He is not here.
HE IS RISEN!!
Jesus Christ hates the sin in people, and Calvary is the measure of His hatred. – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
So on the advice of his counselors, the king (Jeroboam) made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!” He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. 1 Kings 12:28 & 29
That didn’t end well the first time the people of Israel tried it, did it? No. It didn’t. I think my Sunday school teachers must’ve missed this story when I was growing up because I don’t remember hearing this at all.
I could easily point fingers at this silly king and his silly people of Israel, but I’m the same way. There are so many times where I try to take control. And yes, I probably put my faith in something that’s just as….tangible (that’s a bad word-choice, but I can’t think of another word)…as these idols Jeroboam posted and the people worshiped. So what does that mean for me? Remain faithful to the One True God, even when there are images all around me that want to distract me from Truth.
I never noticed the prophecy about Josiah in 1 Kings 13:1-3 And that’s a pretty strange story that happened to the man of God after he shared the message to Jeroboam. But the point is still the same, I think: Stay focused. Don’t let anyone else detract or distract you from pursuing the mission that God has invited you (and me) to join.
But Rehoboam spoke harshly to the people, for he rejected the advice of the older counselors and followed the counsel of his younger advisers.
Rehoboam surrounded himself with Yes Men. They knew what he wanted to hear and told him what he wanted to hear. This had disastrous consequences for the nation of Israel. The nation was ripped in two, just like God promised to Solomon. Global leaders could take a cue from Rehoboam’s experience.
Then again, so could I…
How many times do I go to people who I know will just tell me what I want to hear? How many times do I seek out the “Yes Men (and Women)” in my life? If I know someone is going to call me on the carpet on something or tell me I’m wrong, I’m going to avoid talking to that person. Something tells me you’re probably the same way. Or maybe it’s just me.
How does that stretch me? How does that challenge me to become more Christ-like? How does that call attention to the areas in my life that need to change?
Well, it doesn’t. In fact, it encourages me to do the opposite. This sounds to me like the opposite of iron sharpening iron. This encourages me to stay where I am and allow these Yes Men in my life to continually stroke my ego and convince me that I’m OK.
And that’s not OK. Because I’m not OK.
Wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip; liars pay close attention to slander. Those who mock the poor insult their Maker; those who rejoice at the misfortune of others will be punished.
Proverbs 17:4 & 5
Michael Thom was working with the Campus House in Muncie when I met him some four years ago. When we first met, neither one of us had any clue that we’d be working together at the same company. Funny how things work out, isn’t it?
In 1.5 years’ time, Michael graduated from Ball State University as a Music Education major, spent a year as a full-time Associate Campus Minister at the Christian Campus House in Muncie, got married, and began working at a software company in Indianapolis. He is now the IT Operations Administrator at Slingshot SEO and lives in Fishers with his wife Natalie and their dog. Natalie took up running first, but Michael plans to celebrate his one-year mark of running by participating in his first half-marathon at the Monumental Marathon in Indianapolis in November! Michael also enjoys film and photography and runs Thom Video Productions.
I have no clear recollection of the first time I heard How He Loves. I can be fairly sure, however, that it was not John Mark McMillan’s version but instead the version made wildly popular by the David Crowder*Band in 2009. Though I’m a big DC*B fan and love their version, (and though this post is not so much about the merits of one recording over another), the version that speaks most to me is JMM’s original version.
As you learn in the video below (and you really should watch the video — he does a better job of telling the power of this song than I possibly could), the song was written out of loss. Specifically, JMM lost one of his best friends overnight to injuries sustained in a really bad car crash. He was angry and really broken up by that, crying out to God, and God’s powerful love overwhelmed him. While God does not promise to remove the bad parts of life — in fact, He tells us we will have angering, confusing, awful times in our lives — He does promise to cover us with His love. And oh, what love it is.
