A Question of Relevancy: Jonah the Racist?

Many churches strive to make their teachings “Monday morning relevant.”  Whether one is speaking of the sermon delivered from the pulpit or an Adult Bible study lesson, the question of relevancy seems to be stressed quite often. Please do not misunderstand. Relevancy is a concern. Sadly, finding relevancy is a bit of a problem at times.

For example, consider a sermon preached earlier this year. The pastor was a younger member of this particular church’s teaching team. The teaching team was working through the Book of Jonah, and the pastor’s mission was to discuss Jonah’s anger with God. As I am sure you remember, Jonah, after a good deal of resistance, obeyed God by delivering God’s warning to the Ninevites. They and their city would soon be destroyed.

Sadly, in Jonah’s opinion, the Ninevites believed the prophecy and relented of their sins. As is His wont, God was merciful and spared them. To say the least, Jonah was a bit unhappy with God’s decision.

The story of Jonah ends without resolution. We are not told what happens to Jonah, or the Ninevites for that matter. We can assume they were not destroyed in forty days as Jonah prophesied, which may be one reason he was upset. False prophets were not well thought of, and if God did spare Nineveh, Jonah’s reputation might suffer. In fact, some commentaries on this book express the thought that Jonah’s pride was a big part of his anger. Unfortunately, that was not part of the sermon on this day.

On this Sunday, the primary reason for Jonah’s anger was racism. At least that was the point made by the pastor delivering the sermon.  There was also an allusion to his nationalistic side, but racism was the word of the day. It was also a way to make the lesson relevant in some ways to the modern audience. In fact, an older pastor, when asked about the use of the term racism noted the younger pastor was a millennial.  He believed pastor preaching that day used the term because it would make sense to younger believers.

While the older pastor’s comments made sense, they did not sit well with this writer, which is why you are reading this piece. To me, after spending the better part of four decades, researching, teaching, and lecturing on diversity issues, calling Jonah a racist makes about as much sense as calling Donald Trump the most soft-spoken president in the modern era. With that said, this young pastor is not the only one preaching this message.

An internet search using the term “Jonah was a racist” will locate sermons and essays covering several decades pushing that agenda. Yes, it is possible to find the occasional rebuttal piece such as this one. Unfortunately, the majority of recent articles or sermons, offering an explanation for Jonah’s ire claim racism to some extent.

To make that claim, these individuals, including the young pastor, must ignore Scripture and often their own understanding of Scripture. The sermon in question is a good example. The pastor made the charge of racism. He then went on to explain all the non-racist reasons Jonah had for hating the Ninevites.

For the record, a racist is someone who dislikes, mistreats, hates, or discriminates against others simply because of their race. That is, a racist does not trust someone simply because their skin is of a different color, or their heritage is from another racial background. In the case of Jonah, most authorities, including the pastor giving the sermon, clearly laid out Jonah and God were upset with the Ninevites because of their actions, not their skin color or genetic background.

In fact, one can argue, racially speaking, there was little difference between Jonah’s people, Assyrians (Ninevites), Babylonians, and other people groups in that geographical reason. Racial variances began to appear as one moved farther into the African continent or further east toward what we know as Asia today.[1] Racism, however, is a convenient explanation of Jonah’s resistance to God’s actions, if one views it from the vantage point of twentieth and twenty-first-century America.

The problem is our job is not to make the Old Testament conform to modern thinking.  That is not Monday morning relevance. We need to find a way to apply Scripture to the contemporary world in a fashion that makes sense. This book of the Bible makes that point clearly in a way that does not require a pastor to play to current societal issues.

Jonah was judgemental, angry, and seeking revenge against the Assyrian people, in particular, the Ninevites as Nineveh was the capital of Assyria.  Yet, his feelings for the Ninevites had nothing to do with their race. It was their past actions that mattered to him. Still, his anger in Jonah 4 was not against the Ninevites.  It was against God for being merciful.

