wiat what?
At our church’s gathering this past Sunday, we sang a famous hymn from the 1700’s, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”  The melody and tune of this song are incredibly beautiful, memorable, and singable (just as the best corporate worship songs should be).  On the other hand, the words are, how do I say it, a little outdated.  I mean seriously, who today actually prays the words, “Father, here I raise my ebenezer, here by Thy great help I come.”  What in the world does that even mean?  I asked some students at church camp what an “ebenezer” is, and the most common answer I got was, “a grumpy old man”. 

This begs the question, why in the world would we sing that, and if we don’t understand something, should we just not sing it altogether? 

Surely God is no fool.  He hears words attached to our hearts, not empty words that we don’t understand.  Isaiah prophesied about people who don’t understand what they are singing, and ultimately don’t actually mean what they sing, “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13).  Jesus himself tells us in John 4:24 that “God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  Not only do the words need to be true, but we need to grasp them in our intellects (truth) and let these glorious truths capture our heart’s affections (spirit).  We must be informed worshippers.  So I want to take a minute to break down two of the key words in the popular hymn.

First off, an ebenezer literally means “stone of remembrance” and it comes from from 1 Samuel when the Lord gave the Israelites an incredible, against all odds, victory over the Philistines.  Israel’s king set up a stone, something common, to represent something incredible, the Lord’s help.  So when we sing, “Here I raise my ebenezer, here by Thy great help I come.  And I hope by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.”  We are saying, I remember and recall the Lord’s victorious work in my life, chiefly in our salvation, and I am going to let God’s past work fuel my future hope.  When adversity strikes and trials come, we look back and remember him who was faithful to be our help and we speak that truth to our souls.  “The Lord will be our help,”  “The Lord will get us through,” “The Lord has never failed us and he won’t start failing us now.”

A fetter references shackles to be used to restrain and bind a prisoner, typically a fetter would be placed around the ankles.  In other words, that prisoner aint goin’ nowhere.  When we sing, “Let Thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee,” we are making a desperate plea for the Lord to keep us, to bind us, to “chain us” to himself.  By God’s grace, we realize with the prophet Jeremiah that our hearts are desperately wicked.  “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love.”  Only the Lord can keep us; we cannot even keep ourselves.  What a beautiful way to declare our dependence on the Lord!

Here’s my my two cents, there is too much depth and beauty in this hymn for us to simply yawn words that we don’t understand.  Let’s not be people who are “satisfied with making mud pies when we are offered a holiday at the sea” as C.S. Lewis said.  And let us not throw out a song altogether because it feels “outdated” to us.  Singing a song from the 1700’s reminds us that we didn’t come up with this whole Christianity thing.  We stand upon the shoulders of giants in the faith who stand on giants, from generation to generation.  May we be a people who allow the word of Christ to drench our hearts by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).

New-Fashioned Hymns

My good friend, Shauna Henry, has been gracious to take some of the hymns that I love and write lyrics in contemporary language to help these rich lyrics come to life in our hearts and minds.  Without further ado, Here’s “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me.”

rock-of-ages

This hymn, called Rock of Ages, was written by a dude named Augustus Toplady, and rumor has it that he wrote this song on account of being caught in a thunderstorm. Upon finding a rocky limestone glen to take cover under, he hid himself in the rock and wrote the words to this 1776 melody.

I think it’s so cool that, even after nearly three hundred and fifty years, the words to this song are still powerful and relevant. Praise the Lord for that – he is truly the timeless Rock!

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.

Forever a safe place
Where no one can find me or hurt me.
Your sacrifice on the cross is the two-fold remedy:
First, to save me from hell,
Then, to continually erase my hard-earned sin.

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.

I simply cannot work hard enough,
Your standard is way too high.
My attempts at being passionate, diligent, or lachrymose
Bring no relief
Until you alone come and save me!

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.

The measly offerings I give to you can’t compare
To just having open hands before you.
I truly come to you with a trifle,
Wretched and hopeless without your grace.
If you don’t take my sinful, dirt-wrenched corpse
I will surely perish.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close 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.

Life, it doesn’t last.
Soon, you’ll take me home.
When I get to heaven
And meet you face to face, I will forever sing,
“My stronghold; split, broken in two to save me,
You have covered me amidst life’s storms.”

