Confessions of a Recovering Moralist (a really bad one)

My name is Eric Parker, and I used to think I was something special. One of the dangers of being good at things is that when you compare yourself to others, you come out on top. When I was growing up, I was good at a lot of things. Sports came easy to me.  School came easy to me. Relationships came easy. Music came easy. Oh yeah, and church came easy. In short, I had a lot of ability and a lot of success. And that was dangerous. But what was more dangerous than the pride that came with success was my knack for manipulating people and situations to play out in my favor. As I look back, I’m not even sure I knew I was doing it. Saying the right things to the right people came so naturally to me, that I don’t think I even saw the deception in it. And as a result a lot of people liked me. I got tons of accolades, awards, and opportunities. My parents, teachers, and peers were always praising me for my accomplishments. And at some point, I began to believe my own hype. I began to think that I was indeed something special. The praise was like a drug. I was addicted to man’s approval. And when it came to my standing before God, I believed the same thing. Like I said, church came easy.  Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t cuss, don’t sleep around.  You know, evangelical Christianity (tongue firmly in cheek).  At least that was the message I heard. And before you think I am blaming my parents or church for my misconception of the Gospel, I take full responsibility for my own deaf ears. But for whatever reason, I truly believed my own performance would solidify my good standing before God. I mean, why not? It worked in every other area of my life. You succeed, you get good standing. Say the right things to the right people, find yourself in a favorable position.

This process of me becoming a self-righteous, self-centered monster might have hit a fever pitch, but something happened. God had mercy on me, and showed me his grace. Just a few months before my 16th birthday, a young man named Ron Lowe, my counselor from Camp Vesper Point, followed up with me after the summer was over. He took me to lunch, and had the audacity to talk to me about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have probably shared this in a previous post, but it needs to be told in this context. Ron asked me this question; “How is your relationship with God?” My response was full of deceit and false humility. I said, “It’s pretty good, but sometimes I feel like no matter how good I am, I just don’t deserve to go to Heaven.” Now it is important to realize at this point that I absolutely believed I deserved to go to heaven. Really what I was looking for was the same pat on the back that I got from everyone else. I fully expected Ron to say “Eric, come on, you’re doing great.” But what Ron said was the first breath of real air that I had ever breathed. He said, “You’re not, and you never will be.”

YOU’RE NOT, AND YOU NEVER WILL BE.  Let that sink in.

At first I was totally taken aback. I actually remember thinking, “you don’t know who you’re talking to, buddy.” But very soon, the good news of Christ began to melt away my pride and self-righteousness. Ron told me the truth that I had probably heard 300 times but just refused to comprehend. That all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. That God is just, and He must punish sin. That Jesus had lived the perfect life that we should have lived, and that on the cross God poured out his wrath for our sin on his perfect Son. If I was to find favor with God, it would not be through my “good” works, but through the perfect work of Christ applied to my account by grace through faith in Him. The great exchange of the Gospel is that Christ took our sin and we get his righteousness. I believe that day at age 15 was the first time I understood the Gospel.

I had never really been a Christian. I had been a moralist, and a really bad one at that. You see, I wasn’t keeping God’s laws, I was keeping man’s laws. I was keeping the “house rules” of American moralism. I didn’t drink, smoke (often), cuss (all that much) or sleep around (as Bill Clinton would define it). In reality, I wasn’t really even keeping those rules all that well. I was just doing it in public, and better than most of the people around me. So when I heard the Gospel, I began to see the holes in my supposed “good works.”  But the road from moralism to full trust in the work of Christ can be a hard one. During those last few years of high school I still struggled with pride and self righteousness.  I still hurt and manipulated people.  I still thought I was something special. When you have spent most of your life finding your self-worth in pleasing others, it’s hard to let go of that.  When you have based your emotional state on the inflating words of others, its hard to be loved for any other reason than that people find you lovable.  God’s love in Christ is scandalous.  It it was hard for me to accept it.  The Scriptures say that God loved us while we were yet sinners.  The Scriptures say that we love, because he first loved us.  It wasn’t due to our ability, our performance, or our accolades, and it certainly wasn’t because we had manipulated Him to get the outcome we desired.  God doesn’t love us because we are loveable.  He loves us, because he loves us. He is love.  And the justice he poured out on Christ at the cross made us objects of grace and love, rather than wrath.  We can’t earn it.  We can’t win it.  We can’t manipulate the books.  We can only accept the free gift.  That is hard for the performer to accept.  It’s why Jesus said “it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. ” Pride kills, and it keeps God away…until he breaks through it.

It’s been more than 20 years since Ron shared the good news with me, and the Holy Spirit quickened my heart to accept the free gift of salvation in Christ. Over those years I have seen the work of Christ more clearly. The Good News gets better with time, because part of the process of sanctification is seeing the hideous nature of your own sin more clearly. This year, God chose to give me a deeper clarity into the man I used to be (and still am in many ways). I have not enjoyed that. I have offered apologies to some of the people I hurt the most, and I have confessed a lot of past sins. But thanks be to God, I am no longer a moralist, and I am no longer a performer. To be sure, every day of my life I am tempted to walk down the old path.  To turn around on the road and go show the world I can do it on my own. To show the world that I truly am someone special.  Then the Gospel rushes in, and I am once again saved by the grace of God. I am no one special, but I am infinitely valuable to God. If ever I have leaned fully on the finished work of Christ on my behalf, it’s now.  And that is true freedom.

