Broken Lives

Our broken lives were changed, when You broke the night with day. — God Be Praised, by Jon Egan

Check out the video here.

My wife and I are playing music at our church this morning, and God Be Praised is one of the songs on the list. It has a piano piece during the verses that takes up my attention so I can’t sing at the same time. But the first line of the third verse is the above quote, and it is my favorite line of all the songs we’re playing today.

Why? Because it captures so much in so few words.

What does it capture?

My state – On my own I am broken, I am shattered, I am in pieces.

His grace – Because of Him, as the pieces of the chains that bound me fall to the ground, the rubble of the life I tried to build begins to come together into the masterpiece He intended.

The victory of Christ – The night has been broken, the bondage shattered, the stronghold demolished. Light and life have come through Christ.

The finality of this change: Christ’s work is done. “It is finished.” Our lives are being changed, yes, but the primary catalyst for change – His victory – is already settled and established.

As the spiritual kingdom of this world shatters all around me, and as the world I tried to build comes apart, light shines in the darkness and unrelenting love creates a new life out of the ruins.

This is how His Word is coming to life in my heart today as we sing.

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Shadow

With one sentence, my son broke my heart.

He said, “I’m going to take off my gloves, because it’s the last time I’m going to hold Shadow and feel how soft he is.”

Shadow the bunny

Shadow the bunny

Our rabbit passed away in the morning about a week ago. Two weeks of sickness took its toll. He grew weak and thin even though we gave him food and water by a syringe. After the first week, Shadow rarely moved. On the last day, he would fall over, unable to get back up. We had an emergency appointment with the vet scheduled for that afternoon, because the treatment was not helping.
We talked with the kids all along. “We’re doing our best, but this isn’t looking good.”

I hurried home for lunch when I could break free from briefings and meetings. I didn’t even cancel the vet appointment–not because I didn’t believe my wife and son’s ability to figure out that Shadow had passed, but because I didn’t want to accept it yet.
I spent ten or fifteen minutes digging a deep hole in the long grass that was Shadow’s favorite place to hide when he would hop around the fenced yard.
And as I dug, and as Jonathan held his rabbit close, we talked. Jonathan said, “I don’t want to get another rabbit for a long time,” and I think we both knew he was really saying, “I don’t want this pain again.”

Rather than simply grieve the loss, we remembered with joy the fun moments we shared with the rabbit. Once, Jonathan forgot Shadow in the yard. I hurried outside hoping he hadn’t squeezed through a gap in the fence, but Shadow was nowhere to be seen… until two black ears popped up within a thick patch of grass. Maybe it was time to mow!
Shadow would jump sometimes and thump the ground, changing direction in mid-air. When we first got him and took him out in the yard, it took Jonathan and his friend a good half an hour to finally catch Shadow and put him back in his pen.
It touched my heart to hear Jonathan laugh in spite of tears.

Shadow lurking in the tall grass

Shadow lurking in the tall grass

We also took comfort that Shadow no longer suffered. Watching him wither away was painful.
Jonathan and I both spent hours trying to care for Shadow as he grew ill. The vet gave us something like baby cereal for rabbits, and it would clump up in the syringe we used to feed Shadow. Squeezing hard enough to get the food out without putting pressure on our weak bunny’s face was a difficult challenge. We held a sort of vigil for two weeks, hoping our efforts helped.
But Shadow still passed away.

I thought about how Jonathan must be feeling, and I thought of King David in the Bible.

Quick recap: David sinned, sleeping with Bathsheba and getting her pregnant. Once that happened, David tried to trick her husband into thinking it was his child. When that failed, David coordinated for the husband to be killed in battle. God sent Nathan to call David out for the sin, and David repented. But Nathan also promised that the child of that union would die as a result of the sin.
The child grew ill. David fasted, forsaking food and drink. He lay on the floor, inquiring of God on behalf of the son. His servants tried to pick him up, tried to give him food… and he rejected their offers. This lasted a week.
Then the child died.
The servants grew worried. If David took the sickness hard, how would he take this news?

