Carol of Joy, Eileen Berry

We recently enjoyed the annual Festival of Carols at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis.  During it we sang this beautiful poem by Eileen Berry entitled “Carol of Joy” (2007, Beckenhorst Press) set to music by Dan Forrest. It’s nearly impossible to add anything substantial to, much less improve upon, the church’s traditional coterie of Christmas hymns but this is a worthy addition:

Green leaves all fallen, withered and dry;
Brief sunset fading, dim winter sky;
Lengthening shadows,
Dark closing in…
Then, through the stillness, carols begin!
Oh fallen world, to you is the song!
Death holds you fast and night tarries long.
Jesus is born, your curse to destroy!
Sweet to your ears, a carol of Joy!

Pale moon ascending, solemn and slow;
Cold barren hillside, shrouded in snow;
Deep,empty valley, veiled by the night;
hear angel music–hopeful and bright!
Oh fearful world, to you is the song.
Peace with your God, and pardon for wrong.
Tidings for sinners, burdened and bound,

A carol of joy!
A Savior is found!

Earth wrapped in sorrow, lift up your eyes!
Thrill to the chorus filling the skies.
Look up, sad-hearted.  Witness God’s love;
Join in the carol swelling above!
Oh friendless world, to you is the song!
All Heaven’s joy to you may belong!
You who are lonely, laden, forlorn:

Oh fallen, oh friendless world!
To you, a Saviour is born!

Incense Rising: The Aroma of Israel’s Fertility

“But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.  You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.  For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.  And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.'” (Lk 1.13-17)

Zacharias and his priestly squad were in Jerusalem for their bi-annual temple assignment.  His number came up to burn incense on which Israel’s prayers would waft to heaven.  This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a priest.  In Zacharias’ case, it was also a once-in-an-eternity event for Israel and the whole world.

Time had long past for Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth to have any children (Lk 1.18).  We can only assume they stopped praying for a son years ago after Elizabeth went through menopause. Still Zacharias performed his priestly ministry with all faithfulness and hope in Yahweh (Lk 1.6). So here he was, praying that Israel have a son–The Son–even if he never would.

Zacharias was the latest in a long line of priestly pray-ers.  In fact, Israel had been praying 400 years for Elijah to come (cf. Mal 4.4-6).  One hundred generations of smoke had filled Zion’s temple in hopes that pregnant prayers would bear a pregnant woman.  There had been many hope-to-bes and wanna-bes along the way but they never lived up to the promise.  No matter how hard Israel tried she simply could not produce a Savior.  God would have to do that for them, and in them.  With each passing generation one wonders how much hope passed with it.  But there were still some faithful few and there they stood while Zacharias took their prayers to the smoldering altar.

As Zacharias fanned the aromatic smoke Gabriel showed up unannounced.  Angels always do.

God had smelled the aroma.  God had heard the petition.  Elijah was finally coming.  Israel would have a son.  Israel’s son would be Zacharias’ son, too.  Little did Zacharias know the prayers he offered on behalf of Israel had included those dormant prayers he and Elizabeth had long stopped praying.  Israel would have a son because Elizabeth will bear a son.  And if Elijah was coming then Messiah wasn’t far behind.  Zachariah’s “joy and gladness” would pave the way for Israel’s repentance.

The whole scene explodes with heavenly majesty.  That Gabriel appeared where and to whom he did shows us Elizabeth’s infertility was also a metaphor for Israel’s barrenness. After 400 years of prophetic silence, royal weakness and Messianic absence, Israel was barren and “advanced in years” (vv7, 18).  Yet what remnant there was followed priest after priest year after year, decade after decade, century after century to the altar of incense. Praying.  And praying.  And praying until God heard the petition and opened Israel’s womb.

By opening Elizabeth’s womb God was doing something of Abrahamic proportions (see Lk 1.73; cf. Gen 18.11-14).  Out of barren darkness he would bring life and light (cf 1.67-79). Israel was fertile again.  The world could hope again.  God was recreating history.  Once again, the Aaron the priest (cf. Lk 1.5) and Elijah the prophet (cf. Lk 1.17) would prepare the way for David the King (cf. 1.69).  A new Spirit-born Adam was soon to breathe.

Like those faithful and prayerful Israelites, the New Israel eagerly awaits the return of her King after two millennia of delay.  Nevertheless, “the end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (1 Pt 4.7).  The incense still rises (Rev 5.8; 8.3-4), the Priest still intercedes (Heb 7.25) and God still smells the sweet aroma.  Maranatha.

Does God Love {Insert Your Name}?

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jn 3.16)

I once read a cartoon Scripture memorization pamphlet to my youngest daughter.  It was a story written to help her memorize John 3.16.  The pamphlet was nicely done and broke the verse down into helpful, digestible parts.

As we worked on the first part of the verse (“For God so loved the world”) the pamphlet suggested inserting her name for “world.”  I absolutely want each of our children to know and relish God’s love for them.  But I’m not so sure replacing “world” with their name in John 3.16 helps to that end.

We should absolutely emphasize God’s love for saving persons like you and me, but inserting our name for “world” distracts us from the glory of John 3:16.  If Jesus (or more likely John) wanted to individualize the verse he certainly could have.  He could very well have said “God so loved you” and does so elsewhere (cf. 1 Jn 4.10, 16) but he didn’t in John 3.16.  John used “world” for a specific reason and not as a synonym for you or me. The direct of object of God’s love in John 3.16 is not any individual person but the “world” in which all individual believers must first consider themselves a part.

For John “world” (cosmos) is not the earth in general or even all earthlings in general.  John considers “world” as the realm of hostility toward God, especially as that hostility is expressed toward Jesus.  The “world” stands for darkness-loving (3.19) Christ-haters (7.7; 15.18f.).  It’s the world Jesus is not from (8.23) and what Satan rules (12.31; 14.30; 16.11).  John’s “world” cannot receive the Holy Spirit (14.17) or provide peace (14.27).  It’s the realm where Christ’s followers are left as life-losing ambassadors (17.5-25) (cf. Jn 1.9f., 29; 3.17; 8.12, 26; 9.5, 39; 10.36; 12.19, 46f.; 13.1; 14.17).