For this post I am featuring a song by my friend Chris Slaten (Son of Laughter).  This song is a call to stop trying to win God’s favor and accept his grace.

 

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Sustain Me

creepy faceDavid, the youngest son of Jesse was a lot of things.  Shepherd boy, musician, giant killer, poet, and King.  Oh, and he was also an adulterer, liar, and murderer. Still God called him “a man after my own heart.”  I don’t really know if God meant he was “after” as in chasing and pursuing or “after” as in made in the image of.  Perhaps it was both.  But David’s life reminds us of one crucial truth.  Even those whose hearts are after God’s heart can fall.  Hard.  Let’s trace David’s life quickly.

He was the youngest of his father’s sons, and was from the humble herding town of Bethlehem.  When his brothers were sent to war against the Philistines, David was kept home.  But at his father’s bidding he ends up taking supplies to his brothers at their camp.  When he sees the giant Goliath taunting the Israeli army, David asks in apparent disgust and dismay “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the Lord?”  Pretty brave kid.  So after some discussion with King Saul and much ridicule from the others,  the young David goes out to meet the 9-footer with a sling and 5 smooth stones.  And David kills him.  Ok, pretty good start for this little guy.  Fast-forward a few years.  God get’s fed up with Saul’s faithlessness and disobedience and tells his prophet Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint one of the sons of Jesse as king.  Samuel goes, and to everyone’s surprise God has chosen the youngest son to be the next king.  Saul eventually finds out, and after David’s popularity with the people grows he tries to hunt David down and kill him.  David wrote many of the Psalms during this period.  But eventually he is crowned King.  The humble man after God’s own heart goes from the pasture to the palace by the hand of God.

But then something happens.  David’s heart chases after something else.  One spring day (the bible parenthetically mentions that this is the time when Kings go off to war – but David is at home) David is walking around on the roof of the palace, and he sees a woman bathing.  Her name is Bathsheba and she is the wife of one of David’s soldiers, Uriah the Hittite.  David has Bathsheba brought to him.  He sleeps with her and she becomes pregnant.  David has fallen.  But not as far as he will.  Rather than confess his sin, David plots a cover-up.  He has Uriah brought from the battlefield.  The plan is that Uriah will sleep with his wife during his king-appointed R&R and no one will know the child is David’s.  Problem.  Uriah is a righteous man.  He refuses to enjoy to right to be with his wife while his fellow soldiers are at battle.  He sleeps outside the palace door.  The next night David brings him to the palace and gets him drunk hoping that the inebriation will soften his ethics.  No-can-do.  Uriah again sleeps on a mat outside the palace with the King’s servants.  So David, the adulterer and liar, now takes a final step into the dark.  He has Uriah taken back to the battlefield and moved to the front lines where he will surely be killed.  But it gets worse.  He instructs his general to put Uriah in the most dangerous part of the line and then retreat back from him leaving him exposed.  Uriah is killed.  David commits murder.  The man after God’s own heart has committed adultery, deception, and murder.  David then takes Bathsheba as his wife and she bears him a son.

What happens next is one of the most poignant passages in all of Scripture.  Nathan, God’s prophet at the time comes to David and tells him a story.  Here is the account from 2 Samuel:

The Lord sent Nathan to David.  When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought.  He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children.  It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms.  It was like a daughter to him.  Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him.  Instead he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”  David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die!  He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”  Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”

Nathan then recounts to David all of his sin.  The passage in 2 Samuel does not elaborate on the depth of David’s repentance.  This we find in Psalm 51.  And just so there is no doubt, the Psalm even states in a bit of a subtitle, “A Psalm of David,  when the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.”  Psalm 51 shows us a man totally overwhelmed with the depth of his sin against God.  David even says, against you, and only you have I sinned.  That is a bit puzzling.  Obviously David has sinned against Uriah.  He has sinned against Bathsheba.  He has sinned against his own family, and the whole nation of Israel.  But David sees his sin first and foremost against God himself.  But in his mercy God forgives David.  Would we?  This is a real human being who committed real atrocities against another real human being.  The separation of 3000 years may lessen in our minds the gravity of the situation, but it should not.  David sinned greatly in the face of God, he came to repentance, and God forgave his sin.  Was this favoritism?  No.  The bible says that with God there is no favoritism.  Did God sweep the sin under the rug?  No, the Bible says that God is a just God who punishes sin.  Was David punished?  Surely the pain in his own heart and the nightmares that must have endured were a kind of punishment.  But David could not pay for his sin.  At the very least, his own life should have been taken.  God showed no favoritism.  God did not sweep sin under the rug.  God did not sacrifice his justice, and David did not pay the price for his sin.  Because someone else paid it.  Jesus paid it.  This is love.  Scandalous, extravagant, relentless love.  And it is the thing that so many people miss today.  Some churches miss God’s mercy.  They hold up signs and condemn people to hell, shouting hatred and vitriol in the streets, thinking that their own righteousness is enough to please God.  Others miss God’s justice.  They miss his holiness.  They tell everybody they are ok, and that God loves them just as they are.  They see God as an old grandfatherly chap that pats the sinners on the head and says “don’t worry about it. Just do better next time sport.”   So who is right?  Well, both and neither.  God is merciful.  He is also holy.  Some people want his justice to be poured out, but think they don’t need his mercy.  Others want his love and ignore his justice.  But it is at the cross of Christ where God’s love and his justice meet.  They intermingle like the blood and tears rolling down the face of Jesus as he hung on the cross.  God’s love compelled him to send Jesus to save us.  His justice poured the whole of his wrath for our sin on Jesus on the cross.  Love and mercy, for David and for us, because of Christ.  Murders, adulterers, cheaters, liars, and thieves.  Loved by God and forgiven because of Christ.  Scandalous.  But we must have hearts like David that we see in Psalm 51, hearts of repentance.  We must realize that like David, our hearts have wandered.  We have taken what was not ours.  We have wronged our fellow man.  We have acted deviously.  We have thumbed our nose at God who made us and gave us life.  We must with David seek God’s forgiveness.  Our cry must be the cry of David, “Have mercy on me O God, according to your unfailing love.” And he gives it, because of Christ.

