Tuesday, August 28, 2007


by John Sleadd, August 28, 2007

This post is to acknowledge that some folks get the willies when the word “dominion” is used. To them it sounds militant and exploitive, like something whacked out jihadists shout while strapping on an explosive vest. The term implies control, power and dominance. I want to assure you that I disapprove of dads who act like popes in their home or drill sergeants barking orders at their wife and kids. I am opposed to dictator dads.

I like to use the term in a positive sense. I think a man who keeps harmful influences out of his home and who manages his household wisely is taking dominion. God calls men to exercise dominion by loving their wives sacrificially and by training their children without exasperating them. God calls men to be a good neighbor and to conduct business with integrity.

Unfortunately, I am often a dominion dud. I want to change the world (and my home) but I can barely control my thought life, or keep my socks from piling up on the dresser. Many times it’s easier for my wife and kids to laugh at me rather than respect and obey me. I may have good intentions to lead my family, but my fuse sometimes doesn’t burn all the way to the powder.

There is hope for a guy like me, however. The redeeming work of Christ in a man’s heart rewires him for operation, and enables him to become a servant leader in his home. “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.” (Malachi 4:6)

Being a dominion dad essentially means becoming less while Christ becomes more (John 3:30). It is exciting when a man sees his marriage and his family as his most important earthly project. When he is committed to serving his Lord, to honoring his marriage vows, to training his children in the faith, and to being a gracious ambassador of Christ in all that he does in his community, he takes dominion.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Why Can’t My Favorite Music Be Used In Church?

John Sleadd August 6, 2007

I am amazed at how opinionated some people can be about music. I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “If it ain’t Country, it ain’t music!” Is God like that? Does He have strong preferences about what He likes and doesn’t like? Did Jesus have any favorite music when He walked the earth? Does He have any favorites now? Imagine the wrist band possibilities that could be marketed on the subject: WWJS (What would Jesus sing?) WWJH (What would Jesus hum?). How about an ankle bracelet: WMWJUIC (What music would Jesus use in church?)

Artistic Freedom
I believe God grants Christians the freedom to enjoy and use virtually any style of music, both privately and corporately, provided it brings Him glory and does not condone, minimize or produce sin. I’ll call it the Permission Principle, wherein Christians are allowed to exercise artistic freedom, with respect to music, unless a clear biblical prohibition contradicts it. The opposite would be the Prohibition Principle, wherein everything is forbidden unless the Bible clearly commands or condones its use. Since it’s important to know what God’s opinion about music is, I decided to search the Bible for clues. Here are the results of a scripture search at BibleGateway.com (ESV).

Things “God Loves”
His people (2 Chr. 2:11)
righteousness and justice (Ps 33:5)
God’s sanctuary (Mal. 2:11)
the world (Jn 3:16)
a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7).

Things “God Hates”
pagan pillars (Deut. 16:22)
the wicked (Ps. 11:5)
haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers (Pr. 6:16-19)
robbery and wrong (Jer. 65:8)
hypocritical feasts and assemblies (Amos 5:21)
evil hearts and false oaths (Zechariah 8:17).

Music is not mentioned, so we are left scratching our noggins. The prophet Amos declares that God does not enjoy music in a particular instance: “Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:23-24). This has more to do with the hypocrisy of the people than with the quality of the music.

I did a keyword search for “shall not,” and “will not,” and looked for passages that prohibited any form of music. No results. Next, I searched for “shall sing,” “will sing, and “make music,” and came up with 30 passages. Since music is stated positively in scripture without a single contextual prohibition, it is reasonable to assume that Christians may freely enjoy a wide variety of musical styles, both privately at home and corporately at church.

Permission In Practice
If we assume freedom in making musical choices, then we must consider the parameters of our freedom. An artist might consider all colors equally valid, yet choose particular colors for a given purpose in a painting. If a painter’s objective is to depict a pristine mountain lake, he may select cool colors (blues & greens) from his palette instead of warm, earth tones. This is true with music as well. If a worship leader’s objective is to choose musical accompaniment to match lyrics that declare God’s holiness, he may select a style of music that is majestic, rather than, say, rebellious. This is mostly common sense. In the same way that we don’t typically hear harps playing at a basketball pep rally, we don’t usually hear driving punk rock music played during a worship service. Why is that?

