A Shocking Thing That We Should Forget

One of my favorite New Testament theologians is Donald Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago.  Anything you can read that he has written will be well worth your time.  Lectures and sermons that you can find in simple Google searches on the internet can give you hours of rich nourishment in God’s word.

One thing that many “fans” of Carson don’t know is that he has also written a collection of hymns that are collected in the album “Shout for Delight.”  They are all very good and worshipful, but there is one in particular that always ministers to me and also brings just a bit of conviction.  It is a communion hymn entitled “A Shocking Thing.”  I give you the lyrics below for your edification. You can find the CD and some samples HERE.

A SHOCKING THING

A shocking thing, this, that we should forget
The Savior who gave up his life –
To turn from the cross, indifferent, and let
Our minds veer toward self-love and strife.
The table, this rite, is habit – and yet
Christ’s words pierce our shame like a knife:

While breaking the bread, the Lord Jesus said,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

Enamored with power, surrounded with praise,
We set out our ecclesial plans.
Efficiency hums, and we spend our days
Defending, promoting our stands.
Techniques multiply, our structures amaze –
The gospel slips out of our hands.

While breaking the bread, the Lord Jesus said,
“Do this in remembrance of me.
O remember, remember the cross.
From my side issued water and blood,
This was no accident,
I bore the wrath of my God.”

“Remember my bed, the dank cattle shed,
Though glory was all my domain.
Remember the years of service and tears
That climaxed in lashings of pain.
By God’s own decree, your guilt fell on me,
And all of my loss is your gain.”

While breaking the bread, the Lord Jesus said,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

“Remember my tears, Gethsemene’s fears;
Recall that my followers fled,
That I was betrayed, disowned and arraigned –
The Prince of Life crucified, dead.
Remember your shame, your sin and your blame;
Remember the blood that I shed.”

While lifting the cup, the Savior spoke up,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

So now when we eat this feast simply spread
I blush I forget to recall.
For this quiet rite means once more I have fed
On bread that gave life once for all;
Memorial feast—just wine, broken bread—
And time to reflect on Christ’s call:

While breaking the bread, the Lord Jesus said,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

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When Church is Mundane & Truth is Not Central

Peter,_Paul_and_Mary_2006When I was in high school and college I loved the music of the folk group Peter, Paul & Mary.  I still think they had one of the purest sounds ever recorded.  While they didn’t share many of my political views they wrote and sang some incredible music.

One of my favorite songs by them was not one of their most popular.  It was simply entitled “Hymn.”  It spoke of institutional religion without any reality in faith.  It was sung from the perspective of a young boy as he went and observed the hypocrisy of ritualism without truth.  I have often wondered if it were not a song written before its time.  Because the lyrics speak volumes to the contemporary church, I’m afraid.   Below I will print the lyrics and you can hear Paul Stookey sing it HERE.

It certainly gives us pause to think:

Sunday morning, very bright, I read Your book by colored light
That came in through the pretty window picture.

I visited some houses where they said that You were living
And they talked a lot about You
And they spoke about Your giving.
The passed a basket with some envelopes;
I just had time to write a note
And all it said was “I believe in You.”

Passing conversations where they mentioned Your existence
And the fact that You had been replaced by Your assistants.
The discussion was theology,
And when they smiled and turned to me
All that I could say was “I believe in You.”

I visited Your house again on Christmas or Thanksgiving
And a balded man said You were dead,
But the house would go on living.
He recited poetry and as he saw me stand to leave
He shook his head and said I’d never find You.

My mother used to dress me up,
And while my dad was sleeping
We would walk down to Your house without speaking.

We must be certain that our churches are filled with truth and love, and be able to point them to the One who is not dead . . . but is alive!!!

Awesome? Is it Really???

Last week I led a Bible Conference in North Carolina on the theme of “The Eclipse of God.” The general idea is that we allow things, or stuff, to come between us and God thus making Him appear to not be present.  Much like in a solar eclipse, when the moon gets between the earth and the sun and casts a shadow across the earth, it appears that the sun disappears or loses its power.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  The sun remains just as bright, just as hot and just as powerful as when it is shining at noon day.  But it just doesn’t appear to be so.

In our lives we allow “stuff” to cast a shadow on our lives that makes God seem to be weaker or not as glorious.  Who at times hasn’t made a comment to the effect, it just seems my prayers don’t get past the ceiling and seems as if God is not there or doesn’t care.  Again, nothing could be further from the truth.

Now, there are obvious things that can “eclipse” God in your life.  Known purposeful sin is the most obvious, and so are the things that David, in Psalm 19, called, “presumptive sins” which are those we tend to excuse as only being “little sins.”

