Saturday, November 01, 2008

a comment from a relative, years ago

Once a relative of mine said that we should be cautious about moments where God speaks to us in a dream or sends an angel to talk to us. We might be inclined to think that means there's a special message from God. Maybe, or maybe it means we're too slow-witted to get what God may be saying to us by other means. How dumb do you have to be that God has to send someone specifically to put you on the right track when you could read your Bible and do what you can where you are?

Something to at least consider for anyone who has claims that God sent them a vision or a dream or specific instructions to do X, Y, and Z. You could be tempted to think it means God has given you a special mission, or it could be a sign that spiritually you're on the short bus and need all the help you can get because without that extra help you'd be a loser. Not that God isn't precisely that gracious to us, just pointing out that as Paul put it, it is foolish to boast of dreams and visions and revelations from God. They don't prove anything compared to loving our neighbor and God.

interpreting experience as the voice of God, something from Parchment and Pen

The links are to demonstrate that, yes, I do read. :) And these two blog entries dovetail, I think. They are a starting point for what I'm about to write here. It seems only fair to acknowledge my inspirations for this latest blog entry.

Interpreting personal experiences as a way through which God speaks is remarkably difficult, one might even say often terribly inadvisable. Counselors and priests and pastors may have to spend untold hours persuading their parishioners and church members that what they are sure they have learned about God's character through their experience is completely wrong.

Yet the Psalms and the narrative books invoke a shared knowledge of the history of God's actions in the world as an appeal to encouragement. The God who pushed us into exile is the God who parted the Red Sea. The God who sent Israel to ruin sent prophets to warn her. The God who crushed Christ on the Cross raised Him from the dead. God gives Christ victory through the most miserable and shameful defeat of death on a Cross. God does not give us success the way we imagine it should come.

It is easy for us to interpret experience as something that validates us, that God either props us up by justifying us or punishes us for something we believe we have done wrong. Christians seem to go in one direction or the other. We are liable to think that if calamity strikes us that, as Job's comforters would tell us, there must have been SOMETHING we did to deserve it. Our conscience about sin A may lead us to believe that disaster strikes in area B of our life. A lack of integrity or wholeness of life before Christ "could" easily lead us to suppose such a thing is true, yet it can also be that none of our sins account for our condition. As not a few have noted, when the disciples asked Jesus whose sins caused a man's blindness, his own or his parents, Jesus famously replied "Neither." There are things that happen to us that are not the result of our sin or the sins we believe our parents are guilty of. Sometimes God simply permits calamity and disaster to strike us so that He can reveal Himself.

That is a great struggle for anyone. And the Bible and history as a whole are full of people who thought they correctly interpreted the will of God because things providentially went their way (or not). Victory is not really a sign of God's blessing. He may be raising us up to dash us down because in our pride we think that God has blessed us because we have been obedient. At that point we can idolize ourselves and really claim that we are worthy of that God bestows as the prodigal father, like Jacob giving Joseph an expensive coat but without the favoritism that stained Jacob's relationship with his other sons. We are children who turn to our father and ask Him who He loves most, even though we know better. And we look to experience to validate this. When we don't find that we have the proof we want we can doubt the love of Christ.

So how, exactly, does experience reveal to us the voice of God? It can be tempting in the extreme to want God to speak to us in a way that leaves no room for doubt. Yet Israel proved faithless even after God parted the Red Sea. A wicked and unbelieving generation asks for a sign. But sometimes I think it seems as though a wicked and unbelieving generation will invent a sign, find one for themselves when they do not think God has provided one that is good enough. The election of McCain or Obama is going to be interpreted by at least some Christians as a sign of God's great blessing or great judgment. This has nothing to do with what God's actual will is so much as our eagerness to presume that God owes us a sign. If Obama gets elected the tribulation will not take place any more than if McCain gets elected. We impose our own unhealthy and absurd eschatological demands upon Christ when we go in either of these directions.