The emphasis of John 3:16 is not on how many or what exact people God loved.  Rather, John stressed the kind of people God loved and the unexpected, remarkable way by which he loved them.  God loved his worst enemies by giving them his highest treasure.

We reserve our finest gifts for our beloved friends, not our worst enemies. God, however, loved the world (i.e. God-haters) by giving his only son to be hated by the very world he loves (Rom 5.8, 10).  And after that world hated Jesus to death God saved out of that world those for whom Jesus died (i.e. “whosoever” believes and obey the Son, Jn 3.36).  The scandal of the gospel according to John 3.16 is not primarily that God loved any given one of us (though he does), but that he gave his eternal treasure to those who’d always hated him as if they’d always loved him.  And if God treats his enemies that way then how he will treat his friends (Rom 5.10)!

I know my daughter because I know me.  Inserting her name will tempt her to think God loves her because she is so lovable.  But that’s hardly John’s point.  He is not stressing the inherent lovability of individual worldlings but the God who would love a realm so hostile toward him enough to give it his most precious Gift.  Inserting her name shifts the attention from the magnitude of God’s great love for great sinners to her perceived, personal “lovability.”  It individualizes what John meant to be categorical.  God loved the “world” (his sinful enemies) and she must first recognize and confess herself a part of that world.  Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous, but sinners (Lk 5.32).  Not the self-professed found, but the lost (Lk 19.10).  To know God’s love for her she must first confess to be part of the “world” that hated and rejected him.

The point is not that God loved [your name] because it’s [your name].  There is no inherent virtue in loving persons who are easy to love (Mt 5.44-48).  Only God is self-sufficient enough to love his enemies.  He loved the “world” and I must first see myself a part of that rebellious world.  Only then does God’s love reach its zenith and I am compelled to believe Jesus for eternal life.  The “whosoever” that believes must first confess to be part of the God-hating world he loved.

Inserting your child’s name in John 3.16 is by no means heretical or eternally dangerous.  I wonder though if it might distract from and weaken its force.  There are certainly other texts where it would be most appropriate.  But as for John 3.16 my daughter and I understand God’s love for us better if we insert our names in the world it rather than for it.

Is Today the Day the Lord Has Made? (What Children’s Choir Didn’t Teach Us)

“This is the day which the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
(Ps 118.24)

Many a church kid memorized Psalm 118.24 in children’s choir.  It was a catchy tune that still causes foot-tapping.  God be praised for those children’s workers who helped seal Scripture in our minds and hearts (even if I scowled my way through it).  As we get older we cannot help but wake up applying Psalm 118.24 to the day.

But is there more to Psalm 118.24 than meets the eye (or ear)?  In what day exactly did the psalmist consider worthy of rejoicing?  By “this” did the psalmist mean “today” and therefore any and every day?  Or did he mean a specific day unlike all other days?

Psalm 118 was part of a selection of psalms sung particularly at Passover (Pss 113-118).  They are majestic, transcendent, glorious songs of God’s salvation and the anticipation of the ultimate deliverance if his people.  Psalm 118 might well be the crescendo of these songs.

Psalm 118 called Israel to worship God for his tireless, inexhaustible mercy (vv1-4).  As puny as Israel was in the world’s eyes Yahweh was still her warrior (vv5-9).  Time and time again God exalted Israel over bully nations.  No sort of earthly leader could ever protect like God protects.  Israel and her king were goners, surrounded by the world’s finest of armies (vv10-14).  But God helped and saved.  Whatever discipline God inflicted on Israel and her king it was for the purpose of worship (vv15-18).  With Jerusalem secure the gates of righteousness were open to God’s people (vv19-21).

Now, we come to the context of v24.  We find the psalmist referring to “this” day as the day when man’s rejected cornerstone became God’s chief cornerstone (v22).  The day in which we rejoice is the day in which Israel’s king was rejected by men, but who was marvelously saved and exalted by God (v23).  Though no nation thought Israel or her king worth their snuff, God proved his love for them by delivering them.  The day the Lord has made is the day when his people are saved through the ministry of the despised but exalted cornerstone.  It is the day when God himself comes to finally deliver his oppressed people from the tyranny of their sin.  Jews would not sing this about any or every day, but of the day when God comes to forever destroy their enemies and mercifully and finally save them.  It was The Day to which the Passover looked, The Day above all days.   It was the New Exodus to rival and surpass the Exodus celebrated at Passover (see Lk 9.31).

Psalm 118 is popular in the life and ministry of Jesus.  The NT quotes v22 repeatedly in referring to Jesus (Mt 21.42; Mk 12.10-11; Lk 20.17; Acts 4.11; Eph 2.20; 1 Pt 2.7).  As Jewish families welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, they sang to/about him the familiar refrain in v26: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD” (Mt 21.9; 23.39; Mk 11.9; Lk 13.35; 19.38; Jn 12.13).  God had finally come for them in that Jesus had humbly come to them.  Jesus was the Light of the world (Jn 1.4-5; 8.12; 9.5) who had come to give us light (Ps 118.27) and lead us out of darkness (Lk 1.78-79).

God has certainly orchestrated every day for our worship,but there is one Day that stands above all the rest.   In fact, there would be no reason to rejoice in any day if not for “this” day.  The day in which the psalmist rejoiced was the day when God would come to his lowly, weak, disregarded, sin-ridden people and gloriously bring them through the gates of righteousness into his kingdom.  We find “this” day to be fulfilled in the Passover day to end all Passover days: the day the Lamb of God was slaughtered for the salvation of sinners.  The Marvelous Day was the day when men rejected Jesus as a pathetic criminal but in so doing God made him the capstone of his true temple.

There may not be a better way to memorize Psalm 118.24 than the snappy children’s tune.  Let’s teach and sing it with great joy.  But let’s also do it with the same purpose for which the psalmist wrote it.  The day the Lord has made is not Sunday, with all due respect to the musical call to worship in many churches.  It is not any other day simply because we can cross it off on a calendar.  It is not simply another 24-hour period of breathing.

