Musical Musings Monday: Imagine Dragons’ “Demons”

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One of the goals of this blog is to connect the gospel to the real intersections of life we all experience. Music is one of my passions; I love hearing new bands and I listen to an eclectic mix of styles. One of my favorite albums of 2012 has been the debut release “Night Visions” by Imagine Dragons. They are a fantastic blend of alternative rock, techno beats, and the use of innovative mixing. They have moments of sounding like Coldplay, U2, and other mainstream rock artists, but they always find a unique balance of their own creative style. But the beauty of this record is the lyrical beauty that captures the raw emotion, pain, depravity, and longing for redemption that resides in all of us. The first single from the album, “It’s Time” has been a radio hit, even used by Apple at its launch party this fall. But the standout song in my mind is “Demons.”

The band’s website (imaginedragonsmusic.com) states that their goal from the beginning has been to “take the pain they’ve each experienced in life and spin it into something redemptive and uplifting.” That is incredibly revealing. The fact is, all of us experience brutal pain and hardship in life. Sometimes it is through the consequences of our own choices, but others it flows from realities we have no control over. This is part of what it means to be human and what it means to be fallen. The Bible paints this picture of pain in graphic terms beginning in Genesis 3 and it follows throughout every human life since. That is why so many lives today are marked by despair, anger, and brokenness: because we know this is not the way it should be and we long for something more, something that can lift us out of the mire of sin and suffering. Something that can offer us redemption. This is where “Demons” is such a revealing glimpse into the human soul. These lyrics are hauntingly brutal:

Don’t want to let you down
But I am hell bound
Though this is all for you
Don’t want to hide the truth

No matter what we breed
We still are made of greed
This is my kingdom come
This is my kingdom come

When you feel my heat
Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide
Don’t get too close
It’s dark inside
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide

(listen to “Demons” here)

The natural impulse for all of us is begin looking around us for the solution. When that fails we begin to look inside, thinking the answer lies within us. But all we find are the demons hiding deep in the recesses of our soul. Our hearts are actually deceptive and hide who we really are. The answer that I believe Imagine Dragons, as well as every other human being, is looking for can never be found around us or within us. It is found in a place completely outside of us, in the gospel of Jesus. Because the beauty of the gospel is that Jesus takes all of our brokenness, all or our sinfulness, all of our demons, and hangs them on a cross in his flesh. The Divine Son of God takes up residence among us (John 1:18). He takes on full humanity just like us in every possible way, except he lives it to the fullest and greatest potential – completely absent of sin (Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:15). When Jesus went to the Cross, it was wearing all our demons, all of our failures, all of our ugliness. Isaiah the prophet tells us it is only by His wounds that our wounds are healed (Isaiah 53:5). It’s in Jesus’ Kingdom come that we can find real redemption, the kind that has an eternal significance.

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Helpful Resources in Valuing Your Family

This past Sunday at FBC Pikeville I preached a sermon about valuing the family.  I want to suggest some affordable resources for parents to help you as you love and lead your families for Jesus.  These resources are categorized and I have links attached for you to purchase them from Amazon.com.

Bibles:

New Living Translation – An easy to read, thought for thought translation of God’s Word.  This Bible is great for family devotions.

ESV Children’s Bible – A reliable translation formatted for young readers.

Bible Storybooks:

The Jesus Storybook Bible – Our family’s favorite!  The book contains the big movements of the Bible’s storyline and shows how everything points to Jesus.

The Big Picture Story Bible – Seeks to show how the Bible is one big story focused on God and the redeeming work of Jesus.

Family Worship Aids:

Family Worship, by Donald Whitney – A short guide that shows the importance of family worship and gives practical ideas for starting family worship in your home.

Big Truths for Young Hearts, by Bruce Ware – a helpful book for parents that shows how to take the truths of Scripture and explain through the life of your children.  Both parents and children will learn much of God and His greatness.

Parenting / Family Books:

Shepherding a Child’s Heart, by Tedd Tripp – The single most helpful book I have ever read on parenting.  Tripp deals with the biblical model of parenting found in Proverbs and gives insights and practical ideas for parenting through the stages of life.

