Stepping Behind the Shield, On Our Own Volition

We don’t like to be seen as weak. We like to know that we can take care of ourselves and give off the impression that we’ve got it all together. I’ve been in that place a million times and I will a million times more. But that, my friends, is the biggest mistake man can make, because that line of thinking will push us away from the most important thing we can have.

Proverbs 30:5 says,

Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

In times of distress or anxiety, we like to turn to a hundred different things to find some kind of peace or security. In times when nothing’s going on, we want to find things that make us happy or satisfied.

God offers peace, security, joy and satisfaction. But we reject it.

Sometimes I feel depressed about situations, whether it’s a social situation or dealing with schoolwork or besetting sin. One of those things. And I don’t seek after the Lord as I should. I’m a Christian, saved by grace, made new by Christ, but in those times, I don’t take that as my identity. I do one of two things: 1) try to work harder to be seen as a better person by God because my sin seems too great, or 2) I turn to more sin to find some kind of happiness or satisfaction.

But God has been gracious to show me yet another way.

Agur, the son of Jakeh, the state author of Proverbs 30 in the first verse of the chapter, proposes that other way. He writes that God “is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”

Two questions: 1) Why should we trust God to take refuge in Him?, and 2) If indeed He is trustworthy, how do we find our way behind His shield?

Let’s tackle question 1.

I have been watching the TV show Prison Break with my roommates over the past couple weeks. We actually just finished it a couple nights ago. Well-done show, quite entertaining. But there was one facet of the show that I noticed throughout: nobody seemed to trust anyone. The main characters were always asking, “Can we trust him/her?,” and the answer was often “I’m not sure” or “No.” It was a sad picture of human depravity because their fears were often confirmed, as there was a lot of back-stabbing and two-facedness among the characters on the show.

God will never do that.

In Deuteronomy 31:6, Moses is speaking to the Israelites. He’s getting kind of old, and he wants to speak some final words of wisdom to the people. He says,

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of (your enemies), for the LORD your God does with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

The latter phrase is quoted again in Hebrews 13:5,

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

God has promised to be with His children, to never leave them nor forsake them, to never dump them when they’re being disobedient, to never leave them behind after a bad battle with sin. That doesn’t mean He won’t discipline us, but He does it for our good and His glory, that we may grow to know Him better.

We may trust God because, as the first part of Proverbs 30:5 says, “Every word of God proves true.” If you are a Christian, God has proven Himself in your life by forgiving you of your sin, providing every need we have. Because God is ultimately trustworthy, we can throw everything we’ve got behind Him and trust His plan and protection for our lives. That doesn’t mean nothing bad will happen, that just means that we will have a strong tower to stand in when the trials come.

Question 2, how in the world do we put ourselves in this protection?

Trust Him. Give your life up to Him. Seek salvation.

Jeremiah the prophet sent a letter from Jerusalem to the “surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon” (Jeremiah 29:1). As part of that letter in Jeremiah 29, verse 13, he inserts God’s words.

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

God’s promise to His people is that they will find Him when they put their entire being into seeking Him. We must dedicate our lives to knowing and trusting God. Then, we will be safe and secure, wrapped in His love and protection.

We’ve just got to step behind the shield. It’s a much sturdier, much more reliable protection from life’s trials and tribulations than any worldly satisfaction, any self-righteous “perfection.” We got to give up the idea that we can fix it on our own and throw ourselves behind the reliable shield of our Savior. We’ve got to make that decision.

So step behind the shield of God, and find true peace, true satisfaction and true security in Him in light of life’s tribulations and the temptations of sin. He’s truly worthy.

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Escaping the Snare of Man’s Approval

How often do we, when making a decision about what to say or do, think first of how others might react? And not the consequences of the decision that might affect people, but how those people will view your decision. How they’ll view you in light of your decision.

It’s a trap.

If you consistently fall into this line of thinking, you’re trapped in a cycle of doubt, fear and low self-image that is not consistent with how Christians are called to live their lives.

I’m a living example of that.

For a long time, probably when I switched schools from 4th grade to 5th grade, I began worrying about how others viewed me. I wanted to be one of the popular kids, one of the guys that every girl “liked,” the best player on all the sports teams, picked first in P.E. I found approval in people asking me about homework questions and academic things. If somebody asked me a question about something in U.S. history or math, and they liked my answer, my self-esteem shot through the roof. I was so pumped that somebody thought I was smart enough.

But by the time I was a junior in high school, I thought so much about how others viewed me that I took every little slight, whether real or imaginary, intentional or unintentional (which most of them were), as a bullet through my chest. I would spend time mourning my (totally imaginary) loss of friends.

It took reaching the summer after my sophomore year of college to get shaken by a radical truth: seeking the approval of man, seeking to be popular in their eyes, seeking to be loved by all, it’s a trap. And the Bible supports that thinking.

Proverbs 29:25 says,

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.

There’s a powerful image in this proverb. Imagine you’re walking along a path and you’re too busy looking up, trying to find the right way, that you completely miss the tree root jutting out on the ground in front of you. You trip and you fall. The snare was laid, and you fell right into it.

