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Culture Saturday: Comfort Among Lions

Last year our pastor, during our Summer in the Psalms, quoted from Charles Spurgeon. This week I looked up the 1879 sermon on Psalm 57 that he was quoting from.

In it, Spurgeon talked about being among lions. And he didn’t sugarcoat it.

My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts— the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.

- Psalm 57:4

It would be all too easy to say that persecution is what happens to them and not to us. Or say that real persecution— the good ol’ True Scotsman argument— is not happening here. And this was 150 years ago. Christianity was even more encroached in the Western culture. But Charles didn’t go that easy route. He addresses the working men of Britain that are under persecution by coworkers.

They declare that they never will be slaves; but they are slaves — slaves to their own ungodliness and drunkenness— the great mass of them; and only where divine grace comes in and snaps the chain do men become free at all.

Not driving the point, but “only where divine grace comes in and snaps the chain do men become free at all” is an excellent phrase. If you don’t know that divine grace, you are enslaved to Satan. Period.

If one serious man sets his face steadfastly to serve God the baser sort seem as if they must get him under their feet, and treat him with every indignity that malice can devise. It may be all in sport, but the victim does not think so.

I once looked up the word sarcasm. The word comes from Greek sarkasmos, literally meaning “to strip off the flesh”. That is what sarcasm is doing. Jeering, poking fun, mocking. None of it builds up. Now some guys, that is how their relationships work with each other. But one always has to check themselves.

Do not tell me that persecution ceased when the last martyr burned. There are martyrs who have to burn by the slow fire of cruel mockings day after day; and I bless God that the old grit is still among us, and that the old spirit still survives, so that men defy sneers and slander and hold on their way.

“Burn by the slow fire of cruel mockings.” I feel that. There are those that seek to destroy. There are old ways of pulling good men into the streets and throwing them into pits of lions. And there are new ways of ruining their reputations, ruining their careers, ruining their lives. And for good men— good men that in death would be freed of the sorrows of this world— this can be much worse.

Why did the psalmist call them lions? “Dogs” is about as good a name as they deserve. […] The lion is not only strong but cruel; and it is real cruelty which subjects well-meaning men to reproach and misrepresentation. The enemies of Christ and his people are often as cruel as lions, and would slay us if the law permitted them.

This was 150 years ago and might be only getting more true. The dogs, the lions today still seek to destroy. Where 150 years ago the drunkards mocked the well-meaning man, today they have contrived ways to destroy people more systematically. They push ideologies that are contrary to that of Christians. They require all to agree and for those that do not, they come up with new words to throw at them. Homophobic, transphobic, bigot, worse. And, like devils before, they try to convince the world that their ideology is no ideology at all, but just how the world works. Satan doesn’t exist, after all. And the names aren’t the worst of it. They lose meaning. No, they are in fact taking you out of the public square. Your views are not allowed. It’s not safe for you to be around children. They come up with rubrics to weed you out during their hiring processes.

You need not be ashamed to be pelted with the same dirt that was thrown at your Master; and if it should ever come to this, that you should be stripped of everything, and false witnesses should rise up against you, and you should even be condemned as a felon, and taken out to execution, still your lot will not be worse than his.

But our lot? It isn’t worse than that our Master was given.

Nor was your Master alone. Recollect the long line of prophets that went before Christ. Which of them was it that was received with honour? Did they not stone one and slay another with the sword, cut one in pieces with a saw, put others to death with stones? Ye know that the march of the faithful may be tracked by their blood.

Man, Charles. Where’s the hope? In Christ, we are safe, right? They’ll know we are Christians by our… blood trail.

Of all the gallant shows the Roman Empire ever saw, that which excited the populace beyond all things else was to see a family— a man and his wife, perhaps, and a grown-up daughter and son, and three or four children — all marched into the arena, and the big door thrown up, that out might rush the lion and spring upon them, and tear them to pieces. What harm had they done? They had forgiven their enemies. That was one of their great sins. They would not worship the gods of wood and stone. They would not blaspheme the name of Jesus whom they loved, for he had taught them to love one another, and to love all mankind. For such things as this men raised the cry, “Christians to the lions! Christians to the lions!”

Good Christians loved. Worked diligently. Gave to their communities. Adopted children. Helped the homeless. Didn’t blaspheme— to speak of God in an irreverent, impious manner. “They would not worship the gods of wood and stone.” And for that, the streets cried out “Christians to the lions!”