Instructing a Child’s Heart, by Tedd Tripp and Margy Tripp – The follow up to the previous book, it gives parents practical wisdom in communicating and instructing their children in a God honoring fashion.

Family  Driven Faith, by Voddie Baucham – A powerful book that guides parents on raising biblical families in a culture that is hostile to Christianity.  A great manual for parents.

Please feel free to share your family’s favorites as well!

10 Things I Wish Someone Told Me In High School

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High school presents numerous challenges in the life for a teenager, especially when they feel as if they are navigating it alone. This is why I believe every teenager needs a mentor, a “coach” of sorts, who intentionally seeks to guide them through the struggles and celebrate the victories. The years spent in high school have the potential of becoming the incubation season for a life that is revolutionary, which is why I love pouring my time and resources into teenagers. The following is a summary of a message I presented at this year’s “Fields of Faith,” an event sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In ten minutes, I shared ten things I wish someone had told me in high school, praying that God may build humility and greatness in the coming generation. Here is the list:
1. You are not as smart as you think you are…in fact, you’re an idiot.  I say that in joking, but I really wish someone had been straightforward with me on this point. The fact is, pride develops early and only gets stronger with age. Build humility into your life; learn as much as you can from as many people as you can as often as you can. I remember John Maxwell stating that as a young man he would pay business leaders and executives for an hour of their time so he could ask questions and learn from them. Don’t pay, but definitely find leaders and learn.
2. Peer pressure passes: don’t let it rule you or ruin you. The fact is, most teens experience temptation and pressure to conform from something or someone in their life. So recognize that this will pass and these situations will not define your life. Jesus was always fighting the pressure to conform and be what everyone else believed He should be. Yet He never buckled under the pressure; He defined His life by God’s mission, and you should too.
3. Believe that you are usable. During the teen years, everyone struggles with their sense of worth. I can’t do anything of value, God could never use me, I failed too many times, my struggle is too shameful. Yet this is not the view of God: God created you for purpose, He designed you for His glory, and He has a plan to use you that is crazy-awesome. So find your purpose: fall in love with Jesus, study His words in the whole Bible, and discover with the help of a pastor or leader how you can serve God now, just like you are.
4. Don’t let good keep you from greatness. I read in a book once that good is the enemy of greatness. So average is the enemy of a great life. Anyone can be average: a nice home, steady job, spouse, 2.5 children and a dog. Greatness is rare, but God is calling you to it. Jesus wasn’t average, He rocked the world. His followers then weren’t average, and they shouldn’t be now. So don’t settle for good when God calls you to greatness.
5. Be creative and take risks. Believe it or not, God is not against creative, artistic expressions or against taking bold, risky, adventurous steps of faith. Genesis 1 shows us the God who is creative, and the gospels show us the God who risks. Don’t chicken out when God calls you to take a bold step, and don’t extinguish the God-given creativity that defines you: use it!
6. Today’s stuff is tomorrow’s junk. Landfills are filled with junk that someone at one time thought was the greatest invention ever created. I once believed that if I did not own a Game-Boy I would never know true happiness. White-washed jeans with elastic waist lines were once cool. Now they are embarrassing. My point is that whatever stuff you think is so amazing and necessary…isn’t. Ipads as we know them now will be obsolete one day. Don’t make your stuff the most important things in your life.
7. Value the relationships that last outside High School. Your friends now will probably not be your friends at your ten year reunion. In fact, I guarantee it will be a little awkward. But God has given you relationships that will last: a relationship with Him, your parents, siblings, family. Lifelong friends are out there, just make sure you are investing in the best relationships.
8. Give yourself permission not to be perfect. I love this one. Most of us hate failure and allow it to drive us to fear of ever trying new things. Don’t fear failure; in fact, embrace it. I got this statement from Perry Stone: It’s ok to fail as long as you are attempting great things. In fact, that is the only way great things ever develop, after a lot of failures along the way!
9. Check your heart…a lot. Proverbs 4:23 says that your heart is the wellspring of your life. Guard it; keep it clean and pure. Lots of things and people are going to want the affection of your heart, but only Jesus deserves it. Make Him the #1 owner of your heart.
10. Say every morning these words: God is God, and I am not. Rick Warren taught me this, and it has been invaluable when I begin to feel overwhelmed or believe that the world rests on my shoulders. If we don’t continually reminder ourselves that we are not God, we will try to act like we are. So trust Him, live for Him, and love the journey He has intentionally put you on!

