Five phrases Christians should never use again

phrases

We all have certain sayings that we regularly use. In my house, we often remind the kids, “You’ll get what you get and you won’t get upset,” particularly when it’s time for a snack. Another favorite: “We’re gonna have fun whether we like it or not.”

These are well and good, at least to a point—that is, only in as much as we ascribe no more value to them than their due. Christians are no different; we have short hand phrases that are sometimes helpful, but often not. In fact, many we treat as downright biblical, when they’re more likely to be found in 2 Hesitations. Here are five that I’d love to see never ever used again:

God won’t give you more than you can handle. I’m pretty sure Paul, Peter, the rest of the apostles, all the prophets, and Jesus would disagree on this. Although Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is kind, the Christian life is most definitely not. Paul described himself and his co-laborers as “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8). “Beyond our strength,” incidentally, means it was more than he could handle. But the purpose was to cause them to “rely not on ourselves but on God” (2 Cor. 1:9). Jesus described Paul as one who would suffer greatly for the sake of the gospel. Jesus in taking our sin upon himself most definitely carried a burden so great his sweat looked as though it were drops of blood and he pleaded for the burden to be lifted by the Father, were it his will to do so. Instead the Father sent an angel to strengthen him (Luke 22:43). (This is a subject I dealt with in greater detail in this article which appears in my eBook, Everyday Theology).

“Let’s pray for a hedge of protection.” I’ll be honest, I’m not even sure what this means. I get the reference—the only place you see this language used in the Bible at all is in Job. However, there, it’s Satan accusing God of not playing fair with Job, that the only reason Job doesn’t blaspheme him is because God has placed a “hedge around him” (Job 1:10). Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to pray for such a thing, but if the only example we have of something remotely close to it in the Bible is from the lips of the devil maybe it’s not such a great idea.

God helps those who help themselves. To be clear: God does not reward slothfulness, apathy, or laziness in any way, shape or form. We also can see that faithful people are full of ingenuity and a sort of godly ambition that God blesses. But, to be clear, the Bible has nothing close to this sort of admonishment. Instead of encouraging us to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps (which I addressed it in this article some years ago), we are to remember that even as we work, God is working in us (Philippians 2:13).

“Let go and let God.” As you can guess, this one is related to the one I just mentioned. The Keswickian notion that if you just surrender and have faith and if you’re struggling just surrender harder is, well, kind of silly (to say nothing of how it leads to classism among Christians). No matter how hard you look, you’re not going to find anything in the Bible that confirms it. Instead, you’re going to be told constantly to strive, do, go forth, fight, and so on. God commands an active faith, not passivity. So stop saying this! (And for those interested, Andrew Naselli’s got a tome analyzing Keswick theology in great detail. If you’re a Logos user, it’s worth checking out.)

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.” This is a weird one that I’ve never quite understood. The whole “open door” theology thing has always seemed strange to me, though. I can’t find anything that would give any sort of credence to this notion in the Bible. At all. (The only thing we have that’s close is the admonition that God never leaves us without escape from temptation in 1 Corinthians 10:13.) Further, it seems that not every door that is open to us is one we should actually go through. Sometimes opportunities are presented as choices for us to say no to. But maybe I just don’t have enough faith…

There are, no doubt, more that could be added to this list. But for now, maybe it’s enough for us to commit to thinking carefully and biblically about the things we say and how much weight we give those sayings. But just a warning: If we do this, we might find we probably shouldn’t say some of them at all. And may God be glorified because of it.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

This week, Crossway’s put seven eBooks from the Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series on sale for $2.99 each:

Also on sale is Desiring God’s edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress ($2.99).

The Hardest Sins to Talk About

Tim Challies:

One of the most difficult things to do is to lovingly confront another person about sin, or—even harder—about what may have been sin. In his excellent book Side by Side, Ed Welch offers some practical counsel on doing this well.

Was The Holy Spirit Not On Earth Before Pentecost?

Jared Wilson shares an illustration from John Piper.

