And have mercy on those who doubt —Jude 1:22
This short verse in the short book of Jude has long reaching applications. Why is it that we need this verse in the Bible? Surely we need it because God put it there, He knew we would need it.
Maybe some of us need it for ourselves. We can be vicious within, and this verse preaches grace from God that says “mercy” when we say “judgment.” We like to beat ourselves down for being such a filthy being, and there’s some dark part of us that actually likes that. It’s an attempt to live outside of the grace of God, because if grace really took hold it would lead to a freedom that we’re not in control of. And we would rather be in control even if that means we’re in chains to our judgments of ourselves.
Maybe some of us need it for others, we might think we’ve arrived at some kind of spiritual plane and assume everyone else should be wherever we are with us. Never underestimate the power of a human to seek power over other humans. For those who might be strong in one area of faith compared to others, it’s a temptation to use that and see yourself as better, more powerful and therefore more superior to someone who might be lacking in one particular area.
I think Christians, whether true or not, are generally characterized this way: we are people who don’t have mercy on those who doubt. Sometimes we deserve it, other times we don’t. Now we can’t alter the times when we don’t deserve it, in fact, that should be expected. But we can alter the times when we do deserve that characterization. How do you respond to someone who calls themselves an atheist? Does it make you recoil in horror? Do you let them know passive-aggressively that you have a big problem with them? Or do you show mercy? Someone is more likely to respond to mercy than to judgment.
I think mercy is an incredibly hard thing to show. It’s hard to show to ourselves, it’s hard to show to others. We want to be judgmental, we want to be arrogant. But God calls us to something more, something better. Showing mercy is not something we can accomplish by ourselves, and if we try it that way, we’ll know because we’ll fail. But the Spirit is more than powerful to overcome our lack of mercy, and He works in us to accomplish His purposes.
Because we are a people who are “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 1:21), we can be a people who show mercy in ways that can only be described as supernatural.
originally posted on orlandograce.org
It might be easy to read about the first sin in Genesis 3 and feel disconnected from it. It happened a long time ago in a place where we’ve never been. But a quick look at our own culture and life shows just how close we really are. We’d like to think we’ve progressed as humanity, but we are really very similar to Adam and Eve.
We all want to create our own worlds, be our own gods. This is the American Dream, right? Nobody in themselves really wants to be dependent, well all want our own piece. So even though it kills us, we live in isolation. We live in isolation because being in contact with other people naturally leads to our world being disturbed. Being in contact with others might mean we would care for them or that they might need us to come through for them in ways we are not prepared or interested in.
Every day that we wake up and live in in our own little worlds is another day that we take a bite out of that original fruit. Like Adam and Eve we want the knowledge that God gives without the relationship that He requires. We don’t want Him, we want His stuff. And if we’re middle class or higher in the West, we’ve figured out lots of ways to make our lives so comfortable, so easy, we don’t think we need God anymore. If we have enough of His stuff (because, really, all creation is His anyway), we’re pretty much OK being on our own.
But then there are times were we really aren’t OK. We might try and suppress it and push it down, but we know the world is not how it’s supposed to be, even for the modern little American Dreaming kings and queens we are. We started out loving the taste of that original fruit, but now we feel like we have to force it down.
Every day that we live outside of ourselves, joining up with others is a protest of the world’s natural fruit-eating order.
But here’s the thing—we can’t even do this on our own. That’s the problem in the first place! How foolish to think we can get community right in isolation! The ideas don’t make sense. We’re called to live with others, we’re called to live under God. And of course we know this, this is what drives us to inner conflict to begin with, relying on ourselves. We need Someone better than us to help lead us in a life that is not self-obsessed.
There is no place for our own god and goddesses to raise their heads, in fact, part of the life we now live in includes chopping off their heads. More than that, the life we now live under a good God can now actually be marked by joy, real joy, when we live under the One who rescued us from ourselves.
I have been in the process of writing and recording a set of albums, Old & New, setting new music to older hymns and texts. I recently released my second of three and wanted to write a little about why I spent so much time devoted to old stuff (see other posts: I, II, III, IV, V, VI). You can get download both of the albums for free here: gregwillson.bandcamp.com. This post is on the last track, Remember Me.