Has God Spoken? (Part 1 of God Wrote a Book)

megaphoneWe know God loves us and wants a relationship with us because He has spoken to us.

5 “Speech Patterns” of God:

  1. He Has Spoken Through Creation (Psalm 19:1, 33:6; Gen. 1:1-ff, 3:24)
    • God’s existence and voice is displayed in the wonders of creation.
    • From universe, to the cells in body, all is God’s voice saying, “I made this!”
  2. He Has Spoken To People
    • There are many different ways God has spoken to people in history:

                    1)      Audible Divine Speech – God speaks in a human language directly to a person

                    2)      Dreams – God would speak by a vivid dream, usually with images that had special meaning needing to be interpreted.

                     3)      Visions – God speaks through a visionary experience, sometimes while in the body, and other times the person would have out-of-body experience

                     4)      Angels – Supernatural representatives of God come to people and speak on His behalf, as if it were God Himself speaking.

                     5)      Miraculous Events – God speaks through a miracle to teach or lead his people.  (Birth of Isaac, Crossing Red Sea)

    3. He Has Spoken Through People 

  • Prophets were men and women that God would speak to personally, and they would in turn go and tell the people what God wanted them to hear.
  • While preachers take God’s Word and interpret it to people, prophets would actually receive God’s direct Word, and then tell it verbally to people.  

    4.   He Has Spoken By The Book (Deut. 31:24-26; Jos. 24:26; Jer. 30:2; 1 Cor. 14:37; 2 Pet. 3:2)

  • While in Scripture God would speak in numerous ways, today He speaks to us primarily through the pages of Scripture.
  • The Bible is God’s love letter telling us who he is, who we are, and how we need him.
  • While is certainly likely that God still uses miracles and other modes to speak today, we should recognize those are not his NORMAL method; today he speaks from Scripture.

    5.   He Has Spoken Fully & Finally in Jesus (Joh 1:1, 14; Rev. 19:13) 

  • Jesus is God’s full and final revelation of Himself.
  • Jesus communicated God’s ultimate message to us by showing us what God is like in His sinless life, and then showing us God’s love in His agonizing death.
  • This is why we say Jesus is our God: Col. 1:19, all the fullness of God pleased to dwell
  • We do not worship this book; we worship the person this book is telling us about.

If God has spoken (He has), then it is the most important word ever said, and must change our lives! (it will)

DEVELOPING HABITS OF HOLINESS

(Adapted from “The Pursuit of Holiness,” by Jerry Bridges)

The following is a list of practical steps that the believer in Christ can use to train ourselves in godliness. Just as sinful habits are broken in cooperation with the Holy Spirit and in dependence upon Him, so also positive habits are developed in the same way.

1. Habits are developed and reinforced by FREQUENT REPITITION.

  • The more we say no to sin, the more we are inclined to say no.
  • The more we succeed in saying no to our sinful desires, the easier it becomes to say no.

2. NEVER LET AN EXCEPTION OCCUR.

  • Indulging in a habit today makes it even harder to say no tomorrow.

3. DILIGENCE IN ALL AREAS IS REQUIRED TO ENSURE SUCCESS IN ONE AREA.

  • Indulging in the weakness of my appetites weakens my will in every other aspect of my life.

4. DON’T BE DISCOURAGED BY FAILURE.

  • There is a vast difference between failing and being a failure!
  • Failures give up and stop trying.

