Worship Where the Wild Things Are

Marshall Segal:

Worship Where the Wild Things Are

One of the unavoidable realities of corporate worship in this world is distraction. Our minds are already prone to wander completely apart from anything happening around us in that room. But anyone who’s been in church for more than a few minutes knows there are always more things going on than we can ignore. Unruly children, unresolved conflict, uninhibited personalities, untalented singers, unsilenced technology, and an unending list of other disturbances.

If you’re like me, those moments can be a real challenge. After all, I’ve come here to meet God, to hear from him and offer my worship to him. The movement, tensions, and noises are keeping me from him, right? They’re stealing my attention in some of the most precious minutes of the week. Distractions in church can quickly give rise to impatience, irritation, exasperation, and even anger.

Five Ways to Worship in the Wild

But I wonder if we’ve missed the point of the wildness in corporate worship. Yes, God mainly wants to speak to us through his word, but what if he has other things to say in less grammatical, less authoritative ways? What if God wants these unwanted distractions to show us more of himself and more about what it means to love his children than we could see alone at home with our Bibles?

Here are five ways God might just bless and inspire your worship in the wild, where you’re really not sure what might happen next.

1. Screaming Babies or Unruly Infants

Any church with young families knows well the cries of new life. The little ones that are so adorable and beautiful before and after a service can temporarily become annoying or inconvenient when they speak up during the announcements or a sermon. But this isnew life. If we realize what’s happening — a new human being added to our church family, a future man or woman, potentially a husband and father or a wife and mother — we would have every reason to be blown away by our creating God, rejoice in the gift of this baby girl or boy, and bear patiently with this screaming image-in-process.

2. Bad Singing

Some of you are this person, and you know it. Some of you are married to this person. Some of you sit a couple pews away from this person week after week. You’ve thought about a move, but that’s too big of a statement in a small church. Some people simply can’t sing very well. Despite the beautifully good heart, the ensuing sound would make more sense in the local zoo than the church’s choir.

We’ve all been commanded to sing (Psalm 47:6–7), but we’ve not been equally gifted for it. The miracle, though, is that any of us, who were once dead in our sin, would sing to our God at all. Each of us was made to image and worship God, but we all turned away from him, offended him, and earned his wrath. But God overwhelmed our rebellion to win our worship through Jesus.

Our hearts will always and only find their greatest satisfaction in God. That’s what worship is. Our hymns and songs give voice to that happiness. God is not listening for pitch, but for heart in worship. Anyone singing to any tune, in any octave, with whatever rhythm to God is a stunning, miraculous, wonderful thing. We should be developing an attitude that rejoices in all the voices that are lifted to make much of him.

3. People with Disabilities

This may not be a typical Sunday experience for you, but lots of families in our churches are living with the realities of mental or physical disabilities. For sure, disabilities are not always a distraction in worship. Most of the time they are not. In some cases, though, a person may shout or groan or act in ways they can’t control, and it will cause a scene.

We believe disabilities are not an accident, punishment, or curse. They are suffering designed by God to unveil his surpassing worth and glory (John 9:3). It is especially important that disabled people — often so rejected in the rest of the world — feel welcome and loved in the family of God. By caring for them and their families, we declare the good news that any disability accompanied with faith in Jesus promises an eternity of health and happiness. This temporary strain is a means to prepare us all for God. Let the unexpected noises or activity remind you of the glorious purpose God has given these cherished children for the sake of the whole church.

4. Bad Musicians

Similar to singing, sometimes there are really bad musicians on our worship teams. Let’s face it, some people “learned” guitar or bass or drums for the sole purpose of serving on Sunday morning. And they’re bad. They’re untrained, inexperienced, and unmusical.

But whether a musician is gifted or not, simply by standing up there, they’re communicating a desire to serve and worship. They’re setting aside lots of time and energy and maybe much pride to try to play an instrument so that their family and friends can sing to their God. For some, it’s an unusually humble sacrifice. It should make us ask if we’re willing to go outside our comfort zones — where we might fail or embarrass ourselves — for the sake of the church’s worship.