…David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.” So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the Lord and worshiped…(2 Samuel 12:19, 20 NASB)

They questioned him about his actions, and he replied, “I thought perhaps God might have mercy on the child. Now that the child is gone, why should I fast? He will not return to me, but I will go to him.”

It called to mind Job’s profound response to all his suffering: The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)
Matt and Beth Redman wrote the song “Blessed Be Your Name” in response to both their personal hardships and the terrorist attack on September 11th. Their concern was that the church lacked songs for expressing faith in God when times are hard and things don’t go our way. They looked at Job’s responses, and how he asked “Shall we accept good from the Lord and not accept adversity?”
So this became our song, out there in the lawn. As we laid Shadow in the grave, I started to sing Blessed Be Your Name.
I cannot imagine the sorrow and suffering of a parent who loses a child, or of a spouse losing their other half. There’s a reason the best advice is to simply be there with them in their grief, to listen, to say nothing.
Even with our relatively insignificant loss, it was still very difficult to sing the second verse.

Blessed be Your Name,
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s all as it should be
Blessed be Your Name.
Blessed be Your Name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your Name.

It’s hard to look at difficulties or loss and still say “every blessing You pour out, I’ll turn back to praise. And when the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say blessed be Your name.”
But being a worship leader is more than singing on stage for the congregation, convincing people to clap or raise their voices to a popular tune. It’s demonstrating worship, even for our little congregation of the two of us, responding to God no matter the situation.
Sometimes leading worship means showing others how to worship when it hurts.

Fit to Praise

“I’m gonna let go, really worship, letting my dance come forth… Dance! Da-ance! Let the Spirit move you, dance! Da-ance! Holy Spirit in you, dance!” (lyrics to “Dance” by Jesus Culture)

About two months ago, I split my original blog up into separate topics based on the advice of some fellow writers. That way, a reader knows roughly what to expect when they go to the blog.

But I can’t split my life up into neat sections quite as easy as I can the blog. So sometimes there’s overlap, and this is one of those moments.

I write a blog about fitness, or more accurately, my struggles with fitness and diet. Several years ago, I was a contracted Spin instructor at the base gym. I peppered my music set lists for exercise classes with driving Christian songs that were mostly well received. Even now, these songs make up a big part of my workout playlists on my iPhone.

Most worship albums have at least one or two high energy high tempo numbers that can be a fresh addition to a cardio routine or jog on the track.

And why not? Exercise can be an act of worship. In the military, it’s part of my job, so it’s one way I can demonstrate excellence based on my desire to please God. “Whatsoever you do in word or deed, do it as unto The Lord.” (Colossians 3:17)

Exercise improves physical health, of course. But it also relieves mental and emotional stress, giving a healthy outlet for frustration. Why not incorporate a spiritual component and get my mind on the things of God while “beating my body into submission” at the gym? (see 1 Cor 9:24-27)

Still, I assume I’m preaching to the choir. If you like to work out, and you like Christian music, then no doubt some of it finds its way into your playlists.

Listening to worship music can also trigger spontaneous moments of response to God’s goodness. I came home from the gym tonight and figured out my dinner plan. I got it started cooking, and decided I wanted to keep moving, keep working out a bit. So I started doing aerobics in my kitchen, with high knees, cross-steps, ski jumps, grapevines, arm motions, short jogs… it was great.

(I made sure no sweat dripped into the food.)

David Crowder Band’s Our Love is Loud came on, and I wanted to sing along. Why not? I’m hearing and singing “We lift our voices, louder still, can You hear us? Can You feel we love You Lord, we love You, we love You…” while lifting up my hands for the added aerobic difficulty. Why not consciously lift my hands each time as an expression of praise while working out?

Let the Praises Ring came on after that, with its verse: “Oh Lord, my God, to You I give my hands. Oh Lord, my God, to You I give my feet. Oh Lord, my God, to You I give my life.”

