The Crown of Jesus is Greater Than the Crown of the Virus

“Corona” is the Spanish word for “crown.”  Several disciplines, including astronomy, botany, and architecture, use the word corona to describe a crown-like appearance in natural structures and in man-made structures.  Coronaviruses derive their name from the visual crown that surrounds each virus.  The name of the virus describes the visual appearance only.

It appears the novel coronavirus Covid-19 is not only visually a crowned virus, but many have literally crowned the virus with power to control people’s lives and alter the political and economic courses of the nations of the world.  Commentators compare Covid-19 with the plagues of history, but it appears this time that a virus has been given undue power to create fear and submission.

There is a tendency in the heart of men to bestow crowns.  Crowns often come in the form of bestowed power and honor.  Historically, tribes of people crowned tribal leaders, regional societies lived under crowned leaders, countries advanced through the directives of crowned leaders.  Today crowns continue to symbolize strength, power, wealth, wisdom, and honor.

At a moment in history there was a time when a crown mocked a leader.  The leader for whom all crowns exist, Jesus, was brought to Pontius Pilate by an angry crowd that refused to honor his kingship.  As they said in Luke 23:2, “we found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.”  Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered him, “You have said so.”  For his answer, a crown of thorns was placed on his head.  The crown likely caused bleeding.  It mocked Jesus and it stayed on his head as he was led to the cross.  This King suffered under the mocking crown, but is now crowned with glory and is seated on high to reign over all creation.  He truly is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Today, we should pause as we live under a crowned virus and consider that we ultimately live under a crowned King of the universe who has power over any virus.  Colossians 1:15 and forward gives us hope in showing that “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  Let’s remember the true Crown as we live out our days on this earth and be encouraged that the true Crown holds all things together!

Bonnaroo, Woodstock, and Cultural Messages For the Generations

English: Richie Havens at the Woodstock Festival

English: Richie Havens at the Woodstock Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bonnaroo held its annual fest this year in June near Manchester, Tennessee.  Musical acts made new friends among the throngs of searchers, acts like Phish, Hozier, Odesza, John Prine, and Space Jesus.  Alumni from Woodstock showed up for the party, perhaps those baby boomers who decided life was all about rock ‘n roll and staying high.

I was only 11 at the time of Woodstock, so I look back on that event in modern history curiously.  My musical interests fuel this curiosity and I really enjoy some of the ground-breaking rock from that era.  Today, even my grown children take pleasure in listening to and emulating in their own music the rock of bands in the late 60s and early 70s.  It has been hailed perhaps as the greatest period of development in rock music, the “classic rock” period.

But what about the cultural impact?  No doubt, if I had been a young college student at the time I may have participated in the revelry at Woodstock.  The event signaled a time when young people exerted their freedom over the lives given them by a previous generation.  This freedom energized all forms of revolution.

As put by Woodstock performer Richie Havens, we were “at the exact center of true freedom” during the festival.  Havens ended his set with the old spiritual “Motherless Child” and a mantra of one word shouted intensely by the crowd:  “Freedom!”

It is foreboding that this concert called Woodstock actually was held 42 miles away in the hamlet of “Bethel.”  In Scripture, Bethel marks the spot where Jacob dreamed of a stairway to heaven with angels going up and coming down the stairs.  Jacob slept with his head on a stone and that stone later memorialized this place of communion between God and man.

Was God present at the Woodstock festival, or even at the recent Bonnaroo?  Yes, His “omnipresence”  and “omniscience” tells us He was.  Nothing on this earth happens without His knowledge.  But the freedom shouted by Havens and the concertgoers could have really meant bondage to some way of life that did not come from a dream on a stone pillow, but from a stoned mirage promulgated among the yearning young people of the day.  That bondage perhaps remains evident among the aging hippies at Bonnaroo.

For the Woodstock age, this freedom of expression from so-called restraints placed on them by their parents and the gray flannel society of the day ultimately led to one of the most self-centered and confused generations in history.  Freedom led to bondage to drugs and diseases we still fight today.  Look at the musicians of the day.  Some died from overdoses, others so stoned and drunk they performed wretchedly on stage.  Yes, they were free but they did not seek the wisdom that could truly set them free.