It is, of course, easier to say Jonah was racist than explain Jonah was just like many of us. There are times we do not like God’s plan.  We may not like God’s mercy when it comes to those we feel need to be punished. In short, we can be just like Jonah, and it has nothing to do with racism, and neither does the Book of Jonah.

[1] Some would argue this point, but there is little credible evidence that racial differences were at play in this conflict.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2019

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Survival of the Fittest?

Adherents to Darwinism believe in survival of the fittest.  To be clear when Darwin’s devotees discuss the idea of survival of the fittest, they are not saying the most physically fit creature or creatures survive.  Thankfully, species survival is not nature’s version of American Ninja Warrior, Olympic competition, or a battlefield. If it were, God might have given responsibility for His creation to some species other than humankind.

If you are now expecting some deeply spiritual or philosophical discussion of humanity’s dominance within the animal kingdom, you will be sorely disappointed. The purpose of this piece is to point out that individual humans often survive when any reasoning creature would expect them to perish.

For the record, I am not speaking of heroic deeds in battle, or putting one’s life at risk to save another.  Instead, I am writing about circumstances highlighting God’s mercy or, if you prefer, nature’s whimsy. For example, consider the saga of a fellow named Willy.

I was reminded of Willy not long ago while heading to the sprawling metropolis of Krum, Texas.1 On this day, I was following my phone’s directions, to see how the route it suggested compared with the one I thought was best.  I must admit, it was challenging to give the app much credibility when it insisted it was directing me to “crooom.” 

Language algorithms aside, the directions were pretty good. I am not 100 percent certain it was a better route than the one I would have driven. Still, it worked, and the road led me past the place Willy should have died in the early 1970s. 

Okay, Willy is pseudonym I’ve assigned to this guy for two critical reasons. First, as I was reminded not long ago when real names are used in stories such as this, family members of the person discussed may read the post.  If, as in this case, the post or essay is not flattering, they may be offended or hurt by the truth about their relative. Second, I knew so many “Willies” over the years, I cannot remember all their actual names.

This Willy was a hardworking guy as I remember it.  In fact, he worked so hard during the week, he needed to relax as quickly and thoroughly as possible when the week was done.  In plain language, that means Willy cashed his paycheck around the corner from his job and started pounding beers until the week was at best a hazy memory. On a good weekend, Willy would make Monday morning without ending up in jail, but Willy did not have a lot of good weekends. 

By the time I met Willy, he was on a first-name basis with most of the local law enforcement community.  He was also beginning to realize he faced the possibility of becoming a long term guest of the state if he did not change his ways.

I would love to tell you that Willy swore off alcohol, started going to church, and never stepped into a jail cell again.  Of course, that would be a complete fabrication.  The real story is less heartwarming but quite fantastic. It started on a Friday or Saturday night just after closing time. 

Willy was headed home from his favorite watering hole when he attracted the attention of a local Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) unit. When the trooper hit his red lights, Willy hit the gas. Yep! That was Willy’s plan to avoid jail, outrun the cops.

As the city officer working the area, I was dispatched to backup the DPS unit. I did not have much to do as the incident was pretty much over by the time I caught them. You see, Willy tried to make it to the interstate where he hoped his hotrod Pontiac would prove fast enough to make his getaway. 

Willy’s plan worked for a while.  He headed northwest out of town, attempting to make it to the highway. It was not heavily traveled at that time of night, and that Pontiac would really fly on a straight road.  Whether it would have outrun the DPS unit is something we’ll never know. Willy encountered some problems, which might have been obvious if he’d been sober. 

The first problem was the so-called muscle cars of that era had lots of horsepower.  That means they could go fast!  I can testify speeds of well over an indicated 125 mph could be achieved on the open road. Of course, I never drove that fast in my personal car. I only drove that fast while pursuing someone like Willy.

