Category Archives: Hump Day Hymns

Hump Day Hymns: Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me

Hymnal

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 me from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone,
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyelids close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgement throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hid myself in thee
Augustus M. Toplady (1740-1778)

I have a neighbor who keeps telling me, “I’ll be in church one day, I just have to make sure that I’m right with God first.” He is a kind man, with a gentle voice. He is a weathered man, and his face speaks of a past — some of which he has shared with me, and still more of which I am sure he has not.

His desire to “get right with God” before entering a church building is interesting, but it is not by any means unique. I have many people that struggle with various things: alcoholism, drug addiction, a troubled past which keeps them hostage. While some of these will show up in church, many of those I know will not. My concern, however, is not whether or not they will enter a church building, for ministry happens everywhere and, in my tradition, there is nothing particularly sacrosanct about a building itself.

What breaks my heart is the continual feeling that they are not good enough to stand in the presence of God. Many of us feel as though we have messed up too much, we have made too many mistakes, we have so offended God that it would be an insult for us to appear before God on holy ground. It is the continual feeling that we are not good enough to join together with the faithful, that we are not worthy of God’s grace.

“Church isn’t for perfect people,” I tell them, “church is a bunch of messed up people who learn that Jesus is the only one who can make them less messed up.” While I’m not confident that the fullness of my ecclesiology is reflected there, the point, I think, comes across.

The church isn’t for people who think they have it all together, indeed, these people will kill a church community. The church is for people who are broken and in need of healing, who are weary and in need of rest, who are thirsty and in need of streams of living water. The church is for people who understand that they can’t fix their problems on their own and need God, and the Christian community, to help them. The church is for people who have gone through too many trials and are angry at God, and is the place where they can scream and yell at God. The church is for people who are not sure if they even believe in God, but may, for some reason, find themselves drawn to it.

As Toplady so wonderfully describes, the church is for people who have nothing in their hands, but can only cling to the promise of the cross; the church is for people who are naked and need clothing, the church is for people who are helpless and need grace. The church is to welcome all of these people with open arms as we all stand shoulder to shoulder and experience the grace of this God who so relentlessly pursues us.

It is then that we can, with Toplady, see that an old cave which has given us refuge from a storm is more than what it may appear to be, it may actually be an old rock which God has broken open specifically for us to provide help in a time of need.

Hump Day Hymns: Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul

Hymnal

Note: One of the wonderful things about enduring hymns is their ability to speak strongly and deeply about the journey of faith. The more I share hymns on Wednesdays, the more I come to the realization that, many times, my words simply distract from the impact of these hymns. Today I present simply a hymn text, one that ought to stand on its own. It is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful hymn texts ever penned, and any additional writing on my part would simply dilute the power of this hymn.

***

Dear refuge of my weary soul,
On thee when sorrows rise;
On thee, when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies.

While hope revives, though pressed with fears,
And I can say, “My God,”
Beneath thy feet I spread my cares,
And pour my woes abroad.

To thee I tell each rising grief,
For thou alone canst heal;
Thy word can bring a sweet relief,
For every pain I feel.

But oh! when gloomy doubts prevail
I fear to call thee mine;
The springs of comfort seem to fail
And all my hopes decline.

Yet gracious God, where shall I flee?
Thou art my only trust;
And still my soul would cleave to thee,
Though prostrate in the dust.

Hast thou not bid me seek thy face?
And shall I seek in vain?
And can the ear of sovereign grace
Be deaf when I complain?

No, still the ear of sovereign grace
Attends the mourner’s prayer;
O may I ever find access,
To breathe my sorrows there.

Thy mercy-seat is open still;
Here let my soul retreat,
With humble hope attend thy will,
And wait beneath thy feet.
Anne Steele (1717-1778)

Hump Day Hymns: Lord, as Thou Wilt, Deal Thou with Me

Hymnal

Lord, as Thou wilt, deal Thou with me;
No other wish I cherish.
In life and death I cling to Thee;
Oh, do not let me perish!
Let not Thy grace from me depart
And grant an ever patient heart
To bear what Thou dost send me.

Grant honor, truth, and purity,
And love Thy Word to ponder;
From all false doctrine keep me free.
Bestow, both here and yonder,
What serves my everlasting bliss;
Preserve me from unrighteousness
Thro’out my earthy journey.