5. Even Cell Phones

Nobody wants his or her cell phone to ring in church. No one wants to interrupt corporate worship to introduce a couple hundred people to their latest ringtone. It’s happened to many of us and is almost always unintentional and embarrassing. So if the phone ringing threatens our attentiveness and engagement in worship, think about how it affects the poor offender. Between the surprise, guilt, and glares, they may not recover that morning.

Take that brief inconvenient moment to pray for them — and the rest of those around you — that their mind’s attention and heart’s affection would be preserved for and stirred toward worship despite the distraction. Satan would love for that stupid cell phone to undo the important work God is doing through his word and the fellowship of his people. We can spoil his evil desires for us by silencing our sinful inclinations toward pride, irritation, or judgment, and instead praying for our brothers and sisters in worship.

Love Limits and Embraces Distractions

It needs to be said that our moments together on Sunday morning are sacred and precious. We ought to do everything we can to make the most of those minutes and help others do the same. This will mean striving for excellence when we serve, not talking during the sermon, monitoring our children’s behavior and noise level, silencing our phones, and a hundred other loving courtesies.

But distractions will come, and far from being undone by them, God might mean for us to see them as unexpected opportunities to go deeper in worship. He may mean for us to worship him in ways that weren’t written into the worship order, ways that lovingly honor others and so give him greater glory.

What is a Worship Leader? A Lead Worshipper.

At any given Christian church you’ll usually find someone who plays music before and/or after the sermon.  Usually this person, or group of people if there is not one in charge, sets the tone for the whole service.  If they remain in this position for a long enough amount of time their personality and style of leading tends to become to “voice” or the “sound” of the church.  Can you see where I am going?

If this person(s) considers themselves to be a big deal because they get to be up front and visible every week in worship over time the church as a whole will tend to grow into a personality based, unhealthy ministry.  The opposite is just as true.  If this person(s) considers themselves to be one part of a body that God has gifted to usher the rest of the body into His presence via song, over time the church as a whole will tend to grow into a God-centered, healthy ministry.  Now this is not always the case but it is a measurable trend that is visible in many churches.

Can you see the difference between these two mindsets?  One is wicked.  The other is godly.  For me, this comparison has caused me to change my definition of this position from “worship leader” to “lead worshipper.”  It not only helps me keep worship central in worship, it helps me know who to place in this position and who not to.  I do not want to follow along in song if the one leading me is singing for themselves.  I do want to follow along in song if the one leading me is worshipping.

The difference above is huge and the consequences are monumental.

Mikeschair: Thank You for Clarifying this Song

MIKESCHAIR - A Beautiful Life (2011)In the past I have publicly spoken out against the song “Someone Worth Dying For” by Mikeschair.  I believe I’ve done this twice from the pulpit.  Why?  I have theological reasons for this that go deep into the nature of not only our sin but our salvation as well.  The chorus of the song says, “Am I really something beautiful?  Yeah I wanna believe, yeah I wanna believe, that I’m someone worth dying for.”  Does God really see “worth” in us before He saves us?  I don’t think He does, and Biblically there is much ground to stand on.  Recently, after a sermon on Jonah 2:9 “Salvation belongs to the Lord,” a member in my congregation pointed me to this interview with the lead singer Mike Grayson of the band Mikeschair about the song.  Here is the question/answer I am grateful to see:

Jonathan Kemp (from the Christian Music Review Blog): 
The single from the album “Someone Worth Dying For,” why did you write that song?
Mike Grayson (lead singer for Mikeschair):
We as a band had been wrestling with the question of where are we looking to find our worth. It’s so easy to look to friends and look to jobs and look to other people to define our worth here. The reality is, Jesus established our worth the day that He died for us on the cross; and the only person that gives us any kind of worth is Him. Apart from Him we’re worthless. I read this quote from C.S. Lewis that said, “Christ died for men precisely because men aren’t worth dying for, to make them worth it.” That just kind of hit me, that thought of ‘Lord, you loved us so much. You gave us worth, and on our own we’re not worth anything but with You we have infinite worth.’ And that’s just something that is really overwhelming and so for us was something really personal that we were working through.
Personally I am happy to hear Mike Grayson say “God gave us worth, and on our own we’re not worth anything but with Him we have infinite worth.”  Amen.  Thank you for the clarification Mike, happy to know you’re not saying what I thought you were saying.  We do indeed have worth, but it comes after salvation.  God sees nothing but sin in us before we are saved – nothing of worth or beauty at all.  Praise Him for His love to unworthy sinners like you and like me

