Learn the true way of coming to peace – it is by looking to manifested Jesus. Some of you think you will come to peace by looking in to your own heart. Your eye is riveted there. You watch every change there. If you could only see a glimpse of light there, oh, what joy it would give you! If you could only see a melting of your stony heart, if you could only see your heart turning to God, if you could only see a glimpse of the image of Jesus in your heart, you would be at peace; but you cannot: all is dark within. Oh, dear souls, it is not there you will find peace! You must avert the eye from your bosom altogether. You must look to a declared Christ. Spread out the record of God concerning His Son. The Gospels are the narrative of the heart of Jesus. Spread them out before the eye of your mind, till they fill your eye. Cry for the Spirit to breathe over the page, to make a manifested Christ stand out plainly before you; and the moment that you are willing to believe all that is there spoken concerning Jesus, that moment you will wipe away your tears, and change your sighs for a new song of praise.
— Robert Murray M'Cheyne, Sermon on 1 John 1:1-4, in Robert Murray M'Cheyne: Memoir and Remains (via Neil Powell)
Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)
In Bristol this weekend 12,000 runners took to the streets for the annual 10K race. I live near the Bristol Downs, where every day you can see casual joggers (headphones in; gentle pacing) and more serious runners (hi-vis Lycra; determined) out for their evening’s exercise. Occasionally I’ll join them, but without anything to train for I find it easy to give up early and head home.
The Christian life is often described as a race. Christians are like athletes, in a competition with rules (2 Tim 2:5). We’re to run to obtain a prize, running with purpose and discipline (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). We’re to press on to the end, straining forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13-14). We’re to persevere (Hebrews 12:1), or in the words common to many conversations I’ve had recently, we’re to keep going.
“Keep going.” A simple phrase, easy to say, but it often feels so difficult to do. For the Christian facing a difficult time—whether the stress of exams, overwhelming temptation or the black dog of depression—it can seem next to impossible. “Keep going? Exactly how do you expect me to do that?” We’re all too aware of our weakness and inability, and yet other Christians—the Bible even—seem to expect something that feels beyond us.
Often it can feel like no-one really understands how difficult things are. So we end up hiding away our feelings, saying “no one seems to believe me anyway”. At the other extreme we feel the need to prove that we’re struggling by self-destructing—turning to sin, self-harm, even suicide attempts to get people to “take this seriously”.
To the suffering, struggling Christian, the gentle encouragement to keep going can seem like the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We read verses like the one from Hebrews above, and angrily respond: “I can’t! Can’t you see I’m drowning here?”
When it feels like it’s impossible to keep going, what do we need to hear? Is God being unrealistic and pastorally insensitive when he calls us to “run with perseverance”?
The book of Hebrews actually gives us a perfect model of how to encourage the struggling. More than any other New Testament book, it calls Christians to keep going, to keep running the race, to keep fighting sin, to persevere to the end. But it does so by pointing them away from their own resources, and shows them the one who persevered through ultimate suffering, even to the point of death, and still kept going—the Lord Jesus Christ. The verse above finishes like this:
Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
I can’t keep going. It’s beyond me. I’ll never make it. What can I do? Do I give up?
By no means. We’re to “fix our eyes on Jesus”; to “consider him”, the one who kept going to the bitter end—and pushed through to resurrection life. He has gone through suffering and death to the joy of heaven, and he does so as our pioneer, our forerunner. We look to him—and as we do, we find that, miraculously, he keeps us going. He’s run the race already, and ensures we’ll make it too.
Struggling, weary, doubting Christian: keep going! Not because you’re strong, but because his hold on you is sure. Not because you are worthy, but because he has promised.
Keep going. Not because you are able—but because he is.
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 23-24)
A few months ago my friend Cat was after some new music to listen to and asked me to blog about some of my recent discoveries. I don’t feel I’ve made a huge number recently, but it occurred to me that there’s loads of music I listen to that others might not have come across yet. So here’s a few albums and artists for your perusal, and if you have any on a similar theme you’d like to recommend, please do so in the comments.
Red Mountain Music
Back in 2008 Dan Hames introduced the reworked hymn “Hark the voice of love and mercy” to the students at UCCF’s Forum conference. I subsequently taught it to Bristol CU, where I imagine it’s long since been forgotten. It’s just one example of some wonderful takes on old hymns that this church in Alaska has been responsible for. Stand out tracks for me include:
- “Hark the voice of love and mercy” (linked above). I replace the line “ceremonial law” with “law that went before”.
- “There is a fountain filled with blood“. This new tune to an incredible hymn fits the words so much better than every hymn tune I’ve sung it to – it’s gentle, uplifting and poignant.
- Everything on their Christmas album “Silent Night”, but particularly the last three tracks “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent“, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel“, and “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus“. These all keep the original tunes but in new arrangements. “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” is particularly good – the driving drums accompany the lyrics brilliantly as they reach a climax in the final line: “Raise us to Thy glorious throne!”
Find Red Mountain Music on Bandcamp.
One of the best projects bringing out modern takes on hymns, Page CXVI take their name from the page of C. S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew where Aslan sings Narnia into existence. Their aim is different to Red Mountain Music; they’ve (broadly) kept the tunes, but re-imagined them as indie rock songs. They’ve done an excellent job. These arrangements may or may not work in a congregational setting, but they are certainly more listenable to and more original than a lot of recorded hymns and Christian songs. If you’re bored of Christian albums that sound like bad examples of soft rock and pop music from last decade, treat yourself to these guys. Favourite tracks would be too many to mention, and I’ve not even managed to listen to their latest three releases yet, but get their first album (originally titled “Hymns”), and if the final track “Joy” doesn’t move you, then I’ll be very surprised.
The composer of “There is a fountain filled with blood” (above) released this album on his own, and it’s brilliant. “Come every soul by sin oppressed” is glorious, both lyrically and musically. As expected of the composer, this version of “There is a fountain” is excellent (and free to download). Quite a few of these would probably work congregationally, but the arrangements on the album are good to listen to (acoustic guitar-led with kit, bass, electric guitar and various keyboard and string instruments). “Out of the depths” has a drum-machine/EP-led accompaniment, which works surprisingly well for a psalm setting!
Listen to City Hymns on Bandcamp.
And now for something completely different. I don’t listen to much hip-hop, but when I do, I listen to Beautiful Eulogy. They’ve got a real lyrical flair, some great melodies and hooks, and the sung vocals are top-notch and varied. The accompaniments range from clicks and blips to pads and piano. You can download their first album “Satellite Kite” from Noisetrade free of charge. I’m not so sold on their follow-up album, but maybe I’ll get into it. I just keep coming back to their first one though.
More to follow next week…
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Picture from Full of Eyes.
When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: “I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means! For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God. Where He is, there I shall be also!”
— Martin Luther, "Letter to Jerome Weller", in Letters of Spiritual Counsel, ed. and trans. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), p86-87
Great stuff from Nim Clemo:
What gospel truths do you use to excuse your sin?
- “Jesus died to forgive my sins”
- “I’m saved by grace, not works”
- “I mustn’t be legalistic about holiness”
But when I look in the mirror of God’s word – alongside the challenging words of John Owen – I can’t help but see the ugly realities of my heart:
- “Holiness and obedience aren’t my top priorities”
- “I’m too lazy to deal with sin”
- “I don’t want to fast and battle in prayer”
- “I don’t believe my sin is dangerous to me”
Wow. Told you it’s ugly. How greatly we need Jesus!
Feeling very proud of my parents right about now: