The Need for a Life-Verse

I am currently working through Robby Gallaty’s newest book, The Forgotten Jesus. Pastor Gallaty’s goal in this book it to rediscover the lost Jewishness of the New Testament. It’s a great book, and I highly recommend it for any Christian seeking to deepen their faith (both lay and clergy). In chapter one, Gallaty discusses what he calls, “Bloated Christian Syndrom.” Essentially, we often overload our minds with massive amounts of basic introductory information about the Bible, but we never go any deeper. Gallaty says, “Learning biblical information doesn’t automatically produce spiritual growth. Having the right information is necessary, but it is insufficient. True growth must also involve repetition and reiteration of deep spiritual truths and their application to one’s own life.” (The Forgotten Jesus, pg. 33).

I believe that Pastor Gallaty makes a crucial point; we never allow the weight of a passage to just speak into our lives for a prolonged period of time. A few months back, I was asked to preach at a chapel service for my Seminary, United Theological Seminary (Dayton, Ohio). It just so happened to be the chapel service in which all the perspective students would also be attending. Therefore, to be cliche, we went with the theme of being called by God into ministry, and I chose to preach from Isaiah 6.

For five straight weeks, I read this text multiple times a day and just let the weight of it rest on my soul. For weeks on end, this passage of scripture became the very breath of God in my life. It was the first time that I had allowed a passage of scripture to speak into my life for such a long period of time. At first, I thought it would become boring and stale; however, every time I read through it, it spoke much-needed life into my spirit. It was from this moment on that I realized what a life-verse was and the need for them.

I have three life-verses: Romans 1:16; Isaiah 6; and Matthew 16:18. Every morning, I wake up and preach these truths to myself. These three passages are what help me cling to Christ and not burn out of ministry. I have found the importance of having life-verses and allowing the weight of those texts to rest on your soul and drive you closer to Jesus. So for the remainder of this post, I just want to share with you why I have chosen these as my life verses.

Why Romans 1:16? Frankly, it is because of Lecrae and Trip Lee. Back in high school, I loved hip-hop; however, much of the popular hip-hop music didn’t help with my Christian walk but often was counter to it. Back in 2006, I was introduced to music by Lecrae. It wasn’t corny Christian rap music, but it was quality hip-hop music with a positive Christian message. Subsequently, because of Lecrae, I was introduced to music by Trip Lee, and the rest is history. (Sorry Lecrae, but Trip Lee has been my favorite artist…but don’t get it twisted, I love ya, and God used you to change my life). I’m sold out on the whole 1-1-Six clique, even have it tattooed on my arm (which has allowed me to share the gospel with numerous people).

But after being a pastor and reading the text more clearly, the reason Romans 1:16 is my life verse is because of Romans 1:15 & 17. Here’s what they say: “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:15-17, ESV).

Paul says that he is eager to preach the gospel to those in Rome. But why? Becuase “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” But how is it the power of God unto salvation? Because in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed through Paul’s faith which then produces faith in others. It is because of the faith of Lecrae, Trip Lee, and those who discipled me who were eager and unashamed to share the gospel with me that faith was produced in me. Now, I too am unashamed and eager to share the gospel with others.

Why Isaiah 6? After working through that text for over a month, I came to a new realization about being called into ministry. Isaiah 6:8 is a pretty well-known verse that is put onto coffee mugs and t-shirts; however, it is often isolated away from its original context. We love to here: “The Lord said: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.'” The problem is that we stop reading. We don’t continue on and see to whom Isaiah is to preach and what his message is to be. God decrees that Isaiah’s ministry will have a have a hardening effect and that people will actually be driven away from God. He is to go and preach to people who will not listen to or understand what he is saying. I don’t know about you, but that is a hard message to hear as a pastor. You want me to go and pastor a church and pretty much kill it? I’m sorry God, I think I misheard you. Can you say that again?

Isaiah’s response is, “Um, how long do you want me to do this for?” And we think God is going to be merciful and encourage him, but then were surprised when God answers: “Until it’s a wasteland and only a tenth remain.” God doesn’t give Isaiah a length of time but rather how a sign of when he has accomplished his mission. I believe God does this so that Isaiah has to rely on the Spirit of God rather than himself to get through this time. It’s easier to make it through a set time frame than it is an indefinite period of time. Because Isaiah didn’t know how long this period of decline would last, he had to rely on the power of God to get him through day-by-day. He couldn’t count down the days because he never knew when it would end.

This passage has been one that I cling to in pastoral ministry. There will come days when you feel like an utter failure because people will walk away from the church and blame you. It is in those days that I turn to this passage and remind myself that successful ministry doesn’t always equate to growing numbers in the pews, but sometimes it’s the opposite. I love how the Rev. Mike Slaughter puts it when talking about his first year at Ginghamsburg: “I grew the church from 90 to 68 in my first year here.” And if anyone knows how it finished, Mike just retired from 38 years of faithful ministry at Ginghamsburg, and under his leadership, the church went from 90 to 68 to 5,000. Sometimes addition happens by subtraction.

That brings me to my final life verse. In the latter part of Matthew 16:18, Christ promises, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This verse takes a lot of weight off of the shoulders of pastors who believe in this promise. While we are the servants of Christ and his Church, it is ultimately Christ who builds his Church and not us. If your church doesn’t grow, it doesn’t mean that you are a failure. If your church does grow, it doesn’t mean that you are successful. Success is determined by how well you labor where you are. Do you love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength? Do you love your neighbor as yourself? Do you share the Gospel? Those determine your success, and the building up of Christ’s Church is left up to Christ.

