Why does it take cancer to give such depth of meaning to the phrases, “I’m sorry,” “Thank you,” “You’re welcome,” and, “I love you?”

Why does it take cancer to make our speech more gentle, so as not to crack the already fragile vessel of our emotions?

Why does it take cancer to get us to go to sleep holding hands, bodies entwined as they were in those first blissful newlywed nights?

Why does it take cancer to make us appreciate the huge contribution of our beloved ones to our lives and the lives of so many others?

Why does it take cancer to cause us to listen more carefully?

Why does it take cancer to impart the unparalleled joy of caring for another human being?

Why does it take cancer to show us the power of a tender human touch?

Why does it take cancer to unearth the treasure that is true friendship?

It shouldn’t.

Image from hope1032.com.au

So, Who’s Your Daddy?

polls_daddy_boy_blond_5543_981702_answer_2_xlargeMy wife was recently diagnosed with cancer for the second time. Once again, we are walking a steep, rough path through dark woods. When the doctor utters the “C” word, everything changes. Life’s priorities seem to tumble almost by themselves into their proper order, and–all of a sudden–one has a different perspective on this world.

Which is why a phrase in the Bible brought me up short when I thought of it again the other day. Writing to the Corinthians, a First Century church that was once obsessed with this world, Paul says:

“But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 COR 4.2-4, emphasis added)

There are several notable items in this text.

First, Paul talks about his forthright proclamation of the truth, as opposed to what was already taking place in his day and is still taking place now–disgraceful, underhanded tampering with God’s word. “Enlightened” people view the Bible as unreliable–yet, most of them have never read it. Others claim the Bible has been corrupted, and I couldn’t agree more. The real question is, “When–and by whom?”

A second important truth here is Paul’s observation–the Holy Spirit’s observation, really–that the gospel (the “good news” about Jesus Christ) –is hidden from many people. Actually, from most people. Is it because they are stupid? Of course not.  Is it because they have never heard? Perhaps. But mainly, it’s because they are blind.

If I had been born blind–if I had never seen even a pinprick of light, and you were trying to convince me that the sky is blue, how would you do it? A physics lecture on refraction? A field trip? An afternoon in a landscape exhibit at the National Gallery? Testimonials by sighted people? A special on the Weather Channel? A nice, mellow rendition of the Irving Berlin song, “Blue Skies?” None of these would help. I don’t even know what blue is, remember?

There is only thing that will allow me to understand this phenomenon. Sight.

The consequences of spiritual blindness are far more severe than those of physical blindness, and they last forever. Did you get that last word, “forever?” (Remember it, because we’ll come back to it.) This text tells us that the gospel is veiled–hidden, or unable to be grasped–by those who are perishing. If that sounds serious, it’s because it is. The reason people are spiritually blind is because they are perishing–doomed to spend eternity apart from God in hell–and the reason they are perishing is because they are spiritually blind.

And why are they spiritually blind? Check the text. It’s because the god of this world has made them that way. He doesn’t want them to see even a pinprick of light.

So, why is Satan called, “the god of this world?”

daddy-girl-brunetteOne reason is that when he was cast from heaven, Jehovah, the Eternal God, gave him dominion over this world–what the New Testament calls, the kosmos. Until he is finally cast into the Lake of Fire with his demonic hordes and those who have not believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, (MAT 25.41; REV 20.13-15) he will exercise authority over this world and everyone in it. Jesus taught us that there are only two families on earth–the family of God and the family of Satan. He even told unbelieving Jews–His own people, God’s Covenant people–that they were “of their father, the devil.” (JOH 8.44) And every child of the devil is born blind.

But that phrase, the god of this world, struck me a different way this week. Satan, that Great Deceiver, wants his children to be concerned only with this world. He doesn’t want them even thinking about life after death, about eternity, about judgment. He wants them to swallow the delusion that all that really matters is…this world. He convinces them that morality is relative, and they themselves can be the arbiters of truth and the masters of their own fates. He urges them to accumulate wealth, pursue pleasures of every sort, seek fame and prestige, gain power, and expend their energies on things with no eternal value. Parading as an “angel of light,” he encourages well-intentioned and socially conscious people to spend their lives doing commendable things in unbelief. He is especially pleased when people become devoted to religion–any religion–since religion distorts truth and gives people a false sense of security. He relishes the philosophical notion that the spiritual realm is non-existent, so  death results not in condemnation, but merely in compost.

