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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Favorite Songs - Cold Dark and Yesterday by Hall & Oates

(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

Here's one I'm pretty sure most of you have never heard, but it's up there in my top five or ten of songs that never get old for me.

Daryl Hall and John Oates grew up in the same area I did and the I saw the abandoned luncheonette on the cover of their second album twice a day as I rode the bus to and from school. And you could say I also grew up on their music, since it was very popular in my youth (maybe especially because they were from the area).

I've always loved the music in "Cold Dark and Yesterday" (a rare track written and sung by Oates), but later in my life the lyrics have also become very meaningful (they're reproduced below). The song has the effect on me that I presume is the intention of all "blues"--to commiserate via the lyrics but lift our spirits with the music.

Lately I've often thought that there are two kinds of people in this world--those who know what it's like to feel extreme pain over past mistakes and those who don't. For fifty years of my life I was the latter, but in the last few years I've become the former. Only those who have failed miserably and publicly can really understand and empathize with the lyrics of this song, so the rest will just have to enjoy the music.

But for those who do understand, and experience the daily chills of regret and consequences for past failures, here's some hope. Just yesterday (no pun intended), my dear wife sent me this devotional written by Oswald Chambers, the author of My Utmost for His Highest:

Make sure to always add encouraging words like that to your mind when you have thoughts and feelings like the lyrics in this song...

Cold Dark and Yesterday

The sun beats down so slow
I feel my body heating up inside
I watch danger zone
For signs of life but not a soul alive
Try every trick I know
To keep my temperature from blowing sky high
Check on the time to go
I lay my spirit down and fantasize
Disembark disconnect possibilities unknown
On the edge of a heading for heavy weather
I suspect I can tell I can feel it in my bones
All not well but you never never never know

Cold and it's dark
It's cold and it's dark
I'm feeling cold
Cold and it's dark, yesterday
I feel the chill is all around me
Cold and it's dark
Just like the space in my heart
It's cold and it's dark
And it's yesterday

Glamorama all around me
Friendly natives turning back to brown
I keep my shades well down
They cannot penetrate what can't be found
I feel the fever start to rise
Slip away in indiscreet disguise
How can a man survive when the weak meets the soft
And the heat blind your eyes
Left to right up and down its picture postcard time

Hear the sound save the image in my mind

Cold and it's dark
It's cold and it's dark
I'm feeling cold
Cold and it's dark, yesterday
I feel the chill is all around me
Cold and it's dark
Just like the space in my heart
It's cold and it's dark 
And it's yesterday

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Wayne Grudem is missing something important about divorce for abuse

The headline on an article I saw this morning: "Theologian Wayne Grudem has changed his mind about divorce in cases of abuse."

This is important to think about critically, not because I want to see women (and occasionally men) continue in situations where they are being abused in their marriages. I don't, and the end result of my understanding of Scripture will lead to change, separation, or divorce in severe cases of abuse, as I'll explain below. But it's the reason why Grudem is changing his mind and the interpretive process behind it that are concerning to me.

Grudem says that he rethought the traditional view of divorce only in the cases of unfaithfulness or desertion because of this: "My wife Margaret and I became aware of some heartbreaking examples of such things as severe sexual humiliation and degradation that had continued for decades, and another case of physical battering that had gone on for decades. In all these situations the abused spouse had kept silent, believing that a Christian’s duty was to preserve the marriage unless there was adultery or desertion, which had not happened.”

As egalitarian Slate writer Ruth Graham pointed out, "This reads a little like Grudem starting with a more humane, compassionate conclusion than the one he’d long held and reverse engineering a biblical interpretation for it." So now we have another trophy example for progressive Christians who believe the Bible needs to be retconned to fit with our enlightened modern world.

Here's the problem, and here's why I'm glad this has come up, because expositions of the "traditional view" have traditionally lacked an important caveat about abuse:

The divorce and remarriage passages themselves are not the only scriptural data that's pertinent to their understanding and application. There are other important principles as well, like the wisdom of removing oneself from dangerous situations (Prov. 22:3, 27:12), the role of the church in addressing sin (Matt. 18:15-17, 1 Cor. 5) and the role of governing authorities in restraining evil (Rom. 13:1-5).

