Maybe you’ve noticed this trend in Praise and Worship music over the last several years.
About a decade ago, Matt Redman writes about how the hymnal is a treasure trove of song ideas and powerful lyrics. Then everyone’s changing old favorites to accommodate guitar rhythms and incorporate new choruses. (Truth be told, I’m sure others had the same idea, not just Matt, and I’m sure it was happening from time to time before he wrote it.)
The first one I really remember is Todd Agnew’s remake of Amazing Grace, titled “Grace Like Rain.” He puts the hymn in a minor key, and adds a chorus in between each verse talking about how our sinful stains are washed away in the rain of God’s grace. It works.
My wife and I love to play a duet on that. She has a great violin accompaniment and I have a special riff I like on the piano for the third verse.
Then I recall “The Wonderful Cross” with Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin from Passion: One Day 2003 (maybe). “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is combined with a driving beat and a powerful chorus that borrows from Bonhoeffer:
“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
There are others. “Jesus Paid It All” is on a recent Passion album, with a powerful buildup and a passionate cry for us to “Praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead.”
Chris Tomlin put out a version of Amazing Grace called “My Chains are Gone” with a chorus that sounds like the heartcry of a man released from his cell after years of imprisonment. “My God, my Savior has ransomed me… and like a flood, His mercy rains unending love, amazing grace.”
David Crowder Band has a version of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” that starts with a soft minor key chorus about singing to the passionate God who rejoices over us… before the drums kick in and guitars scream in between the verses of the familiar hymn.
Sometimes the bandwagon gets it right.
Who am I to argue?
The hymn, “My Savior’s Love” was a theme song for one of the conferences my wife and I attended several years ago on Okinawa. It seemed like we were constantly being told “Go into My Savior’s Love and let’s just stay there for a while.” (We had pretty flexible worship musicians, so we could be told, “Do this song for a bit” and it all worked out.)
Years later, I was looking at a hymnal and found the song. I remembered how much I loved the emphasis on the marvel of God’s love…
Here in the present as “I stand amazed” and “wonder how He could love me.”
In the past as I think of how “He bore the burden to Calvary and suffered and died alone.”
In the future as “through the ages” I will “sing of His love for me.”
I also like the minor key – which to me speaks of reflection and wonder – that leads to the major key – which calls celebration and joy to mind.
Here’s a link to the song: My Savior’s Love… (I fear my singing is a bit pitchy in parts.)
And here’s the lyrics –
1 I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, And wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean.
How marvelous! how wonderful! and my song shall ever be: How marvelous! how wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!
2 He took my sins and my sorrows, He made them His very own; He bore the burden to Calvary, And suffered and died alone.
3 When with the ransomed in glory His face I at last shall see, ’Twill be my joy through the ages To sing of His love for me.
Sing a song of praise to God above So amazing to think of How wonderful, how marvelous is our Savior’s love
How marvelous! how wonderful! And my song shall ever be: How marvelous! how wonderful! is my Savior’s love for me!
Ever thought of a piggy-back ride from the Creator of the Universe?
There’s a verse in Psalms that talks about God’s gentleness and humility making us successful. There’s something powerful about the thought of Him lowering Himself in order to pick us up and bring us up to a new level. That’s not pride speaking; it’s not saying, “Look at me, I’m awesome, I’m important, God is lifting me up.”
God is the One choosing to do the lifting. Not me.
It’s not about my merit; it’s about His grace.
“You protect me with your saving shield,
You support me with your right hand, You have stooped to make me great.” Psalm 18:35 NCV
I wrote a song based on that last phrase, called You Stoop Down. The link brings up a SoundCloud window with the music.
In March of 1998 I found a wallet on a street in Bellevue, Nebraska.
That moment led by twists and turns to this Sunday morning’s service, where I have the opportunity to play for the Bellevue Christian Center worship team. I am nervous, but my fears are overwhelmed by excitement at the prospect of being a part of this.
I was at Offutt AFB for a short training TDY from my home station, and we were staying in a beat up little hotel room on Fort Crook Road. I had never been here before, and this is long before the days of Google maps. So I tried my navigational skills by using the map in the telephone book to figure out where the nearest shopping center might be. And I started walking up the road to see if I could find it.
