Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Worship (page 2 of 4)

Are You Cheerful?

Today in the car I was listening to a message by CJ Mahaney on Luke 17. He made a comment just in passing about this phrase from  James 5.13: ‘Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.’

CJ pointed out that James doesn’t assume that just because we’re cheerful, we’ll allow our cheerfulness to show. What a shame! If we are cheerful, we are actually instructed here to ‘sing praise.’ That is, if you are cheerful, let others know! Let your outer demeanour match your inner joy.

As he went on to note, too often, like the lepers in Luke 17, we simply receive gifts, enjoy them, and move on like a spoiled child at a birthday party. I need to hear this. If God has given me gifts that make me happy, I need to let my happiness show. It will give him glory, and my joy will invite others to participate in my joy with me.

Has God been gracious to you today? Have you received from him better than you deserve? Has his grace cheered you today? Then sing! Let others know! Give him glory. Let your cheerfulness be seen!

Joy Invites Others In

Chasing Fish

Maybe it’s just because I’m a very simple man, but I find it astounding how much there is to be learned just from watching children. Just today I overheard my four year old rejoicing with her mother that she had completed her writing assignment for her ‘reading lesson.’ Stacey was excited with her, but that wasn’t enough. I heard the overjoyed little voice: ‘Can I go show Daddy?’ She received approval from her mother and came bounding up the stairs to my office.

That made me think. Why did she want to come show me? What did she stand to gain by showing me her lines of k’s, f’s, h’s, and m’s repeated over and over? She came to me because she was full of joy and wanted me share in it and to rejoice with her. There is something intuitive about joy that even a four year old understands: joy is never more wonderful than when shared. There’s something overflowing about true joy that compels us to invite others to join with us in our joy.

Which again made me think. Why am I so slow to evangelize? Why does it seem so forced? Why does corporate worship sometimes seem like a chore? Biblically speaking, I think it’s because I am not consistently finding my fullest joy in my God. If I was, my natural impulse would be to speak of it and to invite others to join in my joy.

Isn’t this what we see in Psalm 34?

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!

Do you see it? He calls on others to join in his joy! Then he testifies to how he found his joy:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

There it is! I sought the Lord, I cried to him, and he has heard me, answered me, protected me, kept me! He is good! And then again is a call to participate:

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!

And then the pattern repeats through the Psalm. What David is getting at there is the principle my four year old daughter showed me this morning. When we find true delight for our souls in something, we impulsively call on others to join in our joy.

So if I’m finding that evangelism seems a burden and worship seems a chore, perhaps I don’t need to think first about technique. Perhaps my first question should be, ‘Am I delighting in God? Is my joy really in him?’ Then I need to read the word, preach the gospel to my own heart, remind myself of how he has heard this poor man when I have cried to him.

If I am faithful to find my joy in him, I will speak to others, because joy invites others in. And do you know what? That kind of authentic overflow might just be the most effective technique out there for stirring the hearts of others.

Why I’m Looking Forward to WorshipGod ’11!

I’m about 24 hours away from setting off on the day-long drive to the Washington, DC area (Gaithersburg, MD, to be exact) for the Worship God Conference. I’m really looking forward to it! Here are a few reasons why…

1. My Wife is Coming With Me!

As a side bonus (a sweet one!) this year, for the first time, Stacey will be able to join me on a trip to Covenant Life Church for a conference. I’m always so blessed by the conferences put on there by the folks at Sovereign Grace Ministries, I’m eager for her to be blessed too. And having her there without the kids for a few days? I’m stoked.

2. The Travelling Fellowship

Two other couples will be joining Stacey and me on our trip: Nick & Alicia and Josh & Amy. For all four of them it’ll be their first time down to an SGM conference as well, so I’m happy to bring them along. But what I’m really looking forward to about having them come is the sweet fellowship I know we’ll enjoy in the car both ways and during our time at the conference. Events like this are always more meaningful when experienced in groups.

3. The Preaching & the Seminars

Will the preaching be good? I have no doubt. I look forward to hearing Thabiti Anyabwile, Craig Cabaniss, and Bob Kauflin again and Bryan Chapell and Ray Ortlund for the first time. And the seminars should be great too: Pat Sczebel, Mark Altrogge, Don Whitney, Shai Linne, Steve & Vikki Cook… It will rock!

