Saturday, October 28, 2006

Hymn of the Week: Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior

This selection is a song that I didn't really know until recently. I was aware of its existence, but that's about it. I have two versions of it on cd, one sung by Selah and one sung by Fernando Ortega. Good stuff, anyway, here are the lyrics, written by Fanny J Crosby.

Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Savior, Savior,
Hear my humble cry,
While on others Thou are calling,
Do not pass me by.

Let me at a throne of mercy
Find a sweet relief;
Kneeling there in deep contrition,
Help my unbelief.


Trusting only in Thy merit,
Would I seek Thy face;
Heal my wounded, broken spirit,
Save me by Thy grace.


Thou the spring of all my comfort,
More than life to me,
Whom have I on earth beside Thee,
Whom in Heav’n but Thee


For some reason, Ortega sings "smiling" insteading of "calling" in the opening verse. I'm not sure if there's a textual variant somewhere, maybe someone can check the ancient Crosby Codex. Or perhaps Ortega was going for a little more variety, considering the use of "calling" in the refrain (which apparently is different from a chorus, someone care to explain?).

What I love about this song is its simplicity. There's nothing fancy about it, its just a simple prayer, one that most of us can relate to. Who among us hasn't felt "passed over" by God? Now, there are some who say this type of prayer/song reflects a sinful attitude of not trusting and not appreciating God. I suppose they would have a point. Then again, it seems David (and other psalmists) didn't mind saying that they felt like the Lord had missed them somehow amidst all the blessings others were receiving (including the wicked, which isn't a theme in this hymn). What the psalmists include, and what we see here, is the confidence that God will hear such prayers. So, when read in context, the "God have you forgotten me?" prayer is not sinful, in my opinion.

What this hymn shows us is that God alone can answer such prayers. A person who lacked faith might not even offer this prayer, but since God alone is Savior, since He alone brings relief and helps unbelief, since He alone is healer (etc), the person of faith will ask for mercy while feeling slighted. Perhaps it's a greater sign of faith to say "Lord, I feel like I'm forgotten, but I trust that You will provide me with everything I need" than to be dishonest and pretend like all is well.

At any rate, I've grown to appreciate this song and find myself singing it during rough days. I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on this.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Sting of Death, or the Lack Thereof

I have to admit, death bothers me. I realize that sounds obvious, since it bothers everyone, but death really affects me. Whenever I hear about someone dying, whether or not I know them, I cringe. Just knowing that that person has family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc, who will never be able to eat dinner, watch a movie or shoot the breeze with that person again breaks my heart. It doesn't get much more permanent than that.

It breaks my heart even more when there are tragic circumstances surrounding the death. We've seen such things recently in the news: a state trooper in New Hampshire gunned down by a criminal, those poor little Amish girls killed by a psycho (that situation actually made me utter the words "hell won't be hot enough for some people"), even Steve Irwin being killed by a stingray (while many were talking about his shows and his conservation efforts, all noteworthy and appreciated, I felt awful for his poor wife and little kids). It's painful enough when a 90-year old dies after a long illness (and it is painful), it's even worse when someone's life is cut short unexpectedly.

Every year around this time I think about this because of my own experience with a friend's unexpected death. On the night of October 22, 1998 a bunch of my friends and I were sitting on the couches of our dorm talking baseball. I remember going on a prolonged rant about why Nomar Garciaparra should win MVP over Juan Gonzalez that season. Next thing I know, my friend Brian Barnes was coughing and gasping for air. We knew that Brian was born with a hole in his heart, and he had already had major heart surgery when he was 16. He was told he probably wouldn't live past 18, he was 23 that night when I watched his eyes roll back in his head as I tried to help him.

The paramedics came and revived him, but we found out the next morning (after getting absolutely no sleep) that his brain was showing no signs of activity, it had been deprived of oxygen too long. His family decided to give it one day just to see if some miracle would happen. That miracle never came, and we (his family, 3 other guys from the dorm and I) watched him breath his last on that hospital bed in Springfield, MO on the morning of Saturday, October 24.