If your biggest concerns in life–your fears, your goals, your urges–only involve this world, it’s because the god of this world has you right where he wants you. He’s going down, and he wants you going down with him.

When we lived in Atlanta, a common greeting on the street was, “Who’s your daddy?”

That’s a good question to ask yourself.

20 Go Ahead–You Deserve It!


What do you think you deserve?

You just bought yourself a new wardrobe, because you deserve it. McDonalds says you deserve a break today. Perhaps, even as you read this, you’re on a “much-deserved holiday” in some exotic locale. You deserved higher marks in that course. You deserved the promotion more than the colleague who got it. You deserve greater understanding in your relationship. You deserve more assistance due to your circumstances. You deserve “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

What you really deserve–what I really deserve–is eternal condemnation in the fires of hell.

Whether or not we choose to admit it, every one of us was born in sin. Every one of us–even those who have a relationship with God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ–will commit adultery of the soul, covet, and seek friendship with the world on occasion. (JAM 4.4,5) God’s hatred of sin is measureless, and His holiness demands holiness from us–holiness we are powerless to provide.

“But he gives more grace.” (JAM 4.6a)

What a wonder it is to be on the receiving end of God’s grace! Despite His perfection and the offense our sin is to Him, He provided a way for us to be His children through faith in Christ–God in flesh, “born to die, that man might live.”*

Paul writes to the believers in Rome during the First Century:

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (ROM 3.23,24)

There is no grace in religion–only slavery, uncertainty, and hopelessness. Yet, by God’s grace, none of us need get what he or she deserves. By His grace God does not overlook sin–not at all! In fact, Romans 2.5-11 describe in sobering terms how God’s wrath and fury will be poured out on those who reject His grace. What He does is provide the full payment for sin–something we, the perpetrators, cannot do on our own.

Even in our churches today, we have misunderstood grace. Grace is not without cost. In fact, what God’s grace provides was more costly than anything in history–the very life of the Redeemer was the only acceptable payment for our sin.

Grace is not bestowed by God arbitrarily on those who prefer to reject it. It is appropriated by faith:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ” (EPH 2.8-10)

In the text above, the stated purpose for our being “created in Christ Jesus”–to walk in obedience to God–leads us to consider two more aspects of grace. Grace is available to all people, and grace does not free us to do whatever we like:

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” (TIT 2.11,12)

James, Jesus’ younger half-brother, understands better than most the nature of the human heart. He can compare his own life to that of the sinless Son of God with Whom he grew up. He, better than most, can appreciate the magnificence of “God’s varied grace.” (1 PET 4.10 ) He knows God “gives more grace”–grace that is greater than all our sin.

*From the Christmas song, “Ring the Bells!” by Harry Bollbeck.

Upstream–In a Swift Current

Migrating salmon swimming upstream to spawn, Katmai National Park, Southeast Alaska
Migrating salmon swimming upstream to spawn, Katmai National Park, Southeast Alaska

Sitting out on my deck in the morning is not as serene an experience as it once was. There is a massive construction project underway across the street, so at the crack of dawn the morning’s quiet is fractured by the growl and clang of heavy equipment and the insistent beeping of machines rolling in reverse. I understand 3,000 people will be employed here, and I’m sure it will be a very attractive space. (It will also increase the value of our property, which I view as a good thing!) Progress has its price, and the noise is  only temporary.

The noise was not loud enough to keep me from noticing something in the Gospel of Mark this morning, however.

In Chapters 1 to 3, Mark arranges the material in such a way that it’s fairly easy to notice this upstream quality.

In 1.4-45, Jesus cleanses a leper. He could have simply said something that would have cured this man; instead, he stretches out His hand and touches him–an unthinkable act contrary to every convention, given the nature of this dreadful disease and the stigma attached to it.