The song is filled with wonderful imagery. The very first verse starts like this: He is jealous for me / Loves like a hurricane / I am a tree / Bending beneath / The weight of his wind and mercy. Can you picture that? How can you help but not? A tree — solid, heavy, immovable — being overcome by the smothering, all-encompassing weight of a hurricane’s winds and rain. That is the love of our God. We may think we have things figured out, we may think “Hey God, I got this!” And yet his love is like that hurricane that just doesn’t let up.
The other half of that verse: When all of a sudden / I am unaware of these / Afflictions eclipsed by glory / And I realize how beautiful you are / And how great your affections are for me.
Wow. My job is to write about those words, and yet words are almost escaping me right now. My afflictions — my pain, my suffering, my loss, my life — are eclipsed — obliterated! — by His glory. His hurricane-like glory and love. When we are finally able to see past our present suffering, we can then see how beautiful He is. That last line, then, is the clincher: How great your affections are for me. Only once we see the heart of our God loving us through our struggles can we truly realize that it’s okay to be upset, it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be broken. With the knowledge that He’s always there to pick us back up and love us back through the process of being made whole again through his Son, with that knowledge, we can get through it. Whatever it is.
I could go on analyzing the lyrics because they just continue to drip with truth illustrated through imagery, but I’ll let John wrap up the description of his lyrics, with his words from the video: “The love I’m singing about in that song is really not a pretty, clean, it’s not a Hollywood, hot pink love. It’s a kind of love that’s willing to love things that are messy and willing to love even difficult and kind of gross things.”
Two short stories. One of the coolest times I’ve ever participated in worshiping through this song was at a concert during DC*B’s final tour in 2011. They came through Indianapolis with Gungor [sidebar: check our Gungor if you're not familiar, you'll be glad you did] and John Mark McMillan. The Crowder Band closed the concert (well, before the double encore) with How He Loves, with Michael Gungor and John Mark McMillan joining them. What an amazing chorus of voices in that concert hall that night singing with them.
The absolute most powerful experience I’ve had with this song was one Sunday at church. Our church’s Contemporary services are blessed with having worship led by the Aaron Pelsue Band, who I personally have known and been a fan of since a high school CIY trip probably ten years ago. But one Sunday morning How He Loves was the backdrop to an incredible progression of people walking out, holding hand-written cardboard signs of the struggles they’ve been through — addictions, sexual abuse, cancer, death of loved ones, job loss, homelessness, and more — and of the work God has been doing in their lives since — “clean 5 years,” “in remission,” “learning to trust and love again.” With that song and its powerful lyrics as the soundtrack, there was perhaps literally not a dry eye in the sanctuary that morning. I’m weeping thinking back to that day right now.
John Mark McMillan has a way with words, and I would encourage anyone who is not familiar with his music to check him out. He has very few popular records himself, but his lyrics are so challenging and thought-provoking. How He Loves is a song that has gotten a lot of airplay thanks to the David Crowder*Band, but has touched me and so many more with its crystal-clear reminders of God’s overwhelming love for each and every one of us.
King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba whatever she asked for, besides all the customary gifts he had so generously given. Then she and all her attendants returned to their own land.
1 Kings 10:13
When we toured the Ethiopian National Museum in Addis Ababa, the tour guide talked about the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon with great pride. That’s really not a surprise, though. He talked about most of Ethiopia’s story with great pride – especially when it came to being the home of ‘Lucy’ and also when he argued that the Garden of Eden was probably located in Northern Ethiopia.
But the Garden of Eden’s location has nothing to do with this passage from 1 Kings. ‘Lucy’ doesn’t, either.
My memory is a little bit fuzzy, but I remember our guide telling us a story about the Queen of Sheba staying in Solomon’s palace for some time during her visit that’s mentioned in this passage. It had something to do with the Queen agreeing not to take anything from the palace while she stayed there or she’d have to give Solomon something in return (or whatever he wanted….or something like that). One night (possibly the last night she was staying there), she was treated to a lavish dinner that was full of spice and was extremely hot. Having eaten Ethiopian food myself, I’d have to imagine this would have to register pretty high on the Scoville scale in order for Ethiopians to call it spicy.
