Why I Teach On Somber Biblical Topics

If you know me at all, you know that I have a tendency to teach and speak on more somber biblical topics, such as hell, depravity, persecution, trials, sovereignty, election, etc. It’s not that I focus solely on these things but rather I don’t shy away from them. The high school Sunday School class I teach (which I see as a huge honor) know quite well this fact. We have discussed many tough issues and biblical stances.

But why do I do this? Why don’t I just focus on the happier and “more positive” parts of scripture? As I was reading Acts, I found the perfect statement by Paul:

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:26-32 ESV)

The reason I don’t shy away from teaching more somber biblical topics is because Paul tells us: wolves are coming. These wolves will deceive the sheep, not using the positive easy things that are often taught, but they will twist some doctrines and destroy the flock. How can they twist these doctrines? They twist them because they are not often laid out clearly and taught. That’s why Paul says “I declared to you the whole counsel of God.”

I mentioned in another post about the wedge how deception would come in five areas. I could call these issues the “gateway deceptions”. Few would be deceived by someone preaching against the Trinity since that is often taught. However they will and are being deceived about how the Lord sees homosexuality and universalism (to name a couple). It is for this reason that I desire to set myself like Paul and “admonish every one with tears”, “not ceasing day or night”. I often tell the students I teach that my goal isn’t to particulary help them with their life now (though I hope I do), but rather to prepare them for college (where most teenage Christians fall away) and for the next 30 years (where life could kill the heart’s desire for Jesus) where/when they will face possible diseases, hard financial times, death, and other difficult challenges. I want see them prepared to handle anything they face. I don’t want to see their faith shaken, simply because I candy-coated the Bible on what it says. This does not mean I need to be depressing (that doesn’t glorify Jesus and the Bible). It means that I approach these subjects with hope, compassion, and even joy (for every biblical topic helps us know Jesus more).

Advertisements

Help To Better Learn Theology

I find many people who want to learn more about what they believe and also how to think rightly of God. They just don’t know how. They think of seminary and shudder. They think of massive books that are completely boring and they lose all desire to pursue a greater knowledge of God. I wanted to share some simple pointers of how I’ve learned and have grown in doctrine.

Understand what theology is.

Remember, “theology” simply means the study of God. We’re not talking about timelines or pointless facts and arguments. We’re talking about knowing Him more. I used to find it easy to excuse myself from learning theology when I thought it was just useless trivia. Everything changed when I realized it was simply the process of knowing a person, Jesus, and who He is, what He is like, and what that means for me in response of Him. It also helped to know that it was His desire that I pursue knowing Him, and therefore growing in doctrine and theology. I knew He would help me understand all that I was studying.

Read the Bible without filters.

I find the greatest cause of wrong doctrine is reading the Bible with a filter, either our own or someone else’s. It is critically important that the start of our theological education (and the core of it) centers around the Bible. Just as important is to read the Bible without preconceived ideas/doctrines of our own or from others. For example, when reading Revelation, I never understood it till I (chose to) forget all that I had been taught about it (I was taught pre-tribulation rapture, so Revelation was quite confusing). Once I did, the Spirit opened the book to me and I saw it clearly.

It’s also important that we read the Bible with our heart continually ready to love the Lord as the scriptures reveal Him to be. I missed out on a lot of good and passionate theology growing up because I formed a theory of God with my own mind, a god that that was easily lovable. When a tough theological subject such as hell or election comes up, I often hear people say “I don’t know if I could love a God like that.” Abraham Joshua Heschel says:

To retain the holy, to perpetuate the presence of god, his image is fashioned. Yet a god who can be fashioned, a god who can be confined, is but a shadow of man.

Read the Bible to see God for who He truly is, and be ready to struggle against some of the things that make Him altogether different than us (like how He defines love). Choose to love Him regardless of how unpleasing you may find Romans 9 or other passages.

Read the Bible with commentary.

While we should read the Bible without filters, it is good after reading it ourselves, to read what others have thought about it. We call these collection of thoughts about the Bible “commentaries.” Instead of going and buying a bunch of new expensive commentaries that you might not know if they are good or not, let me encourage you to read commentaries from some of the old preachers and fathers of our faith. Many of them are free. You can read commentaries from Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, and others. After you read a portion of scripture and pray about it, look up the portion in these commentaries. Just be careful not to read/listen to only one person. Reading commentaries from multiple authors keep us from erring easily.