I was driving home from a camping trip with my children and their friends recently, when I decided it would be fun to surf the FM channels to sample the music of the culture. We chose an alternative rock station and a country station and listened to about four songs from each, after which I asked if there was an identifiable sound and theme. We observed that the rock station featured driving bass, drums, and distorted guitars that accompanied songs about rebellious discontent and self-absorption, which were sung (or screamed) by young men with colossal bad attitudes. On the country station we observed a much lighter form of accompaniment (which usually included a fiddle somewhere in the mix), and songs about sentimental self-justification or love sick complaints twanged and whined by cowboys and cowgirls. Everything we listened to proclaimed a secular, worldview message that was thoroughly man-centered, although some of the country songs referred to God as if He were some kind of good old boy in the sky. I found none of the music offensive, though, only the lyrics. Is it possible to sanctify these musical styles by inserting Christian lyrics? I think so. Allow me to explain.

The Purpose of Music
Since the Bible tells us to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to the Lord (Colossians 3:16) and to make music (Psalm 101:1) and sing new songs (Psalm 33:3), we have an obligation to use our creative gifts to give Him glory. It’s easy to assume that God likes church songs with lyrics that bring Him glory. But what about instrumental music? If there are no lyrics, how do we know whether a particular style of music is God-honoring? And if the lyrics are what give a song its moral value, then can worldly songs be transformed by changing their lyrics? Music is an expressive art form that includes the elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, form, balance, dynamics, tone, and more. When these elements are creatively combined, particular styles are generated with almost unlimited variations. Marches differ from lullabies, ballads differ from waltzes, anthems differ from arias. Music can be uplifting and energizing or soothing and sedating.

The challenge is to combine the right style of music (which includes the instruments used) with the lyrics that will articulate and clarify the theme of the song. Is the raw energy and driving beat of the Indie rock style suitable for accompanying lyrics about God’s power as our mighty defender? Could lyrics about the love of Christ be put to a country pop tune with a bit of fiddle added? In order to answer these questions, I think it’s useful to categorize music into three basic purposes.

Music for personal enjoyment:
It seems to me that Christians have the freedom to listen to virtually any style of music they prefer, as long as they do not use their liberty to sin or to cause others to sin. We must keep in mind that the Bible tells us to focus on things that are virtuous and to put aside things that are foolish, coarse and immoral. We are to flee from sin, not accommodate it.

Music for corporate edification:
In order to have unity in the body of Christ, we are required to tolerate the musical tastes of others, which is good for us. Our deference to one another keeps us from becoming little Pharisees of music, stuck on exalting our own opinions. The music we enjoy together should serve to unite us rather than divide us. If you like polka played on the accordion, and I like blues played on a tenor sax, we should put up with each other. We should agree that the lyrics of our favorite music should be God-honoring. We should also agree that church music of the past is a blessing and a treasure to be respected. It helps keep us from chasing after the latest musical fads.

Music for corporate singing:
Scripture is chock full of references to singing, so it stands to reason that the music we use in church should inspire us to sing with great joy. If the accompaniment is too dominant, too unpredictable, too complex, or too mediocre the quality of our congregational singing is diminished. The musical choices that we make for congregational singing should serve to increase both our skill and our delight in singing. The sing-ability of certain styles of music, then, becomes an important consideration. Excellent music, paired with doctrinally sound lyrics that exalt the Lord and edify the body, is the goal.

Southern Rock On Sundays?
Now let’s put these principles to the test. Let’s say I like Southern Rock as a musical style, and I want to hear it used more in church on Sunday mornings. Can I transform and use the formerly popular song, “Gimme Three Steps,” by the band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, but change the lyrics to make them Christian. Since the original song has to do with a guy who gets threatened by the boyfriend of a chick he tries to pick up at a bar, there are several obstacles that must be overcome in order for this song to be “redeemed” and “sanctified.” I'll need to work my way through a few questions.

What is the quality of the music?
Okay, so Lynyrd Skynyrd was one of the most critically acclaimed Southern Rock bands of the 1970s. This implies that they were pretty talented musically. So far, so good, unless you consider the 70s to be America's most embarrassing decade, including the music that it birthed.

What is the origin of the music?
Southern Rock emerged out of rock n’ roll, which emerged out of rhythm and blues, which emerged out of a combination of African American and English folk music, which emerged out of something else, and on it goes. Since most of the origins are considered “worldly” and little of it was ever sanctioned by the church, I might bog down here. The term “rock n’ roll was originally chosen because of its sexual connotations. This might be a problem if the goal is to glorify God.

What are the current associations of the music?
If no one recalls the song, “Gimme Three Steps” and no one has knowledge of the origins of Southern Rock and it’s ties to rock n’ roll, then there may not be problem. On the other hand, someone might remember such things. What if Southern Rock has gotten worse over time? Some of the bands that have evolved out of Southern Rock include the Cowboys from Hell, Southern Sludgecore, and Eyehategod. Since I’ve never heard their music I can’t say much about them other than what their names imply. This, of course, is little more than guilt by association, but it’s still a consideration.