Why your children’s ministry should take a break

Miles Morrison:

What exactly is meant by the words “children’s ministry” can be very different depending on the church. But while these ministries can come in all different shapes and sizes, they’re all based on the same basic principle that children require specialized teaching and care separate from their parents. I’m not saying that’s wrong or that children’s ministry is bad – I love and serve in the children’s ministry in my church – I’m merely making the observation that while this ministry can and should serve the church, it will never replace it. Regardless of what curriculum or structure or teaching style your children’s ministry uses, here are some reasons why it’s healthy from time to time to take a break and encourage your parents to worship with their children.

Introverts in the Dearest Place on Earth

Jared Musgrove:

In the last century, especially here in the United States, we’ve morphed into a “culture of personality” that can’t stop talking. Those with a preference for extroversion—energized by and focused on people, activity and accomplishment—tend to be better understood by the world, progressing faster in organizations and relationships.

Both extroverts and introverts must do the work to see that those with the gift of introversion are a grace to God’s Church. In this sense, I have some considerations for my fellow introverted church members and the extroverts who love them.

How to revive a Sharpie

One-third of American 8th graders think Canada is a dictatorship

According to the U.S. government’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 33 per cent of American eighth graders currently believe that Canada is a dictatorship.

This finding was one of many revealed by the NCES in its 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress report when it was released late last month.

Long preaching isn’t always good preaching

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Early on in my faith, I was enamored with preachers who would give these 45, 50, 60-plus minute sermons. I would compare what I’d hear in their podcasts to what I was hearing on Sunday mornings, and I always wondered, “Why doesn’t my pastor do what these guys are doing?”

Which, of course, is stupid. But then again, I was kind of an idiot.

(Moving on…)

Over time, I grew less enamored with some of those preachers (or at least their preaching). As I listened, I increasingly realized that the guys that seemed to be able to get up and had little more than a post-it for notes weren’t actually saying much of anything. They were using a great many words to say very little.

When training pastors on the importance of keeping people’s attention, Charles Spurgeon encouraged his hearers to keep their sermons shorter. “Spend more time in the study that you may need less in the pulpit,” he said.

We are generally longest when we have least to say. A man with a great deal of well-prepared matter will probably not exceed forty minutes; when he has less to say he will go on for fifty minutes; and when he has absolutely nothing he will need an hour to say it in. (Lectures to my Students, 156)

This is valuable advice (and also helps us understand why TED Talks are so powerful). Sometimes preaching1 “long” isn’t necessary—it’s just long. It’s a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”(1 Corinthians 13:1), revealing a great love of our own pontificating, but little for our hearers. And I really have no interest in that, either as a preacher or the hearer. I’d rather speak five simple words that communicate clearly than 1000 that may be eloquent or funny, but lack substance. What about you?

Links I like (weekend edition)

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s the last day to get the 9Marks “Building Healthy Churches” series $4.99 each:

Also on sale:

What should the Duggar scandal teach the church?

Russell Moore:

…sexual abuse in the context of the church must be handled in terms of both authorities responsible—both the church and the state. The state has been given the sword of justice to wield against those who commit crimes (Rom. 13:1-7). The church has no such sword (Matt. 26:51-53). This means that the immediate response to allegations of sexual abuse is to call the civil authorities, to render unto Caesar the responsibility that belongs to Caesar to investigate the crime. The church may or may not know the truth of the allegations, but it is the God-ordained prerogative of the civil authorities to discover such matters and to prosecute accordingly. When faced with a question of potential sexual abuse, call the authorities without delay.

A word to the journal writers and bloggers

Kim Shay:

For those who write in journals (and for those who blog with a lot of transparency), beware. Every thought does not need to be recorded. Instead of recording negative thoughts, write things that are good. Write about how proud you are of your kids, how much you love your family, the daily provision of God, the joy He gives. I can toss my journals aside in the garbage if I feel like they contain nothing edifying. Sure, pour out your thoughts to God, like the Psalmist did, but write with kindness and grace. Don’t be harsh.

More real

Great stuff from Ray Ortlund.

