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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).

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God’s Will and Knowing His Presence

Earlier this week my family and I returned from vacationing a few days in the warmer climate of central Florida.  As soon as I pulled into the driveway, I dropped everyone off and drove over to the vet where we boarded our sweet old dog Rosie for these few days.  Rosie appreciated the boarding since the temperatures here dropped into the teens some of those nights.

As I waited in the vet’s office, I heard the door open and saw Rosie coming through on leash with one of the attendants.  I gave a soft high whistle that she instantly recognized.  Her tail wagged furiously as she made it through another door to get to me.  I took the leash and escorted her to the van.  Rosie seemed to relish familiar territory again, on the leash behind her master and jumping into a van that carried her on many a short trip.  Arriving home, Rosie moved instinctively and purposely across the yard and porch she knows so well.  Sight and smell satisfied this happy dog.

What does this have to do with God’s will?  Let me make a stretch and say that what Rosie experienced was like knowing God’s presence in our lives.  In unfamiliar territory, the dog could not perceive her master’s presence.  She was calm since the master led her there, and then she was happy because the master returned.  Once again with us, she knew our presence meant security.  We feed her, we shelter her, we take care of her.

Is this not what our Lord God does for us?  How often have you paused to sense His presence with you?  This is an essential step to knowing God’s will, that is, to know His presence, to know His provision, to know His care.  These are all exhibited in His attributes.  A study of His omnipresence should occupy a large part of your time in the Word so that you begin to understand how God works and what His presence means to us.  For example, Psalm 46:1 says that God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help.  Ever present, I like that.

There have been times when I have wondered about the Lord’s presence.  But the wonder really took on the wrong perspective when I doubted His presence.  I do sense His presence when I read Scripture, when I pray, when my thoughts turn to the Lord.  But further, I sense His presence when I am involved in just the daily acts of living.  There may be times when my thoughts turn from God, but I always return to a consciousness of His presence.

Ask God to reveal His presence to you.  Just like in Isaiah 55:6, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.”

Discovering God’s Will: Define Surrender

Many a discourse on the topic of God’s will takes you through the topic of surrender.  They say that surrender is the key to knowing God’s will.  Surrender leads us to God’s will. Surrender yourselves before seeking God’s will.

I have a question.  Surrender implies that there is a fight and that there is a victor.  Is the surrender of myself really the key to discovering God’s will?

Well, I followed Christ. I repented and asked Jesus to be Lord of my life. I pray to the Lord God each day.  I ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to me things I need help discerning. I look to God to provide all of my needs.  I search God’s Word for answers to life’s problems.  Is all of this surrender?  Or is it better called something else?

I suggest we substitute another term for surrender.  For example, why not say you have to “follow” to know God’s will?  Following implies looking to a leader for direction.  To be a follower is to learn what the leader wants from you. Following requires submission, obedience, and recognition of my need for leading.

Or why not say you have to “mortify the flesh” in order to know God’s will.  This is implicit in Romans 12:1 “Therefore I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”  I present my flesh, my life to God. I have no reign even over my own body. This is sacrifice, or mortifying the flesh.  It is putting to death the things that tempt me, that lead me away from God and the spiritual life He desires for me.  As stated in Colossians 3:5, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.”

Further instruction along these lines comes from Hebrews 9:16-17, “In the case of a will it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.” A will, in the legal sense, does not take effect until someone physically dies.  Is it not the same in discovering God’s will?  I must die to myself in order to present myself to God as a living sacrifice. It is like a physical death because I give up any right to my own body. God’s will is only in force when somebody has died.

Is this surrender? Maybe so. In a war, the victor defeats the enemy. The enemy surrenders. Some of the enemy had to die to get to the point of surrender.  In our case, our flesh is our own enemy so we must surrender the flesh, turn it over to God for His purposes and His will.  It is not that I am, in a sense, surrendering to God but surrendering my own flesh to the Spirit within me. There is the point we must get to.  I like to quote George Mueller on how to ascertain the will of God, “I seek at the beginning to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in regard to a given matter.”

Today, think about the battle between the flesh and the Spirit as the point of surrender. You gave your life to the Lord years ago, but you still must go to the battle daily to get your heart right for discovering God’s will for your life.  It is His life that produces death to my flesh and my will.