Anyway, she went to bed that night with her mouth still on fire from the spicy dinner. Solomon had ordered his servants to place a large pitcher of water in her quarters. Naturally, she took a drink. Solomon then caught her, saying she had taken something from his palace and now needed to give him something in return.
She gave birth to a son nine months later.
Of course, one is supposed to assume that this son is the offspring of Solomon and the Queen. Or something like that. Does anyone else know this story? Am I way off in what I remember? I know Ethiopians take great pride in their connection to historic Judaism as well as the Christian story.
I’d love to have someone help fill in whatever blanks I may have in this story. And feel free to tell me if what I remember is completely wrong, too. I won’t be offended.
I met James Hill at a monthly gathering of area preachers while I lived in Muncie. Our paths have gone different directions (he moved to Arkansas for a short time while I stayed in the Muncie area), but we’ve been able to keep in contact and encourage each other along the journey. I’m excited to have him share his thoughts about his favorite worship song.
James is married to Megan Hill of 11 years with 2 children, Isaac is 6 and Isaiah is 2. They enjoy life together—singing in the mornings, laughter at the supper table, energetic play, talkative road trips, and learning all they can about God and His world. Their theme verse is John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” He currently ministers through Christ’s Restoration Ministries, a parachurch revival ministry based in Anderson, IN, and he is waiting for God’s next call.
Thanks, James, for taking the time to share your story!
Personally, this task has actually been kind of a tough one. I like so many praise songs and hymns, and it is hard to recall exactly how they have made me feel and what kind of experiences I have enjoyed. I can recall many times of coming to tears, getting serious chills, and being greatly inspired. But the song that rises to the top in my mind as I consider what I believe are the best is Amazing Grace.
First of all, let me say that I did this same kind of thing when I was preaching in Arkansas. I led the singing at one of our revival services and picked what I found were the top ten hymns of all time. I looked at many different websites and many different lists and compiled what were the most popular. On almost every list Amazing Grace was at the top. And then, when I led the singing, I asked the congregation to voice their favorite before I revealed to them the list I found… and unanimously they all agreed to Amazing Grace. Now, of course, I only asked them about their favorite hymn… I did not include modern praise songs… but I think even then the majority would have said, Amazing Grace. Why? I believe it truly is the all-time best church song up to the present time! Why, you might ask again?
Well, this brings me to the second reason I picked this song… intuition. I just have a sense that if God were to pick His favorite song, this song would be it! No matter how long I sit here and think about this question.. which has been quite a while now… this is the song that keeps coming to mind. Maybe that’s because of the research I performed. And what I mean is that since it seems to be everyone’s favorite, it is probably the one God uses the most, and therefore His favorite. However, there is another, better reason I think it is God’s favorite. Who could not argue that the main thing God wants His people to know while on earth is His amazing grace! In building the mental structure of faith, the first thing for us to know is that God exists, then that we have sinned, and then grace. By that perspective of course, the most important thing for us to know would be that God exists, since it is the foundation of the rest of the structure. However, from the perspective of the only thing that we need to receive from God to get us to Heaven… it is definitely God’s grace. This is for certain, for sure, precise, bonafide truth! It is stamped, sealed, and paid in full! The only argument then against the idea that this is God’s favorite hymn would be that there are many other songs about grace. Yes, but I would argue that none resounds with the richness and depth and beauty of amazing grace. Even as I type the words my heart is aroused with encouragement and faith and inspiration! “Thank you God! I’m ok because of your grace!” it makes me say.
