THEOLOGY FROM AN ELVIS SONG?

I was surprised this week to hear some solid Bible teaching on the radio from an unexpected source. Tired of listening to the news, I hit the button on my XM radio for Elvis Radio. The first song and only song I listened to got my attention.

While Elvis did sing some religious songs, except for How Great Thou Art, those were not the ones that made him famous. This song is not religious, but one line in it certainly reminded me of something we might agree sounds biblical.

I Can Help was written by Billy Swan and recorded by Elvis in 1975. As the title suggests, the lyrics declare that the singer can help the one to whom he is singing. Among other things, the song declares that “if you’ve got a problem” or “if you need a hand, I can assure you this – I can help.” Who wouldn’t appreciate such an offer?

As much as I like the confident offer made, and while offering to help someone in need is biblical, that isn’t what got my attention about the song. Multiple times in the lyrics the singer tells his listener “It would sure do me good to do you good, Let me help.”

There are a couple of ways to interpret the phrase “It would sure do me good to do you good.” One way to look at it is to see it as a selfish or manipulative statement. That certainly isn’t biblical and that is not how I take it. Whether it is what Billy Swan had in mind or not, I take the phrase at face value. I have been teaching and encouraging the same thing for the past 47 years as a pastor.

The obvious biblical teaching of the phrase is that it is good for us to serve others. Another way I have made the point in the church is by noting that we are blessed by our service rendered to others. We don’t help others in order to be blessed, but we are grateful to be blessed through our service.

The other point I have tried to make is that we should accept it when others can and want to help and serve us. By doing so we are not only blessed by their service, but they are also blessed by the good they do for us. When our pride prevents us from letting people who want to help us do so we rob them of an opportunity to be blessed by blessing us.

Here’s another way to say it: it would sure do good for both of us if you would allow me to do you good. In my life I have been blessed both by being helped and by helping.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/51035555243@N01/6991193461″>Dream Boat, Plate 8</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Advertisements

I WANT TO BE LIKE THAT!

The closing paragraphs of an online Christianity Today article this week left me unsettled as we go to the polls to vote next week. The first three pages of the four page article were somewhat interesting, but when author Daniel Block turned on page 4 to “Moses’ Charter for Kingship in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, I starting thinking about our political leaders and candidates.

Block suggested from Moses’ instructions that “rulers [politicians] were to function as servants of their people.” “Moses,” he noted, “focused on the personal character of the king.” Not only that, “they were not to use their position of authority in self-interest.” As most of us would expect, Moses expected the leaders to believe in God and walk in his ways.

Looking at the broader record of the Old Testament and leaders, Block reminds us “God has never demanded moral perfection of those he thrusts into leadership roles.” Commenting specifically on the judges (leaders before there were kings), he notes “most were not models of political leadership upon which to lavish praise as much as an honest look at deeply flawed men [sic] whom God used in spite of themselves.”

As important as all these points are, Block’s summary seems most important to me: “the Israelite king’s primary function was to be a model citizen, so that people could look to him and declare, ‘I want to be like that person!’”

I certainly don’t think we can expect those we vote for to be perfect, but I do think we have every right to have high expectations of them. I believe they should be servants of the people and that they should not use their positions for self-interest. I think they should be good examples for us.  I wish they would people we think highly of as well as people we wish we could be like.

Unfortunately, and sadly, I have not seen a lot of these qualities in very many of our political candidates and leaders recently in either party. Have you?

I think we all should vote. I also think we should follow the instruction of I Timothy 2:1-3, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior.”

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

 

THEN WHY READ IT?

One of the reasons I like to read articles and books by good Christian writers is because they teach, challenge, warn, convict, encourage, and affirm me.

The last few days I have been reading a book by Timothy Keller entitled The Prodigal Prophet. If you are somewhat familiar with the Bible, and think about that title, you will eventually correctly guess that it is about Jonah.

What sparked my attention today was Keller’s observation that Jonah was “misusing the Bible” when he refers to God’s revelation to Moses’ that God is “compassionate and gracious” (Exodus 34:6). That was apparently one of the reasons Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. But Jonah did not continue and refer to what Exodus 34:7 says about God. Keller notes Jonah “reads the Bible selectively, ignoring” parts of it (p. 106).  I don’t think Jonah was the first or last to do that, do you?

On the next page Keller writes about Christians reading the Bible today and really got my attention by suggesting “if we feel more righteous as we read the Bible, we are misreading it; we are missing its central message. We are reading and using the Bible rightly only when it humbles us, critiques us, and encourages us with God’s love and grace despite our flaws” (p. 107).

In all honesty I must say I very rarely feel more righteous after reading the Bible. Do you? (Please note I did intimate that every once and awhile I do feel more righteous.)