When You Fear the Future

Trillia Newbell:

I’m not sure if there is a greater fear for women than the fear of what’s to come (or what won’t come). You and I rightly pray for our husband, children, schools, and whether to pursue a career, but we don’t often come to God in peace. Instead we come anxiously awaiting our fate. Goodness will follow all the days of her life, or her life, or maybe her life, we might think, but surely not my life. It’s hard not to have control, and one thing that we can’t ever determine is what lies ahead. Thankfully, God’s Word is packed with sweet promises that smash all our fearful thinking.

Charles Spurgeon’s 9 Tips for Christian Readers

Grateful Kevin Halloran compiled these quotes.

How much bandwidth can you give controversy?

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Whenever I read news of a church imploding, some sort of scandal arising involving sexual abuse, or any other scandal really, I can’t help but think, “I wonder what it would have been like to live during a time when the entire world wasn’t at my fingertips?”

Now, obviously, I’ve never been one to entirely avoid controversial issues (or people). And when we see a celebrity pastor lose his mind, or when patterns of abuse are revealed that affect anyone, man, woman or child, it is hard to ignore. But at the same time, though we should grieve these things—and if a crime has been committed, we should report them—we can only give so much mental bandwidth to these things. Here are a few reasons why I believe this is so, at least from my perspective:

1. Because I really can’t do much to help. Without (I hope) sounding callous toward those who’ve experienced abuse (sexual, physical, or emotional), there’s not a lot I can do to help in a specific situation happening in Florida, Texas, or, honestly, even in a different town 30 minutes down the road. I can pray and, if the issue warrants, I can say something where I feel compelled to, but that’s about it.

2. Because I have people close by who need my attention more. What I am responsible for is not so much what happens out there, but what happens in my local church and within the various communities I associate with. I am required to love and serve those whom I am closest with differently than those who are far off. So if there is someone in need within my local congregation, or within one of the groups I’m a part of (our homeschool co-op, for example), I have a greater sense of obligation to address that need. If I become aware of a pattern of behavior that is concerning, I need to say something in the appropriate way. If I’m aware of a crime being committed, I am obligated to report it.

3. Because it can lead me to despair. There is no shortage of bad news out there—no shortage of controversies, abuses of authority, violence and all the other evidences of humanity’s desperately wicked state. Knowing about the ugly things that are happening in other congregations, other communities and other nations doesn’t add a sense of urgency to the call to love and serve others, or tell me anything I didn’t already know. It’s just more.

4. Because it tempts me to become even more distrustful. Many who report on abuse issues within the church have been severely harmed by an experience in a local congregation they were once a part of. And my fear is that for some, confusion has found a foothold, and authority exercised by a godly individual is seen as authoritarianism.

I’ve got to be honest: I’m already distrustful of some of the leaders God has placed over me, some with more reason than others. But what I find myself needing to do more and more is praying for those leaders, rather than trying to parse the meaning of every word they use, attempting to find some hidden meaning or a message between the lines. I want to be lead by people that are worth following, and the only way for that to happen is for God to be at work in them. And if I am not praying for them, what does it say about what I think about them?

5. It tempts me to put myself in the place of God. The truth is, none of us know the full story of what goes on in any given scandal. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care, but it does mean we need to be cautious. When I judge too quickly, I often find myself thinking as though I am standing in for God, and therefore capable of rendering a sound and infallible judgment. And a lot of the time, I’m completely and totally wrong. That isn’t to say that wrong isn’t wrong or sin isn’t sin (far from it!)—it’s just that we ought to be very careful about what we put out there in our outrage. There are certain things you say that you can never come back from. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in this regard, and I’m not eager to repeat them.

So getting back to the question at hand: how much mental bandwidth should we give controversy that doesn’t directly affect us? Speaking only for myself, only as much as my conscience allows—and only in so far as it doesn’t become a distraction to loving and serving those with whom I am in relationship. For most, that means almost none. For some, it means a great deal of attention. But for all, it means learning when to say “when” so that I don’t neglect the things that are most important.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Three freebies to get you started:

Also on sale are:

Today is also $5 Friday at Ligonier, where you’ll find a number of great resources for sale, including:

  • Luther and the Reformation teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio & video download)
  • The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven Lawson (Hardcover)
  • Feed My Sheep by Don Kistler (ePub)
  • Why We Trust the Bible teaching series by Stephen Nichols (DVD)

$5 Friday ends at 11:59:59 tonight.

