A few days of Xmas songs (5 – Simeon)

simeonIt’s two days after The Day.  Most of my readers will have observed it in some way, to some degree.  But we’re past it now.

In this final Xmas songs instalment, I wanted to share a portion of Michael Card’s¹ “Simeon’s Song.”  For me, the story told in this song is the height of bona fide, well-founded baby-Jesus-related emotion.

An old man in the temple, waiting in the court — 
Waiting for the answer to a promise.
And all at once he sees them in the morning sunshine —
A couple come in, carryin’ a baby.


Mary and the baby come, 
And in her hand five shekels —
The price to redeem her baby boy.
The baby softly cooing,
Nestled in her arms.
Simeon takes the boy and starts to sing:

Now that I’ve held Him in my arms, 
My life can come to an end.
Let Your servant now depart in peace.
‘Cause I’ve seen Your salvation; 
He’s the Light of the Gentiles
And the glory of His people Israel

Words and music by Michael Card.¹  © 1982ish, Mole End Music

Countdowns are all counted . . . family traditions have been participated in … wrappings are now all unwrapped.  Commercialized Christmastide aside, can you agree that “Simeon’s Song” is what the Coming was, and is, all about?  Can we please now lay aside all the stuff, including the Christmas Eve “services,” with their mix of the bogus and the real?  Can we escape the concocted pageantry of the Advent wreaths and other Catholicisms?² 

Can we please, please inextricably connect ourselves to something real, something faith-filled like Simeon’s devoted life, his prophecy — and the inspired, inspiring example of his genuine response to seeing the Infant Jesus who was to become Rabbi, Lord, and King?  Read the record here.

I want to have the faith of Simeon.


¹ More on Michael Card and the meaning of Jesus’ coming

² In planning for a now-distant Christmas extravaganza, I tried to bring to the table some bona fide exegesis toward scripturally sensitive themes and motifs, but I was ignored.  (I don’t fault the other individuals at the table beyond suggesting that they had not enough biblical backbone to their respective brands of Christianity.)  Instead, we ended up being treated to scary-looking Dark-Ages imagery and legacy music that had a less valid basis than my suggestions.

MWM: tentacle music (pt 3)

This is the third installment of a mini-series in which I comment on a few songs and hymns that continue to lure me.   Some songs seem to have these friendly-octopus “tentacles”—pulling us toward them, time after time, without letting up over the years.  I’m commenting on these categories:

  1. contemporary (congregational) worship songs
  2. songs from hymnals
  3. other contemporary spiritual songs
  4. secular compositions

“In Christ Alone” and probably “How Deep the Father’s Love” deserve places in the first category – contemporary worship songs.  “Jesus Is Lord,” more of a category-2 song that started in category 1, is also time-tested, with broad appeal — at least until it fell out of use in the last ten years or so.  Here, now, is some commentary on some songs from category # 3.  Since most of these were conceived more as solo songs than as congregational ones, I’ll opt for the societal convention of speaking of them in terms of the solo singer.

Twila Paris sang “I Will Listen to His Voice” . . . and I listened to hers.  It’s not that I didn’t listen to His; the point, of course, was to listen to God more attentively and obediently.  It was Twila’s heart, coming through her voice, that caused me to hear the utterly trusting, creaturely, worshipful thoughts of this song.  Along with expressions of trusting dependence, Twila sings,

I don’t know the way to go from here,
But I know that have made my choice.
And this is where I stand
Until He moves me on,
And I will listen to His voice.

“I Will Listen to His Voice.”  © Ariose Music.
Words and Music by Twila Paris.

And then there was Rich Mullins, the benevolent ghost of Christian music past.  (Rich was tragically killed several years ago in an auto accident, and his memory has appropriately lived on.)  There’s the “submarine song” called “Screen Door,” and “Step by Step,” composed by Mullins’s friend and band member David “Beaker” Strasser.  Or what about “Awesome God”?  For me, though, “If I Stand” is the tentacle song:

If I stand, let me stand on the promise that You will pull me through.
And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to You.
If I sing, let me sing for the joy that has born in me these songs,
But if I weep, let it be as a man who is longing for his home.

Words and Music by Rich Mullins and Steven Cudworth.
© Universal Music Publishing Group.

Fernando Ortega’s music often rises to the level of “heart music”; as with these other singer/songwriters whose material I’ve highlighted here, there is much to choose from.  I like many of Ortega’s folkish arrangements of gospel songs and hymns, but not many of those keep grabbing me through the years.  I love his original “Jesus, King of Angels”; it probably draws me as much as the song I’ll name here as the best Ortega tentacle song:  “I Will Praise Him, Still,” which touches many sensitive hearts for good reason.