Not far into my stroll, I was crossing a street and found a wallet laying in the middle of the road.
Full disclosure, my first thought was maybe there’s money in it!
Thankfully, that thought was quickly replaced with maybe I can return it–with any money still inside–to be a witness of the love of Christ to whoever lost their wallet.
So I gingerly opened the wallet to see whose it might be.
The first form of identification I found was a card certifying ordination as a pastor in the Assemblies of God.
So much for witnessing. I think this guy’s good to go.
This was special for me. I grew up in an AoG church, and I had been across the States or overseas, far away from home, for a few years now.
I took the wallet and continued on my way. When I got back to the hotel, I sought out a pay phone (remember those? We all didn’t have cell phones back then) and called Pastor Petey Tellez to let him know I’d found his wallet.
Pastor Tellez was of course very grateful. He came out to meet me and treated me to a breakfast. We chatted for a bit, and I told him my thought process when I found the wallet. We had a good laugh.
He told me, “Hey, do you have a car or anything? Do you need a ride to church? Or anywhere else?”
And so that Sunday, during the short one-and-a-half weeks we were at Offutt, I got to attend the church where Pastor Tellez served as an associate pastor of some position or other that I honestly can’t remember.
I walked into Bellevue Christian Center and was surprised by the size right off the bat. I’d never been in a church that could fit more than about 200 people.
The service was great. The speaker was dynamic, but he didn’t just present a pretty sermon that barely touched on Scripture. He also performed an object lesson that sticks out in my mind to this day… climbing a tall ladder probably 15 feet into the air.
(The point, if I recall correctly, was that no one just goes to the peaks and the best of circumstances in life or in personal holiness without taking one step after another to climb there. You have to keep working at it, and suddenly you find yourself looking from a much different perspective.)
What I loved most was the worship team. I was just starting to play piano for my local church, and I was just starting to write songs for worship. I paid close attention to how they were ministering, and I was impressed. It wasn’t a show about them or a performance to command attention.
They were pointing a huge sanctuary full of people to God, and they were getting out of the way.
I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be up there… not because I’m so important or special, but because what they were doing resonates with my heart.
But we were leaving in a few days.
I came back on another TDY to Offutt in 2005, and attended one service. And then I was gone again.
In 2008, I was sent here for yet another training course, and I knew I’d be here for anywhere from six weeks to six months. I showed up at BCC and hung out after the service to ask if they had a need for a pianist, since I had not much else to do while I was there.
The leaders pointed me in the direction of Pastor Herbie Thompson, who was running the young adult ministry Pergo Deus. I showed up to the Friday night Pergo meeting and was surprised at the genuine welcome and sincere care I felt from the young adults there.
You know the way greetings sometimes go in church. There’s the head-nodding conversation that says “I really don’t care what you’re saying, but I want to welcome you for your first time here… so I’ll keep listening and muttering an ‘mm-hmm’ now and then.”
That’s not what I experienced.
Pergo was the real deal.
I know this, because the same people were happy to see me the next week. And they remembered my name. And they remembered the concerns I’d mentioned.
Pastor Gary Hoyt, the lead pastor at BCC, is the same way.
I chatted with him briefly one Sunday after the service in 2008. Then I left, because (Surprise!) I only had to stay for the six week TDY, not six months.
I came back for training in 2009 about a year and a half later. Pastor Gary remembered my face, my home station, my family, our previous conversation, and several aspects of my job in the military. (He did need confirmation of my name, because he didn’t want to call me “Brother” or “Hey you” or something random. All in all, I was impressed.)
Once again, I started playing for Pergo as often as they’d have me, and I attended Sunday mornings. Just like Pastor Gary’s Sunday messages, Pastor Herbie’s sermons on Friday night were clear, powerful, and heartfelt.
But the worship team on Sundays didn’t seem to need a piano player, so I never thought to ask.
Turns out, when you have a large church, you usually have a lot of musicians… enough to allow people to rotate on the schedule and not play every single week. That’s something I’ve always wanted to see happen where I’ve led worship in the past, but it was never an option.
I realized later I probably should have asked about playing long ago.