As Paul said to the Athenians,

for in Him we live and move and exist. (Acts 17:28 NASB)

So I’ll worship on the stationary bike, I’ll worship as I walk around the track, I’ll worship as I dance around the kitchen.

Because worship has to be a part of my life too, and as I said before, it’s very difficult to separate everything out into nice little compartments. That’s an exercise in futility and a game I don’t want to play.

So what songs jump off the worship albums into my gym set list?

(Note: I didn’t choose the vast array of Christian rock/pop/alternative/metal music that is also perfect for a workout. I specifically wanted to look at worship songs.)

Dance and Holding Nothing Back by Jesus Culture

God’s Great Dance Floor and Sing Sing Singby Chris Tomlin (the latter song off of Passion: God of this City)

Let the Praises Ring and Salvation is Here by Lincoln Brewster

Our Love is Loud and No One Like You by David Crowder Band (among others by the same band)

We Shine and All Because of Jesus by Fee (particularly the version of We Shine off Passion: God of this City)

All I Do and Take It All by Hillsong

Happy Day by Tim Hughes

Let Everything that has Breath by Matt Redman

So Good to Me and Freedom by Darrell Evans

Live God Loud by Acquire the Fire

How about you? Are there any worship songs in particular that get your feet moving? Let me know in a comment, please. Maybe I can add them to my playlist!

Within Us

One of the phrases I heard so often on worship teams and at churches was “We have to get into the presence of God.”

The impression I got was that God’s presence was a difficult place to attain, a challenging state to achieve, where all the music goes right and everyone is caught up in worship. That experience was the goal, and apparently it was rare, but we were going to try for it anyway.

For the “W” entry in the A to Z challenge, I want to talk about the term within.

This understanding of worship that I mention above seems to follow the Holy of Holies model.

If we look into the Old Testament and the laws about the setup and rituals of the Tabernacle of God, we find that there were three main sections to the place of worship. The Outer Court was the largest, where most people could go. It was where the average Israelites brought their sacrifices.

Then there was the Holy Place, the sort-of makeshift Temple in the middle of the Outer Court. That housed a number of key elements, and there was a much more strict set of rules about who could enter, when they could enter, and what duties they would perform.

Inside the Holy Place was the Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place – the spot where God’s presence dwelt. Only the high priest could enter, and that only once a year. It was a significant duty that could result in death if the rituals were not performed properly.

We sometimes treat worship like this, as though there are levels we have to reach, areas we have to go through, to progress from the start of the Sunday service as far as we can get toward the presence of God. Some Sundays, we feel like we almost made it. Some Sundays, everything comes apart. And some few Sundays, we feel like we really did it; we really entered into God’s presence through our worship.

Older songs convey this understanding… the chorus “Take Me In” uses the picture of the Tabernacle to describe the desire to draw near to God.

Take me past the outer courts, into the Holy Place
Past the brazen altar, Lord I want to see Your face
Pass me by the crowds of people, the priests who sing Your praise
I hunger and thirst for Your righteousness, and it’s only found one place:
Take me in to the Holy of Holies, take me in by the blood of the Lamb
Take me in to the Holy of Holies, take the coal, touch my lips, here I am

Nothing against the heart of the song, but I don’t believe that’s how worship works for us as New Testament believers.

“The Kingdom of God is in your midst” (also translated as “the Kingdom of God is within you.”  – Jesus, in Luke 17:21

A while back, a movie called Stigmata came out using religious symbolism and a thriller plot to call attention to a “Gospel” not included in the traditional Bible. The Gospel of Thomas, in the movie, contained a powerful truth the church would rather keep secret: the idea that the kingdom of God isn’t a church building or religious institution, but that the kingdom is actually within you and me.

I was dumbfounded by this movie’s attempt to convey this as a “new” truth that the Church would fear. It’s quite biblical (though I’d say the Gospel of Thomas is not, for good reason).