Michael Card has inspired me — so many times, in so many ways — that it’s difficult to know which of his creations to highlight.  I only know he deserves a place here.  Is it the well-remembered “El Shaddai” or the also-early “I Have Decided”?  What about the beautiful blessing “Barocha” or the heart-rending “Maranatha”?  Any number of the songs based on biblical texts/books are as artistically memorable as they are compelling:  “Jubilee” and “In the Beginning” and the Job trilogy and the prophetic voice of “I Will Bring You Home”?  Or “Joy in the Journey” or “Could It Be” (that has the line about questions telling us more than answers ever do)?  When it comes down to it, I can’t choose a Michael Card song.  There are too many that draw me over the years.

I was naturally disappointed when Jennifer Knapp departed from biblical morality, but one or two of her songs are in this “tentacle” category for me, as are some of Rebecca St. James’s and Michael W. Smith’s.  Smith, at least, is a songwriter with the creative talents of a Billy Joel or Paul Simon or Jimmy Webb, but Smith’s voice quality keeps me from dwelling in his music all that much.

I suppose I’m a “groupie” for some of the above musicians, virtually following them around through the years.  I haven’t named Glad, yet this group was perhaps the first “contemporary Christian” one that seemed to tap my shoulder, inviting, “Listen to this.  Share this music with us.”  So many of the songs from the original A Cappella Project album are worthy, and the Romans album is meaty, as well.  The Symphony Project was my favorite album for a while, and then there was Floodgates; “Mary, Mary” and “Hallelujah” and “When He Comes Again” are songs I return to at least once a year.  But if there is one Glad song I might choose to possess while marooned on a desert island, I think it’d be “Gloria” from the A Cappella Worship I album.  This song not only energizes me musically, but it spurs my heart to worship the great and mighty God.  It must be said here that worship, even more than music, reaches its arms out and holds me, too.

The above are “tentacle” songs that keep reaching out from the annals of “CCM” to grab me.  There will be one more list—presumably, in a week or two.

[This is an installment in the Monday Worship Music series.  Find other, related posts through this link.]

MWM: both promise and promise-keeper

Michael Card’s Christmas album The Promise stands tall above so many others, in that it is artfully conceived as a whole.  It incorporates at least one discernible bow that ties the whole package together.

The title track, “The Promise,” sets the stage with orchestration that gives way to a finger-picked acoustic guitar intro.  Straight from Isaiah 9, the initial lyric line observes,“The Lord God said when time was full, He would shine His light in the darkness.”  This prophecy bespeaks “promise.”  The most provocative line in the song is this later observation:

The Promise showed their wildest dreams had simply not been wild enough.

Don’t you love that?  Coming from that previous line, the Chorus can now be more expressive:

The Promise was love
And the Promise was life.
The Promise meant light to the world.
Living proof that Yahweh saves
For the name of the Promise was Jesus.

Now let’s move for a few moments, if you will, to Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Among the compelling word-themes in this seminal letter are faith (of course), law, righteousness, and … wait for it … promise.  Jesus is quite specifically the fulfillment of promise.  I think it’s significant that the word epangellion (promise) is used only in the middle two chapters of Galatians, helping to form the center of Paul’s persuasive argument.  In fact, as scholar Greg Fay has said, Gal. 3:26-39 may be the conclusion to which the overall argument is headed, and the center of 3:1-4:10.  (On this point, note the placement of the word huios (son) in 3:7, 3:26, and 4:6-7, not to mention promise in 3:27 4:28.)   In the concentric text layout seen below, from 3:26-29, the A sections link identity as sons of God and sons of Abraham and the ideas of faith and promise.  This latter idea is borne out more fully as one becomes more familiar with Galatians.

A Sons of God, faith in Christ Jesus

B Immersed, put on Christ

C  Neither Jew, Greek, etc.
One in Christ Jesus

B’ Of Christ

A’ Sons of Abraham, heirs of promise

Being sons of Abraham, for the Jew, meant being an heir.  In Galatians, Paul argues that being a true son of Abraham would be from the line of the free woman (not named, incidentally, but clearly painted in contrast to Hagar, who is named).  The free woman, Sarah, was the woman of promise; and faith, like that of Abraham, for whom faith was credited as righteousness, now leads to Christ Jesus.  Jesus becomes the personified Promise–both in Galatians and in eternal reality.

Back to Michael Card now.  Near the end of his album, in deeply simple, deft phrasing, Card uses these lines in a more hymnic, choral song:

Thou the Promise and keeper of the promise —
Our Salvation and our only Savior.
Our Redemption, our Redeemer, 
Thou art ours and we are Thine.

So be it.

Michael Card has for probably 30 years been a biblically focused, dedicated, scandal-free, prolifically inventive songwriter.  His sincere vocals are unique, and I’m at home with them, but his voice isn’t what I’m drawn to — it’s his thorough ability to distill biblical narrative and biblical teaching into songs.  Although I’ve been a Michael Card fan for about 20 years — starting with “Know You in the Now” and “Maranatha” and “Could It Be?” instead of the earlier “El Shaddai” and “I Have Decided” — I am neither groupie nor paid advertiser.  I merely think this kind of high-quality work merits ongoing attentiveness.