So when we finally moved to Offutt AFB as a family early in 2012, I did not want to miss the opportunity. Once we knew that BCC was the right place not just for me but for my whole family–and thankfully that did not take long!–Jami and I approached the Worship Pastor and asked about joining in the ministry.
It’s not some great achievement to be a part of a worship team, I know. People do that all the time. But it matters a lot to me that I get to be a part of this one, finally, after all this time of being blessed by their ministry.
The ladder lesson is right. Our spirituality and our ministry takes time. It requires taking one step after another. You don’t just walk up and jump up to the top to see what’s up there.
But once you reach the goal at the top of the ladder — in this case, looking out as a room full of people are abandoning themselves to give praise and honor to the God that you’re abandoning yourself in music to praise and honor —
Have you ever seen a child hiding behind a parent when the child is in trouble?
Have you ever been that child? (Don’t answer!)
It can be scary to own up to failures and mistakes, especially when we’re facing someone we have wronged. As little children, hiding behind Mom or Dad was a place of refuge, knowing that they were going before us and could protect us if someone was really upset.
About twelve years ago, Jami and I were discussing how sometimes as Christians, when we go to God, we sort of hide behind Jesus the way that small child hides behind a parent. We know how screwed up we are, and we know all the ways we’ve blown it. Surely we can’t just come to God. We need to take cover, so that when He looks, all He sees is Jesus.
Jesus is the righteous one, not us. Jesus is the accepted one, not us. Jesus can come to God without fear… not us.
Or so goes the logic.
That logic is wrong.
We are called to come boldly before the throne of grace (Heb 4:14-16). We are declared redeemed, cleansed, purified, made holy (1 Pet 2:9-11). We have become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5:21).
God paid a great price to get you, because you are part of the special treasure and precious possession He wishes to set on display for His glory. Jesus Christ’s righteous life and sinless blood are the payment by which God has purchased us.
Think of it this way.
A young man saves up money and puts forth effort to purchase a beautiful engagement ring.
He finds the perfect moment, gets down on one knee, reveals the surprise, and proposes marriage to the woman he loves. She gets excited and says yes.
And from then on, whenever he looks at her, she holds up the receipt for the ring.
“Don’t look at me. Look at what you paid to get me. I’m not good enough. I don’t deserve your attention. But remember the price you paid for this, so that you can stand to be around me.”
What sort of relationship would that be?
Come boldly. He said you could. Come stand before Him as the object of His affection… not because of any merit on our part or any sort of pride that says we deserved this.
I was playing Hide and Seek with my kids the other day. They’re quite talented, but I excel at cheating. While I was counting, I kept messing up… skipping numbers, counting past the agreed upon number, forgetting what number I was on.
That way, I got them to talk and tell me I was doing it wrong.
And them talking told me roughly where they were hiding.
Jonathan is the sneakiest of the bunch. Deborah and Justin do pretty good at hiding, but Jonathan–it’s like he can fold himself up into a little cube and hide anywhere. He’s a ninja.
True story: When he was seven years old, we had the following conversation:
“Dad, I think I want to be a scientist who studies rocks when I grow up. …or maybe a ninja.”
“Jonathan, that’s really neat. But being a ninja is hard.”
“I think I’d make a great ninja.”
“Really? Why is that?”
“Well… Ninjas have to be good at climbing, and I’m great at climbing. I climb the trees around our house better than any of the other kids.”
I knew this to be true.
“And ninjas have to be good at sneaking, and I’m great at sneaking. I was hiding in the bushes right next to my friend, and he didn’t even know I was there!”
He thinks for a moment.
“Ninjas have to be good at martial arts, too. I have to work on that.”
Back to Hide and Seek… Jonathan lurks in a cabinet. Jonathan climbs up on the shelves above the refrigerator. Jonathan squeezes himself into a small cabinet at the bottom of our entertainment center. It’s ridiculous how easily he hides anywhere he wants.
Then it’s my turn to hide, and I decide to have some fun. Justin (our seven year old) is now the “seeker,” so I make it easier on him. I try stuffing myself into the cabinet where Jonathan hid. Sadly, I’m a little pudgy compared to him, and so try as I might, I can’t quite fit in there. My head is sticking out.