Consider the implications of these verses:

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.  – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NASB

and

For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,
“I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
17 “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean;
And I will welcome you.
18 “And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”
Says the Lord Almighty. – 2 Corinthians 6:16-18  NASB

and

the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 …which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Colossians 1:26-27  NASB

oh, and also

20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. – Galatians 2:20

So the point is, God in us is really not a new concept. (To be fair, the Old Testament has its share of verses that point to the same truth. The passage from 2 Cor 6:16-18 quotes from Leviticus, Ezekiel, and Isaiah.)

Long story short, the movie was a silly attempt to make a big deal out of a Gnostic “gospel” by calling attention to a particular line that is already established Christian doctrine.

What does this have to do with worship?

When we realize that God is with us everywhere we go, it changes our understanding of “getting into the presence of God.” He’s not far off, waiting for me to get there, if only I can jump through the right hoops and hit the right notes and somehow bring the congregation with me. He’s here, inside me, inside you if you’re a believer, inside each of us in the church building as we gather together. It’s not about getting us into His presence at all.

It’s about opening our eyes to the fact that He is already there with us, within us.

Here’s an analogy: My heart is full of love for my wife and my children. In a sense, I carry them everywhere I go, because they hold a special place in my affections. It’s not something I have to work up or fake. There’s no complicated ritual about it. My love for them simply is, and it is within me.

I can be distracted, or I can let frustrations steal my focus, or I can allow problems in the relationship to keep me distant. But the love for them is there, and all it takes is for me to stop and think about them.

How much more so with God who lives within us?

What do you think? Do we often try to work our way into God’s presence? Or do we recognize He’s there already, and work to fix our gaze on Him? What does it mean that God is within us?

Three Words

Repetition is sometimes the bane of the worship musician. You probably know the stereotype, the service where the leader and the team are lost in space singing the same chorus over and over.

Let's sing that one more time... I mean four more times... and one more...

Let’s sing that one more time… I mean four more times… and one more…

“I could sing of Your love forever… I could sing of Your love forever…”

No, really, I guess we’re going to sing of Your love forever, because here we go again singing of Your love forever, and now I’m not sure I can sing of Your love forever, we keep singing this line forever…

There are moments of powerful worship where we sense the presence of God and get lost there. And then, maybe one line is enough to capture our attention and express our heart. Maybe a few words are enough. Maybe no words at all.

I was thinking about this as I considered what to choose for ‘G’ in this A to Z challenge. It’s perhaps the shortest worship song ever, centered on God’s goodness.

There’s a key phrase in the Bible for the worship of God. In 2nd Chronicles 6 and 7, King Solomon and the people of God have completed the work of building the Temple, and they hold a massive service to dedicate it to God. They’ve offered sacrifices, and then Solomon prays, inviting God’s presence. Fire comes down, consuming the offerings. The glory of the Lord fills the Temple; His presence falls with such heaviness that the priests can’t even minister or enter. Everyone falls face-down and begins to sing.

“You are good, and Your love endures forever.”

Tobe khehsed o-lawm in transliterated Hebrew.

Three words. That’s it. “Goodness, kindness, forever.” Over and over.

There’s a verse I’ve often heard used to condemn or criticize the repetition that sometimes occurs in praise and worship.

And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Matt 6:7 NKJV.

They point to the prophets of Baal, dancing around, repeating cries for their god to act, going so far as to cut themselves to beg his favor. “How are we any different,” they ask, “if we sing the same words over and over, as though our many words will get God to act?”

But we don’t see people in Scripture praising to make something happen. They praised because God is good and His love endures. And God moved in their midst.

Paul and Silas don’t sing to break the prison walls and loose their chains. They sing because God is good in spite of circumstances.

The psalmists didn’t sing in the midst of their trials and tribulations in order to work some kind of Christian magic. They sang because they trusted in God’s kindness which knows no end.

Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn after the Last Supper (Matt 26:30). The early church had psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col 3:16). There were often worshipers on the fields of battle leading God’s people – sometimes at His direction, sometimes simply because He is good and His love endures. King Jehoshaphat was promised protection from two enemies that worked together against his kingdom. In light of the promise, he appointed people to worship God, singing four words – “Praise God, kindness forever.” God caused the two armies to turn against each other, and His people did not have to lift a hand. They just lifted their voices.

