27 Jun

Wednesday Is for Worship: “Indescribable”

Good morning on this Wednesday!  What a day it is to praise the Lord!  We just finished up our Vacation Bible School this past Friday.  We did Group’s “Sky” and had a wonderful time worshiping the Lord.  One of the songs we sang last week has been on my mind constantly.  It’s a newer worship song, but not brand new.  In fact, it’s a been a staple of worship for some years now, even making it into the recent 2008 Baptist hymnal called The Worship Hymnal.  I’m talking about the song “Indescribable.”

Written by Jesse Reeves and Laura Story and published through worshiptogether.com songs in 2004, the song has become affiliated with singer/songwriter Chris Tomlin who recorded it that same year on his “Arriving” album.  In fact, I first worshiped the Lord with this song at Tomlin’s release concert of this album in 2004 at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.

Here’s Tomlin leading us to worship our indescribable God.  Don’t forget to worship along!

VERSE 1
From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea
Creation’s revealing Your majesty
From the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring
Every creature unique in the song that it sings
All exclaiming

CHORUS
Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name
You are amazing God
All powerful, untamable
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

VERSE 2
Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go
Or seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow
Who imagined the sun and gives source to its light
Yet conceals it to bring us the coolness of night
None can fathom

ENDING
Incomparable, unchangeable
You see the depths of my heart and You love me the same
You are amazing God
You are amazing God

____________________

The song is inspired by the beauty and marvel of creation.  If creation is beautiful and marvelous, how much more so is the Creator himself!  As Psalm 19:1 tells us, The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

Verse 1 declares nature’s revelation of God’s glory.  Every inch of it does so, from sky to the ocean floor.  It’s not just something we are told.  It’s something we can experience through our senses, particularly sight, smell, and hearing, which are alluded to in this verse.

Verse 2 draws upon God’s awe-inspiring rebuke of Job in Job 38, particularly Job 38:19, 22, 25.  God shut Job’s mouth from complaining and then dropped it open again in speechlessness.  Oh that we would experience the same!

The chorus is the response to the verses.  It bursts out exclaiming the glory of God.  He’s too good and glorious for mere human words (indescribable). He can’t be boxed in (uncontainable).  He can do all things (all powerful).  He will be domesticated by no man (untamable).  There’s no person or thing like Him (incomparable).  And, He’s all these things and more yesterday, today, and forever (unchangeable).  The only fitting and proper response is to fall to our knees in humility and proclaim, “You are amazing, God!”

Indeed, He is amazing, but not just in His being.  He’s amazing also in His love for sinners. You see, He knows the depraved depths of our hearts but loves us the same, sending His Son Jesus to die for sin so that whosoever believes on Him will be saved from God’s wrath against sinful sinners.  Utterly amazing!

May you be awestruck before God today and forevermore!

Listen to Laura Story explain how she came to write the song and Chris Tomlin share about its recording:

26 Jun

The Marks of a Good Pastor

Jesus is the Good Shepherd and will one day personally shepherd His flock when He returns, but for the meantime, He has placed men over His flock who are supposed to be good shepherds as well.  These “pastors,” which is derived from the Latin word for “shepherd,” are ultimately measured by Jesus’ definition of a good shepherd.

Do you have a good pastor?  I guess the answer to that question is based upon the measurement you use.  Too often we measure our pastors by the world’s standards:  how many the church baptized under his leadership, how much the attendance has grown under his leadership, how big the budget has grown under his leadership, how well he says and does what I think he should say or do.  These are worldly standards, indeed.

Is there anything in the Bible that would help us gauge the quality of our pastors?  Certainly there is.  God never calls a person to do something without also explaining to them how to do it.  That’s why the Bible is replete with objective marks to help rightly measure how well our pastors pastor.

Mark 1:  A good pastor loves the Lord and the Lord’s sheep.
Every Christian is to love the Lord (Mt. 22:36-38), but the one who is to shepherd Jesus’ flock must love the sheep as well.  Jesus demonstrates this truth with a negative example in John 10:12-13 of the hireling who has no concern for the sheep.  A good shepherd in contrast has concern for his sheep—in fact, loves his sheep.  Does your pastor love you?

