A few months ago, we joined forces with Icon Church, a plant that came out of Doxa and celebrated Easter together. Their music team jumped in with us, and it was a blast to craft the gathering together. Baptisms, celebratory songs, and a strong message on Christ risen from the grave made for a memorable Sunday.
Partnership between churches is often a strained and complicated thing to pull of: egos, denominational fences, personalities, ministry approach, musical stylings, insecurities, and the list goes on. The prize for working through all that is pretty special, and I have to think that God is pleased when a couple of churches do the thing they sing about.
In many years of following Christ, I have only recently stopped being surprised when I find myself charging ahead and plotting my life with little pause or invitation for God to lead me, rather than for me to run ahead and hope he "catches up".
It doesn't surprise me anymore, because I have demonstrated consistently that I am capable of repeating that mistake over and over. Many of us, if we were feeling honest, could point to a variety of ways in which we run ahead, form our plans, set our expectations, and then shoot something up resembling a prayer asking God to stamp said plans.
Our theology tells us this is upside down. Our Bibles tell us this is misordered. But we still do it, thinking we have all the necessary ingredients to know what's next and make a fulfilled life.
What we need instead, is to trust that God is for us and ahead of us. Only then can we believe that he desires to do good, and we are wise to wait for him to reveal his plans. He is even willing to invite us in those plans, if we would only let him be our vision.
This song is a strange amalgamation of old hymn, and modern love song. The melody comes from Mumford and Sons "Sign No More" album that released in 2009. I first played this with my touring bands in worship environments and conferences where the response was overwhelmingly positive, mostly because at that time, M&S felt like a safe thing for Christian hipsters to enjoy, and church-folk appreciated the repurposing of an old hymn they didn't know. Folk rock was finding itself again while Christian artists began donning newsie caps and muted linens, blurring the wardrobe of the 1930s with skinny jeans and a stylish boot.
I have always required the Lord to rouse me from seasons of spiritual fatigue and sleep. It does not always come with my first request, but the experience of being found over and over again is a kindness that God is not required to show, but seems happy to do so.
I don't fall in the camp that believes that every song written in the last twenty years is self-absorbed, man-centered, theologically-vapid, garbage. But I do think carefully examining songs that have stood the test of time is a worthy practice.
St. Francis of Assisi (nicknamed Francesco.."the Frenchman" by his father) was born in 1226) and was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher. He founded the men's Order of Friars Minor, the women’s Order of St. Clare. Though he was never ordained to the Catholic priesthood, Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in history.
Turns out Francesco wrote a banger(or two or twenty) that have stayed with the global church for centuries.
When I came to Christ as a teenager, I had hoped that he would rush into my life and destroy every sin, every bad habit, every ounce of selfishness in me, every wandering thought, every bit of discontentment and disappointment.
I wanted His blinding light to blast all of this struggle out of my life completely so that I would be almost unrecognizable.
That’s not how its went for me. I"m guessing you too.
Instead, he began his work in me slowly. Very slowly in fact. Over the years I have come to grips with the pace of his work, and have in small ways, understood his means of working in my life.
You see when Christ works slowly, I get to practice what it means to think about Him, pray to him, sing to him, call out to him, talk with others about him. I get to practice my need, and it tethers me to him. I’m anchored by my need of him. When things get dark in my life, I know where to find light. Cause as much as we love a miracle, as much as we love instant transformation…we are quick to walk away and wander off when our needs are met.
Instead of a blinding light, most of us have experienced something different. He most often starts in us as a small light, undeniable there and glowing, but faint at times. and through the highs and lows of my life that light has grown in intensity.
As we have walked through the Gospel of John, we recently looked as a church at Jesus as the light of the world. It recalled for me some ways I’ve seen His light shine in my favorite moments with loved ones. He has shined in my own moments of celebration. And I have seen that even in horrible and painful life circumstances, in the midst of deep loss…the light doesn’t go out. It’s still there. He’s still there.
Jesus is the light of the world, and if you feel today like life is pretty dark, ask for him to show himself to you. He desires to do that. He is eager to move in your life. He desires us all to sing this lyric from Grace Alone with truth, "on my darkened heart the light of Christ has shone."
Last Sunday we sang a pair of hymns, the first written by Samuel Medley in the 1760s. Medley was a preacher and song leader and dozens of his hymns were published in the Gospel Magazines that accompanied the revivals in England in that era.
This particular hymn is lifted from 1 Peter chapter 2, verses 4 and 5
"As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious…"
This reminds us that often the things that the world around us rejects, God holds up. Some of the things the world despises, God cherishes.
God’s absolute truths are often rejected, namely Christ being our only rescue from the sin that lives in us. In the lyrics of this hymn we find ”no other hope shall intervene; to Him we look, on Him we lean".
Maybe you yourself have recently felt rejection for your faith. In the midst of unmatched division and judgement, many believers who are fully dedicated to loving others well are being accused and branded as hatemongers and bigotsPlease know right now in this moment that Jesus knows what it is to be rejected, and offers his comfort to you.