Benedictions: Blessing and Cursing

Perhaps many of you have heard this benediction at the end of a worship service:

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

You know what is astonishing about receiving this blessing?  Jesus received the exact opposite from the Father so that we could receive the real one.  Jesus received this:

I will Curse You and keep You out; I will turn My face from You, and be wrathful to You; I will lift up My justice upon You, and give You death.

Next time you receive this blessing, thank God, for His Son, who became sin so we could become the righteousness of God in Him.

The Glory and the Holiness of God Vindicated

Another reason why I love gospel hip-hop.  In this video we only hear the first of two stanza’s, here is the second:

We’re now in the realm of the sublime and profound
With God at the helm it’s about to go down
The Father’s wrath precise will blast and slice
The priceless Master Christ as a sacrifice
Willingly, He’s under the curse
To be treated as if the Son was the worst scum of the earth
The scene is the craziest
Jesus being treated as if He is the shadiest atheist
How is it the Messiah is in the fiery pit
As if He was a wicked liar with twisted desires?
The One who’s sinless and just
Punished as if He was promiscuous and mischievous with vicious lust
The source of all godly pleasure
Tormented as if He was a foul investor or child molestor
How could He be bruised like He was a goodie two-shoes
who doesn’t think that she needs the good news?
He’s perfect in love and wisdom
But He’s suffering as if He constructed the corrupt justice system
We should mourn at the backdrop
Jesus torn like He’s on the corner with crack rock with porn on His laptop
What is this, kid? His gifts are infinite
But He’s hit with licks for religious hypocrites
He’s the Light, but being treated like
He’s the seedy type who likes to beat His wife
He’s treated like a rapist, treated like a slanderer
Treated like a racist or maybe a philanderer
Jesus being penalized like He had sin inside
Filled with inner pride while committing genocide
I could write for a billion years and still can’t name
All of the sins placed on the Lamb slain
But know this: the main thing the cross demonstrated
The glory and the holiness of God vindicated

Notice the stunning artistry on display here, the rich theological soundness, and the worship it raises.  Notice more so, the end to which all of the cross points to – the glory and holiness of God vindicated.  Shai Linne is a pastor-poet.

Why Your Church Should Practice “Responsive Readings”

This past week I led the church I pastor in what is called a “responsive reading.”  I want to tell you why this is helpful and healthy thing to do regularly in your church, and what exactly a responsive reading is.

Why do this at all?  Some people hear a responsive reading and immediately get all awkward and hate it because they think they’re doing something that hasn’t been done in 1000’s of years!  Other people do not like the feel of a traditional worship service, which responsive readings can be a major part of.  This is a normal response of modern man.  BUT, I believe churches should always strive to be relevant to come alongside modern man to help.  How is the best way to be relevant?

Not by reinventing the truth, remaking the truth, or remodeling truth, but by remembering the truth that has stood for ages.

Now what is a responsive reading?  A responsive reading is just that – a congregational reading where a congregation responds together in affirmation/denial of a certain doctrine/truth.  This can be done in many forms and many fashions.  It can be done in the model of question and response where the pastor or leader poses the question himself while the congregation responds audibly afterwards answering the question.  This works well with ancient catechism’s such as the Heidelberg Catechism, Westminster Confession, London Confession, or the Belgic Confession because they are already in question and answer formats.  It can be done in the model of reading together in unison.  This works well when using ancient creeds like the Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, or Chalcedonian Creed because these are shorter and can be said together rather easily.  It can be done in a back and forth manner, where a certain passage of Scripture or lengthy piece of writing is chosen.  The pastor or leader can easily put headings on the readings to differentiate who is to speak when.  There are many ways to do this.  I’ve done all three and have enjoyed them all.