There are plenty of great things to remember of our time together: wrestling matches, dance parties (which weren't co-ed at our Baptist school and existed mostly for comedy's sake), too many viewings of Tommy Boy. There was something more important about the relationship between Brian and our hall on the first floor of Gott Hall. Brian was never the cool kid. He was short and fat, he couldn't play sports because of his heart condition. He wore thick glasses, had a bad mustache and his haircut too closely resembled Forrest Gump's. But he was one of us. Other people made fun of him, we had fun with him. For years he was left out and pushed to the side, on our hall he was one of the guys. I'm not trying to make saints out of us, it's not like we said "he's not cool, how about we let him hang out." This wasn't a charity project, it's just the way it was. He was our friend.

I remember the wake (or whatever the non-Irish call it) and how many people showed up. There was a group of us talking with his parents and siblings and sharing memories. His father picked up the guest book that people signed when they came in and thumbed through the pages. With tears in his eyes he said "I never knew my boy had so many friends." I honestly can say that Brian died at the peak of his life. Never had he been so loved, and never had he been so close to His Savior. It was only a couple weeks before this that he wrote a cousin to whom he had been witnessing and told him that he was in fact ready to die, he had confidence in Christ (Brian had no idea he was about to die, at least not to my knowledge, he actually had a doctor's appointment not too long before this and was told there were no major problems). I have another clear memory from that semester. During a hall Bible study we started with some worship songs. Those who know me know that I rarely sing during these times, I generally prefer to listen and meditate. On this particular evening I noticed someone singing rather loudly and quite off-key, I open my eyes to see Brian with his eyes closed giving it everything he had. It's weird how that picture has stuck with me all this time.

Knowing how hard it is for me to deal with death anyway, and given that this was a good friend of mine, I was forced to face the issue head on and not avoid it. I found solace in the words of Paul found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. I encourage you to read them. Someday Christ will return. The great thing is that He will not return alone, but there will be a reunion with those who have died and those who are still alive. It sounds so cheesy to say, but we have confidence that those who are in Christ will see each other again. No wonder Paul can say in v18, "Therefore encourage one another with these words."

As time has gone on, 1 Corinthians 15 has become my very favorite chapter in the Bible. It is here where we see history, theology and application come together in a dramatic way, perhaps rivaled by only a few other places in the Bible (Philippians 2 maybe?). Because of one event, Christ's resurrection (history), we know that death has been defeated and we will rise like He did (theology), therefore we need not fear death and we know that the struggles of this life are not in vain(application). In Christ, death has become an obstacle that has been overcome, a hurdle that has been jumped, an evil that has been overpowered by good. From our vantage point this truth can be clouded, but it's power is no less real. We can grieve (read Paul's words in 1 Thess 4), but we can also boldly say "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Cor 15:54-55).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hymn of the Week: Nothing But the Blood

Ah, the return of the Hymn of the Week. Sorry about the delay, no excuses. This past Sunday we sung this wonderful tune and it inspired me to share it. Here are the lyrics for Nothing But the Blood, written by Robert Lowry.

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Chorus: Oh! Precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

For my pardon, this I see,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
For my cleansing, this my plea,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

(Repeat chorus)

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

(Repeat chorus)

This is all my hope and peace,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
This is all my righteousness,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

(Repeat chorus)

This is such a great song, and it's been even more meaningful as I've been teaching out of the Pentateuch the last couple weeks and the issue of sacrifice comes up regularly. For a world in need of redemption and forgiveness, this simple song offers us the answer. For a people who sin and rebel against God, we need not look any further than the blood of Jesus. At the very least, as we read through Leviticus and other such books we can see that our sin is very real and deserving of punishment. This punishment has been paid. We have no other hope than this.

The line "for my cleansing, this my plea" stands out to me as I think through this song. I think of all the times I have repented before the Lord for my sin and sought to "do better" or thought that my deep contrition (real or imagined) would somehow work on my behalf. Yet, as this song reminds us, if I seek cleansing I have no other plea before God than the blood of Jesus. His sacrifice washes away my sin, nothing I have done. Simple truth, often forgotten.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Another 5.5 Random Things

5.5: This post is dedicated to the neglected but not forgotten nor abandoned Hymn of the Week. It's coming back, I promise.