One of the things that I mentioned in one of the sessions was that we can also “eclipse” God with the language we use.  I was speaking with someone this week who was told that a friend’s dog had just had puppies.  This person responded, “that’s awesome.”  I was walking down the street with someone and they saw a new corvette parked on the curb and again their response was, “wow, that’s awesome.”  I was even eating with someone the other day, we were having burgers (and good ones no doubt) and my friend said, “this hamburger is awesome.”  Do you see where I am going?

The word “awesome” is a word that means to see something and stand in awe of it.  It is a word that when applied to something means that it causes me to want to fall down and worship it, I am so struck by it.  I don’t know about you but I have never seen a car (even a vette) or a puppy (even a litter) or a food product (though I love to eat) that made me want to fall down and worship it.

It just appears to me that we do serve an awesome God.  When I think of His character and attributes and glory I want to fall down and worship Him.  But when we speak in the same way about everything else in the world, do we not lessen His glory in the eyes of those who know we are Christians?  If the same word is used to describe God and a car, or a dog, or food . . . well, you get my picture.

I know I am probably going to be viewed as out of step with this post-modern culture we live in.  But that’s OK.  I once had a staff member who accused me of trying to be controlling of other people, simply because I thought this word ought to be reserved for God, and I said so in a sermon.

I don’t want my language eclipsing God in my life or in other’s lives. It just seems to me to be prudent that we reserve one descriptive word for God alone.  Awesome seems to be that word, in my humble opinion.  What do you think?

An Old Confession of Faith — Lancelot Andrewes 1555-1626

Lancelot AndrewesLast week a friend of mine, Karl Minor, mentioned a volume from someone in the late 1500s, which he said had the richness of the Puritan prayers of The Valley of Vision.  I did a little research and ordered a copy of Lancelot Andrewes and His Private Devotions, by Alexander Whyte.

To this point I have only done a cursory overview of the book, but I did find the following very refreshing and clear.  It is Andrewes’ own Confession of Faith.  I believe it is a worthy read and meditation, and so I commend it to you.  I maintained the language as it was published.  A few words may not be immediately obvious in their meaning, but it is worthwhile to look them up.

4. CONFESSION OF FAITH.

I believe, O Lord, in Thee,
Father, Word, Spirit, One God;
that by Thy fatherly love and power
all things were created;
that by Thy goodness and love to man
all things have been gathered together into one
in Thy Word,
Who, for us men and for our salvation,
became flesh, was conceived, was born,
suffered, was crucified,
died, was buried,
descended, rose again,
ascended, sat down,
will return, will repay;
that by the forth-shining and operation
of Thy Holy Spirit
hath been called out of the whole world
a peculiar people, into a commonwealth
of faith in the truth
and holiness of life,
in which we are partakers
of the communion of saints
and forgiveness of sins in this world,
and in which we look for
the resurrection of the flesh
and the life everlasting
in the world to come.

This most holy faith once delivered to the saints
I believe, O Lord;
help Thou mine unbelief,
increase Thou my little faith.
And vouchsafe* to me
to love the Father for His love,
to reverence the Almighty for His power,
to Him, as unto a faithful Creator, to commit my soul in well doing.
Vouchsafe to me to partake
from Jesus of salvation,
from Christ of anointing,
from the only begotten Son of adoption;
to serve the Lord
for His conception, in faith,
for His birth, in humility,
for His sufferings, in patience and in impatience of sin;
for His cross, to crucify occasions of sin,
for His death, to mortify the flesh,
for His burial, to bury evil thoughts in good works,
for His descent, to meditate upon hell,
for His resurrection, upon newness of life,
for His ascension, to set my mind on things above,
for His sitting on high, to set my mind on the
better things on His right hand,
for His return, to fear His second appearing,
for His judgment, to judge myself ere I be judged.
From the Spirit
vouchsafe to met o receive the breath of saving grace,
in the holy catholic (universal) Church
to have my own calling, sanctification, and portion,
and fellowship of her holy things,
prayers, fastings, groanings,
watchings, tears, sufferings,
for assurance of the remission of sins,
for hope of resurrection and translation
to eternal life.

*”vouchsafe”to grant or furnish often in a gracious manner

I am looking forward to further reading in this very old, but rich book.

Worship is What We Do . . . or should be!!

WorshipWorship is what we do when we gather together each Sunday.  We do that for a lot of reasons, not least of which is because God has called us to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).  There are other times when we do other things.  We have times of fellowship and play together.  There are times when we get together to have some entertainment, such as the annual youth event, Blast from the Past.  But when we enter the sanctuary on Sunday we come with the focused  purpose of worship.  We sing, read God’s word, pray, and study God’s word; and not much else.  Again, that is by design.  Once we hear the call to worship (usually Scripture) at the beginning of the service until the benediction at the end, our focus is on God and His Being and truth.  You say, Bill, that’s a given, what else would a church do?

