Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Worship Theology - Rock of Ages

I am going to begin a new endeavor. I'm going to try to regularly post the lyrics of a song or hymn here in order to consider what we are singing week after week as God's people. I will endorse some songs and NOT endorse others. The whole point is to examine what we are singing and how it points us to Christ and reinforces good Biblical Theology!

I think as worshippers we far too rarely consider what we are singing more than weather or not we like the tune of the song or if we hear it on the radio.

I think as leaders we far too rarely consider what we are singing AND what we are teaching those who look to us for leadership... and how our songs fit (or sometimes don't) into a solid Biblical orthodox theology.

I'd love your interaction on the different songs and shoot me a message and let me know of songs you'd like to review on the blog!

So... that being said, we are going to start with the old hymn called "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me" because as I opened my itunes and hit shuffle this morning a version of this song began to play and brought me to the edge of tears here at this bistro table with coffee cup in hand as I considered the weight of the words being sung.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me

Words: Agustus M. Toplady (1776)
Music: Toplady, Thomas Hastings, (1830)

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
[originally When my eye-strings break in death]
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

I think verse 2 is what stood out to me most as I listened to this hymn. "Not the labor of my hands can fulfill thy law's demands; Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone."

ALL THIS - my law-fulfilling labor, my un-yielding zeal, flowing tears - ALL THIS for sin could not atone. Thou must save, and Thou alone. That is my rock... Jesus. "Nothing in my hand I bring, naked to the cross I cling." Now... the image of naked Jake my be, at first, off-putting, BUT the reality that ALL I, or any of us, can do is cling to the cross and embrace the crucified one. And I bring nothing of my own to pay for his mercy but my sorry and broken self offered rightly to the one who created me and is my redemption!


Being pointed to the Gospel... that Jesus' finished and complete work on the cross saves us... is, in my opinion, the hallmark of a great song for worship. More than instrumentation, musicality, if it's "hip" or not... does it point to a clear Gospel? Does it have Gospel-intentionality?

Closing thought: Even the worst tune can be redeemed by Gospel-saturated lyrics.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

An anemic Gospel... part 2

A.K.A. "The death of idolatry and the discipline of the Lord."

It is hard to talk about sin in a say that doesn’t immediately refer to something you do. Let’s do a little word association. I say a word and you say the first thing that comes to your mind. I say “sin” and you say what? Murder, malicious talk, porn, fornication (not that anyone uses that word anymore), hitting your brother?

Ok... so that is how my 3 year old understands sin... “Don’t push Ben.”
And although it is that simple it is not that simplistic... that is only half of it.

If we only see sin as the “bad stuff we do” then we only need a “gospel” that meets our surface needs (
see my last post).

For every action described as “sin” in the scriptures there is a root which is far more sinister. And that root is idolatry.

On top of that... it’s no wonder we, so often, have no category for suffering, hardship, and discipline in our understanding of “God”... and it’s no wonder that I seek after the wisdom and maturity of a tested and seasoned man-of-God and yet desire not the testing nor the seasoning (or tenderizing as might be necessary for the “tough meat” that I may be).

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the past couple of years have been a journey of being humbled while learning what it means to put the flesh to death and much has that has happened under the radar in the deep recesses of my heart... slowly being exposed to more and more light.

A little background...

A few months ago Pastor Matt Chandler spoke at a training “Boot Camp” I attended in Louisville, KY. If you would like to listen to his teaching (and I would strongly encourage you carve out 47 minutes and buckle up) you can hear it

But one of the biggest challenges for me came from a text many of us have read a lot... and until then I had not fully understood.

Hebrews 11. This is often called the “faith” chapter. It speaks of the saints who “by faith” trusted God even though they couldn’t fully see the promise of God realized. It reads like a roll-call of epic heroes who did unbelievable things and serve as the "IT" guys of our faith history.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Rahab... "And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection." (Hebrews 11:32-35a)

The problem is... we too often stop reading right there... in the middle of verse 35. The anemic gospel points at that list and says, “See! This is all that God intends for you if you are really a Christian. You will always defeat sickness, and foreign enemies, and lions and always cheat death...” and we leave it at that.