Praise and worship is part of the spiritual life. But it isn’t about conjuring up emotions or supernatural experiences. It is not about formulas or manipulation. There are no magic words to repeat, no rituals that earn us the presence of God or His power on display.

Worship is about One thing – God. It is in response to one thing – His goodness toward us. It’s a relationship, not an equation.

In relationship, sometimes saying just three words can be enough.

Song: My Savior’s Love

Oh, no, another “modernized” hymn!

Maybe you’ve noticed this trend in Praise and Worship music over the last several years.

A treasure trove of worship ideas for us today…
…and connection to the church in generations past.

About a decade ago, Matt Redman writes about how the hymnal is a treasure trove of song ideas and powerful lyrics. Then everyone’s changing old favorites to accommodate guitar rhythms and incorporate new choruses. (Truth be told, I’m sure others had the same idea, not just Matt, and I’m sure it was happening from time to time before he wrote it.)

The first one I really remember is Todd Agnew’s remake of Amazing Grace, titled “Grace Like Rain.” He puts the hymn in a minor key, and adds a chorus in between each verse talking about how our sinful stains are washed away in the rain of God’s grace. It works.

My wife and I love to play a duet on that. She has a great violin accompaniment and I have a special riff I like on the piano for the third verse.

Then I recall “The Wonderful Cross” with Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin from Passion: One Day 2003 (maybe). “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is combined with a driving beat and a powerful chorus that borrows from Bonhoeffer:

“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

There are others. “Jesus Paid It All” is on a recent Passion album, with a powerful buildup and a passionate cry for us to “Praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead.”

Chris Tomlin put out a version of Amazing Grace called “My Chains are Gone” with a chorus that sounds like the heartcry of a man released from his cell after years of imprisonment. “My God, my Savior has ransomed me… and like a flood, His mercy rains unending love, amazing grace.”

David Crowder Band has a version of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” that starts with a soft minor key chorus about singing to the passionate God who rejoices over us… before the drums kick in and guitars scream in between the verses of the familiar hymn.

Sometimes the bandwagon gets it right.

Who am I to argue?

The hymn, “My Savior’s Love” was a theme song for one of the conferences my wife and I attended several years ago on Okinawa. It seemed like we were constantly being told “Go into My Savior’s Love and let’s just stay there for a while.” (We had pretty flexible worship musicians, so we could be told, “Do this song for a bit” and it all worked out.)

Years later, I was looking at a hymnal and found the song. I remembered how much I loved the emphasis on the marvel of God’s love…

Here in the present as “I stand amazed” and “wonder how He could love me.”

In the past as I think of how “He bore the burden to Calvary and suffered and died alone.”

In the future as “through the ages”  I will “sing of His love for me.”

I also like the minor key – which to me speaks of reflection and wonder – that leads to the major key – which calls celebration and joy to mind.

Here’s a link to the song: My Savior’s Love… (I fear my singing is a bit pitchy in parts.)

And here’s the lyrics –

1  I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean.

How marvelous! how wonderful! and my song shall ever be: 
How marvelous! how wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!

2  He took my sins and my sorrows, 
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary,
And suffered and died alone.

3  When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last shall see,
’Twill be my joy through the ages
To sing of His love for me.

Sing a song of praise to God above So amazing to think of
How wonderful, how marvelous is our Savior’s love

How marvelous! how wonderful! And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous! how wonderful! is my Savior’s love for me!

Song: Rain Over Me

Sow for yourselves righteousness;
Reap in mercy;
Break up your fallow ground,
For it is time to seek the Lord,
Till He comes and rains righteousness on you. Hosea 10:12 NJKV

Rain Over Me – audio file posted on SoundCloud

I was playing Hide and Seek with my kids the other day. They’re quite talented, but I excel at cheating. While I was counting, I kept messing up… skipping numbers, counting past the agreed upon number, forgetting what number I was on.

