Rocks and Caves and the Arc of Everything

It was good to be back in the saddle again — this past Sunday I was afforded the opportunity to guest worship lead at a church Alyssa and I visited a few weeks back. When we visited we were both impressed by how enthusiastically the congregation sang. So I was quite excited to be invited to offer some songs for us to sing together.

By the time my tenure at New Song ended the Inland Hills band had grown to a huge number, larger than any other team I’ve led before, but this past Sunday it was just my keyboard and I and the congregation singing some of my favorite songs. I’m a bit allergic to putting on a show, it makes me break out in a particularly itchy rash of pride, so it was nice being so low-key.

We sang some hymns I’ve not sung in a long time and we sang “We Will Feast in the House of Zion”. It was particularly nice to sing “We Will Feast…” as it was a song that I sang to the NSIH band as a gift at our last rehearsal and then again sang it at my last communion service at New Song. Singing it with a new congregation reminded me of the beautiful promise that one day we in Christ will all feast together at the table prepared for us in the house of God. Time and space and distance cannot break the bind of Christ’s body and blood as we gather to eat the bread and drink the wine.

This weekend at Doxa Fellowship in Woodstock, Illinois we sang the following songs:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty – German Hymn
We Will Feast in the House of Zion – Sandra McCracken
Rock of Ages – Hymn, Augustus Toplady
How Great is Our God – Chris Tomlin
The Doxology – Hymn

Attached is a Spotify playlist with several different versions of these songs. Chance the Rapper included a version of “How Great” on his new mix-tape which I’ve added to this playlist and my arrangement of “Rock of Ages” favors the Brooks Ritter version included on the playlist.

If you enjoy any of these songs please support the artists and purchase the songs.

 

Both “Praise to the Lord,…” and “Rock of Ages” are favorite hymns and so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on both:

Rock of Ages

In Numbers 20 the Israelites, having no water because — you know — they’re taking a casual forty-year hike in the desert, bring their complaints to Moses and his brother, Aaron, “If only we had died! Why did you bring us out of Egypt where we were slaves?!?! It was so much better then!!!” And God in His lovingkindness heard their complaint and told Moses to take his staff from the presence of God and to “ask this rock to give water and it will.” But Moses in his frustration with the people and in his sin took the staff and instead of speaking to the rock, strikes it twice.

Water gushed.

The Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians 10 says that rock struck was Christ:

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

1st Corinthians 10.1-5 NIV

And David, as we read his story in the books of Samuel, was twice pursued by his enemies. First King Saul, fearing for his own power and wanting to maintain political prominence, chased David into the hills where he hid in the caves. And after his affair with Bathsheba, King David was again chased into the hills by his son Absalom who was attempting to usurp his father because of the damage wrought by David’s sin. David writes regularly in the psalms of God as a rock and his hiding place:

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;

my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.

I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”

And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

Psalm 32.3-7 NIV

“Rock of Ages” is a harrowing tune, my arrangement has some well placed minor chords to accentuate the lyrics. In it we sing of our inability to rescue ourselves, our helplessness, our nakedness and frailty. In singing this classic hymn by Augusts Toplady we join our cries for help to David’s in the caves as we’re each pursued by our shared enemy of sin and we join our complaints to those of the impatient Israelites wandering in the desert.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed
be of sin, the double cure,
save from wrath and make me pure.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

The church has been singing this hymn for good portion of the last millennium, it was written about four hundred years ago in Germany and was translated into English about two hundred years after that. With the opening verse singing, “All who hear now to his temple draw near, gladly forever adore Him” this song serves as a classic call to worship though ironically is largely based on the final psalm, Psalm 150 (and 103 — but we’re gonna ignore that for the sake of the argument I’m about to make because I’m a real serious scholar).

I’ve spent that past few years majoring in the psalms, at one point reading the whole psalter every month, and as I’ve mentioned before there’s no experience or emotion left out of the Psalms. The Psalms give voice to every cry and bandages every wound.

Beyond that though the Psalms reveal to us the arc of human experience with all of its achy joints and sleepy afternoons. If you take the thousand foot view of the book you’ll see that it is divided in to five difference books (significantly not unlike the Torah’s five books) and each of those books ends with exhortation to “Praise!” And the final book in the larger book of Psalms ends with, not insignificantly, five psalms of praise. Psalm 150 existing as the praise exclamation point.