What are the results of the music’s use?
If allowing your dog to come into the house and sleep on the sofa is a good way to test whether you will like pooch hair on your couch, then this question is useful. You could use “Gimme Three Steps, ” but, change the title to “Gimme Three Fish,” and see what happens. Of course you'd probably change the verses and chorus too. If members of the church started listening to Eyehategod and they got corrupted by the worldly messages, then you might have produced some undesirable consequences. However, if the Southern Rock style invigorates holiness and service in the body, then rock on.

I must confess that I like popular music of many styles, and I can handle a dose of Southern Rock, too. In the same way that a first century Christian, according to the Apostle Paul, could freely eat meat sacrificed to pagan idols, without fear of defilement (1 Corinthians 10:25), Christians today can probably consume secular music without being corrupted. On the other hand, Paul warned certain Gentile believers to not eat meat sacrificed to idols (Acts 15:29). The case could be made, then, that some Christians should not listen to worldly music. It’s kind of like a little old lady who buys a bank robber's getaway car and drives it to church on Sunday. The car is not wicked. It was just used by a wicked thief. Driving the car won't make her a bank robber. Now if it's a flame painted, low rider with gargantuan subwoofers and bullet holes in the trunk, it might make you wonder why she bought that car.

In It But Not Of It
There will always be tension for Christians to be in the world, yet not of it. We are commanded to be separate from the world, yet live as servants in it and take dominion of it. We are to be light-bearing ambassadors of grace to our dark and troubled society. We are to communicate the gospel to those around us in ways they can understand, which includes using the powerful influence of music. I realize that most of my assertions and arguments have swerved back and forth across the center line on the road of reason. I’ve tried to avoid the ditch on either side. I’ve condemned worldly music on the one hand, and made allowances for its redemption on the other. I apologize for being unwilling to tell you how to think, but hopefully, I’ve got you thinking more about your own musical presuppositions. This whole issue is, after all, an ongoing conversation. There’s much more to be said. For now, the best way for me to conclude is by prayer.

Lord, give us wisdom to serve You better. Help us to worship You in Spirit and in Truth. Help us to use your good gift of music to magnify Your name among the nations. Give us a heart and a mind for holiness and purity and service. Give us the strength to transform the culture, but not be conformed to it. May Your kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Why Does The Devil Get All The Good Music?

By John Sleadd, July 30, 2007

Why Does The Devil Get All The Good Music?
This statement, dressed up like a question, is more of a whine than an assertion. It implies that God doesn’t get any good music, but should. Can this be true? Does the Devil show up first at the cosmic music outlet and snatch up the best CDs for his immoral parties before God can shop for his church music? Does Satan get all the rock, punk and rap, and leave God with the polka? Who gets Three Blind Mice, and who gets Twinkle Twinkle Little Star from the kiddie section? What about musicals? Does Satan get Grease and God get The Sound of Music, or do they quibble over each song in the score? Does Satan get all the good sacred music, too? The very thought confuses me.

Who Is The Devil?
Here’s a quick biographical sketch of Satan according to the Bible. Lucifer (another of his names) was God’s chief angelic worship leader in heaven until he was cast out for leading a rebellion. He apparently wanted the praise to go to himself instead of to God, so he convinced a bunch of the angels to worship him and participate in his stupid insurrection. They all got the boot and wound up here on earth (Isaiah 14:12; Ezekiel 28:14; Luke 10:18).

Satan played his star role in the deception of Eve in the garden, where he twisted God’s commands to make them sound stingy and unreasonable. Nowadays he’s busy twisting the truth about what is good and what is bad. He’s doing his part to make certain kinds of music sound steamy and sensual. That and tempting dysfunctional teenaged boys into playing guitars and drums in garage bands.

Satan should be neither feared, nor ignored. He is a destroyer, deceiver, demeanor and detractor. That’s why he’s top dog of the de-mons. His stealthy work is to draw attention away from God and to himself. He is called the father of lies, and his life’s ambition is to get God’s people tangled up in unbelief and sin. Although he prowls around like a roaring lion, we should remember that any power he has is permitted by God (1 Peter 5:8; Romans 13:1), and he cannot prevail against God’s elect. His ultimate doom is certain (Revelation 20:10).

What Is Good Music?
According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, music is the art of combining tones to form expressive compositions, or any rhythmic sequence of pleasing sounds. Good music, then, would be the compositions that are most pleasing. The characteristics of physical sound (e.g. pitch, rate, volume, frequency, attack, decay, etc.) are generally not thought to possess inherent moral value. The same is true of the musical elements of melody, harmony and rhythm. So when we say that music is good, we usually mean that is has artistic beauty and worth, rather than moral value. We also mean that such things as order, balance, form and variety are evident. Music that is poorly composed or poorly performed, is not said to be immoral. It just stinks.

