The Dancing Puritan

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Listening to Merle Haggard

Recently, I watched an interview with a well-known songwriter/singer/musician. The interviewer described her music as healing. The songwriter spoke of how she weaves her faith through her songs. Interestingly, she does not employ very many theological/biblical terms in her songs.

I am eclectic when it comes to music. At any given time I may be listening to Merle Haggard, Norah Jones, Amy Grant, James Taylor, or Fernando Ortega (just to name a few). Two of those four artists are professing Christians, and three are not. I don't know a lot about music, but I do know that we are to honor God in all that we do. God is the giver of song, and all of our music must be to and for Him.

Can a country song about loving, leaving, and losing be for God?

I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O LORD, I will make music (Psalm 101:1).

Is there a way to tell a story in a drinking song, which highlights the themes of steadfast love and justice? Is it essential to always use words like justification, redemption, mercy, grace, salvation, sin, and atonement when making music?  Can we sing to God about sin in a way that does not glorify sin, but instead poetically displays sin's impact while underlining themes of redemption, mercy, and love? Do lyrics always need to be theologically specific in black-and-white language?

What about communication of any sort? Should we always communicate in a direct and clear way? One might remark, Lets take a walk in that field across the road. That is clear and understandable language. One might also say:
Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land (Song of Solomon 2:10-12).

Both kinds of communication seem necessary in a life that is both efficient and beautiful. The Bible offers great variety in its communication. Sometimes it is straightforward and declares, Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her (Ephesians 5:25). That is clear and direct language that packs a punch.

Sometimes the Bible says:
As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste (Song of Solomon 2:3).
The Song of Solomon verse describes the same truth as the Ephesians verse. But it does so lyrically/musically/poetically. Both forms of communication are necessary for efficiency, communicating truth, and to make life more joyful.

I am aware that when comparing the songs of the Bible with extra-biblical songs, we are comparing that which is inspired, infallible, and inerrant with that which is not. However, it is clear that godly communication is not just about sprinkling all of our speech with Bible verses. Seasoned speech grows out of Bible knowledge. Seasoned speech does not mean that all of our words must be theologically rich words. There is a time for a husband to hear directly that he ought to love his wife.  There is also a time when he needs poetic descriptions of what love looks like. In that case he needs music with lyrics that includes an apple tree filled with sweet fruit and providing refreshing shade.

Esther and The Song of Solomon do not use the word God in them. That is not problematic, because the Bible is a collection of books. Those two books do not stand in isolation from the whole of Scripture. The Bible opens with In the beginning God created . . . (Genesis 1:1) and concludes with The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen (Revelation 22:21). In between Genesis and Revelation there is a lot of information about God, man, sin, redemption, life, death, heaven and hell.  Therefore, when reading Esther, we do not have to read the word God to understand that God is providentially working all things for the salvation of the Jews. The Song of Solomon is not divorced from Ephesians. Ephesians tells us the reason for marriage and The Song of Solomon gives us the music of marriage.

When listening to Haggard or Grant, it is important not to check our theology at the door. When I listen to Haggard, I bring an understanding of the wages of sin, the hopelessness of pursuing meaning without God, and the way of redemption through Jesus Christ. When listening to Grant, I am able to hear how she weaves her theology into song, and I am able to test it by Scripture while enjoying the music.

I know that this is tricky and the subject of many debates. I am not looking for a fight. I am just musing a bit. I seek to bring my Christian theology to bear upon all things. There are Christians who are on the lookout for a Christian symbol when doing their shopping. I am not among them. Don't get me wrong, I love to support Christians, and want to do so whenever I can. However, I do not search out the convictions of the owner before I purchase his goods. If I need a loaf of bread, a fish symbol is not a requirement.

Music is different from bread. Bread may impact my belly but music has a more potent ability to impact my thinking and my emotions. Lyrics are designed to be catchy and to be remembered; therein is part of the danger and opportunity. What I must constantly be learning is how to enjoy music as I am applying discernment. It is obvious that I should not be listening to songs that provoke me to engage in sin. Yet, I often learn from listening to music that is not distinctly Christian. Sometimes a country song reminds me of just how much I am like the song and how desperately I need the Savior.