One word of aid to those of you who are thinking about doing this.  Be creative!  I’ve used a rap song from Shai Linne before as a responsive reading (“In Adam all Die”) and those present that Sunday absolutely loved it.  With that said, be creative.  Use things that are not normally used to keep things new and un-traditional.  But be cautious, in choosing what to say together realize that your church will be affirming something in unison, make sure it is spot on Biblical.  If it’s not, you’ve got bigger problems than finding a new way to do a historic part of worship.

Idolatry in Corporate Worship

Bob Kauflin:

What’s your greatest hindrance to worshiping God as you gather with the church for corporate worship?

I can think of a number of possible answers: Our song leader isn’t very experienced. The liturgy is too stifling. The band sounds bad. The preacher is uninspiring. Our church is too small. Or, Our church is too big.

While I don’t want to minimize the importance of faithful planning, musical skill, and wise leadership, our greatest problem when it comes to worshiping God doesn’t lie outside us, but within our own hearts. It’s the problem of idolatry.

Anything Other Than Jesus

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols,” John ends his first letter. In other words, don’t see anything but God’s glory in Christ as the source of your greatest joy, deepest satisfaction, and highest authority.

Idolatry can be active in my heart even when I’m gathered with the church. Whenever I think I can’t meet with God unless “X” is present, I’m making a profound statement. If “X” is anything other than Jesus Christ, and his Holy Spirit, I’ve moved into idolatrous territory.

Of course, God uses means to reveal himself. We encounter him through his word read and preached, the Lord’s supper, fellowship with one another, and our songs and prayers. But when we make those means — or more specifically, the execution of those means — the basis of our fellowship with God, we’ve added an unnecessary barrier to meeting with him. We attend the gathering of the saints as idolatrous consumers and judges rather than grateful receivers and servants.

Our Sunday Morning Idols

What are some of the idols we might battle on Sundays? Here are a few that come to mind.

Musical Excellence

It’s easy to be distracted by sloppy playing, unsophisticated songs, an out of tune guitar, a vocalist who sings sharp, a drummer who drops a beat, or a mix that’s out of balance. That’s why skilled musicianship is commended in the Bible (Psalm 33:3). But rather than just internally criticize what’s going on, I can thank God he uses the weak things of this world to confound the wise (1 Corinthians 1:20–31). I can remind myself that Jesus perfects all our offerings of worship through his once and for all sacrifice (1 Peter 2:5), and that even the most polished performance is insufficient on its own to merit God’s favor. It also might be helpful to talk to the leader after the meeting to humbly communicate what you’re hearing out front.

Musical Preference

Our leaders don’t always pick the songs on our playlist. And they shouldn’t. The best music for congregations serves both the lyrics and the unity of the congregation, not our personal likes and dislikes. No song needs to keep us from glorying in our Redeemer. We gather with the body to edify one another. I bring more glory to God by rejoicing that others in the church are benefiting from a song, even if it’s not my preference.

Preaching Skill

Would that every preacher were as gifted, trained, and skilled as some of the more well known preachers of our day. They aren’t. But as long as they’re preaching the gospel and seeking to communicate God’s word faithfully, they’re obeying God — and we can rejoice (2 Timothy 4:2). As Charles Spurgeon’s grandfather reminds us, someone might be able to preach the gospel better, but they can’t preach a better gospel. Make it a point to encourage and thank your preaching pastor.

Creativity

Creativity is never our goal in worshiping God. It’s simply a means to the end of displaying and seeing the glory of Christ more clearly. New forms or mediums of communication can give us a different perspective, causing the truth to have a greater impact on us. But if we’re concerned that our times of corporate worship aren’t cool, cutting edge, or surprising enough, we need to remember that the gospel of Christ is always news — and the best news we’ll ever hear.

Experiences

We all love “worship experiences” with God. But the goal of gathering as God’s people is not simply to feel butterflies, but to see and remember something, with true affection. That “something” is the word, works, and worthiness of God, especially as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). If I pursue goose bumps or mere heightened emotion during a meeting, God becomes simply one of numerous options I can choose to seek them from.

