Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Basement Tapes: When He Comes for You


Time for another song from the Basement Tapes.

This one is called "When He Comes for You," and what it lacks in mature theology, it more than makes up for with a kind of heavy-handed evangelism.  It was written in the late '80s, when I was at the height of my earnest legalism, not yet comprehending the doctrines of grace.

Click here to listen to the song.

Here's the "Inside Baseball" if you're curious:

I loved the melody of this song, and crafted the words to fit it, which is not the way I wrote most of my songs--usually the concepts of the music and the lyrics developed at the same time.  In this case I had been writing on a different theme and was dissatisfied with the way it was progressing, so I crafted another lyric to fit the preexistent melody.

I played all the instruments in the recording, including the electronic drum machine; in the '80s, that was the best we could do without a live drummer, even though the cymbals are a little overbearing.  Backing vocalists were Mark and Jamye Wilson, Ivan and Tina Wheeler, and Christie Tompkins.

Regarding the video, I knew that if I tried to find images appropriate for this song, it would probably never get finished, so it's presented here only with some changing colors and lyrics.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Johanan


I've been noticing lately the bleak historical record of how quickly God's people fall short of practical righteousness; that is, God does something spectacular on behalf of His people, after which He commands them to obey His laws, and in a shorter period of time you can imagine, they are falling--no, stampeding--away from Him.

Two quick examples, though there are many more:

God appears to King Solomon in a dream, and asks him to name anything he wants, and God will give it to him.  Solomon famously asks for wisdom.  And God replies, "Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you.  And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honor, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days" (1 Kings 3:11b-13 NKJV).

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Significant Passages #4: Galatians 5:2-4


This one is for all of you out there who believe that God requires you to do good works or obey His law in order for you to earn salvation.  If you trust in the hope that somehow your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds (and also hope that God is satisfied with a record of 51% obedience!), please read this carefully.

In my last post we read that salvation comes by grace through faith--and that even faith itself is a gift from God.  What do we bring to the table as our part of the transaction?  Nothing but sin!

In the passage that I've chosen from Galatians today, the Apostle Paul is admonishing believers who had at first received salvation by grace through faith, but now they were trying to complete that salvation by what they thought were meritorious works of the law.  That is, certain Jews had taught them that they needed to become circumcised in order to remain in God's pleasure.

This "circumcision" was a shorthand way of saying that to continue in God's favor, they must obey the Old Testament law.  We don't stumble over that too much in America today, but we do stumble over other laws, of our own creating.  Our form of legalism takes shape kind of like this: "Don't drink, don't smoke, don't dance, don't chew, and don't hang out with them that do."  A thousand tiny laws to bow the backs of the ones who trust in their own righteousness, instead of that which is freely found in Jesus Christ.

And what's the purpose?  To earn by our own works a righteousness that makes God indebted to us.  This is perhaps a subtle point, but here it is nonetheless: We trust in a righteousness of our own efforts, in order to force the hand of God.  "I have fulfilled Your law; now You must let me enter Heaven."

That's a rather long preamble for this series, but finally we arrive at Galatians 5:

Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.  And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.  You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
 In trying to earn their own salvation, the Galatians found themselves in the position not of somebody to whom God owed a debt; instead, they find themselves in debt to a harsher master yet: the whole law!  In trying to earn their own favor before God, they found themselves fallen from the only place of favor that exists before God: His grace.

Please don't make this critical mistake; it's a matter of life and death.  Please don't let Christ "profit you nothing."  Jesus is the way--the only way--to Heaven.  Repent from your sin-stained acts of self-righteousness, and take upon you the perfect righteousness of Jesus that is the clothing of all the saints.  Don't try to hide your sins from the eyes of the Holy One; let Him take them from you and bear them Himself upon His Cross.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Significant Passages #3: Ephesians 2:8-10


This significant passage has become to me the bedrock of my hope for salvation--the place where my hope for eternity stands or falls.  And like the other significant passages I have listed so far, I didn't discover it until many years after I first expressed faith in Jesus Christ ... but it was active in me unawares.

Ephesians 2:8-9 reads thus:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
We have been saved by the grace of God--the mercy, the unearned favor of God.  It is His mercy, completely undeserved by you or me, that saves us.

But what about works?  Works of righteousness, offered to God as a form of obedient sacrifice--isn't that what God requires?  In a word, no.

As the reformers would say, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Then what about faith?  Isn't that the meritorious work that God demands?  Again, no.

We are saved through faith indeed--but see the verse again: We are saved through faith, but "that not of yourselves ... it is the gift of God," and the verse specifically declares, "not of works."

So where do works come in? See verse 10:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Good works are not the cause of our salvation, they are the result of our salvation.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Pilate's Choice


This past Sunday I attended an adult Sunday School class at the local church I frequent.  We happened to be studying the 18th chapter of the gospel of John, the section where Jesus is interviewed by Pontius Pilate and ultimately condemned to the cross.