But the point of Hide and Seek is to be found. That’s part of the fun.
In his book, God Chasers, Tommy Tenney writes about hide and seek with his daughters (if memory serves). And he equates the game of hide and seek to our relationship with God.
There are times when we seek God but He seems hidden, far removed, silent. Tenney talks about how he stays hidden while his daughters are enjoying the game, but there comes a point where they become desperate. Maybe Daddy has really left. Maybe he’s not here anymore. Maybe I’m all alone.
Their tears start to flow and their laughter turns to crying. And the heart of the father is stirred to make himself known, to burst out of hiding and rush to the child, to catch them up in his arms and reassure them that “I have been here all along. I would never leave you nor forsake you.”
Tenney talks about that cry of desperate need and how it catches the Father’s heart and, in a way, commands His attention.
Can you imagine God that way? Can you see the loving Father who sometimes hides His face? Can you picture the tug on His heart when we become desperate and cry out for Him? Can you see the “Hider” turning into the “Seeker” as He rushes to scoop us up and reassure us that all will work out, everything will be fine? Can you hear Him whisper, “It’s okay, I am here. I never left you, even though you didn’t know where I was.”
Hosea 10:12 was a theme verse for our church back in 2001 (if memory serves). We really focused on the thought that God is out there just waiting to be found, and as we live out righteousness and experience His lovingkindness and mercy, as we break up the hard ground of our hearts in our desperation for Him, we can trust that He will turn and respond to our cries. He will come and rain down His righteousness upon us.
“Draw near to Him, and He will draw near to you.”
“Seek the Lord while He may be found.”
“It is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness upon you.”
We seek God, calling out to Him… until we discover He is coming toward us — the father running out to meet the prodigal child — ready to embrace us and pour out His love on us again.
I always want to surrender to that love. I always want the “ground” of my heart to be broken up, softened, ready for His work. I always want Him to come and pour out the rain of His Spirit over me.
My daughter’s neighborhood friend asked me this on the way home from church. She recently declared her faith–or perhaps her desire to go everywhere with my daughter, based on other experiences dealing with her.
I’m skeptical about this decision she made. I’d like to know more about what exactly she “accepted” and what she understands.
I’m not overly fond of “Yay, I made a decision and prayed a prayer, now I’m saved forever from hell and I live however I want because Jesus!”
But the question was a good one, regardless of how deep or sincere the faith may be that asked it.
It’s also a trick question, at least as far as Christianity is concerned.
There are a few passages that try to paint an image of God.
And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. – Daniel 7:9 NASB
2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. 3 And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. – Revelation 4:2-3 NASB
So God is like white snow and surrounded by something like flames giving off light… He is like this gemstone… but like that one… but there’s this rainbow like a different gemstone all around… light and brightness and radiance and…
That’s not very helpful if I wanted to draw a picture of Him.
From the beginning of Scripture, God’s people are routinely commanded that they should make no idol or graven image.
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…” Exodus 20:4-5 NASB
23 So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the Lord your God has commanded you. – Deuteronomy 4:23 NASB
Other nations had representations of their various gods. They could point to a statue and say, “That’s what Dagon looks like, see how powerful he is?”
The only thing Israel can point to is a testimony of what God has done for them.
They can point to a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud that led them out of Egypt. They can point to signs and wonders performed by Moses. They can point back to provision and blessing through Joseph, through Jacob, through Isaac, through Abraham.
But they can’t point to a picture or an image or a statue and say, “Here’s what God looks like.”
Neither can I when I answer this young lady.
I know why I can’t point to a statue, but I leave it out of my answer to her.
My friends who are not Christians often point to God’s jealousy about idols and ask, “What kind of petty God has to be jealous? Is that really the God you serve?”
The writings of the Prophets in the Old Testament of the Bible often reveal God’s sarcasm and loathing of idols. They help explain a bit of why God is so jealous about this issue.
“I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.”