It's unfortunate that good music can be used for immoral purposes. I once watched a movie that played the musical piece, Bolero, during a depiction of sexual immorality. Whenever I hear Bolero, now, I think of that stupid movie. But is it the music’s fault that it got associated with fornication? Could we redeem Bolero if we used in a Billy Graham film during a conversion scene?

Can Music Make Me Sin?
Slow music can put me to sleep. Beautiful music can make me weep. Scary music gives me the creeps. What’s up with that? Does music possess inherent power to affect my behavior, or have I simply been conditioned to respond in certain ways because of repeated exposure?

When I attend symphony concerts I regularly battle the nods during the second movement, which usually is the sloooooow part of the piece. On the other hand, I generally feel perky when I hear steel drums and a Calypso groove. Maybe, back before I can remember, my Mom dosed me with Mozart in largo when it was time for nap nap, and sauced me with Salsa in presto (not a spicy dip) to get me moving. Since other people don’t pass out at the symphony, or boogie to steel drums, I must conclude that my responses might be different from their reactions. It is curious, however, that lullabies help pacify babies and marches help invigorate soldiers, instead of vice versa. Heavy metal music is rarely played at funerals for some reason. Propriety seems to have some guiding principles even in behaviorally challenged America.

Music can cause people to sin in the same way that wine can make a man drunk and pizza can turn a man into a blimp. Too much music can turn a person into an antisocial iPod attachment, but generally we control music, instead of it controlling us. I’ve heard politicians defend gun ownership by saying, “Guns don’t kill. People do.” Maybe music is like that. Left all by itself music wouldn’t harm a fly, but let a carnal song writer get a hold of a catchy melody and soon we’ll hear kindergartners singing “I’ve got to have my baby tonight.” No one will be thinking of expectant mothers.

Is Rock Music Of The Devil?
I’m not a sociologist, but I think it’s easy to observe the correlation between rock music and widespread sexual immorality among those who like it or play it. Sex and drugs and rock n’ roll have been a tight trio on the American band scene for quite some time now. The very label “Rock ‘n Roll” was chosen for its sexual connotations. It has been so popular that it has evolved into such distinctive styles as acid rock, soft rock and punk rock, to name a few. The label, “Christian Rock” seems somehow mismatched, given the history of the style. It’s more than just oxymoronic, like “jumbo shrimp.” It seems morally contradictive, like “honest deception,” or “pure fornication.” I wouldn’t be surprised if these were titles to Country Western songs, which may also be of the devil.

If the devil is in the details of rock music, then I’m curious what it is about it that he likes so much. Rock music is characterized by a strong, regular back beat. It is typically played with guitar, bass, keyboard and drums. Does Satan prefer music produced only with these instruments, or would he enjoy a string quartet if it had a drummer as a fifth member? Would he like a brass quintet if the tuba tooted out a strong backbeat? I know he likes the coarse, suggestive, lyrics and the immodest, exhibitionist performers that give rock music its reputation, but I wonder if there’s something about the accompaniment alone that makes it suitably devilish. My gut feeling is that Satan has invested heavily in rock stock because its popularity guarantees him huge returns in sin.

Can God Redeem Immoral Music?
Is anyone or anything beyond God’s redemptive power? He is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and good. Our God rocks! er, reigns! He spoke the universe into existence by the power of His Word. He declared his creation good in its original manufacturer’s condition. He was not surprised by the fall of mankind, but orchestrated the whole thing to save sinners by His Son to the praise of His glorious grace. (Ephesians 1:5-6) Although all creation is winding down in thermodynamic entropy, God is still sovereign and in control. He has promised to restore things to perfect condition in the future. In the mean time, He has called us to be instruments of redemption as ambassadors of His gospel. This may well include our treatment of music.

When I was in college as a music student I played in jazz combos and dance bands. I played R&B, rock n’ roll, funk, swing, disco and pop in night clubs as a guitar player and singer. Our perfomances included some great instrumental music, which was really fun, but we mostly covered immoral lust songs with a thumping beat. I became a Christian while I was in the band, and after annoying my fellow band members by refusing to sing songs with sinful lyrics, I eventually quit. Soon I was invited to play my guitar and sing at church, and I have been involved in musical ministry ever since. I mention this to allow you to sniff out bias or self-justification in my views.

