closed my ears to them, not because I just somehow "missed out" on the latest and greatest hits.

The benefits to my life for this decision have been incalculable.

  • I have a certain level of strength and stability that mystifies others, which I am sure they would have, too, if they cut out all the music I cut out. 
  • In quiet moments, when a song comes into my head, the only possible kind that can get stuck in my head is a hymn of praise to the Lord or a beautiful, soaring classical melody, since that's the only kind I know. 
  • I have no thoughts planted in my head of suggestive themes that I would rather not have thought of. 
  • I struggle very, very little with lustful thoughts. 
  • I don't "need" music. I can go for days without listening to any music. The mental clarity this brings is something many people have forgotten about. 
  • All of the "music storage" space in my brain is given to God-glorifying hymns and songs (and a few classical piano pieces), and none of it is given to songs in praise of anything else. I've never officially counted, but I think I can probably sing a thousand hymns from memory. This is a vast reservoir of material for private worship, which is incredibly strengthening. 
  • I am "wise concerning good, and simple concerning evil." (Romans 16:19)

Basically, I have chosen to only include in my life that which is beneficial in my life.

Ultimately, in a manner of speaking, you could say that I grew up under the Rock (Christ), and that protected me from going out and listening to a rock (concert).

So now you know the reason why.


(I imagine I will get a bit of flak for this post. This issue tends to stir up intense emotions.)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Perspective when dreams blow up in your face

I have been so confused, so bewildered about what to do, and David Wilkerson just hit the nail on the head on my condition in his World Challenge Pulpit Series newsletter from March 17, 1997.

Let me ask you: How do you react when all your plans and dreams blow up in your face? You were so sure you heard from God. You thought he gave you direction, encouraging you to move forward. Everything you read in his word seemed to confirm your plans. You prayed about every step along the way, always giving glory to God. And the Lord seemed to be leading on. 
You were happy, thinking, "At last - I'm going to see my prayers answered! God's plan is finally beginning to come together in my life."
Then one day, all of a sudden, your dream blew up in your face. Your plan was destroyed, your dream shattered - and it all lay in ashes at your feet. You didn't know how to make any sense of it. That's when Satan came along, bringing his lies:
"See what you get for being so strict about your walk with God? This is how he treats you when you trust him for direction. He lets you become confused about his voice - and he gives you phony guidance! He lets you hear voices and see words from the scriptures. And then, when you're finally ready to move in, he abandons you. He leads you on, and then he drops you!"

Oh my goodness. 

That's exactly what I've been doing. 

In the confusing, upsetting turmoil that I just went through, I've been doubting God's goodness to me, His ability to communicate His will to me, and His intentions for my life. David Wilkerson's message in this article centered on Psalm 73. Asaph had almost slipped because he was focusing on the prosperity of the wicked. I, too, had gotten my eyes off of Christ and onto my circumstances. 

I was mistakenly assuming that if I got God's guidance before taking any given step, I couldn't possibly get hurt and the plan could not possibly fail. It was, I suppose, a variation of the prosperity doctrine (which I would have repudiated instantly if I had seen it as such). 

It is not just inadvisable to doubt God. Wilkerson points out that it is actually sin--a sin that the people of God must be warned about; an insidious, sneaky sin that can drop us into a bottomless pit of unbelief. 

When all my beautiful dreams blew up in my face, I doubted my ability to hear God's voice. If I was that bad at hearing from God when I thought I had gotten his leading and direction, then how could I ever be sure if I was being directed by Him? 

Well, actually, who is that message coming from? 

The enemy, of course. 

How is it that I had not seen this before? 

What does God actually say in His word? Does he ever say that we cannot possibly get hurt and that our plans cannot possibly fail? No. He promises that in the world we will have tribulation. He leads us to expect to be hated, misunderstood, and persecuted. Far from promising a life of ease, he promises us trials and suffering. I am barely getting a taste of difficulty. On a scale of 1-100, with 1 being a life of ease and pleasure and 100 being martyrdom, I have maybe moved along the scale from a 1 to a 2, and I am already fainting and doubting and moaning, "Oh, woe is me." 

Get a grip, Rebekah. 

• • • 

The other thing that helped me to have a perspective shift was running into this video about Louis Zamperini. I knew the story, because I had read Laura Hillenbrand's fabulous book, Unbroken, but just reliving it reminded me of how much more suffering and heartbreak and difficulty others have made it through, and how little I really have to complain about. 

It is almost amusing, really. Other people have gone through stuff like this, and I'm whining and boo-hooing and wringing my hands and saying "what am I going to dooooo?" when the extent of my hardship is that I need to go out and hunt for a job. 


My strength indeed is small. 

I hear the Savior say, 
Thy strength indeed is small. 
Child of weakness, watch and pray. 
Find in me thine all in all. 

And glory to God, He is fixing my eyes back onto Himself, and when my gaze is lost in Him, all these other things seem so trivial.