[This is an installment in the Monday Worship Music series.  Find other, related posts through this link.]

Blogpost no. 900 — ponderings of significance

If triangles had a God, He’d have three sides. 

— Yiddish proverb

I come now to a milestone  my blogpost #900  but have absolutely no illusions that anyone out there has been counting down to 900 with me.  This is just a small marker in one aspect of my life, and less than insignificant in everyone else’s.  Still, it gives me pause to consider this type of thinking and writing that has been important to me for nearly four years now.  Before I take a break from blogging for a while, I can think of no better way to cross this milestone than to make this post all about God. . . .

~ ~ ~

Job and his friends wandered into the territory of God considerations—and dared to act as though they had Him figured out.

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”  (Job 38: 1)

[ Then God proceeded to provide a detailed description of his uniquely powerful and non-understandable work in creation. ]

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.  (Job 42:3b)

I would suggest that we can’t hope to influence others for God . . . nor can we worship God . . . nor can we have a genuine, fulfilling relationship with God . . . if we limit Him by boxing Him in.

J.B. Phillips, in the classic Your God Is Too Small, suggested this:

If people are not strenuously defending an outgrown conception of God, then they are cherishing a [sort of “created”] God who could only exist between (emphasis mine   -bc) the pages of the Bible or inside the four walls of a church.

God is immeasurably “bigger” than our forefathers imagined, and modern scientific discovery only confirms their belief that man has not even begun to comprehend the incredibly complex Being who is behind—no, is—what we call “life.”

It’s a given:  ||: There is no way to describe God in human terms. :||   (Non-musicians and musicians alike, please don’t miss the repeat signs there!)

We do have the “plural” thing in the Genesis 1:26–“let us make man in our image,” or some reasonable facsimile thereof.  (Aside:  this God-expression was recently referred to, in my hearing in a small Christian gathering, in the same breath that related the serpent to “Lucifer.”  Like many other understandings, the common Lucifer concept results from translation and/or interpretation — and is enlarged by early, probably erroneous Christian history that relates Lucifer to Satan and, ultimately, to the Eden serpent.)  That deity is in some sense more than “one” is born out in John 1 and 1st John 1.  But what does this really mean?  That God is precisely two or three?

I, Brian Casey, am a “singular” thing.  But it’s difficult to narrow even me down to a singular thing.  (No, I don’t have MPD, although I do sometimes get moody and change personalities.)  I have many aspects — and some are fairly difficult to understand.  How about God?  Is He singular?  (“The LORD our God is one.”)  Or plural?  (“Let Us make man.”  “Let Us go down and confuse their language.”)  Wouldn’t He be infinitely more difficult to “figure out” in terms of number than a human?  Honestly, I’m more interested in the possible literary connection of 1) the “us” in the creation account to 2) the “us” in the Babel account than I am in figuring out whether God is to be considered a trinity.  After all, “trinity” is a human word-concept, not used in scripture.

It bothers me when we feel that we have God figured out!  It bothers me profoundly — to the point of considering the possibility that it’s blasphemy.

“Could it be that questions tell us more than answers ever do?” queried a favorite songwriter of mine, Michael Card.  I think he was onto something.

While I admit that I tend to forget the neat triumvirate of Matthew 28:19 — immersing “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” I encourage equal thought about the non-trinitarian presentation in 2 Cor. 3:13-18.  Here, the glory of God the Father seems to be connected to the Lord Jesus, and in the final expression, which is difficult to render in English, the Lord Jesus appears to be equated with the Spirit.  The Spirit of God is surely to be attended to as we read scripture and as we attempt to live Christianly now, but could it be that the “Spirit” is more of a vain attempt to describe the eminently non-physical Essence or Nature of God?  Could it be that the question is more valuable than any purported answer?

Our ponderings, however on- or off-target they may turn out to be, can be highly significant as we seek more insight into the nature and being of God.  We do need to take care that we don’t fashion a God that looks like something we came up with—something of our imagination, as in the triangles of Yiddish lore.  God is more significant, more holy, more indescribably other than our thoughts about Him can ever comprehend.  So be it.

Job 42:5-6:  My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”


Aside from a couple of posts already written and scheduled for several days hence, I won’t be actively blogging for a while.  I’m going to take a break and will see you in a few weeks.

Of times and places

Several years ago, in a state not too far away, I was ahead of my time.

I planned a series of what are now thought of as “worship sets” for an experiential group that was relatively open-minded and very open-hearted.  The planning took many hours (and many cassette tapes, since few had CD burners at the time), but it was some very exciting spirit-time spent.   The actual doing was over in a couple of hours, and it was sometimes not as exciting or fulfilling as the planning for me, but it was worship nonetheless, and as such, it was valuable for all of the participants, including me.

No one was doing this kind of thing then in our group of churches, save this small group of “Contemporary Music Worship Session” friends.  Few were even listening to Christian radio, and although one or two in the group were more hip than I and would sometimes pass along songs to me for consideration for the next set, I was feeling like a trail-blazing leader ahead of my time.