Modern espionage

Because Community:

‘Groundbreaking’ gay marriage study retracted over faked data

Rachel Lynn Aldrich:

The senior author of an allegedly groundbreaking study on gay marriage has retracted it following evidence that some of the data likely was fabricated.

The study claimed people opposed to gay marriage would change their minds after having a 20-minute conversation with someone canvassing their neighborhood who identified as a homosexual. The study also claimed other members of the same household were more likely to change their views as well. But the data supporting the study was too good to be true, according to the Daily Caller.

Protestant reformer Martin Luther’s 16th Century notes found

This is really cool.

A Good Word from a Veteran Preacher

Erik Raymond shares a confession from Bryan Chapell. It’s really great.

Running from a Bad Church Situation May Hinder Your Spiritual Growth

Trevin Wax:

It’s true that there are plenty of Christians whose lives don’t resemble Christ’s. There are pastors who abuse their authority or lead poorly. There are churches that implement changes quickly, without the consent of key leaders, which then breeds disunity and quarrels. Leadership fumbles, personality conflicts, relationship breeches — they all exist in the church. That’s why, for many churchgoers, the temptation is strong to seek refuge and peace in another church across town.

But what if the choice to leave a difficult church situation will actually short-circuit your formation as a Christian? What if your desire for a better congregation will stunt your spiritual growth? Does God use uncomfortable church situations as part of His process of sanctifying us?

Be sure to also read When You Should Flee Your Church.

You don’t always realize you’re thirsty

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It hit me last weekend as I was doing some (unfortunately) last minute prep for children’s ministry. I read my assigned text (Luke 24:36-49 for those wondering), not so much looking to pull it apart and figure out how to make a message out of it, but just to read it. And I realized something: I’ve been incredibly neglectful about spiritual health of late.

You know how you don’t always realize you’re thirsty until you actually have a glass of water? It’s kind of like that—going through my normal routine, not realizing I’ve been a bit dehydrated. And while it’s great to acknowledge stuff like this—to be real like people from Topeka—it’s not enough to say “this is where I’m at right now.” Instead, I actually need to do something about it. So here’s what I’m doing, starting today:

  • I’m putting my reading plan for the year on-hold in order to focus more intentionally on reading my Bible (sorry Bavinck!).
  • I’m deleting a few time-suck apps from my phone and iPad in order to avoid distractions.
  • I’m starting simple: reading through of John’s gospel, with a notebook handy. No timeline or anything like that. Just read it until this gospel has sufficiently mastered me.

As I’m working through the text, I’ll be sharing a few of my personal reflections here. As you can tell, this is not earth-shattering stuff. It’s pretty entry-level from some people’s standards. Yet, this is kind of basic reorientation is what I sorely need (and I suspect I’m not alone). Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m thirsty. I need a drink of water.


Photo credit: Splashy Glass via photopin (license)

Links I like

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Tyndale Commentary Series sale at WTS

Westminster Bookstore’s got a really great sale going on right now on the Tyndale commentary series. You can get individual titles for as low as $10. The entire OT collection is on sale for $268, and the NT set is $199. Be sure to take a look at everything available for the Old and New Testaments for yourself.

Gentle Heresy-Hunting with Paul

Derek Rishmawy:

Heresy-hunting gets a bad rap nowadays. If there’s one thing that nobody wants to be, it’s a “heresy-hunter.” And who can blame them? I mean, cruise around the Internet and you’ll find any number of “discernment” ministries dedicated to finding anybody who doesn’t line up with their particular, historically-contingent, possibly cultish understanding of Christianity and placing them on the “list” with a page dedicated to listing their dubious tweets.

God’s Google

Tim Challies:

Google has become such a part of our lives that we tend to forget its newness and its historical uniqueness. Just a generation ago parents and spouses had to find answers in an entirely different way. And I wonder what we’ve lost along the way.