5: In my first 5.5 Random Things post I plugged Brian's new blog and claimed how he would not be able to keep up the post a day pace with which he started. He went on to claim that he would, in fact, do so just to spite me. Today is one month since his last post. I win.

4: Jeremy has an interesting post about a slip in the ESV dedication to non-inclusive language, found in 1 John 3:24 (where they use a singular "them" rather than "him", which would be consistent with their translation philosphy). The topic of Bible translation is worthy of its own post, but I just want to vent my frustration concerning those who are so eager to bash the NIV (and others, such as the TNIV) for something like using the singluar "they." Does it open the door for misinterpretation? Possibly. Then again, so can a very literal translation, so who cares (not to mention the fact that some of them can be so wooden they don't even make sense in English)? I don't care if someone prefers a literal translation, in fact, the NAS is still my Bible of choice. I just don't see what's so hard about understanding the reasons for the dynamic equivalent style, or, even worse, why it's so hard to accept the benefit to having multiple translations in studying the Bible. It's so basic (in fact, I say it every week in the Bible class I teach at church), why can't people grasp it?

3: I'm watching the Mets-Dodgers baseball game and the idiot announcer, Thom Brennamen (partner of 1st-ballot Hall of Fame crappy announcer Tim McCarver), just claimed that Grady Little did the right thing when he left Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees. I believe his exact quote was "when I look at that Boston bullpen, I say Pedro Martinez was the right man for the job." My questions is this: why does this man have a job in announcing baseball? Nevermind Brennamen's tendency to go off on self-righteous tirades concerning some superstar du jour, this quote just proves he doesn't understand anything about the game of baseball, or at least wasn't watching that postseason when the Mike Timlin-Scott Williamson tandem was almost unhittable. FOX Sports is awful, absolutely awful. This is worse than Chris Berman or Joe Morgan. And that's saying something.

2: I have to admit that I really want to see The Departed, the new movie starring Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCraprio (not a misspelling), Matt Damon and Marky Mark, sans the Funky Bunch. Mind you, I don't like Nicholson or DiCraprio, but I'm a sucker for mob movies. Also, I think there's something inside me that longs to hear a movie with good Boston accents. Good Will Hunting wasn't bad, Damon was great and Affleck did a good job (actually, both Afflecks did), but Robin Williams was painful. He wasn't as bad as Costner, but still not good. Anyway, I have hopes that with Damon and Marky Mark (both from Boston) this movie might be able to pull it off.

1: Well, the Detroit Tigers are now everyone's favorite team as they beat the Yankees in 4 games. Early in the season, when Detroit had the best record in baseball, I had said that I hoped they would win it all if the Red Sox weren't going to do it. There are numerous reasons for me to do so: 1) they are a classic franchise, one of the old guys in the AL (a reason I rooted for the White Sox once the Sox were eliminated last year as well), 2) they've been awful for so long (something like 13 straight losing seasons) that it's a great rags-to-riches story, 3)I've loved their manager, Jim Leyland, since he was in Pittsburgh (when I was in Little League I played on the Pirates, so I rooted for them while he was bringing them to the postseason every year), 4) they've got some quality people to root for on that team, 5) I love the old Tigers teams from my childhood (Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammel, Sweet Lou Whitaker, and my favorite, Jack Morris, the most underrated pitcher of my time). I love the mixture of homegrown talent and veterans from outside the organization (which I think is a necessary feature to win these days). I love that the pitching staff relies heavily on 3 guys younger than I am (Zumaya, Verlander and Bonderman). It was great to see Jeremy Bonderman pitch so well today. It was just 3 seasons ago when he lost 19 games (for those who don't know, that is awful), and he lost 45 games from 2003-05. He came to the majors when he was 19 and many thought the Tigers had rushed him, and that his early failures would scar him for the rest of his career (like with Rick Ankiel of the Cardinals). Then today he dominates the Yankees and leaves in the 9th to a goosebump inducing ovation. You have to feel good for a guy like that, and I hope they bring the World Series Championship to Detroit.