The verse continues:
"you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
God is building his church. He’s going to keep going. He hasn’t stopped and won't. The beauty of the church being a people and not a building is that you can’t close down a people. You can’t prevent the church from being God’s people, regardless of what buildings we have access to.
When we gather, let’s offer our spiritual sacrifices. Let’s focus on these words and let our hearts be moved. Sing these truths in our homes, (especially you Dads…lead your families by example in what a believer looks like when we gather) and allow the melodies to work these powerful promises into our hearts. Let's sing remembering that all of us started this life with sin in us, and needed his grace desperately
"for us, the lost, condemned, undone, He gave Himself the Living Stone.”
Heading into a Sunday morning these days requires what it always has, a necessary transition from the chaos of life to a present mindfulness in the gathering.
One of my favorite psalms, one that the Lord did significant work in me in my first years as a Christian, is Psalm 3.
1 O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; 2 many are saying of my soul, "There is no salvation for him in God." 3 But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. 4 I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah Psalm 3:1-4
Maybe you’re like me and you feel super grateful that parts of life are returning to normal right now. Even in the midst of that, there’s also new chaos around how and when to add commitments back into our busy lives. It can feel like you’re once again being pulled in 1000 directions.
Some of us are experiencing verse two and interacting with others that are confused or even hostile to the Church and the gospel. These are certainly interesting times to follow Christ.
Through it all, he is our shield. He is ultimately our protection. He is the one who carries us through difficult times. He is the one who gets the credit for the good things in our life. When we feel exhausted, beat down, worn out, or anxious, this Psalm reminds us that he hears us. This is a promise worth recalling for all of us.
Jesus comes to our lives in his care and gentleness and lifts our head. He lifts are head so that we can put our eyes back on him and endure anything this world can throw at us. That's worthy of our song.
Surrender is a central theme in the Bible. It's something that God‘s people continually struggle with. Both the embracing and rejection of surrender is seen countless times.
Surrender is as counter-cultural a concept as you can possibly find. It betrays everything the world tells us about how power works, about how important it is to watch out for ourselves at the cost of others, and certainly goes against the cultural narrative that the one you should trust the most is yourself.
Yet, it is inseparable from the life of a Christian. Surrender is necessary. Surrender is worship. Surrender is actually life-giving, and counter intuitively, brings more freedom when lived out. But here's the catch; like so many things that Jesus taught, you cannot begin to understand that truth until you live it.
To sing "I surrender all" can feel disconnected or disingenuous from what we actually experience in every day life. We can still choose to sing this song as an expression of hope and intent, that it would grow increasingly true of us each day. None of us have truly surrendered everything we have to Christ but by his grace we learn how to lay down our plans, our fears, our ambitions, and our very lives each day as He carries us along in his kindness.
It is a natural and human habit to, from time to time, introspectively reflect on our life. To wonder what matters. To think about what we've given ourselves to. We all have the occasional moment where an existential crisis creeps in. Questions like, "how did I get here?" or "is this what I want my life to be?"
In part two of this series on the Psalms God's people sang on the road, Solomon warned them (and us) against building a life of vanity. He pleaded for us to avoid walking this pilgrimage in a way that amounts to nothing. He reminded us that it's possible to completely waste our life. Obviously no one wants that, and yet it happens all the time. How do we know what kind of life we're building? We'll get there in a moment.
Ever notice that Jesus is constantly showing people that it's not too late? He loves giving "4th quarter hope". The parent of a dead child. The meal plan for thousands after they've arrived. The thief on the cross hung next to him certainly had to believe that there was less than a .000001% of things taking a turn that day. Jesus loves redeeming lives that were previously confused, unprepared, and squandered. He often recalibrates people's lives by asking them questions about how they are making decisions, not just what they are deciding. I love the wisdom of this.
So how do we know if our life is being wasted or moving towards beauty and stewarding our resources well? To really know the answer, it's essential for us to take inventory. Below are a few thoughts that are shaped by Biblical wisdom and watching people of all ages follow Jesus for the last 20 years.
Look at your calendar. What work hours do you keep? Do you have time to be present with the people you care about? Want another time check (this one is only for the courageous)? Look at your Screen Time on your iPhone.
Look at your bank statement. What would someone who only had your statement, say you love most? I imagine most of the things on that statement are good things
Listen to your own thoughts. What do you spend most of your time thinking, worrying, and dreaming about? That will clarify what you're probably giving your best energy and creativity to.
Take inventory of these areas and then ask yourself this essential question:
"Is this the life I want?"
With all the affection I can possibly have knowing nothing about you, hear me say this: If the answer to that question is no, we are fools to not make an immediate and significant change.
Let's say you want a change, but it feels overwhelming. Thinking about these sort of things can be daunting and deeply discouraging. What can be done?
With the Holy Spirit's guidance, you and I have everything we need to spend our lives wisely. One of the most practical tools to move this direction is to implement is a rule of life.