Years ago I was a kid and I had a dream. In the dream I was in a house full of demons and I was afraid. Not too surprising if your a kid and dream you're in a demon-infested house. I heard a voice that said "Don't be afraid. I'm with you." Five years later I ended up in the demon-infested house. I was still afraid. I knew that the Lord had said in a dream He would be with me, since throughout Scripture God says "Don't be afraid." And I knew from the stairway in the hosue I was in years later that it was the same stairway I had seen in my dream. But I was still afraid. God can give us signs and we can still act and live in fear and unbelief. God preserved me but I can receive no credit even for having been faithful because God gave me a message in a dream. I was still fearful and whereas in the past I thought it was great that God warned me in a dream of what would come I now consider myself rebuked because I took the dream was a warning of what was to come not as an encouragement to trust in Christ when surrounded by death and chaos I can't understand, let alone control

We want God to use experience and providence to point us in the right direction but it is a direction we want for our sake, not His. We turn to God and hope that He will affirm that we are on the right path already when, perhaps, God allows things so that we turn to Him. How differently might our walk with Christ look if we took experience as that which prompts us to turn to Him as our refuge instead of that which justifies our own decisions that we presume to make for His fame or honor? What gift have we to give God the Father or Christ or the Spirit? we can transform even the generosity of Christ's grace into a kind of law, a sickening law that demands that Christ affirm us or rescue us or those we think we love (or truly love, for that matter).

And yet God DOES speak to us through providence. Yet it is a huge step of faith to see God's hand at work and God can and does provide wisdom to discern when and how He works through circumstances to His children. Joseph correctly assessed the situation before his brothers. Yet we do not see Joseph talking about how this or that is all part of the plan. He trusts that God has a purpose even if Scripture does not reveal what the end goal is. Joseph did not, it seems, grow up thinking that his dream would lead to him being sold into captivity by his brothers, that his slavery would lead him to Egypt where he would marry an Egyptian and become the ruler of an empire that had not heard of his father or grandfather or great-grandfather's God. He could not know or guess or hope that he would have that kind of life.

Yet when facing his brothers and realizing that God had brought the dream about in a way he may never have expected Joseph recognized the kindness of God through the providential hand of slavery and misery and was moved with compassion for his family. Perhaps of all the things we may learn from Joseph is that he was given the ability to understand God's providence as a gift to be a blessing to others and preserve God's people, not as a bonus to Joseph for his own life being so hard. Joseph was given immense wisdom to be a blessing to others and to serve others. Early on when he shared his dreams with his family he may well have mistakenly thought that it was about God lifting him up over his family as a blessing for him. At the end he learned God had other things in mind.

This whole subject of interpreting the will of God and recognizing the voice of God in experience is a major struggle in my life. A number of conflicts with family and friends have come from this very issue, of how certain someone can be that they really recognize the voice of God through experience. We often adduce the wrong lessons from our experience and reflect that in our subsequent theology. We may suppose God will protect us from financial disaster when God is protecting us from financial disaster we bring upon ourselves. We may suppose that God validates a decision we have made because things go our way not realizing that God may simply let us reap what we sow and the subsequent disaster is taken as a sign of the Enemy's work.

Or the Lord may allow disaster and hardship to strike us because of the natural consequences of decisions we make and we may become discouraged and believe that God has set Himself against us. We may, conversely, be angry at God when He has given us the freedom of choice to make poor decisions or good decisions for which we have not thought through all implications. Like Job God may permit the Enemy to crush us to demonstrate to the Enemy that we will not forsake the Lord even when we no longer have material blessings.

Perhaps the most difficult thing for us to do is NOT interpret the direction of providence. Consider how eagerly the North and South rushed to say that God was on their side before and during the Civil War. Consider how easy it is to suppose that you're right because things went your way or to wonder if God loves you because bad things happen. We don't really know exactly how to interpret the providence of God. It may be the most dangerous thing we attempt to do for ourselves or for others. If I have family who made a reckless set of decisions and paid the price for it should I tell them that God punished them for their foolishness? No, not really.