Thirdly, and lastly, I think I would choose Amazing Grace because I tend to be a traditionalist. I believe that the old hymns have much more depth and strength than the new choruses. They call out of us reverence and honor and dignity. The modern choruses are much more about us being uplifted than they are about drawing out reverence for God. In general they are more man-centered than the hymns. I think this is why modern choruses often take these songs and re-do them. They intuitively know the power they hold. And of course, most of these worship leaders sang them as children in church. We might also say that even the story behind the hymn contributes to its number one rating. In fact, I’m sure it does! The slave trader, abusing and oppressing humanity in what has come to be seen as one of the most awful crimes of man, suddenly changed as he considers the infinite mercy of God. The greater the sinner, the greater God’s grace. And few men professed to feel as sinful as John Newton when he was involved in this atrocious activity. I think I’ll close this short blog by making a similar statement… that the more grace in a song, the greater is the song. And I see no song with more grace than Amazing Grace.
I met Melissa Dixon on the first day of school.
OK. It was my first day of seminary, but it was still the first day of school. We instantly hit it off because we discovered that we grew up just a few miles away from each other. She’s hilarious and has great insight into how people operate. I think you’ll see that shine through in her post.
Like me, Melissa is a seminary drop-out. She’s also a Sunday School teacher to people smarter than her and is mercifully covered by Jesus’ grace. She lives in Johnson City, TN, with her husband, Tim, and her two spoiled cats, Therion and Ollivander. She blogs sporatically at A Place to Land.
Speaking of blogging, she’s actually one of the reasons I started my blog oh so long ago (back when LiveJournal was all the rage). But maybe you shouldn’t hold that against her.
Some glad morning…
The minute Matt mentioned this guest blog to me, I knew exactly which song I wanted to pick. It was actually reflexive; there were no other options.
I’ll Fly Away.
I grew up in a fairly small church, and we had some lovely ladies who worked tirelessly with the children, and who will earn their place by Jesus’ side for dealing with me as a child. Someone thought it would be a good idea for us to have a children’s choir, except no one really wanted to put forth much time or effort to make it happen, and our usual ladies were already teaching Sunday School and Children’s Church. To their credit, they said, “ Bring it on!”
So, we sang some songs with a tape, we sang old Bible School songs, and when we could get someone to play piano for us, we sang “I’ll Fly Away.” Of course, we didn’t just sing it. We tore. It. Up. We sang it with enthusiasm usually reserved for secular songs and songs with the word “underwear” in them.
One of the beauties of this song is that it is multi-generational. It’s easy enough for little kids to catch on to, and completely nostalgic for adults. We just loved it because it was the closest thing you were going to get to rockin out in a tiny Baptist church whose entire worship team was a piano.
Out of the mouths of babes, it’s easy to get lost in the happy jangly rhythm and upbeat tune and completely lose the message. One of the most important points of this song is that, someday, I will get to be with Jesus. It’s a sweet song of freedom. Free from text messages, mean bosses, and making ends meet. Although tinged with the sorrow of death and leaving this word, we are weary and we can see the end in sight.
But over all the song has that infectious joy of childhood. Rare is the individual who can sit still during the song, and even if you’re not a hand clapper, you will surely find your feet have a mind of their own and you can’t help but at least hum along.
After all, it’s probably the closest we’ll ever get to Heaven on Earth.
Daniel Edwards is a guy I’d like to meet. I’ve been talking to him for several years via twitter, but we’ve never met face to face. If you aren’t following him on twitter, you really should be. You might even wind up on his Favorite Tweets of -Insert Month Here-! I asked him for a brief bio to share with you and here’s what he came up with:
Daniel Edwards is a husband to beautiful woman named Nicole, father to a cute little girl named Haven, master to a good Jack Russel Terrier Java. Pastor of Faith Church in Chandler, Indiana. Training for the Indy Monumental Marathon which is one week before my 30th birthday.
I had a favorite hymn for many years, one I would request whenever the song leader would take requests. I still remember its page number in the hymnal that I sang out of as a boy. Sadly, in my mind the hymn is associated with an unpleasant memory. In the chorus during a rest at the point when everyone else was silent, a man who attended our church would always shout “Praise God.” Once was neat, after every verse was annoying. After a couple of years, I would hear him yelling his part even on Sundays that he was out of town. My mind associated the song with the man. This association went beyond annoying when the man abandoned his family and stole another man’s wife. When I hear the song now, I think of the pain brought upon a family and their church.