Follow theologians on Twitter (or Facebook).

This is my favorite. Thanks to the age of the internet and social media that we live in, there are many theologians that are posting short theological truths and teaching on Twitter and Facebook. I follow several of such people and I’ve been amazed at my spiritual growth just by reading some of their thoughts. Many of them also have blogs where they write out some of their thoughts in a slightly longer form. This is a quick and easy way to learn theological truths randomly throughout the day.

Here are a few I personally follow on Twitter:

All of these people are serious (yet still fun) about theology. Whoever you follow, if you listen to their theological remarks, make sure they are serious about theology, that they appreciate it and are trying to see God rightly, truly, and in a way that’s consistent with Christian history. There are many who are part of an anti-intellectual/relativist movement. These people are constantly dogging general (and widely-accepted through time) doctrines. They are trying to re-invent Christianity into something more palatable, but in the end, unbiblical. They don’t believe in any set standard of truth. Beware of such people and their candy-tasting social media accounts. Find preachers and teachers who are in line with church history who are passionate about Jesus expressed through the Bible.

Read theological books.

Finally, start reading (light) theological books. I’m not talking about reading a Systematic Theology book or something like Kingdom Through Covenant, a crazy deep 828 page book on the biblical covenant of salvation. I’m talking about reading easier yet potent material that focuses on knowing God more, through scripture and doctrine.

Some examples are:

Fiction series like C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy are also great to learn doctrine and theology from. I should mention that many fiction books don’t have accurate theology in them, particularly for those trying to, so be careful (I’m looking at you, The Shack). Sometimes it’s better to read someone who is choosing clarity rather than allegory.

Also, if you get a Kindle, you can find many theological books for free or cheap. They are often on sale on Amazon.

Jeremiah & Judgment

For the last 15 years, there has been growing talk about the judgment coming to America and what should be done to stop it. Last year, the CEO of Chick-fil-a (a restaurant I love) said this regarding gay marriage and God’s judgment on America:

I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, “We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.” … I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

Obviously these remarks were taken quite offensively and led to protests and counter-protests and many chicken sandwiches.

During this time last year, I read through Jeremiah to see what the Bible says about this subject. In my opinion, there is no better book to read about God’s judgment than Jeremiah, since that is its sole focus. Many think Jeremiah is discouraging or depressing; but Jeremiah isn’t a depressing book because of the prophecies. It’s depressing because people outright ignored God’s warnings.

I wanted to post some of my thoughts about the book of Jeremiah and also my thoughts about our “God is sending national judgment” thinking.

Judgment is God-centered

One of the scariest and most solemn verses in Jeremiah is where God lays out his charge against Israel and why He’s sending judgment:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:12-13 ESV)

God doesn’t judge nations because they do bad things. All nations are made up of sinful people who will make (and sometimes even serious) mistakes. God remembers this. God doesn’t judge a nation based on how many laws are good for Christianity and how many are bad for it. No, God judges nations for two main reasons: they forsake Him and replace Him.

This point is stated over and over again throughout Jeremiah. Even though God does talk about the evil things they are doing, He tells them they are doing these things because they are not seeking Him. The root of national judgment is God. He is (99% of the time) the only determining factor.

A revival of moralism doesn’t prevent judgment.

This point killed me. It came when I realized when God called Jeremiah.

The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month. (Jeremiah 1:1-3 ESV)

Many times we skip over these introductions in Scripture, but this one is quite important. Why? Let’s read what King Josiah was doing before God called Jeremiah to prophecy judgment.

Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and walked in the ways of David his father; and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images. And they chopped down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and he cut down the incense altars that stood above them. And he broke in pieces the Asherim and the carved and the metal images, and he made dust of them and scattered it over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. He also burned the bones of the priests on their altars and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. And in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, and as far as Naphtali, in their ruins all around, he broke down the altars and beat the Asherim and the images into powder and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel. Then he returned to Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 34:1-7 ESV)

Let’s stop and think about that.