Isaiah 42:8 NASB
Later, Isaiah writes about the folly of idols. A man works and toils to fashion an image made of metal, and sets it up in his house. Then he falls down to worship the thing he just made, crying out to it for deliverance. Another man cuts down a tree and takes half the log for daily needs – a fire for warmth and for cooking. Then he takes the other half, carves an image, and says, “You are my god!”
That is what frustrates God: taking the created thing and making it into a god that competes for the glory due the Creator.
That’s nice to know, but it doesn’t answer the question of what God looks like.
For thousands of years, Israel goes on believing in a God that they cannot describe in a picture or represent in a figure. They can only point back to acts of God in their history, or moments where they believe God showed up in storming clouds over Mount Sinai, or in a fire from heaven, or in a powerful glory that filled the Most Holy Place in the Temple.
Then along comes Jesus, who says things like:
“I and the Father are one.” John 10:30
“He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” John 14:9 NASB
More than that, Jesus makes it clear that the reason behind His statement is because the people see Jesus doing what the Father directs Him to do. Again, seeing what God looks like is not about the physical representation, but about a testimony of what God did.
So the answer to the young lady’s question becomes, “Jesus!”
Typically, in Sunday School as a child, if you didn’t know the answer to a question, ‘Jesus’ was a safe bet.
Colossians 1:15 bears this out. “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God.”
John 1:18 adds, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He [Jesus] has explained Him.”
Sweet, so now we know that God looks like Jesus.
Problem: where do I find Jesus?
Seriously, if Jesus is what God looks like, that still doesn’t give me a present-day answer to the question. It’s not like He’s walking around today in Jerusalem. In fact, if you DO hear that He’s walking around offering Kool-Aid or inviting you to His church in Waco, Texas, run away.
We assume we can find Him in the Scriptures; we can learn what He said and read about what He did. In so doing, we get something of a picture for ourselves of what God looks like.
Jesus attests to this in His rebuke of the Pharisees:
39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. – John 5:39-40 NASB
But that’s very personal. That’s an internal concept of what God looks like.
What do we point to if someone else wants to see God?
For that, I would say:
Look in the mirror.
If Christ is in you, then you are-practically speaking-the visible image of the invisible God.
I have to caveat that in multiple ways, because religion leaves so much room for mis-communication. I’m not suggesting that everyone automatically reflects Christ. I’m not suggesting that every Christian automatically reflects Christ. I’m not downplaying the evil men do in the name of religion, nor am I attributing the blame for the terrible choices of men to a holy and just God.
Consider what these verses have to say:
No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
1John 4:12 NASB
18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 NASB
6 For God, who said, “ Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NASB
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 NASB
The ideal, the intended result of your salvation is that you become a display case. You become a “vessel of honor” that is designed not for its own glory but to carry something worthy of worship.
You have been called, chosen, redeemed at a great price.
This was done for a purpose.
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9
If ever you doubt your value, go look in the mirror and remember that God chose and crafted you and sent His Son to die for you, so that you could be His visible image for the world today.
How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along! (Psalm 133:1 MSG)
As a parent of four, I can sure relate. Our soon-to-be thirteen-year-old usually gets along with her eleven-year-old brother. They team up and torment our soon-to-be seven-year-old, who tags along after them constantly, just hoping to be included in whatever they’re doing. And he generally gets along great with our one-year-old, although he’s not really old enough to help take care of him. Helping out generally falls on the older two, who flip-flop between viewing their baby brother as the best plaything in the world…
Mommy, can we take Judah out and set up the kiddie pool and put his swim trunks on and let him play in the backyard?? Pleeeeease??
…to the most frustrating and despised chore ever.
You feed Judah. No, you! No, I’ll go clean up the dog droppings, so you have to take care of Judah.
There are some days that shatter nerves like glass, and then take the nerve stumps and run them over the glass repeatedly. (I take my wife’s word on this, as I miss most of those days by being at work dealing with the Air Force version of the same problems.)
But there are those days when everyone seems to get it… when the kids work together, or play together, or just plain get along nicely. Days when my daughter defers to the little brother she normally ignores, and chooses to play the game he loves. Days when my son offers to clean up a mess without being asked. Days when our ears are filled with the laughter and joy of children instead of the screams and cries of a war-zone.
Days when we’re not six separate people fighting it out in a house, but a family sharing our lives together in a home.