There is a danger of hanging out too frequently with music that does not have distinctively Christian themes. It is possible to allow sin to cling to us and impact us for ungodliness. I think that there is also a danger in hiding our heads in pious sand and not thinking deeply about sin, the fall, and redemption.

Whatever you listen to make sure that your heart and mind are saturated with Scripture. Focus on writing, singing, and listening as means to glorify and enjoy God. Cultivate a heart of discernment with music.  Think through what this will look like in your life.

Note:  I am not advocating that you rush to the store and load up on Haggard music. And, I am not referring to the Sunday worship service. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Encouragement for the Afflicted and Those Who Minister to Them

What is a Christian to do when confined to the sick-bed of affliction? I remember visiting a church member a number of years ago. Due to physical affliction she was unable to attend church. I detected a note of discouragement as she spoke to me. She wished that she could do more for the church but her condition squelched her abilities. She said: "About all that I can do is pray." I took the opportunity to remind her of the great gift and power of godly prayer. I sought to encourage her that when she prayed for the church, she was calling on the King of Heaven to visit His people with His power, and that was no small thing.

Charles Spurgeon had a great heart for those who were confined to their dwelling due to sickness. Many of his sick friends, though unable to attend church service, nevertheless read Spurgeon's sermons. His words are encouraging to those who are afflicted and are instructive to all who minister to them.

Sick saints, what a delight I feel in ministering to you! Shut out from the sanctuary and the sound of the Word, you find a solace in reading what others have crowded to hear. Accept my tenderest sympathy in your affliction, while I breathe the prayer that He who suffers in you, may abide with you. The Great Captain of the host has called you to glorify Him on your beds; it may be you could never have done this in active service; what a mercy is it that a sick chamber affords you opportunities to honour Him. Your patience, holy resignation, and joyous faith, make you invaluable teachers to those believers who visit you, and even your ungodly friends may be greatly blessed by your means. Little do you dream how well your words are remembered, and how powerful they will be even when you have fallen asleep in Jesus. From the green mound in the cemetery your loving voice shall sound in their ears. Those very persons who now seem so indifferent, may be the first to be converted by your testimony. Speak well of your Lord; you see Him often, let His name be ever in your mouth. He makes your bed; let your bosom be a pillow for Him. Let your chamber be a sanctuary, your bed a pulpit, your living loving experience of divine grace the constant sermon. We cannot do without you in the Lord's battles. Your power for good is wonderful; forget not your advantageous position, but lift up the banner of your Lord on high. Let no persons retire from your bedside without being enriched by some affectionate admonition. In the night-watches, when your eyes are held walking so that you cannot sleep, plead for the Church, the world, your minister, your friends, and do not omit the unworthy brother who now writes to you. What showers of mercies your intercessions may bring down. The golden keys of heaven are at your girdle, open the treasury and bless us all. 'As the sufferings of Christ abound in you, so may your consolation also abound by Christ.

Sick saints . . .
1. Read the Bible and read godly literature.
2. Recognize your unique opportunity to glorify God from your sick bed.
3. Your patience and joy under trial is an example to fellow believers.
4. Unbelievers are blessed by your testimony of grace.
5. Your Christian witness will live on after you are dead.
6. "Speak well of your Lord" as you rest in Him. Let your bed be a pulpit.
7. Remember that your fellow believers who are not confined "cannot do without you in the Lord's battles."

To those who minister to the sick . . .

1. Do not fail to remember them in prayer.
2. Make sure that your sick friends have access to sermons (a manuscript, your notes, audio/video).
3. Visit the sick regularly and write to them often words of encouragement.
4. Let them know, how much you need for them to pray for you.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Spurgeon's Counsel: Don't Think about Preaching

Many pastors find it difficult to read the Bible without thinking of sermon preparation. Spurgeon shared with his congregation how he delighted in Jesus by not considering preaching. He wrote:
When I take my Bible, and want to feed on it for myself, I generally get thinking about preaching upon the text, and what I should say to you from it. This will not do; I must get away from that, and forget that there is a Tabernacle, that I may sit personally at Jesus' feet. And, oh, there is an intense delight in being overshadowed by Him! He is near to you, and you know it. His dear presence is as certainly with you as if you could see Him, for His influence surrounds you.