But what about Keller’s suggestion that we’re correctly reading the Bible only when it humbles us and critiques us. Who wants to be critiqued and humbled? I certainly don’t. As I suggest in the title of this post, if we’re reading the Bible to be humbled and critiqued, then why read it? I can think of two reasons.

One is that most of us need to be humbled and critiqued. I know I do. And who better to do that than the Holy Spirit through the reading of God’s Word? The prerequisite, of course, is that in coming to the Bible we have to be open to and willing to accept God’s humbling and critiquing of us.

The other reason we should read the Bible is the rest of what Keller says: reading the Bible “encourages us with God’s love and grace despite our flaws.” Who doesn’t want to be encouraged by God’s love and grace? And don’t overlook Keller’s added truth that God does this even with our shortcomings and failures.

Because of my “job” as a pastor, I have had much opportunity to read and study the Bible the last 46 years. Even though I am still reading it in order to teach others, these days I find myself getting a lot more out of it for myself. Perhaps you would like to join me in praying that as we read his word God will continue to humble us, critique us, and encourage us with his love and grace even with our flaws. Need a suggestion where to start? How about Jonah?

Feel free to leave a comment below and or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

ME, YOU, AND EVERYONE ELSE

I don’t think I’ve ever used the word narcissism, but I’ve heard it used and have had a sense of what it means. In a book I’m reading (entitled Honest Worship) author Manuel Luz talks about “cultural narcissism” and “narcissism in our worship.”

My understanding of narcissism was enhanced and expanded by Luz’s reference to a book entitled The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America written by Drew Pinsky and S. Mark Young. Luz relays what Pinsky and Young note are “the seven traits classically associated with clinical narcissism” – authority, entitlement, exhibitionism, exploitativeness, self-sufficiency, superiority, and vanity.

Just reading that list of traits gives us insight into both the book by Pinsky and Young How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America as well Luz’s observation about “narcissism in our worship.” Simply stated, narcissism is about focusing on oneself and putting self first before anyone else. I’ve tried to capture the idea with the title of this post giving the narcissistic priority: me, you, and everyone else.

I don’t plan to get and read The Mirror Effect, but I think the seven traits of narcissism the authors list make sense. Other descriptions that come to my mind in reading their list include egotistical, judgmental, self-centered, user of others, show-off, deserving, and demanding.

Not to be guilty of being judgmental myself, but I think all of us are aware of some celebrities (certainly not all) who exhibit these traits to some degree. And hopefully as Christians, even though we don’t always act like it, we know that worship is not about us, but God.

The issue of narcissism, however, is not just about worship and celebrities. The traits listed by Pinsky and Young show up in the lives of those who are not celebrities and in lots of places beyond worship. You and I may even exhibit these traits ourselves at times. I know I do.

Narcissism is the opposite of one of Jesus’ best known and oft quoted list of qualifications to be one of his followers: “Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me’.” (Luke 9:23). Being a disciple of Jesus is about getting oneself out of the center, being willing to make sacrifices, and imitating Jesus.

The Apostle Paul presents a similar challenge in his letter to the Philippians:Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests (only) but each of you to the interests of others (2:3 and 4). Sounds like the opposite of the seven traits of narcissism, doesn’t it?

Perhaps I should reverse the order in the title of this blog from me, you, and everyone else to everyone else, you, and me? What do you think?

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

TOO OFTEN?

After my wife Jan and I concluded a phone conversation recently I realized that I close almost every conversation with her by saying “I love you.” As I thought about that it also occurred to me that every time I leave my daughter’s house and say good night to my two grandsons I tell them “I love you.”  A few weeks earlier I had noticed that almost all of my phone calls with both my son and my daughter also end with “I love you.”

Primarily thinking about Jan, but also the others as well, I asked myself the question, “Can you say I love you too often to your family?” I didn’t answer myself out loud, but my initial thought was – probably not.

I continued my conversation with myself by adding to probably not “as long as you mean it.” Then I also added to my probably not “as long as it doesn’t become an automatic and thoughtless good-by.”

Moving forward with my one on one conversation with myself I then asked myself, “Do you ever get tired of hearing one of them say I love you?” My answer was an emphatic “no.” As a matter of fact I thought, I wish my grandsons would say it more often.

I can’t imagine that too many people would get tired of being told they are loved by someone, unless they thought the person who said it did not mean it or they thought the words were thoughtless.

Getting deeper into my back and forth with myself I had another thought. Telling someone you love them is certainly important – but equally important, if not more important, is showing them you love them.

One of the ways we show someone we love them is through and by our words – like telling them “I love you” – but there are other words and ways as well. Among other ways we let them know with words we love them is when we thank them and affirm them.