Written by Shauna Henry, Shauna’s Window

Surrender Summit Songs

I had several requests about what songs I led with at the Surrender Summit in Grapevine, TX this past weekend. So here ya go!

O Come to the AltarElevation Worship
In Christ Alone Keith and Kristyn Getty
Sing Sing Sing Chris Tomlin
Stronger Hillsong United
Come Thou Fount Jason Waller Arr.
Made AliveCitizens & Saints
Jesus is Better Austin Stone Worship
One Thing Remains Jesus Culture

To God alone be glory!

-Jason

Christmas is Over
Another Christmas has come and gone. The happiness has inevitably ended, as exchanging material gifts were never meant to sustain happiness.

What now? Go to the gym. Get into shape. That will make you feel better, right? You were made for more. You were made for God.

Only in Christ will you be satisfied. Every gift that you got and gave is only an appetizer, a sign, a pointer to stir up a hunger for the real thing -Jesus Christ himself. That healthy, fit, “young” body you long for is the longing God has placed within all of his creation for the final day when God restores all things and makes all things new again.

If you aren’t in Christ, the Bible says you are spiritually dead (See Ephesians 2:1-3). You are separated from God, and will never be good enough to gain his favor or blessing. Only One person has been good enough to earn the favor of the Righteous Judge -the God-Man, Jesus Christ. He joyfully left heaven to come down to us sinners, condemned and unclean. He laid aside his eternal crown and clothed himself in flesh, becoming like us. He lived Perfectly, yes perfectly, in our place. He died a brutal death in our place, for our sin, absorbing the full wrath of God. He rose again in victory, the grave couldn’t hold him. Because of this gospel (good news), “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

So come to Jesus and find life. REAL life. Come to Jesus and find sustaining joy that will endure and sustain you in each high and low that you will inevitably walk through. Come to Jesus and know that “though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).

Come to Jesus today.

That which is not bread
This morning I got to spend some one-on-one time with Nolan, my 9-month-old.  Lauren left the house with Hudson to go serve some people with a few of the ladies from our small group, and it was my responsibility to take care of Nolan and make sure he got his morning nap.  So Nolan and I did our, as of late, usual dance at the breakfast table/smile at each other for 15 minutes.  He’s probably the cutest kid there is.  After I cleaned his hands and face, I sat him down on our area rug in the middle of the living room and strategically surrounded him with his toys.  I had just made myself some coffee in my Chemex -the perfect morning companion.  Nolan was playing well by himself and it felt like the perfect time for me to do some reading. Keyword is, “felt.”  Countless times I had to put my book down to go grab my army crawling son because he had made his way to an outlet (child proof, but non-the-less, dangerous), various electronic power cords, the bathroom (what is it with kids and the bathroom anyways?), or some other place of danger.  It seemed that I couldn’t read a paragraph before I’d have to chase him down and put him back at the center of the living room.  Each time I grabbed him I would say something along the lines of, “No, Nolan.  You play with these toys.  They are safe for you.”  After being three pages into my book I had made about 10,000 trips from the couch to my wandering son.  The last time I put him in the middle of the room, I noticed that he was breathing pretty heavily.  He was whimpering a little and started whining at my feet.  I’m sure he was worn out from all of his failed attempts to gnaw on power chords.  As I reached down to pick him up, the Spirit reminded me of these words from from the prophet Isaiah.  

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David” (Isaiah 55:1-3).

Nolan was tired, “laboring” for things that wouldn’t satisfy, and in the end, could have hurt him badly.  I had a banquet of toys waiting for him to play with in the middle of the room if he would just listen to me.  How often do you find yourself striving for stuff that won’t satisfy?  Money, the newest iPhone, approval from peers, the perfect relationship etc.  Stop chasing after “that which is not bread,” quit working your fingers to the bone for “that which does not satisfy,” and quit fighting for God’s approval. Christ has already won God’s approval for us on the cross.  Come to Jesus.  He is the Bread of Life.  We were made to be fully satisfied in Him, and he alone can satisfy our restless souls (Psalm 16:11).  As Nolan whimpered at his daddy’s feet, we too must tap out, give up on our selfish pursuits, and cry out to the Father.  