On more than one occasion, a sincere soul approached me, in a vaguely concerned vein, expressing that somehow we were doing things we shouldn’t be doing, or that we should be less comfortable doing, or at least that we shouldn’t be doing yet.  Ironically, these two sisters I call to mind are now beyond me in terms of what they accept and do on a regular basis.  Way back when, they were living in their time, and I was living in “another time and another place” (thanks for the phrasing, Brent Lamb and Sandy Patti).  These sisters were a little uncomfortable doing something out of their comfort zone, but, to their credit, they allowed themselves to be stretched.  (I’m having trouble describing all this; I realize that I’m mixing the conceptual and chronological, i.e., that I’m trying to express ideas and feelings in terms of living outside one’s own time.) Now, my general sense is that these ladies are existing more “in their time and place,” whereas I am not.

Back to the worship sessions this group was experiencing together….  I would prepare the “practice tapes” and distribute them.  I made a point of randomizing the order, so that the gathered worship session had an element of newness.  After having internalized the messages of the songs over a period of weeks, via cassette tape in homes and cars, 10-15 of us in this group would meet in a living room and sing, pray, and bask in each other’s and God’s presence.  One of the worship sets was themed around the second coming; in an over-verbal outburst of parousiac passion, I called it “Expecting His Coming:   Longing To See His Face.”   Nevermind that these days I shy away from the expression “His face” because it receives only rare mention in the scriptures, and more, because of ubiquitous, gratuitous rhymes with “grace” … this was a well-intentioned, relatively well-founded, albeit emotion-driven set of songs and meditations that included

  • Sandy Patti’s rendition of Brent Lamb’s “Another, Another Place”
  • Michael Card’s “Maranatha” and “Know You in the Now”
  • Glad’s renditions of Bob Kauflin’s “In the First Light” and John Keltonic’s “When He Comes Again”
  • “In Majesty He Will Come”
  • the traditional favorite “Jesus Is Lord,” ending with the “Alleluia” stanza and combined with meditation on Philippians 2:5-11

I was, like, this “new music guru” in my small circle.  OK, not a guru — just a champion of the new expressions I was hearing.  I had one foot in my then-current situation, and the other, in another time, another place:   I was interacting regularly with churches and believers of other types, and I was sometimes suspended betwixt two or more worlds.  Some of this duality caused me angst, but mostly, it was a time of joy, purpose, and vibrant worship.

Regardless of the surrounding encouraging presence of relatively like-minded friends and the relative state of inspiration that ensued, I can remember kneeling in my living room and begging Jesus to come back.  Although the clock might have said 8:14 on a  Friday night in November of 1996 or 1998 or whenever it was, and although it was a time and place filled with spiritual comfort and affirmation on all sides, I was — God be praised for dwelling in my heart to this extent! — more interested in being with Him spiritually and eternally than in any creature comforts or human affirmations.  Elusive, humanly positive feelings that might arise within were not merely taking a “back seat” then; I was in another vehicle, on another continent.

Several years ago, in a state not too far away, I was ahead of my time.   Now, I’m not.

These days, I don’t often think as worshipfully of the second coming.   I don’t worship as often, period.   My faith is in a different phase now.   I’m not proud of this, and I’m not necessarily feeling guilty about it, either.  I’m just acknowledging it.

Today, though, after losing a little sleep last night after a very discouraging Wednesday, I hear a faint, wistful voice, tucked far away inside, begging Jesus again.  I don’t have the same expressions within me that I had 12 or 15 years ago, when the group met to worship in my home through verbalizations like “Longing To See His Face.”

These days, it’s more of a desperate, earthly dissatisfaction and restlessness that causes me to long, somehow, for the Messiah’s final return.   My memory is reasonably good for past things that are important, but my longing for promised, glorious future is dull.  Without effort as I wrote this morning, I even remembered the name of the songwriter of “Another Time, Another Place,” not to mention reliving fairly well the feelings I had, years ago, while worshipping on an occasion or six.  But I am unable, now, to recapture those feelings or any that are very much like them.  I long to long.  I yearn to yearn.  But I cannot seem to do either in a direct sense.  Those feelings were in another time, and I’m now “ahead” of that.

Yes, many years ago, in Delaware, I was ahead of my time.   Now, I’m not.   I’m not basking.  I’m just abiding.  Or maybe trudging.  Sometimes, in some places, this is all we can do for a while.

~  ~  ~

Postscript   I understand that in centuries past, the cry of the Christian heart (and voice!) was marana tha (yes, two words) Come back, LORD.  Perhaps this practice has been overstated for the sake of “Christian” gimmickry and the marketing of Christian paraphernalia these days, but it’s inspiring nonetheless, and it seems to be biblical (2Tim 4:6-8; Rev. 22:17,20; and maybe Acts 7:56 relates, too).