King Josiah begins a moral revolution in the land. He starts tearing down every altar of idolatry in the land. It would be the equivalent if the President of the United States (with the support of the government) shut down the pornography industry, put prayer back in schools, outlawed gambling and prostitution, and created Christian laws to start enacting a theocracy. It was a huge win for morality. But a year into this revival of morality, God calls Jeremiah to prophecy judgment on the land.

The implication couldn’t be clearer: a revival of morality has little to do with stopping judgment. The reason is because, like I mentioned in the point above, morality (or the lack thereof) isn’t the main reason for judgment. People forsaking God is the real and main reason for judgment. The sad truth of the matter is that people can act righteous and be even more worthy of judgment.

In America, there is strong talk about the need for a revival of morality. Many think that if we outlaw gay marriage, put prayer back in schools, have a Christian president, or stop vile things from being on TV, that this would stop the coming judgment from God and make us a “Christian nation” again. This thinking couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, I believe it would be worse for us. It would sear our consciences and let us believe that we are good and righteous while hearts and minds are still forsaking God. When people stop forsaking God and start seeking Him, morality is fixed. To fix morality without turning the heart back to God is deadly. That’s why God tells Israel:

Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 3:10)

“If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return. (Jeremiah 4:1)

All judgment is from God, regardless of the servant.

From the beginning, God promised he would raise up the Babylonians to destroy Judah. Daniel said around this same time to the king of Babylon:

He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings. (Daniel 2:27)

When a nation is overthrown or attacked, the Bible is clear: God’s will was involved. It isn’t a game of free-will Russian roulette. God controls the hearts of kings/leaders and moves them to accomplish His will. They are His servants.

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1)

“It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. (Jeremiah 27:5)

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden, and he will spread his royal canopy over them. (Jeremiah 43:10)

“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. (Habakkuk 1:5-6)

In America, we often think that we can control which leaders govern which nations. We live in endless fear of dictators and nations with nuclear ambitions, acting that if we don’t worry and don’t try to do something preventative that one of these dictators will attack our country. While I believe it’s in the heart of all men to do terrible evil, the Bible shows us that national attacks are stirred in the hearts of leaders by the Lord. Whether Pharaoh (multiple ones), Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Darius, or other kings in the Bible, God predestined them to conquer. The prophecies and scriptures show this to be true.

Sometimes, God won’t change his mind.

There has been an uprising of mass gatherings of prayer, fasting, and repentance in the last twenty years. Groups like Promise Keepers and The Call have rallied people to join them and to pray for two things: to stop (or delay) judgment upon our nation and to turn the nation’s heart back to God. I have no problem with the faith of these two statements. I believe that only prayer and fasting can help do the impossible — turn hateful hearts to Jesus.

The problem comes when we think that if we cultivate enough prayer, that God will change His mind. This absolute is nowhere in scripture. That’s why the Bible says:

Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? (Joel 2:13-15)

Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” (Jonah 3:9)

“For this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above be dark; for I have spoken; I have purposed; I have not relented, nor will I turn back.” (Jeremiah 4:28)

I have no problem praying in hope that God may change His mind, but it is never an absolute thing. He only answers prayers that line up to His will. If His will is to judge a nation, ten million hours of prayer won’t change a thing. Sometimes the most that will happen is that the judgment will be temporarily delayed.

Judgment cannot be delayed forever.

Even though judgment is delayed, it does not mean it’s deleted. There will come a time where it cannot be delayed any longer. This is the reason why God says in Jeremiah:

Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the Lord; and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this? (Jeremiah 5:9 & 29; 9:9)

You have rejected me, declares the Lord; you keep going backward, so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you—I am weary of relenting. (Jeremiah 15:6)

The things we do and evils we commit are done, ultimately, against Him. Therefore, He has every right to respond accordingly. Sometimes the reason judgment falls is that God is tired (figuratively speaking) of delaying it and postponing it, especially when nothing is truly changing in the hearts of the people. When judgment finally happens, it’s because it is the will of God. When the Lord finally decided to judge and destroy Israel, He told Jeremiah:

As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you. (Jeremiah 7:16)

When God’s mind is made up, it’s a sure thing. No prayer or plan of man can change it. Yet, even in His decision to judge, there is mercy and patience. It would be another twenty years before God would move Babylon to destroy Jerusalem.