Mark 2:  A good pastor strives to study the word God so that he might rightly teach it.
Paul tells the young pastor Timothy to be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth, (2 Tim. 2:15).  The gospel is easy to understand, but the Bible as a whole is fairly complex.  It takes dedication and effort and prayer to rightly divide it.  A good pastor strives to study Scripture and understand it rightly, not only because he loves the sheep and wants to feed them well, but also because he knows he’ll endure a stricter judgment because he is a teacher (James 3:1).  Every pastor must strive to be a theologian!  It just comes with the job.  Does you pastor strive to study the Bible so that he might rightly teach it?

Mark 3:  A good pastor places prayer and study as the priority of his time.
The contemporary pastor has a multitude of things draining his time and energy.  However, no matter how big that list gets, prayer and study should be the priority of a good pastor.  That’s why the apostles, who were the first pastors of the church, instituted the office of deacon.  They wanted to free themselves up for the priority of prayer and study (Acts 6:1-4).  The pastor must learn to protect and make the most of his prayer and study time, and the congregation must help him.  Does your pastor place prayer and study as the priority of his time?

Mark 4:  A good pastor lives an exemplary life.
A pastor isn’t called to a life that’s any different from the regular Christian other than to teaching in the church.  His life is simply to be the more complete package.  That’s what Paul means when he says that an overseer, which is another Bible word for pastor, is to above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2).  There should be nothing present in the pastor’s life that is disgraceful, and he should be worthy of imitating.  That’s exactly what Paul was calling young pastor Timothy to when he instructed him to show himself in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity an example of those who believe (1 Tim. 4:12).  Does your pastor fit that description?  Is he living an exemplary Christian life worthy of imitating?

Mark 5:  A good pastor feeds the sheep faithfully and abundantly.
In the wake of Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, Peter was essentially the lead pastor of the New Testament church.  In fact, Jesus had told him that He was going to build His church upon Peter (Mt. 16:18).  After Peter’s triple denial of knowing Jesus on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, Jesus sought to reinstate Peter after His resurrection.  Three times Jesus asked Peter if Peter loved Him, and three times Peter said that he did.  But also, Jesus followed up each affirmation with a commandment to feed Jesus’ sheep (John 21:15-17).  As the first pastor of the church, this was Peter’s job and is now the job of every pastor.  Pastors must feed the sheep, and a good pastor does so faithfully and abundantly.  He brings substantive messages from God’s Word week in and week out and doesn’t simply give the sheep what they want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3).  He’s not just a preacher, but a Bible preacher.  Does your pastor faithfully and abundantly feed you from the Word of God?

Mark 6:  A good pastor corrects wayward sheep.
I’ve never shepherded actual sheep, but word is that they tend to stray from the flock.  A good shepherd goes after those wayward sheep and corrects them.  The same is true for the metaphorical shepherd with his metaphorical flock.  Paul captures this mark when he tells young pastor Timothy to preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction (2 Tim. 4:2).  No good pastor likes to the task of reproving, rebuking, and exhorting, but every good pastor does it.  Does your pastor correct wayward sheep?

Mark 7:  A good pastor commits himself to the sheep long-term.
Jesus says that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep while the hireling runs at the sign of trouble (John 10:11-13) or when greener pastures are spotted elsewhere.  The average tenure of Mainline Protestant pastors is only four years.  Evangelical pastors do a bit better with an average tenure of seven years.  Nevertheless, those averages mean that many pastors stay for much shorter times, looking for something less troublesome and greener.

I have a friend who pastors a church that has shown itself to be very difficult.  In its 122-year history, it’s had 48 pastors, which is an average of getting a new pastor every two and a half years.  On several occasions, the lay leadership tried to run my friend off, but he is committed to the flock there.  Certainly there was greener grass.  Certainly the wolf was howling outside the sheepfold.  However, he stuck it out.  Finally, in a moment of frustration, one of the lay leaders said to him, “God would have to kill you to get you to leave.”  The man didn’t mean that as a compliment, but I believe it certainly was one because Jesus said that good shepherds lay down their life for the sheep.  My friend showed his commitment to his sheep.  In fact, he’s now doubled the average pastoral tenure of his church.  Is your pastor committed long-term to your church?

