Saturday, June 13, 2015

New, Cross-Centered Stanza of "Holy, Holy, Holy"

"Holy, Holy, Holy" is one of the all-time classic and beloved hymns of English hymnody. And for good reason. It's God-centered and Trinitarian in its theology (it was originally written for Trinity Sunday), and it's majestic musically.

But for some time now, I've felt as if there's been something missing from this classic hymn. There's no stanza that's explicitly Christ-centered and cross-centered. While the cross certainly displays the love and grace and mercy of God, it also displays the holiness of God. And this is a truth that is often overlooked. So why not highlight this truth in a hymn about the holiness of God? We need to be reminded that sin has cost God greatly. At Calvary, God not only unleashed His mercy; He also upheld His holiness - all at the cost of His beloved Son.

So I've written a new stanza to sing with "Holy, Holy, Holy" to try and communicate these truths. I'm sure other hymnwriters could offer a better additional stanza than this one, but here is my attempt to provide a Christ-centered and cross-centered stanza to a classic hymn (we're going to sing it at our church between the original third and fourth stanzas).  
Holy, holy, holy! raise our eyes to Calv'ry,
That we might behold Thy Son condemned upon the tree.
Oh, how sin has cost Thee; oh, Thy grace and mercy!
Christ, fully punished; sinners, fully free!

Friday, July 11, 2014

And Such Is the Grace of God

And Such Is the Grace of God
Justin Wainscott, 2014

I'm amazed (though not often enough)
at the beauty that comes out of brokenness,
whether it's beautiful music birthed out of misery
or beautiful poetry inspired by pain.
One person's hurt produces another person's healing.
And such is the grace of God.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

N.D. Wilson on "Lighten Up, Christians, God Loves a Good Time"

Nate Wilson continues to write books and articles that are thought-provoking, imaginative, well-stated, and enjoyable to read. His recent article in Christianity Today, Lighten Up, Christians: God Loves a Good Time, is no exception.

Here's an excerpt:
A dolphin flipping through the sun beyond the surf, a falcon in a dive, a mutt in the back of a truck, flying his tongue like a flag of joy, all reflect the Maker more wholly than many of our endorsed thinkers, theologians, and churchgoers.


We say that we would like to be more like God. So be more thrilled with moonlight. And babies. And what makes them. And holding on to one lover until you've both been aged to wine, ready to pour. Holiness is nothing like a building code. Holiness is 80-year-old hands crafting an apple pie for others, again. It is aspen trees in a backlit breeze. It is fire on the mountain.

Speak your joy. Mean it. Sing it. Do it. Push it down into your bones. Let it overflow your banks and flood the lives of others.

At his right hand, there are pleasures forevermore. When we are truly like him, the same will be said of us.
Read the entire article here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"Love Is a Good Thing" by Andrew Peterson

Love Is a Good Thing
Andrew Peterson (from Resurrection Letters, Volume II)

It knocked me down, it dragged me out
It left me there for dead
It took all the freedom I wanted
And gave me something else instead

It blew my mind, it bled me dry
It hit me like a long goodbye
And nobody here knows better than I
That it's a good thing

Love is a good thing, it'll fall like rain on your parade
Laugh at the plans that you tried to make
It'll wear you down till your heart just breaks
And it's a good thing, love is a good thing

It'll wake you up in the middle of the night
It'll take just a little too much, it'll burn you like a cinder
Till you're tender to the touch, it'll chase you down
Swallow you whole, it'll make your blood run hot and cold
Like a thief in the night it'll steal your soul

And that's a good thing, love is a good thing
It'll follow you down to the ruin of your great divide
And open the wounds that you tried to hide
And there in the rubble of the heart that died
You'll find a good thing, love is a good thing

Take cover, the end is near, take cover but do not fear
It'll break your will, it'll change your mind
It'll loose all the chains of the ties that bind
If you're lucky you'll never make it out alive

And that's a good thing, love is a good thing
It can hurt like a blast from a hand grenade
When all that used to matter is blown away

There in the middle of the mess it made
You'll find a good thing
Yes, it's worth every penny of the price you paid
It's a good thing

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Church Singing

The new 9Marks Journal is on "The Church Singing." Check it out here.

Below is the editor's note from Jonathan Leeman:
Singing is not one of the nine marks, a point which, not surprisingly, has come up once or twice with my minister-of-music father.

That said, okay, yes, 9Marks does have a few opinions on music. Our understanding of the local church pushes us toward a slightly different perspective on church singing than some of our evangelical brothers and sisters.