Another way of showing them we love them is by listening to them. Sometimes what those we love need to feel loved is to be listened to – our spouse, our children, and our grandchildren. One the best ways I have learned to hear from my wife, daughter, son, and grandsons is to ask them about their day, their schedule, and their plans. When things are not too chaotic, especially with a four year old and an eight year old, I ask follow up questions to hear more.

I don’t think I say “I love you” too often. But to be candid, I think too often I am better at saying “I love you” than I am in showing my loved ones I love them. Having had this conversation with myself, I hope to do better.

How about you? Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

CONVERSATION: TALKING AND LISTENING

Too many of us are more interested in talking than we are in listening. There is nothing wrong with wanting to talk, but if all we want to do is talk and not listen, then it seems to me we do have a problem.

I’m often disappointed by conversations I hear about and read about from politicians in Washington, D.C., Bible and theology scholars, Christian authors, leaders of church denominations, church members, friends, and family members. So much of the time there is much more talking than there is listening. The last couple of weeks I read two articles that challenged and encouraged my thinking in this area.

One was a review of a book dealing with a controversial subject among many Christians who take the Bible seriously. Early in the piece the reviewer made an observation about the author that caught my attention.  Reviewer Tim Challies notes about the book that the book’s “dedication proves that Schreiner [the author] means to speak as a friend to friends. An eminently gentle man, he never comes close to being harsh or offensive. He very much wants to position this as a discussion between friends of secondary importance.” At the end of the review Challies notes the author’s affection for his disagreeing friends is a regular theme and “he gladly offers them every benefit of the doubt.”

Think about some of these insights. Wouldn’t it be helpful and contribute to many of our conversations if we spoke as friends, if we were somewhat gentle refraining from being harsh or offensive, and if we more often gave those with whom we were conversing the benefit of the doubt?

The other article I read that primed the pump for me in thinking about conversation asked the question “Can You Hear Me Now?” In the heading of this article in Christianity Today author Nathan Betts suggests “In an age when most are rushing to have their say, Christians can love by giving others a hearing.”

Betts’ basic point in his article is that many times we stop listening to those who do not agree with us and begin formulating our arguments to respond. Instead of listening to what is being said we listen for what they might say. He suggests that “Listening to another person implicitly says, ‘I want to learn from you even if I don’t agree with you’.”

I think Betts is correct when he postulates that “Perhaps one of the reasons many of us find it difficult to listen in conversations is because genuine listening take more work and critical thought.” My personal experience in these kinds of conversations is that listening also requires a great deal of patience. It’s usually not just us who is not listening to what is being said; our discussion partner often is doing the same thing.

I completely agree with Betts’ conclusion that “one of the most significant ways we can navigate tough conversations is to ensure that each person in the conversation is heard.” Unfortunately, we cannot ensure we are being heard, but we can do our best to ensure the person we are speaking with is being heard.

Having been challenged by both articles, in my conversations I want to be more like the author of the book Challies reviewed and a better and more understanding listener Betts calls for. How about you?

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

 

 

 

PRAYER, FAITH, UNANSWERED PRAYER, AND TRUST

All of us who are Christians would agree that prayer is an important aspect of the Christian life. While driving to a meeting yesterday I realized my prayer life had waned. Right then I acknowledged it to the Lord (without bowing my head and closing my eyes!) and resolved to get back on track.

This morning I read in C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters Screwtape’s observation that if his subject [a Christian he was tempting] was attending to God Himself, both he and Wormwood would be defeated. Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood was that the simplest way to prevent such a thing was “to turn their gaze away from Him [God] towards themselves.” I wondered if that is what I had done. Later I was reminded of one of the great testimonies in the Old Testament about this matter.

Most readers will remember the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. These three young Jewish men refused to obey King Nebuchadnezzar. He had set up an image and ordered on his command everyone to fall down and worship it. In keeping with the king’s mandate, because of their refusal, they were going to be thrown into a blazing furnace.

Daniel 3:16-18 tells us their response to Nebuchadnezzar, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

Even in their trying situation Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were clearly attending to God Himself and did not turn their gaze away from God toward themselves. Even though we are not told they prayed, we can assume they did. And I think we can be encouraged and learn from their response.

  1. Note their commitment expressed by telling the king they didn’t have to defend themselves to him.
  2. Note also their faith that God was able and could save them
  3. Note finally their acceptance of whatever God decided.

In his book Eyes Wide Open Terry Lewis observes their words even if he doesn’t “is not a lack of faith, it is the acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty.” Lewis then makes application for us, “What God does about our situation is up to Him, but we do know that He is able!”

In terms of the title of these thoughts – PRAYER, FAITH, UNANSWERED PRAYER, AND TRUST – I’m suggesting it takes faith to pray as well as trust in accepting it when God says no to our prayer requests.

(For those who may be interested, I recommend the new collection of C.S. Lewis writings on prayer entitled How to Pray: Reflections and Essays.)

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.