In conjunction with this post I am featuring an arrangement of David’s words from Psalm 51 by my good friend Nathan Carico.  Nathan is the brand new VP of Students at Visible Music College in Memphis, TN.  MP3 is below. 

Sustain Me

“Sustain Me” originally appeared on the first Music for Missions album titled A Remedy Raised. The song features Nathan on guitar, Jeff Blake and Susie Bogdanowicz on vocals, and Fred Schendel on just about everything else.

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Come Ye Sinners

“Winners” and Losers

If there is one time of year when Americans as a whole decide to make personal changes it is January.  We join gyms, start diets, make budgets, and make promises.  Why do we do this?  I don’t think it is just convention.  Most of us realize that our lives are not as they should be.  We love a fresh start.  Something about the new year gives us hope that things can really be different this time around.  And in some ways they can.  Some people, by shear will-power and determination, can make positive change in their lives.  The rest of us struggle.  The gym memberships become nothing more than recurring withdrawals from our bank accounts.  The Subway veggie subs with no cheese and no mayonnaise become binges at the Pizza Hut lunch buffet.  The budgets become credit card bills.  One drink becomes five. There are dangers for both groups, the winners and the losers.  Those who get their lives and waistlines under control can convince themselves that they are doing well.  Control over their diets, budgets, and morals can make them feel that just as they measure up to man, they measure up to God.  Well they don’t.  And those of us who fall into the same old patterns lose hope that our lives will ever be different.  But there is hope for all of us.

Good News?

Christianity is not a bootstraps religion.  You don’t have to pull yourself up.  In fact you can’t.  The word gospel means “Good News.”  But in America, especially in the South, the perception that many people have of the Christian faith is less than good news.  I’m not sure how we did this, but the message we have apparently spread to the masses is “clean yourself up so you will be worthy of God’s love.”  Or better put, “You are not good enough for God but we (Christians) are.”  That is not good news.  And it is not true.  The bible is so clear, that no one deserves the love of God.  The reason the gospel is good news is that we, who were once the objects of God’s wrath, can now be the objects of God’s love.  But how is this possible?  Because Jesus has paid the price for our sin.  For people who grow up in moralistic Christianity, this message is so hard to embrace.  If you grew up thinking that God loves people who do the right things, please read this next sentence carefully…

You and I will NEVER deserve God’s love and forgiveness.  N-E-V-E-R.

This is bad news.  There is nothing we can do, nor any positive change we can make, to earn God’s favor.  Bad news indeed.  In fact the bible says clearly that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  It also says that the “wages of sin is death.” But that is what makes the gospel such good news.  The Gospel is this:  God loved us so much, that he found a way for his justice and wrath to be waged against our sin, and yet still show his love to us.  His love and his justice meet at the cross of Jesus Christ.  His love sent Jesus to the cross to take the punishment for our sins and his justice was satisfied as his wrath was poured out on Jesus on our behalf.  You and I can be forgiven of our sin because of the completed work of Christ.  You add nothing.  All you can do is accept the free gift of God’s grace, love, and forgiveness.

All You Need is Need

God showed his love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  You see, moralism turns the chronology of salvation on its head.  Moralism says, we do good things, God forgives us and then loves us.  The gospel says God loves us, God forgives us, and then we do good things in response to his love by the work of God’s Holy Spirit within us.  Good works are the response of justification not the cause.  Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is perhaps the clearest most comprehensive argument for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all of Scripture.  The passage below deals with the topic at hand:

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.  – Romans 3:19-26

If you are relying on your own goodness, then you will not be justified before God, for there is no salvation for man apart from the work of Jesus Christ.  In his Acts 4:12 Peter boldly proclaims “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

So if you grew up in moralism, read the words of hymnwriter James Proctor:

Lay your deadly doing down, down at Jesus’ feet

And stand in him, in him alone, wondrously complete.

If you have the idea that one day you will get your act together and then give your life to God, you have the gospel on its head.  Instead, come to Jesus now, and he will begin a good work in you, one that he will bring to completion.  This month I am offering a version of “Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy.”  This song appeared on an album I produced in 2004 called All This Time.  It is performed by Joy Jansen.  If you are struggling with legalism or moralism, then this stanza is for you.