I still like the marana tha idea, but I can’t at this point in time utter it with feeling.  Uttering it with well-founded faith may be better, in the long run.  I do feel a disconnected yearning — a yearning to be able, once again, to yearn.

MM: Basic nature: Tiesto, Kenya, and the Kingdom (4)

[I’ve been endeavoring for months of Mondays to write about some worthy Christian song or hymn.  The initials “MM” signify this “Monday Music” series.]

In a way, it works out nicely that I was planning to write on more songs of the Kalenjin churches today; this is Day 4 of a mini-series on the basic nature of the church and other things, and it’s also “Monday Music” day.”  In another way, it’s not so nice, because I can’t find the Kenyan song book after all, so I can’t really do as much as I was hoping for yesteday.  Tienwogikab Boiboiyet (Songs of Joy) is MIA.

Last night, our home gathering had a special night of visiting, Christmas cookies, singing, exchanging a few presents, worship, and communion.  We took as our “springboard to worship” thoughts and prayers various phrases from Jesus-centered songs.  Some of these were “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” “Silent Night,” “Jesus, Be the Centre,” and “In Christ Alone.”  I loved the atmosphere–fairly easily moving in and out of overtly devotional things, laughter, sharing enjoyment of our little guy as  he played his new horn (a horn-shaped kazoo they gave him!), eating, etc.

In Kenya yesterday . . . now 36 hours ago, maybe . . . perhaps one of the Kalenjin churches in Sang’alo or Nyaru or Toror might have been singing “Kiptayat Yetindenyon.”  I remember this title without my song book.  The words mean “Lord Savior,” and they were repeated in each stanza.  It’s so appropriate to call out to Jesus, “Lord, Savior!”

In our remembering of the Lord through His Supper last night, we sat around our table, and we ate, and talked, and then we poured grape juice and broke matzah and began to meditate on phrases from the songs we had sung.  In a sense, we were also calling out to our Jesus, “Lord, Savior,” although I don’t suppose we used those particular words.  There was worship, and there was gratitude, and there were words, and there were thoughts.  There was eating and drinking and recognition.  There was connection to the Last Supper, during which Jesus said, “Take, eat.  This (is) my ‘body.'”  I don’t believe anything miraculous occurred, but there was Christian communion — both horizontally and vertically — with each other and with our Lord.

I was sorry to see our friends go, around 10:00 last night.  They had spent seven hours with us, and it seemed like three or four!   (Aw, why not stay another hour?)  Maybe I didn’t want to be reminded of all the work I have to do.  Or maybe the African lack of time-consciousness has bled into my heart just a tad bit!  Or both.

I vaguely remembered another song often sung during communion in the Kalenjin lands.  I can’t presently remember any words, but I remember the affect, and I remember that it was very repetitive — simply reaching to Jesus in adoring thankfulness for mercy, for instance — maybe something along the lines of “Jesus, Jesus, merciful Jesus!”  I’m making the words up, but I do remember that the Kenyan Christians I was associating with would often turn to this song during times of communion or quieter meditation.  It was a good song.  It was a song worthy of worship to our Jesus.  It was one of the things that showed me just how Christian these people were, and how much I could learn from them.

I suppose I need to conclude this series, and I’ve enjoyed recalling and writing about some very important experiences in my Christian walk.  In a day or two, I’ll try to be coherent about the questions I asked in part one:  what is the basic nature of the church, and who is culpable when it changes, and what are we going to do about it? I’m not equal to the task of addressing these things, but someone has to get/keep the ball rolling….

Basic nature: Tiesto, Kenya, and the Kingdom (3)

At the time I traveled in Kenya, visiting rural-church-planting missionaries who worked in a team of four families, I thought I knew more than I did.  I was substantially more churchily conservative than I am now, but I held more or less the same core convictions in the sphere of Bible-based theology and Christianity.

The experience in Kenya turns out to have been something I didn’t know how to appreciate, although I thought, at the time, “Cool.”   What I’m saying here is that as I’ve had more life experiences, I’ve also grown in the ability to comprehend and to appreciate the value of things.  I was into new ideas of church even then, but “cool” doesn’t do it justice anymore.  These days, I have a deeper, more studied, and more wistfully yearning appreciation for what I experienced in Kenya during those four weeks.

The rural churches in the Kalenjin area of Kenya had their weird personalities and difficulties, just as US churches I was familiar with, but they seemed, on the whole, somewhat more relationally healthy than the average church in this country.  Further, the saints there were more vibrantly involved in church assemblies.  One of the striking features of the church assemblies was the singing.  Sans instrumental accompaniment mostly by situation rather than by some set of opinions passed down, these churches sang from memory and from printed song books titled Tienwogikab Boiboiyet (Songs of Joy).  To this day, I can page through this book and remember some of the tunes and the timbres of the Kenyan voices.  I remember one song called “Toror” which I don’t think had made it into the book (it was “contemporary,” I guess!).  “Toror” means “high” or “heights,” and in the song’s words, God was praised as high above all.  This song was sung in the shadow of beautiful mountains, which made it the more meaningful.