I ran across something in my study this week that was shocking to me, in that it could have been written last week.  It was written in the early 1900s by a man many of you have perhaps read, A. W. Tozer.  He said:

“The church that can’t worship must be entertained. And men who can’t lead a church to worship must provide the entertainment.”

I am amazed at the churches I see across the nation that have become more entertainment centers that places of worship.  I wept when I saw that a former church that I poured over 10 years of my ministry into, feeding them on the word of God, had a “power team” in to “wow and dazzle” with their feats of breaking bricks and boards and tearing phone books in half.  I watched on TV last week a “Christian comedian” in the pulpit during the time set apart for worship. Was he funny? Yes.  Did he handle the Word of God seriously? Absolutely not!!  I talked with friends this week who were lamenting the fact that the church they have just left (they are moving to another state) now evaluates everything as to what is the “wow factor”, whether signs in the buildings or sermons.

Twenty-five years ago a young preacher in Chicago went door to door and surveyed his neighborhood as to why people didn’t go to church.  The number one answer:  I get bored.  Bored!?!  Then something is seriously wrong.  As I read the scriptures I never find boredom a reaction when coming into the presence of God.  Fear, trembling, weeping, amazement and awe, but never boredom!!

Perhaps, and I’m only speculating here, the problem is in where the focus is.  If we focus on meeting with the living God there will be no boredom, I don’t think.  May God keep us focused as we worship Him each week.  As the writer of Ecclesiastes states, “To every thing there is a time and purpose . . .”  Let’s never forget the purpose for which we gather each week.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

rainbow018The hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness has long been one of my favorites.  So I was interested today when Bob Kauflin of Worship Matters sent out an email dealing with the story behind the hymn.  I believe it is worth a read:

The story behind Great is Thy Faithfulness should encourage every Christian who thinks of their life as ordinary. There’s no tragic story (think “It Is Well” by Horatio Spafford) associated with this hymn. It’s just the fruit of a faithful man with a simple faith in a faithful God.

Thomas Chisholm, who sometimes described himself as “just an old shoe,”  was born in a Kentucky log cabin in 1866. He was converted when he was 27, became a pastor at 36, but had to retire one year later due to poor health. He spent the majority of the rest of his life as a life insurance agent in New Jersey. He died in 1960 at the age of 93. During his life he wrote over 1200 poems, most of which no one will ever hear.

But back in 1923, at the “beyond his prime” age of 57, Thomas Chisholm sent a few of his poems to William Runyan at the Hope Publishing Company. One of them was Great is Thy Faithfulness, based on Lamentations 3:22-23.

Lam. 3:22    The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Runyan was particularly moved by Great is Thy Faithfulness and sought to set it to a melody that would reflect the response of wonder and gratefulness to God’s faithfulness conveyed in the lyrics. Apparently, he succeeded.

The song quickly became a favorite Moody Bible Institute, and later George Beverly Shea sang it at Billy Graham crusades. Now it’s known all over the world and has been used to encourage millions of Christians to trust in a faithful God.

Pretty impressive spiritual fruit from a life insurance agent.

When Chisholm was 75, he wrote in a letter:

“My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.”

The hymn has three verses and a chorus. Verse 1 speaks of God’s faithfulness revealed  in his Word, and is adapted from James 1:17: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Verse 2 tells us of God’s faithfulness revealed in creation. The seasons,the sun, moon, and stars all continue on their courses perfectly, orderly, quietly – guided by God’s faithful hand, without any help from us.

Verse 3 reminds us of God’s faithfulness revealed in our lives. He pardons all our sins, fills us with his peace, assures of his presence, gives us strength, hope, and blessings to numerous to count!

Whatever challenges, trials, or disappointments you might be facing right now, this hymn reminds us that God’s promises are true, that he never changes, that his compassions never fail, and that his faithfulness to us in Christ Jesus is more than good—it’s GREAT!

God doesn’t need incredibly gifted or wildly famous people to proclaim those truths from his Word.

Just faithful ones.

Happy Birthday, John Calvin

Calvin's B'day CakeToday marks the 500th Birthday of one of the most influential theologians in the life of the church of Jesus Christ.

There has probably never been one so misrepresented and slandered than Calvin.  But for those who take time to read his work there is an exaltation of Jesus Christ and a worship of God that is unsurpassed.

So I gladly join the hosts in saying Happy Birthday!!

My favorite quote ABOUT Calvin comes from the pen of one of my favorite contemporary theologians, J. I. Packer.  Packer writes in Honoring the People of God, page 19:

“The amount of misrepresentation to which Calvin’s theology has been subjected is enough to prove his doctrine of total depravity several times over.”