The next healing Mark records (2.1-12) is that of a paralytic. Jesus prefaces the healing of this man, who was brought to him by four devoted friends, by telling the man that his sins are forgiven. Immediately, the Scribes view this as blasphemous, since only God can forgive sins. Jesus demonstrates His power to do so by asking, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk?'” To display His deity in an unmistakable way, Jesus then tells the paralyzed man to do just that.

Calling Levi, a reviled sinner in the eyes of the Jews because he collected taxes for the Romans and gouged his own people in the process, Jesus stops at his house for dinner and eats with a collection of ne’er-do-wells the likes of which could only be expected to gather in the home of a man like Levi. Again, the Scribes and Pharisees complain to Jesus’ disciples about his unsavoury companions. Jesus reminds them that He came to heal the sick, not the righteous. (2.13-16)

Jesus’ disciples do not fast when John’s disciples fast. (2.18-23) Again, the Pharisees and others question why they do not observe this Jewish tradition. Jesus uses several practical analogies to explain that this is unique time and He a unique Person. “Can the wedding guests fast,” He asks, “when the bridegroom is still with them?” The time for fasting will come later, He assures them, when the Bridegroom is taken away.

At the end of Chapter 2, Jesus’ disciples pick some grain to snack on during the Sabbath. This is viewed by the Pharisees as a blatant violation of the Law. After citing David’s receiving shewbread from the priest at the time of Abiathar (1 SAM 21.1-9), Jesus replies to the Pharisees, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (2.23-28)

The Pharisees are incensed. But, as Chapter 3 opens, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand, again on the Sabbath. Since healing was viewed as the work of a physician–and therefore forbidden on the Sabbath–the Pharisees go ballistic and consult with the Herodians for a way to eliminate Him.

Jesus is certainly swimming against the current. He ignores the medical and social rules related to leprosy and, moved with compassion, touches a leper to heal him. He demonstrates His deity by not only healing a paralytic, but also telling him his sins are forgiven. He enjoys a meal in the home of a wealthy shyster in the company of all the man’s disreputable friends. He allows His disciples to forgo fasting, and then to pick grain on the Sabbath–something that is verboten in the Jewish religious tradition and even prohibited by the Law. To settle the question of His lordship over the Sabbath, the Law, and the Jews themselves, He then heals a man on the Sabbath, right in the synagogue.

In Chapter 3, Mark twice uses the phrase, “…for they were saying…” In vv. 20-21, Jesus’ own family members are saying, “He is out of His mind.” Certainly, to publicly do and say the things He has seems like the work of a madman, someone with a death wish. It is unfathomable, and embarrassing to the family. Recognizing that Jesus’ power is unearthly and refusing to acknowledge His lordship, the religious leaders attribute His miracles to the devil, saying, ,”He has an unclean spirit.” (3.22-30)

Mark demonstrates that Jesus was willing to defy convention and show compassion; to expose religious hypocrisy and exhibit divine authority.

Any follower of His should be willing to do the same.

19 Caught in the Act!


Imagine coming home, walking up the stairs, and finding your spouse in bed with someone else. It happens–all too often–and leads to deeply fractured relationships, divorces, and even crimes of passion.

James tells his readers, after having rebuked them for contentiousness and covetousness in JAM 4.1-3, that they have been “caught in the act”:

“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (JAM 4.4)

In our minds, adultery goes way beyond friendship. But James is pointing out what these Jewish readers have known all their lives. For centuries, the Old Testament Scriptures had been taught in the Temple and in the synagogues. Many times–and especially in the book of Hosea–God compares Israel with an adulterous woman who has scorned her devoted husband to consort with other lovers. This bold, clear analogy illustrated for the Jews–and it illustrates for us–the ease with which we can slip into spiritual adultery by pursuing worldly wisdom (JAM 3.13-18) and pleasures (JAM 4.1-3). Here, James gets at the very heart of his letter by making it clear that abandoning the truth of Scripture in favour of earthly values is adultery of the soul.