It makes sense to me that if God wants to redeem and transform musician sinners, like me, then He can transform what they do as well. In redemption a sinner usually confesses and repents of his sin, trusts in Christ, and commits to walking by faith in newness of life. The born again believer experiences a radical life change. Would we expect a saved rock musician to clean up his life but keep playing the same music? Would he keep listening to it? Would he bring it to church and play it there?

Who Let Satan Into the Sanctuary?
Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer once wrote about how worldly philosophies originate among elite intellectuals and then trickle through the culture via popular media and entertainment until they are widely accepted. Evolutionary naturalism, moral relativism, and sensuality are but a few examples of ideas that have been popularized in contemporary music. Once the mainstream culture is saturated with permissive views about sexuality and romance, it is no surprise to see these ideas spreading among church congregations. In many cases the church has conformed to the world, instead of striving to transform it with Biblical truth. So much for light in darkness.

Imagine that an entire punk rock band of Satan worshipers repent, believe and are saved. Next they ask what they should do about their demonic jewelry, apparel, tattooes, CDs, books, friendships, and music, which all glorify the devil. What should they toss and what may they keep? Can they play their same music, but change the lyrics to make them Christian as a relevant witness to other practicing Satanists? Can they join the church’s worship team next week?

God is under no obligation to redeem. He had the choice to convert and redeem Pharoah, or to harden his heart and destroy him. He chose the latter. Pharoah would not change. This tells me that God decides whatever he wants. He is sovereign over His church and over the music that is used in it. He may consider the genre of "Christian" Rock lawful and glorifying, or He may regard it as an insult to His holiness.

I’m embarrassed to say that my early days in music ministry included some instances of spiritual immaturity. I played in a worship band that once performed a Christian R&B song for special music. We wore dark glasses and fedora hats like we were the Blues Brothers. It seemed cool and funny at the time, but church elders corrected us privately, me in particular. I’ve used too much distortion on my guitar, played fills that were too flashy, and sometimes treated Sunday mornings like they were country club gigs. I had to be reminded that Christ was the focus, not the music.

What Kind Of Music Does God Forbid?
Music is mentioned quite a bit in the Bible, but musical style is not addressed. Nor is there any musical notation in scripture, only text. This puts us in a pickle if we want to know what kind of music is pleasing to God.

Some have claimed there is no Christian music, only Christian lyrics, so any style will do for church as long as it's popular. Others claim that only the music that is mentioned explicitly in the Bible is allowed in church. If it’s not mentioned, it’s not allowed. This causes some problems because it pits the New Testament, which doesn’t mention instruments for worship, against the Old Testament, which does. A virtual big band played at the temple in Old Testament times. Psalm 150 alone lists the following instruments (ESV): trumpet, lute, harp, strings, pipe, tambourine, cymbal.

2 Chronicles 5:12 and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; 13and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD,

I personally think that God has given us liberty to use all lawful things to bring Him glory, which includes a variety of instruments and a variety of musical styles, even formally corrupt styles. But this freedom should be used to build others up and not cause anyone to stumble morally (Romans 14:21). The Bible gives us directions for to kind of music we should use as Christians.

Philippians 4: 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

What Kind Of Music Does God Command?
Christians are commanded to sing with thanksgiving and make melody to their God. (Psalm 147:7) Joyful, corporate singing is required of all who claim Christ as Lord and Savior. If we get this right, we will be prepared to join the angels who sing in heaven. And it will be exquisitely beautiful music. If we get this wrong, we’ll probably continue with our snotty worship skirmishes like libertines against legalists.

I think congregational singing is the highest musical priority for the Lord’s Church. A church that loves to sing will know when the instruments are too dominant. A church that sings will know when too many soloists keep the body from having their turn. A church that sings will take songs of praise into their homes and fill those places with God’s presence.

In Conclusion
The devil does not get all the good music. He might be messing things up a bit right now, and helping to pollute the air waves, but in the end he gets no music at all, only the hissing and bubbling noise of a lake of fire.

I say let there be a variety of styles of music in the church. Let there be loud crashing cymbals, and let there be singing a cappella. Both are biblical. Let God’s Word be the lyrics of our songs along with fresh new lyrics of love and adoration. Let us rejoice and be glad for our God is great and His Son has conquered death to save us. Let the Lords’s people sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in their hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

What Is Prayer?

What exactly is prayer?
Prayer is a circuit of conversation with God. It includes our speaking, in faith, back to God about Himself and about our needs. When we read the Bible, the Holy Spirit illuminates the Scriptures to our understanding, and we return words of praise, thanksgiving, confession and petition to God. What a great blessing and responsibility it is!

Picture a simple electrical circuit with a battery, a light bulb, and a dimmer switch, all wired together. As power flows through the system it is regulated by the strength of the source, the setting of the switch and the capacity of the bulb.