That way, I got them to talk and tell me I was doing it wrong.

And them talking told me roughly where they were hiding.

Jonathan is the sneakiest of the bunch. Deborah and Justin do pretty good at hiding, but Jonathan–it’s like he can fold himself up into a little cube and hide anywhere. He’s a ninja.

True story: When he was seven years old, we had the following conversation:

“Dad, I think I want to be a scientist who studies rocks when I grow up.  …or maybe a ninja.”

“Jonathan, that’s really neat. But being a ninja is hard.”

“I think I’d make a great ninja.”

“Really? Why is that?”

“Well… Ninjas have to be good at climbing, and I’m great at climbing. I climb the trees around our house better than any of the other kids.”

I knew this to be true.

“And ninjas have to be good at sneaking, and I’m great at sneaking. I was hiding in the bushes right next to my friend, and he didn’t even know I was there!”

He thinks for a moment.

“Ninjas have to be good at martial arts, too. I have to work on that.”

Back to Hide and Seek… Jonathan lurks in a cabinet. Jonathan climbs up on the shelves above the refrigerator. Jonathan squeezes himself into a small cabinet at the bottom of our entertainment center. It’s ridiculous how easily he hides anywhere he wants.

Then it’s my turn to hide, and I decide to have some fun. Justin (our seven year old) is now the “seeker,” so I make it easier on him. I try stuffing myself into the cabinet where Jonathan hid. Sadly, I’m a little pudgy compared to him, and so try as I might, I can’t quite fit in there. My head is sticking out.

But the point of Hide and Seek is to be found. That’s part of the fun.

In his book, God Chasers, Tommy Tenney writes about hide and seek with his daughters (if memory serves). And he equates the game of hide and seek to our relationship with God.

There are times when we seek God but He seems hidden, far removed, silent. Tenney talks about how he stays hidden while his daughters are enjoying the game, but there comes a point where they become desperate. Maybe Daddy has really left. Maybe he’s not here anymore. Maybe I’m all alone. 

Their tears start to flow and their laughter turns to crying. And the heart of the father is stirred to make himself known, to burst out of hiding and rush to the child, to catch them up in his arms and reassure them that “I have been here all along. I would never leave you nor forsake you.”

Tenney talks about that cry of desperate need and how it catches the Father’s heart and, in a way, commands His attention.

Can you imagine God that way? Can you see the loving Father who sometimes hides His face? Can you picture the tug on His heart when we become desperate and cry out for Him? Can you see the “Hider” turning into the “Seeker” as He rushes to scoop us up and reassure us that all will work out, everything will be fine? Can you hear Him whisper, “It’s okay, I am here. I never left you, even though you didn’t know where I was.”

Hosea 10:12 was a theme verse for my church back in 2001.  We really focused on the thought that God is out there just waiting to be found, and as we live out righteousness and experience His lovingkindness and mercy, as we break up the hard ground of our hearts in our desperation for Him, we can trust that He will turn and respond to our cries. He will come and rain down His righteousness upon us.

“Draw near to Him, and He will draw near to you.”

“Seek the Lord while He may be found.”

“It is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness upon you.”

We seek God, calling out to Him… until we discover He is coming toward us — the father running out to meet the prodigal child — ready to embrace us and pour out His love on us again.

I always want to surrender to that love. I always want the “ground” of my heart to be broken up, softened, ready for His work. I always want Him to come and pour out the rain of His Spirit over me.

Rain Over Me

You are all I need

Jesus, You’re my everything

You’re the One I’ll seek

For all my life

 

Your all-sufficiency

Answers my dependency

Your unfailing love

Is now my life

 

I will seek You with the rising sun

And serve You till the day is done

Jesus, every day I’ll praise Your name

I will follow You in righteousness

To know Your lovingkindness

Seeking You until I catch Your heart

And You rain over me

 

Rain over me, rain over me

(repeat)