Posts Tagged grace
I’m currently reading the classic Agatha Christie novel, “And Then There Were None”.* In the story, 10 people are lured to a large estate on an island by a mysterious host. On their first evening there, they are shocked by the sound of a strange voice coming from the walls. The voice accuses each one of them of a different murder and gives them each a death sentence. Later, they find that the sound of the voice came from a gramophone player in the next room. The novel progresses with each guest dying in strange and cryptic circumstances. (The novel and others like it are the source material for so much parody that as a post modern guy reading it through the filter of “Clue,” I sometimes forget that it’s not a comedy.)
The picture of a gramophone player behind the wall has stuck with me. It’s a great picture of what goes on in my head sometimes: an accusatory voice-recording that plays over and over, recounting my sins and pronouncing judgement. The voice recalls things that I did today, yesterday and far in the past. Sometimes it even accuses me of things that I might do in the future, things that I have the capacity to do. Then the voice passes judgments like, “You are going to fail, you are going to mess up your kids, you are going to destroy your ministry, you are going to derail God’s mission, you are going to die alone and disgraced.”
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that you probably have a similar voice in your head.
In the Bible, there’s a great story about a voice of accusation. The prophet Zechariah has a vision of Satan accusing one of the High Priests named Joshua.
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.” – Zechariah 3:1-3
The LORD uses HIS more powerful voice to rebuke Satan and to undo these accusations. Then He removes the filthy clothes which represent his guilt and his failures and then the LORD replaces them with clean clothes which represent a restored record of conduct and new identity. Then the LORD commands Joshua to listen.
“‘Listen, High Priest Joshua…I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day. – Zechariah 3:8b-9
He is going to speak a new word that will not only remove the sins of Joshua but also pronounce the death sentence of all the sin in the whole land. The death sentence will be carried out by the LORD’s servant, the Branch, the stone with seven eyes (representing wisdom and insight). Today we know the servant/branch/stone by the name Jesus. He has removed the guilt and the accusations and has silenced the voice of accusation.
Through Jesus my guilt has been removed, but I still sometimes listen to the gramophone in the wall. In response to that voice, I have to make a daily practice of “preaching the gospel to myself” over and over again. It’s a major part of my ministry of worship music leading, too. Our songs are weapons against the voice of accusations. We sing them over and over to assure our hearts that the voice of the LORD has spoken his judgment with greater power and efficacy. HIS judgment is:
*Thanks to Wikipedia, I learned that the original British versions of this novel used an old racist poem, “Ten Little N******s” as the title of this novel. Yuck! Later publications scrubbed the racist elements of the poem to be “Ten Little Soldiers” which is the edition that I’m reading. Since the racist content had no bearing on the actual story, I think they made a wise choice in changing it – not to mention the fact that racism sucks. If you think about it, the changes to the novel represent a similar removal of “filthy garments,” that was described in Zechariah.
David had an idea that seemed like a good one. “The ark of the covenant lives in a tent and I live in a palace. Maybe, I should build a house for the Lord.” It was a good idea. There was good intentions and affection for the Lord involved. But text shows that it was not a good idea. The Lord actually stops that idea short and reminds David that no one can build a house for the creator of the universe. The suggestion is actually kind of insulting to God. The Lord responds to David that he will flip the plan around. The Lord will build a house for David that will endure for all time. We know now that this is a prophecy of the future house of Jesus Christ, the descendant of David, who would establish an eternal kingdom.
Here are some questions that this story brought up for me:
- How am I, like David, attempting to build a house for the Lord through my accomplishments, my dreams, my family or my ministry?
- Can I give examples of where the Lord is building a house for me through his accomplishments?
Honestly, most of the time I’m not even in David’s head-space. I’m more like King Saul who was in the business of building a house for himself.
Studying Psalm 4 this morning, I observed a kind of cycle of worship. The Psalmist, David, expresses a whole range of emotions and perspective that reflects the gamut of how we approach God in the face of harsh reality. As always, scripture doesn’t present a softer version of life; in fact, we’re often confronted with a more bleak perspective of life than most middle class Ameri
cans will ever experience. So, here’s the “cycle of worship as I observed it in this Psalm:
Trial & Cry
Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?
Angry, the psalmist is overwhelmed with life. He has an accusation against God and against the people around him. People are practicing evil and God seems to be absent or at least silent. The cry of anger is a cry of faith because it expects a response, and it expects that there is someone listening.