Notice that James says, “…whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Adultery is not rape. It’s consensual–a conscious decision to break one’s vows, abandon one’s spouse to lust or misguided affection, and commit an act of defiance against God. But God is immutable–His character doesn’t change and He doesn’t vacillate between one position and another. He is always our Friend–He is the “Friend of sinners”–and is always there waiting for us when we repent and seek his forgiveness for our sins. (1 JOH 1.9)

James tells us why our sin is such a serious matter to God:

“Or do you suppose it is to no avail that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? ” (JAM 4.5)

Jesus, as the Lover of our souls, as the Bridegroom of the Church, yearns for our affection, our devotion, our obedience. In fact, the love between married people is a mirror–albeit cracked and hazy and blemished–of God’s love for us. When we wander, like Hosea, He pursues us and longs for our return to His embrace.

With all we have in Him, it’s a wonder we would ever want to leave.

18 Knock-Down, Drag-Out Religion


Mrs. Ella Sanderson’s wide-brimmed pink hat drops to the floor and is stomped flat by Ms. Florence McHenry’s patent leather pumps with 4″ heels. Florence tries to wrap her arms around the buxom Mrs. Sanderson and wrestle her onto the front pew. For her part, Mrs. Sanderson digs her talons–she just had them done yesterday at Uncommon Nails on Spruce Street–into Florence’s chiffon frock and yanks hard in opposite directions, tearing the dress and drawing blood.

The pastor sputters, “Ladies–n-now, ladies! Please! This is neither the time nor the place…” just as Ella’s husband, Mort (who boxed in the Army) jumps up and assumes a menacing stance. His ham-sized dukes are poised, ready to apply a neat left jab to the thrusting jaw of Florence’s fiancee, Mr. James Quincy Jackson, Esq., Attorney at Law. Mr. Jackson is quoting the criminal code and wagging his finger.

A few rows back, a loud argument gets louder, peppered with language that sounds like it may not come from the Bible. Malcolm DePriest has accused Deacon P. J. Albert of scuffing the left front fender of his new Mercedes last Sunday in the church parking lot. Deacon Albert denies it, and threatens to visit Mr. James Quincy Jackson first thing Monday morning to seek legal counsel. (Please let it be pro bono. I’m a deacon!)

In the narthex, Mike O’Leary has Finn Peters in a headlock. Finn is red-faced and gasping, and Mike is screaming at Heather Gilmour, his hot babe. He just caught Finn and the lovely Heather kissing hungrily in the stairwell of the church. Heather stands aghast in her less-than-adequate attire, with the fingers of one hand entwined in her hair and the other hand clamped over her mouth. She is weeping hysterically, big tears rolling down her beautiful face. Fortunately, her  waterproof mascara is holding.

This is a parody–at least, it is meant to be. But James opens the fourth chapter of his letter with a first-century scenario that reflects the attitudes, if not the actions, demonstrated in the Sunday morning brawl at Peaceable Kingdom Community Church:

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (JAM 4.1-3)

Not a lot has changed. It appears some professing Christians in the first century could be as shallow and materialistic as we can be in our culture today. James has just explained how destructive the tongue can be, and how self interest is hellish and breeds “disorder and every vile practice.” (JAM 3.15,16) Now, he gives his readers some examples from their own experience.

Their desires and choices are not only selfish, but also temporal and–in some cases–immoral. Instead of reaping righteousness, they are wreaking havoc. Instead of peace in the churches, there is conflict. While they may not have literally murdered each other–at least not in the Sunday morning service–there is evidence here of heated disputes, assaults, extreme jealousy and envy, and sexual misconduct. Their behaviour was nothing like what James had just described in Chapter 3.

What brought about all this chaos?  James identifies five specific causes:

  1. “Your passions are at war within you.” They are struggling inwardly between their inordinate desires–literally, “pleasures”–and the promptings of the Holy Spirit, Who now indwells them. They experience internal conflict between what they want to do and what they know they should do. Too often, they choose pleasure.
  2. “You desire and do not have.” These inordinate desires for what–or for whom–God did not want them to have frustrate them when they remain unfulfilled, and their frustration even erupts in physical violence.
  3. “You covet and cannot obtain.” Their inability to get what they want causes them to be contentious and pugnacious. They cannot see the folly of living for this world.
  4. “You do not have, because you do not ask.” They fail to ask God to provide for them, choosing instead to try to get what they want on their own terms and in their own way.
  5. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Those who actually pray do so with sinful motives, hoping to use whatever God gives them for self-gratification.