When, at Thy summons, I must leave
This vale of sin and sadness,
Give me Thy grace, Lord, not to grieve,
But to depart with gladness.
To Thee my spirit I commend;
O Lord, grant me a blessed end
Thro’ Jesus Christ, my Savior.
Kaspar Bienemann (1540-1591), Tr. Emanuel Cronenwett (1841-1931)

Visiting with a parishioner last week, we were reading the Sermon on the Mount, and he read, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt. 5:7, NRSV).

“What do you think of when it says ‘mercy’?” He asks me.
“Well, what do you think?” I replied.
“I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking you!” he said.

I was at a loss. I was unsure of how to briefly describe mercy.  Mercy is one of those words that is oft used yet seldom defined. I understand mercy, but I was having difficulty finding a way to describe it in simple terms.

“Well,” I began, “when someone is in a position of power over someone, and the person of lesser power commits an offense against…”

It was at this point that his eyes glazed over and was obviously not following me.

Why was it so hard for me to explain mercy?  It is one of the terms used to describe God,

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
   slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Psalm, 103:8, NRSV)

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
   his mercies never come to an end;  (Lam. 3:22, NRSV)

‘The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,’ (Ex. 34:6b, NRSV).

“Mercy” is one of those words that seems to have become so ubiquitous in the lexicon of faith, that we do not see the need to define it, and is simply used with the assumption that everyone understands what it means.

This hymn is a wonderful exposition of mercy, not as a word to be defined, but as a reality to be lived and experienced from the perspective of faith. Already from the beginning, “Lord, as Thou wilt, deal Thou with me,” the hymn-writer, as well as the hymn-singers, place themselves at the mercy of God, trusting that God is indeed merciful.

It is a scary hymn to sing, because it cuts to the core of how we understand the divine. I often find myself saying, “I sure hope God has a sense of humor.” Such a statement is often intended to be humorous, but there is certainly a serious element to that as well, the sub-text of which is, “I hope that God is merciful.” It is a hope of which I am, at times, unsure.

I am sometimes asked, particularly from friends who do not have the same beliefs as I when it comes to faith, “What if God doesn’t exist?” This is a question that does not concern me to a great degree.  In fact, my greatest fear is not that God doesn’t exist, my greatest fear is that God is not vastly merciful.

This, I think, is part of our journey of faith: learning to deeply believe and trust in the mercy of God so that we are able to arrive a point at which we can truly say, “Do with me what you will, O God” and have an assurance that we will be treated in compassionate and loving ways.

Hump Day Hymns: Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat

Hymnal

Approach, my soul, the mercy seat,
Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet,
For none can perish there.

Thy promise is my only plea,
With this I venture nigh;
Thou callest burdened souls to Thee,
And such, O Lord, am I.

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed,
By war without and fears within,
I come to Thee for rest.

Be Though my shield and hiding place,
That, sheltered near Thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
And tell him Thou hast died!

O wondrous love! to bleed and die,
To bear the cross and shame,
That guilty sinners, such as I,
Might plead Thy gracious name.
-John Newton (1725-1807)

***

“How are you doing?” I asked.
“Terrible!” was the reply.

Terrible? While I certainly appreciated the honesty, this grates against the folkways of my upbringing when we replied with an understated and repressed, “Good” regardless of how we were actually feeling. I have changed my perspectives on honesty regarding this so common question, yet I still am trying to figure out how to respond when someone replies with something such as “terrible.”

It does not matter with what I respond, this person will usually give me the list of things of why they are feeling terrible. I find it difficult to deal with, as I desperately want to fix things, I want to make things better for them, and I think to be honest, they want me to do the same. The most difficult part of this, however, is that the more I try to fix things, I fail miserably, and sometimes even make things worse.  When things don’t get any better or become worse, they become angry at me. When I admit that I cannot fix them, they become angry at me.

The days are several when I want to throw my hands up because I cannot do this.

I cannot do this.

And this is exactly right, I cannot do this.

Approach, my soul, the mercy seat,
Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet, 
For none can perish there.

I think of the Gospel text from last Sunday, when people began to wonder if John the Baptizer was the messiah.  He denied it, “but one who is more powerful than I is coming…” (Luke 2:16b).