The difference comes down to the question of performance. Who is performing? The congregation or the people on stage? Dimming the lights and turning up the volume of instruments and leaders doesn’t necessarily mean you have turned the congregation into an audience, but it often does.
Or think about it like this: is the “worship experience” in your church a solo transaction between the individual worshipper and God as stimulated by a high-emotion performer up front?

Because here is an alternative: the musicians and song leaders help to facilitate an intellectually and emotionally engaged communal experience where members sing to one another while singing to God. The primary thing people hear is the faith-reinforcing praises and laments of their fellow saints. “I’m not the only one who rejoices like this…mourns like this…pleads like this. So does everyone around me!” They don’t listen for the organ, electric guitar, or praise ensemble. They listen for the folksy and hearty voices of other pilgrims walking alongside them on this long and rocky road of Christian obedience, rehearsing old memories of Calvary and new hopes of the heavenly city. 
Are these just my preferences that I’m trying to impose? I hope not. Think about what the New Testament emphasizes when it comes to the church’s corporate music. It doesn’t talk about crafting a highly charged worship “experience.” Interestingly, it doesn’t use the language of “worship” at all in this context (which is not to deny that corporate singing is worship). Instead, the Bible talks about the congregation singing to one another (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19), and doing everything for the sake of edifying one another (1 Cor. 14). That’s it: people singing together. When it comes to the topic of music, Christians might do well to talk about the church singing or the congregation singing because that’s what the Bible talks about.

In this edition of the 9Marks Journal, we start with singing and the song. Why do congregations sing, what should they sing about, and how can they sing better? We then think more carefully about the music itself, particularly with two different perspectives on whether or not some musical forms are better than others. Finally we think about what is involved in leading music.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Resources to Help Your Understanding of the Old Testament

This past Sunday morning, I preached a sermon titled "Christ, the Christian, and the Old Testament" from Matthew 5:17-18. In that sermon, I encouraged our congregation to make a renewed commitment to a more regular reading of the Old Testament and to see all the ways it's fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

As a follow-up and as an effort to assist in that task, I thought I would recommend a few resources that I have found helpful for developing a better understanding of the Old Testament and for seeing its fulfillment in Christ. The first two books are great reference works that provide a book-by-book survey of the Old Testament. The Demptser volume is a theology of the Hebrew Bible. And the others are all brief paperbacks oriented toward helping us understand the Old Testament as ultimately fulfilled in and through Jesus.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Let Us Not Mock God with Metaphor

Seven Stanzas at Easter
John Updike, 1960

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sermon Preparation with the Bible in One Hand and the Hymnal in the Other

Karl Barth's pairing of the Bible and the newspaper is well known: "We should read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other." True enough. But I would like to make a similar suggestion to my fellow preachers. Preachers should prepare with the Bible in one hand and with the hymnal in the other.

Let me explain what I mean. If you are a preacher and you do not use the texts of hymns (ancient or modern) to illustrate the truths you preach, you are failing to take advantage of an incredibly helpful and powerful means of illustration. Here are five reasons why incorporating hymn texts in your preaching can prove beneficial.
  • Hymn texts, and especially familiar hymn texts, often have deep emotional roots in the hearts of believers, which makes them particularly effective (and memorable) for vividly illustrating a biblical truth. 
  • Hymn texts are poetic in nature, and poetry can have a strong oratorical effect.
  • Hymn texts, in and of themselves, teach us something theologically (sometimes good, sometimes bad). So, why not utilize the good ones to help teach our hearers the truth that they are singing, and how the truth in that song is based on the truth of God's Word? This helps connect the biblical and theological dots for them - both in the biblical text and in the hymn that they may have sung hundreds of times before but never really thought about until you pointed it out to them. 
  • Hymn texts that are used well in a sermon illustration will be sung with much more understanding and appreciation the next time around. In other words, using that hymn text as an illustration makes that hymn even more meaningful for your hearers, which means you are helping strengthen and reinforce the importance of congregational singing (as well as the importance of singing good theology). 
  • Hymn texts that are quoted in a sermon, when those hymns either have been sung or will be sung in the same worship service, unifies the worship experience and teaches the congregation something about the holistic nature of public worship.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Signs of Life...New Life

The article below, my reflections on spring and the resurrection, originally appeared as a guest column in the recent issue of the Baptist & Reflector. I appreciate them publishing it.

Although the first day of spring has officially arrived, it seems as if winter wants to keep its grip on us. Temperatures have remained unseasonably cold, and we even set a record low in Jackson last week. However, there are signs that spring really has arrived. The days are getting longer, trees are sprouting leaves, and flowers are beginning to bloom.