Take care today to remember the lessons from Woodstock and even Bonnaroo.  Our exercise of freedom must consider the one true God and His plans.  Looking to Him will set us free.  You may never know this if you stay in the funk of a Woodstock-stained freedom.  Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Giving Thanks is Good for You

Cover of "Giving Thanks: The Gifts of Gra...

Cover of Giving Thanks: The Gifts of Gratitude

This is the time of year that we pause to give thanks.  It is one of my personal favorites of all holidays because we share with our families and friends one of life’s most precious commodities:  our time.  No presents, nothing but our time.  Of course, some great meals are thrown in there too.

Typically, we are reminded to give thanks by our pastors as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday.  It is a practice that Christians should engage in regularly.  It is good for our spiritual health.  A while back my pastor shared the account of a man who came to him for counseling a few years ago.  This man suffered under a load of troubles.  His marriage, his money, his mental health, all was in turmoil.  My pastor counseled him to turn his attention to something for which he could be thankful.  The man said he couldn’t do it.  The pastor took a piece of paper and led this man through a few ideas about things he could express thanks.  When finished, they had come up with about fifty things.

The next year the pastor met with this man.  Some time had passed and this man seemed transformed.  He said that of all the things he was counseled on, the one thing that helped him the most was making the list.  This man kept the list and referred to it regularly.  The focus on thankfulness transformed this man’s life.

I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal on the health benefits of saying thanks.  I quote, “A growing body of research suggests that maintaining an attitude of gratitude can improve psychological, emotional and physical well-being.   Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infections.”

God knows this, so why don’t Christians listen?  Here’s what Scripture says:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.  Christians ought to be the most thankful people on earth.  Christians should remind themselves that it is God’s will.  Christians should have the corner on the market of thankfulness.

Giving thanks honors the Lord.  It should not become a cliché.  It is an opportunity.  It is good for our health.  It is good for our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

This is the one ingredient we do not want to leave out of our Thanksgiving recipes.  I encourage you today to pause, to thank God for all your blessings and hardships, and to tell others how thankful you are for them.  Thank you Lord for this opportunity to share something that I hope will transform someone’s life today.  Amen!

The Bible, The President, The Nation

English: Seal of the President of the United S...

English: Seal of the President of the United States Español: Escudo del Presidente de los Estados Unidos Македонски: Печат на Претседателот на Соединетите Американски Држави. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I ran across some notes I had taken years ago from an old book, Profitable Bible Study by Wilbur M. Smith.   In my notes from this text, there were some quotes from selected U.S. presidents about the Bible.  These quotes are revealing and perhaps instructive during this election year.  The quotes indicate a good deal about the president’s relationship with God, their conception of their role as a spiritual leader, and their understanding of the importance of God’s Word in their own lives.  Here are a few for your review and consideration:

Abraham Lincoln:  “In regard to the Great Book, I have only to say, it is the best gift which God has given man.  All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book.”

John Quincy Adams:  “So great is my veneration for the Bible and so strong my belief, that when duly read and meditated on, it is of all books in the world, that which contributes most to make men good, wise, and happy.”

Andrew Jackson:  “The Bible is the rock on which our republic rests.”

Woodrow Wilson:  “I am sorry for the men who do not read the Bible daily.  I wonder why they deprive themselves of the strength and the pleasure.  I should be afraid to go forward if I did not believe that there lay at the foundation of all our schooling and all our thought this incomparable and unimpeachable Word of God.”

What would you say about the Bible?  Where are you in your assessment of the need for God’s Word in your own life?  Does it make a difference? Does it matter to you how the President views the Bible?  Does it matter to you if the Bible is valued among the population of this nation or any other nation?

Reformed Theology and Southern Baptists: The Masses Don’t Care

English: Postage stamp depicting Martin Luther...

