Tuesday, March 29, 2011


All the heroes and legends I knew as a child have turned into idols of clay. - Styx

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.
- William Cowper

When I was growing up, I heard stories about how the Israelites were always bowing down to these idols. I guess for the most part, I figured these idols were some big carvings or statues made of stone and metal and stuff. I also heard about how God said we're not supposed to worship them.

I thought the Israelites were pretty dumb for doing these things and, since I was a kid and didn't really have a whole bunch of scrap metal lying around and didn't have money to go buy a ready-made idol, I figured was pretty safe from the whole idolatry thing. That's one commandment I might as well forget.

But we all bow down to idols.

I knew a lot of people growing up who idolized their children. Their life was consumed with their kids, trying to never let them experience pain or feel sad or want for anything. Later on, when these kids were blindsided by reality and started doing all kinds of distasteful things, the parents completely crumbled.

I am close to some people that idolize financial security. Their anxiety level directly corresponds to the health of their stock portfolio. The end goal of their life’s work isn’t Christ’s Kingdom, but building their own little kingdom that is safe, dry and comfortable.

Other people idolize their health.

Or how about their country? People sing worship songs to the U.S. all the time.

The scary thing about it is that most idols are good things, like relationships, marriages, food, sex…whatever. They don’t look scary or ugly or fallible or ominous. Even things like morality and good appearances begin with good intentions.  But what happens is that we present ourselves wholly and unreservedly to these things, these flaming receptacles for our trust and assurance, and consequently take a detour away from God's altar.

And idols keep us from a relationship with God. They keep us either in our past or our future, writhing in guilt over times our idols failed us, or sweating in anticipation of the next time we’re going to be let down.

If I am actually worshiping the one true and living God instead of substitutes, I don't need to feel shame and anxiety. Jesus' love covers my past and gives me assurance for the future.

Worship means presenting yourself wholeheartedly. Make sure it’s to the one true, living God.  Tear the others from his throne in your life.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Out of my bondage, sorrow, and night,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy freedom, gladness, and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee;
Out of my sickness, into Thy health,
Out of my want and into Thy wealth,
Out of my sin and into Thyself,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of my shameful failure and loss,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the glorious gain of Thy cross,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of earth’s sorrows into Thy balm,
Out of life’s storms and into Thy calm,
Out of distress to jubilant psalm,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of unrest and arrogant pride,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy blessed will to abide,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of myself to dwell in Thy love,
Out of despair into raptures above,
Upward for aye on wings like a dove,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of the fear and dread of the tomb,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the joy and light of Thy throne,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of the depths of ruin untold,
Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,
Ever Thy glorious face to behold,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
-text by William T. Sleeper, 1887

I suppose anyone reading this can infer that I love to talk about hymn texts.

Anyway, having shed some of my old Baptist skin and having fully thrown myself into the discipline of Lent this year, there are a lot of these texts coming to mind.  Like this one.

It's not heard as much these days as it once was, probably because the tune is a bit outdated, but it's a great text for a repentant and devoted heart.

At first glance, it would appear that it is talking about a person at the moment of salvation, which we sometimes call "justification."  It's the moment when a person moves from sin's darkness into God's light.

But I find these words in my mind and on my lips often even now. 

That's because a relationship with Christ isn't only a one-time occurrence, but a process; a story to be played out for the rest eternity.  And while we're here on earth, that means learning to trust and rely on grace instead of our own strength.

So when I find myself in periods of darkness or doubt or anxiety or pain, I can pray words like this.  Even though I've been "saved" and have the promise of eternity with Christ, I'm still being saved through this life. 

For you, it could be, "out of depression" or "out of addiction" or "out of my apathy" or "out of my comfort" or "out of my idols," but the prayer is the same.

"God, help me rest on your gift of grace and follow your Spirit."

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Ask ye what great thing I know,
that delights and stirs me so?
What the high reward I win?
Whose the name I glory in?
Jesus Christ, the crucified.

Who defeats my fiercest foes?
Who consoles my saddest woes?
Who revives my fainting heart,
healing all its hidden smart?
Jesus Christ, the crucified.

Who is life in life to me?
Who the death of death will be?
Who will place me on his right,
with the countless hosts of light?
Jesus Christ, the crucified.

This is that great thing I know;
this delights and stirs me so:
faith in him who died to save,
him who triumphed o'er the grave:
Jesus Christ, the crucified.
- Johann C. Schwedler, 1741; trans. by Benjamin H. Kennedy, 1863

While we're on the subject of creeds, it's important to remember that there must be a heart connection to the beliefs we claim.  Knowledge is necessary, but it's only a beginning place.  If not, it's just academic.  It doesn't have a grip on our life.  

Let's say I started off believing all the right things about the woman I'm married to.  I could believe she's a wonderful woman, that she'd make a great wife, you know, that sort of thing.  Those are obviously necessary beliefs in order to form a relationship, but if I stopped there, would there be a relationship?  Not hardly.  I'd probably just be a creepy dude that stared a lot. 

A cerebral belief in the truths of the Apostle's Creed is a great first step, but if you don't move past that first stage, there is no relationship.  The truth lives in your mind, but it doesn't abide in your heart.

That's why I love the way this text personalizes those beliefs about Christ.  "Whose the name I glory in" is a worshipful heart response to the head knowledge that Christ is the Son of God and came to save. 