God will eventually judge everyone.

Even though God may use ungodly people and nations to accomplish His purposes in judgment, it does not mean that He winks at their sin and hatred of Him. Jeremiah complained to the Lord in Jeremiah 12. Jeremiah was mad that God would judge His own people for their evil while the heathen nations around them were living prosperous. The Lord then responds by talking about the judgment He’s bringing upon those nations:

But if any nation will not listen, then I will utterly pluck it up and destroy it, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 12:17)

Later, God would speak directly against Babylon, His servant, and judge them for what they did.

For this is the vengeance of the Lord: take vengeance on her; do to her as she has done. (Jeremiah 50:15)

Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will stir up the spirit of a destroyer against Babylon, against the inhabitants of Leb-kamai, and I will send to Babylon winnowers, and they shall winnow her, and they shall empty her land, when they come against her from every side on the day of trouble. (Jeremiah 51:1-2)

The Lord has stirred up the spirit of the kings of the Medes, because his purpose concerning Babylon is to destroy it, for that is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance for his temple. (Jeremiah 51:11)

This should show us that no nation, no matter how great and powerful they are, no matter if they are God’s chosen nation to judge the earth, all nations will be judged and many times the judgment they reap is the judgment that God helped them sow.

Our hearts deceive us and make us think we won’t be judged.

One of the most quoted verses in the Bible has to be Jeremiah 17:9, but let’s read it in context:

“The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars,while their children remember their altars and their Asherim, beside every green tree and on the high hills, on the mountains in the open country. Your wealth and all your treasures I will give for spoil as the price of your high places for sin throughout all your territory. You shall loosen your hand from your heritage that I gave to you, and I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.” (Jeremiah 17:1-4)

So this chapter’s context is about Judah’s sin and the certainty of God’s judgment and wrath against them.

Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. (Jeremiah 17:5-6)

God tells them that they turned their heart away from God and decided to trust in themselves instead. But whose fault is this? God answers the question.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind,to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

God is saying that their (and our) hearts were deceiving them into believing that God wouldn’t see and wouldn’t judge them for their evil deeds.

Prophecy may be treasonous.

When your nation/government rejects God and avidly seeks evil, any prophecy against them will eventually be seen as treasonous. Name calling was only the start. Speaking the truth and the word of God landed Jeremiah in jail. Jeremiah was beaten by the chief priest, Pashhur (in Jeremiah 20), for the things that he was prophesying. But when the word of the Lord is in you, you can’t be beaten into silence.

—————————————————————————-

FAQ

I’m posting my personal thoughts as questions and answers in summary of this post.

So, is judgment coming to America?

Yes.

Why is judgment coming to America?

I would say because of Jeremiah 2:11-13 and 22:8. In truth, God judges all nations who do not seek Him wholeheartily. So judgment is not just coming to America, but to most (if not all) nations. The final judgment will culminate in the Great Tribulation.

Can we delay it or cancel it?

There is no way to cancel the judgment coming to this land. God has planned the exact day it will happen. I’m not even sure we can delay it anymore, though we can still pray to that end.

Yet, what is the purpose of that end (that He would delay judgment)? My personal feelings on the matter of praying to delay judgment is this: it’s incredibly selfish. I feel like this has been happening for the last 40 years. I find it to be the equivalent of saying “God, don’t judge me. Judge my children.” It shirks responsibility and accountability. Is it not more honorable to accept the judgment for your (and previous) generations so that your children may be spared? It irks me that American Christians want spiritual authority but not spiritual responsibility.

Is there any hope then?

Of course. Judgment and mercy always flow together. A.W. Tozer states:

He has always dealt in mercy with mankind and will always deal in justice when His mercy is despised.