Two Words: Muzzle Control

A few short years ago I attended a hunter safety course with my son. These courses are a cultural experience that I would recommend even to non-hunters.  It is a slice of American life and a rite of passage for many.

Through the evening, the game warden returned time and time again to his mantra.  He said if you don’t remember anything else please remember two words that deal with how we handle firearms.  Two simple words sum up the hunter safety ethos:  muzzle control.

This stuck.  Two words—muzzle control.  For all of you modern day business gurus who run around searching for the next pathway to wisdom, this game warden boiled his down to a sticky, two-word proverb.  I like simple, sticky, terse, and pointed phrases that sum up an abundance of knowledge.  This is kind of like an aphorism, a principle, but even more pointed.

Well, you knew this might be leading to some spiritual advice for the holidays. This Christmas season, my advice to you is summed up in two words:  muzzle control.  No, not the muzzle of a firearm.  My advice focuses on another type of muzzle—your mouth.  Control your mouth, in other words.

Control your mouth, you say?  Do you mean watch what you eat over the Christmas season? No, I mean watch what you say.  The Christmas season in particular seems to be the time of year when words hurt the most, when careless things are said in family and friend gatherings that cannot be taken back. The emotions of the season are high, and the tendency is to get a bit careless with our mouths. Who hasn’t been in a situation over the holidays that got a bit touchy, a bit overboard with too much information?  Maybe we should add to our mantra three other words—too much information, or TMI for short.

This is certainly biblical.  Ephesians 5:18-20 says it this way, “Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  As a Christ follower, we know the Holy Spirit indwells us.  The task is to get into a place where the Spirit can be dominant over our own flesh. One way to get there is to get into God’s Word, spend time in prayer, and express thanks for all the simple blessings we receive each day. Singing the great Christmas hymns and carols take us into the proper mood. This can only lead to thanksgiving and to proper words spoken at the proper time.

Let’s strive together to make this Christmas season meaningful by being careful with our words. Our words have the power to lift up.  Why not lift up the name of our Lord Jesus this season?  After all, Jesus is the reason for the season.  Not only should we remember “muzzle control,” but let’s remember two more words:  Praise Him!

Discovering God’s Will: The Role of Despair

My family and I love music.  We all play instruments and sing.  Music’s power to capture our attention and our emotions makes it an enjoyable diversion.  Our tastes are eclectic and tend toward excellence in performance.

Well, the other day I googled one of my favorite choral composers, “John Rutter,” and found the most wonderful performance of his choral piece based on Psalm 150.  This took place in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London with a strong orchestra, men’s and boy’s choirs. The flourishing brass, the clashing of the cymbals, the driving percussion, the purity of the voices, the wonderful acoustics of the cathedral, all of this combined to produce great joy.  After some research (which I am prone to do from time to time) I discovered this performance was part of a National Service of Thanksgiving for the Golden Jubilee celebration for Queen Elizabeth.  In part of the video, you could glimpse the Queen and her entourage on the front row for the performance.  Such pomp and circumstance fascinates me!

Although you could sense the joy and thanksgiving, another emotion rose within me:  despair.  I despaired that I was not a part of that wonderful concert, in that beautiful cathedral, in the presence of royalty.  I even despaired that I was not a participant with the orchestra or singers (if you have ever been in an orchestra or chorus you know what I mean).  And further, despair heightened as I realized I would not get to experience such a performance here in the U.S. and that we put up with such inferior performances for the sake of entertainment here much of the time.  DESPAIR—

When we come in touch with the life of Jesus, is there not a sense of despair in us? Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  We become undone at the thought of His taking our sin upon the cross and bearing it as our atonement.  It produces despair when we realize we cannot attain this position on our own.

What about when it comes to discovering God’s will for our lives?  Oh how lofty it is to pursue this line of thinking, this line of submission.   Oftentimes, we jump to the topic of surrender in the search for God’s will for our lives, that we must surrender ourselves to Him in order to come into an understanding of His will for us.  This might be true; however, it is desperation to be in God’s will that drives us to surrender.  It is despair to sense that God’s will is so perfect, so true, so satisfying, that if I do not take part in it or seek it with all of my heart then I will despair.  Or that I despair because of the very fact that I cannot attain to it on my own.