I tried to find a good vocal arrangement of this text on video, but it apparent doesn't exist, so here's what the tune sounds like

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I believe in God the Father Almighty, 
     maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:
     who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
     born of the Virgin Mary,
     suffered under Pontius Pilate
     was crucified, dead, and buried;
     the third day he rose from the dead;
     he ascended into heaven,
     and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
      from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
     the holy catholic church,
     the communion of saints,
     the forgiveness of sins,
     the resurrection of the body,
     and the life everlasting. Amen.

"A creed is not, and was never meant to be, a substitute for personal faith: it attempts to give substance to a personal faith that already exists." - Alister McGrath.  

Since true worship is a heart response on our part, true worship begins with knowledge of God (and I'm not simply talking about simple, cognitive knowledge of God, either, but an understanding of the truth's power in my life).

So, it holds truth that a teaching church is a worshiping church. 

And, I think it is equally true that a church that doesn't teach is not, at least not in the full sense of Christian worship, a worshiping church.  This doesn't mean you have to say particular creeds or sing particular songs or preach in a particular way or anything else.  But if you're not teaching and leading people to an increased knowledge of their faith, worship isn't going to be as rich and full and wholehearted as it could be.

Alister McGrath, I Believe: Exploring the Apostles' Creed (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 14.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Check out these lyrics.

I repent, I repent of my pursuit of America’s dream
I repent, I repent of living like I deserve anything
Of my house, my fence, my kids, my wife
In our suburb where we’re safe and white
I am wrong and of these things I repent

I repent, I repent of parading my liberty
I repent, I repent of paying for what I get for free
And for the way I believe that I am living right
By trading sins for others that are easier to hide
I am wrong and of these things I repent

I repent of judging by a law that even I can’t keep
Of wearing righteousness like a disguise
To see through the planks of my own eyes

I repent, I repent of trading truth for false unity
I repent, I repent of confusing peace and idolatry
By caring more of what they think than what I know of what we need
By domesticating you until you look just like me
I am wrong and of these things
I am wrong and of these things
Oh I am wrong and of these things I repent


But it's powerfully true.

Christians in this country have a real problem with diluting the radical calling of the Gospel with a felt entitlement to shallow happiness and security and comfort.

We feel as if we should never want for anything; that we should have a big house in a safe neighborhood, a great job, a perfect marriage, children whenever we want them, etc...   

It's been true in my life.  I can remember just a few years ago feeling gypped and angry because here I was, college educated, unable to find the perfect job - or even an imperfect but acceptable job.  Meanwhile, I stood oblivious to the hurt and pain and suffering all around me when I was working in food service.  A completely missed opportunity.

In City of God, Augustine tells us that "sin is to a nature what blindness is to an eye."  That was certainly the case in my life.

So here's the bottom line as I see it: the scarlet blood of Christ that runs rich in our lives turns pink when it's mixed with worship of comfort and sameness and material satisfaction.

I'm guilty of this, and in macrocosm, I'm not sure how to change it.
But repentance is a good place to start.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


On this designated day of repentance, I've been thinking of a particular hymn that speaks of an earnest desire to be pared down, renewed and focused on the elements and intricacies of true Christian discipleship.  As we take time to reposition ourselves, meditate on these words by Kate B. Wilkinson:

May the mind of Christ, my Savior,
Live in me from day to day,
By his love and power controlling
All I do and say.

May the word of God dwell richly
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph
Only through His power.

May the peace of God, my Father,
Rule my life in everything,
That I may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.

May the love of Jesus fill me, 
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing - 
This is victory.

May I run the race before me,
Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus
As I onward go.

May His beauty rest upon me
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Worship is not a private practice. It is the chief work of heaven and the duty of every creature. A day will come when our conflict and mutual discomfort over the church's worship will end. Until then we must muddle through the best we can be reminding ourselves that we are part of a much larger congregation - one populated by patriarchs and prophets, saints and angels, where we are invited to join a chorus that began on the first day of creation. The first notes were sounded by those who surround the throne in heaven.  Their theme echoes through the rest of God's domain.  All that remains is for us to add our voices to their song.

- John Koessler

John Koessler, "The Trajectory of Worship: What's Really Happening When We Praise God in Song?," Christianity Today, March 2011, 21.

Worship is more than we think.  


And it's not about us or what we like or what fits us or what's easy for us.

When we are gathered around the throne, living out what we have practiced on earth, I'm pretty certain that we're not going to be worried about what kind of songs we're singing or what instruments will be playing.  And when we're on our faces, we're not going to be worried about whether we sit in pews or chairs.  

Praise God, that time is coming.  But for now, we have to practice for that day.  We have to worship in a day-by-day, moment-by-moment kind of way.  When we truly live like this, we're can't be worried about liking the song or knowing the song or if the organ is too loud or getting our favorite seats.  God wants us to worship in a way that will shake us to the core and change our lives completely.  Because worship doesn't start in us, therefore it doesn't happen at our convenience.  Worship starts with Christ, the one who can make that kind of renewal happen.  

It's a dangerous situation.  Once we have a genuine encounter with the living God, we'll never be the same.  Instead of going to church, we'll be the Church.  

It's not about us, friends.  It's about rehearsing for the heavenly choir.