Yes, those cars were fast.  Their biggest shortcoming was in the stopping department. As both a young hot rodder and later a young police officer, I can attest to that reality. A four hundred horsepower, three thousand pound car had, for the most part, the same brake system as your grandmother’s hot-water six in those days. 

The second problem was, in a way, related to the brake issue. The road Willy chose dead-ended at the interstate in a rural area, with minimal lighting.  In fact, the only light came from the truck stop near the intersection, and that was more blinding than illuminating. Also, a driver could not see the truck stop or the intersection until he topped a hill a few hundred yards south of their location. Willy was traveling well over 100 miles per hour when he crested the hill. 

I do not know when Willy realized he had a problem.  I do know his car left a lot of skid marks when he realized he was going to fast. They led right up to the bar ditch, which the Pontiac jumped, slamming into the overpass embankment. If I remember correctly, the front bumper plowed up 60 feet of sod before the car came to a rest.

When I arrived on the scene, the senior DPS officer was on the radio calling for assistance. The younger officer, fresh out of the academy, was standing next to the passenger door of Willy’s smashed Pontiac.  He was staring into the passenger compartment. When I reached the car, I realized why the rookie was simply standing there pale-faced gazing into the vehicle.

When the Pontiac hit the embankment, Willy had a death-grip on the steering wheel. That was evident from the fact it was almost ripped off the steering column. Then, momentum slammed him into the steering column, likely crushing his chest. Next, his face hit the dashboard, and the spray of blood indicated he hit nose-first.  Before Willy’s body was thrown into the passenger side floorboard, his head cracked the windshield.  When the car came to a rest, Willy was jammed headfirst into the right kick-panel. 

From outside the car, it appeared there was a headless body crammed into the space a  passenger’s feet would normally rest. Either that or Willy’s head was jammed through the kick-panel and stuck in the fender. In retrospect, that was not possible, but it looked that way.  Still, we could not assume he was decapitated or dead from blunt force trauma. 

Accordingly, I reached in through the driver’s window, grabbed his belt, and pulled. Willy was not a small guy, and he was dead weight at the moment. The body shifted some, but I needed help. Suddenly, the young trooper came out of his daze and helped. He reached in from the other side and grabbed Willy’s arm and shoulder, pulling him enough that he rolled partially onto the seat.  We were both amazed when he took a breath.

If you are wincing at the way we were handling Willy, or his body, keep one thing in mind. This was long before the days of EMTs, Paramedics, and Mobile Emergency Rooms.  We were waiting for a funeral home ambulance, likely driven by a college student. He might know basic first aid, but would not be as qualified as either of us to assist the driver. Also, we had to do something to determine if the driver was alive, or we needed to call a Peace Justice to declare him dead. Back to Willy, drawing a breath, which is the point of this story.

The guy was still alive! He was breathing! We yelled to the senior trooper, and he said the ambulance was coming over the hill.  About that time, Willy made a horrible rattling noise in his throat and stopped breathing.  We quickly pulled him out of the car, laid him on the ground, and he took a breath.  Whew, maybe this would not be a fatality accident after all.  

Willy suffered multiple severe injuries.  As I surmised when I saw the damage to the car, the steering wheel crushed his chest upon impact. His face hit the dashboard, royally messing up his face, forehead, and what have you. His head did smash the windshield before it was slammed through the kick panel on the passenger side of the car.  While transporting him from the local emergency room to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, the accompanying nurse said he quit breathing three times. 

Doctors at Parkland told his family he would probably not survive. If he did, he might be severely brain damaged, or in the vernacular of the time, a vegetable. Six weeks later, he was back in Denton, walking around and as cognitively functional as before. True, he was in an upper-body cast, but he wasn’t taking that final sleep in the family plot.

So, is there a moral to this story?  Is there a lesson to be learned from this experience? The most fundamental moral of this story, depending on how one thinks of God, the universe, good and evil, is the fittest are not necessarily the ones who survive. Willy should have died on the side of the I35 at US77 overpass in Denton County that evening. The fact he did not was either a matter of luck, or there was a reason for him to survive. 

