Total Church

I’m trying to get back into the book Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. My sense is that this is a very important book which tries to refine, and in some cases redefine, what we think church is.  I’m about halfway through, but I’m far enough to know that they lay out two complementary principles, both of which must be present for our church efforts to be Biblical. The two principles are gospel and community. Too many of our churches try to make do with just one of those two.

I hope to post more thoughts about this book but I just can’t help sharing this one little story right now.

A friend of mine became a Christian in his twenties. He was a merchant seaman and had never been to church until he was converted. He tells how he was so excited about his first church business meeting. He had been to a few Sunday meetings and had been baptized. Now his first quarterly church meeting was coming up, and he was really looking forward to it. This, as he puts it, was where they were going to plot the downfall of Satan. He was in for a big shock. He discovered the main issue for discussion was the type of toilet paper they should have in the restrooms. It was a big disappointment!

That hits a little too close to home. More on this topic soon, I hope.

Do Hard Things - Newt Gingrich

At last year’s Do Hard Things conference, we were told that the enforced and invented concept of “youth” or “teenagerhood” was ruining our chances of using those years productively. Now Newt seems to have attended the Do Hard Things conference! He writes it up well in Business Week. Thanks Bill for the link!

Israel and Hamas

It’s unbelievable, but up to 1987 I was a Palestinian sympathizer. Years of being exposed to poor biblical interpretation (which was meant to justify the nation of Israel), and years of Israeli excesses had convinced me that the Palestinians had a true moral outrage. They really were oppressed. The beginning of the end of my blindness came in 1987 with the first Intifada. I realized that there was a true amoral hate among Palestinians, one that could never be solved by the removal of oppression. The Christian Palestinians have mostly fled or been run out of town, leaving the remainder as nothing but an arm of international Muslim terrorism. This article by Charles Krauthammer reminded me how one-sidedly WRONG the Palestinian cause is.

Christmas songs #20: Joy to the world!

So here is my favorite Christmas song of all time. I had to save it till last for that reason, but also because its message is so complete. It’s not even really a Christmas song by the lyrics, but for some reason it got stuck to Christmas and that is just fine with me.

It’s really a hymn about the universal importance of the Savior coming into the world. It was written by Isaac Watts, the first great English hymn writer, and it shows advanced meditation on the text of the Bible. The original inspiration for it was Psalm 98, verses 4-9, but it is certainly based on New Testament as well as Old Testament teaching.

In verse 1, Watts encourages us to make room for him in our hearts, not like the inn in Bethlehem which had no room. But the verse is also an echo of John 1.10-11: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”

In verse 3, which is the best one of all, Jesus is presented as the one who reverses the curse brought on in the garden of Eden. We saw this theme in “Hark the herald angels sing.” In Genesis it says that God placed a curse on the earth and told Adam it would bear thorns and thistles to him, not just food. But Jesus is the second Adam who passes the test and earns the right, not just to be recognized as obedient, but also to redeem his people. The curse is being removed now, Jesus is ruling now (verse 4) and in the end he will put all things right, which are only partially redeemed now.

If any of you have followed me to the end, thanks for staying with me! If you have more questions about the basic message of the Bible, please visit  Two ways to live or The Gospel In Six Minutes. It is my sincere wish that all of you come to know the Savior as Lord and King.
The song:

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Christmas songs #19: Good Christian men, rejoice!

Have you noticed how sexist all these old songs are? Here is one that just calls on the men to rejoice, but leaves the women out! Of course that’s absurd. In the English language, anytime before 20 or 30 years ago, “men” just meant everyone. We are all “men.” So here is a song that calls everyone to rejoice in the good news of Jesus’s coming.

This song does not leave us with just a vague impression of the coming of Jesus. It is not just “peace on earth” like a Christmas card. The song calls us to salvation. “Now ye need not fear the grave.” There is still a fear of the grave. Nothing has changed about “men” in the last 2000 years, not essentially. If anything, we fear the grave even more than our “superstitious” ancestors did. At least they had their gods (whichever ones) that would protect them. But now that we have gotten rid of all the gods, our society lives in abject fear that any person would ever die, so we spend money like there’s no tomorrow, trying to avoid it.

But there is a God, and there is a life after death. Otherwise nothing makes any sense.

God is complicated - so complicated that the entire Bible can’t describe him fully - but he partially solved that problem for us by becoming one of us, and revealing so carefully what God was like. John 1.18 says, “No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known.” (NET Bible translation)

There is a second problem, and it is worse than the first one. The second problem is that we have been in rebellion against God from the beginning. Jesus came to fix that too. He died on the cross intentionally, to secure the pardon from God the Father for those who would trust (believe) in him. This is the most amazing part of the story, and some of our Christmas songs have made it clear. The baby came to die. That was always the plan. Anybody who says God is unfair to judge us needs to realize that he came to bear his own penalty. He knows all about suffering. Now, literally anyone who wants a pardon can get it. But it’s a little more involved than just saying Jesus’s name reverently once or twice a year…

More tomorrow with the last song.