Seeking man’s approval is the same way. We’re so concerned about what other people think of us that we fall into a trap of constant doubt and fear, mixed with a few self-esteem issues, because we’re so busy looking around at others and their opinions instead of watching where we’re going. We want people to love us so much that we end up doing things that we would normally not do. That, or we fall into a depression because we’re not loved as we feel like we need to be.

That’s where God steps in. If we throw our total trust in God in whatever situation and hold no fear of man, we will be safe from those traps. That doesn’t mean we still won’t have fear, but we have a God who “gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). And in the long run, what’s better — finding man’s approval, or being safe in God’s loving arms? If we seek after the LORD for our personal emotional/mental security, not the opinions of others, we’ll avoid those traps, we’ll be safe.

One thing I want to add: do not hesitate to heed wise counsel. Asking a wise spiritual advisor or a friend for their opinion on something serious or life-changing does not mean you fear them. In fact, as Proverbs 29:1 says,

He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.

Being corrected in your way of thinking by someone wiser or getting good counsel is praised by the Lord. It’s part of the sanctification process. Ignoring all the opinions of man is folly, because others in our lives just might be able to point us in the right direction when we’re lost if they’re seeking the Lord as well.

The encouragement here is this: do not be controlled by what others think of you. Seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, not fearful of the world around you and their thoughts. As Christians, our thoughts and ideals, if they match what the Bible says, will often contradict with the majority of the world, and then you will not have much support. But relying on God is a safety that will protect from sin and fear. Trust Him.

Consistantly Being Renewed

I think all of us would like to be the person who could learn something once and never have to re-study it or re-learn it. Why do we cram at exam time? It’s not because we never heard or read the material that’s going to be on the exam (for the most part) but because we need to take another look at the material because it didn’t sink in all the way.

I think our Christian lives are the same way. We might learn how to study the Bible one time, and it works great for a while. But maybe we go a couple weeks without getting in the Word, or we want a fresh approach. The best way to find that new approach is to start from the ground level, learn all over again why we study the Bible in the first place, the effective ways to do it.

Romans 12:2 says:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The part about being “transformed by the renewal of your mind” has been on my heart a lot lately. So often I find myself set in a certain way of thinking that I think is right, but then find it challenged. There is some thinking we must stand firm in – truths in Scripture, most notably – but being renewed in that thinking is crucial in giving glory to God.

Being reminded of the necessity of God’s glory being preeminent in all things might help us refocus how we approach our job/schooling/relationships/you name it. Being reminded of God’s grace helps us to not be overwhelmed by guilt when we see our sin. Being reminded of the sovereignty of God in all things might help us see the difficult circumstance we find ourselves in as part of His plan.

All of these things require a change in attitude and thought, because they don’t come naturally. And while we may learn them once and it leaves a big impact, the idea of “renewing” means that it’s a constant process of learning it again, it becoming new and fresh again.

So I encourage you who reads this to not be afraid to learn the same thing again and again but be ready for a renewing of your mind as part of your growth. And be ready for it to happen again and again.

Five Albums You Should ‘Star’ on Spotify/Buy on iTunes: First Edition

I listen to a lot of music, but I’m not about to tell you my music taste is totally refined. You can talk to my brother Addison for that. But in my listening to a lot of different music, I run across some gems every once in a while. Here are five that are going into my ears consistently right now. I’ll post Spotify boxes below the album where applicable. Not all of these are on Spotify.

1. Jess Ray – Jess Ray and the Rag Tag Army – 2010

I was recently introduced to this artist, as in about three days ago recently. I’m hooked. The honest lyricism matched with the sincere reverence and worship of God combined is good enough for me.

jessray“I’m deaf and dumb and blind and lame, with no hope, no way, no chance…Jesus Christ of Nazareth, You’re my only chance!” Ray exclaims in the chorus of “One Name,” one of the better three songs on the album. The second is aptly-titled “Better,” where Ray lists what knowing Christ is better than. It amounts to pretty much everything, which is truth. “Gates” describes the joy of the believer in light of weaknesses – “In my weakness, it’s far more clear. In my failures, it’s far more clear to me just who You to me and what You did to me, to me” – and the longing to see heaven – “And I can’t wait until You walk me through those gates, hallelujah!”

Looking for solid worship with a melodic, indie kick? Check out Jess Ray and the Rag Tag Army.

Get “Jess Ray and the Rag Tag Army” on iTunes

2. Ben Rector – The Walking in Between – 2013

Not often do we find great love songs that are clean with wonderful lyricism and a refreshing approach to the genre. Ben Rector is that, and with his latest output, The Walking in Between, he captures the topic of romantic love in several different ways that are truly refreshing each time.