Does R.C. Sproul Believe in Miracles?

R.C. Sproul:

Now of course when people ask me, do I believe in miracles, they’re asking one question and I’m answering a different one. If they’re saying to me, “Do you believe that God is still working in the world supernaturally?” Of course I do. “Do you believe that God answers prayers?” Of course I do. “Do you believe that God heals people in response to prayer?” Of course I do. All miracles are supernatural, but not all supernatural acts are miracles. Theologians get real tight in their making of distinctions, and when I say I don’t believe in miracles today, I don’t believe in the tight kind of miracle in the very narrow sense where a miracle is defined as a work that occurs in the external perceivable world; an extraordinary work in the external perceivable world against the laws of nature, by the immediate power of God; a work that only God can do, such as bringing life out of death, such as, restoring a limb that has been cut off—by command—such as, walking on the water, such as, turning water into wine.

Young, Restless, Foolish

Darren Carlson:

There is a caricature of young Reformed guys as being hard to get along with and angry. I agree. But it’s not because they’re Reformed. It’s because they are young, mere infants in the faith. It’s not true of every young Christian, but it seems to be particularly true of zealous, academically minded men.

Are You A Spiritual Doomsday Prepper?

Mark Altrogge:

The Bible doesn’t talk about prepping for the grid to go down, but it tells us we should be spiritually prepared. We should all expect to “meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2), to be “grieved” or distressed by “various trials” (1 Pe 1:6). We shouldn’t have an Eeyore-like “Well I guess my life’s just always going to be miserable” mentality for God promises to pour out his abundant goodness and steadfast love upon us, but we should also be ready for tough times in this fallen world. We should be prepared spiritually. Spiritual preppers.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

William Zinsser (1922–2015), the Writing Mentor

Ivan Messa:

Zinsser passed away last week at 92. Even though Zinsser was no evangelical, he acknowledged his Christian heritage. A self-described “WASP” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant)—he stated, “In my own work I operate within a framework of Christian values, and the words that are important to me are religious words: witness, pilgrimage, intention.”

While many will praise his publications (more than 19 books) and point out his gems of writing wisdom, one aspect of his life is often overlooked. Zinsser was more than an instructor, he was a mentor for writers. From Zinsser we can learn three ways to improve our own role as writing mentors…

Teens react to Saved by the Bell

Language warning in effect (it’s mostly bleeped out):

We Are Not Things

Wade Bearden on Mad Max: Fury Road:

What might have easily turned into a bleak tale ending with the loss of personal and collective identity is instead a meditation on the struggle for meaning in a world that doesn’t seem to hold any. A group of women escaping Joe’s rule remind themselves (and their overlord) that “We are not things.” Max struggles with feelings of guilt after losing his wife and child. Joe’s warriors valiantly vie for their ruler’s attention, embarking on suicide missions in order to have their place among the “heroes.” In a society where the wall between individual and beast is blurred, each person, as Furiosa says, is “looking for hope.” They want to know they matter.

More Pressing than Women Preachers

Jen Wilkin:

Once again the internet has been abuzz with discussions of whether women should preach in the local church gathering. Whenever the issue is raised, those who oppose it are quick to explain that the role is not withheld from women because they are less valuable than men. And that “equal value” assertion always shifts my eyes from the pulpit to a more pressing concern. As some continue to debate the presence of women in the pulpit, we must not miss this immediate problem: the marked absence of women in areas of church leadership that are open to them.

What Is the Significance of the 7 Churches in Revelation?

Brandon Smith shares a few insights from Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation.

What is marriage to evangelical millennials?

Abigail Rine:

A few weeks ago, I assigned the article “What is Marriage?” to the students in my gender theory class, which I teach at an evangelical university. This article presents an in-depth defense of the conjugal view of marriage, and I included it on the reading list as part of my efforts to expose students to a range of viewpoints—religious and secular, progressive and conservative. The goal is to create robust civil dialogue, and, ideally, to pave the way for thoughtful Christian contributions to cultural understandings of sex and gender. The one promise I make to my students at the beginning of the course is that they are guaranteed to read something they will find disagreeable, probably even offensive.