I'm not the kind of person to usually tell people, "Hey, this doesn't seem like a good idea." It usually isn't my business to second guess decisions that aren't mine to make. :) I could point to any number of decisions friends or family have made that seem patently foolish and needless but MOST of the time it simply isn't my place to presume that God's providence is pointing toward Y when friends or family have decided Z. To go that path means I presume to speak on behalf of God toward them even if I don't invoke His name.

But I have been surrounded by people who are eager to tell me what they think is or isn't wise, people who by the way God has allowed their own decisions to play out don't really have much proof that they are better at counting the cost of decisions than I am. It doesn't mean they've made wrong decisions, it just means that they are relying on their experience to tell me what they think is or isn't a good idea. I got this a lot from one friend in particular who, being happily married, thinks EVERYONE ought to be happily married. He means well in his own way but he reveals that his core concern is simply to marry me off already because that fits the law of averages and what Christians "ought to" do because that's the "biblically" prescribed reason to consider marriage. The idea of actually mentoring me toward that end hasn't occurred to the fellow yet. I suppose we all have our blind spots.

And that's the thing, when we look at what we consider the hand of providence we are often looking at our own theological blind spots and not really what God may be doing by way of providence. Joseph's faithfulness may have lain in refusing to interpret providence until God made it clear. What made it clear was a moment in which Joseph saw the fulfillment of the dream God gave him and understood its real purpose, to be a blessing to those who persecuted him and to save thousands or tens of thousands of lives to reveal the kindness and greatness of Yahweh. What Joseph's brohters intended for evil God worked out for good.

I am contemplating what things there are in my life that I am attempting to interpret as a sign that God is pointing this way or that of late. I am starting to doubt that interpreting providence as pointing to the left or right is even the point. I have considered that I have a history of asking for advice. A friend recently suggested that the advantage of acting on advice is that when things go bad you can blame the person who gave advice. That's not what I have felt convicted about lately. My usual weakness is fear and when I get advice it is very often a way to let myself be talked out of doing things I'm afraid to even try doing because I'm afraid I will fail. Getting advice that talks me out of doing something I'm already afraid to do lets me step back and not take any risks. So, paradoxically friends or family who attempt to talk me out of doing something confirm my cowardice because that's really what I'm going to them for advice about, to be talked out of doing something I think I want to do that I don't think I will really succeed at.

But consciously I'm not aware of this pattern, or at least I haven't been until very, very recently. I think I"m actually soliciting advice and thoughts about how or if to tackle something. No one else in my family seems to have this character defect. They just go do things, even stupid things, and just go with it. I have always been so eager to avoid making the wrong decisions that I never really risk making right decisions. It's a pretty bad character defect if you think it through. Whoever tries to save his life will lose it, after all. No one would have said Abram had any rational reason to leave his homeland and go to some nebulous place some strange god said he/she/it would shoe Abram. It would have made more sense to stick with the community and friends and jobs and tasks at hand that Abram already had in the land he lived in.

We don't know how Abram heard or recognized the voice of God. We don't know how the voice of the Lord spoke to our ancestor in the faith. We can't pin down what providence was at work in what circumstances. Joseph, who was most faithful to the Lord, had the least to go on in terms of the Lord speaking to him. We are never shown the Lord directly speaking to Joseph in any way, not even in dreams! Yet Joseph is most unwavering in his faithfulness. How is it that the one to whom God spoke face to face often seemed to struggle in believing in the promises while the one who never saw God himself and who heard about the god of his great-grandfather through his father, never seemed to waver? God gives us signs and visions and dreams and personal visitations and yet we turn from Him. Yet those from whom God withholds a great deal of those things, a man like Joseph, can be startlingly faithful. Jesus said "You have believed because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen yet still believe."