Liturgy

Forms and practices are significant when we meet as God’s people to worship him. Our gatherings both reflect and shape our beliefs. But there is no “liturgical perfectionism” we can achieve that will ever make our worship more acceptable to God than it already is in Jesus. Our goal is to do in faith what magnifies God’s glory in Christ most effectively and scripturally. We can and should use biblical elements and proportions in corporate worship. But liturgies should serve us, not rule us. Since God has seen fit to allow freedom in form, so should we.

Every time we gather is an opportunity to glory in God’s grace revealed to us in the crucified and risen Savior. Let’s not let idols keep us from reveling in the inexpressible joy that our sins are forgiven and we have been reconciled to God.

This Is What Happens When Hip-Hop Lets The Saints In

lecrae1-300x450This was up today on Huffington Post, very good read.

A who’s who of conservative celebrities gathered in November in Asheville, N.C., to honor and praise Billy Graham, the famed Christian evangelist, on the occasion of his 95th birthday. Inside the hotel ballroom, Donald Trump and Sarah Palin rubbed elbows with Rupert Murdoch, Glenn Beck, Greta van Susteren and Rick Warren.

“Billy Graham, we need you around another 95 years,” Palin said. “We need Billy Graham’s message to be heard, I think, today more than ever.”

At one of the head tables, right next to Kathie Lee Gifford, sat a 34-year-old rapper who looked out of place among the mostly older, white VIPs. Lecrae Moore had not been raised a Christian, and had not grown up listening to Graham preach. His childhood role models had been rappers like Tupac, and he had spent his teenage years running the streets.

But Lecrae — who was featured in Graham’s recent “final sermon” video — has also become an ambassador for Christendom. His delivery is just a bit different.

Over the last several years, Lecrae has become a successful rap artist with a rare message that is explicitly Christian. His 2008 album “Rebel” became the first rap album to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Gospel chart, and his 2012 record “Gravity” won a Grammy for best Gospel album. He has also become a staple of the Christian music festival circuit, headlining concerts in front of thousands of fans.

But over the past two years, Lecrae has been trying to break out of what he calls the “Christian ghetto,” to some success. He was part of last year’s Rock the Bells tour with Wu-Tang Clan, Common, Black Hippy and J Cole; has become a regular guest on BET’s “106 & Park” and has recorded songs with artists such as Pete Rock, Big Krit and Chaka Khan. One BET executive compared his first listen to Lecrae to the first time he heard Kanye West.

Lecrae’s attempt to infiltrate popular culture while retaining a clearly Christian message is a difficult task, but he embodies a larger trend inside Western Christianity. Lecrae is one of many modern evangelicals who have rejected the path set by the combative “Moral Majority” culture warriors of the 1980s, and instead embraced an assimilation into the mainstream and its formative institutions, hoping to shape it from within.

Lecrae doesn’t want to forsake his beliefs. He wants to take his message with him. But some of Lecrae’s fans have already accused him of selling out, because he appears on stage with other rappers who are non-Christians, or records songs with them.

Read the rest here.

The Primacy of Expository Preaching

Well we’ve all traveled through the first of the 9 marks of a healthy church, and I know it took a week to do so, but do not worry.  Because preaching is the most important mark I took my time explaining it.  The rest of the marks will not be so long.  To further impress the importance of good preaching on you I want to show you a video.  Shai Linne is a gospel rapper, and a good one at that.  Listen as he explains the truth and weightiness of expository preaching.  The words are under the video to guide you along.

Soli deo Gloria – yeah, once again, it’s the church man, called and collected
there’s alotta confusion about what makes up a healthy church
so we gonna look at the first mark
cos without this one you’re in bad shape, let’s do it

Verse 1
With our raps we adore our Master and Lord
Jesus Christ who deserves all our claps and applause
For the wrath that he bore
At the cross for our blasphemous thoughts and the classless acts of a whore!
He gave up His life with a passionate roar
Was raised up to heights where He sat at before
After this all he gave Pastors the call to ministry found in Second Timothy chapter 4
Verse 1 and 2, what I first wanna do is come to you the church to reverse a funny view
So let me ask a question: What’s most essential, what is it that gives a local church its potential?
Some would say, ‘Music’, some would say, ‘Deacons’
Other say, ‘Reaching the lost and soul seeking’
But if we wanna give God the glory in our meetin’s
The most important thing is: Expository Preaching!