My theological education and my belief system lead me to believe there was a reason for his survival.  Perhaps he did sober up at some point.  Maybe he became a volunteer helping others deal with their alcohol problems. Or, at worst, his experience led one of his buddies or family members to change their ways. 

My old cop and pragmatist sides tend to think Willy, along with many other hard drinkers I ran across as a police officer, ended up the primary character in a fatality accident or other tragic incident.  Yet, I know several people who did change, and they managed to do it without hitting a highway embankment at high speeds. One can only hope, that when God shows His mercy to someone such as Willy, someone else is paying attention. 

1 1970 Population 454 

© sinnerswalk.com – 2019

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Inerrantly Speaking

The Holy Bible, depending upon whom you ask, is either the literal word of God, a well-meaning but poorly written attempt at a morality play or something a group of scam artists developed to fleece ignorant peasants out of the what little treasure they had. Adding to the arguments and confusion surrounding the Bible is the fact within the options mentioned above are numerous hybrid points of view.

For example, some Christians may believe the New Testament is holy, but the Old Testament is a horror story. On the other hand, some atheists will claim the entire Bible, and all other “inspired” or religious works are myths. Then again, others may acknowledge some moral or philosophical value to the books.

Yes, the battle over the Bible has been raging for centuries.  Is it true, is it fiction? Is it a tool to control the easily influenced, is it a morality manual for how one should live? Whatever one believes about the Bible, one point of view should raise the hackles of believers, skeptics, and atheists alike.

Understandably, the thought that one could believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God is offputting to atheists and skeptics. The idea that anyone could have any significant knowledge of the Holy Bible and believe it is God-breathed is ridiculous to them. In the opinion of many, there are so many mistakes, conflicts, clearly fictional stories the book cannot be taken seriously. Believers, on the other hand, find it hard to fathom the inability of nonbelievers to see the Truth in the “Good Book.” [i]

If, as I am suggesting, these two ends of the belief spectrum regarding the Bible are understandable and rational, where is this piece going?  It is attempting to point out the danger of at least one belief system near the middle of the Judeo-Christian bell curve.  In between those who believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God and those who think the idea of a creator god is ignorant, if not laughable, lie a plethora of other views.  As noted above, one of those views should concern believers and naysayers alike.

Spiritual inerrancy is one of those terms most take for granted. We may not know precisely what someone means, but when the question of inerrancy comes up, it seems to be an excellent way to avoid saying the Bible is wrong.  Some who use the term admit they use it as a way to avoid confrontation over what many see as biblical inaccuracies or conflicts.  Others use it as a way to attack those who consider literal inerrancy a reality. They will claim believing the Bible, even in its original form, is the actual word of God prevents believers from seeing the higher spiritual truths within Scripture.

If that last sentence does not send chills up a believer’s spine, he or she may need to go pray about it for a while. What those individuals are saying is essentially what humanists and others push through their belief systems and traditions. Humans, in one way or another, can create or find a way of existence surpassing what the Bible teaches, and makes God unnecessary. Even those using the term may not realize that is the truth of their beliefs, but that is the reality of what they espouse.

Oh! I can almost hear the cries of hypocrisy, blasphemy, bigotry, and ignorance coming from those who read this and feel I am letting my mouth, okay my keyboard, overload my backside.  How can he say such a thing? We are not denying God! We are merely rejecting the belief that the Bible is the definitive, inerrant word of God! It is so limiting, and God wants so much more for us. The idea of inerrancy is keeping poor immature Christians from realizing how much they can achieve by looking beyond the typeface.

To be clear, they may be right. I may be the false teacher or prophet in the room. I may be the one listening to the whispers of the serpent telling me to think for myself.  I may be, but consider what else I have to say before condemning me to be stoned.