Good Christian, you are not called to be friends with the world. “You may pick up a fashionable religion, and get through the world with it very comfortably; but if you have the true faith you will have to fight for it.”

Just now the merciful hand of providence prevents open persecution, but only let that hand be taken away, and the old spirit will rage again. The seed of the serpent hates the seed of the woman still; and if the old dragon were not chained he would devour the man-child, as he has often tried to do. Do not deceive yourselves, in one form or other the old howl of “Christians to the lions!” would soon be heard in London if almighty power did not sit upon the throne and restrain the wrath of man.

I fear the hand of God is being taken away in the West. The old howl is returning. But while comfort cannot be had in this world for good men, in Christ and His Church it can be.

You should do what your Master did— make his church your father and mother and sister and brother; nay, better still, make Christ all these to you and more. Take the Lord Jesus to be everything that all the dearest of mortals could be and far more.

As I’ve said before, grabbing my instrument and going to church brings enough comfort to get me through my weeks. Go back to Psalm 57. David, holed up in a cave, surrounded by dragons, spears seeking his mortal flesh, grabbed his lyre and belted out worshipful thanksgiving in defiance of the dark.

Christian. Defy the lurking dragons, defy the dark.

By the Waters of Babylon

By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

Psalm 137 1-3

I wrote about a song called Even If the other day. This morning I’m reading through my Bible and land on this psalm. This mirrors that song in many ways. We Christians are far from home, for we Christians are a nomadic, homeless religion. Unlike the Jews, we have no land until the Lord returns. And so often, we find outselves where, as Psalm 69 says, “[m]ore in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause.”

How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy!

Psalm 137 4-6

I would rather lob my right hand off than sing at their altars.

But also let the reverse of verse 5 be true. Let my right hand never forget its skill, as I, Lord, never lose sight of your coming Glory and the Kingdom.

When we are held to the flame, when we are in the midst of our enemies, when their mocking voices demand that we kowtow to them and deny our God, it can be hard to raise our voices. But don’t hang up your lyre, oh Christian. If they demand that you worship their gods, if they demand that you forget your own:

Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.

Psalm 57:8b-9

Wake the dawn. Don’t worship at their altars. Your God is not one of many, but the Only. The Name above all. Shout that.

Now pardon me— or don’t, as no pardon is required— as I go riff on I’ll Fly Away on my mandolin. Time to wake the dawn.

Culture Saturday: Good News and Hope for De­transition­ers

One of the things you may have noticed about the new site— if you have been following me a while— is the content has been less politics- and culture-related over the last two weeks. Part of that was intentional. In migrating all the content, I got to add great features like tag pages and nested tags and similar posts.

These features gave me great insight into what my focus points have been and let me chart out where I want my focus points to be. For one, I want to write about what I do more. Web development, woodworking, etc. And I’ve done more of that in the last two weeks than I have in the last 8 years of this site. Another is music. I play a lot of music. Instruments and songs. Looking back at the Christmas songs over the years that have impacted me and why is great.

Ultimately, I am trying to share more evenly across many categories. I am writing a lot and saving drafts to publish later. I am coming to a sort of strategy. And culture and politics are part of that. The intersection of culture, politics, and faith is of particular interest to me and that leads us to Culture Saturdays.

Douglas Wilson, who you’ll find on my Blogroll, has been one of my favorite preachers over the last decade. Specifically, I love his willingness to address the cultural zeitgeists in a way that a shepherd should: wolves looking to kill his sheep need to be shot. That oft means uncomfortable conversations, especially in an age when tolerance is hammered with words that end in -phobia.

In an article last week, Douglas addressed a fictional— though plucked from the headlines real— young gal named Candace, who— after burning bridges to much of her family and friends in transitioning to living as a boy— has come full circle and is transitioning back after an encounter with Jesus. And there is so much good in this article, you need to go read it.

One of the temptations that comes to those who are seriously repenting is that they overshoot. In recognizing that their sin went far beyond the boundaries of God’s law, they assume falsely that their sin also went far beyond the reach of God’s grace.

Douglas Wilson, Good News and Hope for Detransitioners

The is so much importance on a proper understanding of grace. Heard someone ask the other day why “good things happen to bad people,” and I responded that if good things only happened to good people, good things would never happen. The grace of God to extend a hand is not conditional on the quality of the individual needing a hand, as then no one could qualify. While your sin has cast you very far from God, well…

[…] God’s grace does not live snugly in a little heavenly bungalow—God’s grace is a ranger, lives out in the badlands, and rounds up outlaws. God’s grace is a bounty hunter.

