New Song: Reckless Love

There has been some controversy about the song, “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury.  It’s gotten a lot of radio play and churches all over the country are singing it, but as one blogger wrote, “God’s Love is not Reckless, Contrary to What you Might Sing.”  Like I said, there is some controversy.  The blogger in question claims that God is not reckless in his plan of salvation, but was intentional from the beginning.  And, he has a literal, theological point.  God does have a plan to bring salvation to his people and he has been working out that plan since the Fall.  What the blogger misses, is that scripture talks about the gospel being “foolishness”.  So I think we can all agree that God’s love is not reckless in the sense of being “irresponsible”, but I think we can also agree that God’s love is perceived to be foolish by the outside world!  As 1 Cor 1:18 & 25 says,

“…the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”…and…”the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

Paul is taking the negative word “foolishness” and using it as a positive for God.  I find it interesting that the song writer, Cory Asbury, is famous for using the same kind of dramatic language that turns the meanings of negative words on their heads.  And he isn’t the only one!  Back in the ’90s, Rich Mullins sang about the “the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.”  So when we sing about the “reckless love of God” we are singing that to an outsider, God’s love seems foolish and brash, but in fact “the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men.”  Let’s jump into verse one…

Verse 1:
Before I spoke a word, You were singing over me

You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance. -Psalm 32

You have been so, so good to me

Psalm 13:6 (NLT) I will sing to the LORD because He is good to me.

Before I took a breath, You breathed Your life in me

I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord. -Ezekiel 37:6

As I look at the song, I’m not sure if the songwriter is talking about speaking and breathing in terms of being born as a baby or in terms of our rebirth in Christ.  In light of the gospel message in the song, I like to think of it in terms of our salvation.  Psalm 32 is written to believers and Ezekiel also seems to indicate that the breath, or Spirit of God, comes into us at salvation and then we have true life.  That is God’s kindness…

You have been so, so kind to me

Psalms 117:2 For His lovingkindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord is everlasting. Praise the Lord!

Chorus:
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:7-8

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. -1 Corinthians 1:18

Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine

This is the heart of the song.  The gospel message.  Jesus left heaven to find us even though we didn’t deserve and couldn’t earn salvation on our own.  Jesus said in Luke 15:3-5

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders…”

I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. -Romans 3:23

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
I hope we experience that as we sing and in our whole life!  Moving onto verse two where the writer elaborates on where we were when God saved us…we were God’s foe and full of sin…
Verse 2:
When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me
You have been so, so good to me

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! -Romans 5:10

When I was in sin, You paid it all for me
You have been so, so kind to me

…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. -Mark 10:45

Bridge:
There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me
Here we have references to John 1:4-5, Psalm 139:7-12, Ephesians 2:13-15, and John 8:32, but the main message is simple.  God came to seek the lost and that is anyone who believes.  Not only that, he is pursuing us today and every day of our lives.

“…the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” –Luke 19:10

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life…-Psalm 23:6a

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Worship is More than a Service

Lots of people think that worship is limited to a religious event, but the Bible teaches something very different.  We’ll walk and talk about how all of life is worship and that doesn’t end with a service!

Who Invented Worship?

It’s easy to think that going to worship God is our idea…or at least our choice.  But, who invented worship?  Who calls the meeting between us and God?  We walk and talk as we think about who invented worship.

Worship is War

All of life is worship, but how is worship a declaration of war?  What other things are going to war for our heart, souls, minds and strengths?  What is the connection with allegiance?  We walk and talk this week about how worship is war.

Who Gets the Glory?

**Thanks to Aaron Ivey, Paul Tripp and Solomon for their thoughts on God’s glory!

Coming Home with A Song

Sometimes, coming back to a song you love feels like going home.  And…sometimes, it is.

I grew up singing the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”.  And this Sunday, we come back to that beautiful prayer as we study the prophet Samuel setting up a stone he calls “ebenezer”.  It sounds like a weird word, and it is, because it comes from the Hebrew and was originally two words.  But in English, it sounds like some old man’s name.