Finally, I love the line, “…and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” We often think of that as a defensive verse. That no matter what attacks the Church, nothing shall conquer it; however, we need to read the verse more carefully. Gates were used as a city’s security and defense mechanism. The Church is called to be God’s active and offensive force in the world that drives back evil and darkness and pushes forth God’s love and light. Therefore, the gates of hell will not be able to stop God’s active force in the world that brings forth his Gospel.

So do you have a life verse? Do you allow a particular passage of scripture to just weigh on you soul for a prolonged period of time? Every day I wake up, I preach these verse to myself. By doing so, my relationship with God is not affected by the highs and lows of ministry, but it is predicated on who He is and the promises He has made. I strongly encourage you to refrain from Bloated Christian Syndrom, and instead stay in a text for a month and allow it to speak to you over and over again until it is woven into your very being.

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with You!

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Hymnology

Recently, I unknowingly started a controversy at one of my churches. A few months back, my seminary had just built a brand new chapel, and I was attending the dedication service. Now, I attended a United Methodist seminary, and as many know, Methodism was founded by John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield. All of whom had great hymnology, especially Charles. In his lifetime, Charles Wesley wrote more than 6,000 hymns. If you were to check any Methodist Hymnal, I am confident the first hymn would be: “O for a Thousand Tounges to Sing.”

It was much to my surprise when we didn’t sing a Charles Wesley hymn during the dedication service; especially because in every class I took with the Rev. Dr. Scott Kisker, we sang at least one Charles Wesley hymn every class. After the dedication service, two weeks had gone by, and we still had yet to sing a Charles Wesley hymn. On this particular day, we sang a really bad and simplistic contemporary song during chapel service. In my annoyance of how worship was going, I posted something along the lines of: “When it comes to worship music, just give me a good old Charles Wesley hymn.”

Now, someone took this as a shot at my worship band at one of my churches without understanding the context of why I was saying it.  I actually love contemporary music. It’s pretty much all my wife and I listen to in the car. However, there is a significant theological difference and reasoning behind hymns and contemporary worship music. So that’s the point of this post. I will be discussing the reasons why we need to rediscover hymns and what I meant by my Facebook post.

Since the beginning of the Church, hymns have been a major part of the Christian faith. Throughout his letters, Paul on multiple occasions included hymns in his writings to the churches he loved. Philippians 2:5-11 is often referred to as the “hymn of Christ.” Paul depicts Christ’s example of service in a stirring poem that traces his preexistence, incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God. In Colossians 1:15-20, we see another hymn from Paul about the preeminence of Christ. My point being, from the very beginning of the Church hymns played an important part.

Up until the modern era, illiteracy has played a prominent role in the Church. Not everyone throughout the centuries has had the access and ability to read the Scriptures like we do today. I have over 20 Bibles sitting on my bookshelf in different translations, plus all of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts at my fingertips with my iPad. We are very blessed with the resources we have today; however, the Church has never been so illiterate when it comes to the Bible. I would contribute, at least in part, to the loss of singing hymns in church.

Throughout the centuries, hymns were used as a way to teach theological truths found in the Bible. Hymns helped illiterate people become theologically sound in their knowledge of God without ever being able to read the Bible for themselves. It much easier to remember something when it’s put into a rhythmatic song. Example: sing Twinkle, twinkle little star; now sing your ABCs. It’s the same song. It’s easier to remember things when put to a song. So throughout the centuries people have been writing theological truths and then putting them to music in order that people learn these truths.

If you have access to a hymnal, at some time grab it and look up a hymn. More than likely, there will be two names at the bottom of the page. One name will tell you who wrote the words, and the other name is the person who wrote the music. In the UMH, many of Charles Wesley’s hymns are put to music composed by his grandson (some say illegitimate grandson), Samuel Sebastian Wesley. However, if you look at Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress, Luther wrote both the words and the music. Anyone who knows me knows that A Mighty Fortress is one of my favorite hymns, but many don’t know that my favorite version is a rock version done by Tim Bushong. Hymns were written to last the ages because God’s truth never changes. There is nothing wrong with updating the music or the instruments in which hymns are played to. It’s the words that matter most. Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee just put out a magnificent hymn album in which the hymns are played to contemporary style music.

In contrast to hymns, the relatively recent phenomenon of contemporary music in the Church has a theological difference in why they’re written (I do realize that’s a broad stroke and not true of everyone). Most contemporary music is written for an emotional response to the song, whether it be crying, happiness, energetic, or solemn. Contemporary Christian Music has become more about opening people’s emotions up before hearing the Word of God read and/or the sermon preached. For the most part, we have lost the art of using songs to teach biblical truths. One way in which I determine whether a contemporary song is actually a good song is by turning off the music and reading the lyrics by themselves. I ask myself, do these words by themselves teach me something about God and move me closer to Him, or are these words just shallow and when put to the right beat create an emotional response?

It would be my hope that there is a rediscovery of the need for hymns in our churches. Especially, for more Charles Wesley hymns in the Methodist Churches. If you want to become a better Methodist, start reading and singing Wesley’s hymns. They are saturated with great theological truths. I implore my musically talented brothers and sisters, please do not allow us to lose our great hymns of old, but give them new life. Hymns have been a part of our faith since the beginning, it is my hope that we never lose that tradition.

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with You!