***

About 1:30pm on the average Sunday I am back home, pulling on my thick wool socks because the heat had been turned down while we were away, and the hardwood floors of my 1886 duplex (in which my beloved and I have the lower flat) are like ice. I am done, for the day, with people telling me their problems. I am done, for the day, with people blaming me for this, that, and the other thing. I am done, for the day, with people expecting me to be God, and I am left, alone with myself. I feel the collective weight that has been hoisted upon my shoulders and all of the expectations that come along with it. I appreciate honesty, but sometimes I cannot handle it.

I want the truth, but I can’t handle the truth, as Col. Nathan Jessep screams in my ears.

I feel like a hypocrite, wanting something that I cannot handle, deeply desiring authenticity, but largely unable to bear the weight of it when it comes to the surface.

Perhaps it is because they are not the only one with problems and stresses. Perhaps it is because I already carry my own baggage, and find it difficult to bear both. As I my mind wanders, I become even more frustrated, my life is in pieces, and I wonder how on earth I could ever help others to get their lives together.

Thy promise is my only plea,
With this I venture nigh;
Thou callest burdened souls to Thee,
And such, O Lord, am I.

Sometimes one of the most difficult things to remember is that it is not only my parishioners, those who come to me because they are weary and burdened, it is not only these that need to attend to God for redemption and respite, but this is a promise for me as well.

Perhaps I find it difficult to hold their burdens, concerns, and worries, because I try in vain to hold mine, somewhere believing that I can handle it, and I can always handle it. As though my calling makes me into a type of super-human.

Perhaps I find it difficult because they act as a mirror. When I ask “How are you?” and they respond with “terrible,” there are days when I want to do the same, but still respond with “great.”

This is the beauty of hymns. We sing the together, and so they are corporate words, but in these corporate words, there are also individual words and pleas. They are also private moments, when feelings can be expressed, if to no one else, to God in the midst of other people. So I sing on as I go about my day, weary and burdened from the weight of my own burdens and the burdens of ministry, wondering how I can continue to stay right side up,

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed,
By war without and fears within,
I come to Thee for rest.

 

Hump Day Hymns: Sometimes a Light Surprises

Hymnal

Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises
With healing in his wings;
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation,
And find it ever new;
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
Let he unknown tomorrow
Bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing
But He will bear us through;Who gives the lilies clothing
Will clothe His people too;
Beneath the spreading heavens
No creature but is fed;
And He who feeds the ravens
Will give His children bread.

Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their wonted fruit shall bear,
Through all the field should wither
Nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice,
For while in him confiding
I cannot but rejoice.
-William Cowper (1731-1800)

I work and minister in a community that is afflicted with a plague: a lack of hope.  As another business closes, another home condemned, another house razed and leaves a vacant lot to speak of what used to be, hope seems to vanish with each closure, with each newly emptied lot.

“It’s all just garbage,” a neighbor told me.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Everything’s just going to crap,” he responded.
“I think things are getting better, even since I’ve been here there has been development –”
“Yeah,” he told me, “sure they build things here and there, but nothing ever seems to get any better.”
“I just have to believe that things are going to get better,” I said.
“Well, I hope so, I just don’t know…”

And then he walked away, watching the ground as he returned back into the world that causes him so much grief.

I spend a lot of time looking for signs of urban renewal. I am interested in more than simply the flourishing of my church, I am interested in the flourishing of our community and our city. Milwaukee is a city which is on a comeback path and there are several neighborhoods in various stages of revitalization. I speak of course, from my own view as a resident of one of the up-and-coming neighborhoods. I see new development, I see businesses open to great fanfare. In the past year I have seen two houses on my block completely gutted and rehabilitated from vacant, boarded up blights to thriving and gorgeous homes.

I don’t need to develop an imagination from scratch, I see development, I see progress, I see renewal every day. I have in imagination foundation upon which to build.

When I was talking with this individual, I made a tragic mistake: I neglected to invite him into a space where he could be open to being surprised by God.

I tried to argue from statistics, urban renewal projects, neighborhood initiatives, none of which really carry the weight of hope. The flourishing of a city, of course, does not rely wholly on these.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
   those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
   the guard keeps watch in vain. (Psalm 127:1, NRSV)

I wonder if the reason that I had not brought up being surprised by God is because I have lost a sense of being surprised by God. Perhaps I have too often relied upon myself, or even relied on others, for things to come about. Perhaps I suffer from a mechanistic view of the world in which the world is a machine and is relatively predictable. Perhaps I have lost a sense of the wonder of God and God’s ability to bring about works beyond imagination.