[Sidenote:  Actually, it was.  One of my ancestors was named “Ebenezer”.  Ebenezer Ward fought in the Civil War with a Black regiment after living and sharing the gospel in their communities.]

So for me, singing this song not only feels like coming home to my childhood, but it also our eternal home.  The word “come” is what we see in scripture as the word “maranatha” or “come quickly, Lord Jesus”.  Early Christians who were persecuted for the faith would whisper this word to each other when they met because they were looking forward to the coming of Christ.

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace

I also love the second line.  “Tune my heart to sing thy grace”.  When my guitar is just slightly out of tune, everything is sour.  Multiple times, we’ve finished a music practice and someone will say, “We really need to tune!”.  And our lives are like that too.  The difference is, we need God himself to tune us back to his perfect pitch.  God, tune our hearts…

Then in in verse two, we hit that funny, old-man-name word, “ebenezer”.  The cool part of the song is that it interprets the meaning of the word in the second line…

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I’m come

God has brought us this far in life…and it’s only by his grace.  That is what “ebenezer” means.  Do you have an “ebenezer” in your life?  Something…anything, that reminds you of God’s faithfulness…do you have an “ebenezer”?  Because that is one of the answers to the tendency of our heart to wander.  As the song says…

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love

That is the tendency of every sinful heart.  We are prone to wander.  And Lord, I feel it.  Don’t you?  But the “maranatha” end of the song points us to heaven

here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

God, the author and finisher of our faith, is preparing us for his heavenly courts above.  All we can offer, in faith, is our heart, trusting that he will bring us home.

Maranatha.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Speak Lord, I’m Listening…

I talk too much and listen too little.  It’s always been a struggle for me.

Proverbs says to speak before listening is a folly and shame (18:3) and let me tell you, I’ve lived it.  Even now, as a guy in mid-life, I struggle to listen because I like the sound of my own voice.  But as I’ve reflected on it, I don’t think I’m alone.  We have one sided conversations all the time.  We wait until the other person stops talking so we can say our piece.  (SIDENOTE:  That is not a real conversation. 😉  That’s a monologue!)

But my namesake, the prophet Samuel, was able to listen, at least in the story we have of him as a boy.  He hears a voice in the middle of the night.  And that might have seemed a bit creepy, right?  So he runs to the adult, Eli, and asks him if he was calling.  Like most adults who get awakened by young children in the middle of the night, Eli groaned and said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”  It happened a second time and this time, Eli, who probably felt like he had just fallen back to sleep, said, “I did not call; go back and lie down!” (emphasis mine!).  The third time, Eli figures out what is going on and tells the small boy to say one line:  ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’

What strikes me now, is that Eli and Samuel know who they are speaking too and their place in the conversation.  They are speaking to the Lord.  The Mighty One.  The God who speaks and summons.  They are the servants who listen and respond.

I want to be more like Samuel.  So I put together this short “found poem” from the psalms to help me remember to listen first and speak later…

‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,

speaks and summons the earth

from the rising of the sun to where it sets.

From Zion, perfect in beauty,

God shines forth.

Our God comes

and will not be silent

One thing God has spoken,

    two things I have heard:

“Power belongs to you, God,

    and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”

I will listen to what God the Lord says;

he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—

but let them not turn to folly.

‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’

-from 1 Samuel 3:9, Psalm 50, 62, 85

For This Child I Have Prayed…

Isn’t it funny how our lives, and history itself, move in circles?  Names and stories trigger memories and we see meanings emerge that we were blind to before.

As I think about my name, “Samuel”, and as I read the story of his mother, written thousands of years ago, I notice that my wife had a similar experience to my own mother who had a similar experience to Hannah.

I obviously don’t remember, but my Mom and Dad struggled to have a child for 4 years.  She’s told me that she longed to be a mother and never dreamed, when she was married, that it would be that hard.  Both of my parents continued to pray for a baby and I was born in a doctor’s office in the hills of western Pennsylvania.  They named me Samuel because, like Hannah, they prayed for a child.  That is what “Samuel” means.