Chorus 1
Where are the Whitfields? Where are the Spurgeons?
To preach the word, to preach the word
We sound theology to deal with reality
Preach the word, so preach the word
We’ve got enough rappers we need more pastors
To preach the word, to preach the word
We need explanation and deep application
Preach the word, so preach the word

This verse right here is for the congregation
It’s whatcy’all need to be listening for

Verse 2
Let me explain what I mean, it’s not too complex
It’s preaching God’s Word in its proper context
As you listen be discerning, what you have to determine: Was the point of the passage the point of the sermon?
If not this problem must be confronted today ‘cos he just used the bible to say what he wanted to say (what?!)
And even if it’s delivered with fire and intelligence that’s basically making what God has inspired irrelevant
Instead of applying the Word’s realities a lot of Pastors are relying on personality
But gifts of communication can never be a true replacement for the Holy Spirit’s illumination
Without exposition you’ll lack major profit, all you’ll get is tradition and your Pastor’s favourite topics
And that can be a slippery slope, the Word should be giving you hope, this dude is just giving you jokes
That won’t help you love Christ, it won’t help your obedience
We need more expositors, not more comedians (that’s right!)
Expect for true labour in the text then faithfully connecting to the Saviour, then wait for its effects
God gives the increase: holiness, love, unity. The Word faithfully preached builds up the whole community
If not, your Sunday meal will not last and you’ll have to supplement it with the Podcast

Chorus 2
Don’t entertain us, that won’t sustain us
Preach the Word, so preach the Word
Careful instruction, not a big production
Preach the Word, so preach the Word
We don’t need theatrics or man centred tactics
Preach the Word, so preach the Word
We’re on the brink of eternity, so please speak earnestly
Preach the Word, so preach the Word

This verse here is for the Pastors, I just wanna encourage y’all

Verse 3
Y’all should be mindful of this devout thesis: all of the Bible is about Jesus!
The Old Testament: Jesus Christ concealed
The New Testament: Jesus Christ revealed!
This truth of the Lord Christ boldly conveyed this in Luke 24 on the road to Emmaus
The Law, the Prophets and the teachings of Apostles: all of these point back to Jesus and the Gospel
So if the words of Christ is what the Word is about ultimately that should be what the sermon’s about (true!)
Forget applause you gotta let the Cross rock ya
All roads in the Bible lead to Golgotha
Whatever the text faithfulness demands that we should hear the echo of nails hitting His hands
Don’t try to be original, say the old story
And watch your people change as they behold glory

Chorus 3
The glory of Jesus we need to see this
Preach the Word, so preach the Word
Make Christ the centre so new life can enter
Preach the Word, so preach the Word
Give us the whole counsel along with the Gospel
Preach the Word, so preach the Word
This is your duty: to show us God’s beauty
Preach the Word, so preach the Word!

So that’s it man, that’s the charge in Second Timothy chapter 4
Paul tells Timothy, he charges him, to preach the Word
And yo, there’s a lot of good resources out there
Spirit Empowered Preaching, by my man Arturo Azurdia
Christ-Centred Preaching, by Bryan Chapell
The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper
Get these resources
More than anything: dig into the Word of God, meditate on it and give it to your people.
Grace and Peace.

Why I Married a White Girl

I need a break from blogging for a bit.  Thus, for the rest of the week I’m going to be posting up some of my favorite blogs I’ve read over the past week.  Enjoy, see you next Monday!

Good post from one of my favorite gospel hip-hop artists Trip Lee over on the Gospel Coalition Blog

Whenever I post pictures of my family on social media, the responses are fun. Most common are “Your son is so handsome!” or “What a beautiful family!” But one of the other frequent responses is “Is your wife white?” People ask me at concerts sometimes too. The answer is yes. My wife is a mix of Hungarian, Italian, and Polish—which to most people just means she’s white. This is irrelevant to some, but shocking or even disappointing to others. I don’t think anyone should be shocked or disappointed by interracial marriages, but I still wanted to address why I married outside my race.