Church meetings began not at, say, 10:00 or 11:00, but at an approximate time that started a little while after the people across the countryside began to hear the Land Rover making its way along the dirt paths. At the time, this approximate-time thing was a source of minor, condescending irritation in me; I have a vague remembrance of feeling that I was on a schedule even then, when I was a guest and had nothing else to do, really.  (Don’t even try this vague start time thing with me now.  I’m much more on a schedule, and if you encroach on my time and plans, I’m likely to have to expend considerable effort not to appear agitated.)

But how silly I was.  What a beautiful thing that people would put their ears to the wind and hear the Land Rover a few miles in the distance (it was, after all, the only motorized thing within 10 or 15 miles, probably!) and begin to gather their children and their kimyet to start the hike to the church meeting place.  What a beautiful thing that these baby Christians would walk so far, with boiboiyet in their hearts, to meet with other Christians for 2, 3, or maybe 4 hours, rejoicing at the change in their lives because of having come into relationship with God through Jesus the Christ.  The sharing of kimyet and sometimes goat meat after the assembly was nice, but in the main, it was the simplicity and beauty and God-honoring nature of the gathering together that was so-impressive.

… to be continued (probably) (and maybe with some more quotes from the Kalenjin songs, if I can find the book!)

Basic nature: Tiesto, Kenya, and the Kingdom (2)

I read yesterday of Christianity in Malawi.  Truth be told, I couldn’t have placed Malawi on a map to save myself.  Knew it was in Africa, but that’s about it.  Malawi turns out to border Tanzania to the southeast, and Mozambique (through a long lake) to the east.  I at least had a rough idea where Tanzania was, having been in Kenya some years ago, and having known a missionary or two in Tanzania and Uganda.

This report of the church’s relative health in Malawi included specific mentions that caught my eye of “a faith of simplicity” and congregations that meet under a tree.  This took me back….

My experiences in Kenya were nothing short of life-changing.  Since then, other experiences have turned out to be more life-changing—and some in a negative way—but Kenya, thinking about Christianity and church, was seminal in a positive respect.

What was it about Kenya?  Well, the smell, for one thing.  They say smell is the sense most closely tied to memory, and I can almost smell it today, just as when I stepped off the plane.  I might describe it as the richest, most healthy dirt smell ever.  One could just smell the soil, the untainted, un-chemicalized dirt.  It was different.  It was good, but it was not exactly comfortable.

During my four weeks in the country, I picked up precious few souvenirs (I was too cheap for my own good, and haven’t learned any better since), but I did bring back a Kalenjin Bible and a Kalenjin song book with no notated music, but words aplenty.  More than goods, I picked up memories. I can still feel the warmth of the people’s smiles, and I can hear the British-influenced accent when they tried to speak English to me.  I remember the taste of kimyet (corn meal mush).  I also remember well what it was like to walk from the Coxes’ old Land Rover on a trail to the Nyaru “church building,” which was no church building at all.  The color of the church carpet couldn’t have been argued about, because it was God’s green grass.

And oh, how green it was.  So lush, so healthy.  The rich health of the vegetation was matched by the richness of the Kenyan Christians’ voices as they sang.

… to be continued, I think …

Basic nature: Tiesto, Kenya, and the Kingdom (1)

Sometimes I write in the moment, and other times, I begin a piece days or even weeks in advance, adding to and refining when I have either inspiration or time (rarely do they coincide).  Today I’ll begin with something already begun, but with a distinctly “now” sort of inspiration that will, in a strange turn, result again in post-inspiration sharing on this blog.  In other words, tomorrow or a couple of days from now, I’ll get to what I was really feeling like sharing this morning.  It’s just that the introduction I’d already begun is perfect, so I want to start with it. . . .

Please think with me for a day or three about changing the basic nature of a thing . . . we’ll start with something in my vocational line—musical compositions—moving soon to something with more Kingdom significance.

  1. When a Howard Publishing Company hymnal took Michael Card’s “Jesus, Let Us Come To Know You” and popularized a morphing from a quadruple-time ballad to a triple-time one, I would say the basic nature of the original song was changed.  I have lamented this change for years, considering it not an intentionally illegal laceration but a careless, ignorant abrasion of a beautiful prayer song.
  2. When the pop icon known as DJ Tiesto and the British producer-musician William Orbit took Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and superimposed, pre-pended, and appended techno-drivel, it was not only a blatant infraction of copyright law, but it was also aesthetically ludicrous, in my not-so-humble opinion.  People may say it gives this music “new life” (see this link), but the question “Would the composer be flattered?” or, better yet, “Would the composer’s attorney’s eyes light up?” gets at the real issue here.  As the referenced blogger admits, “Plagiarism is alive so much in the modern music industry people just take it for granted.”

In the sphere of intellectual property law, actions that result in changing the basic nature of a work of art are actionable.