Perhaps I have not experienced the moment that our hymn-writer describes:

Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises
With healing in his wings;
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after rain.

I wonder if perhaps I have been too closed off to the world that I have not allowed myself to be surprised by God, and in this, I have not encouraged others to enter into a space where they can be surprised by God. This, I think, is the wonder of the faith, that God can surprise us, that God can intervene in ways unexpected and in ways for which we cannot prepare.

This is the core of hope, not solely in human progress, not solely in the ability for urban planners and developers to revitalize a community, but that God has a vested interest, not only in the world, but also in my community, in my neighborhood, and God cares about the people and the conditions in our neighborhood. It is the ability to see and proclaim that,

Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their wonted fruit shall bear,
Through all the field should wither
Nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice,
For while in him confiding
I cannot but rejoice.

Perhaps I did not share this with him, because I myself have lost the ability to be surprised by God, and perhaps in doing this, I have turned away from the immense and lasting hope of the scriptural message: God is about surprising us.

Hump Day Hymns {Advent Edition}: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Hymnal

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and discord cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
-Latin, c. 12th century (St. 1-2 trans. John Mason Neale (1818-1866); st. 3 trans. Henry Sloane Coffin (1877-1954)

As I had mentioned before, when I was young, Advent was a time of waiting for Christmas, a time in which I was excited about what would be under the tree for me. As I became older, in seminary and now as a pastor, Advent is the time in which I am excited for Christmas to come, and then be over, as it is an incredibly busy time for church work.

I have been to three funerals in the past week-and-a-half, one of which I officiated. In the short space between these funerals came the news of the shooting in Connecticut.

This year, Advent takes on a truer and more accurate yearning, not only for Christmas, but also for redemption and restoration to fully arrive.

Emmanuel/Immanuel means, as is commonly known, God with us.

Speaking of God-with-us is not some abstract conception of the Trinity. God, in Christ, the Word made flesh, Emmanuel is truly with us, in a very real sense, and all of our experiences.

When we mourn, God is with us, mourning. When we rejoice, God is with us, rejoicing. When we are angry with God and do not want God around, God is with us.

Much has been written over the past week about various comments by various people that God did not protect Sandy Hook because God was removed from schools. This is not only absurd, but it is edging on heresy. If God only went where God was wanted, God would have abandoned the ancient Israelites long ago, and God certainly wouldn’t have been enfleshed in an occupied territory of the Roman Empire.

We can live because we know that God is with us, that God goes everywhere with us. In fact, we can live because we know that God shows up particularly in places where God is not “wanted.”

We are told that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5) We also read, “…the light has come into the world, and the people loved darkness rather than light…” (John 3:19). The people to whom the light came loved the darkness, and executed the light. The story, however, continues. The light returned, brighter than ever to the very people who attempted to extinguish it.

God goes where God is not wanted precisely because God is better than us.

I want to go where I am wanted and stay away from those places where I am not wanted. If God is no better, if God is no more caring, if God is no more stubbornly loving than I am, we are all in trouble.

The Kingdom of God has arrived in Jesus who is God with us.

This hymn tells the story and gives the ending. We yearn for Christ to be with us again, to finish this work of restoration and redemption that was begun. It also gives us the hope and confidence that we can rejoice because God is with us, and that Christ will return to gather all the peoples, and that forever we will dwell on a new heaven and new earth, a redeemed and restored creation.

Hope is not simply something that allows us to wish for better things; hope is a confidence in something concrete, a better future, a future in which God’s desires are fully accomplished.

This past Sunday, while preaching on Advent as our yearning for Christ’s return, someone in the congregation spoke up.

“How can he return if he never left?”

How fitting. How true. God remains with us, and always will.

Hump Day Hymns {Advent Edition}: Comfort, Comfort You My People

Hymnal

Comfort, comfort you my people,
Tell of peace, thus says our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness
Bowed beneath oppression’s load.
Speak you to Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell them that their sins I cover,
And their warfare now is over.

For the herald’s voice is calling
In the desert far and near,
Bidding us to make repentance
Since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way;
Let the valleys rise in meeting
and the hills bow down in greeting.