The day the LORD has made is not any old day the sun rises (albeit a gift from God), but The Day when the Son rises.  “This” day is not one defined by astronomical revolutions or lunar cycles.  God made this Day especially to be The Day above all other days – the Lord’s Day that dawned on an empty tomb.

Abraham the Pimp & God the Husband

Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against me; therefore I did not let you touch her'” (Gen 20.6).

Though credited with righteousness for his faith, Abraham did not always live up to the hype.  He was frankly a sneaky man with a trophy wife (Gen 12.11).  He was righteous alright, but only because God was gracious to consider him so.

After God promised him bright and international heritage (Gen 12.1-3), Abraham and family meandered down to Egypt to escape a famine in Canaan.  He knew Pharaoh would take a shine to (then) Sarai because men always ogled her at restaurants.  And what Pharaoh wanted Pharaoh got.  So Abraham resigned the fact he would lose his wife to Pharaoh.  Of course, to lose his wife also meant to lose his life (Gen 12.12). Pharaoh was too noble to steal another man’s wife unless, of course, that man was dead. He was above adultery but not murder.  Technicalities.

Crafty Abraham had a plan, though.  Convince Pharaoh she was his sister and he would at least save his own head.  “Righteous” Abraham sold out his wife to Pharaoh’s harem “so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you” (Gen 12.13).  Whatever faith Abraham had, he didn’t believe God could keep his promise.  God was no match for Pharaoh’s libido.  Abraham believed he would live on account of “Sister” Sarai rather than Yahweh.  If God had eyes he most certainly would’ve rolled them then.

God proved himself able to manage Abraham’s well-being despite the shenanigans.  He plagued Pharaoh’s house until he returned Sarai to her rightful place (Gen 12.17-20).  God has a habit of punishing those who try to own what is given only to his people (cf. Exod 7-12; 1 Sam 4-5).

Would to be a fly on Abraham’s donkey on that long journey back to Bethel (Gen 13)!  “So, honey, how was your stay at Pharaoh’s place?  Were the other gals in the harem nice?  You know I did what I did for us, sweetheart.”

Fast forward past his son-producing affair with Hagar (Gen 16), his rather painful reminder that God lovingly owns him (Gen 17) and the takedown of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18-19).

Abraham hauled his estate into Gerar, where he was sure King Abimelech would, like Pharaoh years earlier, take a shine to (now) Sarah (Gen 20).  God had already guaranteed Abraham a son by Sarah (Gen 17-18).  Therefore, unless God would commit theocide, Abraham could not die until he and Sarah had a son together.  Nevertheless, Abraham invoked Operation She’s-My-Sister again, something 20.13 indicates was a regular scheme. Sarai was quite the knockout in her younger years and Abraham quite the faithless coward. King Abimelech fell for it and Abraham slept alone.  Alive, but alone.

God did not visit Abimelech with plagues like he did Pharaoh.  No, this time God showed up in Abimelech’s dreams.  Return Sarah or you’re a dead man (20.7).  Abimelech pled ignorance.  He did, of course, take her on good faith she was Abraham’s sister and there was no DNA test available (v5).  God conceded the point but didn’t let Abimelech assume he was taking the high road.  The only reason Abimelech didn’t touch Sarah was because God restrained him (v6).

No one, not even frisky Pharaoh or lusty King, would impregnate Sarah except for Abraham.  They very well could have any other woman they wanted but they wouldn’t have God’s woman.

Abimelech took Sarah to have sex with her as part of his royal privilege.  But he didn’t.  Was it because he never slept with woman on the first date?  Of course not.  God orchestrated whatever means he pleased to keep him from touching her.  Maybe Abimelech had a migraine or ran out of blue pills.  Whatever the case God protected Sarah’s one-flesh union with Abraham even though Abraham clearly hadn’t.  Abraham had a prior son (Gen 16) but Sarah would have his only son, his beloved son (Gen 22.2).  God was saving Abraham (and us!) even though Abraham (and we!) didn’t know he was lost.  God would be Sarah’s faithful husband even if Abraham was her pimp.

Even when Abraham’s scheme was uncovered he still tried to weasel his way out using a loophole.  Instead of owning up to and repenting from his selfish deception, he admitted that Sarah was actually his half-sister and was therefore not technically lying (Gen 20.12-13).  Right, Abraham, right.  And Abraham even had the gall to justify his deception by assuming there was no fear of God in Gerar (v11) and therefore no decorum or respect for a wife’s husband.  Really, Abraham?  You pimped out your wife because Abimelech didn’t fear God? Doesn’t sound like there was much fear of God in Abraham!  In fact, Abimelech was the one who feared God enough to make it right.  He admitted sin (v9) while Abraham made excuses.

Still God struck all Abimelech’s women barren for his “innocent” treachery until Abraham prayed for God’s mercy (vv17-18).  Seems like just the opposite would’ve been more just. Yet, God will have his man often despite that man!  He is carrying out a sovereign plan that goes through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob no matter how pathetic those men were. Thankfully, by Genesis 22 Abraham had learned his lesson.  He would not try to weasel out of any more impossible situations but would trust God to make good on his promise.

God will save his people even if that people have little interest in being saved God’s way. Hence, the scandal of the cross and God’s sovereign initiative to save his enemies and conquer them through love (Rom 5.8).  The Beloved Son is also the Faithful Husband.  Like Adam before him, Abraham sacrificed his wife’s honor to protect himself.  Not Jesus.  He sacrificed himself to protect his Bride’s eternal purity (Eph 5.25-27).  Abraham traded his bride for his life.  Jesus traded his life for his Bride.  Abraham would rather sleep alone for his own sake.  Jesus would rather die alone for the church’s sake.  If you want a shot at Jesus’ Bride then you’ll have to kill him first.  But you should know he doesn’t stay dead and he is a very jealous husband (2 Cor 11.2; Heb 11.31).  No wonder Abraham rejoiced to say Christ’s day (Jn 8.56).

But enough about rascally Abraham.