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (
Good Christian men, rejoice with heart and soul, and voice;
Give ye heed to what we say: Jesus Christ is born today;
Ox and ass before Him bow; and He is in the manger now.
Christ is born today! Christ is born today!

Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice;
Now ye hear of endless bliss: Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened the heavenly door, and man is blest forevermore.
Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this!

Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice;
Now ye need not fear the grave: Jesus Christ was born to save!
Calls you one and calls you all, to gain His everlasting hall.
Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!

Christmas songs #18: God rest you merry, gentlemen

The last three songs, of which this is the first, are addressed to all people and call for us to rejoice in the birth of Christ. With this song we almost always mistake the meaning of the first line. The song, which is about 200 years old, does not say,

God rest you, merry gentlemen,

as if the gentlemen were already merry before the song reaches them.

Instead, the song, which is about 200 years old, says

God rest you merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay!

Which means that the men were NOT merry; in fact they might have been anxious. But the song-singer says “God rest you merry” which is an old fashioned way of asking for God’s blessing on them. He says, “Meditate on the Christmas story with me and you will praise the Lord and not be anxious.” And so the refrain keeps saying that these are “tidings of comfort and joy!”

The words are very folky, so they are pretty hard to understand nowadays. But the general drift is not hard to catch.

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day;
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.

In Bethlehem, in Israel, this blessed Babe was born,
And laid within a manger upon this blessed morn;
The which His mother Mary did nothing take in scorn.


From God our heavenly Father a blessed angel came;
And unto certain shepherds brought tidings of the same;
How that in Bethlehem was born the Son of God by name.


“Fear not, then,” said the angel, “Let nothing you affright
This day is born a Savior of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in Him from Satan’s power and might.”


The shepherds at those tidings rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding in tempest, storm and wind,
And went to Bethlehem straightway this blessed Babe to find.


But when to Bethlehem they came where our dear Savior lay,
They found Him in a manger where oxen feed on hay;
His mother Mary kneeling unto the Lord did pray.


Now to the Lord sing praises all you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas all others doth efface.


Christmas songs #17: Away in a manger

Despite what some songbooks say, this song was not written by Martin Luther. It’s from the 1800’s in America, and nobody knows who wrote it. I would be glad to defend it as being a Biblical meditation on Christmas, but there’s not much in it that comes from the actual Bible Christmas story. We don’t even know whether cattle were anywhere nearby when Jesus was laid in the manger. But it makes a better Christmas card picture if there are lots of animals around!

Where the song really succeeds Biblically is that it teaches us all to be children in order to know Jesus Christ. Jesus rebuked his disciples when they tried to shoo the children away. And he called all believers his “little ones.” And he said, “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18.3). So every Christian should be willing to sing the third verse, any time of the year, and at any age!

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes;
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there.

Christmas songs #16: Infant holy, infant lowly

OK, here is one that has almost no content, but it is just too beautiful to leave out. Play the audio and see if you don’t agree!

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (

Infant holy, Infant lowly, for His bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing, Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
Swift are winging angels singing, noels ringing, tidings bringing:
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.

Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping vigil till the morning new
Saw the glory, heard the story, tidings of a Gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, praises voicing, greet the morrow:
Christ the Babe was born for you.

Christmas songs #15: What child is this?

This song is very straightforward. Confronted with the birth of a child, the song asks us, Who is this that is born and lying in a manger? Why are angels singing?

The answer begins as we would expect, with the affirmation that he is a King who has come. Come and praise him!

But there is a problem. If he is a King, why is he lying in a feeding trough? This is where the mystery comes in. He cautions us, “good Christians fear,” there is something sacred and serious going on here. This King is born to be crucified. This King is here to save sinners, including the “Good Christians” (for ME, for YOU). This king will be pierced by nails for his people. He is here to seek and to save what was lost.

All of this is summed up in one sentence in the third verse: “The King of Kings salvation brings.”

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (
What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Christmas songs #14: Silent night

It’s interesting how the nighttime has always been associated with the Christmas story. The shepherds saw the angels at night, and the wise men followed a star, which naturally would be visible at night. The Scriptures seem to invite us to consider the story as a nighttime story, and so many of our songs emphasize that point.

This nighttime song was written for Midnight Mass in 1818 in Oberndorf, Austria. The organ was broken and so the song was first sung with guitar accompaniment. It’s one of the most beautiful songs ever written, don’t you think?

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (
Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light;
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Silent night, holy night
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!