In a sense Grudem (whom I appreciate and respect) is unnecessarily tilting at windmills, because he says that the abused spouses "had kept silent." That's a huge mistake on which the whole problem hinges. You don't need to reverse engineer the text of 1 Corinthians 7:15 to fit abuse into the verse. It simply says that divorce is allowed if the unbeliever doesn't want to live with the believer. But in applying it (with the context of other Scriptures in mind), issues like abuse are covered. Here's how:

When emotional or non-criminal physical abuse takes place, the faithful partner should follow Matthew 18:15-17 and confront it, increasing the circle of knowledge if there is no repentance and change. If the church acts in discipline as it should, or if the church is unwilling to act and faithful parties have to make a determination themselves (see the singular "you" in verse 17), then the unrepentant spouse is to be treated as an unbeliever. If the abusive behavior continues, then it may be concluded (with objective counsel preferably) that he or she does not want to live with the faithful spouse and 1 Corinthians 7:15 comes into play. This is especially true of criminal physical abuse, which should be reported to the police immediately (as well as the church), including an initial separation for safety's sake (Prov. 22:3) and revealing whether the abusive spouse really wants to live with the faithful partner. If such abusive partners don't change significantly, they prove that they don't really want to live with their partners, because they won't be able to. Legal and/or safety considerations would keep the abused partners from returning to the home.

Obviously that's just an overview and there's a lot more to talk about, but for my purposes here I just wanted to summarize those ideas and also say that in over 25 years of dealing with difficult marital situations, I have never seen one where God's Word did not address the problems and provide solutions if at least one of the parties was willing to follow it. Behind the tendency to reverse engineer the Scriptures can be a lack of faith that God's Word and the means provided in it will be sufficient to address even the most difficult situations we face. But they are.

Besides, there's a major problem with reverse engineering the text to say that physical and emotional abuse are scriptural grounds for divorce: Now, instead of there being "a way out" for suffering spouses in only extreme situations that have little hope for improvement (as God intended), pretty much anyone can decide we are abused and opt out of a marriage. For instance, the first or second time a partner expresses their anger in some physical way, we can divorce them. And anyone who has been in a normal marriage or counseled anyone in a normal marriage knows that either partner at any time can claim "emotional abuse" and have some legitimacy for it (at least in our minds). And how about when both parties are "abusive" in some way, as in many cases? Is divorce the answer then?

If you want to hear how I addressed this issue in my teaching many years ago (yes, some who hold the "traditional" view have had an answer for this all along), check out this recording. You can skip to 25:00 for the overall teaching on this issue or 34:30 for the specific mention of physical abuse.

By the way, in case you're wondering if I have some "skin in this game," I have never laid a finger on my wife in almost 30 years of marriage. I have, however, been unfaithful to her in various ways, and I am so grateful to God that she has always chosen to forgive me (and also make sure I was repentant). I also have been graced with the blessing of forgiving her for many things (though never as much as I've needed) and I'm so glad I did. The Word and the means provided in it have always proven able and sufficient in even the most difficult circumstances...all glory to God!

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Monday, November 18, 2019

Favorite Songs - Dead Man's Rope by Sting (and the letter I wrote to him)

(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

Keeping with the theme of "God-haunted" rock artists from my last post, here's one from Sting. He's been an important person in my life, starting with liking his music so much in my teen years that I actually tried to make my hair look like his (with little success, and thank God I never went as far as dying it blonde). As a young Christian, I tried to ignore his anti-God lyrics as much as I could and would not even listen to the blasphemous song on Synchronicity called "O My God" where he says things like, "O my God you take the biscuit treating me this way" and "my God you must be sleeping--wake up it's much too late." It was interesting, though, that even as he was railing at heaven, he still pleaded in the chorus, "Take this space between us and fill it up some way." (In the letter below I tried to explain to him how God had actually done that through His Son Jesus Christ.)

In 1992, upon the death of his father, it seemed like Sting was "God-haunted" even more than usual when he put out an album called The Soul Cages, which is one of my favorite albums and became even more meaningful to me when my own father passed away a few years later (much of the album is about that). The Soul Cages features songs about biblical characters like King David and the prophet Jeremiah, visiting priests and fallen angels, and other spiritual imagery like "when the bridge to heaven is broken" and "take your father's cross gently from the wall." Even the instrumental on the album is called "Saint Agnus and the Burning Train."