Truth & Humility
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.
Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.
In a moment of clarity, the psalmist meditates on God’s promise. The tone of accusation seems to change direction from being directed at God to begin directed toward someone else. Is he speaking to himself? Is this the voice of something like a Greek chorus speaking to the complaint? He seems to be sermonizing, but it comes in humility. He has seen the content of his own heart and it makes him afraid. The truth exposes him and he is humbled.
Trust & Worship
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.
There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”
In the light of the truth, by the humiliation of pride, the psalmist melts into trust and worship. “What was I thinking?” he seems to say. Confronted with his own frailty, he can only look to his Father’s care. Confronted by his own bitter anger, he repents and offers worship in the form of the sacrifices of the righteous. The lies and the rage are washed away in the light of God’s glorious gaze.
Restored: Joy & Peace
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
The cycle becomes complete as the psalmist is restored to a place of joy and peace. Trust and worship have produced a renewed and transformed mind which rests in humility and truth. Nothing in his circumstance has changed! The enemies were not routed; they still get fat on grain and drunk on wine. But the psalmist, at the place of worship, is filled to overflowing with joy in his heart. No longer will he grind his teeth in anger as he’s trying to sleep, mentally recounting all the ways that God has sold him short and the wicked have made him suffer.
In peace, he sleeps in safety…until the next morning when the cycle starts over. The cycle of worship is a daily (sometimes hourly) experience of being transformed again and again.
Harvie Conn taught that everyone is both a sinner and the sinned against. If we preach the gospel to sinners and leave out the sinned against, then we are only speaking to half of the problem. Christ died to save me from my sin, but he also died to save me from being sinned against.
I asked the question of my pastor, how do we bring this element back into worship services which have become so individualistic. My colleague, Anthony Johnson, spoke up and reminded me that gospel music is full of the response of the sinned against to the power of the gospel. (I was a little embarrassed that I missed that.)
Peace with God.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 5:1
Is there peace with God in your heart? Are you at war with him or have you been reconciled to God? I as thinking about Moses this week as we were talking about him in staff prayer. Moses was a murderer. When his sin was exposed he was driven away into the dessert. Moses named his son, Gershom which means “I am an alien in a foreign land”. In this broken context, God remember his covenant to Abraham and called on murdering Moses to be the leader of his chosen people. Is your sin greater than God’s grace? Have you made your sin (I’m a murderer) larger than God’s grace (I’m justified and have peace with God)?
Rejoice in the hope of glory
“Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” – Romans 5:2
Is there joy in your heart for the hope of glory? The glory of God is not about harps and pearly gates. The glory of God is the process of his love, mercy and justice being revealed every day, across the planet in the lives of his people. Standing firm in grace, this peace with God, we are filled with joy at the eager anticipation that God’s glorious plan is being made a reality. You might already know that Genesis was written by Moses. Moses was not only the main character of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, he was also the narrator of Genesis. In this story, we learned about our place in the created order, our fall and God’s covenant plan of redemption. In Genesis, there is a deep underlying hope in each story that God has not given up on his creation, but he is desperate to see it restored and redeemed. This story was Moses’ hope, that God’s glory was not permanently hidden by our sin, but it would once again explode into expression on the earth through the promises of God to the seed of Abraham. The hope of glory produces joy.
God is good! I know you are thinking that I need to take a break, but I can’t sleep in and my house is quiet so it’s a good time to reflect. It was great to see the pics that Neil Das has already posted froom the conference. Check them out here.
I want to share my personal favorite moments from this weeks conference:
- The absolute explosion of celebration and activity on Tuesday night as Voice of Africa led us in worship. Emmanuel on the hand drums was a real treat.
- Tony Myles sharing that he doesn’t know what a “Plenary Address” is so he’s just gonna preach.
- My kids dancing and playing with Pastor Kevin VandenBrink’s daughter
- Playing a “stankin” set with the NCF U City crew – God, my God, God is good!