What would we do if not for God restraining our sin?  God could invade our dreams to say as he did to Abimelech, “I also kept you from sinning against me; therefore I did not let you touch her.”  God is to be praised for curtailing our free will, restraining us from doing what we freely want to do?

We should readily confess our sin and thank God for his forgiveness freely given in Christ to all who believe.  We must also thank him for keeping us from sinning against him for the sake of Jesus.  God forgives the sin we commit and also keeps us from committing sin.  Let us not assume that we avoided sin because we’re strong or spiritually-minded.  We sin because we want to and we would sin far more were it not for God’s restraining grace.  So listen to your dreams tonight:

  • “I also kept you from sinning against me; therefore I disconnected your router before you could click on that tantalizing image.”
  • “I also kept you from sinning against me; therefore I had you shop in the same aisle as your enemy so you would consider love and make peace.”
  • “I also kept you from sinning against me; therefore I delayed your tax refund so you would not blow it on a silly gadget on sale this week so you could give it to others.”
  • “I also kept you from sinning against me; therefore I afflicted your daughter with an illness so you would not live prayerlessly.”
  • “I also kept you from sinning against me; therefore I zapped your satellite so you would not stay home from another Sunday gathering.”

The God of Abraham restrained Abimelech for the sake of his promise to Sarah in Abraham.  He restrains us for the sake of his promise to us in Christ.  Sweet dreams.

Tennessee Amendment 1: Rhetoric and Red Herrings

On November 4, Tennesseans have the privilege and opportunity to vote on an important constitutional amendment.   The famed Amendment 1 reads:  “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.”

(Full disclosure: I am generally for whatever Planned Parenthood is against and Planned Parenthood is vehemently against this amendment.  It is ironic an organization called “Planned Parenthood” is actually devoted to preventing parenthood.)

What the amendment proposes is that abortion is not a right Tennesseans have.  It does not outlaw abortion or prevent anyone from getting an abortion.  It simply means the State of Tennessee is not responsible to fund abortions in the way it funds the interstate system, public universities or Tennessee National Guard.  Anyone can still get an abortion, but they’ll have to use their private funds and/or private insurance.  Abortion would still be (unfortunately) legal but not a constitutional right the State is obliged to provide or protect.  No one will be arrested after an abortion but they won’t be receiving a government check before it, either.

Needless to say, the din of rhetoric increases on both sides.  Despite all the parsing of legal jargon, the issue comes down to whether or not what is gestating in a woman’s womb is a person or a thing.  Is the fetus a disease to be eradicated or a person to protected.  Is the fetus a he/she or an it?

While I think the state has the Romans 13-esque moral and theological responsibility to prohibit abortion altogether, I also know we live in a democracy and so I argue the case on that front.  And opponents of the amendment specialize in two glaring red herrings rather than honest democratic citizenship.

1.  Opponents claim this amendment gives all the power to the State to weasel its way into a woman’s bedroom or exam room.  However, the amendment clearly says the State doesn’t protect any right to abortion but that “the people retain the right.”  In other words, the State would not consider abortion a right but would consider the democratic process a right.  The amendment protects the democratic process to “enact, amend or repeal statutes regarding abortion.”  Frankly, pro-abortion folks should relish this opportunity.  It’s not constitutional overreach.  It’s actually opening the door for them to get more then they’ve ever had.

If the majority of Tennesseans want to fully fund all abortions by their tax dollars then they can elect like-minded representatives and senators who then decide to fund them. If the majority of Tennesseans want to mandate abortions for all rape-related pregnancies then they can elect like-minded representatives and senators who write the law thereunto.  If the majority of Tennesseans want to give 2-for-1 abortions then they can elect like-minded representatives and senators who write the law and fund it.  Frankly, the pro-abortion crowd should really take advantage of this amendment.  The State is granting them the power to persuade the citizenry rather than fight the legislature.

But, if the majority of Tennesseans don’t want to allocate tax dollars to abortion then they elect like-minded representatives and senators to prevent it.  In effect, the Tennessee legislature is giving the right back to Tennesseans pilfered by the Supreme Court in 1973.  Voting against the Amendment actually preserves governmental overreach rather than ends it.

If through Amendment 1 the State is imposing anything it’s the freedom of democratic process!  Its opponents claim the government is inserting itself while in reality the government is deferring itself to the citizenry.

2.  Opponents claim this amendment has no regard for women impregnated by rape/incest or whose life is endangered.  Let’s consider these in turn.

There is no mandatory reporting of pregnancies caused by rape/incest.  No woman has to tell anyone how she got pregnant unless the father wants to cause a fuss about it. Therefore, any statistics about the number of rape-related pregnancies is an educated guess.  That said, all reasonable, scientific, scholarly data (albeit dated) estimates there are several thousand rape-related pregnancies per year (around 3% of all reported rapes). That’s a national number so there can only be several hundred rape-related pregnancies per year in Tennessee at most.  More likely, there are several dozen.  Incest-related pregnancies are even fewer.

There are currently 6.5 million Tennesseans.  Therefore, opponents of Amendment 1 are asking 6.5 million Tennesseans to fund statewide abortions for everyone on the off chance a few dozen are rape-related.  Despite the moral absurdity of abortion, this is democratic absurdity.

What about pregnancy-related deaths?  What if giving birth to a baby threatens the mother’s life?  According the CDC, there were 16.7 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010. The CDC defines a pregnancy-related death “as the death of a woman while pregnant or within 1 year of pregnancy termination—regardless of the duration or site of the pregnancy—from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.”  Therefore, for every 100,000 live births in 2010 only .02% of the mothers died as a result.

These mothers were not forced to die because abortion wasn’t available, mind you.  They either didn’t know they would die or chose to do so to save their baby.  To argue for abortion based on the danger of a mother’s health is a straw man.

In 2013, there were 79,954 live births in Tennessee.  If national statistics hold equally true in Tennessee, 16 mothers died as a result of their pregnancy.  Opponents of Amendment 1 are asking 6.5 million Tennesseans to fund statewide abortion for everyone on the off chance 16 pregnancies would endanger the mother’s health.  Again, its democratic absurdity.