I was taking classes in seminary at the time and was given an assignment to write and send an evangelistic letter to an unbeliever, so I decided to address mine to Sting. I reproduced it below, and hopefully you can learn something from my approach, for better or worse. At the very least I hope you'll find it interesting, and no, I never heard back from him. But I'm including the letter primarily to show you one of the reasons "Dead Man's Rope" is one of my favorite songs.

Seven years later, in 1999, I was delighted to discover the gospel song "Fill Her Up" on Sting's album Brand New Day, and thought maybe my prayers for him were answered (and maybe by some longshot he had even read my letter!). But then I was disappointed to find out from an interview that he had never written a gospel song so he wanted to try it just once. However, in 2003 his next album Sacred Love had several songs about spiritual issues and included "Dead Man's Rope," which could have been written by a Christian artist (except that they don't often write songs this good:). The music is some of the best ever from Sting and the lyrics seemed to indicate that his interest in the Christian faith was something more enduring than just one song. He even seemed to imply that his perspective had changed from the Synchronicity days by using some lyrics from it in a new way ("walking in his footsteps"). Other lyrics on the album indicated that he was still not a believer, but my hope that he might become one someday was significantly increased, along with my nearly delusional fantasy that he had read my letter. It never hurts to dream, right?

Instead of reproducing the lyrics to the song like I usually do in these posts, in order to save room for the letter below, I chose a video that contains the words to the song. Whoever made it got the title of the song wrong, but the lyrics are correct and the accompanying pictures are nice. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you also will be blessed in some way by what I wrote to Sting all those years ago...

September 7, 1992

Dear Sting,

     I grew up listening to your music and still find it a breath of fresh air in an otherwise uninventive and mediocre era of popular art. So I'm writing to show my appreciation for your talent and to encourage you to continue rising above the norm in stylistic and lyrical depth.

     I'm also writing to you, however, to ask you to consider the logical end of some of the truths you have sung about. You have well said that "there is no political solution to our troubled evolution... because we are spirits in the material world." A profound observation, I believe, and one that has no doubt caused you to seek answers in that spiritual dimension of life. Have you found them? I doubt it, based on some of your other lyrics, so I want to suggest that you look with an open mind at the book that has provided those answers for me. It is a book that claims to have proceeded from God and the only such one with enough evidence to possibly substantiate that claim.

     That book is the Bible, and before you promptly throw this letter out thinking "How could anyone possibly consider that ancient anachronism to be from God?!", may I ask you whether you have ever read through it and made an objective study of it on your own? Before you resign your search for truth as futility and embrace existential relativism, you should at least consider a source that claims to contain absolute truth and has survived three millennia as the world's most read book. Here are some of its claims:

"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).

"No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:21-22).

"Just as it is written, 'Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.'  For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.... But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Corinthians 2:9-14). 

     The last verse in that passage explains why Christianity is "something we can't buy," Sting. God says that our minds have been corrupted by breaking His law (sin), and that we cannot humanly understand His truth unless it is revealed to us by His Spirit. But fortunately God has also promised, "You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). If we will be merely open to His truth rather than demanding our own way and deifying our own intellect, He will reveal it to us. 

     Was "Jeremiah Blues" based on the biblical Hebrew prophet who lamented the pathetic state of the Jewish nation? If so or if not, it would do you well to consider the answer he presented to that hypocritical, self-destructive people. As you may have noticed, he was the prophet who delivered the message from God I quoted in the last paragraph. The answer to the Jews' "troubled evolution" was to turn to God and obey His Word--then and only then would He heal them and their land (cf. Jeremiah 29:14).

     In "Jeremiah Blues" you refer to "seeing" yourself as a thief tied to a tree. Were you thinking of one of the thieves that was crucified beside Jesus Christ on the first Good Friday? In case you were not, let me recount that story for you:

    "And one of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, 'Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!'  But the other answered, and rebuking him said, 'Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.'  And he was saying, 'Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!'  And Jesus said to him, 'Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise'" (Luke 23:39-43). 

    One thief passed into eternal bliss upon his death, the other into eternal damnation. The difference was their response to the One who was dying with them. And the believing thief could receive forgiveness because Jesus Christ was dying to pay the penalty for the sin of all those who would believe in Him. Then He rose from the dead to prove that He has the power to forgive our sins. So "if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved" (Romans 10:9).