MARS HILL AND SOULPANCAKE: WHY ACTS 17 MUST GUIDE OUR VIEW OF CULTURE

I am a huge fan of the television show, “The Office.” I have watched it from the beginning, own most of the seasons on DVD, and am one of those people who thinks those awkward “cringe” moments in life make the best comedy. I am not alone. “The Office” has been a huge hit in the US, following its success earlier in Great Britain thanks to the comedic talent of Ricky Gervais.  I recently discovered that one of my favorite actors on the show, Rainn Wilson, is one of the most followed people on Twitter. Since I am now a full-fledged Twitter addict, I began following him, even having his updates relayed to me through text messages on my phone (which is sad). He has moments that are really funny, really weird, and other times it is just pathetic attempts at humor. And every so often he will reference an article or discussion going on at a website called soulpancake.com. Today he mentioned an article that simply said, “graph your God, or lack thereof). So I decided to check it out, and to my surprise, it is nothing remotely close to what I expected.

The website is fairly simple in that it is an open blog inviting people to join this community with their ideas on God, religion, philosophy, and anything else that is relative. Wilson is one of the creators of the site and uses his image in some of the advertising. In explaining the site’s purpose he writes:

We want to make discussions about Spirituality, Creativity, and Philosophy cool again. Were they ever cool? I have no idea. But it seems like a good idea. We want to engage the user to “Chew on Life’s Big Questions”

And the discussions are definitely engaging. I really enjoyed reading the site, especially upon finding a contributor raising the question of how do we ask Jesus into our hearts. The tone was not hostile, but more searching as if trying to discover whether or not we as Christians understand the very terms we use so commonly. As I spent some time on this site I realized that this is my generations Mars Hill. This is where ideas are presented on the public square for discussion and debate. And so the question is, how do we begin to engage with this kind of culture, seeking answers, but faceless behind a keyboard?

Tonight I will be teaching my students from the book of Acts. I immediately drew the parallel between the Soulpancake website and Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill from Acts 17. Paul was cut to the heart by the idolatry in the city of Athens, and instead of sitting back and praying for God to send a missionary, he engaged with them himself.  In fact, we read that:

So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. (Acts 17:17)  

Paul went directly to the cultural heart of the city, and took truth to the people. Some dialogued with him; others mocked him and his message. But he was able to preach Christ in the center of the cultural marketplace of ideas. My prayer today is to be a Paul in the marketplace I find myself seeing today, even if it is as odd a place as Soulpancake.

COUNT YOUR FAILURES NAME THEM ONE BY ONE

Almost one year ago I was packing up my office to leave the church I had resigned from as Senior Pastor just a few Sunday’s earlier.  The announcement that I was leaving had been met with audible shock by many in this congregation.  And to be honest, the decision was nothing short of insane when you think about it.  I had only been at the church eighteen months, had just purchased a home in the community, had a pregnant wife and two toddlers in which I needed to feed and provide care.  I was not called to another church, or for that matter, any other ministry. I had no job lined up to sustain us until we found a new place of ministry.  I was not forced or even asked to resign.  I had no idea whether or not they would provide any kind of severance package (although chances were slim due to financial struggles in the church). All in all, this was a ludicrous decision when you looked at it; but God had called me to do it.

I did not hear a voice from heaven, or receive visions, dreams, amazing signs, or prophetic leadings.  In fact, almost every pastor and trusted leader I spoke with told me that it was a foolish move to make. I was advised to stay put, send out my resume, and just keep the peace until I found another place to go. But that advice bothered me. I was wrestling with my call and my place of service.  I was unsure of my calling to this ministry post, and to stay put would be dishonoring to God, hurtful to my family, and unfair to the church.  Only two people, whom are both men filled with godly wisdom and discernment, challenged me to “go against the grain.”  And through prayer I discovered that God had released me from this ministry; I no longer was called to be there.  And so I took the most radical step of faith I have ever taken: I resigned my post and trusted God to sustain my family and provide direction.  And an amazing thing happened after that: the fear and worry left, and I felt a new freedom.  My trust in Christ had never been stretched more and I truly “walked by faith” for a season.