What is the basic nature of God’s church?  What does it take to change that nature?  What are we going to do about the culpability of those who change it?  (I don’t expect to answer this last question, but I did want to pose it!!

to be continued . . .


I’ve been brought up not to notice or care much about the traditional “church year”/calendar.  For instance, I doubt I even heard the word “Advent” until I was out of college.  I didn’t notice it if I did hear it.  And I still don’t know much about it.  I feel OK about this particular ignorance, and at least as good about other ignorances related to Christendom’s conventional observances, seasons, etc.

I have learned that Advent is about more than the twelve days of Christmas:  it’s more than waiting on the anniversary celebration (misplaced as it may be) of the birth of the baby Jesus.  Recently, I have heard it reinforced (thanks, Joe) that it’s about waiting for the Messiah’s second coming, too.

I am reminded, having been in a sort of funk most of this week, that it is good for us to keep our eyes on the joy set before us . . . keep our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. And I am reminded that the early Christians reportedly used the Aramaic expression marana tha as a watchword. “Come, O Lord!” The phrase is used as such only in 1 Cor. 16, but a Greek equivalent appears at the end of Revelation, and the use of the phrase is attested in a Christian document known as the Didache.

As Michael card sings,

Maranatha is a cry of the heart
That's hopeful yet weary of waiting
While it may be joyful with the burdens it bears
It's sick with anticipating
To long for the Promised One day after day
And the promise that soon He'd return
It's certain that waiting's the most bitter lesson
A believing heart has to learn

Maranatha is the shout of the few
Who for so long in history've been hiding
Who truly believe that the sound of that call
Might actually hasten His coming

Advent as a set of practices is not particularly biblical.  Certain doctrines inherent in Advent do seem to be biblical.  Expectantly waiting for the return of our Jesus is explicitly, patently Christian.

Meditation on death and life

Here are some thoughts used at communion last Sunday.  Many of these meditations spring directly out of songs–written by Michael Card, James Montgomery, and William J. Irons.

[“Victory in Jesus” sung]

Communion time has come.  It’s a time when we confess together that Jesus “gave His life on Calvary” and that we are “plunged beneath the cleansing flood” of “His redeeming blood.  Communion time has come.

It comes weekly, for most of us gathered here.  The once—a-week aspect is relatively unimportant—we can make a case for it, but scripture doesn’t explicitly say to do this weekly.  The main thing is that Jesus asked those who love and follow Him to remember Him.  “As often as you do it, remember Me.”  And hear Paul:  “Whenever you do this, you’re proclaiming the Lord’s death.”  Those who want to do His will share in communion often.

Communion isn’t something you “take.”  Yes, we “take” the bread and the cup, but communion is something to be shared in, not taken.  This morning, in our hearts, let’s share some ideas around death and apparent defeat.

“Ride On To Die” (M. Card)

Sense the sorrow untold as you look down the road at the clamoring crowd drawing near.
Feel the heat of the day as you look down the way.  Hear the shouts of “Hosanna, the King!”
Midst the shouting so loud and the joy of the crowd, there is One who is riding in silence.
For He knows the ones here will be fleeing in fear when their Shepherd is taken away.
Oh, daughter of Zion, your time’s drawing near.  Don’t forsake Him.  Don’t pass it by.
On the foal of a donkey, as the prophets had said, passing by you, He rides on to die.

It seems to me that God could have stopped with the Death.  The Death—alone and unhyphenated—atones for sin and justifies us before God.  So, for now, let’s pause and ponder deeply the significance of Jesus’ death.

[The remainder of the comments follow the Lord’s Supper, and can precede an offering.]

Again we remember the death in the words of Michael Card:

Soon the thorn-cursed ground will bring forth a crown, and this Jesus will seem to be beaten.
But He’ll conquer alone, both the shroud and the stone, and the prophecies will be completed.

Landon Saunders said, in words that I’ve remembered almost verbatim for years, “Faith is the bird that senses the dawn and sings while it is yet dark.”  When we become disillusioned, disappointed, or dejected, what better place to go for hope than to the empty tomb of our Jesus?  What more appropriate place to be people of faith than at the tomb, knowing the dawn comes?

It’s only knowing something about the apparent finality and terror of death that gives us reason to appreciated the dawn … the hope … of the resurrection.

In the joyous believing that He really did rise—that He actually triumphed over defiant Death—we find hope during times of immersion in stress and troubles.

“Sing with all the sons of glory!”

Sing with all the sons of glory, sing the resurrection song!
Death and sorrow, earth’s dark story, to the former days belong.
All around the clouds are breaking, soon the storms of time shall cease;
In God’s likeness we, awaking, know the everlasting peace.

O what glory, far exceeding all that eye has yet perceived!
Holiest hearts, for ages pleading, never that full joy conceived.
God has promised, Christ prepares it, there on high our welcome waits.
Every humble spirit shares it; Christ has passed th’eternal gates.