When you read your Bible, are you able to feed on it for yourself? Certainly Spurgeon spent time in sermon preparation. However, he knew that sermons best grew in soil that had been cultivated through personal Bible reading. For Spurgeon this was to "sit personally at Jesus' feet" and to know the "intense delight in being overshadowed by Him."

Quotes are from C.H. Spurgeon, Till He Come: Communion Meditations and Addresses (London: Marshall Brothers, n.d.), 44.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Vacation Thought or Two

Do you have Summer vacation plans?  It is often imagined that a vacation is an escape from life, at least an escape from the daily grind. However, for Christians a vacation is not an escape but rather an opportunity to encounter Jesus. Below are a few items to pack for such an encounter.

1. Psalms By the Day: A New Devotional Translation by Alec Motyer. I have long wanted someone to write this book. Psalms is "a working translation with analysis and explanatory notes, and a 'Pause for Thought' based on the passage read. Motyer's Psalms includes brief word studies, commentary, and devotional thoughts. Mark Dever writes, ". . . expository without being dry, devotional without being forced. . . . a delicious combination--richly full, concisely put."

2. Spurgeon, C.H. Til He Come: Communion Meditations and Addresses, London: Marshal Brothers, n.d. This is also available on Kindle and Christian Focus Publishers. Spurgeon urges his readers: "Go forth, beloved, and talk with Jesus on the beach, for He oft resorted to the sea-shore." This collection of meditations and addresses were not published in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit and a number of them were given while Spurgeon was on vacation (recovering, resting) at Mentone, France (his favorite vacation spot).

3. Field Notes journal (48 page memo book). The Field Notes memo book will easily fit into your pocket. They offer a variety of designs and one edition that is waterproof. As you read and admire God's glory in creation, make a few notes for meditation.

The resources above are available through our book store. Send me a facebook message HERE for more information.  Happy traveling!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Graduation Day

Over the past three years of doctoral studies, I have often thought of this day. For at least twenty years, I dreamed of graduating from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). Today is graduation day.

When this journey began, I knew that the way ahead would be difficult. Having assurance that my wife Lori was on board, and enjoying the encouragement of our church, I decided, after prayer and counsel, to take the plunge. I cannot adequately describe my appreciation for the love, encouragement, and prayers that I have received from so many people. Breathing the refreshing air of God's grace at SBTS has helped me in more ways that I can recount in this post. I have been pushed, stretched, challenged, and had my work sent back to me with seemingly more mark-ups than the actual text that I submitted. One time in particular, I thought about quitting, imagining that with all of my responsibilities that school was too much. I felt (and feel) inadequate, too old, and lacking sufficient brain power and physical strength. God used my family, church, and professors to pick me up, dust me off, and push me back into the ring to fight again. I am thankful.

The history of SBTS is one of sacrifice, dogged determination, and God's grace. It was primarily 4 leaders, who simply refused to quit, that put the school on their backs and sacrificed time, money, sleep, and worldly acclaim to do their dead-level-best to make sure that if the seminary didn't make it, it wouldn't be due to lack of effort. Those men were often tempted with offers that "they could not refuse" in the midst of scant times at SBTS. They were offered, in some cases, the opportunity to lead major (well-endowed) universities (such as the University of Alabama), and other high profile and generously salaried positions. However, they refused to let go of Southern Seminary. Though the seminary began in 1859, it struggled through the remainder of the 1800s. And though eventually the school established financial stability, its theological vibrancy faced the deadly threat of liberalism. By the early 1990s SBTS was in the grip of liberal leadership and seemingly beyond recovery. However, through the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, R. Albert Mohler was elected as the 9th president of the school in 1993. 

At Dr. Mohler's first commencement service, many students refused to shake his hand. Some students turned their back on him. Once again Southern was facing a fight for survival, this time it was not a financial crisis but a battle for the soul of the institution. Dr. Mohler, looking to the Abstract of Principles, held professors accountable to teach by the school's confession. Over time many of the more moderate/liberal professors resigned, or were fired. Liberal students graduated and new professors were hired. SBTS is a much different place today than it was in 1993 when 33-year-old Albert Mohler was elected president. It is much more in line with the 1859 vision of the founders.