So as I was packing my office up into storage, unsure of where I would end up in ministry or life, I grabbed a pad and pen and began making a list.  I wish I could say that I was “counting my blessings.”  I would have had a great list. But instead I listed one by one the mistakes I had made in this short ministry. I thought about the failures, the wrong moves, the neglected areas that were now much more visible than when I was in the situations.  That list discouraged me for a long time. It had more than thirty broad areas of failure, and I could have kept going for a much longer list. I felt like a failure. I felt I had let God down, my family down, and I was not worthy for the ministry.

I don’t feel that way anymore. When I look back upon my heart at that point in time, I see that my grasp of the gospel was very weak.  My standing with Christ was based on performance, achievement, and more than anything else, other people’s perception and acceptance of me. Ministry was more about performing to an unachievable level of expectation set by my own legalistic heart. But that type of living could only produce a sense of pride when I achieved these self-imposed expectations or failure when I did not measure up. Yet the gospel is about my being accepted by grace.  2 Corinthians 3:17 says “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Then the Bible says in verse 21, “For our sake he (God) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” I have learned that in Christ I have a new identity, a new standing with God based not on righteousness I possess in my own nature or that I have earned. I don’t have to be perceived as a success to others or meet an expectation imposed by my legalistic tendencies. I now find my identity not in a list of failures, but in a blood spattered cross where God showed the ultimate display of love for me and gave me a righteousness I did not earn. As Tim Keller says so well in his book, The Reason for God, “The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me.” That, my friends, is why we sing count your blessings, not your failures.

EMERGENCY ROOMS, A DRUG ADDICTED FETUS, AND A PICTURE OF GRACE IN AN UNEXPECTED PLACE.

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Most nights at 2:00 a.m. I am in the bed sleeping less than comfortably with my wife and a minimum of one child in the bed. Last Thursday though, I spent the night in the Emergency Room with one of my kids. Our son awoke late in the evening with a fever running just below 105 degrees, the highest I had ever seen as a parent. I threw on my clothes, scooped him up, and rushed to the ER. After getting through the all the initial frustrations of this sort of hospital visit (they never seem to be as concerned as I am), my son and I found ourselves in a curtained section of the triage unit. The metallic bed with a crisp white sheet was of no interest to my feverish toddler, but he was insistent that I leave all the lights on. This is typical of my son, since he wants nothing to do with sleep when there is action going on around him. So we waited … and waited … and waited. The nurses were non-existent; the intern was awkward, sleepy, and honestly a bit discomforting in light of the fact I felt I knew more about medicine than he did. The doctor himself might have been quite competent at his profession, though I couldn’t tell since he shot in and out in less than two minutes and I had a hard time seeing him as he stooped on his high perch. But this story isn’t about that.

My son and I spent most of that night sitting and waiting. He was so calm and brave considering the intense surroundings, but he wanted to lay on me the whole time. I have learned that my kids (as most I’m sure) want to be close to mommy or daddy when they are sick. So we sat in a hard hospital chair, my legs stretched out seeking to recline my body in any possible way that would deliver comfort. My back was inches from the curtain separating us from the young woman in the bed next to us. As my boy lay in my arms singing a nursery rhyme about five monkeys jumping on a bed, I listened as a nurse dialogued with our neighbor. She was pregnant. She estimated she was about twenty-four weeks along. Yet she was not sure because she had not had a single gynecological visit so far. The nurse had a Doppler in order to listen to the heartbeat (after three kids I could spot that sound anywhere). There was no heartbeat. The young girl started to sob as the nurse asked if she was sure she was pregnant. My heart began to ache as I sat with my son realizing I may hear a young mother find out her baby is dead inside her. Finally after a few minutes I could finally spot the sound of a faint heartbeat and breathed a sigh of comfort. However, that was short lived. 