He’s coming for you.

But then, after He has apprehended the fugitive and brings him in, He surprises everyone by calling for the best robe, a fine ring, good shoes, and he orders that the fatted calf be killed. Then he tells the head servant to go hire a swing band. So your sin, however great it was, is no match for the kindness of God. This is something you need to fix in your mind now, and you need to make a point of hanging on to it. In Christ, God saves sinners.

Someone said the other day to me that what we see in the Bible is not Man trying to get right with God, but God trying to get right with Man. The reason we don’t see Man trying to get right with God— if you exclude all the many cases of exactly that in the Bible— is because we are totally depraved and consumed with sin. We cannot make a good decision if our lives depend on it, because our lives do in fact depend on it, and yet… Yeah. God is not, then, in fact trying to get right with us, but to get us right with Him. He is pursuing, He is wooing, He is trying to bring us home.

So the good news is that Jesus Christ died for sinners, and you qualify.

One of many reasons that I love Wilson. I listened to this article first as I was driving to work this week. I nearly spit my coffee all over the windshield with this quip. You qualify.

But we have to look straight at the nature of this good news, because there are two different kinds of good news, and we must not confuse them. […] But the second kind of good news does have prerequisites—and that is that there needs to be an antecedent understanding of the bad news. […] You receive news that the governor signed a pardon meaning that you will not be executed in the morning—but you need to have understood that you were going to be executed. Otherwise the good news makes no sense. Certain kinds of good news make no sense at all apart from the related bad news.

The threat of Hell is real. Wilson’s analogy of receiving a pardon but understanding that you were going to be executed is important. There is punishment for sin. A just God cannot allow there not to be. But, in mercy, He gives us a gift of Salvation and we must confess it, take up our cross, and follow Him. We get it for free in the sense that it cost us nothing— as there is no way we could pay the cost— but also it costs us everything. Surrender and follow. This can cost us jobs, family, friends, and so much more, but if we do not, the ramifications are eternally worse.

Many of our sins are socially complex. […] In your case, your sins were a player, but the whole thing was a group effort. There was the media propaganda. There was the social contagion of the other girls at your college doing this […] In other words, there was no shortage of sin, and plenty of sin to go around. You need to acknowledge the sins of all these other people as a theological truth, but then as a practical matter you must focus on your own sin, confessing that sin as though you were the only one at fault.

This is the addressing of the uncomfortable. Our culture is pressuring young people— children— to make life-altering decisions before they are capable of understanding the life-altering nature of those decisions. Folks that detransition are often faced with their new reality that their voices are changed forever, their reproductive systems— if they didn’t have them removed— will never function properly again, and worse. We are talking about the chemical castration of children at the altar of a societal god.

But. We are individually responsible for our choices, our actions, and without euphemism: our sins. We cannot just blame our sins on others. Others very well may have pushed us there, but we are responsible. And remember, in that responsibility and repentance we acknowledge the wages of our sin (Romans 6:23) while also receiving the grace and forgiveness that only Christ can provide.

I love this Tyler Childers song, it’s harrowing words in the OurVinyl Session recording are just so raw and full of emotion. As we were heading out to grab food last night, this cover came on the bluegrass station. The words are just so good.

See, the ways of this world will just bring you to tears
Keep the Lord in your heart and you’ll have nothin’ to fear
Live the best that you can and don’t lie and don’t steal
Keep your nose on the grindstone and out of the pills

Keep in mind that a man’s just as good as his word
It takes twice as long to build bridges you’ve burnt
And there’s hurt you can cause time alone cannot heal
Keep your nose on the grindstone and out of the pills

Nose on the Grindstone by No Joke Jimmy’s

Keep the Lord in your heart and you’ll have nothin’ to fear. Just soak in that.

Matthew West dropped a new album yesterday. I think he was one of the first concerts that my wife and I saw when we were dating. I have always loved his way with words and I needed this song.

Been brought down to my knees
But I’m too weak to pray
So, God, I hope You can hear
The words I can’t say
Do You Know what I’m needing
Are You still holding me in
This hard season

I lift up my eyes where my help comes from
I fall in the arms of the only One Who knows the reason
For every hard season
Lord, You wrote the story that I can’t see
So even in the dark my heart will believe
There is a reason
For every hard season

Hard Season by Matthew West

Sometimes I swing my flimsy sword at the throats of dragons and have the audacity to think my half-hearted thrust mattered in their fall whilst ignoring the Lion’s roaring bellow behind me.