Come ye sinners poor and needy, bruised and broken by the fall

If you tarry ‘till you’re better, you will never come at all

Not the righteous, not the righteous

Sinners Jesus came to call

MP3

Each month I’ll post a new song, and you can have it FREE.  Just right-click on the link below, choose “Save Target As,” and it’s all yours.  If you want to make a donation, I am funneling all funds from this project to International Justice Mission.  Visit the Donate page for more details.  And please share this blog with your friends.

Come Ye Sinners

(if you can’t download the file, send me a message at ecparker@comcast.net and I’ll email you the MP3)

Credits

Words by Joseph Hart

Original Tune “Beach Spring” by Benjamin F. White a Sacred Harp tune

Joy Jansen – guitar and vocals

Susan Whitacre – viola

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Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Having written much on the subject of Christ’s first Advent in October and November, this month I am going to take the advice of the title of this month’s hymn and let the song speak for itself…

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand

Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand

Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand

King of Kings yet born of Mary, as of old on earth he stood

Lord of Lords in human vesture, in the Body and the blood

He will give to all the faithful, his own self for heavenly food

Rank on Rank the host of Heaven, spreads its vanguard on the way

As the Light of Light descendeth, from the realms of endless day

That the powers of Hell may vanish, as the darkness clears away

MP3

Each month I’ll post a new song.  This month’s song is from my album Hymns and Carols, and you can have it FREE.  Just right-click on the link below, choose “Save Target As,” and it’s all yours.  If you want to make a donation, I am funneling all funds from this project to International Justice Mission.  Visit the Donate page for more details.  And please share this blog with your friends.

01 Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

(if you can’t download the file, send me a message at ecparker@comcast.net and I’ll email you the MP3)

Credits

Words: Li­tur­gy of St. James, 4th Cen­tu­ry (Σιγησάτο παρα σὰρξ βροτεία); trans­lat­ed from Greek to Eng­lish by // Gerard Moultrie, 1864.

Music based on original melody, Pi­car­dy, French car­ol mel­o­dy  Alt. by Eric Parker Copyright 2009 Eric Parker/BMI

Eric Parker – vocals, acoustic guitar

Brett Nolan – keys

Susan Whitacre – viola

Rachel Beckmann – cello

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O Come Emmanuel

O Come Emmanuel

This month I offer a version of O Come, O Come Emmanuel that I recorded last year.  The subject matter is very much the same as Come Thou Long Expected Jesus which I posted for October.  Most of my thoughts from last month really apply to this song as well.  If you are interested in those, you can see my October post.  Whereas Come Thou Long Expected Jesus is a festive, upbeat, almost celebratory song, O Come, O Come Emmanuel is probably the most solemn of all Advent hymns.  The origin of this text is hard to track down.  Most sources I found traced the song back to a mixture of separate antiphons from the 8th to 12th centuries.  At any rate, John Mason Neale translated the Latin text Veni, Veni Emanuel into English about 1850.  There are at least eight known stanzas to the hymn, but below are the lyrics as you will hear them in my arrangement.  I hope you enjoy.

O Come, O come Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the son of God appear

Rejoice, rejoice

Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel

O come thou Dayspring from on high

And cheer us by thy drawing nigh

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight

Rejoice, rejoice

Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel

O come thou Rod of Jesse free

Thine own from Satan’s tyranny

From depths of hell thy people save

And give them victory o’er the grave

Rejoice, rejoice

Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel

MP3

Each month I’ll post a new song.  This month’s song is from my album Hymns and Carols, and you can have it FREE.  Just right-click on the link below, choose “Save Target As,” and it’s all yours.  If you want to make a donation, I am funneling all funds from this project to International Justice Mission.  Visit the Donate page for more details.  And please share this blog with your friends.

O Come Emmanuel

(if you can’t download the file, send me a message at ecparker@comcast.net and I’ll email you the MP3)

Credits

Original text translated from Latin by John Mason Neale, 1851.

Music based on original melody.  Alt. by Eric Parker Copyright 2009 Eric Parker/BMI

Eric Parker – vocals, acoustic guitar

Brett Nolan – keys, drums

Fred Gault – bass

Susan Whitacre – viola

Rachel Beckmann – cello

Autumn Cone – backing vocals

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Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

The Longing

The Advent season doesn’t technically start until the fourth Sunday before Christmas, but I start looking toward it as early as the first of October.  Halloween is meaningless to me.  Thanksgiving is a great excuse to eat leftover pumpkin pie for breakfast 6 days in a row.  But for me it’s all about Advent.  People usually relate autumn and the onset of winter with death, and spring with rebirth.  That is certainly an appropriate way to look at the cycle God has put into place.  But for me, autumn has another meaning; relief.  I work in a metal fabrication shop.  It’s really hot.  You have to wear long pants, and long sleeves are preferred.  Acetylene torches burn steel in two.  Welding machines put it back together, and molten metal sprays through the air and spills on the shop floor.  The temperature in some corners of the shop reaches 115 degrees.  From the middle of May until late September, the heat is oppressive.  There’s no other word to describe it.  My co-workers and I have a longing.  It’s a longing for cooler weather.  We need a break from the heat.  We need cooler, thinner air.  And we know that only October can bring it.  But for me (and I suspect for you) there is another longing.  And the onset of autumn and the approaching Advent season make that longing all the more real.  This longing begins to pulse, and gradually it begins to rise to the surface.  Maybe it’s just me, but I doubt it.