If the Bible is not the inerrant word of God, what does that mean?  Does it mean we can pick and chose which parts we believe? Does it mean we must doubt anything in the Bible that does not seem to be provable or supported by empirical data?  Does it mean our morality is dependent on the whim of the current culture, as many seem to believe today?  It would seem that is the case when one reads and hears some of the things people in the spiritual inerrancy camp say.

If the Bible is not the true word of God at some level, what is it?  Which stories are to be believed?  Is the God of the Old Testament the God of the New Testament?  If the Red Sea was not parted, Jonah was not swallowed, and the great flood was an overflowing creek, do we really need to fear and worship God?  Which brings us to the final thought.

The Bible is the saga of God’s plan for mankind.  From the Garden of Eden to the Second Coming, the Bible tells the story of God’s desire to create and nurture humanity.  Yes, there are parts of it we cannot understand.  Did it really only take God 144 hours to create the universe, including Adam and Eve?  Or, was that a man’s attempt to explain the inexplicable when an eternal Creator inspired the man to share the story?  The what ifs could go on for many pages, but I hope I’ve made that point.  Here is the rest of the story.

The Bible from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22:21 tells the story of man’s salvation and ultimate destiny.  If the Bible is only a tall tale written to provide some moral or spiritual compass for those willing to dig into it, then Jesus the Christ is a figment of someone’s imagination.  If that is the case, the atheists, worse the nihilists, are correct, and life is essentially meaningless. Find the higher spiritual purpose in that!

[i] An informal name for the Bible, not to be confused with the humanist bible, The Good Book.

© sinnerswalk.com

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Of Kings and a President

When it was clear Donald Trump would be our president, I was more than a bit concerned. Specifically, I told friends, “I pray he is our David and not our Saul.” As it turns out, he is a bit of both, and history will decide which reign his presidency most resembles.

If the paragraph above has you wondering what I’ve been drinking, let me assure you that is not the case. The only thing influencing me at the moment is my knowledge of biblical history, and it was the influence leading to the comment invoking the ancient kings. Consider the reference to Saul.

Saul was the first king of Israel. He was chosen by God when the Jews cried out to Him for a king. They were not happy with the leadership of judges. They wanted a king, just like all the other countries and tribes. They wanted someone who looked like a king, talked like a king, and acted like a king. God gave them Saul because he met their criteria.

The same can be said about President Trump. Many Christians and others were calling out for a change in leadership. By that, they did not mean a shift from one party to another. They wanted someone different, someone not part of the political swamp, and in stepped Donald Trump. He was precisely what the people were asking for at the time, which is why I referenced Saul in the first place.

In some ways, Saul’s story is a cautionary tale. Similar to the old adage, be careful what you wish for. Saul was a decent king for a time. Then he got himself into trouble with God. As the Bible teaches, crossing God was a risky business in Old Testament times, and Saul paid the price for his hubris. In fact, God sent Isaiah to anoint Israel’s new king long before Saul fell on his sword, which brings us to David.

The Bible teaches God ordered Samuel to anoint David as the future king when David was a child. He was chosen by God when he was still living at home with his family, and it would be years before David the man became king. In the interim, David did many good, even great things, and stayed faithful to the Lord God. After Saul killed himself to avoid being captured by his enemies David assumed the throne.

David was a man after God’s own heart and did God’s will. He also did a few things that were not God’s will, such as taking another man’s wife and orchestrating that man’s death. Later, he, as had Saul, decided he could move forward without God’s blessing. God chastised David for that move.  Yet, there was a difference between Saul and David.

David was allowed to live a full life. It was not without trials and turmoil, but in the end, he was still God’s chosen king. In fact, Jesus came from the line of David, which is a significant statement about how God can use a sinner to produce the future King.

For the record, this piece is not about politics. It is about the origin of one’s faith as a Christian, and how that faith leads you to see the world around you. Some people believe God appoints or allows certain people to come into power, as in the cases of Saul and David. Others believe God has no hand in such worldly matters, either because He chooses not to meddle, or He does not have the power to interfere. It is that divide which triggered this piece, and an article to be posted in the future. Either way, my comment stands.