Is God Really Good
I don’t think that the sin of unbelief is like jumping from mountain top to valley low.  No.  Little by little, unbelief digs its roots deep into our hearts, eroding our faith in the sovereign goodness of God.  “Unbelief, Jason?  I believe in God.  This is not a struggle for me.”  If that’s your initial thoughts, just hang on, partner.

What is the sin of unbelief?  Unbelief is the 3-year-old boy that says, “mommy, you don’t love me” because mom said “no” to a candy bar 15 minutes before dinner was served.  Unbelief begins with questions, “Where are my keys?” “Why am I still single?”  “Why haven’t I made varsity on the basketball team?”  “Why can’t I get pregnant?” “Why didn’t I get that promotion”  “Why did my loved one get cancer?”  These small (and large) frustrations and questions spur our minds to begin entertaining thoughts that we wouldn’t dare mutter in church, “Is God really in control?”  “Does God actually love me?” “Is God really good toward me?”

Simply put, unbelief is doubting God.  We are sinning against God when we doubt His truthfulness, His trustworthiness, His promises.  How foolish to doubt the sovereign goodness of the One who created us?  He holds everything together and we question His wisdom?  To showcase even further the foolishness of our unbelief, even after we gave up on God and sinned against Him, He still did not give up on us.  The One who hung the stars and holds them in place hung on a cross in our place to secure a right relationship to God and purchase for us an eternal inheritance with God.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” – Romans 8:31-32

Think of it this way, pretend that I take my son on a week-long $10,000 vacation, dine at only the most exclusive and expensive restaurants, and to top it off, buy him a brand-spanking-new car all for his 16th birthday.  This would never happen, but if it did, do you think I will make sure he has food to eat and clothes to wear the other 51 weeks of the year?  Of course!  What kind of  Father would spend thousands and thousands of dollars at the drop of a hat on one of their children but forsake the beloved child’s day-to-day needs?  Why would God give us the most valuable and prized gift in all the universe, His very own Son, but withhold from us something that we really need? 

So, Instead of listening to your own sinful thoughts, speak the truth of God to yourself.  Put to death the sin of unbelief.  When doubt starts rising in your soul, frustrations start stirring in your heart, and the goodness of God becomes more of a distant theology than a daily practice, look to Jesus.

I Can Do all things

I Can Do All Things
I’ve been trying to follow Jesus since I was 16, and am 26 now, which means I’ve been reading God’s Word fairly consistently over the past 10 years.  I’m grateful that I have been consistently taught since I first came to faith that to follow after Christ means getting to know him through his Word.  If you’re like me, you often misread or misapply the Bible.  For instance, in high school when I first became a believer I completely missed the real meaning of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”  You don’t have to be in church very long to hear that one.  I had taken it to mean, “if I want to excel in sports, I can through Jesus.”  I thought that, with a little help from God, I could essentially do whatever I wanted.

I can vividly remember running sprints at basketball practice my junior year of high school.  You know, the first practice back from Christmas break when you realize that you had too much Christmas ham and a few too many pieces of mom’s pie.  As I was on the verge of throwing up, I would quote this verse to myself, “I can do all things through Christ to who gives me strength, I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength, I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Now, saying those words over and over probably helped take my mind off of the pain I was going through, but it wasn’t an “Abracadabra” verse that caused God to bend his will to mine.  In the same way, as a 5’ 7”, 160 pound kid, I couldn’t dunk the basketball or bench press twice my weight simply by claiming that verse.  My understanding of God was off.  But even then, God gives grace.

As the Holy Spirit schooled me, I eventually came to find out that this well-known verse gives me better understanding for how to handle life as it comes at me.  The Apostle Paul who wrote the book of Philippians, wrote it in a completely different context than how I was reading it.  “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

You see, what I had done, and still do from time to time, is taken God’s perfect word and applied it imperfectly to my life.  Now, that doesn’t mean we should quit reading the Bible if we don’t understand it right away, but rather we should do the opposite.  We need to keep reading Scripture, keep seeking the LORD, keep asking the Holy Spirit to reveal his truth to us, and keep learning from other Bible teachers.  And as we journey through classes, and work, sports and activities, relationships and hobbies, remember, when life is tough, when the temptation to sin is strong, when everything around you is falling apart, or when everything seems to be running smoothly, you can do all things through Christ who supplies your strength.  He deserves our trust.  He is worthy to be prized and praised above all else

So lets look to Jesus together as we do this thing called life.