But what is this longing?  Is it really just regret?  Is it the pain of failed relationships, unmet goals, or dead-end jobs?  Is it the memory of lost loved ones?  Is it longing for simpler times?  Well, it may be mixed with some or all of this, but it is really so much more.  It’s a deep down, impossible to describe, longing that we all feel.  That sense that this is not all there is, and that we were meant for some other life.  C.S. Lewis put it this way in his essay “The Weight of Glory:”

In speaking of this desire for our own faroff country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

If you’re thinking to yourself “what in the world is Lewis talking about” then read it again.  He’s saying (much more eloquently than I can) that the longing you feel is not a desire to go back to the best times of your life.  He’s saying you long for something you have never actually had.  The Jews knew this longing.  God had promised something that they could not fathom.  He had promised to one day dwell with them as he had in the garden, before the fall.  But how?  He had promised a savior, but who?  The Old Testament is replete with messianic prohpecies, promising that one day, a deliverer would come to save God’s people.  Perhaps the most clear and most appropriate of these prophecies for this subject is Isaiah 9:6:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwell in a land of darkness, on them has light shined.  You have muliplied the nation; you have increased its joy, they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.  For the yoke of his burden and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of midian.  For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tummult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.  For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.  The zeal of the Lord will accomplish this.

And there are others.  This one prophecy alone promises the coming of a man from the line of King David who would establish David’s throne forever.  He would be a man who would rule so completely and honorably that he would be called names like “Prince of Peace” and “Wonderful Counselor.”  But he would also be called Everlasting Father.  Huh?  And Mighty God.  What?  The Jews were the most devoutly monotheistic group of people on earth (maybe the only).  How could a man, be God?  How could a man rule forever?  These were questions that did not have easy answers.  Still year after year, century after century, the Jews looked for the coming of this deliverer.  They were longing for a King.  They were longing for a country.  They had a land, but they did not have peace, so they longed for the Prince of Peace.  They had had many kings, but they were longing for the one who would rule with the heart of David, the wisdom of Solomon, and justice, honor and might to a measure beyond anything they had seen.  They didn’t know it, but they were longing for advent.  More importantly, they were longing for Jesus.

But what the Jews could not understand from their point of view, was that the prophecies they longed to see fulfilled were pointing to two events, not one.  They were pointing to a first coming, but also a second coming.  You see Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  He was born into the family of David.  All of these prophecies were fulfilled in his first advent.  But what about this “the government will be on his shoulder” talk?  What about “his reign shall have no end?”  Do we see Jesus ruling the nations from his throne in Jerusalem?  No, we don’t.  Jesus was very clear, when he said, “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).  Jesus IS building his kingdom.  But he is doing it in the hearts of men and women.  One day his kingdom will come in its fullness, and he will put every enemy under his feet.  But that has not happened yet.  These things will happen at his second advent.  That’s why the longing remains.  Our longing is both pacified and fed at Christmas.  It is pacified because we rejoice in Christ’s first advent.  We celebrate that the “light that gives light to every man [has come] into the world” (John 1:4).  But we also remember the cross, and the tomb, and the empty tomb.  And we remember his ascension back to the Father…and this promise:

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. – John 14:2-3

His first advent guarantees the second.  And when he comes again, this feeling that Lewis describes as an “Inconsolable secret” will be satisfied.  But for now, long-on fellow wanderer.  We are not home yet.

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. – 1 Corinthians 2:9

MP3

Each month I’ll post a new song.  This month’s song is from my album Hymns and Carols, and you can have it FREE.  Just right-click on the link below, choose “Save Target As,” and it’s all yours.  If you want to make a donation, I am funneling all funds from this project to International Justice Mission.  Visit the Donate page for more details.  And please share this blog with your friends.

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

(if you can’t download the file, send me a message at ecparker@comcast.net and I’ll email you the MP3)

Credits

Original Words by  Charles Wesley.  Additional lyrics by Mark E. Hunt copyright 1978 Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.  Used by permission.

Music based on original melody.  Copyright 2009 Eric Parker/BMI

Eric Parker – vocals, acoustic guitar

Brett Nolan – keys, drums

Fred Gault – bass

Matt Twitty – electric guitar

Susan Whitacre – viola

Rachel Beckmann – cello

Autumn Cone – vocals

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Light of Light

In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.” – John 1:1

Secularism reigns in America today.  In almost every area of public life, we have held up our hand to God at the door and said “No Admittance.”  Our main concern in America seems to be that no one’s personal rights are violated.  But no one is asking this question: Who defines what rights should be upheld?  For instance, we do not have the right to pray in the name of Jesus at a highschool football game, but we do have the right to murder our unborn children.  Now I am not one of those people who believes that America is a “Christian nation.”  I happen to agree that many of the founding fathers were deists (at best).  And the constitution does prevent the government (and it’s schools) from declaring a specific religion.  So maybe the Muslim attendee of the football game does have the (legal) right not to have my prayers to Jesus blasted at 100 decibels over the loudspeaker.  But the question remains, who decides which rights are worth upholding?  Better yet, who defines right and wrong?  Who defines meaning?