Per the Guttmacher Institute, 16,720 women aborted their babies in 2011 in Tennessee at one of 14 providers.  All but a few dozen of those ended pregnancies were rape-related (maybe) or health-endangering.  Opponents of Amendment 1 are willing to allow the deaths of tens of thousands Tennesseans who have the constitutional right to live for the sake of a few dozen.

We must not be blindly insensitive to rape-victims or mothers endangered by their pregnancies.  Those are complex situations.  But they are highly exceptional situations that do not qualify for constitutional protections.  If women so affected want to end their pregnancies then they can do so.  It’s their choice!  That doesn’t mean the rest of their fellow Tennesseans (the majority of which oppose abortion) should help pay for it, though.

Their opposition is not really about women’s health, though.  It’s about a feminist (read: gender blending) agenda exploiting a few dozen women for sake of consequence-free sex. “Women’s health” and fearmongering about governmental overreach are merely the Trojan Condoms horse.  They’ll shamelessly use the painful and unfortunate circumstances of a few dozen women to get what they really want: autonomy via state-sponsored genocide.  They oppose Amendment 1 because  they know they’re in the moral minority and the democratic process wouldn’t support them.

As detestable is as it is to many of us, the Constitution does afford pro-abortionists the right to set up non-profit (or for-profit) organizations that can help fund abortions if they so desire.  They can raise all the private funds they can.  In fact, if the amount of citizens they claim are really pro-abortion then they should have no trouble finding deep pockets.  They just might raise more funds than our tax dollars ever could.  Just as churches establish adoption funds to help with adoption costs, abortion-friendly ministers can lead their churches to establish abortion funds.  If they’re honestly committed to women’s health and not state-sponsored genocide, they can then screen abortion-minded women to determine if there was a rape or if the mother’s health is jeopardize.  If so, the can then provide funds to end the baby’s life.  The State won’t interfere even if God will have a say in the end.

Amendment 1 is not outlawing abortion despite what its opponents argue.  It’s simply relieving Tennesseans of any constitutional mandate to fund abortion. The citizens retain the right.  You may not vote “yes” because of moral or theological reasons, but you should at least vote “yes” because it’s good democracy.  You don’t need to be a Christian to vote yes, but simply a good Tennessean.

You can be sure, though, the citizens of Zion will redouble her constitutionally-protected efforts to protect life through gospel proclamation and real pro-life efforts while we eagerly wait a country of our own (Heb 11.14).

What I’ve Learned About Pastoring from the Bench

An injured point guard sees the game differently from the bench. Without a harassing defenseman, crowd noise or game pressure he is able to see more of the floor.  He can see and learn from the bigger picture.  He can finally see what his coach sees and hopefully better understand his decisions.  What seems so clear from half-court isn’t so clear from the sidelines.  When he’s ready to play again he will be better equipped in his own real-time decision making.  He should be a better player and teammate.

After 10 years in full-time vocational ministry I had to get a real job.  I’d had real jobs after college and before seminary but it had been fifteen years since a 9-to-5 life.  While I loved vocational ministry and hope to re-enter some form of it soon, God has taught me some valuable lessons after extended time on the bench.  Lord willing, I might be a better pastor if the coach ever calls my number again.

1.  Church schedules can be too busy.  As I pastor I assumed hard-working men, if they really loved Jesus, should drop everything and rearrange their schedules to participate in a church function.  Church members work hard.  Really hard.  They don’t sit around and read or drink coffee with people all day.  And it’s burdensome to expect folks to cap their difficult 8, 9, 10-hour day with a 2-hour meeting or event two nights a week or the like.  A Sunday School teacher in the choir with an 8-year-old and teenager might well be running around several nights a week for various events.  Obviously, that doesn’t include their civic or other responsibilities in the community.

Churches should simplify their schedules rather than stretch folks as thin as possible in the name of kingdom work.  Churches should facilitate healthy family and neighborly life for the sake of kingdom work.  More being than doing.  If the pastors consider a seasonal study/event beneficial then make them short.  In the meantime, good pastors help their congregants become gospel-sweet employees, neighbors, soccer coaches and school volunteers rather than incessant event attenders.  Church members are not lazy bums who need pastors to get them doing more things.  They are fellow journeymen pastors are privileged by Jesus to travel home with.

2.  Churches can be too building-centric.  Everything need not happen at the church building. Of course, when we overextend ourselves in multi-million dollar facilities we are obliged to use them.  This lends itself to a “four walls” Christianity where gospel work is more important when conducted in/at the church building.  It can misplace sacredness on bricks-and-mortar rather than Christ as the important Meeting Place.  Jesus provides pastors to help us toward (comfort)ability with gospel conversations/work as we go about life.  As much as possible, pastors can encourage and model gospel conversations/gatherings in homes and at work.

3.  Pastors are often too busy planning events and running meetings that they have little time/energy to care for souls.  Many church members consider the modern, American pastorate as the baptized equivalent of a corporate CEO.  Most pastor job descriptions require he be ex-officio member of all committees, resident visionary, marketing genius, supervisor of all staff, financial wizard and program manager.  The pastor is a glorified event planner whose success is based on numbers and dollars.  After all, there is a multi-million dollar plant to keep up.

Like removing a great teacher from a classroom to make him dean, churches can take their soul-shepherds out of the field to become professional “meeters.”  Jesus has provided that deacon(esse)s serve the various practical needs of the church so her pastors can devote themselves to private and public soul care (Acts 6.1-6).  Churches should expect their pastors to be regularly and reasonably accessible, not tied up in committee meetings.  No member should have to wait two weeks for a pastor’s schedule to clear up.

4.  Pastors can get absorbed into a pastoral subculture that neglects the care of souls.  I was guilty of this.  I didn’t realize how disconnected I became to real life.  Pastors need local pastoral networks for encouragement and exhortation. The main men in the pastors’ life, however, should be the men of his church.  The pastors’ time should not be dominated by associational meetings and other pastoral gatherings.

Pastors should know at least as much, if not more, about the folks in his church than the church down the street.  They should know when and where his members work and visit their workplaces, if appropriate.  Pastors need not be experts but should make every effort to understand the various vocations in their churches.  They should pay attention to current events that might interfere or intersect with jobs.  Besides, you never know when someone will need a good mechanic or broker who will radiate Christ to customers and clients.