For me, a story associated with a song carries a lot of weight.
I guess that is why my current favorite hymn is “It Is Well.”
The story of Horatio Spafford and this song is very moving.
Spafford wrote the lyrics to this song on a ship as it sailed through the approximate place where months before his 4 daughters had perished in shipwreck. Other details of Spafford’s life include losing his only son at age 4, surviving the great Chicago fire. He was a guy who had his share of difficulties.
Though I have never experienced anything like he did (and I hope I never do), I have experienced difficulty. I have also experienced inexplicable peace directly in the middle of tragedy.
When I hear and/or sing this song, I think of the deep anguish that Spafford experienced and I think of the deep, incredible peace that God provided.
I think of the difficulties I have faced and I think of the deep, incredible peace that God provided.
To me, the best part of the hymn are the lyrics:
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
Tragedy, death, sickness, and separation are all results of the introduction of sin into the world. There is great comfort in knowing that Christ conquered the cause of horrible circumstances like those that you, I, and Spafford have faced in this life. There is wonderful peace in the thought that my sin, in whole, has been nailed to and destroyed by the cross. It is enough to cause my soul to “praise the Lord, praise the Lord.”
What about you? Do you have another story of God’s peace that I could associate with my favorite hymn?
To kick off the series of guest posts about our favorite worship songs, Joanie has graciously agreed to share her thoughts. I met Joanie during my first year in seminary. Her insight is profound. Her humor is contagious. I am glad to call her a friend – even if her cat makes my eyes itchy.
She is a Pastoral Care intern at Grandview Christian Church. Aside from some late fees at the library, she’s a fine upstanding citizen – even though the librarian has her suspicions.
Thanks, Joanie, for this great contribution!
“Jesus Loves Me” is one of the best-known hymns of the church. It is among the first I learned as a child. My mother used to sing it to me every night before I went to sleep. The theological significance of the words didn’t strike me at the time; I just accepted them.
As I got a little older, the hymn began to lose its luster for me. It seemed so babyish to me. Only little kids sang that song- and I sure didn’t want to be thought of as one of the “little ones” who belonged to him. The song was embarrassing.
I can’t remember the rest of the conversation, but one day I was asking my dad some sort of Big God Question, and his answer was this story: Once someone asked the eminent theologian Karl Barth what was the deepest theological truth he ever encountered, and he replied (at this point I was on the edge of my seat, waiting for the secret of life to be revealed to me), ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’ I have to tell you this was a letdown. I inwardly rolled me eyes but nodded my head like I knew what my dad was talking about.
I grew up and went to college. I went through a period when I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a Christian. I was struggling. I felt that God was leaving me alone with all my problems. But I remembered: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. At least some part of me believed it. And over time I came to see and experience that it was true.
As I grew in my faith, I realized that I wanted to serve God in a more complete way, so I packed up and went to seminary. Everything in seminary is confusing. If they are doing their job, the professors will make you examine and question everything you ever believed. Learning about the ugly periods in Church History is confusing. Learning that Bible translation is an intuitive art instead of an exact science is confusing. Reading 15 different interpretations of the same scripture is confusing. Sometimes the only thing I had to hold onto was “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
I ended up finding pastoral care as my calling. It’s very fulfilling, but it also brings a lot of the painful “why” questions- and not a lot of answers. Why do some people get infections that cripple them for life? Why do some brilliant and good people end up not even being able to remember themselves? Why are people – all people, some of the time – so unkind to each other? I couldn’t bear it if I didn’t keep this one though in mind:
Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
So I have to agree with Karl Barth. The words of this hymn, which I learned almost as soon as I could speak, have become the very cornerstone of my life. They sum up my 35 years of life experience and 22 years of education. If you want to know my most basic assumption that shapes my view of God, myself, and the world, I’ll tell you:
Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.