In many ways the founding of our nation was made possible by the ideas of the Enlightenment.  But the great lie of the Enlightenment, that man can be his own source of meaning, permeates our culture.  This morning as I was watching Saturday cartoons with my 6-year-old, one of the “lessons” put forth was that we must all be “true to ourselves.”  Well, no.  No we must not.  Being true to ourselves (following our own desires at all costs) is what got us into this mess in the first place.  The lesson from Eden is clear:  man living his life on his own terms leads to death and separation from God.  We don’t need to be true to ourselves. We are hopelessly lost when we operate on our own motivations.  What we need is a clear word from God, the source of all truth.  Yesterday I talked to a friend whose life is in shambles.  In his own words, he is “paying the price for [his] bad decisions.”  And so are we all.  But we do not have to live enslaved to our own desires as does the narcissist, nor do we have to put to death all desire as does the Buddhist.  The apostle John begins his gospel by telling us there is a better way.  A way that leads to abundant life.  There is one who can shine the light of his counsel and grace on the darkest corners of our souls.  Here is hope for the hopeless.  Here is light in the darkness:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the Beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.  There came a man whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  The true light that gives light to every man, was coming into the world. – John 1:1-9

The hope for my friend whose life is in shambles, and the hope for all of us is found in this verse.  There is a better way.  We don’t have to walk through life trying to be true to ourselves.  We don’t have to fall for the empty promises of the world.  If we walk through this world letting the culture and our own hearts define truth and meaning, we will fall.  Hard.  But the true light that gives light to every man has come into the world!  At the end of John’s gospel he tells us why he wrote his book.

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:30-31

May Jesus, the true light, give you light, meaning, peace, joy and purpose as you follow him.

MP3

Each month I’ll post a new song.  This month’s song is from my album From the Shoulders of Giants, and you can have it FREE.  Just right-click on the link below, choose “Save Target As,” and it’s all yours.  If you want to make a donation, I am funneling all funds from this project to International Justice Mission.  Visit the Donate page for more details.  And please share this blog with your friends.

09-Light Of Light

(if you can’t download the file, send me a message at ecparker@comcast.net and I’ll email you the MP3)

Credits

Words by Benjamin Schmolck 1714 – alt. by Eric Parker

Music Copyright 2008 Eric Parker/BMI

Eric Parker – vocals

Fred Schendel – keys,

Robert Streets – production, drums, backing vocals

Steve Babb – bass guitar

Susan Whitacre – viola

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O Sons and Daughters Let Us Sing

“If Jesus Christ is not risen from the dead, there is not one glimmer of hope for the human race.” – Konrad Adenauer

John Mason Neale was a churchman and historian living in the mid 19th century.  Neale was a member of the Church of England, but had a healthy appreciation for the hymns of the anciet and medieval churches.  He was involved in many projects and publications in efforts to refine and reform the practices of the church, but his main work was  the translation of ancient hymns into English.  Neale translated such well known hymns as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” and “All Glory Laud and Honor.”  In all Neale translated over 100 hymns from Latin, Greek, Syrian, and other languages. One of these hymns is “O Sons and Daughters Let Us Sing.”  The original hymn was composed by a Franciscan monk named Jean-Tisserand sometime around 1490.  Little is known about the life of Tisserand, but he (with Neale’s help) has left us a powerful testimony to the ressurection of Jesus Christ.  The hymn highlights the experience of the women at the empty tomb and the appearance of the risen Christ to the the apostles, and the intimate call of Christ to Thomas to see, touch, and believe.  I hope my interpretation of this hymn can be a blessing to you as you celebrate the resurrection year round.

MP3

Each month I’ll post a new song.  This month’s song is from my album From the Shoulders of Giants, and you can have it FREE.  Just right-click on the link below, choose “Save Target As,” and it’s all yours.  If you want to make a donation, I am funneling all funds from this project to International Justice Mission.  Visit the Donate page for more details.  And please share this blog with your friends.

03 O Sons And Daughters 1

(if you can’t download the file, send me a message at ecparker@comcast.net and I’ll email you the MP3)

Credits

Words by Jean Tisserand

Translated by John Mason Neale

Music Copyright 2008 Eric Parker/BMI

Eric Parker – vocals, acoustic guitar

Fred Schendel – keys, electric guitar, synths

Robert Streets – production, drums, backing vocals

Steve Babb – bass guitar

Posted in Hymns, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Thy Life Was Given for Me

“Either this is not the gospel, or we are not Christians.” – Thomas Linacre

Thomas Linacre was born around 1460 and died in 1524, just after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.  He was an Oxford professor and physician to Kings Henry the 7th and 8th.  In his day the Roman Catholic Church forbade the reading of the Bible in any other form than the Latin translation known as the Vulgate.  After a two year stint studying Greek in Italy, Linacre returned to Oxford and for the first time read the four gospels in the Greek manuscripts.  Upon reading the gospels in the Greek, Linacre recorded in his diary, “Either this is not the gospel, or we are not Christians.”  Evidently the Vulgate had become so corrupted over time that it no longer taught the true message of the gospel that Linacre found in the older Greek manuscripts.  Linacre saw the gap between the true teachings of scripture and practices of his own life and the lives of his countrymen.