English: Postage stamp depicting Martin Luther, the initiator of the Protestant Reformation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of my friends and associates work in churches and ministries.  Some of them talk quite a bit about being “reformed.”  They make it a point to bring this up often.  Some even go as far as to include the label on their blogs and websites.  Presently, there are debates among Southern Baptist leaders about who is the most reformed, or whether it is OK to breath the word in the context of their ministries.  Southern Baptists go as far as to offer conferences addressing reformed theology and to issue informal statements about their theological positions in an effort to garner support and approval from like-minded leaders.  Have we taken this discussion too far?  The Protestant Reformation occurred hundreds of years ago.

Can we not agree on whether God is sovereign over all things, that humanity is fallen, that the saved are elect, that salvation is in Christ alone, that sanctification leads to the transformation of persons and society?  Why is this still being debated?  Could it be that denominational leaders are so narcissistic that they want to continue the argument so that they draw attention to themselves and to their own glory for being in such a superior theological position than others?  Or are they afraid they are going to lose influence if they don’t line up with their cronies and continue to draw the unassuming masses to their churches?

I have a response for reformers.  My answer may sound a bit smug, but I don’t intend it to be that way.  My answer goes something like this, “One thing I am sure of—I seek to be conformed and transformed.”  I like these words.  Conformed and transformed.

By now you know that I am referring to a couple of passages in Scripture, Romans 8:29 and Romans 12:2.  Romans 8:29 refers to how God has called us “to be conformed to the image of His Son.”  In contrast to this type of conformity, Romans 12:2 tells us what not to be conformed to:  “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

It seems that all the reformed guys are more intent on being conformed to their reformed counterparts than they are on being conformed to the image of Christ.  I don’t hear much coming from these guys about the “conforming” that God works in us, the ultimate and complete sanctification.  This is the goal of our relationship with God through Christ Jesus.  Conformation implies that there is something already established that is the object of our conformation.  This is God’s will and it is a concept that we must grapple with in order to understand His will.

The act of transformation involves something in transition, namely ourselves and our constant act of turning our mind toward God in each thing we are confronted with in the world.  It is a metamorphosis, a total change from the inside out that is led by the mind.  My mind is transformed as I pray, as I read God’s Word, as I involve myself in fellowship with other believers.  This transformation is essential in discovering God’s will for our lives.

Be careful of the tendency to ignore conforming and transforming.  Sometimes the snare is the theological issue of the day, things that tend to puff up rather than to produce the humility and patience of being conformed to His image.  My prayer is that Christians would carefully examine their hearts to see if God is working in them in such a way that produces this image in them.

Bonnaroo, Woodstock, and Cultural Messages to Consider

English: Richie Havens at the Woodstock Festival

English: Richie Havens at the Woodstock Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bonnaroo 2012 just ended its 4-day camping festival near Manchester, Tennessee.  Great musical acts made new friends among the throngs of young searchers.  There were remnants from Woodstock as well, those baby boomers who decided life was all about rock ‘n roll and staying high.

I was only 11 at the time of Woodstock, so I look back on that event in modern history curiously.  My interests in music fuel this curiosity and I really enjoy some of the ground-breaking rock from that era.  Today, even my grown children take pleasure in listening to and emulating in their own music the rock of bands in the late 60s and early 70s.  It has been hailed perhaps as the greatest period of development in that genre.

But what about the cultural impact?  No doubt, if I had been a young college student at the time I may have participated in the revelry at Woodstock.  The event signaled a time when young people exerted their freedom over the lives given them by a previous generation.  This freedom energized all forms of revolution.

As put by Woodstock performer Richie Havens, we were “at the exact center of true freedom” during the festival.  Havens ended his set with the old spiritual “Motherless Child” and a mantra of one word shouted intensely by the crowd:  “Freedom!”

It is foreboding that this concert called Woodstock actually was held 42 miles away in the hamlet of “Bethel.”  In Scripture, Bethel marks the spot where Jacob dreamed of a stairway to heaven with angels going up and coming down the stairs.  Jacob slept with his head on a stone and that stone later memorialized this place of communion between God and man.

Was God present at the Woodstock festival, or even at the recent Bonnaroo?  Yes, His “omnipresence”  and “omniscience” tells us He was.  Nothing on this earth happens without His knowledge.  But the freedom shouted by Havens and the concertgoers could have really meant bondage to some way of life that did not come from a dream on a stone pillow, but from a stoned mirage promulgated among the yearning young people of the day.  That bondage perhaps remains evident among the aging hippies at Bonnaroo.