I still pray President Trump is our David and not our Saul. At the moment he displays characteristics of both, and only time will tell if he falls on his sword, or marks the beginning of a new and better era for our nation.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2019

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Trailer Hitches, Latigos, and Christ

I thought I’d heard every allegory, comparison, or simile one could imagine when it came to preaching. I’ve heard a pastor use M&Ms to make a point about generosity, and I’ve listened to a Bible study leader equate Job with ants. Those may not be at the complete opposite ends of the spectrum, but they are certainly a far stretch from comparing Jesus with a lamb or a shepherd.

Still, when a preacher starts talking about trailer hitches and latigos on Easter Sunday, you can be sure of two things. First, you are in a Cowboy Church. Second, you are going to experience an exciting sermon, and when he brought belt buckles into the equation, the humor made a point that was hard to miss. If you are wondering how these items can be used in an Easter message, you are in the same place I was Easter morning.

Before going into the sermon itself, I must make another point. If you’ve never heard traditional hymns performed by a country group with a steel guitar, you have missed something. With that said, I had one regret on this Easter morning. They did not sing “The Old Rugged Cross.” They did last year, and it was unbelievable. This year, one of the group did a solo of “He’s Alive.” It was amazing.

All right. Let’s get back to the message. To keep this as short and sweet as possible, the message was simple. Cowboys, boaters, and campers trust their expensive trailers, equipment, and livestock to a simple little steel ball every time they hook up their treasure to a truck. In the words of the pastor, a cowboy will trust tens of thousands of dollars worth of his stuff to a twenty-dollar trailer hitch ball. He went on to use a “ten-dollar latigo” and a fancy belt buckle to emphasize his point.

You don’t want the trailer hitch to break. You don’t want the latigo to break while you ride, and you certainly did not want Pastor Tim’s belt buckle to fail during the sermon. The pastor is a bit on the hefty side if you get my drift. Cowboy humor aside, the pastor used these examples to make his point.

As with the items mentioned above, we seem to treat the resurrection as one small part of the story. After all, Jesus raised people from the dead, and the Bible tells stories of others being called back to life, at least temporarily. Even today, we hear stories of people being clinically dead, but coming back to life due to modern medicine or miraculous means. In reality, the resurrection is one of the essential aspects of the story. Without it, we have nothing.

That was the point of Pastor Tim’s sermon. Without the resurrection we have nothing. The crucifixion of Jesus was horrible. He suffered greatly, and as the Bible teaches, he was a substitutional sacrifice for humankind. However, many creatures were sacrificed to atone for sins in the past. None of those sacrifices led to a guarantee of salvation and eternal life. By itself, the death of Jesus was not enough.

The question then becomes why was his sacrifice not enough. As the pastor saw it, the resurrection was necessary because Jesus said it was necessary. He said he would be crucified, buried, and rise again in three days. If he had not been resurrected, He was either deluded or a liar. At best, if he were not resurrected, he was simply another prophet. Another teacher, spreading a message. A message with no more validity than the preaching of others attempting to ride His coattails.

The resurrection is the trailer hitch to which we can hitch our future. It is the latigo that will keep us riding toward eternity with the Father. It is the belt buckle that holds our faith and hope together.

As with any sharing of a pastor’s message, these are my words, not necessarily the pastors. This was the message I heard him speak. To listen to the sermon yourself, click here. It is well worth a look.

© sinnerswalk.com

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Convenient Barbarism?

Can a writer visit the same topic too often?  I suppose it depends on the issue, but as some politicians are learning, hammering the same point over and over is not as effective as in the past. We just have too many sources of information today.  Still, some topics are too critical not to revisit. Abortion is such an issue, and I was reminded that was the case just a few days ago.