The doctrine of the divine unity means not only that there is but one God; it means also that God is simple, uncomplex, one with Himself. The harmony of His being is the result not of a perfect balance of parts but of the absence of parts. Between His attributes no contradiction can exist. He need not suspend one to exercise another, for in Him all His attributes are one. All of God does all that God does; He does not divide himself to perform a work, but works in the total unity of His being. (link)

This means that God does stop being merciful in order to judge. Rather, it is a natural response for God to judge evil and it is a natural response to give mercy to those who cry out for it, before, during, and after. This is why one event like 9/11 can occur and it can spiritually destroy someone’s life and save someone else’s.

How should the church respond in light of the coming judgment?

In repentance and in humility. Peter states:

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17)

While great judgment will come to this nation one day, it will come to the church first. In many ways we, Christians living in America, have the same issues that Israel did in Jeremiah. Although we have an ultimate sacrifice in Jesus and don’t have to worry about being judged without hope, the Lord does chastise His children, and sometimes the chastising can be a little tough, but it is always loving.

When we start seeing our sins, we will start responding humbly to our nation regarding their sins. We will start praying like Habakkuk:

O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2)

What is the scriptural way to prepare for coming judgment?

Pray, fast, obey, worship, and memorize the Bible. There’s no need to start storing food or making underground bunkers. God speaks harshly many times throughout Jeremiah to those who would try to seek shelter and comfort by their own hands and strength. Don’t be anxious and trust God (Matthew 6).

How bad will the judgment be?

I don’t know, but it won’t be nearly as bad as when Jesus returns. Ponder that.

Why I Rewrote “Seek”

I love songwriting. For the past 13 years, it’s been one of my greatest joys. I remember some of the first songs I wrote back in the day and I’m glad no ever heard them. They were trite and horrible, but I learned from them. I am now writing songs that I’m happy with and others think are good.

The first song I wrote that my church started singing was called Seek. Most of the song was written during a spontaneous worship time, but the verses were written quickly afterwards without much thought in a rush just to finish the song. Overall, I never took the time to craft the song to make sure its focus, grammar, and theology was right. Yet our church loved it! (Note: there’s a sermon there. Just because people like it doesn’t mean it’s good or theologically correct.)

It’s been 10 years since I’ve written the song. Since then it’s been played in multiple churches, recorded on my EP project, and memorized and loved by hundreds of people. In the last 3 years, I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with the lack of focus I’ve given this song, particularly theologically. I finally decided to re-write the verses to the song.

Here were the old words to the song. You can listen to the song here.

Verse 1
How lovely is Your temple
Majesty You bestow
Your name is holy alone
You are my loving Savior
Righteous in all Your ways
I bow before you Lord and say

Pre-chorus
That the one thing I always have desired
And the one thing I always have sought (is)

Chorus
To dwell in the house of the Lord
To worship Him, praise and adore
To stay in the presence of the King
This is what I want, this is what I seek
You are what I want, You are what I seek

Verse 2
I stand in awe and wonder
How You could love me so
How could you call me Your own
Your grace, it overwhelms me
It causes me to draw near
Knowing that You will hear my prayer

Pre-chorus
Chorus

Bridge
You’re all I want
You’re all I need
You’re all I’m asking for
You’re all I seek

Here are a few reasons why I decided to change the above verses.

Unfocused cliches

In the recent years, I’ve never liked how unfocused the verses are. They are basically random worship cliches  thrown together with no focus and nothing they truly link to. The verses don’t paint a story or declare a message. I wrote them in 2 minutes and that’s exactly how it reads. There is little weight or theology behind these words. While the pre-chorus and chorus are pulled from scripture (Psalm 27), the verses are lacking in any grandness of theology or greatness of God.

Self-centered vs God-centered

The biggest problem I’ve had with the old verses is how they are self-centered. In the last few years, I’ve been acutely aware how most worship songs (including mine) are more about us than about God. I’ve refocused my songwriting to make God the center of the song instead of me. Even singing us is better than singing I or me. While I still write lyrics that are personal, I am striving to write more and more about God and what’s He’s like and why He is deserving of worship.

Emotion vs a response

In reading the verses, they are quite emotional. While I like and believe in emotion, I wanted a higher vision for the song than our passion for God. In reading Psalm 27, where the song is taken from, the psalmist desires to dwell with God, not from his own personal passion but in response to what he has seen. I don’t think this point can be overstated: we worship God, seek Him, love Him, desire to stay by Him…all in response to God revealing Himself. When we see God, we love Him and want more of Him. I found this to be a much better source and foundation for the song than my own passion.