5.  Churches can be far too segregated.  Strict age and gender-based ministries can do more to divide a church than unite it.  The childrens’ ministry does its thing while the senior adult ministry does its thing.  One could likely live from cradle to grave without ever doing gospel work with people much different than them.

We should encourage as much intergenerational gatherings as possible (cf. Eph 6.1-4; Col 3.18-21; Titus 2.1-5).  The young married couple doesn’t necessarily benefit from always being around other young married couples are who are “going through the same struggles.” Perhaps they should all mingle in with the senior adults who have 30, 40, 50 years of Christian marriage under their belts.  Perhaps our young sons and daughters would learn more about Christian adulthood and vocabulary by hearing their parents talk to and about Jesus with the saints. Perhaps the college kids should get around the middle-age adults who model Christian vocation and service.

6.  Churches must pray more together.  A lot more.  One of the primary marks of the Christian church was congregational prayer (cf. Acts 2.42; Col 4.2).  Yet, the least-attended gathering in any given church will be the prayer meeting.  We can pack fellowships and events but neglect or squeeze out the very thing that defined the early Christian church. As our culture spirals further into wholesale secularism and anti-Christianism, churches will only be as strong as their congregational prayer life.  Rather than ask how many or how big a church is, we must ask how often and well a church prays together?  The church should schedule its congregational prayer regularly at a time when all the church can reasonably attend.

7.  The ministry warriors get easily taken for granted. You know these folks. They’re the ones who always get things done. They show up early to set up what you completely forgot, stay late to clean up what you didn’t even think about, slip out the back and come back next week. Pastors can easily use them as a crutch. Pastors like me can assume them as if they’re employees. Pastors should encourage them and regularly remind them of the fruit of their efforts.

8.  Pastors need encouragement and the freedom to be guys in the sanctification process.  Most every pastor I know wants to quit ministry on Monday, that is if he survives Sunday night. The pressure to “perform” each week gets very heavy.  While pastors appreciate the regular “Good sermon, Preacher” or “Thanks, I really needed that,” those compliments don’t go very far. Sometimes it does the pastor good when some brothers take him out for golf on Monday and let him cuss the ball he just hooked into the woods.  He enjoys the freedom to not be “on” all the time and loved on, forgiven and fumbling like one of the guys. Then, at the turn, let him know how you’re specifically applying a recent sermon point or two.

9.  Church members are largely godly, loving people.  I ran my mouth far too much about how everybody needs to be like me: more holy, more devoted, more read.  We’ll never get to “the next level” (whatever that is) with all this dead weight taking up pew space.  All the while, I needed to be like them: more loving, more patient, more, well, Christian.  Most church members are for more like Jesus in their simple faith, hope and love than I am in my convoluted definitions, parsings and abstractions.  I am as much in process as they are.  And if I want them to cut me some slack when I dribble off my foot then I need to give them some room to struggle with Jesus, too.

Well, I’ve done my share of pouting at the end of the bench.  But maybe, just maybe, the coach might catch me out the corner of his eye.  If so, rest assured I won’t waste the opportunity on silly no-look passes into the stands any more.

Don’t Hate Us, But We’re Just Not Halloween People

In the 21st century the holiday season begins when summer ends. Stores capitalize on the Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s Eve sales boon.  The summer landscape must be transformed into a graveyard that quickchanges into the North Pole.  Spider webs give way to icicles.  Zombies concede the lawn to reindeer. Strobe lights dim into candles.  Tombstones become nativities.  Ghostly shrills quiet into carols.  Candy corn is replaced by walnuts, cheap suckers by candy canes.  The slide from ghoul to yule begins after summer ends, when darkness, death and fear sells until light, life and peace does.  And each year must outdo the last.

For reasons I cannot sufficiently explain, we’re simply not Halloween people.  We don’t blindfold our kids at Walmart or ignore the neighbor’s inflated skull.  We don’t wag our fingers or lampoon the kid next door’s plastic fangs.  We don’t condemn “Halloweeners” or assume we’re better parents for keeping our kids’ faces free of fake blood.  Or maybe we do.  I don’t know.  I just know we’re not Halloween people.  I only hope prohibiting fake scars doesn’t create real ones.

My wife and I grew up Halloween people.  Whether it was Spider-Man or the Incredible Hulk, that little elastic string that held my mask never lasted past Crazy Ms. Chamberlain’s house.  Breathing in those masks got me all hot and bothered anyway.  But we bagged our fair share of candy so it was worth the trouble.  If the rain pancho KMart peddled as a “Batman costume” didn’t have a rip in it by the time you got home then you didn’t trick-or-treat hard enough.  Mrs. Latham always had old lady gum.  You know, chewing gum rather than bubble gum.  And even though I knew it was coming and despite my vow of courage the year before, Mrs. Wages – that witchy woman – always got me when she sprung from the porch chair.  Please don’t get me started on whoever thought the Chick-O-Stick was legitimate candy.

Though I’ve not been thoroughly psycho-analyzed I don’t know that I suffer any effects from the “horror” of Snob Hill.  Still, now that we’re parents, we’re just not Halloween people.

We could justify our Halloween Scroogeness on how much has changed (for the worse) since we were kids.  While true, we could say the same about a hundred other things to which we’ve adapted. So that argument is a red herring.

Of course, everybody has their own opinion about whose day Halloween really is.  Is it Satan’s day that Christians try to redeem?  Is it a Christian day Satan hijacks to drag children into the deepest recesses of hell?  What combination of Celtic, Gaelic and pagan is it?   I don’t know.  I just know we’re not Halloween people by modern Halloween standards.  The church historically used the day to hallow (hence, the name) dead saints and ridicule death. Now it seems we hallow (living) death and ridicule the saints.

That said, Christians should be on guard of being awash in abject worldliness despite how innocent we assume it is.  We are people of conviction and that includes having some conviction about Halloween.  We do then have some rationale, however unsatisfactory it might be to most, why we’re not Halloween people.