This morning, our worship team gathered together to sing. We got everything plugged in and set up, and then started a song. Suddenly no one could hear the keys, and none of the background vocals had working mics. This led to about an hour of scrambling and searching for the culprit. Our sound techs are awesome servants and were all over it. The rest of the team finally gave in to the delay and began practicing while the audio issues were being fixed.
We got through the first practice run of our set. Problem areas were addressed. Individual parts were discussed. All the timing and solos got worked out. Still no keys or background vocals.
Then keys started working through the house audio, and we practiced a couple of the songs a second time. Soon, the sound tech tested out mics for the background vocalists, and we were all in the system.
We finished a second run through a few songs, but this still seemed more technical preparation than anything else, until we got to the end of the last song we practiced. All the parts came together, and it seemed like we were able to get past the details to really worship Deity.
The song ended, but the music and the singing–more importantly, the worship–continued.
There are few things like that moment when a group of individuals playing or singing at the same time turns into something both less and more.
In an instant, ten separate people become one collective team. That’s the “less.”
The “more” is how those ten individual offerings of talent and heart do not simply add up, but build on each other and multiply.
When we as the lead worshippers on stage are able to get to that place, there’s a much better chance for the several hundred individuals in the sanctuary to likewise become both less and more.
I don’t know if secular bands experience something similar. I assume so. And I imagine there’s something powerful when they hit that sweet spot at a concert, and the audience really connects with the music too.
All I know is that it’s powerful to join together with a single focus and a single purpose.
If it’s been a while, I suggest you find that thing, that single worthy ideal deserving of your attention. Find that connection with like-minded individuals, and together become less so that you also become more.
And if you’re in Omaha, and that worthy thought around which you want to gather is the glory and goodness of God revealed in Jesus Christ, well, I know a place for that.
When we look around at the world from a Christian perspective, it is difficult to ignore the impression that situations happening around us are not what God has intended. Depression overtakes us; strife and division affect us in–and take us out of–healthy relationships with others.
As Christians with the grace of God available to us, we still find ourselves overwhelmed by circumstances and catch ourselves after we succumb to temptation. Seeing the condition of the world is painful. We ache when we see just how messed up everything is. We ache when we see just how messed up our own lives are. Surely there must be something that can deal with this.
When I have a headache, I am quick to reach for the medicine cabinet. I’ve been trained well by the commercials that say, “I’ve got a headache THIS BIG…” I want some pain relieving medicine! In the same way, I am looking for something that will give relief in the midst of the mess in my life. I’ve got problems that are THIS BIG… where’s God’s Excedrin?
When we see this mess, we know: This is not the plan God has for our lives.
But this also does not disqualify us from relationship with Him. In fact, when we see ourselves in such terrible conditions, we are ripe to experience RELIEF !
As I thought about this and jotted down notes, I considered the word I had chosen: “succumb to temptation.” What does it mean when we “succumb” to something?
Succumb- 1 to yield to a superior force or overpowering appeal or desire
From the perspective of God, we are not capable of yielding to a superior force. No such force exists. A few verses will adequately illustrate this point.
Speaking of ungodly spirits that are active in the world, John writes in 1st John 4:4, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he (Christ) made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15). “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col 1:13).
It says something when we are willing to yield to a weaker or inferior force. We could fight and win, but we are choosing not to. Sometimes this is intentional and directed by God. We are taught at times to “turn the other cheek,” “bless those that persecute you, do good to those that hurt you.” These commands are given regarding people.
With our enemy, there is no such commandment. The words used are warfare terminology: resist, stand firm, fight, put on armor, take up the sword, be watchful and alert, pull down strongholds, take captive. Christ was the One who “disarmed,” “made a spectacle out of,” “destroyed the works of,” “triumphed over,” “crushed the head of,” and conquered the enemy. He is our Example.
He is the One who could say, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. All authority in heaven and on earth is now given to me.”
We do not face a superior force, and so we have no reason to succumb to our enemy. We instead have been given the opportunity to overpower and push back our enemy.
“Succumb” also means to yield to an overpowering appeal or desire. From the perspective of God, no such appeal or desire exists. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1Co. 10:13).