There are times in our lives where we feel that our world is wildly out of control. There are trials that I have been in where I could not do anything to change my environment. Sometimes there are also times where the consequences of an intense trial can be even worse than the trial itself. And when you combine the two, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. I’ve been in situations where I can’t handle the present, and the future is just as bleak. It bears down and makes it hard to breathe.
It is in these moments where we must ask ourselves where our foundation ultimately is found. If it’s on us, it will be unbearable. And maybe we’ll come out okay but at what cost? If our foundation is built upon our good Father, things may still feel unbearable and we may not make it out okay, but we will be provided for. We are not forgotten, not set aside.
As believers we are cared for by the most powerful and most loving Being ever to exist. We can (and will) fail, He will not. We can (and will) make stupid mistakes, He will not. Our love for Him will wax and wane, His love for us will not. We are in His hands always, especially when we are going through the hard parts of our lives.
This is where Remember Me comes from. Using words from Thomas Haweis in the late 1700s, I found great comfort in their truth. And I wanted to do more than find comfort in them, I wanted to sing them. I wanted its song to be my own because I can’t trust myself to believe these things on my own. So as I sing it I believe it. I hope this can be of similar comfort and joy to you.
O Thou from whom all goodness flows
I lift my soul to Thee
In all my sorrows, conflicts, woes
Good Lord, remember me
When on my groaning, burdened heart
My sins lie heavily
My pardon speak, new peace imparts
In love remember me
When trials sore obstruct my way
And ills I cannot flee
Oh, give me strength, Lord, as my day
For good remember me
Distressed with pain, disease and grief
This feeble body see
Grant patience, rest and kind relief
Hear and remember me
If on my face for Thy dear name
Shame and reproaches be
All hail reproach and welcome shame
If Thou remember me
The hour is near, consigned to death
I own the just decree
Savior with my last parting breath
I’ll cry, remember me
I have been in the process of writing and recording a set of albums, Old & New, setting new music to older hymns and texts. I recently released my second of three and wanted to write a little about why I spent so much time devoted to old stuff (see other posts: I, II, III, IV, V). You can get download both of the albums for free here: gregwillson.bandcamp.com. This post is on the fifth track, Condescension.
Frederick William Faber wrote the lyrics for the setting of this hymn in 1852. It’s about the implications of the incarnation of Christ, where God became flesh and entered our world as one of us. This event completely changed the world and turned the world upside down (or maybe right side up?). The implications of such a thing turn our worlds upside down (or, again, probably right side up).
The title comes from the idea of God, who exists in perfect love within the Trinity, condescended to us. The Son willingly obeyed the Father’s sending of Him into our world, leaving the perfectness, taking on flesh—our flesh—so that we might know who He is. There is a well of love so deep we will never know, not because God has withheld Himself, but because it is so vast that a finite being could never exhaustively tread all the water.
It is out of the reality of the incarnation, and God’s condescension behind it, that this song rises up. It is at once monumental and intimate. This fueled the musical setting of these words. Musically, it is a larger sound palette than the rest of the album: bass drums, saxophones, melodica, and electric guitars dropped an octave add to the vastness. But the hope was to keep an intimacy still in there, so the main vocals are very up-front and compressed, almost as if I’m whispering into your ear at points.
My God, how wonderful Thou art
Thy majesty how bright
How beautiful Thy mercy-seat
In depths of burning light
Oh, how I fear Thee, living God
With deepest, tenderest fears
And worship Thee with trembling hope
And penitential tears
Yet I may love Thee, too, O Lord
Almighty as Thou art
For Thou hast stoop’d to ask of me
The love of my poor heart
No earthly father loves like Thee
Or mother, half so mild
Bears and forbears, as Thou hast done
Father of Jesus, love’s reward
What raptures there will be
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie
And ever gaze on Thee
I have been in the process of writing and recording a set of albums, Old & New, setting new music to older hymns and texts. I recently released my second of three and wanted to write a little about why I spent so much time devoted to old stuff (see other posts: I, II, III, IV). You can get download both of the albums for free here: gregwillson.bandcamp.com. This post is on the fourth track, Salvation for Wretched Dying Men.
The basics of the gospel are mind-blowing. Or maybe I should put it this way: “basics”. Though simple on paper and logically intelligible, the “basics” are extremely profound and turn our worlds upside down. Or, to edit myself again, turn ourselves right side up.