The typical Halloween “observance” falls into one of two extremes, neither of which help cultivate or demonstrate a robust Christian faith.  One extreme is the sensationalism or glorification of evil, darkness and death.  The other is the trivialization of them.

Christians do not glamorize or commend evil, darkness and death.  They are enemies so we don’t enjoy them or consider them a cause for celebration.  I’m not suggesting parents who lead their little Ariel and Captain America down the street are leading them to hell. But they should know that the world of evil, darkness and death is fundamentally at odds with the kingdom of Christ.  While the world may exalt and find entertainment value in evil, darkness and death, the church never popularizes them.  We don’t trade on fear, but faith. Gospel, not ghosts.

Christians do not trivialize evil, darkness and death.  Sure, we all may get a good laugh when a chainsaw-wielding goon jumps out from behind the tree.  But death and darkness are not to be trifled with.  They are very real and far more powerful than The Walking Dead lets on.  We don’t want our children taking death lightly.  It doesn’t have the power modern Halloweenism gives it.  But it is not impotent.  Apart from Christ, we are wards of a wicked enemy who intends far more harm to us than wetting our pants.

We must think soberly about evil, darkness and death.  They are neither happy nor trivial realities.  We want to seem them for what they are: aberrations and squatters in God’s redemptive plan. Because of Jesus we love and portray light and life, not darkness and death.

We don’t hate Halloween.  Really, we don’t.  We just think there’s a far better message to share and a far better way to share it.  God bless any and all Christians who seek to leverage the day for gospel purposes.  Just do them with your eyes open as a matter of conviction rather than convenience.  Your Trunk-or-Treats and Harvest Festivals will reach far more folks than my pouting about them.  Remember though every Sunday we gather and scatter as the church we confront darkness and celebrate Light.  Whatever our efforts we “are not in darkness . . . for you are all sons of light and sons of day.  We are not of night nor of darkness . . . but since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation” (1 Thess 5.4-8).

Our gospel efforts on Halloween should not be all that different from every other day we mill about in this world.  We bring the sweet message and display of Light to a dark and dying people.  We don’t need axes and pyrotechnics to attract folks to Jesus.  We simply need bread and wine.  Prayer and praise.  Word and worship.

Call me an old fogey.  Call me a puritanical hypocrite.  Call me unevangelistic.  I am all those things, for sure.  I probably am dropping a KJV Family Bible on a Pop Rock.  But whatever your conviction about Halloween just be sure not to hand out Necco wafers. That will indeed scar a person.

Jesus Cannot Be Serious

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you (1 Pt 5.6-7).

I do a fair bit of worrying.  I worry about long-term, epitaph-related matters like vocation, character and legacy.  I worry about our kids’ futures and my wife’s health. I worry about what might happen and what most likely won’t.  I worry that it’s far too late to become the man I always wanted to be but never was.

I worry about short-term matters like next week’s bills and our strained ability to meet them, the leaky gutter, the missing shingles and oil changes.

I worry about what people think about me or that they don’t.  I worry about worrying and worry what God will do about it.

Like “Martha, Martha” I am “worried and bothered about so many things” (Lk 10.41).

We know worrying is bad for us.  It makes us sick, joyless, short-tempered, small-minded, selfish.  We know it won’t add one more minute to our already vaporous life (Lk 12.25).  We know it will probably do just the opposite: shorten our life and/or stifle our enjoyment of it.  But despite all of that I just can’t help it.

Jesus said quite frankly, “Do not be worried about your life” (Mt 6.25). Or in the king’s English, “Take no thought for your life.”  Jesus cannot be serious.  Did he really expect his followers to just stop worrying about things?  It would be easy for him to say after all.  He is God and an Omniscient God never has need to worry.  Is it that easy, Jesus?  Just stop worrying?

Jesus always means what he says even if we don’t always say it the way he means it.

Jesus did not command a flippant, Pollyannic life that never feels weight.  He knew we traded that life when we wanted to become our own worry-free gods (Gen 3.5).  He knew what he was doing when he entered our world of death, disease, despots and dangers.  He knew the people he would save struggled for food, drink and clothes. Rather than spend life pursuing and enjoying the perfections of God, we chose to spend our lives hustling for basic sustenance.

In commanding us to be done with worry Jesus was not impatiently scolding those nervously biting their fingernails.  He was giving us a gift.  He came to free us from a life unduly concerned with temporary matters so we could concern ourselves with eternal matters.  Jesus was assuring us the time, energy, tears and sleeplessness we expend on temporary matters will be far better spent “seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Mt 6.33).

The same word Jesus used for worry (μεριμνᾶτε) is the verb form of what Paul used to describe his daily preoccupation (ἡ μέριμνα) with “all the churches” (2 Cor 11.29).  There are certainly matters about which we should be gravely concerned and those we should not be.  Jesus corrected those priorities by being tempted in every worrisome way without being overcome by worry (Heb 4.15).  Jesus knows full well what it’s like to be “distressed and troubled” (Mk 14.33)  He knows what is worth sweating over and what is not.  Like Jesus we do not grow anxious about fleeting pressures like food, drink and clothing.  We do concern ourselves with kingdom realities and daily taking up our cross (Lk 9.23).

Peter wrote incessant worrying or anxiety is an outworking of pride, or the opposite of humbling oneself before God (1 Pt 5.6-7).  Worry is an expression of assumed self-dependence and probably idolatry. Something is just out of our reach and we must keep jumping or else. We cannot get rid of something we have or cannot get what we must have.

To humble oneself under God (v6) is to regularly cast “all your anxieties” on him (πᾶσαν τὴν μέριμναν ὑμῶν is emphasized in the verse) (v7). Why?  Because God thinks we’re whiny babies who cannot handle some heat?  No.  Because he cares for us.  Jesus invites us to life of humility, the life of the Spirit where in we shamelessly entrust our lives to the one who is able to guard our eternal joy (2 Tim 1.12).