Prayer is kind of like that. God has designed a conduit through which the power and glory of His Word flows, according to His sovereign will and purposes. Now imagine that believers are light bulbs in the circuit, placed there by God to give light to the world. The more grace and power we receive, the more light we display. Jesus tells us to let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

Why do we pray?
We pray in order to glorify God by our dependence on Him. We pray because we are desperately needy of God's great mercy and grace. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

How should we pray?
We each have a personal relationship with God, yet we are also members of the Body of Christ, the Church. Our spiritual lives should therefore not be individualistic, or independent from other members of God’s household of faith. We should also pray in a manner that glorifies God, not babbling or chanting, but offering our prayers to God in faith, knowing that He is aware of our needs in advance. Our Lord told His disciples to pray like this: "Our Father in heaven hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." (Matthew 6:9-13)
We should pray privately, corporately, humbly, confidently, cheerfully, tearfully,and regularly. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19)

The Westminster Larger Catechism on prayer.
Question 178: What is prayer?
Answer: Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.
The power of prayer should not be underestimated.

Question 185: How are we to pray.?
Answer: We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the majesty of God, and deep sense of our own unworthiness, necessities, and sins; with penitent, thankful, and enlarged hearts; with understanding, faith, sincerity, fervency, love, and perseverance, waiting upon him, with humble submission to his will.

A Practical Way To Pray
Over the years I have found that my attitude and focus is much better when I begin my day with Bible study and prayer. It's important to read the Word and pray the Word in order to live the Word. I try to devote time each morning to Bible reading, journaling, and prayer. The simple acrostic below helps me to stay organized.

P raise, thank
R epent, confess
A sk for needs (others first)
Y ield, submit, obey
E xpand, encourage, evangelize
R ecruit, replicate, reform

Since methods of prayer are as varied as God's people, it's important to find a time, a place, and a pattern for practicing powerful prayer that works best for you. Don't neglect to join with others in regular church fellowship to pray as well.

Our Responsibility To Pray
Have you ever promised to pray for someone, and then forget to follow through? I'm embarrassed to say that it has happened to me a lot. I had not considered that my negligence was a big deal until I read this Bible verse: "Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you." (1 Samuel 12:23). Ouch! While I am no prophet, like Samuel, I am responsible to keep the promises I make. Now I try to keep a list of people and their prayer requests to help me be more faithful. This has really amped up my prayer life. The Lord calls us to faithfully pray for each other, for those in authority over us, and even for our enemies.

I want you to glance again at the diagram of the elelctrical circuit. Imagine that the switch is a dimmer switch, which controls the flow of power. Where would you set it? I hope it would be moved to full capacity. I challenge you to pray like your light depended on it.

May God bless you with the power of His presence.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Does God Answer Prayer?

John Sleadd
July 2007

In the middle of the night I awoke with a terrible stomach ache. I tossed and turned in bed, wondering if I was destined to bow before the porcelain throne in misery. Would I have to call in sick at work, which for me would mean organizing lessons plans for a substitute teacher? Oh, dread. I lay there with my mind churning right along with my gut. After a few minutes of sweeping nausea, I decided to pray about it. “Dear, Lord, please heal me.” Instantly I felt better. I rolled over, had a good night’s sleep and went to work the next day.

I wish prayer worked like that every time, but it doesn’t.
I’ve had many aches and pains that didn’t go away after a sincere prayer. Many people, for whom I have prayed for healing, have died or remained in long term sickness. My wife has suffered from fibromyalgia for nearly 15 years to date, despite my steady petitions for her restored health. I think that’s because God answers our prayers according to what He wants for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory.

There are three basic ways God answers prayer.
1) Yes
2) No
3) It Depends.

What would we expect a good father to do if his eight year old son wanted to drive the car? He could say “Yes, here are the keys,” but probably not. He might say “Yes, if you sit on my lap and steer. I’ll work the pedals.” He might say, “No, wait until you’re older. Then we’ll see.” He might say “No, you are never allowed to drive this car because it is a company vehicle with restrictions.” A good father knows when to give good gifts and when to withhold them.

So it is with our Heavenly Father, whom we are able to trust with all our needs. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” (1John 5:14)

I hope that you have experienced the blessing of a positively answered prayer. If so, write me about it. For my next post I’ll be talking more about what prayer is and how to put power into it. I’ll give you a hint until then: Ask for more of the Holy Spirit.

“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" “ (Luke 11:9-13)


Friday, July 13, 2007

My Musical Confession

John Sleadd
July 2007

I love to sing. My mother sang to me when I was a little crawler back in Kentucky. I sang nursery rhymes in kindergarten on the swings. I sang along with the radio when Michael Jackson was part of the Jackson Five. When I was ten, I sang Englebert Humperdinck songs in the basement to a broomstick microphone. When no one was around.