- My dad’s talk – a reminder that this is hard work, but the fruit is evident in the lives of the young people he has mentored
- Jim Payne’s songs which revealed a deep passion for the gospel and a love of the craft of songs
- Aloo Gobi – Zack said he’d make it “American Spicy”
- Malcom Speed’s revealing personal experiences with some of the legends of gospel
- It was great to see my Congolese friend, Nestor Biayi, affirmed in the African Style Class as he was called in from the back of the room to demonstrate Saben
- Dr. Sánchez – conga, guitar, upright bass, vocals, and bringing some cool hard truth with wonderful class. We were so affirmed and challenged by his words. (Yes, that talk was recorded and will be available as soon as possible)
- NCF- Chattanooga successfully did the work for me of picking tunes for the next year. I’m not sure that my team will let me rest until every one of those tunes is in our set.
- Doing the electric slide – can we do that in church?
- Jumping in on “Glorious” with Dr. Sánchez on the congas and clave
- Redeemer PCA in Jackson standing as a family together as their composers shared their songs.
- watching half the people in my “Into to Improvisation” class falling asleep – What do you expect when you put exhausted people in a warm room on couches, after lunch. Next conference we’ll ask everyone to bring a yoga mat so that we can have nap time once a day.
- Watching Paul Neeley get Joshua Saleem playing hand percussion
- seeing my friend, Odetta Fields, come into her own as a choir director
- Jeff Rakes humbly taking us to school with his tune “All Honor and Glory” – man, Jeff set a new standard for my flute player.
- Seeing this cross cultural body of believers express their “heart song” in the form of “O Lord, How Excellent”
- Carrie Knapp – that girl can sang.
- Mike Higgins bringing us back to the promise that the curse is broken and the accuser has no power over me
- I loved the spontaneous expression in singing “You Are Good” at the end of the night. I wish that we had been able to hear more from Jonathan Gramling from Dorchester. What a voice!
Imagine sitting in a court room. You are the defendant. You are guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt of the crime for which you are accused and for which you will be receiving the death penalty. The representative of the jury stands while the whole courtroom waits in silent anticipation until the verdict is read: “We find the defendant ‘Not guilty'”. Instantly the courtroom, filled with your friends and family bursts into an uproar of shouts, applause and cries of celebration. The accuser, his argument rejected, is struck dumb.
Now imagine a wedding. Two people being joined together forever. The fervent prayers of the parents are being fulfilled as they see their children joined with a lover who will serve and protect them faithfully. All the fears of the past are wiped away as the pastor declares before the whole community that these separate people are now one flesh, forever united in a bond of love. The whole community of witnesses bursts into applause as the bride and groom exit, beaming with joy for how they have been loved beyond words. The whole community begins to party with music and a feast!
Imagine serving for years as a slave under and oppressive master. Your body shows the scars of beatings and your heart weighs heavy with the total lack of any hope of deliverance. Suddenly, a sound resonates clear and high through the whole countryside. It’s the blast of a trumpet declaring the that Year of Jubilee has come. No longer will you serve the wicked and oppressive master. You are free. The chains that bind your hands and feet fall off and immediately you begin to shout, dance and sing.
Imagine that you are slowly dying of a mysterious disease. Every day your body becomes more and more weak. Every moment, you feel life slipping from you and darkness overtaking you. All the time you feel choked, unable to breathe, and limp with no strength to even lift your head from the pillow. Then at the moment when all hope is lost, the healer comes into your hospital room. He takes a mysterious elixir from his bag and gives you a drink. Immediately, you feel your strength returning. Immediately your lungs fill with air. Immediately, you leap from the bed and begin to shout. You embrace the healer and shower him with kisses.
Imagine the whole nation suffering under a severe dictatorship. For years the government has been an instrument of corruption and oppression. Food is scarce. The police, a tool of the oppressor, randomly arrest people who simply disappear. The nation stands in a constant state of war with every able body forced to fight and die in service of the unjust ruler. One day, there’s a mighty battle. The just and rightful king has returned. He throws down the old government and sets up a new government that will last for all ages which brings peace and prosperity to not only the whole nation, but the entire earth. As the king takes his throne, and the crown is laid upon his head, the whole earth begins to shout and rejoice that the old era is gone and new era is dawning.
We applaud in our worship services because we have been declared innocent. We have been betrothed. We have been set free. We have been healed. The King has returned.
1 Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children-
18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.