By opening with “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” we begin with a call to praise and remember Psalm 150. The Psalms include of all our cave complaints, desert grumblings, our brokenness, our frailty, our nakedness, our helplessness and yet they end in praise. The Psalms teach us that the arc of humanity is not pain to pain but praise to praise.

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

Psalm 150 NIV

16427957187_bc583c3c60_o.jpg
Zion National Park 017 Rock of Ages 2pan. June 8, 2007. Peter. Some Rights Reserved.
Rocks and Caves and the Arc of Everything

Worship Review – 5.3.15

This weekend we sang:

  • “Only King Forever” by Elevation Worship
  • “Center” by Charlie Hall
  • “Almighty” by Chris Tomlin
  • “How Great is Our God” by Chris Tomlin

Below is a playlist of the four songs we sang this week. Each song is written and produced by independant artists and guys who work for the local church. If these are songs you enjoy please consider purchasing them so that these artist will continue to write great songs for God’s children to sing.


I introduced this new tune this week and we sang the heck out of it. Let me draw back the curtain and show a little bit why I choose this song.

Our God, a firm foundation
Our rock, the only solid ground
As nations rise and fall
Kingdoms once strong now shaken
Be we trust forever in your name
The name of Jesus

The tricky thing about God is that He’s invisible. The Spirit moves through shrugs, whispers, impressions. Signs and wonders are not normative. So due to an assumed lack of objective proof we begin to trust in what can be engaged with our senses. We put all of our trust in the natural world’s obsession with power, position, self-defense, laws, institutions. We build our own kingdoms of work, money, relationships, food, comfort. But the thing about God is that He is above all of that. He transcends all of our imaginary play toys.

In CS Lewis’ “The Silver Chair” the protagonists of the story (Eustace, Jill, Puddlegum, and Prince Rilian) are trapped in a spell underneath the world, and the Lady of the Green Kirtle is trying to convince them that all they can experience with their senses is all that is real, that their story of the above world is a fairy tale. But in the midst of their arguing with the witch Puddlegum has a moment of philisophical clarity.

Suppose we have only dreamed all those things – trees, grass, sun, moon, stars, and Aslan himself. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. When you think of it, that’s a funny thing. We’re just babies making up a game. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world.

God is no slave to our senses and He is far better than the dark pits of the kingdoms we build. He is kind though. He could’ve deserved and demanded our worship on the sole basis of His transcendant character but He chose to reveal Himself:

The Son is the image of the invisble God, the firstborn over all creation. Colossians 1.15

We can objectively see, know, and identify the Son through the reading of scripture; as my favorite Bible paraphrase says: “Every story whispers his name…” In Jesus Christ we have a firm foundation on which to stand. We’re not stuck with abstract religious guesswork and new age spiritual anecdotes. When all around us shakes and falters we stand on the firm, objective name of Jesus.

Verse two of “Only King Forever” continues:

Unmatched in all your wisdom
In love and justice you will reign
Every knee will bow
We bring our expectations
Our hope is anchored in your name
The name of Jesus
We trust the name of Jesus

That’s a lot to unpack I want to hone in on one line: “We bring our expectations”

I have a temptation to judge God and His movement based primarily on my subjective emotional experience of Him. I have expectations that He will heal and provide, to affirm and build up, to strengthen and encourage when I show up and tell Him to. Every heard the phrase “pray expectantly?”

It’s tempting to show up in worship hoping to have our aesthetic desires met: the music moved me, the sermon uplifted me, I put a tenner in the offering so I’m going to get my $20 reward later this week. But, that’s just not God’s agenda. Church is not meant to be where we come to be entertained by Jesus, our trick pony.

Our expectations are crucified with Christ, they bleed out where the nails go in. We expect a conguering king and we get a baby; we expect a tenured professor and get a traveling, homeless rabbi; we expect him to overthrow our Rome and he turns over the tables in the temples of our hearts; we expect him to come over for dinner and he tells us the the bread’s his flesh, and the wine his blood.

The name of Jesus is enough. In the midst of the storms of this life we can anchor our hope, not in our emotional experience, but on the trusty and true name of Jesus Christ.


A benediction:

May4th


PS: Even if you’re not a kiddo this is a great primer on the Bible:

The Jesus Story Book Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name” by Sally Lloyd-Jones Unknown

Worship Review – 5.3.15