On the Altar of Convenience” was written in response to the celebration surrounding the passage of a law legalizing late-term abortions in the State of New York. This piece is the result of an effort to read the Bible cover to cover instead of hit and miss.  One-third of the way through the book of Ezekiel the message was loud and clear. I was not through with this late-term abortion thing.

The convicting passage read, “On the day you were born, no one cared about you. Your umbilical cord was not cut, and you were never washed, rubbed with salt, and wrapped in cloth. No one had the slightest interest in you; no one pitied you or cared for you. On the day you were born, you were unwanted, dumped in a field and left to die. But I came by and saw you there, helplessly kicking about in your own blood.” (Ezekiel 16: 4-6, NLT)

All right! I can almost hear the naysayers arguments. First, they would say, what does the Old Testament have to do with the modern world.  Then, those with any knowledge of the OT would complain this is an allegorical piece, as God is speaking of Israel, not a baby. Of course, the passage is not saying God actually found a baby left to die in a field!

On the other hand, the author of Ezekiel, inspired by God or merely trying to make a point, would not use something utterly foreign to his audience.  Everyone in that culture was familiar with unwanted babies being abandoned in this manner. If they were not, the simile would be meaningless!

In “Convenience” I wrote late-term abortion laws placed our society dangerously close to the practices of such ancient cultures. Those cultures I opined, treated unwanted infants as if they were trash, and the Bible seems to confirm that thought.

I am sure any pro-choice, pro-reproductive rights person reading my comparison considered it to be stupid hyperbole. I do the same thing when an open borders advocate claims walls are medieval. After all, for many people the idea of child sacrifice, placing unwanted babies in the woods to die, and other such claims about ancient societies are the stuff of myth, legend, horror movies, and scary bedtime stories.

Whatever one believes about the scripture, it got my attention. That is precisely what is, or will be, happening to babies who survive abortion under the laws currently being passed or discussed in many areas. No! They will not be abandoned in a field to become part of the food chain for microbes, ants, and scavengers. They, to paraphrase one governor, will be made comfortable until the decision to dispose of them humanely is made. Then their bodies will go into hazardous waste containers.

Folks, the only difference between disposing of the unwanted newborn humanely and dumping it in a field to die is the methodology used. I take that back! As advanced, well-meaning, open-minded humans we can sleep better knowing the newborn died without suffering a slow and agonizing death. Of course, as with the ancients, if we really cared about the baby, it would not be dying in a field or being tossed out with bloody gauze, used needles and yesterday’s uneaten snack.

By now, some readers are ready to string me up for making such vile comparisons between the humane termination of an unwanted potential burden on society and a poor helpless baby left to die in a field.  While I understand their disdain, it is they who are missing the point.

Both the modern and ancient versions of societally accepted infanticide make the same statement. The life of a newborn, or soon to be born, human being has no value.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2019

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Reckless Worship?

AnOldSinner is blessed to attend a church which does its best to be a true place of worship, fellowship, and spiritual growth. It teaches from the Bible, ministers to the community as well as its flock, and seems, within the limits of sinful humanity, to fulfill its mission as a house of God. That is why I was more than a bit concerned by the message of a contemporary worship leader one Sunday.

Unlike many larger churches these days, ours has not gone entirely contemporary. It is one of the few in our area with a traditional, traditional service as well as contemporary services. By that I mean our traditional service includes an orchestra and choir leading the congregation in traditional Christian music. In the interest of clarity, the worship led by the choir and orchestra does include more contemporary or upbeat music at times. When that is the case, the tone is traditional worship, not guitar riff driven tunes written to raise the heart rate and adrenaline level of the congregation.

Please do not read that last sentence as a condemnation of contemporary Christian music. I happen to enjoy contemporary Christian music, and a well written, well executed high energy praise song can make my heart beat faster.  I admit I am not ready to embrace Christian rap and hip-hop, but my exposure to those genres has been limited. Regardless of my personal taste in Christian music, this piece is not about the music. Rather it is about the way the new generation of contemporary worship team or band leaders are using the music.