For the Woodstock age, this freedom of expression from so-called restraints placed on them by their parents and the gray flannel society of the day ultimately led to one of the most self-centered and confused generations in history.  Freedom led to bondage to drugs and diseases we still fight today.  Look at the musicians of the day.  Some died from overdoses, others so stoned and drunk they performed wretchedly on stage.  Yes, they were free but they did not seek the wisdom that could truly set them free.

Let’s be careful today to remember the lessons from Woodstock and even Bonnaroo.  Our exercise of freedom must consider our God and His plans.  Looking to Him will set us free.  You may never know this if you stay in the funk of a Woodstock-stained freedom.  Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Is There Such a Thing as a Postmodern Evangelical?

From "Baptizing in the Jordan" by Si...

From “Baptizing in the Jordan” by Silas X. Floyd (1869-1923) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Look around and see if you can find one.  They used to carry some weight with their notions of redemption and righteous living that they wanted their American neighbors to embrace.  It was a few elections ago that their influence carried a President into office.  They supported missions, protected the unborn, and rejected liberal thought.  The books they read reflected the concerns of their modern Christian lives: books on family, raising strong-willed children, how to honor God with your money, keeping your life pure and clean, finding out your love language, men’s issues, women’s issues, teens issues, how to be happy, how to be happy at your job, how to be happy at home, how to have a happy family, etc.  Their Bibles provided a resource for answers, but the questions arose from selfish motives.  God’s Word conveniently supported their positions on issues and gave them brief devotional messages to start or end the day.  “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it,” wowed them enough to want to be glad no matter what the day brought.

These were the American evangelicals.  They sought refuge with each other in their pursuit of the good things of life yet may have moved away from their purpose, or should I say God’s purpose for them, to evangelize.  Some may say this is indicative of the post-modern day we live, however the roots go deeper than we can imagine and may indicate some challenging days ahead for the evangelical churches in America.

Why the alarm? First look at Christian leaders.  They seem to be rejecting the label of evangelical in favor of other labels.  Probably the most popular label today is “reformed.”  We have so much emphasis placed on this particular issue today that even the most earnest pastors and Christian leaders want others to know first and foremost that they are reformed in their thinking and their theology.  You don’t have to go far to see this.  Just visit the blogs of some of these leaders like Al Mohler, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, and others to see that being reformed is trumpeted as their prime theological position.  It is hard to find these guys talk about being evangelical.  They even have conferences to help pastors understand that they are really reformed in their thinking.

Second, biblical literacy is perhaps at an all-time low among average American Christians.  Check out Barna on this.  Just engage in a conversation about doctrine and you’ll see that the average American Christian can’t tell you about the major doctrines of the faith even in layman’s terms.  Their small groups get into certain lifestyle topics and take a Christian slant by basing their discussions on one or two relevant Bible verses, but they have difficulty expressing thoughts about God, man, salvation, Jesus, the church to others.

Third, look at the decline in giving to missions in the mainline church and perhaps even decline in memberships at these churches.  This is especially evident if you look at giving over a period of time in constant dollars.  There is talk about the inability to send new missionaries to the field.  Those missionaries already on the field are concerned.

And what about declines in memberships at mainline churches?  Some of this may reflect the de-emphasis of what it means to be a part of the local church.  You see this particularly in the venues where pastors are referred to as “great speakers” and where music and worship receives major emphasis.  Yes, baptisms are down but we sure do know how to worship!  Some of these churches don’t even keep lists of regular attenders.

I hope this is not beginning to sound too cynical, but I do think we are seeing a monumental shift in church life that is moving us away from the old ways of doing church.  And with this maybe we are seeing the term “evangelical” being shuffled back into a closet with all the old hymnals and choir robes.  One thing is for certain—we can reconcile evangelism and the sovereignty of God, remembering that we as Believers must bear the responsibility of evangelism while understanding God’s sovereign role in the salvation of man.