That is the troubling yet blessed path Christ calls us to. The Spirit enables us to love One we have not seen, to follow someone even though we have not seen, to believe in Him even though we haven't seen. It is a paradox that Abram struggled and wavered after receiving a clear promise from God Himself, yet Joseph received just his dreams and he did not even seem to know they were from the Lord. It seems as though it is not for nothing Jesus says that a wicked and unbelieving generation asks for a sign. Those whom He spoke to directly and clearly were often most faithless while those to whom He scarcely reveals Himself are prompted by the Spirit to almost unimaginable faithfulness. The person who says "God told me to do X" and tells you about it is probably less likely to be a faithful servant than someone who simply opens the Bible, looks at the grace of God revealed to the saints over time, and perserveres without knowing to where, what or even why God leads him on.

We all know the great "why" at the end of our path of faith, Christ Himself, but we do not know the steps in our journey along this life. Like Abraham, the more effort we put into controlling the steps of our path the more we may reap havoc for ourselves and our children. When we presume to know where God's providence leads it can be a way in which we unknowingly or from simple foolishness absolve ourselves of loving our enemies or our neighbors. We may have to resist the impulse to speak precisely because we suppose that is what God requires, while we may be obliged to speak in precisely the realm we fear to speak in. It's not as simple as just doing something because you don't want to do it so that means it's from the Lord, or that just because you want to do it the Lord validates it.

Jacob and Joseph are interesting character studies. One man struggled with God and was grasping at making decisions with his own will and power. His wrestling with God was part of his holy calling and path. Joseph's path was quite different. We must resist the temptation to find the path of Joseph wanting if we are Jacob or the path of Jacob wanting if we are Joseph.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

irrelevancies that caught my eye

on 28 Oct 200 at 6:03pm jeuby

tangential question, why is there a pole wrapped in barbed wire behind mark driscoll?

on 29 Oct 2008 at 1:30 pm BartM

>>>tangential question, why is there a pole wrapped in barbed wire behind mark driscoll?
to keep the strippers away??

Let's try to be pertinent folks. :)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

some risks in anthems

Something that has been on my mind for a few months now is the Christian anthem. The anthem is generally a musically simple and moralizing song for the purpose of instruction. In a high liturgical setting the role of the anthem is simple and obvious, as it is in any other liturgical setting. It is the musical and textual equivalent of the answer to the question "What lesson should we learn today?"

Given the necessarily didactic nature of the anthem it is no surprise that it should be simple to sing and remember. It is likely that most of us recognize "Jesus Loves Me" as having the function of an anthem.

It is apparent, however, that people can confuse the technical meaning and purpose of an anthem with the connotative and social use of an anthem, or to put it far more precisely there can bea confusion between the anthem and the theme song. An anthem is not a song chosen as a rallying cry but a song composed for the purpose of instruction. And it is this sort of confusion that can speak to confusion in theology if we're not careful and thinking things through.

An anthem, properly speaking, provides instruction. A theme song or song of rallying is employed to declare mission and intent. The song types can most certainly overlap. Queen's song "We Will Rock You" covers both types of song. It is an anthem for a cause and a theme song exemplifying the group on behalf of itself. And it's a catch tune, one of the few catchy tunes the band did.

I have to confess to having had little fondness for anthems and theme songs in Christian settings. Perhaps this is simply a personal weakness of mine but I have often felt that the theology and other associated messags in anthems and theme songs for Christendom can too often be truncated. The theology as stated is certainly not wrong. Jesus loves the little children, surely. Jesus loves me and this I know.

But other would-be anthems and theme songs often fail because their message is not REALLY Christ in some ways. Sometimes a song can have adequate theology but be employed for a purpose that is finally too much about us and not about Him. And often the anthem doesn't plumb deeply enough or simply tries too hard.

Now I apologize in advance if you like his music and consider these observations offensive since, as I wrote elsewhere, I'm not going out of my way to be a jerk or offensive. But as I consider contemoprary Christian music and attempts to write instructional songs that teach Christians things someone thinks they ought to know few songwriters exemplify what I believe is musically and theologically wanting in attempts to write anthems or didactic songs in contemporary Christendom than Steve Camp. He makes a living at it and I'm glad for him on that point, and for his family since he's able to support them. I respect (though do not always appreciate) his particular brand of high-minded seriousness because it can seem to lapse into a form of self-seriousness that might be considered the flip side of Driscoll's flippancy (I don't mention Driscoll for no reason and will bring his name back later to help explain some concerns I have about Camp's approach to things).