4. Engaging in Worship of the Living God

I know, I can do this anywhere. And I do it regularly where God intends for me to do it — in my local church, which I love. But there’s always something special about gathering thousands of worship leaders together to sing in one place. This will be a special time, a focused few days of doing not much apart from corporate worship and engaging our brains in knowing God better.

5. The Theme

The Gathering. I love it. Back in 2008 I wrote Stephen Altrogge an e-mail telling him that we should have more songs and more focus in corporate worship on the church as a whole rather than just individuals. He agreed with me. I like to think that Stephen and I are really the brains behind this whole thing. Bob just stole our idea.

6. Mark Altrogge

I hope he does some ridiculous antics. I just like it when he does that.

7. I Hope I’m an Encouragement

I know that they are having this conference to encourage us, but I hope that somehow our presence at the conference will be a small encouragement to Bob Kauflin and the rest of the leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries. It’s been a rough season for them, but I want them to know we love them and appreciate them and are thankful for all their labours for the gospel. My prayer is that for these few days ‘The Gathering’ of all these saints from all around North America would help us to fix our eyes on the one who never changes and never fails, so that in light of his unending love for his people at the cross, all are strengthened and encouraged.

8. There Are Lots More…

There are lots more reasons, but I’ll stop here. Anyone else out there going? What are you looking forward to?

An Honest Look Into Our Family Devotions

An example of what our family devotions do NOT look like.

Okay, men. Let’s talk family devotions. Feel guilty yet?

There are few ways to make Christian men feel guilty more easily or quickly than to talk about family devotions. We all know we should be doing it. We see the importance of being the spiritual leaders in our home. We all know that as fathers we bear the primary responsibility for bringing our children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. And we know that family devotions is the most practical way most of us can regularly and deliberately do this.

We know that. But most of us fail. And those of you who don’t fail, just know that you’re despised by the rest of us, okay?

One of the reasons why we fail, I think, is because we experience the typical male disease of thinking we have to have everything planned out and that we have to carry out all the details of our plans to perfection. I know sometimes my desire to have all my “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed has paralyzed me from taking any action — which is pretty much the worst case scenario. What I’ve found over the past little while to be most helpful and most effective is this: Just do something! Profound, right? Do something and don’t worry if it’s not perfect.

Here’s an honest look at our family devotions from tonight (and yes, this is a verbatim transcription):

Me: (Reading Proverbs 10) A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.

Susie (my 4 year old): Daddy, I know something!

Me: (Excited! She is interacting with the Word!) What is it, Sue?

Susie: Carrots are vegetables!

Me: *Audible sigh…* (Thinking: Man, you’re good at this Bible teaching thing… are you a professional?)

So, as you can see, we are a wonderful example of not doing things perfectly. I don’t always have anything good to say. Our kids don’t always listen. Sometimes I wonder if they’re even getting anything out of it.

But here’s the thing. Whether or not they get anything out of that particular night, I hope that they are blessed by the cumulative effect. I hope that win, lose, or die trying, my kids will see that their parents love them enough to open up the word to them consistently, deliberately, intentionally, and lovingly. I hope that they see that because we treasure them so much we must take them to the truth we treasure most — and we must do it consistently. I hope that as they age the composite image of their parents that they are left with is Christians who love them and who love the word of God. I hope that they see our life is found in this book, which tells us of him who is True Life.

So, men, how about some family devotions? You don’t have to do them perfectly or even perfectly consistently. But are you at least doing something?

Who Dieth Thus Dies Well

Last night as I was singing to the girls before bed, I decided to sing some older hymns we haven’t done in a while. I sang More Love to Thee and My Jesus I Love Thee and O Sacred Head Now Wounded. As always, it’s a time of worship and contemplation for me as I pray for my girls and hope that the songs will help communicate the gospel to them in meaningful ways as they grow older. It’s just one way I try to speak the gospel to my kids in all of life.

Anyway, as I sang those three hymns, something stuck out to me. All three hymns seamlessly move from the reality of Christ’s finished work to the hope that we have in the face of our own death. These songs sing freely of the unavoidable nature of death, but glory in the hope that we have in the Saviour who has already overcome death.

This is why I love singing hymns: they speak with the freedom of past generations. Our generation doesn’t like to think about death. The church has largely handed over death to doctors and funeral directors and cemeteries. There once was a time when death was an integral part of church life and worship, hence the cemeteries on church property. (Just imagine for a second what it would be like to come to church every week and walk past the grave of family members and church members who had died through the years. That’s a totally different experience than walking into a trendy café type lounge after having your car valet parked. But I digress.)