WHAT IS A RULE OF LIFE? It’s a set of filtering questions for life decisions It’s a way to make sure you are building the life you want on this pilgrimage. You probably already do a version of this subconsciously, though perhaps not with our emotional and spiritual health in mind. Examples:
I won’t do my job for less than this salary. I won’t live in a place smaller than _. I won’t eat ___ because of how it makes me feel or how it affects my body.
So here’s a start for a Biblical rule of life? Does this build my relationship with God? Does this build up my family? Does this build up my community/church? Does this build up my witness?
Run your current life commitments through the rule of life. If you end up with four no’s, then you just made the way forward really clear. It's time for change. You’ve likely identified something that may be helping you build your life in vain.
If you're a young professional or single: Is anything right now violating your RULE OF LIFE? Do not date people that do not consistently move you TOWARDS Christ. To be crystal clear, I’m not talking about “well this person helps me go to Jesus because I have to repent every time we hang out when we go too far”. If it violates a rule of life, make a change.
If you are married, what rule of life is broken right now and working against your marriage? What do you need to say no to, to make a date night happen consistently? Do you have time to have fun together? Are you married and stuck in a bad cycle or just lonely because you don’t make time for people to know what’s really going on with you?
To all the parents, are the things you’re signed up for improving your family life? Does sports year-round make family life better or more chaotic and disconnected? Are the extra curricular activities a little too extra? Do you have time to care for your own soul and invite others to your dinner table? Working parents, are you busting your tail at a demanding job to have an extra vacation or nicer things for the kids that would far prefer you home another night a week? Are you the watchman in Psalm 127, working extra long hours for nothing?
To anyone currently employed: does your role or company or culture at work, require you to violate your rule of life? Will the next strategic move in your career break the rule? Will one more late night at the office to catch up (you and I both know you won't) break the rule?
If you begin using your rule of life, you may have some big decisions, but you’re also going to have a fighting chance at experiencing the beauty and power of Psalm 131. If you give it a look, I think you'll quickly see why it's worth it. But let me tell you why anyway, in the next installment.
Years ago I toured around the United States with music and improv comedy ministries (I know...random). We hit 47 states and drove 60,000 miles in 9 months. It was a special chapter in my life. (read: bare-bones, sweaty, 15-passenger van with an exclusive diet of fast food and sweet tea)
Music is a vital part of any road travel. There was a pretty short list of albums my touring buddies and I could agree on (available here and don't you judge me for a second), and those songs have a special place in my music library and heart today. Those songs remind me of the friendships that formed along the way, national landmarks I got to see with my own eyes, and all the crazy antics on the road.
Those were in a sense, my pilgrimage songs. Many people don't realize that some of the Psalms we have today were the pilgrimage songs God gave his people…both then and today.
I want to look at the pilgrimage Psalms through the eyes of a father and son, unpacking two perspectives. These two poems are going to give us vital information about the journey you and I are on. We begin with the son, Solomon, as he writes in Psalm 127:
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.
SOLOMON WAS A REAL GUY.
This pilgrimage psalm was written by Solomon, a real historical figure who lived and ate and slept like you and me. But the Bible says Solomon was the wisest man to live. That wisdom came from delighting in God and from God’s discipline through the catastrophic failures in his life. Whatever wisdom I have today is in part from time with Jesus and also from the failures, large and small, in my life.
My church is full of a lot of very smart people. They are up the ladder at Microsoft or Amazon or Boeing. They have degrees from renowned schools, and accolades in their industry. I'll never forget the time I met an exhausted and disheveled Mom wearing sweat pants with an infant snotting down her shoulder, and learned later that she was one of the top biochemistry researchers in the United States.
Maybe you know people with a lot of power or influence, or you yourself have those things and those are all good things. Maybe you make good money, or have changed whole markets with your innovation and hard work. You might be really smart.
But you aren't Solomon.
We aren’t as smart as he was (1 Kings 4) or as wealthy as he was. His wealth adjusted for modern times lands somewhere between 2 and 3 trillion dollars. If Solomon lives in Seattle, Gates and Bezos can’t afford his neighborhood. He ran the rat-race that defines so much of our culture and actually crossed the finish line that escapes the rest of us. Can we learn from someone that actually lived the life we’d ask for if we had three wishes? All of the things you want, he owned it, tasted it, or touched it.
Solomon begins the poem with a pretty provocative statement that without the Lord’s blessing, human effort is worthless.
The examples he uses covers work-life, city-life, and home-life. Didn’t miss much did he? Solomon is warning us that if we aren’t careful, we’ll spend our whole lives working and building and not end up where we wanted. It's possible that we work really, really hard in this life and completely waste it. Sheer effort is not a guarantee of a life well lived.
I know we all feel the tension between church stuff, family stuff, friend stuff, dating stuff, work stuff, school stuff. It’s a lot to figure out, isn’t it?
But there’s a very real danger that we spend our whole lives with a loose connection to Jesus but never putting our best energy and effort where He commands and where He leads. This is marked by a life of never listening, never waiting on Him, never obeying, never resting...but always building, always toiling. God is not opposed to you building, He's opposed to you building where He has not led you, and toiling without Him.
How do you know what you're building? Tune in for part three.