“Either this is not the gospel, or we are not Christians.”  That is a sobering thought.  In Linacre’s case the gap between confession and practice was at least in part due to a lacking translation of God’s word.  What’s our excuse?  Hundreds of years of textual criticism and over 5000 available fragments and manuscripts have given the modern church the most accurate translations of the original New Testament writings the church has seen in at least 1600 years.  To be sure there are some wacky paraphrases of the Bible on the market today.  Nevertheless, when we read the more faithful translations (i.e. the NIV, ESV and others) we can be sure that we are getting the original message that the New Testament writers wanted to communicate.  But if we read the gospels honestly and compare them to our lives, many of us will see a stark contrast between our confession and practice, or as one of my mentors puts it, our creed and our code.

In Matthew 28:19-20, after Jesus had risen from the dead, appeared to over 500 people, and spent forty days teaching his disciples everything that pertained to him in the scriptures of the Old Testament, he gave them this charge:

“All authority in heaven and on the earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Notice Jesus does not say, “Go therefore and make converts…” he says make disciples.  What is a disciple?  Dallas Willard has an interesting definition of the word.  According to Willard, a disciple is “a real life apprentice of Jesus.”  When I think of an apprentice, for some reason I always think of a young boy in Revolutionary America learning the blacksmith trade.  The boy would usually live with the master smith.  He spent his days with the master craftsman learning to do everything the master did.  How hot should the fire be?  At what point is the metal ready to pour?  Which hammer should be used first to do the rough work, and which one is for forming the metal into a fine finish?  And it’s not just about facts.  You can watch someone beat molten steel for hours, but until you actually pick up the hammer and swing, you have no idea what it feels like.

Being a disciple of Jesus is no different.  At first, we need to learn the facts.  We need to know that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.  We need to know that Jesus died to pay the price for our sins so that through his death, we might go free.  And most importantly, we have to take that step to put all our faith and hope in him.  But that is the beginning of our life with him.  At that point we are converts.  But that is not God’s goal for us.  His goal is so much greater.  He actually intends to make us like Jesus.  In his classic work Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis put it this way:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

When Jesus moves into a life, he has no intention of tolerating our own personal status quo.  Being a disciple is more than confessing a truth.  It is about learning from the master.  Jesus told his disciples that as they made disciples of all nations they should teach them to observe all that he had commanded.  Well, that’s a tall order.  And in any human terms, we can’t do it.  But with the indwelling Holy Spirit as our guide, we can begin to walk down the road of discipleship.  We can begin to order our lives in such a way that we are actively learning from Jesus.  As we come to portions of scripture which magnify the gap between our creed and our conduct, we can pause there and meditate on God’s word.  Being a disciple means rather than skipping ahead to something less convicting, we remain there and ask God to close the gap.

This month’s song is based on the hymn “Thy Life Was Given for Me.”  The hymn speaks to the fact that we have been bought at an enormous price.  That price was the very blood of the Son of God.   Jesus gave his life for us.  What have we given for him?  It is not a song of guilt.  It is a song of reflection.  We do in a very real sense owe God our lives.  But discipleship is not some form of repayment to God.  We can never repay God for what he has done for us.  Nevertheless, how can our response be any less than lives lived to the Glory of God?  The apostle Paul says: “And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”  Let us be real-life apprentices of Jesus, no longer living for ourselves, but for him who died for us.

MP3

Each month I’ll post a new song.  This month’s song is from my album From the Shoulders of Giants, and you can have it FREE.  Just right-click on the link below, choose “Save Target As,” and it’s all yours.  If you want to make a donation, I am funneling all funds from this project to International Justice Mission.  Visit the Donate page for more details.  And please share this blog with your friends.

04 Thy Life

(if you can’t download the file, send me a message at ecparker@comcast.net and I’ll email you the MP3)

Credits

Words by Frances R. Havergal – alt. by Eric Parker

Music Copyright 2008 Eric Parker/BMI

Eric Parker – vocals

Fred Schendel – keys, electric guitar, synths

Robert Streets – production, drums, backing vocals

Steve Babb – bass guitar

Rachel Beckmann – cello

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Approach My Soul the Mercy Seat

A Hymn of Hope

This month’s hymn is John Newton’s “Approach My Soul the Mercy Seat.”  You may not be familiar with this particular hymn, but you will know at least one of Newton’s other works.  His most famous hymn was originally titled “Faith’s Review and Expectation.”  It is now affectionately titled “Amazing Grace.”  Newton knew a thing or two about grace.  He was raised by a faithful mother who prayed for him and taught him the scriptures.  But her death when Newton was only seven was a devastating blow to the young boy and to his budding faith.  He became angry at God.  A few years later, John joined his father at sea and became exposed to every lust and iniquity known to man in thought, word, and deed.  For whatever reason, his speech was exceedingly profane.  By his own admission, Newton was not satisfied with the existing curses and blasphemies, and, being an inventive man, he began to create his own insults and blasphemies against God.  Nor was Newton content with his own iniquity, but soon began to lead others into his anti-Christian way of thinking.  He was a vile man, who led other men into the path of his own perdition.