This even changes the implication of the song. The old words made it a lie if you weren’t passionate for God when you were singing it. I wanted the verses to declare that worship was about who He is and how He moves my heart to love Him, not how my performance sometimes moves me to self-centered worship.

Teaching by example

In our church, we have several people who are starting to write songs. They ask for my advice and help and I’ve been teaching them and giving them a few tips. I realized that while I can tell them that theology is important and crafting a song well is needed, it’s all meaningless if I don’t follow what I say. It’s just words unless I am willing to teach and lead by example. The song’s popularity can help drive this point home: there is no song too sacred or popular that negates the need to fix poor theology.

Seek, Revised

Here are the new words to Seek. The changes are in red.

Verse 1
How lovely is Your temple
Majesty You bestow
Your name is holy alone
You are the Lord of glory
Over all things You reign
You are now and always the same

Pre-chorus
And the one thing I always have desired
And the one thing I always have sought (is)

Chorus
To dwell in the house of the Lord
To worship Him, praise and adore
To stay in the presence of the King
This is what I want, this is what I seek
You are what I want, You are what I seek

Verse 2
You stand alone in wonder
Matchless in strength and awe
Who can compare to You o God
Your love burns like a fire
Your grace compels my soul
To draw near and approach the throne

Pre-chorus
For the one thing I always have desired
And the one thing I always have sought (is)

Chorus
To dwell in the house of the Lord
To worship Him, praise and adore
To stay in the presence of the King
This is what I want, this is what I seek
You are what I want, You are what I seek

Bridge
You’re all I want
You’re all I need
You’re all I’m asking for
You’re all I seek

I am praying that these new lyrics accomplish what I set out to do. While they make not be uber-artistic, my main concern was making the song focus more on God. In that, I feel more comfortable with this.

Worship = Intercession = Our #1 Priority

What is a worship team’s first and main responsibility: engaging with God or leading people?

This question is probably the greatest and most argued question in the Christian worship world. Many sermons, commentaries and conferences spend their time debating whether worship teams and leaders should make their main focus seeking God or whether they should focus on the congregation they’re leading.

Before I try to answer this question, we must talk about the three kinds of worshipers that come to a church every service:

The white-hot worshiper

This is the person that comes to each service ready and prepared to worship. These worshipers are what I call “the worship team encouragers.” They are passionate, alive and in love with Jesus and whether they physically express it in their praise to God, their heart is engaging with God before the first note is played or sung.

The “smoking flax” worshiper

This is the person that comes to a service a bit unfocused and distracted or a little cold of heart and lacking in passion. This person will usually engage in worship by the end of the worship set, it just takes several songs before they’re heart comes alive. These people love Jesus greatly, but they struggle choosing to push through the worries, troubles and pressures of their lives in order to worship corporately.

The cold-hearted or unsaved

This is the person who either does not know Jesus or is so cold feeling towards Him. They come to church services either out of duty or to soothe their conscience. They may like or not like the music, the lights, sermon, songs, but regardless of what their opinions are, their hearts are unengaged.

(Note: It is not our job to judge what category each person that comes to church is in. We only need to be aware of the different categories for the sake of planning and prayer.)

Now upon looking at these three types of worshipers, we must ask what is the solution and answer for all three types. What is the answer for encouraging white-hot worshipers, re-igniting “smoking flax” worshipers and birthing love into those who are cold or unsaved? Lights aren’t the answer. New songs with driving guitars isn’t the answer. Using the best skill and talent available isn’t the answer. The only thing that can engage all three types of worshipers is the presence of God. Only an encounter with the Lord can encourage, re-ignite and break through to the heart of all types of worshipers.

Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8 ESV)

There’s a powerful thing that happens when we worship and draw near to God (whether indivdually or corporately). The Bible says that God draws near to us. His presence comes close to our hearts. The God who is a consuming fire, the fountain of joy and the healing balm comes close to us, engages and ministers to us when we worship Him. People who are struggling with addictions, shame or a host of other issues are set free when God draws near.