But Camp is the exemplar of a whole school of Christian songwriting I've observed in the last fifteen years. He's not the ONLY example of this kind of songwriting but he's the best example of it, the Christian book report approach to songwriting. Let me give a selection of what I mean by pointing out a correlation of titles used in Steve Camp Songs to books read. You'll quickly see what I mean.

Playing Marbles with Diamonds, a book by Vance Havner

The Gospel According to Jesus, a book by John Macarthur

The Agony of Deceit, potentially the Michael Horton book but I'm less certain about this bibliographic reference

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, obviously based on the Jonathan Edwards sermon

Let me take a detour into the realm of comic books and consider something Gerard Jones said about his stint writing Green Lantern stories. Fear your dream job! if you appreciated something about this or that comic book title then the best thing you can do is not aspire to go write for that comic book title, but to take the best and most useful things in that title in terms of character development and story-telling and translate those lessons learned into your own work. And Jones seems to have done that because while his Green Lantern stories, honestly, didn't do much for me when I read a couple of them, he proved a genius at adapting the humor of Rumiko Takahashi into an idom that makes it intelligible to an English-speaking and English-reading comics fan. Seventeen volumes of stuff she wrote that he helped adapt speaks to my estimation of his success anyway.

An artist has a stage in development where he or she is going to have to imitate and invoke to grow. This is perfectly fine for young and immature artists. It can even be employed effectively by mature artists. Arvo Part uses Bach in a couple of his mature works to good effect. Takemitsu invoked Bach in a few of his guitar works and even did wonderful arrangements of popular songs for guitar. Shostakovich quoted his earlier works in new contexts frequently for symbolic and personal effect. The DC animated universe freely and shamelessly adapted and appropriated all kinds of previously existing stories, characters and materials and synthesized them into great cartoons that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike.

But this gets me back to Camp, and the Christian book report songwriting syndrome. These songs are memorable, certainly, but they are startlingly didactic in subtext. Camp can sometimes set a precedent in which he seems to be saying:

"Hi, I'm Steve Camp. These are the books that I have read that you should be reading if you buy my albums and I'm going to tell you what they are and summarize the themes and talking points of the book as presented in the table of contents of each book."

In some sense Camp is an artist whose work and theological points are often solid but essentially second hand. He popularizes, at some level, the work of men he respects whose work he wants more people to be familiar with. Does this sound familiar? Why, yes, it seems Driscoll does the same thing with John Piper, CJ Mahaney, DA Carson, sometimes NT Wright and formerly Doug Wilson. But Camp seems to have a big problem with Driscoll for reasons he'll go on and on about to anyone who reads his blog.

Thing is, both men are competent entertainers and Christian thinkers who basically invoke and point toward men whose teaching they want to have more exposure. That's the positive way of putting it. The negative-sounding way would be to say that these are two men who are smart enough to know who the smarter men are and are perfectly willing to usually intellectually second hand punches they borrow from those men to fight the fights they want to fight, which may not be the agendas of the men to whom they are indebted. Driscoll parlays this into preaching/comedy and Camp parlays it into track listings on his albums. I trust the parallelism in applied method isn't that hard to observe.

This isn't necessarily bad. There NEED to be popularizers of lesser known but more ambitous Christian thinkers. The thing is that Camp's approach seems sufficiently like Driscoll's that maybe the fellow could chill out a bit. Someone so prone to the Christian book report syndrome in his work, even going so far as to use a phrase "Burn your plastic Jesus" that Driscoll reportedly said, seems to demonstrate that if the slogan or title or catchphrase is catchy enough and serves a necessary didactic purpose Camp will camp on it, to invoke his own pun on his own name. There are other aspects of camp that may be associated with his music, I suppose, if he wants to follow the puns on his name into adjectives and not just verbs or nouns. There's a place for that, kind of like there's a place for the music of David Bowie, widely agreed to be camp but enjoyable.