For some reason, the people in the class betrayed an almost desperate need to affirm Pilates's freedom of the will regarding his decision to send Jesus to the cross.  "Pilate could have set Jesus free," they said.  "God could have found some other way to accomplish His purpose."  But is that the truth?

Hadn't Christ just a night before in the Garden of Gethsemane passionately prayed three times for exactly that thing: that if there would be any other way than the way of the cross, God the Father would allow it?  If Jesus the Son, well-beloved of the Father, had prayed and mourned in agony, His sweat becoming like great drops of blood, pleading for some other way ... if there had been any other way, would not the Father have granted it?

Jesus had in fact been announcing to His disciples for some time that He was headed to the cross.

Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken. (Luke 18:31-34 NKJV)

The purpose of God was for His Son to hang upon a Roman cross, and the road to a Roman cross led through the Roman government, and the Roman government meant Pontius Pilate.  While I would agree with my classmates that Pilate's will was in accord with the decision he ultimately made, I would also contend that his will was not necessarily "free" in the sense that 21st-century Americans mean.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Basement Tapes: They Were Me



Between the years 1974 and 1997 I wrote over four hundred songs, ranging in quality from "hmm ... not bad" to "totally craptastic."  I recorded several demo tapes, but lacked the strength of character to actually submit them to record companies, choosing instead to protect my fragile self-esteem by simply not trying.  Through the course of the intervening years, between changing households and stuff just getting lost or thrown out, the number of recordings that still remain has apparently been reduced to twenty-one songs.

These are really Basement Tapes; some of them were actually recorded in the basements of different family members and friends.  Because they are quite old, some of the sound fidelity has been lost; there are mysterious drop-outs and crinkles and fuzziness.  But they represent the best I could do at the time.  Don't expect too much and you might not be disappointed!

This first song, They Were Me, is one of my all-time favorites.  I had written a brief post about it back in 2009 when I first rediscovered the tape, but I didn't have any way to convert the song to digital format back then.  A couple of months ago, though, my friend and ex-brother-in-law Dave was kind enough to do that job for me.  This week I put together a rudimentary music video for the song, just so you'd have something to look at while the music plays.  Click here to view the result.

This song was composed and recorded in the mid-to-late 1980s, to the best of my recollection.  I remember being surprised at my own lyrics; they kind of burst forth from me unexpected, revealing a truth about myself that I had not previously entertained.  I am pretty sure I played all of the instruments in this recording.

From time to time I'll add other songs to YouTube and link to them here at Preaching to the Choir, unless you beg me to stop.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Forgiveness as an Act of Worship


What is worship but a response in the human heart to the realization of who God is, and what He has done?  It is the sense of awe-struck wonder that we have found ourselves embraced by His love; but more.  It is the sense of fear and reverence that He is holy, that we have offended Him, that we deserve Hell; but it is more than that too.  It is the act of obedience to His righteous commands because we realize we have been bought with the price of Christ's blood; but more.  It is the astonishment and admiration upon recognizing the glories of His creation, the perfection of what He has made; but certainly more than that.  It is all of these things, being informed by His Word and taught by His Spirit, and recognizing in some small part the majesty that is His, and offering to Him in some small part the everything that is us.

And so I present the first of my "Acts of Worship"—Forgiveness.

When we forgive those who have offended us—because of God's forgiveness to us—that is an Act of Worship.  When we set them free of any obligation that is owed us, whether known or unknown, we offer that obligation to God and let Him do what He wills with it, forgetting as much as possible that it was ever owed to us at all.

The basis of this releasing of a perceived debt is of course rooted in God's forgiveness for our sins, which is greater by far (to say the least) than any debt that is owed us.  One thing we have regrettably lost in the 21st-century American church is the awareness of how massive is the debt we owed to God because of our sins.  We have trivialized our trespasses, we have lost sight of the purity and holiness of God. (Here I would refer you to the great book The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul.)

But when we can say (whether inwardly or outwardly), "Because of what Jesus has done for me, I release you from any sense that you owe me something," that is an act that honors the Lord.  I have written at other times about our obligation to forgive based on the teaching of Jesus; I won't burden us anymore today with a recasting of those words.

When we realize who God is, and what He has done by pouring His love out in us, what can we do but forgive?  When we realize that we owed God the price of an eternity in Hell, but He has instead promised us an endless paradise in Heaven, how can we not forgive?  When we see the words of Jesus written in red, as red as blood, how can we cling to our own demands for our own sense of justice?  Answer: We can't.


We offer to our most holy and loving Father the injustices and injuries that have been done to us.  Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  And give us the grace to forgive continually in a way that will honor You … and bring You pleasure with this Act of Worship.