Christianity 201

April 23, 2011

The Scandal of the Cross: Look Who’s Getting In!

Part III of Setting our Faces Toward Jerusalem Series

A couple of years ago we were at Willow Creek at a time that they were getting ready to bring in a major country artist for a concert. It struck me that instead of promoting the benefits to be had for those adherents of the church who would be attending, they instead promoted the value of the artist’s reputation in terms of inviting unchurched neighbors, co-workers and family. “This is the best invite opportunity you’ll ever had,” was close to how Bill Hybels put it.

good-friday

In a way, Easter is like that. I don’t mean the actual Good Friday or Easter services at a local church, so much as the conversational opportunities it affords. You can talk about things during the next 48 hours that you simply might never get to the rest of the year, other than perhaps Christmas. This is a prime opportunity to talk about Jesus, the Cross, sin, death, forgiveness, atonement, resurrection — major themes of Christian doctrine and practice that just don’t come up in normal conversation. Provided you don’t introduce those topics artificially, you can still bring the discussion around to Easter fairly easily and then say what it means to you personally.

In considering writing this however, it occurred to me that voicing this suggestion is not unlike sitting in church and hearing a great sermon and then deciding that someone else that we know has to hear it; the idea that this time of year is a great opportunity for the benefit of somebody else. But this time of year comes around in the Christian calendar not so much for anyone else but for me. This is my time to sit and contemplate that it was my sin that led Christ to the cross to die in my place. This is why Jesus came; because we needed a savior.

The apostle Paul said that it was for this reason that Christ came into the world: to save sinners. And then he adds something like, ‘of which I am the worst.’ I, so undeserving, so unable to gain salvation by any of my own efforts, gets included in Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary just by saying to God, “I want to be included among those who realize that this sacrifice was for me; I want to be among those covered by what happened that day on the cross.”

And look who else is getting in: The woman caught in the act of adultery; the thief on the cross; the prodigal son and his elder brother. Christ died to save sinners of which we all are the worst. We’re a bunch of misfits.

So this year, we need to be re-examining the story looking for things we’ve missed before; looking for things in a familiar story to touch us in a new way. Then, because of what Christ did, and because we’ve allowed ourselves to be changed by it, we look for opportunities to share this story with others at a time it is so much easier to do so, than at any other time of year.

And really, isn’t that just like the Gospel? Part one is “taste and see;” and part two is “go and tell.”

April 22, 2011

Why I Screamed out Loud at the Good Friday Service

In the little town east of Toronto, Canada where we find ourselves, seven of the local churches come together for a Good Friday service that has grown to the point where it’s now held in the ballroom of a local hotel, and even at that we have to split into two service times.  

I never miss this event.

It’s distracting however that we all come together.  The “Christian unity” theme tends to interfere. And it’s apparently rather difficult for worship leaders to choose pieces that stay tightly focused on the theme of Good Friday, especially when most of our best worship choruses are based on the resurrection we will celebrate on Sunday.

So although absolutely nobody heard me, as the soloist was singing his second song after the message, I put my head in my hands and internally screamed out loud:

God, what are we supposed to be thinking of today?

And that’s when it hit me:  Sin.   We’re supposed to be thinking about our sin.  Our propensity to sin.  Our sin condition.  Our individual sins.  The sin that necessitated the cross.  Yes, we should think about the price that was paid for our redemption, but we should also think in terms of how we must appear in contrast to a holy God; mindful of our sin nature. It was our sin and guilt that put Him there.   So says a line from the classic worship chorus “Our God Reigns” reproduced below. 

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him,
Who brings good news, good news;
Announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness.
Our God Reigns!  Our God Reigns!

Our God reigns!   Our God reigns!…

He had no stately form, He had no majesty
That we should be drawn to Him.
He was despised and we took no account of Him.
Yet now He reigns, with the Most High.

Our God reigns!   Our God reigns!…

It was our sin and guilt that bruised and wounded Him.
It was our sin that brought Him down.
When we like sheep had gone astray our Shepherd came,
And on His shoulders He bore our shame.

Our God reigns!   Our God reigns!…

Meek as a lamb, that’s led out to the slaughterhouse,
Dumb as a sheep, before it’s shearer;
His life ran down upon the ground like pouring rain,
That we might be born-again!

 Our God reigns!   Our God reigns!…

Out from the tomb He came with grace and majesty;
He is alive, He is alive!
God loves us so, see here His hands, His feet, His side;
And yes, we know, He is alive!

Our God reigns!   Our God reigns!

The message of the cross is God’s triumph over sin and death.   That’s my thought for today.  However, I couldn’t post the lyrics to Our God Reigns without posting the alternative set of lyrics from Isaiah which are also available.  The first verse of both versions is the same.

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of Him
Who brings good news, good news
Proclaiming peace, announcing news of happiness
Our God reigns, our God reigns

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

You watchmen lift your voices joyfully as one
Shout for your King, your King
See eye to eye the Lord restoring Zion
Your God reigns, your God reigns!

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

Waste places of Jerusalem break forth with joy
We are redeemed, redeemed
The Lord has saved and comforted His people
Your God reigns, your God reigns!

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

Ends of the earth, see the salvation of your God
Jesus is Lord, is Lord
Before the nations He has bared His holy arm
Your God reigns, your God reigns!

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

For more Easter-themed reading, check out Delivered From Death at Thinking Out Loud

February 5, 2011

Graham Kendrick: Lead Me to the Cross

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (or a skipping CD?) I want to repeat my assertion that the best worship songs are those that focus on the cross of Christ.  There is no greater theme.

This is a late ’90s worship song by British worship leader and composer Graham Kendrick.  This is the only recording I could find of the song online, and the onscreen lyrics are not working and serve as a bit of a distraction.  Play it through a couple of times as an audio feed; and the lyrics are reprinted below from Graham’s website.  Flowing from above, all forgiving love, from the Father’s heart to mine.


How can I be free from sin?
Lead me to the cross of Jesus
From the guilt, the power, the pain?
Lead me to the cross of Jesus

There’s no other way
No price that I could pay
Simply to the cross I cling
This is all I need
This is all I plead
That his blood was shed for me

How can I know peace within?
Lead me to the cross of Jesus
Sing a song of joy again!
Lead me to the cross of Jesus

Flowing from above
All-forgiving love
From the Father’s heart to me!
What a gift of grace
His own righteousness
Clothing me in purity!

How can I live day by day?
Lead me to the cross of Jesus
Following his narrow way?
Lead me to the cross of Jesus

Graham Kendrick
Copyright © 1991 Make Way Music,
http://www.grahamkendrick.co.uk

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