Let me not claim victories that do not belong to me. Let me recognize the power of God, for I am but a jar of clay.

And then they say that we are the divisive ones.

He Gets Us

They went and opened the Super Bowl not with the National Anthem, but the Black National Anthem. Not a song about unity, but a song about division. But the He Gets Us campaigns are divisive. Sure.

There is something about sitting by a campfire that soothes. There is something about sitting by a campfire with an instrument in hand that imbues. Yesterday we lit the firepit— a nice addition to our lovely home, complete with a grilling top— and grilled up tons— 5-6 pounds, really— of meat. We like having food for the days ahead. After dinner, storytime, teeth brushing, after the kiddos went off to bed, as the sun went down, I went out with my mando and sat by the simmering coals. Just enough warmth and light.

And I sat in awesome wonder.

June 24th was a major victory. A battle won in a war long-waged. Just one victory— albeit a large one— in a war that is not over. But that is just the background, really. That victory is not ours, it is not a moment to pat ourselves on the backs. As Bill Maher’s guest stated clearly, this was just luck. A “happy accident”. Had Ruth Bader Ginsburg retired under Obama, this may not have happened. Had Hillary Clinton won in 2016, this may not have happened.

Here we are. A “happy accident”, just luck.

But I don’t believe in luck. I believe in sovereignty. I believe in a Living God seated on a celestial throne. I don’t believe in accidents. I don’t believe in mistakes.

But the world does.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8:3-4

One of our elders at church preached yesterday morning from Psalm 8. Two words are used in verse 4 to describe mankind. “What is man (enosh)” and “the son of man (ben adam)”. Enosh often points to our mortality and frailty, while ben adam means “son of dirt”.

All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.

Ecclesiastes 3:20

In Genesis, the Creator makes us from dirt. Adam, the name of the first man, is literally dirt, which the Creator breathed life into. And the world doesn’t believe much different today. Our universe is one big accident. Your very existence is a chain of events, not driven with purpose, but with no direction whatsoever.

And your life? Meaningless.

The world has no definition of what life is. When it begins. When it ends. What is in between the beginning and the end is without meaning. Enjoy it while you can, get out of it what you want, and expire into the nothingness at the end of this.

It’s no wonder that the world rages against anyone that says that one shouldn’t live a specific way or enjoy certain pleasures. Why stop one from doing so? It’s all meaningless anyway. The void doesn’t care.

But.

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.

Psalm 139:13-14

You weren’t made without purpose. You are not an accident. Nothing is. Our Lord, the Maker of the universe, the Creator of the stars and worlds untouched, the One that knows the number of hairs on your head, yet holds the Sun in his hand: He made you for a reason.

Oh Lord, my God
When I, in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art

I sat by the fire last night. Awesome wonder. As darkness crept over the earth. I considered. As the light of my fire glowed. My soul sang. His majesty is great, His power mighty, and His sovereignty complete. He has a plan. Every step is known. And He is owed the glory.

And He somehow cares for us. Despite us being mere mortals, frail. Despite us being made from dirt. He cares. He hears us. He is with us.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8:9

The election doesn’t matter. I mean, it does in the short term. Very short. What matters is not who you vote for, though that does matter, but who is your Lord. You want change? You see hate rising? You see depression, racism, poverty, and worse?

Yeah, Man is capable of great evil.

All men.

Every single one.

Not just Democrats. Republicans too. And independents.

Christ is the answer.

Not the next politician with their oft empty promises. Not the seminars on anti-racism. Not the lectures on tolerance. Not the new racist business label on Yelp.

Christ is the answer.

On the other side of Biden winning the election is evil people in power. On the other side of Trump winning the election is evil people in power. Socialism? Evil people. Tolerance training? Evil people.

We cannot solve things without solving the true issue.

The human heart. Every one of us is a sinner. No one is good. And no matter what we do, we cannot be good. We just can’t. We can’t help but be a sinner. To be evil. To do bad things.

But Christ.

You need Christ to redeem you and His Spirit to burn out all that wretchedness from inside you. Christians aren’t perfect, but they are being perfected and have submitted to the God of the Universe to get better, to be made better.

And that is all that can make this world better. The only thing.

So the election doesn’t matter. Who you vote for doesn’t matter. The thing that matters is that you take a knee. Ask for forgiveness. For redemption. Salvation. Ask the Maker of your soul to do what He has promised to do. To scoop you up, clean you off, and welcome you into the Kingdom of God.