James is not being condescending or self-righteous. Remember–Jesus was his big brother. And Jesus never argued with him, never wanted something he had, never beat him up, never engaged in worldly pleasures or even wished He could, and was content with His life even though He had “nowhere to lay His head.” (MAT 8.20) James knows what verses 13-18 of his third chapter actually look like, and what he’s seeing among his readers isn’t even remotely like it.

Is your family, your class, your workplace, your organization–even your church–characterized by conflict? Re-read James 3.1-4.12 and you’ll discover why.

Image is from RECAPO

No Purchase Necessary

Slide1Forgive me while I get something off my chest.

I awoke way too early the day before yesterday. It may have been because my right eye was burning from having unwittingly rubbed it with with fingers that had previous been kneading Lakota Extra Strong  into my wife’s injured shoulder. But my mind was racing with thoughts about my class on Psalms the night before, during which I re-visited Paul’s words:

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word and deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (COL 3.15-17)

We actually only read verse 16, as the focus of the conversation was on Paul’s mention of singing psalms–something that is done very rarely these days in either homes or churches. This observation morphed into a discussion of some of the music we now consider the music of the Church.

I have often heard it said that the Church should redeem the artistic media of the world and offer them to Jesus in worship. I wonder about this statement on two counts: the object of the verb, “redeem,” and the verb itself.

First, the object. Let’s look at the logic of redeeming artistic media. We would all agree that when a sinner is pulled from the depths of depravity, it should be cause for great rejoicing in the Body of Christ. He or she is a trophy of God’s “marvelous, infinite, matchless grace” (Julia H. Johnston, 1911.) And how do we know that? We know it theologically–the Bible explains to us that “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 COR 5.21) And we know it practically, because of one thing: change. The indwelling Holy Spirit produces change in the behaviour and attitudes of the new believer as he or she becomes less and less conformed to the world through the transforming of the mind. (ROM 12.2)

But when we “redeem” an artistic medium–namely, the music–the interesting thing is that there is no change at all. In fact, that’s the whole point–the desire is to change the purpose for the medium, but not the medium itself. A better verb than “redeem” would be, “redirect.”

You might be saying, “It’s not really about the music–it’s about the lyrics.” I don’t buy it. People would not pay large sums to fill an arena and listen to someone read the words. If the same words were sung to a tune by Bach or Martin Luther or Thomas Campbell, people wouldn’t sing them, and they wouldn’t spend their entertainment dollars to hear someone else sing them. Not today.

I’ve seen this illustrated in interesting ways. Toddlers who are too young to understand any lyrics will gyrate to pop tunes almost automatically. They can mimic with eery precision the movements of the entertainers they see on the impossible-to-ignore plasma TV’s, only slightly smaller than Prince Edward Island, that dominates their parents’ living rooms. I have seen these same toddlers move exactly the same way when they hear “worship music.” The response is instantaneous–it’s like someone has flipped a switch somewhere under their sleepers. They’re  not being blessed by the text.

I saw the same phenomenon in Mexico a number of years ago. In a church event for youth designed to “get lost kids in,” teenagers entered a room where refreshments were offered and they sat on the floor to chat before the activities began. In the background, some “worship music” was playing on the sound system. It was playing too quietly to understand the lyrics–but the effect of the music was immediate. Some of the visitors–young people who had never been in a church in their lives–began to writhe and gyrate their upper bodies just as they would have at the club down the street. And not in a manner acceptable for your church’s worship team. The only things missing were the mirror ball, the coloured lights, and lots of sweaty skin. These teens had no idea that what they were hearing was the music of the Church.

Where do we draw the line? Maybe we should have limerick services, in which we transform bawdy pub rhymes into clever adaptations of the Minor Prophets. Perhaps we should redeem pole dancing. Pretty girls could perform to the strains of one of our contemporary songs that has an appropriate rhythm. Or erotic photography. We could ask the Gideons to print New Testaments with pictures of entwined nudes on the covers. That would bring lots of men into the fold–and probably quite a few women.  After all, if God redeems the most depraved sinners, why shouldn’t we redeem the most depraved artistic forms?