Get grounded! (For the Church)

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My new series at For the Church, “Letters to a New Believer,” continues. The first post addressed the dangers of rushing into leadership roles. The second takes a step back and addresses a foundational issue: getting grounded in the Bible:

When my wife and I first became Christians, we had a lot to figure out. Up until that point, we’d been more or less your typical non-Christian couple: we met in college, moved in together halfway through, got engaged (but didn’t set a date for several years), eventually bought a house… and then we met Jesus.

And it was exactly as awkward as you’re imagining. (But we’ll get to that another time.)

During that time, though, God was very kind to us as we started figuring out what the “now what” of our conversion. We were connected to a local church where there were a lot of very kind people. The pastor worked with us to make the mess of our lives make sense as Christians, though he was kind of flying by the seat of his pants with some of it. But as much as we saw God pouring out grace upon us in this time, we were in danger. I was in danger.

…I read books like Velvet Elvis, Searching for God Knows What, and Blue Like Jazz, many of which were well written but had deep theological problems that I couldn’t recognize. I read memoirs by celebrity pastors that had no business writing memoirs, and did nothing to help me get a clear picture of Christian character. Our friends sat up discussing NOOMA videos, but never saw the hopelessness of their messages. Many young men in our church talked about what it meant to be Christian men, which somehow meant going on spirit quests to kill dragons while building sheds with nothing but duct tape and our own tenacity. We listened to lectures on how we needed to be less concerned with building programs and evangelistic rallies, and more concerned with making sure people had clean water to drink.

But you know what few of us were doing during all that? We weren’t grounding ourselves in the faith. We weren’t reading our Bibles, at least to the degree we ought to have been.

Keep reading at For the Church.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

A Goodbye to Youth Ministry

Mike Leake:

Though I’ve made mistakes I’ve also watched God do phenomenal things in the life of teenagers. I’ve always said that the success of a student ministry isn’t determined by what it looks like when the kid graduates—it’s better viewed by how he/she lives out his/her life as a disciple. I’m proud that I have quite a few former students who are now serving in local churches. I’m proud that students who I was allowed to lead to Jesus are still walking happily in the faith. I think, by the grace of God, I have done some things well.

As I’m passing the baton off to a group of guys here at Jasper I laid out for them a simple philosophy of youth ministry. Perhaps it will be beneficial to you as well.

The Importance of Friendship

Michael Haykin:

Here is but one example: On Jan. 27, 1552, Calvin wrote to Farel and chided him for reports he had heard—true reports, one must add—about the undue length of Farel’s sermons. “You have often confessed,” Calvin reminds his friend, “that you know this is a fault and that you would like to correct it.” Calvin went on to encourage Farel to shorten his sermons lest Satan use Farel’s failing in this regard to destroy the many good things being produced by his ministry.

Biblical Marriage Has Always Been Counter-Cultural

Aaron Earls:

In one sense, a Christian view of marriage does have less cultural sway today than in previous generations. However, there has never been a time when all of cultural rightly understood marriage from a biblical perspective.

Scripture has been challenging the way culture views marriage since the beginning.

Clickbait Headlines Are Killing My Soul

Stephen Altrogge nails it.

What small churches can do (part 3)

Joe Thorn:

Smaller churches are no less hindered from doing what God has called his people to do than are larger churches. Having more people does not maker it easier. Get that. More people does not make it easier. Just have a conversation with pastors of larger churches and you will find that leading God’s people into mission isn’t easy for anyone. In fact, larger numbers often makes things more complicated. However, clarifying what the church is all about and what it will give itself to does make things simpler, if not easier.

Liberating King

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I tried to like Christian music.

I really did.

When I was a new believer, I got a whole bunch of Christian CDs from the “if you’re a fan of [insert band name here]” section of the Christian bookstore. I listened to a whole bunch of stuff… but, outside of a few songs here and there, and the odd album, nothing really clicked.