In any case, death being a part of the cycle of church life and something that people had to face and talk about brought greater freedom and natural impulse to sing about death. It also calls on the worshipper to cling to Christ, feeling the desperation of this life which will inevitably slip away. This is a far cry from singing ‘Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes, Lord…’. I’m so thankful to God for preserving these hymns for our generation. These hymns and those like them provide us with guidance on how to ‘die well’ — a concept almost entirely lost in our day.

More Love to Thee, Elizabeth Prentiss, 1856

Let sorrow do its work, come grief or pain;
Sweet are Thy messengers, sweet their refrain,
When they can sing with me: More love, O Christ, to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Then shall my latest breath whisper Thy praise;
This be the parting cry my heart shall raise;
This still its prayer shall be: More love, O Christ to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

(Two of four verses. Prentiss wrote this when she was ill and suffering as part of her private devotions. It wasn’t until 13 years later her husband encouraged her to have these words published. Thank God!)

My Jesus, I Love Thee, William Featherston, 1864

I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

(One of four verses. Amazingly, Featherston was 16 at the time he wrote this.)

O Sacred Head Now Wounded, Bernard de Clairvaux, 1153

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

(These are just three of the original 11 verses. Click here to hear Fernando Ortega’s rendition of the hymn.)

Why Singing Hymns is Better than Singing Contemporary Worship Music

Okay, it is time to re-establish some equilibrium in the universe. Sovereign Grace Music is not the only good form of worship, and hymns are most definitely not bad. Anyone who has worshipped with us at GFC knows that we do sing both contemporary worship music and hymns. And yes, that’s a deliberate choice. In my previous post, I tried to emphasize that hymns are not better merely because they are hymns nor because they are older. The best of Christian songs are the best of Christian songs because they focus our hearts and minds most clearly on what God has accomplished for his glory and for our joy in Christ–regardless of when they were written.

That being said, we must immediately recognize that as wonderful as Sovereign Grace Music (and many other contemporary worship composers / leaders) are, they are not the first Christians to be cross-centred, are there are many ways in which singing hymns can be beneficial. Here are just a few reasons why we need to sing older hymns. Feel free to add your own reasons in the comments.

1. Because We Need the Clean Sea Breeze

Here I want to listen to CS Lewis. Below is something he wrote with regard to the value of reading old books. I would argue that the same principle holds true in the songs we sing as Christians, since the songs that we sing are intended to be educational and edifying (Col 3.16).

Naturally, since I myself am I writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old…. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones…. We all … need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books…. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth [and to be certain, the twenty-first] century … lies where we have never suspected it…. None of us can fully escape this blindness…. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.[1]

So while we may glory in some of the advances of reformed evangelicalism in the 21st century, which is producing wonderful new worship songs, we must also be cautious. The ‘characteristic blindness’ of our own age is invisible to us and we will be doomed to be held captive by it unless we’re able to let the centuries of Christians who have gone before us inform us.

Singing old hymns reminds us of the way that our brothers and sisters who have gone before us faithfully testified to and gloried in Jesus in their own day. Singing their hymns helps us see things a little more from their perspective, which helps open our eyes to the subtleties of the 21st century worldview that we would not otherwise be aware of.

2. Because of the Richness of Our History

As Christians, we simply cannot afford to ignore our glorious heritage. Too often we have been told that the history of the church is nothing but shameful. The average Christian can be made to be afraid of church history because ‘we were so bad in the crusades’ and we somehow view the whole realm of church history as belonging to the Roman Catholics (at least until the Reformation). But when we look back, we begin to uncover the treasures of our history that will help us to glory in our God who is Lord of generation after generation throughout all ages.

Take, for example, the ‘Odes of Solomon’ which were written and compiled in the first three centuries AD (either in Greek or Syriac). These worshipful meditations reflect gloriously (though with all the imperfections of non-inspired poetry) on the story of the Christian faith and the love that has been shown to us in Christ.

Look at this brief meditation from Ode 27:

  1. I extended my hands and hallowed my Lord,
  2. For the expansion of my hands is His sign.
  3. And my extension is the upright cross.
    Hallelujah.

So as early as the third century (at the latest) Christians were raising their hands in worship. But it was deliberate: They were making the sign of the cross. The cross wasn’t just the thing they were singing about, they were glorying in it with their bodies as well! We need to glory in the richness of our history, never run away from it in ignorance.