The decision to marry someone from a different ethnic background wasn’t tough for me. I never sat down and wrote out a pro-con list. (Though, if I did, the fact my wife has never seen an episode of Martin would be in the con category.) I didn’t agonize over it or seek counsel about whether it was okay. I was convinced she was the woman for me to marry, even though she wasn’t black.

Some would never consider marrying someone who didn’t share their ethnicity, so let me tell you why I did.

Expectations

I always expected to marry a black woman. I found women of all backgrounds beautiful, but black girls were my “preference.” When I arrived on my college campus in 2006, though, I wasn’t looking for a wife at all. I just wanted to grow in my faith and get a good education. My first album had just come out, so I had plenty of other things to focus on. But as I met people at the school, a sophomore named Jessica really caught my attention, and we became friends.

We ran in the same circles and ended up joining the same church, so we saw each other a lot. And the more I got to know her, the more I was drawn to her. She really loved Jesus, and she had this childlike willingness to do whatever he asked. Her compassion for needy people challenged me, and she had a humble heart that responded to the Word. Over that first year I watched her sacrifice countless hours of her time serving at our church. On top of all of that, I loved being around her. Our conversation, whether serious or silly, always flowed with ease. So I eventually started to ask myself, Should I marry this girl?

Preferences

Jessica didn’t look like I expected my future wife to look, but that didn’t matter to me. Don’t get me wrong, I thought she was beautiful from the first time I met her. And I was never opposed to marrying a white girl. I just didn’t think I would. But as I grew in my faith and my heart began to change, my preferences started changing too. My main preference was that my wife be godly, and Jessica was. So I wifed her.

Never for a moment did I feel like I was settling. It feels more like settling to overlook a godly woman merely because of her ethnicity. I never wanted to value my preferences for a wife over what I needed in a wife.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with having preferences, but we have to hold them with an open hand. I know certain people who overlook a potential godly spouse because they don’t fit some random preference. Some of our preferences really don’t matter that much. Some may even be foolish. Needless to say, we have to submit all of them to Scripture.

When you and your spouse are in the middle of conflict, skin tone doesn’t matter. Body type and social status seem insignificant. You want your spouse to be godly and humble. And as my wife and I begin to raise our first child, I couldn’t be more grateful for her. She’s an amazing mom and godly influence on my son—neither of which has anything to do with her ethnic background. It’s okay to prefer certain things in a spouse, but we have to submit our desires to what God wants for us in a spouse. What I wanted and needed most was a godly partner, and that’s exactly what he provided.

Trip Lee is a hip-hop artist with Reach Records and a pastoral assistant at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He is the author of The Good Life and blogs at Can I Brag On My Lord?. You can follow Trip on Twitter.

Committee Head Covers Up “In Christ Alone” Controversy

Matthew Schmitz has written a wonderful piece on the why the PCUSA chose to exclude “In Christ Alone” from their hymnals.  Here it is in full below:

Mary Louise Bringle, chair of the committee that chose to exclude “In Christ Alone” from the Presbyterian Church USA’s hymnal is now claiming the word “satisfied” not the word “wrath” was the real reason for the decision.

Christianity Today falls for this false explanation based on a quote Bringle gave to religion reporter Bob Smietana:

“People think that we’ve taken the wrath of God out of the hymnal,” Bringle said. “That’s not the case. It’s all over the hymnal. The issue was the word ‘satisfied.’ ”

That term was used by the medieval theologian Anselm, who argued that sins offended God’s honor, and someone had to die in order to satisfy his honor. The 15-member committee rejected Anselm’s view and voted 9-6 to drop the hymn.

Bringle, alas, is changing her tune. In an earlier, more unguarded account she wrote for the Christian Century, Bringle admits that wrath was the real issue:

Arguments on the other side pointed out that a hymnal does not simply collect diverse views, but also selects to emphasize some over others as part of its mission to form the faith of coming generations; it would do a disservice to this educational mission, the argument ran, to perpetuate by way of a new (second) text the view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger. The final vote was six in favor of inclusion and nine against, giving the requisite two-thirds majority (which we required of all our decisions) to the no votes. The song has been removed from our contents list, with deep regret over losing its otherwise poignant and powerful witness.