The highlight for me right now is the upbeat, driving “When I’m With You,” in which Rector describes how he feels when he is with his special someone – “But when I’m with you, I’m no longer wondering. But when I’m with you, I swear I can breathe. But when I’m with you, I know who I am and who I want to be.” Other highlights include the simple “I Like You” (“There’s no need to complicate, dress it up or overstate it, without too much hesitation, here’s the way I feel, I like you”) and “Forever Like That” (“I wanna love you forever I do, I wanna spend all of my day with you, carry your burden and be the wind at your back, I wanna spend my forever, forever like that”). The iTunes version of the album includes an acoustic version of “Forever Like That.” benrector

He also tackles non-love topics, such as “Making Money” and a plea to God (I’m guessing) on “If You Can Hear Me” (“Sometimes the devil sounds a lot like Jesus, telling me I’m not enough. I don’t believe it, no no, but I can feel it. And I need You so, yes, I need You so”).

Like the romantic singer/songwriter-vibe? Check out Ben Rector’s The Walking in Between.

Get “The Walking in Between” on iTunes (No Spotify for Mr. Rector)

3. Dre Murray – Gold Rush: Maybe One Day – 2013

This Christian rapper’s major exposure is little to the common Christian rap fan. Murray appeared on the song “Welcome to H-Town” on Lecrae’s Church Clothes mixtape last year. He’s part of the group W.L.A.K. (which includes Alex Faith, Swoope and Christon Gray) on Collision Records. But after this album, it will be hard to ignore him.

dremurrayThe album follows how a man is trapped in his obsession with material possessions, playing with the motif of Egyptian kings and queens who were buried with their gold and wealth in hopes it would come with them to the afterlife. Highlights “Maybe One Day” (featuring Christon Gray) and “Pharaoh” (featuring Tragic Hero) capture the image of a man who is seeking for the material that will satisfy him. On “Pharoah,” Murray exclaims, “Dear Pharoah with a tomb for your gold, food and drink abound, not an inch for your soul. Your death will soon show that you’re not in control.”

My personal favorites are “Fiend” and “Gold Rush.” On the former, the narrator laments how he has become a “fiend,” a danger to those around him because of his desires, while the latter is a track that captures the theme of the whole album, how the possessions just aren’t worth it in the end.

(Also: Christon Gray shows up four times on the album, which instantly makes it better.)

Like rap that approaches a real topic with some nice production and honest, real lyrics? Check out Gold Rush: Maybe One Day.

Get “Gold Rush: Maybe One Day” on iTunes

4. Still Trill Christians – Kings – 2013

Some dapper young fellas grace the cover of this Christian rap group’s debut Kings. The album is filled with “bangers,” songs that you can drive to, work out to and jam to. The theology isn’t too deep, but the message is clear.

The standout is “No Sex” (featuring Willie “P. Dub” Moore), in which the guys rap about how sex is best saved for marriage, that that approach is the most God-glorifying. It’s a refreshing look at sex as opposed to most of what we hear these days – “We can hit the mall and go shopping while we in it, and you be looking good, baby girl, I must admit it, but I don’t need no sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, because you’re worth more than that, that, that, that, that. Please don’t get me wrong, ‘lil mama, you so fly! But I listen to my Daddy, and that’s the reason why, that I don’t need to sex…”still-trill-christians-kings_n

Trying to just jam? Check out “Bingo,” “Keys & Yams” and “Winner” (feat. Jordan Armstrong. STC also shouts out to the beauty of doing relationships the God-centered way on “Miss You” (featuring Nina Sims) and “Loyalty.” “War” (featuring Mic Tunez) approaches the battle inherent in biblical warfare.

Like some upbeat Christian rap with a few songs refreshingly approaching romantic relationships? Check out Kings.

Get “Kings” on iTunes

5. Christon Gray – Even With Evil With Me – 2011

I mentioned this guy a couple albums ago as being a supporting actor on Dre Murray’s Gold Rush: Maybe One Day. This is his first output as a solo artist, and it’s tight. The guy can sing and rap and glorify Christ while doing both. I can’t tell you which one I enjoy better. To get a hint of both, listen to this album. This is just about all singing, but it’s beautiful.

Even+With+Evil+With+MeThe highlights are the worshipful “Reign” and the title track. The former is a soulful track praising the reign of God over the world and over the life of the singer. The latter is an exclamation of how God still works in the life of the believer, “even with evil with” him – “Now I am trying to be the hero, just to find that I’m the criminal. And I’ve discovered through the course of sin that I’m no good alone. Jesus, oh Jesus, my Jesus, that’s why I love You so. Stories I am not inclined to tell, to say the least I laid my bed in hell. But You were there to catch me when I fell, tossed my sins in seas and fared thee well. Surely, goodness and mercy should always follow and never return void.” Gives me chills.

But perhaps the best is “Isle of You.” It’s a piano-driven love ballad Gray wrote about his wife – “Lord knows I deserve nothing, I’ve got everything, yes I do. Flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, baby, He knows I’m no good alone. You bring out the best in me, and let me tell ya bout the way you make me feel.” It’s one of those wedding songs.

Like soulful, Gospel-lite Gospel-centered music that will drive you to worship? Check out Even With Evil With Me.

Get Even With Evil With Me on iTunes

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If I keep finding more and more awesome music, I might just do this again. That’s a “First Edition” with a hesitancy.