We are no longer bound to the sinful nature. “If Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation– but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it” (Romans 8:10-12).
“It is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight” (Php. 2:13 AMP).
The reason that we can recognize that from God’s perspective there is no such thing as an overpowering desire or appeal is found in the above. He energizes and creates the desire to do His will within us. His power is effectual power– effective in accomplishing what He sets out to do. This is the power that is referred to in Eph. 1:19 (AMP), where Paul asks “that you can know and understand what is the immeasurable and unlimited and surpassing greatness of His power in and for us who believe.” This is the “power that is at work within us,” that “is able to carry out His purpose and do superabundantly, far over and above all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]…” (Eph. 3:20 AMP).
The fullness of this is found in the work of Christ Jesus as our Great High Priest. Romans 1:16 tells us that the good news about Christ is God’s power working unto salvation in everyone who believes. This good news is that Christ Jesus came to intercede between God and man, to bring reconciliation and restoration of God’s favor upon mankind.
Hebrews 2:17-18 states that “it is evident that it was essential that He be made like His brothers in every respect, in order that He might become a merciful, sympathetic and faithful High Priest in the things related to God, to make atonement and propitiation for the people’s sins. For because He Himself in His humanity has suffered in being tempted, tested, and tried, He is able immediately to run to the cry of, and assist and relieve, those who are being tempted, tested, and tried, and who therefore are being exposed to suffering.”
Some versions use the term “succor.” This is defined as aid, help, or relief– from Latin roots meaning “to run up, to run to help.”
Relief is an interesting word. It has a number of meanings. Relief is:
1. the removal or lessening of something oppressive, painful, or distressing.
2. aid in the form of money or necessities given for those in need
3. military assistance to an endangered post
4. one who replaces another on duty
5. a legal remedy– something that corrects or counteracts an evil, or compensates for a loss
6. a projection of figures out from the background of an image or elevations from the surface– something that stands up or stands out
Picturing Christ as one who succors or relieves gives us a greater understanding of why God doesn’t see any temptation as overpowering.
Christ removes or lessens the oppressive or distressing nature of the temptation. He may just give us direction to leave the vicinity of it, or He may cause the temptation itself to cease.
Christ gives aid in the form of all that we need in order to remain true to Him. He provides us with the strength to stand — “My strength is perfected in weakness” or “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” are verses that demonstrate this.
Christ literally provides a military assistance when we are in danger of losing our position. He did this by “disarming the powers and authorities, triumphing over them by the Cross.” We are no longer at a military disadvantage because our Savior has over powered the enemy. He can bring military assistance by motivating others to pray for us in our time of need.
Christ is One who takes our position on duty. He fights on our behalf. When we realize that we do not stand on our own strength, it is as if He is taking our place. We are no longer relying on our own abilities to hold the position. We are relieved of our responsibility to hold the ground by our own effort, and we are able to join our effort with His limitless supply of strength.
Christ is One who legally corrects or counteracts evils that we encounter. His shed blood and His priestly mediation have swept away the sin. He is, whether one accepts the gift or not, “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” He has corrected and counteracted the evil in the world. The reason and purpose of His ministry is defined in 1st John 3:8 as “to destroy the works of the devil.”
Finally, Christ is our relief in the sense that He is the One who stands out. When people see us, they should see a relief image– that of the Savior who has transformed us. 2nd Corinthians 3:18 says, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” As we encounter and seek God’s face, we are being made more and more like Christ. We identify with Him and people are able to see Him through our lives. Paul said it was no longer Paul that lived, but Christ, as grace worked in his life. “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died in vain!”
God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. When we humble ourselves, we receive “the grace of God that brings salvation” that “has appeared to all men.” How can something appear to man except in a physical form? How can an intangible thing like grace “appear to all men?” John 1:14– “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And verse 17, “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
Jesus Christ is our Reliever, and grace is the relief He gives. We can only receive it in the position of humility, because that is the only way we can see His face– with the transforming glory that comes with it.
When we are proud, we will fight and resist showing weakness. When we are humbled, we give in and admit defeat. From God’s perspective, we should never feel like we have to give in to the defeated and overpowered enemy. God provided all we need to deal with that. We do not succumb to our enemy or to our temptations.