But this is the point where the didactic song or the anthem or the theme song can spin off the rails and here I'm not so much concerned about Camp as other streams of thought. I'm thinking more of the "Let's Get Upset" sort of Christian anthem that translates moral outrage into a political force with a particular nation in mind, or the use of anthems composed in African churches being sung in suburban or urban Seattle churches. At one level this stuff is fine, but at another level there is a type of consumerism hidden within these uses. A song that offers hope to the impoverished in Asia or Africa transported into some church in Seattle can, by a liturgical and cultural slight of hand stop being a song about the hope that Christ and His reign announced and embodied through the hands and feet and hearts of His people reaching out to the needy can become a song of self-aggrandizement of Westerners who believe they are going to change the world for Jesus because they have His name and believe they will be God's agents to transform their own city, not some row of hovels over in Burma or Kenya, for the sake of the Gospel.

Well, okay, but is that really the goal? As far back as the apostles Christians have believed they were doing things for Jesus when they were still bickering among themselves as to who would be, ought to be, or was the greatest and why. The sons of Zebedee might say, "Look, we're Jesus' closest buddies. He gave us a nickname. That means we're special and we've got the inside angle." Peter could reply, "I've got a nickname, too! And Jesus said that on THIS rock I will build the kingdom. I'm the boss because I'm the most worthy." Judas might have said, "I'm entruste with all our money. If Jesus trusts me with all the money we live off of shouldn't that mean that I'M the greatest among us. I'm the financial wizard of the group and I know people who work at the Temple." Jesus' reply to this sort of bickering was to point out that service and self-sacrifice were the real measures of greatness and leadership. We can invoke Christ as our master and friend, but not to point to ourselves or how much we have accomplished. We are even in a problematic place if we say that God THROUGH ME does this or that because there is still the ever-present risk of thinking that it is we who accomplish things rather than trusting the Lord works His purpose in ways we don't understand so that all glory finally belongs to Him.

That means that we have no glory even in saying that God appointed us to this or that task. Why? Because it means little to say that God raised me up to lead this or that. Pharaoh was raised up by God to be destroyed. Just because God gives you a position of leadership doesn't mean 1) that you deserve it 2) that you're qualified for it 3) that your having the position is even a sign of God's mercy or 4) that you are even finally a believer because not all of God's appointed leaders in this age have been His servants willingly and 5) God raises up some leaders to make a show of them and crush them to reveal that He is not mocked when they raise themselves up as something special in themselves.

And that is why I am sometimes cautious about this anthem approach to songs. A song like "Let's Get Upset" is a didactic song that says that if we Christians pray God will make America great again. Anyone remember that song? No? Good, it wasn't that great a song and the theology was doubtful. THAT is the sort of anthemizing song, or theme song, that I lately have concerns about. It can be a song that gets employed that way even beyond its original intent. The song that says "look at us and what we will do" even subtextually or metatextually, is a problematic song. I have of late come to the belief that in Christ our songs should consider Christ. We can consider ourselves, for the Psalmist most assuredly considered himself! But we must be careful not to employ songs ostensibly about Christ to push ourselves.

We can subliminally take up a song that we wish to be an anthem or theme song and it reveals less about Jesus in the end and more about our agendas. This is, in some sense, back to Camp/camp. The book report songs he writes tell us a great deal about what Christian teachers he approves and who he does or does not consider to actually be Christian. To go by catchphrases he uses as the basis for songs we can construct a sort of library of what stuff he thinks we should be reading. I think he means well but songs can be appropriated by other people.

This gets back, for me, to someone in an urban Seattle church using a song written by or for an African or Asian group of believers living in squalor and a song offering hope in conjunction with actual ministry and help to the impoverished believers can be transformed into a self-congratulatory mush in an urban setting where a church more or less expects God to use them to change people for the better. The Ark of the Covenant did not bring victory in battle. Israel at one point thought that because the Ark of the Covenant was with them they would be victorious. God allowed Israel to be defeated and the Ark to be taken. At one point Israel believed that because they had the Temple that they would be safe. God reminded them through a prophet that He destroyed His house at Shiloh and would destroy the Temple as well.