But for most of us, it can't come soon enough. We have grown tired of the cold, dreary days. For the last few months, when we looked outside our windows, all we saw were evidences of death. But thankfully, we are now beginning to see signs of life everywhere - even in the changing color palette of the seasons. The morbid grays and browns of winter are giving way to the vivid greens and reds and yellows of spring. And even though it happens every year, it never seems to get old. We can rejoice in the fact that the cold death of winter has been overcome by the new life of spring.

It's as if creation itself is acting out a cosmic parable of resurrection power, teaching us the promise of new life. No wonder Martin Luther once said, "Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring time." The created order gives us a yearly reminder of new life; it provides us with a visual illustration of our Lord's victory over death. Or, to put it in poetic form:
The fallen leaves
from autumn trees
descend to their earthly tomb;
yet limbs which shed
their leaves all dead
trust new life again will bloom.

'Cause little mounds
of lifeless browns
are only half the story;
for, lively green
will soon be seen
with spring all its glory.

'Tis all a sign
of truth divine,
revealed for our reflection;
as one life ends,
a new begins -
yes, death brings resurrection.
So as we make our way toward Good Friday and the agony of Calvary, let us be mindful that Easter Sunday is coming too. As we approach the cross, let us do so with the hope of the empty tomb. Let us do so with the hope of the resurrection. And let us do so with eyes open wide to the world around us, seeing signs of new life, which point ultimately to the One who said, "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25).   

Monday, March 31, 2014

An Opening Day Poem

A poem in honor of the Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season.  

John Updike, 1932-2009

It looks easy from a distance,
easy and lazy, even,
until you stand up to the plate
and see the fastball sailing inside,
an inch from your chin,
or circle in the outfield
straining to get a bead
on a small black dot
a city block or more high,
a dark star that could fall
on your head like a leaden meteor.

The grass, the dirt, the deadly hops
between your feet and overeager glove:
football can be learned,
and basketball finessed, but
there is no hiding from baseball
the fact that some are chosen
and some are not - those whose mitts
feel too left-handed,
who are scared at third base
of the pulled line drive,
and at first base are scared
of the shortstop's wild throw
that stretches you out like a gutted deer.

There is nowhere to hide when the ball's
spotlight swivels your way,
and the chatter around you falls still,
and the mothers on the sidelines,
your own among them, hold their breaths,
and you whiff on a terrible pitch
or in the infield achieve
something with the ball so
ridiculous you blush for years.
It's easy to do. Baseball was
invented in America, where beneath
the good cheer and sly jazz the chance
of failure is everybody's right,
beginning with baseball.

--Taken from Endpoint and Other Poems, John Updike

Friday, March 21, 2014

Learning from the Birds

Overheard in an Orchard
Elizabeth Cheney

Said the robin to the sparrow,
"I would really like to know
why those anxious human beings
rush around and worry so."

Said the sparrow to the robin,
"Friend, I think that it must be
that they have no Heavenly Father
such as cares for you and me."

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Timothy George to Give Scholar-in-Residence Lectures at Union University on "Christian Witness in Nazi Germany"

Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School, will be speaking about the Christian witness in Nazi Germany at the Scholar-in-Residence Lecture Series at Union University March 20-27.

The dates, times, and lecture topics are as follows:
"The Road to Barmen" - March 20, 7:00PM

"Doing Theology as Though Nothing Has Happened: The Witness of Barth and Bonhoeffer," March 22, 3:00PM

"No One Left for Me: The Lonely Courage of Martin Niemoller," March 25, 7:00PM

"Giving Thanks in Hitler's Reich: Paul Schneider as Pastor and Martyr," March 27, 7:00PM
The lectures will be held in the Carl Grant Events Center and are free and open to the public.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Congregational Singing Starts with the Pastor

My article in the current issue of the Baptist & Reflector is an "amen" to the recent post by Keith Getty on improving congregational singing and a plea to fellow pastors to recognize our responsibility to lead in this area.

You can read the article in the virtual version of the B&R here.

Friday, February 28, 2014

His Blood Shall Over All Prevail

I love the last two lines of this stanza by Toplady:

The Sinner's Rest
Augustus Toplady, 1740-1778

Oh, that I now the voice might hear,
That speaks my sins forgiv'n;
His Word is past to give me here
The inward pledge of heav'n.
His blood shall over all prevail,
And sanctify the unclean;
The grace that saves from future hell,
Shall save from present sin.