Man is wretched and dying and deserves to be in this state. We said (and say), “No, thank you, God, we’ve got this covered. You can go away now.” And we’ve devised all sorts of schemes and plans to make ourselves feel better about it. We’ve presented these diagrams to our hearts and, though they’ve protested, we cauterized their voices by becoming entangled in a milion other things that scramble for our attention. And yet, God has still offered us a way to be saved from our own wretchedness. That we deserve. That we run so gladly to. And this rescue isn’t just for us, for humans, but for all of creation.
Most of the song below was written by Isaac Watts in 1709. I added the last two lines of the chorus and did some adjusting on the verses. I thought Watts, in such good economy, told well the story of redemption. The first two lines of the chorus: “Salvation from the Lord / For wretched dying men” Salvation (first off, it exists!) comes from God alone, and unstoppably descends to man, as he is: in death, in His own misery.
Is this too good to be true? Well it’s too good, but it’s also true.
Begin my tongue, some heavenly theme
And speak some boundless and blissful thing
The mighty works or mightier name
Of our eternal, unrivaled King
Tell of His wondrous faithfulness
And sound His power of peace abroad
Sing the sweet promise of His grace
And beauty of our saving God
Salvation from the Lord
For wretched dying men
His breath restores the world
Redemption knows no end
How could my leaping heart rejoice
And think my heaven is secure
I trust the all-creating voice
And faith desires nothing more
Oh, might I hear Thine heavenly tongue
But whisper, “Thou art mine!”
Those gentle words should raise my song
To notes almost divine
Engraved as in eternal brass
The mighty promise always shines
Nor can the powers of darkness rase
Those everlasting, infinite lines
I have been in the process of writing and recording a set of albums, Old & New, setting new music to older hymns and texts. I recently released my second of three and wanted to write a little about why I spent so much time devoted to old stuff (see other posts: I, II, III). You can get download both of the albums for free here: gregwillson.bandcamp.com. This post is on the third track, Lord, I Lift My Soul To Thee.
The lyrics from this song come from Psalm 25:1–7, 10. In these verses, David is crying out to God, he is desparate. He is “lonely and afflicted” and waits “all the day long”. It is a lament for deliverance.
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!
All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
Why is David concerned about his enemies exulting over him? In this psalm, if his enemies are celebrating over him, that means they were victorious over David (and therefore all of Israel). It would have been a symbol of God’s people having been defeated.
How does this apply to us today? We know we’re not at war with flesh and blood, but with spiritual realities. We should pray that the powers of darkness—Satan and all of hell—will not win over us. Sometimes it feels like hell is winning. And that’s when we cry out to God: “God, what are you doing? Make yourself known!”
And Who is it that we lament to? We all lament in our own ways, do we bring that to God? David’s song teaches us how to lament well, how to ask for deliverance when things don’t seem to be reflecting the hope that we have in Christ. And my hope is that with my song, it will illuminate the same truths, bringing us back to Psalm 25.
I wanted the chorus to continually rise, matching the idea of lifting, or our prayers going beyond ourselves, eventually being found by the ears of God Himself.
Being united to Christ, we know our prayers are heard. We may not always see goodness prevail in this world as it is, but we pray along with Christ: “God, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” One day goodness will prevail in this world, and that’s where our hope is found.
Lord, I lift my soul to thee
O my God, I trust Thy might
Let not foes exult o’er me
Shame me not before their sight
Yea, may none be put to shame
None who wait for Thee to bless
But dishonor be their name
Who without a cause transgress
Lord, I lift my soul to Thee, O my God
Lord, to me Thy ways make known
Guide in truth and teach Thou me
Thou my Savior art alone
All the day I wait for Thee
Lord, remember in Thy love
All thy mercies manifold
Tender mercies from above
Changeless from the days of old
Sins of youth remember not
Nor my trespasses record
Let not mercy be forgot
For Thy goodness’ sake, O Lord
Grace and truth shall mark the way
Where the Lord His own will lead
If His Word they still obey
And His testimonies heed
I have been in the process of writing and recording a set of albums, Old & New, setting new music to older hymns and texts. I recently released my second of three and wanted to write a little about why I spent so much time devoted to old stuff (see other posts: I, II). You can get download both of the albums for free here: gregwillson.bandcamp.com. This post is on the second track, Holy, Holy, Holy Lord.