It is fascinating and sad how we take up this or that thing God has providentially given us and invoke it as proof that we are right, that we are not in sin, that we are God's appointed people and that because of that God will lead us to continuing growth and victory. We could not even invoke the Scripture itself at one point. The Lord said through the prophet to those sorts of Israelites that the lying pens of the scribes had made Scripture itself into a lie. So, no, even Scripture itself would not ensure that God would divert His judgment against disobedience. We cannot say: We are God's people. We have this church. We have this success. We have blessing. We have the Bible and we stand under it. God's people are rebels who defy Him and harm each other. Our success is often our trap as God warns us, and we forget Him precisely when we think we consider Him most. We have the Bible but we suppose it supports us and our own agendas rather than submitting to it. And we can simply appropriate whatever agenda we want and simply compel Scripture to mean what we want it to mean. In this respect, though I may have all sorts of issues with Camp, he and I probably are on the same page about these concerns. I just come at it as an amateur composer of classical music and he comes at it as a professional Christian musician. He doesn't wonder how to compose chamber sonatas for clarinet and guitar and doesn't need to. I recognize that it is unfair to find Camp's music wanting by a whole range of criteria he isn't working from. And I want to be clear that compared to the "Let's Get Upset" anthems I used to hear I can respect Camp's heart even as I dislike his music and his (to my ears) intellectually second-hand approach that I sometimes wish he would move beyond.

Now I used to attend a church more than a decade ago that used to close with an anthem that had the line "go out into the city." It was one of those "we're going to change this city for Jesus" sorts of anthems. It fell flat, as (for me) all such anthem/theme songs do. Songs like that spend too much time imploring "us" to go do God's work. And there's a place for that .... but that place is better exemplified and placed within the context of preaching. The precedent of the psalms tends to be enjoining us to worship the Lord and to consider His works, not our own, whether those works may be the works we are enjoined to do (i.e. besides singing praise to the Lord and remembering Him) or the works we hope to do. We do not know the future so we cannot speak as to what will come in the days ahead. God may life us up or dash us to pieces, cast us down from the height to which we and/or He may have raised us to.

The psalms time and again bless the Lord and turn our thoughts toward Him and what He does for His people. There is discussion of offering sacrifices, love of the law, and of gratitude for the opportunity to serve Yahweh. But while Christ gives us victory over our enemies He alone is the source of that victory. Our confidence is not that we will get what we want but that God is faithful. We do not know if we go out into that city whether we will see lives changed for the sake of the Gospel or if we will be martyred or if we will, perhaps, find ourselves rebuked by God for failing to grasp the depth of the Gospel. Jesus still speaks words of rebuke to us through His reubke to others, go back and consider this, that I desire mercy and not sacrifice.

Anthems, slogans, and similar songs often seem to be calls to sacrifice even in moments of speaking about mercy. As iMonk asked it, why is it that those who love Amazing Grace so much so rarely seem to exemplify that amazing grace in their own lives toward others. A great, beautiful, simple, and humble song can be appropriated for corrupted purposes. If we are not considerate of where we truly stand before the Lord we may meet Him one day and the anthems we so proudly and optimstically sang in the belief that we were singing them about Him may testify against us in a day when Jesus may say "I never knew you" The miracles we worked, the demons we cast out, these things will be spoken against us. We will have found that we have not helped the destitue and by so failing, have failed to clothe and feed Christ. We will have won souls but without having helped their bodies. Or we will have helped their bodily needs without considering other things.

There is, assuredly, a place for anthems, but I hope that we can remember that our anthem is Christ. He must become greater and greater and we must become less and less. An anthem that points to us should point to us in so far as we are objects of Yahweh's love and mercy and justice but the final one toward whom all anthems must point is not to the things we expect God to do for us, through us, in us, or despite us, but to God Himself.