Perhaps it’s helpful to understand my general opinion of the music geared toward Christians (please assume the appropriate caveats are in place):

  1. Much music intended for personal enjoyment tends to try too hard to sound “Christian,” and thus feels dishonest.
  2. The music we sing in many of our churches is even worse. Far too much church music tends to be simplistic, emotionally manipulative, and triumphalist—at best including a few disconnected statements about God, without actually encouraging us to truly know him better.

This is probably the strangest way to start a review of an album by a Christian worship leader, isn’t it?

Now, before you write me off as a “good church music stopped in the 1800s” guy who thinks every song should be a systematic theology lesson, that’s not what I’m advocating here (tho’ I do love me some hymns). As has often been said, the answer to bad church music is not to go back to older songs, but to write better ones. That’s what I love about The Modern Post and Citizens and Saints, The Sing Team and the Gettys. It’s also what I really dig about what Stephen Miller’s doing on his latest album, Liberating King.

Praise music that’s praiseworthy

From track one, it’s pretty clear this is not going to be what you’d hear from, say, Hillsong or even the Vertical Church Band.1 The songs featured on Liberating King teach us about God, even as they direct our praise to him.

This is harder than it sounds. It’s really easy to swing too far, in trying to correct from where much of modern praise music has gone. But Miller doesn’t overcorrect; instead, he maintains a strong balance between the head and the heart. Consider “You Complete All You Begin”, which is probably the standout song of all the original material on the album. Here, Miller takes listeners (and, ideally, congregations) through the story of redemption, from the first glimpse of the gospel to the end:

Completely just and holy God
Who from age to age forbeared
All the blatant acts of evil hearts
Unrelenting in despair
While promising a Son would come
The Messiah from of old
And his bruised heel would crush the head
Of the serpent, cursed and cold

This is powerful stuff. When was the last time you can recall singing about the fact that God promised to send Jesus and that he would triumph over evil? When was the last time you sung something like “When the blood of bulls could not suffice / Christ absorbed it all in him”? This is the kind of gospel rich, hope-inciting words we need to sing more often. These are songs that are directing our starting points and our responses away from us. Our emotions obviously play a role in what we’re singing, but Miller helps us to recognize that while we “could sing of [God’s] love forever”,2 it’s more helpful to do so when we understand what God has done in his love for us.

“It is well”

My favorite song on the album, though, is Miller’s arrangement of Horatio Spafford’s “It Is Well.” This is probably one of the greatest songs ever written for the benefit of the Church—not because it is terribly complicated, but because it communicates profound truth. Spafford wrote the song out of adversity, following the great Chicago fire of 1871, financial ruin, and finally, the death of all four of his daughters in a shipwreck. In other words, this isn’t an ivory tower hymn, written from a place of privilege; it is written from the same place David wrote so many of his psalms—one of grief and trial. And this is what makes it so honest, and enduring. Miller honors the original: the new arrangement “fits”, and he sings with noticeable conviction. Were I to hear this arrangement in our church’s worship gathering, I would be elated.

Songs worth singing

Liberating King did something that hasn’t happened in quite a while with any praise songs—it actually made me want to sing. And with good reason: this is an album that is worth singing because it’s an album that is clearly about Jesus, our Lord and King. And if he’s not worth singing about, what is? Definitely check out the album; I have no doubt you will be blessed in your hearing of it.


Title: Liberating King
Artist: Stephen Miller

Buy it at: Bandcamp | Amazon | iTunes


Today, I’m giving away three copies of Liberating King. To enter, all you’ve got to do is tell me about your favorite church music. What’s the song you really love to sing at church (or wish you did), and why? I’ll choose the winners at random on Wednesday, and they’ll be notified by email (followed by an announcement in the comments on this post).

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

This week the 9Marks “Building Healthy Churches” series is on sale for $4.99 each:

Also on sale:

The Pastor and Social Media

Nick Batzig:

…I have observed a somewhat disturbing trend among ministers in recent years. If a man posts links to his own sermon audio, things about the church he pastors or to books, articles or posts that he has written then he is often painted by the social media police as being driven by self-aggrandizement, opportunism and desire for celebrity status. Judging the motives of others is an extremely spiritually unwise and unhealthy practice. The Scriptures say, “Let another mouth praise you and not yourself,” not “Let another man post links to your sermons, books and writings and not yourself.” We need to guard our hearts against sinfully judging the motives of those who do. In short, we must guard against setting ourselves up as self-appointed social media police.