When I was in college at Western Washington University I decided to get serious about music. I had been a starving art student for a time, but my minimalist professors, who alternately painted brown Xs across white canvases and white Xs across brown canvases didn’t inspire me much. So I switched to studying music, about which I knew next to nothing, but thought was really cool.

Despite my thorough lack of musical knowledge and skill, I somehow got admitted into the music department and became a jazz studies major. Music gave me purpose, direction and drive. After a couple of years I learned to play guitar and sing well enough to join a dance band and play in night clubs. I sang Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, and top-forty tunes. I also sang Handel’s Messiah in the university choir.

The choir director was a cute, young graduate assistant named Arden Steves, who called herself a Christian. I sang at her from the back of the bass section. I was an atheist, an unbeliever. I agreed with Karl Marx, who said that religion was an opiate for the masses. I thought Christians were weak-minded people who used religion as an intoxicating crutch. I didn’t like their songs much, either. I’d rather sing the blues than Amazing Grace. I didn’t really know what grace was anyway.

One day, when I was feeling like a miserable existentialist, I asked Arden about her religious beliefs. She told me about her faith in God and her desire to live a life of purity. Her sincerity stunned me. We had music in common, yet we were worlds apart.

I started to consider the possibility that God might really exist. It was exciting. Yet, if He had been paying attention to my immoral behavior during the past decade, I was in serious trouble. I decided to stop partying, just in case, which cost me most of my friends.

I prayed one night for God to give me the desire to seek Him if He was really out there. I’m glad my roommates weren't listening, because I felt like an idiot, talking to the ceiling. Yet soon I was reading books by C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell and R.C. Sproul, which Arden recommended. I bought a Bible, and we read through the Book of John together. I went to church with her to “check things out.” I didn’t like the music much.

The more I read the Bible, the more convicted I felt about the sins of my youth. The idea of forgiveness in Christ sounded appealing. Still, I resisted conversion, because I wasn’t sure whether I was more attracted to Christ the Messiah or to His pretty little gospel messenger, Arden. We had been seeing a lot of each other as performers in the university’s production of Music Man, and had grown close enough to talk about hypothetical marriage, as if it was a thing apart from us that could be viewed objectively. I admired her sincerity of conviction, which included her refusal to marry a non-Christian. Since I was one of those, I gazed across a chasm, it seemed.

As things worked out, Arden flew out of town in August to take a teaching job, and I joined an international dance band (we played in Canada, just across the border, big whoop-dee-doo). We said we’d stay in touch.

With Arden gone, I wondered whether I might just blow the whole faith thing off and return to my former, existential party life. One weekend when I didn’t have any dance gigs, I decided to go to Arden’s church again. The brakes on my beater van were shot, and I could only stop by frantically pumping the brake pedal, so I had a good excuse to skip. Still, I felt I should go, to see if I was really serious about spiritual things independent of her. Five intersections with traffic signals stood between my rental house and the church. I prayed this goofy prayer: “God, if you want me to be at church today, I need green lights all the way there.”

Off I went, slow and steady through five green lights until I rolled safely into the church parking lot. Amazing. My skeptic’s mind told me it could have been dumb luck coincidence, but I had a sneaking suspicion that God had perfectly orchestrated the laws of physics, the flow of electricity, my choice of speed and time of departure, along with the choices of other drivers, to clear my path to that church and let me know He was in charge of such things. I remember thinking, “Nice, work, God.” “Hey, but can you do ten lights in a row?”

While I was at church I enjoyed myself a lot. With Arden not there I could stare at people when every head was supposed to be bowed and every eye was supposed to be closed, like an infidel spy. It didn’t seem like an opium den for the masses. I was impressed by the sincerity and joy of the people in the room. I don’t remember the sermon, but I know it gave me an appetite to hear more. It didn’t matter that I hit red lights on the way home and had to pump the brakes like I was trying to kick a hole through the floor board. I felt I had received a small blessing from God that day. I determined to go to church as often as I could. I would fix my brakes.

I’m not sure exactly when I entered the kingdom of God, but I think He arranged it like he did the green lights to church, and left me wondering how it had happened. I kept reading and questioning, examining my presuppositions, and grappling with the concept of grace. At some point in the fall of my 25th year of life, I simply surrendered, and trusted what I read in the Bible, even though I didn’t always understand it. I began to sing to God in my heart. I was a sinner saved by the blood of Jesus. I wrote to Arden about it and she said she thought I was a Christian. I was okay with the label. I was one of them, one of Christ’s.