Mark 8:  A good pastor searches for Jesus’ sheep.
Jesus has sheep out there that have not yet come into His fold.  They’ve not trusted Christ yet, but they are already His sheep and will in time trust Him as Savior (John 6:37; 10:16).  A good pastor searches for these sheep, which is the work of evangelism.  Indeed, Paul tells young pastor Timothy to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim 4:5), meaning that he should personally take the gospel to every person and equip others to do the same.  Does your pastor do the work of an evangelist, searching for Jesus’ sheep?

____________________

After looking at these marks, do you have a good pastor?  Which ones are his strengths?  Which ones are his weaknesses?  Encourage him in his strengths, and pray for and fill up his weaknesses.  STOP USING THE WORLD’S STANDARDS TO MEASURE YOUR PASTORS!  May you be a channel of blessing so that your shepherd will be made better!

13 Jun

Wednesday Is for Worship: “My Song Is Love Unknown”

The hymn form of worship music is absolutely irreplaceable because it just lends itself to breadth, depth, and poetry.  Such is the case with today’s worship song called “My Song Is Love Unknown.”  The beauty and detail with which Samuel Crossman wrote in 1664 concerning our Savior is staggering.  When sung to John Ireland’s meditative melodic dirge from 1918, the song moves the heart to contemplate the bittersweet reality that Jesus suffered for us—bitter in that we’re grieved it was our sin for which He suffered; sweet in that by His suffering, we who trust in Him are saved from the wrath of God our sin deserves.

I first sung this song at the Together for the Gospel conference this year and was blown away by it.  Although the example of the song I have for you below from Wells Cathedral Choir in England is very high church (and omits the 4th and 6th verses), it could certainly be more popularized for our typical churches.  I pray that you’ll consider the beauty of the words and be moved by the melody!

VERSE 1
My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?

VERSE 2
He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

VERSE 3
Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

VERSE 4
Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.

VERSE 5
They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they saved,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.

VERSE 6
In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb wherein He lay.

VERSE 7
Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

____________________

Seven stanzas capture the wonder of Jesus’ incarnation and substitutionary death.  Verse 1 focuses on the fact that Jesus’ love for us is otherwise unknown in the world, capturing the wonder that He showed love to unlovely mankind for the purpose of making us lovely.

Verse 2 points to the deity and preexistence of Christ who left His heavenly throne to take on flesh to spend His life for those that would condemn Him.

Verse 3 focuses on the irony of Jesus’ triumphal entry—with the crowds shouting praises and laying their coats in the road for Jesus to ride over—being followed by the same crowds a few days later shouting “Crucify him!”  Such fickleness is the fallen human heart.

Verse 4 extols Jesus’  innocence, pointing to the fact that He was the last person who deserved to die.

Verse 5 reflects that shameful decision made by the crowd when Pontius Pilate asked the crowd to choose between the release of the murderer Barabbas or Jesus.  It was a ploy by Pilate to release Jesus whom he found no fault in, thinking that they’d surely choose Jesus over Barabbas.  His ploy failed, and the crowd cried “Give us Barabbas!”

Verse 6 illustrates the earthly lowliness of Jesus who was basically homeless and even had to borrow a tomb upon His death.

Finally, verse 7 ends in responding with praise to our suffering king.  May we spend all of our days in His sweet praise!

 

UPDATE:  If the example of the song above is too high church for you, then here are two other examples:

1)  Robin Mark performs a great version of “My Song is Love Unknown” to Ireland’s tune, but with alternate lyrics:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TK1LNz-rIOI.

2)  Fernando Ortega performs a moving version of “My Song is Love Unknown” set to John Edwards’ “Rhosymedre” tune from 1840:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbsj7tBQjdk.  My friend Todd Gray reminded me of this one, calling it “more listener friendly.”  It is really good as well!