As Chandler says it, “...we’ve held up guys who have put armies to flight and we have held up guys who have shut the mouths of lions and said, ‘this is normative’.”

The reality is that there is another part to verse 35 and to the rest of the chapter:

"Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect." (Hebrews 11:35b-40)

You see... I want the life of Hebrews 11:32-35. That’s the ministry that I want. Because of the flesh that still wages war in my heart and rises up against Christ’s sanctifying work in me I desire putting armies to flight and shutting the mouths of lions... not for God’s name to be made greater but for my name to be made greater. Idolatry.

You see, the remedy for me is a full Gospel.

Hebrews 12 is a very familiar passage but has been shaking my self-righteousness to the core:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

I have a new desire of late... I just want to play my part well. I want to run the race set before me... looking to Jesus...

I want to be the kind of man who, like Chander says, “the man that loves Jesus Christ deeply, when he’s getting overrun... when he’s getting overrun by the army he’s able to say, ‘if this is my role in the furtherance of the Kingdom, Praise Your name.’”

You see... if we have an anemic gospel we will always see all hardship and suffering as anti-us and not-from God. Not that all hardship is because of sin or discipline... like God is waiting for us to sin to that he can punish us... but that is for another post... and another day

(If you want to read/listen some challenging thoughts on God's Sovereignty and Suffering check out HERE and HERE).

But if we have an anemic gospel we will NEVER see hardship and suffering in this life as tools for our sanctification and testing and we will NEVE be joyful in being counted worthy to suffer for his name sake... and many times... it might do us well to consider our current struggles in that light.

What is interesting is that Matt Chandler has become a reminder and a fresh dose of “full Gospel” in recent days as I have been tracking his ministry in the midst of cancer treatment. Just a few weeks after this conference, this past Thanksgiving, Matt was diagnosed with a brain tumor that was very aggressive. Much has been said about this whole situation but his response to the whole thing has been one more example for me of being the man who would play his part well for the furtherance of the Kingdom and for God’s glory.

There is a great article on Chandler
HERE and you can read some updates from his church HERE.

All in all... I want to play my part well. I want to run my race faithfully. I’ll trust God for the rest.

Soli Deo Gloia.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


“Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Psalm 73:25-26

“Gabriel” is a name that means, “God is my strength” and we thought that it would be a fitting name for our little boy who wasn’t able to stay with us. We spent most of Sunday in the hospital just waiting. At 6pm Amy delivered and we were both caught by surprise despite the waiting. The doctor and nurse were amazed at how smooth the process was for Amy. Our nurse, Laura, said she had never seen anyone go through that process with so little discomfort and our doctor said that outside of a miracle heartbeat, this was the best possible way it could have gone. We were able to spend some time with just us and him and although we shed tears, we were assured, even then, that ultimately He does not belong to us. We were able to entrust Gabriel into the hands of our merciful God whose ways are not our ways.

We were able to come home that night and hug our kiddos and sleep in our own bed. Although tired, Amy is doing very well. Her physical health is one more in a long list of tangible mercies from God and answers to all of your prayers.

This all happened so fast... a week ago we were anticipating an ultrasound of a 20 week old baby and today we are walking through an odd mixture of mourning and joy.

I honestly cannot fully comprehend how we got to this point other than the pure grace of God. He has been our strength and our shield and is walking us through this time of mourning into healing. Thank you for your prayer.

Although there have been times of trying to figure out the “why” of all this, I think we can honestly say that our faith has been strengthened through it all. God has been our portion during this time and He will be on the other side of this as well.

A special thank you to our family at River City. Your kindness was much needed and your prayers have been heard during this whole process. Gabriel pointed us to the Glory of God in Christ Jesus and in 1 week preached the Gospel to me in a way I had not yet heard but needed to.

Thank you again.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jake, Amy, Natalie, & Ben

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

An anemic “gospel” (part 1)

a⋅ne⋅mi⋅a  [uh-nee-mee-uh]


1 Pathology. a quantitative deficiency of the hemoglobin, often accompanied by a reduced number of red blood cells and causing pallor, weakness, and brethlessness.