    Sting, if anything in you is telling you that these things are true, please read the book I enclosed and give God a chance to speak to you through His Word (the italicized parts are Bible verses). I would welcome your response, even if it is brief.

    My prayer for you is that you will be like the thief who saw the majesty of the dying Savior beside him and believed, rather than the one who died with a defiant fist raised toward the God who would be his Judge.


Dave Swavely

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Favorite Songs - Zoo Station by U2

(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

The last several songs I posted about in this series of favorites were all written by Christians and were also very far from rock and roll in their style. This one is the almost the polar opposite. I say "almost" because the words can be understood to convey biblical truth, as I'll explain below. But first let me warn you that if you are a Christian who doesn't like rock music or you don't have a clear conscience about listening to music made by unbelievers, then the video above is not for you. I believe, however, that your conscience could possibly be changed at some point by considering the idea that the style of music itself is not right or wrong, and this style is more appropriate for certain lyrical topics than non-rock styles.

I've often used another song by U2 as an example: the throbbing and thrashing music of "Bullet the Blue Sky" fits the topics of hateful injustice, racial violence, and brutal oppression much better than a pretty piano played in a major key with lilting operatic soprano vocals. In fact, the latter wouldn't fit those topics at all, nor the righteous anger that we should feel about such evils. "See them burning crosses, see the flames higher and higher" and other similar lyrics call for a powerful emotional and visceral response from the artist and the audience.

Also, before I get to "Zoo Station," I want to say something about the professed faith of Bono and at least two of the other U2 band members. You may have noticed that I implied above that they are not Christians, and you might be surprised by that. They say they are, especially Bono, but they also have clearly expressed perspectives that are far from biblical on significant issues. They have denied (and even criticized and mocked) the Bible's teaching about sexual morality, for example, having consistently championed unmarried and homosexual relationships for several decades now. Bono is also rather famous for being a heavy drinker, without any remorse except for the consequences, as far as I can tell. I was a huge fan of U2 in my youth and I appreciate many things Bono has to say about faith, especially in his lyrics, so believe me I would love to think that he and his bandmates are true Christians. But unfortunately I have to admit their beliefs fall more into the category of "antinomianism," which according to the Scriptures is a damning false doctrine. One passage (among many) that speaks to this issue is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

My love for U2 music definitely has cooled somewhat since I realized that Bono is promoting an unbiblical version of Christianity, but I still appreciate some of the band's lyrics and music as an example of "God-haunted" art that often rises above the weaknesses of the artists themselves (like Mozart's and Beethoven's do in the classical realm). The best example for me personally is the song "Zoo Station," which is actually inspiring to me as a Christian, in addition to being really catchy and enjoyable.

Bono was in Germany around the time that the Berlin Wall fell, saw a sign for a train stop called Zoo Station, and thought that was a fitting metaphor for the wild ride that is life in this world. His lyrics capture and elaborate on that metaphor so well that I can't help but smile every time I hear them, and I often put the song on and sing along when I'm down about my circumstances or need some motivation to get back in the fray in some way. This song is about facing and embracing life in this crazy, broken world, but I think it also hints at Someone who is with us on the ride and will give us an even better life one day...

Zoo Station

I'm ready, ready for the laughing gas
I'm ready, ready for what's next
Ready to duck, ready to dive
Ready to say I'm glad to be alive
I'm ready for the push

In the cool of the night
In the warmth of the breeze
I'll be crawling around
On my hands and knees

Oh yeah... Zoo Station
Oh... Zoo Station

I'm ready, ready for the gridlock
I'm ready to take it to the street
Ready for the shuffle, ready for the deal
Ready to let go of the steering wheel
I'm ready for the crush

Oh... Zoo Station
Oh... Zoo Station

It's alright, it's alright, it's alright...

Time is a train
Makes the future the past
Leaves you standing in the station 
Your face pressed up against the glass

Oh... Zoo Station

I'm just down the line from your love
Under the sign of your love
I'm gonna be there
Tracing the line
I'm gonna make it on time
Just two stops down the line
Just a stop down the line

The last group of lines (listed on U2's website) are barely audible on the original recording, but in concert Bono almost always emphasizes "Gonna be there! I'm just down the line." He has said repeatedly that the lyrics on Achtung Baby were actually the most spiritually deep that he had ever written, though for various reasons that depth was intentionally hidden under a veneer of rock and roll tropes that made it seem like the band was abandoning the faith they formerly sang about. So I don't think it's much of stretch to think that one of the reasons the narrator of the song can have excitement and hope in this crazy, broken world is because it's not the last world we'll be living in. And I think it's likely that "ready to let go of the steering wheel" is a reference to the spiritual surrender that U2 has explored in other songs, both before and after this one.