When a congregation seems not to be stirred to love and worship, the most loving/merciful thing a worship team can do is to love God without reserve; a love that removes all hinderances and distractions and focuses on God. Why? Because even if the worship team are the only ones truly loving God that service, God will still draw near to the entire congregation. That’s why we say in our church:

Worship is the highest form of intercession.

When we lead worship (instead of following people’s emotions for that service), we are reaching out to God asking Him to come and minister and touch His people. We are asking for the rain of the love of God to come and soften the hearts of His people to receive the Word that is to be preached that service. We are standing in the gap for those who are bound and can’t cry out for themselves.

I believe that you can focus on people during worship and still worship God as long as we are not taking ques from the congregation concerning how passionate we should be. Whether or not the congregation is stirred, we should give God our all, because after all is said and done, we are ministering to an audience of One. Our greatest hope and prayer should be that as we worship God with all that we are, He would draw near not only to us, but to all those who are following us. That is our #1 cry, hope and focus.

Saved To Love

Out of all the questions I get, there is one that I rarely ever hear. People will argue about when Jesus is coming back, if tongues and prophecy are still active today, whether women should preach but this question is rarely, if ever discussed:

Why did Jesus die?

I think the reason we never ask this question is because we think we already know what the answer is. These typical answers are usually “so we don’t go to hell” or “because He loves us” and while those answers are true, they are not the root reason.

John 17 gives us some insight about why Jesus gave up His life for us:

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. – John 17:23

As Jesus was praying and battling His choice to go to the cross, He prayed to the Father that we all would be with Him where He is. Forever.

It’s important to realize that Jesus’ prayers doesn’t (and will never) compromise His standards or commands. There was no compromise in His prayer. He didn’t pray “Father, just put whoever or everyone on earth up there so they can see Me.” No. Jesus specifically asked for all His disciples, both present and future to be with Him forever. His prayer was for those who obeyed Him, loved Him, faithfully stayed with Him and followed Him to be allowed to love and be with Him forever.

Jesus died so that lovers could love Him forever.

For Jesus, salvation is not some benefit you sign up for or opt out of. Salvation is directly tied to love. Salvation is a benefit of love, not something ordered a la carte. Psalm 91 states this clearly:

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” – Psalm 91:14-1

God doesn’t need love, but He longs for it. Love is at the very core of who He is and therefore love is at the very core of His relationship with us…and likewise our relationship with Him.

In the New Testament, the gospel was preached for people to know God and love Him, not so that people would have a “get out of hell” free pass, yet this is what the gospel has been reduced to in these days in the Western church. We expect all the benefits and blessings of salvation without any of the devotion or faithfulness that it comes from.

It’s time we return to the gospel. We’re saved to love. Salvation is a person. His name is Jesus Christ. Let’s love our Salvation.

Endnote: I should mention that John Piper wrote an excellent book detailing many other reasons Jesus came to die and the many things it accomplished. He offers it as a free download on his website. You can download it here. I highly recommend this book.

Why Pan-Tribulation Really Means Post-Tribulation

I’ve been a Christian for many years and over time I have never seen a more heated argument in the church then “When is Jesus coming?” This is a very important question because it affects how we live our lives today and what we are preparing for in the future. People have basically made three groups of thought in response to this question: Jesus comes before the tribulation (pre-tribulation), He comes in the middle of or during the tribulation (mid-tribulation) or He comes after the tribulation (post-tribulation).

As I said, it’s a very heated argument. Entire denominations have split due to theological differences regarding the Second Coming. More recently, a newer view has appeared called “pan-tribulation” which holds this view:

Whatever pans out, I’ll be ready.

The people who hold this view usually don’t study the end times. They don’t do this to be ignorant. They just don’t like to argue. They don’t see the timing of the Second Coming to be a theological issue worthy of a fight, unlike matters of deity, salvation or gifts of the Spirit. The problem is that few people who hold the pan-tribulation view understand what all is coming down the pipe.

When you say “whatever happens, I’ll be ready”, you are stating you are ready for the best case scenario and the worst case scenario.