It seems, admittedly based on limited direct experience, that contemporary worship team leaders see themselves as a distinct part of the service. By that, I mean traditional worship teams, in my experience, tend to choose music that fits the mood of the sermon, when possible. In the contemporary arena, it often seems the music may be a stand-alone message, at least to a degree. For example, consider the service triggering this piece.

The message was “Do Not Lose Heart.” The set up for the sermon in the traditional service was “Press On.” This hymn was specifically chosen to fit the message. The most memorable of the contemporary pieces at the evening service, the anthem if you will, was “Reckless Love.” It is possible to split hairs, and many have, over the message of “Reckless Love.” I feel it is safe to say it is not the same message as “Press On.”

One emphasizes the believer’s strength through faith. The second highlights the writer’s belief that God will go to any lengths to chase the sinner down. Another way to differentiate between the two is “Press On” emphasizes what we as believers are to do to stay on the path, and “Reckless Love” seems to emphasize what God will do to drag us back to the path.

Both of these messages may be true in some circumstances. I am sure one blogger I read when researching “Reckless Love” will consider my comments pharisaical and legalistic, if he should read them. However, the theologies of the songs are not the point here. The point is the power of music.

Music is a powerful part of worship, and contemporary worship leaders seem to feel and are allowed to feel, their message does not need to support, or even parallel, the pastor’s message. That was not always the case at my church, but I noticed that trend at other churches. Also, I found a similar attitude in seminary students and others involved in or studying contemporary worship music.

Perhaps I am behind the times. Perhaps contemporary worship music is supposed to be the draw, instead of the teaching. Maybe it is the newest aspect of the “get’em in the door, let’em learn the hard stuff later” school of evangelism. Even if that is the case, the messages should not clash, and here, they did.

The message of “Reckless Love” seems to be God will hunt you down and save you at all costs. The song goes so far as to claim He “leaves the ninety-nine,” to chase the lost sinner down. Our church and the Bible makes it clear God will let you harden your heart to Him. In fact, some verses in the Bible clearly state God hardens or chooses not to soften the hearts of non-believers.

Yes, Jesus said a man will leave his flock, the ninety-nine, to find one wandering sheep. He said it in a parable that has been interpreted to emphasize three different aspects of the story.[i] Regardless of the exact meaning of the parable, other messages make it clear the apparent message of this song may be a bit off base.

Those passages do not imply He will force those with hardened hearts to listen. Neither do they say the Father would knock their walls down to save them. In fact, He seems to be telling the Apostles to move on and ignore them when He says, “If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave.” (Matt 10:14, NLT)

Again, the point of this piece is not disagreement concerning the meaning of Scripture or the theological accuracy of the song mentioned above. On the other hand, the worship team presenting this song as its anthem for the service is to some degree teaching a message that did not clearly support the sermon for that Sunday and was in direct conflict with past lessons taught from the pulpit.

Please know, the previous paragraph is not meant to condemn the song, nor the worship team for singing it. The song was for a time the number one song in the Christian Music category of a major rating service. It teaches a feel-good message that many seek, and there is some truth to the idea that getting seekers and skeptics involved through music opens the door to their salvation. Unfortunately, that school of thought can lead to problems.

It seems, at least to this crotchety old writer, seminaries and churches may be giving too much autonomy to worship team leaders, especially when the team is leading the worship for the Sunday sermon. If that is the case, the confusion within the church between doctrine, theology, and message will grow, if the message of the music and the sermon are not on the same page.

[i] In Matthew, Jesus is using children as an example of those who many overlook as being important, while in Luke he uses it, according to some, to highlight the way undesirable elements may be overlooked or forgotten. The Gospel of Thomas, a gnostic text, seems to promote the idea that the lost sheep is the most important of the flock.

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