The Pastor’s Dilemma

Nicholas McDonald:

I began ministry at a grand $36,000 a year, until I finally pinned down some of my theology and decided the place I worked didn’t share it. I then transferred to a church that paid significantly less, we had our first child, and the “graduating payment” plan kicked in generously, asking us to donate to our local loan officer a grand $400 a month payment.

The story does get better, but before it does, I need to be honest about the fact that “ministry” during this the time felt less like changing people’s souls and more like I was a cat trying to claw its way up drywall. I was struggling to breathe, to work, to think straight – my debt was an insurmountable burden, like I was pregnant with a child who would never breach the womb.

How ISIS Helped Salmaa Become a Christian

Garret Kell:

Seeking to know Him came with many obstacles and danger, but Salmaa continued to pursue Him. The longing to have peace, righteousness, and nearness to God could not be quenched. And in recent days, her longing to know Jesus has intensified by the most unlikely of circumstances.

As Salmaa watched the news and saw the murder of 21 Ethiopian Christians by the hands of ISIS, she was strangely drawn to the peace she found on the faces of the men who knelt in honor of Jesus.

How could they be at such peace with God?

The Grass Isn’t Greener

Stacy Reaoch:

Whenever I step foot in the mall I realize how many things I “need.” The enticing window displays of shiny leather shoes, the latest fashions, and giant red SALE signs draw me in like a moth to a flame. All of a sudden, I realize how dingy my boots look, how out of style my coat is, and why I had better jump on this clearance sale before it’s gone. What I had been content with 10 minutes ago now urgently needs to be replaced.

Discontent has set in, and it leads down a windy path to a host of other sins.

House votes to ban abortion in the U.S. after five months

Although it could be defeated in the Senate or struck down with a presidential veto, this is still news worth celebrating (and praying that this would be made into law).

If we’re not communing with God…

neglect

One of the things my father-in-law often says he has little time for is navel-gazing. That is, the incessant paralyzing introspection that is the aim of the modern self-help industry. We get advice from Oprah and her cabal. We run to Dr. Phil. We dig into some Tony Robbins. We do the hokey pokey and we turn ourselves around. And while we might get a little dizzy, we still don’t know what it’s all about.

As much as this sort of hopeless spiral of self-examination is to be rejected, though, we should always be careful to remember that there is such a thing as healthy self-examination. After all, the Bible frequently encourages us to examine ourselves. But the purpose is not to get in touch with our innermost feelings, and discover what our inner child wants us to do and/or eat this afternoon, but to examine the state of our heart before our God. To grow in our knowledge and enjoyment of him as we better recognize where our hearts really are.

This is something, I suspect, many of us don’t do nearly enough. Or, at a minimum, I don’t do nearly enough. And there is really no excuse for it. For when we fail in doing so, we put ourselves at risk for serious backsliding, as J.C. Ryle explained in Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke:

Occasional retirement, self-inquiry, meditation, and secret communion with God, are absolutely essential to spiritual health. The man who neglects them is in great danger of a fall. To be always preaching, teaching, speaking, writing, and working public works, is, unquestionably, a sign of zeal. But it is not always a sign of zeal according to knowledge. It often leads to adverse consequences. We must make time occasionally for sitting down and calmly looking within, and examining how matters stand between our own selves and Christ. The omission of the practice is the true account of many a backsliding which shocks the Church, and gives occasion to the world to blaspheme.

A friend once described a mutual acquaintance as really knowing God. Not that he and I aren’t Christians, but that this man of whom he spoke was actually his friend, if you follow. That’s really what Ryle is getting at in this passage. The sort of healthy self-examination he exhorts us to, the kind we all would do well do actually do, doesn’t just protect us from backsliding: it is what grows us from followers to friends. To not only know of him, but to know him and enjoy him.

But you can’t get there if you’re not communing with him. Friendship only comes through the time invested. How then can we ignore this privilege?