It might be time for us to quit striving and to start listening.  If we let despair have its way in us, we will be driven to God’s Word, we will be clamoring for the Cross, we will desire God’s will more than anything this world has to offer.  This is a message of hope that can only be produced by despairing of our own flesh.

Discovering God’s Will: Pay Attention

Here is a truism that applies to discovering God’s will for your life:  your interest in seeing God work in your life reveals your attitude toward knowing God’s will for your life.

Stated another way, I may say I want to know God’s will but I continue living a life that is focused on everything but God. I am not saying you have to be hyper-spiritual, but it does help to process life through the filter of God’s will for you. When you do this, you will tune in to spiritual things and tune out to the messages the world is trying to send you.

It helps my understanding of this principle by going to God’s Word often. Here is an exercise that might be useful. Take a Psalm that really speaks to you and make it personal by asking how this Psalm reflects an earnest search for God’s will. Then apply it to your own life.

As an example, let’s consider Psalm 25.   As you read through, check each verse that speaks to you about a desire to know or discover God’s will.  Verse 1 provides something applicable, “To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.” I come to God and tell Him I want to know His will. Lift up your heart to Him and tell Him you trust in Him to reveal His will to you. This makes it personal.

Verse 5 says, “Guide me in your truth and teach me.” Ask God to guide you into the truth of His will.  Teach me to recognize when You are at work in my life, O God, and continue helping me to have a teachable spirit.

Verse 12 talks about fearing God, and then about Him instructing us in the way we should go. God’s will concerns the way we should go. I want God to instruct me and I express my healthy fear of Him. The fear of the Lord leads to wisdom, so ask God for the wisdom you need in discerning His will. Further, verse 14 refers to the Lord confiding in those who fear Him. That is a great promise!

Verse 20 refers to God as the guard over your life and as your refuge. In discovering God’s will, go to Him and thank Him for guarding and protecting your life. Ask Him to show you how He is working in your life right now to accomplish the things He wants you to accomplish.

Are you paying attention? Some words from Psalm 25 with relevance to this topic include: listen, trust, desire, fear, look, seek. These are active words that describe the Christian that looks for God’s will.  Do this exercise with other Psalms to get into the position of discovering God’s will.

Discovering God’s Will: A First Step

How has God been at work in your life? We spend time reading Scripture, praying, rendering acts of worship, but we tend to treat these discrete passages of time as separate events.  There is a tendency to say that God is in each of these moments and then we work ourselves up emotionally, and these emotions become our expression of “experiencing God.”  Then someone comes along and asks you a question about the evidence that God is working in your life and you can’t answer directly.  Our response becomes some mish-mash of thoughts disconnected from the realities of everyday life.

For the believer, it is imperative that we seek God’s will for our lives. I remember the first time I heard the phrase “God’s will” it was almost as if I sensed a type of relief. I got off the hook, so to speak, and began to look for this thing called “God’s will” in my life. This is the connection that believers are missing. We forget that our omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent Heavenly Father is here and we lose sight of what might be God’s will for our lives by replacing His life in us with our own perception of how our activities may fit into His will.

I hesitate to offer a prescription to follow for discovering God’s will, but let me suggest that it perhaps begins with a daily search for how God is at work in your life and the lives of those around you. Begin by asking questions like, “What is God’s will for my life, my work, my family, my church?” Then search Scripture for the answers. Read how God has worked in others’ lives and then ask whether there are any similarities in the way you have been experiencing life.  Apply what you read in the Bible and ask God to show you how He is at work in your life.  The Holy Spirit wants to reveal this to you.

As we begin this search, we will soon find that our concern shifts from ourselves to our Lord. If we are too selfish, we might not perceive how God is at work in our lives. The things of our lives flow out of us, rather than flowing out of God’s will for us. This is the true test of the search for God’s will. If our tendency becomes too self-focused, we must stop and put the question to the Lord, “What is Your will for me?”

Ephesians 5:17 says, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” Get your attention on Him. You are His child, so act like a child and look to the Father for direction, guidance, and every matter of life. As I get older, I realize how much of my own earthly father is in me. But I also see another force at work, the presence of my Heavenly Father and His guiding hand to move me in a direction that He chooses. Let’s take that first step and begin searching for how God is at work in our lives.