There is much on my mind this morning as I write. I have a growing sense of the sacrifices that have been made so that I can, at age 54, walk across the stage today and receive a diploma from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Soon after the War Between the States, the future of SBTS was in great doubt. Basil Manly, John Broadus, William Williams, and James Boyce met to decide the future. Broadus courageously declared: "Suppose we quietly agree that the seminary may die, but we'll die first." Though classes were suspended during the War, SBTS reopened on 11/1/1865. I will remember the words of Broadus when I graduate today.

You can watch graduation Friday at 10 at   Here is a video that recounts Dr. Mohler's presidency: 

See Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: 1859-2009 by Gregory A. Wills to learn more about the history of SBTS.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 14: Change Your Ring Tone

14 Days of Love
Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here
Day 8: Friendship: Here
Day 9: Grace: Here
Day 10: Keep it Simple:Here
Day 11: How to Choose a Gift for Your Spouse: Here
Day 12: Discussion Points: Here
Day 13: The Journey: Here

Day 14 is simple. Assign a special ring tone on your cell phone for your spouse. When Lori calls me I hear: "O Most Beautiful Among Women." Many times, I have been in a public setting and my phone rings: "Call from O Most Beautiful  Among Women." Its quite a conversation starter and a reminder to me of how blessed that I am.

Scan back through the previous 13 days with your spouse.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 13: The Journey

A few years back--somewhere along our journey

I wrote the following post on 2-15-2014. It is to my wife Lori and about our marriage. For reasons known to Lori and me, it seems especially relevant at this present time in our journey. Read this with your spouse and take 15 minutes to discuss together how "easy is not all it is cracked up to be." On this Valentine's Eve--recount your story together.

It might have been easier, had love never broken the exterior; if like a rock skipping across water, we had only lived life on the surface in a tidy and comfortable romance. If we had embraced the smiles and fought the tears, it might have been easier.

Yet easier, it has not been. We have felt the plow turn the ground and break our hearts. The laughs have been mingled with salty tears.

When we started this journey, we didn't know. People told us of trials to come, but we could not really see them, until we tasted them. We did not think much about going to bed angry, hurt, disappointed, and disillusioned. Seldom did we imagine a life where the rocks didn't simply skip from one happiness to the next.

How can I forget the week that my heart was ripped out? You came home as the week ended. There was nothing that I could say, but you let me draw near to you. Friends had disappeared. A million smiles could not fix me. Your arms got me through. 

Then there was the day, now chiseled deep on our hearts that we called the children to our room. They found a place on our bed. We shared with them a hard story of loss. The news was familiar, but this time it penetrated deeper. We cried, we prayed, we held each other. It was not easy.

What could have prepared us for that season--when we seldom could enjoy one another's company? The days ran into weeks. We will never forget the drops of grace that sustained us. A meal proved to be the bread of life. It was not easy.

But, we have held our babies. We have retreated to quiet places. The waters of the beach have tickled our toes. The sounds of an old hymn have squeezed out the tears and then taken us to the heavens. We have known the grace of God. His grace was there when the flowers wilted and it surrounded us when roses covered the meadow.

It is often so noisy. There is seldom a quiet place. It is not easy. But, how we love the noise; the smells, the colors, the chatter, the music, the requests, and the appointments. Even the unfolded laundry--reminds us of our life together--still unfinished, still wrinkled-- but gathered with love.

It could have been easier. But then, no faith would have been required. And we would not have known the love that we now know. What if our path had not been redirected on that day when we were imagining a time with just the two of us? What if the nest had soon emptied and the birds left for new lands? It would have been much easier. 

And now at night, I pull you close. We keep each other warm. It would be cold, had it been easy. We are close. And through the walls and up the stairs our precious ones rest. It is not easy for them either. They have walked and will travel rocky and lonely roads. It won't be easy, but they will love. They are loved. 

Stay close. Easy is not all that it is cracked up to be. 

Happy Valentine's Day

14 Days of Love
Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here
Day 8: Friendship: Here
Day 9: Grace: Here
Day 10: Keep it Simple:Here
Day 11: How to Choose a Gift for Your Spouse: Here
Day 12: Discussion Points: Here