Make you straight what long was crooked,
Make the rougher places plain;
Let your hearts be true and humble,
As befits God’s holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord
Now o’er earth is shed abroad;
And all flesh shall see the token
That God’s word is never broken.
-Johannes Olearius (1611-1684), Trans. Catherine Winkworth 1827-1878)

During a children’s sermon on Sunday, I asked the children if they knew what special day it was in the church. One of the children eagerly raised his hand and after I called on him, he said with a smile, “almost Christmas.” He was right, and I told them that in the church we call almost Christmas Advent.

I remember as a child, that Advent was a torturous time, as I could not wait until we tore into the secret things which resided below the tree. I would sit in church each Sunday of Advent, hoping and praying that the candles would hurry up and light so we could get on with it.

We speak of Advent as a time of preparation, a time of waiting, a time of expectancy. In my mind, when I think of preparation, good things do not come to mind. I think of preparing for an examination by studying for hours upon hours. I think of preparing for a performance in which I practice the same things seemingly endlessly. Every week I prepare for Sunday, which can be joyous, unless the sermon is not coming and it feels like I am running in a hamster wheel.

However, preparation can also be exciting. Last year at this time, I was feeling Advent in a very personal way. When I moved here to Milwaukee, my beloved stayed behind in Michigan for over two months to wrap up her employment. She would move here for good two days before Christmas. For me, then, Advent 2011 was not just waiting for Christmas, not just waiting for the return of Christ, but also waiting to be reunited with my beloved. This was a time of preparation. I tried to organize our flat so that it would be welcoming when she would arrive. I tried to work ahead at church so that we could have a few days together when she came. I planned what I would say when she walked in the door, and more. This was a time of joyful preparation, eager anticipation, and waiting.

The most difficult thing associated with preparation and waiting, for me, is to slow down enough to do it. In order to prepare for something we have to stop rushing and hurrying with other things. Without slowing down we forget the anxious yearning of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and the gloriously haunting minor key in which the common tune, VENI EMMANUEL, is written. Without slowing down from the daily grind to take note of the world, of ourselves, we can miss the fact that the world is desperately in need of redemption, we are desperately in need of redemption, and that the needed redemption has arrived and is continually unfolding.

In her book, Deeply Loved: 40 Ways in 40 Days to Experience the Heart of Jesus, Keri Wyatt Kent discusses the importance of slowing down because, “you cannot experience [the deep love of Jesus] in a hurry” (Ch. 3, para. 3) Unfortunately, Advent is an incredibly hurried time for myself (as well as clergy in general). I have to make sure the decorations are up, that I have enough ornaments for when folks decorate the holiday tree in the narthex. I have to organize and run the Christmas Store, which is a program that we have so that low-income folks can purchase gifts for their family. I have to plan the Christmas Eve service, as well as get things ready for the next Sunday when I am annually out-of-town with family. In the meantime I have to continue checking up on the high number of my parishioners who are in the hospital/rehabilitation facility/just out of the hospital, write thank you letters to donors, and write fundraising letters so that our church might be able to stay open.

All of this is some sort of preparation, unfortunately it is not the preparation that Advent calls for; this is the hurry that distracts us from experiencing the deep significance of Advent, it is the hurry that does not allow us to experience the “deep love of Jesus”, and it is the hurry that pulls us in other directions away from the comfort that today’s hymn celebrates.

Can I hear the herald’s voice calling? Am I taking this time to make repentance? Am I preparing a way for God? Do I even know how to? Am I allowing myself to be caught up in the raptures of the love of Jesus?

If we are sprinting through life, cell phone in one hand, cappuccino in the other, we cannot ‘lay hold of that Life and power’ that comes when we know we are deeply loved. We cannot experience the healing power of Jesus in our lives. Hurry injures us. (Kent, Ch. 3, para. 10).

Similarly, hurry hinders us from seeing that “the kingdom is now here”, and places an obstacle to obeying the “warning cry”, and stops us from experiencing comfort given to we who “who sit in darkness, bowed beneath oppression’s load.”

This Advent will be one in which I am intentionally slowing down to experience the eager anticipation of waiting, while I invite others to experiencing the love and comfort that comes from God’s reign being at hand.

Slow Down! It’s Advent.

***************************************************************************
This post is in the Deeply Loved Advent Blog Hop Series hosted by Angie Mabry-Nauta

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Hump Day Hymns: Lord, We Confess Our Numerous Faults

Lord, we confess our num’rous faults;
How great our guilt has been,
How vain and foolish all our tho’ts,
And all our lives were sin.