3. Because the Best of Hymns Are Cross-Centred Too

21st century evangelicalism may have invented the cool terminology for being ‘cross-centred’ or ‘gospel-centred’ but the concept is thousands of years old. And that is indeed reflected in the best of hymns from all ages. Take this hymn from Bernard of Clairvaux, written in 1153, for example.

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Saviour! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favour, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Saviour, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Or how about this one, from Isaac Watts, written in 1707:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God:
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down:
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Singing these hymns and hundreds of others like them not only points us to Christ, but unites us with brothers and sisters from past centuries, with whom we will one day worship forever.

4. Because Words Matter

There are many exceptions to this, so I say it with all the necessary qualifications in place, but I still think it’s worth point out. The form of hymns often tends to better use of English. The form, metre, and length of hymnstend to increase the demand for highly-skilled writing by those with a high level of poetic ability. For that reason, hymns are often better able to encapsulate more truth through more words in better and more memorable images. Not always, but often.

Speaking personally, when I sing to my children each night when I put them to bed, it is generally hymns that I sing, and it is generally for this last reason. I want them to hear more truth in poetic images and rhymes that they will remember into adulthood–truth that I pray God will cause to sink into their hearts and cause them to love the God of the gospel that we’re singing about.

——–

[1] C.S. Lewis, from God in the Dock. As quoted in John Piper’s Brother’s, We Are Not Professionals, 69-70.

Why Singing Music from Sovereign Grace is Better Than Singing Hymns

I also thought about titling this post: Why Stephen Altrogge is better than William Cowper. I decided against that one, though.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, both the title and that first sentence are said with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But I will say, however, that I do agree with those statements, in a qualified sense. Let me try to defend that by way of example and comparison.

First, here is a classic hymn by Cowper–some have even suggested this is the greatest hymn of all-time!

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

I love this hymn. Especially in the context of Cowper’s life. It’s ministered to me huge at a number of points in my life.

That being said, I think the song could be improved. The reality is that the Bible tells us over and over (in narrative, in poetry, in apocalypse, everywhere!) that God moves in mysterious ways. But in Scripture, this always points us to the greatest mystery: the cross & resurrection of Jesus. The hymn never takes us there.

The ‘vindication’ of God’s wisdom and trustworthiness in the midst of what appears to be defeat is the cross. There should be another verse drawing us to the reality of God’s mysterious workings, as shown in the cross, the climax of all God’s revelation.

Now compare Cowper’s classic to a modern song by Sovereign Grace Music on the same theme, by Stephen Altrogge: (© 2002 Sovereign Grace Praise [BMI])

Who can comprehend
Your holy ways O Lord?
Your glorious power without end
From which the stars were born
How could we ever understand
The moving of Your hand?
How could we ever come to grasp
The One who never began?

Oh, what a glorious mystery You are
Oh, what a glorious mystery You are
Though we only see in part
You’ve completely won our hearts
Oh, what a glorious mystery You are

Who can comprehend
Your gracious mercy Lord
Great loving kindness that would send
A Saviour to be born?
Why would you, Jesus, die for us
Who cursed Your perfect name?
Why would You come to reconcile
Those who caused Your shame?

There are many similarities: both songs focus on the mysterious nature of God’s character and God’s works. Both songs glory in God’s sovereignty over all things.

But there are differences too. Frankly, I don’t think Altrogge could match Cowper’s poetic ability. Cowper’s turns of phrase and gripping metaphors are breath-taking and illuminating. But here’s why I’d rather sing Stephen’s song: He glories in the climax of Scripture and points us to the ultimate reason why we can trust a God who seems mysterious; he points us to the cross.

And which is more important? Where will a Christian find true comfort and solace in the midst of suffering or guilt or distraction or despair? In poetic imagery or in simply being reminded of God’s love for him displayed in the death of Jesus?

The reason why I continue to love Bob Kauflin, the Altrogges, and all the folks at Sovereign Grace Music is not because they are the best lyricists or musicians of all time. It is because they faithfully, time-after-time, give us song-after-song that points us to the revelation of God in the cross. And that’s what God loves! And that’s what Christians need.

All that to say, I am super-fantastically excited for the release of Risen coming up in a few days. If I’m certain of anything, it is this: Every song will make much of what God has done for us in Jesus.

And what could possibly be better to sing about?

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