The Book of Common Prayer (first version published in 1549) came out of the English Reformation, where England broke with Rome and created the Church of England. It’s a prayer book, which doesn’t only mean it contains prayers for individuals, but it also contains liturgies. One of these liturgies (sometimes today we call them orders of worship) is titled “At the Great Thanksgiving”. It is one of the liturgies for the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper.
It’s in a call and response form (this makes up the verse of my song):
Leader: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Leader: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them to the Lord.
Leader: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People: It is right to give Him thanks and praise.
This is supposed to prepare the hearts of the people and frame what is about to take place. Interestingly enough, the “leader” is called the celebrant. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we don’t perform it or do it.
Another section of the liturgy contains:
And so we join the saints and the angles in proclaiming your glory, as we sing…
As we partake of communion, we are celebrating it with the invisible church, and with all God’s angels. We are proclaiming the world that is to come. And that proclamation includes singing—we are singing in the new world.
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of Your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
This is the chorus for the song, and the proclamation that one sings when following this liturgy in taking the Lord’s Supper.
The purpose of this song is to illuminate areas where we don’t often think of being full of God’s glory. It might be easier to think of God’s glory on a Sunday morning, but what about when driving around town, or in studying homework? The song we sing when we celebrate the Eucharist rings out over our lives, it forms who we are: dependent beings upon a holy, holy, holy God for our very sustenance.
The Lord be with you
And also with you
Lift up your hearts
We lift them to the Lord our God
It is right to give Him thanks and praise
So we join the saints and the angels
Proclaiming Your glory as we sing
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might
Heaven and earth are full of Your glory
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might
Heaven and earth are full of Your glory
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna in the highest
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord
I have been in the process of writing and recording a set of albums, Old & New, setting new music to old hymns. I recently released my second of three and wanted to write a little about why I spent so much time devoted to old stuff (see intro post). You can download both of the albums for free here: gregwillson.bandcamp.com. This post is on the first track, Let There Be Light.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
In this verse from 2 Corinthians, Paul connects God’s work in creating the world in Genesis to His re-creation of our hearts. That’s a pretty amazing juxtaposition. The radical nature of creating something out of nothing, of shaping the heavens and intimately breathing into man’s nostrils is the connection to the radical nature of our heart of stone becoming one of flesh.
In creation a human was made from earthen clay. In re-creation, a human is re-made, connecting God’s life-giving work to creation, but also calling to something more—Eden was never supposed to be the end of the story. To become more human, more of what we are supposed to be, means God’s light to shine brighter in our darkness of the deep. And we trust in the God who continually brings us into this light.
Obedience for the one who is united to Christ means to live out our human-ness. So we call for God’s light to shine: in our darkened hearts and throughout the whole earth.
This is the inspiration for Let There Be Light. John Marriot in 1813 wrote the overwhelming majority of the verse lyrics, I tweaked them a tiny bit. But I added a chorus to continue the idea of petitioning God to bring His much needed light into our lives.
Thou, whose almighty word
Chaos and darkness heard
And took their flight
Hear us, we humbly pray
And where the gospel’s day
Sheds not its glorious ray
Let there be light
Thou, who didst come to bring
On Thy protecting wing
Healing and sight
Sight to the inly blind
Health to the sick in mind
Oh! now, to all mankind
Let there be light
Your light come down
In it we’re found
You heal our hearts
Each crooked part
Spirit of truth and love
Life-giving holy Dove
Speed forth Thy flight
Move o’er the water’s face
By Thine almighty grace
And in earth’s darkest place
Let there be light
Blessed and holy Three
Wisdom, love, might
Boundless as ocean’s tide
Rolling in fullest pride
O’er the world far and wide
Let there be light
I have been in the process of writing and recording a set of albums, putting new music to old hymns. I recently released my second of three and wanted to write a little about why I spent so much time devoted to old stuff. You can get download both of the albums for free here.
So why get involved with putting new music to words that are sometimes hundreds of years old?