The key is to succumb to the grace of God. Yield to His overpowering work in our lives. For there we find all the relief we need.
Two people are essentially to blame for this song’s existence.
C. J. Monet has really been entertaining me with his music (hence the techno style to this track), and Pastor T. J. Cristobal preached a great sermon on Ephesians 6:10-18 at church today.
Our identity is a crucial component of how we live our lives, how we decide our course of action, how we evaluate what’s going on around us. Our perception of who we are and what we’re worth dramatically affects how we interact with everyone and everything else. “Perception is reality” is a common enough expression, and I don’t use it to mean that if I think I see a pink elephant, there must really be a pink elephant. I use it to mean that I will respond to what I perceive, what I see, what I understand… not necessarily to what is actually true.
For Christians, this “perception” may be found in answers to questions like these:
Am I a sinner? Or am I a saint who struggles with sin?
Am I a failure? Or am I an overcomer who sometimes fails?
Am I worthless? Or am I the object of the affection of the Creator of the universe?
Am I unlovable? Or am I precious enough that God Himself would die for me?
(I’ll add a caveat, lest we Christians get all presumptuous and puffed up in our recognition of God’s love toward us. All those other people out there in the world, the ones our community sometimes wants to judge and protest and so on–those people are just as much the objects of God’s love as I am, and it’s my job to communicate that to the world, because the One I claim to follow “did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). So yeah, don’t forget that part of your identity either.)
What have you discovered about who you are? What have you learned about what you were meant to do with this life? I know whose I am, and I know who’s in me.
You’ll say that I am weak, that I’m not worth a thing
You’ll say I should give up, that there’s no chance for me
You’ll say that nothing’s changed, that I am still the same
I say that Christ is in me and there’s power in His name
The old is gone, and the new has come
My victory is won by all that Christ has done
I know whose I am
and I know who’s in me
I’m not who I was
’cause Christ has set me free
I know what He’s done
And how He’s changing me
I know the Holy One
And what I am called to be
Jesus, I am Yours, I am Yours
Jesus, I am Yours, I am Yours
I am called, I am chosen, I am loved, I am redeemed
I am free from condemnation, rescued from my enemy
I am purchased by my Savior, who lives inside of me
I am dead to sin, I am secure in Christ my hope of glory
Several years ago, I was driving around the Kadena flightline on the way home from work. and I was listening to a Hillsongs Australia CD with the song “Faith” playing. If I recall correctly, there’s a line of their song that says, “I give my life for this…” as in, “I am going to commit myself completely to this relationship with God.”
That sparked a question: What did God give me life for? What does Scripture tell me about who God says I am, as opposed to who I feel I am, or what the world says about me?
I started looking through a lot of verses that talk about what we have “in Him” (which is an awesome list of amazing benefits) and also verses that talk about how God sees us and what He calls us.
In the future, I hope to get a copy of the song loaded, because it’s not quite the same without the music. But here are the lyrics:
In You, all things have been made new! In You, I am not who I once knew! I am made new! I am in You!
In You, my life means so much more! In You, I find what I am living for! I am made new! I am in You!
Grace and glory on display! Made holy in every way! Mercies new with every day! This is what I’m living for! Dignified, called royalty! Making known Your majesty! Christ my King alive in me! This is what I’m living for! Blessed to be a blessing! Love and mercy offering! Light in darkness shining! This is what I’m living for!
In You, I find such perfect peace! In You, I find such sweet release! I am made new! I am in You!
In You, lovingkindness overflows! In You, blessings like I’ve never known! I am made new! I am in You!
By Your grace now reconciled, loved, accepted as Your child! Cleansed and pure and undefiled! This is what I’m living for! Saved to see Your kingdom come! Made to let Your will be done! A Servant of the Holy One! This is what I’m living for! Free to know You as I’m known! Free to be Your very own! Never will I be alone! This is what I’m living for! Free to bring You my heart’s cry in songs of praise to glorify My Lord until the day I die! This is what I’m living for!
You gave Your life for me and You’re the One I’m living for! You gave me life for this and this is what I’m living for!
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.