19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
20 Praise the LORD, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
22 Praise the LORD, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the LORD, O my soul.
“If you love me you will obey what I command” – John 14: 17
Uh, Jesus, don’t you think that’s a little legalistic? Where’s the grace? This statement seems to be so performance based. Our love for Jesus is measured by the merit badges of obedience we acquire. Can’t we just move on past this rather “Fundy” statement and develop a narrative style theology that focuses on the freedom of grace. Give me Romans 8; give me Ephesians 2:8. So why did our King Jesus say this? Let’s first affirm that we come to God on the merit of Jesus work on the cross. Jesus start’s the section in John with this statement,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. – John 14:1
His words to the disciples is not a admonition to stronger will, deeper resolve to get right. He is taking the opportunity to put their minds at ease about the coming persecution that He will soon suffer and the questions that their minds are swarming with about the meaning of His earthy departure. He tells that that he’s going to prepare a place. Thomas asks, “how do we get there?” and Jesus says,
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6
This is even more encouragement. They know the way, because they know Jesus. They have been following the way all along. Trust in Jesus and he will guide you to inherit the kingdom of heaven where we can know the Father. This creates more questions in the disciples. Philip asks to see the Father right now. Wouldn’t that help the situation? Jesus reminds him that he is one with the Father, and so they’ve known him already. Besides, Jesus says,
“You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” – John 14:14
This verse which is often misunderstood to be a divine credit card for us to acquire all our dreams through magically reciting the name Jesus. Jesus isn’t talking about provision of our physical needs or facing trails (there’s other places in the gospels where Jesus encourages us about those needs) but he is talking here about knowing the Father and knowing the way to follow Jesus through this transition. Jesus’ statement is the promise that we can come to the Father without hesitation through the name of Jesus and through faith in Jesus’ name, we can follow him to the place he’s prepared for us. It’s in the context of this conversation that Jesus says,
“If you love me you will obey what I command” – John 14: 17
This isn’t an ultimatum or a litmus test for salvation. It’s a promise. Don’t worry. Remember, Jesus is the way. Follow him and love him and his promise is that you will be faithful to be able to obey. He’s not going to abandon us or leave us work out obedience all alone and depend on our own strength. Not only that, but he promises to leave us the Spirit of truth, the Counselor to be with us always.
“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” -John 14:17-18
See, Jesus did say, “you will obey”. But isn’t it much more powerful to know that it’s a promise and not an imperative. I fail to obey God’s commands so many times. Does that mean that I don’t love Jesus? No, it’s just part of being a broken sinner who is in need of the grace of Jesus. I love Jesus exactly for that reason. He is my ransom and my redeemer. I love Jesus, and so the Spirit of truth guides me in the Way to know the Father.
Here’s a first draft demo of a tune I wrote today. It’s a white-dude reggae in the tradition of Bruce Cockburn, Elvis Costello and Eric Clapton. Reggae is an excellent genre for prophetic declarations against the systems of oppression. I think that if the prophet Jeremiah was around today he’d probably be a either into reggae or the blues (or both). As Christians we have a particular way of viewing evil and suffering: it’s not supposed to be like this. We reject the concepts of Karma or that God is powerless to address the problems in the world. Instead, we believe that evil is a result of sin that has taken root in the heart of every man. It’s the fruit of a foul tree that must be killed in order for righteousness to grow in it’s place. Kill the root, and you kill the tree. Christ didn’t die just to take a bunch of holy-rollers to a golden city in the sky. He died to kill the root of all evil so that he could establish a kingdom of righteousness in which evil and suffering would pass away. Not by eradicating the wicked, but by justifying the wicked. This song is designed to remind us of the redemption of created order and the failure of the church to respond to the cries of the oppressed.
This is not how it’s supposed to be
This is not how it’s supposed to be
Kill the root and you kill the tree
This is not how it’s supposed to be
The word we teach says that true religion
means to care for the widow and the orphan
but instead we have churches built on greed
serving themselves; ignoring the cries of those in need
Children soldiers fight for diamond mines
So that young brides can have ring that shines
See a child’s body being bought and sold
To try to fill the void in a broken soul
The disciples of gangsters follow the way of the gun
The seeds of mercy seem to die in the heat of the sun
Brothers kill brothers in the summer heat
A human sacrifice to the gods of the street
There’s a foul tree that’s planted in every human heart
It produces wicked fruit that tears the world apart
The blood of Christ can kill the root of sin
So the kingdom of righteousness can begin
We claim to love an invisible Savior
yet we struggle just to love our next door neighbor
The idolatry of safety makes us blind and dumb
Yet Christ gave us power to overcome