Another woman walked in who I initially took to be her mother. She spoke in a kind but firm tone to this young woman. It turns out that she was a hospital counselor. She asked our neighbor if she had used today. Only a valium for her nerves earlier, followed by a couple of percacets. The counselor asked how many pills she takes on an average day. Ten. I realized I was sitting a few feet from a drug addict who was doping up herself and an unborn baby. The heartbreak I felt a few moments earlier transformed into anger. How could a person do that to themselves AND a baby? The result of the conversation that I was intruding upon was that this young, drug addict mom was going to be transferred to a treatment center in Louisville, KY. The counselor wished her good luck and encouraged her to get clean for the sake of her baby. After a few sentences waxing eloquent about how she’s learned her lesson and realizes that those dealers don’t really care about her, she asked if they could give her something to take the edge off and help her sleep. Apparently hospitals don’t give you drugs if you are an addict detoxing. So instead she asked if she could go smoke a cigarette. Again rage bubbled in my gut at a woman who would impose these poisons on a helpless baby in the womb. Then it happened. I saw her face as she walked by out to smoke. It was just a moments glance, but enough to completely crush my hardened judgment. She looked like a teenager, and I pictured a girl who could be my own daughter in just a few years.

I don’t know her name. We never spoke, and it is probably safe to assume I will never see her again. But I will never forget her. In that moment I no longer looked at her through the lenses my preconceived judgment of drug abuse, child neglect, horrible blemish on society, and the host of others I had placed her under. Whether any of those are or aren’t true really does not matter. I looked in her face and saw a person created in the image of a Holy God; a person who’s heart is black and hardened with sin, just like mine was at one time; I saw a person who needed good news, who needed a savior. I saw a person who Jesus’ blood could cleanse from any unrighteousness.

When she came back, I pulled out my Bible and began to read to my son. At least that was what I told him. I wanted to read to this young, scared, detoxing girl who I now had a burden to share. So I opened to the only place I knew to open at 2:00 a.m. in the morning. I opened my Bible to the Gospel of John and began to read. I probably read about two chapters before I put my Bible away and prayed. I don’t know if she listened. Even if she was listening, I have no idea if she was in her right mind enough to comprehend. But one passage in particular grabbed my attention and I pray it grabbed hers as well:

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:10-12)

I pray even now that the Holy Spirit has brought about the new birth in her life. Would you pray that with me?

WHY I NAMED THIS BLOG “FOOD FROM RAVENS”

I have read the story of Elijah at least a dozen times throughout my life. I listened intently and looked at the pictures in Sunday School as my teacher would reenact the accounts of God’s prophet as he faced obstacles. I have heard sermons about how God blessed and used Elijah. So when I started reading 1 Kings 17 earlier this week in my devotions, I honestly was not expecting much. I was ready to move on to my New Testament reading for that morning, then take a shower and go to the office. But as I sat in my car, reading again the first appearance of Elijah in the Bible, I found myself stuck. I couldn’t get passed verse 4:

You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”

I have for years just casually read through that verse, as I often do through most of Scripture, without actually reading and pondering what it is saying. Elijah announces to King Ahab of Israel that a drought is about to set in upon the land. Except for when Elijah gives the word, no water will fall from the sky in drops of rain. But that is not the most amazing thing in this passage, because what God said to His prophet next has consumed my mind for days. God tells Elijah to go into this ravine and live next to a brook for water, and wait for ravens to bring him food because God has told them to do so. This is troubling to my soul. I’m not troubled by the thought of God being that powerful that birds will do whatever He commands whenever He commands it. I’m not troubled by the idea of God providing for His prophet when everybody else is consumed in poverty and starvation. I am not even troubled at the thought of eating food that a filthy, scavenging, ugly bird brings to Elijah. What bothers me is that I cannot wrap my mind around the kind of insanely radical faith it would take to trust God at His word about something like this. And the fact that I cannot wrap my mind around it is the most troubling thing of all.

 I want faith like that. I want to be able to trust God enough that if He were to tell me “John, I want you to live here and wait for me to send a dirty scavenger bird with bread and meat to feed you every day,” that I would have the kind of faith to believe such a ridiculous promise. There are other lessons here, such as God sovereignty over creation, and His caring protection for His children. Those are great lessons, and I need those. But those aren’t the lessons I need today. Today I need to know how I can have the kind of radical and crazy trust in God so that when He tells me in the midst of droughts that ravens are going to bring me food each day, I will take Him at His word. I want to know that I will believe God when my food is from Ravens. This blog is a search for that kind of faith.