2 a lack of power, vigor, vitality, or colorfulness; His writing suffers from anemia.


I think that for far too much of my life, I was content in believing in an anemic gospel. One that was weak... and literally lacked the power in the blood. I was content in believing that the whole purpose of Jesus’ ministry on earth, his suffering, his death and his resurrection were primarily to make my life generally happy.

Now don’t get me wrong, my parents, mentors, brothers and sisters in Christ... for my whole growing up, did a wonderful and faithful job at painting a clear picture of Jesus. A Jesus who calls me to repentance and into a relationship with the Father through the cross! Its just that I wanted to see Jesus through my own eyes. Aren’t we all a bit like that?

John Calvin wrote, “Every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols." And, I think, is the root of my problem for so long... I was content to craft a Jesus... and a "gospel" for myself... to suit me.

One of the benefits of having church on Sunday evenings is being able to eat cheerios and watch the Sunday morning TV preachers. Not so much to learn from them but to laugh at them.

--- I may be walking a fine line between a righteous indignation at the loose handling of the Word of God and an irreverent and unhealthy disrespect for a “brother” in Christ... but I am willing to deal with the consequences and laugh (& cringe) anyway. ---

There is one TV “preacher” (and I use the term “preacher” lightly because I don’t so much hear a man who prophetically speaks the Word of God to his listeners by the power of the Spirit but rather a motivational speaker who makes his listeners feel “positive” and consider opening their wallets to “support... the work... of the Lor...D!”) and I can’t help but think he may have the same problem that I had. He seems to talk about a Jesus that makes people generally happy but it is there that his message drops off.

Now... I don’t want to be “that guy” who takes pot-shots at the guy on TV with the plastic smile and overpriced designer suit from some sort of spiritual high ground...

And I don’t want to be “that guy” who is willing to bring division for the sake of division and argument for the sake of arguing something...

However, I also don’t want to be “that guy” who is satisfied with hearing, believing, and regurgitating a “gospel” that is half-hearted and half-true.

I almost titled this post “A half-assed gospel” but then I thought my mom might post a scathing review and threaten to wash my mouth out with soap... (oh the childhood memories of having a smart-mouth).

But that is the definition that might almost fit better.

I am/we are often so willing to believe in a God who brings healing, provides us with almost innumerable blessings (wife, children, home, food, family, friends, joy, happiness...). We are willing to believe in a “gospel” that promises to fill all the holes, fix all the wrongs in the easiest ways, and make us happy (according to our own, short-term and short-sighted definitions)... because, after all... God wants us to be “happy”... doesn’t He? But we are unwilling to believe in a God who may sovereignly superintend over even the crappy parts of life and may even bring pruning into the lives of his children to bring about the choice fruit of humble maturity...

The reality is that we don’t have to try very hard to believe that half-___ed "gospel"... do we? And if that was that "gospel that God intended he probably wouldn’t have to work too hard to achieve that one.

The reality is that the Gospel DOES bring Joy and enables us to find more happiness in this broken world that would be possible if we did NOT have Jesus... And God has designed it that way:

“Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place ” (Acts 4:27-28). Central to Christianity is the truth that God sent his Son to die. (

You see... the problem with this anemic "gospel" is that it sets us up for creating a god in our own image (which is the root of our problem) but that it also gives us virtually NO way to deal with suffering, cancer, earthquakes, pain, opposition, etc...

And, to come full-circle, I find that I want progress in my walk with Christ without the pain it takes to get there. The anemic "gospel" offers me chicken-soup-platitudes but no power... and often I (and far too much of the church in America) remain there... I want wisdom beyond my 29 years without taking the hits from the world and the enemy OR the firm discipline of the Lord meant to bring about humility and maturity.

The “gospel” that was so firmly held in my heart has been getting a steady “transfusion” over the past few years and, I think, a fresh dose of AB- (rare blood type), over the past few months... but that comes in part 2... The death of idolatry and the discipline of the Lord... stay tuned (all three of you...)