A Great Storm

Through an array of circumstances, John Newton found himself traveling back to England from the West Indies in May of 1748.  While on board the Greyhound, Newton came across a copy of Thomas à Kempis’ book The Imitation of Christ.  For some unearthly reason, the blasphemer picked up the book and began to read it.  He came across this passage:

Since Life is of short and uncertain Continuance, it highly concerns you to look about you, and take good heed how you employ it. O the Hardness of Men’s Hearts! O the wretched Stupidity! that fixes their whole Thoughts and Care upon the present . . . whereas in truth, every Work, and Word, and Thought, ought to be so ordered, as if it were to be our Last; and we instantly to Die, and render an Account of it.

Newton began to meditate on this passage.  He asked himself, “What if these things should be true?”    The next night the Greyhound, encountered a violent storm.  Many of the crew and all of the livestock were washed overboard.  As the winds died down and the rain let up, the crew made a frantic attempt to repair the worst damage to the ship.  Few held out any hope of survival.  Newton surveyed the damage and wondered if the storm would return.  He reports as follows:

About nine o’clock, being almost spent with cold and labor, I went to speak to the captain, who was busied elsewhere. As I was returning from him, I said, almost without meaning, ‘If this will not do, the Lord have mercy on us.’ This (though spoken with little reflection) was the first desire I had breathed for mercy for many years.

Turning to God

Newton was surprised at his own words and wondered why he had said them.  After blaspheming God for so many years, it shocked him to hear his own voice speak the name “Lord” in sincerity.  But, as was true for so many of us who now claim the name of Christ, this initial thought toward God was only the beginning of a turn and not the culmination.  For the next few years Newton’s life waxed and waned in contemplation of God, but at age 23, having come down with a serious fever, John Newton turned his eyes fully on God and put all his trust in Christ.  Biographer John Dunn comments on this time in Newton’s life:

Again he went down with fever. But it was during this time, weak and almost delirious, that he resolved to cast himself upon the Lord as never before, to have Him to do with him as He should please. As he lay prostrate, slowly but clearly there came to him a sight of Calvary. He began to see and understand what happened on the Cross as he had never known it before. The dying agony of the Saviour and His vicarious suffering was there before him, and he suddenly knew that it was his sin—John Newton’s sin—that had necessitated Christ’s death. Ever since the storm, Newton had considered God to be a righteous judge who would remit punishment if he could but give satisfaction. But now, he saw that God was the great Giver! He has given His one and only Son. As this sight burst upon him he was suddenly free from all his old legalistic efforts to appease an angry God. He knew he was forgiven. He knew he was a justified man. He knew that he belonged to Christ. Over the course of several days his burden of conscience was entirely removed and both peace and health were restored.

John Newton eventually left his career on the sea, and moved back to England.  He taught himself Greek and Hebrew, and though he had no formal education, entered the ministry as a priest in the Established Church.  He became a companion of George Whitefield, and the closest friend to hymn writer William Cowper.  Together Newton and Cowper published The Olney Hymns, one of the most popular hymn collections of their day.

John Newton was a blasphemer and an enemy of God.  But in his mercy, God rescued Newton and made him a son.  As a result, Newton’s sermons and hymns were full of the reality of our sin and the undeserved grace of God through Jesus’ shed blood on our behalf.  At the end of his life, Newton told William Jay of Bath, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things — that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.”

Further Reading

Much of what I have reported regarding the life of John Newton would be considered common knowledge, but the more specific facts were gleaned from an excellent biography written by John Dunn.  If you are interested in a fuller account of Newton’s life, I commend it to you.  The essay can be viewed at the link below.

http://www.newcreation.org.au/books/pdf/285_JohnNewton.pdf

Approach My Soul the Mercy Seat

This great hymn by John Newton highlights the truth he held so dear – that we are great sinners and Christ is a Great Savior.  As I have worked on this post and the song itself, I have realized that I do not see my sin for the grave matter that it is.  Our view of our own sin and our view of God are closely related.  If we have a high view of who God is, we will likely have a sober view of our sin.  Conversely, if we are indifferent to our sin, we will not see our great need for a “Great Savior.”  Would you join me this month in contemplating the depth of our sin, and the amazing grace of God?  I hope my rendering of John Newton’s “Approach My Soul the Mercy Seat” will aid you in this endeavor, and lead you to the “one name under heaven whereby we must be saved,” the Lord Jesus Christ.

MP3

Each month I’ll post a new song.  These are low-budget recordings, and you can have them FREE.  Just right-click on the link below, choose “Save Target As,” and it’s all yours.  If you want to make a donation, I am funneling all funds from this project to International Justice Mission.  Visit the Donate page for more details.  And please share this blog with your friends.

Approach My Soul the Mercy Seat MP3

(if you can’t download the file, send me a message at ecparker@comcast.net and I’ll email you the MP3)

Chord/Lead Sheet

Approach My Soul the Mercy Seat

Credits

Words by John Newton 1779

Music Copyright 2010 Eric Parker/BMI

Eric Parker – guitars and vocals

Brett Nolan – keys, percussion, engineering

Posted in Hymns | Tagged , , | 1 Comment