Life eternal! heaven rejoices; Jesus lives, who once was dead.
Join we now the deathless voices; child of God, lift up your head!

Patriarchs from the distant ages, saints all longing for their heaven,
Prophets, psalmists, seers, and sages, all await the glory given.

Life eternal! O what wonders crowd on faith; what joy unknown,
When, amidst earth’s closing thunders, saints shall stand before the throne!
O to enter that bright portal, see that glowing firmament;
Know, with Thee, O God immortal, “Jesus Christ Whom Thou has sent.”

And again, as Michael Card once sang, “Love crucified arose—the risen One in splendor—Jehovah’s soul defender has won the victory.”  We acknowledge the defeat of sin and death.  And in the light of the resurrection, what can we co but overflow, giving of our various resources to Him to won?

Placing ourselves with Mary & Mary, or with Peter & John, on that Morning:

“Early hasten to the tomb where they laid His breathless clay; all is solitude and gloom; who hath taken Him away?  Christ is ris’n!  He meets our eyes:  Saviour, teach us so to rise.”

Jesus’ resurrection, conjoined to the hope it brings, is something that truly frees us.  What a Declaration of Independence from tyranny!

Smack-dab in the middle

He had been fulfilling His purpose in public for about 3 years, and only lately had been telling the disciples He was headed to Jerusalem to die. In Mark, the “passion prediction” occurs thrice, and even after the third time, the disciples aren’t portrayed as understanding much of anything. Here’s a quick look:

Chapter 8

  • healing of blind man
  • Peter’s confession
  • passion prediction

Chapter 9

  • transfiguration
  • healing of boy with seizures; dealing with belief vs. unbelief
  • passion prediction
  • argument “on the way” over who is the greatest/last=first

Chapter 10

  • challenges to Jesus
  • passion prediction
  • John & James jockey for position; symbolically, baptism = death
  • healing of blind Bar-Timaeus

Perhaps it is mostly to those of us more familiar with Mark’s gospel that these narrative elements stand out, replete with meaning. If it’s only Markan students who “get” this, it’s a strong hint to me and all the rest of you out there to study more scripture more thoroughly and more often!

Anyway, I’m thinking now, not having laid it out that way before, of things like the appearance of faith in the healings (the boy, and then Bar-Timaeus) … the description of faith is noteworthy. I’m also curious about the probability of inclusio or (“Marcan sandwich/triptych” or even chiasm) from the end of chapter 8 through the early part of chapter 9: 1) the confession of Peter at Caesarea-Philippi, then 2) a passion prediction, then 3) another formal identification of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration is a significant textual arrangement too obvious to miss!

In chapter 10, it is significant that Bar-Timaeus is said to have had faith, whereas those formally identified as disciples are not credited with faith. It is also significant to me that Bar-Timaeus, after being said to believe, and after being given sight, is said to follow Jesus “on the road.” This expression “on the road” (or “on the way”) is metaphoric for both discipleship and death, i.e., following Jesus on the way to Jerusalem to take up the cross and die.

At this juncture, having studied most of the way through Mark, the typically celebratory mood of so-called Palm Sunday doesn’t seem to jibe with the so-called “triumphal entry.”  These thoughts reminded me a couple of days ago of Michael Card’s song “Ride On To Die.” Card has for years had a penchant for boiling down the message of an entire book to a few lyric lines, and this song is a good example of that gift with thoughts and words. Here’s one of Card’s lyrics:

Oh, daughter of Zion, your time’s drawing near.
Don’t forsake Him, oh, don’t pass it by.
On the foal of a donkey, as the prophets had said
Passing by you, He rides on to die.

I can no longer imagine Jesus smiling down on His adoring groupies as they partied on “Palm Sunday.” I don’t see Him enjoying the limelight or finally becoming comfortable with His identity as Messiah. No, it’s not an emotionally sunny day for Him as He rides in kingly fashion. On the contrary, He is riding head-on into the culmination of His mission … He is riding on to die, despite any lack of understanding or inappropriate, misplaced adulations from the people who might have been less than cognizant of Jesus’ singular identity.

In less than a week (whether you think He died on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday–and there are reasons to think each one), He would willingly die. Heaven would shake, and bitter tears of despairing loss would fall to the dust. Human hope would be scuttled for a time. The tomb would be sealed, and the Lord of life and light would be temporarily enshrouded in death and darkness.

On this Sabbath Day, 1,980-some years ago, Jesus was smack-dab in the middle of fulfilling His purpose. And His purpose was to atone for human sin.

We have been justified through faith. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. We have been justified by His blood. (Romans 5)

We have redemption through His blood. (Eph. 1)

Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day. (1 Cor. 15)

We are reconciled by Christ’s physical body through death and are presented holy in His sight. (Col. 1)

He provided purification for sins and then sat at the right hand of God. He has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself. By one sacrifice of His body we have been made holy. (Heb. 1; Heb. 9; Heb. 10)

With your blood you purchased for God members of every tribe…. (Rev. 4)