I hope you grasp the satire. If these modest proposals offend you, I’ve made my point. The thought of making worship salacious should be repugnant to us. Yet we will “redeem” the same musical forms that incited rebellion against authority and precipitated the sexual revolution–by design–and offer them to God as worship! We will enthusiastically embrace a medium that grew up in the mean streets of urban America in a context of rage and despair; one that very often encourages violence, incest, rape, and promiscuity, with blatant disregard for authority and for the dignity and sanctity of human life. Our performers will mimic the motions, style, intonations, and productions of some of the most godless and shallow people our culture has produced.  I have to wonder why.

How can we be sure God accepts these offerings? Where did we get the idea that redeeming artistic media is something we should seek to do in the first place? The prophet Malachi railed against Israel because they were offering God cast-offs He refused to accept:

“But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the LORD’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the LORD of hosts….But you say, “What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD.” (MAL 1.7b-9, 13)

Finding God’s standards unacceptable–snorting at them–the people established their own criteria for what they offered to God. Not only the nature of their offerings, but also the attitudes with which they offered them are evident in this passage. We must be careful that we do not treat God’s wishes with disdain, and that what we offer Him is what He actually wants.

Now the verb. I looked up “redeem” on the nifty little dictionary on my Mac (admittedly, not the O.E.D.), and here is what I found:

The primary definition is, “‘compensate for the faults or bad aspects of (something)’: a disappointing debate redeemed only by an outstanding speech | (as adj. redeeming) : the splendid views are the one redeeming feature of the center.”

Edging closer to the biblical concept, the dictionary later says, “‘(of a person) atone or make amends for (error or evil)’: the thief on the cross who by a single act redeemed a life of evil. Save (someone) from sin, error, or evil: he was a sinner, redeemed by the grace of God.'”

Only the secondary definition communicates what God means when He uses the word in the Scriptures: “‘gain or regain possession of (something) in exchange for payment’: his best suit had been redeemed from the pawnbrokers...’pay the necessary money to clear (a debt)’: owners were unable to redeem their mortgages...(archaic) buy the freedom of.'”

If we speak of redeeming an artistic medium using the primary definition, my question is, “In what way have we compensated for the ‘faults or bad aspects’ of the medium, when we have not changed it at all?” The fact that we choose to use the medium, unchanged, suggests that we find no fault with it. I submit that attaching religious sentiments–or even biblical quotations–to a death metal song does not change the medium. We do not redeem the form, we simply use it to try to communicate something else.

We really get into trouble if we use the verb, “redeem,” in the biblical sense. First of all, God redeems–we don’t. We are the redeemees, not the redeemers.

Second, redemption in the biblical sense implies previous ownership. When God redeemed us, He bought back something that was already His. Hosea’s experience with his promiscuous wife is meant to illustrate this principle, and does so perfectly. When did the Church own the media it says it is redeeming? We say on Thursday that the artists who grace the pages of People and Rolling Stone need to hear the gospel, repent, and trust Christ; on Sunday we offer their music to God in worship. Am I missing something here?

Third, redemption requires a price. In the salvific sense, that price was the blood of Christ–the most precious commodity in the history of the universe. (I have been disappointed that some otherwise excellent contemporary songs fail to emphasize–or even mention–the real price of our salvation.) It seems our concept of redemption is that there is no purchase necessary. Might it be that we use popular entertainment media in our churches so we can avoid paying the price of being distinct?  And what is that price? Smaller congregations, perhaps. And smaller offerings, which are already small enough. Lack of appeal to the “unchurched.” A perception of cultural irrelevance.

God’s people are not called to fit in, but to stand out. Truth will always change culture, and culture will never change truth. Have we lost sight of this reality?

Ezekiel, in describing temple worship during the coming reign of Christ, writes of the Levitical order, “They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” (EZE 44.23)

Maybe we need to start learning that now.