Years later, Sara and I were in a similar situation, but we knew that there was no biological way for us to have kids.  So we prayed and pursued adoption.  God gave us a baby girl.  We named her Eliana, which means, “my God has answered”.

So this week, as we approach Mother’s Day, I’m thinking about Hannah, Samuel’s mother, who lived thousands of years ago.

First off, I’m reminded that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  He is a loving Father who cares for us even when it doesn’t feel that way and we don’t understand what is going on.  I have lived in the tension multiple times in my life.  Infertility.  Cancer.  The death of a child.  But it’s true.  Job is the one who first said this, but it’s true.  Blessed be His Name.

I also see that people will misunderstand you, adding to the pain of your experience.  Eli, a priest of God, thought Hannah was drunk when he saw her praying to God.  People told Sara and I that we were too stressed and needed to take a weekend away with a bottle of wine to make things happen.  We laugh about it now, but, people will mis-understand you.

Even when that happens, bring your pain and anguish to the Lord in prayer.  That’s my third thought.  Whatever you are going through, bring your pain and anguish to the Lord.  For a woman who desires to be a mother, this is deeper than I know.  But God hears you when you call.  God hears.  God answers.

Lastly, I am incredibly thankful for the example of these amazing Godly women.  Hannah prayed, trusting that God would answer her prayer.  And THEN, she fulfilled her vow, giving her little son back to the Lord.  Incredible.  My mom prayed to the Lord for a baby and I was born.  Since then, I have watched her continue to live a life of faith, even in the midst of hard times and hard questions.  My own wife has also showed me what deep faith looks like.  She also struggled, prayed and continues to do so.

Isn’t it funny how our lives, and history itself, move in circles?  Names and stories trigger memories and we see meanings emerge that we were blind to before.  As I think about my name, Samuel, I realize that it’s a reminder of the faith of women throughout history who have taken their pain to God and afterwards said,

“For this child I have prayed”.

 

Who Is Worship For? – Prt3

I have a confession.

I grew up thinking that worship was only for believers.  Now, I think you can make a case that only a believer can worship God in spirit and in truth, but how should we arrange our services with the third audience, the outside world, in mind?

A number of years ago, I took a class called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement”.  It’s not a very exciting title, I know, but the class changed my whole perspective on worship.  Every week we had a different speaker who helped us understand what God has been doing in the world to build his Kingdom starting in the OLD TESTAMENT!  Did you know that God’s heart has ALWAYS been to have the nations hear the good news?  I hadn’t realized that this was God’s message to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, to David and on and on…to Jesus and then the early church.  God has always wanted his people to be a light and welcome anyone who comes.  As God says in the Psalms (46:10, 47:1, 18:49, 22:27)

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.

Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing the praises of your name.

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him…

And as author and pastor, Tim Keller, writes,

It is a false dichotomy to insist that if we are seeking to please God we must not ask what the unchurched feel or think about our worship…God wants the world to overhear us worshipping him.  God directs his people not to simply worship, but to sing his praises “before the nations.”  We are not to simply communicate the gospel to them, but celebrate the gospel before them.*

Did you know that this happens at ECC?  We have people to walk up to our pastors after service and say, “I’m not a believer, but I’m thinking about what you said…”  We have people who are sitting in the seats who come to church, but aren’t following Jesus Monday through Saturday.

This is why I think Keller’s emphasis on the gospel is so important.  Not just because unbelievers need to hear it (and they do!), but that the gospel is what all three groups need to hear!  God wants us to tell him about what he has done for us in Jesus.  Believers need to be reminded and shaped by the gospel.  Un-believers need to be saved by the gospel.

We can focus only on seekers instead of encouraging believers and get lost in making Jesus “relevant”.

We can focus only on building up believers and make things incomprehensible and outdated for seekers.

We need to make sure that our services are fresh, conversational and understandable while always focusing on the gospel.

By focusing on the gospel, we bring all three audiences together in worship.

______________________________________

*Tim Keller quote from “Evangelistic Worship” as used in Rhythms of Grace.  Thanks to Mike Cosper for the concept of the three audiences in worship.  His book is an excellent read.  I highly recommend it!