Soon, I made a public profession of faith at church that I had accepted Jesus as my Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9). For me there was no recited sinner’s prayer, no dramatic moment of decision, just a confession. God had done everything. I was a recipient of grace. Amazing. I quit the dance band, married Arden, and moved to Alaska.

I went back to school to become a teacher, but continued to be an active musician. Arden and I began having children. We sang in church choirs. I performed special music in church and in the community. I was a professional soloist for weddings, funerals, fund raisers, and private parties, which were much better than the lousy night club gigs I’d played back in my dance band days. As our five children grew up, we taught them to sing parts so that we could perform as a family choir. Then, when they were old enough to play instruments, we formed a family band called Homemade Jam. We have produced an a cappella Christmas CD, which was recorded in our home studio. Our oldest daughter has since married and moved away, but the remaining four children help me lead worship at Coram Deo Church in Grants Pass.

I plan on singing and making music as long as I can. I think the Bible commands it. “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” (Psalm 98:4) My family has chosen Colossians 3:16 as our musical theme verse. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

I thank God for his wonderful redeeming work in my life. He, not music, has given me purpose, direction and drive. What a privilege it is to use music to glorify Him. I think the last psalm in the Bible (Psalm 150) says it well.

Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
Praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
Praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
Praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
Praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
Praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Mole Wars

by John Sleadd

Let it be known throughout the land (on my property at least) that the common mole has been added to the endangered species list. My once-peaceful acre has become a battleground. It is man versus mole. Human intelligence pitted against animal instinct. Modern technology marshaled against primitive rodent behavior. I am determined to claim the victory in the end. Wish me luck.

It began last spring as a gentlemen’s war. The moles pushed up mounds of earth in my orchard lawn; I rinsed the dirt back down the holes with a garden hose. They raised serpentine tunnels in the front yard; I stamped them back down to level with my boots. They dug labyrinths in the back yard beyond the fence and underneath the vegetable garden; I ignored their seemingly harmless activities. That was a mistake. They were digging bunkers.

As the spring progressed I removed the backyard fence and cleared the brush down to our seasonal creek where I excavated a basin for a small pond. With the eye of an artist I surrounded my new pond with boulders and river cobbles, then added flowers and shrubs. My little pond had an island, a trickling waterfall, a fountain, and a lamp post. A raked and leveled, newly seeded lawn lay beside it.

It was by the pond that the gentlemen’s war turned ugly. My freshly sculpted lawn was soon pocked and broken by enemy trenches. The defiling work of those subterranean diggers erupted almost daily. No sooner would I rinse down the mounds and tamp down the tunnels than a fresh destruction would be visited upon my landscape. I resolved to meet this aggression with determined resistance.

First, I purchased traps, ridiculous things in size and expense, which required that enormous holes be dug in my new lawn to set them. The moles simply tunneled around them and piled up new mounds. Next, I tried poison bait. But the moles fasted during their campaign of vandalism. They covered the bait with dirt and doubled their efforts to erect the mother of all mounds on my property. I was close to despair.

Soon I began talking to total strangers about my mole wars. I sought counsel from older men who in their youthful days had battled with moles. Old timers spoke of valiant canines that could beat the moles at own game--by digging them out. Others recommended explosive devices rigged with triggers to blow the moles up. I imagined gaping craters as big as the pond itself in my lawn. Clearly, I needed a plan with less collateral damage.

Next, I tried carbon monoxide poisoning as my mode of attack. I connected a hose to my stinky old riding mower’s muffler and pumped the noisy exhaust into as many holes as I could find. My already-disfigured lawn looked like a geothermal feature at Yellowstone National Park with wisps of caustic smoke belching forth from the earth. Earth worms writhed to the surface in panic. The moles couldn't take the fumes and went packing. It was a thorough routing. The enemy fled in disarray from the field. For a time.

One week later they returned while I was away at a weekend retreat (no, it was not a therapy session for post-traumatic mole-combat stress disorder) and resumed their work with a will. For all I knew they wore little ear plugs and gas masks to mock me.

That’s when I appealed to the Lord God for help. He sent my cat, Dietrich, spirit filled into the fray, who hooked one of the treacherous varmints right out of the ground—a fat one with bulldozer blades for paws. Yes!! It was my intention to give humane treatment to all prisoners of war, but Dietrich inflicted mortal wounds. How sad. The survivors beat another hasty retreat.

Now that winter has set in, all is quiet on the western front. We will fight yet again, I am sure. But I have my cat! Phooey on modern technology. It is animal against animal. May God grant you victory in your own battles.
This story was written in December 0f 1999. Now, seven years later, the pond is so overgrown that I pretty much ignore the moles.