But, O my soul, forever praise,
forever love, His name
Who turns thy feet from dang’rous ways
Of folly, sin and shame.

‘Tis not by works of righteousness
Which our own hands have done,
But we are saved by God’s free grace
Abounding thro’ His Son.

‘Tis from the mercy of our God
That all our hopes begin;
‘Tis by the Water and the Blood
Our souls are washed from sin.

‘Tis through the purchase of His death
Who hung upon the tree
The Spirit is sent down to breathe
On such dry bones as we.

Raised from the dead, we live anew;
And justified by grace,
We shall appear in glory, too,
And see our Father’s face.
-Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

I find the confession of sin in the worship service to be a profoundly comforting moment. I have had some argue that we should not have a confession of sin because it makes people feel bad or because they think that it trivializes Jesus’ execution.

There is something liberating to being able to not have everything together. I don’t have to have everything together, I don’t have to be perfect, because God has everything together in ways that I could not even dream of.  Having the luxury of being able to admit my faults is one that I covet. In a day when admitting a fault is something which many could not dream of, I can stand before God and say, “I messed up, and I’m sorry” and I know that God is merciful and gracious to forgive.

Being able to confess is a sign of our trust. We can confess our shortcomings and faults to God because we trust that God will deal graciously with us. We trust that God has the ability and desire to guide and keep us. I trust God enough to tell God when I’ve messed up or done wrong. I trust that God is merciful and gracious and will not smite me based upon my admission of guilt. I also trust that God’s mercy is far greater than anything that I can do, and that in the end, with all my imperfections, I will see God’s face. This is why we confess, and why it is so wonderful.

Confession is always an expression of trust, and that trust is what gets me through any given day.

Hump Day Hymns: My Hope is Built on Nothing Less

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, His Blood,
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in Him be found,
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
-Edward Mote (1797-1874)

Several years ago, I was very upset over the outcome of an election. I was ready to move somewhere else, I was prognosticating on the downfall of the world and all of that. A wise friend reminded me, that God remains God. No president can change that, and no president has unilateral control over everything. I could be disappointed, I could even be a bit upset. However, we only have one foot in the already, we also have a foot in the not yet.

I have had a new experience this election cycle that I have not had before: I am the pastor of a church. I also have parishioners who occupy all points on the political graph. I have heard some variant of “the world is going to end if we elect/re-elect ;. I am someone who doesn’t have the spiritual gift of “shutting up” as I like to refer to it. I speak my mind, and sometimes I suffer the consequences from that.

But this year is different. I cannot solely think about myself. I have to think about my congregation. I have to remember that whatever I do and whatever I say may have ramifications in the community in which I have been placed and which I serve. After all, what holds us together is not an elephant or a donkey, or even a national flag. What holds us together is the empty cross of Christ.

I have not taken vocal partisan stances this season, and I have done so in part to avoid alienating any particular group in my congregation over this, because the body of Christ is far broader than a partisan candidate. I do, however, take value stances, proclaiming God’s desires for us, and I hope that my parishioners will internalize those and use those for guidance at the polls. To be sure, neither party can claim to have “God on their side” and doing so is only leaping into heresy.

So the Sunday before the election I reminded my congregation that they should vote, we are called to be good and involved citizens. However, regardless of the outcome we will gather back in our sanctuary at the same time the next Sunday morning. We will stand shoulder to shoulder and we will sing, and pray, and hear the Word of God, and we will fellowship with one another. The president is an important position, don’t misunderstand me, but we are electing a fallible and temporal leader, not God.

I will have some people that will be arguing that salvation has come and that we will be all okay because Obama was re-elected to the presidency. I will have some people that will believe that the world will end and that we are wicked people for re-electing Obama to the presidency. I won’t hear any of it. God remains God, God is still in control, God will continue to provide for us, and God’s purposes will be accomplished regardless of what temporal leader is elected. The president may have temporal influence, and we cannot minimize or ignore this. However, we also know that the kingdom/queendom of God is much greater than anything we can imagine, and we are to called to begin to live into this.

