Songwriting Tip: Pursue Doctrinal Accuracy

Every word in a worship song should be doctrinally accurate.

Worship songs can teach, declare and celebrate the truth of who God is and what he’s done for us in Christ.  They should help us dwell richly on the word of Christ:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Co 3:16).

Our worship songs should be full of truth about Jesus’ character and deeds.  Therefore we want to make every word as doctrinally accurate as possible.

This is challenging because songs are poetic – they use metaphors, pictures, and colorful language, like the Psalms.  But our metaphors must be clear and biblically accurate.  I really like Delirious and our church has been blessed by a number of their songs, but I don’t know what they mean by these lyrics from Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble:

Did you feel the mountains tremble?
Did you hear the oceans roar?
When the people rose to sing of
Jesus Christ the risen one

Open up the doors and let the music play
Let the streets resound with singing
Songs that bring your hope
Songs that bring your joy
Dancers who dance upon injustice

Although these lyrics are great poetically, I don’t know what they mean (of course, I could just be dense). But is this song about this age?  Or the millenium?  Or heaven?  What do they mean by “Dancers who dance upon injustice”?  When did the mountains tremble and oceans roar?

Once a man I didn’t know called me about one word in a song of mine that had been published.  One word!  The line of the song was, “If you make righteous, who can then accuse us?”  He said that technically, God doesn’t “make” us righteous – he “declares” us to be righteous.  He “imputes” Christ’s righteousness to us, but we never become righteous in and of ourselves.

My first thought was, “Picky, picky, picky!”  But I checked with another pastor who confirmed the man’s point.

“But if I change it to ‘You’ve declared us righteous’ that will be too many syllables – it won’t fit the rhyme scheme,” I said.  My friend responded, “Truth affects peoples’ lives.  We don’t want people thinking that somehow they can ever be righteous apart from Christ’s righteousness.   Better the song be a little less easy to sing than doctrinally inaccurate.”

He was right.  I changed the words of the song to “You’ve declared us righteous.”  The line wasn’t quite as easy to sing, but it was more accurate.

Be diligent.  Be ruthless.  Make sure every word and metaphor is clear and accurate.  Get your pastor to look at your lyrics.  And read sound theological books like Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem.  It matters what we sing.

Photo by Xoe Craft

What Does Jesus Think About Being Busy?

We live in the culture of the busy. Do more, work more, be more productive. Go to the bookstore and buy a book that tells you how to be 100% more productive in 50% less time. Set goals, meet goals, destroy goals. Wake up early, guzzle coffee, and get stuff done.

Our culture makes heroes out of highly effective people, and we find a lot of our identity in our productivity. The more we produce, the better we feel about ourselves. At least that’s how I feel.

Unfortunately, I often carry this “be productive” attitude into my relationship with Jesus. I feel like I’m more pleasing to Jesus when I doing more for Jesus. But I don’t think Jesus sees it that way.

In Luke 10, Jesus is spending time with Martha and Mary. Luke 10:40 describes Martha in the following way:

But Martha was distracted with much serving.

Martha was doing a wonderful thing by serving Jesus. Servants are great in the kingdom of God, and Jesus regularly emphasized the call to servanthood. But Martha was distracted by serving. Who was she distracted from? Jesus.

What was Mary doing while Martha was being productive and efficient? Sitting at Jesus feet, listening to his teaching and delighting in his presence. She wasn’t getting anything done for Jesus, she just delighted in being with Jesus.

When Martha commands Jesus to command Mary to get up and serve, Jesus gently corrects her by saying:

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:41-42)

Martha had gotten so caught up in doing that she forgot about delighting. Serving Jesus became more important than delighting in Jesus. Her priorities were backwards.

I’ve got a lot of Martha in me, and if I was there I would have probably received the same correction. I often find myself more concerned about accomplishing and achieving than simply being with Jesus and delighting in his presence. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be zealous for good works, but I want my time in the presence of Jesus to take precedence over my performance for Jesus.

What about you? Any other Marthas out there?


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+photo by Irish Typepad

Glaring Blind Spots

Did you know Jonathan Edwards owned slaves?