Regardless of whether Bono is singing about facing and embracing this wild life with the help of God and the hope of heaven, that's the way I take it, and that's why I keep coming back to Zoo Station again and again.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Favorite Songs - A Mighty Fortress by Martin Luther

(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

It's October 31, a special day, and I'm not talking about Halloween. A little over 500 years ago, on this date in 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door at the church in Wittenberg, Germany, and the great movement that we call the Reformation officially began. So October 31 is Reformation Day, and I want to celebrate it by sharing this wonderful hymn written by Martin Luther himself.

Of course it wasn't sung back then like it is on the video above, but I've always loved this contemporary version by Glad, especially because I could use it to introduce my children to the great lyrics of the song and make them more memorable with the help of the catchy music.

Obviously the lyrics and the historical significance of the author are the main reasons why this is a favorite of mine. They speak for themselves and are especially meaningful when you know something of the context in which they were written.

A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
thru him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God's truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.

Here's a more traditional version of the song, if you prefer that...

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Favorite Songs - Lord, Have Mercy On This Town (Song for Sonoma) by a Pastor in the "Wild West" of the Wine Country

(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

Since I started a trend of posting some favorite songs that I've written (I'm not saying they're the best songs, just my favorites:), here's another one. 

I wrote this song in 2001, when I was a church planting pastor in the "wild west" of the northern California Wine Country. I had a prayer and study office in the home of a friend who lived in the hills high above the Sonoma Valley, and I could sit on the deck and pray for the city of Sonoma (where my church was) while I enjoyed a view of it much like that in the picture on the video.

When I left the Wine Country in 2005 to move back to Pennsylvania, where I had grown up, I recorded some songs like this and "Shining Eyes" with our music minister to give as a parting gift to the congregation. I figured they had heard me preach too many times in the years I was there, and I had given them many books already, so me singing would be something new and memorable for them. Again, I'm not saying it was a good gift--just memorable, but I did hear that this song in particular was somewhat of a hit among some of the kids who heard it. 

If it encourages you to pray for the area where you live, and to reach out with the gospel in whatever way you can there, it will be worth a listen. And please pray specifically for Sonoma and the laborers in God's harvest there--that town is still in desperate need of His mercy!

Lord, Have Mercy On This Town

Lord, have mercy on this town
It’s so lost, can it be found?
Though I know I’m just one man
Won’t You use me if you can
Lord, have mercy on this town

Lord, have mercy on this town
Can You loose what has it bound?
Though I know I’m filled with flaws
I’m the long arm of Your law
Lord, have mercy on this town

I watch the vultures circle high above the valley floor
The life below that bids them stay one day will be no more
Descending with a lust for blood, by justice not delayed
They’ll feast upon the dead…
‘Til the penalty is paid

Lord, have mercy on this town
Break apart its fallow ground
Though I know I’m just a fool
Won’t You use me as Your tool
Lord, have mercy on this town

Stung by the summer heat I saw of a vision of this land
Saloon and bank and farm and stagecoach covered by the sand
But then the ground was moving and the dust was swirling high
The bones became a man…
And that man became alive!

He said, “Unless you die, you can never live.
“And before you can take...
you must learn to give.”

Lord, have mercy on this town
Spread Your gracious love around
Though I’m not sure where to go
Won’t You use my hands to sow
Lord, have mercy on this town

Lord, have mercy on this town
(I watch the vultures circle high above the valley floor)
Will its wounds yet be unwound?
(The life below that bids them stay one day will be no more)
Lord, it looks like harvest time
Grow some fruit among these vines
Lord, have mercy on this town
(Stung by the summer heat I saw a vision of this land)
Judgment day it’s going down
(Saloon and bank and farm and stagecoach covered by the sand)
When I stand before Your throne
I don’t want to stand alone
Lord, have mercy on this town
(I watch the vultures circle high above the valley floor…)

Yes, when I stand before Your throne
I don’t want to stand alone
Lord, have mercy on this town