Elected officials do matter, and we must make decisions with wise and discerning hearts and minds. However, they are not the only things that matter. The president cannot halt the purposes of God, the president cannot thwart the purposes of God, and the president cannot bring about the purposes of God.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When we try to stand on a politician for stability, our foundation is that of sinking sand. When we put our faith in a politician, we will be crushed, when we put our hope in a politician we will be hope-less. We cannot allow our hope to be crushed or created by an election.

On Sunday, I am going to remind my congregation of all of this. If you are pleased with the outcome, don’t gloat too much, and if you’re disappointed with the outcome, don’t be too upset. Putting the bulk our faith, trust, and hope in politicians is idolatry, and there is more at work than we can see.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

Hump Day Hymns: What God Ordains is Always Good

What God ordains is always good;
His will abideth holy.
As He directs my life for me,
I follow meek and lowly.
My God indeed In every need
Doth well know how to shield me;
To Him, then, I will yield me.

What God ordains is always good.
He never will deceive me;
He leads me in His own right way,
And never will He leave me.
I take my content What He hath sent;
His hand that sends me sadness
Will turn my tears to gladness.

What God ordains is always good.
His loving tho’t attends me;
No poison can be in the cup
That my Physician sends me.
My God is true; Each morn a-new
I’ll trust His grace unending.
My life to Him commending.

What God ordains is always good.
He is my Friend and Father;
He suffers naught to do me harm,
Tho’ many storms may gather.
Now I may know Both Joy and woe,
Some day I shall see clearly
That He hath loved me dearly.

What God ordains is always good.
Though I the cup am drinking
What savors now of bitterness,
I take it without shrinking.
For after grief God grants relief,
My heart with comfort filling
And all my sorrow stilling.

What God ordains is always good.
This truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
I shall not be forsaken.
I fear no harm, For with His arm
He shall embrace and shield me;
So to my God I yield me.
-Samuel Rodigast (1649-1708), Translation, composite.

Just yesterday, a 35 year old man was shot and killed not too far from our neighborhood.  Small children go to school with their shoes on the wrong feet, or with no shoes at all, because their parents are either (or perhaps both) too apathetic or already strung out on something to get them ready for school. Whole families have to live in homes with no electric and no heat because their landlord won’t fix the gas leaks and the they are stuck with a bill that they cannot pay. A young boy sitting on his porch at home becomes caught in the cross fire of a gang dispute.

More than anything else, ministry in the inner city has challenged my belief in the sovereignty of God. I often have a hard time reconciling what I see and experience with the idea that God is completely sovereign over the world — completely in control.  The tradition that I am a part of places a large emphasis on the doctrine sovereignty of God. So often I look around me and wonder, if God is in control, why are things so messed up? How can any good come out of this?  I, in fact, live in the city that Jeffrey Dahmer lived and where he committed his murders. How can there be any good in this?

* * *

When I am asked, “how can you possibly believe in God?” I just shrug my shoulders and tell that my faith is not logical. Faith involves the mind, but it lives somewhere far deeper, somewhere with more fertile soul for the seeds of faith to take root and grow.

Similarly, how can God be in control when all of these bad and horrible things happen? I struggle with this, I really do. My belief in God is not rational and it is not logical.  I didn’t sit down and write a pros and cons list.  No one presented compelling reasons to believe in God.  My belief in God is much deeper, in a primal place of my being — and as I understand it, it was placed there by God.

Similarly, the sovereignty of God is something that I, at times, struggle with, because it, too, is seated not in the intellect, but in this deeper place.

I believe in the sovereignty of God not because it is easy, or because it always makes sense with my everyday life. I believe in the sovereignty of God because I have to — not because others force me to, but because in my innermost being, I cannot not believe in the sovereignty of God. I do think that the scriptures are the source for this, but I believe in this because I have to in order to live.  Without the trust that God can take the messed up things in the world and work them for good, without the trust that God is in control, without the trust that God knows more and is more powerful than me and my understanding, I could not continue to live.  I would have no reason to. I would be overwhelmed by despair.

For me, the sovereignty of God is difficult to combine with what I see around me, but it is the only way that I can have hope for a good and better future. Sometimes, I have found that it is better for me to yield before the mystery. Even when I don’t understand it, even when it doesn’t seem to make any sense whatsoever, I find it helpful to place myself at the mercy of the mystery of the divine.

What God ordains is always good.
This truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
I shall not be forsaken.
I fear no harm, For with His arm
He shall embrace and shield me;
So to my God I yield me.