“It should be noted that Edwards was able to accomplish as much as he did in part because he bought into the viability of slavery. This is a massive stain on the reputation of a great Christian man. Though Edwards did treat his slaves well, and though he believed in and talked about the spiritual equality of all people before the Lord, he failed to adequately apply spiritual truths to his everyday life. Even so faithful a Christian and so biblically concerned believer as Edwards has his blind spots–some of them, like slavery, shameful in great measure.”  – Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards, Lover of God

Reading this passage made me wonder what massive blind spots I have in my life that others see now or will be someday be glaringly obvious to others when I’ve died.   How many ways have I failed to apply spiritual truth to my life?

I’m so grateful for both aspects of justification — forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of Christ.  Not only does God see believers as “not guilty” because of Christ’s sacrifice, but he sees us as positively “righteous” because he credits Christ’s lifetime of flawless obedience to us as a gift of his grace. We need both–atonement for sin, and a positive record of righteousness–in order to stand before God.

Even Jonathan Edwards, as zealous as he was for the Lord, could not enter heaven based on his performance. If he presented all his sermons, teaching and books, all the hospitality he and his wife practiced, and all the people he helped as worthy of heaven, God would say what about the massive blind spot of slavery? What about this gaping deficiency?

But Edwards, trusted in Christ, so God viewed him not only as if he’d never sinned, but as if he’d lived Christ’s perfect life of obedience.

“To [Christ’s] righteousness is the eye of the believer ever to be directed; on that righteousness must he rest; on that righteousness must he live; on that righteousness must he die; in that righteousness must he appear before the judgment-seat; in that righteousness must he stand forever in the presence of a righteous God.” — Robert Haldane

Praise God for justification by faith!

photo by elmago_delmar

Meet Jonah the Jerk

God is the God of second chances. And he’s also the God of third chances, and fourth chances, and fifth chances.

Case in point: Jonah.

Have you read the book of Jonah any time recently? It’s a surreal book featuring Jonah the Enormous Jerk and the God of Everflowing, Overflowing Grace.

God calls Jonah to go to Ninevah and prophesy their impending destruction. Jonah isn’t so keen on that idea and makes a break for Tarshish. The moment Jonah ran, God should have killed him. But he gave him a second chance. His mercy won’t let Jonah get away that easily.

God hunts down Jonah with a storm of epic proportions, which results in him be thrown into the sea by the ship’s crew (who, by the way, placed their faith in Yahweh). It would be right for God to let Jonah inhale the water and suffocate, but he doesn’t. Instead he appoints a fish to swallow Jonah and save him from drowning. Jonah is vomited onto dry land.

He goes to Nineveh, preaches, and 120,000 people repent in sackcloth and ashes. It’s probably the greatest revival in history and it certainly is every preacher’s dream come true. But Jonah is in no mood to celebrate. He stalks outside the city and sets up a booth to sit in, hoping that God will still bring the hammer down on Nineveh. God doesn’t and Jonah flips out on God. He’s angry that God would be merciful to such scumbags and now would like God to take his life.

Jonah should have been vaporized on the spot. But God gave him a third chance.

God sends a plant to cover Jonah from the sun. The plant is present for only one day, but it appears to be the best day of Jonah’s life. The next however, it’s gone, eaten by a God-appointed worm. Jonah has had enough. He again asks God to kill him on the spot. But God continues to extend compassion to Jonah, and gives him yet a fourth chance to turn from his wickedness.

The book of Jonah ends without telling us what Jonah did, but I think he finally got it. God just wouldn’t let go of Jonah. He loved him too much and wouldn’t let him wallow in sin.

God does the same with you and me. God always sticks with us. He should have dumped us long ago, but he is utterly faithful to the end, and will keep pursuing us with compassion.

Which makes me really glad.

Clenched Teeth Obedience

It’s not enough to do God’s will.  It doesn’t please God when we obey with clenched teeth.

We need to delight to do God’s will.

“Not only did Jesus do the will of the Father, not only was that His whole goal in life, but Psalm 40:8 tells us that He delighted to do the will of the Father. To become like Jesus, then, is to come to the place where we delight to do the will of God, however sacrificial or unpleasant that will may seem to us at the time, simply because it is His will.” — Jerry Bridges, The Disciplines of Grace

When it comes to obedience, attitude is everything!  If a father tells his son to cut the grass, and the son does it sullenly, grumbling the whole time, even though the son “obeys” his obedience won’t be pleasing to his father.  So when we obey God, we need his grace and the power of the Spirit to obey with glad and cheerful hearts.

Give us your grace, Lord Jesus, not only to do your will today, but to delight to do your will!

photo by amandabhslater