Wrath and satisfaction shouldn’t be severed in the way Bringle attempts—this isn’t an either/or. Yet by Bringle’s own account, it was above all discomfort with the idea of an angry God that led the committee to nix “In Christ Alone.”

Bringle’s changing story muddies the historical record, of course. More regrettably, it obscures the real theological fault lines the decision exposed. Better for those on both sides of the debate to have the courage of their convictions and argue honestly than to obscure the theology behind the headlines.

Update: Perhaps the saddest element of this case is that the hymn’s original phrasing better represents the Presbyterian Church USA’s historic beliefs than do objections raised by the committee members. Here are two passages a friend pointed me to in the Westminister Confession as presented in the current edition of the PCUSA’s Book of Confessions:

Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal. [ . . . ]

The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself,which he through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father; and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him

Sadly for those concerned with preserving the Presbyterian legacy, “In Christ Alone” was excluded from the Presbyterian Church USA’s hymnal precisely on the basis of its assertion of historic Presbyterian beliefs.

Music Can Tame the Savage in Us

1 Samuel 16:23 says, “So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him.”

Chris Robins comments:

There is a notion in our culture that music can tame the savage in us – that there is something soothing that calms even the wild beast. I don’t really know if it is true, but I don’t think that is what the passage is saying. Think about it. What would David be singing? He was a songwriter, and a rather prolific one. We have his songbook – the Book of Psalms. So what rescued Saul from the torture and manic fury of a demon riding his conscience night and day? It was those Psalms, the songs and lyrics of a man in love with his God, full of praise, repentance, and love. It is the Word that calmed Saul’s heart – the Word of God. I would make much of this for your own heart and life. Christian music has its place in the life of the Christian, especially when it is the Scripture itself in music. Use it, and use it wisely. Find what you like in devotional music and listen to it. Even better, sing to yourself. Don’t be distracted by the folks who tell you not to listen to music of the world. That is not forbidden. But be wise, because evil spirits are real. Be in the Word, memorize the Word, soak in the Word. Take in the Word of God like it was cereal in the morning, a sandwich at lunch, and pasta at dinner. The Word set to music can do all of this. And when evil comes it will not stay very long. Within earshot of David’s songs not a demon can linger to bother the children of God.

Hymn History & Free Download

From Tim Challies:

In 1787 Dr. John Rippon published A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors as a supplement to Isaac Watts’ classic Psalms and Hymns. The book was an immense success. “The remarkable feature of the book,” writes Louis Benson, “is the great number of original hymns secured by him and there first printed.” Among these original hymns was the title “How Firm a Foundation.”

As you can see in this facsimile of the original publication, Rippon attributed the authorship simply to “K—-.” He says in the preface that such attributions meant either that the author was unknown or that the hymn had undergone significant revisions for publication.

Later studies have revealed that the “K—-” almost certainly referred to R. Keene, who was at one time a song leader in Dr. Rippon’s church and is also known to have authored the hymn’s melody. Apart from this, we have no further information about its writing.

Features
Perhaps the most noteworthy and appreciated feature of this hymn is how closely it resembles the words of the Bible itself (which is fitting, given that its theme is the solidity of the word of God).

Consider, for example, how stanza 2 compares to Philippians 4:12-13:

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Or how stanza 3 echoes Isaiah 41:10:

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

(See also how stanzas 4 and 5 reflect Isaiah 43:2.)

Influence
Since its publication, “How Firm a Foundation” has enjoyed wide acceptance, especially in North America. It is known to have been the favorite hymn of General Robert E. Lee and was sung at his funeral. It is also said that once, while conducting evening prayers in Princeton Seminary’s Oratory, Dr. Charles Hodge was so overcome with feeling during the last line of the hymn (“I’ll never, no never, no never forsake,” from Hebrews 13:5) that he could no longer sing but only gesture the words.

Here are the much-loved words. Note that the second-to-last verse is rarely sung anymore due to its antiquated language.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

Download It
The band Ordinary Time recently recorded a version of this hymn. I asked if they would be willing to give it away for free (I’m shameless that way) and they generously agreed. You can download it free here. (The site allows you to give a tip but they are very glad for you to simply download it without a tip!)