In Christ, God has relieved us of the incessant pressure of the curse rightly imposed on us.  The command to stop worrying about mere earthly concerns is not a weight Jesus puts on us. He’s commanding weight off of us.  To fight hard against worry is to faithfully trust that God cares for us.  He really cares. We don’t cast our anxieties on him so that he can worry instead of us. We cast our anxieties on him so he can care for us and free up our minds and hearts to pursue what is worth pursuing.

Jesus was serious.  He purchased and gave us a life free from vain worry.  It’s not a carefree life that feels no weight.  It’s a life free from soul-robbing worry about shallow, fleeting concerns so we can dedicate ourselves to eternal matters – his kingdom and his righteousness.  Jesus won’t pay the gas bill for you or change a pathology report.  But he will ensure they don’t dominate your heart and mind.  Jesus told Martha, Martha, “but one thing is necessary” (Lk 10.42).  Let’s choose the good part that cannot be taken away.

Christ’s Victory Means Infinitely More than Healing or Promotion

Victory is a biblical word and an especially exciting word for those in the prosperity “gospel” community.  In their defense, we indeed have victory through and because of Jesus. Scripture is quite clear about that.

“…but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15.57).

“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith” (1 Jn 5.4).

But victory over what?  Some suggest Christ’s victory extends to debt, disease and impending death.  If, so the logic goes, we have victory through Jesus and our faith appropriates that victory then we can (and should) believe our way to victory over school loans, cancer, and dead-end jobs.  The greater the faith, the greater the victory.  In fact, God is quite obliged to give us victory over these things.  As arguably the world’s most popular prosperity preacher says,

“God has already done everything He’s going to do. The ball is now in your court. If you want success, if you want wisdom, if you want to be prosperous and healthy, you’re going to have to do more than meditate and believe; you must boldly declare words of faith and victory over yourself and your family” (Joel Osteen).

Even further, we either appropriate God’s victory or we necessarily invite defeat:

“The more you talk about negative things in your life, the more you call them in. Speak victory not defeat” (Joel Osteen).

To assume then that you might not survive cancer or get of of debt or get the promotion is de facto faithless, Godless defeat.  Jesus died to make us indefatigable optimists.

However, consider the apostolic witness.

“Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Pt 4.19; cf. Phil 1.29; 1 Pt 1.6-9).

The prosperity “gospel” has no concept of suffering according to the will of God, only victory.  But Scripture repeatedly forces us to consider otherwise.  If anyone, Peter knew suffering according to God’s will because Jesus prepared him for it some thirty years prior (Jn 21.18-19).

The Paul who celebrated Christ’s victory in 1 Cor 15.54, 55, 57 is the same Paul who wrote:

“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12.9-10).

This is not to say pessimism is a godly virtue.  The Christian is not to be constantly sullen, downtrodden and hopeless.  But just because you may not be overly optimistic about a given situation does not necessarily mean you are not joyful, hopeful and glad in Christ’s work on your behalf.  Just because you may be content that God use disease rather than heal it does not mean you want to die.  Just because you are willing that God demonstrate his power in more ways than just healing does not mean you live a defeated life or are giving up on temporary remedies.

It simply means you understand “victory” to be of a different sort than earthly comfort.  Nowhere has God guaranteed victory over pain and peril in this life.  In fact, he prepared Christ’s followers for a really tough slog (Jn 16.33).  He has, however, guaranteed worldly trouble will not ultimately strip you from Christ’s hand and send you to hell.

The apostles who gave us the language of victory also gave us the right application of the language.  “Victory” is not a word or concept to be universally applied to every situation we endure in this life.  It is the word/concept that gives us hope in the most important battle.

The victory of which Paul speaks in 1 Cor 15.57 is the resurrection of all Christians.  As Christians were dying by the dozens, the Corinthians wondered what to make of Christ’s work. What exactly had Jesus actually done because it didn’t seem to accomplish much. Paul reminded them, gloriously so, that death was “swallowed up in victory”( v54).  What could Paul possibly mean when death was obviously dominating the church?  Death is swallowed up not because Christians stopped dying, but because they will be raised from the dead (vv42-49). Jesus did not stop his followers from dying any more than he stopped himself.  He has stopped them from staying dead!  That is Christ’s victory.  Those for whom he died will not always suffer even if they must for now.

“I am the resurrection an the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies” (Jn 11.25).

The victory of which John speaks in 1 Jn 5.4 is that of overcoming the world through faith.  “World” for John is the realm of sin and hostility toward God.  To overcome the world through faith is to persevere in Christ’s love and obedience (v3).  “Victory” is to fend off sin and Satan so that we do not abandon Christ and his sufficiency.  As the world assaults us with temptation to leave Christ, we overcome through faith: believing the gospel that eternal life is found only in the Son (vv5-12).

Overcoming the world through faith is not believing our way to healing, debt relief or promotions.  It is resisting the temptations that ride like barnacles on disease, bills and un(der)employment.  Satan hijacks despair and pain not to strip us from health or wealth, but to strip us from faith and ultimately from Christ.  We are victorious in that we remain in Christ despite all the pain, disappointment and despair.  We still trust.  We still hope.  We still love (cf. 1 Pt 6-9).

We don’t need God’s help wanting to be healed.  He’s hardwired us to want life so he knows we want to live and will be joyful if we do.  We do need God’s help believing his “lovingkindness is better than life” (Ps 63.3).  Victory is wanting Christ more than we want life (Phil 2.21). It’s when death is “gain” that we truly live.  I don’t need rescue from my cancer or my despair.  We all need rescue from a world where cancer or despair is even a reality.

We may or may not get healed or promoted.  Jesus may keep us from cures and corner offices but he will not keep us from himself (Jn 10.27-29; Rom 8.31-39).  That, friends, is victory.  So, we take our medicines and consolidate our loans and apply for better jobs.  But we do so knowing health, solvency and promotion are not the victory Jesus earned for us.  Jesus did not die for temporary fixes but for our eternal happiness.

Christ’s victory doesn’t mean he will cure us of cancer or ALS or Alzheimer’s in this life.  It means he already cured us when he walked out of that Jerusalem grave 2,000 years ago.  And so with feeble arms and failing bodies and frail faith we raise high the victory banner and joyfully announce Christ has won and he is Lord.