1. Humanity hasn’t really changed all that much. Our needs and desires are very similar to those that lived many years ago. Technology sure has advanced, and there are aspects of how we’ve made a place for ourselves in this world that have progressed, but our big questions and struggles are the same. The grand story of the gospel is still true and we are still fallen humanity. And when you think about it, the 1700s are actually quite modern, given how long humans have been writing and singing.
2. Great works of art survive time. Collectively, we humans aren’t always the smartest bunch and sometimes it takes a while for us to catch on to what’s good and what’s not. Time gives us a more sober ability to do just that. Moderately decent works of art will be forgotten within the ocean of human creation, only the best stays afloat. We get to sing some of the best words that we’ve created. The real question is why would we not sing great words of the past. If we only sang words that came from our time and place, we would more easily tempted to believe that we are the most important people ever to live.
3. Hymn writers themselves would rarely write a text for a certain melody. Before we get too married to a certain melody being the “traditional” version of a hymn, realize that writing words to a particular melody is a very new thing. Typically, hymn writers would write their lyrics to certain rythms that could then be used in a number of different melodies that had a similar rhythm. For sure some songs just work phenomenally well with certain melodies (Amazing Grace, anyone?), but as far as original artist intentions, melodies are fluid. They were made to be that way.
So there are a few reasons why we should be curious about the Christian tradition of writing hymns. By recording these albums, I’m hoping for a renewed interest in these writers and their work—a new look at some old words—realizing that they are just as relevant for us as they were in the years they were originally written. And more than that, I’m hoping for another aspect of the God they write about to come through. The God we sing to and serve is just as gracious and glorious to them as He is to us. His great individual stories of redemption are added to His great overarching story of redemption, and we find ourselves in it, alongside people from our time and place and all other times and places.
This was originally posted on orlandograce.org.
“The whole life of a good Christian is a holy longing.” —Augustine
We are filled with so many loves, so many wants, so many desires for things and people and ideas, how can we know what we should attach ourselves to? It’s hard to figure out what we want and what we really want. How do we discern between empty longings and holy longings? What do we do with these desires?
We all have longings, it’s really more a matter of what kind they are and our level of attachment to them. If it’s an empty longing, we should want our level of attachment to be low or even nonexistent. If it’s a holy longing, we should want to be more attached than not. And of course there are gradients of good and bad and there are right orderings of our desires.
But I believe that if we chase our longings deep enough it will always lead to something good, something holy. Genesis 1 and 2 comes before Genesis 3. We are created in God’s image, created to live with Him, and underneath all that we cover up is a longing to be known by our Creator, a desire to be in relationship with our Father. A holy longing.
This hits me often during my birthday. It’s a melancholic time for me when my birthday draws near, filled with desires of my earthly father to come through for me in ways that he never has, and a longing to be drawn closer to my real Father. I so desire my earthly father to say so many things to me, though I live in the reality that this will probably never happen. This desire doesn’t end with my father, however, it is a calling to something more. My real Father is already speaking to me the words I so long to hear. He has already accepted me and embraces me as I am, and is creating in me something better. The empty longing of a relationship with my earthly father leads to a holy longing for my heavenly Father.
But if my longings end with my father only, I will choose to either kill it or fill it with other things. I can kill the desire to be known by my father which would lead to a deadening of my relational nerves with other men (“I don’t need them”), my wife (“I can do this on my own, I don’t need her”), and my God (“Who needs that guy?”). I can also choose to fill it with other things: work, watch Netflix all day, become completely consumed in creating music, etc. Killing or filling leads to lives of quiet desperation, as Thoreau noted: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
Now if I recognize and submit to the fact that God uses our empty longings to speak to us and draw us close, I step into a holy longing. All my wants of an earthly father are found in Him. All that I rightly desire is found in knowing Him. Whereas my earthly father has crossed his arms and turned his back on me, orphaning me time and time again, my real Father faces me, speaks my name and embraces me as His own son.
Augustine is right about a holy longing, and that’s what makes living as a Christian so hard. One lives with heartbreak and sadness and with a deep joy. It’s not all happy skies, it’s not all dark roads. We are not individually created to do this alone, humanity is not created to do it alone. We have a Father who is calling to us through our broken hopes and dashed desires—because He put them there. He creates the holy longings that voice themselves so loudly in our lives so that we may find ourselves in Him.