Most people know what the best case scenario is regarding the Second Coming — Jesus comes before the world sinks into unadulteraded evil and takes all the Christians to heaven while He judges the rest of the world. This is the viewpoint (pre-tribulation) of most evangelical American churches and fiction books such as the Left Behind series. This is usually accompanied by the belief that Jesus can come at any moment, so be ready and make sure that you’re doing something He would approve of if He returned. This view has a very high emphasis on evangelism since “Jesus could come at any moment” we have to work while “it is yet day.” This view also assures believers that they will not go through any of the trouble, persecution or judgments that come at the end of the age during the tribulation.

Sadly, most people do not know the worst case scenario. I have read end time passages from Revelation, Isaiah, the Gospels, etc many times and there are several realizations that I have had.

  1. There is no word-for-word Biblical promise that secures protection of the saints against the seal and trumpet judgments.
    This is especially important since these judgments are quite painful, like the fifth trumpet when giant flying scorpions are released to torment the earth. The Bible mentions that the bowl judgments (the final seven judgments) are reserved for those who took the mark of the beast, but there is no mention of partiality about the other judgments. It also seems that the first fourteen judgments happen prior to the mark of the beast.
  2. According to Jesus, it’s those that endure to the end that will be saved. (see Matthew 24:13)
    In context, Jesus makes it very clear that it’s those who endure all the persecution and suffering that will be saved. If you give up, you lose and you lose eternally. He wants lovers who will love Him regardless, come what may.
  3. Persecution will be everywhere and it will be way worse than it is now.
    Most Christians across the world outside of America and Europe experience persecution on an almost daily basis. But there is coming a day where all nations and cities will be hunting down believers. Acts of violence, murder and torture will be used on those who claim to love Jesus.
  4. A massive falling away is coming of those who claim to love Jesus.
    The Bible says in multiple places that the love of many in the church will grow cold and many will walk away from Christ, most likely due to all the trouble and calamity happening all around them. It will be very lonely for believers. Friends will either betray them or die for Christ.

Now, there is hope and good things happening through the worst case scenario, but I’ll talk about that some other time. I hold a post-tribulation view which means I’ve had to reconcile in my mind that there is a possibility (key word) that I will be stung by flying scorpions (among other things), be persecuted to death and have my loved ones betray me — all while knowing that if I get offended with God and quit loving Him, I will go to hell. That is the worst case scenario.

It takes no preparation to be ready for the best case scenario, but it takes all the time we have to prepare for the worst.

Jesus is coming soon. If you really want to be ready for anything, then taking the post-tribulation view is the only viable thing to do. That’s what I have done. I am preparing my heart for the absolute worst. If I am wrong and Jesus comes back early and I don’t have to go through any of the big trouble, then I will be grateful and will have nothing to be worried about. Also, since I have prepared for the worst, my life will be ready and pure for Him and my rewards will be greater in the millennial kingdom because I prepared my heart and life to be steady in all aspects of my love for Him. If I am right though, and I do go through the big trouble that’s coming, then I will be prepared and by God’s grace, I will make it to the end faithfully loving God.

It’s time that pan-tribulation believers push preparing hearts for the end times so that Christians are not caught unprepared for what’s coming. It’s time for us all to realize that’s it’s not just a matter of opinion. Eternity is on the line.

A big test is coming. A test that will determine where you are for eternity…and someone tells you “Don’t worry, you won’t have to take it.” So you don’t study. What happens when you find out come test day that they were wrong and you have to take the test? There is no retake for this test. It’s either pass or fail. For eternity.

What if the post-tribulation view is wrong? Then you become more like Jesus and ready for any personal tribulation that comes your way. What if the pre-tribulation view is wrong? There’s a high chance you’ll be offended with God when the great tribulation comes. That’s not a chance any of us should take. It’s definitely not wisdom. My parents always taught me to study and prepare just in case I find myself in front of a test I didn’t know about. It was good counsel, not just for school, but for my spiritual life.

I encourage you to at least start reading end time books like Revelation, 1 & 2 Peter, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Daniel, 2 Timothy, Isaiah and Matthew. Ask the Lord to reveal truth to you regarding the end times and about what’s coming. Ask Him to prepare your heart, even if it’s just for you personal tribulations that are coming into your life soon.

Remember, Jesus is coming soon. People get ready.